Cloud faced the man that had haunted his nightmares since he'd seen his town go up in flames, fists clenched as he glared. They stood on a barren rock with what looked like a night sky surrounding them, with the odd, brilliant color slashing through it. The Edge of Creation, Sephiroth called it.
The man in question turned and walked forward, striding confidently but with no malice.
"Cloud, lend me your strength. Let us fight Destiny… together," Sephiroth said, holding out his hand, asking.
The blond's first instinct was to grab his sword and put distance between them, but the lack of aggression from the silver-haired apparition allowed him to control that urge. Instead, Cloud looked at the offered appendage, almost not comprehending. Sephiroth was… asking him? Sephiroth asking anything just didn't compute. He'd been a general… and then a madman. He'd either been in charge and ordering or crazy and demanding.
Cloud also didn't feel compelled, like he had been earlier. He didn't like to think about it, but when he'd seen Hojo and then Sephiroth and he'd just kind of staggered down the hall towards the elevator… like he had to follow. He couldn't even look away. And that wouldn't be the first time. After the first reactor bombing, when he'd seen Sephiroth then, he'd been compelled to follow then.
Could… could Sephiroth control him somehow?!
That amped up his unease and he felt his hand itching for his sword, even if he knew he didn't really have a chance against Sephiroth on his own – not head on.
But one question had him clamping down on that urge – that instinct (well, that and the fact that Sephiroth wasn't outright attacking him this time, even if he just had earlier).
"Fight for what?" he asked, albeit through gritted teeth. It was the best he could give right now.
Sephiroth blinked, looking a little taken back, so Cloud expanded.
"You want to fight Destiny," which was something he could understand and relate to all too well. "Why?"
The silver-haired apparition stared at Cloud, and for that minute, the blond could see the man he used to be – the General and the war hero. He tipped his head to the side, as if contemplating the question.
"I don't like where Destiny wants us to go."
Cloud's jaw was starting to hurt from how hard he was clenching his teeth. More riddles. More mystery. He couldn't stop his hand from twitching, but he still managed to keep it at his side (which was, in his opinion, a major accomplishment).
"And where does Destiny want us to go?"
Sephiroth blinked again, then smiled that smug, all-knowing smile that had Cloud wanting to punch his face in.
Maybe he'd ask Tifa how later. When he saw her again. Because he would.
"To the end of the game."
"Stop it!" Cloud yelled. "Answer me straight! Where does Destiny want us to go?! What do you really want?!"
Sephiroth turned away, looking up at the vast space at the edge of creation with open arms. "Destiny wants all the events to go exactly the same."
"The same as what?!" He had his hand on his sword now and didn't know how he'd stop himself from drawing it this time. He wasn't sure he wanted to. This had been an exercise in frustration. He shouldn't have expected anything less from Sephiroth.
"As before," Sephiroth said, then turned to eye Cloud speculatively. "This isn't the first time I've experienced these events, Cloud."
The blond felt his eyes widen and he took a step back, hand loosening from around the hilt of his sword.
"What?" he asked, voice harsher and more vulnerable than he would like.
"I think your little Ancient," he practically sneered the word, "has memories of another life as well."
Cloud felt his knees go a little weak. None of this should be possible. None of it. Sephiroth should be dead. He'd killed the man himself. He knew that, somehow. He remembered flashes of his hands on the buster sword shoved through the General's back. He wasn't sure how it had gotten there, but still. Yet, here Sephiroth was, alive and well. He could somehow defy death, and that would be hard enough to fight. But a Sephiroth who had future knowledge? How could they beat that too? On top of his insane strength…
"In that other world – that other life – no one was happy. So, let's change it. Join me. Help me defy Destiny." He turned and held his hand out again.
The hand seemed different this time. It looked exactly the same, black gloves over tapered fingers that looked all too fragile to hold the strength they did, but Cloud could only stare at it, unsure of what to think or say.
"I…" he started, then shook his head. No. There was something wrong with all of this. He wracked his brain, trying to think through the hazy fog that sometimes accompanied the flashbacks he had of Sephiroth. Then Aerith's words came back to him. He'll say he cares for the planet… but there's no bigger threat to the planet than him!
"No," he said, reaching for his sword hilt again and drawing it. "Never!"
Sephiroth just looked… amused?
"You'll let her die again?" he asked, eyebrow cocked.
Cloud felt his heart stop. 'Her'? Which 'Her' was he referring to? Tifa? Then his mind went to Jesse – Jesse who was already dead under the plate if nothing else. So, not her. No, most likely, Aerith…
He didn't want any of them to die!
"No!" he yelled, attacking Sephiroth, who almost lazily knocked his strike to the side. Cloud turned to attack again, but a loud sigh had him stopping.
"If you don't defy fate, she will die. They all will."
And somehow, Cloud could feel the truth of his words. The fog returned, both dull and sharp, both light and dark, with just the faintest green tinge. He grabbed his head, trying to fight through it.
"No," he said again, through gritted teeth.
"Together we can change it," Sephiroth said, almost as if he were just stating a particularly amusing fact.
The man's words scared him, almost as much as losing the people in his life – the people he'd just begun to care for; losing everything all over again….
"Why me?" he asked.
Sephiroth raised an eyebrow.
"You said you won't let me die. Why?" Because he wasn't anything. He wasn't even that good of a SOLDIER not like—
The fog came back with a vengeance, shooting pain through his head. He tried to shake it away, but to no avail.
Then he felt a hand on his chin, almost gentle… almost. He lifted his head to meet green, slitted eyes.
"You never did understand your full potential," the former general said, as if Cloud were a pet of some kind. Something young and adorable in their naivety – something he could pity.
Cloud didn't need or want his pity. He didn't want anyone's pity.
He yanked his head away with a snarl.
Sephiroth went on as if nothing had happened, still looking amused. "You didn't understand… but then, no one did. Which is why they didn't try to stop you until it was too late.
"You could become the planet's weapon."
Cloud blinked. What?
"Oh, you don't even know of those yet?" Somehow he sounded even more smug and superior than before. Cloud grit his teeth. The former general stood, strolling around, unconcerned. "When the planet is in danger, it creates weapons – beings of unprecedented power, enormous and unique. They will do whatever they have to to save the planet.
"But even they weren't enough. So the planet chose the person who defeated them all." He turned to a frankly stunned figure, still kneeling on the ground, eyes still wide with shock and horror. "You."
This… this was too much. He wasn't ...that! He could never be what Sephiroth thought of him.
Funny, as a child, he would have given anything for such acknowledgment from this man. But now, it just made him sick. And how could he live up to that? Defeating power-houses created directly by the planet to protect itself?
How? How could he ever become that strong?!
"You are merely an embryo now, unable to even comprehend how far you could go," Sephiroth went on.
Cloud just wanted him to stop, but couldn't seem to make himself say the words.
"Perhaps I could change Destiny alone, but together…"
Change… Destiny? Change his loved ones dying? Being taken from him again?
But somehow, he didn't think that was anything Sephiroth would want.
The man in question continued, looking down at his hand as if seeing it for the first time. "What I did before… didn't work. I see now, it never would have. But that doesn't mean my… hatred is gone. What I want, though, that… has already changed."
"Changed to what?" Cloud asked, almost shouting, proud of himself for getting the words out, as inadequate as they were.
Sephiroth stayed silent for several long seconds. Then, "For the first time in my existence, I'm not really sure."
Cloud was beginning to think it wasn't within Sephiroth's ability to actually make sense anymore. Before he could say anything, though, the silver-haired man went on.
"The world before us is open and free. And what terrifying freedom it is."
The blond felt his eyes widen as he recalled Aerith saying more or less the same thing. Was Sephiroth right? Did she know?
It would explain so much…
"They… they can't die!" Cloud said, hating how desperate he sounded.
Then he saw the hand in front of him for a third time. "If that is your desire. As long as it defies what Destiny has set out for us… yes." He said the last word as if he'd received a revelation. "That is what I want. To defy Destiny. Whatever choice that is."
"And that's… all you want?" Cloud asked, unsure.
That one eyebrow rose again. "No. But for now, it the only relevant point."
Cloud looked down at the hand again. "Y-you killed them. All of them. My whole town…"
"A town that hated you anyway?" Sephiroth asked, voice almost flat.
"You killed my mother!" Cloud screamed looking up angrily.
For the first time, Sephiroth didn't look smug or amused. He just looked… blank.
"I… was not myself."
"Do you think that makes me feel any better?" Cloud asked, picking up his sword and swinging. Sephiroth backed away, but didn't draw his own sword. He avoided the next several swings easily. But Cloud kept swinging. "You expect me to just trust you! Just like that?"
A frown appeared on the other's lips. Slight, but there. "Surely you can sense it – the truth. Have I lied to you?"
Cloud paused, thinking back on their conversation and realized he hadn't been lied to. Not once. He didn't know how he knew, he just did.
A voice whispered in his mind, reunion, but he ignored it and the green haze that came with it.
"Would it help if I apologized?" he heard Sephiroth ask – bluntly and with no emotion.
Cloud grit his teeth. "No."
"Hmm," came the only response, sounding displeased and disappointed? "I thought we could have an agreement." The 'I was wrong' hung on there at the end, silently.
And right about then, Cloud realized what an opportunity he had. Sephiroth wanted him by his side, for some unfathomable reason (because he had to be exaggerating about his potential strength – he had to be). He was willing to make a deal to get that… to get something only Cloud had to offer.
"I want to save everyone," he finally heard himself say. Both of Sephiroth's brows rose, intrigued. "Help me save them," in recompense, perhaps? Or just because Cloud couldn't let it happen again. He couldn't handle the guilt and anguish that came with losing everyone close to him. He rose to his feet, levering himself with the sword before standing straight (and when had he fallen to his knees again?), willing himself to look firm. "Help me save them, and I'll help you defy Destiny."
With that, Cloud thrust out his own hand.
Sephiroth blinked at him for several seconds before that smile came back. He reached out and took Cloud's hand.
Something inside Cloud twisted and he collapsed in pain again, his one free hand going to his head. He heard Sephiroth laugh and then… blackness.
He wondered what he'd just done.
Cloud came back to the real world slowly. He felt wind against his face, dusty with just the barest touch of moisture – an approaching rainstorm? He could also still smell the slightest touch of Mako. Just outside of Midgar then?
His body felt… smoother? Stronger, and perhaps more lithe than he remembered it feeling before. Or perhaps it was just more in tune with his mind somehow? He couldn't quite describe the new sensation.
"Cloud?" he felt a hand on his back and tried to force his eyes open, with only some success.
"Wha?" he very eloquently asked. That was Aerith's voice.
"I found him!" she called out loudly. "He's over here!"
Footsteps approached as he forced himself to his knees, closing his eyes against the headache throbbing through him. It didn't help, much.
"Cloud!" he heard Tifa say, relieved.
"There ya go, man, scarin' us again!" Barrett reprimanded, but he also sounded relieved.
Then he heard a growl. "He's different." That came from Red XIII.
"What?" Tifa asked.
Then a gasp from Aerith. Cloud looked up at her and she took a step back, here eyes wide and hands clutching her dress over her heart.
"What's wrong?" Tifa asked. Cloud turned to her and Barrett. Tifa's eyes widened and she also backed away, a hand coming to her mouth. Barrett just cursed, as he tended to do.
"What?" Cloud asked, worried.
"Cloud…" Tifa said slowly, "your eyes…"
He felt his heart stop and put a hand up to his cheek. Nothing felt different... "What about them?" he asked.
"Here," Tifa said, searching through her bag. "I think I have a mirror in here." She pulled out a small one and handed it over to Cloud, carefully, as if worried he might attack her. Frowning, he held it up… and it slipped from his fingers once he'd gotten a good glimpse.
His eyes still had a blue tinge to them, but looked far more green… and they were slitted. Just like…
"Oh, Cloud," he heard Aerith say softly, "What have you done?"
He heard Sephiroth laugh in the back of his mind and grit his teeth, fists clenching at his side. He knew he couldn't undo this… whatever it was. So he took a deep breath and then turned to Aerith.
"What I had to do to defy Destiny."
If anything she just looked sadder. "Oh… Cloud."
"Come on," he said after a moment. "Let's go save the planet."
From whom, he didn't know. ShinRa? Jenova, perhaps? Sephiroth, if he had to, as that had been the deal, and he wouldn't hesitate in turning on his new 'ally' (if he could call the former general even that) if he went back on his word.
Another laugh sounded in his head, but he ignored it again, putting his sword on his back and turning towards the general direction of Kalm.
He'd find a way to make this – make everything – right, even if he had to fight the universe to do it.
AN: AU for a scene from the Remake that bugged me becasue, let's be real, Sephiroth wouldn't ask for something he didn't want and he wouldn't bother if he knew the answer and had no way to change it.
So yeah, here's a theory that's been going around - that Aerith and Sephiroth have memories from the other timeline, ie 'the future'. There's actually a lot to back this up if you want to go check it out on youtube. 1stclass Soldier and WatchCulture both have great videos exploring this, and honestly, it makes me like the remake better, so I'll accept it for now.
Come join my brand new discord! /ezzFnGJ