Disclaimer: I do not own FFVII! This is a sort-of sequel to 'Double the Strife' by fringeperson, I have her permission to use her material. I hope you enjoy!

Zach swore under his breath as he looked around. Angeal was down, but conscious. Cloud and Genesis faced two summons, Ifrit and Shiva, about two meters to his left, Zack was helping Sephiroth fight some sort of scaly, four-legged monster with an affinity for lightning, and one of his swords—standard SOLDIER issue—was shattered. The Buster Sword lay nearby but Zach wasn't too sure about how Angeal would respond to him using his family heirloom. The choice was taken from him when some idiot summoned Bahamut right over Zach and Angeal. Instinct took over as Zach decided enough was enough. The familiar weight of the Buster Sword settled into his dominant right hand, his left hand now occupied by his other standard issue sword.

"Sorry, Commander Hewley," he said. "I'll return your sword when this is over."

Not bothering to wait for a response, he leapt at Bahamut, charging his swords with energy. His mind flashed back to the fight over Edge, when Kadaj had used the exact same summon to search for Jenova's head. Just like then, he ran along the spine, rending the summon in half. It was a matter of seconds to leap onto Ifrit's back and slash. He jumped off, dodging the retaliating swipe and rolled to avoid a fireball, feeling heat press against his neck and back. Ducking and dodging Ifrit's blows, he spotted an opening and sliced the summon's torso from left hip to right shoulder. Shiva he hit with a Firaja-enhanced blow to the neck, slicing cleanly through. A final stab through the skull finished off Ifrit and Zach landed on the ground, grimacing as his right thigh protested. Looking down, he saw that somewhere along the line, something had managed to land a hit on his thigh, leaving a long but shallow slice on the outside. He used Cure, then pulled a rag out of a pocket and sat down to clean the Buster Sword. He could feel eyes watching assessing, calculating, but he had a task to finish and paid them no mind. Once he finished cleaning the borrowed blade, Zach folded the rag and stuck it back in a pocket. He moved to stand and a black-gloved hand entered his field of vision. Zach looked up into Angeal's carefully blank face, and took the proffered hand. For an instant, he thought he'd go flying and land with the Buster Sword at his throat, but he stood without incident. He held out the sword to Angeal, who took it and looked it over. An eyebrow rose.

"It's spotless," he said. Zach held back a snort.

"I would hope so. I'd hate to cause wear, tear, or rust," he said in a neutral tone. A snort from Zack broke some of the tension and Angeal chuckled.

"True." An odd light filled his eyes. "If I didn't know better, I'd say that you've fought with the Buster Sword before." It was a loaded question and everyone knew it. Zach didn't as much as twitch.

"I can adapt easily," he said.

"Oh really?" That came from Sephiroth. Zach looked at the silver-haired General. Sephiroth continued speaking. "Then what would you say to a fight with me?"

"Where and when?" Zach asked.

"Here and now," was the immediate reply. Zach mentally evaluated his current strength and stamina, then nodded.

"I accept." He'd hold off on the Ether for now. He might need it later. He met his little brother's gaze and saw Cloud's anxiety, an anxiety that was mirrored in Zack's face. Zach flashed them what he hoped was a reassuring smile; it seemed to work. Cloud walked up to him and held out his own SOLDIER standard issue sword.

"Here, you can use my sword," he said. "At least for this fight." Zach's smile softened, acknowledging Cloud's worry.

"Sure," he said, taking the blade. "Thanks."

As Cloud walked back to stand next to Genesis and Zack, a memory flashed through Zach's head, words from a no-longer viable future:

"You already beat him once, didn't you? This should be a synch!"

'That's right,' he realized. 'I've fought him twice already and won both times, at least in my perspective. This Sephiroth has seen me fight, but has never actually fought me. Still, I can't underestimate him, he is a General, and 1st Class. I have to stay on my toes.' With these realizations in mind, Zach faced Sephiroth and assumed a guard stance.

"The rules are simple," Genesis said. "The first person to draw blood wins."

"No maiming or aiming to kill," Angeal added. "You are allowed to use Cure, but no other Materia usage is allowed, is that understood?"

"Yes, sir," Zach acknowledged. Sephiroth merely nodded his head.

"Begin!" Angeal said, and Sephiroth charged.

Thrust, parry, block, roll, backhand, backhand side, overhead, overhead backhand, backhand side, jump! Zach balanced on the blunt edge of the Masamune for only a moment, then leaped off and renewed his attack. It was different, this fight. For one, Sephiroth was sane, and thus fought ruthlessly, yet with honor; two, Zach was holding back a little, because 'fighting Sephiroth' usually went hand in hand with 'killing Sephiroth' and that wasn't the point of this battle. Sephiroth blocked, dodged, then stabbed at Zach's chest, a move that had/would have speared Zach twice in the future. Adrenaline and experience meant that Zach dodged the move and retaliated with a volley of blows from all sides as he drew upon his SOLDIER strength (enhanced twice over now) to out-maneuver his opponent. Sephiroth froze, Zach's off-hand blade less than a millimeter from his throat, the right-hand blade pinning the Masamune. A line of red formed on the neck of the 1st Class.

Zach withdrew his blades and stepped back. Sephiroth swallowed, and a bead of red formed, falling slowly down his neck.

"You okay?" Zach asked. Sephiroth looked at him, an intrigued look on his face.

"Yes, I am." He bowed slightly, no more than an inclination of the head, but a bow nevertheless. "This battle has been won by you." He turned and walked back to Genesis and Angeal, a hand rising to touch the wound on his neck.

"He was holding back." Genesis sounded impressed. Angeal privately agreed.

Note: I changed Cloud/Zack's name to Zach, to distinguish between him and Zack Fair. It allowed me to keep better track about who I was writing about.