Ansem, seeker of the cock (powercorrupts) wrote in ship_manifesto,
Ansem, seeker of the cock

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Puppet Show: Sephiroth/Cloud (Final Fantasy VII)

Title: Puppet Show
Fandom:Final Fantasy VII
Pairing:Sephiroth/Cloud Strife
Author: Kaiser-chan
Spoilers: Absolutely everything in the game I figured was relevant, vague refs to AC & BC but nothing more

The first section assumes you need a refresher on the world of FFVII, and a good deal of the section on Cloud is recapping the events of the game in a coherent fashion to clear up some of the distorted POV. I apologize for any mistakes you might find - I was too late in finishing this to get people to proofread it in time, I fear.

One of the things that defines the Final Fantasy games is that while they have spectacular characters, one cannot merely leap into understanding the character’s actions without knowing how they affect, and are affected by the world around them. The world of Final Fantasy VII is one of the darkest and most technologically advanced of all the SquareEnix games; the smoke-spewing, grey, toxic city of Midgar and the military, firepower-heavy, naval base of Junon cultivate an image of post-apocalyptic dimness that is almost reminiscent of the movie Blade Runner. But there are parts of the Planet (for all that it is constantly referred to, it is never given a name in the game. Later sources – propaganda for the movie sequel Advent Children – refer to the world it is set in as Gaia, though multiple other FF’s use such a name for their world, and due to that and the fact that nowhere in the actual media of the game or it’s sequel or prequel have I seen it referred to as such, I will henceforth call it ‘the planet’) which are not so dark at all. Makou energy, also known as Lifestream is just that – the life-force of the planet. It is depicted as a glowing green energy that runs just beneath the surface of the ground, and has all sorts of mystical properties and connotations attached to it. Materia, the source of all magic in Final Fantasy VII is crystallized Lifestream. The Lifestream is made up of the souls/energy of all living beings, and when a person dies, their energy returns to the planet, circulating through the Lifestream. Similarly, all things that are born draw from it’s wellspring to create life.

One race of people in particular utilized it in a way no others did; the Cetra, also known as the Ancients, lived among its powers, they understood it and purified it. They were naturally in tune with the feelings of the planet, they heard its cry when it was in distress. But some Cetra cared not for tending to the planet, and they branched off from the others. They forgot the cries of the planet, and became unable to use Lifestream except in its crystallized (Materia) form. They became the humans. And while the humans thrived building their cities and burning fossil fuels, the Cetra had a new foe to battle – the crisis/calamity from the skies – Jenova. Jenova was something that came to the planet from somewhere else (presumably space, with the later emphasis on Meteor), and while she held powers similar to the Ancients, and posed as one, she was in truth their antithesis. Jenova was all that is seductive about evil – she lured in the Cetra, posing as one of them, and killed them off with a slow poison. While their numbers dwindled, they sealed her off under the ground, unable to muster the strength to kill her entirely, but desperate to contain the threat she posed to the planet.

All but a handful of the Cetra gone, the humans had forgotten their roots, and forsook the planet. They sought to take advantage of the Lifestream as the vast energy potential it represented, and the ShinRa Electric Power Corporation rose to power. They built fantastic reactors to drain the Lifestream and convert it into its liquid, energy-providing form (Makou), and built a fantastic city with 8 reactors to power its urban sprawl. They divided Midgar into two regions – the top, and the bottom. The lower sectors are all slums, while the ShinRa Corporation inhabits the top, able to see the dirty sky above them while those beneath cannot, and are forever under the thumb of the capitalist government. Most importantly to this pairing, though, ShinRa raised an army. And to ensure that they’d be the biggest bullies around, they decided to invest in science as well; they dug up Jenova’s body from the Northern continent, and they experimented by putting its cells, along with Makou, in the bodies of their soldiers. Such things yielded fantastic immediate results, but at a cost they did not discover until later.

  Cloud is a poor hero. To quote him (in the movie sequel which has yet to be released in its entirety or translated officially), “I can’t save anyone to save my life.” He is a shoe-in for the ‘young man from the provinces’ character archetype with his sunny colouring, wide eyes, small build, somewhat lacking social graces, and rural origins. Much of Cloud’s character is defined by his strong desire to prove that he can be someone’s hero. When he leaves Nibelheim for Midgar to seek out fame and fortune in ShinRa’s army, he promises Tifa that if she is ever in danger, he will be her hero. He later offers his services to Aeris as a bodyguard of sorts. But just as such actions are a mockery of the giving necessary to a normal, functional relationship, Cloud also takes his emotional dependence on others to an extreme. Between his early infatuation with Sephiroth, his later dependence on Zack, his relationship with Aeris, and his need for Tifa to rescue him from his own memories, Cloud constantly seeks confirmation from others throughout the game. His words to Dr. Hojou, pleading for an official number as one of the clones, make clear his search for an identity from anyone at all who will give him one.

In a psychoanalytical way, one can blame his childhood for this; while Cloud was not abused, per se, he was a far cry from the favoured child of Nibelheim. And as far as small towns keeping things behind closed doors go, Nibelheim is quite the two-faced village. Cloud’s need for acceptance can be found from an early age where he sticks up for Tifa and takes the punishment for her actions, blaming himself for things she does even though she doesn’t seem to even know him very well. Despite not being very close with Tifa, he holds a strong affection for her, perhaps being so kind to her in the hopes that she, who was popular among the other children their age, might notice him and return the friendship. But at some point during his teens, it is clear that Cloud acquires a new object of infatuation – the hero of the Wutai war, The General Sephiroth. Like many other boys, Cloud yearns to be like the superhuman fighter and enlists in ShinRa’s army.

But like most of Cloud’s story, luck was not on his side here either, as most of the conflicts with Wutai, and thus any path to glory or rank in ShinRa, were over. At some point after enlisting, he was placed in a group with the SOLDIER (ShinRa’s unit of elite fighters who are injected with Makou) Zack and (presumably) Sephiroth. It is not clear how long the three knew each other, except that Zack had presumably received his rank during the very end of the Wutai war and that he was already acquainted with Sephiroth before meeting Cloud. The recent prequel game released only in Japan (due to lack of sufficient hardware in other countries, according to Square-Enix) shows the trio on one of their posters, and as it details the events in ShinRa’s infrastructure six years prior to the game’s beginning, it’s expected that more on the three’s relationship will be revealed in further chapters of the game.

Roughly a year after joining ShinRa, the order comes from above to send Sephiroth, Zack, Cloud, and one anonymous other ShinRa trooper to Nibelheim to investigate reports of strange monsters around the Makou Reactor. Cloud, obviously motion sick, and Sephiroth, as per his usual behaviour, are silent the ride there, though the affable Zack talks enough to make up for their lack. Once arriving in the town, Cloud returns to his mother, but otherwise does not let anyone else know of his return. In the nondescript ShinRa uniform no one looks twice at him, and with two SOLDIERs in a town that had likely never seen one before, not even Tifa notices the two other ShinRa employees. Ironically enough, she’s the guide who leads the four up to the reactor, where it sits perched like a monster upon the forbidding landscape of the mountains. The path is precarious, and the other trooper is killed(?) by a fall, so when the SOLDIERs go in to examine the reactor, it is Cloud who is left outside to keep Tifa from entering the building in her curiosity. After the two emerge, the party returns to the town, Sephiroth shutting himself in the library basement of the ShinRa mansion, poring over the books detailing the various experiments that had occurred, and were still occurring, under the guise of a quiet mountain village. Three days later, Sephiroth emerges, lighting the town on fire and walking off towards the reactor. Though we do not know Cloud’s precise actions at the time – they are never shown to the viewer, perhaps to imply that his dissociation from the events has blocked them entirely – he apparently follows his idol to the cursed building, to find further mayhem inside there. Gently he picks up Tifa’s body and sets her down. He enters the previously locked inner chamber of the reactor to find Sephiroth standing in rapture at the strange creature in the tank centered among various machines. He turns around only just as Cloud runs him through with Zack’s blade.
At this point, the General recovers enough to make it out of the room and onto the catwalk exiting the reactor; Cloud, visibly shaken, makes no move to stop him. At Zack’s command, he follows Sephiroth, though without surprise on Cloud’s side this time, the silver-haired man gets the first move and runs Cloud through with the Masamune. In an act that is never explained in the course of the game, Cloud somehow retains enough strength to sweep the sword, and the wounded Sephiroth still holding it, off of the catwalk and into the glowing Makou beneath. But as always for Cloud, his victory is a hollow one. Enraged at losing his greatest experiment, ShinRa’s head scientist Hojou takes advantage of Cloud and Zack’s current MIA status to use them for his experiments instead. There, for nearly five years, he injects them with Makou and Jenova cells. It is not clear if, in Hojou’s typical, twisted, lying way, there is anything he does psychologically to harm them, but at some point in this, Zack does recount his own point of view during his time in ShinRa enough that it becomes embedded in Cloud’s mind. Zack surprisingly has little reaction to Jenova’s cells – theoretically because she can only influence those who are not emotionally balanced – though Cloud is fairly addled. It is never said what specific factor makes him an unsuitable clone, for he experiences a strong reaction to Jenova, though his eyes never alter into the cat-slit green Sephiroth and (as implied by the upcoming movie) those with a proper reaction to Jenova display. It is also not known if Hojou was entirely finished with Cloud, though, and if his lack of a full transformation is due only to that.

At some point in this time, Zack manages to escape, taking Cloud with him. Rather than leave the blond behind, Zack carries him all the way across two continents back to Midgar. There, on the hill overlooking the city, ShinRa troops catch up with them. Zack, burdened with Cloud, and possibly still weakened by Hojou’s experiments, gets riddled with bullets. Cloud is left for dead. The impact of the loss of the last person who had ever cared for Cloud, the man who had died trying to save him, presumably snaps whatever fragile hold the young man retained on reality. To explain what a psychology textbook refers to as a Dissociative episode, Cloud represses what memories caused him pain, altering himself and his memories to fit a pattern that did not cause so much trauma. In short, he patches the holes in his sanity with pieces of what Zack had recounted to him.

The Cloud Tifa finds in Midgar’s train station, the Cloud who begins the game, recalls events in a different light than what she had thought was true, but memories are a thing easily shifted under peer pressure, and she does not disagree with his retellings. Through her he comes to work for AVALANCHE, the rebels opposing ShinRa. Escaping from the destruction of one of Midgar’s reactors, he falls off the plate and into a church in the slums, his fall broken by the only flowers to grow in the toxic city. There he meets Aeris, a flower seller from the slums, and the last of the race of the Cetra. Much transpires at this point, things that involve rescuing Tifa from a perverted Don by dressing up like a woman – Cloud makes a very nice woman, I might add, when you get the special items like Sexy Lingerie – and Aeris getting kidnapped from her own home (despite eluding her captors at multiple times before from other areas) by ShinRa’s elite hit men, the Turks. Most of it is nonsensical and strange, especially the trek into ShinRa’s headquarters to save Aeris. Between the longest stairway I’ve ever seen, a really annoying game of sneaking past guards, poor interior design, cackling executives, and getting into ShinRa’s duct system via a vent above a toilet (potty jokes abound in most Square games it seems), the break-in ends with the group beaten and thrown in some sort of detention center on one of ShinRa’s upper levels. They awake, however, to a scene Cloud is familiar with – blood all over, the corpses of ShinRa employees littering the ground in a clear trail of crimson. Following the trail leads to the tank in Hojou’s lab that had held Jenova’s (now headless – don’t ask me, I have no clue what Nomura is smoking either) body, and above to the President’s office. They enter to find his form slumped over his desk, the Masamune sticking out of his back like a flag (once again, more that doesn’t quite make sense, because how did he get it back without returning if it’s one of a kind?).

There is more hijinks at this point that involve the new President (a typical bishonen villain, if a fairly nifty one), a bike-riding and sword-slashing mini-game, and a boss battle. Avalanche leave the city, electing Cloud as their leader now, and head to the village of Kalm, where Cloud retells his twisted version of what occurred in Nibelheim, as clearly the legendary swordfighter is not only alive, but also about as friendly with ShinRa as they are. They set out for Junon where they can take a boat to the other continent, to continue pursuing Sephiroth. Along the journey, they encounter ShinRa’s agents at a couple of points, and see some more of Sephiroth’s handiwork, but little is revealed regarding the nature of the story. On the other continent, they make their way to Nibelheim, but all is not as it was left five years before. The town has been rebuilt by ShinRa, and the people who live there pretend that nothing ever happened before. In confusion, they continue until they hear that Sephiroth has headed to the Temple of the Ancients, and they pursue. But inside the Temple, Cloud acts strangely – clutching his head and muttering to himself. He says things about summoning Meteor, and the Black Materia, and questioning who he is. To avoid allowing Sephiroth to have the destructive power of the Black Materia, they retrieve it from the Temple themselves. But standing outside, content in their victory, Sephiroth appears and commands Cloud to hand him the orb. To the shock of his teammates, Cloud does just so, and beats Aeris who tries to restrain him before passing out.
While Cloud is catatonic, Aeris leaves and at the behest of a dream, he follows her to the dead City of the Ancients in the north. Journeying to the innermost room, they find her praying on an alter of sorts, and Cloud starts forward, sword raised as it to strike her down much to everyone’s confusion. But she looks at him, and he falters, unable to complete the action; Sephiroth swoops down and finishes it for him instead. Cloud is in dismay, babbling about his pain to Sephiroth, who brushes it off, asking why it matters at all. Jenova finishes his sentence in the only line she speaks the entire game, “Because you are just a puppet.” After defeating another of her incarnations, the party relies on Cloud’s vague statement that he feels like he’s being pulled to the Northern pole of the planet, and they head on.
It is at this part that Cloud admits to his friends that he has no idea what’s going on. He can’t understand what parts are him anymore, or how to stop Sephiroth from playing with his head. He’s terrified at the thought that his actions, his feelings aren’t his own anymore, and that in truth, he’s done nothing to harm Sephiroth thus far; all his actions in the end only contributed to helping the madman. This plays through Cloud’s head the entire way to the confrontation at the Crater, where Sephiroth further weakens Cloud’s conviction in his own memories, and forces Cloud to once again give him the stone. At this point, Cloud falls into the Lifestream as the earth opens up beneath him. This scene has importance in that it is the only scene where Cloud displays the ability to fly as Sephiroth and Jenova do, as it’s the scene where he is most under their control. The implications of this, however, are heavily debated among fans.

Cloud is found later, utterly catatonic, and supposedly suffering from overexposure to Makou. He falls into the Lifestream once more, Tifa with him at this time, and together they piece back together the fragments of memories to find the truth in what Cloud recalls of Nibelheim and his entire life before Midgar. For the rest of the game, they follow Sephiroth’s riddles some more, and stop ShinRa’s dastardly plots, not much really happening. The final confrontation in the Northern Crater is surprisingly uneventful as well, though many fans argue that the final fight against Sephiroth, one-on-one with Cloud takes place in Cloud’s mind, banishing the other man’s control on his mind.

   Since the Cloud part covered most of the storyline (if I honestly thought that it could have been done without explaining the story’s influence on the characters, I would have tried), Sephiroth’s story is somewhat shorter. Not much is known about him before the game starts, except that his father was supposedly Hojou – though, given the scientist’s continual lies throughout the game, it’s entirely possible that it was Vincent, a later member of Avalanche who was in love with Sephiroth’s mother. Lucrecia was part of the early team who experimented with Jenova; it was the extraordinarily low level of successful adaptations to the creature's cells that led to her allowing herself and her unborn fetus to be injected with them. She died at some later point that is not revealed, though obviously so young that Sephiroth does not remember her, only that Hojou has told him (in his usual rat-bastard way) that his mother’s name was Jenova. Professor Gast, who was to become Aeris’ father, defected from ShinRa at some point late enough in the young Sephiroth’s life that he quotes him at various points, and clearly showed a great deal of respect for the man, something he feels not at all for Hojou and ShinRa’s other scientists.

Despite the Jenova injections, he was classified with ShinRa’s SOLDIER organization, and (presumably – not much is known about ShinRa’s infrastructure at this point) led them in the Wutai war. In the time we see him in the flashbacks before Nibelheim he is cold, but not cruel. He is proud and quiet, and somewhat amused by Zack’s constant enthusiasm. The things said about him later depict a highly intelligent man, an unusual thing among ShinRa’s higher-ups. But he also has a side that is definately angsty. Hojou/Jenova's brainwashing on him didn't start with Nibelheim, as is obvious by his startled reaction to the Makou monsters in the reactor. His fear that he is something like them, something so abominable it is no longer human, is absolutely ironic in the face that days later, he completely seems to disregard his humanity. This does make an interesting comparison for his character, because in the search to find his own nature, he came to totally scorn what he sent him on it in the first place. That so much of what he found were Hojou or Jenova's lies is somewhat tragic, because while quiet and a little cold before Nibelheim, I doubt he could be considered evil.
It’s hard to say whether or not the entire Nibelheim situation was precisely set up and designed by Hojou, but it is peculiar that ShinRa would send such a high-ranking official for such a minor task, or that Hojou would have let anyone see his handiwork in the form of Jenova-injected monsters growing in the tanks in the reactor. In fact, it is their existence that prompts the SOLDIER to dig through Hojou’s depraved notes in his old lab. Interestingly, though, a detail often forgotten by fans, while staring at the monsters in the reactor, and just outside the room containing Jenova, he clutches his head and mutters in a way entirely reminiscent of Cloud’s later behaviour, prompting some fans to debate exactly what Jenova’s control on Sephiroth is. Whatever your viewpoint on the matter, though, it is clear that after the time spent in the lab, likely listening to Jenova’s insidious whispers in his mind, he was driven insane. The entirety of the Nibelheim incident is never wholly explained to the viewer except as madness.

Throughout the game he is clearly a different person than the man seen in the flashbacks, but with the graphics quality of FFVII, there’s no such thing as facial expressions, so it’s really painfully hard to interpret such things. But his words are different, his motives peculiar, and everything he says to Cloud may or may not be a lie – FFVII is one of those rare fictional materials that continually lies to the viewers and the characters, so interpreting things that are never confirmed is up to the viewer’s digression and has different possibilities.

The canon support for this pairing is about as precise as any of the canon support for any pairing in this game is. Unlike most of the other Final Fantasies, it’s very open in that respect, in that you can very easily play mix-n-match with Cloud’s affections. But that there is a relationship between Sephiroth and his puppet is undeniable. It’s a twisted one, and no little bit dark. The amount of effort Sephiroth puts into attempting to manipulate Cloud into doing things, though, makes clear that Cloud is, for him, something more than one clone among many. That he would attempt to make the blond kill Aeris rather than do it himself when clearly he could very easily do it himself, or forcing him to hand him the Materia rather than merely taking it out of Cloud’s hand as he could also have easily done shows that the means is more important (in this situation) than the end. Breaking Cloud is just as important as the actual result of such an action to Sephiroth, and as fixated as Cloud is with him, Sephiroth clearly returns the feeling.

Most of the basis behind this pairing is the fine line between love and hate, the peculiar irony of Cloud’s original hero-worship for Sephiroth, and just how it becomes twisted into the driving hate he displays throughout the game in his single-minded pursuit of the other man. The Cloud we see throughout the game is broken already, and Sephiroth further drives little wedges into the cracks of Cloud’s façade to shatter him. In his speeches towards Cloud, he doesn’t speak of Cloud as being a human being per say, but instead a toy to be manipulated. He is shocked at Cloud’s raw outburst at Aeris’ death and stunned at the final blow. Perhaps it’s the villain’s typical overconfidence, but for someone who seems to know what Cloud is thinking, it’s funny that he doesn’t truly understand at all; Cloud seems to understand Sephiroth surprisingly well, however, especially after he finally recalls the true events.

Further basis for this pairing is the time before Nibelheim, when the two served together in ShinRa, but due to the distortion of Cloud’s memories, we don’t really know much about this part, so it’s hard to dig up hard canon facts rather than just general allusions. Cloud, clearly, though, is greatly affected by Sephiroth’s actions first in Nibelheim, then throughout the game. More than any other character, he seems utterly obsessed with Sephiroth, and with Cloud’s fey looks (okay, I’ll say it – Cloud’s a girly girly man), it’s not surprisingly that people would choose to slash the two together just for the sexiness factor and in a game as rooted in archetypes as Final Fantasy VII is, it abounds with opposites. Jenova and Aeris, the Black Materia and the White Materia, Midgar and the City of the Ancients, Jenova and the Cetra, Sephiroth and Cloud are only the last in a long line of light vs. dark symbols.

What initially drew me to this relationship (after a somewhat shocked “boys can do that!?” reaction, since it was the first slash I’d ever encountered) was the possibility of violence it holds. Even five years later, my favorite pairings tend to be those with the villain and the hero together, and it’s the line between love and hate, and how quickly an obsession can turn to either, that I love to explore. The duality of the relationship holds some fascination, as there’s something amusing in the thought that Cloud could chase Sephiroth all over the world, waving his sword at him, and all the while pining for him. It’s a very ironic pairing, to say the least, and like the rest of FFVII, it’d be very different in private than it is in public.

There seem to be three different types of SephirothxCloud fics in the fandom. Those set before the game tend to focus on the ShinRa infrastructure, and are somewhat bittersweet and ironic, but as not all the chapters of the prequel game have been released even in Japan yet, it’s hard to back any of it up at all with canon. The post-game fics generally focus on Cloud being disillusioned and fixated on Sephiroth, and some sort of revival that brings the dead SOLDIER back to life, but without Jenova’s influence and his madness. Usually those run the gamut between dark, tragic, violent, fluffy, and sweet. The during-game fics are some of the most canon, but as such, they’re definitely the darkest. They tend to range from rapefic to creepy puppetsex with a desperate but cute Cloud, and everything possible in between. But without much change, they focus on the nature of Sephiroth’s control over Cloud, and the two’s dubious sanity. Due to that, most of them aren’t very cute, WAFFy, or should be recommended for a reader who isn’t used to what most villainxhero pairings entail. It’s also fairly kinky sometimes – I’ve since lost most of the links due to deleting their NC-17 fics, but I do recall some that involved the strategic use of ice spells to hold Cloud against the ground. For the most part, though, those that don’t involve Sephiroth being evil and sexy involve Cloud being angsty and sexy, though most are a mix of the two.

Recs: (aka, I waded through the crap so you won’t have to. Unless, of course, you want more. >=D)

A Long Hard Road
Well, this wouldn’t be a SxC essay if I didn’t link to this fic, now would it be? Post-game, and it depicts Hojou as the main villain, and if you’re looking for straight SxC rather than a lot of pining and doing nothing romantic for more pages than most fics last, then this isn’t for you. It’s LONG, as in, someone printed it out and it was more than a phone-book in size, so get addicted to it at your own risk. But if you love long stories, and dramatic irony is your cup of tea, then this is probably the greatest FFVII fanfic I know of. And amazingly, I wasn't paid to say that.

One of my favorite pre-game fics, this one could technically be post-game as well, due to interesting AU ideas I’ve never seen elsewhere. Very ironic, with Zack as something of a third wheel in the love triangle, and if you think AC!Cloud is too angsty for your tastes, this fic should probably be avoided. But then, that counts out most SephxCloud fics as well.

Blood of the Innocents
AU, but very amusingly so. Seph is evil, but in a different way, and Cloud has more problems than he did in canon, if that’s even possible.

Xehorista Tora
AU, and magically delicious. Anything with two Sephs and two Clouds could be nothing but.

Those that Drown
AU, but in the style of during-game fics. Very, very dark, lots and lots of Cloud-torturing. Because the only people who like torture as much as Squeenix has gotta be the yaoi fangirls.

Burning (and it’s sequels)
These are just wonderful. Dark, creepy, smexy, naughty, and general during-game goodness. A little sad, though.

AU, but most of the fics to this have a certain deviance from the typical storyline, if only because the actual precise events of the game are surprisingly inane, and the lines not worth repeating due to translators who do not know how to spell the word “because.” Or maybe just because everyone’s tired of fics that follow the game to a t – I wouldn’t know.

And I’d feel like I’d be skimping on the recs if I only included fics. This is a pairing that, while pretty popular over here, is also really popular in Japan. And while my Japanese is poor, you don’t really need to read the words in the naughty doujinshis anyways. =x

So Da Sexy
Has a million wonderful doujinshi that make me outrageously happy in my SxC depravity.

And for things to listen to while reading fanfics… what, I’m a shameless whore and I know it, alright? fst I did a Cloud FST, and there’s a great Seph FST on there too.
Tags: #game, final fantasy
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