This fic contains elements that may be upsetting or potentially triggering. Please be wary of: descriptions of death, self-harm and gore, character death (not Cloud or Sephiroth), a brief mention of past rape, and talk of suicide, depression and anxiety. I don't consider this a terrible sadfic, however. I tried a similar style to another work of mine, 'In Your Dreams,' so I hope you enjoy. Have a happy and healthy start to your 2014!
Midgar was a different city on rainy days. The despair, the rage and the sadness were always there, Cloud constantly felt it—but usually the warm weather and sun draped the town in something of an illusion, one of happiness and idyllic city life. On cold, windy, wet days like this, however, Cloud saw Midgar plainly. People stayed indoors where it was dry and safe or hurried to their destinations outside with their heads down and umbrellas up. No one spared the energy for a glance at the sick or the poor who did not have a warm home to go to. No one had it in them to care on a day like today, and it was enough to break Cloud's heart (if he still had one, that is).
He waited at the corner of 7th and T on time as scheduled. Around him traffic was thinner than usual but still thick and almost bumper-to-bumper. Very few people walked on the sidewalks. The rats in the sewer beneath his feet scurried around more animatedly than usual, feasting on the food and garbage washed into the gutter with the streams of water in the roads.
Cloud glanced at his watch. Less than thirty seconds left.
The scene was utterly normal for a Midgar rainy day, or it was until the light at the intersection turned red. A small car, a couple late for lunch at the wife's parents', gunned it at the tail end of the line of cars hoping to sneak by. A large truck perpendicular to them hit the gas as soon as the light turned green and due to the water in the street was unable to brake in time. The previously-quiet intersection lit up with noise, honking, yelling and squeaking and in the blink of an eye the truck struck the small car.
The few pedestrians nearby gasped and watched in horror as the car crumpled and rolled twice, coming to a rest upside-down on the hood, broken glass scattered all over the intersection, the windshield wipers pumping uselessly.
Cloud calmly pushed away from the pole he was leaning against and weaved through the parked cars until he reached the overturned car. The driver was thrown through the windshield because he had forgotten to buckle it in his haste to reach his in-laws, who had never approved of him—he rested on the other side of the street and even if Cloud had not been blessed with the knowledge he possessed he would have been able to conclude that he wouldn't make it. Poor man.
Cloud laid flat on his stomach on the wet pavement, ignoring the flurry of activity around them as witnesses began to spring out of their cars and crowd around the wreckage. "Joanna," he said softly, and the woman's eyes fluttered open. She was upside down and resting awkwardly on her nearly broken neck, the seatbelt the only thing keeping her in some semblance of a sitting position. She turned her head to the side and made eye contact with Cloud despite the blood leaking from her hairline.
"You're going to live," he told her.
He reached out a soft, caring hand and pressed it to her forehead. His eyes closed and his wings, previously tucked up close against his back, extended to their full wingspan. He did not worry about the rain and the dirt (and the little bit of blood) as he let his power seep out of his hand and into her body; when he willed it he would be as dry and clean as always.
Through a fragmented and warped part of the windshield still intact he glimpsed her husband, the driver. He was still lying on his back, rain landing without mercy on his body. It wasn't yet a corpse, but…
The crowd gathering shifted and Cloud got a clear view of the situation. There he was—the person assigned to the other half of this mission, familiar tall figure crouching as he knelt by the man's body. One dark-as-night wing extended into the sky.
Cloud watched quietly as the other angel gave Joanna's husband the kiss of death. He took the time to smooth the man's damp hair off his forehead and bent his head as if in prayer, then slowly stood. Like Cloud he seemed unaffected by the wind and weather; his dark suit and neat, pressed jacket was as impeccable as it was the other times Cloud had glimpsed this particular man.
Withdrawing his hand from Joanna's flushed skin Cloud extracted himself and slowly stood, his wings retracting to rest against his back as usual. He was supposed to be gone already, was supposed to be checking in with his superiors at this very moment—but his feet were stuck to the ground.
The angel, Sephiroth, sensed Cloud's gaze. He stopped staring mournfully at the deceased man and turned, long hair spilling over one shoulder. It was hard not to stare at it; it was as entrancing as the rest of the man's body. Cloud forced himself to look up, and their eyes met.
The blond nodded in greeting, and Sephiroth nodded back. Then before Cloud could move closer or say anything he disappeared, gone back home.
After one last regretful look around at the scene that grew more hysterical with each passing second Cloud flew home as well.
If angels had the ability to feel more than a mild discomfort Cloud was sure there would have been a revolt long ago about the housing situation at ShinRa. Cloud's bunk was not wide enough to accommodate his wings, quite honestly; having two instead of the common one just made it worse. Angeal Hewley, who had the bunk beneath his, often complained about Cloud's wings draping down and tickling him in the middle of the night.
Today Cloud had enough of trying to find the best sleeping position and hooked his feet around the mattress so he could lean over the edge at his waist and hang down, gently pounding Angeal's reclining figure with his fists until he got the other angel's attention.
"Wait, wait," Angeal protested. Cloud let him alone until he finished the paragraph of the book he was reading, closed it, and fixed Cloud with his full attention.
"I had a mission today," Cloud said, glad that he had no blood to rush to his head and make him dizzy from hanging upside-down for so long. "I saw one of Jenova's. I saved a woman but her husband died."
"That's unfortunate." Angeal was not talking about the death of the husband.
"I guess." Cloud lifted himself up in order to right himself and dropped down, sitting on Angeal's mattress. He frowned. "Have you ever really interacted with an angel of Death?"
Angeal looked alarmed at the thought. "No, of course not."
It really was not that big a surprise. The Lifestream where Cloud lived was extremely segregated. Angels of Life, like Cloud, did not often interact with their counterparts. Their jobs, although in some ways similar, were still very different. Cloud brought life into the world and kept people alive until it was their assigned time to die. Angels like the tall, intimidating Sephiroth claimed souls for the Lifestream when their time finally arrived.
The two groups simply did not get along. Cloud had never even spoken to an angel of Death in his entire life—well, excluding the one that brought his soul to the Lifestream when he had been a human, anyway. Jenova, the Director of the other side was nothing but a source of fear for Cloud, who was told frightening stories about her since his rebirth. His own Director, Lazard Deusericus, did not help in that regard; he personally warned Cloud about Death angels many a time in the past.
Cloud was curious about them though. Or, more accurately, curious about one of them in particular.
"What," Angeal laughed, "Do you want to talk to one of them or something?"
Chuckling nervously, Cloud answered, "No, of course not. I was just—I dunno. Wondering."
Angeal opened his book back up. "Well," he said, "Don't wonder too much. I'd hate Lazard to find out about it."
For several weeks Cloud performed his missions as usual. He had a high number, having proven himself considerably to his higher-ups in the past. He did not mind all the work, however; he liked it. He liked being the one to keep people from death, to give them a second (or third, or fourth) chance to breathe the Planet's air and see their family at least one more time.
For all of his missions he did not see Sephiroth again for a while. Cloud knew of many angels like Sephiroth even if he did not know them personally. For years he'd nursed something of a crush on the handsome silver-haired man from afar, never daring to break social code and approach him. There probably was not much point to it anyway. Sephiroth, even more than some of the other angels he'd seen, seemed standoffish and cold.
He finally saw Sephiroth again, thankfully, but the situation was not pretty.
A local man, hard-pressed for cash to pay off a dealer out for his head, robbed a bank in a bad part of town at gunpoint. He herded most of the cowering employees into the vault and screamed at a few crying, terrified girls to shove money into a few bags he brought. Cloud watched quietly from a seat on a windowsill by the door as police arrived outside and the man grew more desperate.
"Hurry up!" he shouted at the nearest one. One of the police outside raised a megaphone and spoke into it, demanding the man lay down his weapon.
What happened next occurred in just a few seconds. Cloud noticed a flurry of color to the side—Sephiroth, standing calmly beside the crying girl putting money into the sack. His eyes flicked to Cloud and he gave him a curious look, head cocked ever so slightly to the side.
Then the man's gun went off and shot the woman putting money into the bag in the head. She instantly collapsed, bright red blood spattering the counter and the wall behind her. Outside the sniper positioned across the street, the one with the red laser sight aimed at the man's back, opened fire.
After a few loud bangs and the sound of shattering glass Cloud sprang into action. It was regrettable, but instead of the three young women bleeding out on the floor on the other side of the room Cloud bent over the man on the floor. The bullets from the police ripped through him but just barely missed any vital organs.
Cloud paused before kissing the man to see Sephiroth, just a few feet away, tending to the women. He closed one's eyes, glassy and unseeing and gave her hair a tender stroke before moving on to the next.
Whether it was regrettable or not was none of Cloud's business. Lazard's debriefing told him that Mr. Gorman had to be saved, so save him Cloud would; he just felt kind of…bad, perhaps, that Sephiroth had to claim three young lives, just like that.
Well. Cloud kissed the man and sat up, watching as police swarmed in, guns trained on the unconscious body, not noticing the angel there. Sephiroth met his gaze again just before flying off—he was frowning.
Orders were orders.
That evening, after swinging by his favorite flower garden in all of the Lifestream, Cloud asked his friend Aerith what she did when she was on the job and had to deal with Jenova's footsoldiers.
"I ignore them, mostly," she answered, seemingly unperturbed. Aerith was one of the nicest angels around; Cloud had a hard time picturing her ignoring anybody.
He himself was having a hard time ignoring Sephiroth.
When they were in the same vicinity on a job Cloud found himself seeking the man out. He was hyper-aware of the man's presence as he did his work in the city. Cloud had been assigned to Midgar for the past fifty years at least, before that working the slums of Junon. The two angels worked around each other, never disturbing the other's business. Occasionally though Cloud would finish saving somebody and he would look up to see Sephiroth on a rooftop nearby, or maybe he would sense Sephiroth a block or two away and stroll over to observe the man at work. He would offer a smile, and Sephiroth, surprisingly enough, once or twice smiled back.
Sometimes Cloud received the kind of pained, haunted cry that signaled a job that could go either way—they were his least favorite. In his training he received tips and tricks on how to deal with such a situation (and how to deal with the angel of Death that was undoubtedly nearby) but each time he had trouble navigating.
This evening the blond was nearly asleep when his entire core abruptly shook with the force of it—someone needed him, and fast. He popped into existence in the clean, cutesy bathroom of a middle-class Midgarian townhouse. It was cramped but cheerfully decorated in light blues; the shower curtain had smiling frogs on it.
A teenage boy, about nineteen, was dying in the bathtub.
His wrists and forearms were slit long and deep, the deed having been done about forty minutes before. Blood stained the hot water red, clouds of it drifting along the bottom towards his bare feet. His head lolled against the back lip of the tub, his breath shallow and uneven.
Sephiroth sat calmly on the floor, his wing folded neatly. He watched Zack Fair's tear-stained face tense as his arms throbbed with pain but relax as he lost the energy to do anything about it. He was fighting.
"Zack," Cloud called.
Sephiroth finally acknowledged him as Cloud crouched on the balls of his feet beside the tub, turning his head slightly to track Cloud's movement with his bright, slitted pupils. Zack looked at him too, and he seemed too tired to be surprised that the two of them were there.
"It's not your time," the blond said sadly. It was only partly a fact.
Zack did not answer; his eyes slipped shut and his breathing began to go from jerky and gasping to something more even, less strong. Beside him Sephiroth stirred, reaching out a hand.
Cloud moved quickly and snatched Sephiroth's hand, gripping it tight and pinning it back against his chest. The air crackled with electricity and the tiny bathroom began to reek of Mako and ozone. The florescent lights by the mirror flickered. Cloud was more powerful by design—it took more energy to create and sustain life than send life along to the inevitable after all—but he rarely had occasion to use that power.
Cloud warned darkly, glaring fiercely into Sephiroth's eyes, "Don't touch him."
He let the other angel go after a last squeeze of warning, feeling the man's wrist bones shift under his grip, and he turned back to Zack. He shuffled closer and cradled his sweaty face. "You have to choose, Zack," he ordered. "Quickly."
"Why can't you do it for me, Spike?" Zack tried to laugh at his joke about Cloud's unusual hair but his head dipped back further. Cloud moved one hand to support it.
"Your fate is not for us to decide," Sephiroth said. Cloud had never actually heard him speak. His voice was deep and slightly accented, and it was distracting.
Cloud murmured, "You have friends, Zack. Parents. Mr. Highwind at school will miss you terribly."
"You won't have to pretend to be happy anymore," Sephiroth countered gravely.
Zack began to cry again. The water was darker now. The boy stared at Sephiroth for so long Cloud figured his decision was made and he began to move away.
"I—I don't wanna die yet," Zack finally sobbed.
Cloud was surprised. Heedless of his white pants and shirt he climbed into the tub, bloody water sloshing over the edge and soaking into his clothes and skin. Sephiroth, despite not being needed as Zack had decided, did not leave; he stayed sitting cross-legged on the floor, watching attentively.
After lifting Zack's wounded wrists from the water Cloud lovingly pressed his lips to both of them. He glanced at Sephiroth, said "sorry," and smiled tenderly at Zack, who was watching with glazed eyes, nearly all bled out.
Cloud leant forward and kissed Zack. His wings unfolded in the cramped space as he harnessed the power of the Lifestream to keep Zack alive, power thrumming out of his palms and soul to seep into Zack's flesh. He retreated, absently licking blood off his lips and Zack finally passed out.
Sephiroth gave him an unreadable look and was gone with a rustle of wings.
Cloud stayed crouched on his knees in the tub, whispering words of encouragement to the teenager, hands warm bands of strength around Zack's open wounds until his family found him there an hour and a half later.
One week later Cloud was back in the city, this time dealing with a man suffering from homelessness and lying on a filthy sidewalk at the feet of large corporate building. He was having a heart attack. People walked around him and through Cloud's incorporeal body, bent over him and keeping the worst of the burning sun off the man's skin. No one spared the man more than a glance.
Cloud thumped his chest and started his heart again as finally someone realized what was happening and called an ambulance. Cloud, secure in the knowledge that his job was done, stood up to leave, but the man grabbed his arm and weakly pulled him back. He was crying.
"Please, take me," he begged. "There's nothing for me here. I can't do this anymore."
Cloud shook him off. "Sorry," he apologized, and walked away. He lingered a moment to make sure the man was loaded into the ambulance without issue and then walked off down the street. The man's face made his stomach hurt and he did not know why.
The city was alive today. The warm weather meant people were out and about and the smell of street cart food made Cloud's mouth water. He did not need to eat but enjoyed it nonetheless—he stared longingly at a hot dog before sighing and moving on.
In a bad mood, he scuffed his feet along the sidewalk as he strolled with no goal in mind. He walked past an alley and was half a block down before turning around and hurrying back, surprise shooting through him.
Sephiroth was there back in the shadows, crouched in his expensive dress shoes, his coat dragging in the dirt. "Come here, precious," he cooed in that dark molasses voice of his and Cloud looked around, shocked, heat creeping into his face.
He was not talking to Cloud, however; he was coaxing a cat out from a box in the very back of the alley. It was a tabby and limped; one of its eyes oozed thick fluid. Its fur was matted with dirt and a bit of blood and its tail was bare, burnt—local kids having cruel fun, no doubt. Leaning against the wall a ways back Cloud watched as it hesitantly made its way over.
Sephiroth picked it up and cuddled it, his long, narrow hands careful and sure, undeterred by the animal's filth. The angel scratched its tummy and the cat stretched out for more—its soul sang with innocent pleasure as Sephiroth's powers began to ease it of its agony. Sephiroth dropped a tender kiss to the top of its furry head. The cat went limp.
After petting the poor thing for a minute longer he gently placed it back where it laid before, safe from the wind, sun and rain. He then turned to Cloud, who he seemed unsurprised to see. He probably knew Cloud was watching.
"Sephiroth," Cloud greeted. The angel stopped before him, tall and dark and gorgeous. "I wanted to apologize for the other day. I acted inappropriately."
Sephiroth said nothing else and Cloud quietly watched the hustle and bustle of the city. He thought in passing that he should introduce himself.
"I know who you are," Sephiroth answered his unspoken thought. "Cloud Strife. One of Lazard's best…and an angel of Life." He almost sneered the word and Cloud rankled.
"Why do you say it like that?"
"Zack Fair could be out of his misery."
Cloud blinked, thrown. What did Zack have to do with anything? "He didn't want to be."
"Didn't he?" Sephiroth gave Cloud a look and the blond fidgeted, gone cold. "He went from a physically abusive household to the mental ward of a hospital. He's under 24-7 suicide watch and he hates it."
"…How do you know?"
"I visited him yesterday."
Cloud subsided, ashamed. He had not even thought to check up on the boy.
"That's just like one of you, isn't it?" he accused. "Saving a life is all you care about—never mind their pain or trauma. You ignore it all in order to meet your quotas."
"That's not true," Cloud insisted.
"Mrs. Whittaker," Sephiroth countered, referencing Joanna, the passenger of the car wreck Cloud saved a few weeks back, "is distraught at the loss of her husband. She's out of the hospital but is unable to go on after seeing him die before her eyes in the street. She's on our lists for next Thursday. Jumps out her apartment window."
Horrified, Cloud did not know what to say.
That pissed Sephiroth off. He fisted Cloud's shirt and lifted him up, shoving him harshly back against the brick wall behind them. The angel bared his teeth and growled, his eyes bright and flaring as his powers surged. "All you do is prolong the inevitable and cause people more pain." He slammed Cloud into the wall again and the blond's wings screamed in pain, bent at awkward angles. Cloud had the power to knock him away, maybe even banish him back home and they both knew it, but Cloud did not resist.
"Never thought about that, did you? How those like me have to clean up your messes—the sorry people you send into this world without a care?"
All Cloud could give was honesty. "No…no, I haven't."
Sephiroth seemed surprised. Had he expected more hard-headed denial? His mouth thinned but he dropped Cloud, who accepted Sephiroth's words but looked back evenly, not cowed.
"That's shitty of me. No—I haven't. I always believed that when I save someone I'm doing them a favor. I was taught that life, even if it's full of pain, is better than the alternative."
Sephiroth smoothed down his pristine all-black suit and glanced back at the box where he'd hidden the alley cat. He whispered, "You're wrong, Cloud," and disappeared without another word.
Zack looked thin and unhappy.
Cloud frowned at him from the foot of his hospital bed and was getting a similar stubborn expression in return. Sephiroth was nowhere in sight.
He had been called here by Zack's soul—the boy was attempting to hoard pills in his sneakers tucked away in a nearby cabinet with his other personal effects. "Zack," Cloud sighed, giving up the tough act and sitting on the bed beside the teen, grabbing his hand and holding it tight, "What's the deal, man?"
"It's just…so hard, y'know?"
Cloud waited patiently and soon Zack began to open up, hesitantly telling him about his dad. The man was an alcoholic and was unhappy with Zack's poor grades in school, his inability to find a steady job, and the messiness of his room, among a long list of other things. Zack's little sister died of illness four years back and since then his father's abuse only got worse.
"I talked about this with Sephiroth the other day," Zack sniffed, holding back tears. "I don't wanna complain about it too much but…"
"No. You talk about it as much as you want."
Soon Zack started crying in earnest, trying to kick his arms and feet and getting worked up as all four limbs were strapped down to stop him from attempting to tear open his stitches again or rip out his IVs. Cloud curled up with Zack in the bed and tucked his head under the teen's chin and let calm seep from his pores until Zack settled down.
He heard more about Zack's dad and some of the other stuff—the depression he'd battled his whole life, the anxiety, the asshole bullies on his block that followed him from high school to college, his cold mother who looked the other way when his dad got violent. Cloud closed his eyes, listening to Zack's heartbeat that he willed to be strong and steady.
When Zack eventually trailed off, exhausted, Cloud placed a hand on his forehead and made him sleep. He shakily stood, wiping at his own eyes, and stared at the boy. He was dreaming pleasant, warm, safe dreams, and for now at least he could take comfort in that.
Of late Cloud was having a harder time staying put.
His home was a gorgeous place. The Lifestream, and Radiant Garden in particular, was a place of sanctuary and peace, after all—flowers grew year-round (not that they strictly had years, here) and the temperature was never too hot or cold. The buildings were large (even if the military barracks where Cloud lived and served were not) and he never had any bad experiences.
In the past month or so Cloud found himself growing bored of the Garden and its perfect atmosphere. As a younger angel Cloud thought he never wanted to leave, dreading returning to Gaia to perform his missions, but now that the thought of exploring a different part of the Lifestream had passed his mind he couldn't stop thinking about it.
He listlessly watched Angeal preen his wings from an armchair in their unit's lounge where they could relax when not on a mission. The other angel's lips were pursed in a frown of concentration as he pulled out a feather or two and stroked them all back into place. Cloud sighed from his chair, a bit too loudly, and Angeal looked over.
Indulging the blond's need for attention Angeal asked gently, "What's up?"
"I wonder what Edge is like."
Angeal gave him a crazy look. "…Awful? I don't know—I've never been."
"Has anybody around here?"
"Lazard, but I don't know anybody else…"
Cloud fell quiet and stared at the ceiling, jiggling his knee nervously. His wings ruffled in agitation, threatening to lift him out of the chair. Angeal let him be and went back to his work.
After a few minutes of stewing Cloud announced, "I think I'm going to go."
Angeal reached out, trying to grab his arm—but Cloud already popped out of existence and reappeared a second later in Edge, the other half of the Lifestream that angels of Life liked to pretend did not exist. The feeling was probably reciprocal.
It was…a lot like Gaia. Prettier, sure—Cloud took to the sky and flew over streams of water so vividly blue they looked like they belonged on Midgar television. The land was gorgeous and real, with none of the whitewashed, too-perfect cobbled roads of the Garden. He had expected shadows and dirt like the Midgar underbelly, not…whatever this was.
He followed his inner sense of direction and landed in the middle of a street on the outside of the grand metropolis. Instead of being surburban things were pretty…rural, actually. The small road was lined with individual houses, not cramped military-style bunkers. There was so much grass, and it was so green; it was hard not to get sidetracked and explore this new world.
He walked swiftly down the road however, warily eyeing the first angel he spotted, a woman who watched him from her front porch, shocked. Angels of Life just did not come here; he didn't blame her.
Sephiroth was nearby.
Cloud bit his lip, spinning in a slow circle as he turned down a different long, dusty road. He cupped his hand over his eyes to see better in the bright sun and stopped walking abruptly, nearly crashing into a man who appeared in the middle of the road, stopping his progress, hands on his hips.
"What are you doing here?" he demanded.
The angel's singular long, black wing was extended and poised, prepared for a fight. He wore a red jacket and glared, aqua green eyes blazing in hostility. Cloud carefully displayed his in a submissive gesture and held out his hands. "I'm just looking for someone," he said nervously. "I don't mean any harm."
The angel cocked his head, and to Cloud's surprise, began to smile. His wing relaxed and the air did not feel quite as thick. "Oh," he drawled, "You're Cloud Strife, then? I should have guessed."
The angel turned over his shoulder and yelled at the house closest to them, a small one story painted light green, "Tifa!"
In a moment they were joined by a dark-haired angel with brown eyes that regarded the blond coldly for a moment and then softened as she no doubt realized who he was. She had two wings like Cloud—that was rare. The blond could not help but stare at them, dark and rich, hints of brown on the undersides.
"You're looking for Sephiroth, then?"
"Yeah, I am. Do you know where he lives?"
Tifa smiled and took his hand, her slightly smaller one wrapping around his. She squeezed, their eyes met, and Cloud felt a rush of something like friendship zing through his soul. "He's that way," she said, pointing.
"His house is brick—you won't miss it. Probably." Genesis grinned at him and flicked some red hair out of his eyes, flashing a toothy smile.
Whatever he had expected from the Edge of the Universe, the Edge of Death—this was not it. The dislike between his kind and theirs was obvious but he was struck, like he had been with Sephiroth, by how similar Genesis and Tifa were; far from being cruel, unfeeling reapers of death they seemed more genuine than most of the people Cloud interacted with in his day-to-day business.
He thanked them and started walking away, but Genesis got his attention. "Be careful," the redhead warned. "Try to not draw too much attention to yourself while you're visiting. Just to be safe."
Cloud swallowed. "Will do."
He continued down the road, passing similar cute little houses. Many had tidy, kept lawns and sometimes decorations outside. The personalization of their living quarters was foreign to Cloud, as was the dust kicked up by his boots and the fresh air in his lungs. Cloud had not been anywhere but the Garden or the dirty streets of Midgar in a long time.
Ahead he spotted a brick house nestled between two similar ones that were pink and cream-colored respectively. His wings extended and he almost took to the sky in excitement but Cloud reigned himself in and made himself walk. Genesis' warning was still fresh in his mind. He didn't need to draw unnecessary attention to himself by flying any more than he already had. The angel strolled up to the house leisurely and stood in front of it, eyeing the place. It was…quaint. Cute.
Didn't seem like Sephiroth at all.
Still, his inner compass, so often tuned into the silver-haired angel these days, was thrumming. He was most assuredly present. So, he swallowed his nerves and walked up three steps, across the wooden porch and knocked on the door.
He shifted uncomfortably as he waited for it to open, but eventually it did and Cloud crossed his arms behind his back shyly as Sephiroth stood on his doorstep and regarded him. "Cloud," he said, and he did not sound surprised—he probably sensed Cloud coming a long while off.
"Sephiroth," Cloud greeted. He stopped fidgeting and offered a hesitant smile, unsure what to say. Sephiroth eyed him for a moment before stepping back and gesturing into the small house.
"Come in," he said.
The blond squeezed past him and entered the house. It was a bit bigger on the inside than it seemed it would be from the street, but it was still on the smaller side. There was more than enough room for just Sephiroth however. The furniture was basic and modern, not wooden antiques like he perhaps thought judging by the exterior of the house and neighborhood. It was clean and every bit as cool and sophisticated as the man himself, who still stood by the door and watched him take in his fill.
"Thank you." Sephiroth frowned for a split second—Cloud's senses told him he was about to politely ask for Cloud's coat and then realized that Cloud did not have one, the Garden always being a pleasant temperature. He swept past Cloud into what was presumably the kitchen and the blond followed, quietly amused.
"Tea?" Sephiroth asked. Cloud nodded and took a seat at the kitchen table. A newspaper sat out and open in front of a different seat—Edge has a newspaper?—and underneath sat an unopened Midgar one for that day. Huh.
Both were quiet as Sephiroth fixed them something to drink. Folding his hands on the table, Cloud thought about how he was going to word things. After all, the last time they met they physically fought—the fact that Sephiroth had let him in and was serving him tea was a sign that he was at least willing to see and speak to him. Still, the air was thick and awkward and Cloud did not like it.
"Are you still mad at me?" he asked after a steaming mug was set down in front of him.
Sephiroth blinked as if once again caught off-guard by Cloud's aggressive honesty. He blew gently on his tea and when his eyes shot up from the water to pierce through him Cloud sat straighter, waiting to hear his fate. Those acidic green eyes never left a bit of him uncovered or unexamined.
"Only a little."
"Okay." Cloud nodded, considering this, and wrapped both his hands around the mug. It was a bit too hot but he felt no pain. "That's alright. I deserve it." Sephiroth said nothing but kept observing Cloud and, a bit nervously, he continued: "Actually, I, ah—I visited Zack the other day."
"And how is he?"
"Sad. His pain is so strong." One hand unconsciously went to Cloud's neck and he plucked at the neckline, feeling choked even by the memory of it. "The poor kid."
Cloud leaned in a bit and looked the man earnestly in the eye. "I want to apologize again," he said. "I've never visited anyone after I save them. Seeing Zack, though—what you told me really sank in. I heard you."
The angel of Death was still and quiet, but the minute shifts of muscle in his face told Cloud all he needed to know. "I'm an angel of Life," Cloud went on, "and I can't stop my work entirely. Both of us are necessary to keep the Lifestream in balance. I think you know that."
"Yes," Sephiroth admitted, sounding slightly ashamed.
"That said…I'll be more careful from now on. I—it hurts…to think about them, you know? It's so much easier to think that what I do is best for them and best for the planet…but that's not always true. And I mean, this seems like the kind of pain you have to deal with all the time, so…I shouldn't ignore it."
Sephiroth moved to prop his head up on his hand, elbow on the table, hair spilling over his shoulder. Cloud wanted to check if it was in danger of touching the floor at its longest point but resisted, instead making himself gaze evenly back at the other man. "It is painful," he murmured finally. "But necessary. You aren't a heartless monster; I apologize if it seemed I was saying that in my anger. You do the best you can."
Cloud could hardly imagine Sephiroth saying things like this, things to make someone feel better. He was almost in shock. "Still," the man continued, his eyes sliding away to look at the clock over the far counter (it was set to Midgar time). "Being more aware will only help you in your job, I'm sure. Thank you, Cloud."
The blond smiled, his soul warm with the feeling of Sephiroth's praise, forgiveness—and maybe even faith. "You're welcome."
Sephiroth reached up to gather all his hair in a giant mass. He pulled a hair band off his wrist, one that Cloud had not noticed due it being covered by his dark sweater's sleeve, and he put his hair up in a long, high ponytail. It made the sharp features of his face stand out more prominently and revealed more of the long, surprisingly delicate curve of his neck. Sephiroth caught him staring and his eyes glowed with something like amusement.
"It's a nice day," he said, standing and grabbing his mug. "Would you like to join me out on the porch?"
"Of course I would." Sephiroth grabbed his drink for him and led him back out of the house. Cloud followed while fighting a smile, enjoying the atmosphere of the small home that did not seem as hostile as before and watching the swish, swish, swish of that gorgeous hair.
Cloud supposed it was not often that people hung out on the floors of hospital rooms. From his spot near the door, crosslegged and leaning back against the wall, he could see the dust under the bed that was missed when they last cleaned as well as scuff marks from various individuals' shoes. His own boots, wearing thin in the soles and sporting fraying laces (he needed new ones) would not add to these marks.
Zack had his eyes closed today and was revealing more about his life to Cloud in a steady, rambling stream of consciousness. It took his mind off the fact that his legs were still strapped to his bed after his repeated escape attempts and that his wrists were still tightly bandaged to prevent more harm. He told Cloud of his sixth birthday, where he got a slice of cake with melted wax in it and cried, and of his high school prom, where all the girls turned him down so he had to go alone and spent most of the time in the bathroom, on the toilet, playing games on his phone.
To Cloud it sounded a lot like Zack was airing it all out, giving his life a good, solid (last) look over. It worried him.
He closed his eyes and let Zack's voice wash over him. The boy's sentences grew more disjointed and trailed off after a time; the sounds of soft breathing filled the room. Cloud, who had been dealing recently with the extra helping of missions Lazard was giving him, grew drowsy.
He wrapped his arms around his shins and rested his head on his knees. He was not worried about Zack today—he could sense that the boy would not remember his dreams when he woke. The other sounds of the hospital were muted through the door, a constant hum in the background that lulled the blond further into sleep, calm and safe in the knowledge that the room would not be disturbed for at least another two hours when a nurse would come in to check Zack's meds.
About twenty minutes passed and Cloud, nodding off almost entirely, let himself pitch sideways, preparing to curl up on his wing and rest. His descent was abruptly stopped, however, and he leaned against something warm.
It was obvious what it was, but Cloud cracked open a bleary eye to see anyway: the soft cloth of Sephiroth's usual jacket, long, soft silver hair, and pale skin made almost eerily white under the harsh fluorescent lighting. The angel offered his side and shoulder for Cloud to doze against, his fingers relaxed on the floor beside Cloud's thigh.
The man turned his head to peer down at the blond and offered him the smallest of smiles.
"Hey," Cloud murmured, closing his eyes again.
With the last of his misgivings gone about sleeping with Zack around Cloud shifted a little closer to the other angel and let himself finally sleep.
He did not dream, but woke up when the nurse came in. Sephiroth was still there and reading a book. His head was tilted sideways to rest against the top of Cloud's. Cloud yawned and watched lazily as the woman bustled around, filling out a chart on a clipboard at the end of the bed. Zack stirred as she was finishing up, and his eyes widened when he realized the two angels were in the room, flicking his gaze between them and the nurse.
She could not see them though and left without incident after asking Zack if he was thirsty. Zack propped himself up on his pillows and raised an eyebrow at them. "Lookit you two," he grinned.
Sephiroth smiled briefly in return and stood, offering his hand. Cloud took it and the man pulled him to his feet, but Cloud gripped tight to the hand when the angel meant to retract it. They stood over Zack's bed, and the boy was growing drowsy again with the medication the nurse gave him.
"We'll be back," Sephiroth told him confidently.
"Take it easy, kiddo."
Zack nodded his agreement. "Bye, Seph. Bye Spike."
Cloud smiled and squeezed Sephiroth's hand in goodbye before extracting himself. He vanished for home without another word, and after sending Zack a long, thoughtful look Sephiroth followed.
Lazard Deusericus was like a father to Cloud. The man was stern and, at times, terrifying, but he had to be. Radiant Garden, complex and busy headquarters of the angels of Life, ran an efficient operation. Angels like Cloud were soldiers, designed by Minerva, their Goddess, to perform half of the sacred duties needed to keep the planet in balance. That did not mean that Lazard did not care about those under his command; he did.
When Cloud first appeared in the Garden soon after his death he was overwhelmed. Angeal quickly became his best friend and took him under his wing, so to speak, and Lazard also proved a valuable resource as Cloud learned the ropes of how to do his job and quickly rose through the ranks to be what he was today. Only a few times had Cloud ever been summoned to the Director's office—when the man just wanted to chat he usually found Cloud playing in the endless flower fields with Aerith or swimming in the warm lakes outside the city that were so deep they did not actually ever end.
Cloud saluted after approaching Lazard's large desk, his wings folded primly—and nervously—behind his back. Lazard looked as relaxed as ever in his pinstriped suit, an elbow resting on the armrest of his chair, his glasses dangling loosely from his fingers. Both of his wings, majestic and large, far larger than Cloud's, were out and relaxed, lying on the floor. Cloud could tell he was not as thrilled as he usually was to see one of his prize pupils.
"Cloud," Lazard greeted kindly as he approached. The blond swallowed and nodded his head in formal greeting. "Thank you for coming so promptly. I have not spoken to you in quite some time. I was just wondering how your recent jobs have gone?"
Nervously Cloud managed, "Good, Sir." Lazard slid his glasses back onto his face and it was not a good sign. He folded his hands on his desk and fixed Cloud with a serious look, his airy friendliness gone.
"You do understand why we do what we do, right Cloud?"
"Yes, of course, Sir."
"This planet could not exist without the forces of life and death working together. We do our job because it must be done to keep the balance. We are not to question our orders."
Cloud nodded his head understandingly. It was pointless to play dumb because Lazard could read his mind with ease but he tried anyway, pretending he didn't know what Lazard was actually talking about.
"Zack Fair," Lazard said bluntly, getting to the point. "He is not to die for another sixty-two years, do you hear me? It is not his time."
Cloud bit his lip to stop himself from arguing. He said nothing and Lazard barked, "Do you understand, SOLDIER?"
"I don't want to have to punish you."
"Now…" Lazard sighed and his posture relaxed a bit more. "I understand you've been, ah, fraternizing with one of Jenova's."
"I'm not 'fraternizing.'" The Director sighed and gave him a look, the kind given to an obviously-lying child, and Cloud continued meekly, "We're friends."
"We are not friends with them, Cloud."
"Well I am." Cloud's eyes blazed even though he knew it was foolish to go against the Director. "There is no law saying I can't see Sephiroth."
"That is true, but…"
Lazard sighed again at the stubborn look he was receiving from the younger blond. "Just be careful, Cloud. I don't trust any of them, useful as they might be. Can't you just court one of the angels here?"
Cloud blushed—Lazard evidently saw through his friends bit.
"I can't," he confessed.
Lazard rubbed his temples like Cloud was causing him a headache. "Dismissed," he said, and Cloud fled for the door.
Even on days that were not especially windy—on the ground, anyway, where the humans of Midgar bustled about their daily lives like ants when viewed from the Lifestream—being up high made a world of difference. Cloud's feet dangled far, far above the city, occasionally buffeted by gusts that made Sephiroth's hair whip into his face and get in his mouth and made him laugh. From the tallest building in Midgar they could see everything, especially with their gifts of sight. Humanity was simultaneously repulsive and breathtaking. He'd never get used to it.
Despite neither of them being able to get cold they were pressed together, side to side and thigh to thigh. With the sun shining and the clouds puffy and pleasant, along with the company, Cloud thought he could sit on this rooftop forever.
After a time of simply watching Midgar Sephiroth asked lowly, breaking Cloud out of a daydream, "Hey, Cloud?"
"Who were you?"
Cloud let out a long exhale and looked down at his dangling feet and the massive drop beneath them. "I was no one special. I grew up in a town called Nibelheim—it's been off the map for a few centuries. I stole some Nibel wolf meat one day because my mom got sick and we couldn't afford to eat. I got caught and was hung the next day. No trial. No one would stand up for me anyway because my father wasn't in the picture. What about you?"
"I was a prince," Sephiroth said, and he smiled, perhaps knowing that the image of the man in purple silk stockings and a funny hat popped into Cloud's mind. He continued, "The Kingdom of Crescent. We were small so I wouldn't be surprised if you don't know of it. It's near modern day Mideel." His expression did not change but Cloud sensed a shift in his soul before he went on. "A rival kingdom wanted me dead. Three men broke into our castle, raped me and then cut off my head."
"It was a long time ago."
"Yeah, me too. Doesn't mean you totally get over it."
Their fingers, previously resting near each other, entwined tightly and Cloud used his thumb to soothe over Sephiroth's knuckles as his right wing wrapped around Sephiroth's body as if to shield him. Sephiroth pulled Cloud a little closer to his body with his left arm.
"It sucks sometimes," Cloud confessed, "being an angel."
"I know. You do a fine job though, Cloud… for an angel of Life."
Cloud laughed. It was crazy—they had all been human at some point or another, those who lived in the Garden and those in Edge. He forgot that sometimes. He hooked his ankle around Sephiroth's and watched the city some more, searching for Angeal who he knew was in sector 6 at the moment dealing with a stabbing.
"Lazard—the Director on our side—called me to his office last week," the blond eventually informed. He filled Sephiroth in on what the angel said about Zack and made a joke about how they were 'fraternizing.' The other angel did not smile, however, and glanced off in the direction of Zack's home, where he had finally been relocated days before and was currently distraught, dreading the return of his parents from work in a few hours.
Zack's despair was a constant hum in the back of both their minds ever since the first night in that blood-stained bathroom.
"I don't know what to do, Seph."
"You'll make the right choice."
Cloud could only hope that was so.
He was picking flowers with Angeal and Aerith when he heard it—Zack's soul crying out for him. He was needed.
His two friends must have felt the zing in Cloud's soul; they whirled around to face him with identical looks of awe and a little bit of panic, but they were trying to will him on. He was grateful for it. Cloud vanished and reappeared in Zack's bedroom.
The teen was visiting a therapist, he knew, ever since being moved back home two weeks ago. Those two weeks were not easy. Zack's handsome face was mottled and bruised—his father's work.
Sephiroth was already there, and the two angels reached out for each other as they crowded around his bed.
"Guys," Zack croaked, looking unsurprised to see them, "It's time."
"What did you do, Zack?"
The teen pointed weakly to a half-empty bottle of industrial cleaner on his desk. An empty bottle of pills he procured from somewhere had fallen to the floor nearby. "I can't do it any longer," he sobbed, curling up in his bed with an arm over his rebelling stomach, "You guys don't understand."
"We understand you fine, Zackary," Sephiroth murmured. His wing slowly extended until it was at its full, terrifying span, filling the small bedroom with the presence of Death.
"My dad—he, if he finds me alive he'll do somethin' real bad," Zack sniffed, "and I'll go to some mental house. He told me he'll stick me there. I—I can't do—"
Zack threw up over the side of his bed and his vomit was tinged red with blood.
"Cloud," Sephiroth urged.
Cloud sprang into action, crawling up the bed to grab Zack's head and lay him against the pillow. Another wave of toxic stomach acid was about to be expelled; Cloud laid his hand over Zack's stomach.
He remembered Lazard's words: He is not to die for another sixty-two years, do you hear me? It is not his time.
It would not be so hard to use his powers to help Zack throw up all the cleaner. Cloud could see Zack's future: he was supposed to eventually get rid of most of it and get his stomach pumped at the hospital after his mom downstairs heard the sounds of retching. He would be in pain, but he was supposed to live.
Zack was crying, though, clinging to his shirt and begging Cloud to let him go. He was so unhappy. Zack was ill, had suffered from severe depression his entire life, and was promised hell on Gaia if he survived. Sephiroth's words in the alley came back to him—he didn't care about people, about the repercussions of keeping them alive.
"You have to decide," Sephiroth said behind them. He was not speaking to Zack.
Cloud cradled Zack's cheek with his free hand and pressed into the teen's tummy with the other. He soothed him—but only enough to make the pain go away, to make him unafraid of what was coming next.
"Thank you, Cloudy," Zack sighed, his face flushed and snotty.
Cloud had never heard such an honest, deeply-felt thanks in all his years.
The angel responded, lips trembling as his eyes filled with tears, "You're welcome, Zack."
Then Sephiroth swooped in, his hands going to Zack's face—one on his free cheek and the other covering Cloud's smaller one already on the other side.
"I'm ready," Zack said bravely.
"You are," Sephiroth agreed.
Zack tried to keep Sephiroth in focus as his face got closer. The angel's breath fanned across his face and Zack's eyelids slipped shut for the last time. With no more stalling Sephiroth kissed Zack, and the lights in the room flickered with the power of it, of the two of them letting one suffering boy go before his time.
Sephiroth drew back and he was, to Cloud's surprise, crying as well. Every time he saw Sephiroth reap someone he was astounded by exactly how much Sephiroth felt, from a beloved grandma to a forgotten alley cat. He ached for them all.
They moved off the bed and looked at Zack Fair, relaxed and peaceful in death. The kid was even smiling, damn him—it hurt but they gave him what he wanted.
Cloud's breath caught in his chest and he wrapped his arms around Sephiroth's chest, weeping into his shirt. Sephiroth held on to him tightly and pressed his own tear-streaked face into Cloud's soft hair.
Death—or life—didn't affect Cloud like this; he was used to it. Something about this moment, though, this case—it undid him, and he had a feeling it was the same for Sephiroth as well.
Their wings pressed tightly together in sorrow and Cloud extracted his face to tilt it up at the other angel's, his cheeks wet and shiny with tears. Sephiroth pressed their foreheads together and they shakily and unevenly breathed in each other's wet exhales. Then they were kissing—the air sizzled with energy and the green haze of Lifestream. The forces of life and death in their kisses had no effect; they cancelled each other out and left just the push and slide of tongues and lips, salty with crying.
They grabbed at each other and pushed close, closer, as if trying to separate themselves bodily from the anguish of Zack's death and merge together, to share the pain and make it easier to bear. Sephiroth drew back and gave Cloud a few soft, desperate kisses, one after another, as if needing to press his message into Cloud's flesh more than once to make sure it stuck.
Cloud cupped the angel's face much like he had with Zack a few minutes earlier. Sephiroth's shaky hands covered his and they stared searchingly into each other's eyes.
"Seph," Cloud managed to get out. Sephiroth's fingers curled around his, still warm and securely holding the silver-haired angel's head in place. Cloud swallowed thickly and began to pull him down again—
—but then Cloud vanished.
Six months. The punishment for failing to keep Zack alive against his wishes was six months in solitary confinement, deep inside headquarters.
They did not feed him or give him anything to drink. Cloud technically could not die, nor needed to shower or brush his teeth or use the bathroom but it was by no means comfortable. His cell was small, not much longer than his legs if he sat against one wall and stretched them out, and was equally as wide and tall.
Lazard visited sometimes but always with a lecture. Cloud did not care to hear it but accepted his punishment with grace anyway, not complaining or rising to the bait when the jail guards taunted him with food or tales of what his friends were up to. Naturally news of Cloud, one of Lazard's best, being imprisoned spread all over the Garden like a wildfire but no one was allowed to visit. For six months Cloud suffered, but stoically. And then he got out.
Sephiroth waited outside the prison looking out of place in the realm of life; his dark attire and wing stood out starkly against everything else, brushed with light and tinted white.
Cloud ran to him. He opened his arms and Sephiroth accepted his rushing hug, his mouth immediately opening under the onslaught of Cloud's enthusiastic kisses. The blond slid down his body but did not relinquish him, grabbing tightly to his face and making Sephiroth bend over, unsteady on his feet.
"I was worried you wouldn't wait," Cloud breathed against the other's mouth, his wings flapping with happiness. They were feet from the doors of Lazard's jail but he ignored it as well as the staring of the guards he endured for months on end.
"Don't be stupid," Sephiroth scolded. His wing caught one of Cloud's and pressed against the left one, tip to tip. They pushed against each other like a mock-fight.
When Cloud's need to kiss and touch his—what, boyfriend?—was sated he leant away enough to declare, "I haven't eaten in half a year. I'm starving. Let's go out."
"There's someone you have to see before we do."
Cloud's head snapped over to see Zack Fair running over, hand-in-hand with Aerith. When Cloud saw him last he was ill, bruised and battered, then dead—but his skin was smooth and flawless now, flushed with color. From his back stretched a singular long, black wing.
"No way," Cloud gasped.
"Hey!" Zack grinned. He let go of Aerith, who was equally as happy to see Cloud (and seemingly over her reluctance to interact with angels of Death) and bounded over, scooping the blond up and swinging him around. Cloud always interacted with Zack when he was lying down—he was surprised to find Zack was taller than him. Over Zack's shoulder he could see Angeal flying over from the military barracks, grinning wide and waving as he got close.
It was hard to tell who he was happiest to see.
"He showed up outside Genesis' house about a week after he died," Sephiroth said with a smile. "He's a headache."
"You love it!"
His smile was warm and full of life—it took Cloud's breath away.
"Zack," Cloud said, gripping his shirt, "I'm so happy for you."
"I thought I was just gonna go to the Lifestream like normal, right? But then this lady showed up and told me I was the right fit for doing good in the world."
"Minerva," Cloud informed him, smiling so wide his face hurt.
"Yep. So here I am!" he sobered and nudged Cloud with his shoulder. "Sorry you got in so much trouble for me, man."
Cloud reached for Sephiroth, and the man immediately came to him, his hand warm where it wrapped around his. He said in complete honesty: "Don't be. It was worth it."
"You sure?" Zack asked doubtfully. Angeal landed a few feet away and he gave Cloud a strong one-armed hug, clutching him tight. Then, to Cloud's amazement, his best friend greeted Sephiroth and then Zack, taking the opportunity to ruffle Zack's hair. Zack protested, "Quit it, Angeal!"
"You all know each other?"
"Of course," Sephiroth answered. "Genesis and Angeal here are nearly inseparable these days."
The happiness in Cloud's soul was so strong he was surprised everyone nearby wasn't buffeted by it. Angeal rubbed the back of his neck and admitted, "I really have you to thank for that Cloud. Planet knows I wouldn't have met any angels of Death otherwise."
"I'll rub it in later," Cloud promised.
Angeal remembered that Tifa wanted to have him over for dinner now that his sentence was up. Sephiroth gently interrupted everyone's reuniting to remind them that Cloud wanted to eat and, as a giant group, they took to the sky. Cloud noticed the friendly way Angeal interacted with Sephiroth and Zack and the way Zack and Aerith's eyes met now and again, full of affection—and a wave of conviction washed through him again. He had done the right thing. Even if he messed up a lot in the past and was as confused as ever about the role angels like him played in keeping the Lifestream alive and well...of that, at least, he was sure.