Our Weapons of War Are Mighty Chapter 1
By Gary M. Gandy
Note: All rights to Final Fantasy VII and its characters belong to Square Co., Ltd. The characters are used without permission for the purpose of entertainment only (i.e. neither I nor you can use this story for money). All original characters are the property of the author (but I don't care if you use them).
Sephiroth tried to focus, but to no avail. He could still here that other voice, deep inside him. "Yes, I'm here you bastard. You can't lock me away. I'll always be here," it told him.
The meditation wasn't working. He hadn't really expected it to, but he was willing to try anything. The last thing he wanted was go insane. Not that he hadn't already been down that road though.
When he had found out about Jenova, the experiment, the whole nine yards, the voice was there then too, pushed down when he learned of his past. He had pushed down the old in Nibelheim that fateful day and who he was now had surfaced. At least he hoped he had pushed it down.
That other voice was with him all the time now, cursing him for what he had done, for trying to commit genocide, for succumbing to Jenova, for killing Aeris. In his insanity he had tried to become a living god, but Cloud and the others had stopped him. He had lost that chance, but the good news was that new opportunities had presented themselves.
He stood up, tired of trying to focus, and picked up the Masamune. Once, the feel of it's slender handle in his hand had brought peace and focus. Now, nothing. Perhaps if he practiced again, focus on improving his skills, maybe then he could be at ease; heaven forbid he might even get some sleep later. It hadn't helped much before, but it was better than nothing.
As he jabbed, lunged, and spun in a dizzying dance, his blade sliced through the air with a satisfying sound. Soon, he began to sweat again. He had already taken his shirt off to keep cool, but the Shinra air conditioners didn't work as well now that Mako was off limits. They had turned to materia to provide electricity, but the amount produced was sorely lacking. He wasn't about to risk destroying the planet again by bringing back the reactors, especially when he was beginning to enjoy living on it.
He did get more cool air than most however. If the president of Shinra didn't deserve the best, who did. As much as Sephiroth hated politics, he loved power, and no one had more than he. He had taken the position by force, with no one even attempting to stop him, except for Reeve. Reeve had been a problem, and if Sephiroth could have, he would have taken him out the old fashioned way, a sword through the back. But in government, one had to be subtle. He had just caused a scandal that had gotten Reeve thrown out of Shinra entirely. Then, he had taken the reins of the nearly non-existent government, and slowly, and expensively, rebuilt it and Midgar. The process had been slow. A large amount of people had died because of him, and he had to earn their trust. So, he had built the new Midgar, one with many more levels, where the sun shined on every home. A new Midgar where even the slum life was twice as good as it had been. Slowly, he earned their trust, and had come into power. President of Shinra was no living god, but it was as close as one could come to it.
Living god, he thought to himself. What a bad idea that had been. It was fortunate he had survived. Truth be told though, he knew then that he should have been dead, but he hadn't been, despite Cloud's numerous blows. The good news was that he was thinking clearly now. No more Jenova, no more living god, just Sephiroth. But that was the good news. The bad news was that he was lying at the bottom of the crater, bleeding heavily from Cloud's Omnislash and Jenova's power ripping out of his body, watching as Cloud and the others got into the Highwind that had somehow fallen into the crater. He could barely even think about moving, let alone do it. They had lifted off just as Holy had blasted out, nearly destroying him in the process. He had been lucky enough to had fallen on the side of the crater, escaping the blast. Afterwards, it had been quiet as death. He resigned himself to the process of healing his numerous wounds.
The process had been slow. He remarked how he had never really worked on cultivating any healing magic, but that had changed afterwards. He had finally been able to leave the crater, making his way back to civilization. His wounds had healed, and he had proceeded what was left of Midgar. Once there, he had started subtly, until he was hired on in Shinra. From there, it was a matter of removing the proper people, and earning the masses' trust. Once word spread that he was back, and that he was in charge of Shinra, Avalanche had returned. As troublesome as this was, it brought some good. He had found out Aeris was back.
Her "resurrection", or whatever had happened, had been helpful. With her alive, new pathways of opportunity had opened up. He still had plans for the Ancients and their lone descendant. Not that he had been able to catch her. Cloud was adamant in that he was with her at all times, and Cloud had a way of stopping Sephiroth's best laid traps dead on the spot. When he had lost Jenova, he had lost a lot of his own power as well. His proximity to Jenova all that time had allowed him unfathomable powers. Now, he was back to his former state, before his "awakening" at Nibelheim. That wasn't to bad, but now Cloud and he were on equal footing, bar political power. But that could change if he caught Aeris.
As he brought his sword in another downward sweep, he could still hear that voice. "You'll never catch her," it taunted him. "He will make sure of that. You'll never be able to implement that sick little plan."
"Watch me," he said resolutely.
Just then his PHS system notified him he had a video-call coming in. He took a towel to dry off with and walked over his com-screen. The eight foot high monitor flared to life with the image of his head of security looking distraught.
"Bad news, I assume," Sephiroth said.
"Yes sir," the guard answered. "Avalanche hit one of the incarceration-unit plants tonight."
"Damn," Sephiroth said, even though he wasn't exactly surprised. "Damages?"
"The bomb took out nearly everything."
"The new manufacturing plant plans weren't still there before the raid, were they?"
"No sir," the guard answered. "They were removed two days ago."
Sephiroth was relieved to say the last. He couldn't have that little plan exposed yet. "Very well, you know what to do. Search the area, see if you can track them." He flipped off the monitor knowing full well that Barret's little group would not be found tonight.
For the past year they had managed to dent his efforts in nearly every direction. He knew they were stationed somewhere in Midgar, but he didn't know where. Of course, his five layer design hadn't helped matters any. The city was over twice as tall, twice as wide, and much more populated. His only chance of catching them was by doing it while they were trying to sabotage something. Cloud had proved to be his greatest challenge, surprising as it was. He had lost all of that hard-earned power when he was defeated in the crater. Now all he had to show was a supernova materia.
This new bombing was not helping either. As if he didn't have enough on his mind, now he had another bombing as well as his little "inner" voice.
What he needed right now was a shower. That might be just what the doctor ordered. He walked away from the screen, thinking how good the water would feel when the pain started.
He had been getting the headaches more and more frequently lately, but this? It was unlike anything he had ever felt! He could feel hot knives slicing through every fiber of his being.
As he bent over, the pain overwhelming him, he thought about the tests he had ordered for himself. The doctors had told him that the sudden severance with Jenova could have serious side-effects, but he had dismissed them. Why had he been so stupid.
Unseen to him in his agony, small streams of magic twisted around his frame, growing bigger by the second. Soon he was surrounded in a glowing haze. But the next scene he witnessed nearly threw him over the edge. He watched as a separate hand, identical to the his, began to pull away from his own. It looked like some strange optical illusion. His mind, already struggling to cope with the pain, was unable to stand the shock of what it was witnessing. It did the only thing left to it to keep him alive. It shut itself down and he lost consciousness.
Cloud suddenly noticed how warm the sun felt on his skin. Sitting there, in Costa del Sol, his world just seemed to fall into place. He just sat there in his beach chair, sunglasses over his eyes, and let every pore of his body that wasn't covered by his swim trunks soak up the rays. Yes, life was indeed good. At least until the cold water fell on his stomach.
He jumped up, taking off his glasses, glaring as Aeris twisted the rest of the sea water out of her hair onto Cloud. "Damn Aeris, that's cold!"
"Oh you big baby," she told him, laughing. "And I thought you said you were going to stop cursing so much. Between you, Barret, and Cid it's a wonder anyone in our group can say a sentence without some foul language coming out of their mouth."
"Yeah, I know, I know. I'm sorry."
"So," she said, smiling again, "are you going to snorkel with me, or just lay here all day."
"Don't worry, I'll come, I just want to get a little tan before we leave. You can't get a tan in Midgar, and this is our last day here. Why don't you just lay here with me for a while, then we can go snorkeling.
"Alright," she said, pulling over a folding beach chair. "Anyway, what are we going to do tonight. It's our last night on vacation so we need to make it worthwhile. Remember, as soon as we get back, I am going to Cosmo Canyon for two whole months."
"And I still don't like that idea," Cloud said, letting her know for the fiftieth time. That was a long way away, and besides, it would be two whole months in a city across an ocean from him.
"Well tough," she told him resolutely. "I can take care of myself. Besides, Red's coming with me. You won't have anything to worry about."
"Yeah, I guess your right," he conceded. Maybe he had been taking this bodyguard thing a little too far. "If you feel you need to go there, then you should go."
"There, you see. You are finally making sense now. Look Cloud," she said, taking on a more serious tone, "I need to go there. I need to get in touch with myself again. Back when I was a flower girl, it was a lot simpler. Then, I met you, found out about my mother and her people, even died." She shivered at the uncomfortable thought. "I just need time to get everything back in perspective. You of all people should understand that."
She was right. He had been there before, in the Lifestream. Thank God Tifa had been willing to help him remember who he was.
"Yeah, I can understand where you are coming from. I guess I'll just deal with it."
She smiled again. "Now that that is settled, where are we going to night. I hope your taking me on some wonderful romantic excursion."
It was his turn to grin. "Actually, I was thinking of going to the Gold Saucer. You know, check out the gondola, revisit where you drug me to on our first "date"."
"Oh, that's a great idea!" she said. "I never even thought about that."
"Well, that time we seemed kind of rushed. Both of us had a lot on our minds, me with Sephiroth, you with Zack. I just figured we could finish where we left off."
She got up and kissed him. "I know you think it's sappy, but you are so sweet. By the way, I'm thirsty, you want something while I'm up."
"Thanks, a Pina Colada sounds wonderful."
"That's what I was going to get. I'll be right back."
He watched her walk off in her new pink bathing suit. With Aeris, everything had to be pink or red. And thank God for bathing suits. Aeris looked very good in hers. The suit was a one piece which left her back bare to get sun. Cloud noticed that she bore no scar from Sephiroth's sword. Aeris had told him she had been healed in the Lifestream, but he still couldn't believe that wound hadn't left any physical scars. It didn't seem to leave many mental one's either.
She had taken nearly a day trying to explain how she had come back. His shock at her being alive hadn't allowed much of it to sink in. She had to repeat her story several times before it sunk into his thick head, and even now he wasn't perfectly sure about the whole thing.
As far as he could tell, the Promised Land was where the spirit of every living thing went after death, not just the Cetra. Your life energy was what went into the Lifestream. Except that Aeris' death had been different. Being killed by Sephiroth's ghost, or whatever it was, had forced her spirit into the Lifestream still attached to her energy. That was what allowed her to return. When the Lifestream came to the surface to help Holy destroy Meteor, she just popped out with it. They had entered Midgar after everything had cleared. He had been surprised to find her in her old church, helping people that were hurt.
Not that her coming back hadn't brought its own share of dilemmas. First, there was the little matter between him and Tifa. Fortunately, Tifa had understood. She had pointed out that they had known very little of each other before their meeting at the train station. He was still close to her though, more close than any of his other friends. Hell, Tifa had brought up the idea of he and Aeris taking a vacation together. Cloud had objected, but everyone else had sided with Tifa. They said he was getting a little to "uptight." And maybe he was. With Sephiroth in charge of Shinra, who wouldn't be.
Sephiroth. There was the other problem involving Aeris. Sephiroth was after her for some strange reason. One he couldn't fathom. What could Sephiroth want with a Cetra. So far he had been able to keep her safe, but what if Sephiroth tried to get her when she left for Cosmo Canyon. He doubted that Sephiroth would ever know of her being there, but who could tell for sure.
His thoughts were interrupted when Aeris came back. She handed him the yellow drink he was so fond of and sat down, sipping from her own. What the hell, he had been thinking enough. This was their vacation and he was going to enjoy himself. He smiled to Aeris and sat back, enjoying the sun, waves, and the rum.
He tried to stand up, pain racing through his body, blurring his vision. Slowly, he was able to get his feet. Vertigo clawed at his stomach. He closed his eyes, slowly abating the nausea. When he opened his eyes, he could see the office, his office. It sickened him to the core.
And that thought made him realize that he truly was disgusted. All of him. Not an inch of him relished the idea of the whole affair. What had happened to him.
The pain was still there, and now his confusion wasn't helping matters any. He could barely stand, his balance swaying one way than the other. Where was the other mind, the dominant one. He was in charge now. If he wanted to move the hand, the hand moved. The other mind wasn't just inactive, it was gone, completely. Then he saw himself.
Not really himself. Someone who was exactly like him. He was still lying on the ground, unconscious, his white hair splayed out all around his head. Slowly, realization hit in. This wasn't just a dream. Now, he had this, on top of all the people he had killed, the people of Nibelheim, the president, even Aeris. Oh God, not this too. The room started spinning. He reached out for his desk, trying to steady himself.
He had to get out of here, but where. Who could he turn to?
Cloud! The only person besides Zack that he had been remotely close to. But wait, Cloud hated him. He would kill him on sight. No, it didn't matter. He would have to try, no matter the risk. He had no other choice. He turned to leave when something caught his eye. On the floor, the two swords, one's blades gleaming brightly, the other somehow gleaming darkly. He reached for the bright one, something in his head warning him of the other. Why the Masamune had divided was beyond his comprehension at this point. He only wanted to get out of here.
Gripping the handle, his mind cleared a little. Not that it removed much of his guilt and self-loathing. He placed the sword in its sheath, but he still held the handle for its support. Slowly, with deliberate steps, he walked down the stairs.
He nearly fell a few times, but he managed to walk on, each step becoming harder than the last. Finally, he was past the stairs. He made a beeline for his personal elevator, ignoring his secretaries as they asked if he was all right. Thankfully, the closing of the elevator doors ceased their questions.
The pain seemed to be lessening, but his guilt, his self-hate, gnawed at him like a dog to a bone. As the chime announced his arrival on the first floor, he stumbled out the door. Several guards stood up and attempting to come help him when they saw the shape he was in.
"Stay back," he ordered. "I'm all right." The guards stopped where they were, but they did not sit back down. "I'm going out for a while."
"Shall I call your driver," a guard asked.
"No. I'll just walk. Thank you." Even making speech was a daunting task. He hoped that the guards would obey without asking questions. Fortunately for him, they did.
He managed to get out the front door, and headed down one of the busier streets on the uppermost level, hoping not to be followed. He bumped into countless people as he stumbled on, but none of them seemed to recognize him. Could he look that bad? He shook his head. It didn't matter. He had to find Cloud.
He walked on for what seemed forever. He lost count of the blocks, his body starting to ache again as well as his mind. He turned down an alley slowly feeling his consciousness slipping away. He tried to will himself on, but to no avail. As he fell into a pile of empty cardboard boxes, he let the darkness envelope him.
Since the first time he had heard it, the Golden Saucer's music annoyed him. That happy little amusement park tune coming through speakers in every part of the park just grated on his nerves. He looked up at one of the speakers, wishing he had not left his sword back in Midgar.
Aeris noticed him staring up at something in the ceiling. "What's the matter?" she asked, as they walked to the gondola ride.
"Hmm?" he said, turning his attention to her. "Oh, nothing. Just wishful thinking."
"Wishful, about what?"
Cloud mentally pictured himself cleaving the boxes into several small pieces. "Nothing. So, you ready to ride?" he asked, noticing that they had arrived.
"Of course. Who wouldn't want to with you in the same car."
Cloud blushed as he handed another attendant some GP. Aeris always enjoyed embarrassing him, and she had a knack of doing it right at the worst times. He hurriedly pulled her into a car and shut the door. She only laughed harder.
"Do you always have to do that in front of people?" he asked her.
"What? I just gave you a compliment. What's so bad about that?"
He gave her a look that told her he knew better. Suddenly the ride surged to life. They watched as they lifted around the huge amusement park.
"Does this remind you of anything?" he asked, smiling.
"Yes, except this time you are actually sitting beside me."
He blushed again. It was true. Their first date, he had been uncomfortable, and had sat across from her. Now they shared the seat, holding each others hand.
She sat closer to him, laying her head on his shoulder. He looked out of the cart, noticing how clearly the stars looked this high up. He could make out the big dipper quite easily. Aeris seemed content, her eyes closed. Right then was probably the calmest and possibly the happiest he had ever felt in his entire life. Neither one of them moved for quite a long time.
All too soon, the ride came back to where it had started. As she opened their door, the attendant told them to enjoy themselves at the rest of the park. Cloud thanked her and walked hand in hand with Aeris out to the central area of the park.
"That was very nice of you," Aeris told him as they came out the tube elevator.
"Well, I figured we needed to do something special on our last day here. I just hope it wasn't to soppy for you."
She laughed. "Most girls like soppy. It's usually the guys who hate the romantic stuff." "So what do you want to do now," he asked, looking around at the different possibilities.
"Let's go to event square," she said taking his arm and pulling him in the square's direction. "I hear there's something special going on tonight."
"What, another show?" he asked.
"No, just come on and you'll see."
He followed her to the tube elevator and they were whisked down to the event square. As they entered the room, Cloud felt his stomach sink.
"Oh no. Come on Aeris, I can't do this."
"Come on silly," she said, pulling him down the stairs to the floor. "It's just a dance."
Cloud looked at all the couples, standing close to each other. He felt like throwing up.
"Aeris, I don't know how to dance," he whispered in her ear.
She looked up into his face, smiling as always. "Don't worry," she told him. "I'll show you how. Now, put your hands up here."
He placed his arms around her waist as she put hers on his shoulders. "Now don't worry, just move. In a slow song, their aren't any steps, you just move to the music."
He followed her movements, talking to her as she tried to ease his nervousness. Soon, he noticed that they seemed to be staring into each other's eyes. He tried to look away, feeling something deep down that scared him, but her green eyes just held him there.
He could here the band's string section pick up with the emotional part of the song as her eyes just seemed to draw him in. Neither noticed their heads coming closer as her emerald eyes looked into his. Then, without warning, he kissed her. Time seemed to disappear, as did the other dancers, as the lights flashed off of a faceted globe into the dark around them.
They stood there, both frozen, until the lights came up and the band stopped. They both opened their eyes. Cloud quickly looked down at the ground, rubbing the back of his head at the awkwardness of the situation. He hadn't really meant to kiss her. It had just popped into his head, and he had reacted without thinking it through. All he could think of was how stupid he felt. Then he looked up and noticed Aeris smiling.
"Thank you," she whispered into his ear.
He only laughed quietly. God, was he relieved. Then she took his hand and she showed him how to waltz as the band started up again.
The glass was only half-empty, and already she was tired of the drink. Sitting there, her hands around the glass on the table, she had hoped that maybe a little alcohol would ease her mind. She didn't want to be drunk. Well, then again...
Barret walked up behind her, quietly enough that she never heard him. He came up to the bar, her eyes never leaving the glass of caramel colored liquid.
"Alright Tifa," he said, startling her enough that she nearly spilled the liquor. "I know when something's bothering you, and you sitting here with a drink at midnight's a dead give away."
Tifa smiled. Barret could always tell what she was feeling. She wondered if he could tell what she was thinking right now.
"I know what you're thinkin'," he said, as if to confirm the thought. "Tifa, you got to get over this. Hell girl, you told him to go with her."
"Damn it Barret, you think I don't know that. What was I supposed to say?"
"You should of said what you felt."
She shook her head and breathed out audibly. "I don't even know what I feel. I thought I had feelings for him, but, I don't know what they are. And now, I don't know whether its jealousy over Aeris and him, or something legit."
"Let me ask you somethin'," he said. "Can you see you with him? And I don't mean for a little while either, I mean forever."
She didn't answer right away. She was trying to picture herself with Cloud, latter in life. They had gotten close after she had been hurt by Sephiroth, and especially after he came to Midgar, but that had been an intense situation. Lately it had been intense too, but not like before, and she had felt differently.
"No, I guess you're right," she said finally. "He's just to distant. I swear Aeris is the only one who can get him to come out of that cool little shell of his." She had gotten inside that shell, once. In the Lifestream, she had seen into his head, for a little. But since then, nothing. She realized that she would need someone who could tell her what he was feeling, and Cloud either could not or would not.
"Hey, listen girl," Barret said, smiling. "You two got something he and Aeris will never have, you got your friendship. You two are close, closer than I think you know. When you helped him out of that Mako poisoning, you made a bond. If he's ever in a bind, it'll be you he turns to. Your the best friend he has, don't forget that."
Tifa smiled. Barret was making sense. Really, Cloud as a friend was better than Cloud as a lover.
"Now, you gonna go to bed now?" Barret asked. "We got a long day, Cloud's comin' back, and so is Cid and Vince."
Tifa thought for a moment, then agreed. "Yeah," she said, emptying then putting up the glass inside one of the cabinets inside Avalanche's new base. "I'm going to clean up my stuff first, then I'll hit it. Goodnight Barret, and thanks."
It was Barret's turn to smile. "Anytime Tifa."
He turned and headed for his bed, yawning.
Tifa finished up in the kitchen and dried her hands. She followed Barret's example thinking how good sleep would feel right then.
He awoke to find himself on his office floor, lying on his stomach.
"Son of a bitch," he cursed. What had happened. He started to move, but several sharp jabs of pain informed him his body was not quite ready. He wasn't hurt really, it was more like his body was extremely tired, but from what.
He remained still for a while longer, trying to remember what had happened. He recalled the intense pain, the falling to his knees, then blacking out. Past that, he couldn't remember.
Soon, he was able to stand. He probably should have a doctor come look at him, but what then. They would probably just want to run more tests. Screw it. What he wanted now was sleep. He thought about informing the guards that he was going to his room, but decided against it. He walked, his leg muscles screaming in agony with every step. As he entered the second elevator to his office, he didn't notice that his first was still down on the first floor.
Riding along sideways to an adjoining structure where his living quarters were located, he noticed something. His little conscience, or whatever it had been, was gone. Was that what this was about? Had this little leftover from Jenova finally been purged from his system? With that thought in mind, the pain seemed lessened. Tomorrow, he could wake up without the fear of the other voice waking up with him. The elevator stopped and he exited to his quarters, heading straight for his bed.
Without the torturing other mind, he soon was fast asleep.
"Shit!" Cid yelled from under the hovercraft.
"What happened?" Vincent yelled back, sweating from trying to wrench a nut off of an ungreased bolt.
"Nothing, just hit my head on somethin'. Why in the hell can't we just fly in with the Little Bronco. It's not like it's the airship. I didn't fix it just to have it sit at the top of Mount Condor. I can understand sticking the Highwind there, it's nice and big. The LB ain't."
Vincent laughed, something he'd been doing more of lately. "Sephiroth ordered any flying craft landing near Midgar to be searched; you know that Cid."
"Yeah, but this damn hovercraft's a piece of shit. I swear, not once has it worked all the way through a trip. Hey, hand me another rag, would you?"
Vincent passed his friend an oil stained rag. "That's not true. It did fine on the last four tri-"
Cid interrupted. "I know, I know. Damn Vince, I was exaggerating. You got to be so literal?"
Vince laughed again. Cid was the only one he let call him Vince, although Barret had been taking liberties lately.
Cid crawled out from the hovercraft, oil all over his jacket and a cigarette in his mouth. He wiped at his jacket, cursing the oil and the machine that had the leak.
"Would you rather ride Chocobos over this range? The Midgar mountains are notorious for losing people," Vincent informed him.
"Yeah, whatever. Well, I think she's fixed," Cid said, tossing some tools back into the box and latching the lid. "Fire her up while I put these in the storage compartment."
Vincent jumped into the vehicle, hitting the ignition button. The craft flared to life, sucking in air and blasting it downward. Cid had just closed the compartment when the vehicle lifted two feet off the ground. He jumped into the passenger's side chair.
"Let's get movin', and this time watch it. If I didn't know you better, I'd be inclined to think that rock that we barely 'missed' really ruptured that line."
Vincent said nothing and lifted the craft forward. Not long after, they were out of the mountains and cruising down towards Midgar.
Even after awakening, his head still hurt. His body was a different matter though. Sephiroth was quite able to walk around his living apartment. Even though he was president of Shinra, his dormitory was not lavishly detailed. In fact, it could have passed as a museum to the warrior, with the addition of a kitchen and bedroom. Everywhere fighting tokens adorned walls, varying from the elegant to cruel-looking. Still, even before he had gone to sleep, he had placed his sword next to his bed, inside its sheath.
Now that he thought about it, something about it the previous night had seemed odd. He reached over and pulled out the blade, feeling the calmness settle over him as he grasped the blade. Pulling out the elongated katana, he noticed the metal had changed its hue to a glittering dark silver. As to why it would have done this, he had no clue. Probably not a good sign, but it did seem to fit his personality better.
He dressed as he always had, black pants, shirt, and cape. His clothes had the crystal armor that was the rage of the modern day soldier woven into them, allowing him the mobility he desired without the clunkiness of a full suit.
Entering his kitchen, he heated up one of the breakfast rations he kept in his freezer. Even now, he stuck to war time food. He found it much more nourishing than any other meal, and quick to digest. Soon the dish was quite warm. He pulled it out of the microwave, setting down at the table to eat it. As he did, several monitors switched on, one a news program, another a stock quotation, and the third, his head of security.
The guard seemed startled to see him. "Sir, you're back in your room!"
Sephiroth swallowed the food in his mouth before answering. "Of course I am. Where else would I be?"
"Sir," the guard explained, "my men saw you exit the building last night and not return. You went out without a driver or any guards."
"That's impossible! I came up to my loft and slept the entire night here."
"I have it on tape sir," the man continued, bringing a small rectangular picture into view in the bottom-left corner of Sephiroth's screen. There Sephiroth saw himself, or someone who looked exactly like him, talk to the night guards, and exit the building. The figure had his exact walk, gestures, hell, even the way he carried himself was an exact match. Except the figure seemed hurt. Could he have left last night and not remembered.
No, otherwise the guards would have seen him enter.
"Colonel," he ordered, "bring up double security all over the compound. I don't know what the hell is going on, but I don't like it."
"Yes sir," the colonel said, flipping off his end of the feed. Sephiroth just stared at the news screen, not hearing the announcer inform her morning viewers of the bombing yesterday by Avalanche. He was too caught up in his thoughts. Just what the hell was going on.
Cloud was glad to get the fake mustache and prosthetics off of his face. He had been made up to resemble an elderly man. Having to wear a disguise just to pass customs in Midgar from the Junon train was a hassle, but there was no alternative. He hurried down on of the streets on the second level, trying to catch one of the vertical transport systems that linked the levels of Midgar. He was scheduled to meet his friends at Shinra H.Q. on the fifth level in thirty minutes. He really didn't have to hurry, but there was no sense in taking a risk.
This late in the morning, the streets were mostly empty, save the occasional person headed to the shops to buy some items before lunch. He could see the clear car transport tubes that cris-crossed the entire city in a giant pyramidal shape. The closest one was only a few blocks away, and he could see a group of people being shuttled off somewhere.
Soon, he was standing amidst several people, waiting for the next car to the fifth level. He heard the barely audible whoosh and then the chime that announced a car had arrived. He could see the number five light illuminated. This was the one he wanted. Hopping on, he sat in the back, trying to be as unnoticeable as possible. He waited patiently until the car came to a stop.
Filing into the lines as they exited the doors like cattle, he slowly made his way towards the pinnacle of the fifth level, Shinra H.Q. compound. He could see it from here, the tallest point in the city. The whole complex was four times as big as its predecessor. Its two towers climbed over eight hundred feet into the air. At the top, he could see the lights blinking on and off. There were Sephiroth's office and living quarters. If only they could get a bomb up there.
As he walked towards the compound, he thought back on how careful Avalanche was with there bombings now. Instead of the gigantic blasts that Jessie had been able to pull off, now they used demolition style charges, destroying the buildings without the civilian casualties. Reeve had pointed out how many people they're little Reactor No. 1 bombing had taken out. Now they were a kinder, gentler anti-Shinra organization.
It did not take long before he was several blocks from Shinra. Here, he headed off on one of the side alleys, crossing back and forth until he came out on the west side of the complex. He walked forward cautiously, until he heard the familiar click of a gun, Vincent's gun to be exact.
"Cloud's back," someone called from behind a shed. Soon, all of his friends had exited their hiding places and were standing beside him.
"Did you bring it?" he asked Barret.
"Sure thing man." Barret handed him his sword and scabbard, along with a PHS. "Hey, good to have you back.
"Good to be back." Cloud strapped the Ulitma blade to his back and strapped his PHS on his wrist. He hit the transmit button. "You there Reeve?"
Reeve's familiar voice chimed over the transmitter. "Of course. Sitting here as usual. How you been?"
"Pretty good. Cait Sith working fine?"
The large moogle and toy cat robot pulled a comic salute to answer his question.
Cloud laughed. "Reeve, you been strapped into the little communications setup too long."
"Yeah, I know, but who else would stay behind. Still, one of these days, I'm going to come along for the ride."
"Looking forward to it. Cloud out."
Cloud signed off turned to find Tifa. She hugged him. "You drop off Aeris?"
"Yeah, she's staying with Red. How have you been?"
"Good, Barret usually isn't good company, but he was better this time." She looked to see if he was paying attention, but the large miner was staring out over the compound. "Anyway, I guess this isn't the best place to catch up. The complex was crawling this morning."
Cloud stopped smiling. "Did they know we were coming?"
"No," Tifa said. "Something happened last night or early this morning."
"We came up first," Vincent told him. "Cid and I nearly ran right in the middle of a troop of Soldiers."
"As far as we can tell," Cid offered, "security's been doubled. Bastard's are everywhere."
Barret walked over. "Just checked in with Yuffie. She's lookout on the north side. Said that ain't nowhere we can get in. You wanna' scrub this one and come back some other time?"
Cloud pulled that thoughtful pose, hand holding chin, one arm crossed. He really had hoped to take out the generator, but if he couldn't get in, he couldn't get in.
"Alright, we come back some other time. Everyone split up, groups no bigger than two. Head back to base."
"Gotcha," said Barret. He notified Yuffie and Reeve, and then they spread out. Cloud headed off alone. He felt a lot more secure with his sword back where it should be. The traced his way back through the alleys. He usually kept to the same route, but this time, he felt he should have headed south instead of west. He took the new path, not thinking too much about it.
As he passed several dumpsters, he noticed someone lying there. Someone dressed all in black with a cape. Someone with long, white hair. Sephiroth! Cloud's heart nearly jumped out of his chest. This must be why Shinra was in such a mess. But, no, that wasn't right. There would have been search parties, soldiers everywhere. All the troops he had seen had been guarding the compound. Just what was going on.
He walked up to the person, rolling them over. It was Sephiroth. The sharp features and face were unmistakable. Cloud thought that perhaps he was dead, but then Sephiroth reached up and grabbed his shoulder. Cold green eyes looked up at Cloud with a look that he had never seen in them before. A pleading look. Sephiroth uttered one word, Cloud's name.
An idea popped into his head. Later, when he thought about his decision, he wouldn't know why he had made it, but he took Sephiroth over his shoulder and started a slow trek through the alleys. He radioed Reeve for someone to meet him in one of the access tunnels. He would need help carrying Sephiroth down the long ladders to the underground. God, was he doing the right thing, or just asking for trouble.
Vincent and Cid sat at the table inside Avalanche's underground base. About fifty feet below Midgar's sewer system, there was no chance of detection. There were only three entrances to the base, one through a maze of access tunnels, one through the sewers, and one that exited above ground five miles outside of the city.
"And then what happened?" Vincent asked.
"Nothing. We just sat there for a while, then she asked what I wanted for dinner. Typical Shera," Cid said, leaning his chair back, staring blankly at the table.
"And then nothing. We ate dinner."
"So you didn't tell her."
Cid brought the front legs of his chair to the floor. "Hell no, Vince. What the hell am I supposed to say. 'Gee uh Shera, I think I'm in love with you'? She'd just laugh her ass off at me."
Vincent picked up one of the two drinks on the table and drank from it. "Will you ever tell her?"
Cid was getting angry. He took a drag on his cigarette. "Jesus, you don't let up, do you? Yeah, someday I'll tell her, just not now. Anyway, can we just change the subject. How about you or something."
"What's there to talk about?" Vincent asked, matter-of-factly. His tone was flat and calm.
"Well, what about you and Lucrecia?" Cid asked. "How you two gettin' along."
Vincent just swallowed some more of his whiskey. He placed it back on the table. Cid seemed to be getting madder at his non-chalantness.
"She'll come with me outside the cave now. She has a boat and we go rowing sometimes, or we just walk around the canyon. She won't leave though. I've tried to get her to come out with me, but she won't. Not yet anyway." He took another drink. "Like you said, maybe someday."
Cid looked at the floor, his fingers rapping on the wooden table. Then he picked up his own drink. "Here's to a couple of sorry bachelors who don't have the slightest damn idea what they're doing."
Vincent smiled before returning the gesture.
Reeve was sitting at his station, watching a small light flicker on and off. His mind was wandering, but he jerked back into the real world when a red light went off. He flicked several cameras that the group had put up around the sewers towards whatever had set off the alarms.
Barret walked up, asking what was going on. Reeve pointed out Cloud and Tifa, making their way through the tunnels, carrying what appeared to be a body.
"Damn! Yuffie, get the first aid station ready," he barked. For once, Yuffie didn't object. "The time when we need Aeris, and she's over in Cosmo. Reeve, you know any first aid or anything like that?"
"Just how to use restore materia," Reeve said looking up at him. "Otherwise, zip."
Just then, the doorway opened. Cloud and Tifa stepped in carrying someone dressed in black. Barret recognized him immediately.
"What in the HELL are you doing!? Have you lost it Cloud?"
Cloud kept carrying Sephiroth. "Barret, just listen for a minute."
"Listen my ass!" Barret yelled. Cid and Vincent ran up. "You bring him of all people him in here!"
"Holy shit, that's Sephiroth!" Cid said. Vincent just looked on quietly.
"Look, I'll explain later," Cloud said. "Right now, we need to help him."
"Fat chance on that," said Barret. "That man ain't gettin' no help from me. He can rot in hell for all I care."
It was Cloud's turn to be angry. "Fine, " he said resolutely, "don't help. Tifa and I'll do it."
They took him into what served as the infirmary in the dank base. On the whole, the entire base had a somber attitude. All the walls were made of rusted steel. Pipes crossed the ceiling in every direction. The infirmary was a little cleaner. The rust had been cleaned up and it was the cleanest room in the area. Aeris had insisted that if she was going to act as some sort of medical personnel, she needed a sterile area.
Setting him on the table in the room, Tifa checked his neck with two of her fingers. "He's got a pulse." She took out her healing materia and cast remedy on him just in case. She then followed up with a cure spell. Sephiroth showed no signs of improvement.
Vincent came up to the foot of the table. "What happened to him?"
"I don't know, Cloud found him," Tifa explained.
Cloud looked at Vincent. "I found him in an alley, passed out."
There were looks of disbelief from most; Vincent remained cool as usual.
"He was just lying there. I checked to make sure he was who I thought he was. The problem is, I don't think I was right. I don't think this is the Sephiroth we know."
"What do you mean this isn't the Sephiroth we know?" Cid asked, looking at Cloud incredulously.
"I think this is a different Sephiroth."
"And how do you know that?" Barret asked. "What, you two been communing again? Last time that happened you ended up handing him that black materia."
"Barret!" Tifa said, eyeing him darkly.
Cloud just stared down at Sephiroth. "No, I haven't been communing or whatever you want to call it. I just know. He looked up at me, and I knew."
"Oh well, he looked up at you. I see. That explains everything," Barret said, the sarcasm in his voice evident. Tifa shot him another look and he toned down a bit. "Okay. So if he ain't Sephiroth, just who is he then?"
"I don't know. I just know he asked me for help, something that the old Sephiroth would never do." Barret didn't have any response to that, and he stopped questioning Cloud.
"Regardless," Vincent said, interrupting the long silence that followed, "we need answers, and the only person who can give them to us isn't talking. I suggest we just settle down until he wakes up. Then we worry about who he is."
"Cloud," Barret said, his voice calmer now. "Yo man, you know I trust you, but this, this is serious. I just hope you're right."
Cloud's head came up. "So do I."
Yuffie offered up another question. "So who's gonna guard him?"
Everyone turned to look at her, a very uncomfortable situation for her. "Well, I mean, he does need to be guarded right. In case Cloud's wrong."
There was no hesitation in Cloud's mind. "I'll do it." He had brought him here, he would be responsible.
"Well, just holler if something happens," Barret said. He gave Cloud a pat on the back and walked off.
Everyone except Tifa left, although everyone wanted a good look up close and personal at Sephiroth. Tifa just looked at Cloud.
"Your worried, aren't you," he asked.
She smiled, realizing how easily people could tell what she thought. "Yes. Cloud, it just that every time he's involved, you just lock down. I don't want another episode like in Mideel. I don't think I could handle it."
"Tifa, you're the strongest person I know. You were able to do something back in the Lifestream I couldn't, help me see the truth. You don't have to worry. I know who I am now."
"But why Cloud? Why does he have to be here. I know he asked for your help, but that's not the only reason you brought him here. I can tell that. What is it?"
Cloud didn't say anything for a long time, he was trying to decide for himself why he had brought Sephiroth. "Because after Zack died, I was alone. No, I don't mean alone like nobody cared about me. I mean there was no one else like me, except Sephiroth. Only problem was, he was crazy, and at that time I thought he was dead. Now, I think this is the Sephiroth I met before we went to Nibelheim. The one Zack was friends with. If that's true, I'm not alone anymore."
Tifa couldn't answer. She didn't really understand what Cloud meant, but then again, she hadn't been subjected to Jenova like he had.
"Just remember who you are, and who we are, okay?" she asked him, smiling weakly. Then she left.
Cloud pulled himself a chair and sat down. He kept his sword out however, and within reach. He wasn't even sure if he was right, and he wasn't taking any chances with Sephiroth. As he sat there, he could here the hum of Reeve's equipment and Cid and Vincent talking in the next room. Soon, he thought he could make out Sephiroth's shallow breathing.
An hour later he jumped to a start. He must have really been running on empty to just have fallen asleep. Then he noticed Sephiroth's eyes were open. He was looking right at Cloud.
The silence that followed seemed deafening. They just stared at one another's eyes, neither one blinking. Finally, it was Cloud who spoke.
"How long have you been awake?" he asked. His voice seemed unusually loud.
"Longer than you," answered Sephiroth, as if to dispel any ideas Cloud had of his intentions.
Sephiroth sat up. He looked around as if searching for something.
"Where did you put my sword."
"It's safe," Cloud assured him. "You understand we have to be careful."
"With me, I don't blame you. I don't even trust myself."
Cloud walked over to the front of the room and quietly closed the door. Most of the group had gone to sleep. The trek down the tubes had taken up most of the day. Now it was nearing eleven.
"Alright," he said, turning to face Sephiroth. "You start talking. Who are you?"
"I'm the person you think I am. I set fire to your home. I nearly killed Tifa. I did kill Aeris," he said. His tone was not vindictive, nor harsh. Rather, it struck Cloud as mournful.
"Impossible," Cloud said. "Sephiroth wouldn't feel guilty about doing those things. He'd find some way to justify his actions, in his little sick way of course."
"Oh I felt guilty, but there wasn't much I could do about it. He was in charge then, because I was weak. I was weak and I let him escape."
"He?," Cloud asked. "Who did you let escape?" He was beginning to get confused.
"A wise man once said that within every man dwells two. One is noble, the other, ruthless. It is the blending of the two that creates who we are. But what if more of one were manifested than the other. Then, you would have the Sephiroth you knew."
"Cut the profound shit, okay?" Cloud said. "Who are you talking about?"
"Me, but not really me. You see he's still alive. He just doesn't have me to tell him what he's doing is wrong. No longer am I under his boot, though I still carry his sin. He dropped that bag off for me to carry long ago."
Cloud was only getting more confused. "Who are you talking about? Who's still around? Hojo? Gast? Who?"
Sephiroth's face never changed. "I'm telling you that I am still in charge of Shinra. I'm still sitting up in those towers wondering how to get rid of you. That part of me is separate now. What you see before you now is the Sephiroth you knew before Nibelheim. He pushed me down. I watched as I, we, killed Aeris, your mother, all of it. And now, we are separate."
Cloud was beginning to understand. "You mean there's two of you? That's impossible!"
"No one, not Gast, not Hojo, knew what Jenova is capable of. You bear her cells in your body, but what do you know of her. She told me once, but I have forgotten. I can only imagine she is the reason I split in two. The pull became to much and my darker side and myself split. The proverbial Dr. Jekel and Mr. Hyde, wouldn't you say."
"I was right then," Cloud said to no person in particular. "But if you are the Sephiroth I knew before Nibelheim, you can help us then. You know what he knows. You can help stop him."
Sephiroth laughed. It was the laugh of the slap of a cold wind on a warm cheek.
"You think I can do anything," he said. He wasn't laughing anymore. "I don't have the ability any more. I don't remember since after the meteor. It's all to hazy. And if you mean fight him, don't kid yourself. I can't fight, I can't do anything. I hate myself, as much as I hate him. Ironic, since really we are one and the same. I hate myself for letting him be, for being to weak to stop him. I hate myself for what I've done. You won't find much use for me, except perhaps as a temporary resting place for your sword."
Cloud knew what Sephiroth was saying. He'd seen it before. Usually in people who committed suicide. People who had nothing to live for. How he had been after Aeris' death when he had apologized to Tifa for not living up to being Cloud.
"So you'll just sit here then," he said, his anger rising. He had hoped that maybe, just maybe, he could have learned from this person. Found a friend that he could relate to. "You'll just sit here, waiting for your end to come, while he kills and hurts more innocent people."
Sephiroth looked up. "No one is innocent. We all have our sins."
Cloud grabbed him by the shirt. Sephiroth did not even put up a resemblance of a fight. He just hung there limply. "You bastard," Cloud said. "That's the easy way out. You're afraid. Afraid to care about anyone but yourself. You always were."
Cloud released him. "Fine, sit here until you die. But don't expect any favors from me. You want to die, kill yourself. But just remember that for every person he kills, part of their death will stain your soul too, even though you don't swing the sword."
"Please," Sephiroth said disdainfully. "Save your guilt trips and patronization. You don't have any idea of what I feel. You haven't done the thi-"
"Oh, shut the hell up." Cloud yelled. "Just shut up about your pain. I'm tired of hearing about it. Like you said, everyone has sins. Some of us just ask for forgiveness and go on." He stormed to the door and opened it. "You want to sit here and waste away, that's your choice. But don't expect any sympathy from me." He walked out, slamming the door behind him.
Most of the others had already gotten up when they heard his shouting. As he stormed by, Tifa took his hand. He stopped, his anger not abating.
"What's the matter Cloud! Is it Sephiroth?"
"If that's what you want to call him. Barret, you don't have to worry about a guard. He won't leave that room."
Cloud went off to his room. Tifa just looked at Barret and the others. All she got was a shrug from Cid. "Well, I guess we go back to bed," she said. No one else knew what to do either, so they took her advice.
For several hours, Cloud just lie in bed, thinking. He had really expected something more from Sephiroth. He hadn't known what, but this self-pity and self-loathing were far from it. He had never known him to be apathetic, but now, he just didn't care about anyone or anything. He didn't even care about himself. He had hoped to make an ally, instead, he had nothing.
Cloud couldn't believe it. It was impossible. Sephiroth had been a soldier. That wasn't something you could just shrug off. It stuck with you. Tomorrow, he would see if he couldn't bring it out again.
Soon, after resolving himself to the situation, he finally went to sleep.
The Sephiroth at Shinra H.Q. shifted angrily through some papers. Really, he shouldn't have been so angry. His special project was ahead of schedule, profits were up, everything seemed to be okay. Except for the tiny matter of his impostor. He had been an exact match, in every regard. Who was it?
Also, the little fact that he couldn't remember anything from the night before was discomforting too. Something in the back of his mind kept telling him the two were linked. But for the life of him, he couldn't put the two together. Damn! Why couldn't he remember?
Sephiroth was so deep in thought, he never noticed the small blinking red light on his com-screen informing him he had a call. He had turned off the audio, hoping to get some piece and quiet. He finally noticed the flickering, and walked over to switch the system on. Why not? He wasn't going to do anything real important the near future."
As he had expected, the colonel's image greeted him again. "Colonel, if it's more bad news, save it until tomorrow. I really don't want to hear any more today."
"Sir," the Soldier officer said, the dark visor of his helmet hiding the excitement in his eyes. "I think you'll want to hear this news."
Sephiroth didn't looked completely convinced. "Right now, I don't think anything short of monumental will improve my mood."
The colonel's look did not change. "Sir, I think this might classify as 'monumental.' We have a lead on the Cetra, away from the group."
The chief of security's hopes were confirmed. Sephiroth's features barely hinted subtly at his surprise, but the old soldier knew his boss well enough to know when something got to him.
"Where is she?" Sephiroth asked, his voice confirming his change of mood.
"Cosmo Canyon sir. Our operatives report that it's just her and that cat creature."
"Red XIII," Sephiroth corrected. "When can we have a retrieval unit there."
"Begging your pardon sir, but I don't think we can. Cosmo is a free city. We have no jurisdiction there. They left the conglomerate after Meteor. Any act that might be interpreted as hostile could bring a serious backslash from our constituents."
Sephiroth realized he was correct. The people would probably react badly to Shinra acting outside of its bounds. Still, he had to get her somehow. An idea popped into his head.
"Colonel, get me Silverstein on the PHS."
"Sir, won't he be asleep."
"I don't give a damn colonel. As the new director of projects, he is directly responsible to me, and I want him on the PHS. I think he can live without a few hours of sleep."
"Yes sir," said Colonel Pike, already dialing in the number.
Sephiroth smiled. As long as the Cosmo couldn't prove it was Shinra, they had nothing on him. And he knew just how to leave everyone guessing.
The next morning, the other Sephiroth stood in the training room, looking very disheveled. He stood there, Masamune in hand, unmoving, with Cloud directly in front of him.
When Cloud had given Sephiroth his sword, Barret had objected. He didn't like the idea of an unknown walking around their base armed. Cloud had insisted though, and finally Barret had agreed.
Now Cloud stood ready, in attack position, his Ultima sword raised. Sephiroth made no move.
This room was different from the rest in that there was little decoration. Several forms of fitness equipment donned the walls, but otherwise it was a wide open space. Cloud and Sephiroth were the only ones in the room.
"Okay, let's see if you remember anything from way back," Cloud told him. He started in with a charge, bring his sword in a diagonal sweep. He stopped short of Sephiroth's head, his target not even attempting to block the blow. Sephiroth just stood there, a grim statue.
Cloud shook his head. He swore he'd get something out of him today, and if it meant spending the whole day doing it, so be it.
"Well, we'll try something different. You attack me," he said, going to a defensive pose, his sword raised for a blow, but Sephiroth was stone.
Cloud tried numerous other times, getting the same results. He hurled insults, showered praise, still to no avail. His anger getting the better of him, he settled on insults.
"Damn it Sephiroth! I know you can fight. Quit this chicken shit crap and at least put up your sword!"
When he still made no motion, Cloud got even angrier. He lowered his sword, anger fueling his rage.
"Hojo always told me I was the failure. Guess he was wrong there. He created you to be the perfect weapon, and look at you now. You won't do anything. At least I have a purpose. You merely exist. Maybe it's not your fault. See, I was human before I was injected with Jenova. You on the other hand... Well, I guess you were never human, just an experiment."
Just then, Cloud noticed something in the white-haired man's Mako green eyes. Cloud brought up his sword as fast as he could. It was enough to stop the sword blow that followed, but he wasn't fast enough to balance himself. He fell backward, finding himself looking up at Sephiroth's eyes, glinting with anger.
"Don't EVER, call me an experiment!" Sephiroth said, his sword glinting mercilessly.
Needless to say, Cloud was a bit surprised. "Whoa." he said calmly. "Well, that definitely worked." He stood up, Sephiroth's gaze turning from anger to surprise as he eyed his blade in awe.
"Knew you had it in you. Just had to get it out."
Suddenly, Sephiroth turned and abruptly left the room. Cloud started to follow. "Oh come on Sephiroth. It's there and you know it."
As Sephiroth turned into the infirmary, which had become his quarters so to speak, Cloud yelled after him. "You can't just keep hiding in that room. Do you hear me?" When he got no response, he walked back to his room, shaking his head. Oh well, at least he'd gotten something. It had worked out better than he had hoped.
Even still, he was more surprised when Yuffie announced two hours later to the whole group in the rec room that the infirmary was empty. No sign of Sephiroth. He had just up and left the compound. Reeve hadn't seen him leave on any of the sensors. He was just gone. Cloud wondered where he had gone to and why Sephiroth had left. Before, he hadn't wanted to leave the room. Now what had happened?
"I'm tellin' you man," Barret insisted. "That guy was a clone or something, sent like a spy."
"I don't think so Barret," Vincent said, startling everyone as he usually did when he spoke up. "If he was working for Shinra, this place would have been crawling with Soldier last night."
"Also, I seriously doubt he was a clone," Cloud said. "I don't know if anyone else noticed but he had a number 1 tattooed on his hand. Sephiroth wouldn't want a clone with the same number as him. He's too arrogant."
"So do we send somebody out to find him?" Reeve asked.
"No, if he wants to come back, he will," Cloud told them. "Anyway, tomorrow I want to see if security's dropped off any since yesterday. I want that new generator taken out. It bothers me that Shinra would go to all the trouble of building a new generator and then never run it."
"Maybe they just want a backup," offered Barret. "That way in case they lose power they can just hook up the other one."
"Maybe," Cloud agreed. It made sense. "But I still want it gone, if for no other reason than to make sure they don't have a backup. I just have a bad feeling."
"Well, it's your call," Barret said, sitting down at the bar. "Just tell me where to shoot, and I'll do it."
The rest of the day passed uneventfully. They spent it cooling off, waiting on reports from Reeve on any changes at Shinra. So far, security had been falling off steadily, and the raid was set for tomorrow morning.
That night, Cloud was playing pool when Tifa came up behind him quietly. Cloud was aiming a difficult shot and missed, cursing. Tifa couldn't help but laugh. He wheeled around, startled, causing her to laugh harder.
"You shouldn't sneak up on people like that," he told her, annoyed that he hadn't heard her.
She just grinned. "Guilty conscience," she told him. Then her smile faded. "Cloud," she asked, "are you okay?"
He bent over the pool table again. "I'm fine," he said coolly aiming his shot again.
Tifa wasn't satisfied. "You can pull back in that little shell of yours and act like Mr. Macho, but I'm serious. I worry about you with him."
"With who? Barret? I know we fight sometimes but-"
"No, not Barret. Sephiroth. Or whoever he is. I'm afraid your pushing yourself to hard to try and get the old Sephiroth back. I know you want that, but maybe he doesn't."
Cloud hit the ball again, bouncing the thirteen ball in a corner pocket. "Sounds to me like your more worried about him."
"I'm worried about you both. I worry about how hard you push him and how hard you push yourself."
"I'll be fine," he told her, looking at her this time.
"And if he doesn't come back?" she asked.
"Then he doesn't come back, life goes on. Look, it's not like he's my long lost brother. It's just I thought maybe I could relate to him, and vice-versa. Anyway, it's no big deal."
Tifa smiled. She walked over beside him and kissed him on the check. "I know you're tired of me saying it, but just be careful. Your my best friend, and I don't want you in something over your head."
He started to say something as she walked away, but he thought the better of it. As she went back to bed, he watched her for a moment, then he turned back to the pool table.
The next morning, Cloud was the second one up. Cid was already up, drinking coffee and smoking a cigarette. Cloud sat down beside him and fixed himself some toast.
"Hey Cid, I think you might want to drop off on the stimulants a bit," he said jokingly.
Cid looked at him. "Kid," he said, his listen-to-your-elders tone coming to bear, "when you get to be my age, it takes everything short of a swift kick in the ass to get you out of bed."
Cloud just laughed and shook his head. He ate his toast in silence before he headed towards the infirmary to make sure Sephiroth had not returned. To his dismay, he found the room empty. Then he heard someone behind him. He turned to find Sephiroth standing in the doorway, leaning against one side. His sword was sheathed and Cloud noticed for the first time that he was standing straight. That look he had seen when he had made Sephiroth angry was still there, waiting just behind the surface, ready to spring.
"You're back," Cloud said.
Sephiroth nodded. "I came back to tell you that you were right. You can't just drop who you are. But that's not the only reason I'm back. It's my fault he ever came to be, and it's my responsibility to see that he's stopped. You just tell me what you need from me, and I'll do it."
Cloud smiled. "Well, we can use you today. We're headed to Shinra H.Q. this afternoon."
Sephiroth turned away. "Just tell me what to cut," he said as he walked away.
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