Title: Infinite Possibilities
Fandom: Final Fantasy VII
Disclaimer: No ownership implied, no profit gained. This is a fanwork.
Characters/Pairings: Sephiroth, (Sephiroth/Cloud eventually)
Rating: T Overall
Summary: Aerith took all the crazy homicidal darkness out of Sephiroth and hugged it to death. And then she didn't really know what to do with him, so she shoved him back to life and told him to do better this time.
In this chapter: A Cloud appears when it is already going to rain.
Notes: Mostly original game canon, using a few snippets from later details.
"You know, you did say you were in the military but you never elaborated on exactly what you did," Tori told him later, after she'd found him clean clothing and taken his dirty clothes to wash. "I figure you were trying to spare my feelings, but..."
"It wasn't for very long," Sephiroth replied. "I did a lot of... mmm... independent stuff after. I guess... that's what put me in such a bad place. When I got the chance to come here and slow down..."
"Well, you're the town hero now," she said. "If I didn't have that 'Closed' sign up, you'd be pestered for the rest of the day. Not that you weren't pretty much a hero before. You're... the most dependable guy I've ever met."
"I wasn't always like that," Sephiroth said quickly. He glanced out towards the front of the shop. They always sat like this -- the counter between them. He'd only seen the back rooms and apartment above a couple of times, while fixing things.
"Mom, I'm going to go see Lexei's kitties."
They both looked over to see Sindi standing there, hands on the edge of the counter. Sephiroth had her pegged for eleven or twelve. Not quite to the difficult age. Though Tori barely looked old enough to have a child that old.
He rarely asked that sort of information from anyone, mostly because he didn't want to have to volunteer anything in return.
"Be back by lunch," Tori told her, giving her a little wave.
Sindi nodded and scampered out the front door.
"I wish there were more kids her age," Tori commented. "The summer folk have a few, but they don't always come into town and I don't like Sindi too far along the shore on her own. Not when..."
Sephiroth nodded. Sea Worms and all. He could appreciate that.
"I don't suppose you could order a proper weapon for me," Sephiroth said after a bit of silence. While Mrs. Eronsa had given him that sword and the materia, it wasn't really his style at all. "I... might need something somewhat particular, so I can go into Mideel if I have to, but..."
"I can order anything," Tori interrupted, frowning at him for even suggesting otherwise. "Might take a couple days and might cost more a bit extra, but whatever you want, I can get."
She hopped off her stool and knelt down, fussing around for a pair of catalogs that she heaved up onto the counter with a pair of matching thumps.
"Whatever you want, I can get," she reiterated. And then she pushed the catalogs over to him and waited.
Sephiroth couldn't help an almost wicked little smile as he started to flip through the first one. His options were wide open and while he did want something familiar, he didn't want to be too obvious. Already, a man with his build and coloring wielding any long thin sword would be suspicious.
He thought of something like one of Cloud's weapons and thought it might be worth a try. There was a good selection. He'd known other men who'd had them. Zack...
Well, that was decided.
A minute later, he pointed to a picture in the first catalog.
"That," he said. "And I'll need materia, too."
A week passed, then another. The summer folk were beginning to head home and Sephiroth found himself making good money helping them close up their places. He'd be able to pay for the sword and materia, at least, when it arrived.
Soon the town would be back to its usual tiny population, which was fine with Sephiroth. While no one had so much as suggested he might be anyone aside from Fin, the unlucky friend-of-the-family, he knew his luck might not hold out for ever. Not when eventually he would have to leave the place and do whatever he supposed he was supposed to be doing.
After all, Aerith had to be watching from somewhere and laughing at how little he'd accomplished. But he didn't really know how to... do good. Not in a broad sense, at least.
Well, he thought there were a lot of things he knew how to do that were good, because they had been at the time but they weren't really, in hindsight.
He had spent a lot of time thinking about the past. He'd also spent a lot of time not thinking about it. Too much and he would have driven himself crazy again, he was sure. And that was the last thing that needed to happen.
What had happened then - had happened then. He was going forward, though, and that was what was important. Even if so far, going forward had been really unexciting and the best thing he'd done was kill a Sea Worm and then fix the dock it had destroyed. The boats had been a loss, however, and he had been given a book on basic boat-building to read and hopefully master. Alexei's garage did have all the tools, so it wasn't an impossibility. Luckily, they had been just simple rowboats.
The last card on the job board for the day was for a delivery out to Marsia's place. He'd finally gotten to meet Marsia, and liked her immensely. She seemed to really enjoy the life she'd carved for herself, and she had endless stories about chocobos and racing and, well, Sephiroth had to admit to being rather amused by most of them.
He took the package from Tori and was back a couple of hours later, pulling up to the General Store on his motorcycle and parking it beside a second motorcycle. Sephiroth blinked and looked it over - while there were other bikes in town, none were anywhere as nice as this one. This one belonged to a serious rider, and it was fairly new, as compared to the decades-old clunker he possessed.
Perhaps it was a delivery, perhaps a traveler. Sephiroth wasn't sure, but he knew he needed to check in with Tori and give her payment for Marsia's goods.
He tucked his sunglasses up on his head as he entered the shop -- the wood inside was dark from the years and no matter what sorts of lights Tori seemed to try, even on the brightest day, the shop seemed to have a certain gloom to it. While Sephiroth had once argued that it was part of the charm, Tori nonetheless threatened to whitewash everything and put white tile over the ancient plank flooring.
"Fin!" Tori cried as he walked in. "Good timing! I was hoping you'd get back while..."
Tori kept on talking, but Sephiroth wasn't paying attention to her. Instead, sitting at the counter with a wrapped package the exact size of the sword he'd ordered, was Cloud. Sephiroth wished he'd left his sunglasses on, but it was too late. Cloud was sizing him up as well, and his expression changed so quickly that Sephiroth almost wanted to laugh.
The years had been kind to Cloud, Sephiroth thought as he continued to look Cloud over. Not much in the way of height, under that hair, but a bit more muscle and a certain hardness that Cloud had lacked as a cadet. Sephiroth understood - he'd lacked that as well. Once he'd cracked his third decade, then he'd finally put on the sharp mass he'd wanted.
"My order?" Sephiroth managed, remembering that he was at least trying to have a facade.
"That's what I just said," Tori said with a frown. "Do you two... know each other?"
"I'm not sure," Sephiroth said before Cloud could say anything. "We're about the same age..."
He looked cleanly at Cloud, who seemed too stunned to say much of anything. "Were you in the military?"
Cloud didn't say anything, but nodded.
"We might have been stationed together at some point. You look so familiar," Sephiroth continued. Hopefully Cloud would play along. Hopefully...
"You... too..." Cloud's voice cracked, which made Sephiroth shiver. "I was hired to deliver..." He gestured at the sword on the counter.
"You have a nice motorcycle," Sephiroth said quickly. He wanted to laugh at how badly this was going. Of course, this wasn't how he wanted to find Cloud again. "Where did you come from?"
"Mideel," Cloud said quickly.
"You're not getting home before dark," Tori interjected. "You should stay in town or with Fin -- it's going to rain, too."
"Fin?" Cloud questioned.
"Fin," Sephiroth echoed, gesturing at himself and then managing a little chuckle. "Don't feel bad. While I know I've seen you, I can't remember your name either."
"Cloud," Cloud said. "Ah..."
Tori shook her head and held out a hand for the envelope from Marsia that Sephiroth was still clutching. He handed it off to her and moved to take care of it.
"Mom..." Sindi's voice echoed from somewhere in the back of the store.
"I'll be back," Tori said with a wince, vanishing before Sephiroth could bid her to stay.
"Fin?" Cloud questioned.
"Fin," Sephiroth confirmed. "I don't know how familiar you are with the town, but I've been staying out in Ol' Willie's cottage on the water."
"I wondered... when I was hired to deliver the sword..." There was a detached hardness to Cloud's voice. Almost as if he couldn't quite tell if Sephiroth thought himself entirely 'Fin' or not.
"I think I'll be able to handle it," Sephiroth noted. "You... still keep in practice?"
Cloud nodded. "Just in case... of..."
You. Sephiroth knew that last word. Cloud didn't have to say it.
"I'll have to leave it here," Sephiroth said as he reached to unwrap the sword. "I've been making payments, but the last bit is still at home. Tori will probably force it on me anyway, but she's always been good for that."
"How long have you lived here?" Cloud asked, stepping a bit closer and watching Sephiroth carefully.
"Since Spring," Sephiroth replied.
"Not really anywhere," Sephiroth replied almost flippantly. Let Cloud make what he wanted to out of that. He had so many things he could say. So many. But he didn't. Not when...
The sword was perfect - neither too thin nor thick and bulky. Four materia slots in linked twos. Hilt was beautiful. Workmanship divine. Sephiroth didn't dare touch the blade - he could tell it was sharp.
Sephiroth gave Cloud the smallest of smiles and decided that really, he needed to keep playing the game.
"Haven't you ever just sort of wandered aimlessly? Once ShinRa was gone..." He sighed and re-wrapped the sword.
"I can offer you something to eat, at least, and a lovely view of the sunset from my porch," Sephiroth said. "I live just outside of town. On your bike, maybe five minutes..."
Cloud looked unsure. Really unsure. Completely unsure as to whether he was being led to his doom or not.
"We'll have to figure out when we served together," Sephiroth continued. "I feel like it's right there in the back of my mind and I just can't quite shake it to the front."
"Yeah..." Cloud gave him a strange little smile. "Fin..."
Tori had yet to reappear, so Sephiroth scribbled her a quick note and guided Cloud out of the store.
Cloud paused when he saw the motorcycle parked beside his.
"Yours?" he questioned.
"A classic," Sephiroth noted, trying not to laugh.
"It was free," Sephiroth added. "And it runs. And it'll take me another couple years of fixing gutters and putting holes in Sea Worms to afford anything better. I wouldn't mind taking yours for a spin, though."
"Maybe," Cloud said as he carefully slid onto his machine.
"Follow me," Sephiroth said as he climbed onto his own. "I've got the road clear, but there are a couple of spots where it's a little hard to follow anyway."
And then, between their engines, it was too noisy to properly communicate.
Speeding along with Cloud at his side was strange. Cloud kept looking at him like he was going to do something odd -- sprout wings, perhaps, and cast a plethora of magic on him. He wasn't even going to mention that casting something more complicated than a basic spell would knock him out for an afternoon.
He hoped the cottage wasn't a total mess. While he was far from a slob, he didn't do dishes every day and he knew there were books around that really needed to be shelved. He was ready to start letting go of the less-desirable of Ol' Willie's collection and he'd started putting them in a box. And he knew that was right in the middle of the floor.
The bathroom probably needed to be swept. At least, with his shorter hair, the drains weren't completely clogged. There were some benefits to his haircut, after all. He was spending far less time and money on maintenance. Though if Cloud asked, it was the haircut he'd always had and he needed Tori to trim it up again.
There was enough room for Cloud to wordlessly park his motorcycle in the shed beside Sephiroth's. The sky was beginning to darken, which was a bit of a surprise. Normally Sephiroth could tell in the morning if it was going to rain but it hadn't felt damp at all.
But as he looked out onto the water, it was taking on the same hue as the sky.
"The water is more interesting that the house," Sephiroth noted as he closed the shed door. "But it doesn't look we're going to get an option.
"It's okay," Cloud said. "Maybe later?"
"Yeah," Sephiroth said as he crossed to the porch and up. The door wasn't locked. It never was. And he let Cloud see that.
Cloud was wearing all black - riding gear, Sephiroth assumed. An interesting contrast to his normal jeans and t-shirt, this time with a soft drink mascot. He wondered if Cloud would even have realized if he had left his sunglasses on. Not that he thought he could hide his voice. He really couldn't do a thing about that.
"I have a bit of a strange question for you, Fin," Cloud said as he made his way inside. "It's... important, though."
"Mmm?" Sephiroth wondered how badly he was going to have to lie.
"Well, I knew a guy who had... younger brothers, I guess. I don't really know how to describe it, but..."
Sephiroth blinked a couple of times before it clicked. The numbered ones. 'Clones', Hojo had called them even though they weren't the traditional copies one thought of with the word. Cloud thought himself with that group and some of them had more resemblance and...
Cloud thought they were both...
"Doesn't sound familiar," Sephiroth said carefully. "Well... maybe it does but I don't... I don't have an answer for you."
"That's okay, Fin," Cloud replied. He wandered through the kitchen, looking at everything. Sephiroth hoped that he wouldn't have to explain that most of the knickknacks were gifts or things that had belonged to Ol' Willie. "This is a pretty nice place."
"You're welcome to the shower at any point," Sephiroth noted. "I can find you something to sleep in later. And the bed is all yours. I sleep on the sofa half the time anyway -- I keep falling asleep while reading."
"If the town has anything, it's books," Sephiroth noted. "And Tori is good at getting in interesting stuff as well."
"I've brought things out here before," Cloud replied. "I've met her. She..."
"If you're going to suggest that I marry her, the suggestion has been made and is under consideration," Sephiroth said, trying very hard not to chuckle. He looked away, pretending to be checking the contents of his cupboards for dinner. He wanted to see Cloud's face, but he didn't think he'd be able to resist laughing at the expression he was sure that Cloud was making.
"Were you considering it?" Sephiroth asked, turning.
"No," Cloud replied. "She's not really... She's nice, but no. I don't think I could."
"That's about how I feel." Sephiroth sat at one of the kitchen chairs. "Especially since she's a military widow. But we're the only two young people in town, so in the end, it wouldn't be the worst solution."
It started to rain. Sephiroth started to pull things out of the cupboards and fridge. Cloud was his first guest, after all -- he could make as best a feast as he could with his limited cooking skills. He was thankful, if nothing else, that he actually had food. Sometimes he simply made instant noodles for dinner or went without.
"When did you learn to cook?" Cloud asked when Sephiroth was midway through preparing their dinner.
"Taught myself," Sephiroth replied. That was the truth, definitely, though he had been given a cookbook along the way.
"Is there anything I can do to help?"
"Not yet, unless you want to start on dishes." Sephiroth wished he'd done the few that were already in the sink - it would be hard to pile food prep dishes on top of them and while normally he didn't mind leaving things all over for a night, he wanted the place to not be a total disaster for Cloud.
"Mmm..." Cloud went back to watching him, blue eyes tracing every movement. Sephiroth thought he should be unnerved by it, but he wasn't. Cloud hadn't really changed in some ways - still quiet and curious and wanting to learn. It was better that Cloud didn't know the truth for a multitude of reasons... But...
He could remember the feel of Cloud as a cadet, watching him. It was the same.
He gave Cloud a little smile.
"This isn't hard," he said. "I could teach you."
"I don't ever have to cook for myself," Cloud replied. "I live with... Ah..."
Oh. That was interesting and somewhat disappointing. Cloud had someone. Not that... Sephiroth turned back to the pot he'd been stirring and the pan he'd been sautéing. Cloud had someone. And here he'd apparently been entertaining the idea of having Cloud again. As if he deserved that. As if there was any way he could when he couldn't even tell Cloud who he was. It wouldn't be right at all, no matter how badly he wanted to reach and rest a more than friendly hand on Cloud's shoulder.
He exhaled. He'd have to be careful.
"I live with a friend who has a small bar and restaurant," Cloud said finally. "She's a good cook, but yours smells really good too."
Well, Cloud had certainly not gotten less awkward. That was almost a relief.
"In Mideel?" Sephiroth questioned. Of all the places for Tifa to end up, he hadn't expected there.
"For now, yes," Cloud replied. "She's moved around a bit. I guess... Well, there were... things. Back when...."
"Meteorfall?" Sephiroth suggested. That was the name they'd given to it. No proper explanation had ever been offered, but he didn't much care. He knew the truth and he wasn't in a rush to correct anyone.
"Yeah," Cloud replied. "Just sort of put a wanderlust in the lot of us, I guess. It's hard to have a normal life after... After everything."
Sephiroth wanted to say he understood. He didn't know how long he'd be able to stay where he was despite it being a good place. Another year or so, maybe? He did need to go elsewhere, see other things. But somehow, he thought he'd still call Ol' Willie's cottage home anyway.
All of his thoughts were bordering on a little strange.
"I think I sort of understand," Sephiroth said after a long moment of silence. "Not entirely, but... well, look at me. I can't really say anything about anyone."
He smiled, hoping he was doing a good impression of the grinning mascot on his shirt.
Cloud relaxed a bit in his chair.
"I can set the table, too," he said. He glanced out the window. "Does it always rain this much here?"
Cloud left first thing in the morning, which didn't bother Sephiroth at all. The entire evening, Cloud never uttered his real name, and Sephiroth contented himself with telling stories about the town and then a few old war stories that he thought were vague enough to not really mean anything at all.
Maybe if Cloud ever came back, he'd tell the truth. But... Cloud seemed so...
He didn't want to hurt Cloud.
It was complicated.
Sephiroth walked into town to pay for his sword and materia, checked the job board and then decided to take the day off and fish. He'd made twice as much food the night before, so his supplies were low. And fish every night really wasn't as bad as it could be. Not something he wanted to do forever, but for the time being, it wasn't bad.
If anyone really needed him, he wasn't difficult to find.
He put the sword up on a shelf near the kitchen door and then went out to sweep off the deck. The storm had blown down a lot of little leaves and twigs and while the deck wasn't in good shape to begin with, he wasn't sure he wanted to refinish and paint it just yet. Maybe in the spring, if he was still around.
In any sense of the word.
"What am I supposed to be doing?" He looked out to the water.
For the briefest of seconds, he thought he felt the ground shake.
But then again, he was hungry. It could have been his stomach.
A minute later, it wasn't so much a shaking as a rolling. The waves rushed high across the beach and the entire cottage shook. Sephiroth grabbed for the deck rail and just held on, watching.
He was sure he'd felt earthquakes before, but nothing like this. He knew the area was prone to them - he knew the Lifestream wasn't far below the surface, which made sense as to why he'd been spit out there.
He was okay, though. As soon as it ended, he glanced into the cottage. A few books had fallen, and he was a little afraid to open his cupboards, but for the most part, everything looked okay.
But the town...
He raced for his bike, pausing to run back and grab his new sword. Then he was to the shed and back out, motorcycle thrumming between his legs. He wasn't sure he'd ever pushed the machine to its limits before, but he was doing it now. All he had in his mind was panic --
Everyone was out of their homes when he arrived. No one looked particularly stunned, though there was water up through the streets.
"Is everyone okay?" Sephiroth asked Darius as he turned off the motorcycle.
"That wasn't anything much," Darius replied with a chuckle. "Does that a few times a year. Few waves, but we're good."
Sephiroth blinked. "Really? But..."
"That's right -- you must have got here right after the last one." He chuckled. "But don't worry so much. It'll take something far bigger to wipe us off the map."
"And it's a good time to be social," Darius added. "We'll wait for the aftershocks to pass and then go back about our days."
Almost on cue, the ground shook ever so slightly.
"Wonder where that one was at," Alexei wandered over to the pair. All three of his cats were following him. "Mideel, you think?"
"Mideel?" Sephiroth questioned. Cloud had just headed back there. "I..."
He looked at the motorcycle. It had plenty of fuel and he knew it could make the trip.
"Mmm?" Alexei looked at him with a strange expression.
"Cloud, the courier, just left for there," Sephiroth explained. "If the ground opened up at all..."
"Tori said he was someone you knew," Darius said. "Don't you worry about us. You go see if he's okay."
Sephiroth nodded. And then without looking back, got on the bike and went.
Cloud would have about three hours of head-start on him, he figured. That was possibly too far to be of any help even if something had happened, but he had to try. And if he did get to Mideel, he'd lay low overnight until he could return. He just had to make sure Cloud was okay. If not, well, he'd never forgive himself. And Aerith and Zack wouldn't be pleased, either.
The road seemed to be in good shape, aside from some crumbling sections that seemed to be in poor repair more due to age than the quake. It was a good sign, and after two hours of pushing the machine almost to the point of overheating, Sephiroth considered slowing his pace a bit. He hadn't seen even as much as a trace of the Lifestream fountaining out of the ground. Maybe he'd worried for nothing.
But he kept going, slowly seeing a few tiny ruptures and then an impressive mini-fountain that rivaled the one in town that he tended to try to ignore. It was in a shed, anyway, with a stone pool around it so that it wouldn't really spread. Sephiroth assumed someone had checked on that.
Then he saw it -- a big rupture stretching partway across the road. And Cloud's motorcycle, on its side. And Cloud, sprawled, unmoving on the ground. Sephiroth nearly lost his own machine as he skidded to a stop. He honestly wasn't concerned with it as he jumped off and rushed over to Cloud.
"Cloud!" He didn't grab right away, instead checking for a pulse, which he found. While Cloud looked a little scraped up, nothing seemed to be at a strange angle. Besides, Cloud was a pretty durable guy and Sephiroth didn't think falling off a motorcycle would do that much harm. His head seemed to be in one piece, at least.
"Cloud..." He gave Cloud a tiny shake, and then actually thinking, he ran back to his bike and the Heal materia he'd slotted into his sword. With that, he was able to cast a tiny spell onto Cloud to hopefully bring him around. Again, Sephiroth found himself feeling gut-punched, but it was worth it when Cloud slowly opened his eyes and tried to sit up. Failing at first, he succeeded on the second try, looking squarely at Sephiroth and then at the greenblue of the Lifestream spilling up around them.
"Am I dead?" he asked. "Why are you here, Sephiroth?"
Sephiroth didn't correct him.
"I had to come make sure you were okay," Sephiroth replied. "There was an earthquake. But you're not dead."
"Then you're not dead..." Cloud trailed off and then shook his head, apparently finally piecing everything together. "Oh... Fin..."
Sephiroth chuckled. "You gave me a bit of a scare. But you're okay and so is the town..."
"Mideel!" Cloud cried, scrambling to his feet and then staggering a step. "Oh, my bike..."
"It looks okay," Sephiroth noted. "Probably just triggered the killswitch when you went off."
Cloud nodded. "Will you come with me? I know you'll be helpful if... anything happened."
Unsure for a couple of seconds, Sephiroth nodded. He could at least go and check on things.
"I'll follow you," he said. "But... I don't really want to hang around for too long."
"You have your own town to worry about, huh?"
He didn't take the time to tell Cloud that yes, that was half of it. But only half.
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