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25 May 2014 @ 11:51 am
Fic: Begin the End (Sephiroth/Cloud, Chapter 1/?)  
title: begin the end
pairing: sephiroth/cloud
fandom: final fantasy vii
summary: Six years after the Deepground crisis, Sephiroth returns -- with no memory of anything that happened at Nibelheim, or afterwards. Cloud Strife, convinced it’s a trap, advocates for his old enemy's immediate execution -- but Rufus Shinra, determined to reform the image of the new Shinra Electric Company and earn the goodwill of a population tired of violence, has other ideas.

AN: My thanks to fdraskol for a lovely and thorough beta, and for answering all of my questions about the timeline, since I'm horrible at math xDD Title is from the Placebo song of the same name, as are chapter titles. I swear that band ships Seph/Cloud, zomg.



Prologue

Dorian hated working the night shift in Old Midgar. It was creepy as fuck, for one, and nothing interesting ever happened, for another. Not that he wanted it to. He might be a ShinRa guard with a fancy stun weapon (no more guns that killed folks, Shinra was a different kind of company now, or so all the training videos said), but the only time he’d had to use it was against a stray cat.

He felt bad about that, actually. Bad enough that the cat was now living the good life, purring away at home in front of the fire with the missus. Dorian had named the cat Stunner, thinking it was funny, but his wife called the thing puffball or something. Whatever.

He was making his rounds, a seemingly endless and boring loop around the old Shinra Tower and what was left of the block, trying not to yawn. Sometimes he wondered what it would have been like, to have this job in the old days. Back then the guns were real, and everybody knew you didn’t fuck with ShinRa or anyone who worked for them. Dorian straightened up, aiming the gun into the dimly-lit shadows and pretending he was a badass SOLDIER with glowing eyes.

“Hands up, scum,” he said, just to hear himself say it. The echo of his voice made him blush a little, and he lowered the gun. He’d felt guilty over stunning a cat, did he really think he could just walk around shooting people dead?

Sighing, Dorian turned to make his loop again, deciding he’d do it a few more times before settling down to eat the dinner his wife had packed for him. Maybe he could even read a few chapters of his book. There weren’t very many lights anymore in Old Midgar, but a few spotlights still swept the perimeter at odd intervals. Sometimes you could find a spot where they crossed just right, every few seconds. Normal people might find it hard to read in that light, but Dorian was a slow reader, so that worked out just fine.

He was heading back towards the Tower when he saw something moving in the shadows. His eyes widened as a figure strode through the darkness, the occasional spill of light reflecting off a long fall of silver hair.

“Hey,” Dorian called, clearing his throat. He tried to sound authoritative. “Hey, now, you know you shouldn’t be here, so...just get.” It was pretty much the same thing he’d said to the cat.

The figure stopped, and Dorian fumbled for his gun. The first switch powered on a flare light, which sent an immediate message back to HQ that something had been spotted. They should radio him for a report soon, but since the last time he’d done this it’d been because of a cat, Dorian wasn’t sure how soon they’d get around to it, once they realized he was the guard on duty.

He flashed the light towards the figure, but it was gone.

Blinking, Dorian wondered if he was seeing things. He lowered his weapon. What was he going to say when they asked him why he’d activated the flare light? Turning, he found himself staring straight up into a pair of glowing, slitted green eyes. A man regarded him with a pitiless expression, and -- w-was that a sword on the man’s back?

Dorian barely had time to press the alarm button on his gun before a gloved hand shot out, and leather-clad fingers wrapped tight around his throat.


Chapter One: Spite and Malice

The new headquarters of the ShinRa Electric Power Company looked nothing like the old one. It was sleek and modern, one huge sprawling complex made of steel beams and sparkling glass. There were no secret underground laboratories, no inaccessible floors, no penthouse apartment from which the exalted ruler could sit and view his domain, out of the reach of mere mortals.

It was said that Rufus Shinra’s office was right in the sprawling heart of the building, glass-enclosed like everyone else’s. The bright spring sun reflecting off of the glass, Cloud Strife thought it would be a tactical error to put him in the corner with nothing but glass separating him from the masses.

Maybe that was unfair of him. Cloud and Rufus had, for the most part, set aside their differences in the wake of the Deepground crisis, which had made ruins of what remained of the old ShinRa Tower. The ruins that were still visible, even now, some six years later; a broken skeleton of bones shadowed against a bright sky.

Cloud wondered if Rufus intended the new ShinrR to be built in the shadows of his father’s empire. If he intended it as some sort of warning to himself, a reminder of what could happen if he tried to reach too high. Then again, Rufus might just like looking at it so he could gloat. It was hard to tell with him.

Cloud went inside, shoving his goggles up. The place was busy, bustling almost, and say what you would about the corporation -- it was providing both stability and jobs to the population, which had been a godsend after the Tsviets nearly destroyed the fledgling city.

Midgar was gradually being restored, very slowly, as if the people were hesitant to put their trust in such things as personal safety. Cloud couldn’t blame them. He’d found it hard to put his trust in anything, for a very long time. Six years of relative peace and prosperity hadn’t exactly changed that.

He walked through the bustling center of the ShinRa Building, towards the center where a large information desk stood, a semicircle of gleaming wood staffed by more than half a dozen smiling employees.

Rufus wasn’t stupid. The place might look like you had free rein to wander around, but you still had to be escorted if you wanted to visit any of the senior executives.

“Hi, can I help you?”

Cloud blinked at the voice, and found himself looking at a young woman with blue hair and several piercings on her face. She was wearing a collar with spikes and something that looked like a mesh shirt with a skull on it, but her smile was warm and friendly. Oh yeah, Cloud thought. ShinRa's other initiative. The company wanted to encourage individuality among its staff, a mission it touted constantly on television: ShinRa Electric -- It's Your Company, or something like that ....

“I’m here to see Rufus,” Cloud said. He took a perverse glee in not calling the man President Shinra, petty though it may be.

The girl smiled and picked up the phone by her station. “Hi, a Mr. Strife to see President Shinra.” The girl met Cloud’s eyes and immediately blushed, realizing that he hadn’t even said his name before she made her call. Which meant she recognized him.

Cloud didn’t mind being recognized as much as he minded people trying to make excuses for recognizing him in the first place. She stammered an embarrassed apology but Cloud just nodded and said, “It’s all right,” because he’d long since learned that when he tried to make people feel better, the opposite usually happened.

Tifa said if he wanted to be less recognizable, he could cut his hair -- but Cloud had tried that, once, a long time ago when he was a teenager in Nibelheim. Sure, he hadn’t had a professional do it, but it still left him with unruly tufts sticking up like baby chocobo feathers. That would look even more ridiculous on a twenty-eight year old man than a twelve year old kid, so he left it alone.

A few seconds later, a familiar blonde-haired female in a dark suit appeared next to him. There were a few things about Shinra that hadn’t changed, the Turks in their somber attire and Rufus in his trademark black-and-white being two of them. Turks used to blend in, when ShinRa was crawling with executives in suits and ties. Now, against a tapestry of color and quirky individualism, they stood out in stark relief. It was probably intentional.

“Strife,” said Elena, nodding at him. Her hair was fashionably short, framing her small, delicate features. Appearances were definitely deceiving, though; the woman was as tenacious as a bulldog and as deadly as a rattlesnake. Cloud knew her a little better than most of her fellow Turks, since she was dating Tifa. Cloud didn’t necessarily like what she did for a living, but as long as Tifa was happy, Cloud kept his peace on the matter.

He liked her well enough, as much as he liked anyone and especially as much as he liked any of her associates. That was probably why Rufus sent her to escort him in the first place.

“Elena.” He gave her a slight nod and followed her around the side of the desk, watching her flash an ID card at a small, discreet scanner set waist-high against the paneling. There were no immediate doors in the vicinity, and he wondered what exactly in unlocked. He didn’t ask.

Rufus’s office was in the center of the complex, which was still a ways past the entrance. The amount of people milling around diminished significantly, making Cloud think most of the openness was simply for show. It made him relax somewhat as they walked. He couldn’t find any fault with Rufus’s desire to escape the crowds, not when he himself shared it.

“Rufus will be here in a few minutes,” Elena said, gesturing him into the office. “Need anything?”

Cloud shook his head and gave her a small smile. “I know better than to ask you for coffee, Elena.”

She snorted, rolling her eyes. “If it were anyone else but you, I’d kick them in kneecaps. Not because I like you enough to go get it, because I’d still send someone else. You’re too tactless to mean them as insults.”

Cloud blinked at her, then found himself smiling a little easier. “It does take people a while to get that about me,” he said, and she gave a short laugh and nodded at him before heading out and closing the door behind her.

Cloud wondered if it was locked, but he doubted it. He also doubted the material surrounding Rufus’s centrally-located office was really glass, and he rapped his knuckles lightly on the surface to see. It was probably bulletproof. Then again, Rufus was really fond of his shotgun, so maybe it wasn’t, since he might have to shoot his way out of here. ShinRa’s new, off-site science department was big on sustainable living and reusable materials, and Cloud noticed that whatever the hell it was, it was possible to hang pictures from it.




Rufus’s selection of images were interesting. One, Cloud noticed with a slight twist to his mouth, had him on it; it was a medal ceremony conducted shortly after Advent Day, with him shaking the President’s hand. The others were far more interesting, including one that had to be Rufus as a child with a woman who was undoubtedly his mother. Rufus looked more like her than he did his father, though Cloud’s memory of Shinra, Sr. was hazy indeed. There were no photographs of him anywhere, but Cloud didn’t think there would be.

The others were scenic shots, including one of the Meteor statue and another of the blueprints for the current building. Cloud shoved his hands in his pockets. He didn’t like being in this glass-or-whatever-it-was enclosed space. It made him feel like he was on display.

He wandered over to Rufus’s desk, noting there were other pictures there as well. One was of Rufus with the Turks at some Wutainese restaurant; everyone, even Tseng, was smiling at the camera. The other framed photograph, to Cloud’s surprise, was of Reno sprawled in a lounge chair at Costa Del Sol, dressed in his Turk suit and holding a tropical drink in one hand. He was making a finger gun at the camera with the other hand, giving it an exaggerated wink and a grin.

Cloud reached out and took the picture in his hand, bringing it closer. Reno looked -- maybe not young, exactly, but innocent in a way that made Cloud think it was before Meteorfall. There was something missing from his expression, no hardening of the features that inevitably came along with watching the world almost end.

Rufus’s relationship with the Turk wasn’t exactly a secret, but they certainly didn’t act as if it were “official”, so it was strange to see the picture on Rufus’s desk. Then again, facing global extinction twice in a decade might make someone a bit less reticent to admit affection for other people. Cloud wasn’t sure, as it would take more than armageddon to make him comfortable with such things.

“I think he was on the clock when that was taken,” a smooth voice said. “I keep it to remind myself not to send him to nice places on assignment, or I’ll lose money.” Cloud flushed in embarrassment. He put the framed photograph back quickly, stepping back from Rufus’s desk and turning towards the other man.

Rufus was his usual elegant self, not a blond hair out of place, his suit immaculate and made of crisp, clean lines. He wore the sharper features that came with both age and experience very well, maintaining enough of that almost pretty, angelic countenance to make him a very attractive man.

The fact he was attracted to Rufus Shinra always dismayed Cloud, mainly because he didn’t understand why he always wanted people he shouldn’t. It made him feel both awkward and combative.

“You have a delivery?” he said gruffly, looking away. He wondered if Rufus understood more than Cloud wanted him to about why he was always ready to break things when they were in a room together.

“No.” Rufus shook his head, and Cloud noticed he was still standing by the doorway to his office.

“You said you had a job for me, though. Or that’s what Reno said, when he called.” Cloud tried to relax his posture, tired of how saving the world was more familiar to him than conducting conversations with attractive men. “Need me to battle monsters or ghosts or something again?”

Rufus cleared his throat. “Actually…”

Cloud stared at him, lingering feelings of attraction vanishing instantly in a reminder that this man’s company, whether at his behest or not, had been indirectly responsible in some manner for the world nearly ending. Twice. “You’re kidding me.”

“It’s not quite so dire as whatever you’re thinking,” Rufus assured him, in that smooth voice of his that told Cloud it was exactly that dire. “But I feel I need to warn you ahead of time that you might be...displeased.”

In Rufus’s politician-speak, displeased probably meant Cloud was going to have a rage blackout. He could feel the weight of his sword at his back, because not even the President of ShinRa Electric would ask Cloud Strife to disarm before entering a room. Most people figured they were better safe than sorry.

“Rufus, what did you do?” Cloud asked.

“Nothing,” Rufus said, his eyes too wide to be believable.

“You stopped being able to pull off that look after you jumped off a building with a shotgun,” Cloud told him. That irritating flare of attraction was back again, but Cloud couldn’t help it. That had seemed like something Zack would do, although the arrogance implied in the gesture - of the someone will make sure to catch me kind -- that was all Rufus Shinra.

Rufus gave Cloud a small, pleased smile. “Did I?”

Cloud glared. “What is it? The longer you keep stalling, the more irritated I’m getting.”

“That would sound like a threat, Cloud, if you were the type to take your anger out on innocent bystanders.”

Cloud bared his teeth. “Good thing there aren’t any around, then.”

“Yes,” Rufus said, smiling wider. “Good thing there aren’t. Come along, Cloud. It’d be easier to show you than to explain.”

“I’m going to be really mad about this, aren’t I,” Cloud said, as he gave up and followed Rufus towards the door.

“Probably.” Rufus waited politely for him to leave first, but Cloud didn’t want the other man at his back so he hesitated before going through the door. Rufus rolled his eyes. “Your paranoia isn’t necessary, Strife. I brought you here because I need your help, not because I want to trap you or shoot you in the back.”

Annoyed, Cloud glared at him again. “First, I’m not afraid of you, Shinra, I’m just being cautious because I don’t trust you. Second, the last time you asked me for help --” Cloud stopped, a horrible idea taking root in his brain. “Just tell me it has nothing to do with…him.”

There was no need to say who he was.

I will never be a memory.

Rufus’s hand settled on Cloud’s shoulder, bringing Cloud’s scattered attention back to the present. “You might possibly be frightening my staff,” he said. “It would help if you would keep yourself together until we’ve got a bit more privacy.”

Cloud exhaled, slowly. He nodded to Rufus and followed the man out of his office, down a hallway and towards a nondescript door next to a bathroom.

Rufus opened it with his keycard, and motioned Cloud through.

“Where are we going?” Cloud asked. “I swear to Shiva, Rufus, if you have some kind of lab down here….”

He trailed off as they approached a massive underground tunnel. “Rufus.”

“It’s not what you think,” Rufus said. His white suit and fair hair made him appear momentarily backlit against the dank, grey stone. “This is a transport system, nothing more. When we were building the headquarters, we needed a way to bring materials to and from the work site without clogging up traffic. It was three years ago, remember, and the highway infrastructure wasn’t as good as it is now.”

“The highway infrastructure still sucks,” said Cloud.

“Yes, so recall how it was three years ago.” He gestured at a large garage door. “That leads to a ramp thatcomes out on Gainsborough Drive. If you don’t believe me, I’ll have it opened and you can see for yourself.”

Cloud had forgotten they’d named a street after Aerith. He wondered if she would like that or not, being immortalized in traffic reports. Her church was restored and was one of the few places in Midgar where people felt safe going. It was something of a shrine, and Cloud hoped it would stay that way, if only to keep it from being vandalized or destroyed. People had notoriously short memories.

“It doesn’t matter,” he said. “Just tell me where we’re going already.”

“Do you remember where we got most of the supplies to build the new ShinRa building from?”

“I know what you said on television,” Cloud replied. “I don’t know if it’s the truth or not.”

Rufus’s smile was flint-edged sharp. “You give me more credit than I deserve, when it comes to being devious.”

“Hmm,” Cloud said. “You told everyone you got the building materials from Midgar.” ShinRa was serious about protecting the planet they had almost, however indirectly, destroyed; there were initiatives to recycle, reuse, and convert all the scrap metal and rubble for use in Edge.

“We did.” Rufus arched an eyebrow. “I don’t know why you’re determined to make me my father, Strife, but it’s tiring.”

“Don’t play that card with me, Shinra,” Cloud said. “You know I have reasons to think you’re full of shit.”

“Oh, I didn’t say that I wasn’t,” Rufus agreed, flashing his shark’s smile again. “But I’m not trying to rule the world like my father. I can promise you that.”

“That doesn’t exactly make me sleep better at night,” Cloud said. “That why you make sure you can see what’s left of the Tower from your office?”

Rufus came to a stop. “I suppose I do that for the same reason I keep photographs of people I care about on my desk.”

“Which is?”

Rufus pulled a phone from his pocket. “Temperance, Cloud. Balance. I look at the old tower and remember that it’s possible for anything you build to fall apart, and I look at my desk to remember the reasons why I don’t want it to. All my father saw from his office was the sky, and there was never anything that kept him from reaching higher and higher until he finally fell.”

Cloud blinked. He wasn’t used to that kind of honesty from Rufus, and he felt momentarily as if he’d misjudged the man. “You understand why I don’t believe you, don’t you?”

“Of course.” Rufus shot him a look. “It doesn’t make your lack of trust any less irritating, but I understand.”

Cloud actually smiled. “That’s something, I guess.”

Rufus smiled back, then raised his phone to his ear. “We’re ready.”

Cloud shifted on his feet, trying not to show his nerves or his unease at heading into a tunnel.

A few minutes later, the quiet was disrupted by the sound of a motor as headlights cut through the darkness. The vehicle was a standard-issue military jeep, with a familiar figure in a perpetually rumpled suit at the wheel. Reno’s hair looked even brighter in the gloom and darkness of the tunnel. His expression, however, seemed a perfect match.

“Yo, Strife.” Reno leaned over and opened the door, and Rufus climbed into the jeep. The fact that Reno didn’t make a single other comment was worrisome. Apparently, whatever was waiting for them at the end of this little ride wasn’t going to be pleasant.

He ignored Rufus’s proffered hand and vaulted into the back of the jeep. No one spoke as the vehicle puttered away down the tunnel, the headlights illuminating nothing but endless black.

* * *

The jeep came to a halt a few moments later. Cloud opened his eyes, a pang of adrenaline and dread hitting him when he realized where they were. It seemed like no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t quite seem to avoid the place.

The underground portion of the old Shinra Tower wasn’t in much better shape than the ruins above ground; the weight of the structure had collapsed during the exodus of the Deepground soldiers. The ground was littered with glass, piles of rubble and overturned furniture casting ominous shadows in the gloom. The former laboratory was full of enclaves that were clearly cells at one point, most of which had the doors torn off, or missing entirely.

Cloud's fingers twitched as he followed Rufus and Reno, navigating the haphazard piles of debris as they made their way deeper into the former lab. There was one section where the rubble had been cleared away, the floor swept clean of glass and the cell had not only a steel door, but a keypad that resembled the one from the new ShinRa building.

Cloud kept his hand on the hilt of of his weapon. Reno had casually dropped back, giving him a clear shot of Cloud's head, which meant that whatever was behind the door was probably gonna make Cloud want to put his sword through Rufus's neck.

“Cloud,” Rufus said, pausing as he went to enter a combination on the keypad, “I need you to understand -”

“Just open the door, Rufus,” Cloud said. He hated this place, hated the murmur of things that weren’t human, hated that he could hear them.

Rufus exchanged a look with Reno, and then finished opening the door.

All it took was one glimpse of silver hair before Cloud was drawing his sword, turning on Rufus

“Rufus, you idiot,” Cloud snarled, ignoring the man as he drew his sword and went immediately towards the glass that separated him from his arch-rival.

“Stand down, Strife,” Reno drawled, his electro-mag in one hand and a pistol in another, both aimed right at Cloud. Rufus had a shotgun out, and Cloud was too furious to wonder where the fuck the man kept that weapon. Both men had their weapons pointed at Cloud’s head. Turks shot to kill.

“Look at him, Cloud,” Rufus said, jutting his chin towards the window. “He’s not armed.”

Cloud stared at the man behind the glass, waiting for that smirk, that fucking smirk and that goddamn voice that haunted his nightmares --

Sephiroth was staring at him, but his usual smug arrogance was replaced by...confusion?

“You have ten seconds, Rufus,” Cloud said, weapon still raised. “Ten seconds to tell me what the fuck is going on before I go in there and send that bastard back to the Lifestream.”

Rufus was not a man who was known to squander opportunities, nor was he one to underestimate Cloud as an opponent; a fact that, in other circumstances, Cloud might actually appreciate. “A few nights ago, we received an alert from a guard on patrol in Old Midgar. He sounded quite flustered and claimed he’d come across a man claiming to be SOLDIER First Class Sephiroth. We were, of course, skeptical at first -- especially given the man’s record, he’d once sounded the alarm over a stray cat -- .”

Cloud raised his eyebrows, unimpressed. “Five more seconds. Make them count.”

Rufus sighed. “When we went to retrieve him, we found…” He paused, looking through the glass and sounding vaguely amused. “You know the first thing he asked us for was a situation report?”

“Rufus.”

“He doesn’t remember anything, Cloud. He has no idea what year it is. The last thing he remembers before waking up in Midgar is being sent to Nibelheim with SOLDIER First Class Zack Fair.”

Cloud laughed, the sound a bitter, jagged echo.

Rufus continued, eyes sharp on Cloud’s face. “When certain facts of the situation were explained to him, he voluntarily surrendered both his weapon and himself for incarceration.”

Cloud gave that same painful laugh and turned back to the partition. He moved closer, sword still drawn. Sephiroth stared back at him, that trace of confusion having been replaced with a cool, watchful stare.

His eyes are normal, Cloud noted. The observation wasn’tt enough to make him lower his weapon. “And that made you believe that he was telling the truth?”

“Of course not,” Rufus huffed. “But it was enough for me to authorize his captivity while I figured this out.”

“And how are you planning to do that, exactly?” Cloud demanded. “What kind of evidence is enough to overcome your common fucking sense, Rufus?”


“For one, how he reacted to seeing you,” Rufus said, as if he were discussing a business merger.

Before Cloud could tell Rufus how monumentally stupid he was, Sephiroth spoke, his voice filling up that small space with its usual resonance. That voice, the one Cloud heard sometimes in that place suspended between sleep and wakefulness, the dim place of dreams where things were kept hidden from the light.

That voice, which was not addressed to him, but to Rufus. Even Sephiroth’s arsenic eyes were turned towards the young ShinRa president. “I’m guessing whoever this is, he’s not a member of my fan club?”



“You don’t recognize this man?” Rufus asked.

Sephiroth turned back towards Cloud. Cloud froze.

Good to see you, Cloud.

A faint frown of concentration marred Sephiroth’s brow as they studied each other. He cocked his head, some of his hair falling into his eyes, and reached up with one hand to brush it out of his field of vision.

In all the times they’d faced each other, in all the battles they’d fought, Cloud had never, ever seen Sephiroth push his hair out of his face. His hair never seemed to get in his face in the first place, as if it were too well-trained to do such a thing.

His eyes lingered on Cloud’s sword, and Cloud saw a flash of interest flit across his face. Interest, but no real recognition for either the sword or the man who wielded it.

Sephiroth looked next atCloud’s hair. When he spoke, he did so slowly and with a hesitance Cloud had never, ever heard come out of his mouth, “You were a guardsman. A friend of Zack Fair’s, I seem to recall.”

Cloud remembered kneeling in the rain with Zack’s blood in his hair, his fingers going slack as he pressed the hilt of his sword into Cloud’s trembling hands.

“Zack is dead,” Cloud said, very clearly and without much inflection,before trying to put the whole of his sword through the partition, right into Sephiroth’s heart.

ShinRa engineering prevailed, however; the partition cracked as Cloud’s sword screeched across the glass, but the bane of his existence remained unscathed.

“Open it,” Cloud said. The words felt heavy in his mouth, he could barely think to get them out in the first place. “I’m going to kill him.”

“No,” Rufus said, very softly. “At least, not until I’ve decided what the best course of action is. Do you think he’s lying?”

“It’s Sephiroth.”

“Yes, I know that, Cloud. But as far as I’ve been able to tell from my research, Sephiroth wasn’t one for lying --”

“In your research?” Cloud said, rounding on him. He shot Reno a warning glare. “Don’t shoot me until I have a chance to yell at him.”

“Okay,” Reno said, agreeably enough, the weapon still trained on Cloud’s head in a display of exemplary professionalism. “Throw in a you’re being a moron for me, too, yeah?”

“Your opinion has been noted, Reno,” Rufus said, a touch of warning in his voice. His eyes didn’t waver from Cloud’s face. “Many times. And yes, Strife, my research. I’ve spent the last few days going over some records, trying to understand what we’re dealing with. A gardener doesn’t just hack away at plants that show up in his garden, Cloud, until he knows what they are.”

“That’s not one of your best metaphors, shachou,” Reno said. “You don’t even like taking care of house plants.”

“Rufus, that thing in there is a weed and it will kill all the other plants if you don’t get rid of it.”

“So does that make you the lawnmower, Strife?” Reno cleared his throat. “Sorry. S’just. I don’t know shit about gardens, but I’m starting to feel left out, here.”

“The point is,” Cloud continued, raising his voice. “You know what he’s capable of, and if you think for one second --”

“Did I kill him?”

Sephiroth’s voice stopped Cloud cold. He looked over his shoulder. Sephiroth was watching him.

“Yes,” Cloud said, eyes burning. You might as well have.

Sephiroth merely nodded. “I see.” He looked away, head tilted so his face was covered by the fall of his hair, and said nothing further.

Cloud turned on his heel and walked out of the room. He was convinced if he stayed there one second longer, someone was going to bleed.