Storms like this didn’t happen often. The air itself seemed charged with lightning that flashed over and over in the skies, making the night look like an old black and white movie. The sudden flashes of light erased all color from the night, the thunder almost deafening.
Cloud sat in the dry corner of the half rotten shack and watched morosely as his bike kept getting soaked. He did manage to cover it with a tarp but since it was pouring cat’s and dogs for hours already, it didn’t help much. He only hoped that no lightning would strike the bike.
He didn’t exactly know how late it was, didn’t take his watch with him this time, but it was somewhere in the middle of the night. He was both sleepy and wide awake, the storm not letting him sleep.
It felt nostalgic, really.
He saw those kinds of storms often while he lived in Niebelheim. His mother would come sit with him when nature raged outside and tell him stories of boundaries between the world of the living, and the world of the dead. Told him many a story of wishes coming true and gods giving their favor to men. He didn’t know what she was trying to achieve, if anything, but it made him think of her and magic stories every time he witnessed a storm like that.
She taught him prayers to ancient gods no one even remembered anymore and sometimes, Cloud found himself repeating them. Not because of belief, but because they were the last tangible thing he had of his mother.
Prayers for favor, for mercy, for reward. Prayers for forgiveness.
Sitting in the small shack in the middle of nowhere, alone under the glare of nature, he repeated them all.
Another flash of light, and a rumble of thunder so deafening it made his ears ring so hard it made him dizzy.
“It seems that some prayers still have power.”
The words made him freeze, breath like a stone in his lungs.
A heartbeat, two, and then he whirled from his bedroll, sword in hand.
Sephiroth looked as he always did. Powerful, imposing, perfect in his grace and confidence. Even now, after everything, some part of Cloud envied the silver haired man for that self possession that always seemed to elude Cloud.
The man stood in the far corner, dressed in his trademark black leather, the coat swirling gently around his ankles from the wet wind. His arms were down, palms out, no weapon in sight. Still, Cloud didn’t lower his weapon. He wasn’t sure if it was real of another of his hallucinations. After all his mind was no longer his own, wasn’t for a long time now.
“How…?” He managed somehow, past the dust in his throat.
Something was different, something felt odd, as if the word twisted sideways.
Sephiroth seemed different and that scared Cloud even more. He became almost used to, almost reconciled with the madman that Jenova brought back so many times. This… this powerful, calm presence was seriously fucking with his brain.
The older man tilted his head and Cloud couldn’t stop staring at the strand of silver hair that fell over his shoulder, somehow softening the harshness of black leather.
“At ease soldier.” The General said softly, still unmoving. “I seem to be myself, this time around. Jenova is gone for good, no need to fear.”
Sephiroth talked differently, there was no innuendo, no barely veiled threat and bright madness that shone from the man’s eyes before.
The other man’s face was calm, but there was something odd in his eyes. Not the madness but... sadness, the kind of pain Cloud saw all too often when looking into a mirror.
Almost without conscious though, Cloud felt his sword lower.
“What’s going on?” He managed to force though throat dry as the desert. He barely even noticed how his voice cracked at the end.
Sephiroth’s lips curled into a kind of wary, half sad smile that Cloud never remembered seeing on the older man’s face before.
“You asked.” Came the simple reply that meant nothing to Cloud.
The General sighed and moved slowly towards the blond.
“Cloud. You fought for this planet. You bled and died and eventually won. Whatever Gods there are, they all favor you now. You asked and they answered.”
Something twisted in Cloud’s chest.
“Why you?” It didn’t even sound as his own voice.
There was something that flashed through Sephiroth’s face at that. Pain. Regret. Guilt.
“Zack has already moved on. He couldn’t hear your call any more.”
The silver haired man reached out, very slowly, and touched Cloud’s cheek, wiping away the moisture. Funny Cloud didn’t even notice he was crying like a child.
Another lightning and then rumble of thunder that made the ground shudder.
All his mother’s stories, all of the prayers kept swirling through his mind, making Cloud almost understand, almost grasp the meaning of that unasked question in Sephiroth’s eyes.
The man smiled gently and it was so long, so damn long since he saw that expression on the older man’s face.
“It’s okay now Cloud.” The man murmured, his fingers still on the blond man’s face, tips wet with tears. “You won’t be hurt again.”
And there were so many things unsaid, all the ‘I’m sorrys’, and ‘forgive me’ and ‘goodbye’ as Sephiroth started pulling his hand away, taking a step back.
Led by instinct more than any kind of knowledge or rational thinking Cloud lashed out, letting his beautiful sword clatter to the ground, and grabbed the General’s wrist with enough strength to break an ordinary man’s bones.
Sephiroth’s eyes were wide, surprised, making him look so much younger, so much more vulnerable now that the mask has shattered.
“Stay.” Cloud whispered, believing once again, where he thought there was no faith left in him.
There was another lightning and then thunder and even under that horrible noise he heard the low, familiar voice.