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The Devil's Own
Execution. No less than Sephiroth deserved for the lives he'd taken. For the destruction wrought by his hand. Cloud had served as executioner before. By necessity - - by circumstance that always seemed to put him at the eye of the storm.
Sephiroth's hand on the edge of his blade grew heavier, drawing the point deeper against his skin. A drop of red welled. Crimson against pale skin. His eyes were like molten silver reflecting the blue of the sky. Not a trace of the madness of mako green.
"Will you end it?" The sound of his voice was like velvet, rough and low and compelling. After every thing, so damned compelling. Like he was an addiction that had gotten a grip on him that Cloud couldn't shake. He supposed he was - - had been - - a whisper that had thrilled that little part of Jenova taint that they'd melded into his DNA.
But not anymore. Not after the cure the planet had offered up, welling like purest benediction in the cathedral in Midgar. There was no compulsion. No niggling urge to do this man's will. Still, his arm didn't waver, the sword held rock steady, unmoving, the very tip making a bloody indent against the pale skin of Sephiroth's neck.
"It might stick this time," Sephiroth said into Cloud's silent indecision. "Something's changed. Some machination of Shinra's? Go on. I'd rather it be by your hand than end up a rat in his lab."
No more than he deserved, really. After all he'd done. Cloud could still remember, clear as if it had happened yesterday, Aerith's calm eyes, when Sephiroth's blade had pierced her body. And Sephiroth's mad ones, cold and mako laced green. Cloud hadn't understood until then, hadn't really understood the depths of Sephiroth's madness. It had taken him a long time to come to forgive himself for that blindness.
"Do it, Cloud," Sephiroth urged, devil's voice in his head. "You've bested me and I accept it. I'm proud of you."
Proud? Of him? As if he were still some green recruit that had caught the eye of the esteemed commander. As if he'd done something valiant and noteworthy enough to gain that coveted praise, other than what he'd already accomplished twice over. Same voice, same level, sane look in his eyes that Sephiroth had used to wear back before the Jenova induced madness had claimed him and turned him into a monster that lived to serve the ingrained impulses of a long dead alien.
Cloud swallowed, mouth dry as the desert dust around them, and for the first time, a tremor racked his arm. He'd played executioner, at his will, at the will of other's and he'd never thrilled at the duty. He couldn't do it now. Not in cold blood with Sephiroth on his knees begging for it. Not with that look of utter sanity in his eyes.
He let the sword drop, tip striking the hard earth between Sephiroth's knees, breath coming hard of a sudden in dismay at what he was doing. Or not doing. He'd been a fool plenty of times in his life, but this - - this was beyond lunacy.
Sephiroth canted his head, a few strands of silver hair sliding like living silk off the curve of one shoulder. Accessing the blade between his legs, then gaze shifting up and accessing Cloud.
"I'm not sure if I ought to be disappointed at your lack of conviction, Cloud - - or encouraged."
"I'm not a murderer," Cloud whispered. "Not like you."
Sephiroth stared at him, squinting a little at the glare of the rising sun at Cloud's back. "What are you then? Do you even know? What do you want, now that you've played your part in hobbling me?"
Cloud looked away, Sephiroth's gaze utterly mesmerizing, utterly unnerving. "For you to leave me alone. To just leave me alone."
"Poor Cloud. So beleaguered." Long fingers made a trail in the hard earth. The nails were clean and manicured, the hand long boned and strong below the black cuff of the scuffed leather armguard that had been Diablo's. "But I don't think that's what you want. Not really. I don't think you know what it is that you need."
A half mad laugh escaped Cloud. He turned his eyes skyward, the purple of the bad land horizon beginning to lighten with the onrushing dawn. It was surreal, standing here, having a conversation with a man twice dead. With his most dreaded enemy - - the whole of the world's most dreaded enemy - - as if he were some casual acquaintance he happened to pass on the street. Nice weather we're having. Looks like rain tomorrow.
"I'm not one to talk," Sephiroth said softly, interrupting Cloud's little mental slippage. "Finding myself in the midst of a certain lack of direction, myself."
Cloud looked down sharply. Still trying to wrap his mind around a shift in realities that had him reeling. Rufus had hoped his little virus would neutralize the Jenova genes that were a part of Sephiroth right down to his DNA - - and in doing so, deprive him of that incredible power. A negligible side effect if it took away the voices driving him to megalomaniacal madness in the process. Cloud didn't think Rufus had given a damn if Sephiroth was sane or not when he had him bagged and tagged and bound for a lab.
"What, no visions of exterminating the pesky population of the planet and using its husk to joyride the cosmos?"
Sephiroth canted his head, a quizzical look in his eyes, a honestly introspective one. He half opened his mouth, shut it abruptly, frowning. "That notion seems - - less alluring - - that it once did. Priorities seemed to have shifted."
Cloud snorted softly, drawing in a shaky breath, feeling the cool of the desert air at dawn on perspiration dampened skin.
"The one constant," Sephiroth said, voice so low, it was almost a whisper. "The one focus that always remained, even during the height of my - - other obsessions - - was you."
He moved then and Cloud tensed, hand tightening on the hilt of his sword, expecting attack, but getting nothing more than the touch of Sephiroth's long fingertips on his thigh. Breath stalled in his chest, body shocked into rare immobility as those fingers traveled upward, enough pressure that he felt it through the material of his pants, nails scraping along the inside seam of his leg, knuckles brushing his crotch. Instead of cringing closer to his body, his balls betrayed him, swelling, his cock twitching, utterly interested in that uninvited touch.
His hand was numb when Sephiroth rose up to his knees, urging the sword to one side. Words dried up on his tongue. Words of denial, of protest. Of the repulsion that he should have felt. That his mind damned well knew was justified - - but his body - -his body was too damned tired to fight. Or maybe it wasn't all gone, those traces of Jenova taint. Maybe Sephiroth still had a foothold in his head, like he'd had in Diablo's twisted mind. Why else had his limbs turned leaden, his tongue numb in his mouth, unable to utter the simple command to stop?
Sephiroth's nimble fingers adroitly unfastened Cloud's belt buckle, and the words were a distant undertone to the buzzing in Cloud's head. The utter, unshakable focus of his gaze on Sephiroth's fingers as they popped the button at the top of his jeans free and slid the zipper down. And there he was, straining against the off white of his boxers, body screaming things his mind wanted to block out. Sephiroth leaned closer, sliding his fingers under the edge of Cloud's sweater, finger pads rough and cool against the heat of Cloud's skin.
"Are you sure that what you want isn't me, begging for the chance of redemption?" Sephiroth looked up at him, black rimmed, silver blue eyes glittering. "Or just me begging?"
His fingers caught at the top of Cloud's loosened jeans, pulling them and the soft cotton of boxers down enough that Cloud's erection bobbed free.
Cloud drew a breath then, hoarse and ragged, but it was too late by then to make a rational case against. To late to stop it, what with Sephiroth's mouth, wet and warm around the head of his penis. Vision turned white around the edges, flashes of memory, tactile and sensory pelted him from the depths of his subconscious. The feel of Sephiroth's hair, the rasp of his tongue, the taste of his skin, tinged with sweat . . .
He couldn't say stop. He had learned how to fight Sephiroth, but he'd never figured out how to deny him. How to simply tell him 'no', when a part of him wanted so bad he could feel it to the marrow of his bones. Old habits from the days when Sephiroth's attentions had been more valuable than materia.
The sword hit the ground, and he hadn't even realized he'd lost his grip on it. His knees gave out soon after and he folded. Sephiroth followed him down, never loosing contact, sucking him down whole, subsuming the rational part of his mind and leaving only the animal instinct that made him arch his back and dig his fingers into slippery silk hair, urging Sephiroth on. Begging for it with the clenching of muscles and guttural sounds.
Coming was like an explosion of light and power, sensation trilling through his body from hair follicles to toe nails. Maybe if he didn't allow himself to go so long between bouts of allowing himself the gratification of orgasm, it wouldn't have been so overwhelming when it rushed up on him. Saint's knew it must have built to unbearable proportions from the seemingly unending apex that had him arched half off the ground, spasming uncontrollably into Sephiroth's willing mouth.
When it was over, he collapsed backwards onto hard, dusty earth, thoughts dulled and incoherent, vision reduced to the spots of color dancing at the edges of a bland wash of sky. Sephiroth's fingers on the inside of his thighs were faint traces of sensation after the mind numbing explosion of culmination.
"If I weren't wearing the remnants of his body," Sephiroth's voice barely got through the white noise in Cloud's ears. "I'd kill the bastard for touching you."
That got through, finally, and Cloud squinted his eyes, shifting enough to raise his head and stare down at Sephiroth.
Common sense began to seep through, and some semblance of bodily control. He got an elbow under him and gave Sephiroth a narrow eyed glare. "As if it weren't your will driving him. And I can settle my own scores."
He was out of breath. Five minutes of sex and he was out of breath. Fighting Sephiroth for an hour had never tired him so.
Sephiroth lifted a brow, sliding a hand up Cloud's chest and snagging the sweater's zipper. Pulling it down slowly.
"So angry. Still so angry," he murmured, shifting his weight onto Cloud's lower body enough that he could swipe his tongue across the bared skin of Cloud's chest.
Cloud's nipples hardened of their own accord. His elbow gave out under him and he fell back to the ground, Sephiroth poised over him, mouth moving to one pebbly nipple and bearing down. Biting, suckling, moving to the sensitive skin at the edge of Cloud's pectoral and scraping teeth along it.
Cloud shuddered, digging fingers into the dirt, panting as the hard length of Sephiroth's leather clad thigh pressed tight against his recently spent genitals.
"Diablo's not coming back, you know?" Sephiroth remarked, as he moved his mouth from Cloud's chest to his clavicle.
"Because you stole his body," Cloud gasped.
Sephiroth made an amused sound. "You can look at it that way, if you wish. I rather think the world is better off without him."
Cloud snorted at the irony, then shuddered as Sephiroth's hair slithered across a recently dampened nipple. Too good. Too mind-blowingly addictive. And wrong. Absolutely, abysmally wrong.
"More scars than I remember," Sephiroth remarked, fingers tracing the faint white ridge of a scar running along the ribs of Cloud's left side. "No less beautiful."
His tongue traced the line of it, down to Cloud's hip, to the concave of his belly, while he shifted his weight, lifting enough to draw Cloud's jeans further down his thighs. His penis was half hard again and it spasmed when Sephiroth ran his tongue down the length of it.
Sephiroth leaned back in, one hand on Cloud's stomach, the other sliding between his thighs, finger stroking the skin behind his balls, teasing the pucker of his anus. "Who else have you let touch you?" he purred, whisper soft voice, but there was the edge of steel beneath. "The girl? Vincent?"
That did it. The sex shattered his resistances, had him weak kneed and compliant - - but he knew the edge of a threat aimed at what he loved and it was motivation enough snapped him out of it. Sephiroth had threatened what he loved before and it had given him the strength to destroy him. Neither one of them had swords in their hands now, though, so he settled for snarling, and shoving Sephiroth backwards, off of him.
"None of your business." Cloud rolled to one side, grasping for his pants, while Sephiroth lay in the dust, watching him.
"Did you think of me while you fucked them?"
Cloud glared, refusing to rise to that bait. He tried to gather the edges of frayed nerves as he refastened his clothing. How much easier if instead of lying there watching him with entirely too interested eyes, Sephiroth went on the attack.
If Sephiroth had gone into a mad spree of destruction, instinct would have taken over and saved Cloud the trouble of trying to rationally decide how to deal with this most recent resurrection. Violence Cloud could deal with. Violence he understood all too well. Insane Sephiroth bent on world destruction would have been much easier to come to terms with than a disturbingly sane, disturbingly focused-on-him Sephiroth, who was making no reach for weapon's of any sort.
If Rufus' cleverly delivered virus had done its job - - and it seemed to done just that - - the traces of the Jenova entity and her adherent powers were gone. For good. Which left Sephiroth no more powerful than your average, everyday, top-tier super Solider. Which still meant damned deadly, but not of the world shattering caliber.
Cloud snatched his sword off the ground and stalked across the hard packed earth to the jumble of rocks where he'd made his camp before Diablo had attacked him. He slid the sword into Fenrir's mounted sheath. The fire was out. And the only thing he needed to pack up was his bedroll.
Sephiroth leaned against a ten foot boulder and watched him. He'd fastened the one unshattered arm blade across his back. His hair was a sharp contrast to the black of Diablo's shirt and trousers.
"So," Sephiroth drawled. "You'd leave me to my own devices, to take my vengeances where I might?"
Cloud toed the bike's kickstand up, rolling it towards the narrow entrance to the sheltered spot of camp. "So long as you stay away from my friends - -yes. Rufus deserves what he gets."
Sephiroth's mouth twitched. Amusement, perhaps, at the notion of that retaliation. He stepped forward, into Fenrir's path. "And what of the hornet's nest he stirred with the rabble that followed Diablo? Will you leave them to their own devices as well, bereft of the hand that guided them?"
Cloud frowned, glowering at the long fingered hand that rested on the bike's chassis. That was a damned good point, though. There were a lot of innocent lives on the line with the wastelanders of two continents on the rampage. But he wasn't a peacekeeper, damnit. That was Shinra's responsibility, or the WRO - - or anybody else that had a stake in all those settlements and towns and cities at risk. Cloud had stopped being a minion of the powers that be a long time ago and he had damned sure paid his dues. Sephiroth was walking proof of that.
He had earned the right to go about his own business, protect what was his and not be dragged into every conflict that threatened. Tifa would take issue with that way of thinking. Barrett probably would. They'd risk their lives protecting Midgar if the wastelanders kept attacking. Maybe even Cid and Vincent would, putting their lives on the line for strangers when things threatened that were beyond the means of normal, untrained people to stop. Damnit.
Cloud shut his eyes a moment, then looked up at Sephiroth through the fall of his hair. "What do you suggest?"
Sephiroth shrugged, leaning across the bike, eyes boring into Cloud's with unblinking intensity. "I'll take care of the problem."
"You'd do that?" He wanted to look away, but you didn't break eye contact with predators and Sephiroth was so very much on the prowl for something. Not the psychopath of later years, but not the scion of the military elite he'd been before that, either. There was nothing of mako green in his eyes. Just narrow calculation.
Sephiroth shrugged. "I'm feeling generous. But," he added and Cloud narrowed his eyes suspiciously. "Not until I've had the chance to wash His stench from my skin. Perhaps get a decent meal. Give me a ride to the nearest settlement, sit down and eat with me, share a shower if it strikes your fancy and then we'll deal with Diablo's army."
Sephiroth shifted his hand, fingers grazing Cloud's where they rested on the chassis of the bike.
Cloud lifted his chin, jerking his hand away, past that bone shaking weakness that had afflicted him the first time Sephiroth had touched him.
"I'll give you a ride. Period."
* * *
The nearest town was a little desert settlement called Ke'bar. It was about a hundred and fifty miles west of Gold Saucer, less than fifty from where Cloud had made his camp, and a haven for those bold enough to traverse the great desert. Not a huge town, but fortified enough that it wasn't a soft target for the riff raff that lurked in the badlands.
Its walls were cliff faces, the road leading up to it a zig zag track cut out of the rock. The buildings were domed sandstone that peeked above the craggy edifice of the cliffs that made up its base and its damned near impenetrable defenses.
Not a huge town, but a compact one, teaming with people, crowded with multi-story buildings and narrow streets between them like ravines cutting through a canyon.
Cloud maneuvered Fenrir up the cliff face track, having to cling close to the inside wall to allow the passage of various small wagons and motorized vehicles, of boys urging flocks of canny eyed goats and men and women, nomads maybe, with huge packs on their backs trudge past the other way. He was ever aware of Sephiroth's presence at his back. Of Sephiroth's hard thighs behind his, of the occasional light touch against his back. But Sephiroth was good, keeping contact to a minimum, keeping conversation to even less, apparently engaged in introspection that diverted his attention inward.
Cloud had experienced his share of mental breaks and had anguished over them, he couldn't quite imagine what he might have done or felt if he'd come out the other side of a bout of stark raving lunacy that had almost destroyed a world. That had certainly destroyed no few lives.
Travel slowed down to a snail's pace once in Ke'bar proper. The streets were too narrow, too crowded to weave in and out of traffic. It was a constant stop and start progression through the maze like warren of avenues to the little hostel that a merchant at the town entrance had suggested they might try for cheap rooms and good food. Cloud had never been here. If Sephiroth had, he made no mention. Though he did, when Cloud almost passed it, point out the weathered sign of the hostel carved into the sandstone over the door of an aged, decrepit building.
Sephiroth swung off before Cloud had fully stopped, rotating his shoulders, gathering his wind blown hair and pulling it off his neck and into a tail that he draped across one shoulder. A lot of damned hair to have to deal with on a daily basis, Cloud thought, and a good sign that Sephiroth's vanity had always been an overdeveloped thing, for him to have kept it all those years.
"Is there a garage nearby?" Cloud asked of a boy loitering near the hostel door, who tore wide eyes away from Sephiroth, who was garnering no few glances from the dark skinned, dark eyed, smallish people who walked past. Tall, silver haired, black leather clad, and pale skinned was a bit of an enigma here. Apparently darker skinned blondes with mammoth motor cycles got second glances as well, because the boy gaped at the bike like he'd never seen its like. That, Cloud could understand, and appreciate a small tinge of self-satisfaction at. Fenrir was no ordinary bike and he'd gone to a lot of trouble to make it so. If he was proud of anything it was that bike.
The boy pointed down the street and Cloud followed his direction to a small garage already cramped with various vehicles. A handful of gil got Fenrir a space at the back out of the way of incoming and outgoing traffic.
When Cloud was satisfied with the safety of the bike, he weeded his way back down the street towards the hostel. Sephiroth was already inside, back to the stone counter, idly picking at dirt beneath his nails. The girl behind the counter had a hard time taking her wide eyes off him when Cloud stepped up.
He got a chin jerked at him and a idle command from Sephiroth. "Pay up."
"Ten gil," the girl said, transferring her eyes from Sephiroth for a second to take in Cloud. He took a breath, annoyed at the presumption.
"What, Diablo have no spare change in his pockets?"
The corner of Sephiroth's mouth twitched, maybe amusement. Maybe scorn. Who knew. He continued the inspection of his nails.
Cloud hissed a little breath out between his teeth and slapped the gil on the weathered counter. The girl slid over a single room key with a clunky wooden chip connected to it.
He looked at it, then up at Sephiroth and said simply. "No. Two rooms, or you sleep on the street."
Sephiroth seemed less interested in that declaration than the inn keep, who stared with wide, curious eyes between the two of them. Cloud turned his glare to her, slid another ten gil onto the counter and growled. "Tell me you have another room."
She did. He stalked up the narrow stairs with his own room key, leaving Sephiroth to his own devices. He'd provide a room for the night, but that was as far as he was willing to go. He'd gone too far already. Far enough that he doubted the state of his own sanity. Maybe exhaustion had driven him to that break with rational.
He was tired. So damned tired, that his knees quivered a little going up the stairs. How many days had he been running on overdrive? He'd lost count. They'd started to blur a little some while back. Saint's he was tired and he didn't have his phone to let the people that mattered know he was alive and well. People that would worry and rightfully so, all things considered. The last thing he needed was them tracking him down and happening upon a newly resurrected Sephiroth.
He planted his back against the door of the cube like room he'd been allotted let out a desperate laugh, not even wanting to imagine how that reintroduction might go. What was Sephiroth now? Cloud hadn't a clue. If the Genova 'infection' had truly been eradicated by the virus that Cloud himself had delivered to Sephiroth's host - - then what? Did that lack of elemental madness that had driven him to do terrible things - - world shattering things - - make him less of a coldly calculating bastard? There was no wiping of things Sephiroth had done off his karmatic slate. No cleaning the blood he'd shed off his hands. Even if he had been as much of a puppet in his own way as Kadaj had been. Or Cloud.
It made his head hurt. He didn't want to think about it while his body ached and his mind reeled. Just a little rest and maybe he could figure out how to approach this problem when he could talk to calmer heads. Not that there were that many people who could look at this dilemma calmly. Vincent maybe.
With the foundations for that plan laid, he pushed off the door towards the narrow bed. An hour's sleep and then a shower and then maybe he could think with a clear head again. Just maybe.
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