Cloud opened the door and froze. His fingers clenched around the knob, the color quickly draining from his knuckles. Surprise kept him from immediately reaching for a weapon. His sword was still upstairs but he could improvise. Peace had made him complacent.
The voice was the same as he remembered. No matter how long he lived, he doubted he would ever forget the sound of that man's voice. He stared into brown eyes that should have been green.
"I can understand if you don't want to invite me in," Sephiroth said, as if he hadn't just torn apart everything Cloud had thought he knew simply by standing there.
He should be getting a sword.
"Why are you here?" He asked instead.
"Where else would I go?"
Cloud couldn't think of an answer.
"You're dead. I killed you. Twice."
Sephiroth shifted on his feet. He wore common street clothes – a white shirt and black pants, plain enough that he could have blended into the crowded streets. Cloud couldn't remember ever seeing Sephiroth out of uniform. "I don't understand it either."
He was dreaming. That was the only explanation he could think of. Yuffie had made dinner last night and it must have given him food poisoning or something to affect his dreams. Sephiroth hadn't sounded this... sane since before Nibelheim. But even back then Sephiroth's eyes had always been green. Hadn't they?
"Should I leave?" The politeness reminded Cloud of the officer Sephiroth had once been.
"No," Cloud answered slowly. Even in his dreams he didn't trust Sephiroth outside of his sight. He stepped behind the door, giving his old friend and enemy room to enter.
Silver hair swayed as Sephiroth moved, all but a few wayward strands pulled back into a long ponytail. Sephiroth tucked a few loose hairs behind his ear as he looked around the bar, interest clear in his eyes. Cloud wasn't certain but he thought Sephiroth was smiling, not the mad grin that had marked the end of his days but an honest, pure smile. It was far too human. Cloud felt his chest tighten. He missed the old days, before the world went insane. Before Nibelheim.
Sephiroth turned to look at Cloud. "This is a nice place. I'm happy for you."
"Why?" The word slipped from his lips, the distillation of far too many questions pounding in his head.
He was never letting Yuffie cook again.
"Why am I happy for you?" Sephiroth tilted his head slightly. "Because you deserve it after..." He stopped himself. "I'm sorry."
Cloud pulled out the nearest chair and fell into it. Sephiroth... Sephiroth never apologized. Never.
"I think I need to wake up now," he whispered to himself.
"You're not dreaming." Cloud glanced up from the floor. Sephiroth had stepped closer. "I know it seems that way. I'd thought so at first. But this is real. I don't know how, but it's real."
"I don't believe you." Not believing was safer than thinking... than trusting....
Silver hair brushed his cheeks. Cloud closed his eyes, feeling the press of warm lips against his own. They'd only ever kissed once. Cloud had been nervous, afraid to approach his superior officer but then Zack.... The memories cut him deeper than a sword ever could and he involuntarily reached up, gripping tight to the open top of Sephiroth's shirt.
He could feel a heart beating beneath his fingers.
Cloud pushed away quickly, reality punching him in the gut. "You're real."
Sephiroth smiled slightly and stepped back, seeming to sense Cloud's need for space. "I said as much."
The wood of the chair pressed against his back like an anchor. He welcomed the pain as he leant back a bit too hard, using it as a focus to ground his thoughts. He took a slow breath and let old walls reform. His gaze sharpened. He glared.
"Who are you?"
If Sephiroth was taken aback by the sudden shift in conversation, he didn't show it. "You know who I am."
"You're another clone," Cloud answered uncertainly, his instinct telling him he was wrong even as he said it. They'd gotten rid of the last of the clones over a year ago.
He knew it was the truth. "How? Why?"
Sephiroth moved slowly, as if trying not to frighten a wild animal. He stepped around the small table and took a seat opposite Cloud, his hands folded on top of the table. "I can't tell you either. I know I was never quite gone. Even after you'd killed me," he smiled slightly, "both times, something of me remained alive in the Lifestream. I remember it all, almost as if it was a dream."
"Then why come here?" Cloud asked quietly. There was only one way this could end. There was only one way it ever ended. His choice was merely whether to kill Sephiroth now or wait until the damage was already done.
He wasn't sure he could do it again, not without some sign that this wasn't the Sephiroth he used to know, the one he'd fallen in love with.
"Do you honestly think I would go elsewhere? Even with our..." A frown crossed Sephiroth's face and quickly melded back into the polite smile Sephiroth wore. "...recent history, you're the only one I have left. You may not believe it, but I still feel for you as I once did."
Cloud told himself not to be swayed by Sephiroth's words. He would turn against them, sooner or later. He didn't want anyone else to be hurt because of his own weakness.
"I don't expect you to trust me," Sephiroth continued, his voice an echo of Cloud's thoughts. "But this last time... I've changed." He shifted, leaning back in his chair and pressing his hands flat against the table. "I don't know how I left the Lifestream, but it's still with me. Even now, I can feel the planet as if it were a part of me. More than Lucrecia or Hojo or Jenova, the planet is my parent, at least in my current incarnation. I can't go against it."
"Oh." It sounded plausible. Strange, but plausible and Cloud desperately wanted to believe it. He didn't know if he could risk it.
A glance at the clock told him that the others would be returning soon. He had a choice to make.
Slowly Cloud stood, brushing a hand through his hair more as a self-calming gesture than an attempt to neaten it.
"I can't promise they're going to like you, but for now you can share my room," he said finally. "I'll show you around. Tell me everything you can remember."
Sephiroth smiled at him and he felt like last ten years had never happened.