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Happy birthday, ya mopey sh!*@

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He’d gotten out of bed earlier than normal today. Tifa was cooking something that smelled… fancier than usual. And there was no chatter from patrons of the bar, (besides, who drank in the morning?) So he roused himself from his comfortable bed. (Actually, the mattress was lumpy, but compared to the church floor….) slowly moseyed his way down the stairs.

“Mornin’ Tifa.” He called, groggy and tired still. He swore he smelled bacon.

“Good morning, Cloud. Oh, and happy birthday too.” She replied, awfully sweet and gentle (she was always so gentle.)

“Shit. It is my birthday.”

“Cloud… swear jar.” Denzel piped up. Cloud frowned at him.

“I’m not putting a nickel in your swear jar.”

“Yeah! It’s his birthday, so he gets freebies the whole day!” Marlene chimed. She looked proud of herself, sticking up for him. Denzel pouted.

“I didn’t get them on my birthday.”

“You’re not an adult yet.” Tifa responded to the teen.

“That’s a load of crap. I’m almost there!” Denzel whined, a typical teenager now.

“So..” Cloud changed the subject. He’d never really liked conflict. (He swore his last name was a curse, and that’s why he saw so much of it.) “What’s for breakfast?”

“A full platter of everything. Pancakes, bacon, eggs, sausage, Vincent got some fancy crepes and sent them in to me last night with Cid. And I made french toast.” She listed off a few more food items. “It’s almost ready, but in the meantime, you’ve got some presents on the counter already. Open those, and then we can eat.”

“Sounds like a plan.” He replied. He took a look at the pile. Of boxes. “That’s a lot more than I expected.” He said, in genuine shock.

“The regulars decided to leave some. Barret got a bunch of people to leave a gift basket too. That’s the most important.” Cloud snorted looking at it. Clearly, several things were gag gifts. On top of the box was a box of chamomile and lavender tea from Cid, with a note saying

It’s your metaphorical chill pill, angsty fucker. And I know you have trouble sleepin’ so, this might help.”

Similarly, Barret sent him booze. Well, he might as well. Barret’s note more or less said he probably “needed a drink,” and it was… soldier strength xxx vodka. The only alcohol that could affect his system. He’d make a note to thank him. This shit was hard to find. Even for the owner of an oil business.

Yuffie’s gift was a bundle of extra materia, all of the naturally formed variety in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. They were gorgeous and likely meant to be decorative. Nanaki sent him a large battle of hair gel (as a joke, clearly. As if he needed more spikes in his hair.) The large feline also sent a framed set of photos from Avalanche’s varied meetings over the years, including some of his and Tifa’s wedding two years prior. Vincent had sent him a book of poems by a variety of darker, sadder poets. The note mentioned a certain Genesis Rhapsodos (who he had some fragmented knowledge of from Zack and Sephiroth, but had never met himself) as the owner of the new bookstore in Mideel (where Vincent had bought it) and how the man mentioned an interest in befriending him, (in the interest of a shared “ rival” as he put it. Cloud decided he’d ...think on it. Maybe.) The turks had pitched in together to buy him a collection of old war movies, and Rufus (Oh, he’d save up a particularly strong omnislash for their next meeting. Maybe a version eight,) had bought him a gift card to wallmarket's relocated shopping mall in edge. (Complete with a new bee themed brothel and everything.) Reeve gave him motocycle oil and sword polish.

In the bottom were a wolf charm to hang off of the Fusion swords, and a small painting of one of Aerith’s flowers from Marlene. Tifa had baked him a batch of his favorite cookies (they were made by mixing chocolate cake batter into chocolate chip dough, and adding small pieces of other candy inside. The rest of Avalanche liked to tease him for his overwhelming sweet tooth.) He couldn’t help but crack a smile. This was so thoughtful of everyone. He kissed Tifa on the cheek, gave the kids hugs, and opened the gifts from Tifa’s riffraff patrons. Mostly clothing and small trinkets, but they were sweet and appreciated nonetheless. THey sat down to breakfast, and ate.

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He stopped by the church for a little, not surprised to see the flowers had (magically) patterned some fallen petals into a heart that floated across the surface of the pool. They also formed words that read “happy birthday Cloud!” in big letters. He grinned.

“Thought ya might like it spike.” Zack’s voice echoed.

“You didn’t even help, you lazy old soldier.” Aerith chided, teasing. Cloud felt her ghost kiss the tops of his cheeks, play with his hair, huh him in her soft and caring way. Zack gave him a nuggie. He grinned again. Today was a pretty good day.

“I still miss you guys sometimes.” He tells them.

“Cloud, you silly goose, we’re always right here.”

“Besides, if you spent all your time with us, how would that make Tifa feel?” Zack questioned.

“I can bring her you know. She can feel you too.” Cloud retorted, but in a gentler tone than usual.

“Aerith, what happened to Cloud? Look at him, he’s all happy and married, and what happened to that snarky kid I was best friends with?” Zack whined teasingly.

“He grew up you dingus!” She teased back.

“We-ll so-orry if I died before I could do that myself. Hrmph.” Zack said, all cheerful sarcasm. Cloud shook his head at their antics.

You should bring Tifa by though,” Aerith chimed, tone bright. “I miss her.”

“I feel like I should be jealous, but I suppose I died before you three started your threeway.” Zack was only a little sulky. “Hey Aerith? Is Cloud wild in bed? I herad the shy one’s always are.” thwack.

“He’s so insensitive, isn’t he Cloud?” Aerith asked, pointedly ignoring Zack, who was nursing his cheek.

“A pervert at the least.” Cloud survived. “Or mentally twelve years old.”

“You sound like Seph!” Zack complained. Years ago, that might’ve thrown Cloud into one of his moods, but, as of now, he shrugged it off like nothing.

“Considering everything I’ve been through, I think it’s a little expected I’d start sounding like him. He pops up every year or so to stalk me, after all.”

“I still think he just really likes you.” Zack says. “I said it before he was insane, and I’ll keep saying it. Sephiroth is fucking in love with you dude.”

“Hmph. He has some awful way of showing it.” Cloud said, disregarding Zack’s idiocracy yet again.

They went on bantering for a few hours before he headed home.

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“Cloud.” Vincent’s growl of a voice greeted him as he entered, some ginger looking Sephiroth lookalike sat beside him.

“Nice to make your acquaintance Mr. Strife. I’m Genesis.” The tall man purred. He immediately went into quoting. Cloud remembered Zack warning him about that, Sephiroth complaining. He remembered fighting some of this guy’s clones too. “When war of the beasts brings about world’s end…” The man started.

“Hey! I know that fucking play!” Cid yells from across the bar. He’d gone to see it one time. Cloud remembered. It had been his reason to fight when they’d battled Sephiroth in the crater 10 years ago.

“Is there a point you you all being here?” He asked. Suddenly, a pop sounded through the room. Rainbow confetti flew everywhere and tangled into his hair.

“Nothing special, just a party.” Tifa informed, grinning from ear to ear.

“I might not know you well, but I knew Zack quite well before.” Genesis piped. “I regret that I caused him naught but grief in all the time I’d known him, however.”

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It was night now. After lots of games, and cake, and him drinking Barret and Cid under the table, beating Vincent at an arm wrestle, and talking about mutual old friends before things went to shit with Genesis (Who quoted loveless as often as Zack used to break into squats, but he didn’t mind. Not when his best friend was an equally melodramatic, equally red clad man with a real penchant for speaking in a poetic way. At least they both seemed sane now. And he’d made a new friend, so that was good. Genesis even helped refill small gaps in his memories from the time he’d spent in a coma,)  he’d finally called it a night. He was tired, a bit drunk, and happier than he’d been in years.

He slipped under his covers, turning out the light, only to notice the gloved fingers prying open his window from the outside. He sighed, opening it the rest of the way. He briefly thought of slamming it back down on those fingers, but knew it’d only break his window.

“That was helpful of you, Cloud.” That loathed voice purred.

“Why are you here, Sephiroth?” He demanded, resigned to whatever long battle spawned from this meeting.

“Rude little puppet.” Sephiroth muttered to himself. “Someone needs to relearn their manners.” Cloud folded his arms.

“....Could you not right now? Cloud questioned, pinching the bridge of his nose.

“Hmph. Not even a hello. And to think you used to trip over your feet to greet me properly…” is expression was unreadable, but his tone was chastising. “Well, I suppose that doesn’t matter right now. Even disobedient toys can be excused for special circumstances.”

“I’m not even going to bother responding to that.” Cloud sighed. It seemed Sephiroth was just here to mutter and ramble his insane little thoughts away to his favorite victim. And he was back, but, that wasn’t surprising. He’d noticed a tingle in his skull earlier, so he’d sorta expected it.

“You could at least show some gratitude, puppet.” The man drawled. “After all, I even prepared you a present.” Cloud snorted derisively at him.

“It’s not ‘despair’ again, is it?” He snarked, not giving an inch. That smirk was unholy and honest to gods, it was nightmare fuel as well. All evil and inhuman, razor sharp and insane.

“Not this time my traitorous little servant.” The man purrs. “I bought you something with gil, since you never appreciate my other gifts.”

“Stalking, threats, and nightmares are not gifts.” Cloud deadpans. “No one would appreciate that.”

“So ungrateful.” Sephiroth actually sounded offended. “And I work so hard to bring those to you. Such ingratitude, so like you… foolish little Cloud.” Was he growling or purring? Oh, what’d it matter. Cloud was tired, Sephiroth was being a nuisance, and for Odin’s sake, Cloud just wanted to sleep.

“I found a good mental hospital. I’d drag you there, except I don’t think that’d end well. You might convince the staff to commit mass suicide for your amusement.” Cloud mused, knowing his sanity was a soft spot now.

“That seems like a wonderful idea, Cloud. This is why I keep you around, thank you for reminding me.” He paused, adding an afterthought. “You’ve never been there, have you? I’d hate it if someone had undone all my hard work on your mind because they were too foolish to understand….” Maybe he should've thought that through. He shuddered a little.

“I haven’t gone yet. Genesis recommended it to me. Anyway, can we get this over with? I’d like to sleep before I kill you again.” That purring smirking face was seriously begging to be punched. Cloud knew better though. That would be asking for a broken arm and several more impalement scars. And probably a lecture. Sephiroth had gotten into that lately. Lecturing him about “proper etiquette,” as he called it. Cloud called it “how to be a brainwashed pawn” and “advice to never take,” but that didn’t make it stop.

“Impatient as always.” The taller chuckled. “Fine, here you are little puppet. Happy birthday.” He stood there for a small handful of seconds that felt like eternity before looking down, cupping his hands gently around the blonde’s cheeks. “Meet me in the crater next week. We can fight there, there’s so much more space to cast magic from, and throwing you on jagged rocks is rather amusing. I do like it when you scream for me.” He says, and slowly eases down to press their lips together. “You’d best not be late. You know what happens if you make me wait, don’t you, puppet?”

“Head pain that makes migraines seem fun and bearable, usually. Lot’s of stinging in my eyes. Hearing static. You should work on that. Mind control is less appealing when it hurts like a bitch, really.”

“Hmph. Enough of the sass, puppet. That’s what you get for fighting in the first place.” He turned away, slipping back out the window. “Goodnight Cloud, I’ll see you in your dreams later.” And with that, he was gone, leaving only the slim black box he’d handed over behind to prove he was there. Well, and a plethora of black feathers, but, that was expected with him. The door cracked open.

“I heard voices.” Tifa said. “Everything okay?”

“Nothing happened really, Sephiroth just decided to be his usual self and play a few mind games.” Tifa flinched.

“He was in your room?!” She was pale as a ghost, terrified.

“He does that a lot. Anyway, just toss his gift in the trash. I don’t want it.”

“What is it anyway?” She inquired.

“Another of his stupid games. It doesn’t matter.”

Curious, Tifa opened the box. Inside was a custom made porcelain doll. It had rosy cheeks, realistic features, and the bluest eyes. In fact, It was the spitting image of Cloud, except, the outfits in the box were a lacy purple lolita dress with black mary janes, and some weird lace up leather pants with a studded leather vest. A small note said “ Did you know the wutain word for doll is also used for puppet? I thought it was oddly fitting. And it looks so much like you, I just couldn’t resist.” Tifa, in spite of herself, burst out laughing.

“It is rather pretty. Maybe you should keep it.”

“...” He shook his head. “Fine. He’ll probably behead someone if I don’t anyway. Put it on my dresser, I’m going to bed. Night Tifa.” She giggled at him.

“Goodnight Cloud. Sweet dreams.” The door closed behind her.

How’d you like the gift, Cloud?

You shut up.

Heh.

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