"I'm worried about Cloud," Tina murmured uneasily. She didn't know whether it was just her paranoia speaking, but it felt far too long since Cloud had disappeared with Sephiroth. She knew that Cloud could take care of himself and that the blond would be familiar with fighting Sephiroth, but...
"Don't worry, Tina. Cloud will be fine," Onion Knight said, hoping to ease his friend's worries. He was rather anxious himself, but he had to keep positive for Tina's sake.
Cosmos' warriors were back at their home base, and the trio had reported everything that had transpired to the rest of their comrades. Sephiroth's appearance and eventual defeat of Chaos naturally had everyone shocked. As for the silver-haired man's subsequent kidnapping of Cloud, many of them wanted to go looking for Cloud. It was Warrior of Light who held them back, but even so, there was still palpable unease within most of them.
Golbez had come and gone, relaying to them that "Cloud's all right" but not saying anything more in regards to that short statement. Cecil was not the only one who had caught on that Golbez's voice was sounding a little strange. But the other man refused to say anything more even when his younger brother had asked him to elaborate, and had instead teleported away. Most likely to escape Cecil, who could be appropriately persistent and persuasive when the situation called for it and this was definitely one of those times.
So now, everyone was stuck with waiting for Cloud to return.
"Oh man... What's taking Cloud so long?" Tidus asked no one in particular as he bobbed up and down on the balls of his feet restlessly. He was getting edgier and edgier as the minutes passed and there was still no sign of their Buster Sword-wielding blond friend. He wondered if they should start searching for Cloud, despite what Warrior of Light had said earlier.
Squall had a deeper than usual frown on his face. He didn't like to admit it, but the longer it took for Cloud to return, the more worried he got. He didn't quite trust Golbez’s definition of "all right". Perhaps he should've insisted on searching for Cloud, potential blackmail material be damned. Of course, this whole mess wouldn't have even happened had someone not suggested that insane plan in the first place.
Zidane's spirits wilted a little more each time he sensed Squall shooting him yet another death glare. He'd taken to avoid looking at Squall or anywhere near him, knowing that the effect of his brunet friend's glare would be multiplied if he met the gaze straight on. Bartz was trying to shield him from the worst of Squall's death glares, but while he appreciated the sentiment, Zidane also knew that he didn't really have anyone to blame but himself.
When he'd suggested cross-dressing back then, he definitely couldn't have foreseen how the whole mission would've ended. Maybe they should've just stuck to the old, conventional route even if it would've taken them longer to reach Chaos.
Then suddenly, Frioniel exclaimed incredulously while pointing skywards, "Hey look! Isn't that...?"
Cosmos' entire band of warriors then watched, with varying degrees of visible shock on their faces as a winged Sephiroth descended from the sky, sending a couple of black feathers scattering about as he landed a slight distance away from the group. But what shocked them the most was that Sephiroth was actually carrying Cloud.
They continued watching in amazement as the lone black wing dematerialized and Sephiroth carefully set Cloud down on his feet, but did not let go; one decidedly possessive arm was still around the blond's waist. Cloud looked fine, other than the fact that his cheeks were red enough to rival a tomato - though it was debatable whether it was due to anger or embarrassment. He was still in the lilac ball gown, but it looked decidedly rumpled. The tiara on Cloud's head was also askew. The image it presented was quite... unexpected.
"Who was it that suggested the bright idea of seducing Chaos?" were the first words out of Sephiroth's mouth. Though Sephiroth's tone was calm and had an almost lazy quality to it, there was a sense of forbidding behind the words, as if a wrong answer would doom them all to instant hell - Super Nova style.
Considering the fact that it was Sephiroth who'd single-handedly killed Chaos in a relatively short amount of time, that conclusion wasn't too farfetched.
"Sephiroth!" Cloud hissed in annoyance and protest. Why had he ever thought that Sephiroth would not try to pry out the identity of the person who suggested the plan to seduce Chaos, when he knew quite well that once Sephiroth had determined that he had to do something, he would find a way to achieve it regardless of the means employed?
One would think the incident with Meteor would be firmly engraved into his mind. Cloud had thought so too, and so he could only blame Sephiroth being Sephiroth as to why that fact had conveniently (for Sephiroth) slipped his mind.
The silver-haired man ignored Cloud's disapproving exclamation. "Well? Does anyone have an answer to provide me?"
"What does it have to do with you?" Squall demanded brusquely.
The brunet had the feeling that Sephiroth might be more than inclined to tear up Zidane once he knew about it and Squall was not letting a comrade get hurt that way. Not that he didn't think that Zidane deserved some grief for his crazy ideas, but he wanted to reserve that right to himself, and most likely Cloud would want to join in too. Most especially Cloud, Squall corrected himself.
"It has everything to do with me, boy," was Sephiroth's ready reply, spoken in a deceptively mild tone, reminding Cosmos' warriors of the feeling of being in the eye of the hurricane when the situation could then change drastically any given moment. "I am not going to let what's mine be used in any more hair-brained seduction schemes." Then with a smirk, the ex-General added, "Although, I would agree that Cloud looks very becoming in a dress."
Cloud groaned, and barely restrained himself from burying his face into his palms even as he covered his face with a hand. He was never, ever going to live this down. Never.
There was stunned silence as the rest of the people present tried to absorb and process the implications of Sephiroth's words. They clearly suggested that Sephiroth and Cloud had a relationship, and it was not one filled with animosity. The awkward silence was finally broken by Warrior of Light, who stepped forward to stand directly in front of Sephiroth before addressing the said man.
"May I assume, Sephiroth, that you've compromised Cloud?"
"Light!" Cloud hissed in absolute, complete and utter mortification.
Oh god, he was sure that the way he turned up after going missing for a good few hours would have gotten some of the members of their group thinking about what had really happened between him and Sephiroth... But he did not need anyone making it so perfectly clear to those who’d remained ignorant or still had doubts. Furthermore, Onion Knight was present! He was only twelve! The boy didn’t need to know about these kinds of things yet!
"And if I did?" was Sephiroth's all too quick reply that had a hint of challenge in its tone too.
Sephiroth, too, Cloud decided despairingly, was also not helping matters. Not that he had seriously thought the other would in the first place. Embarrassing Cloud and making his life hell was something Sephiroth enjoyed, regardless of the context.
"Well, if that is the case," replied Light very seriously, "Then I think marriage is in order."
The silence that ensued was deafening. Everyone on Cosmos’ side was staring, dumbfounded, at Warrior of Light, as if he had suddenly become a Warrior of Darkness instead. Sephiroth, on the other hand, appeared to be seriously considering Light's words. Then, a satisfied smile appeared on the silver-haired man's lips.
"That is a splendid idea."
"No way!" Cloud finally exploded vehemently, the shock of hearing what Warrior of Light had said finally having worn off. Or perhaps it was Sephiroth's answer that prompted him into responding. "I am not some lady or princess whose virtue got compromised! What era do you come from?!"
Light merely raised an eyebrow, and Cloud clearly read the message behind that simple gesture. "What do you think? Before coming here, I was a knight to a princess."
"No, no and no!"
"Why not, Cloud?" Sephiroth drawled, and the way he seemed to use his voice to caress Cloud's name left everyone present having no more doubts about their newly developed relationship. "You're not a lady, but you have been compromised. I should... take responsibility."
"You can take your responsibility and shove it up your ass!" Cloud snarled back immediately.
Tina, in a brilliant flash of foresight, managed to cover Onion Knight's ears tightly right before Sephiroth replied silkily in a very seductive tone as he slid the hand he had around Cloud's waist even lower, "I'd rather yours, Cloud... and I know you prefer it that way too."
Cloud barely managed to fight back a groan of despair, despite knowing that he'd completely set himself up for that. Oh Gaia. This was not going the way he wanted it to. "Sephiroth, just... shut up!"
This sudden turn of incredulous events was made even more drastically loopy - in a supremely bad way, that wasn't even remotely funny - to Cloud when Frioniel spoke up in what was a perfectly reasonable tone. And it was not to object to Warrior of Light and Sephiroth’s crazy marriage ideas.
"Cloud, would you like roses at the ceremony?"
Cloud would've spontaneously combusted there and then if the chemistry of it all didn't make it impossible. (Then again, they all managed gravity-defying feats when they fought, so who was to say that they'd soon forsake the science of chemistry too?) There was a genuine eagerness - puppy-like - in Frioniel's expression that reminded him of Zack, and Cloud wondered whether Aerith, in a moment of extreme insanity (or perhaps it was pure mischief that the flower girl was prone to at times), had somehow allowed Zack to access Cetra powers from the Lifestream, cross dimensions and inhabit or influence Frioniel. It would have been a very Zack-like thing to do to set him and Sephiroth up.
"There will be no ceremony!" he insisted as firmly as he could. But it obviously wasn't doing him much good as almost everyone else had already started chattering excitedly about a possible wedding.
He tried his best to block out what the rest of them were saying about wedding preparations because it definitely wouldn't do wonders for his already limited sanity if he actually heard those plans. Instead, he rounded on Sephiroth, blue eyes spitting fire at the man who had now screwed his life up in a very different way.
"What were you thinking, Sephiroth? Why are you going along with their craziness?"
"I'm thinking that this is the best method to let you - as well as any potential suitors - know that you will always be bound to me. If you'll recall, I'm also not "going along" with anyone’s ideas. I took it as a suggestion, thought about it before agreeing with it. There's a difference, Cloud."
Cloud gave up. Protesting was useless when nobody was really listening to him. The only person whom he was relatively sure was on his side, or at least sympathizing with him, was Squall. But since he and Squall had already failed in stopping their cross-dressing mission, he doubted Squall could help him here. He also suspected that Squall was also trying to avoid being roped into doing crazy things for the wedding. Cloud would not put it past Light to decide they needed two flower girls instead of one and get Squall to cross-dress again.
But if going along with yet another mad scheme was the fastest way for him to return to Gaia, where things actually made more sense, he had no choice but to force himself through it.
"Don't worry, Cloud. Everything will be fine," Sephiroth murmured huskily into his ear.
Cloud tried to convince himself that the shiver that ran down his spine had nothing to do with Sephiroth's voice and the subtle promise in them that curled deliciously through his body, but everything to do with some sudden draft of icy cold wind that only he could feel. Yeah.
Sephiroth tilted Cloud's head slightly to the side and leaned down to kiss him before Cloud could prevent it. Dimly, Cloud registered that this was an effective way to distract him. Far too effective a method, truth be told. Then, as his lips parted under Sephiroth's skillful coaxing, Cloud lost whatever train of thought he had and surrendered himself into the kiss.
Maybe things wouldn't be too bad... Right?
The wedding occurred a few days later, with one Warrior of Light having to half drag, half escort a very reluctant Cloud Strife in a shimmering, silver-white wedding gown to the altar to give him away to Sephiroth, who was dressed in a smart black suit though the silver-haired man had forgone a tie and left the top two buttons of his white shirt teasingly undone.
Golbez had been asked to preside over the wedding ceremony and conduct the rites, and the other man had accepted that job with no complaint.
Frioniel had outdone himself by magically producing dozens and dozens of red roses. He, Cecil and Bartz had then used the roses to liberally decorate the Order's Sanctuary. Additionally, Tina had added many orbs of glowing lights, that cast a mixture of white light and warm orange light, to the landscape. The play of light against the Order’s Sanctuary and the red roses created a magical, ethereal effect.
Sephiroth had eventually found out that Zidane was the one who'd suggested the cross-dressing scheme. But Zidane was spared some severe dismemberment under the condition that he took a number of satisfactory pictures of the wedding, well specifically Cloud, for Sephiroth. As such, the blond was using his nimbleness and agility to capture shots from normally impossible angles, in addition to the more straightforward ones. It could also be noted that Zidane was being particularly serious over his "job".
Squall had (thankfully, the brunet had thought to himself) avoided having to do anything particularly mortifying during the ceremony; he had somehow ended up as Sephiroth's best man. For some reason, Sephiroth hadn't seemed too pleased with that even though he hadn't said anything against it, which had made Cloud smug for quite some time considering the blond didn't have much to be happy about recently, and Squall wisely decided that he did not want to know why.
Tina was, naturally, their only flower girl and faced no hint of an objection to her appointment. The girl was suitably pleased with being able to dress up again, and had been really excited at the prospect of the wedding. To Cloud's chagrin, he just couldn't get upset with Tina despite his utter mortification whenever she came by to discuss with him matters of female dressing that Cloud had never ever wanted to have such an extensive knowledge on.
It did not help that Sephiroth often caught wind of those conversations and would either drop by whenever Tina was around, or have a... private experimentation session with Cloud later.
It should be noted that those sessions did not take place in a laboratory.
(Cloud almost felt that being back in Hojo’s labs was a better situation. Almost.)
All in all, the preparations that led up to the wedding had gone underway without much hiccups. Cloud's protests had been silenced by Warrior of Light and Sephiroth's combined efforts, with the former choosing to ignore the blond whenever it suited him, while the latter...
Let's just say that Tina had also been particularly busy, for a time, moving Onion Knight to a different location whenever Sephiroth decided to step in with "drastic measures". The near constancy of such abrupt teleportation to different locations eventually had Onion Knight learning to avoid being around Cloud for the time being, even though nobody ever explained to him why he was being teleported away.
Tidus was the most helpful - although Cecil had cut off the sandy-haired teenager - when he had first asked why Tina was always whisking him away randomly when Sephiroth and Cloud were in the same place.
("You'll understand in a few years and after some exposure to p-"
Everyone else ignored him, sidestepped the question or started snickering and shared significant looks amongst themselves.
So with great fanfare and most hiccups arising from Cloud smothered by Sephiroth's smooth ways and Warrior of Light's ability to take selective hearing to a whole new level, the unlikely wedding ceremony started and ended without any major disaster befalling the remaining heroes and heroine. Much to Cloud's woe.
But perhaps the highlight of the wedding was the surprise right at the end that nobody predicted...
"I now pronounce you..." At a well-timed glare from Cloud, Golbez suppressed the twitch that signaled he was about to smile and changed his original wording. "...a newly-wedded couple."
Applause broke out from the close-knit group of Cosmos' warriors.
"Sephiroth, you may now kiss your spouse."
Sephiroth turned to face Cloud, the expression on his face was soft and open for the ex-General. There was a slight upturn of the man's lips, but Cloud was fairly sure that it wasn't a barely-there smirk. Rather, it was a barely-there smile that seemed fond and sincere. As the other leaned in for the kiss, Cloud tried to get the butterflies in his stomach to stop doing somersaults even as his cheeks seemed to be heating up for unknown reasons. He was not a blushing bride, damn it.
The kiss itself was surprisingly tender, and unlike what Cloud had expected, did not really progress into anything lengthy and overly-heated. Considering his prior experiences with Sephiroth, he couldn't be faulted for thinking that way. There was something really pleasant about this tender kiss, even has he tried to tell himself not to think too much into it. Perhaps the silver-haired man was having an attack of sentimentality?
When the kiss ended, there was once again a round of applause and not to mention some cat-calling and wolf-whistles. But this time, a sudden light appeared before the couple and when it faded, the two figures standing there left everyone shocked.
Cosmos and Chaos were standing side-by-side, hand-in-hand and both of them were smiling at Sephiroth and Cloud.
"Cosmos?" Warrior of Light asked, the tone of his voice suggesting that he hardly dared to believe what he was seeing.
"Chaos?" Golbez echoed. This cycle was certainly causing unpredictable things to happen.
"Congratulations, Cloud. Sephiroth," was the first words that Cosmos said with a kind smile on her face.
"Congratulations," Chaos said too, and it probably wasn't a figment of everyone's imagination that Chaos actually looked a lot happier and a lot less sinister since the last time they'd seen him.
There was a long pause, that was about to turn awkward, when Sephiroth spoke, "Thank you, Cosmos. Chaos." There was no missing the thinly veiled edge of hostility in Sephiroth's voice when he enunciated Chaos' name, nor the way Sephiroth had shifted such that Cloud was placed slightly behind him.
Cloud merely nodded, not quite trusting his voice upon taking in the scene before him and the two gods' congratulatory words. Of all people, he didn't expect Cosmos to be pleased by this crazy turn of events. Although... some things were beginning to make sense now. Was Cosmos actually the wife in Chaos' hazy memories? She certainly had blond hair...
If what he suspected were true, it would go a long way in explaining why Cosmos was very accommodating of this marriage.
"All of you have worked hard to bring peace back to this world, and I thank you all sincerely for your perseverance. It also touches me greatly to see that the conflict in this world was brought to an end by love," Cosmos declared to all the warriors present with a radiant smile. "It also appears that this will be the last conflict in this world."
"The cycles have come to an end? Completely?" Golbez asked in surprise. With how Chaos had died in this cycle, he had suspected that things would change. He just hadn't thought it would lead to a permanent end.
"Yes, Golbez. It has all come to an end," the goddess replied, before turning her attention to Sephiroth. "For that, I have you to thank, Sephiroth. You appear to have beaten some sense into my long-lost husband." Cosmos sounded most amused at her last statement.
Sephiroth smirked at that. "It was a pleasure, Cosmos."
"Why do I get the feeling that this whole battle to save the world was a result of an old spousal dispute blown up to epic proportions?" Bartz muttered to Zidane.
"It seems that way to me too," Zidane agreed, keeping his voice low too.
Their short exchange went unnoticed by both deities, which was probably a good thing. It was hard to say how Cosmos or Chaos would've reacted to such an observation. Even though it seemed very likely that the duo’s observations were rather spot on.
"Since the conflict in this world has come to an end," Cosmos continued, "It is time for all of you to return to your home worlds. I thank you once again for all the help that you have graciously extended to us."
If anything, that was the line that brought the most joy to Cloud since the wedding fiasco started. Finally, finally he would be able to return back to Gaia and to a world that made far more sense than this one. More importantly, most importantly, once he was back on Gaia he could finally get away from Sephiroth permanently.
"Cosmos, darling, I think you might have forgotten something," Chaos suddenly prompted.
"Oh yes, how could I have forgotten! Thank you for reminding me, Chaos dear." Then the blonde goddess turned her attentions to Sephiroth and Cloud. "We've prepared a wedding gift for the two of you."
As she spoke, two tiny orbs of light appeared in front of Cloud and Sephiroth. Bemusedly, the two of them held out a hand and the orbs of light flew to hover slightly above their open palms. Then as the light vanished in a dazzle of sparkles, a silver ring dropped into each of their upturned palms.
If there was one thing they hadn’t managed to obtain for the impromptu wedding, it was the wedding rings. Certainly there were rings, but none of them had been deemed suitable for being a wedding ring. Cloud had been quite thankful for that. But it seemed that he couldn't escape without a ring after all.
"We thought that perhaps wearing the ring on your fingers might cause some inconvenience. So you can also choose to use these," Cosmos added.
A thin black chain appeared on each of their hands, already threaded through the respective rings.
"Now you can put them on for each other!" Cosmos declared with a joyous smile.
Much as Cloud wanted to balk and run, he knew that it wasn't possible. So resignedly, he let Sephiroth put on the chain for him and then reciprocated the action. Hopefully this meant that he would at long last be able to return to Gaia.
"Weddings are always such glorious affairs!" Cosmos said almost dreamily. "But now that this is done, it is time for all of you to return home. After saying your goodbyes, of course!"
So goodbyes were exchanged amongst Cosmos' warriors. Everyone was happy at the prospect of being able to return home, yet it was a little sad to leave the friends that they had made throughout this journey. But they wouldn't forget each other, just because they were no longer by each other's side.
When all the goodbyes had been said and done, with a wave of Cosmos' hand, the ten crystals reappeared next to their respective owners, hovering in the air beside them. Then all ten of them began to glow, faintly at first before building up to become much stronger and brighter.
"Goodbye, my heroes. May all go well for you back in your own worlds," Cosmos said as her farewell.
Then light flashed, brilliant and blindingly white.
When Cloud was next aware of himself, he realized that he was lying on a wooden bench and looking up at the sky through what appeared to be a broken roof of a church. He could still make out some structures that seemed like they were once the pews.
Wait. A church?
The blond sat up immediately and surveyed his surroundings. At once, he knew where he was: Aerith's church. The few rows of wooden benches, the warm sunlight streaming through the broken roof and most of all, the pool of water right at the front which once housed a beautiful bed of yellow and white flowers.
Cloud leaned back on the bench in relief. He was home.
Although he couldn't deny that he didn't miss his new comrades, it felt infinitely comforting to be back on familiar ground. Not to mention that he was in one of the few places which made him feel the safest and most comfortable in. There really wasn't a place that could compare to the sense of peace and wellness he felt by just being inside Aerith's church.
"So, Cosmos really did send us back. She picked an interesting place to deposit us, wouldn't you agree, Cloud?" came a voice from somewhere near the back of the church. "It's too bad that you're no longer in your wedding gown."
He froze. No. It couldn't be.
Cloud turned around to see Sephiroth leaning casually against the wall next to the church's entrance. He was also no longer in his suit, but back in his usual military leathers (though without the decorative jewels). There was, however, no mistaking the chain around his neck that held Cosmos and Chaos' "wedding gift". Cloud reached a hand up towards his neck, and his hand closed around the matching ring.
"I'd say the wedding's over, and we should get on to the next part of it, right?" Sephiroth asked as he started towards Cloud at a leisurely pace. To Cloud, however, it looked like Sephiroth was a predator cat stalking its prey - him.
"What do you mean... next part?" Cloud asked, trying to stall for time even as he stood up and began backing away.
He had a pretty good idea what Sephiroth had in mind, but he was going to do his best to escape that particular outcome. And why was Sephiroth still here, actually? Sephiroth was dead in his world. He should be in the Lifestream, finally put away for good... and not, not here! And where the hell was his sword right now?
"Surely I don't need to explain it to you, Cloud," Sephiroth drawled as he stalked ever closer to his quandary. "Unless this is your version of foreplay?"
Okay, so he didn't have First Tsurugi, but neither was Sephiroth holding Masamune. That evened the stakes a little. His eyes darted towards Zack's Buster Sword at the far end of the pool. Could he make it to the sword in time?
Then the next thing he knew, strong arms wrapped around him, pinning his own arms to his sides. A tongue then licked a sensual trail up the side of his neck before Sephiroth's voice sounded right next to his right ear.
"It's really a pity that you're no longer in your wedding gown, Cloud. I would've enjoyed unwrapping you..."
"Sephiroth, stop this!"
"Why should I? We have yet to consummate our wedding."
Knowing that it was next to impossible to escape now, Cloud tried one last tactic. "But, but not here! Sephiroth!"
Sephiroth decided that to speak anymore to his wayward spouse was to waste precious time he could be using for much more enjoyable activities. So he shut Cloud up with a heated kiss. In next to no time, Cloud had conveniently forgotten about everything else.