The Other World
By Jade Tatsu
Prologue - Dreams
Strong arms held him close to the gentle warmth emanating from the other man. Soft green eyes looked down at him, the violence, and the power he knew they contained absent from their mako glow. Instead they contained a burning love and the promise of peace and protection, of an end to his worries in those arms. He rested his head on the muscled chest and listened to the strong heartbeat. He was safe, he was cherished and he cherished the one who held him close, beloved forever...
"NO!" Cloud bolted awake, a thin sheen of cold sweat covering his body. "A dream..." he whispered, still breathing heavily. "Just a dream," he repeated, fumbling in the darkness for the water he knew he'd left by the bed.
He took a small sip and put the glass back down as he lay back. Sephiroth's dead, he reminded himself. I killed him myself. Just for extra reassurance he pictured again in his minds eye Sephiroth's blood flowing, covering those mako green eyes, those mako eyes that looked at him with such tenderness... No! Sephiroth's dead! And even if he wasn't, there is no way, absolutely no way that he'd ever look at me like that... Or that I would look at him.
That was perhaps the most disturbing part of the dream. Not so much the way Sephiroth looked at him but the way he felt in return. In the Lifestream he had stopped running from his feelings but he wished he could run from this. I never loved him... I've never even touched him, except in combat, Cloud reminded himself again. So why am I dreaming that I care, that I love him?... The thought would not go away as sleep claimed him again.
~ * ~
He's back. The thought was not one that reached the sleeping mind consciously but it was something his whole body responded to. Why did he run? Cloud, there was anguish and longing in that word. Why are you running from me? Do you hate me?
That jolted the sleeping mind into awareness, or as much awareness as one could have in a dreamscape. The voice, even confused was not his own but belonged to the one he'd been longing for... The one he'd killed. "Cloud!" he called, opening his eyes and looking around.
He was standing in knee high grass that extended as far as the eye could see, and it was rippling in waves from the wind. The sky above was a clear crisp blue and the sun was a shining white orb about half way through it's decent in the afternoon. But Sephiroth didn't care about any of this. Before him, not two metres away, was Cloud Strife. His face and those eyes - God, those eyes! - were twisted with equal parts horror and confusion.
Sephiroth blinked once, sadly. He's probably horrified because I killed him... I had too... His consciousness wailed. I couldn't let him... He was insane... I couldn't let him destroy the world, even if I loved him. It wasn't him. That Cloud died... Long before the body gave up its struggle. I couldn't let him but it hurt... It hurts... Sephiroth's thoughts tumbled into each other as he looked into the eyes of the man he loved, the man he killed.
"No," Cloud gasped. "You can't be real," he added, backing away. Sephiroth, the man before him, was just standing there, almost as if he'd been waiting for Cloud to return to sleep. Cloud tried to reach for his sword but it wasn't there and a quick inspection of his surroundings revealed that there was nothing he could improvise with. Even if Sephiroth wasn't armed he was still dangerous and Cloud didn't want to go down without a fight but Sephiroth hadn't said or done anything. He was just standing there, watching.
His eyes are sane, Cloud thought. They were sane, no anger, no hatred but an indescribable sorrow, grief and faintly, ever so faintly hope that this was more than a dream.
Cloud shook his head. "No... You're dead. I killed you." He had to say the words a loud.
Sephiroth started at his voice, his eyes widening. "You killed me?" he questioned frowning before he shook his head. "No, that didn't happen at all. I killed you. I had to, you would have destroyed the world. I didn't want to," Sephiroth added.
"No!" Cloud almost shouted, eyes hardening. "I fought my way through the North Crater and faced you there. And there I ripped your spirit apart. I had to, I wanted to for what you did, and for everything you would have done." Cloud spat the last, controlling his emotions as best he could. He could possibly handle a shouting match but if things got more physical, Sephiroth had the advantage of height and reach.
"General Cloud, I do not know what you are saying," Sephiroth said, suddenly quite formal.
"General Cloud? Don't play with me Sephiroth! I never even got close to that rank. You, Jenova's Child, you were The General, and I, I was simply one of the ranks, one of the insects whose home, whose life meant nothing to you." All the anger, all the hatred, the rage he'd felt at Nibelhelm when he'd taken the Masamune and still thrown him into the Lifestream came back to Cloud and while he had killed Sephiroth, it really hadn't gotten rid of it all. There had been so much left unsaid and this was his chance.
"I'm not playing," Sephiroth seemed hurt. "You were the youngest General in history. A boy from Nibelhelm whose skill with a sword was legendary, who could hold his own against the finest spell casters and whose tactical abilities brought Wutai to their knees. The finest weapon ShinRa had ever created. The ultimate SOLDIER, a human merged with Jenova... And that's why you went insane, why I had to kill you," he finished sadly, looking at the ground, a crystal shimmer in one emerald eye.
Cloud laughed, short and harsh. "You're not even Sephiroth," he came to the only conclusion that made any sense. "Sephiroth would never call anyone else a General," Cloud added. "I don't know who you are but it's a fine story! If you were wearing someone else's skin, I'd enjoy it more though."
"Cloud!" Sephiroth snapped, looking up suddenly, his eyes blazing with mako.
"Better," Cloud murmured. This was a Sephiroth he could deal with, cold and emotionless, not like the one that seemed to care, that held him in his dream.
Sephiroth took a step forward. "Cloud," he repeated, green mako eyes locking with blue. "I'm not making this up. I don't know who you are. You are not the Cloud I killed but you look, your eyes, they are the Cloud I knew, the Cloud I loved. The Cloud who loved me." He took another step forward. "Whether you believe me or not is unimportant. What I have said is the truth I lived, the truth that ripped me apart but before you go I have one more thing to say." Sephiroth closed the distance and with all the grace and speed of a cat he knew he possessed he folded his arms around Cloud and settled the boys head under his chin, enjoying the soft hiss of another’s breath against his skin as he rested his cheek on blond spikes. "I missed you."
"No!" Cloud jerked back and vanished.
Sephiroth blinked before he smiled. This was definitely the Cloud he knew, not the one driven insane by Jenova. His eyes had been angry but right at the end there had been fear. Fear of the love that was offered and fear of the response Sephiroth knew he felt. "You cannot hide from me, Cloud," Sephiroth whispered before he sighed. This was going to take time. Time he wasn't sure he had.
He looked around. The meadow was so peaceful. "I have to go," his expression hardened. "Reeve probably knows where I am by now." There was no one about so he didn't need to speak the words but he had to explain to someone, or something and the meadow was more than a dream now. He closed his eyes and brought himself back to the real world, such as it was.
The camp fire had burnt down while he slept but he didn't feel cold. Mako infusions were good for something after all. Sephiroth rolled his bedroll up before kicking some dirt on the ashes. It didn't really matter if he erased the camp or not. Reeve was looking with magic. That bastard. I should have ripped his throat out.
A year had passed since Cloud had died and Meteor had crashed into Midgar. Cloud hadn't been able to destroy the world but he had gotten at least one of the places that had caused him pain in life. At first, everyone had been happy just to have survived but as time had progressed Reeve had taken more control of the remains of ShinRa, molding it back into the force it had been. And if it was to continue to grow old and perceived threats had to be eliminated.
A new war had started with Wutai and he, the man who had saved the world, who had killed ShinRa's greatest general was obviously the next threat and needed punishment for what he had done and for anything he might be thinking of doing. As if killing my beloved wasn't punishment enough. And so he was on the run. Sephiroth had abandoned Avalanche - ShinRa only wanted him. What do they think I am going to do? Sephiroth thought as he mounted his chocobo and clucked for it to begin running. Destroy them for making Cloud bond with Jenova?
He had considered it. But it had been Cloud's choice to bond with Jenova. Sephiroth only wished he knew why his lover had felt it necessary.
Destroy them for simply being?
That too had been considered. But the people needed ShinRa at the moment. They needed someone to provide a central organisation or else everything would descend into chaos. I'm not completely stupid, Reeve. If I did something the consequences would only effect me. You should know that about me by now. Sephiroth sighed. All he could do now was run, fight when he got cornered and wait for the day he could be reunited with Cloud. A day that was perhaps closer than he'd thought, if the Cloud of the dream world was real, perhaps he wouldn't have to die first.
"One day Cloud... One day we will be together. This life can't last forever."
~ * ~
"No!" For the second time that night Cloud bolted awake. "Not again," he gasped, turning to sit on the side of the bed. "No." He shook his head as he recalled the dream. "This was different. Sephiroth's never spoken... No..." Cloud shook his head again, forcefully. "It doesn't matter. He was lying. Whatever he was - dream, something I created, or some twisted universe - he wasn't Sephiroth."
::True enough,:: a small voice spoke softly. ::He wasn't the Sephiroth you killed, or else you would never have felt that! And you felt it. You can try to bury it but I'm not going to let you forget.::
::Yes! It was an impossible dream here but I'm not going to go when there is hope. When that Sephiroth is quite obviously different.::
"Shut up!" Cloud shook his head, resisting the urge to hold it in his hands, anything to make the voice disappear, which it thankfully did at his motion.
It was going to be one long day.
~ * ~
Cloud fought. His enemy was invisible and persistent and far more dangerous than any, save one that he had faced before. And he was tired, so very tired.
::Why don't you just stop?:: That voice was as crisp and fresh and rested as always. ::It's just a waste of energy to fight against the inevitable you know and it really won't be that bad.::
"No! I don't want to. I don't want to sleep. I don't want to dream..." He whispered brokenly trying to find anything he could focus on, anything to keep him awake. But for once even the couple next door were silent. There was nothing. "No..."
The enemy won.
~ * ~
Sephiroth sighed looking up into a pair of blue eyes. Blue eyes that were quivering with hate but shaded by confusion. "Why don't you just let go for a while?" He invited, offering Cloud a piece of the ration pack that had made it to the dream plane with him.
Cloud took the pro-offered food warily but eventually settled down in the grass a short way from him. For a while there was silence until Cloud spoke. "You said you killed me but didn't want to. But I remember killing you," his voice was thick with emotion. "So what is this place? And if we both remember killing the other why are we both here?"
"I don't know. Maybe we're both dead and this is a meeting place for souls with unfinished business." Sephiroth paused, allowing that to sink in. "But I don't think so."
"This is a dream," Cloud murmured. He couldn't summon his hatred anymore. Something was saying that it was wrong to use it against this man, this Sephiroth, something that sounded like Aeris. "One we are sharing."
"That would make sense. We probably come from mirror universes then."
"No!" Cloud spoke with sudden force. "I never loved you. Insane or sane, I never loved you and never stood by your side. I wanted..." He shook his head. "You did though, didn't you? You fought with Cloud, as an equal, not under him?"
"Yes..." Sephiroth said slowly. Cloud's words brought back so many memories but something nagged. "You fought under me?" He questioned. At Cloud's nod he continued. "What did you want?"
"Want?" Cloud whispered the word, looking into the distance, looking into his memories. "I wanted to..." His voice was almost inaudible. Only mako enhanced senses allowed Sephiroth to hear. "But then you destroyed Nibelhelm and that dream died."
"I see..." Sephiroth half closed his eyes as his own memories returned. "I was different but the end was the same. I guess we're parallel universes then. Even so," he shook off his memories, now was not the time. "I don't know how similar our worlds are but I have to warn you. Reeve. Watch him. He's restarted the ShinRa Wutai war here and decided that I'm a security threat so he's hunting me down. He might do the same for you."
"No... Not Reeve. What about the others?"
Cloud's concerns have never been for himself. He is as caring as always. "Others? Avalanche?"
Cloud nodded. "Tifa, Barret, Nanaki, Cid, Vincent and even Yuffie. What about them?"
"It's weird to hear you say their names but they're fine. They didn't kill ShinRa's greatest General." Sephiroth's voice was full of self-mocking with that line. "Reeve doesn't want them. I think Tifa went to Cosmo Canyon with Nanaki, Yuffie's fighting in the war, Barret's somewhere in Khalm with Marlene and Aeris' mother. And Cid and Vincent are chasing the perfect sunset together, although I keep wondering how Shera's going to take the news."
"She'll take it okay. Well, she did here," Cloud said, correcting himself. "Sounds about what happened here, except for the fighting and the fact that Cid and Vincent are living in the next room. I wouldn't mind but they're loud!"
"I wouldn't know."
Cloud suddenly smiled, although it seemed almost like a grimace.
"What's the matter?"
"Here I am, sitting down having a conversation with my most hated foe, when I'm not even trading blows and we're discussing our mutual allies... I must be going mad." He paused. "How did you do it?" Cloud questioned quietly, his voice serious again and there was no question about what 'it' he meant. "It almost killed me and I don't have the emotional attachments that you did."
"That I do," Sephiroth corrected him, with no trace of anger. "It hurt. It hurt a lot but in the end the Cloud I knew was already dead, long before I swung the final blow. I have to believe that or the pain I still feel would be overwhelming."
"I know... General Sephiroth, my hero... I saw him die as he entered Nibelhelm. It was only his body that I killed. The mind after Nibelhelm was only Jenova's"
"I told you..."
"What's the matter?" Cloud asked, concern coloring his tone.
"I have to go," he said, vanishing suddenly, as if he'd never been there. "Remember Reeve. I'm serious about the threat he represents," his disembodied voice said before all trace of his presence vanished.
"No, don't go. I don't want you to," Cloud murmured, slurring the last word as he was jolted awake by a loud noise from the room next to him...
"God dammit you two! Can't you keep it down? Some of us are trying to sleep!" Cloud blinked as he shouted that last. Sleep. He hadn't wanted to but now he did. There was something compelling about that Sephiroth. Something he'd long denied was awakening and he wanted to sleep so he could see Sephiroth, the old one, the General who asked what it was like to be back in his town, even if he'd been ashamed.
::Heh! I told you so!::
To Be Continued...