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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-

Chapter Text

Zack has a curse.

Well, at least he thinks he does, and other people who know him seem to agree.

You see, he has a ‘gift’ with electronics.

He is a whiz kid with gaming consoles, any electronics involving gaming he was a pro with using and fixing, but give him any other sort of electronic device?

Zack was sure to break it in some way, shape or form. Most of the time he didn’t even know how, as he followed the instructions for using it exactly.

Now he currently had a new work-issued phone (and the tech department were currently praying to the gods that this one didn’t meet the same demise as many other of its brethren) and just like clockwork, he had . . .

Broken it.

Since this was the, let’s say . . . . twenty-fifth, phone he had broken (he lost count after the first ten), he had a problem. The tech department were so fed up with his contradicting nature with electronic devices, that they had issued him with a warning regarding the currently expired phone in his possession.

If he broke this phone, which he had, they would have to start up a budget dedicated to the electronics that had died under his care. And if one had a budget that was made for one individual employee, it was basically drawing a target on one’s back.

But right now, he was having a small mental breakdown as he tried to figure out how to escape his current situation.

Keith was well aware of the deal he made with the tech department, heck he was even there to mediate in case Zack somehow destroyed some device in the meeting accidentally (how Zack had killed his toaster by looking at it while holding a piece of bread, he had no idea). So getting help from Keith was a no go.

Angeal would most likely immediately inform the tech department about the dead phone, meaning that option was out.

Genesis was still pissed at him because of the prank he had pulled, which Genesis got caught in the crossfire from.

He wasn’t even going to try with Sephiroth.

Meaning that Zack had very limited options available to him.

Cloud had suggested once that Zack should just buy himself a phone, and then get that number registered with the company (added bonus, he could simply transfer the chip to a new phone and be done with it).

Maybe Cloud had been onto something . . .

But where was the closest phone shop?

-o0o-

“Zack, it ain’t that bad. The socket was mis-labelled with the voltage. It ain’t your fault the thing got fried.”

“Try telling THEM that. It’s never my fault, I can attest to multiple occassions where the destruction was outside of my control, but the Tech crew deemed me cursed and blamed me for it anyway.”

“Right, I forgot how vicious the tech department can get when it comes to repairs . . . Besides I can show you a few things. I’m currently trying to help out beta-test the new stuff Ultima wants to put out, and you’d be a good test. If you can’t break it, or it breaks in one of the accidents that seem to always happen around you, then no-one should be able too.”

The first time he broke something, the tech department (who were proud of always being able to repair a device) were unable to bring the phone he had utterly murdered back to life, and so they deemed him as an enemy to all electronics. It didn’t help that he fixed up a gaming rig faster than they could, and he sort of became an arch nemesis for them.

“You sure about this, Cloud? They’ll probably know it’s not the same one they gave me…”

“Sure, I’m sure. Besides, they can’t create a budget for you if you don’t go through them for the gear. Anyway, I’ve got an idea on how to help you keep your phone alive for more than three weeks at a time.”

“Really? How?”

“Have you ever heard of Mobile Games?”

Well . . . perhaps he had found a loophole to this curse.

He still had to get a new phone though.

-o0o-

It turned out that the tech department were quite well aware of him killing the phone (they apparently had planted a chip in it that allowed them to know if the phone was alive and if it stopped transmitting then it was dead), but once they noticed his current phone that he had bought with his own salary had lasted for more than a week, they inquired how this was possible.

Naturally, Zack wasn’t about to tell the department that had made his life absolute Hel anything about the new tech he had.

Besides, these dungeon runners were really fun, and that monster collecting game had really helped out with his monster hunts. The guy that had made it had included little titbits about the monsters that could be applied in real life, Zack had been surprised to learn how to tame a Kalm Fang pack and now had one that followed him around whenever he was in that region (it helped that he had taught them how to guard the Chocobo Farm, so they weren’t put back on the kill list).

Eventually the tech department turned to Keith who was also interested in how a phone under Zack’s ownership had survived the trial period, but the janitor had also been pissed at the tech department for stressing Zack out so much for something that he really couldn’t control.

So Keith had approached him and Cloud, knowing that the fellow Nibelheimer had something to do with this, and they explained the loophole over coffee. Well, coffee for Cloud, Zack stuck to a can of soda and Keith had a root beer.

Once hearing about the loophole, Keith had laughed for several minutes until his stomach was achingly sore, but he could see the benefits to having the games on ones phone.

And of course he asked *cough* demanded *cough* to have the same games on his own phone as he had learnt from the disaster that had been his vacation with Sephiroth (but really it had been a blast and neither man had realised how much pent up stress they had until they reviewed the security footage, found the pictures and videos on the internet of their drunken shenanigans, it was weird to watch themselves grumbling about their workload over drinks getting into all sorts of trouble), that he really needed something other than work to occupy his time.

Needless to say he sort of freaked some employees out when they walked into a break room to find him lounging on a couch, aggressively pressing the buttons on his phone and hissing curses from his clenched teeth, Cronkle sitting peacefully in his lap and occasionally licking Keith’s arm as if soothing him.

One had even suggested getting his phone looked at by the tech department if it was causing him so much trouble.

Imagine everyone’s shock when Keith had replied that he’d rather take said phone to ZACK of all people.

And proceeded to howl in laughter at their dumbfounded expressions.

Eventually Reno caught onto the game functions on Keith’s phone and begged Cloud to get the same on his phone (which had been recently updated and Cloud rather have his Turks with better communications after one incident of getting stranded without a signal due to crappy tech).

Over the next few weeks, Cloud began to distribute the new phones as Reeve certainly needed his genius to be recognized, and he rather have more expenses than losing men due to outdated communication devices. Explaining to a widow how their husband could have been easily found if they had just given updated tech that they had access to but because he didn’t want to increase the company expenses, her husband was a casualty?

Cloud didn’t really want to deal with that.

Eventually it got to point that everyone besides those idiots in the tech department (seriously, even President Shinra had been pondering the thought of laying that department off) knew about the mobile phone games, and it was driving the techies nuts because they couldn’t understand why everyone was so fascinated with these new phones (they had refused to use them as they had their own pride in their clearly outdated products).

And so they got desperate and went to the source off all this madness.

They went to Zack, for advice on the new phone.

Zack took a few minutes to process the fact that the tech department were asking him for help and had a laughing fit that lasted a good ten minutes before refusing and fleeing to find Cloud to describe what had just happened.

It was only when the whole tech department decided to boycott work did Cloud finally get involved and explain the situation, leading to a rather embarrassed department who finally began to get used to the new and improved phones, working in tandem with Reeve who merged the department into his own Urban Development, and the new Innovative Designs and Communication Support Department soon began to flourish.

Maybe Zack did have a curse, but if it gave an outcome like this . . .

Perhaps it wasn’t all that bad.

-o0o-

Chapter Text

It was a little known fact by few that Angeal was a very deep sleeper.

Before Zack came along, nothing could wake Angeal up if he was asleep, not even blaring alarms. Which was quite surprising given how enhanced a First Class SOLDIER’s hearing could get.

Genesis was an apt example, he once heard a Capparwire crawling through grass despite the strong gales and rain on the Junon Plains during monsoon season, when they returned from a mission later than scheduled to avoid any incoming storms.

Angeal was like a rock when he slept, but he maintained a regular schedule so that he was up at the appropriate times for work.

Once Zack became his student, his colleagues and fellow co-workers finally found a way to wake Angeal up.

Somehow, during the first few weeks of the mentorship, Angeal came to the realisation that Zack was like a puppy.

A very curious puppy.

He stuck his nose into anything that came his way, often almost causing grievous bodily harm (no one dared to let Zack around Mastered Materia ever again) and minor destruction of company property.

It was due to these few weeks that Angeal developed a very curious and baffling ‘sense’ of when Zack was about to cause trouble.

Omael believed it was due to a lab trainee accidentally mixing up Zack and Angeal’s mako injections (Zack’s injections happened to be specialized to him as he was quite . . . hyperactive after the regular shots so it had to be diluted for him, not to mention tweaked to his DNA).

Angeal had returned from a very stressful and exhausting mission, having to deal with a Zolom in the Swamps with Sephiroth and Genesis for backup, and had crashed on the couch in the First Class’ office. A mere ten minutes later, he had sprung up from the couch and dashed out the door. Sephiroth and Genesis were later informed that Zack had tried to get past the security lock that ensured he did not try any level above 20 in the Virtual Reality training simulators. He had almost gotten past the lock with the help of a certain red haired Turk, but Angeal had arrived and dragged them both out before they started level 35 up.

That was the first time they realised that Zack either causing trouble or being in trouble woke Angeal up, even if he was trying to sleep after being sleep deprived for four days due to some of the Weapon’s Development’s machines running rabid after a mis-coded instruction. The robots had to be destroyed and Angeal was very efficient with disposing of them.

The company were very quick to pick up on this development and often sent Reno or another Turk to help Zack get into ‘minor’ trouble if they urgently needed Angeal awake.

So far it hadn’t failed.

Although this sort of became a problem if Zack was not in Midgar due to missions.

-o0o-

It was a rare sight to find Angeal on his own these days since Zack had been promoted to First Class, which meant the Puppy could access all the same things as his ex-mentor could.

Not to mention he was dead asleep in a very public break room.

If Reno recalled, Angeal had just returned from a mission in the vicinity of the Icicle Inn. Unfortunately; there had been a snowstorm that hampered the mission’s progress. The mission in question couldn’t be postponed, as it would take weeks for a storm to blow over in the area, and the poor sods who got assigned the mission had to continue despite the chilling winds and mounds of snow.

Cloud had been generous enough to allow whoever had been on the mission a week's paid vacation, and they had been very grateful about it (they had fled to Costa del Sol to get as much sun as they could), but Angeal would rather take care of his plants. He had a small garden that somehow managed to thrive despite the destitute environment they grew in (Cloud often suspected that the burly First had some diluted Cetra blood in him; he had all the hallmarks).

Zack was out of the city to help pick up some materials for the new ventilation system as they needed more manpower (the moment Keith and Sephiroth had returned to Midgar, the janitor had thrown himself into the project), so there wasn’t much that they could do but let Angeal sleep until he got up himself.

But since Angeal’s sleeping habits weren’t exactly a fact that was broadcast around the company, and the only few that knew about it were unavailable or Turks, meant that the sleeping First could end up causing quite a stir in public places.

Which also meant that Reno had stumbled across a golden opportunity.

To be fair; Rude shouldn’t have let him run off on his own for his lunch break.

-o0o-

It was a well known fact that if one shouted in the building, a good 60% of the SOLDIER’s in the Tower would hear it.

So it was quite reasonable when a shrill scream echoed through the halls, a good majority of the SOLDIER’s were clapping their hands over their ears and cringing from the high pitch.

The source was a terrified secretary, who had wandered into the break room to refill her coffee and reheat her takeaway lunch, spotting a well known SOLDIER First face-down on the floor in a spreading pool of blood.

Apparently she also had a good arm along with a large lung capacity, as her container of noodles had collided with the ceiling and stuck there for a good five minutes before falling straight on the head of the next poor soul who wandered underneath. The black noodle sauce dripping on his face plus the combination of a dead body caused the second scream of the day; the lab techie ended up running into at least eight different walls as he fled the room due to the sauce covering his eyes.

There were, at least, ten to twelve people that fell for the trick until someone actually had the idea to go report the incident properly instead of running around screaming like headless chickens.

Omael somehow was becoming an authority figure that some were warming up to, and someone had the bright idea to go fetch the scientist who happened to be on a lunch break himself.

The scientist took one look at the ‘dead’ body on the floor, stared for a good minute before taking a deep breath and exhaling.

And burst into hysterical laughter.

The person who actually had the guts to go get the Professor and inform him of the situation quickly began to back out of the room, wondering if he made the wrong decision in thinking this man was even remotely sane.

Omael just kept on laughing, wiping tears of mirth from his eyes before leaving the room, slowly clapping as he strolled down the halls, creeping out a good majority of the workers who had peeked out of their cubicles wondering what in the name of almighty Gaia was going on.

Then Reno (who had no idea how well the prank was going) got a call from the scientist in question.

“Why don’t we give the poor man a proper send off at the training grounds?”

Reno then realised how bad things had gotten, and frantically began to think how he could sort out the mess he had created without getting the muscle of the Trinity killing him once he woke up.

Luckily for him, Zack happened to return in time to watch the latest victim of the prank in hysterics, somehow understanding the jumbled words and realising what was going on.

-o0o-

Zack had a feeling Keith was not going to like the stains in the floors. It had been a good set of light coloured carpet that had just passed the four month mark without getting ruined (and that was a record).

However, if this wasn’t dealt with right here and now, Reno probably wouldn’t get off as lightly.

There was a rather large crowd of SOLDIER’s, secretaries and Turks somehow crammed into the break lounge, looking at the ‘corpse’ and uncertain of what to make of the situation.

The latter group were wondering what method they should use in order to wake Angeal up.

Zack had his own idea though.

“MMmmmmmm, Coffee. Might pour myself a cup, would go well with the candy Cloud gave me.”

The ‘dead body’ immediately jerked, a red smeared face rising from the floor with absolute horror engraved in dark eyes.

“IN NO WAY, BY THE LIFESTREAM ZACK, ARE YOU TRYING TO GIVE EVERYONE A HEART ATTACK?!”

The SOLDIER’s in the vicinity leapt back, one letting out a high pitched shriek before fainting.
“Nah you should know by now what that stuff does to me, welcome to Zombie-hood by the way. It’s nice to finally have someone as a peer.”

The Turks let out sighs of relief, and the secretaries (who were so done with all this crap) returned to their work stations.

Angeal jaw had dropped, just staring at Zack in both a mix of exasperation and confusion, finally noticing how his shirt was damp and crimson stained his arms. Genesis was on the ground, snickering and pounding his fist into the floor (which gave a dangerous creak) and Sephiroth had an indescribable expression on his face.

A camera flashed.

“Someone decided to use your sleeping habits as a prank, they used the fake blood usually reserved for Turk missions. Zack, what did you mean by ‘peer’?”

There was a wince, Angeal’s eyes swivelling to the red haired Turk attempting to sneak out of the room.

If the growling Angeal was making in the back of his throat was any indication of how pissed he was, it was nothing compared to the horrific screech that Keith made when he burst into the room and caught sight of the fake blood.

“THAT WAS IMPORTED FROM WUTAI! I HAD TO BARGAIN WITH FIVE DIFFERENT MERCHANTS BEFORE THEY EVEN LET ME HAVE A SAMPLE!”

Reno squeaked and crawled into the ventilation system.

In his fright, it was completely excusable that he forgot the vents on that floor were the next to be removed since they were extremely rusty.

He got two halls away before it all collapsed and they heard a yelp as Reno came crashing down through the ceiling.

-o0o-

Keith had been so hysterical that Cloud had to talk to the Wutai merchants.

Needless to say no one drank or ate in the that lounge to avoid Keith breaking down into tears, he had been rather traumatized as he had spent so much effort into getting nice carpeting in at least one break room.

-o0o-

Seph never did get his question answered.

-o0o-

OMAKE

-o0o-

“Zack, what did you mean by welcome to Zombie-hood?” The phrasing had stuck in Angeal’s mind since the prank.

“Well, you know about the timeline split don’t you?”

“Yes, and I am glad that those events did not occur in this timeline. I would not have liked going crazy, or being convinced I was a monster.” Sephiroth was sitting down on the lounge in the First Class office.

Genesis actually looked up from his book for once, interested in the answer.

“Well, you know how so many people died? It wasn’t just in that timeline.”

“Zack?”

“Remember the time the shots got mixed when I was a fresh faced third, just newly mentored? Yeah, Omael never told anyone but me, but my heart actually beat so fast it stopped. It jumpstarted again when the shock of the alternate timeline splitting hit me with the memories. I died saving Cloud’s Mako-Poisoned butt from an entire army of SHINRA troopers, after we had been guests in an experimental lab for about 5 years. The similarities of the situation kickstarted the memory absorption, and I was able to ‘jump-start’ my own heart as a spirit.”

It was needless to say which Professor had been their ‘host’, it was very odd to have heard from Cloud how his timeline’s ‘Hojo’ had been like Hollander, but about ten times as worse in regards to having human morals and ethics when it came to lab specimens. They referred to that scientist as ‘Hojo’, Omael was still getting used to being called by his first name among the few Cloud had told about his ‘past’.

The three First’s were speechless, reeling from the information and Genesis certainly was looking rather pale. He didn’t like the Puppy, but he didn’t want him dead, the relationship between them was a playful frenemies sort of relationship.

“And me? Why welcome me to Zombie-hood after I was sleeping?”

“You don’t know? You tend to stop breathing in your sleep, kinda like how Valentine goes into hibernation sometimes. It’s why I always seem to cause trouble and jump-start the Mako-flow between SOLDIERs all the time.”

“You do, you’ve done that since we were kids. Freaked me out the first couple of times until I talked to my mother about it.” Genesis remarked, opening his book again like he hadn’t just casually remarked about how Angeal sometimes stopped breathing as a kid.

“ . . . . . It would have been nice to have known that years ago. I always wondered why you were fretting over me when we had sleepovers.” Angeal groaned, knowing that he would have to go to Omael and get a better, well-detailed explanation about this condition. He didn’t like not knowing about things.

“It would also go a long way in explaining the reason why you can’t be woken up once you DO go to sleep.”

“You think Omael could find a way for Angeal to wake up that doesn’t involve almost setting me on fire? That last Turk was a bit trigger happy with that flame thrower.” Zack winced as he remembered the incident, his hair had gotten slightly singed.

“Seeing as my biological mother had sleep apnea as well, I think he should be able to do something for ‘Geal. He had been living with her for nearly five years before she had me and took off. Father should know some remedies as well, seeing as his condition mimics it quite closely.” Sephiroth remarked while flicking his PHS open to contact said man.

Well, it looked like Angeal had an appointment to make in the future.

At least he now knew why his chest was always a bit sore after he woke up all the time.

-o0o-

Chapter Text

Keith didn’t recall when they left the house.

Neither did Sephiroth.

But they were out of drinks and their thirst was unquenchable.

They hadn’t bothered to check out the local pubs and bars since Cloud had given them that crate of booze, and neither of them were regular drinkers so they didn’t feel the need to find out where the locals went to get smashed.

The first bar they found was a nice quaint one attached to a restaurant, teeming with customers decked out in a variety of colours and saran wraps (the blazing heat was constant despite it being nighttime). They were both quite grateful that Cloud, and possibly Angeal, had the foresight to pack their clothes as the Midgar weather never changed from its neutral state. Sephiroth wasn’t even aware he owned shirts this thin. He was rather used to his uniform and dress shirts.

The bartender didn’t seem to even realise they were already drunk (to be fair, to any normal person they would seem perfectly sober), and whipped up their orders as soon as they managed to pick one out on the menu.

Seeing as there was a ton of options available, it was actually smart of the bar to have a menu for their patrons.

Keith was slowly sipping at something fruity (there was a tang of citrus on his tongue) and Sephiroth was currently crunching on the ice from his glass, the customer sitting next to him starring as the ice crunching was quite audible.

Sephiroth had at least had some of his wits about him as he had pulled his hair up into a bun and placed a cap over his recognizable silver locks, so no one was openly staring at him for being the General of SHINRA. Keith wasn’t exactly publicly recognizable, so he could do whatever he wanted and not tarnish the company's reputation.

They managed to get through a good couple of drinks in before the customers were staring at the pile of glasses on the counter around them, Keith was already making a tower out of shot glasses, before deciding perhaps they should move onto the next place.

-o0o-

The next pub was a bit rowdier, the crowd tougher, and someone had the balls to insult Keith over his pretty looks. Of course Keith took this as a challenge and suggested a drinking contest; the burly muscled man who insulted him gave a cocky grin before calling the bartender for two shot glasses and their strongest bottle.

Sephiroth sat nearby, his phone discreetly recording as the two competitors threw back their first shot.

Keith ended up out-drinking the entire pub, and proving he could still hold his liquor as well as he did while in his hometown.

Sephiroth ate at least a kilo in peanuts as munchies while sipping at a fruity cocktail that no one really cared about since there was a much more interesting sight to see.

The bartender didn’t even bat an eyelash as Keith began to root through the passed out drunkards pockets, claiming his victory spoils as was common in these sort of seedy pubs.

Given how Sephiroth slipped the bartender a bribe probably helped in that regard.

-o0o-

The next place was a more uptown bar, catering to the more business sort. One of the already drunk patrons was complaining about the amount of work he had to go through as a desk jockey; claiming that he had more work then even the Silver General of SHINRA.

Naturally, Sephiroth took great offence to that.

“Did you know that every piece of paperwork that goes through Director Lazard’s office has to be countersigned by me? I have seen stuff that had to be part of HEIDEGGER’s work, but since Lazard did it, I have to go through it. I have seen paperwork that deals with the infantry’s TOILET PAPER SUPPLY that I have had to re-read and countersign since the idiot Lazard can’t be bothered to fill anything bar his signature in. And anything with Lazard’s signature on it has to have mine as well, or it isn’t valid.”

Keith had to drag Sephiroth off the man, which went as marvelously as one could expect when trying to stop your drunk friend from throwing an innocent (annoyance) off of a balcony.

They had to flee the bar before the cops got called.

Since the bar had been on the second floor, they hopped the railings and jumped to another rooftop, Sephiroth loudly complaining about Keith’s parkour skills.

“You just never learned how to! I was willing to teach you but you never cleared your schedule! Even on your off days you do paperwork! At least I relax on my off days!”

“Oh really? Your idea of relaxation is patrolling the halls and scaring the shit out of the employees!”

Keith paused from where he was perched on a tree branch, staring back at Sephiroth who was clambering up from a windowsill to the roof.

“ . . . We have a problem.”

“Agreed.”

-o0o-

It took them about ten minutes before their fleeing from the cops turned into a competitive race (apparently while Keith had been drinking those idiots under the table, Sephiroth had written a bucket list on a notepad he procured from under the counter).

Their race lasted about thirty minutes, they somehow managed to make it across about two-thirds of Costa del Sol, leaving a very interesting trail of destruction in their wake.

Sephiroth was responsible for the plant pots he barrelled into when he slipped on balcony railings, he wasn’t exactly wearing the best shoes for this sort of exercise.

Keith’s footwear was fine, as he had been doing parkour for so long he could go barefoot.

He had misjudged a few tree branches integrity though, and had been to heavy for them to handle, thus quite a few trees had broken limbs along the boardwalks.

Neither of them knew which one had managed to wedge a steel bench into the barrel of the Sister Cannon Array.

They had to call the race quits though when they found the antique cannon.

To be fair, Keith shouldn’t have egged Sephiroth on when he had a Fira lit near the wick.

He quickly confiscated the Materia before they had to flee again when the cannon ball went flying through a gazebo and right into the gas can of a barbeque.

They both learned a valuable lesson; despite things being antiques, they could often still be in great working condition.

-o0o-

The adrenaline rush they both got from the parkour race made their thirst build up quite a bit, and the next bar they stumbled on was a jazz club.

Keith got quite emotional as he drank his whiskey, another patron nearby muttering about his shitty childhood which made Keith want to one up him.

When it came to shitty childhoods, Keith was by far the worse compared to normal people.

Sephiroth was a whole other story though.

Keith and his new friend, Frederick, were both crying as they downed their drinks, consoling each other while Sephiroth blankly stared at the two grown men openly bawling in the jazz club. He did however pass them a box of tissues a waiter passed to him, dragging Keith out of the club once Frederick and the janitor exchanged phone numbers.

-o0o-

Apparently bringing up the past brought up Sephiroth’s own memories, and after getting Keith to drink a full bottle of something (at this point they had no idea what they were consuming), convinced the janitor to break into the local SHINRA Branch.

Since Keith had access to almost everything (by everything that meant he had the same security specs as the President, which he had the privilege of sharing only with Sephiroth), it was very easy to leave a rather crude message addressed to Lazard, Sephiroth was still bitter about the paperwork issue.

Not to mention spreading all the current paperwork all about the office.

It was all shipment paperwork for infantry supplies, and they felt no remorse as they doused the more important documents with petrol.

Sephiroth may have been cackling like a mad man as they flicked a lit match into the building, Keith staring blankly at the flames that steadily built before they left the scene of ‘the crime’.

Cloud didn’t have a problem with losing the Costa del Sol branch, all it really did was store paperwork. In fact; he had been looking for a reason to fire Lazard for a while, and paperwork habits were just the thing.

-o0o-

Their next stop was at the hairdressers, after Sephiroth had apparently remembered something rather important.

“Second-Class’s Hendricks and Persimmon are getting married soon, they wanted the ceremony to start the Costa del Sol Rainbow Pride parade next month.”

Keith glanced up from where he was applying some aromatic oils to Sephiroth’s back, they were trying to cover up the smell of smoke and had stopped by an oil store. Plus he needed to get some as the smells soothed him after dealing with idiots, and Costa del Sol had a much larger variety available than what the Midgar store stocked.

Sephiroth had liberally applied sandalwood to his own forearms, apparently liking the spicy chemical scent, Keith wrinkling his nose as the strong smell permeated the air.

“And that has relevance to us how?”

“I wish to show my approval of their union and my enthusiasm for the parade. Zack suggested colours.”

“And your wardrobe is monochrome.” Keith could see the issue there. Clothes shopping with Sephiroth was an task in itself as he liked to know everything he could about what he was buying. It took an hour to get through one three piece suit when they had to get him something suitable for one of the the late President’s many gala’s.

“Have you ever thought about dying your hair?” Keith blurted out, having spotted a hairdressers about a block back while they had been crouching behind a shrub to catch their breath, as well as to avoid the fire department.

“Zack suggested that as well, something about it being easier than going out for suitable clothing.”

For once, the Puppy was being helpful.

“There’s a hairdresser close by.”

-o0o-

Costa del Sol and its locals was amazing.

That’s the only thing Keith could think of considering how Sephiroth had tumbled through the window instead of using the door not even two feet away, and the hairdressers hadn’t even blinked.

Not even a squeak.

“How can we help you today?” The nearest hairdresser, sporting bright blue hair that seemed neon in the early morning light, already pulling up a chair for Sephiroth to sit in, Keith was fine where he was.

“My friend needs his hair dyed. Some coworkers are getting married and he wanted to show some support.”

“What a wonderful idea! And we have so much to work with.” Sephiroth had lost his hat amongst the shattered glass.

“What kind of colours do you have in mind?” Another hairdresser, a man with a single red streak in his shoulder length hair asked, as he used a heavy duty broom to brush the scattered glass shards in a heap under the window.

“Give me all the colours! Sick of silver and need to show support for my cohorts.”

“And who are your cohorts darling?”

“Second-Class Lieutenant Hendricks and his fiancee, Second-Class Commander Persimmon. Both in SOLDIER, but different squads, Those two keep their more rowdy squadmates from giving me even more paperwork and were instrumental in getting me through the SOLDIER program, despite me being at least half the age of most of the other cadets. I’d have never survived if it wasn’t for my honorary Uncles.”

At this point, Keith would think the shop employees would have to be the most disconnected to the media people if they didn’t know who Sephiroth was. But they simply nodded and continued their jobs like professionals, not at all bothered by the fact it was SHINRA’s General asking for a dye job.

“Well, let’s get started then.” The neon blue hairdresser chirped, a bright smile on her face after hearing the story Sephiroth had just told.

Keith found a vacant chair and settled in prepared for a long wait. Knowing how long it took Sephiroth to have a trim, this was going to take a good couple of hours.

He made sure to pass a wad of gil over to the petite lady manning the counter, payment for the window and what was probably going to be a four hour hair appointment.

-o0o-

It took a good forty minutes into the appointment for Keith to get bored, and began to make idle talk.

One such topic being about the new President.

“You seem to go quiet around the new prez. Why? You’ve never been intimated before . . .” Keith asked, a sly smile growing on his face as he saw the faint blush on his little brother’s face (that certainly wasn’t caused by alcohol).

“He beat me effortlessly in a spar, now I get dreams about him tying me up and ordering me around. Gen has been teasing me constantly, and I’m turning into an insomniac cause I can’t look him in the eye or even work after one of those. They give me problems that I hadn’t before and Father just laughs and directs me to the biology and anatomy books when I ask.”

Keith couldn’t help but snort, and Leandra (the neon blue hairdresser) giggled. Stephen, the hairdresser with the red streak raised an eyebrow but kept applying the light green dye to the strands in his hands.

“Papa never gave me an answer either, just said that he knew it and that several of the Turks owe him cause he won the pot.”

“Vincent was never too comfortable with that kind of talk. After Lucrecia dumped him, me and Omael had to tie him to a chair and threaten to leave him in a dragons den unarmed before he talked about emotions.” Keith managed to spit out as he tried to not laugh at the General’s obliviousness. It wasn’t exactly his fault given his upbringing, but Keith couldn’t help find the situation humourous.

“Honey, have you ever heard of the term BDSM?” Stephen asked.

“Yeah, it’s something Gen introduced to me when he started dating ‘Geal. ‘Cause sometimes he needs outta his head, and ‘Geal isn’t there to do it for him. I mainly just let him sit near my feet with a blindfold on and watch to make sure he doesn’t end up in a bad way.”

Keith decided to cover his ears as Sephiroth continued the conversation, this was something he didn’t need to hear.

-o0o-

The hairdresser at the counter apparently got sick of watching Keith flick through a magazine for the twentieth time and demanded she do his hair.

So he let Shay work her magic, and by the time Sephiroth’s dye job was done, he was sporting three thin streaks of ice blue in his fringe, somehow she had got the same exact shade as his eyes.

Sephiroth decided to pay the hairdressers triple their usual rate because they had ‘a lovely chat’ and had to be gods, as he inspected his rainbow coloured hair. Every single strand was coloured, not a single lash of silver could be seen. That was, the silver that hadn’t been deliberately left alone to complete the rainbow pattern.

Stephen was nice enough to direct them to the nearest clothing store that was open (it was roughly around 4AM) so they could procure clothing that wasn’t singed, soaked in sweat and had grass stains.

Luckily Sephiroth was so exhausted that he left Keith to rummage through the racks, not even asking a single question as Keith dressed him in khaki shorts, a red short sleeved shirt and a white beret. He actually purred as Keith braided his hair, the shop owner insisting on finding them clothing that’d ‘accentuate’ their assets.

Sephiroth made the occasional comment on clothing choices while Keith had a wonderful conversation with the shop owner, as he had to find some clothes for Cloud as Midgar didn’t have the best options for the Nibelheim born and raised. Midgar was pleasantly warm to most, but to Keith and Cloud, it was a hot house.

Costa del Sol was even hotter, but luckily Cloud had a rather high temperature tolerance range.

Still, they preferred the colder climates to the more temperate ones.

They left the store with several bags and an adequate disguise, as the cops were still looking for them. They swung by a liquor store on the way back and picked up a good amount of bottles that Sephiroth took back to the mansion. Keith went to get nibbles.

They ended up drinking the lot under an hour, and Sephiroth now had an addiction to chicken wings.

-o0o-

It was 6AM and the sun was just coming out.

Since the beach was right outside the mansion, Keith decided it was a great time to go for a swim.

Sephiroth was not happy when he got dragged out to the water and dumped into the salty ocean.

They had an epic water fight and only called it quits when they started to get a headache from all the alcohol they had consumed.

The bedrooms were too far from the entrance, and they flopped down onto the couch despite their shorts being absolutely soaked. Sephiroth had abandoned his shirt at the entrance way, Keith tearing his damp singlet and throwing it in some vague direction.

There was a crash, but they were far too tired to care.

-o0o-

And that was how Cloud and Zack found them the next morning, with horrendous hangovers and wondering what the hell had happened the night before.

Actually, they couldn’t remember an entire week, once Cloud questioned them about the date.

Keith was just confused as to why he had a new contact called Frederick in his phone, and a note from a Derrick written on the back of a receipt saying to call him for wardrobe tips.

Cloud was pleasantly surprised to find a bag of clothes labelled for his use once they began to clean up the lounge.

Zack was pouting when he found the bucket of chicken bones, and Keith would have directed the Puppy to the shop he bought them from, but he couldn’t remember where the shop was at all.

Although there was the vague smell of engine oil and book dust in his memory.

They both left Costa del Sol with a bunch of clothes, aromatic oils, a fresh hairdo and a week’s worth of forgotten memories.

-o0o-

A month after the incident they ended up asking Cloud why the Turks were so pissed at them.

Apparently the Turks had been appalled at their antics, since they were the most responsible figureheads of the company to the employees, but once finding out they had been completely blackout drunk while performing said antics, it became a challenge.

The only Turk not bothered was a smug Reno, and once questioning said Turk, they found about the collateral destruction betting board the Turks ran with the Weapon’s Department.

It turned out the Turks put a lot of their salary into betting on Genesis, who damaged company property almost every day of the week.

The destruction they had caused in Costa del Sol though, not only shot Sephiroth up from the bottom of the leaderboard to the top, but put him half as much expensive again as the second place contender.

Keith immediately called foul, citing the insider information Reno had as one of the party that had ‘helped’ the Silver General celebrate his 21st birthday and was the reason Sephiroth wasn’t allowed to get drunk in Midgar.

The Turks happily took their Gil back, and stopped trying to poison their livers via excessive alcohol consumption.

Keith eventually cornered Vincent and interrogated him about Sephiroth asking him ‘questions’, to which the host of Chaos became quite flustered about, but eventually muttered out his reasons as he knew Keith would be persistent on the issue.

But one thing Cloud learned was to never let the two of them drink unsupervised as they would both fuel each other’s crazy ideas, especially if he gave them access to Mako-Breaker Moonshine.

Although he wouldn’t have a problem if he was there with them.

Perhaps on the next vacation . . .

Chapter Text

It had taken a week for the fact, that SHINRA had a new President, to finally sink in.

As such, a company wide freak out was foreseeable.

The first change that occurred was the name.

The Shinra Electric Power Company was rebranded as Ultima Services, a vast majority of the SOLDIER department easily accepted the change (they had gained a far higher salary than what SHINRA had allotted them), while only a few of the secretarial staff were ecstatic.

It was hell to assign missions to specific SOLDIERs, the task in itself took up about 40% of their work and caused many to run overtime, a reason why the SOLDIER department had the second largest issue regarding overtime pay (the Urban Development department was the first as there were very few employees meaning they all went overtime). The quest desk system was a far superior system, as it allowed the SOLDIERs themselves to choose what mission they wanted, to fit their skill set and their current situation.

It was a problem that had hardly been addressed during President Shinra’s time, many SOLDIERs being sent on missions that were either above what they could currently do, or so much a waste of talent that could have been better use elsewhere (like on a mission that someone that DIDN’T have that skill set was assigned).

Not to mention the SOLDIERs who had families. Everyone in the SOLDIER department could recall when a 2nd Class SOLDIER was sent out to Mideel when his wife needed him to be with her for the week looking after their children who were at the fussy stage of entering school for the first time. There had been a huge public outcry at THAT particular debacle, and it was only when Sephiroth stepped in and addressed the matter did Lazard allow the SOLDIER parental leave even though it cost him a lot in paperwork to assign it to another SOLDIER who was available at the time (Commander Phelps was so grateful that he managed to convince several lab assistants to conveniently ‘lose’ the paperwork for a whole host of tests that had been ordered by the President for Hollander to do to Sephiroth).

If Lazard hadn’t listened to Sephiroth, Keith had been very willing to step in and get the man to change his mind on the matter.

So a decent majority of the company were delighted about the change, and once the rest of the company realised that THIS president would actually listen to the common worker, they changed their tune very quickly.

Except the ones who were caught embezzling company funds. Cloud threw them out on their asses in a heartbeat.

Two months after the initial rebranding, some workers still stumbled over the name change, typing or writing SHINRA onto documents, but it was mostly the older workers who had been in the company for a good number of years.

However, the biggest shock was when CEO Strife (he refused to be called President) decided to tweak their biggest source of income.

The new President had called a press conference in the lobby for all the workers, and had publicly announced that the Mako-Reactors were being shut down in favour of Green Energies, such as Solar and Wind, that caused the biggest shock.

When asked by the press, the reason given was actually rather straightforward and shocking enough to cause many to open their eyes and really look around.

It was only a simple speech, but one that shook the world.

“Migar has top quality soil, some of the most fertile in the entire continent according to the lab results. Yet nothing grows in Midgar. The only two people that have managed to grow plants in this town have Cetra blood. Midgar was known for it’s farmland, before the Reactors went up, and the soil is still the same quality. Why did nothing grow when the reactors went up? Why did the plants die when they had everything needed to grow their best? The only births in Midgar were those that were conceived elsewhere and Midgar has one of the highest rates of miscarriage in the entire world. Why? There is only one thing different from those days of Midgar farmland.”

Once the General and Keith returned from their vacation (the General sporting very . . . colourful hair), did the CEO begin to shut down the first reactor.

The Gongaga reactor was the first to be shut down, put on the high priority list due to its condition and considering the environment around it, it would deteriorate faster than the rest. The Nibelheim reactor would be the second, but because of its frigid environment, mako spillages would be easy to handle as the mako froze immediately (according to Omael and no one dared to try and correct him on the matter, he was the head scientist).

Omael had already gone and done some preliminary tests on the mako in the Gongaga reactor, Zack accompanying him with a team of his assistants and Cloud. If someone got to have a quick home visit, no one mentioned it when they returned to Midgar.

Once the results of the mako testing had come out, Cloud, Reeve and Omael began to analyse them to ensure the mako would be stable enough if they stopped the reactor’s production, and put the new energy options into play. As the Gongaga locals relied solely on the mako reactor for their power, they would have to first set the new energy source up before slowly weaning them off mako power.

Given it was an area exposed to the sun almost all of the year, they set up solar panels as the new alternative energy source. And Cloud was happy to get his hands dirty.

It was when Cloud was walking around the town, and saw something very familiar to him, that the fecal matter hit the ventilation device.

“Fucking…… ZACK, OMAEL! GET TSENG ON THE FUCKING PHONE IMMEDIATELY!”

It seemed that JENOVA wasn’t taking the new changes very well, and decided to speed things up.

Geostigma wasn’t to be trifled with, Cloud knew all too well how much damage it could inflict.

Since Omeal had been told about the plague, and how it was spread by Mako pollution, no-one was going to take any chances after he began swearing.

The Turks quickly arranged a First Class escort for Aerith, consisting of the three First Class, and had her brought out to Gongaga.

It hadn’t started in Gongaga the last time, but given how it was going to be the first to be shut down, it was no surprise that the effects would first show up here.

Several of the ground and transport crew had alerted of recognised symptoms in other villagers, and took it upon themselves to round everyone up for a Great Gospel shower.

It was only after everything was settled that it was discovered that the ones to recognise the illness actually knew the new CEO.

It seemed that Cloud needed to check on his ‘old comrades’.

Perhaps he, Cait Sith and Reeve weren’t the only ones that remembered . . .

-o0o-

Getting the crew back together took a lot less time than Cloud had anticipated.

Although, perhaps he shouldn’t have sent Keith to pick up Yuffie, the girl exclaiming that Cloud had a twin. Keith had barely even blinked at this, having been told by Cloud how . . . well  the closest comparison he could come up with was that Yuffie was much like an energy drink combined with several kilograms of candy in regards to her personality.

The moment the crew were assembled in one of the many conference rooms in the higher levels of the building, did they ask why things were different.

Tifa was the first to ask why her memories of Nibelheim from their timeline differed greatly to what memories the Tifa of this timeline possessed.

Each of the team (excusing Reeve and Cait Sith) had all noticed how there was one other player in the SHINRA power struggle that hadn’t been there in their timeline.

And how this Hojo seemed to be . . . not Hojo.

Cloud decided to start at the beginning.

The very beginning.

Cloud was finally asked the question he had been anticipating since the crew had gotten together and shared their stories of their memory gain.

Most of them had involved Mako in some way (Yuffie had ended up in the Spring under the Palace when the floor above it had given way, an assassin had tried to kill her mother before her brother had been born).

Cloud though, didn’t stumble into a natural spring. No, Cloud had a much more interesting story than the others.

“I was about two and decided to follow my foster brother up the Nibel Mountain to the Reactor…”

*FLASHBACK*

“Cloud, I promise it’s okay. Uncle Omael’s been up here plenty of times.” Keith gave the small two year old Cloud a bright smile, helping the child through the thick snow.

Cloud had insisted on knowing where Keith went all the time when he wasn’t busy with his cousin Sephiroth, and Omael had needed a sample of the mako from the reactor . Omael couldn’t leave his lab unattended; he had some very important tests running that he couldn’t leave supervised by anyone else in case something went wrong.

Mum had finally given into Cloud’s pleading, letting him accompany the eighteen year old who had sort of become like a brother to him. Even if they weren’t blood related . . . Keith promised to tell him how he came to live in Nibelheim in the future, when he was older.

But it seemed that he wouldn’t be getting that answer anytime soon, as what would occur in a few hours, would make him forget that promise entirely.

-o0o-

Cloud had gotten bored. He was a two year old, it was bound to happen.

The reactor was cold, dimly lit and completely grey in colour. Keith had asked him to wait by the door while he went and collected the sample. He should only be a few minutes, he had said, before he disappeared down a ladder underneath the main platform.

But that had felt like ages ago to a two year old.

The only thing that was different was that statue in the middle of the room. It was of an angel, and looked really pretty.

No-one would blame him for what happened next.

The Statue had a security system on it, to stop thieves and monsters from getting it, and the poor boy had no idea.

The electric shock Cloud got was enough to send him jerking backwards.

The railing he fell against snapped, rusted from age and the highly toxic Mako fumes, and the boy was sent plummeting down into the bright green pool with a scream.

Everything became a blur as he sunk into the green ocean, whispering voices and fleeting touches were all he could hear and feel. He was adrift in a sea of faded images and dream-like memories. A canvas that had been eroded by powers beyond his comprehension.

The peaceful shades of green white abruptly darkened.

Everything went black as he saw a blonde-haired man wielding a large sword, the scar on his brow the same as the one he had gotten recently from falling off the porch into the barb wire fence at the side of the house.

The man seemed surprised as he was, blue eyes so like his own wide with confusion, something inside him screamed that this spectre before him was very, very real. Nothing like the images he had seen before in this dark landscape. This man was important and needed to stay with him.

He reached out.

And knew no more.

-o0o-

The Cloud that woke up, wasn’t exactly the same Cloud that had fallen into the coma.

But, that wouldn’t be discovered until he tried to lunge at Omeal, and fell to the floor as a large sword fell onto him out of nowhere.

As he tried to take in his surroundings, he was quite surprised to see a blonde, blue eyed teen standing near his mother, his expression torn between panic and relief as he look at Cloud.

But why was his mother so much taller than him? Why was Hojo in his childhood house?! And, for that matter, why was First Tsurugi so damn huge?!?!?

“I told you Omael! I told you that Mako was glowing weird!” The teen was screeching at Hojo, who was staring at Cloud in a perplexed manner, similar to how Hojo had looked at him as a specimen. But this gaze held kindness, and that was an emotion he had never associated with the crazed scientist.

“Which one of you bastards hit me with a Mini?” came the frustrated squeak that stopped all conversation.

His mother gasped at his words, Hojo was taken aback, but the teen . . .

“Cloud, you are two years old! Where did you learn that word?”

“You’re more concerned about his language?” Hojo asked with a bemused tone, the teen rolled his eyes and shrugged his shoulders.

“Two? I’m nearly Fifty fucking Eight! I’ve saved the world about three times now from that crazy bastard Sephiroth, been one of the only survivors of the Geostigma before the cure was found, and I’ve been the only one capable of traversing the land when the Monsters went out of control after SHINRA fell. I think I can fucking well swear if I want to!”

Apparently the teen wasn’t happy with him swearing, striding over and (with some significant effort) lifting First Tsurugi off him, plucked Cloud off the floor like a stuffed toy.

“Cloud, you will calm down. You will stop swearing. You just came out of a mako coma, and we are all freaking out. So let’s all be civil adults, and talk this out.”

“Why should I calm down? So you can give me back to the crazy Scientist for another six years of torture and experiments?”  

“I can assure you, the craziest thing Omael has done, was dating that witch Lucrecia. Otherwise, he’s a man who's very passionate about his job, and would never run tests on any sentient being without their permission.”

The teen had such a calming voice, that Cloud felt the tension seep out of his shoulders. And seeing how he lifted Cloud’s very heavy sword, this person had more strength than the average. Given his current state, Cloud wasn’t sure if he even had the strength to overpower this person.

And somehow this person’s touch was soothing, like a comrades . .  like . . . a brother.

It looked like he hadn’t just gone back in time.

He had slipped into a completely different alternative timeline.

. . . .

Why didn’t he listen to Aerith’s explanation lecture on the Lifestream more attentively?

-o0o-

The ‘teen’ turned out to be called Keith, and had been living in Nibelheim for a good number of years. He was in fact good friends with Hojo, and babysat Sephiroth who was six years old. Almost seven.

Keith explained to him how about 6 or 7 weeks ago, he had gone up with Keith to the reactor, and had fallen into the mako after triggering the security system on a decorative statue.

He hadn’t been under the mako for too long, but enough that he slipped into a coma. Keith had fished him out, and run all the way down to the village with Cloud in his arms, promptly freaking the hell out of the townsfolk. He had gone straight to Omael, who began treatment and was able to stabilize Cloud, leaving them to wait for him to wake up.

Keith had been so preoccupied with Cloud’s condition, that he hadn’t washed the mako residue off his arms, so there had been a decent amount of mako that had dried up on his skin and left him with a slight case of Mako poisoning. Omael had been so focused on Cloud, he hadn’t noticed Keith peeling the mako off his skin, causing the substance to leak into the cuts and entering his bloodstream.

Once Cloud had been sorted out, a lot of Omael’s assistants panicked when Keith collapsed onto the floor with a loud crash, taking out a metal cart on the way down.

He had recovered quickly, but had felt extremely guilty, believing it was his fault that Cloud had fallen into a coma.

Cloud felt rather touched knowing he had more than his mother who cared about him this time, his childhood in Nibelheim was a sore subject for him, and he very rarely talked about it with the team.

Now that he knew the circumstances, he began to explain his version of the story.

“That decorative statue that caused my fall? Yeah, not so decorative after all…..”

Keith jumped out his seat, a finger pointed at Omael with a triumphant grin.

“I told you that statue was freaky! A reactor doesn’t need some fancy decoration! Plus Hollander was really weird about it . . .” He muttered under his breath, the scientist letting out a sigh and rubbing his forehead.

“I’m not in charge of construction, I’m just the guy who tests the mako and reports the results. I’ll ask Veld to look into it.”

“It’s not the statue that you need to worry about. It’s the remains of the last host body to a semi-sentient hive-minded Virus from outer space, that’s hidden BEHIND it, that you need to worry about.”

Hojo looked as if he was going to speak again, but was cut off when there was a loud growl.

It turned out it came from Cloud’s stomach.

Yeah, he hadn’t eaten in a couple of weeks . . .

Keith was snorting behind his hand, but wore a grin as he rose to his feet.

“Maybe we should continue this conversation after lunch?”

It really was a no brainer that Cloud chose the food.

And that was how he became acquainted with his ‘big brother’ and his ‘Uncle Omael’.

*FLASHBACK END*

“So . . . you just accepted that you had a new brother and an Uncle?” Yuffie questioned from where her arms were flopped on the table, a pout on her face as the others were still trying to comprehend what they had just been told.

“Crazier things have happened.”

“From what this timeline’s memories show, this Keith isn’t that bad of a dude.” Tifa shrugged, resting her cheek in one palm. “He scared off Cloud’s bullies and basically said ‘F U’ to the villagers, he didn’t care that this timeline’s Tifa was the mayor’s daughter, just treated her like any normal kid.”

“Keith is . . .” Reeve trailed off, trying to find a word to sum up what exactly the Head Janitor of Shinra is like.

“He’s the outlier. He is one of the reasons why this timeline is different.” Aerith’s voice broke the silence, causing them to all glance to the flower girl.

“Omael is another factor, but it’s Keith who makes the most impact. He was Sephiroth’s stability, someone to go to when he needed, and with his strong moral compass, he’s been a lifeline for SHINRA employees. Even if Genesis and Angeal began to degrade, he would be able to shut JENOVA’s attempts down. He knows Sephiroth too well, and if she tried anything, it would be fruitless.”

“Not to mention that he’s a part of a pretty big web of fate lines. The only bigger web is that of the SOLDIER hive-mind overlay, and I’m in charge of that. JENOVA didn’t even realise I took it off of her until I started shutting the reactors down. Probably why she’s sent out the Geostigma so early.” Cloud shrugged, like he hadn’t just admitted something rather profound.

“My brain hurts.” Cid muttered from behind his cup of tea, this was a bit much to take in all in one go.

“Perhaps we should adjoin this meeting? Pick it up tomorrow?” Nanaki offered, and given how many of the team nodded in answer, it looked like they all needed a break.

“Tomorrow then. I think we all need rest before tackling the Geostigma problem again.” Cloud replied, letting out a sigh as he got up from his chair.

Being CEO wasn’t that hard, but now with JENOVA up and about again . . .

It was going to make his job a whole lot harder.

But at least he had more people to help him than last time.

The fact that Keith had been eavesdropping just outside the door was unknown to everyone.

-o0o-

OMAKE

-o0o-

“So . . . what’s this about a ‘hive-mind’?”

Cloud almost jumped when Keith’s voice came out of nowhere, a hand held over Tsurugi’s main handle as he saw his big brother leaning against the door frame.

“I swear; you must have been a Turk in another life.” Cloud muttered under his breath, receiving a vague hum in reply as Keith slipped into the room, hands tucked into his pants pockets.

“I know you’re not the same Cloud that used to follow me around as a kid, but I’m still your brother. You can tell me things that you can’t tell others. And I know that this team are people you trust, people you’ve known longer than me, but I’m still sad that you couldn’t tell me about that ‘little’ detail.” Keith wore a smile, but Cloud could see that the older man was genuinely hurt, that he hadn’t told him about the ‘hive-mind’.

“I had only finished taking the damn thing over during your vacation. I didn’t . . . want to put all that pressure on you again. You deserved some time off. Besides, if I had told you, it would have spoiled the surprise I had for you.”

Keith didn’t seem to actually register the ‘surprise’ part of Cloud’s sentence, stalking forward and fisting Cloud’s shirt in his hand. Cloud did nothing as Keith tugged him close, almost face to face with the taller man, eyes shining with anger.

“I don’t give a damn about vacations. You’re my little brother. You, you’re someone I want to protect, even if it’s hurts me in the process. You’re irreplaceable, and if I can ease your burden, just by a little bit, then that’s all I need.”

Cloud did feel bad about keeping this big a secret from Keith, but he knew that his brother was reckless when it came to him and his safety. The scars that Keith had accumulated over the years because of Cloud’s mistakes or stumbles, were permanent reminders of that.

“Cloud, I just, I just want to know that you trust me.”

Oh shit.

Keith was crying.

Cloud was frozen, he had never seen Keith cry before. Well, from laughter yes, but like this . . .

These tears were from pain.

Emotional pain.

And he was the cause of it.

He didn’t know how to respond.

“Keith, I was hoping you could -”

Omael was at the doorway, his eyes wide behind his glasses as he took in the sight. Keith openly crying and a guilty looking Cloud completely frozen from shock.

Keith quickly wiped away his tears, a broken smile thrown onto his face as he turned to the scientist.

“What did you need me for Omael?” He sniffled, quickly walking over the door as he let go of Cloud’s shirt, shoving trembling hands into his pockets.

“Ah, one of Hollanders leftover specimens. I was hoping you could have a look at it.”

“Sure! I can do that!” Keith grinned, his voice cracking as he headed down the hallway with the scientist.

All Cloud could do was stare at the wet droplets on carpet, wondering how on earth he was going to apologize to Keith.

He had really screwed up this time.

-o0o-

“Keith, can I talk to you?”

Cloud was nervous, he hadn’t told anyone this, even Tifa hadn’t known how bad it truly was.

“I want to tell you something, something no one else knows.”

“My mother, in my timeline at least, wasn’t all there. She had her good days, and her bad days, but she only ever had clear eyes when it came to dealing with the village. I was on my own, completely on my own since she never remembered she even had a kid unless the villagers reminded her. You have no idea what it meant to have someone completely in my corner, to have someone care about me. Someone that I didn’t have any memories of, to taint my perception of them. My mother might not have been as bad in this timeline, but she was clearly getting there. I had to feed both of us, she often forgot to eat unless you reminded her, and I had to endure her tantrums when she couldn’t remember me. The scars you bear from my folly, are something I hoped you would never have to bear.”

“I didn’t tell you about the hive-mind because it really isn’t that big a deal. It’s like holding the channel toggle between the two channels on a radio kit in order to create a third. It is hard to use, and even harder to recognise sometimes. Not many SOLDIERs can ‘call-out’ with it, only listen in.  I’ve been trying to set up a surprise birthday party for you with it, which is why many of the SOLDIERs have been a little distracted. I know you didn’t like it when I told you about being forced to be a ‘puppet’ for the crazy bastard, and I was scared you’d make the connection that I could do that as well even though my set is different.”

“I’ll just leave you alone then. You clearly don’t want anything to do with me, anymore.”

Cloud turned to leave, but the door slammed opened behind him and he could hear the steel creaking.

“Cloud . . .”

He couldn’t bear to turn around, he couldn’t face Keith, not after everything he had just said.

“You fucking idiot.”

He felt Keith’s hand on his shoulder, and didn’t resist when he was pulled back inside the office.

But instead of receiving a blow like he expected, he found himself in an almost suffocating embrace.

“K-Keith?” Cloud wasn’t sure of what to do, Keith had his face buried in Cloud’s shoulder, and his whole body was stiff as a board.

“You’re my little brother, nothing will ever change that.”

He heard Keith mumble, and he felt tears on his shirt.

“Damnit.” He found himself muttering, unable to hold back the floodgates as tears started rolling down his cheeks, the two of them weeping as they finally let all the emotional turmoil of the years out, sliding to the floor and clinging to each other like they were afraid of the other disappearing forever.

Neither of them knew how long they stayed there, silently crying in each other’s arms until all their tears ran dry.

“Why do I have such a idiot little brother?” Keith muttered with a huff, his tone full of fond amusement as he ruffled Cloud’s hair.

Cloud snorted at this, letting out a breath against Keith’s collarbone as he slumped against the older man.

“Why do I have such a reckless older brother?” He retorted, causing Keith to chuckle in reply.

Vincent found them five minutes later, tears stains on their cheeks that were red from laughter curled up against each other on the couch with their arms wrapped firmly around each other, dead fast asleep.

He said nothing, only placing a blanket over the two, locking the door behind him and leaving a ‘DO NOT DISTURB’ sign on the handle.

Only those who were familiar with both blonde individuals would know how long that talk had been due.

But now, all was done and dusted.

There would be no more secrets between them.

That’s all Keith wanted.

Chapter Text

The company had been in disarray since the CEO had come back from Gongaga with dreadful news. The brief quarantine of the area surrounding the respective reactor both fueled fear of a pandemic as well as the anger of finding out the reactor that had been a contributing factor to the disease appearing.

While the citizens of Midgar were reassured there was a cure; the city was plagued with fear that the disease would hit them next. If it had occurred in an area with one faulty reactor, what’s to say it couldn’t happen in a city with eight functioning ones? They were well aware that the reactors were highly maintained but human error could always play a factor; one small fault could result in dire consequences.

The outcry was so large that the reactors were turned off and the city was going to be without major power for quite awhile; as the solar panels on top of the plate (and the wind turbines on top of the tower) were only in their early construction stage. Materia Tech (reverse engineered from Ancient tech) was the order of the day; meaning that most of the SOLDIERs (and especially Genesis, Sephiroth, and oddly enough, CLOUD) were forced to work on quickly Mastering the Materia needed to create functioning refrigeration units and fairly weak power circuits.

Most members of the company were confused as to why the CEO had called in certain individuals who seemed to have no relevance to the situation, especially a member of the Wutai Royal family, but once finding out that two of them (being Barret Wallace and Cid Highwind) regularly worked with alternative power sources, it eased their minds knowing there were several available options for the power crisis if the Materia Tech failed.

While the team were mostly there for getting the new power sources up and running, they were also there to tackle the issue of JENOVA.

Omael was using every other second of his time that wasn’t dedicated to his general work to hunt down the JENOVA specimen that had mysteriously vanished from most records. But as the highly paranoid individual as he was in regards to security (the only other person who had similar paranoia at the same levels as Omael had was Vincent), he kept several backups of the tower computer records, which varied in size over the years.

He had to search back through eight years of backlog to find any mention of the specimen, and was pleased to announce that one decorative statue had been shipped from Nibelheim to Midgar by some labs techs and infantry that were ‘discharged from service’ mere weeks after the shipment.

One fragment of the body had been transferred to the Gongaga reactor, which had been destroyed after the Greater Gospel rain fell upon the town.

However, that meant there were several other pieces scattered around Gaia, and guess who had to go dig them up?

It was a good thing that the only place such pieces could be kept in (relatively) good condition were the Mako Reactors.

So Cloud and Co. began to prepare for their expedition, under the pretence of inspecting the other reactors and shutting them down (once the pieces of JENOVA had been destroyed, the reactors were worthless).

Vincent stayed in Midgar though, as Keith took it upon himself to go search for the pieces under the Midgar HQ as he had a few . . . issues to settle with the alien lifeform.

Especially about how she had so ‘kindly’ taken care of his brothers.

(Despite the fact she hadn’t done it yet, he still felt like she deserved it).

With Vincent’s help, and Cait Sith accompanying them, they descended into the bowels of the SHINRA HQ (Keith noted to revamp the entire place, perhaps a bunker?), and came upon the early stages of DeepGround.

Keith was rather glad Vincent and Cloud had sat him down to explain what DeepGround was.

Once clearing out the few specimens (Keith wished he could resurrect Hollander just to kill him again, dying from falling out a window was too kind for the shitstain), it was simple to find JENOVA’s main body, and Keith eagerly tore into the writhing mass of limbs with the strongest Firaga he could muster (which put Genesis’ to shame, who do you think taught him?).

Vincent wasn’t ashamed to say he had been a little disturbed by the unholy grin on Keith’s face as he watched the torso burn, high pitched popping noises breaking the silence and crackling of flames as they watched the alien lifeform crumble into ash. It was quite satisfying dumping buckets of Holy Water onto the blackened stain on the floor, but the best part was to come.

Genesis would have come down with them, but Keith had promptly thrown the auburn haired SOLDIER back into the elevator once reading a few files scattered around the main lab, ordering him to take the subjects they found along with Angeal to the Turks for security reasons.

But he was quite glad he had borrowed Genesis’ rapier as he used it to cut the vile head off of JENOVA’s torso, and the alien had been speechless as her body had burned.

It then began to screech and scream when Keith advanced on the prone head, Vincent letting Chaos out to play didn’t help in the slightest, as the two demons (seriously, Keith was scary when his family was involved) tore into the remainder of the Calamity.

When they both returned to the surface, no one said a word as the two men strode through the lobby covered in ash and dubiously-smelling purple blood.

They were greeted with a quartet of screaming children in adult bodies who wanted their ‘Big Brother/Boss’.

Which Turk let slip about Cloud’s WARRIOR.Net?

Keith (once he had wiped the blood from his face), sat them down and explained that their ‘Big Brother’ would be back once he finished exterminating some pests, and distracted them by asking what their names and their special skills were.

Once mentioning that their Big Brother would be very happy to know they were cooperating, the four eagerly began to talk, and somehow they managed to keep the quartet occupied until Cloud returned.

There had been a young girl who had been found down in the bowels of the building, but seemed to be perfectly fine although a little traumatized, and once she had given her name (Shelke), Omael was able to link her to one of the scientists in his division, whose sister had gone missing a few weeks before Hollander’s death. Her older sister Shalua was in absolute tears when Omael informed his younger colleague they had found her sister, and after a few days of observation, she was free to go.

The other four though . . . well they had been down there since they had failed out of the Cadet program due to a technicality, and it was a miracle that they had even remembered their names.

It was rather odd to watch the four teengaers behaving like children, but it became normal after a few days as they waited for Cloud to return from checking Northern Crater for fragments of JENOVA.

At this point, they really didn’t want to miss any trace of JENOVA because even a single piece could cause a nightmare.

Keith had tons of experience with younger children, so the company left it up to him to keep the teenagers occupied until Cloud got back, disturbing several employees when they asked why they were alright with Keith and no other adult besides Vincent.

“The mean old lady that kept screaming at us went Boom-Crackle-Pop.” Rosso had replied with a blood-chilling grin as Keith played with her hair, combing the red strands with a smirk on his face as the secretary stumbled back with a green tinge to her face. Clearly she recalled how Keith had ash, soot, and purple blood smeared on his cheeks.

The only other adult they had been alright around was Omael, but only when Keith or Vincent were with them. Omael could understand why, as it had been a fellow scientist who had done it to them, and so he discarded his lab coat around them to at least remove one reminder of their time underground.

Cloud was kept up to date on the four’s progress (the company referred to them as the Colour Quartet as they preferred to wear certain colours over anything else). Keith had raided Genesis’ wardrobe to find something for Rosso until they could make a shopping trip, she enjoyed flouncing about in a red crop top like jacket (apparently it was from Genesis’ wilder days). Azul had to borrow some of Angeal’s few blue items of clothing, as he was a broad shouldered, muscular build similar to the Banoran born SOLDIER.

Nero practically drowned himself in black, preferring long sleeves and high collared shirts, while Weiss had no qualms in snagging a few of Rufus’ suits, that had been left behind when the SHINRA heir left the company.

When Cloud returned, he had to double-take; seeing Weiss in a white suit, Azul in a blue polo shirt and jeans, Nero in a black turtleneck and slacks while having both arms in a black sling, with Rosso bringing up the rear in a stylish red v-neck shirt, burgundy shorts and leggings (she may have borrowed some of Genesis’ boots, but he had no need for them anyway).

Keith could see his little brother’s surprise at the quartet, eyeing the mechanical arms that emerged from Nero’s back, but he did catch the grimace as he knew Cloud had hoped Nero hadn’t undergone that operation yet.

Omael had deemed it too risky to remove the mechanical arms, but had high hopes that with a medicine mixture including Holy Water, the damage on Nero’s flesh and bone arms might be reversed. If successful, the boy would require muscle therapy, but Nero was just glad to hear he might be able to use his arms without feeling pain in the future.

Cloud was almost bowled over by the quartet, who were babbling so fast that even he strained to understand what they were saying, but once they calmed down (having seen Keith’s many expressions, he could copy a decent few), he let them speak one at a time.

It looked like the worst was over for now.

Or so they thought.

-o0o-

Mere weeks after the DeepGround and JENOVA fiascos had been settled, another incident occurred.

Angeal had returned from a month long mission from the North, as some monsters had been a bit rabid from the remainders of corrupted mako, and seemed to have caught a bug on the trip back.

At first he had been lethargic; most chalking it up to a cold. This wasn’t a big problem; Angeal’s last dose of mako had been mixed up with a new drug that had no ill side effects besides a lowered immune system.

However, he didn’t get better after a few days, steadily growing more tired and mentioning his back aching.

Then, three wings tore free from his back as he was crossing the lobby on his way to request sick-leave.

No one had any idea of what to do (Cloud had only told Keith and Omael about the wings). Sephiroth and Genesis were utterly speechless as Keith scooped Angeal off the floor and yelled for them to fetch Omael, already phoning Cloud, while snapping at the secretary to get an ambulance.

The two SOLDIER’s ran all the way to Omael’s office, Genesis couldn’t speak at all while Sephiroth hastily explained about Angeal and the wings. Omael glanced to Genesis with utter horror before grabbing some files and dashing to the elevator.

Genesis had been the first to have wings; that’s how it had started.

But for it to be Angeal?

They hadn’t anticipated this.

Cloud was beside Angeal, talking to the medic as he was being loaded onto a stretcher, speaking quietly and surely.

Sephiroth blanched as two black, dragon-like wings unfurled from where Cloud normally kept them hidden, quickly spotting the slight twist to the spines and the slight hitch in the joint on one of them.

Genesis was practically a statue as he watched his childhood friend lie in agony on the stretcher, frantic thoughts running through his mind, too shocked to notice Cloud’s own wings.

It was decided that Cloud and Omael would go with Angeal, since they had more knowledge on the matter, leaving Keith to wrangle the two shock stricken SOLDIER’s back into the building. The blonde janitor tried to not grimace as Genesis silently stared at Angeal blood smeared across his uniform, making a mental note to dispose of this uniform as soon as he had the two younger men sorted out.

After making the two cups of rum spiked hot chocolate, Vincent gave Keith a brief few minutes to go change while he supervised them, giving them silent reassurance that Angeal would be fine.

-o0o-

It was a touch and go situation; Cloud and Omael occasionally contacting them to inform them of Angeal’s condition. Keith didn’t even protest when Sephiroth curled up against him for comfort, Genesis joining him soon after the next update. Vincent slipped out to fetch chocolate bars, they certainly needed it.

It didn’t help when Omael informed them that Angeal had to go into surgery and Cloud had to perform part of it because the doctors had no idea how to get the impacted trio of wings to emerge.

Several Vets also had to be called in, because the impacted wings had been broken in several places when they failed to emerge, and had to have the Doctor’s helping them as Cloud pulled them out of the inscions.

They didn’t sleep that night, too afraid they would miss a call, terrified for their friend’s life, none of them could imagine how Angeal was feeling right now. Thankfully Zack had been out of the city on a mission and had no cell reception to hear the news that Angeal had been taken to hospital.

Then, what seemed to be an eternity later, Cloud had called to inform them of the successful surgery (that had lasted ten hours in total) and that Angeal was (finally) on the mend with a drip of Holy Water.

They couldn’t understand why Cloud had cracked up giggling after telling them that Angeal sure was a strong Buster of a Zu.

Not even Keith could answer them.

While they were all relieved to hear Angeal was fine now, they all forgot about one thing . . .

-o0o-

Zack was not pleased to return to find Angeal was in the hospital and none of them had tried to at least contact him to let him know about the situation. He had to find out from some random on the street when he returned, and almost broke a wall when he dashed to the hospital to find Angeal perfectly fine (although with some new appendages) and having visitors.

The Zu comment made a lot more sense when Zack mentioned that Angeal’s shiny new wings looked an awful lot like the monsters he’d been sent out to cull, before fainting from the shock of seeing said wings.

Cloud didn’t have the heart to tell him that most of SOLDIER would probably end up with something similar, depending on their personality and the mako mixes used on them.

Keith was just fine having his normal human appendages, and was quite glad he had never tried to apply for SOLDIER.

But now Angeal was out of commission and they had that gala coming up . . .

Which meant he had to supervise.

Just wonderful, having to look after a bunch of super-humans with access to alcohol.

It was going to be a nightmare.

The image of Angeal being flat out on his front with three sets of wings up in uncomfortable braces and casts while he was in seventh heaven due to the amount of drugs in his system? Priceless.

Definitely made up for it.

But first he had to survive looking after the Colourful Quartet who needed to go shopping again.

Ah, what was his life right now?

-o0o-

OMAKE

-o0o-

Keith wanted to cackle right now, even though people would look at him like a lunatic, but it would be worth it.

Cloud had mentioned to him before how he hated shopping for anything other than weapon maintenance or Materia.

So now his little brother could suffer alongside him as they made their way through the shopping district, following four hyped up teenagers with basically unlimited spending money.

Well, not that they knew that, Keith was in charge of the funds, as he was quite selective when it came to price ranges.

But perhaps he could let the kids go a little over budget just to watch Cloud squirm for once.

“So, who wants ice cream?”

Cloud groaned while the kids cheered, already weighed down with several bags full of knick knacks and clothing, a majority of his burden being Nero’s as the mechanical arms were a little delicate after their latest inspection (Scarlet was good for something it seemed).

Seeing the mischievous glint in his older brother’s eye, Cloud knew Keith was doing this just to mess with him, giving kids ice cream was bad enough, but these four?

It was literally asking for trouble.

It only got worse as they kept going. Azul, despite being his size, got tired quite easily (Keith was still working out a training regime for him). And when he got tired, he got whiny.

It took five minutes of complaining and high pitched whining for Cloud to give up, letting the teen clamber on his back. The only upside to this was Azul was perfectly fine holding a few bags, even though those occasionally hit Cloud in the chest as he walked.

Keith strolled behind them with Rosso and Weiss, Nero preferred Cloud as the older man was smaller, so he was walking next to Cloud. Which meant when he bumped his flesh arms (that were getting better with time, but still quite tender) into a stall by accident and began to cry, Azul started whining that Nero was hurt, giving Cloud one horrendous headache.

Exasperated, Cloud swerved into the nearest store, Nero sniffling as one mechanical limb clutched onto Keith’s sleeve, and emerged with a black straight jacket (Midgar was weird; you can find the most oddest of things in the most innocent of stores). Nero was quite pleased that his arms were supported, and wouldn’t bang into things (as he had zero motor control of them most of the time), and settled down.

Rosso was the next offender, almost jumping through a rusted grate that dropped all the way down to the slums, as she saw something shiny apparently. Cloud yanked her back and cuffed her upside the ear, lecturing her about safety and recklessness, before pulling out his phone to get the plate maintenance team to sort out the hole as soon as possible.

Kids could get killed that way!

Keith just chuckled, watching his little brother having to deal with the same things he dealt with almost every day.

Then Cloud decided to give the kids an incentive to behave and led them over to a sweet shop.

Keith took one look at the store sign and burst out into laughter, Rosso and Weiss staring up at him in confusion, but he waved them off as he wiped tears of mirth from his eyes while mentioning he had to make a quick stop in a shop nearby.

Leaving Cloud with all four of them.

Alone.

“Alright, Weiss take your twin into the shelves and pick out 500 Gil worth of candy for each of you, and I mean 500 Gil ONLY, you have already had one treat today after all. Rosso, Azul, you two are not going to be picking out anything yourselves. Rosso, you were very reckless and put your life in danger, so think yourself lucky you are getting sweets at all. Azul, instead of informing me you were getting tired and asking to rest, you started complaining about everything and anything you could, just to be annoying. Again, think yourself lucky that you are getting anything here at all, as training is going to be a lot worse than simply walking around the shopping district.”

Rosso and Azul pouted, but knew Cloud wouldn’t change his mind and so waited outside the shop, the girl poking at the cobblestones with a stick, while Azul hummed a low tune under his breath.

Keith returned minutes later, a nondescript bag tucked under his arms, and began to chuckle as he saw the predicament Cloud was in now.

Weiss, who was normally the best behaved, was clinging to Cloud’s arm, almost vibrating, he was bouncing up and down so fast. Nero was staring at his brother in bewilderment, as he had never seen his brother be so energetic and hyper.

Cloud was trying (and horribly failing) to try and calm him down, but with a mixture of ice cream and candy . . .

It was a lost cause.

So Cloud did the one thing he hadn’t done in many years, turning to his older brother with a plea of desperation in his eyes.

And who was Keith to deny him?

“Alright, I’ve got this. Rosso, Azul, help Cloud with the bags. I’ll deal with the white rabbit here.”

Rosso and Azul compiled, taking about half of the bags from Cloud, who let out a sigh of relief at the burden being lightened, while Keith snagged Weiss by the shoulder and before the boy knew it, he was perched upon Keith’s shoulders.

The hyper boy blinked in confusion, but soon was delighted at the new point of view he had been given, giggling in delight (a combination of the sugar and excitement) as Keith declared they would head back to the tower. Nero stared up at his brother, a brief smile flickering on his face as he saw how happy his brother was.

They had all noted how co-dependant the two were, so Keith had no qualms in scooping Nero up in one arm (being mindful of his arms) and set him on one hip. Nero floundered for a second, but found his balance, once mechanical limb snagging Weiss’s sleeve.

Cloud didn’t even mind when Rosso borrowed his phone to take a picture, the teen putting it back in his pocket as they made their way back to the tower. Weiss spent the rest of his energy babbling about what he could see from his new vantage point to his brother, Nero nodding at Weiss’ words.

The passersby couldn’t help but coo at the adorable sight, but let the six continue on their way.

It seemed like a good end to a rather tiresome day.

-o0o-

Genesis immediately snapped pictures when they got back, having been the designated scrapbooker in Angeal’s absence.

Also, he knew Angeal would kill him if he didn’t get a picture of this. Or get the Puppy to.

It didn’t help that Sephiroth got rather reminiscent of his own childhood as he vaguely remembered Keith carrying him around on his shoulders or hip, and decided to pester Omael for the baby albums.

Yes, Omael kept baby albums. He needed to document Sephiroth’s childhood for Vincent.

Keith was going to enjoy this as much as he could before the gala next week.

Although he had to sort out who could look after the quartet during it . . .

Well, that was another problem for another day.

Chapter Text

SHINRA was well known for it’s extravagent galas, and it was the few times of the year the company actually had proper edible food.

Which was mostly due to the fact they hired actual catering staff from outside the company.

It was one of the few functions that Keith actually enjoyed, all the rest could burn in hell, he was just there for the food.

Now that Cloud had taken over the company, he was expanding the menu a little bit.

And since it was the first gala under Cloud’s management, he fed some bullshiit to the press about commemorating the late President’s ‘long life’ as well as a way to explain the company’s new direction and name change.

But this gala was a little different than all the others.

For once Angeal, the peacekeeper at every gala, was absent.

Meaning Keith had to supervise.

There was always alcohol involved in these gala’s, but not enough that the common SOLDIER could get drunk. Cloud had reached out to his more eccentric contacts who provided a wide variety of liquors and drinks that he knew could certainly get the average SOLDIER wasted.

The gala soon fell into chaos once the stronger shots got given out, and when one SOLDIER who was one drink away from alcohol poisoning almost began to strip (Keith blamed Reno for starting the strip poker), he had to shut the party down.

Cloud was a bit too busy wrangling Zack and a surprisingly smashed Genesis; whom prioritized his appearance over everything else. He rarely ever got drunk in public, so he must have been really letting loose since Angeal wasn’t there to rein him in.

Once Keith had shoo-ed the last party goers out the door, he returned to find Zack stuffing at least half of the leftover catering into paper bags, and Genesis was crying while stuffing his face with a plate of noodles.

It seemed that Genesis ate when he was emotional, and he was an emotional drunk.

“Let’s visit ‘Geal, he’s never had ribs before.” Zack pleaded.

Genesis lifted his head momentarily and blurted out something about Angeal’s family being too poor to afford meat and ribs were totally off the table, before returning to his plate of mismatched dishes.

Cloud merely grimaced when the ribs were mentioned.

Once Genesis had decided he had eaten enough of the leftovers (Zack somehow convincing him to take a doggy bag as well, the pyromaniac giggling at the word ‘doggy bag’, muttering how amusing it was that a puppy was talking about doggy bags), Cloud and Keith had to ensure that the two of them didn’t get hit by a car (to be fair, the car would receive more damage than they would) on the way to the hospital to visit Angeal.

The reason why Angeal wasn’t being treated in the tower was due to the saturation of Mako in the building, and right now, him being around Mako would do more harm than good considering his . . . condition.

The poor man had ended up getting his degradation triggered earlier than scheduled due to a mix up involving an experimental drug and an inexperienced lab techie.

(It was always the lab technicians).

Holy Water created from the Great Gospel had already been put aside to treat both Angeal and Genesis (whom was supposed to be the one treated first according to what Cloud had told Keith), so that wasn’t an issue.

The major issue was the reason why Angeal only had three wings on one side during the first timeline.

Turns out, he was supposed to have three full sets of wings.

The three one one side emerged cleanly (or as cleanly as having three wings rip out of your back could be) but the other side . . .

The doctors drew comparisons to impacted teeth.

“Do you think Angeal will be able to stand the sight of food right now?” Keith asked Cloud, after having drug Genesis away from the street for the fifth time, whom was wrangling a pouting Zack whom had almost chased after a cat three minutes ago.

“Yeah, he got out of surgery just fine yesterday. And if he’s anything like mine turned out, he should be awake and hungry by now.

“I’m not sure if these will be . . . acceptable.” Keith muttered as he eyed the four bags Zack had been carrying, he was sure there were at least seven different dishes mixed together inside one bag alone, and he had not a clue about the other’s as he had been busy with a 2nd Class who was insistent on singing one last song. He really didn’t want to know what they would taste like; a good majority of the food had been marinated or had been covered in various sauces.

“If he’s as hungry as I think he’s gonna be, we might not have enough. Goddess knows I ate three Nibel Wolves and I’m not sure just how cooked they were at the time, Vincent wouldn’t say. I did remember asking for Dragon meat at one stage, but most of that week of recovery is fuzzy.”

Keith just shrugged and made a noncommittal noise, he didn’t have wings so he couldn’t judge Cloud for his choices in food.

-o0o-

Angeal got a little teary eyed when Zack dumped the doggy bags onto a table.

The nurse on hand whispered that Angeal was a little loopy from the drugs still in his system, only Cloud and Keith took note of that as both Genesis and Zack were eagerly trying to explain what each dish was. Keith was quite surprised that they had somehow snuck actual plates out of the gala as well, along with utensils that they were using to precisely pick out each dish to put onto said plates.

There was a variety of noodles (Keith loved the Wutain place they ordered those from), spicy chicken kebabs, mini pies, some veggie stir fried dish and somehow even some stew (Cloud was baffled as to where Zack had found the small styrofoam box for it).

Keith had still been quite hungry from wrangling all the drunks, so Cloud made no comment when he snagged a few kebabs and rice from the mix.

The last dish to be placed down, was the Nibel-Style Peppered Wolf Spare Ribs.

None of them were expecting Angeal to exclaim “THERE’S RIBS IN THIS!” and burst into tears.

Happy tears though, I swear.

Then Cloud had to ruin it.

“You sure it’s not human?”

Silence befell the room for at least a minute before Angeal let out a gasp of horror and almost threw the ribs out the window.

Genesis managed to save the dish while Zack looked at his blonde superior with a look of complete and utter dismay on his face.

“Why would someone cook up a human?!”

“Haven’t you heard of the term ‘cannibalism’ Zack?” Cloud raised an eyebrow, gesturing to the plate of ribs and looking towards Keith. “They look like human ribs, don’t they?” Keith just nodded in agreement.

“There is a reason that those from Nibelheim always made their own recipe, and only ever ate Ribs if they had prepared them personally. Too easy to slip someone, something else instead of Wolf. In small towns, well . . . those who hold grudges can get quite vindictive.”

Keith shuddered as he remembered the one time he had been desperate enough to swipe Mayor Lockharts Ribs. The man ran him out of town for a week but he rained hell on them the moment he made sure it was safe to return. Contaminating the town’s water supply with wolf feces had been a bit of a dick move though.

Genesis looked over at Keith, looked at the dish in his hands, then his eyes rolled back into his head and he collapsed.

Ah, he forgot how queasy Genesis could get regarding these sort of things.

Zack made a faint squeaking noise before passing out as well, leaving a bewildered nurse, two Nibelheim raised lunatics, and one high off his rockers Angeal to stare at the two SOLDIER’s sprawled on the hospital room floor.

“Are these really human ribs?” Angeal questioned, apparently becoming level headed once Zack was out of commission.

“Probably not. The catering service Cloud hired are highly recommended and adding human ribs to their menu would put off potential customers. Me and Cloud just don’t like it. We hunted down some Kalm Fangs that were causing trouble, and gave the Strife family recipe over in order to get the discount. The caterers probably didn’t realise the superstition us Nibelheimer’s have over the dish. To be fair, there are urban legends around Nibelheim to back-up the superstition, which probably suggests it’s been done in the past. Cloud doesn’t find it spicy enough, while I hate the breadcrumb coating, so it’s not like we’d eat it in any case.” Keith confirmed, Angeal had already been through enough and he didn’t want to stress the man out any more than he already was.

Angeal gave the ribs a tentative look, and decided to save it for later. The food wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

-o0o-

OMAKE

-o0o-

Zack and Genesis could never look at ribs in the same way again, adopting the same superstition that Cloud and Keith shared.

The SOLDIERs that heard the story, ended up doing the same.

The caterers were just confused as to why their most popular item with the SOLDIER crowd suddenly became the most hated.

Cloud and Keith just enjoyed their ribs in secret, even though they had to prepare the animal from scratch; it was worth it in the end. Thanks to the superstition; no one dared to touch their food.

Food was always an issue when you lived with SOLDIERs.

Chapter Text

“STRIFE! I TOLD YOU TO KEEP AN EYE ON YOUR DAMN KID!”

“PUT A SOCK IN IT GRETCHENS! YOUR WIFE’S CHEATING ON YOU WITH THE BUTCHER; YOU’RE SO DAMN DENSE!”

Cloud and Keith just cracked up as they watched Mama Strife put the grocer in his place, everyone knew his wife was cheating on him, the man was just so focused on his work and his wife suffered from neglect. Which the butcher was quite happy to remedy.

However, the weekly shouting match was earlier as . . . Coud and Keith had been messing with sugar again.

Perhaps lobbing snowballs at the grocers head every five minutes was a bit too much . . .

Keith quickly glanced over to Cloud, who had taken half a dose of their latest batch (Keith ate his half first of course in case something had gone wrong). Keith was slowly coming off the sugar high, but Cloud with his smaller body was still going strong.

The four year old was grinning like a loon, already preparing another bunch of snowballs to lob at unsuspecting victims.

They didn’t have much time to experiment with the candy as Keith was planning to journey to Midgar in the coming months, and so the two of them have delved into their sugar experiments. Mama Strife was thrilled about the idea, and as long as Keith supervised Cloud during the aftereffects, she was fine with them consuming copious amounts of sugary madness.

They didn’t know the extent of the changes Cloud had gone through, but what was evident was the fact that he needed a LOT more calories than a normal human.

So far the sugar rush was going alright, although they both agreed it had to be toned down a bit.

They were both sitting up on one of the villagers roofs (which was inaccessible unless you were both strong and nimble), and no one bothered to look up so they were sitting pretty.

Until there was a horrendous shriek of agony coming from near the house, and going by the voice it was . . .

“Ah, crap. I think Fletcher found our failed batch.”

The pompous brat of the blacksmith who always wanted to know what the heck they were up to in the little shed they had claimed as their workroom. They had decent locks that only they knew how to pick, but knowing how persistent Fletcher was, he probably borrowed his dad’s tools to break in.

Mama Strife knew exactly where they perched all the time, so they weren’t surprised to see her standing in the street and giving them a subtle signal (they made up their own signals that confused the heck out of the villagers) to hide out for a few hours.

“C’mon Cloud, let’s go hang out with the dragons for a few hours. I promised to visit anyway.” The villagers didn’t dare approach the dragons caves, mostly because they were smart enough to realise that was a suicidal move, especially during nesting season, but that didn’t apply to the two young blondes of the town.

The two of them were halfway up the mountain when they heard the blacksmith bellowing in outrage once Fletcher was found, but Cloud forgot all about the trouble they were going to be in once the little drakes came tumbling out to greet them.

-o0o-

Fletcher had to get most of his teeth removed.

The ten year old returned from Rocket Town with a new set of false teeth and a permanent twitch when he even smelt something sugary

When Keith and Cloud came down from the mountain, the blacksmith had been begging the mayor to kick the two out of the town, but Keith just gave said mayor a toothy grin and his eyes glittered, as if daring the man to even try. Cloud knew when to pretend, so he just blinked at Mayor Lockhart with his adorable blue eyes as he hid behind Keith’s legs.

The first time this sort of incident had happened, Keith of course pretended it was all his idea and Cloud wanted to help him. Plus Keith subtly mentioned if the candy ever kicked off, Nibelheim might get the occasional tourist . . .

While this had been the most harmful incident so far, it wasn’t going to be the last.

-o0o-

The blacksmith was yet again a victim of the sugar rush with batch #20, Cloud managing to persuade Keith into helping him ‘borrow’ some materials for projects, and during a busy afternoon the two of them slipped in and snagged some sheets of metal, tools and ore.

Keith had a god stash of Fira materia, so they already had a heat source.

It turned out tungsten steel, dragon scales and iron ore exposed to an open flame created quite an explosive mix.

Keith managed to grab Cloud and throw them both out of range, but a few trees got scorched as a result.

One even toppled over and crushed some of the wolf traps that the hunters placed around the mountain (and those were usually quite expensive).

The town thought it was a dragons doing (it smelt of brimstone thanks to the scales), and so they noted that batch #20 lowered one’s self preservation.

-o0o-

Batch #23 was by far the worst.

Cloud stood in the town square for an hour, with a completely blank expression on his face, literally vibrating on the spot and freaking the fuck out of the townsfolk to the point they begged for Keith to do something.

Keith merely pulled out the list, muttering “Right, cross Mako out of the additive list.” before slinging Cloud over his shoulder and heading back to their workshop.

-o0o-

They didn’t even try to sample batch #25 when it ate a hole through the floor.

Although they noted down it was a good corrosive agent if they ever needed to break into a building.

-o0o-

By the time they got to batch #30, Keith to to leave for Midgar, Cloud promised to report to him the results of each batch, and Vincent was nearby if need be.

The moment the town found out Cloud was making more batches, without Keith, they began to panic.

-o0o-

It took a month before before one of the townsfolk were desperate enough to ask Mama Strife for Keith’s phone number, and when told of the reason why, Mama Strife had to laugh.

Keith told them exactly what he thought, and to stick it where the sun don’t shine, before hanging up.

Cloud was currently on batch No. 55. And it seems he had found a winner.

There was just one problem.

Cloud had forgotten he was still only about 5 years old. And had formed the new candy into adult sized doses.

It was absolute mayhem.

Every house had the roof decorated with greenery, the square had a ten foot tall tree in the middle that was covered in snow, there was rain in the eastern slopes (Vincent look surprised when he saw it and muttered something about the Cetra and Limit Breaks) and all manor of pranks and non-lethal boobytraps were strewn around the town streets.

Cloud was just a blur, he was moving so fast. He could trigger a trap, and be well out of range when said trap sprung. He was also fast enough to reset the sprung traps so that more people could fall victim to them.

No one could move an inch without setting off something.

Keith was absolutely thrilled to get photos from Mama Strife of Cloud’s shenanigans, and he printed them all out to save in a photo album. When asked about said pictures, he explained they were his little brother’s doing, but of course no one believed him.

When Cloud sent him a sample though, no one could understand why someone would steal the metal shavings from the blacksmith’s shop. Those coincidentally became miniature explosive devices that Keith put to use when he crossed the Kalm Plains.

He always kept a good amount of dragon scale on him (it came quite in handy for bartering), so he made a decent amount that lasted him all the way to Midgar.

-o0o-

Eventually, they were named Choco-Kick Meteors courtesy of Mama Strife.

However, at the time of their completion, neither Keith nor Cloud realised how instrumental their little experimentation would be in taking over SHINRA in the future.