fic: all my former fires
fandom: final fantasy vii (set post-Advent Children; probably this is a series now, sigh, how did that happen :| )
pairing/characters: sephiroth/cloud (references past sephiroth/genesis), aerith
summary: Sephiroth hates that it's Cloud who keeps him from getting lost in the dark -- even more than he hates Cloud for sending him there in the first place.
AN: My Sephiroth/Cloud stories are all kind of related, in some vague timeline, but prior stories refer to a past Sephiroth/Zack relationship -- this one has past Sephiroth/Genesis, as I've been rethinking my head!canon a bit. So if that seems contradictory to other stories previously written, that's why :)
Title is from the song Brother My Cup Is Empty by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.
all my former fires
“Don’t burn anything to the ground while I’m gone,” Cloud says, standing by the door. His eyes narrow in a hateful glare, directed entirely at the mug of tea in Sephiroth’s hand.
Sephiroth has no idea why Cloud’s ire is roused by such a simple thing, but it is often impossible to discern the reasoning behind most of Cloud’s emotions. This is no exception.
“You never let me have any fun,” Sephiroth chides, leaning back against the counter and wondering what precipitated this. Cloud never says anything to him before he leaves the house. It’s usually a look of utter self-loathing followed by a rather harsh slam of the door.
“I do so. This morning.” Cloud gives him that small, upward tilt of his mouth that passes for his smile. It’s gone in a heartbeat, just a flicker of a thing before his face settles back into familiar lines. “I’m just. You know. It wasn’t I’ll let you destroy a village fun, Sephiroth.”
Sephiroth’s eyebrows raise over the rim of the mug. “I’ll have to try harder.”
Cloud’s mouth tightens into a firm, disapproving line. Sephiroth feels as if he is in line for a lecture. There are times Cloud reminds him very much of Angeal.
The thought makes his fingers press against the smooth ceramic handle. Beneath his fingertips, he feels the thinnest of hairline cracks begin to form.
“I’m serious. I’ll be gone for a few days.” This is a long speech for Cloud. He shifts on his feet, pulls at one of the spikes of his hair.
They stare at each other in weighted silence. That’s not unusual, but there’s an uncustomary awkwardness to it -- almost as if they are actors in a play who have forgotten their lines, or don’t remember their stage directions.
“Tell me, if I did raze the village with fire and you hadn’t told me not to, would you blame yourself when you came home and found it burned?” These are remarks that sometimes end in drawn blades, but more often than not end in closed doors.
It seems the latter is in order, as Cloud stalks with his usual coiled grace towards the door. His fingers are curled around the knob before he answers. “What do you think?”
Sephiroth smiles and says nothing. That moment stretches out again, pregnant with some missed opportunity. He realizes what it is when Cloud nods briefly and lets himself out of the house, but it’s too absurd to think about.
They are not in love as much as they are simply resigned to the necessity of the other’s presence. Goodbyes are a luxury they no longer have.
* * *
That night he dreams of Hojo’s lab in the old Shinra Tower.
Sephiroth slept in the lab as a child, which either no one knew or didn’t care about. He had a cot, a blanket, things that were intended for comfort (and, as such, were in scarce supply in Hojo’s domain). Sephiroth slept behind a sheet of plexiglass, sturdy enough to keep anyone out who might try to come in and kidnap him.
Sturdy enough to keep Sephiroth from getting out, too.
Sometimes he would sit curled up on his cot, hair hanging in front of his eyes, thinking about the things people called monsters; those creatures that paced endlessly in less comfortable cells on floors deep beneath the earth. Sometimes, he thought of them as brothers instead of monsters.
But sometimes, he would lie awake and listen for them, imagine them rising up from their basement lair and coming into the lab where he slept. He imagined waking up and seeing them all pressed up against the partition, claws and sharp things digging into the glass. In these feverish nightmares they were never brothers.
In his dream he regards himself as a young boy locked in a cell, a gentle fall of silver hair over a thin body huddled in too-short pajamas. Hojo, for all his obsessive tests and endless observations, was terrible at noticing how quickly boys grew out of things.
In his dream, Sephiroth stands on the outside of the glass. Just like any other monster.
* * *
Cloud’s absence is a noticeable thing in the house. It isn’t that Sephiroth misses him, because he doesn’t, exactly. Unless noticing he’s gone is the same thing, and maybe it is.
Time is a strange thing. His reflection in the mirror is the same as he remembers. He looks no older than he did the day a young cadet sent him hurtling down into the metal-shrouded darkness of the mako reactor in Nibelheim. Some part of Sephiroth’s rational mind knows that surviving such a fall should be impossible, even with all his various mako enhancements.
He thinks he remembers a bright arc of pain flaring behind his eyes as the bones in his neck shattered and the shadows dragged him under. Carried him to that gray twilight where he drifted, half-sentient, dimly aware that he was once a man, until something pulled him violently back out again.
He does not know what he is, man or monster or ghost. He tells himself it shouldn’t matter, but in the privacy of a quiet house he thinks maybe it does.
* * *
Sephiroth, like any seasoned soldier, is a light sleeper. Cloud is restless as one would expect, and his twisting and turning often results in him pulling strands of Sephiroth’s hair and waking him up. Sephiroth has taken to pulling his hair back before going to sleep, securing it with an elastic in an attempt to address the problem.
Even when Cloud is gone and he is sleeping alone, Sephiroth finds himself twisting his hair into a ponytail. He is not sure that he even needs to sleep, but he does it anyway; just like he eats and drinks tea in the morning. He was raised in an institution and spent his life in the military, this sort of routine is habit by now.
I’ve done this before, he thinks, after his hair is secured and he lays down on the bed. For another man who shared my bed. A man with red hair who tasted like apples. A man who was friend and rival both, as well as lover -- because apparently Sephiroth has always found acrimony attractive.
It has been a long time since he thought of either Genesis or apples. The memories are there in flashes of blinding sunlight and he waits, expecting to feel something like anger, perhaps even half-remembered lust. He waits in vain until dawn, and when the sun rises he does not know if he has slept at all.
* * *
On occasion he dreams of the Cetra girl, who speaks words to him he never remembers when he wakes.
“You'll remember them, this time,” she says, watching him from amidst a circle of light; a living halo that pulses and breathes. "But you'll wish you hadn't."
As far as predictions go, that one seems fairly accurate. Sephiroth stands apart from her, shrouded in shadows that cling to him like spiderwebs. "I don't want your forgiveness, girl."
“It is not yours to give,” she says, simply.“And I’ve already given it. We both played the parts we were given, Sephiroth.” Her eyes are ancient, ageless as they have always been; even as a flower girl selling blooms in the slums of a doomed city, the power was there within her. Zack never seemed to notice, but then again, Zack never noticed a lot of things he didn’t want to see.
How blindly you trusted in beauty, Zack.
His eyes narrow hatefully. He doesn’t like the way she says his name in her clarion voice, it sounds like the echo of unearthly bells ringing in the back of his mind. His fingers twitch, wishing for the weight of his blade. He cut this girl down like a flower, once. Cetra or no, she still fell. "What?"
“No matter how small the fire, there will still be light,” she tells him, as she fades into a hazy, unrecognizable glow. “There is still someone who makes you burn, Sephiroth. That’s why you’ve never been lost in the dark.”
He wakes up angry, his hands clenched into fists, his breathing harsh and uneven. Cloud’s scent is on the pillow next to him, on the sheets. Everywhere. In his head he thinks he hears someone laughing.
I stopped this man's will, once. Chosen one or not, he still failed.
A smirk, and a grudging nod of his head.Touche, Aerith. He has never hated her. But he has never regretted killing her, either.
Sephiroth stares out of the window, wishing he could see flames. Wishing he could open it, and taste the acrid smoke of something he destroyed.
* * *
“It’s your fault,” Sephiroth tells him, shoving Cloud against the wall the moment he walks in the door. He’s so angry he wants to kill him, wants to shove the Masamune straight through to Cloud’s heart -- which, no matter how many times he tries to make it, never stops beating.
He settles for shoving his hand under Cloud’s shirt, fingers scrabbling to find the scar on warm skin. Remembering how it had hurt Cloud makes pleasure shiver through him with the rage.
“Most things are,” Cloud agrees, shoving at his shoulders with an annoyed frown. “What’s the matter with you, besides your usual crazy?”
Sephiroth grabs Cloud around the neck with his other hand, fingers tight around his windpipe. Cloud’s eyes flash, sliding into that all-too familiar turquoise with the slitted pupils. “Hey!” He is trying to go for his sword, struggling against Sephiroth’s hold.
Always fighting me. Always.
Sephiroth drops his hand. Cloud rubs his neck and glares spitefully, but he doesn’t try and move away. “Do you have to express all your emotions through attempted murder? Is that, I don’t know, a rule or something?”
Cloud’s eyes have settled back to normal, the color of the sky in the half-minute before night falls and swallows the blue. Sephiroth’s hands are on the wall next to Cloud’s head. He has spent the last few days alone in this house, barely noticing the passage of time or the way the light changes, and now all he can see is the slant of the evening sun through the window by the door, the way it catches the planes of Cloud’s face. He can feel the heat of Cloud’s body, all sharp angles and lean strength pressed up against his own.
“Sephiroth…?” Cloud’s eyes blink at him, their midnight blue hazing over with desire, the edges bleeding with the mako glow.
You are the reason I still burn, Sephiroth thinks, and kisses Cloud until he bleeds.