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Beloved, Chapter 24

Title: Beloved


Rating: , for violence, language, slash.

Summary: FVII, post DoC. Genesis/Cloud, one-sided Tifa/Cloud. It all starts when Cloud tries to leave during the middle of a Loveless performance.

Author’s Note First batch of Xmas giftfics have been posted.  I am terribly behind in writing the next chapter of this fic though, so don't expect any more fills for a while.  I've finally started playing FF13-2 as well, and as expected have become immediately addicted, which is not helping my writing schedule at all!

This chapter is monstrously long though, so hopefully that makes up for it!  Formatting was unusually nightmarish, so let me know if anything odd has cropped up in the paragraphing or punctuation.

As always, thanks to Little House for the beta.




Previous chapter


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Beloved Chapter 24

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Tifa gagged.  Her throat felt like it was lined with broken glass, and her vision still smeared and darkened around the edges.  She tried to force past it, to move, but her body responded with frustrating sluggishness as that black blur rose into the sky.


“Cloud,” she tried, but the word was a weak, rasping, hopeless little thing.  “Cloud!”


It wasn’t supposed to go like this.  It had been a calculated gamble, a desperate move in a desperate situation.  AVALANCHE’s speciality.


But she hadn’t expected anyone other than her to pay the price.


Why couldn’t she move?!  She made a frustrated sound in her throat, but it burned like acid, and exhaustion dragged at her limbs, accompanied by another wave of dizziness.  Blood loss, some distant part of her noted.  Healed, alive, but with all the hallmarks of a rushed and incomplete job.


A red blur stumbled towards her.  The stranger, she dimly remembered.  The man both Cloud and Sephiroth seemed to know, who’d cradled fire in his hands as though it were a plaything.


He dropped to knees nearby, scrabbled in the dirt for a moment.  Held aloft something green and glowing.


Then warmth and magic flowed across her, sinking into her skin like morning sunlight.  The dark edges receded from her vision, and when she drew breath, it was dry and full and easy.


She pulled herself up into a sitting position, and took her first proper look at the man… Genesis, wasn’t it?  There was something distantly familiar about the name, like that of a famous politician or actor


His entire left side was drenched in blood.


“You’re hurt!” she blurted.  “Quick, the materia-” She reached out to take it.


He scoffed and slipped the materia up his sleeve.  “Don’t think so highly of yourself.  I took care of that first.  But Cloud would hardly forgive me if I were to leave you on the ground gasping like a dying fish.”  His tone of voice conveyed perfectly how ridiculous he found that sentiment, and suggested that he would not have been at all sorry to have left her there.


She bristled – to think she’d been worried about this jerk for even half an instant – but pushed it aside and demanded, “Cloud?”  Because that was most urgent and everything else could wait.


Genesis made a noise of frustration, standing again in a snap of leather.  “Sephiroth took him.”  He glared.  “Because you were fool enough to get yourself captured and held hostage.”


A furious retort burned on Tifa’s lips.  Before she could give it voice, though, the erratic thump of staggering footsteps heralded the late arrival of the Turks.


“Was that fucking Sephiroth?” Reno rasped.  He was cradling his arm against his chest, electro-rod held awkwardly in the crook of his elbow.  Rude stumbled along behind him, missing his sunglasses and massaging his jaw.


“He took Cloud,” Tifa repeated numbly, still trying to process it herself.  “Why would he take Cloud?”  She’d been sure it had all been to kill him.  Revenge.  Making sure Cloud couldn’t fight back.  Why would he need to take him away for that?


“It hardly matters why.  The only thing that matters is getting him back,” Genesis snapped, striding back to the rubble of the Church


Tifa carefully pushed herself to herself the rest of the way to her feet, running a cautious hand across her throat.  It felt a little raw, the skin sensitive and fragile, but there were no other signs of the wound beyond the blood painting her shirt.


“And who the hell are you?” Reno demanded, squinting suspiciously.  “I’ve seen you somewhere before.”


Genesis eyed him haughtily and didn’t respond, kicking aside a shattered wooden beam and digging through the debris.  Tifa wandered to the edge of the rubble and knelt down, picking up and cradling the half-crushed remains of a flower.  Its edges were singed and torn.  Beyond saving.


“I’d like to know too,” she said.  “Sephiroth called you Genesis, right?”


Again, he didn’t reply.  He’d found something in the wreckage – with a tug and a rasp of metal, he pulled a crimson rapier free, and proceeded to inspect it critically for damage.  His face twisted with distaste, but he hung the blade on his hip and turned his attention back towards the centre of the destruction.


The name apparently meant something to the Turks, though, as they both immediately shifted into battle stances.  “Fucking Genesis Rhapsodos?” Reno spat.


“So the Turks do remember me,” he sneered.  “I had begun to wonder.”


“I remember you alright,” the Turk snarled, twirling his electro-rod in his left hand – the right still held awkwardly against his chest.  Next to him, Rude straightened, cracking his knuckles ominously.  “Except last time I saw you, you had white hair.  Oh, and you’re supposed to be dead.”


Genesis scoffed.  “Many times over, no doubt.  ShinRa seems to think that wishing for something often enough will make it true.”


“Yeah, well, maybe it’s time we do something about that,” remarked Reno darkly. 


Genesis finally paused, shifting his body slightly as though to move in front of something, presenting his dominant side to the Turks, rapier within reach of an easy draw.  “If you are so eager to lose, by all means, try your luck.”


“Wait,” Tifa interjected.  “Reno, what are you talking about?”


“This bastard’s a terrorist.”  He jabbed his electro-rod like a pointer.  “How many people died at the hands of your damn copies, yo?”


“How many people have died at the hands of ShinRa?” Genesis’s response was as icy as the steeps of Modeoheim.  “I am not proud of my actions in that period, but if we are going to compare crimes, Turk, then it is going to end poorly for you.”


Reno didn’t have an answer for that.  Tifa took the opportunity to step in.  “How do you know Sephiroth then?”  Everybody knew of Sephiroth, but the man had been dead for years.


He spared her a contemptuous glance, and replied, “I did say, repeatedly I might add, that I am a SOLDIER First Class.  Naturally we crossed paths.”


Reno found his voice again.  “Don’t give us that roundabout shit.  You were friends until you pulled your little desertion stunt.  Everybody knew that.  The damn famous trio of SOLDIERs.  There were fucking newsletters, yo.”


Friends?  With Sephiroth?


“I would hardly call us friends,” Genesis replied acidly.  “And it is immaterial now anyway.”


“I don’t think so.  Seems a bit too suspicious, if you ask me – not like Sephiroth can just come back by himself, can he?  And from I saw, it didn’t seem like you were fighting him too hard to me.  Holding back, weren’t you?”  Reno’s words were like black oil curling across the ocean, insidious and dangerously compelling.


“It says something for the Turks’ stupidity that even after all this time, they would seek to blame me rather than their precious fallen hero,” Genesis sniped.  He flexed his hand, as though he dearly wished to attack, but kept his position, not even shifting as Reno and Rude both moved forward, closing the gap.


Something about his stance struck Tifa as odd.  She frowned, examining his feet more carefully, searching for tells.  He was standing over… was that a bucket?


“How do we know you aren’t in cahoots?” Reno accused.  Rude nodded his agreement.  “Sephiroth shows up, you show up, and Red XIII’s back there half-dead, what the hell are we supposed to think, yo?”


“Wait, what? You mean you found Nanaki?” Tifa blurted.  “He’s okay?”  She’d been thinking the worst after coming face to face with Sephiroth.


“I wouldn’t say okay, yo.”  Reno scowled.  “And it’s more like he found us.  Stumbled up and passed out just after the Church blew.  We called in a med evac before-”


He cut himself off when Genesis suddenly pushed past them, jumping back into a defensive block.  The SOLDIER ignored them though, hurrying back the way the Turks came.


“Hey, where the hell do you think you’re going?!” Reno demanded, scrambling after him.


Tifa was faster.  “Hey, wait!”  He couldn’t just leave!  He was the only clue they had to making sense of this whole mess!


She jerked to a halt half a dozen steps away, though, when Genesis abruptly dropped to his knees, back to them and bucket carefully placed to the side.  What was he-?


Nanaki,” she breathed, and it looked even worse than she’d feared.  He lay prone on the ground, sides labouring with every breath.  Along his entire flank stretched an ugly gash, the fur surrounding it matted with blood.  “Get away from him!”


Genesis ignored her, though, hands fluttering over Nanaki’s prone form briefly in a fuss, before the light of a green materia shone once more and the wound shrunk.  It was easily over an hour old, almost certain to scar, but with another stubborn cast, the SOLDIER pushed it back to nothing more than a long, shallow scratch. 


Nanaki’s good eye fluttered, and then he was lifting his head and rolling onto his stomach.  “…Genesis?”


“Honestly,” he grumbled.  “Do none of you have the good sense to move out of the way of a sword?”


In response, Nanaki sent a questioning glance at the blood staining Genesis’s coat.  He frowned and waved it off.  “That’s an entirely different matter.  The consequences for evading were far worse.”


Restore.  It had been a Restore.  Tifa could have collapsed from the relief.


The Turks were close behind, though.  “Oi, Red, you okay?” Reno called, eyeing Genesis cautiously while palming his electro-rod.


Nanaki turned to face them, flaming tail flicking once in what Tifa recognised as silent annoyance.  “I am now.”


“Right,” Reno said.  “Good to know.  Now mind explaining how the hell you know fucking Genesis Rhapsodos too?”


Nanaki glanced first at Genesis, then her, then the Turks, and seemed to come to a decision.  “He is an ally.  He’s been working with Cloud for months now.  Vincent will vouch for him as well.”


Tifa’s mouth worked, but no words escaped.  Months?


Reno picked up the slack for her.  “The hell?”


“He wished to keep his existence a secret from ShinRa,” Nanaki explained patiently.  “Cloud agreed.”


“He told you, though,” Tifa said, and hated herself for how small her voice sounded.  Dear Odin, had Cloud trusted her that little?  And she’d known that Nanaki had been keeping secrets, but Vincent too?  Was she the only one not in the know?


Nanaki turned an apologetic gaze on her.  “Only because I tracked them down on my own. It was much the same with Vincent.  And given what happened later…”


He didn’t need to explain beyond that.  How they’d all doubted Cloud – even her, however briefly.  How much more suspicious would they have been of someone like Genesis?  Even now, mere minutes after he’d begrudgingly healed her, Tifa had been dubious of him. 


She felt like a fool now, of course.  He’d not hesitated at all to save Nanaki.  But when she heard he’d been a SOLDIER, and a friend of Sephiroth’s on top of that…


A chill ran through her like Diamond Dust.


That line of thinking suddenly felt uncomfortably familiar.  How the people of Edge had come to fear glowing eyes.  How even friends and allies had started to doubt, had been so quick to assume the worst…


Monsters like Sephiroth didn’t come out of nowhere.  They were created, once great heroes driven mad by circumstance.


How close had they come to doing the same to Cloud?  How many of their fears and doubts became self-fulfilling prophecies?


Who were the real monsters in that scenario?


The Turks weren’t quite as convinced.  “If he’s been hiding, as far as I’m concerned, that makes it even more suspicious.  How do we know he isn’t the one who killed Elena or those civilians, huh?” demanded Reno.


“Cloud can provide me an alibi for the night on which the civilians were killed,” Genesis replied impatiently, and that sent Tifa’s mind scattering back to that evening when Cloud had claimed he’d been stuck on the road.  “Your precious Elena, I can only assume, was unfortunate enough to stumble upon Sephiroth when he was still gathering his strength.”


Reno started to say something else, but Genesis turned away and busied himself by running his fingers lightly across Nanaki’s flank, giving one more critical inspection of the injury.  “Are you hurt elsewhere?  This injury is too old for me to do much more for it.”


Nanaki ducked his head, beads jangling from the movement. “Nothing that won’t heal on its own.  Save your strength.”  He eyed the blood coating Tifa’s shirt and Genesis’s coat.  “You’ve been casting a lot already.”


“A trifle for a SOLDIER First Class,” Genesis dismissed, but stood and shifted back again.


Tifa watched him retreat, and finally asked, “What’s with the bucket?”


In answer, Genesis snatched the bucket up, holding it close with one arm kept free for attack.  Guarding it as though it were more precious than rare materia.  “It is no concern of yours.”


She was right.  He was protecting it.  That was why he’d stood his ground – and had obviously been badly wounded for it.  “What’s so special about it?” she pressed.


He didn’t answer, but he didn’t need to.  Nanaki lifted his nose, recognition bright in his eye.  “It’s water from the Church’s spring.  But what could you need it for?”


That got the Turks’ attention again.  Reno scowled.  “So that’s why Cloud risked showing his mug here?  Must be pretty damn important.”


Genesis huffed.  “If you must know, Cloud theorised that it would drive Sephiroth out.”


“Out?” Tifa interrupted.  “Out of what?”


“The host,” Nanaki realised.  “You mean to free the clone.”


“Not a clone, specifically,” Genesis evaded.  “But in a word, yes.”


“Wait – is this the same fucker you’re claiming killed Elena?” Reno growled.  “And you’re saying you want to save him?”


“But if it wasn’t really him, if it was only because of Sephiroth’s influence…” Tifa murmured.


“Who cares?!  Even if you kick Sephiroth out, what the hell is stopping him coming back?  Bastards are better off dead!”


Genesis’s glare was as sharp as knives.  “I hardly need to explain myself to the likes of you.”  He spun on his heel, and picked his way out of the rubble, holding the bucket protectively close.  From what Tifa could see, it was less than a third full


“You think we’re just going to let you get away with that?”  Reno bristled.  “No way.  You’ve got questions to answer, yo.”  Rude stepped up beside him, having procured a second pair of sunglasses from somewhere and looking all the more imposing for it.


It wasn’t as though they really had any chance against Genesis – even they had to know that, especially since it seemed like Reno only had one functioning arm.  But Tifa stepped in anyway.  “Don’t,” she said.  “Don’t you get it?  That’s it.  That’s the last of the water from the Church’s spring.”


Reno hesitated.  “All the more reason to get it back, yo!  He’s just going to waste it trying to save the bastard who killed Elena!  And you really think he’s on our side?”


He stayed his hand, though, and Rude did too.


Genesis scoffed.  “Enough.  I have wasted too much precious time here already.”


“And where are you going?” Tifa demanded, whirling around.  “What about Cloud?”


“Where do you think I’m going?” he retorted.  “Foolish girl.”


“What are you talking about?” Nanaki interjected, suddenly alarmed.  “Where is Cloud?”


Tifa bit her lip in quiet frustration.  “Sephiroth took him.”  Because he’d let his guard down, trying to save her.


“Not for long,” Genesis muttered grimly.


But… “You don’t even know where he could be!”


He smiled then – a sharp, feral expression that spoke of grim amusement and dark memories.  “It is Sephiroth, and he thinks he’s won.  To anyone who knows him at all, he is terribly predictable.”


Then a single black wing unfurled from his back, a dark shadow that made her breath stutter and adrenaline spike.


“The damn feathers!” Reno muttered in the background.


Her brain had been frozen by the sight, and it took her far too long to make her voice work again.  “Wait!  Let us come with you!”


Nanaki was the one who answered, though.  “No.  If Cloud has truly been taken by Sephiroth, we’ll only slow him down.”  He gave Genesis a measured look.  “Even with all of AVALANCHE fighting, we were outclassed by Sephiroth.  In the end, it always came down to Cloud.”


Genesis inclined his head in silent acknowledgement of the trust Nanaki was placing in him, wing fluttering slightly in the wind gusting across the ruins.  He sent one last unreadable glance towards her, before striding a short distance from them, clear of the Church’s rubble.  The Turks made no move to intercept, Rude pulling out his phone and Reno watching with a surly expression.


He remained for a long moment, wing outstretched, eyes closed and expression oddly meditative.  His lips were moving, head bowed, as he murmured, as though in prayer.


In the sudden silence, Tifa caught snatches of words carried on the wind.


The morrow is robbed of hope

Yet still, you are beloved

Rising to the heavens on broken wings

So let it be my fate


Even if the morrow should not forgive me

I shall carry no regrets

Legend shall speak of my sacrifice

Of the story past the World’s End.”


Then with a gust of air, he took to the sky.  Winging his way to the heart of Midgar.


……………………


Cloud came to with cold wind stroking his face, threading its dry fingers through his hair and whispering in his ears.


His awareness crept back slowly – first his hearing, picking up on the subtle shift of tumbling grit and the groans of a settling building.  It all sounded wrong though, as though everything was too far away, distant and quiet.


Smell came next, the faint aroma of blood and steel and concrete, yet without the haze of dust and mako vapour so omnipresent in Midgar.


Then, crawling out of the hazy numbness, he felt the far too familiar pain of steel between his ribs.


He lurched back to full consciousness with a gasp, eyes snapping open and trying to take in his entire surroundings all at once.


Midgar spread out before him in all directions.  For one moment he was wildly disoriented – the view felt oddly familiar, but he couldn’t place it, couldn’t resolve the disconnect in altitude and angle.


Until he recognised the pattern of pillars around him, the crumbling edge of the building, and his mind flashed to battle after battle, waged against troopers, then SOLDIERs, then Sephiroth, then Tsviets.


ShinRa Headquarters.


He tried to shift forward, and stars burst behind his eyes.  He let out a hiss between his teeth, but clung to awareness with sheer determination, fighting back the shadows creeping across his vision.


Masamune was buried to its hilt between his right ribs.  Too carefully placed to be anything but accidental – lodged firmly between the bones, barely avoiding his lungs and aorta both.  Agonising, but not fatal.  At least, not to a SOLDIER.


Blood had pooled around his feet from the wound.  His hands were bound tightly behind his back, trapped between his body and the steel pylon Masamune had him pinned to.  Pulling against the bonds only made them bite deeper into his wrists, thin bright lines of cold pain that told him everything he needed to know.  Wire.  Forcing the issue would cut his tendons before he could break free.

“You’re finally awake.”

Cloud jerked at the voice, and was rewarded with another burst of agony from the movement.  “Sephiroth.”

His archenemy sidled into view, the very picture of casual superiority.  His chest was slightly reddened and the edges of his coat scorched, but he bore no other marks from taking Genesis’s spell point blank.

Shiva – Genesis.  Last he’d seen him, Sephiroth had run him through.  What happened?  Was he okay?  And Tifa.  He’d left her half-healed – out of the danger zone, but utterly defenceless.

The question rested on the tip of his tongue, but he bit down on it.  Sephiroth would never give him a straight answer.  He had to believe that they were both okay.  They were both survivors.  He clung to that knowledge, used it to bury the panic and fear.

"Isn't this familiar?" his archenemy drawled, drawing the words out as though to wrap him in them.

“What’s your game?” Cloud growled.  This setup didn’t make any sense at all.  “Why haven’t you just killed me already?”

“Kill you?”  He stepped closer, drifting his fingers across Masamune’s hilt.  Cloud braced for him to shift it, but his lips twitched in amusement and he left it be.  “You misunderstand.  I only want to help you.”

Cloud eyed him warily.  This was a trap, there was no way this wasn’t a trap, some sort of new twisted mind game his enemy had concocted to torture him.  “What are you talking about?"

"You need me, Cloud," Sephiroth told him.  "You can't make decisions without me."

"I don't need you," he snarled.  "And I definitely don't need you for that."

"Oh?" Sephiroth raised an eyebrow.  "So when I'm in the Lifestream, you don't run away, you don't avoid confrontation, you don't simply find yourself doing what others tell you to?"

Cloud shivered, and tried not to show how terrifyingly close to the mark those words hit.

He wasn't like that, not really.  He could be decisive.  AVALANCHE had made him their leader because of it, once upon a time.  And that didn't have anything to do with Sephiroth, it didn’t.

"You can't pretend, Cloud," Sephiroth purred.  "I saw all of it from the Lifestream.  After Meteor, falling into malaise, letting the girl make all of your decisions for you, running away.  Until I rose again, and forced your hand."  His mako-green eyes glittered with amused contempt.  "And as soon as I was gone, you fell back into the same pattern.  All that changed was that you found yourself torn between the girl and Genesis."  He paused, and leaned in even closer.  Long silver hair tickled Cloud's skin.  "Nothing but a pathetic puppet."

With a growl, Cloud jerked against his bonds.  A fresh wave of blood flowed from his chest.  It didn’t make a difference – Masamune held fast, and he didn’t have the strength or leverage to pull it free, not fast enough to do anything.

"Relax.  There's no need to struggle any longer, Cloud." Sephiroth sounded mockingly tender. "Your true master has returned."

“You’re not my master,” he hissed.  “You never have been.”

"I beg to differ. All along, you've been waiting for me. To give you purpose. To give you direction. To make all the hard choices for you."

"I chose," he said, and didn’t even know which of them he was convincing.  "I chose Genesis."

Sephiroth’s expression didn’t shift, though he did lean back and move away, to look out over Midgar.  “And how has that been working out for you?”

Bitter, Cloud held his tongue and averted his eyes.  After a long moment spent gathering himself, he replied, “Just because we disagreed on Weiss doesn’t mean it was a mistake.”

“You’ve only set yourself up for disappointment, Cloud.  Genesis Rhapsodos cares for no one but himself.  Besides…”  Sephiroth glanced back at him with a smirk.  “Any relationship with you, was never anything more than a substitution for me."

The tiny flame of doubt, flickering in his heart for weeks, rose to a roaring fire.

Cloud remained stubbornly silent.

“You don’t believe me?”  There was no mistaking the amusement in his expression now.  “We were friends, once.  And Genesis always was rather… promiscuous.”  He side-eyed him, gauging his reaction.  Cloud stayed carefully neutral.  “But more than that, we were rivals.  He was obsessed.  Would fight me at any opportunity.”  Sephiroth tilted his head.  “Sound familiar?”

“You can say anything you want,” Cloud said.  “That doesn’t mean it’s true.”  Without proof, it might as well have all been lies.  Sephiroth had lied to him plenty before, after all.  Back when his memories were too scrambled to know what was real and what was fantasy.

“No?”  Sephiroth approached again, drawing forward with deliberate slowness.  “But he was willing to put Weiss first, wasn’t he?”

Weiss,” Cloud retorted.  “Not you.”


“Are you so sure of that?”


The awful thing was, he wasn’t.  Even though every part of him insisted on ignoring those poisonous words, he couldn’t just dismiss them.  He’d nurtured those doubts himself, had harboured them even when he made his decision. 


It didn’t matter.  He could deal with it.  If Genesis were okay, if Genesis survived… nothing else mattered beyond that.


Static rose in his thoughts, a hazy background he’d come to recognise as his enemy plucking at his strings.  He tried to push it away, but he was bleeding, and tired, and still reeling from Sephiroth’s taunts.  It was like trying to hold back a river with nothing more than his fingers. 


“Of course, there’s Zack, too, isn’t there?” Sephiroth continued.  “The protégé of his old friend.  I wonder how much you remind him of him.  After all-” He paused, letting the words ripen in the air.  “You are so very alike.”


“That was a long time ago,” Cloud muttered.  “It has nothing to do with me and Genesis.”


Sephiroth merely regarded him through half-lidded eyes and repeated, “…Are you so sure of that?”


Cloud closed his eyes, and wished he could block his ears.


His archenemy was just playing with him.  They were empty taunts.  He repeated that to himself, trying in vain to drown out those insidious words.


“How heartbreaking,” Sephiroth murmured.  “Nobody wants Cloud Strife.  Not those weak sheep populating the Planet.  Not your precious little friends.  Not even another broken failure of a SOLDIER.”


Cloud clenched his jaw.  Shifted his wrists a little, trying to distract himself with the prickling pain of the wire biting into his arms.


“But you don’t have to worry anymore,” Sephiroth whispered – voice suddenly so close that he fought the urge to recoil.  “Now that I’ve returned, you won’t have to deal with it any longer.”


That was when, with a sickening lurch, Cloud finally realised what Sephiroth’s game was.


Genesis’s words echoed in his head, from so long ago.


“You know, Cloud Strife… ShinRa might be hunting down rogue clones, but you are the single greatest carrier of S-cells left around.”


They’d made a horrible mistake.  Death he could have faced.  This was something far worse.



Next chapter


Comments

sinnatious
Jan. 7th, 2013 11:31 pm (UTC)
You're the very first person to comment on that anon!

I won't say anything more, lest it constitute spoilers.