BY : SabreTooth
Category: Final Fantasy VII > Crossovers
Dragon prints: 1552
Disclaimer: I do not own the original story line and characters of the canon FF7 genre. I do own the original plot sprung from my deviant mind and some new characters. No money/profit is made from this.

The Knights of the Round Table


The old season had been replaced by the waking life, but the dreams of the chosen warriors were still marked by the nightmares that kept lingering on in their everyday life. They were all there; gathered around the round poker table, which was serving as an assembly point for all the remaining members of the eco-terrorist group Avalanche and fighters associated with them. Although not all of them connected to the great beyond, they were still united by past events from the depth of a common well of experience.

Cid Highwind, a pilot whose dreams of being the first man in outer space were crushed when he cancelled a rocket launch to save the life of one of his assistants. That decision led to the ShinRa Commpany withdrawing the funds to the space program and since then there was a seething bitterness within the man. He was acting loud as usual, displaying his arrogant behavior in a typically childish way that was characteristic of his persona.

Barrett Wallace, the impatient leader of the second incarnation of the Avalanche who bore a deep grudge against the corporation for eradicating his hometown Corel and killing his family and friends, sat with his second adoptive daughter Hunci in his lap. His first adoptive child was Marlene, the daughter of his dear friend and brother in arms Dyne who was killed during the conflict. Marlene had found a new family in Barrett and the Avalanche members and lived with them throughout the last years of Sephiroth’s life. Marlene had grown up to be a lovely young lady since the years after the destruction of the seraph and was preparing for university in a nearby town.

She had a profound gentleness in her personality and whilst working as a practitioner at an orphanage for a few summer months, she had come across Hunci; a ten-year old little girl who was too old to be adopted and nowhere to call home. Hunci and Marlene had gotten along well from the very first day and after a whole summer together, Marlene managed to convince Barrett to adopt the little girl. Being alone most of the day and missing Marlene’s presence, Barrett had agreed to the adoption and was now a guardian anew. Hunci felt welcome and at peace in his presence. However, she hid a secret she dared not to expose to anyone.

Hunci listened to the group of grownups arguing when Nanaki’s stare caught her attention. The little girl felt how he attempted to pierce her mind and buried her head in Barrett’s embrace to demonstrate her disapproval of the forbidden access. The great lion-like feline Nanaki, referred to as Red XIII under the ShinRa era, was wise and humble, but his presence was intimidating and he removed his focus from the girl.

The other voice, which was heard now as it was always discerned in a group, was that of Yuffie Kisaragi. She was an experienced thief and a young, bitter resident of Wutai; a nation descended from ninja and defeated by the ShinRa Army in a war, which earned Sephiroth the name “Demon of Wutai”. Yuffie's father, Godo Kisaragi, the former leader of Wutai, had a similar obsession with Materia as his daughter, which led to unfortunate events where she was forced to kill him.

Kazuhito was a man of similar age to Godo and had served under the former leader for many years. He had been part of Yuffie’s life since she was a little girl. Kazuhito was a man of serious disposition, honoring his forefathers of samurai descent. He was characterized by a cybernetic right-eye that he wore as a patch integrated with his face. Kazuhito’s face was etched with lines of a difficult life, but he was a man of honor and when Yuffie lost her father, he took it upon himself to guide her through the tribulations of life until she was old enough to stand on her own. He considered her to be his daughter, although he had been without a wife and family all his life.

However, following the destruction of Wutai and the subsequent rotting of the Avalanche guerrilla, Yuffie and Kazuhito had formed a strong bond to overcome the difficulites and humiliation of the new ways. As a condition of Wutai’s surrender, the town was not allowed to possess any Materia and was reduced to a tourist settlement. Due to this, displeasure and bitterness were fermenting under the surface of the Wutai people, but Kazuhito always considered it was better to live today and fight tomorrow. There were more important virtues to die for than lost pride. Kazuhito rubbed his chin, listening to the others and made an occasional comment for his daughter to quiet down when her high-pitched voice was a bit too annoying for his close presence.

Cloud Strife, usually an unsociable mercenary and believed in the past to be a former first class member of ShinRa's Soldier unit, was keeping quiet. Although words were bubbling on the surface of his tongue, he found no opportunity to share his dreams and fears and thus only held back, allowing for the others to debate.

Tifa Lockhart, a martial artist and childhood friend of Cloud, watched him from across the table. Her newfound love, Rude, was not present but they had promised to meet up after the meeting. She would not share what had been said, for there was still an invisible line keeping rebels and Turks on separate sides of community. She was the very thing Rude was supposed to fight against, for the likes of her had attempted to ruin the ShinRa Company for decades, but feelings overcame many barriers and the spark between the two former enemies was undeniable; even to themselves.

And the last was Vincent Valentine, a former member of ShinRa's Turks unit who was almost killed, but then brought back to life as an immortal, as a Daemon lord, through experimental anatomic reconstruction. Vincent had invited an unexpected guest to this meeting, Miss Sïana Khin. She was received with a tinge of scepticism as she spoke warmly about Sephiroth and the memories associated with him. She exposed the horror as well as those deliciously private moments that made several people squirm in their seats with a strange mix of discomfort and excitement. She presented a completely different picture of the young General as compared to what most of them had experienced. 

Other reconstructions going on were the events that had led to these nightmares. The conclusions were piled in a pyramid of proceedings and measures that had one common denominator, which was Sephiroth. Collaborating in bringing about forgotten memories and dormant thoughts, the picture of the past was painted before them in an extensive summary.

Eight years before the present day events, Sephiroth had learned that he was the product of gruesome experiments while on a ShinRa mission in Nibelheim, the hometown of Cloud and Tifa. This, the former couple could remember well.

“He was unaware of all details involved,” Cloud spoke, “which was why Sephiroth concluded that he was a Cetra and was produced solely from Jenova's genetic material. At that time that’s what I thought too… and even Zack. I mean, who knew?”

Cloud cast a glance at Vincent then at Miss Khin who revealed the truth behind the terrible past of the young silver-haired boy. She returned Cloud’s gaze with a hint of anger, claiming that the words spewed by the Avalanche members were nothing but hypocritical, for they hardly lived as they preached.

“Look lady,” Cid began, leaning over the table, “it’s not about being a damn purist, but that man had slaughtered thousands with his bare hands…”

“That’s right!” Yuffie hollered in agreement, but was quickly hushed by her foster father. Miss Khin, however, was firm and continued with a calm voice.

“And what had you all been doing before you turned your backs on the ShinRa corporation?”

Vincent watched their reactions from under his mantle; his burning eyes flashing as the crowd went quiet. Miss Khin had reduced the difficult crowd like a teacher exerts power over little children. He began to understand how she could control the harsh, young Sephiroth. Indeed, she had made him burn… could she make the Avalanche and those hungry for vendetta actually sympathize with the spawn?

“Almost all of you gained some benefits from the company in one way or the other. You never gave the planet a second thought until it backfired on you. Sephiroth only had one family, the ShinRa Corporation. He hardly knew anything about the world outside. Being fed with anguish through years of lies had left marks on him and just as any one of you would have done, he tried to find the answers to his heritage. But what he found enraged him…”

“Enraged him?!” Tifa raised her voice. “He burned down the town, intending to kill everyone…”

“Yes! All descendants of those he believed had abandoned his ancestors in the defence of the planet,” Miss Khin bit back.

“Look, Cloud here,” Tifa pointed at her former lover, defending him as if she still stood firmly by his side in heart and soul, as she fought on with blind conviction, “confronted Sephiroth during this massacre, after which Sephiroth vanished under unknown circumstances and was presumed dead until his reappearance in the ShinRa building.”

“Nonsense!” Miss Khin hissed and dismissed Tifa’s ideas with a swift wave of the hands. “He didn’t disappear. He was taken captive… by HER, I’m sure! My dear, you have no idea of the powers these mad scientists were meddling with.”

The arguments went on as Tifa and the rest of the group explained how Avalanche had formed from the events of injustice brought about by the ShinRa Corporation. Cloud joined Avalanche in a series of raids against the Mako reactors and during this time he met with Aeris, whom he had sworn to protect from the pursuit of the ShinRa organization.

“They chased Aeris,” Cloud said, “for she was the last Cetra. They knew that… I am sure of it. She had great powers, but at times, I doubt even she knew just how much she possessed. I agreed to become her bodyguard.”

“You see, President ShinRa believed that Aeris could lead him to a mythical land of fertility known as the Promised Land,” Barrett joined in after remaining quiet a long time, “which could be easily harvested of Mako energy. So eventually, and despite Cloud’s effort, she was taken captive. Cloud, Tifa, and I were the remaining members of Avalanche at that time, because ShinRa had destroyed most of us. We found out from the crime boss Don Corneo that the President had found the hideout of the group and we were the lucky ones to survive. We infiltrated ShinRa's headquarters to rescue Aeris, but in that moment of heat most of the personnel in the building, including President ShinRa, were killed.”

“Yes. We found the body of the President pinned by a long sword,” Cloud recalled. “I suspected that Sephiroth had returned from his presumed death. This was also confirmed to me by an executive spared during the massacre, who claimed to have witnessed Sephiroth murder the President.”

“And why did he do that?” Miss Khin asked kindly.

“He didn’t want to allow President ShinRa to claim the Promised Land,” Vincent cut in. “He had been utterly bitter for the betrayal the President was responsible for.”

“Yes,” Miss Khin sighed, “Sephiroth never took disloyalty lightly.”

She rubbed her face in her hands, trying to absorb the massive amount of information whilst fighting her emotional attachment to the boy who was claimed to be responsible for such despicable deeds. She also learned that it was behind that attack when Sephiroth had disappeared with the headless body of Jenova; it was then he became completely transformed.

“Rufus ShinRa, the President's son, assumed control of the ShinRa Company, whilst we pursued Sephiroth across the planet, fearing his intentions for the Promised Land would be more destructive than that of ShinRa's.” Barrett went on. “During this pursuit, we were joined by Yuffie, Cait Sith, Vincent and Cid.”

As the journey progressed, the members of the group came to terms with personal conflicts from their past, and the full scope of Sephiroth's plan was eventually revealed. Vincent, who had clear memories of every minute he had wasted on Lucrecia’s son, took it upon himself to show the true face of Sephiroth to the gentle caretaker, who had persistently shielded their vicious thoughts from entering her blithe memories of the young General.

“If the planet would ever be extensively damaged, the Lifestream within would gather at the point of injury, to heal the wound. Sephiroth intended to use a powerful spell known as ‘Meteor’ to fatally injure the planet thereby causing a reaction in the Lifestream.”

Miss Khin’s eyes grew big as the notions of her beloved angel’s sinister plans took form, but she could not deny the hurt and betrayal in Sephiroth’s actions. She cast a tearful glance at Vincent as he continued, but pride still lingered on in her features.

“Sephiroth would enter the wound of the planet to merge with the energy, granting him God-like powers over life.”

“Yes,” Nanaki opened up from his reclusive observation. “At an ancient temple erected by the Cetra, we tried to undermine Sephiroth's plot by claiming the Black Materia he needed to complete the spell, but Sephiroth displayed a mysterious power over Cloud, forcing him to relinquish it.”

Suddenly there was a thick silence ascending upon the Knights of the Round Table. No one spoke for a while, but their minds were tied in a whirlwind of memories too painful to bring about. The task had fallen upon Cloud, for he was the one carrying the heaviest burden.

“Fearing that Sephiroth may cast Meteor, Aeris wanted to stop him on her own,” Cloud exhaled with a sad smile as he shook his head. “Concerned for her safety, we followed her to the Northern Continent, to the ancient Cetra city. She was…” He had to stop and clear his throat to regain strength in the fading whispers. “Aeris was praying to Gaea, when Sephiroth possessed my mind trying to force me to kill her.”

Seeing how hard it was for Cloud to summon those memories of the past, Tifa placed a friendly hand on Cloud’s to comfort and give support.

“I managed to resist him,” Cloud whimpered, “but then he appeared and struck her down… in cold blood.”

“No,” Miss Khin shook her head, devastated by sadness and disbelief. “That’s not my Sephiroth. He wasn’t like this… he couldn’t have.”

“Oh, he could all right!” Cid growled and slammed his hand against the table in frustration.

He had no intention of scaring or seeming rude, but the past was painful even for him. And the story carried on; after laying Aeris’ body to rest, the survivors resolved to defeat Sephiroth and avenge the Cetra. The group had reached the Northern Crater a bit too late as Sephiroth, by then trapped body and soul in crystallized Mako, had manipulated Cloud into believing that the spawn had not been in Nibelheim at the time of the massacre. He had showed the flaxen haired youth images of a first class Soldier with dark hair occupying Cloud's memories instead of the angel. Tifa had been unable to refute Sephiroth's claims, which consequently drove Cloud mad. Being convinced that he was doing the right thing, young Cadet Strife gave the Black Materia to Sephiroth and thereby reawakened the Weapons; those horrible creatures that Vincent made a living out of trying to defeat. During the earthquake that followed this event, Cloud was separated from his companions and fell into the Lifestream.

“Sephiroth used his powers to summon the meteor that almost flattened your ass, lady,” Cid highlighted as gently as only he could. “And it was your precious little toddler that had done so. He didn’t seem to care much about you then.”

“For sure,” Barrett nodded calmly, “the meteor slowly approached the planet, whilst the ShinRa Company focused its efforts on protecting humanity from the Weapons – at least for show. We were interrogated, and eventually nearly executed. We escaped from Junon, and obtained Cid's airship.”

Cid nodded complying with that last statement. He was proud of his airship as if it had been his child. Since then it had been replaced by a new one he referred to as the Zephyr.

“We then searched for Cloud,” Barrett continued, holding the sleepy Hunci in his embrace, “and discovered ShinRa's plan to take Huge Materia from the major sources of Gaea. I barely managed to save this little girl’s hometown from ShinRa's escort.”

Though nobody spoke of it, every member of the group knew that Barrett had done so out of guilt and was hoping that one day to be forgiven and redeem himself for the building the Mako reactor there in the first place. He continued telling his story.

“When we eventually did find Cloud, at a tropical resort island called Mideel, he was in a catatonic state.”

“By the Gods, yes,” Tifa sighed heavily, “I was unable to see him like that and so decided not to leave Mideel until Cloud had fully recovered, but the Weapons' destructive activity caused the island to split open, and we both ended up in the Lifestream below. There, through merging my childhood with his, I was able to reconstruct Cloud's memories and at the same time learned the truth about his past.”

Although he was a real human being and had actually been in Nibelheim during Sephiroth's attack, he never actually succeeded in joining Soldier and only managed to attain the rank of Private in ShinRa's military because things went sour before his official Soldier ranking.

“So the dark haired Soldier I saw in my head, when Sephiroth tampered with my mind, was Zack, Sephiroth’s best friend and Aeris' boyfriend. The picture became all so clear after that,” Cloud added and described how during Sephiroth's destruction of Nibelheim, Zack, Tifa and himself had fought the dark angel in Nibelheim's Mako reactor.

Although Tifa and Zack were defeated, Cloud and Sephiroth severely wounded one another. Sephiroth had decapitated Jenova, which had been stored in the Mako reactor, and Sephiroth was thrown into the Lifestream by Cloud, taking the creature's head with him.

“I don’t know what happened after,” Cloud said, but Nanaki stepped in with an explanation that left them numb.

“Instead of dying, however, Sephiroth’s body and consciousness were crystallized in Mako inside Jenova's crater. This indestructible force of Jenova is the reason why we all are here once again. Some of us who are here have one thing in common,” the feline pointed out as he paced around the table watching each participant with careful scrutiny.

He knew no one would dare bring about the subject and so he decided to wait a few more moments until the truth could be revealed. He continued.

“But first thing’s first. Whilst Tifa was taken to safety in Midgar, Cloud and Zack were among the wounded survivors who were apprehended by ShinRa as part an elaborate cover-up of Sephiroth's massacre. Professor Hojo subjected these survivors, as with me and Vincent, to an experiment, in which he performed the same enhancements given to members of Soldier,” Nanaki sat down behind Cloud as he spoke. “However, because Hojo conducted the experiment without any concern for the subjects' mental capacities to handle the procedure, all but Zack entered a comatose state. Nearly five years later, Zack broke free from his confinement and took Cloud here, with him.”

It was once again time for Miss Khin to step in with her expertise in how the experiments were conducted. She didn’t know the details to any larger extent, the time that had passed by since, had erased many traces. But she still managed to add information that the group found useful.

“The procedure used to enhance members of Soldier involved inoculations of both Mako and cells from Jenova. From what you told me, and how Sephiroth was manipulated by Jenova, I can only guess that the alien cells inhabiting Cloud's body allowed his mind to construct a false persona, built around Zack's behavior, fighting style, and description of Sephiroth's destruction in Nibelheim, but they also allowed Sephiroth to manipulate Cloud to some extent. I am not really clear about something though,” Miss Khin drifted off in thought. “In order for Cloud to assimilate the Jenova cells to that extent, he must have had a precursor inside him.”

Vincent, who had remained invisible in the background for a while, suddenly cocked his head as if someone had stabbed a needle into his side, eyes instantly searching their pair in Nanaki. They anchored on to each other very bluntly, yet no one else noticed the unexpected change in their mood. The Daemon sensed something, but the sentient feline remained resolute and hid his emotions. Nanaki had deliberately shut Vincent out. Not a soul must elaborate further on this thought. It was a forbidden thought that would wreak havoc in all of them, let alone inside Cloud. They waited to see if anyone would pick up that trail of thought, but released the tension with a sigh as Miss Khin went on.

“But you should not forget that although you claim Sephiroth had gone mad and aimed to destroy the world, he had a chosen a few he held close and those people he respected. Zack was one of them and if he had wanted to completely obliterate the man, he could’ve. There must have been a reason why he allowed for Zack’s presence to linger on in Cloud.”

“Yeah,” Cloud grunted, “to manipulate me.”

“Or maybe to have a remnant of his confidant still linger on inside something living, rather than death,” Miss Khin added in. “I agree that Sephiroth’s actions were like a double edged sword, but whilst you only see death in his wake, I see that boy I held at nights. There was another side to him.”

Miss Khin noticed that Cloud gave off a slight, hardly noticeable shudder at the thought, but went on as befitted a true scientist. There was no time to take regards to emotions. What had to be said had to be said.

“The cells' inherent ability to duplicate information probably led Cloud to believe that he had been the First Class Soldier in Nibelheim. Well, what happened to Zack then? Couldn’t he set things straight?”

“Zack was shot and killed outside Midgar by pursuing ShinRa soldiers,” Vincent informed. “Closely after that, Tifa discovered Cloud wearing Zack's spare uniform, and offered him a job with Avalanche.”

And so the circle was completed. Cloud took a deep breath as he added left out segments to the already confusing story.

“Moments before she died, Aeris was casting a spell known as ‘Holy’, the only means of opposing Meteor. Though she succeeded, Sephiroth's powerful will, the one you so warmly spoke of Miss Khin, prevented the spell from taking effect and had been restraining it. The ShinRa Corporation decided that humanity had to be protected from the Weapons before Sephiroth could be approached, we joined forces and destroyed everything, even Rufus helped.”

“Then you must have known that Professor Hojo was Sephiroth's biological father,” Miss Khin threw in. “He and his so called assistant worked for Professor Gast, and offered up their unborn child as a test subject to research involving Jenova. What was the name of that little strumpet…? Oh yes, Lucrecia Crescent. But remember that Hojo had a wife, despite the sexual relationship with Lucrecia.”

Vincent squirmed on his seat at the last sentence and after not being able to find a comfortable position, he stood up.

Miss Khin let off a weak laughter. “I’ve known Hojo from when he was a doctor in biomedical science with focus on biochemistry. He was quite a looker back then and the female students were so weak for that man. There was something about him… that conviction and that dominance he exerted, that black hair always tied in the back of his neck, the way he walked… so assertive and secure. He had confidence and Sephiroth did inherit some of his features. Whatever you think, Hojo was phenomenal… until he was driven insane by his megalomania and I guess that is also something Sephiroth inherited. What I’m trying to say, I suppose, is that don’t be surprised by him managing to seduce and convince a young lady, who was already damaged and vulnerable at that time due to Grimoire’s death, to participate in a little experiment to create the world’s invincible super-soldier. And so she did. But what happened to him? He never cared about Sephiroth to any large extent, although I know at times he was struck by a sense of guilt. It was probably why he allowed me to stay with the boy for so long. What he couldn’t give him, I would.”

“When Hojo attempted to help Sephiroth gain mastery over the Lifestream we had no choice but to fight and kill him,” the Daemon Lord added.

“My grandfather died in that battle,” Nanaki brought forth, but without any regrets or sadness. In fact, he spoke of the past with pride. “He asked me to go with Cloud to the final battle and so we travelled through the mantle of the Gaea to its core, where we defeated Sephiroth and set Holy free. But due to Meteor's already close proximity to the planet's surface, Holy was unable to destroy it alone and Midgar was almost completely destroyed. Luckily, through Aeris' spirit, the Lifestream itself rose from the planet to aid Holy by holding back the Meteor, allowing Holy to destroy it.”

At least that is what they had thought, for the battle returned only two years later. Gaea was recovering from the devastating attack and the survivors of Midgar had begun to build a new city, fittingly named ‘Edge’, on the outskirts of the old metropolis. Cloud had retired from the warrior’s life and started his small delivery business taking care of both Marlene, whilst Barrett was gone, and an orphan boy named Denzel. However, a strange disease, the Geostigma, had risen to plague the lands.

At one occasion, on his way home to Tifa, Cloud was attacked by three mysterious men who believed that he knew the location of their missing "Mother". It was the first time the group had run into the remnants of Sephiroth incarnated in the shape of Kadaj, Yazoo and Loz. Mentioning these names left an obvious discomfort on the faces of Cloud and Hunci, but no one noticed. The discussions continued as every member around the table filled in missing pieces of the puzzle with small contributions.

Hoping to gain information on the mysterious attackers, Cloud had sought out Rufus ShinRa, the leader of the obsolete ShinRa Company; a legacy from his father the President, but their conversations came to a dead end. It was later revealed by Kadaj that ‘Mother’ was the remains of Jenova, and was connected to the cause of the Geostigma. Kadaj also announced that he and his brothers, Yazoo and Loz, were planning a new ‘reunion’ that would culminate in an assault on the Planet itself.

“Loz and I had a terrible battle at Aeris Gainsborough's church when he was trying to find their ‘Mother’,” Tifa explained. “He almost killed me, but Marlene distracted him by throwing Materia at Loz. He may have behaved like a child inside, but he was vicious.”

“But he is not like that now,” Hunci suddenly stepped in with her lean, childish voice, provoking a ‘hush’ from Barrett as she told them about her new imaginary friend who visited her at nights. Agile looks of gravity were oscillating between Vincent and Nanaki, but the muzzle was still kept on for the puzzle to be completed. Cloud picked up the story where it had been left off and carried it further.

“Kadaj…” he halted for a swift second, emitting a fleeting smile, then resumed his serious façade. “Kadaj and his brothers began collecting children infected with Geostigma, including Denzel, and took them to the Forgotten City past the Silver Forest…”

“Remember that name, Cloud, it will be of importance to you,” came a faint familiar, tender voice from the great beyond which made Cloud silence in an instant.

He was listening intently, but there was nothing other than the humming of people’s anguish and when no one else seemed to have reacted, he presumed it was the ghost in his head again and thus carried on weaving memories together.

He explained how he had attempted to rescue the children but failed and had to be rescued himself by Vincent Valentine. Vincent knew what the trinity brothers were seeking and that it could result in the return of Sephiroth. Knowing the planets force through his pulsating veins, Vincent also knew that Geostigma was the result of one's body working excessively to fight off an infection brought on by Jenova's lingering presence within the Lifestream, and Cloud had no choice but to return to Edge and face Kadaj in direct battle.

“I had to kill him,” Cloud buried his face in his hands. “I killed him.”

Tifa frowned a little not being able to comprehend the difficulties in accepting a fact so perfectly completed. The young flaxen haired man lowered his head over the table, sinking deeply into his chair as sadness overtook him. He was trying hard not to show it, but the emotions seeped through his cracking façade. Nanaki watched the transformation and saw the moment was approaching rapidly. There was yet another affected by the great beyond; it was now evident that even Cloud carried the burdens of the nightmares. He was intrigued, for up until now, he thought it had only been Vincent and he aware of the restless souls trapped in the core of Jenova and crystallized away from the Lifestream. Discreetly and with a soft whisper, Nanaki called upon Vincent’s attention as Cloud told of the moments before Kadaj’s death.

“I caught up with Kadaj at the ruins of the ShinRa Headquarters in the center of Midgar. We fought, but Kadaj chose to merge with the remains of that alien and when I was about to deliver the final blow to K… Ka-daj…” he halted and cleared his throat to obtain the drops of strength in his voice. “When I… almost killed Kadaj… I was stopped and parried in midair as Kadaj transformed into Sephiroth. We fought long… and hard and with a bit of luck and some help from those already in the Beyond, I managed to defeat Sephiroth… I killed Kadaj…”

“I don’t think I want to hear any more,” Miss Khin cut in and rose from the table.

Cid made a rush of effort to be contemptuous but he lost the track mid-flight. Indeed, there was no reason to be harsh and to ridicule. He understood that the elegant lady had seen a side of Sephiroth none other had.

The tension in the air was thick enough to cut and though the story of their experiences was completed, they still didn’t know the reason for this gathering.

“You don’t understand,” Miss Khin continued as she lit a cigarette, nervously sucking in the poisonous stick with a deep breath.

She hardly ever smoked, only when her emotions galloped beyond control as they did now. The grey mist of smoke left her lungs as she exhaled, whilst staring emptily towards the ceiling.

“He was not like that. Granted, Sephiroth was brought up to be a warrior, but he was not evil.”

“Well, lady, he sure as hell had a funny way of showing his affections, when eradicating land after land and trying to take over the universe,” Cid muttered cynically from the background, but Sïana snorted at his crudeness emitting a smirk.

“Winners write history, Mr Highwind. When you win the war, do you ever question if that was the right event in life… or perhaps would it had been better for the opposite side to win. As I see it, right and wrong depends on who does the killing and who gets killed. Sephiroth often told me that himself. He wasn’t particularly happy about his victories even if he was very successful. But he was paid and created to do a good job and so he did. He also held professor Gast in high regards and as I recall Seph was convinced by his wife Ifalna to leave ShinRa and find a reason for fighting. He DID listen and he DID feel and he DID reason.”

Cloud couldn’t hold his mouth any longer and spat; “How come you’re all on his side?”

“I’m not,” Miss Khin bit back in an instant. “That is one valuable lesson Sephiroth taught me, already at an early age. He used to say ‘I never choose sides. There is only one side I take – MINE.’”

The smoke from her breath formed a halo around her face as she spoke.

“Sephiroth wouldn’t have done anything to hurt those he cared for.”

“Sephiroth couldn’t love or feel compassion to life! Why are you so obsessed with his emotional state and that lovey-dovey cutsie attitude he flaunted you with? It was an exception, lady, accept it! What the hell does his abilities to love matter anyway,” Cloud slammed his fist against the table. He tried to shake off the frustration within.

“Because, Mr Stife, emotion and passion is what drives us all. It doesn’t matter if it is passionate hatred or passionate love. Once the chemicals set off in your brain you are a slave under their influence. Most wars have been fought for stupid reasons, Mr Strife, whether it was love, hate or rule! How many wars have not been fought over those three stupid four-letter words? Don’t play ignorant with me. What Sephiroth’s reasons were, I don’t know. And I don’t care. What I care about is that he wasn’t dead within as you claim. He did have all the capabilities you could think of in order to feel compassion. Call it what you will.”

“The hell he could,” Cloud grunted, but Miss Khin didn’t even dignify the flaxen haired youth with a glance as she huffed in return; “Yes, and as if you can. How’s your relationship, young man?”

Cloud swallowed the insolence boiling in his throat and calmly stated that Sephiroth had killed enough for a lifetime. Miss Khin put the cigarette out in the ashtray as she once again seated herself in front of Cloud; this time a bit more calm in her senses. With her olive gaze piercing him, she pinned him to the wall with her questions.

“So tell me, Mr Strife, how did it feel to finally kill him then?”

After a long moment of numbing silence, Cloud spoke with softness and without restraint.

“It was horrible. Kadaj died in my arms and though I’ve never spoken to anyone about it before… I wish to have had it undone.”

“What? What the hell do you mean, Cloud,” Cid smirked in disbelief, aiming an arrow of doubt against mercenary Strife who couldn’t even face the muttering crowd surrounding him with a dignified look.

“It’s true, Cid,” the young man sighed, his head bowed in decorum. “I’ve been haunted by those images for so long now, I can’t even remember a good night’s sleep. He is dead and still he destroys,” the blond looked at Tifa and nothing further had to be said for they all knew about the shattered relationship.

“No!” Miss Khin protested determinedly. “Sephiroth was not like that… he was just a young child when they tortured him.”

“To hell with it, lady!” Barrett growled viciously, making Hunci jolt in his lap. “Sephiroth is the reason for all the evil that has fallen upon us.”

“You are not listening,” Miss Khin stood firm in the face of the opposition. “Sephiroth was emotionally exceptional even when he was taught to deny those feelings…”

“Yeah, he was exceptional all right,” someone huffed, “he liked killing a bit too much.”

“No! I am telling you people,” Sïana slammed her hands against the table, “Sephiroth was passionate. He harbored a lot of fear inside, yes, but he had so much more to give. When his curiosity for intimacy awakened, he loved like there was no tomorrow. He was burning up with desire. How many of you had ever taken the chance to touch his skin at night? He was longing for it like a starved animal.”

“If he was so fucking superior, why couldn’t he control the urges... all of them?” Cloud asked arrogantly, but felt the sting of his own words bounce back as he became well aware of the downward spiral that pulled him into a vortex of insanity with Kadaj as his focal point. But by shifting the blame, perhaps he could find some release.

“Because maybe his and Jenova’s idea of what control is does not pertain to the feeble code of celibacy imposed upon humans through religious morale for the control of the masses,” Sïana snapped with clenched teeth. “When will you understand that Nature is much grander than what we are? Jenova, the Cetra, all the ancients respond under a different code… not what we deem fair or unfair. Nature is not fair… it is rational and direct and brutal at times. The only reason he gave up on the intimacy was because he had no possibility to form lasting relations… at war people come and go… they die. Death was a part of his life and developing ties to people was too much of a sacrifice on his behalf as well as devastating to lives.

Besides, he developed distaste against the flesh after so much killing. Sometimes he would return with the stench of decay surrounding him and it took me hours to get it off his skin. After Wutai, his boots were so soaked with blood that when he took his socks off his toenails were outlined in streaks of brown. Can you blame him for wanting to distance himself? But read history, Cloud… all of you… have the great warlords ever resorted to celibacy? No! None. And did they suffer from it? No! Neither did he and it wasn’t so much by choice at first. But he was pushed to hate. You who think it was his lack of control that made him slip at times are deluding yourselves. It was not lack of control, but rather his attempt to give into it. It was the other way around.

So apparently, your ideals and ideas are not a prerequisite for success. I don’t understand your obsession with the hips as if the world is governed by them. Sharks, my dear friends, are so well adapted to their environment that they had no reason to change over hundreds of millions of years. Does first grade biology ring a bell? The fact that they don’t have opposable thumbs doesn’t mean they are not superior to the environment they live in. They cannot get cancer or neurodegenerative diseases, they do not suffer from an overpowered immune system like we do, and no one really knows how old some of those great carnivores get in nature as they never die of old age but in fights or captivity. They have not achieved their phenomenal supremacy through celibacy, for crying out loud! They can get well over a hundred years for all we know. And apart from that, let me tell you something about Sephiroth… he could drink! He loved a good brandy after dinner, port was his favourite, and a hand-rolled cigar and his guilty pleasure of cream cakes. He loved music, refined art as well as modern rubbish. Sometimes he would listen to music that would drive most people into nervous wrecks except a teenager high on dope. Everything from classical to the alternative heavy beats… he consumed it all. There was nothing he couldn’t have partaken in.”

She scanned the group decisively, not bothering to respond to the mockeries of the contemptuous underline in her suggestion that they should have reached out to Sephiroth.

“No one could come close to him,” Tifa argued, little wrinkles appearing on the bridge of her nose. “The closest I ever got was when me, Zack and Sephiroth posed for a picture taken by my father years ago. At that time, Sephiroth was still sane. Once his mind went…”

“… He became completely impossible,” Yuffie threw in, but then couldn’t help revealing the slight hesitation in past actions as he posed a careful tailing question; “You mean there are ways to turn around evil?”

Lady Sïana was not an easy target. She straightened her back and stood up; posing a daring question that planted an uncomfortable thorn in the side of each individual.

“So none of you ever laid hands on him for a gentle hug?”

“He was aphephobic!” Cloud argued with voice raised. “If you tried to lay a hand on him, the chances were you wouldn’t have anything left to remove.”

“Rubbish,” Miss Khin snapped and slid up behind Vincent who was seated closest to her, but her words spread to all those watching her with frustration and anger, “I had my hands all over him… all over every inch of him,” she emphasized whilst her hands moved across the surface of Vincent’s chest as if she was still caressing the pale body of the young General, “every dirty inch and as far as I’m concerned I still have both my hands. It just takes a bit of courage and not cowering away from his initial aversion, which was more superficial than actual fact.” She slowly began moving around the table, passing each person with a new question, searching for answers in hidden eyes and guilty expressions.

“No kiss,” Miss Khin leaned over to Tifa with a stale face then went on to Barrett, “no friendly pat on the back,” she continued towards Cid, “no late night flicks with a beer and pizza,” she slid up behind Yuffie, “no flirtatious looks,” she faced Nanaki and tilted her head asking, “no philosophical discussions under the stars,” she walked up to Cloud placing her hands on his shoulders, “no secret admiration to reveal,” and finally, she stood face to face with Vincent anew asking the final question, “no secrets to be told?”

When no one spoke and silence was the only thing to be heard, she stated calmly, scanning the dejected crowd with a sad look.

“How many of you would like to live without those simple things in life?” No answers. Miss Khin nodded and huffed with an arrogant smile. “Well, he had to… because you shut him out.”

“He was the fucking General,” Cloud felt he needed to defend their actions, and going against his own beliefs Vincent agreed. It was a foolish choice.

“It’s not someone you just invite for a cup of coffee,” Vincent stated, partly referring to Miss Khin’s kindness a long while back when she blessed him with answers to the questions that had bewildered him for a long time.

The beautiful woman walked up to Vincent, facing him with sad eyes and unexpectedly delivered a slap to his face whilst hissing for all to hear.

“But it didn’t stop you from inviting him into your dreams, now did it, Mr Valentine? You slept through his entire life, Vincent. I don’t see how you can voice an opinion. Would YOU have acted differently and caught his fall if you had been awake… or abandon him like his mother did with you? Sephiroth was born year seventy seven as a beautiful, healthy baby boy without a shred of malice in him, and he died in the tenth month zero two, only twenty five years old… abandoned, confused, insane with hatred and according to you, without ever getting to know who he really was before you finished him off. He’s been dead for ten years now... or at least eight if those triplet-spawns you spoke about were truly a manifestation of him. In either case, why can’t you just let him rest in peace? Didn’t you all get what you wanted?”

The Daemon lord had nothing to say in his defence. Miss Khin turned to face the crowd. All were focused on her outrageous actions against Vincent, but no one dared or even made a comment for they couldn’t understand. With that, the elegant lady left the bar, leaving behind staring eyes, faces distorted in confusion and questions boiling in gaping mouths waiting to be unleashed. Tifa was the one to break the silence as she stood up demanding her right to know the truth, but everyone was tired. The gathering of a handful of warriors and friends left the bar one by one until only Vincent and Nanaki remained behind in the lingering mist of cigarette smoke and bitterness.

“Did we do the right thing?” Vincent asked, referring to giving in to the discomfort and allowing for yet another day to pass by without finding the answers.

Nanaki shook his head. “No, Vincent. We failed yet again… and your Sephiroth is to bleed one more night.”

Chaos rumbled from the depth of his core, cursing the weak master of flesh to whom he was bound. His angel was lost and there was nothing he could do to set him free and Vincent was the main obstacle. Vincent was weak, Vincent was afraid… Vincent brought shame.

The orb in his chest pulsed to keep the Daemon at bay, but the emotions flowing through his being were very powerful and the collision of impossible forces brought the glowing, yellow eyes to surface.

Nanaki produced a comforting purr from the depth of his being signalling he was of no threat to Chaos, but the Daemon was bitter with disappointment as he muttered through clenched fangs.

“I hate him… I hate that weak pile of flesh… he is my cage.”

“I know my friend, but part of your entrapment is the price you pay for killing his father.”

“It was unintentional, Nanaki,” Chaos growled with his beast fangs exposed.

“A lot of mistakes are made unintentionally, Chaos, but that is not to say we don’t have to pay the price for them.”

“What about Vincent’s sin, Nanaki? His sin is greater than any of ours. Why isn’t he punished?”

Nanaki blew out a hot breath of air. “You don’t think he suffers?”

“Not enough to please me,” the Daemon hissed between sharp fangs. “He knew about the experiment Lucrecia and Hojo were going to pursue. He saw her collapse on the floor knowing her child would destroy the world. But the future was NOT SET,” Chaos roared. “The future was not set! They could have changed it. It was one possible outcome and they played into the hands of Jenova and you KNOW this, Nanaki.” The feline could not respond anything other but to nod agreeing as Chaos went on. “They could have changed the course of events. But instead they gave into their fear. Lucrecia could have chosen to stay with the child and guide him instead of hiding like a coward. And so did Vincent! Miss Khin was the only one not cowering from fear.”

“It’s not a fair comparison,” Nanaki intervened. “Miss Khin didn’t know anything about the possible future. She didn’t fear out of lack of knowledge and Vincent… well, he was buried… woke up only two years after the destruction of Sephiroth.”

“Makes no difference,” Chaos was relentless. “Vincent had the chance to stop the events from taking place. Instead, he built me a prison of anguish and self pity and daydreams of forbidden desires that he denies himself yet he is lost in them when his will crumbles. I only need one chance to break free…”

“But you won’t,” Nanaki brushed past Chaos, “because he makes you feel… you have never had such a rush of elation as when you roam the world of the living. You’ve got it all, my friend, the powers of the underworld, as well as the physical indulgence of the living. You must tame your hatred, Chaos… you must hold it in check… or you will lose Sephiroth forever.”

“There is nothing you can say to ease this hatred, Nanaki. Vincent is undeserving of someone like Sephiroth.”

“Perhaps,” the feline shrugged, “but as you know, and what Miss Khin does not, is that it’s not us not wanting Sephiroth to rest in peace. It is HE who taints the peace out of us. He is not letting us rest… and if you cannot reconcile with Vincent, we might never find the answers to why this happens.”

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