[Fic] A Long Road To Destiny - FFVII/FFX - Zack, Cloud & Sephiroth - 6/25?
I was out on a boat yesterday and got a little seasick myself, so I had fresh sympathy for Cloud's plight while writing this. ^_^
Title: A Long Road to Destiny Series: FFVII/FFX fusion Pairing: Cloud, Zack & Sephiroth Rating: R Warnings: violence, angst, swearing, the usual Chapter length: 5618 Total length: 33,768
The summoner's journey is a long, hard path to walk. Having guardians you trust makes all the difference in the world.
Cloud clung to the railing, trying not to be too obvious about the desperation in his grip. The receding shore grew smaller and smaller behind them, leaving them alone in a vast expanse of ocean. Soon Kilika would be out of sight completely, and it would be a full day before Luca and the mainland came into view.
"Missing Kilika already?" Zack teased him. His guardian stood nearby, hands shading his eyes as he looked out over the sun-sparkled water. "If anyone should be getting homesick for it, it's me."
"It's 'homesickness' for solid land, not Kilika in particular," Cloud murmured. They'd forced him to eat breakfast early that morning, and he could feel it sloshing in his stomach as the ship rocked along. "At least it's nice and calm today."
"Yeah," Zack said, but he didn't sound like he really agreed. Cloud glanced up and found Zack frowning out at the sea, so calm it was like a mirror. The sky was clear and bright, with only the faintest hint of clouds on one horizon.
"Something wrong?" Sephiroth asked, apparently hearing the same note of worry in Zack's voice that Cloud had picked up. The other man was resting in the shade of the umbrella set up for that purpose, shielding his pale skin from the sun.
"It's a little too nice," Zack said, shaking his head. "You've heard the expression 'calm before the storm'? That's what this reminds me of. We're on the early side of hurricane season, but only barely. There have been storms this early in the past."
"If there was a storm coming, there would have been warning flags up and the captain wouldn't have weighed anchor. He knows the sea as well or better than you, Zack." Sephiroth seemed unconcerned, which reassured Cloud a bit.
"Yeah, I guess." Zack glanced at Cloud. "Don't worry, kid. Seph's right, the captain knows his business. And whatever else people say about the Al Bhed, they always warn us when there's a big storm coming."
"Was I being that obvious?" Cloud muttered, ducking his head. The thought of being at sea in a storm made him sweat nearly as bad as the fires in Kilika's temple had. He felt Evned stir within him at the thought, and quickly urged the aeon back down again. His control over it still wasn't perfect, and he didn't want to encourage it in any way.
"Only a little," Zack said, smiling at him. "How's your stomach? You look a little green around the gills. Oh!" He smacked his forehead, startling Cloud. "Geez, I almost forgot. Here, try these." He reached into his pocket and produced, of all things, a handful of tantal greens.
"Haha, very funny," Cloud said, glaring at him. "What do I look like, a chocobo?"
"Well, now that you mention it..." Zack eyed Cloud's spiky mop of bright yellow hair significantly. Cloud punched him, and his guardian laughed. "No, seriously. You don't eat them, you just chew on them. They help with seasickness." He offered them again, his expression eagerly sincere. Cloud eyed him warily, not quite trusting that it wasn't some kind of prank, but he could find no hint that Zack was secretly laughing at him.
"If you cannot trust your guardians, your journey is doomed to fail before it even begins," Sephiroth put in unexpectedly.
"I trust you both with my life," Cloud said, sighing and reaching for the greens. "I'm just not sure I trust him with my pride." Sephiroth smiled and inclined his head, acknowledging the point. "I'm just going to throw them up again, you know."
"Try them and see," was all Zack would say.
Cloud broke off a generous sprig and popped it in his mouth. It tasted... well, green. He couldn't come up with any other word for it. He chewed it, the tough fibres grinding but not really giving way beneath his teeth, producing a faint trickle of minty juice.
Almost immediately the worst of his nausea subsided. Cloud nearly choked in surprise, then coughed and chewed a little more vigorously. "It helps," he said, thrilled. "I wouldn't want to eat anything, but I'm not about to lose my breakfast anymore, either." The sensation still lingered, but it was much easier to ignore. Maybe this journey wouldn't be such a torment after all.
"I've got more than enough to last the whole trip," Zack declared. He looked justifiably smug. "Can't have our summoner wasting away to nothing before we even get to Luca! So, now that you're not clinging to the rail like a lifeline, want me to show you around the ship a little?"
"Yes, please!" Cloud agreed eagerly.
Sephiroth chuckled. "Yes, go help Zack run off some of his energy so he doesn't go stir-crazy. I'll stay here in the shade, thank you."
"Spoilsport," Zack laughed. "C'mon, Cloud. We'll leave old Sourpuss McLazybones here to his beauty sleep while we have some fun."
Instead of dragging out in an eternity of illness, the day flew by in a whirlwind of fun and new experiences. Cloud already knew that Zack was familiar with ships, but he hadn't realized how much his guardian knew about them. He also hadn't realized that Zack knew almost everyone on the ship at least by sight - and if he didn't already know them, he quickly charmed them into friendliness.
Zack showed him the massive paddles churning the water at the back of the boat, and took him down below to greet the chocobos who powered them by running endlessly in a set of giant wheels. Cloud got a tour of the bridge, and peeked into the room that held the huge gears connecting the paddles and the chocobo wheels. He even managed to eat a light lunch, which was arguably the highlight of the day.
"You look like you had fun," Sephiroth observed when they both returned, sun-flushed and windblown, to the top deck.
"I had no idea boats were so interesting," Cloud exclaimed. "I didn't even know there were chocobos, or anything. Zack knows everything." He'd developed a touch of hero-worship for his guardian over the course of the day. Which was only fair, really, considering the way he already idolized Sephiroth.
"The greens seem to have worked their promised magic," Sephiroth noted, smiling at him. "The wind has picked up, but the waves don't seem to be bothering you at all."
Surprised, Cloud looked out over the water and realized he was right. The earlier glass-smooth surface had vanished into a froth of small wavelets, and the boat was rocking quite a bit. Yet Cloud was still only a little nauseated, easily ignored. "Thanks, Zack," he said, the words warm and sincere. "I was really dreading this, but it's been a great day."
"Huh? Oh, yeah, no problem," Zack answered, distracted as he stared out over the water. The clouds were still sitting on the western horizon, but they were no longer a thin mist. Piles upon piles of them broke the line between water and sky, reaching in some places high enough to make Cloud feel dwarfed, and they were a dark grey in colour. Dim flashes lit the clouds from within at irregular intervals, and Cloud shivered as he realized it was lightning.
"Is it going to storm after all?" Cloud asked uneasily.
"Maybe, but I'm sure it's nothing," Zack said, obviously making an effort to sound reassuring. He turned away from the rail and clapped Cloud on the shoulder. "Let's go check out our quarters. You're the only summoner on the ship, so we get the reserved cabin all to ourselves."
"Reserved cabin?" Cloud repeated, surprised. He followed Zack back down the stairs, and this time Sephiroth came with them.
"Sure," Zack said. "This is one of the main ferries between Kilika and Luca, so they see lots of summoners between calms. As a courtesy they keep one cabin reserved if there's a summoner aboard." He stopped in front of a discreetly marked door and threw it open with a grin. "Ta-dah... what the fuck?"
The room within was complete chaos. Their bags - Zack's and Sephiroth's bags, really - had been brought down, and someone had torn into them and scattered their belongings everywhere. Almost everything had been broken, torn, or otherwise ruined. The bedding on the berths had been knotted together - and from the smell of it, someone had used it as a toilet as well. Written in what looked like charcoal across one wall was a single word: 'Heretic'.
Cloud stood there, gaping, torn between rage and humiliation. "I guess somebody noticed I'm Al Bhed," he said, his voice tight. He started to pick his way forward, hoping to at least salvage some of their equipment, but Sephiroth grabbed his arm and stopped him.
"Let the ship's crew take care of the mess," Sephiroth said quietly. "Zack, you stay here and watch over him while I speak to the captain. People who are willing to go this far might be tempted by an opportunity to act more directly, and they must still be on the ship somewhere."
"They won't get the chance," Zack promised, his eyes snapping with outrage. He shut the door again to block the worst of the stench, and gestured for Cloud to wait across the hall.
The ship's mate who hurried down the stairs a few minutes after Sephiroth's departure was pale and sweating, and looked oddly nervous. Cloud eyed him warily as he approached, but the man stopped just out of arm's reach and bowed to Cloud. "The captain sends his regrets and apologies, my l-lord summoner," he said, stumbling only a little over the title. "We'll clean up the mess right away, and he respectfully offers one of our other cabins for you tonight."
"And our belongings?" Sephiroth prompted, coming down behind the man.
The mate gulped and glanced over his shoulder at the former summoner. Cloud had to bite his lip on a laugh as he realized why the man was so anxious. It wasn't guilt, as he'd first thought, but rather an understandable and very healthy fear of Sephiroth's displeasure. Having seen the man deliver one scathing dressing-down in Besaid already, Cloud had a certain amount of sympathy for innocents caught in Sephiroth's fury.
"Anything we can fix or salvage we'll give to you in the morning," the sailor said. He hesitated, but when Sephiroth gave him a pointed look, he added unhappily, "Anything that needs replacement will be our own expense, of course."
"Thank you," Cloud said, doing his best to play the part of the dignified summoner. He even bowed to the man, making the sign of Yevon.
"The room in the far corner is unoccupied," the man said, pointing at the door furthest from the soiled cabin. "It's much smaller, but..."
"But we're just one summoner and a couple of guardians, not a whole big party," Zack said, apparently taking pity on the man. "We'll manage."
The room was indeed much smaller, with only four narrow hammocks slung from posts instead of berths built into the walls, and almost no room for luggage. Cloud could immediately see why the room was still empty; it was right next to the engine room, and he could hear the creaking of gears and the occasional strident 'wark' from the other side of the wall. The mate was eyeing him anxiously, looking like he expected a tantrum of some kind in response.
Cloud smiled. "It will be nice to be able to hear the birds," he said. "Practically like being at home." Obviously relieved that Cloud wasn't going to kick up a fuss, the mate bowed again and hurried off.
"Well," Zack said, leaning his sword against the wall before settling easily into one of the hammocks. "This isn't so bad, really. Could have been a lot..."
Cloud just barely managed to get a hand over his guardian's mouth in time to stop him from finishing the sentence. Unfortunately his hasty lunge also tipped the hammock over and dumped Zack out, getting them both tangled up in the process.
"Don't say it," Cloud scolded his bemused friend. Sephiroth, chuckling, moved to help untangle them. "Just don't ever say things like that. The universe is always happy to prove that you're right -things can always get worse."
The first real crash of thunder jolted Cloud out of a sound sleep. He flailed in the darkness, disoriented, and spilled right out of his hammock as the world tilted on its axis.
A strangled yelp came from Zack's direction, but anything he might have said was drowned out by a second peal of thunder, and then a third. Something crashed and shattered, and the tiny, flickering glow of the banked lantern abruptly became the bright light of full flame. Cloud smelled oil and smoke somewhere nearby, and fought off a surge of panic.
"Blizzara," Sephiroth snapped, and ice crystals smothered the flames. That left them in total darkness except for the intermittent flashes of lightning, but Cloud was grateful.
"What's going..." Cloud's question was cut off as the ship heaved again, and his stomach heaved with it. The calming effects of the greens had long since worn off, and he had to swallow a rush of bile.
"Looks like that storm hit after all," Zack shouted between crashes of thunder. "We must have set sail right before the warnings came in."
"Should we go up on deck and try to help?" Sephiroth called.
In the next flash, Cloud saw Zack shaking his head, his expression grim. "No, the best thing we can do now is stay out of the way. I just hope they got the sails furled in time."
"What happens if they didn't?" Cloud asked, fighting with his unhappy stomach. If Zack answered him, he missed it when the ship heaved again and tossed them all against the far wall of the cabin. Cloud landed on something soft, and heard a grunt from Sephiroth nearby. A moment later strong arms wrapped around his waist, and he blushed as he realized he'd landed on his guardian.
"Hold tight to me," Sephiroth shouted into his ear. Cloud nodded and clung to the bigger man. Sephiroth was tall enough to be able to brace his legs on the other wall of the narrow cabin, keeping them relatively secure. Somewhere not too far away Cloud could hear Zack muttering curses to himself, but he sounded determined rather than afraid.
On the other side of the wall Cloud could hear the frantic warking of the chocobos, and from somewhere above came the occasional shout and pounding feet of the sailors. The scent of brine and seaweed was overpowering, overlaid by the sharp smell of ozone.
Sephiroth's body was warm and solid beneath him. Cloud was desperately trying not to throw up on him. Fear, oddly enough, helped him to keep his dinner down, but it left him paralysed in exchange. He knew how to swim, but all his practicing had been in placid little mountain lakes and the calm expanse of the Moonflow. If the ship broke up and dumped them in the water, he was certain he would drown.
It took Cloud a moment to realize that the shaking he could feel wasn't a result of him shivering in terror, but rather the feel of the deck vibrating oddly beneath them. In the next lull of thunder he heard an odd, hollow groaning noise, followed by several sharp cracks like bones snapping. Though he'd never been terribly superstitious, to Cloud the noises sounded like a hungry ghost coming to pull them down to share its watery grave.
"Get against the outside wall, as fast as you can!" Zack shouted. Cloud had never heard him sound so panicked. "Seph, quick, the mainmast is coming down, it'll land right on top of us!"
Sephiroth's arms tightened around Cloud's waist, yanking him to one side as the bigger man rolled them over. The cracking became an ear-splitting crash, and Cloud gave an involuntary shout as the world seemed to explode into splinters.
He braced himself for the expected pain as the slivers drove into his flesh, but he felt only an odd, dull pressure in several places. When he opened his eyes cautiously, he saw the debris being slowed and deflected by what could only be the glow of a protect spell. It was over between one crash of thunder and the next, and then rain was pounding down on them from the new hole in the wall and roof.
The mast had come down just a little off centre, and crushed the cabin next to them while only tearing through the roof and one corner of their room. Cloud tried hard not to think about anyone who might have been on the other side of that wall. For that matter, if they'd still been in the cabin originally assigned to them, they'd probably have been crushed as well. Their unknown tormentor had unwittingly saved their lives.
The ship lurched again as it crested another wave, and what felt like a tonne of water crashed down on them through the hole. Caught by surprise, Cloud choked and sputtered, coughing as he came up into clear air again. The rain slammed hard against his exposed skin, and he could already feel the ship tilting up on the next wave.
"Here!" Zack shouted, and pressed something rough into Cloud's hands. "Tie this around your waist, then pass it around Seph!"
Belatedly Cloud realized that what he was holding was the long end of a piece of rope, scrounged from one of their hammocks by the feel of it. Zack had already tied it around himself, and held the other free end. Hastily Cloud wrapped the cord around his waist and knotted it a few times, then did the same for Sephiroth.
They had to pause again as another wave came roaring into the cabin. This time Cloud was able to get a good breath and hold it, so he wasn't flailing to try to get back to the air. In the eerie calm imposed by the water, the thunder crashes sounded distant and unreal. More clear was the same horrible groaning noise that had preceded the fall of the mast. There were no snapping sounds accompanying it, not yet, but Cloud had a sinking feeling it wouldn't take long.
They surfaced again, still tied together by the rope. "We need to get out of here," Zack shouted. "The whole cabin sounds like it's ready to collapse. Follow my lead, and try to stay out of the way of the sailors."
He waited for the next wave to come, then kicked off the floor and let himself be pulled out of the cabin through the ruined wall along with the receding water. Cloud was nearly yanked off his feet when the rope tugged sharply at his waist, but he swam after Zack as well as he could. Sephiroth followed right behind him, moving carefully to keep from getting his long sword snagged on any debris.
The pull of the water was strong, and before Cloud knew it they were out of the cabin. The rail was coming up fast, with nothing but open ocean beyond it. For a horrible moment Cloud thought that Zack had miscalculated and they would be swept right off the ship.
Then the rope at his waist pulled tight and halted his momentum, just as the water level dropped enough that he was able to get his head above water. Panting for air, he glanced back to see that Zack had caught the edge of the wall as he'd passed, and was holding them in place. "Quick, Seph!" Zack called his voice strained with the effort of holding against all their weight. "Tie the rope to the rail before the next wave comes!"
Sephiroth was already working before the last words had left Zack's mouth. In seconds he had lashed his end of the rope securely to the railing. On the next wave Zack let go and swam the short distance to the rail as well, and tied his free end on. Thus assured that they wouldn't be swept overboard, Cloud let himself breathe a sigh of relief.
Now he was able to turn his attention to the rest of the ship. Sailors ran frantically here and there, struggling with water-logged ropes and sails, to not much effect Cloud could see. The bridge had been ruined by the collapse of the mast as well, and there was no sign of the captain, but Cloud spotted the first mate shouting orders from the wheel.
A few other passengers were crawling out of the cabins or clinging to any solid surface. Cloud would have felt sorry for them, without two powerful guardians to help keep them safe, but he was too worried about their own safety.
"Should we summon?" he called to Sephiroth, uncertain. "There has to be something we can do!"
Sephiroth shook his head. "Aeons can do nothing against the forces of nature," he said grimly. "All we would accomplish would be to frighten the sailors, make them think that fiends or even Sin itself was nearby."
Cloud grimaced. He hadn't thought of that, but of course that would be the first thought to occur to most people. Summoners didn't call upon their aeons lightly.
"All we can do is pray," Zack said from his other side. "I know you don't believe in Yevon, but you might try invoking whatever power it is the Al Bhed do believe in. We can use all the help we can get."
If there were any Al Bhed gods, Cloud's mother had neglected to mention them to him. Instead he bowed his head and prayed fervently to the fayth, asking them to watch over him and his guardians. He thought he heard a faint echo of the hymn in response; perhaps it was Jymavun and Evned's way of comforting him.
The ship groaned and shuddered again as it climbed another huge wave. Cloud opened his eyes just in time to see the crest of the wave looming over them, the slope looking far too steep for the ship to climb. Somehow they made it over the top, but the ship canted oddly sideways as it slid down the other side.
The shouts of the crew took on a more frantic tenor, and Cloud saw Zack's hands go white-knuckled on the rail. "C'mon, get her turned, get her turned," Zack chanted, his eyes locked on the oncoming swell.
Cloud wasn't sure he actually wanted to know the answer, but morbid curiosity impelled him to ask. "What happens if the ship doesn't turn?"
It was Sephiroth who answered him. "If the wave hits us broadside - sideways, on the long axis of the ship - we will almost certainly be capsized."
Swallowing hard, Cloud returned to his prayers, wishing he'd kept his mouth shut after all.
He had no idea how far was 'far enough', but the crew must have managed it because the ship only rose and plunged and rose again, never rolling onto its side. Cloud was frankly too terrified to be sick, which was just as well or he'd probably have puked on both his guardians.
After what seemed a lifetime and a half of thunder and lightning and waves, the rain finally began to lighten. The wind stopped competing with the waves to try to knock them off the ship. When Cloud looked up again it was still storming, but although the waves were still high they no longer rose above the ship itself.
"Is it over?" he heard himself ask plaintively.
A passing crewmember overheard and stopped to answer him. "Almost. I think we're through the worst of it. Don't untie yourselves just yet, though."
"It's not a hurricane, is it?" Zack asked anxiously. "We're not just coming into the eye?"
"No, it seems to be just a really bad storm," the sailor assured them.
"Did we lose anybody?" Zack wanted to know.
"The captain died when the mast went down," the sailor confirmed. "Several of the passengers and crew as well. Nobody went overboard, thank Yevon."
"Lucky for you, eh Tiran?" Zack said with a relieved grin. "Never did meet a sailor that could swim worth a damn, but you're worse than most."
The man smiled back. "Hey, not everybody can be a blitz star," he joked in return. "Some of us actually do work to make a living."
He turned to go, and Cloud relaxed a little more. The fact that the man had talked to them for so long said better than words ever could that the worst danger was past. "You know him?" he asked Zack curiously.
"Yeah, his family lives like, three houses down from mine," Zack said. "He taught me to swim, actually, which is why I was teasing him. In a week I was swimming circles around him, poor guy."
Cloud laughed, and ended up with a mouthful of saltwater when another wave rose high enough over the side to splash him. He coughed and sputtered, and then Zack was the one laughing at him.
As if to mock them for relaxing, one last lightning bolt lashed down out of the sky, so white it was blinding. Cloud shouted in startled reflex, but he couldn't hear his own voice over the roar of thunder that accompanied the lightning. His ears rang even after the thunder faded, but not enough to block the cracking noise that was quickly joined by shouts and screams from the crew. Cloud looked over just in time to see the secondary mast crash to the deck, split almost perfectly in half by the lightning. The piece that remained standing was burning despite the rain pouring down on it, while the part that had fallen got caught in the next wave and was pulled overboard. One hapless crewman, pinned beneath it when it fell, was knocked over the side with it to disappear into the water.
"Man overboard!" somebody shouted, and ropes were immediately flung over the side. Even from where he stood Cloud could see it was hopeless. The ship was moving so fast that the drowning man was already out of reach of the ropes, and in moments they would leave him behind entirely. As he was swept past only a few feet from Cloud and his guardians, Cloud got a good look at the man's terrified face and recognized him as the same crewman who'd stopped to talk to them just minutes before.
Zack recognized him as well. "Tiran! Shit, I've gotta do something, he'll drown! Seph, watch Cloud, I'll be right back."
Before Cloud realized what he was planning, Zack drew a knife and hacked right through the thin cords binding him to Cloud and the railing. Cloud shouted and lunged for him, but his fingers closed on empty air as Zack scrambled up and over the rail in a controlled dive.
"Zack!" Cloud screamed, and only the rope around his own waist stopped him from mindlessly throwing himself after his guardian. A moment later Sephiroth had grabbed him firmly around the chest, keeping him in place.
"You can't go after him," Sephiroth said. His voice was grim, and when Cloud looked up at him, he saw the other man staring at the place where Zack had disappeared into the water with grief in his eyes.
"We have to do something, they'll get left behind," Cloud shouted, thrashing in Sephiroth's grip. Now that the first mindless panic was over he knew his guardian was right; throwing himself into the water wasn't going to accomplish anything but getting him drowned. But he couldn't just leave Zack to die.
"There's nothing we can do," Sephiroth insisted. "Zack is a remarkably strong swimmer; he may yet be able to catch up with the ship." Though his words were encouraging, his hopeless tone told Cloud he didn't believe it, either.
"No!" Though Cloud had only known them a few days, it already felt like Zack and Sephiroth were the most important people in his life. They'd been the first people to ever stand up for him, to really care about him and help him. Zack was the only person he'd ever met who could tease him and make him laugh, instead of leaving him feeling mocked and abused. Cloud was only just beginning to learn what friendship could really be like; he couldn't lose that now. He just couldn't.
His arms were pinned by Sephiroth, and there wasn't room to summon properly anyway. He threw back his head and screamed his defiance at the pounding storm and raging sea. "Jymavun!"
The shaft of light that pierced through the sky was far more dramatic against the storm than it had been on a sunny day. The clouds swirled around it like a vortex, and when Jymavun burst through it seemed like the aeon carried the sunlight with her. Cloud felt Sephiroth go rigid against his back, but all his concentration was on his aeon and he couldn't spare the thought to wonder why.
She came to hover beside the railing, her wings beating steadily against the twisting winds of the storm. "Help Zack," he begged her. He wasn't certain just what she could do, but it was better than standing there doing nothing.
She crooned at him and tugged at a lock of his water-logged hair with her massive beak, preening him like a little chick. Then she spread her wings wider still and did a flip in midair, streaking off behind the ship towards the place where Zack and the crewman had gone into the water. It was already far behind them, but when he strained Cloud thought he could just make out two dark heads bobbing in the water.
Jymavun overshot them and did a wingover, turning herself neatly. As she flew back to the ship she dipped low, her massive talons dragging through the water and sending up splashes of water on either side of her. Abruptly she lifted again, wings beating harder than ever but moving more slowly than before. Cloud bit back a sob of relief as he saw the two human-shaped burdens she clutched in her claws.
She flew over the deck and hovered again, just long enough to release the two men she carried. They came tumbling down to the deck, and she gave a piercing shriek that sounded to Cloud like laughter. Then she was gone again, dissolving into the rain in a swarm of pyreflies.
Sephiroth finally released Cloud, and there was just enough slack in the rope for him to kneel beside Zack. The older man was panting and looked a little dazed, staring at the place where the aeon had been. "So that's what flying is like," he said, his voice awed. "Wow." He blinked and focused on Cloud, and his expression softened. "Hey, kid, quit that." He reached up and touched Cloud's face, and only then did Cloud realize that some of the water on his cheeks was too warm to be rain. "I'd have been okay. Though I'm not ungrateful for the help!"
"Idiot," Cloud muttered, scrubbing at his face and trying to hide how very frightened he'd been. "You just... idiot! Do you realize how fast the ship is going?"
"Yeah, well, I kinda wasn't thinking about that when I jumped," Zack admitted sheepishly. "But really, I'd have managed." He glanced over Cloud's shoulder, and his eyes widened.
Nervously Cloud looked as well, and what he saw left him staring open-mouthed with amazement. Everyone on the ship but Zack and Sephiroth was bowing to him, their hands held in the attitude of prayer. The sailors in particular were bent nearly double, and Tiran was right down on his knees.
"Go back to your duties," Sephiroth called, his voice firm but not stern for once. "We are not out of danger yet." Another toss of the ship emphasized his words, and the sailors hastily scrambled to return to the work they had been doing to keep the ship on course. The other passengers milled together some distance from Cloud and his guardians, eyeing them and whispering among themselves. Resolutely Cloud turned his back on them, determined to ignore them.
"Hey, not that I'm not grateful or anything, but are they supposed to do that?" Zack asked in a low voice as he climbed shakily to his feet again. "The aeons, I mean. I thought you were only supposed to summon them in a battle?"
Cloud looked at him, dismayed. Was that why everyone was ogling him? Had he yet again broken another rule of summoning that he hadn't even known existed?
"It is not that it isn't permitted," Sephiroth said slowly, an odd look in his eyes as he studied Cloud. It wasn't the same sort of staring that the sailors and passengers were doing, but a softer and almost awed look. "Rather it is simply that most summoners cannot bring the aeons forth except in extreme circumstances, which usually means they are already engaged in battle. There have been some, most notably the majority of the high summoners, who were able to call on their aeons at will. I have only heard of a few throughout history who were capable of doing it without at least some semblance of a summoning ritual."
Cloud shifted uneasily, staring at his feet rather than meet that strange expression. He had an uncomfortable suspicion that Zack might be looking at him that way as well now, and he didn't want to confirm it.