It was probably Not A Good Idea. Actually, to be perfectly honest, it was definitely a phenomenally Bad Idea. Phenomenally.
Despite that knowledge, Sephiroth found that he was currently beyond caring about the possible ramifications of his actions, as he made his way swiftly through the corridors of the SOLDIER residence towards one specific room. The consequences could be dealt with when he came face-to-face with them.
He was probably lucky that it was late, in the middle of the night actually, for there were no SOLDIERs loitering around in the hallways. If anyone saw him right now – Masamune in hand and marching with seemingly deadly intent down the hallway – they would probably run off, screaming for help at the top of their lungs. The smarter ones might realize just why he was in this particular part of the building, and go straight to Genesis and Angeal.
But there was no one around and – thankfully – therefore no obstacles to his goal – Cloud Strife.
Sephiroth really did not want to deal with either Genesis or Angeal, or, heaven forbid, the both of them together right now. As different as the duo’s personalities were, when they both agreed on something and acted in unison, they were a formidable force to reckon with and could be a real pain.
In next to no time, he was outside the blond SOLDIER’s room. Without any hesitation, Sephiroth entered the security code that would let him override the lock mechanism. The door swished open almost silently and Sephiroth stepped inside…
Lifting his right hand immediately to catch Cloud’s hard punch that would’ve probably cracked his jawbone if he hadn’t already been expecting some sort of attack from the blond. Then Cloud was twisting out of his grasp, lightning-quick, and going for his solar plexus with a kick…
Sephiroth flicked on the lights and said firmly in a voice that was close to the tone he usually reserved for commanding troops, “Cloud.”
The blond stopped abruptly in mid-action and then he blinked. Sephiroth watched as awareness filtered into Cloud’s eyes, knowing that it had been instinct that had caused Cloud to attack him. Then the blond lowered his leg from his mid-kick position and stood up properly, wary blue eyes never once leaving Sephiroth’s form.
“Sephiroth. What’s the meaning of this,” Cloud, expectedly, did not sound – nor look – pleased.
“Let’s have a spar,” he announced coolly, even though calmness had long fled him as the days drew closer and closer to the date he had set with Vincent to visit his… mother…
No. He was not going to think too hard about that right now.
Cloud stared at him for a good, long moment, as if assessing his words. Sephiroth met the glowing blue gaze unflinchingly even though he wished that Cloud would just say “yes” already. He was hit by the sudden, but very real fear that Cloud might not agree to it considering the circumstances, but he resolutely pushed that thought aside.
Cloud would agree. He would.
Cloud had been quite soundly asleep (by his standards anyway) when a sixth sense flared up suddenly, warning him that someone was rapidly approaching his room. Still clouded by sleep and not really realizing which sense was informing him of the said approach, he reacted instinctively, getting ready to ambush the person heading to his room. He vaguely comprehended that it was his “Sephiroth radar” tingling, but before he could truly process what that meant, he heard the door to his room slide open and he reverted back to just reacting.
If Cloud had been a little more awake, he might have remembered that he no longer needed to be this uptight with Sephiroth. Although, in his defense, Sephiroth was radiating a great aura of tension and something that felt a lot like instability of some sort. That was enough for Cloud, who was still adjusting to the concept that his once mortal enemy was now his friend, to react as if it were the insane Sephiroth ambushing him in his sleep.
His ‘welcoming’ punch was stopped by Sephiroth’s gloved hand and peripherally, Cloud noticed the presence of Masamune in Sephiroth’s dominant hand.
Masamune meant extreme danger. He needed First Tsurugi as soon as possible.
He twisted out of Sephiroth’s grip and was about to deliver a hard kick to the other man’s solar plexus to disorient him when the lights in his room flickered on and Sephiroth, very firmly, spoke his name.
In a manner that was unlike the tone used by the insane Sephiroth, but rather, more reminiscent of the General Voice.
Cloud froze pretty much instantly, and then blinked as he snapped out of the trance he was in. A random thought flitted briefly through his mind, making him wonder if he should snap a salute, before it flitted out again just as quickly. Sephiroth, in this world, was sane, he reminded himself. Even if Cloud did not think it was acceptable for Sephiroth – sane or not – to barge into his room in the dead of the night by overriding the access code.
Not even for Zack would it be acceptable, but Cloud knew it was pointless to tell that particular fact to the black-haired man. Zack would always be Zack, no matter the timeline and Cloud’s age.
Not that Zack knew the key code to his room or whatever overriding codes there were. Well, Cloud hoped so anyway.
He straightened up properly then, taking in Sephiroth’s appearance as he did so. The other man did indeed look tense, though that wasn’t really a justifiable reason to enter his room at night and in the way he did.
“Sephiroth. What’s the meaning of this,” he said flatly, not planning to hide his displeasure at all.
“Let’s have a spar,” was Sephiroth’s reply.
Cloud stared at Sephiroth as the cogs in his brain began to turn. Behind the veneer of calmness the silver-haired man was displaying, Cloud could vaguely sense anxiety and nervousness. Probably the reason for Sephiroth’s tension. Now, why exactly would the General suddenly be feeling this way?
“I’m taking Sephiroth to see Lucrecia at the end of the week.”
Vincent’s voice suddenly resounded in his mind, and that probably explained everything about Sephiroth’s behavior. Cloud felt a wave of sympathy wash over him. Quite naturally, Sephiroth would be feeling nervous about the meeting, and to Sephiroth, his most effective method to relieve this stress was probably to fight. But knowing the man, just hacking away at monsters probably would not be as effective as sparring with him. Cloud did notice that Sephiroth had suddenly been taking up a lot of monster clearing jobs lately, thought it was largely due to Genesis casually mentioning it one day.
On hindsight, Genesis could’ve been trying to give him a subtle hint to do something.
The longer he kept silent though, the more tension he felt rolling off Sephiroth. Cloud didn’t think Sephiroth would attack him in the room (if anything, they were way past the stage of deliberately picking fights and starting them in ShinRa’s buildings), but he didn’t want to test Sephiroth’s patience either. Sephiroth and instability, regardless of the cause, would never be a good combination to Cloud. It was hard to break such long-ingrained instincts after all.
“Okay. Just get out and let me get ready first.”
Cloud almost saw the tension flood out of Sephiroth as the man’s tense posture relaxed minutely. Not that the tension was totally gone, but it was considerably less than before he’d answered. It was then when he realized that Sephiroth had also been nervous about hearing his reply.
Sometimes, it still took getting used to that this Sephiroth was his friend, and what Cloud said and thought mattered to Sephiroth.
“Okay. Just get out and let me get ready first.”
When Sephiroth heard Cloud’s reply, had he been someone less in control of his emotions, he figured he might have started acting like Zack. Which was probably not a good idea since Cloud would probably think he’d have gone crazy. Well, Sephiroth himself would think that he’d gone crazy too. But he managed to remain composed even though a portion of his worry disappeared.
“Bring your materia with you,” he added before leaving the room to wait outside for Cloud.
He noted that Cloud’s eyes widened slightly after his last statement. Absently, he mused that it made Cloud seem a little more like his younger self. But Cloud’s surprise was justified. Their previous spars – the planned ones at least – had never included the use of materia, for Sephiroth much preferred sword work. This time, however, he wanted – probably needed – the thrill of an all-out, no-holds-barred fight. So he had lifted their unspoken “no materia” agreement.
When Cloud exited his room shortly after, they wordlessly made their way to the elevator. As per their past spars, they would be going out to the wastelands to conduct it. It was probably even more pertinent this time, since they would be using materia and Sephiroth hadn’t put any restrictions on the type they could or could not use. He doubted that Cloud would be using serious firepower, such as Comet, but even the basic elemental spells did a lot of damage in Cloud’s hands.
The entire journey out to the wastelands was spent in silence as Sephiroth drove the ShinRa-issue van. Sephiroth mused that it was a very different atmosphere compared to any of their previous spars.
After the destruction of JENOVA and the ensuing dramatic aftermath, the next few occasions he and Cloud had sparred had been under Genesis and Angeal’s watchful eyes. Those spars had been rather tense affairs until Genesis and Angeal realized that Cloud wasn’t going to execute another murder-suicide attempt. After that, occasionally, Zack would come along too, though Zack was more of a fascinated spectator than an umpire. Those affairs were usually a lot more light-hearted, what with Zack’s boundless energy and puppy-like fascination over what he was seeing.
This was probably their very first spar that was completely unsupervised in any way. It also signaled that this was a development that Cloud was willing to allow, and it made Sephiroth extremely pleased. Sephiroth knew that still Cloud felt a little uncomfortable to be in his presence alone, although it was definitely getting better.
Eventually, Sephiroth judged that they were a good distance away from civilization and pulled the van to a halt. After both of them exited the vehicle and moved a suitable distance away from the van, they both spent a moment checking their equipment and materia. Then, as if acting on an unseen cue, both men positioned themselves in their respective stances.
A heartbeat later, only those with the keenest eyesight could hope to carefully follow the flurry of actions as both SOLDIERs began their spar. Anyone else would only see blurs of movement, bursts of reddish-orange flames from Firagas, snaking streaks of pale yellow lightning from Thundagas and if the moonlight caught at just the right angle, the occasional flash of metallic silver from either blade. It was an intricate dance of blade and magic that could only be possible if the two warriors participating in it were of high caliber.
From the moment they started their spar, Sephiroth felt lighter than he had in days. It had felt like the universe in general had been doing its utmost best to put some form of pressure on Sephiroth over the past few days. Paperwork had suddenly increased to an all-time high, he had had to sit through useless meetings listening to the President prattle… all of this on top of his own stress and nervousness over that impending visit.
It was therefore freeing to be able to spar with a formidable opponent (even the toughest monsters he’d found on his missions could only stand up against him for so long) out in the wilderness, away from Midgar and ShinRa. Away from things that seemed to want to cause him lots of headaches in recent days.
Sparring with Cloud, especially when the blond was being serious, there was no real time to think, you just had to react. Not thinking, at the moment, was good. More than good. He didn’t want to give his brain any space to think about things that he had been mulling over for far too long to be healthy – and if even he could admit it to himself, it was definitely way past the normal threshold that other people set.
Right now however, it was still at a level where he could still think. Cloud was, as usual, holding back. Normally, Sephiroth would force Cloud to let go by pushing the blond harder, though it still would take some time before Cloud would do so. This time, Sephiroth really didn’t want to wait for Cloud to decide to hold back less.
He was playing dirty, and Angeal would definitely not approve. But… well, he had his reasons. With luck, Cloud would not be too angry at him after the spar was over.
To Cloud, it felt like an eternity had passed before they both mutually agreed to end their spar. Sephiroth had pretty much not been holding back this time from the get go. Cloud had been, until Sephiroth had goaded him into not holding back and letting loose. He knew it had been a deliberate move, but it had still gotten to him.
It still kind of stung that Sephiroth knew the exact things to say to push his buttons, even if the other man did not mean what he said. This time, however, Cloud was going to let it slide. He knew well that Sephiroth needed the spar as an outlet, and the more of a workout he got, the better. It was healthier for everyone in the world for the General to spar with him than potentially destroy something else. At least Cloud knew he could hold his own against Sephiroth.
Although, was it just his imagination that Sephiroth seemed to have begun adapting to his way of fighting?
That thought worried Cloud a lot less than it would have in the past, before the potential second Nibelheim Incident.
Both of them lowered their respective weapons and headed back to the van wordlessly. Sephiroth open the back doors of the van and produced two bottles of water, throwing one to Cloud who caught it reflexively. Cloud had been under the impression that tonight’s spar had been somewhat on impulse for Sephiroth. Perhaps he needed to revise that thought…
As if reading his mind, Sephiroth spoke, “I had assumed that it was likely that I’d need a spar soon, so I had prepared, somewhat, in advance.”
There was silence for a few long moments.
“Thank you.” A beat. “I needed it.”
Cloud, still not quite used to Sephiroth thanking him (or anybody at all), merely shrugged and replied as nonchalantly as he could, “You looked like you did.”
He wasn’t about to tell Sephiroth that he had been the one to suggest to Vincent to take him to meet Lucrecia. Knowing Sephiroth though, it was likely that the silver-haired man had already figured it out or would figure it out soon enough. Especially judging from Cloud’s actions tonight.
Sephiroth snorted slightly. So he had been that obvious. But Cloud did have a better insight to him than most people would have.
The duo sat, side-by-side, in surprisingly companionable silence for some time, enjoying the cool night air and the occasional breeze. The skies were clear and stars winked down at them. Despite his company, Cloud found that he was starting to relax more than he usually did around Sephiroth. Perhaps it was time that he took a larger step towards becoming more like a friend towards Sephiroth, even if the other man already considered him such.
“So,” Cloud started, staring awkwardly off to the side of Sephiroth.
He was still a little unsure of where he was going with this, but when he felt curious emerald eyes on him, he made his decision.
Looking steadily into the other’s eyes this time, he continued with a hint of a smirk gracing his lips, “How about another round?”
Sephiroth, too, smirked at that. “With pleasure.”
“Sephiroth and Cloud are both missing?” Genesis exclaimed, more than a little worried at the news although he tried his best not to show it. “Are you sure?”
“Positive!” Zack cried out. “Nobody’s seen them since yesterday evening!”
It was well past midday now. Perhaps it was just paranoia, but nobody could really fault them for leaping to the worst case scenarios when the General and their blond SOLDIER went missing. Together. What had happened in Nibelheim was still a little too fresh in their minds despite it being slightly over a month since then.
The door to Genesis’ office opened again without so much as a knock, and this time Angeal and Kunsel stepped in.
“One of the ShinRa vans is missing from the garages,” Kunsel informed the other duo. “I’ve tracked down its location.”
“Alright! Way to go Kunsel! You’re the man!” Zack exclaimed with a huge grin on his face. “Let’s go find them now!”
As Genesis and Zack both headed for the doorway, Angeal cleared his throat and stood firmly in the path of the door. “I don’t think there’s a need for all of us to go looking for them,” he said.
“What? Why not?” Zack protested.
“I do believe that Sephiroth and Cloud are already past the stage of killing each other. Judging by the location of the van, they most likely went out to the wastelands for a spar.”
“In the middle of the night?”
“Hmm. It probably has to do with that then,” Genesis commented cryptically as he shared a look with Angeal. “Perhaps Cloud has finally gotten the hint… or not. He would not have chosen such a time if that were the case.”
“With what? What hint?” Zack asked, not liking the feeling that he was being deliberately kept in the dark.
“Nothing that you need to concern yourself with, puppy,” Genesis replied dismissively.
“Zack, I’ll fill you in later,” Angeal interjected before his student could get too carried away. “Don’t you have a training session with Cadet Strife in 15 minutes? You shouldn’t keep him waiting, or have him worry about his ‘uncle’.”
Zack opened his mouth, ready to object, but then realized that Angeal – as usual – was right. He didn’t really want to cancel on Spike, and if he did, Spike would be sure to ask him what had happened. It was sometimes a little hard to lie to the kid and Zack didn’t want to worry Spike with Cloud’s disappearance especially since Angeal was also probably right that Sephiroth and Cloud just went off to spar.
But in the middle of the night? Seriously?
“Okay, fine. Just let me know once you’ve found them, okay!” he said in compromise instead and then left the office.
Following that, Kunsel left the coordinates of the missing van’s location with the other two SOLDIERs before excusing himself, promising Angeal that he would make sure Zack went to his training session with the younger Cloud. Within a few moments, Genesis and Angeal were on their way to where Sephiroth and Cloud’s location most likely was.
It was easy enough to spot the missing van once they were in the general vicinity of the area that Kunsel’s information had led them to. It was even clearer to both of them that Sephiroth and Cloud had indeed been sparring. The surrounding earth bore evidence of the spar in the form of deep gouges from Cloud’s sword and thinner, longer slashes that were indications of Sephiroth’s Masamune. Slightly more disturbing, though, were the charred patches on the ground, indicating materia use – Fira, at the very least… and that was being conservative.
None of Sephiroth and Cloud’s previous “formal” spars had ever included the use of materia. Everyone knew that those two did more than enough damage with just swords alone.
Exiting the van that they’d procured for use, Genesis and Angeal headed towards the other van. They found that the back doors were unlocked and even opened slightly. Without much hesitation, Genesis pulled open one of the doors fully. And paused. He stared, but refused to acknowledge that he was, quite honestly, gaping. He sensed Angeal come up next to him, and knew the exact moment when his friend took in the sight before them when he felt the other man freeze.
It was a sight neither of them had thought they’d actually witness. Ever. It was also something that the two currently forming the said sight would want nothing of it leaking out. Most especially Cloud. In light of this, Sephiroth and Cloud were saved by Angeal having talked Zack out of coming along.
Having said that, Genesis was going to milk this piece of blackmail for all it was worth for a long time to come.
“…this is… certainly unexpected,” Angeal managed to say after a long moment. Shocked as he was, there was a definite hint of humor in Angeal’s tone.
“Indeed. How very adorable a sight they make.”
Sephiroth and Cloud were both sound asleep inside the van. While there was nothing too unusual about that, it was the fact that both men were seated next to each other, and most likely, it hadn’t started out this way… But currently, Cloud’s head was resting comfortably on Sephiroth’s shoulder, and from the angle Genesis was looking in from, it appeared that Cloud was leaning some of his weight against the other man. Sephiroth’s head was also resting on top of Cloud’s, and their hair – silver and gold – seemed to tangle together intimately.
It was definitely not a sight that anyone who knew either of them would expect to see, and it was something that would probably never occur again. A rather devilish thought occurred to Genesis and he whipped out his new PHS.
“Genesis! What are you doing?” Angeal hissed, managing to keep his voice low and he hoped it wouldn’t wake either Sephiroth or Cloud. Genesis had to be out of his mind. It was one thing to find their unexpected discovery cute; it was another to have lasting evidence of it.
“I’m purely testing out this new function in my PHS. Technology from the future has its advantages, wouldn’t you agree, dear friend?” Genesis replied nonchalantly as he snapped a picture of the slumbering duo.
“You’re going to be killed, do you know that?”
“You’ve always been too much of a worrywart, Angeal,” Genesis waved his friend’s concern off with a dismissing hand. This was too much fun!
Then noticing that both Cloud and Sephiroth were starting to stir, Genesis smirked and announced, “It’s about time we woke them up properly.”
Something about Genesis’ tone, or perhaps it was merely the way his childhood friend had been behaving since seeing the picture that Sephiroth and Cloud made sleeping, tipped Angeal off that this was not going to turn out well if he let Genesis do it.
“Let me do it,” he said quickly, not wanting to give either of the other two SOLDIERs any more fuel to want to make mincemeat out of Genesis.
But his words were completely ignored.
“Well, well, well, I never thought I’d see such an unlikely pair of lovebirds.”
Angeal sighed in resignation as he saw the first sparks of awareness entered two pairs of eyes – blue and green. It wouldn’t be long now for either party to register Genesis’ words… not to mention Genesis still seemed inclined to add more.
“We were worried about your disappearance, but I guess we shouldn’t have. How long have you two been sparring, hmmm?”
Angeal resisted the strong urge to bury his face in his hands and wondered if he should back off in light of what would most likely happen next. Well, let it not be said that he hadn’t tried to save Genesis from his inevitable fate.
Not even he could hold off both Cloud and Sephiroth at the same time.