The Lesser Of Two Evils

Unsurprisingly, the dream starts out the same way it always does...

I am standing at the edge of a chasm, staring down into the greenish, glowing depths of the Lifestream. The sight awes me - it is difficult to believe that churning swirl of energy is the life force of every living thing that ever lived, the essence of everything that will ever be given life. It is truly a marvel that will never cease to fascinate me.

Then, something makes me look up and I find myself staring deeply into his eyes. The hot glow of Mako registers in my mind like a fiery brand. Eyes that have haunted me ever since I regained consciousness at the station to find Tifa's worried face hovering over me. Even then, his voice had whispered subtle suggestions in my mind, nudging me towards a goal that he had planned for nearly five years.

Nothing more than a puppet.

When Jenova had first murmured those words, I remember feeling the tremor of shock that raced down my spine. Deny it as I might before my companions, I could not deny it within myself. Sephiroth had controlled me from the beginning... everything I had done was at his beckoning; the crafty manipulations of the Puppet Master.

I was the lifeless, will-less puppet that danced at his every command.

As the bits and pieces of my shattered memory came together, what I felt for Sephiroth slowly changed. The resentment and anger magnified - he was the ultimate soldier, the perfect son of Jenova and I would never be able to step out of his shadow. Hojo had made sure of that when he had injected those accursed cells into my blood. By the virtue of our DNA, I would forever be labeled the failure when compared the great one-and-only Sephiroth.

I hate him.

Hate, I savor the bitter nuances of the word. Such a simple word for such a complex emotion. It didn't even begin to describe my emotions when I watched him take the only one that I had ever cared about. With a single thrust of his sword, he had destroyed everything that I might have had - the only chance I had of being me and not just a pitiable clone of Sephiroth.

It was then... in that instant, just a mere fraction of a second, that I knew with absolute clarity what I had to do. When I had spoken to my companions, asking them to find a reason within themselves to continue fighting against the impossible odds, that certainty had burned in my heart.

I told Tifa that I was doing it for the Planet... for the future.

I lied.

I was doing it for one very simple reason:

I really wanted to kill Sephiroth.

The dream continues; it's rather like watching an old movie - you know how it's going to end, but you just can't bring yourself to turn off the television set because, in some twisted way, it's enthralling to watch it over and over again.

That familiar smirk graces his inhuman features. For once, I am glad - it's easier to battle a man of flesh and blood than a one-winged angel from my nightmares. It has finally come down to this - just Sephiroth and I... no magic, no summoning beasts... just the two of us and the gleam of metal in the greenish glow of the Lifestream.

I can hear Tifa calling my name in the distance but I studiously ignore her cries, instead focusing on the only thing that matters right now.

"Just another puppet," he tells me.

I laugh; it sounds empty and harsh against the rumble of the collapsing chasm.

"A puppet who will save this world from you, Sephiroth."

"Is that what you really want?" he asks me. " To save the world?"

"No," I answer back. " That's just a by-product."

For a moment, a flicker of recognition flashes in his Mako green eyes. Then, his face hardens with resolve, free from the insanity that had marked most of his earlier actions.

"Let's decide the fate of the world, shall we?"

It is remarkably easy, compared to everything that I had gone through. My mind hardly registers anything as my body goes through all the moves, slashing through his defenses as if I was the ultimate soldier and he was nothing more than a lowly grunt.

"I'm no longer your puppet..." I hiss at him as he staggers away from me, Masamune slipping from his bloodstained fingers.

One more blow... that is all it would take to end this.

I lift the Ultima Weapon...

I hesitate...

Fortunately, that passes quickly...

As the blade slides into his heart, I lean forward, the beginnings of a smile curving my lips.

"You must be a real disappointment to Mother," I whisper to him, delighting in the sudden realization that dawns on his face.

It is sweet... to watch him finally understand.

The puppet has finally cut his strings; the copy has outpaced the original...

The pupil has become the Master...

With a sudden twist, I drive the blade deeper into his dying form. My laughter fills his last moments - I have become everything that he has taught me to be. They say that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. He should have listened, there's so much truth in little gems like this.

I leave his body behind to be consumed by the Lifestream. Tifa's voice is growing closer and more desperate. Plastering a grin on my face, I stagger heroically up to her as the cavern begins to collapse into the surging energy that wells up from the bowels of the earth.

Sephiroth was flawed. He thought by destroying the world, he could become God. That was where his reasoning had failed him - what is the use of becoming God if there is no one left to worship you? Aerith dreamt of paradise, but I am prepared to be more pragmatic...

Cloud Strife, Ruler of the World, has a nice ring to it, eh?