Written 5 April 2007
The sun was warm against his face, turning the back of his eyelids bright red, and there was just a slight breeze, a little chill against his bared arms that softened the day’s heat. If the smell of mako tainted the air, the wind drew it away.
Cloud felt very small staring up at the blue sky, which was not a particularly unusual sensation for him. It curved in a great, elegant arc towards the slightly paler horizon, where the sun was a finger’s width from falling behind the mountains, and he amused himself for a little while by pretending that his fingers were walking over the sky.
He could feel someone’s smile, or what would have been a smile on anyone but this particular person. But it was not this person’s fault that they had never actually learned how to smile.
What are you doing?
“Nothing,” Cloud said softly, watching the way his words curled like wisps of smoke on the warm, lazy air.
A heavy presence settled near him, though it did not disturb the grass. It was heavy in the sense that it was difficult to ignore, the kind of presence that could enter a room and bring a deep silence with it, and Cloud let it roll over him like a quilted blanket from home (before it burned to ash and memory).
You are… Sephiroth paused, searching for the winged little syllables that were eluding his grasp. Cloud felt an amusement that was only partly his own (the other part belonged to grey eyes and warm laughter).
“Being a General doesn’t mean you need all the answers.” He let his hand fall back to the ground above his head, knowing his vulnerable belly was exposed to any particularly audacious monster. He drew in a deep breath, pausing until his head began to feel like it would float away from his neck, and then releasing it in a small sigh.
You are…not fighting. His words were as heavy as his presence, in the same definition.
And what was there to fight anymore? Cloud wondered. There was no Meteor and no Jenova, and in fact, there was not a single person for miles. He had made certain of it.
There is yourself.
“I don’t think I want to fight any more battles I can’t win,” he murmured almost soundlessly. He had kicked off his boots and socks somewhere, and now he stretched his legs and bare feet in the sunlight, and buried his toes in the grass. His glove and black coat and sword had already been abandoned with Fenrir, somewhere on the other side of the hill. He was not exactly sure where.
A strong, calloused hand reached towards him, though he could not see it with his eyes closed, and its fingers threaded their way through the tips of his hair, as though uncertain how he would react. But the faintest of smiles flickered across Cloud’s lips and he turned his face just a little, towards the cool dry palm, and did not feel the paralyzing fear that he normally associated with physical touch.
He thought of all the battles, all the struggles to make his mother and then Zack happy, all the fistfights in his youth that had left him bruised but mercifully spared from the painfully invasive touch of men larger than him. He remembered the fight to survive at the cost of his sanity and his sense of self, and he remembered how the very last battle had torn his heart apart at having to kill one of the few people he cared for most but who had betrayed him in every way imaginable.
“I’m…just tired,” he breathed, very softly. The hand that had carefully touched his hair hesitated, before fingertips ghosted over his brow.
You are justified for feeling as such, Sephiroth murmured, free of the madness and cruelty that had marked his last days. Now he sounded like a young man that had been raised in a laboratory and was trying to puzzle out the paradoxes that were normal, human emotion. And yet, you feel guilty for it.
Man, the kid would feel guilty if he saw you trip over your own sword, another voice snorted with dry humor, a voice that belonged to the grey-eyes-and-warm-laughter that Cloud was so familiar with. Cloud flushed slightly at Zack’s words, but Sephiroth just gave a small grunt, as though mildly offended that he could be accused of such gracelessness.
“Only you would be that stupid,” Cloud muttered dryly, and he could feel Sephiroth’s quiet amusement and Zack’s surprise at the retort. He imagined he could see Zack suddenly swiping a hand over his brow dramatically and pretending to swoon.
Our little muffin’s all grown up, the SOLDIER cried, choked-up, and Sephiroth’s lips had quirked in a very slight, very rare, smile.
The sun was warm in the companionable silence that followed. Cloud stretched, reaching with his arms and legs as far as they would go, and made a small sound of contentment when things were popped back into place under his black-and-leather clothing.
That’s disgusting, Zack muttered beneath his breath, and Cloud smirked faintly. He turned onto his side with a long breath, curling a little, and closed his eyes when he realized that the hand was still gently carding through his hair. His vision was shadowed and red behind his eyelids.
Sephiroth’s voice was…uncertain. It was very strange to hear.
I…would like to thank you.
Maybe it had been the signs the General was seeing or just sheer blind chance that he had found the reason for the savior-of-the-world being unable to sleep at night. Cloud stiffened, but did not open his eyes, and the hand on his hair did not move away.
What you did…I thank you for it, and I am sorry that events led to such dishonor on my part.
Only Sephiroth would consider trying to destroy the world a ‘dishonor,’ Zack whispered to Cloud with an amused grin. And that was just what Cloud needed to hear, that familiar bit of humor, to make his hands uncurl from tight fists and loosen muscles he had not noticed were tensed. Although he did not agree with the General’s words, Cloud accepted them with a faint smile and a soft sigh. He knew, through years of watching from the shadows, that most people dismissed Sephiroth’s apparent flaws as flukes and not a very real part of the man.
The leaden weight in his chest that had become so familiar lightened.
All that dragging around would have done something eventually, Zack mused, sitting on the other side of the blonde. Cloud could feel his bent leg against his own back, the way Zack would reassure him with physical contact as a cadet without openly embracing him in front of the other squads. Not even you can cry forever, raincloud.