OT3 (Sephiroth/Zack/Cloud) oneshot.
R: violence, angst, tragedy.
SciFi AU. "Being human is worse than the alternative."
They made him roll over on the marble floor like a dog. They made him beg. They forced him to his knees and bowed his proud head, prostrating him like a whore, and through the white fog of programming Sephiroth could hear their jeers and cruelty.
“Make the bastard dance!” someone cried, and with a laugh that shook his belly Lord ShinRa gestured at Tseng. His expression carefully blank, Tseng entered a new string of codes into the remote computer in his hands, and Sephiroth felt his body pull itself upright, his legs jerkily twitching in a parody of a waltz. The roars of the court grew maliciously louder at the sight of the General—once the most advanced android in Lord ShinRa’s dictatorial state—reduced to something less than an animal. Animals, at least, were generally treated as living things.
Stripped naked and weaponless, his hair left unbound like a common woman’s, his body pranced ridiculously to the new codes being entered into his system. The beginnings of emotion (anger, Zack had explained to him patiently, pleasure, joy, sadness…friendship…love) had been wiped clean save for the faintest echo of their memory; Sephiroth listened to the catcalls of the aristocrats feeling nothing at all. He had once been a piece of machinery that performed exactly as commanded without any thought to human notions of regret or conscience, and now he did so again. Only this time, he was no glorified weapon of war but something-less-than-animal that begged and danced for amusement, and maybe it was worse now that his old programming retained some recollection of what being ‘human’ had felt like.
“There’s nothing here for us,” Zack whispered to him. “Maybe you don’t bleed red like the rest of us, but you’re human where it matters, Sephiroth. And Cloud…no one deserves to be treated like that, not even a slave.”
“What about you?” Sephiroth had asked in return, because what Zack was suggesting amounted to no less than high treason.
“What, you mean all the honors and medals they heap on their cute little puppy? C’mon, you know I’m just the poster boy for ShinRa’s military. I’m a damn good SOLDIER, but Seph—you and Cloud mean a bit more than the favors I’d get sucking up to ShinRa’s ego. Besides, negative attention is still attention, and I’d totally be more famous if I corrupted you two to exile. See, it’s a win-win situation.”
Sephiroth’s body twisted in odd, sometimes lewd ways according to what Tseng’s device commanded. Lord ShinRa was laughing again through the tankard he gripped, his thick arm wrapped around the slender waist of some scantily clad slave while his son looked on with a faintly bored expression.
“Stop,” Prince ShinRa commanded suddenly, and Tseng’s fingers flew deftly over the small computer. Immediately Sephiroth’s body stilled, and he stared distantly at the prince with the detached attention of the damned.
“Here now, boy, what are you doing?”
Ignoring his father, the young man stood up and clasped his hands loosely at the small of his back, looking every inch the spoiled, powerful heir to the most feared nation on the Planet. “Patience, Father,” he said softly, fearlessly holding the piercing stare of the fallen General. Raising his voice just enough to be heard around the dining hall, he addressed the android.
“How do you feel, Sephiroth?”
He couldn’t ignore a direct question from a superior. Not that it mattered anymore. “…I feel nothing, my lord.”
Rufus’ lips twitched into a cold smile. “And what did you think you were feeling for Sir Fair and Strife?”
Nor could he lie—not that it mattered. Not anymore. “Love, my lord.”
“Love,” Rufus repeated silkily, and there was scattered laughter. “Love for our best SOLDIER and a slave. You have interesting tastes, General Sephiroth.”
The wave of a pale, slender hand—one that had never known a single day of work—had several guards enter the hall with a small burden between them. They tossed the bundle to the ground before the Lord and Prince, and every sensor in Sephiroth’s body had no trouble in instantly recognizing Cloud’s skinny form. Now, though, the boy was covered in rust-red and bruise-purple, the plain slave’s smock torn and bloodied.
Something that had survived his reprogramming whispered in protest.
“Aw, don’t be shy, Seph,” Zack purred in his ear.
“I do not wish to hurt either of you,” Sephiroth replied quietly, recalling with photographic clarity every man, woman, and child he had killed with ruthless ease in the last quarter century.
Wearing only the rough trousers that all slaves did beneath their smocks, Cloud pressed his hands to Sephiroth’s chest and looked up at him. His expression was torn between understanding and a slight defensiveness, as though not quite believing that he wouldn’t be punished for meeting the eyes of such a powerful figure. “You won’t,” the blond said simply, and smiled a little.
“How can you be so certain?” Sephiroth didn’t know how Cloud could be so harsh against himself, and yet so confident when it came to this.
“Because you wouldn’t let yourself do anything you didn’t want to,” Cloud said simply—as though the idea of a machine, a weapon, having free will wasn’t so extraordinary after all.
“I’d listen to him, Seph,” Zack stage-whispered conspiratorially, leaning against Sephiroth’s back while winking at Cloud. “He looks like a good wind would blow him over, but he once out-bluffed me.”
Sephiroth blinked in surprise, then blinked again when Cloud screwed up his face and stuck his tongue out at Zack.
“Perhaps you’ll now be happy to hear that at least half of the temptation has been removed,” Rufus continued smoothly. “Sir Zackary Fair was executed this morning at oh-eight-hundred by firing squad.”
No, cried the little whisper.
“However, I think we can afford a little leniency for the slave. It seems only right that we allow the lovers a chance for a goodbye—don’t you agree, Father?”
Lord ShinRa was sadistic, but his son possessed all the cruelty and cunning. The Lord laughed again obscenely. With something that might be reluctance, Tseng dutifully entered a new set of codes that had Sephiroth’s body (his body, not Sephiroth himself, because that would imply he had some sort of choice) moving forward towards Cloud.
Hojo had been an exacting perfectionist in Sephiroth’s creation. Because of that, it was relatively common to have (lust) admirable attention come his way, in the same way someone might admire a sensual painting with aesthetic appreciation. But the way that Cloud and Zack looked at him gave him the strangest sensation in his chest, even though his internal sensors indicated nothing was wrong.
It was the same sensation that twisted around the processors in his titanium ribcage when Zack made that throaty sound and Cloud’s spine arched. They were wrapped around one another on the bed while Sephiroth sat on the edge, and he would have been content with the privilege of simply watching if they hadn’t turned to him with such intimate expressions, pupils dilated with pleasure, work-roughened hands reaching for him. For Sephiroth.
Wiry arms wrapping around his shoulders, Cloud pulled him down over his smaller body while Zack shifted behind to lick a long line down Sephiroth’s back. The General didn’t understand how that could send sudden relays of tingling pleasure through his system, or why it should elicit a half-surprised moan. Warm puffs of breath wafted against a shoulder as Zack laughed, and even Cloud was smiling as he bent a slender leg against Sephiroth’s waist.
The blond looked worse up close. Long adolescent limbs were splayed gracelessly against the cold floor, marred by bruises in the shapes of handprints and the ends of whipping-rods, and a bony wrist was in an unnatural position inside the heavy iron manacle. The torn smock he wore had been reduced from cheap clothing to something that was more like a symbol of the fact that slaves (like animals, like machines) were as disposable as Lord ShinRa’s chamber-pot contents.
Drying blood on his face prevented Cloud from opening his eyes very far at all, leaving only thin slits of blue for Sephiroth to stare down into. This wasn’t the first time that the boy had been beaten—his body was lined with the same whipping-marks as every other slave’s body—but it was the first time Sephiroth had ever seen him…broken.
He wondered inanely if Zack had died with a grin and a heartfelt ‘fuck you.’
Sephiroth couldn’t do anything but watch as Cloud stirred. Moving slowly, the blond carefully turned onto his side and work his arms beneath himself, sitting up with a wince and a quiet groan. The whole of the court watched the slave struggle silently at the feet of the General, and with another small whimper Cloud managed to stand on wavering legs. Although his arms were wrapped around ribs that were likely bruised or broken and he was sweating with the effort of moving, Cloud still lifted his head, looked Rufus ShinRa straight in the eye—and spat a clot of blood at the prince’s feet.
Pride was the word that Zack had used to describe the sensation Sephiroth now felt trying to break through the holes in his programming.
“You’re worried,” Sephiroth observed, keeping his voice low to avoid waking Cloud. Zack’s hand paused in the middle of absently stroking the blond’s hair.
“Yeah,” the SOLDIER agreed ruefully. “Yeah, I am.”
“You’re afraid we’ll be caught.”
Zack shifted onto an elbow to be able to see Sephiroth over Cloud’s shoulder on the other side of the bed. “Two famous people and a collared slave, man. Especially with those new identification thingies on the trains, there’s so much shit that can go wrong it makes Hojo’s experiments look normal.”
Brow furrowing in thought, Sephiroth idly leaned his chin on Cloud’s shoulder. The sleeping boy murmured into the pillow but didn’t wake. “I was under the impression that a relationship requires trust in order to be healthy and fulfilling.”
Taken aback, Zack backpedaled quietly. “Whoa, whoa, I’m not saying I don’t trust you guys—“
“I believe this is a case in which you allow your emotions to overrule your reason,” Sephiroth interrupted smoothly, holding Zack’s gaze firmly. “You’re allowing your fear of loss to overcome your trust and therefore implying that Cloud and I are somehow incapable of living up to your expectations. Unless this is true, I suggest you remember that I have never lost a battle, nor has a slave ever remained so resilient under ShinRa’s rule.” Sephiroth thought the younger man was being unusually stupid for not recognizing the value both of himself but also his lovers. It might have taken awhile, but the General was quite convinced that whether they succeeded or failed ultimately meant nothing in the face of their combined strength of will. “This is not to speak of your own inhuman capacity for loyalty, honor, and—how do you say it? Pulling victory out of your ass?”
Blinking dumbly, it took Zack a few seconds to realize that, yes, Sephiroth had really said that, and then he was muffling his laughter into his own pillow. When he saw Sephiroth’s puzzled look at his reaction, the second round of snickers made a sleepy Cloud thwap the SOLDIER irritably on the head.
Rufus smiled thinly at Cloud, like a shark. “Maim him, Sephiroth. But don’t kill him.”
Sephiroth wanted to wring the prince’s neck, wanted to slaughter all the fucking backstabbers and gold-diggers and opportunists that found sick entertainment in watching the products of their society be forced against one another. He simply wanted to be able to say no. But one of the Turks—Reno, as rumpled as ever but with an unusually serious expression—was bringing him the Masamune, and he couldn’t have stopped his hand sliding around the familiar, worn leather any more than he could have willed himself to stop breathing.
Time took on a strange static quality, like water that flows into a pool and just stops, turns stagnant. Sephiroth was hyperaware of the mako-warmed air against his bare skin, the weight of the Masamune in his left hand, the brilliant blue of Cloud’s deadened eyes; he already felt the lack of Zack’s presence in the world. They both did.
Because the Masamune was thin and finely honed, it slid almost obscenely easily through Cloud’s body. Cloud’s eyes widened and his lips parted as the blade pierced him just below the ribcage and smoothly passed his spine and vital organs—Sephiroth was nothing if not precise, down to the millimeter. The soft breath of air that escaped from Cloud’s lips chilled the skin of the General’s chest as two small, calloused hands wrapped almost reflexively around the sword’s long blade.
Zack, he wanted to scream. Make it stop hurting.
And for an instant Sephiroth hated him—hated Zack, and Cloud, because they had betrayed him and it was their fault that they tried to make him human. But when Cloud choked, spattering blood over the Masamune and Sephiroth himself, the blond looked up in pain and grief and anger and mouthed, Don’t forget.
Don’t forget that you were always human to us.
Then the stagnation of time passed and became a furious tide of motion and color. Guards pulled Cloud off the Masamune and away from him, dragged the slave away and left two crimson streaks on the floor. Sephiroth was clothed once more and reinstated as the General, but in name only, because the once-burned-twice-shy Lord wasn’t stupid and only let out his pet when he needed a country raped and slaughtered.
Sephiroth never knew what became of Zack’s body. In the haze of being permanently reprogrammed, he remembered that he wasn’t a living being, just an engineered piece of advanced technology. And nothing mattered anymore.
It took five years for the lower levels of the castle to stop echoing with Cloud’s screams. On the day that they stopped, Sephiroth felt nothing.