warnings: mild spoilers ff7
By Lena ban Obsidian
The coliseum has the loveliest showers. Adobe tile and steam clinging to every surface, skin included. Cloud rarely goes there when others are awake, because the steam is suffocating and humid and unpleasant. And it reminds him of Mideel, and that makes him want to cry.
Cloud knows that Sephiroth is here. Has been here. He knows that they are both marked, by fate or whatever has chosen to toy with them. But Sephiroth is not mad as he was on Gaia, under the influence of Jenova. He is just...here. And he is the one who wears the guise of an angel, not Cloud.
It is late at night now, chill with the sun not shining. Hercules has long since gone to bed his wife, and the satyr is probably watching. No real surprise to Cloud. Leon does not live here, nor stay near here if he can.
Sephiroth does what he can to avoid Cloud, and the feeling is mutual. So he does not question that he will probably be alone, stepping through the halls barefoot, his boots left in his room along with the heavy red cloak that Vincent gave him before they were lost to each other. Above him, over the pillars and the heavy limestone roof, the sky is endlessly clear and filled with the sickly glow of stars dimming, dying away. The heartless come for every world, and in every world there is need of them. They are like plague, and like vaccines at the same time; they breed the strongest of heroes, like any villain does. They will bring about their own end.
Cloud tells himself this whenever he thinks too hard on what befell his own world, in the days before he was made to be alone, here. Before Yuffie and Cid forgot that they have only known Leon for a few short months, before Aerith started speaking of spending her childhood in that other place, that...Hollow Bastion. If he were honest with himself, their delusions and mixed-up pasts scare him, but he can't say anything. They wouldn't believe him, nor agree with his memories; they have made up their own.
He knows because he's done it before.
In the showers, it is always warm, even now with chill night winds blowing through the building, bringing the scent of the sheep, earthen and sleepy nearby, and the hay outside that is carted in to feed the beasts who live here-- namely Pegasus.
Cloud secretly likes Pegasus, and goes to pet him, sometimes, when he is mostly certain no one else is around, but he has asked for Philoctete's permission. The satyr is the real boss behind everything here, and not so bad when you get to know him.
...as long as you know how to ignore him when you have to. Cloud closes the door behind himself and sighs. He has not turned the lights on in this damp place, and he does not open his eyes as he divests himself of clothing. It is like a ritual, slow and smooth, the rustling of fabric soft and fitting in this almost exotic place. He can imagine that he is back home, back years ago, in the showers with Zack and coming to see the older man at night, as they did, from time to time.
He can pretend that Zack is going to kiss him, as Zack liked doing, and that they will take cool showers together and just be close. This is what he misses most of his world; nothing that he could ever have had again, not even six years over, but the memory of spending his nights in Zack's arms in the shadows. Yes. That is what he misses the most of it all.
Not even Vincent-- who he was made to watch as he died-- or Tifa, who he found too late as he searched. No, he misses that time. That safety. That ignorance.
His breath comes short in a soft little sound that he ignores, and he sets his clothing aside, stepping into the showers bare-skinned and unfazed, rubbing at his eyes with the knuckles of one hand. ...he is...not crying.
And maybe as he turns on the water he should notice that the shadows move, here and there, and maybe he should care, but the water is cool and softens his hair down over his face, tendrils of dull yellow in the non-light of this dark place. He smooths it over his skin, standing in an open stall, the shower head dribbling over him, blissful, peaceful. He can almost remember how content this used to make him feel.
"...Strife," says the shadow that he has not been able or decided not to notice. He doesn't stiffen, or even move, but slides his hands over his waist and through his hair, cracking open one mako-blue eye and eyeing the darkness without emotion.
He says, "...would you like to join me, general?" and tips his face back into the water, the spray rushing past his ears with a high-pitched pressure-whine, making him deaf to the other man's answer.
Moonsilver hair and pale skin detaches itself from the darkness in the form of a man who is perfect. Cloud's eyes are closed. The water is cool and reminds him of nothing in particular, not Mideel and his madness, not North Crater and Sephiroth's. They do not touch each other once, nor do they need to as they clean themselves in silence under the cover of night, touching their own skins with the wonderment of having forgotten that this can be as it is.
They can be in the same room, and not kill each other, though they have never really tried since Nibelheim, since the cold and hot and burning of Nibelheim. Since the scar that Cloud feels as if he hadn't known it was there was made in his stomach, and along his spine. He wonders idly if Aerith has a scar like this. He wonders and doesn't ask if Sephiroth does, from the day that Cloud killed him.
Eventually, the cold is too much to ignore and he is clean, and he turns off the water, steps over the tile and finds a towel. Sephiroth is in rapture with his hair, running his hands through quicksilver, head back, spine arced and legs just so slightly apart.
Cloud watches him for a moment.
"...you are more beautiful," Sephiroth smiles over his shoulder, green eyes knowing and so very old. "when you are alone and you know it, Cloud Strife."
He doesn't answer at first, toweling off his hair before hanging the wet piece of terrycloth back on its bar. His eyes are distant and haunted and they are as Sephiroth remembers from the end-time. Those are the eyes he likes to see, that expression and that grief. They make Cloud Strife into a better man, a stronger man.
"...I never asked to be beautiful."
And he goes to his clothing, shimmies into it without a word, looking one last time over his shoulder as he is opening the door. Sephiroth's gaze meets his own, and they stare for what feels much longer than three seconds.
He cannot know what a wild picture of alabaster and gold he is. He cannot know that his eyes flash unspoken challenge, and cool when Sephiroth dips his head, declining...for now.
He nods, lips pursing back into the usual thin line, losing the fullness that Zack so loved to kiss.
He turns and as silently as he came into the darkness, he leaves.
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