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SOLDIER’S Have A Serious Problem With Sugar

Chapter Text

It was widely known among the ranks of SHINRA that their SOLDIER’s had a certain . . . addiction (which was the mildest way of putting it).

One of the minor setbacks with having mako essentially running through their veins was the major increase in appetite. Seeing as the best way to keep one’s energy levels up was through sugar, the SOLDIER’s diets quickly switched from the questionable substances of the cafeteria to practically living off takeout and vending machines.

The confectionary companies soon found themselves earning a lot of business from the power company, and as mako burned off all the excess fat that a non – enhanced individual would gain from all that candy, it didn’t matter how many chocolate bars or bags of chewy candy they ate, the SOLDIER’s stayed in peak condition (not to mention the fact the mako meant they wouldn’t need to see a dentist ever again).

However, one set back regarding this sugar intoxication was the impact it had on the budget.

The accounting department had to set aside a separate budget under the SOLDIER’s section labelled “Gluttonous Glucose”.

It was a running joke between Matilda, the department head of Budgeting and Keith, when she was trying to give a name for the budget dedicated to sugar and sweets. She had ‘glucose’ down and Keith had scrawled ‘Gluttonous’ in front of it. She found it humorous and the rest of her staff caught onto it, and that became the official name for the budget.

The problem with this budget though, was that over time they had to draw more money from other budgets, and the department that got most budget cuts happened to be Urban Development.

While Keith gave Reeve his condolences yet again when the monthly meetings came up, passing along a note from Matilda who regretted to tell him yet again her second in command had been an impulsive idiot and drawn at least half of the Urban Development’s budget to shove it under the Glucose budget.

This was the fifth time it had occurred, as the man was a pompous ass who decided he didn’t need his female boss’ approval to do such a thing, so Matilda was going to see if she could get him fired for insubordination.

However, this time Reeve wasn’t going to drop the matter of this budgeting problem.

And for once, they got to witness the usually mild mannered man actually explode.

-o0o-

“My Budget has been cut YET AGAIN! I’m practically the only employee left in my department! I’m one man, that is doing the work of an entire department by myself, and now I can’t even afford to give MYSELF a salary! Fuck this company! If things don’t change I’m quitting! At least Ultima Services pays for access to my Quest Desk! Not only that, they don’t complain when they don’t like the Quests or Rewards on offer! They’ve been taking every Quest I’ve compiled that either don’t make the ‘guidelines’ SHINRA has, or gets shunted out of rotation because no-one wants to take it. I ACTUALLY GET PAID, AND PAID WELL, BY A COMPANY THAT IS LITTLE MORE THAN A MERCENARY GUILD! I knew that SHINRA was fucked up, but not to this extent! Fuck the lot of you! KEITH, STOP LAUGHING, I’M FUCKING SERIOUS! CLOUD PAYS ME MORE PER MONTH THAN MY STARTING SALARY HIS OLD MAN GAVE ME! SPEAKING OF SALARY, MOST EMPLOYEES GET A WAGE RISE WHILE ALL I EVER GOT WAS A WAGE CUT! Fuck this, I’m done. So fucking done. Good luck organising the mission requests cause I am out.”

While most of the board was bewildered by the pleasantly mannered engineers (who barely had the guts to speak up during the meetings) sudden outburst, Keith was currently wheezing for air as his whole body shook with laughter, hiding his face in his arms as he tried to smother his high pitched giggles with the table.

Sephiroth found himself staring at the older man in bewilderment, wondering if this was the first sign of a mental breakdown, while slightly disturbed at the absolute delight and pride shimmering in Omael Hojo’s eyes as Reeve Tuesti stormed out of the room, slamming the door hard enough that it rattled.

It was completely silent, the only sound was Keith’s broken giggling, the doorknob plopping to the ground.

It was when Keith actually slid to the floor, hiccuping and tears streaming down his face, his fingers tearing gouges into the wooden table as he desperately clung onto something to ground him during his hysterical fit, that anyone made a sound.

Veld made an awkward cough, causing everyone to turn to the Turk Director who seemed to be the most unruffled of the lot.

“Perhaps we should adjourn?”

The President nodded stiffly, rising from his chair and practically fleeing the room, an absolutely terrified expression on his face when he glanced to Keith.

The person in question who was starting to freak even Sephiroth out with the small smattering of giggles that escaped his lips from where he was now lying under the table, his face smushed into the carpet as the ash blonde janitor began to curl up into a ball.

The others followed suit, Heidegger practically jumping a foot into the air when Keith let out an absolute shriek of laughter, startling even Tseng who was torn between following Veld and checking on one of his closest friends.

Sephiroth was at a loss, unsure of what he should do, but Omael simply shooed him out of the room, saying it was perfectly alright.

(He would later find out that Keith had these hysterical fits every once in awhile, which he usually let loose in Omael’s office, explaining the rumours of interns being freaked out by the insane laughter).

However, it still didn’t put his mind at ease about Reeve who had finally snapped after several years of putting up with this bullshit.

-o0o-

Ultima Services. An, as of yet, unheard of company that dealt with all kinds of issues.

Tseng couldn’t really find anything about them and Veld didn’t have much better luck, never mind what the rest of the Turks had been able to find.

(Although it was rather strange that Reno and Rude came back rather pale and shaky, with the excuse of bad memories being stirred up)

Zack, however, seemed to be a fountain of information. No-one knew how, and even Kunsel was stumped as to how Zack would know about the company when even his resources turned up little better than nothing.

Zack was also quite willing to tell all about this Ultima Services as well, luckily for the Turks.

“Sure, I can tell ya some stuff. It’s pretty boring though, not like how it is in SHINRA. Ya see, people all over tender jobs that they need, and offer rewards for the ones who complete them. Ya got ya normal Monster-related jobs, then ya got ya jobs to fix stuff, then even jobs to do stuff like observe and film wildlife in it’s natural habitat. There is all sorts of stuff, for all sorts of people.”

“I can hear a ‘But’ somewhere.”

“Ya gotta register with the Quest System and ya haveta pay a fee depending on the quest type and rank. Registering a Temp tag is free, and ya get three quests under 3* difficulty that ya can do on it. If ya want a permanent Quest Tag, then ya gotta pay a 100Gil fee and register ya personal details. Then ya gotta take a test to determine what type of tag ya gonna get. There’s three types, and ya can only upgrade two of the three. The first type is Support Tags; these ones only allow you ta take jobs that are either 1-3* or are ones that are strictly repair or the like. Ya can’t upgrade a Support Tag, cause those that have one aren’t fighters. Merc Tags are the second type and can be upgraded twice to allow ya to take on more difficult missions, all the way up to 8-10* ranks. These ones allow any quest ya have the skill for and can include repair, monster-culling, delivery, etc etc. The last type’a tag is the one for Guilds, all Guild-leaders must first register either the first or second type of tag then apply for a Guild permit. Guild tags group together people, and allow the tags of all guild members to be used to take on Quests for the entire guild. Quests that have an Enhanced condition can still only be taken by someone that has that status on their Tag though….”

“I see, and these ‘Tags’, what about them?”

Zack then shifted and showed off his earring.

“See the engraving on this? This is my Tag. I scan this at the Quest Desk an’ I can get all sorts of odd jobs. I even saw one of ‘em that I recognised from the Second-Class board. The Second-Class board had the job listed as 500Gil, but I got about 5000Gil from it through the Quest Desk an’ all I had to pay was the 150Gil process fee. That’s more’n I make offa the First-Class board in a week doin’ back-ta-backs. Kinda makes ya wonder jus’ how much Old Man SHINRA is skimming offa the reward money from us SOLDIERs.”

Tseng would later think back to this conversation and realise how chilling but accurate Zack’s comment was.

-o0o-

Sephiroth didn’t really have a problem with Ultima Services.

In fact, he found the company to be rather . . . ethical compared to SHINRA.

He knew that Keith had a problem with the way SHINRA operated, shoving missions to the side because no one wanted to do them or the company didn’t want to because of costs. He knew it bothered the man that was practically a brother to him, and the reason why Keith threw himself into his work, trying to ensure that his own people were protected from the carelessness that came with being an employee of SHINRA.

Not to mention Sephiroth, himself, was a guild leader with most of the SOLDIER’s based in Midgar. (President Shinra would have a heart attack if he found out his General was working with the enemy).

Sephiroth was surprised at the types of Reward on offer for the Quests, as well as from the variety of jobs that were on offer. The spiky-haired blonde he often saw at the counter wasn’t that bad to look at either, even though he looked like a skinny runt of a trooper.

In fact, the very man/child (he didn’t really know, it was hard to gauge the blonde’s age by looks alone) was standing in the lobby of the SOLDIER floors, and to his irritation, in the exact spot he was supposed to meet this elusive CEO that the Turks had managed to track down.

Zack, upon seeing the look on Sephiroth’s face, immediately grabbed his arm.

“Seph, dude. I wouldn’t try it.”

Confused at the absolute seriousness in the normally chipper SOLDIER’s voice, Sephiroth actually took Zack’s words into consideration. But of course his irritation won out (Keith had been practically giggly that morning and refused to tell him why he was in such a good mood).

He hadn’t really thought that this particular individual was dangerous, maybe with just a Support Tag if he had one at all. That was, until the runt grabbed his arm and sent him flying when he tried to escort the blonde out.

-o0o-

Zack could only groan in despair as he watched his silver haired superior march over towards the blonde, knowing that this would not end well.

Oh well, at least he could tell Keith he tried.

As a Sephiroth shaped hole was created in the wall next to him, Zack could only wince at the sound of mortar and plasterboard breaking upon impact.

Keith was not going to be happy.

-o0o-

The blonde janitor in question was swearing up a storm as he sprinted down the hallways, Hollander had been an ass as usual, causing him to be slightly delayed as he promised to meet Cloud in the lobby.

Hearing the sound of walls breaking wasn’t an unusual sound, so Keith ignored it at first.

Then he had to backtrack at the flash of silver.

“Seph?”

“Yeah?”

“ . . . For all that is good and chocolatey” (It was a running gag between the two of them) “Why, are you half embedded into a wall? One that I know is metal plated?”

“That . . . is a good question.”

“What’s the last thing you remember?”

One that Zack answered for them both, the raven haired puppy sticking his head out into the hallway (through a suspiciously Sephiroth shaped hole) and waving erratically with an absolute shit - eating grin on his face.

“I told Seph not to, but he thought Spiky wasn’t here for . . . you know. So he tried to 'escort' him out. Didn’t work.”

“Ah.”

Sephiroth seemed rather dazed at the fact this was enough of an explanation (or maybe it was the result of being thrown through three and a half walls of steel structure).

“Keith! You’re late!”

While Zack helped to peel Seph out of the wall, Keith sighed and jogged over to Cloud (who was both amused but annoyed going by his expression), throwing a thumb over his shoulder and gesturing down the hall.

“Blame Hollander. He thought it was a good idea to ask me if I tampered with his research notes from last week. I told him his intern chucked them out since they were utter crap, but he doesn’t believe me. You would think after all the death threats I’ve given him he would stop trying to piss me off. But he never learns.”

A look of understanding flickered over Cloud’s face, both of them knowing the stupidity of those who believed themselves to be above others.

“Right . . . so, what time is this meeting supposed to start?”

Taking in Cloud’s appearance (as always dressed in his usual leather half apron {which Keith was sure he could pull off himself if he put his mind to it}, and leather ‘wing-guard’ single sleeve), Keith couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow.

“You sure you want to show up like that? You look a lot like a SOLDIER First with an altered uniform.”

Knowing Cloud, his response would be . . .

“Does it look like I care? They’re the ones who invited me, they never mentioned a dress code. Besides, they didn’t exactly copyright the look, and it’s comfortable.”

Which was true, but that could start a debate that they didn’t have the time to spare for.

“Zack? How’s Seph?”

“Eh . . . a bit banged up but coherent. He should be fine. Although, I bet his ego’s bruised something shocking.”

“Please don’t talk like I’m not right behind you.”

“Pfhh.”

“Oy, you laughed didn’t you?”

Keith said nothing and took Cloud by the arm, dragging the amused blonde towards the elevators.

“KEITH!”

“Seph, you need to be up there too, right?”

“ . . . For once, I’ll listen to you Zack. And, please inform someone the walls need to be fixed. Again.”

No one wanted to talk about the latest incident. Genesis still winced every time it was brought up, the auburn haired man swearing his hip wouldn’t be the same again.

As Sephiroth caught up to the elevator (Keith taking pity on him and holding the doors open), he finally saw the blonde’s eyes for the first time. Well, that explained that then, didn’t it. Wonder what the board would say?

-o0o-

When Sephiroth swayed drunkenly through the doors, everyone was quick to sit up and take notice.

But seeing the amused smile on Keith’s face, caused shivers to run down their spines. (Reeve hid a snigger behind his papers, having guessed what had happened.)

Although seeing the spiky haired blonde trailing behind the janitor, caused them much confusion.

“Sephiroth, I thought you were retrieving the CEO of Ultima Services?”

The General said nothing, actually slumping down into his chair without his usual gracefulness, running a hand down his face before answering.

“I mistook him for an intruder and got thrown through three and a half walls, I may have a concussion.”

Veld shot Tuesti a concerned look when the man let out a smothered snicker, banging his knee under the tabletop in an effort to keep his composure together.

“Barrett owes Cid 5 Mastered All Materia. Barrett bet you wouldn’t be that stupid.”

Now it was the boards turn to stare at Keith who clapped a hand over his mouth to prevent himself from letting out a howl of laughter, eyebrows raised as the man sunk to his knees, his whole body trembling at the effort to not laugh.

The blonde crossed over to the window, and took a small frog out from his pouch. Upon the static of a spell being cast, the frog turned out to be something quite different.

“Hello, Hollander. Remember me?”

Said man let out a shriek of terror at the sight of crimson eyes and pitch black hair, leaping out of his seat and crawling under the table with whimpers escaping his mouth.

Omael let out a cackle at his co - worker’s terror, warmly shaking the rather vampire - looking man’s hand and giving the taller man a fatherly pat on the back.

Veld let out a strangled sound in the back of his throat, looking like he had seen a ghost, and promptly fainted, sending the whole board into hysterics.

The blonde, who was the cause of this whole mess, just chuckled and watched the chaos unfold.

-o0o-

Eventually Tseng had managed to get Keith back to normal, the janitor taking a few deep breaths before managing to revive Veld, clearing his throat.

The sound alone had everyone staring at him, frozen as they clearly remembered what happened if they ignored that sound.

The memories alone were enough to make them regret ever angering the man in the first place.

“Alright, now that we’ve got the panic out of our systems, shall we begin negotiations?”

President Shinra seemed quite alarmed to hear the word, his face still sweating from watching his staff panic.

“Negotiations? This is a simple meeting between companies, we never planned to negotiate anything.”

Keith simply stared at the man, knowing full well that the President planned to negotiate or threaten Cloud in order to gain some semblance of control over his only competition.

“Try telling that to someone who buys your chocoboshit old man.” Came the crunching from the window.

The sweet smell of caramel permeated the air, which caused various reactions throughout the boardroom. Sephiroth seemed to have instantaneously recovered from his concussion, sitting ramrod straight and his eyes lasered to the blonde like a predator who had caught scent of his prey.

To those with keener eyes would have noticed how both Tseng and Veld twitched, the Wutanian native’s fingers were fidgeting as if he was trying to stay rooted to the spot, but his eyes betrayed how the smell was affecting him.

Veld would have had a more refined reaction, but since he had already lost his composure due to his prior fainting spell, he seemed to have abandoned the idea of dignity and hid his face in his hands. Vincent’s silent laughter certainly told Veld that his former partner found the situation quite amusing.

Speaking of former partners, there was a story there, and it seemed to centre on Hollander. He’d have to get it later.

The latter was still hiding under the table, but his whimpering had long since died out the moment the crunching had begun.

(It seemed that Cloud was well aware of the SOLDIER’s one little issue, judging by the way he had brought his own snacks to the table.)

“I ain’t giving Reeve back old man, so screw off.”

Cloud seemed to have rendered the President speechless, going by how red the blond man’s face was becoming and the slightly choked gargles coming from his throat.

Reeve was thoroughly enjoying himself, watching the (clearly) one - sided match like a game of tennis, not even bothering to hide his grin behind his papers. Keith was more than happy to sit down next to the engineer, making off handed comments that had the bearded man snickering as Cloud continued to pick at the faults in the SHINRA co - operations policies like one would select candy in a grocery store.

There were plenty of options to choose from, and many different ways to eat them.

And Cloud certainly wasn’t fussy about his choices.

This continued on for half an hour, and by the time President Shinra seemed to have regained his senses, Cloud had already became bored and was using an open window to ricochet small marble sized objects into his mouth (Tseng wasn’t even aware they could do that with the windows in the boardroom).

Keith made a move and spoke up for the first time in a while.

“Oh man, this is going to . . . cause quite a stir.”

“I’m just waiting for the threats to start. Then I can knock ‘em off at the knees, or relieve them of a kilo or two of useless weight they aren’t using.”

“How are those caramels going to cause a problem?” Heidegger (who never tried to pay attention in any of the budgeting meetings) inquired, causing Omael to actually cackle and between his bone - chilling laughter, mentioned about proving a point.

Seeing as Omael wasn’t going to explain to the clueless idiot, Keith decided to take pity and explain (Sephiroth was too preoccupied watching the small marbles of yellow sugar, that Cloud was now using fancier and fancier tricks to catch in his mouth).

“There is a reason for the Gluttonous Glucose budget. Due to the high concentration of mako in one’s body, it keeps the subject in peak condition but increases the need for carbs and all those other things you won’t understand. Glucose is the one thing the body will crave the most, and the easiest way to tackle the problem is with candy. That’s the reason why your troopers always have an emergency stash of candy when they’re assigned to missions with the SOLDIERs.”

Going by the dumbstruck look on Heidegger’s face, the man wasn’t getting why Cloud tossing caramels around was a bad idea, nor the comment about the useless weight he clearly wasn’t using.

“The ventilation in this room connects to all the other offices in the building. So the smell of caramel has by now reached the other floors. And since I did a routine check yesterday, I can confirm that all the vending machines are completely empty. Most of the SOLDIERs are out getting lunch, but when they get back they’re going to be on that scent like a shark smelling blood in the water.”

It was at this moment the Zack burst through the doors of the meeting room, a wild look in his eyes.

Sephiroth (being a bit more composed as Keith had shoved a bag of Kit - Kat’s at him this morning), promptly threw his subordinate out and slammed the door shut behind him, before leaning on it as said subordinate began banging on the now closed door.

“That” Keith gestured to the door “is why this is a problem.”

Realization began to spread across Heidegger’s face, and the man squeaked when the door received a particularly strong kick, the metal enforcing practically squealing in an effort to stay intact.

“And this popcorn isn’t even my ‘big-guns’, so to speak.”

Omael had to excuse himself when he began to laugh so hard he began to wheeze, Veld (in an effort to regain some sort of composure) fetched a glass of water for the scientist, and began a hushed conversation with Vincent (who had retreated to a corner of the room, nearest the biggest window).

“And what, exactly are your ‘big-guns’?”

Rufus, who hadn’t said a word this entire time (and everyone had forgotten the teen was in the room with them), and was wearing an amused smile that quickly dropped at Cloud’s next words.

“Why, big brother, haven’t you heard of ‘Choco-Kick Meteors’?”

(Keith knew that Rufus happened to enjoy those when he could get his hands on them).

“Choco-Kick Meteors? What are those? And why would they be your ‘big-guns’?”

President Shinra was obviously quite confused, having never heard of the candy before

“My mother came up with them, after I ended up in that faulty fucking reactor. They look a lot like Materia, but are actually candy. Unenhanced individuals need the mild ones, and even then the result feels like a fully-powered Chocobo kick to the chest when the sugar high hits. The ones I’ve got on me are the SOLDIER-strength versions. These have the sensation of getting hit with several Mastered Comet spells, and that’s when you’re ENHANCED. Unenhanced individuals would outright have a heart-attack from sugar-shock.”

“I may have also contributed to their creation.” Keith threw his hand up like a child in a classroom, grinning like an absolute lunatic which didn’t help to calm President Shinra down at all.

“Although the first few experiments almost got us kicked out of the village. Man, Cloud on a sugar high is not fun when you’re the one having to clean up the mess. Not to mention one kid had to get most of his teeth removed when he ate a faulty one. We had to spend a full day hiding on the mountain when his parents found out. Ah, good times.”

Sephiroth outright whimpered at the announcement, and was barely managing to keep the doors closed through his own silent begging to Cloud.

“Oh for the love of Gaia, let him in.” Keith rolled his eyes, stomping over to the door and gently shoving Sephiroth out of the way. He soon had an armful of drooling Puppy, and a near close call from the rest of the SOLDIERs that had come back from lunch.

With a calm demeanor that only Keith could pull off, the janitor slammed the doors shut once again, kicking Zack to the ground and promptly sat on his back, leaning against the doors and not at all bothered by the shuddering and shouting coming from them. In fact, he looked quite comfortable, a stern glare down at Zack telling the raven haired SOLDIER what exactly would happen if he tried to throw Keith off.

A sigh of relief came from most of the board, Omael was quite happy monitoring the whispered conversation between Vincent and Veld, Reeve was grinning at the fruit of his labours (he wouldn’t have expected his rant to result in this much fun) and Rufus had a bit of pride in his expression at his ‘new - found’ brother’s guts.

“Wait, you ended up in a reactor and you’re still alive?”

It was at this moment that Cloud turned around and, in the relatively dim light of the boardroom, his eyes glowed with a pure clear blue power.

If there was one way to summarize how the majority of the board felt right now, it could be done in three simple words.

Well, we’re fucked.

-o0o-

-Omake-

Cloud seemed to take some pity on the panicking board members, strolling casually over to Omael who beamed with pride and ruffled his hair, commenting on how smart his nephew was.

Hollander practically screeched at this, no one had noticed the man had crawled out from under the safety of the table, pointing a shaking finger at Cloud with a look of utmost horror on his face.

“You’re related to him?! Oh, now it all makes sense! You’ve inherited his psychotic genes!”
Omael merely shrugged the insult off, having been subjected to this sort of behaviour for the past twenty years, but going by the glower on Cloud’s face, the smaller blonde was not happy to hear his Uncle being called a psycho.

However, it seemed that Keith didn’t like hearing that his little bro was being called the same thing. (To Omael, it was a compliment really, and Keith was well aware how Omael’s mind worked).

“He’s adopted you idiot!”

Before anyone else could respond, Keith had somehow shoved Zack in Sephiroth’s direction, vaulted over the table and grabbed Hollander by the throat, holding the choking scientist at least a foot off the ground.

“No one, and I mean no one, insults my little brother.”

Scarlet let out a shriek of alarm as Keith reared his arm back and threw the full 150 pounds of moronic flesh at the largest shatter proof glass window.

Vincent calmly opened the window he was near and stepped back, not once breaking off the conversation he was having with Veld as the scientist began his 70 story descent towards the ground.

The whole room fell into silence as they heard the portly man’s screams, Keith clapping his hands as if dusting off filth, letting out a sigh of relief as he turned to President Shinra.

“And that, William, is my two week’s notice. I’ve put up with that man for over a decade, and that was the last straw. Find yourself a new janitor, I’m done here.”

No one could blame the President for bursting into tears.

“Does that mean you’ll finally take my offer of working relief for Cait Sith? I don’t mind doing it, but I like hunting the Enhanced Bounties more.”

“Eh . . .” The blonde (now ex - janitor) scratched his head, strolling over to the smaller blonde with a thoughtful look on his face.

“I want a hug first, then we’ll see.”

“You do realize you’d be seeing more of your favorite SOLDIER kids, the top three each have their own guilds and all three guilds are in an alliance with each other and the AVALANCHE Guild.”

Keith’s face lit up like the fucking sun, he was so happy.

That was all Cloud needed to know.

“I still want a hug though. Advanced payment.”

Veld was startled out of his conversation with Vincent when he heard Keith practically squeal with delight as Cloud finally gave into his demands.

(No-one noticed how pale President Shinra was getting, nor the way he gripped his chest.)

-o0o-

Chapter Text

The entire first floor lobby of the SHINRA building was in absolute shock.

Zack, the SOLDIER renown for being a hyperactive ball of fluff (one of the many reasons he was called Puppy), had just strolled through the entrance with his mentor thrown over one shoulder, and a certain Crimson Commander (who had a fondness for fireballs) held limply under the other arm.

Sephiroth, the silver haired General himself, was swaying drunkenly behind him, only able to keep his balance with one hand clutching Zack’s free shoulder, simply glaring at everyone else as his subordinate towed him along through the lobby, actually growling when some moronic executive tried to inquire what had occurred, the question dying in his throat before the man fell to the floor in a dead faint.

No one moved to help him, their eyes still glued on Zack who was completely and utterly mellow, his inexhaustible energy . . . had simply vanished.

Instead of his bright and beaming smile, a wry grin adorned his face. The raven haired SOLDIER slipped into the elevator with three dumbstruck Turk trainees (who immediately fled once Sephiroth entered).

As they watched the red numbers change as the elevator ascended, there was one question that was echoed in all the minds of those present.

What, in the name of all that was good and sacred, had happened?

-o0o-

Sephiroth wasn’t sure about this. He really didn’t like going behind the Turk’s backs (he ended up in a lot of nasty tests), but Keith seemed perfectly happy to let them out the service elevator so he guessed it was okay.

Zack was completely hush-hush as he led the three of them through the back alleys (that he wasn’t even aware existed above the Plate), Angeal trying to persuade his student that this was a completely bad idea and they should return to the Tower as he had plenty of paperwork to complete. Genesis just seemed happy to be out and away from the absolute wreck that was his office (he had thrown a fit when a class of newbie cadets got dumped on him and none had a clue how to even activate a materia, so it was easy to imagine how pissed he was when it was over) and eager to see what sort of fun Zack had in mind.

Both Zack and Genesis had one thing in common that set aside all grudges the two had against each other.

Their mutual love for the chaos the other created.

Sephiroth was, more or less, there to prevent any damage to SHINRA’s reputation.

Angeal could handle Zack, that was undeniable. Unfortunately, by adding Genesis to the mix, the stern Banoran would simply be overwhelmed.

The place Zack had led them to was an out of the way, four story building.

In fact, it was a familiar sight to Sephiroth as Keith often stopped by this building after their lunches, but had never bothered to ask what business the janitor had with the place. Keith always seemed to be a bit more chipper when he left, but not so much that it would perk Sephiroth’s interest.

The building was the sort that one would dismiss, there wasn’t anything particularly eye-catching about it, although it was a little rundown compared to the other buildings surrounding it. The paint above the door was peeling, a carved wooden sign nailed into the frame of the door with thick block letters spelling out ‘Quest Desk’.

To anyone passing on the street, the words wouldn’t really have any significance, in fact it sounded like an establishment for more . . . questionable content.

To put it simply, he would have linked this building to the Honey Bee Inn.

(He had been there once, and he did not want to repeat the events that happened. He had put his cadet days behind him, and he did not enjoy Genesis bringing it up for ‘shits and giggles’).

“Zack, are you sure this is . . . the right place?”

The only reason why he thought Keith would stop by is due to the connections the man had under the plate, but for Zack to lead them to here . . . he didn’t want to know the reason Zack would even step into this type of establishment.

“Yep, this is it. It doesn’t look like much, but it’s better than it looks on the inside.”

Angeal was eyeing the place like it was crawling with disease, he had made clear his views on brothels. Genesis still had nightmares of the thunderous lecture he had received when Angeal found him dragging Sephiroth out to celebrate their promotions.

Surprisingly, the inside wasn’t as bad as it seemed once they passed through the lobby (Zack muttering it was just a fake cover to ward curious passer-bys off). Not to mention was the fact that there was nothing to suggest that this was a place of ill-repute.

The massive screen behind the counter was showing images of crossed swords over a bike, monster outlines, even a couple of wrenches and hammers.
The blonde behind the counter wasn’t bad to look at either, though he did look like a scrawny cadet, or maybe a trooper.

“Heya Cloud, got some potential recruits here for ya!”

Well, this was news to them.

Genesis was a bit too caught up in looking around as something shiny had caught his eye, but Angeal certainly had been listening.

“Zack, you do realise you could potentially be putting your job, and our’s, in jeopardy? We’re contracted to SHINRA, and as SOLDIER’s we aren’t allowed to take on other employment. Those who have, are labelled as mercenaries and discharged from service. And even then, they’re still under observation by the Turks as flight risks.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. The thing is, nothing here is part of SHINRA. These jobs are rejected by the company, and Reno made sure that the byline in our contracts was only for stuff that SHINRA offered, and had another area offer the same.”

“I was not made aware of this.” Sephiroth cut into the conversation between mentor and student, if there was a change to any SOLDIER’s contracts, it would be run through him first. Or Lazard, who would in turn have let him know.

“Yeah, it’s the original contract. We aren’t allowed to work for another company if it’s the same stuff SHINRA does. But everything here was either tossed off the mission boards because no one would take it, or SHINRA didn’t want the job in the first place.”

“Ah.”

Sephiroth was well aware of Keith’s complaints about missions that were thrown out the window because they were, ‘quote’, too bloody expensive for the money-grubbing executives who he was convinced were embezzling the mission expenses to line their own pockets ‘unquote’. He was currently working with Melinda to track those despicable roaches so Keith could terrorize them until they pleaded their guilt.

“Hi, Zack. The rewards are mainly goods and services today, but there is one mission for the slums that got tossed off the Second-Class board, if ya want it.”

Genesis made a gagging sound when he heard the word ‘slums’. Apparently he had decided to listen for once and walked back into the conversation with the worst timing Sephiroth had ever witnessed (and he had seen many a time that Genesis had made such blunders).

“Sign me up for it! Sounds perfect for an intro for these guys.”

“I suppose that they’d want Temps after this.”

“Maybe. HEY! I recognise this one! The Second-Class boards had this one as a 500G reward.”

“Temps?” Genesis glanced to Angeal, who was as equally as confused as his childhood friend.

Sephiroth was a bit more concerned that the rewards were better at this . . . ‘guild?’ than what SHINRA was paying out.

“Eh, 500G? But the Quest giver put 5000G up for it? Yeesh, and I was wondering why you always had first dibs on the ‘tossed’ quests……”

The blonde male sighed as he pulled the quest up onto a tablet built into the desk, giving a more detailed version of it, Genesis idly flicked an eye over the details but the idea of wandering through the slums didn’t appeal to him at all. Angeal of course read it through at least three times, Sephiroth was still hesitant about all this.

“Alright! It’s got a plus on the reward! That means extra stuff!” Zack seemed rather happy about that.

“Why does it say ‘process fee’?”

“The Quest giver has the rewards ready, but Ultima Services still has to make money. Rather than take it out of the reward, the one taking the quest is charged an ‘insurance’. You don’t get it back, but it does allow the quest to be re-offered if you fail.”

“That . . . actually makes sense.”

Now that he thought about it, how did civilians even request for monster exterminations and similar missions they had been on before? They couldn’t go through normal channels, and slum dwellers didn’t exactly have the money to request help from SHINRA in most cases.

“Hey, what are these?”

Genesis had found the source of the shiny gleam, a small bowl full of materia-like objects.

Sephiroth had never before in his life wanted to slap someone so much. And he thought that the executives were annoying! But Genesis could always outdo everyone in that department.

“OOOOOooooo, Choco-Kick Meteors! Cloudy, you really shouldn’t have!”

“Careful of ya teeth, Yuffie kept trying to pickpocket me while I was carrying ‘em. You know what she’s like.”

“So, check to see if they have the clingwrap on ‘em, and don’t eat ‘em if they don’t cause they might actually be Materia. Got it.”

“And don’t eat them before close of business, unless ya want the rush ta hit and lose ya train of thought.”

The thought of Zack on a sugar-rush was quite a horrifying idea, and so Angeal was quick to pull Zack away from the bowl of sugary madness.

“Zack, please, do not touch the candy.”

Even Genesis was terrified of the idea of the normally hyperactive Puppy on a sugar-rush, and from the name of the candy it did seem like it had quite the effect.

“ ‘Geal, it’s fine. I’ve had these before.”

“He’s actually more manageable when he eats them.”

Judging from the expression on the blonde’s face, he seemed to understand that they clearly didn’t believe him on that front.

“Seriously, I’ve eaten these many times before and I didn’t break anything!”

The blonde could see the sceptical looks echoed on the three SOLDIER’s faces, and after a moment of deliberation, he held the bowl out to the three of them.

“Why don’t you try them then?”

In hindsight, the eerie smile on the blonde’s face really should have warned them.

-o0o-

Zack looked at Cloud in horror.

Really? He was really going to give them the SOLDIER-strength ones? Instead of easing them into it with the civilian-mild versions?

Oh, Zack knew these were the extra strong versions. Cloud put them into the bowl with the skull-and-crossbone motif printed on it. If he had put them into the daisy-chain bowl, it would be a whole different story.

Seriously though? He was going to have the top three in SHINRA have what could possibly be their first sugar-rush on the MOST crash inducing candy in the world?!

Even he was hardly able to resist passing out after the crash hit on the Strong ones!

Though Cloud really did seem to be able to eat them one after another, maybe because the Strong ones weren’t quite strong enough for him to get a sugar-rush on unless he ate about ten in a row before the first rush hit……….. Please just let it be that, he didn’t want to think of any alternatives.

As his fretting was taking up all his attention, he failed to notice Genesis and Angeal popping a Meteor into their mouths.

By the moment he did, it was too late.

Genesis’ eyes practically glowed, fire licking at his gloved hands, and a hysterical giggle escaped his mouth.

Before they could stop him, Genesis had snatched up the request and scarpered out the door.

Angeal, however, reacted much differently.

There was a gleam in his eyes and, having many an experience with Zack and his ‘Puppy’ moments, Sephiroth could tell that Angeal was about to go on an infamous ‘Puppy High’.

So he reacted the way that he normally would.

Angeal slumped to the ground a moment later, completely passed out from the sleeper hold Sephiroth employed in under a second (he had plenty of practice on Zack).

While Zack was happy that Angeal wasn’t going on a sugar–fuelled rampage, they still had Genesis running around with fire materia equipped. He had seen Genesis on a LOVELESS fuelled tantrum, all fireballs and the fury a Materia Master could wield, but Genesis on a sugar-high . . .

That certainly spelled out trouble.

-o0o-

Cloud grinned, now this was payback.

After giving Zack two of the candies (one for each of the SOLDIERs currently not suffering from sugar-overload) he then started the registration process for the three firsts.

Sephiroth looked over to Zack, then silently pointed out the door.

Zack huffed, before tossing Seph his Meteor and heading out to track down the hyper Pyromaniac that had just run out the door.

Seph merely turned towards the now smug Blonde who had several forms in front of him and was loosely holding a pen.

Sighing, he absent-mindedly tossed the Meteor into his mouth.

What possessed him to actually do that he didn’t know and didn’t remember, either way; it had been a rather stupid idea in hindsight.

-o0o-

Three hours later, Sephiroth was completely and utterly spent.

Some amount of time after he had consumed the candy (he would later on find out it had been an hour when Zack had returned without Genesis), he regained coherency and found his legs thrown over a couch in a break room behind the lobby, his leather coat hanging off a chandelier and Masamune buried halfway into a wall. He banged his forehead on a coffee table as he got up since he had somehow wedged his upper torso and head underneath it sideways, and now he had a crick in his neck.

It turned out from some very interesting security footage (that Zack had the blonde access), that he had started speaking in very rough and crude Nibel (Keith had been teaching him for a few months now), cursing to high heaven and obediently let himself be led into the break room as the blonde realised that he really shouldn’t let anyone else see the General in this sort of state.

Angeal was still where he had been dumped on a couch an hour ago, and the floor was strewn with paper sheets (that were haphazardly slashed and stabbed into various furniture).

Apparently he had given up filling the forms ten minutes in and began to amuse himself by hacking at the assortment of forms. Now that he was coherent, Zack and the blonde helped him fill out the required forms before they went out looking for Genesis again.

Zack had spent that whole hour chasing Genesis who had been running around LOVELESS Avenue spouting out lines from his beloved play, freaking out many civilians who Zack hastily and illegally cast Confused status spells upon, but had lost the auburn haired mage when the pyromaniac found the stairs to the slums.

He had come back to get Sephiroth’s help, but hadn’t expected to find his superior in such a state.

So once Sephiroth had sobered up (but still feeling like a stampede of Mako-Mutated King Behemoths had run him over), the General slung the raven haired First over his shoulder and went to search the slums with the Puppy.

Two fruitless hours later, they returned to the Ultima Services building, only to find Genesis passed out in front of the desk, an amused blonde poking the Crimson Commander with a pen, who promptly informing them that Genesis had come screeching in two minutes ago and slammed the completed request onto the counter before passing out and hitting the floor face–first.

He was fairly certain that Genesis’ nose was broken from how hard he hit the tiles.

Not to mention the cracks IN said tiles…...

But when it came to the topic of Tags, Sephiroth got a little too...

Eager on the options.

-o0o-

It turned out that Genesis and Angeal did not, in fact, like where Sephiroth had chosen their Tags to be placed but couldn’t really argue when Sephiroth replied to their complaints with the explanation “I thought friends were supposed to do stupid shit to friends that were passed out.” while tilting his head to the side like a puppy dog.

They couldn’t find a reason to explain to Sephiroth why that was a bad idea, since Genesis was the one who told Sephiroth that when they finally got it into the silver haired boy’s head that they were, in fact, friends. (Plus Genesis was too busy crying because he was so proud of Sephiroth for taking his advice).

Zack had to sit them down and explain why the Tags were piercings, as the Tags were very expensive to replace so them having a permanent piercing saved them from having to replace Tags every other week, besides, it was normal for SOLDIERs to have piercings. Sephiroth was having a bit too much fun with his new tongue piercing, although he couldn’t eat or drink anything for a while otherwise he would irritate the piercing.

Genesis had it easier than the both of them, as Sephiroth had chosen a navel piercing for the thespian who hated exposing his stomach as his skin was lily white and he wanted to keep it that way.

Angeal though, he couldn’t help but blush every time he saw his piercing, due to its location and the fact that it stung when it brushed against his clothing. Sephiroth knew how much of a prude Angeal was, and had decided in the hype of it all, that Angeal needed to have his Tag as a nipple piercing.

The Banoran had been too shocked to even speak, but he did whack Sephiroth over the head when the General asked if he liked it, before passing out again.

Genesis snorted when he saw Sephiroth’s tongue piercing, but when he caught sight of the tattoo inked into Sephiroth’s lower back, he began to laugh hysterically to the point he almost stopped breathing, wheezing out between gasps for air that Sephiroth had a tramp stamp.

It only occurred to Sephiroth later after the high of the Choco-Kick Meteor wore off, that Keith was going to kill him, but not before Professor Hojo got to him first.

Needless to say, the janitor was not happy when they all came crawling back to the Tower, merely raising a hand and pointing down the hall.

“My office. Now.”

Neither Zack nor Sephiroth tried to plead their case.

-o0o-

Keith had known Zack had taken Sephiroth, Genesis and Angeal down to the Ultima Services desk, since the Puppy had begged and pleaded with him for a week to have permission to introduce the Firsts to the service, but he had thought Sephiroth, or at least Angeal, could have kept the situation from spiralling out of control.

While he let Genesis and Angeal recover on his couch, he now had the problem of deciding the two Firsts (who were currently sitting on their knees in front of his desk with utter panic on their faces) punishments.

While he was happy that Sephiroth was experiencing a bit more freedom, he was ashamed in Zack that the Puppy hadn’t explained to his fellow comrades about the side effects of eating Meteor’s for the first time.

Not to mention he had to go sort out the bunch of Confused citizens after getting a report that Genesis was running around LOVELESS Avenue, acting like more of a lunatic than he usually was.

Although he had to admire the tattoo Sephiroth had gotten inked; spelling out ‘The most Beautiful Flower has the Sharpest Thorns’ in delicate cursive Cetra script.

There was only one person who knew the Cetra script well enough to ink it like that, and he knew Cloud would have been both pleased and amused giving Sephiroth this tattoo.

However, he would now have to deal with informing Omael about the shenanigans his surrogate son had gotten into, and hoped that his friend wouldn’t blow his fuse over the fact Sephiroth had finally gotten that tramp stamp he had wanted since he was ten years old.

(Neither of them wanted to know how ten-year-old Sephiroth even knew that term).

At least said tattoo was actually tasteful, unlike some of the things Sephiroth had tried designing.

-o0o-

Chapter Text

President Shinra’s untimely death (who are we kidding, it was totally foreseeable) came much as a shock to the general public, who were given the news in a short statement a mere two hours after he passed away.

In order to put the public’s mind at ease, a press conference was scheduled and of course, being one of those present at his time of death, Sephiroth was one of the SHINRA staff chosen for said conference.

Needless to say, Genesis and Angeal were also chosen for the conference, as having the backbone of SHINRA present would help them portray to the public that everything was under control. There was absolutely no trouble on that front as Keith and the rest of the departments that deferred to him were 100% fine with the loss of their President, as they actually were the ones keeping the company together for all these years. So it was really those few department heads that had been using their positions for their own gains that were worried about the turn of events.

Hearing that Keith was leaving only made those few panic more, and the staff under Keith were perfectly fine as they had learned enough from the janitor that they would keep working as usual, he had taught them well.

It also helped that about 71% of them were converted to Ultima Services, they just kept it well under wraps.

Omael was happily enjoying the demise of his colleague, Hollander had been a pain in everyone’s backside for many years, and had celebrated with a few mugs of Nibel Ale that Vincent had thoughtfully brought along, as the ex-Turk was intending to kill Hollander anyway. The ex-Turk had also vowed to never drink alcohol until the scientist was dead, and so he now rejoiced in the scum bucket’s (Chaos’ words, not his) termination.

The two had been found completely wasted in the morning, as they had stumbled upon an aged whiskey that Hojo had been saving for a special occasion, and Keith had thrown in a couple bottles of vodka from his prized stash. Only the janitor had been in a tolerable state in the morning, although he did have a small headache when he hit his head on a chair when he had to wrestle the last bottle of vodka from Vincent who had been singing a garbled rendition of ‘We Are The Champions’ from where he had been swinging from the industrial sized ceiling lamps.

Keith still didn’t know how Vincent got up there.

Omael didn’t suffer as much as he had kept to the couch he normally slept on if he stayed overnight in his office, although he did need several cups of coffee and kept the lights dim until the afternoon before he was in a tolerable state to face the world again.

Sephiroth had been the first to find the three men as he had wanted to talk to Vincent, was dumbfounded when he came across Vincent (who was partly–dangling from the ceiling lamps) and couldn’t help but wince when the ex-Turk slipped off as he attempted to get up when he heard the door open. Keith had been startled awake from the crash, falling off the edge of the couch that he had been precariously balanced upon, knocking the wind out of Vincent who happened to land right by said couch.

In their attempts to get up, Keith banged his skull on Vincent’s chin, and both men began to curse to the heavens as they clutched their injured body parts.

Omael somehow slept through all their violent, and quite creative, swearing.

Cloud (who had arrived a scant few seconds after Sephiroth) managed to film the entire thing, an unholy smirk on his face as he saved the video to his private network. Keith immediately demanded a copy of the video as evidence why to not let Vincent and Omael drink that much alcohol again, muttering under his breath that they clearly had not learnt from the ‘Nibel Ink-cedent’ and this would be another reminder why they needed to know their limits.

Both Sephiroth and Cloud perked up at the mention of the ‘Nibel Ink-cedent’, no matter how much they had both pleaded and begged Keith to tell either of them about the incident, the man was utterly tight-lipped on the matter, having been the only one who remembered anything about it even though he had been 100% percent drunk at the time. Omael and Vincent’s memories had gone completely blank several minutes after they had hit the twentieth bottle, and unfortunately the technology they had at the time was not sophisticated enough to record video.

(However, what Sephiroth and Cloud didn’t know was that Keith had a few audio-bytes he had managed to record on the sly if the other two needed a firm reminder of why they weren’t going to drink that much alcohol in one sitting ever again).

(What Keith tended to forget was that Cloud was a mama’s boy, and Mama Strife loved to tell all sorts of stories to her baby. Since the accident and subsequent explanation of Time Travel shenanigans he’d been through anyway.)

While Keith helped Vincent and Omael get sober again, Jenny took over the reins and began to plan the press conference out with her team. Seeing how efficient they were, (Charles Parkinson was especially motivated when Cloud slipped him a picture of the three recovering from last nights drinking) the conference was set up within the week.

It was going to be a simple standard press conference, a gaggle of reporters, cameras, the usual media mess.

However, they didn’t anticipate how the press conference would veer slightly, off course . . .

More like the topic was driven aside by public curiosity, crashing and burning right off the track.

-o0o-

“So, General, what is the word on what is happening to the SOLDIER program?”

“President Shinra held a more administrative role in that respect, it can still function without his direction, but given the current circumstances, the SOLDIER program will be put on hold until the negotiations with the company looking to acquire the Science Department of SHINRA is concluded.”

“Why the Science Department?”

“The reason for this is that the research of the Science department is the cornerstone of the SOLDIER program, the SOLDIER program wouldn’t exist without the research into making sure that the Mako used wouldn’t kill the participant.” Omael was rather smug as he stated that his department was the most important part of the company, he never really got to brag.

“That research also includes the potions, remedies and other wares that are sold to the public. The Science Department is the major backbone of the company that allows us to have a budget to continue this research and funds the other items and devices the company makes. The mako research allows us to convert its energy into the electricity that powers your homes, businesses, etc . . .” Reeve pitched in, a rare sight as the Urban Development Department was hardly ever mentioned and some people weren’t even aware it existed.

So far, the conference was going fairly well, they were on topic, the press were hearing the right things they needed to hear to prevent public panic, however . . .

A certain someone was catching the eye of a rather . . . inquisitive reporter.

(Who happened to be a journalist for a gossip magazine that tended to focus on frivolous topics that sold annoyingly well).

“General! General! I’m Katie, from the SOLDIER Club Weekly. I can’t help but notice that when you speak there seems to be something flashing in the sunlight…. Do you have a new filling? Or is it something more scandalous?”

Sephiroth blanched, he had utterly forgotten about the piercing as he had been more focused on the press conference being a success so that they didn’t have to deal with panicking citizens.

“Come on Seph! Show it off! If I have to force myself into it, then you do too!” Genesis crowed.

Angeal managed to kick Genesis’ shin under the table, trying to get his friend to settle down and not turn this conference into a spectacle, causing the auburn haired First to wince but Genesis plowed on anyway despite the stinging pain.

“I’ll even make ‘Geal show his if you do!”

Said man gave up and hid his face in his hands, face beet red.

Omael gave pity on the mortified Banoran, patting him on the back, but still was finding this all too amusing so his chuckling didn’t help to settle Angeal.

Sephiroth couldn’t help himself, and promptly stuck his piercing out at Genesis.

(Somewhere in the background, Keith slapped a hand over his eyes and dragged his fingers down his face, cursing all the gods in all the tongues he knew. His nephew was an utterly impulsive idiot).

There was utter silence for at least thirty seconds before the whole lobby (there wasn’t a room big enough to house all the press so the lobby had to do) descended into chaos.

It took several futile attempts to get everyone’s attention (as there were questions being shouted, camera’s clicking away and mass hysteria), before Keith eventually took control of the situation.

Omael had been the only one to notice what his young friend was up to, and managed to warn Angeal in time for the blushing Banoran to clap his hands over his ears just as Keith blew the air-horn he kept for such an occasion.

Keith could easily catch anyone’s attention when he put his mind to it, so he hadn’t really needed to use the air-horn that much, only once before when Lazard had given up on a squad of fresh Third Class SOLDIERs who had gotten overly cocky due to receiving high recognition for their stellar results in the exams and had been causing major disruptions among the ranks. The idiots had completely ignored Keith (who had silently watched them with ill veiled disgust from the doorway as they were goofing off), who then whipped out the air-horn and blew it without any warning.

It also happened to be one that Reeve had cooked up because the acoustics of the building really sucked and the alarm system had died earlier that week.

For a bunch of wet behind the ears SOLDIERs who had just recovered from the side effects of their first mako treatment, they were still adjusting to their heightened senses and so it was expected that the whole bunch of them screamed in agony when Keith set it off in the echoing gym.

Keith had completely and utterly been without mercy, and so for him to use the air-horn (with a blank faced expression that told them he really didn’t give a flying toss about their eardrums), he must have been really pissed off.

Needless to say everyone took notice of the janitor after they blinked away the tears caused by the ear–splitting that had just assaulted their tender ear drums.

Angeal and Omael had been the only ones spared (Genesis sometimes swore that Keith wasn’t human, and given the fact he didn’t even flinch with the air-horn going right off in his hand, Sephiroth was inclined to agree), and there was a ten minute break for the press (and the several SOLDIERs who had been in the room) to recover before resuming the conference.

Everyone kept a wide berth around Keith from then on, eyeing the air-horn tucked under his arm with terrified eyes.

-o0o-

The press were still adamant to know about the piercings though, there was no way they could forget that.

Seeing as Sephiroth was the face of SHINRA, for him to have such a permanent accessory on his person, would either be received or rejected by the public. So far; the press weren’t sure how they felt on that front.

Given that Genesis had ousted the fact that the three famous Firsts of SHINRA had permanent piercings (although he didn’t mention what and where) and Sephiroth (living in the moment that the President that had irritated him for years was now dead) had just shown his own in an impulsive move; the public would be eager to know where said piercings had been gotten and what type those piercings were.

Keith was currently seething in the background, (Reno was the only one who dared to be in a ten metre radius of his ‘Dad’) tapping a finger against the air-horn with clear intent that he would use it again if the press got out of hand.

Katie, from the SOLDIER Club Weekly was the first reported to gather her wits together, and eagerly began to asks questions.

“Commander Rhapsodos, if we all heard you correctly” several reports and camera men nodded (although they were having trouble hearing properly as their ears were still ringing) “you implied that both you and Commander Hewley have piercings as well?”

Genesis definitely did not ‘just’ imply it, but he could appreciate the reporter’s use of words.

Genesis began to open his mouth to answer the question when Angeal, his eyes filled with desperation (which only appeared whenever Zack or Genesis were about to do something dangerously stupid), grabbed his childhood friend by the shoulder and pulled him right off his chair.

Everyone stared at Genesis, who was sitting in shock from where he had been yanked off the chair.

Sephiroth was pretty sure he heard Angeal swear under his breath. But Genesis had seemed to reclaim his wits and knowing his dramatic nature, he was about to retaliate.

Genesis stood up, shook himself off and promptly glared at Angeal, before turning to the crowd with a grin. The next thing he did shocked even Keith (who was still silently scowling at everyone). .

He shed the infamous red coat he always wore, tossing it aside like it wasn’t the main centrepiece of his whole image, before reaching down and stripping off the shirt he was wearing underneath it (once removing the bulky SOLDIER belt that really should have been questioned when the uniform was designed).

Someone let out a high pitched squeal and promptly fainted at the sight of Genesis Rhapsodos, wearing a crop top (at least he didn’t actually reveal his entire chest, that would have sent the public into a fan frenzy).

Pictures were quickly snapped, and they all knew this was going to be fuel for the fans, and Sephiroth wondered how many Red Leather fans were going to faint at the sight of the piercing but then make it a trend.

But Genesis was done, no, not at all.

Genesis grinned, then pounced on Angeal, whom had gotten up to try and force Gen back into his coat (that Vincent had thoughtfully thrown him).

Sephiroth was a bit too amused at the situation and did nothing to help, as they watched Genesis and Angeal grapple, the former trying to tug the SOLDIER vest off of his friend, and the latter was attempting to drag Genesis from the lobby.

Suddenly there was a loud ripping noise; which turned out to be the vest Angeal wore giving way.

There was a moment of silence before it actually computed that Angeal Hewley, the stoic SOLDIER who valued modesty to the point he made even a saint seem indecent and the man infamous for his ‘Honor, Pride, and Dreams’ lectures, was only wearing a mesh top underneath his SOLDIER issue vest.

The Nipple Ring poking out through the mesh was only the cherry on the sundae, as far as the whole show went.

No one could blame the cameraman nearest the stage from fainting, a lot of the news crew felt like passing out themselves.

Genesis was reveling in the chaos he had just created, but realised that he may have taken it a little too far when Angeal lunged at him with a roar of almost berserk rage. No one could fault Genesis for squeaking and diving under the table for cover.

After that, it wasn’t really a press conference anymore.

The news crews had given up on getting a story, and proceeded to film Genesis squealing like a pig as he was chased around the lobby several times by Angeal who was literally red-eyed with fury.

Rufus (who had been sitting next to Cloud the entire time), was looking at Keith with the hope that the janitor would perhaps do something, but Keith was completely stone faced.

Sephiroth could see the exasperation on the young Shinra’s face, and so felt perhaps it was time to do something.

Snagging the collar of Genesis’ crop top when the two Firsts sprinted past the table, he let Angeal reclaim his vest, and they all watched as Angeal stormed out of the lobby, most likely headed to care for his plants in order to calm down.

However, Sephiroth forgot he was still holding Genesis in his grasp, and the thespian still wasn’t done with causing havoc.

The smell of smoke gave way to what the drama-queen had been plotting.

Sephiroth dropped Genesis like a handful of hot coals, but was unable to save his shirt (which Genesis had obviously lit on fire with a Materia) and immediately removed the article of clothing before he had to be admitted to the Medic Wing for burn injuries, unfortunately forgetting that his back was to the news crews when he did so.

Of course the cameramen got a brilliant view of his wonderful new tattoo.

With this shocking revelation, Jenny decided that perhaps the media had enough information and ended the live broadcast.

Besides, it wasn’t like the journalists could get any more information, seeing as they had all passed out.

This certainly was going to be a headache to sort out.

-o0o-

'The Aftermath of the Reveal’

As you all know, the press conference called about the issue of the President of SHINRA’s untimely and shocking passing didn’t exactly go according to plan.

As it turns out, the only official information about the SHINRA company that anyone was able to glean from the rather unorthodox conference was that there were negotiations for the science department.

The News crews on scene were more concerned with the shiny new accessories that the three infamous Firsts of the company were sporting.

For those of you who do not know; Angeal the Honorable has a shiny new Nipple Ring, Genesis of the Firestorm has a Naval Stud, and the Silver General has not only a Tongue Stud but a Tramp-Stamp to go with it.

The General released an official statement asking for any enthusiast who wished to copy his tattoo just for the sake of having the same tattoo as him, to please not do so, as it has a personal meaning to him that would be cheapened if others had the same.

Article by: Katie Paparzi of the SOLDIER Club Weekly

-o0o-

Omake:

“Don’t even try to ask me to clean up this mess. This is wayyyy out of my hands. Plus I did warn you about the consequences.”

Rufus (who was really the only one trying to salvage his father’s company) failed to negotiate with Keith who he hoped would still stay on with the company.

“Seriously, I’m not a miracle worker.”

Although he had made Genesis calm down on his antics and the Crimson Commander was in a dazed sort of state for several weeks after the conference.

But now, he had to deal with his half-brother, and he sincerely hoped that Cloud would be willing to wrangle this whole fiasco so that they managed to get something out of their father’s *cough* sperm-donor’s *cough* death.

Cloud, however, wasn’t the least bit interested. He had everything he wanted and, as he had repeatedly told Rufus, he actually had his own company to run.

And it had been rather satisfying watching Genesis being put in his place by his ticked off ‘brother’.

-o0o-

Sephiroth had been a bit too preoccupied with covering up his back to notice that Genesis had crawled back into his seat, sniggering into the tabletop as he took in the sight of the passed out reporters.

Vincent decided to take pity on the frantic General, yanking a nearby curtain and presenting it to Sephiroth. He received a mumbled thanks from Sephiroth as he wrapped the pale cream sheet around himself, Omael slipped his surrogate son a Snicker bar as Sephiroth was certainly embarrassed by how he had acted during the press conference.

However, in the chaos of the reporters seeing the tattoo, they had all forgot about someone.

“Genesis.”

The man in question froze, hesitatingly peeking over his shoulder and squeaking when he saw Keith standing behind him, his face had a calm, pleasant expression but his eyes were as cold as a glacier.

The press came to just in time to see Keith dragging a flailing Genesis across the floor by the leg, the panicking SOLDIER was digging his fingers into the floor hard enough to leave gouges in the tile.

They all watched silently as the janitor threw a door labelled ‘Authorized Staff Only’ open near the maintenance corridor, and Genesis let out a high-pitched shriek as Keith proceeded to haul him through the door. Sephiroth munched on his chocolate bar as he watched Genesis lose his grip on the door frame, not at all feeling pity for his colleague as the prideful SOLDIER vanished into the room beyond.

“I’m sorry Keith! I won’t do it again I swear!”

“Keith, please! I’ll never complain about slums missions again! I’ll stop reciting LOVELESS for a month!”

Vincent raised an eyebrow at the sound of Genesis sobbing.

There was the sound of a door swinging open, a pained grunt and a door slamming shut.

Rufus jolted when they heard Genesis begin to scream bloody murder, muffled sounds of a fist pounding against a door.

“NONONONONO!! I’M SORRY KEITH I’M SORRY, PLEASE LET ME OUT I’LL NEVER ACT LIKE THAT AGAIN OH DEAR GODDESS WHY DO YOU EVEN HAVE THAT THING IN HERE?!”

Eventually the screaming died out, fading to whimpering and crying.

At some point it seemed that Keith had deemed Genesis had learned his lesson, because the two emerged seconds later, the latter swaddled in two thick towels, one wrapped around his body and the other draped over his head.

Cloud let out a snort of laughter, Sephiroth and Vincent recoiled in absolute disgust, and Omael rolled his eyes.

Genesis let out a wail of shame before dashing to the elevators, leaving a questionable trail of some liquid substance on the tiled floor.

If anyone asked what Keith had done to cause such a reaction from the fearless Crimson Commander, the janitor just smirked in such a way that the one asking would flee, not wanting to know the answer.

Genesis holed himself up in his room for a week, and acted like an absolute zombie for a whole month when he finally emerged.

Needless to say, no one wanted to know what Genesis had encountered down in that room.

-o0o-

Chapter Text

Due to the latest fiasco caused by consuming copious amounts of alcohol (finely aged may I add), Keith felt it was time to revisit a certain incident from twenty years ago.

Vincent and Omael had been well aware of the fact he had some recordings that they had listened to after they had both recovered from the horrendous hangover (Keith filling in the blanks where he hadn’t been able to record), and never thought they would need to hear those cursed tapes ever again.

However, Keith was dead set on listening to them as a reminder of what could have happened.

None of them wanted to know what they could have done if they hadn’t confined themselves to the SHINRA Tower and had gotten out into the streets while being highly intoxicated.

And so, in order for the lesson to truly sink in, Keith had locked the three of them in his office to make sure Vincent didn’t make a break for it (he still regretted the actions of that night) and Omael preferred Keith’s office since there was no surveillance.

“Right, comfy enough Vince?”

The ex-Turk was trying to delay listening to the tapes as much as possible, perching on the window sill at first, then moving to the couch . . .

Simply put, he was delaying the inevitable.

“Yes . . .” Vincent knew he couldn’t win in this battle, and so he had finally accepted his fate.

“Okay. Tape 1 of 10. Here we go.”

Click.

-o0o-

“It’s a boy.”

Omael and Vincent let out a sigh of relief when Keith came in with the good news, the fifteen year old teen rolling his eyes at the two adult’s dramatics.

The two had spent ten minutes in the delivery room before bolting.

You would think a scientist would be perfectly fine with watching a woman giving birth, especially if one was married (regrettably) to said woman giving birth.

“And, they checked the DNA. Congrats Vince, you’re a father.”

Vincent stared at the blonde teen in front of him with wide eyes, as if he had been told he had just won the lottery, a second later banging his head onto the table.

“I’m a dad?”

Keith merely crossed his arms and raised an eyebrow.

“Yeah, you’re a dad. You’ve got a son now, that’s what it means to be a dad.”

Vincent looked up from the table, his forehead a stinging red as he had slammed his head against the wooden surface quite hard.

There were tears in his eyes (Omael and Keith weren’t sure if it was from pain or the realisation that he had a kid now), and several minutes of awkward silence passed between them.

“So . . .”

The scruffy teen and the weeping Turk both glanced to the smiling scientist, a wicked glint in his bespectacled eyes.

“Shall we celebrate?”

Later on, after several glasses of whiskey, the two men would realise that celebrating in Nibelheim meant drinking as much alcohol as you could until you either passed out or got shitfaced.

Needless to say, they were both surprised at how easily Keith provided said alcohol and in hindsight, they really shouldn’t have let the fifteen year old pour the drinks.

-o0o-

“Why, did we ever trust you with the drinks?”

“Because I was the local and you guys were the outsiders. You trusted me enough to lead you through the Nibel-dragon and wolf infested mountains, so there’s not much of a stretch between that and handling alcoholic beverages.”

“ . . . . .”

“He has a point.”

“Shut up Omael.”

-o0o-

Ten glasses of whiskey in, and Omael was already tipsy.

“Oh my gods Omael, you should have told me you were a lightweight!” Keith exclaimed, planting a cup of water down in front of the scientist who was completely flushed and had let his hair down from the mess it had become due to frantic fingers running through it too many times.

Vincent merely stared at his fellow comrade (both had suffered from the witch that was Lucrecia), sipping at his glass that Keith had refilled while tending to Omael. The teen was a bit too familiar with pouring alcohol than Vincent liked, but seeing as it was Nibelheim . . .

Once making sure Omael was hydrated again (lesson number one of drinking, always have water on hand), Keith sat back down in his chair (they all winced at the creak it made, the mansion really needed new furniture), slamming back a full glass of whiskey with the ease of a veteran drinker, Vincent couldn’t help but rub his throat, knowing full well the burn that accompanied the liquid.

There was a reason the Turks all had drinking lessons, sometimes there was drinking involved in missions, and none of them wanted to have to fight while intoxicated.

“So, you’ve got a son now. Lucrecia certainly doesn’t seem like she’s going to take care of him. I heard her making arrangements to return to Midgar.”

Both men groaned in unison, the fact that Omael was married to Lucrecia and Vincent was the child’s biological father, meant there would be a headache when it came to deciding who got custody of the child.

Vincent gulped down the remains of his glass and slammed it down onto the table.

“Give me another.”

Keith just grinned and set another full bottle (from gods knows where) and popped the cap open.

“Bottoms up.”

-o0o-

“What happened after that? There’s a jump.”

“Because someone decided sitting in the kitchen drinking where anyone could come in was a bad idea, and made us relocate to the bedrooms in the West Wing.”

“I don’t remember that.”

“That’s because you blacked out for five minutes Omael. We, meaning Vincent, had to carry you up there. I had no problem with that, those chairs were really starting to dig into my back.”

“I hated that place.”

“ . . . We know Vincent. You cursed, ranted and raved about that, and I quote ‘shitty, crumbling excuse for a mansion that you would like to set on fire and roast marshmallows’ before deciding the issues of vending machines was more important. You listened to one of Zack’s theory rants, didn’t you?”

“ . . . He had some valid points.”

“Sure . . .”

-o0o-

“These beds are shitty.”

“Your face is shitty!”

Keith actually did a double take, looking at the scientist who was practically a brother (a very older brother) to him, swear at Vincent. Even the Turk was taken aback, pausing to put his glass down to consider what Omael had just said.

It turned out that Omael was the sailor type of drunk.

Funnily enough, Keith wasn’t that surprised after a few minutes of hearing Omael curse and swear exactly like a sailor (Vincent had some very interesting stories concerning Costa del Sol).

Considering how stressed Omael had been with Lucrecia being an absolute bitch and Hollander being an absolute pain in the butt, acting like he was in charge of the project and not Omael who had the better credentials of the two, he couldn’t fault the scientist for wanting to let off some steam.

It actually was quite amusing to hear Omael spit out a curse between scientific formulas that Keith half understood. (Omael and Vincent had taken it upon themselves to educate him since Nibelheim’s educational system was crap, it barely even existed).

Vincent had returned to mulling over his glass of wine (Keith had dug that out from the cellars, that neither of them knew existed but Keith kept his lips shut on the matter) watching as Omael finished his fifth rant on why those ‘bureaucratic pigs that wouldn’t even know how to fornicate if it wasn’t written into their DNA’ were the absolute bane of his existence.

Vincent himself was getting quite lightheaded, the wine had to be at least a few decades old given the dusty state of the bottle, so he probably was a bit tipsy.

Keith had stuck to the hard liquor, saying that wine wasn’t really his thing and insisted on Vincent drinking the lot.

However, he sort of regretted it later as it turned out Vincent was the weeping kind of drunk, soon finding himself with a lapful of crying Turk, bemoaning the death of his father and Lucrecia’s betrayal (which had taken them a full week for Vincent to get over the witch).

-o0o-

“You are a very whiny drunk.”

“I honestly thought you would have been the crazy drunk, even when drunk you’re still brooding.”

“ . . . Wine tends to make most people melancholy.”

“That’s why I don’t drink it, I’d probably talk about my crappy childhood.”

“Why did they think it was perfectly fine to leave a fifteen year old in charge of two drunk men?”

“Because they didn’t want to deal with it themselves. I’m honestly surprised they let me drag you two out of the mansion.”

-o0o-

“Hey Vince . . .”

The man in question hiccupped before realizing that Keith was talking to him, lifting his head from where he had been burying his head into the teen’s stomach (Keith was surprisingly a very good pillow), eyes red rimmed from tears but he was somehow still pretty alert.

“Ilfalna gave you that tattoo right?”

The Cetra had been the first to find Vincent crying in a corner after Lucrecia had dumped him, immediately calling Keith who had talked to her enough for her to know that he was the best person besides Omael to deal with the weeping Turk.

“She did, why?”

Honestly, it had been a bit surprising that the Cetra knew how to draw tattoos, but Vincent had been a little bit too intoxicated as he had gone through a good amount of vodka at the time to really question that fact.

“Feel like getting another tattoo? There’s a lady in town, the only one that actually tolerates me, who does tattoos. Although she’s kind of the town pariah, so I don’t think she’d mind giving the ‘outsiders’ tattoos.”

“Yes! Let’s do it!”

It seemed that Omael was somewhat coherent again and the scientist propped himself up onto his elbows, a giggle escaping from his mouth was the only indication Keith needed to know his friend was completely and utterly drunk (but not drunk enough that he lost total motor functions).

“I don’t know, getting the first tattoo laid me out for three days . . .”

“It doesn’t have to be that big. Here, have another glass.”

Keith wanted a tattoo himself, but Mrs. Strife always told him no because he didn’t have anyone to take care of him if he did get one. Omael and Vincent would never agree to let him get one while they were sober, and this was probably his only chance of getting them to agree.

It took about another three glasses of wine to get Vincent to agree, Omael downing a small shot of whiskey before staggering to his feet. Vincent still retained perfect motor functions (Turk training no doubt) and easily made his way down to the back door, Keith somehow lugging Omael down the stairs and they escaped into the chilly evening air, Omael shivering as he still wasn’t used to the Nibel climate.

The normally short trek down to the village took longer than usual as Omael managed to stumble over every broken branch and stone along the way, and Vincent was persuaded to half drag Omael with another bottle of wine. (Keith had a whole bag full, it was to keep the two intoxicated enough that they wouldn’t question his decisions.

And he was sort of light headed himself, having lost track of the number of glasses he had drunk in the past hour.

-o0o-

“If the Budget Department ever needs evidence why the Turks buying a ton of booze and drinking themselves into oblivion is a good training method, I’m pretty sure that this would be valid enough.”

“Veld fought to keep that class, didn’t he?”

“Yep, he sometimes invited me to them so that the trainees could get a variety of drinks to try and also a reminder of why you don’t want to fight while drunk.”

“There’s always an influx of trainees with alcohol poisoning when those sessions start. Drives the infirmary mad.”

“I always have to get new sheets ordered in round those times as well. Too much vomit to wash out.”

“Perhaps I should see if the standards have dropped . . .”

-o0o-

“You want me to what?”

Mrs. Strife looked both amused and worried, seeing Keith standing on her doorstep with one clearly intoxicated scientist, and a teary eyed Turk.

It was quite obvious they were celebrating some sort of occasion, seeing that Keith had introduced the two to one of Nibelheim’s standard customs. She had lived in Nibelheim long enough to notice the signs.

Plus, Vincent was muttering “I’m a dad.” over and over again under his breath with an euphoric expression on his face.

“Vincent’s ex-girlfriend neglected to mention the kid was conceived while they were together, Omael’s considering divorcing her as she’s planning on running back to Midgar once she gets approved for transfer, and I’m just chaperoning them.”

“And they want tattoos as well?”

That also happened to be another tradition, except the tattoos were done by those involved in the celebrations and usually tended to get infected because the country bumpkins didn’t like to use the ‘shiny new technology’ and stuck to their crude methods.

Mrs. Strife happened to have a tattoo kit that she brought with her when she moved to Nibelheim, it being her inheritance from her father (who had a successful tattoo business in Costa del Sol before he retired).

Keith was the only other person in the village that bothered to talk to her, seeing as he was also the town pariah but he blatantly flaunted it because he just liked to irritate the townsfolk. It also helped that they knew it was useless to retaliate as he was the only one who knew the mountains like the back of his hand, and they needed him to navigate the mountain paths in case they got snowed in during the winter.

Keith could have left years ago, but he quite enjoyed riling the townsfolk up as a way of vengeance against them for the first few horrendous years he experienced in the town. He just loved to one up people and to be honest, they kind of deserved it.

“I’m only doing this because I know you’ll do this again, and I rather not put these two through the same bout of horrible hangovers they’re going to experience tomorrow.”

Keith let out a little yell of triumph before Mrs. Strife let them inside, swallowing down a swig of whiskey as he knew he was going to need it later on.

Mrs. Strife reappeared shortly with the tattoo kit, Vincent had made himself quite comfortable on her couch and Omael was muttering his choices under his breath.

“Right, so which of you gents are going first?”

-o0o-

“I still can’t believe you chose that for a tattoo.”

“I had to express my love for mayhem somehow. At least I’m not stuck with ‘I’m a dad’ on my shoulder.”

“Only those who can understand the Cetra language knows what it means, and I only know three people who do. Besides, it’s not like I’m wearing sleeveless shirts all the time so people can see it.”

“You have ‘Science + Chaos = Love’ tattooed onto your spine Omael, you don’t really have any room to talk.”

“You were the only one sober enough to choose what you wanted though Keith.”

“Ohoh! I was planning that tattoo for years! I would have chosen it even if I was stone cold drunk!”

“ . . . . You were planning on having ‘Queen Of Nibel Motherfuckers’ tattooed across your shoulder blades?”

“ . . . . . That’s . . . quite a grudge.”

“Eleven years worth.”

“ . . . . And I thought I had issues with my grudges.”

“Why are you surprised Vince? You knew I was a spiteful little shit the moment you met me.”

“It’s kind of hard to remember when you’re teaching a ten year old basic maths.”

“You can’t blame me for that. The first thing you learn in Nibelheim is don’t piss off the dragons.”

“ . . . . . I’m sorry, but I distinctly recall that you went out of your way to find said dragons.”

“Yep. Totally freaked the mayor out when I came back with a bunch of their scales.”

“ . . . .”

“ . . . .”

“What?”

“I still have no idea how you even got those.”

“I’m very persuasive?”

-o0o-

“Are you sure you’ll be alright getting back to the mansion? I’m fairly sure you’ll be alright Keith, but these two . . .”

Mrs. Strife gestured to Omael and Vincent, the former being undeniably drunk and was in no way or form able to string together a coherent sentence, let alone walk back to the manor. The latter was staring upwards from where he was sprawled on the couch, most likely trying to find patterns in the knotted wood that made up the ceiling.

“We’ll be fine, Vince is still somewhat sober.” The Turk let out a smothered giggle, causing Mrs. Strife to raise an eyebrow, clearly unconvinced regarding the soberness of both adult men.

But, she had been paid and that was all that mattered.

It wasn’t her fault that the two men had let a fifteen year old get them drunk and now their fate lay in Keith’s hands. As long as Keith didn’t get drunk himself, everything would be fine.

That’s what she thought.

Little did she know that Keith would decide to drink at least half the contents of his bag on the way back to the mansion, and that was enough to tip the scales.

-o0o-

“I’m honestly surprised we even got back to the manor.”

“Because I had to drag you along with the promise of more wine and Omael was drooling on your shoulder.”

“How did Keith manage to talk you into hiking up the mountain to a dragons nest in the dead of night?”

“ . .. . .”

“I said it would be good training, if he could make it up a mountain while intoxicated than he could navigate ruins or ships without a problem. Besides, the dragons like the smell of whiskey, it smells like their flames.”

“ . . . . Keith, do you mean to say, that you’ve been close enough to a dragon to smell its breath?”

“Yep, I had a pretty good relationship with the dragons, as long as they weren’t the mako mutated dragons, they didn’t mind me dropping by and saying hello. I thought I told you that?”

“Apparently not.”

-o0o-

“What is originality?”

Keith didn’t how the thought came to mind, but now he was really questioning it.

“Something that no one else has done?” Vincent supplied, somewhat sobered up haven nearly fallen off a cliff on the way back down the mountain. The only reason why he wasn’t a mutilated heap of broken limbs and bloodied ligaments at the bottom of a ravine was because Keith became weirdly hyper sensitive when on the verge of being drunk (he certainly had been at that point) and yanked the older man to safety.

After that scare, Vincent almost dragged Keith back down to the mansion and collapsed onto the closest available surface in the underground lab. (Omael had gone down there because his eyes hurt from the lighting, it was dimmer down in the lab).

He still hadn’t gotten up from the gothic chair Keith had unearthed from the storage when the SHINRA team first arrived five years ago, a pile of Materia that the two of them had filched from the Materia caves strewn over his lap.

No one needed to mention why Vincent’s jacket was singed and smelt of brimstone.

“I know that, but really, what is originality these days?”

It seemed that Keith got rather philosophical when drunk, and he continued to ask about the topic for the next half an hour, Omael pitching in as he loved discussing with Keith as the teenager had some rather interesting ideas. These talks usually went on for hours, and so Vincent soon fell asleep.

Unfortunately, falling asleep around a drunk mad scientist and a drunken Keith wasn’t the brightest idea that Vincent had.

(Because a drunken Keith was in a whole ‘nother category of its own.)

-o0o-

“I regret leaving you two unsupervised.”

“To be fair, that should have been quite obvious. You know what I’m like when I’m sober, but when I’m drunk . . . Things are going to get weird.”

“How was I supposed to know you two would build a bunch of coffins and trap me inside one? How did you even come up with that idea?”

“Um . . . you were sitting in a gothic chair.”

“And how did that lead to a coffin? Where did you even get the wood?”

“There was a lot of stuff in that storage unit, plus you did get all those vampire remarks from the lab techies.”

“It’s not my fault my genetics give me red eyes!”

“I wanted to try my hand at carpentry.”

“Omael, that isn’t an excuse.”

“We did do a good job though. Very secure.”

“You reinforced it with titanium.”

“ . . . . You never know when you need a titanium reinforced coffin in Nibelheim.”

“I was stuck in there for five hours. FIVE. HOURS. What were you two even doing for five hours?”

“ . . . .”

“ . . . .”

“Why are you two staring at each other?”

“Um . . .”

“Trust me Vince, you don’t want to know.”

-o0o-

“Do you think we should let him out?”

Keith glanced over to Omael, the scientist was currently elbow deep into the guts of a Death Claw, and the smell was starting to permeate the room. However, he was currently a third through the latest bottle of mead so the smell of freshly desiccated flesh wasn’t bothering him all that much.

“Do you remember where we put the key?”

“ . . . . . . No?”

Normally Omael would be quite concerned as to why a fifteen year old knew how to install and fix locks, but this was Keith and at this point he wouldn’t be surprised at anything the kid could do, plus he was still hammered from earlier.

Although it didn’t cause him any problems with a scalpel.

“We should probably get him out of there.”

Keith placed the now empty bottle onto the nearest surface and dug out a small tin from his bag, opening the case to reveal a great number of lock picks.

Yep, Omael wasn’t surprised at all.

“I’m going to need a few minutes.”

-o0o-

“YOU LOST THE KEY?! WHY DIDN’T YOU JUST TELL ME THAT IN THE FIRST PLACE?!”

“Because you were pissed and you did pull your gun on us once we got you out. There was no chance to explain.”

“You were both covered in monster guts, and I had a hangover. Of course I was going to pull my gun on you, what did you expect?”

“ . . . . . So, you get very short tempered and snappish with a hangover?”

“I thought that would be quite clear.”

“We haven’t had a chance to get that smashed in twenty years, how do you expect us to remember what you’re like with a hangover?”

“Isn’t that why we’re listening to these tapes?”

“ . . . . Just . . . . let’s keep going.”

-o0o-

It was three AM by the time they got Vincent out, and it took half an hour for Keith to wrestle the gun out of Vincent’s hand and persuade him to not shoot. Vincent wasn’t happy, but he was appeased by the red cloak that Keith bribed him with. Especially once he heard it had special properties as Keith had been given it from one of the older dragons that hoarded many artifacts from the Cetra era.

And the smell of brimstone did calm him down somewhat.

“Vince . . . I’m sorry . . .”

Vincent was pouting and had wrapped himself up in the cloak, still glaring with red rimmed eyes after he had been released from the coffin (as he had begun to panic ten minutes after he woke up trapped in said coffin).

Normally Keith would have felt remorseful for making one of the few friends he had in Nibelheim cry, but this was perfect blackmail material and Vincent was acting like a half drowned kitten.

For a man whose job was assassination, espionage, all the illegal jobs that were kept under wraps, Vincent could be quite emotional.

“Look, I’ll make you a hangover remedy and a hot chocolate. Does that sound nice?”

Vincent sniffled, and gave a small nod, not noticing how Omael had set one of the few cameras that had been sent from Midgar a few months ago (he was going to shower Tuesti with gratitude when he got back for making such a device) to record Vincent in one of his rare moments of weakness.

“I’ll be back in a few minutes. Omael, you might want to wash up because I’m sure you don’t want another episode of your lab technicians screaming bloody murder when they found the remains of a Bomb splattered all over the walls.”

“I’m still wondering how in the name of Gaia you got that thing in here without it exploding first.”

Keith paused halfway through the doorway, it had been quite hard to get the monster down into the labs because he had overheard Omael wanting a specimen to study, but those monsters were tricky to kill, let alone capture alive.

“That, is a secret.”

And so he left Omael and Vincent down in the ‘Coffin Room’, so named because Keith had carved it into the door with a screwdriver (sloppily as he was doing it one handed while drinking yet another bottle of whiskey).

He was still somewhat drunk, and this was the only time he was going to get this wasted with supervision.

However, he really should have known the only two adult men he trusted in this village would panic when he passed out shortly after giving them both their drinks.

He had finally reached his limit, and his teenage body had flicked the off switch.

-o0o-

“Man, I wish I had seen your faces.”

“Keith, we were freaking out. You fainted. We almost didn’t catch you. The floor was stone, and you could have gotten seriously injured. What if you weren’t drinking with us? Someone could have taken advantage of you.”

“The whole town, besides Mrs. Strife, hated me. I wouldn’t be drinking with anyone else. Besides, you did sort of treat me like a little brother. It was nice to have some sort of family.”

“Keith. . .”

“Plus, we had an unlimited amount of alcohol on hand. It would have gone to waste. No one goes up to the manor.”

“ . . . . That’s, not really an excuse to drink as much as you want.”

“Whelp, that’s all the tapes. What have we learned here?”

“ . . . . .”

“ . . . . . ”

“To . . . not drink to the point that we forget the next day?”

“To never drink with you unless you can hold your alcohol?” was the voice from the vent.

“Oh dear Gaia, Cloud, I told you not to crawl through the vents! They’re rusted! I’ve been petitioning the President, and even Veld agreed with me, to replace them. But, I guess we can sort that out now.”

“If they can hold my weight, then they can hold Cloud’s. Besides, it was his idea to eavesdrop.”

“Nice, Seph, throw me under the bus why don’t you…*quiet grumbling*”

“I regret ever teaching you how to navigate those. Both of you, out of the vents or I will flood them. I have the Materia, and I will not care about you two whinging about your hair getting ruined!”

Both Vincent and Omael remained silent as they watched Keith tear the vent above his desk open with a water materia in hand, quietly listening as they heard the two troublemakers shriek as the first few handfuls of water began to dribble down into the ventilation system.

“Omael, please tell me your thinking the same thing I am?”

“That we get insanely stupid when drunk, and need supervision if Keith ever, which is most likely never going to happen but you never know, goes full black-out drunk?”

“Yes. But also that our little time traveler is a complete little shit. Despite the fact the he’s supposed to be twice the age Seph is?”

“Well, how would you feel if you were a grown ass man in the body of a two year old? And had to grow up naturally?”

“ . . . . I rather not try and imagine that.”

“Omael, Vincent, you might want to go warn those two before I go and get them myself. Because I will merciless and chase them through the entire ventilation system if I have to. And I know every nook and cranny there is, seeing as I spent a week memorizing the damn thing.”

“You get Cloud, I’ll get Sephiroth?”

“Agreed. Spend some bonding time with your son.”

“You’re both my dad’s, you know?”

“I WILL CONFISCATE YOUR ENTIRE COLLECTION OF CHOCOLATE TOUCH ME’S IF YOU DO NOT GET OUT OF THERE NOW SEPH!”

As expected, Sephiroth began to wail in terror, and madness ensued in trying to get the crying General out of the ventilation system.

And as for the tapes, those were stored away for the future.

Keith had a bit too much fun retelling the story to the grandkids of the team, explaining how their favourite science driven grandfather and stoic vampiric uncle acted under the influence, and the origin of their tattoos.

Of course, the recording Cloud made in the vents would never come to light, until it was prudent to remind Omael of it when he tried to scold Seph for the Tramp-Stamp and tongue piercing the next time he cocked up in public.

To be fair, It HAD been Genesis that caused the said cock-up though.

Chapter Text

It had been several weeks since the disastrous press conference, and Genesis had finally perked up from his zombie like haze ever since Keith had dragged him off to the basement (no one wanted to know what was down there to cause the man to screech like he had).

The tower was quiet for once, and everyone was relishing the first peaceful moment they had since President Shinra’s death.

Cloud had successfully taken over SHINRA and was working with Rufus to sort out the moral ethics that needed serious re-adjusting now that Hollander was gone. Keith would have been helping in that regard, but he was too busy sorting out the remaining animals and monsters stuck in Hollanders lab.

Most of which had latched onto him the moment he stepped in, and the lab aides had to help him wrestle the lab subjects into a more manageable state before deciding which ones were safe to release and which ones needed to stay. Omael was more than happy to accommodate the ones that had already been tampered with, those of which had been perfectly calm once Keith had somehow communicated to them that Omael was a good scientist and not like the fat porpoise that had meddled with their DNA.

And if some of the ones due to be released ended up escaping and popped up in surprising places, then it wasn’t his problem. The SOLDIER’s and staff that found them became quickly attached and it wasn’t unusual to see them around the tower riding on shoulders or trotting after their handlers.

Rufus ended up with a Guard Hound crossed with a Blood Taste (labelled Test 0), Keith having strolled into the middle of one of Cloud and Rufus’ meetings, dumping the puppy in the blonde’s lap and walking out without a word.

Cloud burst out into a laughing fit and Rufus just sat there dumbfounded while the dog (which he would later call Dark Nation) proceeded to maul his white suit jacket into shreds.

Rufus later on needed Keith to help him care for the pup but got the hang of it once he came to terms with the fact that the dog was going to ruin all his suits.

It was during this two week long clean up of Hollanders labs that a problem arose.

And it wasn’t the fault of any official scientist this time.

Since Omael was regularly coming in and out of the labs, he wasn’t always there to monitor his experiments, and as he was so busy rearranging things as he tried to salvage what he could from Hollander’s cock-ups, he had no time to keep a close check on his newest interns.

This proved to be a monumental mistake, as some of the interns proved to be rather (read, really) lazy, when it came to following orders when not supervised.

It was one of the few rare mornings that Keith ended up staying at the tower overnight, that the whole building was woken up to an unholy screech.

It wouldn’t have been surprising if it was an engineer (either due to frustration or a breakthrough in their projects), but the screeching came from someone who rarely screamed in terror.

Keith was actually rather startled when his office door was thrown open, not at all registering it slamming so hard into the wall that it became embedded into the plaster, leaping up from his couch that he had fallen asleep on, only to be tackled by a silver and black blur.

Vincent walked in to see Keith with an armful of his son, eyes blown wide as the normally stoic general was crying and mewling, and the janitor mouthing “get-Omael” while trying to calm Sephiroth down.

Not an easy thing to do, when all he wanted was to keep staring at the Cat Ears that had replaced Sephiroth’s own.

If Keith wasn’t so worried about his little brother’s current state of mind, he would have found the situation rather amusing.

Vincent promptly zipped out and ran like Chaos had gotten loose and was on his heels to Omael’s office, freaking his oldest friend out as he tried to explain the situation but couldn’t find the right words.

“Sephiroth, crying, Cat ears and a tail!

Omael stared at Vincent like the Turk was crazy, then to the empty vial in his hands . . .

And everything clicked.

-o0o-

Once Omael was caught up to date as Vincent managed to spit out a coherent sentence, they went to rescue Keith from Sephiroth’s panic attack.

The blonde had somehow convinced Sephiroth to let go long enough to get them both situated more comfortably on the couch, the General curled up against Keith and sniffling while the janitor ran his fingers through Sephiroth’s hair, murmuring how Omael was going to sort everything out, and that they would find out what had happened.

Normally Keith would have given Sephiroth chocolate to calm down, but he wasn’t sure how it would react to Sephiroth’s new condition. He didn’t want to accidentally poison the younger man.

Keith being Keith, also had the foresight to call up Cloud and inform his other brother that Sephiroth wouldn’t be able to work today, and he would probably have to steal both Omael and Vincent for the day to sort out a mishap.

Cloud had promptly informed Keith that he would be right down and that he was also taking a sick day, before mentioning that SOLDIER as a whole would be put into lockdown just in case, before hanging up.

Cronkle was giving Sephiroth a distraction, the purple lizard occasionally spitting out a tongue of fire that had the General mesmerized by the flames, allowing Keith to talk to Omael without Sephiroth breaking out into tears again.

From what he had gleaned from Sephiroth’s wailing, he had gone to Omael’s office to get some more energy drinks the previous night (because he couldn’t be trusted to control his limit) and he woke up in this state this morning.

As Omael and Sephiroth had worked out a system to limit the amount he was allowed to drink per day, they had poured about four cans (because Sephiroth could handle more than a normal civilian) into a plastic bottle each, Sephiroth assumed the labelled bottles were fine. The system had been working for three months now.

Once they went over security footage (Reeve was a god and Keith promised to supply him with a good bottle of rum next time he went booze shopping), they found out one of the newer interns didn’t know about the energy drink system that was meant for Sephiroth only and drank some. In their panic once they found out who the drinks were for, the idiot had thrown in the closest liquid they could find to make up for what they drank.

The closest liquid on hand being an innocent looking vial nearby that wasn’t labelled.

Going back further into the files, it turned out that vial had been something Omael had whipped up the night he had gotten drunk with Vincent and Keith.

Well, now they knew the origins, but the solution . . .

They were in a pretty pickle.

-o0o-

The tests had come back conclusive that the energy drink hadn’t actually compromised the mutagen Omael had cooked up.

In fact, once the bottle was allowed to sit for about half an hour, the mutagen actually floated to the top of the bottle.

Like the reaction between oil and water that everyone encountered in high school science.

The problem was, Omael didn’t actually know how he had created it, the only notes he had taken indicated that it wasn’t supposed to be a permanent mutation, only a limited time effect.

The footage was a little sketchy and Reno would have to clean it up for Omael to see what he had used in the process. The red-haired Turk got onto that right away once the situation was explained to him, and Omael began to tackle the task of figuring out the recipe he had used.

This left them with a very distraught Sephiroth and a very amused Cloud (who had taken one look at Sephiroth and ran to the rooftop so he could laugh as loud as he wanted so the whole of Midgar could hear him).

The fact that Seph had been taken to the SOLDIER gym in floor 54 (where the whole of SOLDIER had congregated during the lockdown) notwithstanding, the SOLDIERs had all been ready to murder the intern when they found out how their lauded General had been put in such a state.

Genesis and Angeal were due to return tomorrow as they had a mission in Junon, and Keith decided to tell them about this ‘little’ issue once they were back and well rested.

Sephiroth refused to let Keith go home as he was still emotionally distraught and so the janitor had been dragged along and was forced to be Sephiroth’s cuddle buddy for the night (once Keith made Sephiroth wear some pants at least).

He had a touch problem, specifically for skin hunger.

No one who is raised in a lab comes out perfectly normal, and this happened to be Sephiroth’s issue.

Even if Keith had practically raised Sephiroth for the first three years of the General’s life, he drew the line at platonic naked cuddling. He did make an effort though, foregoing a shirt so Sephiroth couldn’t complain.

Cloud took pictures.

For the SOLDIER scrapbook though; if those pictures got out to the public, the fans would riot. There had already been one close call after the disastrous meeting and pictures of Sephiroth hauling Keith to the diner went viral. No one saw Keith’s face, so it was fine, but he did not want to be the centre of public attention.

Cloud at least respected his wishes, and saved the pictures to a private (and Cait Sith encrypted) folder.

Genesis and Angeal were both confused when Sephiroth didn’t meet them when they returned, and by the lockdown on the SOLDIERs, but Zack had practically ordered them to get some sleep then report to the 54th floor SOLDIER gym.

Keith’s growling over the phone settled the issue, and they complied immediately.

-o0o-

Keith could count this as Sephiroth’s first sleepover.

Not that he had any to call on for experience, and Cloud ended up sneaking in the morning to take pictures before fleeing through the air vents (ostensibly to collect Genesis and Angeal from their apartments, but Keith could still hear the snickers).

Keith was under no risk of catching the mutation, he wasn’t even sure if it was able to be spread like a cold, but his slight enhancements were completely different from the SOLDIER’s, and Gaia would burn before he let Sephiroth suffer like this on his own. Not that he didn’t discount the effort the other SOLDIER’s were making, he was actually quite glad that they supported their General this much.

Genesis promptly screeched “Kitty!” when he entered the room, and Angeal grabbed his oldest friend before he smothered Sephiroth. In his rush to grab Sephiroth, Genesis had completely forgotten that Keith was there, and thanked Angeal profusely from saving him from Keith’s wrath. (He was still twitchy around Keith and judging from the glower on his face, Keith would have slammed him to the floor for bringing up Sephiroth’s new feline appearance).

That didn’t exactly endear him to Sephiroth any, as the screech had hurt Sephiroth’s new (and highly sensitive) ears. Sephiroth had two more bottles of the energy drink and mutagen mixture however, so he had shaken one up and offered it to Genesis when the Red Commander finally calmed down.

Thankfully twenty hours later, Omael informed them all that the mutation only worked if ingested orally.

Omael’s announcement came a little too late for Genesis though.

The thespian’s scream the next morning alerted them all to his predicament, and the mutagen claimed another victim.

No one mentioned how Keith had to wrestle Genesis off Sephiroth once the crimson commander realised who gave him the mutagen.

Now they had another sulky kitty to deal with.

-o0o-

Omael had calculated that the dose Sephiroth had taken would wear off in another 48 hours, as Sephiroth had taken a double dose of the mixture. Genesis’s dose would wear off about the same time.

Apparently Genesis hadn’t wanted to leave out the third of the First-Class triad though.

Angeal soon joined in their suffering, having mutated shortly after having his morning glass of water.

However, Genesis hadn’t accounted for Angeal’s . . . distaste for felines.

Seems he forgot that incident with the Behemoth back in Banora.

Yet again, Keith had to stop the SOLDIER’s from murdering each other, and banished Genesis to a corner while tending to the distraught Angeal. Zack was having a bit too much fun and snapped pictures, but eventually helped his mentor calm down, forcing Angeal into a hug and the stern First began to relax.

The ear scritches Zack gave were probably the reason for Angeal relaxing, but he still spat out a few death threats at Genesis (who may or may not have realised the error of his ways and/or remembered the Behemoth incident and thus stayed silent in the corner for a good two hours).

Sephiroth took this all in stride, a bit too happy to see others were suffering the same fate as him, but did apologise to Angeal for being a part of the reason why he had the new appendages. Keith asked Omael for an update on how the tower was handling the situation, and it seemed that Cloud had issued a small announcement that the SOLDIER’s had a small infection and they did not want to risk it spreading to the public, and so they had pulled all SOLDIERs in Midgar off their missions.

They played it off as a mild case of a fever so it wouldn’t cause public panic, and it seemed to have worked since there was no rioting yet.

Keith didn’t mind being in lockdown with the SOLDIERs, as it allowed him to have a paid break and he knew his janitors would be able to function without him just fine. And if they did need his help, they could just call him via his phone (bless Reeve for his futuristic designs, he had a new phone with a video call app from the inventor and he swore he could kiss the bearded engineer).

Then Zack got it into his head to prove a point about how much stress the three First-Class Generals were under.

That was when the headache started.

-o0o-

Cloud was going to kill Zack.

Why?

It turned out that Keith had a bag of catnip in his office and Zack apparently knew exactly where it was.

Keith claimed it was Cronkle’s bag, as the lizard liked to set the stuff on fire and it did work well as incense for some weird reason.

After hearing Zack had gotten into it, Keith was in quite the murderous rage, but was more concerned about the three hyped and drugged up SOLDIERs that were running rampant around the tower.

The top twenty floors though, Vincent helped Reeve to seal the top of the tower off before the three made it down that far.

Genesis had apparently gotten it into his head that Cloud was a perfect target to chase after, his bird’s nest of a hairstyle may have been a factor, and had apparently decided to strip before fixating on the poor Blonde.

Angeal had a much more calmer reaction to the catnip after spending an hour clawing at the walls, almost smothering Zack when he decided his student was the best thing to curl up against while staring wide eyed at the ceiling.

Sephiroth was in a similar state, although Keith was trying not to burst out into laughter while filming the General batting at his own hair and occasionally chasing his own tail.

It turned out that Cloud was faster than Genesis, having given the auburn haired man the run around for a good four hours before bursting back into the gym, where his pursuer promptly tripped and ended up colliding with the Silverette that had decided he wanted cuddles and a nap with Keith and had stripped off to that endeavour.

Keith let out an undignified screech when the two toppled over him, cursing to the high heavens before wriggling free and tossing a blanket over the stark naked pair. He soon began the wretched task of convincing them to wear pants, otherwise there would be no cuddling.

Unfortunately he forgot about the third in the triad.

Angeal had apparently felt left out and had stripped off himself, before launching at the wriggling blanket.

Cloud was eerily reminded of the nesting Nibel Dragons as Keith let out a sound that certainly wasn’t human, the naked trinity bolting as their instincts screamed for them to flee from the ‘apex-predator’.

Keith took a few minutes to calm himself down, Cloud still recording the whole thing, before coaxing the three back as he felt a bit ashamed at his outburst.

It was rather odd to watch the three slink back on all fours, but Keith merely rolled his eyes at Zack who was snickering at the whole ordeal.

The three soon forgot all about Keith when Cloud simply dragged a rather large mattress into the room five minutes later.

Keith didn’t care as his throat hurt from the screeching.

Poor Gen ended up at the bottom of the pile with Angeal taking great pleasure in ensuring the redhead couldn’t escape and, to no one’s surprise, Seph had ended up on top of the whole thing.

About two minutes later, the only thing you could hear from the mattress was the sound of three sets of snoring.

For modesty’s sake, Keith somehow managed to drape a blanket over them once he felt like moving, and left to stretch his legs out. Sephiroth had been a limpet so he hadn’t been able to really move a lot during the whole ordeal.

All of this was caught on film, and Cloud could certainly say this was one of the best days so far as the new owner of the SHINRA company.

-o0o-

Angeal was promptly mortified when he saw the footage and apologised profusely to Keith once both the mutagen and the catnip had worn off.

Sephiroth hadn’t been at all abashed, having stayed in the gym during the whole lockdown, but he had recently been notified that pictures of the triad in a cuddle pile on the mattress had been leaked to the fan clubs of said triad.

Censored of course.

The blanket hadn’t been able to cover everything. It had barely covered the shrinking appendages as the mutagen had worn off.

He blamed Zack.

Little did he know Keith was the one who leaked it, feeling satisfied in his revenge as he had dealt with a wriggling naked three year old Sephiroth in the snow once before, but this time, there was no excuse for this behaviour.

Vincent and Omael would totally back him up.

Genesis had been told of his little run around by the ‘Chickobo’ (as SOLDIER had taken to calling their new President, unofficially) and had challenged Cloud to a race around the SOLDIER track. He lost in both speed and stamina courses, and the official code-name for the President had been changed to ‘Gold Chocobo’ as a result.

Omael was more interested in how Keith had made that unearthly shriek, but had no luck in getting the janitor to try and recreate the sound as Keith almost lost his voice for three days afterwards. He refused to use it again, but Vincent could certainly say it did sound like a nesting mother Nibel Dragon scaring off predators (from firsthand experience).

Cloud though, found it quite useful and often played the sound when he snuck up on Genesis, causing the thespian to find the tallest object nearest him and take refuge. It seemed the mutagen hadn’t totally worn off yet, although given how Angeal has stated that Genesis had had that habit before taking the mutagen, it wasn’t that likely.

The recorded sound still didn’t have the same effect as the real thing though.

Proven as Keith’s patience had been tested a few weeks after the whole mutagen incident, Zack and Genesis had pulled off a prank (rare as it was for the two to co-operate) and Keith lost his temper rather quickly, treating them to a repeat of the sound.

Genesis was scared enough to hide in the Malboro cage, dragging Zack with him.

Zack learned what was down there, and could certainly say he rather face the Malboro than an enraged Keith.

It didn’t help that several SOLDIERs had requested the mutagen for use on downtime, with several more asking if the animal could be changed.

Keith hid all the catnip, just in case.

Omael ended up creating a new ‘party-drug’ that had zero side effects and could be customised to fit the tastes of even the more hardcore.

It got quite popular, although it wore off more quickly for the less-enhanced SOLDIER’s.

However, all Hel broke loose when someone managed to slip the mutagen into the Turks’ drinks.

It probably wouldn’t have been a problem if they hadn’t used the Chocobo-Style Zack had ordered as a gag gift for Cloud’s birthday.

Keith, not wanting to deal with that nightmare, shut himself up in his office and slept all day.

Vincent spent the day with him, and they kept it a secret between the two of them that Keith had taken the Feline-Style version of the drug and spent the day sleeping on Vincent’s lap.

He needed some pampering given the headache the tower caused him.

Cloud certainly thought he deserved the break (although that could have been the Dragon-Style he had been slipped by one of the Turks in apparent revenge talking).

No one knew how Omael managed to concoct a version of that and got to work, needless to say where he got the Bahamut ZERO sample from.

All fingers pointed to Keith, given his dragon screeching was a form of communication in some odd and unexplainable turn of events when someone summoned an enraged Phoenix for shits and giggles.

The summon spent the day perched on Keith’s shoulders and the employees gave startled looks when Keith growled and grumbled in his throat, giving the occasional screech and the summon responded each and every time.

Cloud immediately demanded to learn the language, and it wasn’t odd to hear the two making the inhuman sounds when passing the President’s office.

One thing they learned from this whole ordeal, Nibelheimer’s were weird and NEVER to be crossed.

Or maybe it was just those two. Probably just those two (everyone hoped, then Tifa barged in demanding to know why Cloud had stopped answering his phone again).

Keith somehow wrangled Tifa into helping him control these little hellions that were the Firsts (they had gotten into the high of choice for their animal).

The whole of SHINRA shuddered when they realised there was another Nibelheim employee. Especially when they heard First-Class SOLDIERs complaining that they had bruises for weeks after sparring with her.

The whole moral of the story was that SOLDIER certainly adored their General, and never to touch his energy drinks. Because it caused incidents like this to happen.

Also, to never let Omael drunk science again. Unless it gave a profit, then it was fine.

Finally, BEWARE OF NIBELHEIM PEOPLE. They were in a class of their own.

-o0o-

Chapter Text

It had started out as a normal day at the office.

Well, normal as it could be as Cloud had finally managed to rip out the remnants of the old system and the staff were still trying to get used to the new rules and regulations that had been put in place.

Sephiroth had a mountain of paperwork to go through, as the whole restructuring of the SOLDIER system had to be addressed.

As Director Deusericus was currently busy sorting out the Junon sector, that left poor Sephiroth in charge of the Midgar reconstruction.

Needless to say Sephiroth was swamped but the only reason he was still able to slog through the backwash of bureaucratic nonsense, and basic stupidity when it came to actually keeping records, was due to his inability to leave a task unfinished. It was a habit he had yet to break but it was an essential skill in this type of occupation.

Not to mention the embezzling they still had to sort out.

He was going to leave that to the Turks though. He was a complete menace when it came to budgeting, and not in a good way.

After the last incident, he had been banned from the budgeting department and Angeal was entrusted with sorting out the SOLDIER finances. It was really the only paperwork Angeal did, Genesis often got stuck with approving training measures and checking through requests for upgrades.

He was probably 50% done with the backwash of paperwork from the system revamp, and he could feel his mind slowly dying with each file he clicked on.

The only reason he was still going was because most of the paperwork was electronic, if it was all printed paperwork then he would have thrown it all out the window regardless of the fact he was wasting resources.

Apparently he wasn’t the only one suffering though.

Keith had finally been approved to tear out the old ventilation system to replace it with a brand new one, and he was also going to map it all out at the same time so no one had to crawl through eight floors of foul smelling stench to find out what was blocking the fresh airflow. The technician had a mental breakdown when they found out they hadn’t had to crawl all that way down when there was a perfectly good opening ten metres away from the blockage.

So yes, he was going to map it out because they did not want to face the same legal battle that occurred after the incident, although he was glad the technician won a pretty good care package for the trauma he received.

However, there was an issue.

A blockage had been found about two floors down from Hollander’s old lab, and no one wanted to know what was down there. Since Keith was the only janitor who could really go in there and not get immediately mauled to death if it was a subject, and he was the only one desensitized enough to smells that it didn’t bother him (if you live in Nibelheim long enough, even the most foul smelling swamp wouldn’t really bother you), that meant he had to deal with it.

When Keith discovered the blockage, he nearly screamed, but so would anyone discovering a nest of Tonberries where a nest of Tonberries really shouldn’t be.

“OH MY GAIA, TONY, YOU HAD CHILDREN?!”

It turned out the Tonberries weren’t the offspring of their resident stew expert, but a feral batch that Hollander had managed to sneak into the building (no one knew how or when he did it).

Luckily, Tony had taken to training with the SOLDIERs on his off days and had managed to corral the younger Tonberries into his tribe. The older Tonberries were something of a major problem as they took off into the vent system.

It took Keith half an hour to wrangle the baby Tonberries out with Tony’s help, but the damage had already been done.

They had an infestation of Tonberries in the vents, the only bright side to this situation was that they were unarmed. If they had knives, then they probably would have to put the whole building on lockdown.

But as they were older Tonberries, that meant Keith couldn’t really deal with the issue on his own, and so had to leave it up to the SOLDIER’s, and a few keen Turks who hadn’t had their ventilation system training (that class had been put into effect after Reno spent a good two days hiding in the vents and refused to come out, Keith was out of Midgar at the time, and so they made the class mandatory in case such an event occurred without him being there again).

This left Keith with very little to do, as he had completed all his work in order to have the time to work on installing the new ventilation system.

A scream of frustration echoed through the building.

One that Sephiroth would later on copy when devastation struck hours later.

-o0o-

Sephiroth was diligently working on the forms to house the newer Cadets that the company was starting to take in when he noticed something odd.

Several forms he had submitted had been returned with errors, ranging from his signature being missing to the numerals of the housing being off or missing.

Frowning, he opened the forms and couldn’t help slapping a hand over his eyes, hoping that what he had seen was a hallucination from boredom.

However, on the second glance, what he had seen was the truth.

Something was wrong with his computer.

It had to be.

Opening up a new document, he typed in a few words.

A twitch began to develop in his eye when he saw a completely different and jumbled sentence appear on the page, and he picked up his office phone in order to ask for a computer technician to come up and see what in Minerva's name was wrong with his computer, when something else occurred.

His computer monitor lit up with the blue screen of death.

And the poor computer died.

No one could blame him for screaming in outrage.

Four hours of work was completely gone.

GONE. VANISHED. VAPORISED.

. . . .

He needed a chocolate break.

-o0o-

Keith wasn’t surprised to find Sephiroth raiding the vending machines, that scream ten minutes ago was one he was quite familiar with, having sat through several of baby Sephiroth’s screaming tantrums.

“So, what’s your problem? I can’t work on the vents, and have nothing else on my docket.”

Sephiroth gave him a blank stare, one that spelt of anguish and pure, utter despair.

“Computer died. Four hours of paperwork; gone. And I can’t use any other computer because they’re not secure enough.”

Keith couldn’t help the pained hiss he let out, he knew the pain of losing a computer, it happened to him during his first year on the job. It had been hell to find one that fit his security level, which wasn’t much because he was only a minor janitor at the time.

Given Sephiroth’s position, there wouldn’t be one that fit his security level that wasn’t custom made, and now Sephiroth had no work to do.

“You’ve got no work to do?” Sephiroth queried as he noted how Keith was drinking hot chocolate, a leisure drink when he was off hours.

“Finished it all up to work on the vents. And my minions have forbidden me from doing anything else because they think I’m overworked. I sort of flipped a table in anger and they deemed me unfit to work. To be fair, I was pissed about having to delay the ventilation revamp. I was so looking forward to fresh air in the building.”

Ah, yes, that would have lead Keith to causing physical damage, he knew all too well how much Keith wanted to get a new vent system in. It had been a four year debate between Keith and the President. It had also been the first thing Cloud had had approved when he took over the building. The only reason why the coward of a President hadn’t bent on the issue was because it would put the building out of comission for a good few days while the new system was installed, and they couldn’t afford to shut the building down for that long. Cloud had worked around that little issue by having the ventilation system renewed floor by floor, which meant that the floors being worked on were the only ones out of commission while the work was being done.

“And what’s caused the delay?”

Sephiroth had been so focused on his paperwork that he hadn’t heard the screeching and general mayhem occurring in the building over the past few hours.

“A Feral Tonberry tribe. Hollander strikes back from the grave, it seems.”

Sephiroth choked on the bar of chocolate in his mouth, coughing harshly to clear his throat while staring at Keith in absolute shock.

“Tony has the babies and the younger ones following him as the Tribal Elder, but the older ones are completely fucked up in the head and several have signs of Hollander’s tampering. They’re infesting the vent system and SOLDIER is the only way to get ‘em out.”

Keith sighed and drained his cup, really, Hollander was a pain even in death.

“So . . . now we’ve both got nothing to do.”

Sephiroth nodded in agreement, two workaholic’s with no work to complete.

OH HOLY MINERVA THEY WERE GOING TO GO INSANE.

-o0o-

“Hey.”

Cloud walked over to the two despairing workaholics, and offered a bottle.

“I owe Keith this; from the time he got me that boost for the Desk, and the renovation plans for the public floors.”

Keith eyed the bottle warily, but took it anyway. He would figure out what it was later.

“Is there anything we can do to keep ourselves occupied? I’ve already freaked out a couple of people and my staff aren’t letting me do any work. Sephiroth’s computer’s busted so he can’t get into the system.”

“That’s why I gave you a bottle of my homebrew. It’s the only thing I drink when I want outta my tree. Stronger than SOLDIER Sinker powder; Tifa calls it Mako-Breaker Moonshine. Vincent always begs a few bottles off of me when he has nothing to do.”

Both Keith and Sephiroth shared a look, then stared at the bottle with keen interest.

Sephiroth had only gone drinking with Keith once before, and after hearing those tapes, he was interested to see what a drunk Keith might look like.

Apparently Keith was on the same wave length, scowling at the younger man before placing the bottle to the side.

“No, we are not drinking in Midgar. The last time I let you get drunk, the Turks had to do overtime to stop those pictures from hitting the internet.”

That had been a very busy week.

“So we can’t get drunk in Midgar.” Sephiroth concluded, looking way too serious for someone deciding how to get drunk.

“What deduction skills!”

And there was Keith’s sarcasm slipping out, one of the many signs that he was losing his marbles.

“How about a vacation?”

Both men turned to the grinning blonde, eyebrows furrowed and pure genuine confusion on their faces.

“What’s a vacation?”

Panic flickered across Cloud’s face and he immediately pulled out his phone.

“I’ve got an emergency. Keith and Sephiroth have no idea what a vacation is.”

Both of them should have really seen that as the sign to get the hell out of the building, something that they would regret two days later when they were dropped off on the sandy shores of Costa del Sol.

And began to freak right the fuck out when they realised they were stuck here for an undetermined amount of time.

-o0o-

The only great thing about working for Shinra, was not having to pay for accommodation.

SHINRA for some odd and unexplainable reason, had a mansion in Costa del Sol. Keith could understand having one in Nibelheim as the only hotel was the town inn and it didn’t have the best facilities, but there really was no need to have one in a coastal town with a ton of hotels.

Sephiroth and Keith had both been dumped at the mansion with their bags (Cloud made sure that they didn’t sneak any work related items in) and were told to have fun.

He also left them a crate of that ‘Mako-Breaker Moonshine’ but that was neither here nor there.

The first day they spent skulking inside, still trying to process the fact that neither of them had any work to do, or any idea of what to do for fun.

Fun for Keith was terrorising Hollander (who was now dead) and making sure that the SHINRA (now Ultima) building was working like a well oiled machine. Sephiroth’s idea for fun, was training. Or killing monsters on missions.

And Costa del Sol had none of these things.

Eventually they both came to the realisation that staying inside the whole two weeks that they had been ‘graciously gifted’ by Cloud, wasn’t going to get them anywhere. Besides, the mansion hadn’t been used in months and they needed to restock the pantry with edible food.

As a precaution, Sephiroth bundled his hair up under a cap and they located the nearest grocery store.

They then proceeded to scare the utter crap out of the customers, who watched two rather intimidating men scour the shelves for items like they were on a mission that was of the utmost importance.

It didn’t help that Keith was trying to keep Sephiroth’s sugar intake down to a certain degree, otherwise he knew the younger man would try to buy the entire confectionary aisle.

And he probably could considering the amount of Gil just sitting unused in his bank account.

They left the store with several bags, as they rather not have to take multiple trips for food during their ‘vacation’, leaving a speechless crowd of terrified customers and store clerks who had not a single clue about what had just occurred.

Keith may or may have not glared the store manager into submission when the man came out to figure out what the trouble was.

Unfortunately, they forgot how much food they could go through and somehow managed to deplete their stock by a third after binge watching a few movie series that Reno and Zack shoved at them once they had been informed of the situation.

They both woke up in the morning in a tangle of blankets, the menu of some random horror movie looping on the tv screen, and a bunch of empty or open packets strewn across the floor. Keith didn’t want to ask why there was a bag of unpopped popcorn upended into the fruit bowl.

The mansion did have camera’s, but they were too lazy to go and break into the security room to go find out what happened the night before. They would go look eventually.

Unfortunately, that ‘eventually’ would be twelve days later, after they woke up with no recollection of the week before.

-o0o-

It took a week before they really started to loosen up, Keith spent an hour convincing Sephiroth to go to the beach, and even then he had to find a secluded area that only someone with mako enhancements could even access.

It was day three of the second week when Sephiroth seriously began to get into the swing of things.

The crate of questionable alcohol had been tempting the silver haired man for a few hours while Keith had momentarily left the mansion to go get some more root beer (apparently Costa del Sol had a bountiful supply of the drink) and Sephiroth had been staring at the crate ever since.

Sephiroth had only been blackout drunk once in his lifetime (thus far) and, considering Zack’s advice on the stuff (it literally gets used in airship engines to unclog them Seph, don’t drink it alone, better yet, just don’t drink it), he was sure that this stuff could get him plastered.

It took three hours of staring at the crate, before Sephiroth literally said “Fuck it.” out loud, and cracked the crate open.

Keith was just in time to see him take the first swig, and practically screeched like a banshee before swiping the bottle from his hands.

“I leave for three hours, three hours! And you decide to drink unsupervised!”

There (unfortunately) was a regulation among SOLDIER’s that any mako enhanced individual must have supervision when drinking, as there had been a quite violent and embarrassing incident in Junon where a 2nd Class SOLDIER got so drunk that he tore through the clothing district and proceeded to give horrendous fashion advice to anyone who would listen.

He somehow scored a bunch of highly priced and branded items just so the staff could boot him out, and SHINRA had to pick up the tab. Needless to say, rules on drinking were slapped down as fast as possible.

Sephiroth was certainly well aware of that rule, as he had been the one to suggest it in the first place.

“I drink can responsibly.”

Keith merely raised an eyebrow and gestured to the bottles that had been placed meticulously on the floor in a rather obvious order and all were in reaching distance of the couch Sephiroth had chosen to plonk himself down on.

“Right . . .” Keith lifted the bottle up and took a small sniff, his face blanching as he recalled Cid Highwind pouring the stuff into a clogged up Airship engine filter.

But given how Cloud had insisted on them having some time off to relax . . .

“Oh, who gives a fuck. Bottoms up.”

He placed the bottle against his lips and took a long swig.

His throat burned as the liquid fire went down, and he could hear Sephiroth giggling over his coughing fit, but he was a bit more concerned about how his eyesight was getting a bit foggy.

Shrugging, he took another pull . . .

And that’s where his memory stopped.

-o0o-

“Holy . . . . . what in Ifrit’s balls went on here? Zack, any ideas?”

Keith would have replied to the question, but his brain was throbbing like he had tackled a Zolom head on, so he chose to just swear at whoever was trying to prolong his misery.

“I think . . . they drank the whole crate, Cloud.”

“That was enough to last them for a month. I expected them to drink like half the crate.”

“I think they went through it in four days.”

Sephiroth let out a pitiful moan from where he was curled up on the other end of the couch, his feet painfully digging into Keith’s ribs, but neither of them wanted to move.

“Ohhhh . . . how soon can we get those pictures?”

PICTURES?

Both Keith and Sephiroth shot up from the couch at the mention of the word, soon regretting it as the few parts of their brains that hadn’t been clogged with the buzz of adrenaline and leftover dregs of booze, protested violently at the sudden movement.

Keith made a strangled gurgle in the back of his throat, collapsing back onto the couch only to wheeze as Sephiroth chose to land on him, his nose smushed painfully into Keith’s shoulder and trapping an arm under his wider torso.

However, he wasn’t too hungover that he would miss the sound of a camera shutter, his free arm seizing a small cushion and hurling it in the direction of the sound.

There was a small shriek as the cushion made contact, judging by the voice it was Zack.

“Send me that, or else.”

Zack made a whimper of agreement, and soon he found Cloud hovering over the back of the couch, a bright grin on his face that made Keith slap a hand over his aching eyes.

Sephiroth was already fast asleep and possibly drooling into Keith’s shirt.

“So, how bad is the damage?”

Unfortunately, he had no time to be hungover anymore and he was already becoming sober far too quickly for his enjoyment. The curse of growing up in Nibelheim; the buzz didn’t last that long.

“Well . . . how long do you think permanent dye takes to grow out if the hair is several feet long?”

Keith blinked in confusion, only now spotting the random streaks of silver among the rainbow locks, and immediately tried to not snicker at imagining how Sephiroth would react to his new look.

“Oh no . . . Sephiroth’s hair colour is unique and there’s no way we can dye it back to normal. I think we’ll have to keep him supplied with alcohol so he doesn’t notice.”

“Yeah . . . that’s a problem. You drank the entire batch, and I can’t make more until I master several more Power Down Materia. And it’s the only thing that can get the Silver General here drunk fast enough for him to not notice the rainbow locks he’s got now.”

The two blue eyed blondes looked at each other, and back down to the obliviously snoring man (yes, Sephiroth snores but only around those he’s comfortable with, the soft adorable kind of snoring).

Well . . . this was a dilemma.

-o0o-

“I can’t believe I got a Rainbow Pride dye while drunk. I was planning on doing it temporary for the Parade in Junon next month, in support of Second-Class’s Hendricks and Persimmon, but now that plan’s ruined.”

“Hmmm, well maybe take the month off? Or say it’s for the Parade to have the increased Hype?”

“ . . . I don’t know which is worse.”

“Oh Gods above, you’re still a workaholic despite all of the drinking you did.”

“Cloud, this is Sephiroth we’re talking about. He must have some sort of workaholic genes in his DNA, look at Vincent for instance. He was a total stick in the mud, and it took me three months and a good bottle of vodka to get him to lighten up. Do you know how hard it is for a ten year old to obtain that sort of drink in Nibelheim, since it’s made in Rocket Town? I was going to go crazy if I had to be around some uptight, cranky red eyed Turk for several years.”

“That doesn’t explain your workaholic tendencies Keith.”

“True. You can’t really talk yourself you know? I’ve seen you when you don’t have work to do. It’s terrifying.”

“I had to get from somewhere, and Vincent ‘n’ Omael were the only adults I trusted bar Ma Strife. Besides, if I wasn’t doing something that meant the locals would try something.”

“How did this talk get to crappy childhoods?”

“I dunno.”

“You sure you want to go there? Remember, I was a two-year-old that ended up remembering six years plus of torture.”

“WHAT?”

“Um, Cloud, Sephiroth doesn’t know about your situation . . .”

“Oh shit. Do you have a Confuse?”

“Here.”

Sephiroth ended up conked out for the rest of the plane ride back to Midgar and had no recollection of the conversation. He was, though, talked into taking a month off to hide his new hairdo.

-o0o-

The Turks somehow managed to obtain a copy of Keith and Sephiroth’s crazy antics while flat out plastered, and thus took it as a challenge.

Many of them ended up in the infirmary from alcohol poisoning, and Keith was dragged up to the Turks office to get it into their heads that it was not an issue of challenge, stop killing your livers and for the love of all things sacred, he wasn’t going to join the Turks, he’s perfectly happy with being the janitor and Quest-Desk relief.

And they still had to get the Tonberry colony out of the vents. Turned out that they weren’t able to get all of the Tonberries out during his absence and no progress on the new ventilation system had been able to be made.

In conclusion, Sephiroth and Keith had a rather productive vacation.

They also learned that putting the two of them together while being blackout drunk, was not the wisest decision unless someone could corral them.

Although the new pictures Keith got for his scrapbook was nice.

-o0o-