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This is no place for us to die

Before the seas boil over

And the wind and the water

Make a grave for you and I

 

The night before the final battle, Cloud heads down into the Northern Crater alone. 

There is no reason for it, no justification that makes sense; Tifa is asleep, the others are taking the time they need to make their preparations, and Cloud is carefully climbing down into the dark. 

Above him, meteor burns bright in the sky, Gaia’s doom spelled out in flame. 

The rocks are slick and cold as he descends. Cloud slips a few times, but they’ve trekked up and down these paths plenty in the last few weeks, so he knows them by heart. And even if he didn’t, he can feel Sephiroth there, waiting; black heart beating in the center. 

And that’s where Cloud finds him, sitting cross-legged and quiet, masamune by his side. He looks up through his fall of hair when he sees Cloud. “You’ve come alone.” His voice is quiet, almost soft, none of the Jenova-clones theatricality. Or maybe he’s just too tired for it. Cloud’s no longer sure who this man is, anymore. 

Sephiroth’s serpentine eyes shine, glinting bright and mad. Whoever, or whatever , he is… he is not sane.

“I met your mother,” Cloud says, soft voice echoing in the cave. “And your father. You have parents. You’re not a god.” His hands clench into fists at his sides, remembering Sephiroth at the altar, all the wild promises made over Aerith’s prone body, her open, sightless eyes. 

You had no right to kill her. She was something so much better than you. 

Sephiroth has an uncanny ability to be still. All that moves is the corner of his mouth, a twitch that comes and goes so fast, Cloud isn’t sure he saw it at all. “I will be,” Sephiroth says. “When the world burns.” 

Cloud would never think to say that, not in a million years. He can barely get through small talk at the inns they stop at. “I’m not here to kill you. Not right now.” 

“Oh? And why not?” Sephiroth’s low voice shivers over Cloud like ice, tearing at him like the wind high up on Gaia’s cliffs. 

Cloud shrugs. “The others should be here.” This fight belongs to them all. 

“I see.” Sephiroth’s stillness is unrivaled even by the cavern around them; life teems here, even in this harsh environment. Tonberries shuffle with their lanterns held aloft, the wings of dark dragons beat against narrow passageways. Water slicks and slides and echoes as it drips, drips, drips onto the floor of the cave. 

And among it all is Sephiroth; death incarnate, implacable, a void. He tilts his head and his smile grows, and Cloud’s fingers twitch at his sides, wanting the sword he’s determined not to draw. “How do you like my meteor, Cloud?” 

“I’ve seen better.” He thinks about the way it looked on the water, in Costa del Sol. Like the sea was burning. “You won’t win.” 

Sephiroth lifts one shoulder, elegant and lovely. “I can’t imagine who’s going to stop me.” 

“I did, already,” Cloud reminds him. “Once.” High up on the catwalks of a dead reactor, before an audience of monsters trapped behind glass.  

“So you did. But I’m no longer Shinra’s weapon, Cloud.” Sephiroth takes up his sword, but only to rest it upon his crossed knees. “I’m hers. Jenova’s. My mother’s.” 

“Your mother’s name is Lucrecia. She lives in a cave, too. Maybe that’s where you get it from.” Cloud knows there is no point to this. Part of him wonders if he’s still asleep, up with Tifa, the twin glow of meteor and the moon fighting for dominance in the sky, one last time. 

If they fail, tomorrow, the world will burn to ash and the moon will orbit some other star. Cloud won’t let it happen. 

Sephiroth’s unblinking gaze is direct and intent. “I’ve been chosen. You were, too, for a time. I couldn’t have lit the sky without you.” 

It’s meant to hurt, like the sword with which Sephiroth impaled him all those years ago in Nibelheim. Cloud knows very well what he’s done. He knows there are parts of him that are cobbled together bits of other people, sewn together like a ragdoll. But that’s his strength, his secret weapon. All the others who fight beside him, and those who gave their lives so Cloud could save the planet. 

Sephiroth moves in a whirl of silver and there’s a point at Cloud’s throat, and the smile on Sephiroth’s face is the one Cloud remembers seeing long ago, shrouded in flames when this man went from hero to adversary in the blink of an eye. 

“They’ll still come for you,” Cloud says. “If you kill me.” And they’ll be mad at him for doing this, which they should be. Of all the dumb things he’s done, this one takes the cake. But he doesn’t think Sephiroth is going to kill him now. He will try tomorrow, but tonight he’s probably just going to gloat. 

Honestly, Cloud might prefer the fight. Sephiroth does like to monologue. 

“I don’t much care when I kill them, or if I kill them at all,” Sephiroth says. “They’ll die with the others, either way. Killed by the cold of my blade or the heat of Mother’s holy fire…” Sephiroth moves the tip of the masamune up, traces over the edge of Cloud’s cheek. “But you, my puppet. You are something else, aren’t you? Fighting your true nature so hard. It’s almost admirable.” 

Cloud doesn’t know why he’s not fighting back. It’s fear and something else, some sick fascination, and maybe that’s why he’s here. He can’t afford to have this, tomorrow. When it’s for real. When it’s for Aerith. But tonight -- 

Tonight. 

“I’m not here to fight you,” Cloud says, again. 

“Then you’re more a fool than the rest of them.” Sephiroth lowers his masamune. “I admit I’m curious. You’ve chased me across the planet and I know nothing more than you’re a failed clone of Hojo’s. You faced me once before, and you were afraid. You harbor such hate for me, and I barely knew you existed.” 

It shouldn’t hurt. It shouldn’t . But deep down in the small wounded place that idolized everything this man once was, it does. 

Sephiroth lowers his sword. He moves forward with his usual sinuous grace, and Cloud takes a step back without meaning to, and then another, and another. The rough-hewn rock presses against his back, cold and faintly damp through the fabric of his shirt. 

“Oh, but you say you’re not afraid of my sword, isn’t that right?” Sephiroth is closer to him now than he’s ever been; silver-white hair falling around his beautiful, cruel face, jade-green eyes slit like a snake’s. His smile cuts like his sword. He touches Cloud’s face, oddly gentle, fingers warmer than Cloud would have thought, if he’d thought of this at all. 

Had thought of this, years ago, sixteen and trembling in the dark, quiet and breathless in his bunk. Turned on just from the sight of him earlier that day, the edges of him passing into a hallway in a blur of silver-and-black. 

“That’s right,” says Cloud, chin tilted. He’s not that boy anymore. Sephiroth killed that boy when he burned Nibelheim. Shrina took care of the rest when they shot Zack. 

“You would have me believe I’m no god, but a man.” Sephiroth is so close that Cloud can feel his breath, can feel the warmth of him that seems incongruous, wrong. “Is that what you want, Cloud? The man?” 

I want to kill you, Cloud thinks, as Sephiroth drags his long fingers over Cloud’s jaw, down his throat. I want to take my sword and plunge it deep, watch your eyes go cold. I want to see it when it happens this time. Like you made me do, when it was Aerith. 

His cock throbs, thickening in his pants. Cloud’s palms are pressed against the rock, fingers scrabbling at the edges. He hopes the pain might sharpen his focus and make him react, push Sephiroth away. But it doesn’t. 

“Well?” Sephiroth moves even closer, trapping Cloud between the rock of the cave and his terrible beauty. “If it’s not my blade you fear, then what is it? You’re trembling. Ah, but I remember when you handed over the black materia. You looked so happy. Do you remember what that felt like?” 

Cloud does remember. It had been wrong in the way taking a hyper in battle was wrong; blood rushing and heart racing and euphoria an acidic taste in the back of the throat. Cloud was a stranger to joy and did not trust ecstasy; that moment had given him both, and had not changed his mind about his mistrust in the slightest. 

But it had felt good. 

“That’s what you fear, isn’t it, Cloud. Not my hate, but my regard. Did you want it, back when you were nothing, before you were given my mother’s cells, before you were elevated to something that mattered, even if only for a moment?” 

“Do you even listen to yourself,” Cloud huffs, because yes , of course he wanted that, every trooper in Shinra wanted that. But only at first, only until a friendly blue-eyed Soldier with wild black hair and a smile as bright as the sun held his hand out and laughed at Cloud’s country accent. 

Zack, it was always Zack, after that. Sephiroth the idol, the impossible dream. Somehow it’s even worse that it’s Sephiroth doing this, standing so close, when Cloud would have given anything for it to have been Zack. 

Sephiroth was never meant to last. 

“You were beautiful when you did what I wanted,” Sephiroth breathes, eyes hazy and lost, like he’s already out somewhere amidst the stars. “You’ll be beautiful when I kill you, too.” Sephiroth runs his fingers over Cloud’s mouth. “I’ll kill you last, so you can see them all dead before you. What will that feel like, so utter a failure? You’ll have to tell me, before I end it.” 

There’s such certainty there, as if Sephiroth accepts no other conclusion but the one where he wins. “That’s. Pretty typical bad-guy stuff.” 

Sephiroth strokes up and down Cloud’s throat, feeling the race of his heartbeat. “A fool with a narrow mind, but what should I expect? You’re nothing but an empty puppet, a failed experiment.” 

Cloud looks up, above Sephiroth’s head and at the crater ceiling, the faint green glow. “Better save it for tomorrow, or else you’ll have nothing to say.” 

Sephiroth makes a sound, something so close to annoyance that it drags Cloud’s gaze, unwilling, back to him. For a second it seems annoyance might gain Cloud his freedom, but then Sephiroth -- who may be a monster but is still a brilliant tactician -- smiles, wholly pleased about something, and Cloud’s heart kicks up its loud tattoo in his chest again because that is the look that says I have scanned my enemy, and I have found his weakness. 

“Of course that doesn’t frighten you. What frightens you is making me happy. Pleasing me. Hearing me tell you what a good boy you are,” Sephiroth says, and Cloud’s cock grows impossibly harder and damn him, damn him . “That’s what frightened you, hmm? Not how much you feared my blade, but how much you wanted my approval.” 

And of course that’s right, isn’t it? Cloud had been mind-controlled, under some sick compulsion, and how easy to blame it on that. But he knew it wasn’t, it was the old part of him that was still there, always him, always Cloud Strife who wanted to be bigger and stronger and better than the weak thing he feared he was. 

Sephiroth’s hands slide under his shirt, up his chest. “You were quite something, Strife, when you took my blade.” His fingers unerringly find the spot where his masamune had pierced Cloud’s chest, years ago. 

Hojo’s tanks made sure there was no scar, but there’s a phantom ache that never goes away and Sephiroth is ghoul enough to know exactly where it is. 

Cloud’s eyes glaze over. Sephiroth’s fingers burn on his skin but Cloud supposes they’re no warmer than anyone else’s. It’s just been a long time since anyone touched him. And he doesn’t expect Sephiroth to have anything in his veins but ice.  

Sephiroth moves closer. “But not as beautiful as you were when you handed me the black materia. Why fight me, puppet? Why not stand at my side, watch the world burn? I’ll spare your friends death by my sword, if you really wish it. Of course, suffocating by ash will take longer, but it’s up to you.” 

Cloud tries to push him away, but Sephiroth just laughs and moves closer, pressing a thigh between his legs. The electricity of it makes Cloud choke back a gasp, trying not to rub his cock against Sephiroth’s muscular thigh.“Think how good it would feel to be with me with the end comes. To know you’d fulfilled your purpose.” His hand moves down, over the tense, tight muscles of Cloud’s abdomen. His thigh grinds hard into Cloud’s erection. “Think how happy I’d be with you.” 

Cloud’s breath draws in, shuddering and quick. He turns his face away, but there is no escape. Sephiroth is everywhere , his hair and his tall, lean body and his presence, filling the interior of the cave like the cold. But his hand is warm as it slides under the waist of his pants and teases over his cock. 

“Wouldn’t you like to make it up to me? What you did to me in Nibelheim?” Sephiroth whispers, against Cloud’s ear. “It hurt when I fell. I lived long enough to feel my spine break, Cloud.” The hand that isn’t on Cloud’s cock is on his throat. Sephiroth’s thumb rubs up and down and his fingers tense, like even he can’t decide if he wants to start choking Cloud or not. 

Cloud scowls and reaches out, shoving at Sephiroth’s shoulder. “No. Get off me.” But the shove is half-hearted at best, and his breathing is too fast from both fear and this sick excitement he can’t quite banish. 

“You feel her, too,” Sephiroth murmurs, breath hot. “Mother. You can feel her inside you, in your cells. Your blood. Just like I can.” His hand on Cloud’s cock is starting to stroke faster, now. “Wouldn’t you like to feel me take you, fill you up and make you whole? So much better than death, than my blade piercing your foolish heart.” 

Cloud’s vision narrows like a scope, so all he sees is Sephiroth;snow-pale hair, angular features, eyes the color of pure mako. Sephiroth’s hand is calloused and rough as it teases Cloud’s cock, a swordsman’s hand, and the pleasure addictive and terrible and great. 

“I would be so proud of you, Strife,” Sephiroth says. “Just like I was when you reached up and handed me the materia.” 

Cloud thinks about that moment, sliding his hand inside the watery cocoon in which Sephiroth lay, suspended and waiting. The thrill of it, the wave of relief that he wasn’t mired in his own loneliness any longer, torn between all the different people he thought he was. So much easier to give in, to let the loudest voice be the one to whom he finally listened. 

It was wrong. Cloud knows this, he knew it when he did it and yet. Sephiroth isn’t wrong, it did feel good, a shuddery bliss of giving up and giving in and he’s fucking Sephiroth’s hand, now, and he won’t let this happen, he can’t, but -- 

“That’s it,” Sephiroth urges, stroking harder, his thumb rubbing over the tip of Cloud’s cock. “Give in to me, to my will, just like you did then….” 

Cloud wants -- he wants to fight, to grab Sephiroth’s hair and pull , snarl at him I’m getting off, it’s not a metaphysical event, shut the fuck up . He wants to pull away, put his fist in Sephiroth’s beautiful face, shove his sword deep in Sephiroth’s gut and eviscerate him. 

He wants to rock his hips forward, wants to fuck Sephiroth’s fist faster and harder, he wants to sink to his knees and show his throat, let Sephiroth take him just to hear it again, good boy, I’m so proud of you, you’ve made me so happy --

It’s only a few more strokes of Sephiroth’s hand before Cloud comes, caught halfway between his fantasy of killing Sephiroth and submitting to him. Between his anger and Sephiroth’s praise. He hates himself but it doesn’t matter, he still comes so hard he sees light behind his eyes. 

“There, there,” Sephiroth croons, voice full of triumph. “Isn’t that better? Doesn’t that feel good? Be mine, let me have you, give yourself to me, your body, your will, it’s mine, it’s ours - ” 

Ours. 

Cloud opens his eyes, the last of waves of pleasure ebbing as he catches his breath. He’s not the starry-eyed recruit with the bad case of hero worship, for whom even the idea of being in the same room with this man would have made him hard. He’s not the slightly-less-naive trooper who still held him in high esteem, even if the shy focus of his lustful fantasies had long since turned elsewhere. 

He’s not even the confused mess of patchwork person, full of memories that weren’t all his. And a handjob isn’t going to make him forget what he came here to do. 

“I’m not the puppet,” Cloud says, shoving him away and fixing his clothes with hands that, despite his resolve, aren’t quite steady. “You are. She’s using you and you can’t even fight her.” His chin goes up. “Some warrior you are. Some soldier .” 

Sephiroth’s face twists, and there’s something Cloud finds almost more attractive about his rage than his cold, faraway dreaminess. It’s more visceral, more real. Less Jenova and more the man Cloud still, in some hidden part of him, wishes Sephiroth would be. If he’d ever really been that person at all. 

“You could always stand by my side,” Cloud says. “While we stop this. Prove you’re more than the weapon they made you.” 

Sephiroth’s eyes narrow, his blade rising and poised over his shoulder, his ready stance. “How about I end this now, then? Do you think your friends will rally without you to compel them? You think they won’t run, somewhere meteor’s fire might not find them?” 

“No. They’d do what needs to be done.” They’re here because they want to be. Unlike Sephiroth, and in some horrible, terrible, awful part of himself that he doesn’t like because it feels cowardly...unlike him. His friends are the real heroes. 

He and Sephiroth are just figureheads, incidental weapons, torn battle flags. 

He turns to go. Coming here was stupid, and now he’s messy and feels embarrassed at how Sephiroth’s praise -- as snide as it was, as hateful as it was -- made him come like some attention-starved nothing who didn’t know his own mind. That’s not him. Not any more. It’s not. 

“Enjoy your evening,” Sephiroth says, politely, and then bows . “And wake up to a world that will be your grave. Tomorrow this all ends, and your will won’t matter. No one’s will. Only mine. Only mother’s.” 

Cloud sighs. “You keep telling yourself that.” He leaves and Sephiroth doesn’t stop him, and on his way up as he climbs he thinks about Aerith, and his friends. His comrades-in-arms in this ragtag, improbable army. 

He does not sleep that night. Instead, Cloud thinks about Sephiroth down in his cave. Muttering about destiny, alone in the dark, while meteor paints the sky in fire.