Cloud's face met his open palms with a muffled slap, the cacophony of blustered voices sending his head spinning back into a maddening ache that hadn't left him alone all evening.
He'd done it. Somehow, he'd told them.
Hey guys, long time no see! Guess what- Sephiroth's alive again and were fucking.
Well- perhaps it had not taken quite so few words...
In fact, ironically enough, not a single word had been spoken about his and Sephiroth's personal romanticisms. It had been Cid- Cid, of all people. After Cloud had described, in gory detail nonetheless, finding Sephiroth in the reactor and his subsequent stabbing and all the drama that had gone along with trying to save his life- including Zack's visit and his enlightening details of the planet's reasons for resurrecting the former bane of it's very existence- the immediate reaction on behalf of his friends had been shocked silence.
They were gathered around the upstairs breakfast nook at Seventh Heaven, chairs pulled up in a haphazard accommodation of the group of six who hadn't been together like this since the Reunion. Tifa had been as bright as sunshine all day, feeding on the excitement of having a full house of people to entertain. Of all things the woman had become quite the homemaker- in her own Tifa sort of way of course, with lots of beer and bossing everyone around. He'd arrived at Seventh Heaven early that morning and the day had been spent playing catch up, new stories told and old memories reminisced- but whenever someone had asked what he'd been up to, or how was Nibelheim, or if he wanted to tag along on a trip out to Gongaga, Cloud had to evade the question with the best of his ambiguous little lies.
It didn't take long before the realization that it was going to be impossible to keep Sephiroth a secret set in. He'd caught on that he wasn't fooling anyone, especially when Tifa had confronted him, spatula in hand and tomato sauce splashed across her apron, staring him down with that look- the one that said 'I know you're lying and I'm going to find out why, even if I have to dismember you with kitchen utensils in the process'. At that point he knew he had no choice- he was just going to have to come out with it, and the sooner he did it the better. His friends had spent far too long tuned into the subtle mechanizations of his mind.
But he had never planned on telling them he and Sephiroth were having sex, or were a couple, or whatever the fuck it was that they actually were.
No, it had been Cid's jesting comment of "So are you two fucking yet or what?" that had broken the palpable silence of the room, and at that point there was no stopping the brilliant shade of red that painted itself across Cloud's face.
Needless to say, all hell had broken loose.
"You can't blame him, i mean come on, even in Wutai Sephiroth was every girl's fantasy!" Yuffie, never the voice of reason, was at least defending him. Cid was doubled over in guawfing gasps of laughter, tears streaming down his cheeks as Barret sat there trying to deny the obvious.
"Cloud's not gay- Cloud- yer not gay?" Almost as if the big man was begging him to deny the obvious. "Cloud, ya can't be gay." Not because Barret was homophobic, but because now he was the only straight male left in their group. The truth about Cid and Vincent's relationship had come out years ago- giving Barret and Cloud the fuel to joke about being the only real men left in the group. Now the joke was on him.
Yuffie reached over to pat him on the shoulder, "Your time is coming, man-, it's best to just accept it now." Barret looked crestfallen.
But while Yuffie and Barret sat around debating his personal life like it was some sort of planet-damned soap opera, it was Vincent and Tifa who concerned Cloud the most. Vincent, because of them all he was the only other person who had some sort of personal agenda against Sephiroth. Aerith's murder had affected everyone, but being Lucrecia and Hojo's son meant Sephiroth was the physical manifestation of everything wrong with Vincent's life, and therefore the perfect target for his aggression. Cloud knew the man had never really come to terms with his past, but at least Sephiroth's death had provided some closure, some sliver of revenge. For Vincent, killing Sephiroth had been as much about absolution as it was about saving the planet.
If his worries about Tifa weren't obvious he didn't know what were. They'd been playing at lovers on and off for years now, never really together in a relationship but neither had denied the comfort they both sought, and sometimes found in one another. Tifa understood him far better than anyone else, and she had long ago learned to stop pushing for a commitment. Cloud could never offer her what she wanted, but lonely souls are drawn to one another as the sun draws the planets. It hadn't affected their friendship in any way Cloud had noticed- but that didn't really mean much in the grand scheme of things.
Peering through the gaps of his fingers Cloud eyed the girl beside him, prepared for the anger, or in the worst case, the tears. Instead concerned dark eyes caught his blue, and for a moment the conversation was left to buzz distantly in the backdrop.
A conversation that was taking a turn for the worse.
"After all these years have you all become so content with your lives that you have forgotten who it is we are talking about?" Vincent's voice was like a dagger sliding into Cloud's stomach, "This is Sephiroth. The very person that had Cloud chasing after him like a dog on a leash. The man who murdered Aerith-" And now even Yuffie was silent, her last snickers hidden behind the press of fingers, attention rapt on Vincent as a cold calm claimed the rest of the room. "Believe me when I say this is difficult to admit, but I don't think we can trust Cloud's judgement, especially now that he's been compromised by the enemy."
Compromised by the enemy? What the fuck does that mean? The red of his cheeks was creeping to the edges of his vision, an angered resolve hardening his tongue into a razor edged sword. Don't do this Vincent…
"We need to deal with this Sephiroth for ourselves, Cloud can not be trusted to realize when he is being played as a pawn-" but Cloud didn't give the other man the chance to finish, standing up from his chair and slamming his fists down onto the tabletop.
"What did you call me-" Cloud tried to temper his anger into something more akin to dangerous control, but a cold rage was burning within him.
"Pawn," Vincent's voice was low- grave, almost "- After all, while you're here distracting us where is Sephiroth? What is he doing with his newfound freedom?" The words caught at a snag of self-doubt, the thread unraveling just so, " Why would you even think leaving him alone would be a good idea?" Vincent finally hissed at him, brass claw clenching into a fist.
Cloud faltered just long enough, old habits dying hard as the sudden onslaught of self-doubt returned like an old friend come home.
Cloud's silence gave Vincent cause to continue, and with the full audience of the table "How can you be so sure Jenova is not pulling his strings? Just because Zack appeared to you with a story about a guilty planet? Because he showed up with a mysterious materia and told you everything was going to be OK? We've dealt with the planet before, am I the only one who finds this all a little too uncharacteristically easy?" Vincent was standing now, addressing the others more than he was Cloud, his argument working on at least Cid and Barret if their sheepish expressions meant anything. Tifa had never stopped watching him. Yuffie sat examining his mother's cure.
"But there is physical evidence," Cloud ground out, his teeth clenched against the words. "You all know the slit pupils that affect the infected? The remnants had them just like Sephiroth did. It's the most prevalent physical manifestation of Jenova's cells." He gestured with the words, meeting his friend's eyes as he tried his best to persuade their trust. "Sephiroth's pupil's are normal. If Jenova's cells were still in his body what is the explanation for his eyes changing? If Jenova has the ability to hide this genetic abnormality wouldn't she have done it from the beginning?" Gaia he hoped his friends weren't all going to turn on him. That had been exactly what he'd feared…
"What I think is that you have spent far too much time gazing into the pretty eyes of your madman lover," Vincent stared him down, the ice of his words the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back.
Cloud turned and fled the kitchen.
Tifa flinched at the sound of the back porch door slamming shut behind Cloud. How had she missed this. How had she been with Cloud all day and not have realized that something was this wrong? Sephiroth… Her mind could hardly comprehend it. Her heart hadn't even begun to try.
And now she knew her friend was hurting and instinct bid her chase after him, but the shock had dulled her senses and slowed her reflexes. Before she could even move the sound of boots thumping on the floor snapped her attention to Vincent. Oh no you don't- There was no way in hell she was letting Vincent anywhere near Cloud. "-Vincent," Tifa stood, stepping into Vincent's path before the man could sweep by her. Hands up against his chest she blocked his way, "I'll talk to Cloud, I think you've said enough."
The dark haired man glowered down at her. His anger was fresh, and for a moment Tifa thought it would win over and he'd shove her aside, but when Cid stepped up and laid a hand on his shoulder Tifa knew she'd won. "Let the kids go, old man- If anyone can get through to Cloud it's her."
Vincent bristled at the comment, but remained silent- his eyes boring into hers with a chaos she had dared to forget before he finally allowed Cid to draw him back down to his seat. Tifa held back a shiver.
"I think Vincent's got a point Tif-" Yuffie's voice was quiet in the hardened atmosphere, "I really don't like the idea of Sephiroth being left alone to his own devices either." Tifa couldn't really disagree, her sentiments were similar. But ripping into Cloud was completely uncalled for. All this Sephiroth shit was really getting old. The guy had died three times now, if there was going to be a fourth they'd had more than enough practice to get it right.
"I'll talk to Cloud and get the details. Don't worry guys, we'll handle this- whatever this is." And before anyone could respond she was across the kitchen and through the living room, making a beeline for the porch.
The screen door squeaked on it's hinges as she inched it open, giving her just enough room to poke an eye out and see Cloud leaning over his knees, legs dangling off the edge of the small wooden landing that was her back porch, lost in thought. "Hey there?" Tifa spoke, flinching as her voice cut the silence between them.
Oh come on, Cloud. Tifa pushed the door wide with her shoulder, sliding out into the cool night air, "You OK?"
Crossing her arms across her stomach Tifa stepped over to kneel down beside her friend. Cloud had been so much better about holing up his emotions, but Tifa was terrified that Vincent's abrasiveness had sent him back behind the walls of his stoicism. "Vincent was out of line, don't worry about him," she tried instead, leaning out over the edge in an attempt to get a look at Cloud's face, a hand reaching out to half comfort, half balance on his shoulder.
Cloud let out a soft laugh, glancing over to catch her eye, fingers reaching up to cover her own, "Vincent is right, Tifa."
Ok- Not what she was expecting to hear, "What do you mean?"
A sigh, and then Cloud was spilling to her, "He's right- to worry. We'd be idiots not to worry. I know Sephiroth is sane, but what does that even mean," Another laugh, this one more harsh, a hint manic, "I've gone bat-shit crazy before so who's to say I'm not now?" a pang pierced her chest to hear those words.
Sliding her legs out into the great beyond, Tifa settled into a seat beside him. "I don't think you're acting crazy, and I know you better than anyone," pressing her shoulder into his, "You seemed so…happy all day, and not the crazy happy." She really did believe Cloud, but that didn't mean shit about trusting Sephiroth. She'd met the man before Jenova was in the picture, and to say he was anything other than terrifying even then would be an understatement. "I'm not going to say you're wrong Cloud, but I think Vincent has a point, I think we'd all feel better if you hadn't left Sephiroth out there alone by himself."
"What should I have done, brought him here?" Cloud pulled away to look at her, his face twisted with skepticism, "You'd have been OK with me showing up at your home with Sephiroth in tow?"
He had her there, "No…things would have been way worse," Tifa sighed and stared towards the horizon, her eyes brushing over the uneven planes of Edge's rooftops, considering. "I can't really think of a good way to have broken this to us."
They sat together in silence, both lost in their own thoughts, the cool night keeping them huddled close.
"Actually, it went somewhat better than I was expecting, considering everyone's still alive and the house is still standing," Cloud finally sighed, running a palm over his face, "but I'm sorry you had to find out about- uh," Cloud was at a loss for words, not knowing which would hurt and which would heal- "I really didn't plan on telling anyone about that, at least not right away." Cloud paused, before asking, his voice soft, "-Are you upset?"
TIfa could feel eyes on her, but she kept her sight on the star speckled black blanket of the sky, "No, I'm not upset." Upset wasn't the right word to describe how she felt. Shocked? Of course. Disappointed? Maybe a little… "It's been a long time since I last thought there could be something for us, Cloud. I got the hint, even if it took me a while," Tifa finally glanced over, her lips pulled into a small smile. It was true, it'd been a good few years since she'd moved on from Cloud. She'd find love and he would find his, when the time was right, and when the right person appeared.
Though Sephiroth? As if Cloud hadn't been through enough- now he had to go and fall for the guy he'd spent his entire life hunting? All things considered it made a certain amount of strange sense.
"You could bring him here now, you know," even before the words left her mouth Tifa knew it was the right thing to do- the only thing, really.
"Really?" Cloud twisted so he could fully face her, blue eyes alight in the darkness of the evening, "You're really Ok bringing him here? Really, Tif?"
Tifa huffed out a breath, "We don't have much of a choice, if you don't bring Sephiroth here then Vincent will go find him and drag everyone along with him. I don't think either is a very good idea," Tifa lifted a hand, balling it into a fist and shaking it in front of Cloud's face, "But if he even so much as breaths wrong I can't promise I won't beat the living shit out of him."
A real laugh rumbled out of Cloud, "Don't worry, I understand." And then she was being pulled into a hug, and that more than anything else sent shockwaves of surprise through her- Cloud never initiated anything remotely intimate, not even something so simple as a hug. The years were affecting Cloud, for the better, and this change in him alone gave her hope that this could all turn out to be good for him, maybe. "Thanks, Tifa."
She savored the sensation of Cloud's arms around her, leaning into his embrace before finally returning it, "You're my best friend, it's kind of standard procedure that I put up with the significant other, no matter how maniacal." Burying her face in his hair she gave him one last squeeze before pushing him to arm's length, "Where did you leave him, by the way, in Nibelheim?"
"Planet, no- he's camped not far outside Edge- I could call him, he's got my PHS," the light in Cloud's eyes was enough to make Tifa dizzy, this was giddy by Cloud's standards, and it made Tifa fuzzy with affection. Maybe this really would all turn out Ok. Maybe.
Over ten minutes had passed since the PHS had clicked over to a dial tone but Sephiroth was still staring down at the little screen flashing at him.
They knew. They all knew.
Sephiroth couldn't decide if he'd rather puke or give into the urge to laugh. He just was not at all mentally prepared to deal with this shit right now. Why should he. They would change their minds. They were sure to. They had to. Sephiroth tossed the PHS away, aiming towards the bag slummed against the half buried boulder that served as his camp's shelter, hardly caring as he missed his target and the thing went clattered into the darkness beyond the campfire. He hadn't even wanted to approach Edge to begin with, let alone camp this close to it. The ruins of Midgar were a sight that had brought him to his knees- the former city, though not a paradise, was an incredible thing to behold if only for it's impressive monolithic heights. Now it was ruins. Sephiroth was still trying to piece that into his rapidly evolving world view- and now he was going to have to deal with Cloud's friends? He had thought the whole reason Cloud had gone by himself was because they had agreed that now was not the time. Dear Gaia, was this actually happening? Sephiroth pressed his fingers to eyes, dragging in a deep breath. Then another. Tipping his head back he considered the splash of stars over his head, searching for some sort of sign, some hint as to what he should do.
Wishful thinking had let him believe he could stay anonymous, that the secret could be kept without something slipping. Now that option was nothing but a past possibility lost to the ether of time. Sephiroth wanted to believe that the problem wasn't the fact that these people hated him, or wanted him dead- he had long ago grown accustomed to dealing with the often times negative personal opinions of his peers. This should not be bothering him this much. He shouldn't be having a mental meltdown over confronting former enemies. Not even after the war had Sephiroth felt any remorse, or regret, or anything at all in the face of the people he'd caused so much pain. But now- now that creeping crawling sensation of sickness in his stomach was all consuming, and he felt something he could only name as dread settling in the shadows of his thoughts.
For whatever reason, he actually seemed to care about these people's opinion of him- and that just was not acceptable- at all.
And what was he supposed to do? What was the right thing to say? Apologize- beg for forgiveness? His pride would never allow it, and even then - What could he possibly say that wouldever be enough?
Nothing. There was nothing.
Stars winked down at him, sparkling through the atmosphere- laughing, he was sure. As if his life was one giant cosmic joke, like one of those bad strings of hiccups Zack always got when he drank too much liqueur, Soldier super strength rendering limbs useless as they twisted and flailed with each choked spasm. Sephiroth had always been laughing on the inside, even if on the outside he could do nothing but scowl his friend down. A sigh escaped him, long and drawn. Zack. He was still trying to come to terms with the fact he was really gone. With the passing of weeks some of the pain from his memories had been deluded, at least enough that actual shock began settling in it's space. Zack's death was hitting him hard. Sephiroth had nurtured a small hope that the stupid kid would have visited him as he had with Cloud, but he shouldn't have been so hurt when there was no sign from him.
Even with Cloud, the loneliness of having nothing else was resounding.
Besides the fact that almost everyone he knew was now dead, he never could have imagined how different the world had become. Leaving Nibelheim behind had been the beginning of a discovery that time affected more than one realized when caught up in the moments. The subtle differences were as obvious to him as they were blind to Cloud. Sephiroth had spent the ride to Midgar watching the countryside fly by, analyzing the world he saw with the landscapes he remembered. Even the lay of the land seemed off, as if he had stepped into some dream world that could only mimic the reality that it so wished to be.
Sephiroth didn't like it. He hated change- despised it. Sephiroth enjoyed the predictability of the mundane as much as he did the chaos of a battle. Now it felt as though the mundane was the battle and he had been thrown in weapon and witless.
A flash caught in his peripheral vision, bouncing along the horizon before the low rumble of an engine echoed over the desiccated desert earth.
Headlights. It had to be Cloud.
Three tiny lights bobbed in the distance, revealing that the man wasn't alone. He'd brought someone, or maybe everyone. It was impossible to tell who followed but his anxiety was doing a good job of making Sephiroth not really fucking care. He swallowed, and fidgeted- his hand reaching for the little pocket hidden in the lining of his leather riding suit, making sure it was still there.
Cloud reached the campsite first, Fenrir throwing up a wall of dust and dirt as he slid to a stop a few yards away, "Sephiroth!" He wasn't wearing his helmet, so Cloud's hair was windswept and messy, framing his face in a way that was giving Sephiroth reason to stare. Heeling back the kickstand, Cloud slid from Fenrir and headed towards him, a small smile on his face even as Sephiroth drew up to meet him. But Cloud was stopped a few steps short of his reach by the sound of braking tires.
The remaining pair of headlights washed them in a flood of brightness, silhouetting Cloud while bathing Sephiroth in blinding white. Light bounced in and burned his pupils, his night vision momentarily going haywire as his brain scrambled to adjust to the sudden change. Reaching up to shield his brow Sephiroth sucked in a breath as his arm was deflected and he was suddenly being rushed backwards. All air left his lungs as his back met with boulder, his eyes widening even as he reached to grapple at the shoulders of the person pinning him.
Cloud was yelling. It sounded more angry than panicked but when Sephiroth tried to draw on his breath he felt cold metal stabbing into his neck. Suddenly he could see once more, and his brain went to work identifying the man before him. Valentine- Vincent Valentine had him caught and cornered, metal hand tight around his jugular, the thumb curving to hook under his vertebral artery. It hadn't broken the skin yet, but it was close. Close enough that Sephiroth drew still, trying to ease the adrenaline rush that had sent his blood pounding.
"VINCENT," Cloud again, this time right beside them, all raging fury, but Valentine's grip had left him with nothing other than empty threats, "What the fuck are you doing?"
"No one will be hurt, so long as what you have said is true," red eyes blazed into his so much that Sephiroth couldn't even catch a glimpse of Cloud. Vincent Valentine matched him in height, and with the position he had been pinned the man was able to loom in close, his face only inches away from his own- staring, searching. Sephiroth didn't even blink, his fingers caught up in the man's cloak, twining deeper, desperate to find a worthwhile grip on the ragged fabric. This man was dangerous, Sephiroth knew. One of Hojo's experiments, and a frequent guest in his mother's musings. The man was never mentioned by name in the journal, but Sephiroth had deduced the mysterious character's identity once Cloud had told him what he knew of Lucrecia. Vincent was a loaded weapon pointed right at his head, and Sephiroth had enough sense to recognize the very real danger he was in if this man decided he didn't like whatever it was he found.
"Is he carrying?" Vincent asked, his eyes still on him, his question directed at Cloud.
"What? No- I don't know-" Cloud reached for Valentine's shoulder but a hiss and the thumb in his neck stopped him short.
"Sane or not, he is not allowed anywhere near the house with a weapon," and then Sephiroth felt a booted foot kicking his legs apart, toeing at his calves in a practiced frisk. Actual fingers pressed into his waistband, running along the edge in a thorough sweep before moving to press into the sides of his ribs. The man's search was in vain- Sephiroth wasn't armed with anything other than his natural reflexes. He had refused to take up a new sword even when Cloud insisted he not travel around unarmed- not even something so small that he could conceal. The only thing he was carrying was the journal- the journal, which Valentine's fingers were now heading towards.
Before Sephiroth could catch himself he drew in a sharp breath, the thumb over his artery digging in the fraction it needed to draw blood. Valentine paused, catching the change- recognizing it for what it was, and then his fingers were digging in hard, pressing in over Sephiroth's heart and slowing their pace to a crawl. The man was a Turk, and his training had revolved around reading the subtle. Sephiroth cursed his slip in control- he knew better. To the left the fingers inched, until the hard ridge of the journal pressed through the thick leather of his jacket, and Sephiroth acknowledged the sinking feeling in his gut.
Vincent's eyes narrowed in knowing satisfaction.
Blood pumped in Sephiroth's ears- roaring louder and louder as the fingers traced up and around and down the spine, before darting inside his jacket and deftly tugging the book loose.
There was a screaming inside his head now, terrifying in it's familiarity, but Sephiroth didn't care because that was his.
Through the noise of his mind came the sound of Cloud cursing, but it didn't matter. Only Valentine mattered. Valentine, who'd stolen what was his. Valentine, whose still human hand was clutching his mother's journal as if it were some prize he had won. Sephiroth felt his blood go from hot to cold and back, freezing and firing in his veins as his breath held in his chest, his muscles clenching tight. And then those red eyes left his, glancing downward as he thumbed the cover open, tracing over words once, twice, widening in shock as the grip on his neck loosened ever so enough.
Instinct drove him. In the moment, Sephiroth didn't even have to think. Hands in the cloak, he pushed away- his strength overpowering Valentine even as the other man's reflexes kicked in, the claw flexing to regain it's former hold. But Sephiroth was fast, and Vincent missed his mark and instead caught collarbone, slicing a trail of heat down his chest even as Sephiroth hoisted him overhead and threw him face first into the rock at his back. Vincent, dazed, slumped to the ground. Sephiroth took the chance to rip the journal out of slack fingers and put some distance between them.
He didn't get far.
Vincent was fast, recovering at a speed that bespoke his inhuman alterations and like a lightening bolt he was again standing, drawing from the folds of his tattered cloak a long thick-barreled gun.
In the back of his mind Sephiroth noted someone was screaming, but all he could hear was the sound of a safety clicking free, and the spring of a trigger drawing back.
This couldn't be happening.
Things had gotten bad. Really bad. Cloud was willing to call it 'Fucking Terrible' even.
As if having a claw to Sephiroth's jugular weren't enough, Vincent had to go and find the journal. Cloud had accepted that something was going to go wrong the moment they'd told Vincent they'd be bring Sephiroth to Seventh Heaven. The look on the man's face said it all- Vincent had an agenda and he wasn't going to let anything get in his way, not even the truth. But the journal- really? Sephiroth had been attached to the thing since finding it. Cloud couldn't fault him. After all, It was the only link Sephiroth had to his past, his real mother- who until a couple weeks ago he had no idea even existed.
But did she really have to be the same woman Vincent had loved and lost all those years ago?
Yep, Fucking Terrible- there was just no better way to describe this shit.
When Vincent had gone down Cloud wasn't the least bit surprised. Hell, part of him felt like he deserved it. Even now, Vincent would walk away with nothing but a an egg to the head and a bruised ego- while Sephiroth was bleeding from a rather nasty set of gashes. If he'd just been more careful- if he could have just kept his mouth shut- emotion twisted Cloud's chest as he realized he was to blame for all of this. If he could have just shrugged off his friend's suspicions, if he could have controlled himself enough to at least have hidden the fact that he and Sephiroth were sleeping together-
The click of a gun's safety broke Cloud's train of thought like a bucket of ice over his head. Sephiroth may not be armed- but Vincent most certainly was. Cloud cursed under his breath, and lunged with all the dexterity he had- putting himself between his lover and his friend, while praying that Vincent would get the idea that Cloud was drawing the line here and now.
"Vincent- put the gun away," Cloud's voice was soft, a threat laced delicate between the syllables. He could see the finger on the trigger had already drawn the mechanism halfway back, the bullet just a flinch away from flying.
"Give me that book." Vincent was shaking, the arm wielding his gun shivering with an intensity mirrored in his eyes, eyes that were locked on Sephiroth. The sight of his friend in such emotional turmoil pulled at Cloud, but Vincent had a loaded weapon, and that trumpeted all else.
"Vincent," Cloud stepped closer, watching as the man re-sighted his target, the arm lifting a fraction over his shoulder. Cloud's height gave both Vincent and Sephiroth a few inches of clearance over him, reducing his effectiveness as a human shield and forcing him closer until the gun was pointed right at his forehead. Slowly he lifted his hand- trying to make eye contact with the man before him, imploring him not to do something stupid. When his fingers curdled around the cold steel barrel Vincent's eyes flickered to his- flashing with anger but Cloud was already pushing the gun away and towards the lone empty space of the distance. He held it there, tightening his grip as he lowered his voice to a command, "Give me the gun- now."
For a moment he didn't think Vincent was going to listen. The look in his eyes was maddened, narrowing in on Cloud with a consideration that sent shivers down his spine. But then Tifa was there beside the other man, talking to him in soft tones, her hands taking the place of Cloud's as she gently drew the gun out of his hold.
A breath he hadn't meant to hold exploded from his chest.
An inhale later Cloud rounded on Sephiroth, arms reaching up but not touching, his eyes giving the man a hard once over just to be sure he was alright. The wound was bad, but by all appearances Sephiroth only looked…well, pissed. His face was white and drawn, lips parted to gasp in sharp shallow breaths, teethed bared just enough to catch the light. The man wouldn't meet his eyes, or acknowledge his softly spoken questions- but Cloud noticed the way Sephiroth favored his shoulder, noted the way he cringed when the leather of his riding suit rubbed against the open wound.
He could see the grip he had on his mother's journal and caught when that grip slackened into a tremble.
The anger left Sephiroth as quickly as it had come, lost to the emotionless mask that Cloud knew well. It was…disturbing…the way the man could just…turn off. Though he had grown to question whether that control penetrated more than just Sephiroth's surface. It was the little things that betrayed him- the distant look in his eyes, the fidgeting curl of his fingers, and most of all the aura of menace that was a little too good at keeping others out.
So the last thing Cloud was expecting was for Sephiroth to step past him and walk right up to Vincent, the journal and a snarl of command offered up between them, "You will return it, and you will be careful." His words were absolute, Vincent's reply was not necessary- this was how it was going to be or it wasn't going to be at all.
They stared one another down. For Sephiroth this may as well be the equivalent to him rolling over and surrendering, and Cloud knew Vincent was trying to decide if he should accept the man's offer of peace and prove himself to be a total asshole or ignore it and continue acting like one. For a moment the similarities between the two gave Cloud pause, and he almost started laughing. Almost.
Then Vincent raised his good hand and accepted the journal, and before Cloud could react Tifa was ushering the other man past him towards the jeep. "I'll see you both at the house," her voice was low, but her eyes caught his and Cloud knew that things were still going to be OK.
Nobody saw the heights of which Yuffie reached when she jumped from her seat at the sound of the front door banging open. And definitely no one heard her soft yelp as it was slammed shut behind whomever had entered. When Vincent went sweeping past her and up the stairs in a flurry of red and black Yuffie realized the feeling in her chest was relief. It's just Vincent, it's OK, and she sunk back down into her chair, drawing her knees to her chest and letting loose a shaky laugh. her tenuous hold on calm shattered in the next moment when the front door swung open yet again to instead admit a very familiar silver-haired certain someone.
"Shiiiiiit…" Yuffie sat frozen as Sephiroth, bloody and brilliant, caught and held her gaze while stalking right by her, following Vincent's path up the stairs before disappearing behind another slammed door.
It was true. Everything Cloud said was true. Sephiroth was alive. Sephiroth was sane. Yuffie blinked at the thought, her opinion not quite decided though she was leaning towards badass as anyone who could push Vincent's buttons like that earned a shot in her book. Then she noticed the the way her fingernails were drilling crescents in the armrests of her wooden bar stool and she carefully extracted each one with thoughtful consideration.
Sephiroth was alive, sane, and with Cloud- in that normal human being sort of thing called a relationship- because it was definitely a relationship if Cloud's current expression was any proof. Hovering inside the doorway the blond was peering up the stairs with the most utterly defeated look on his face. Someone may as well have drowned his puppy it in a river for all the pain in his eyes. 'Must be a lover's quarrel-' Yuffie found the capacity to feel a little bit bad for Cloudbefore letting out a high-pitched giggle as that thought really sank in. Cloud was having a lover's quarrel with Sephiroth. The bark of laughter that burst from her chest was unstoppable so Yuffie went with it-Aaaaand now Cloud was glaring. She could only cover her mouth in an attempt to stifle her giggles and wiggle her toes at him. When he took a step towards her Yuffie readied herself to make a run for it, but then Tifa slipped around from behind Cloud, entering the dining room with a sack of potatoes over her shoulder and a look for Yuffie, "Want to help me with these?"
"Oh definitely yeah." And that was all it took, Yuffie was on Tifa's heels as she entered kitchen, fleeing Cloud's growing storm with expert precision. Swinging the sack onto the work table Tifa began sorting through the spuds, tossing the good ones into the sink to be washed.
Yuffie jumped right in queue, turning on the faucet and grabbing a bristly scrub brush, "So it's all true?" Because she knew it was, but there'd be nothing like hearing someone else confirm it.
"Yeah," Tifa was trying to keep a straight face and failing hard, "It's the truth all right."
An old Wutian prayer fell as a whisper from Yuffie's lips, her hand twitching across her chest in an ancient gesture of protection, "Dear Planet, who would have ever predicted this."
Tifa grunted in response, grabbing a knife from the block and digging a rotten chunk out of one of the potatoes, "Yeah, and the most bizarre thing about tonight wasn't even Sephiroth," Tifa paused, fingers curled in a gentle grip on her knife, looking up at Yuffie with an expression of concern, "Vincent was a mess. I've never seen him so upset. Sephiroth had this book, and Vincent- he just freaked out over it. He very nearly shot Cloud to get to it."
"Whaaat?" The behavior was just so…not Vincent. The man was calm and collected always, unless, "It wasn't Chaos?"
"No, it was Vincent," Tifa sighed and dug into another spud, "And now Sephiroth is upstairs bleeding all over my house. Gaia, even saying it feels wrong."
Yuffie had to agree.
They worked in silence, the minutes passing by as each was consumed with digesting this new turn of events. Yuffie was thankful for the physical relief from the tension that had been building all night. Sitting there waiting had done nothing to ease her nerves, and now even knowing had left her with a nervousness she didn't know how to deal with- and Tifa must feel the same, what with the way she was sorting those potatoes like some…potato sorting machine. "How're you doin?" She finally had to ask, because really, no matter how bizarre Vincent was acting Yuffie knew that there was something between Tifa and Cloud, and she hadn't expected the girl to be so cool about all of this
"I- I'm…" Tifa couldn't even finish before she was sinking to the floor, the knife clattering across the tiles, a series of muffled sobs smothered by the arm across her face before she started outright bawling.
Oh god. Yuffie's subconscious berated her as she stood there frozen, shocked into place. Tifa didn't cry. What the hell was going on with everyone tonight?
"-Tifa?" Cloud ran into the kitchen, sliding to a stop when he saw her crumpled on the floor next to a knife, sobbing into her hands. He obviously had as much of a clue as to what to do as Yuffie, and they stood there making eyes at one another: You do something. -No, you do something. Cloud broke first, taking a cautious step towards the dark-haired girl, "Tifa what's wrong, are you hurt?"
Guilt ate at Yuffie's gut as she watched Cloud valiantly inch his way towards Tifa, the planet save his soul. An upset Tifa may as well be a pissed Tifa, for all the times Yuffie had seen the girl get emotional like this things had always ended with fists flying. Tifa dealt with sadness the same way she dealt with anger and fear, via violence. Cloud would most definitely need some backup, of that she was sure, "She just started crying, I didn't do it, it wasn't my fault!" Well that came out wrong, great job Yuffie.
"I-I-I'm fine," Tifa managed through her gasping sobs, "N-nothing is wrong."
"I'm not quite convinced that's true," Cloud closed the distance and knelt down next to Tifa, placing a gentle hand on her shoulder, and suddenly she was lunging at him. Poor Cloud, it was nice knowing ya. With a small squeakYuffie covered her face with her hands, not wanting to see Tifa loose it on Cloud, but when she didn't hear the expected screams of pain and rage she peeked a glance through the gaps of her fingers. Tifa was hanging off an awkward looking Cloud, sobbing into his neck as he rhythmically pat her back.
"I just c-can't stop c-crying…" and then Tifa was really gushing, the tears coming down like twin waterfalls.
Cloud looked at her, his eyes pleading but all Yuffie could do was raise her hands and back up, shaking her head. She may be a girl but that didn't mean she dealt with this mushy-gushy emotional stuff. Where was Barret when you needed him, that guy gave great hugs and Tifa was in obvious need of one. Instead, Cloud resigned himself to being a Tifa coat hanger and wrapped a loose arm around the girl's waist, them both settling in for a patient wait as the girl got her crying under control.
When the sobs finally tapered off into a soft sniffling Tifa spoke again, this time a little more coherently, "You're finally happy aren't you Cloud?"
"Wha- of course I'm happy, what is this about Tifa?" Cloud sounded so confused, but the pieces were falling into place for Yuffie.
"With Sephiroth, you're happy with him?" And now comprehension was dawning on Cloud too.
"Tifa, I'm so sorry-" but before he could say more hands were covering his mouth and Tifa was shaking her head.
"No, that's not what I- I meant…well…" Tifa withdrew her hands, wiping her eyes before pushing back her hair so she could look between the two of them, "It's all over now, isn't it?"
Yuffie realized she had not even been close to understanding Tifa's outburst. This wasn't about Tifa and Cloud, it was about the Big Picture: Jenova, Sephiroth, Shinra, all those larger-than-life enemies that had been chasing down for so long…
Closure. That's what Tifa's tears were about.
With Sephiroth's return as a healed man they were finally being given closure. Never would they have that little itch in the back of their mind, the musing of whether today might be the day the skies opened and a crazy silver-haired something descended upon them again. Tifa had realized the truth before the knowledge had even begun to settle into the rest of them. Suddenly, Yuffie saw Tifa in an entirely new light. No longer was she the angry girl avenging her father and childhood, but a grown weary woman who had been waiting for this moment for a really, really long time.
"Yeah Tifa, it's over," Cloud smiled, relief plain on his face, and then Tifa was laughing, covering her face in embarrassment even though Yuffie found herself suppressing her own giggle.
She was right, it was all finally over.
Sephiroth paced the length of the small room he had locked himself into. Cloud had given up the structure's blueprints without complaint, describing in great detail the layout of the first and second floors, including the who's who of bedrooms and which one was their's. The simple demand had been the only words Sephiroth had spoken after Vincent had left with his mother's journal. He had ignored Cloud's questions and attempts to examine his wound, and during the ride on Fenrir Sephiroth stayed silent, holding onto Cloud and fighting a resentment he didn't know how to understand. This wasn't Cloud's fault, logic argued, but Sephiroth was angry and logic was of no comfort to him. No, the only comfort he could think of, the only comfort he really knew, was Masamune.
Of which he no longer had.
A growl left his throat as Sephiroth spun on his heal, stalking across the floorboards with the intensity of a caged animal. And now here he was, locked away by his own discretion, nursing emotional wounds he couldn't stand having, about ready to tear into something lest he find an outlet for his aggression. Midgar- no, Edge winked at him through the wide open window, a thick warm breeze fluttering the drawn drapes. Sephiroth breathed in deeply. The air smelled different than what he remembered, more natural, absent of the chemical tang he was used to…this truly was Midgar no longer. Sephiroth stepped up to the window, pushing the fabric aside to stare at the lights spread out beneath him. He was somewhere on the outskirts of the city, but in what must be a busy side of town. While the old support structures for the plate loomed black against an already dark sky, the suburbs beyond were aglow with activity. He could see a number of spotlights swinging across low-hanging clouds and the twinkle of voices carried on the wind.
He was the last person on the planet to enjoy public outings, but there was a weight in the room that he couldn't shake, a tenacity in the air that he just couldn't stand being around. It wasn't so much about the book anymore, Sephiroth couldn't place a finger on what was causing him such internal turmoil, but something was compelling him to just go. Leaning out the window, he took a moment to absorb his surroundings before stepping onto the window sill and dropping to the ground below. He landed on a patch of down-trodden grass and crouched there, silent, listening for any sounds that would betray knowledge of his escape. This is not an escape. Sephiroth tried to reason with himself that he could come and go as he pleased, and that there wasn't some unspoken condition attached to his existence. Cloud had been with him from the moment he'd returned, and it had begun to feel as though the man was his keeper rather than his lover. Yet, he'd done nothing but wonder after Cloud the entire first day he had to himself. Sephiroth fidgeted over the knowledge. And that bike, Fenrir- while at first he'd secretly enjoyed the closeness of riding with Cloud, after two weeks of traveling he had grown tired of being a per petulant passenger.
For someone who had lived so long without the option of making his own choices, Sephiroth was surprised to find himself valuing what little independence he now had. This… he never would have dreamed of doing this before. His apathy had made him agreeable to obeying orders and following directives, now he couldn't so much as sit still when he knew there was nothing preventing him from doing as he desired. A dark smile split Sephiroth's face as he slid into the shadows and began picking his way towards the lights. This was something he was good at. For all of his striking features, Sephiroth had fine-tuned the art of stealth. He'd spent years of his life perfecting his ability to go un-noticed, to dissuade people's attentions with the power of his will alone. Avoiding the medical aides had become more than a game for him as a child, and after entering the military he'd learned to put his talents to an even more sophisticated use. In Wutai, his abilities had been a matter of life and death.
Now the shadows were a welcome home, and Sephiroth slipped through them with ease. He timed his movements between breaths, skirting a dimmed street lamp in order to avoid a laughing couple flirting their way to bed, freezing beneath the shadow of a doorway as a drunken man stumbled around the corner and passed within inches of him. Sephiroth imagined himself back in the jungle, picking his way across no man's land as he infiltrated enemy defenses. The black leather of his riding suit may as well be his old uniform, it moved with him as it had, molding to his skin and stretching to accommodate his range of motion. There was no tug of his coat catching the air, but Sephiroth was beginning to prefer the more streamlined style. It made him feel faster, and without masamune, he'd need his speed to make up for his shortened reach-
Sephiroth halted mid dash, forcing himself back to the moment. This wasn't a warfront with some battle he was heading towards. It was supposed to be a therapeutic midnight stroll to clear his mind. Sephiroth swallowed, disturbed by the quick turn of his thoughts towards violence, shaken more by the excited twist of adrenaline in his chest.
He shouldn't be out here alone with all of these civilians.
Perhaps Cloud's friends were right in their concern. Even with the Jenova cells removed Sephiroth didn't know if he'd ever trust his self-control completely again. He had done horrible things before Jenova, just because her influence was gone didn't mean Sephiroth wasn't still dangerous in his own right. Something monstrous had to already exist inside him for her grip to have been so absolute.
Sephiroth stood in the shadows and resolved himself to return to the house. If anyone saw him, if anyone recognized him… Sephiroth cursed his own foolishness. Though a decade had passed there were still bound to be people who would know him, and that would bring up questions he did not have answers for, that is if anyone had enough balls to approach him.
Which was not likely but…
Sephiroth peered around the corner of the alley he was lurking in, watching the crowd of people bustling down the street. Bright florescent lights illuminated them in golds and reds, blanketing the street in a saturation that befit their mood. The sound of laughter was like the hum of white noise, melding into the scenery, broken only by a drunken shout or the cry of some pandering street salesman. It was enough to cause him to high-tail it out of there, but then he saw something across the street, something big and beautiful, lurking in the shadows as he did…
It was a motorcycle.
Well, he thought, since I came all this way…
Sephiroth held his breath as he crossed the street. He made eye contact with no one, keeping his head bowed and his shoulders stooped. There was no hiding his hair, which was unfortunate, but with how colorful the crowd was he didn't think he stood out so sorely as to cause anyone to wonder. The motorcycle was in a lot of vehicles, mostly bikes but there were a few desert four-wheelers and all-purpose utility trucks. Lines of twine with little fluttering flags criss-crossed above the lot, the wind catching the colorful triangles so they reflected the neon light of the sign flashing above them. 'Mike's Motors & Mufflers' it read, with a little caption of 'If you can ride it, we can provide it' below. Sephiroth ignored the well-lit office building at the entrance, taking note of the security camera which followed his movement.
The bike was in the back, against a barbed-wire chain-link fence that had seen better days. Sephiroth approached it with the same caution he used with dangerous creatures, absorbing as much information as he could before making a move. It was black but without a shine, instead the metal was tempered into a smokey sort of dullness that bespoke a very precise craftsmanship. The shape was unusual, lacking a typical 'face' or headlight, the bulk of the machine looked as though it had been built out of the welding together of large pipes, and the silhouette it created was unnaturally disconcerting. This bike was not some flashy joy-ride, it actually looked as if it had been through hell.
Sephiroth was in love.
"Sorry to disappoint you sir, but that there girl ain't for sale." Sephiroth had felt the presence of the person well before he'd bothered to speak up, but whereas he'd assume the man was trying to get the creepy stranger off his lot, he instead sounded genuinely miffed.
"Is there a mechanical malfunction?" Sephiroth turned towards the voice, careful to keep his face in shadow and only glancing at the salesman before turning his attention back to the motorcycle. Only SOLDIER eyes glowed in the dark, he hoped the the man didn't catch on.
"Can't even turn her on to find out, 't be honest. She won't work for no one, got some fancy biological control interface that's linked to whoever owned her b'fore. I've tried all I can to reset her but she'd locked up tighter than a preacher's daughter," and then the man was cackling at his own joke. "I'd be a criminal to sell her 't ya, though believe me I'd be glad to free up the space in 'm lot, she's a big beast!"
Sephiroth leaned down to peer at where the ignition should be, finding nothing but a small blank LED screen, "What does she run off of?" Because curiosity had yet to kill him, and the only people capable of the technology the man spoke of was Shinra… maybe he'd have an idea of how it worked.
"Seems like she's got some sort of Mako-based fuel source, maybe some internal materia. I ain't ever got inside her guts, she's built like fortress, and it ain't worth tearing up that beautiful hull if she won't run anyway."
It was difficult to admit, but Sephiroth was disappointed. He considered Cloud's Fenrir and had yet to see another bike come close to contesting it's magnificence, until this one. Though unless Shinra had left his company bank account alone to rot for the past decade he didn't have a way to pay for the thing anyways. Still… "Would you mind?" He asked as he stepped towards the machine, placing a hand on one of the rear pipes. It was icy to the touch.
"Knock 'y self out, 'suppose you could always buy her for the shell and try to replace the innards, ain't no job for me though!" The salesman stuck his hands in his pockets and laughed again. Sephiroth ignored him and swung his leg over the seat and settled in. The machine fit him like a glove, as if it had been made for him. A distant flash of memory pulled at his thoughts, like deja-vu, and some internal instinct bid him to take hold of the handles and squeeze. Suddenly the low purr of an engine rumbled to life beneath him, and the LED screen flickered on to display a very familiar logo: Shinra's.
Sephiroth looked up at the man, a million questions on the tip of his tongue, because he was now sure this was a military vehicle and how in the world did it end up in a used vehicle lot, but he was stopped by the look of horror on the man's face. "I-I'm sorry, sir," the man stuttered out, "She's been here months, I ain't seen hide nor hair of the man who dropped her off since. I ain't no criminal and I don't deal in stolen goods!"
That thrill of adrenaline was back racing it's way though his stomach, and it made Sephiroth smile, his lips thinning, "I'll thank you for keeping her safe all this time, then." What were the chances, Sephiroth couldn't comprehend, perhaps fate wasn't entirely out for him. Heeling back the kickstand he shifted the bike into balance, maneuvering it around so the nose faced the street. Sparing one last glance at the salesman, laughing under his breath as he watched the man gape after him, Sephiroth revved the engine and pulled out into the crowd. The people in the road parted for him, sensible enough to get out of the way of a moving vehicle, and he made his way back into the alley. The bike purred low, it's power restrained and begging to be unleashed. Sephiroth had no intentions of making her wait.
It was not difficult to find a highway. The flat expanse of concrete above him had once connected one plate to another, but when Midgar had fallen the structure had come down with it. Now the long stretch of concrete led deep into the ruins of the collapsed city. Sephiroth avoided the various barriers and caution tape that littered the on-ramp, pleased to find himself alone, sitting high atop Edge, a light spray of rain coating the surface of the asphalt before him. No one but the shadows of abandoned cars used this road anymore.
It was all his.
Sephiroth twisted his grip and dug his heels into the sides, his boots finding the foot pegs the instant the thing jumped into gear below him, shooting forward into a wining sprint, heading straight towards the bowls of Midgar.
"Fuck." The word rang in the quiet of the small abandoned hotel room.
Reno glanced up from his hand of playing cards, eyeing Tseng with a raised eyebrow. The man had gotten a call in the middle of their game, which was not unusual. They had been meeting like this on a weekly basis for the past few months now. A night spent playing cards and sharing a bottle of scotch, or whisky, or keg (that was his doing) had become their version of a stake out. Nothing bizarre ever happened anymore, well, except for when Rude won a card game.
"What's up, man?" But Tseng wasn't responding, he was too busy furiously punching a number into his PHS. What has gotten into that dude's pants, Reno turned back to Rude who had hardly twitched from his position across the table, his attention so absorbed in the fan of cards he held.
"Jack of Spades," Rude said, all business, his eyes burning over the rims of his glasses.
"The fuck, are you serious!" Rude flung his hand of cards down onto the table, standing up in a rush, "You're cheating, you sonofa-" And the Rude was reaching over the table for him, big hand clawing at his collar before getting a grip and dragging him forward, "Tell me how." Reno swallowed and glanced at his cards, considering.
"King of Diamonds," Reno glanced up at Rude, not hiding his smirk when he saw the man's eyes boggle out of his skull.
"We have a problem." Tseng's voice had that tone, the one which demanded they cut the bullshit and get ready for some big stuff. "Sephiroth has just been spotted in downtown Edge."
Sephiroth? Rude dropped him onto the table, the red head floundering and knocking the stack of playing cards askew, "You've got to be kidding me." This could not be happening. For a moment they all just looked at one another, disbelief plain on their faces, and then for the first time in months a sense of excitement pervaded the room. "Fuck yeah, I knew spending all these nights with you lazy sons of bitches would eventually pay off."
"Who called it in?" Rude pushed away from where Reno was still splayed across their former Go Fish game, his chair clattering to the floor as he stood.
"Mike down at the shop. Apparently Sephiroth just waltzed right in and took the bike we left with him," Tseng pocketed his PHS and pulled his pistol out of it's holster, checking the chamber, "His security camera picked up video showing him heading in Midgar's general direction. We need to leave now in order to intercept him."
"Did you call Cloud?" Because if this were actually Sephiroth it was going to take a whole lot more than the three of them to take him down.
"No answer, his line just rings. Elena's getting the chopper, she should be on the roof within the next three minutes," Tseng re-holstered his gun before pulling his suit jacket on, tugging the sleeves down to his wrists and smoothing the fabric down over his chest. "Let's go."
The ride in the helicopter was like old times: wind in his hair, goggles over his eyes, Rude looking pissed, Tseng looking serious, Elena being, well, Elena. "There's a bad storm rolling in guys, I won't be able to navigate through Midgar if it starts pouring," her voice crackled through the headset he wore, concern marring the excitement he felt. The storms of late had turned violent. For whatever reason it seemed like a lightening belt was forming over Midgar, and the once arid landscape of a desert was turning into storm central. It rained only occasionally, but when it did, it poured, and the lightening…well, the bolts were impressive to say the least. It was as if Midgar was some malfunctioning plug stuck in the outlet of the planet, sparking electricity out of the sky.
"Just get us to route 401 heading northeast into the city, he can't have gotten too far," Tseng didn't sound worried, but Tseng never sounded anything but annoyed, or pissed, or bored. Reno wasn't worried, not at all, no sir-ree, worried just wasn't in his vocabulary…but it did bother him that Cloud hadn't picked up, or even called back. Unless the kid was in another one of his hermit moods he had gotten pretty good at answering the phone when they called him. After all, they were the Turks, they only talk to other people when it's something important, and Reno had liked to think that their relationship with Avalanche had improved since, well, back then.
"I see something, down there, through the right window, due south," Elena's voice was back in his head, and at her words the three of them were pressing their faces to the window of the helicopter, trying to see through the light haze of rain. A black shape was moving fast in his peripherals, like a shadow but there was no light to cast it, before suddenly, a flash of lightening revealed a stripe of silver.
"It's got to be him, let's take him out," before Tseng even gave the order Elena was pulling the chopper around, swooping low towards the massive highway, circling behind the shadow so they could drop down behind it.
The mechanical system controlling the front-mounted machine guns was a sophisticated A.I. capable of working in low levels of light, it's heat-sync technology dependent upon a person's temperature rather than movement. He hadn't expected the system to work on Sephiroth though, because the last few times he had appeared he'd been more akin to a ghost than a living creature, but the system beeped in confirmation when it locked onto it's target, and Tseng took no time in pulling the trigger. The sound of bullets flying was wrenching even with headset on, the sharp clack clack clack breaking through the noise-canceling seals over his ears. It was impossible to see what was going on below, but the image overlaying the windshield displayed what the computer saw: A warm shape atop an even hotter motorcycle and the little tiny heat signatures of the bullets whizzing right by it.
None of them were a hit.
Tseng checked the image, adjusted his aim, and tried again, the second round of bullets sweeping higher, aiming a little further ahead. Still, no luck. The shape dodged each spray with ease, it's reactions as fast as the lightening in the sky, and Reno had to wonder why they even thought the machine gun would work. But Tseng wasn't one to give up, and the four of them were a lot safer up in the air rather than down on the street, facing off against the world's Enemy Number One. They were good, but they learned long ago they weren't that good.
But sometimes they got lucky.
The highway wasn't a straight shot into Midgar. During it's fall portions had collapsed in upon itself, making the roadway a hazardous gauntlet of pitfalls and rubble. As they approached the fallen plate the destruction became even worse. Debris littered what smooth stretches of asphalt were left, and the figure on the bike now had more obstacles to avoid while they flew smoothly overhead. Reno grinned to himself, watching as Tseng worked with what advantage they had just been handed and let loose a few rounds of bullets alongside the bike, watching as the figure was forced to avoid them by swerving right into the pathway of a giant sinkhole.
Not to be outdone, the rider launched himself at the massive pit, catching the bike's tires on a wedge of concrete and launching itself into the air, easily clearing the collapsed portion of the road.
That was when Tseng struck.
Bullets flew in a steady stream below the descending figure, and there was nothing the rider could do but fall right into their path. Reno saw when the bullets hit the bike, sparks of light dancing across the image as the A.I. picked up the heat generated by their impact. Seeing if they hit the figure was impossible, but when the bike made a messy landing, bouncing into a fish-tailing waiver before collapsing into a full-out rolling wreck, they knew.
"Bring us down Elena, we'll finish this on the ground," there was a smugness to Tseng's voice that the man was obviously trying to keep in check. The fight wasn't over yet. This was Sephiroth, and he was the definition of unpredictable. A few bullets wouldn't be likely to kill him, but they would certainly slow him down. That's what they were all thinking. Reno found Tseng's energy addictive, and he made a hasty job of preparing the length of cord that would be their lead down to the ground. The wench squealed as Rude descended first, disappearing into the rain as he dropped out of the helicopter. After a few seconds Tseng followed him down, sparing a nod at him as they made eye contact, words impossible without the aid of their headsets. His look said it all, though: Be careful. Reno just grinned and gave the other man a thumbs up. Be careful yourself his tried to convey back.
Once on the ground Reno took a moment to curse nature as rain soaked his suit. The clouds hadn't quiet opened up, but the steady fall was making short work of his clothes. Thankfully, it also provided them with a little bit of cover as they approached the collapsed bike. It lay with the bottom facing them, it's engines cut off due to the fall, the rear wheel stuck in an idle spin. The rider lay just beyond it, a black shape collapsed upon itself, struggling to stand up. Silver hair fell down around it, and when glowing green eyes opened to burn into his from across the space between them, he knew they hadn't made some horrible mistake.
Words weren't even spoken before the three of them jumped into action. Reno pulled out his taser as he ran, twisting the dial up to 'fuckin' deadly' and holding the thing out beside him, feeling each sizzle as the electricity caught a drop of rain. Tseng crouched down behind the fallen bike, using it's hull as cover as he aimed his gun and let free a few bullets. Sephiroth dodged them, but the ease which Reno expected to see was absent from the reaction, instead the figure stooped into a short sprint, running away from them and towards the ruins of the city.
The three of them chased after the retreating figure, hardly making up any space but at least keeping up. Elena made a pass above, the helicopter's spotlight illuminating Sephiroth in bright white and ensuring he couldn't disappear into the shadows on them. Tseng took advantage of the clarity the spotlight provided and tried aiming his gun as he ran, but the best he could do were a few close calls, Sephiroth was just too fast.
They wouldn't win at this rate. Sephiroth's SOLDIER abilities outclassed any of their few physical enhancements, he could outrun and outlast the three of them combined. They were going to have to get lucky again or give up and hope they could track him long enough to get in contact with Cloud. Reno felt a frustration begin to build in his chest, peeved that they had come so close to taking out Sephiroth, peeved more over the fact that said Sephiroth was running away from them rather than just standing and fighting them.
But one shouldn't count his chocobos before they'd hatched.
Steel and concrete stretched up alongside him, the ruins of Midgar creating a towering landscape of a metropolic graveyard. They were heading into the bowls of the city where the collapsed structures that had once been buildings or part of a plate lay piled atop one another. Some parts of the Midgar still stood, but precariously, and the place had long ago been deemed too unsafe for human habitation. If they lost Sephiroth amongst the rubble there would be no hope of finding him again. They had to catch up before that happened.
When the helicopter descended Reno nearly cheered out loud. Elena easily overtook Sephiroth's fleeing form, blocking his path with the aircraft, the spinning propeller dipping down towards him as the tail lifted up, forcing him to slow and swerve out of the way… and giving the three of them the few precious seconds they needed to catch up. Rude reached Sephiroth first, sweeping a kick out at his feet as he tried to trip him up but Sephiroth twisted out of the way at the last moment, bring an open palm around to knock into the side of his partner's head, dazing the big man into a stumble. Rude didn't go down but Sephiroth made no move to finish him, instead lunging right past him and once again taking off towards the city, Elena's spotlight on his heels. Why wouldn't the man stand and fight? Reno was beginning to get pissed.
But that moment of pause was all Tseng needed to get his aim, and the next shot from his pistol hit it's target, ripping into Sephiroth's side and causing him to stumble down onto one a knee.
The three of them slowly circled the kneeling figure, caution slowing their steps even as victory pumped through their blood. The rain was pouring down now, and Reno had to push his goggles up his forehead in order to see. Elena was hovering over them again, her spotlight washing Sephiroth in light as bright as daylight revealing a hand clutching at his side, the rain plastering his bangs across a cold-eyed face. Lightening blinded them all for a moment as it arched out of the clouds and struck the building behind Sephiroth. The sound of electricity was a familiar hum in his ears and Reno held his taser out before him, not even hiding his grin. This was too easy. Some little voice in the back of his head piped up, asking where Masamune was and wondering why Sephiroth had yet to arm himself, but Reno ignored it, taking it upon himself to be the first to attack. Sephiroth dodged his taser, moving to the side even as sparks arched out for their target, drawn to water-soaked clothes. Reno spun, trying to reach Sephiroth while protecting his exposed flank but the man had moved behind him, circling around to lunge at Tseng instead of meeting him in battle. Reno cursed, leaping after him, but he couldn't reach Sephiroth before he was upon the other Turk, lashing out with a well-aimed kick the sent Tseng's pistol clattering down the road.
Tseng looked up at Sephiroth, an unreadable expression on his face as he stood helpless and unarmed, but then Rude stepped in. The man was a beast, if Reno could say, and his physical prowess had been on par with many 2nd and 3rd class SOLDIERS. Hell, Reno had seen the guy kill people with a single punch. When his fist landed in Sephiroth's abdomen Reno could tell it had done some damage. Sephiroth had collapsed around the arm, seemingly held up by the fist alone, before a hand snapped out and a pair of fingers jabbed a line up Rude's arm. The sound of a cry left his partner's throat before he stumbled back, cradling his arm to his chest as a grimace marred his face.
The fight dragged on in much the same momentum, they each exchanging blows but no one going down, the rain having long soaked them all as the skies poured upon them. The group slipped and stumbled their way through Midgar's ruins, heading deeper and deeper into treacherous territory where the very ground they stood upon could collapse at a single wrong step. Elena followed them in the chopper, keeping the spotlight on Sephiroth and doing her part to prevent him from escaping. But no matter how hard they pressed Sephiroth slipped just barely out of their reach. It should have been a futile fight. Sephirothshould have made short work of them the instant they'd met him in hand-to-hand combat. Instead, each shot they took, each blow that connected, each shock of his taser, was just a slow whittling down of a man whose stamina should have far outpaced their own. Indeed, Sephiroth appeared just as fatigued as Reno felt. Paired with his content to stay on the defensive, well…it made him begin to wonder.
None of them expected the bolt of lightening that arced out of the sky to hit the helicopter hovering overhead. The sound was physically excruciating, a horrible thrum that ripped through his eardrums and made his skin spark with static as the shattered spotlight rained glass onto him. The sound was nearly as horrible as the sight of the chopper spinning out of control above their heads. Oh. Fuck. Blaring alarms cut through the pound of rain as the aircraft made a short but quick descent straight towards the street. It spun between them and Sephiroth, he and Tseng retreating a few yards to get out of the way while Rude went sprinting in the opposite direction, ducking under the chopper even as it struggled to make some semblance of a landing.
"Go after him!" Tseng yelled through the rain, gesturing off towards the direction Rude was headed. "I'll help Elena!" Without a thought Reno took off at a run.
He found Rude some moments later, standing at the edge of precipice that for all appearances led straight down to the other side of the Planet rather than some lower plate. A flash of lightening revealed nothing but the fall of raindrops against a black backdrop.
"Did you loose him?" Reno asked, peering down into the hole, eyes following the twisted forms of scaffolding and concrete.
"He jumped and there's no fuckin' way I'm following him down there," Rude spat into the hole, a curse muttered under his breath. Reno watched the rain disappear into the depths and had to wonder if even Sephiroth could survive a fall like this.
If they were lucky the answer would be a no.
Author's Note: This idea has spent the last year growing dust in my brain, so it's good to have it written down finally. There are a couple themes I want to convey with this story but Part I turned our to be a lot of set-up for the next half which should be a bit more emotionally driven. Hopefully this is satisfactory for most, even without the sexy times. I was going to post it all up at once but this turned out to be a good place to pause and it's become rather beastly in word-count... It'll only be a two-parter but I should have Part II finished relatively quickly. The story will earn it's rating in the next chapter. I hope you enjoyed!