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“Stay where you belong ... in my memories.”

He offered it up, a reverent prayer hidden under a newfound determination. Watching as a single black wing unfurled itself from Sephiroth’s back, the avenging angel that had haunted his nights for too many years. The Nightmare they called him, but he was much more than that, so much more.

“I will ... never be a memory.”

Final and truer words Cloud thought he would never hear again. Sephiroth would never be a mere memory, no matter how much he willed it, he would be the monster that mothers used to frighten their children, the shadow that would follow everyone as they tried to make their way through life.

But for the first time, as that single wing curled around him, hiding his greatest fear from sight and dissolving in a sea of feathers to reveal Kadaj once again; Cloud realised something. Sephiroth was his greatest fear, that was true, and he would forever follow him, haunt his every step, but he could no longer make Cloud doubt himself. He had defeated Sephiroth, not once, but twice, he had beaten his fear, and his shame down, and at last he recognised that for what it was.

You could never forget the past, but you could overcome it.

As this new thought settled over him he turned his eyes to Kadaj, readying his weapon though he could clearly see that there was nothing left in the boy but pure desperation. It took far more effort than should ever be needed for him to get to his feet, and his charge was little more than a stumble as his sword tumbled from his hand and he fell.

Cloud caught him, unsure what made him reach out. But his arm curled comfortably around Kadaj’s shoulders, keeping his head from striking the hard concrete underfoot. Kadaj’s eyes roved for a moment, a small frown of puzzlement creasing the skin between his eyes; eyes that looked nothing like Sephiroth’s, too young and far too confused.

“Broth… her?”

It was such a small sound, a whole mixture of emotions tied to a single word, and Cloud could do nothing but tighten his grip a fraction, his eyes searching this face, looking for any signs of Sephiroth there, any sign of the madness he had seen there before. But there was nothing, not a single hint.

The rain began to fall and Kadaj shivered a little as it touched his skin. Cloud laid down his sword, the quiet snick of the metal coming to rest on stone loud in what seemed like the most silent moment he had ever experienced; even the Airship, which he knew still hovered overhead, made only the faintest of thrumming sounds, virtually undetectable to him. He manoeuvred Kadaj to the ground, brushing that concealing fringe aside and frowned as the blue eyes fluttered shut.

“What do I do with you now?” he asked the now peaceful figure, sitting back in his crouch to consider his options.

“Look after them.”

His head snapped sharply to the right as he felt her hand brush against his shoulder, knowing that he would see nothing but rain. “Them?” he questioned, but if she replied he did not hear it, as a gunshot rang across the roof, slicing through the still air to land with perfect accuracy at the ground by his left knee. The shards of concrete kicked up by the bullet bounced harmlessly off him.

It was not a shot designed to hurt him, so he did not immediately reach down to grip the handle of his sword, instead he turned his gaze across the rooftop, through the rain to where the other Remnants stood, worry and fear etched on their faces. He was not as surprised as he felt he should have been to see they had survived the Turks bombs.

There was another shot, which landed directly in front of him, between him and Kadaj, a clear signal to move away. He did so, getting slowly to his feet and stepping back, leaving his sword on the ground, knowing that the sound of the metal scraping across the concrete could easily startle the one holding the gun to fire with intent.

They supported each other as they made their way across the roof, the large one holding the one with the gun up, and doing most of the actual moving, while the one with the gun corrected his direction more than once, the gun held steadily in Clouds direction. The blast had done damage; he could see the beginnings of bruises as they drew closer, cuts with the blood from them disappearing under the healing rain.

The gun clattered to the ground as the two dropped down beside Kadaj, and as Cloud watched they slumped down into unconsciousness, all three moving unconsciously until they were pressed together. He watched them for a few moments before he approached again, waiting to feel the rise of some emotion other than compassion. But there was no anger, no hatred and no fear. But then, there was no way anyone could feel any of those things looking at them now, with their hair plastered down with the rain, their faces smooth and so very, very young looking. It was difficult to imagine them doing what they had, and had he not seen it himself, he would not have believed it.

“Look after them, huh…” he said. “Mind telling me how I’m supposed to do that?”

“They’ve been told so many things Cloud, so many terrible and conflicting things. Love is not something that needs to be earned; it should always be freely given. Give them a home Cloud. Give them a second chance.”

Cloud turned is eyes heavenward, closing his eyes and letting the rain caress his face, letting her words drift over him. “A second chance?” He looked down again, nodding decisively. He would trust in Aerith; after all, to do anything else would be disrespectful to all she had done for him. “I think I can manage that. The ‘Home’ might be asking a bit much.”

He could hear her laughter in the way the rain tinkled off some metal sheeting nearby. “You have so little faith in the others?” she asked him, teasing.

He smiled, feeling a peace wash over him, looking up and at the Airship hovering close by. “No.” he told her. “No… but I think you forget who I have to deal with.”

She laughed again, and as it faded away he did not feel the cutting loss he thought he would, knowing that she would be there with him if he needed her, bolstering him up if he began to fall once again into the depths of despair.

Now he just had to work out how to get the three onto the Airship without inciting an argument, though he knew the moment he considered it that an argument was going to erupt no matter what he did.

“Cloud!”

The voice was followed by the thump of Tifa landing on the roof, and drew his attention away from the three before him. She was rising from her landing crouch when he turned to her, and his eyes flicked upwards to see the Airships ladder unwinding still, and the look of consternation on Barret’s face as he peered over the edge. Obviously she hadn’t bothered to wait.

The arms that encircled his neck brought his attention back squarely to Tifa. His own arms reached round without his permission to rest at her back, pulling her in just a little tighter before releasing her. There was a distinct giggle in the air as he did but he ignored it.

“It’s over.” He told her, her arms squeezed and she nodded before pulling away, smiling. He looked back up at the Airship, to where Barret was still looking down. “Tell Cid to bring it down!” he called up, he could see Barret frown, but thankfully he didn’t question, just vanished to speak to Cid.

“Cloud?” Tifa asked; she was kneeling beside the Remnants now, surprised to find them still alive if the look on her face was anything to go by. “They’re…” she looked up at him.

“Second chances and forgiveness.” Was all he said, but she understood, the slow realisation of it passed across her face. There was an instant when he thought she might be the first block in the road, but it passed quickly and she nodded. Had Aerith spoken to her too, had she told Tifa what she had told him? He thought she might have when he saw Tifa reach out a hand to rest it on the large one’s forehead, a soft look in her eyes that she saved for Marlene and Denzel.

There was a whoosh of engines and the Airship came to rest five feet above the roof.

“Close as he can get it Spiky!” Barret yelled across to him. “Roof won’t hold for a landing, so get your ass on board and let's go!”

“We’ll need you help down here Barret.” Tifa called, reaching a hand across and squeezing Clouds, showing her support.

“Ya injured?” Barret asked, his tone somewhere between concerned and confused, but he jumped from the door and made his way across to them muttering. “Told ya not to go jumping outta there like that.”

Tifa shook her head. “No, no injuries. Not on our side anyway.” She nodded to the three.

Barret looked and was silent for a full minute, taking the whole thing in before he took a deliberate step back and crossed his arms. “No way.” He said. The first stumbling block had been reached, but Cloud had known Barret would argue first, and possibly loudest. The man had such a clear cut and defined view of good and evil, it took a lot of work to get him to see that there were other colours all along the spectrum of human nature.

“We can debate this inside.” Tifa said, forestalling any other arguments. “We need to get back to Marlene and Denzel.” Dropping Marlene’s name worked, as it always did with Barret, and with a disapproving huff he lifted the larger Remnant easily and carried him to the Airship, Tifa followed him, climbing inside to make space while Barret returned, lifting Kadaj, leaving Cloud to carry the long haired one.

It didn’t take long to get all three on board and safely stowed in one of the crew rooms on board. Cloud then made the last trip outside to retrieve his fallen swords, pausing for a moment to let the soothing rain clear his head for the inevitable confrontation that would occur in the wheel room of the ship. The rain began to taper off as he climbed inside. Leaving all but one sword with the crew member they had left stationed outside the room with the Remnants inside he made his way through the ship to the wheel room.

It was a new place to him, but he had no trouble finding his way to the others. The shouting was a perfect homing beacon. In a way the scene he walked into reminded him of the fight he had just had, only words replaced the flurry of blows, sounds of anger louder than the sound of sword blades crossing, scraping and intending to do damage.

Tifa’s relief upon seeing him made him feel guilty for leaving her to deal with this alone, it hadn’t been intentional, but it had happened. He took stock of what was going on. Barret, as he had guessed, was the one doing most of the shouting, with Yuffie as his shrieking harmony, both firmly against anything involving the Remnants. Cait Sith was hopping about, attempting; in a way that only made things worse; to calm the situation down. Tifa was also trying to diffuse the situation, but was having as much luck as Cait Sith. Vincent and Red XIII stood out of the way, watching in silence. Vincent looked as inscrutable as ever as his eyes flicked from person to person, and Red XIII seemed resigned to the fact that with all the yelling no one was going to listen to him.

But the one that surprised Cloud most was Cid, who was also, predictably, shouting. His hands, gripping the wheel of the Airship, were calm and relaxed, belying the emotion in his voice. He wasn’t nearly as wound up as he was pretending to be. But that didn’t surprise Cloud; in their time travelling together it had become all too clear that Cid just liked a good yelling match, the act of it relaxing him far more that the sedate practices of the others. No, it was what he was saying that surprised Cloud, who had thought Cid would be another against this move.

“You wanna kill them Barret? You go right ahead. But just how’re ya gonna look Marlene in the eye when you do. How’re ya gonna do that and not think to yourself ‘I killed kids’, kids that ain’t no older looking than the Brat there? Kids that were lying there all defenceless.”

“They’re dangerous! You saw what they done!” Barret roared back but he had deflated just a little.

“How do you even know what they look like?” Yuffie questioned suddenly, obviously irritated more by him calling her a ‘brat’ than anything else.

“I got eyes. And they work a damn sight better than yours,” this was directed at Barret again. “I saw what they done, and it ain’t pretty. But I also saw that they’re kids, who ain’t in any shape to defend themselves right now. You wanna cross that line Barret? You gonna take that step and turn yerself into a man who ain’t fit to be the father of a little girl?” Cid glared at him, turning the wheel with an easy, practiced hand to head back towards Edge.

Barret was silent, and Cloud used that as his opening to step forward and say. “Aerith asked.” All heads turned towards him except for Tifa, and Cid, but even he shifted his eyes just enough to keep him in view while he piloted. Cloud swallowed and continued, he had always hated this part of being the ‘leader’, everyone looking to him as if he somehow knew all the answers and how to solve every problem.

“Aerith asked me to give them a second chance. To give them a home and help them atone for what they’ve done.” He said. Tifa had turned to offer him a reassuring smile. “I’m not saying that any of you have to help, or even be involved. But I’m going to honour her request. I owe her that much.”

The silence after he finished grew, and grew. They all owed her that much; and each of them knew it. At long last Barret let out an explosive sigh and, cursing, he shoved past Cloud and left the room. Yuffie was seething and followed him soon after, having tried, and failed to come up with anything to say that would counter Clouds’ words.

“I will go and make sure she doesn’t do anything stupid.” Vincent said, pushing off the wall and following Yuffie out. He didn’t need to explain what he meant by that, Yuffie’s ‘action first consequences later’ approach was well known among them. Barret could be trusted not to take matters into his own hands.

Cloud sighed, deeply and from the very bottom of his soul and looked up to meet Cid’s eyes. “Thank you.” The support had been unexpected, but very welcome.

Cid shrugged, one hand leaving the wheel to pull a cigarette from behind his ear. “Just playin’ Devils Advocate.” He said, waving the hand in Tifa’s direction before bringing the cigarette to his mouth. “’Sides, there was an unfair advantage over Tifa there, Barret and th’ Brat are both louder than her, an’ she’s too good natured to just kick ‘em to make ‘em listen.”

Cloud shifted a glance to Tifa, who was blushing, and smiled. “Still.” He said seriously. “Thank you.”
Cid smirked.

“What do we do now?” Cait Sith piped up, Reeve’s dulcet tones coming through the speaker. Reeve rarely used the remote speaker system he’d installed in Cait any more, especially not when all he had to do now was pick up the phone, but the receiver was always enabled so he could listen in on what exactly the robot was up to, the A.I. was advanced enough to handle most situations by itself, but it did come in handy.

Red XIII stepped forward. “There are still children with the Stigma, perhaps we should see to them first. The Remnants are sleeping yes?” he looked to Cloud for confirmation, and continued when Cloud nodded. “Then we shall take the necessary precautions and deal with them afterwards. Would that be acceptable?

“If you require a place to hold them, you are welcome to use the WRO facility. We don’t have much yet, but it’s secure.” Reeve offered.

“A prison?” Cloud asked, not liking the implications of that.

Reeve chuckled; warm and knowing. “No. I spent enough time in a cell to refuse to have them in my building. We have a fully operational infirmary here. It is secure, and should be strong enough to contain them long enough for you to finish up in Edge.”

“You building a fortress up there Reeve?” Cid asked with a surprised laugh.

“Call me paranoid, but I’d rather have a facility that can withstand an attack. I’ll have it made ready for your arrival. Reeve out.” There was a click as the speaker was shut off, Cloud was well aware he could still hear them, but Cait Sith’s own A.I. switched back on.

Cloud frowned. It made sense to make sure the Remnants were secure, but wasn’t that just taking the easy way out? It was only one step from leaving them in a secure infirmary to putting them away in a cell and forgetting about them. An easy step.

“Cloud, we’ll need time to sort something out at home for them. And you know Reeve would never…” she trailed off and sighed. “This way we can at least have them checked out; make sure they’re not hurt in some way we can’t deal with. And wouldn’t it be better to ask them if they want to stay with us? Waking up at the bar, being told it’s their new home, and that we’ll look after them… We’d be no better than Jenova, telling them what to do.” She reached out her hand and her fingers closed around his arm. “The Infirmary will be neutral ground, and if they don’t accept our offer well… we’ll come up with something else. We won’t just put them away and forget about them, I promise.”

He closed his eyes, knowing what she said was true, and nodded slowly.

“Great, it’s settled then. I’ll take our guests over to Reeve and leave you lot to clear up this damned mess here?” Cid said. “Now where do ya want me to drop ya?”

“Always looking for a way out of work, huh Cid?” Tifa smiled.

Cid winked at her. “More like always looking for an excuse to keep my ass in the air.”

“The rains stopped!” Cait Sith pointed out, his modulated accent a little jarring. “Where can we take everyone who still has the Stigma?”

“The Church.” Cloud answered easily. “There’s a pool in the church now. That’s were we take them. The water there can heal them.”

“Drop us at my bar Cid, we can pick up Denzel and Marlene and begin directing people to the Church.” Tifa said, giving his arm a small squeeze before letting go.

As he watched the Airship continue on its way, taking the Remnants to Reeve and his new Base of Operations for the WRO, he hoped that he would make it there in time to see them wake. Aerith had entrusted them to him, but despite that he found he wanted to be there anyway, he wanted to see what she saw in them, wanted to know why she had asked this of him.

But first Jenova’s legacy needed to be removed before she could do any more damage.

Chapter Text

It was the beeping that woke him, soft, fluctuating beeps, in an off rhythm, constant and confusing. Green eyes blinked open slowly, and his gaze came to rest on the off white tiles that made up the ceiling. His eyes did not move from that single spot as he strained his memory, searching for something to explain why he found himself here. One of the beeps began to speed up, not much, but enough to set the off rhythm even further out of sync.

Where was he?

What did he remember?

Nothing.

His body was moving then, before his mind fully realised that it was, and he was sitting, his eyes sweeping the room.

White.

The Labs.

Swinging his legs off the side of the bed, comforted somewhat in the knowledge that he at least knew where he was, though this knowledge did not put his mind at ease. The Labs were dangerous. Father was dangerous. Shaking his head, reaching up a slender hand to push at his hair, brushing it away from his face and out of his eyes as they continued their journey of the room, cataloguing everything there.

Not typical items he usually found in the rooms his father left him in; in fact these things appeared to be far more medicinal in nature. Whatever had happened, whatever test or drug father had used on him, had obviously gone wrong, and in such a way that warranted a trip to the medical room. A place he had only been in once, a long time ago, barely a child then.

After his termination…

Wait.

There was a flash of something, a memory perhaps, but it was gone before he could understand it.

Ignoring it he turned his attention back to his surroundings. Yes, the medical room. It had changed in the intervening years he noticed, after his termination, which father had stopped partway through, as his heart had stopped, he had spent a few days in this room. It was as unsafe as any other room in the facility, filled with the same rampant unpredictability; only here the focus was on healing, not hurting.

But things always went wrong. It was the price of being what they were.

At last his eyes settled on the figure sleeping still on the bed next to him, he stood, brushing his hand across his chest, dislodging the monitor over his heart, ignoring the way the one of the beeps became a low, constant whine, which blended far better with the beeping from the other two machines. It didn’t surprise him that he was the one out of sync, the one confusing the steady rhythm. There was no point in being surprised by the one thing you know as truth about yourself.

He would never be the same as the others.

There was another flash, another memory, but it did not remain long enough to make out the details, so he ignored it. He knew he was the only one of fathers, which made him unique, but that was not what made him different from the clones created by the other fathers. He was broken. Unworkable. Useless.

This was unshakable truth, he understood that. He had always understood that.
He stepped closer to the other bed, looking down at the one sleeping there. 569. And in the bed beyond lay 52325.

Again that flash of memory, and this time he grasped at it, curious, but it was swallowed up by the Nothingness before he got the chance to see it. Perhaps he should return to his bed and wait for father. Then he would know what was going on.

It wasn’t until he had the blanket in his fingers, pulling the back further so he could slide in under them that it struck him. This place seemed off, out of place. He clamoured to get a grip, to pull himself out of the Nothingness, to have a single moment of clarity, the rare kind that showed him things he shouldn’t see.

Like 569 stopping, feeling the same surge he did, turning his head to lock eyes with him. Unexplained but strong and binding. Like knowing they were outside his door, knowing that Kadaj was holding out a hand to him, a hand that reached through the closed door and drew him forwards and out. Like seeing the bullet go exactly where he wanted it too, understanding that by doing so he condemned so many to death.

But it faded, and the Nothingness closed over his head, refusing to let him loose, refusing to let him know why. He needed to fight it; he knew that, though it was not something he had ever done before.

Another memory was swallowed up, and he frowned, slipping back into the bed. The Nothingness was safe; it was where the part of him that didn’t exist was hidden, so deep inside so that no amount of digging and searching could find it. It was dangerous, far more dangerous than anything in the labs, more so than anything father could ever do to him. That was why the Nothingness hid it, why it offered him its safety, free from thought, wish and desire.

It protected him, drew him in and stole away the memories that hurt him, the ones that would torment him. But the Nothingness had never been able to swallow him whole before, no matter how much he had wished for it in the beginning, there was always some part of him on the outside, a link to the reality of everything, and with that reality came snatches of the truth, of the things the Nothingness hid from him.

It had never been able to swallow him whole before. But it was trying to now.

Why?

He lay back down, closing his eyes and drifting back into the welcoming arms of the Nothingness.

*x*

“That makes the fifth time he’s done that.” Reeve said, leaning back in the chair he had commandeered, his warm brown eyes leaving the surveillance screen to look up at Cloud, who had arrived only a few hours previously, the Geostigma epidemic quelled for now. Cloud’s fingers curled just that bit tighter around the back of the chair Reeve was sitting in as he leaned forward taking in the once more peaceful scene.

“No movement from the other two at all?” he asked.

Reeve shook his head, tilting his head back further so he could see Cid as well, who was leaning his own chair back at an angle to the wall, eyes closed in feigned sleep, chewing silently on the cigarette Reeve had refused to let him light. He had been here since the Remnants had been brought in, watching everything the WRO doctors were doing, not afraid to speak out if they did anything he wasn’t happy with.

It had amused Reeve, so he had let him continue. However, that had been over twenty-four hours ago now, and after the first three hours of checkups, blood work and other medical things Reeve knew little about, there had been nothing left to do but wait for them to wake.

“Not so much as a twitch.” Reeve answered Clouds question, fanning the three surprisingly full files his doctors had made on the three. “The tests we did—“

“Tests?” Cloud interrupted.

Reeve held back a sigh. Cloud needed to understand that the WRO was not ShinRa, no matter what his past affiliations with them were, he had no intentions of allowing another Hojo to develop. “Blood work, brainwave scans, X-rays. All the things any good doctor does to rule out illness, be it physical or mental. Nothing more.” He promised; glad when Cloud relaxed enough to offer him an apologetic look.

It was good to know that it wasn’t a distrust aimed at his ethics, just bad memories he supposed.

He turned his attention back to the files. “The doctors found numbers tattooed on their wrists,” he said. “The one you call Kadaj had 52325, the large one 569, and our sleepwalker 92966.”

“Numbers?” Cloud frowned, his questions written plainly across his face.

The numbers had intrigued Reeve as well, who, knowing Hojo to be the kind to number his projects, had immediately looked into the possibility that they were one of his, but he had found no evidence of it. “Their blood work tells us that they are clones of Sephiroth, each of them contain far greater strains of his DNA rather than Jenova’s, whose cells, as you know, where the main ones used in the Maka injections given to Soldiers. In fact, there were hardly any Jenova cells in them at all, but that could mean nothing as Sephiroth’s had a large concentration and they are clones of him, and our test doesn’t separate his DNA into strands.”

“Clones…”

Reeve nodded and went on. “However, there is also evidence of genetic tampering with each of them. Left to develop without it, we can safely assume they would have ended up looking and behaving exactly like Sephiroth. It rules out the idea that they were made of Sephiroth himself.”

Cloud nodded in understanding. “So they aren’t like the Geneses Clones? Which means that someone actually made them?”

Reeve looked back at the video image of the three and sighed. “I have no details, and I’m still searching for any information, but there are no records of a cloning facility anywhere. But yes, you’re right, someone made them. 569’s genetic coding, from what my scientists tell me, was designed for strength, endurance. He was made to be a war machine. All of Sephiroth’s strength multiplied far beyond anything Sephiroth himself possessed. However there are significant changes made to the genetic strand for his… self awareness is the easiest way to put it.”

“What do you mean?” Cloud asked.

Reeve rubbed the bridge of his nose and offered up a hapless smile. “They tried to sever his self awareness, make him nothing more than a mindless drone. Or rather, they tried to take as much as they could without making him completely mindless. If they were making him for war they needed something that would follow orders without question, but would be able to function without constant instruction. We won’t know the extent of this until he wakes up, but my scientists think it’s likely he’ll be mentally disabled, possibly with a child’s mind.”

Hearing Clouds’ uncharacteristic curse made Reeve smile mirthlessly. He was an engineer, so to a certain degree he could understand the feeling of satisfaction when you finally managed to get that stray piece of wire to connect where it should, or got that stubborn piece of metal to bend into shape at long last. But that was where he lost all connection with scientists like Hojo, and whoever had made these three. Where did tampering with someone like this ever cross the line into ethical? It didn’t. It couldn’t. Because if something like this could ever be considered ethical then it gave credence to Sephiroth’s claims that the world should not be allowed to live.

“That’s not all.” Reeve continued, knowing that he couldn’t hide the resignation, or the stab of pain that went through him when he thought of what these three must have gone through. “92966, his brainwaves are so low on the scale that the doctors are surprised he can even function, in fact, they tell me that his sleepwalking is probably about as much as we’ll get out of him. But then there’s the anomalies, they have his brain hooked up to a monitor, because occasionally he’ll spike, far beyond normal levels. The scientist who looked at his DNA told me that all of the genetic strands for brain function are heightened, so his brainwaves are completely impossible, he should show signs of above average brain function but aside from the spikes, nothing. There might be good days when he ‘wakes up’, which could explain his involvement in this Reunion fiasco. Other than that his physical health is as well as can be expected.”

He shook his head and pulled out Kadaj’s file. “Kadaj, 52325. His brain chemistry is completely off the wall, the only explanation the doctors can come up with for it is that he was subjected to persistent drug trials as a child and his brain never had time to fully adapt. His genetics follow Sephiroth’s fairly closely, except again his self awareness has been tampered with, not as much as 569’s, but enough to be noticeable. He’s probably psychopathic, that’s the prognosis from what we have so far. It’s possible he might mastermind another Reunion, or just go on a murdering spree.”

Cloud was silent, and Reeve refused to look at him. Each file had pages on the worst case scenarios. Finally he forced himself to look up and was dismayed by the look on Clouds face. He knew it was a terrible prognosis, and he could see that the thought of it was hitting Cloud hard. He couldn’t quite seem to find his voice to reassure him that he wasn’t in this alone, which he knew Cloud believed he was; it was the younger mans very nature to think that way.

“So yer saying we should give up on them?”

Reeve looked round at Cid, surprised by his input. He still had his eyes closed, but the cigarette was now between the fingers of his left hand. Cloud straightened and turned to him also, and Cid made a slow stretch and the two front legs of the chair thumped down on the floor.

“I never said that.” Cloud pointed out.

Reeve was surprised to find Cid’s incredulous blue gaze meet his before flicking to Cloud. “Yer silence was pretty telling.” He said, and Reeve felt his lips twitch as Cid looked back at him, reading Cid’s intentions clearly. It was a tactic he had begun to use himself now that he was head of the WRO.

“They are rather damming results though.” Reeve pointed out honestly.

Cid shrugged. “That’s the case, throw them in a nut house and be done with it.” He got to his feet, stretching again.

“But Aerith…” Cloud began, but trailed off.

Cid shrugged again, putting the cigarette back into his mouth. “So? She can be wrong. Or maybe you’re going as mad as those poor sods in there are. Hearing voices?”

Cloud was silent for a long time, and Cid held his eyes, blank and unyielding. Reeve had to wonder where Cid had perfected this way of dealing with this sort of situation. It was the sort of thing that could backfire so very easily, but Cid had never once failed. It was an amazing talent of motivation, and one Reeve wished he possessed.

“Well?” Cid challenged when the silence had gone on too long.

Cloud took a deep breath and broke his gaze with Cid, turning to Reeve. “That’s the worst case scenario.” He said, challenging now himself. “They have problems; I’m not saying they don’t. And I not saying it won’t be hard, but is there something that points to something better than what you’ve just told me?”

Reeve saw Cid’s satisfied smirk from the corner of his eye, and schooled his own bemused smile carefully as he answered. “There could be a huge margin for error in the reports. The doctors and scientists are only making predictions based on the information they have at hand right now. Until they wake up we can’t take anything as absolute fact. For example, they have names; if Kadaj is anything to go by, I would say the other two have one as well. I doubt whoever created them gave them names; numbers are a far easier way to track experiments by. That alone could mean that they overcame the genetic tampering and developed more self awareness than they were supposed to. It’s not a lot I’ll grant you, not when put beside all this,” he waved at the files. “But we can only hope we’re wrong.”

“Trust in Aerith.” Cloud whispered, and Reeve found himself chuckling, gathering the files up and placing them to the side.

Trust in Aerith…

Not all that difficult in all truth.

“I’m curious though.” Cid said, coming to stand beside the chair, arm reaching out until he could tap the screen. Reeve looked up in question. “Their numbers are pretty high. Why haven’t we seen any more of them running around?”

That was a good question, and one Reeve had wondered about himself. Before Cloud had arrived he had questioned his scientists and doctors as extensively as he could on the entire subject of cloning. He was aware of Cloud looking at him too, waiting for some sort of answer.

“From what I can gather, working with genetics is trial and error for the most part, especially in cloning, and even more so when you do what the person who made them did and try to bring out certain traits. The numbers are probably inclusive of all the ones that failed. That’s not to say that they are the only clones ever made, but it’s possible that wherever they were being made was purged after the Nibelhiem incident. After all, could you really trust possibly hundreds of clones of Sephiroth not to become as mad as him? These three may have survived.” He shrugged. “It’s only a theory, and it’s certainly viable, but we can’t know for sure until we ask them.”

He pushed his chair back and stood, lifting the white medical jacket from the back and putting it on. He rooted in the pockets for a pair of latex gloves. “I’d best get in there and put the heart monitor back on him.” With a small smile he pulled the gloves on and pushed his way from the observation room and into the infirmary itself.

The first time this had happened alarms had sounded, and the doctors had all rushed back, ready to deal with a cardiac arrest, only to find 92966 moving around the infirmary, perfectly fine, but completely unaware of them. After that Cid had offered to wait in the observation room, and would hit the emergency button if it happened for real. He’d also been the one to put the monitor back on the second and third times it had happened. Reeve had joined him not long before the fourth incident, and had taken it upon himself to do it. Cloud could do it next time.

Let it not be said that Reeve Tuesti was not a very fair man.

He smiled to himself as he made his way past the beds in which Kadaj and 569 lay and into the space between the beds, bending to lift the wireless monitor. He didn’t put it back on right away, instead he paused, casting a considering eye over the clones features. 92966’s eyes rolled behind closed lid, and unlike the other two he seemed uncommonly twitchy and unsettled. Reeve reached across, ready to press the monitor back into place on the bare chest, hoping that these unusual reactions, which confused his doctors, meant that there was more promise for the boy than what his people had predicted for him.

Was it strange to hope that three could have a decent quality of life, especially after what they had done? He couldn’t help another chuckle as he replaced the monitor. Aerith’s influence was strong, her compassion still clearly felt even so far beyond the grave. Strange, perhaps, but not wrong, he thought.

“Get away from him.”

Before Reeve had the chance to do anything, be it step away from the bed or not a slender arm came across his throat and jerked him backwards, cutting off his air supply. He caught sight of green eyes snapping open and the insistent beeping as the brainwave monitor as it spiked far beyond normal levels, and he knew, that unless something happened, and quickly he was going to be dead.

Chapter Text

Kadaj’s awakening had been slow, a fact that immediately worried him and made him claw frantically for full wakefulness. Opening his eyes felt sluggish, as if he had been sleeping for too long, sleep gluing his lids shut. He had never felt like this, not in a long, long time. Not since—

His eyes finally opened, blinking, taking in the off-white above him. The next thing that registered was the sounds. Someone was moving around, not Loz, who walked with a step that was far heavier than this one, his bulk making it virtually impossible to walk lightly. Not Yazoo either, whose tread always made Kadaj think of a dancer, moving to a beat no one but he could hear. He didn’t dare turn his head to see who it was, better to remain unnoticed until he could determine exactly what was going on.

Closing his eyes again he sought out other sounds, hoping with all his heart that he was not alone. The person moved past him, and he felt himself relax enough to fully focus on the rest of the room.

Beeping… heart monitors.

Soft whine… flat line.

He had heard his fair share of those, had watched the steps that brought them about. Had made the sound himself. His hands gripping a pillow, feeling nothing as the struggles beneath it stilled. Terminations had been a learning tool for him, and those like him. He ruthlessly forced aside the fear that threatened to overwhelm him as he began to piece together what had happened, and realised where he was. He had to know if Loz and Yazoo where here.

Under the sounds of the heart monitors he picked out the quiet, long breaths of Loz, and from further away the shorter, mumbling breaths of Yazoo. The person came to a stop, and Kadaj knew exactly where he was, and let his eyes snap back open, turning his head. Controlling his desire to leap from the bed, and forcing himself to breath evenly. The beep of his monitor barely wavered, leaving the man by his brothers’ bed with no knowledge of his wakeful state.

First things first he needed to get this man away from his brothers, after that threat was neutralised he could see about finding out where they were, and what had been done to them. He slipped silently from the bed, his bare feet hitting the cold floor, but he ignored the tingle that went through him and he moved, silent and intent.

As he neared he saw the man put his hand on his brothers’ chest, and though he could see no syringe it didn’t mean that there wasn’t other ways to get drugs inside a body. He knew all about drug administration, he’s been subjected to every known method under his scientist’s hand.

It had taken him barely four seconds to get from his bed and position behind the man.

“Get away from him.” He said softly, his tone giving voice to every threat he had, all of them deadly, and each one of them stark and honest. The man would be able to tell he was not bluffing. To better ensure his brother was safe from the man he reached up, and in a lightening fast motion had his arm around his throat. He was shorter than the man, but that only leant him the better grip, and he could feel his breath catch as his throat was slowly compressed.

Kadaj was a killer, and a good one, but he had learnt early to control the situation, and killing the man would lose him a hostage should the situation turn hostile.

His attention was diverted however when Yazoo’s eyes opened, and his heart constricted as he read the terrible truth in his brothers eyes. He shut his eyes tightly, turning his head from Yazoo’s unrecognising gaze, tightening his hold around the mans neck.

Labs.

Maybe not the one they were created in, but Labs nonetheless. He had not seen that blank look, the complete lack of emotion in Yazoo’s eyes since they had left that place. It was back now, and it felt like everything they had worked for, all those years spent running had been for nothing.

The sound of a door banging open surprised him, and he opened his eyes, cursing himself for becoming distracted. His grip loosened just a fraction, not nearly enough to allow the man to get free, but enough to let some air into his lungs. Knowing he had left Loz somewhat undefended as the door was situated on the other side of the room, he easily manoeuvred his hostage out from between the beds, turning them both so that he could see whoever was coming in.

He was surprised for the second time when he saw who came in, unarmed, but obviously ready for a fight. “Big Brother?” he breathed, confused, and grimaced as everything came back to him. Mother, Sephiroth, the Reunion, his promise… Had he failed? Was that why they were here? There was a frantic second when he called to Mother in his head, where she had been a constant presence since the day of Meteor, but she did not answer him, before he ruthlessly shut the lid on that part of his thoughts. He could examine this later, after he had gotten them out of here.

He wished Loz was awake; this would be easier if he had more than Yazoo to back him up, not when his brother was so obviously not himself.

“Kadaj.” Big Brother said, raising his hands in a peaceful manner.

Kadaj lifted his chin, ignoring the attempt at befriending him. “Where are we?” he asked.

Big Brother looked unsure for a moment before replying. “At the WRO headquarters, in the Infirmary.”

Kadaj grit his teeth and gave a vicious jerk of his arm, pulling his hostage closer and tightening his grip. “I know we’re in the Labs. I just need to know where. And I’m sure this gentleman here would appreciate the truth, because if I don’t get it I will break his neck.”

Big Brother’s eyes flicked in a frantic manner to Kadaj’s hostage, before returning to him. “I’m not lying Kadaj, this is an infirmary, you’re not in any labs, and…” he hesitated, and Kadaj immediately filed it as an untruth. “You’re free to leave at any time… but you need to let Reeve go.”

Kadaj tilted his head just a fraction, wondering if Big Brother realised he was using standard Hostage Negotiator speak on him. Giving the man a name in an attempt to make him feel for the life he could easily take. Of course it had no affect on Kadaj, as his training had covered all of this, and he really cared for no one but his brothers.

He tutted and let what he knew was his most twisted smile. “Now, now, now. Why don’t I believe you?”

“’Cause yer a paranoid little shit maybe?”

Kadaj’s eyes flicked to the left of Big Brother to where a new person came to stand. Two against one now. He really wished Loz would wake up. Hiding his building nervousness, which he could already feel was doing the backwards slide into a Fit. He flashed his twisted smile again.

“Paranoid for good reason. Now, unless you really do want to see your friend here with a crushed throat and a broken neck I would suggest you start talking, and you can start with where we are and what you’ve done to my brothers.”

Big Brother looked like he wanted to take a step forward, but he didn’t, and Kadaj was glad that he and the other man had enough sense to know he was serious.

Big Brother took a deep breath. “You are in WRO Headquarters; we took you and… your brothers, here after the battle on the roof? Do you remember that? When you became Sephiroth?” Kadaj nodded, warily. “Well, after I beat him you collapsed, 569, and 929—“

“Loz and Yazoo!” Kadaj ground out, they would not be reduced to numbers, not again.

Big Brother nodded, and Kadaj was surprised to see a flicker of relief pass over his features before he continued. “You collapsed, and Loz and Yazoo found us. They were hurt from the explosion and collapsed with you. This was the safest place we could bring you.”

“You mean the most secure.” Kadaj said, and was pleased to see the guilt on Big Brother’s face.

“Ya did a lotta bad things to a lotta people in Edge. If we’d taken ya to the local hospital to get checked out there probably woulda been riots. Now don’t make things worse for yerself and let him go before you do any worse damage to him.”

Kadaj flicked his eyes to the other man, and he swallowed, feeling an all too familiar desperation begin to build in the back of his mind. It was an impossible situation, and he knew it. To move Loz would require both him and Yazoo, and there were probably hundreds of soldiers out in the halls. What was the best course of action? They wouldn’t attack as long as he had hold of this man, so maybe he could use that, get them out of the room and barricade himself and his brothers in.

But that would leave them trapped and give them time to gather reinforcements, probably too many for them to deal with. He inwardly cursed his scientist and his drug induced failsafe. He had seen other clones of his division driven to suicide by this very same situation, after all, what was the use of a clone that couldn’t get themselves out of something like this?

Kadaj possessed just enough will to fight the urge to swallow his own tongue, he needed to stay alive; he needed to look after his brothers. He was sliding headlong into one of his worse Fits; he could feel it, the sort that left him completely incapable of defending himself.

He pushed it back, determined to hold onto all his functions until he had done something, anything that could protect him and his brothers. “What do you intend to do with us?” he found himself asking, a pleading edge; a far cry from the demanding he had intended.

Big Brother straightened, and looked him square in the eye, trying for earnest belief. “I actually came to offer you a place at my home. A chance to live a normal life. If you want.” His eyes flicked for a second to Kadaj’s hostage, bringing the clone's attention back to the man, and he realised he had been squeezing a little too hard and he loosened his grip.

“Why would you do that?” he asked. He didn’t believe him; he couldn’t afford to believe him not when there was so much at stake.

“Because everyone deserves a second chance.” Big Brother told him, completely serious, and with such sincerity that Kadaj did, for a moment, believe him.

“A second chance? Don’t make me laugh!” Kadaj said, hearing his desperation leak into his voice, and hating himself for it. As he felt the last vestiges of rational thought leave him, and the seizures began. Suddenly there seemed to be movement everywhere, too much to keep track of, and then there was a hand on his arm, gently prising it away from his hostages’ neck.

“Kadaj.”

The surprise of hearing that voice now and here made him release his hold and let Reeve drop to the ground. Nothing else mattered, not Big Brother, not the Labs, not truth or lies. All that mattered was turning around and seeing his brother. So he did, and at the warm recognition he saw in Yazoo’s eyes he let himself go with a sob and collapsed to the ground, bringing Yazoo down with him, his arms wrapped around his taller brother, and though he didn’t want to, there was nothing he could do but let the Fit wash over him.

*x*

Loz woke quickly and quietly, spurred into wakefulness by a strong sense of urgency. Taking stock of the situation was easy; Kadaj was in a stand off, and quickly reaching the end of his tether. It might not be obvious to anyone else, but Loz had learned over the years to pick up the hints, and he was so near that Loz was surprised he was still holding it together at all.

Pretending to still be asleep he opened his eyes a fraction to see what they were dealing with. A Medical room? A Lab? If that was the case then it was no wonder Kadaj was so wound up.

“What do you intend to do with us?” Kadaj’s voice held such a fine tremor that it was barely noticeable, and Loz shifted his gaze towards his brother, careful to remain as motionless as he could. He was momentarily surprised to see Big Brother, but did not allow himself to react.

He could see what Kadaj was trying to do, and he could see it was a futile attempt, one that had been born out of his brother's desperation. Once again he found himself hating that Kadaj felt it was his duty to protect them. He tensed, ready to leap to Kadaj’s aid should the need arise, he could take Big Brother and his companion, the only problem would be Kadaj, he wouldn’t last too much longer.

He flicked his eyes to the side, away from Kadaj, Big Brother and the other man, relieved to see Yazoo there.

“I actually came to offer you a place at my home. A chance to live a normal life. If you want.” Big Brother spoke, drawing Loz’s attention back to him before he had the chance to truly begin to worry about the blank expression on Yazoo’s face. Loz studied Big Brother’s face for any hint of malice, knowing that Kadaj was growing too paranoid, the onset of the Fit’s always made him like that, and wouldn’t be able to see the truth even if he wanted too.

“Why would you do that?” Loz let his brother's voice wash over him, shocked into a complete stillness, knowing he had drawn the attention of Big Brother’s companion, but he didn’t care.

“Because everyone deserves a second chance.”

Big Brother was telling the truth.

“A second chance? Don’t make me laugh!” Loz sat up then, throwing caution to the wind. Kadaj was about to start seizing, and Loz knew that if he killed the man he held then Big Brothers offer would be withdrawn, and they really would be left in the labs, experimented on or more probably, terminated.

He shouldn’t have worried though, Yazoo was there, as he always was when Kadaj’s Fit’s were bad, pulling him away from his hostage. Yazoo’s eyes raised to meet his for an instant as he and Kadaj sank to the floor and the seizures began in earnest, confused and questioning. Loz put as much reassurance as he could in one small nod before he quickly got out of the bed and moved to stand in front of his brothers.

Big Brother looked torn, like he wanted to move forward and take the hostage, but wasn’t sure if it would spark violence. Loz looked down at the man, who was just barely conscious, breathing with some degree of difficulty. Had Yazoo not stepped forward when he had this man would be dead.

“You should get him out of here.” He said.

He frowned at the flicker of surprise on Big Brothers face, but he didn’t hesitate in coming forward and lifting the man on the floor.

“Does this change anything?” Loz found himself asking, wary, but willing to let down just enough of his defence to find out the truth.

Big Brother froze and looked at him.

“I won’t let you terminate us.” He continued. “I know that… this,” he gestured towards the gasping man, “looks bad… but he…” Loz tensed as he realised there was no way to explain about Kadaj without making it sound damming.

“A misunderstanding.”

It was said so quietly Loz wasn’t sure if he actually heard it, but to his credit he didn’t look back to confirm that it had been Yazoo, spoken in that dreamy quality he had used before Mother had come to them, a voice Loz found that he had missed now that he realised how long it had been since he’d heard it.

“It’s the Labs.” He finally managed to say, hoping that would be enough of an explanation. “Does your offer stand?” he was wary of hoping, but he had heard the truth of Big Brothers words, and hope was something he so desperately wanted to have.

“Depends.” Loz let his eyes leave Big Brother to look at his companion. “That was hardly the best of impressions.”

Loz moved to fully block his brothers from sight. “It’s the Fits. We know what the Labs mean. We know what waits for us here. The Fits make him paranoid, he was just trying to get us out the only way he knows how!” he curled one hand into a fist. “And if the offer isn’t on the table anymore then you need to know that we won’t stay here and be terminated.”

Big Brother sighed lightly; carefully transferring the gasping man he held to his companion and turned to face him fully. His companion left the room carrying the injured man.

“No one is being terminated.” He said with finality. “This is not a lab, there isn’t going to be any tests, you’re not going to be locked up and you are not going to be terminated.” He took a deep breath as Loz released his own, reassured by the stark determined honesty in the words. “And the offer hasn’t been withdrawn… but if this is going to be the reaction every time you wake up…”

Loz shook his head. How did he even begin to explain to someone who couldn’t begin to understand what they had been through? How could he explain that waking up in a room like this… in fact, waking up in any room they could not remember entering themselves, sent fear coursing through them, made them instantly think that they had been captured, that the labs, the scientists and eventual termination were soon to follow.

How could he explain Kadaj’s fits?

“One of th’ doctor’s looking at Reeve.” Big Brothers companion said, re-entering the room. “Doesn’t look too bad though, he’s trying to talk already, th’ idiot.” He shook his head and looked across the room towards them. “How's things looking in here?”

Big Brother shrugged, and Loz could understand the sentiment, it felt like a frustrating lack of communication, and neither side knew what to say to smooth everything out. Big Brothers companion let out a sigh and stepped forward, shouldering Big Brother aside.

“Alright, here’s the deal.” He said, lighting a cigarette, and looking Loz squarely in the eye. “Cloud here is gonna give you three a place in his home, if you want it. If you don’t that’s fine an’ we’ll find ya somewhere else. The only problem we have is that you three caused a shitload o’trouble in Edge, so we can’t go letting you just wander halfway across the world to pull this shit somewhere else. Wouldn’t be responsible or some such. So you’ll be staying somewhere close enough for us to keep an eye on ya.”

He waved a hand and seemed so completely relaxed while he stood there, completely unafraid, that Loz found himself put very much at ease.

“Now, the problem with you coming to stay with Cloud an’ Tifa, if that’s what you wanna do, is that they got two kids living with them already, an’ displays like that one with yer brother there aren’t gonna make anyone trust ya any quicker, ‘specially round the kids. Ya understand me?”

Loz nodded, because of course he understood. They might have lived outside of society since their escape, but he wasn’t stupid, what little time they did spend in towns had taught them enough. “Unless he feels threatened he doesn’t… He’s not normally like that!” Loz tried to explain.

The man waved his hand again. “Don’t matter none to me. Looks to me like so long as we don’t startle ya there shouldn’t be any problems. But that’s something that can be worked on. What we need to know is that none of ya are gonna go off on a killing spree.”

Loz grimaced, more because that single instant in that old church when he had been so close to killing that woman flashed in his memory, and he cringed from it. He wasn’t a killer. Yazoo was definitely not a killer. Kadaj was another matter, but even he wasn’t the type to kill for no reason at all. Only in defence of each other. That was a given, after all, they were all they had, and they couldn’t let anything happen to that.

He told the man this, wondering as he did so, if the real meaning of his words came across. He was rewarded with a slightly crooked smirk. “You keep that attitude up boy.” Loz blinked and was surprised by the warmth that spread inside him. Had that been approval?

The man turned his back to him, and Loz marvelled at this show of trust. Big Brother seemed just as surprised as he was. The man clapped Big Brother on the shoulder as he passed, leaving the room. Loz turned his attention to Big Brother once the man was gone again. Big Brother was giving him a searching look.

“Is Kadaj alright?”

The question was a surprise, and made Loz glance behind him reflexively to check on his brother's condition. His seizures had lessened to mere shivers, and Yazoo still held onto him tightly. “He’ll be ok.” He answered, he would be weak and far more prone to the less serious Fits for a few days, but he would be ok.

“Would you like me to send a doctor in to have a look at him?”

Loz tensed, and he could see Big Brother had seen that he had said the wrong thing, as he quickly went on to reassure. “I promise it would only be a check up, no blood tests, nothing you didn’t want. But if you’d rather not that’s ok.”

Loz glanced back at Kadaj, and forced himself to relax. “It might be better if you… Do you need to have an answer now?”

Big Brother’s face softened suddenly and Loz was dismayed to realise that his voice had come out sounding like a child's. At least he wasn’t crying; that would have made the whole thing worse. “Take all the time you need.” He turned suddenly to leave. “If you need anything just knock and ask, either me or Cid will be on the other side.” He paused at the door and looked back, consideringly. “Can I trust you to stay here?”

“As long as nobody tries to take one of us or hurt us, we’ll stay.” Loz promised.

Big Brother nodded and smiled, leaving the room and shutting the door. There was no click of a lock, and Loz relaxed at that before turning his full attention to Kadaj and Yazoo. First things first was to make sure his brothers were ok, and then he would try and piece together the exact sequence of events that lead up to this, and figure out why he could no longer hear Mothers voice, and lastly, he would try and work out why he felt so relieved to have her gone.

Chapter Text

“Sir?”

Rufus let out a small sigh as he heard the confusion and disbelief in Tseng’s voice that he himself had felt when he had received this letter. He reached up and lightly rubbed at his left eye, even after two years he had still not regained full sight in it, and it occasionally still greyed out when he was stressed or tired. The Geostigma had not aided matters.

At this particular moment in time, he was both tired and stressed.

It was far too soon after the ‘Reunion’ to be asking them to work again, but there was nothing else Rufus could think to do. If the threat was real then everything that had been gained in the few short hours after this latest incident could be undone.

“I have no idea if it is authentic.” He said, leaning back in his wheelchair. “But it is a threat, and we would be remiss if we did not look into it.” He said, wishing, and not for the first time, that he could get up and pace; a situation like this deserved some amount of pacing. But his doctor had already warned him against putting more strain on his spine, his stunt with the building had thankfully not done any more damage, but it was better to be safe than sorry.

“Sir.” Tseng said, sounding unruffled and calm in a way that Rufus had always admired, and had grown to depend on in the past few years. “Wouldn’t it be better to hand this over to the WRO? They would have far better resources and more manpower for the task.”

Rufus looked up, meeting Tseng’s eyes. He had soon realised that he could not treat these people, the only four of the entire ShinRa organisation to stand by him, as he had in the past. He owed them a debt of gratitude, because of their loyalty, which was not bought; though he paid them a fair amount for their work. After all, none of them had been paid to find him when he had been taken from the hospital a mere three months after Meteor had been stopped.

Tseng, Reno, Rude and Elena had become, in the past two years, as close to him as anyone had ever been before. Oh, there was still a clear divide, he was the boss and they were is body guards, but that didn’t stop Tseng joining him for a drink and a quiet talk on matters of a literary nature, or Elena bringing him his very own packet of homemade sweets she made for everyone at least one a week if she had time, or Rude offering up the answers for the crossword no matter how often Rufus ordered him to stop, or Reno switching the sugar for salt when it was his turn to bring Rufus his morning coffee.

He was never sure if it was a good or bad thing that the formality between them had dropped so much. At times, usually when the pain of his psychical therapy was becoming too much, or when his greying vision was making it impossible for him to read or write, or just when his entire situation would hit him, he believed that he was getting too close, that they had forgotten their places, and he reacted accordingly.

It hadn’t worked yet. Tseng would just ruthlessly push him on; force him not to give up. Elena always made sure to have everything exactly as he liked it, everything within easy reach so he would not become frustrated by his lack of mobility and the slowness of his recovery. Rude who would quietly take his pen and take down his dictated notes, and was becoming very good at it and it was often joked now that he should have been a secretary. Reno, Rufus had been surprised to learn, could be still and seemed to enjoy the times he could read aloud, especially if it was a novel of some kind.

He was incredibly lucky to have them, and he knew it. Which was why he hated that he had to get them involved in this.

“This is a problem created by ShinRa, by my father and his board of idiots.” Rufus said, looking back down at the threat. “If we ever hope to make up for what…” he shook his head. “If I ever hope to make up for what my father and I did to this world, then I can’t afford to just hand my problems out to anyone else. If I didn’t have too, I wouldn’t even be asking you.”

Tseng gave a quiet chuckle. “You know we wouldn’t let you go out and deal with something like this on your own.” He said, and Rufus felt his lips twitch upwards his silent thanks for the support. “But may I suggest contacting the WRO, just in case we do need some help?”

Rufus nodded. “I’ll call Reeve and let him know that there may be a possible situation, but I would like this to be dealt with as much in house as we can manage.”

Tseng nodded his thanks, gathering the file and the threat letter up. His lips twisted wryly as he looked at them and then at Rufus, who knew exactly what he was thinking. “Are you sure you wouldn’t like to brief them Sir? I’m sure everyone would benefit from your motivation.”

Rufus let out a laugh, the mirth in it surprising him given the situation. “No Tseng, I think I feel a migraine coming one.”

There was a look of amusement in Tseng’s eyes, though his features were carefully blank. “Of course you do Sir.” He turned away, pausing momentarily at the door to look back and say. “Don’t worry Rufus, we’ll deal with it.”

After he left Rufus gave his left eye another rub before resting his chin on the hand, contemplating. He sighed again and reached across to the phone, dialling the number for Reeve’s office at the WRO. Tseng was right, no matter how much Rufus wanted to keep this in house, there was the possibility of a wider threat, and the WRO was the only organisation currently equipped to deal with it should it come to it.

*x*

Reno had been looking forward to a little downtime. And after everything that had happened only a day ago he felt that he; and the others of course, fully deserved it. Which was why he was muttering to himself in annoyance; tugging at his once neat tie loose and slumping into his seat. He had been about to head out and get completely and utterly plastered, after which he intended to stumble home and sleep for a good long time. But just as he was about to leave his PHS had rung, and despite his gut feeling to just leave it, he had answered, cursing the fact that Tseng and Rude had drilled it into his head to never be out of contact.

More than once in the past a perfect night with a willing body had been ruined by one of them knocking on the door to check up on him because he’d dared to turn off his PHS, or just outright refused to answer. It wasn’t a rare occurrence for any Turk; after all, they had been the dark side of ShinRa, the group sent out to do the dirty jobs. Retaliation against members of the Turks was high, and Turks would just turn up dead. Eventually it became a habit for all members to call each other up, and if the call went unanswered it was your sworn duty as a Turk to find out why.

Even before he had become a fully fledged Turk, Reno had been subjected to this rule, in fact, he couldn’t really recall a time when there wasn’t someone checking up on him. Of course, now he got to do the same thing to Elena, who had replaced him as the youngest Turk. He smirked as he remembered her face when he had walked in on her latest tryst to try and ease the epic crush she had on Tseng. She’d chosen well, the guy could have passed for him, as long as he never spoke. She’d refused to speak to him for weeks, but it had been completely worth it.

So he had answered the call, and he could tell by Tseng’s voice that the downtime he really wanted was cancelled, for the foreseeable future; which, seeing Tseng’s face now looked to be a long, long time.

Rude was polishing his sunglasses, his eyes uncovered for once, all silent and mysterious. Reno fought back the desire to roll his eyes at his partner’s pretence, all of them knew better, Rude was about as mysterious as a piece of buttered toast, and if you got him drunk enough he definitely wasn’t all that quiet either. But outside of each other they had an image to maintain.

His eyes flicked across to Elena, who had seemingly yet to manage to create an appropriate image, but in truth her bumbling, girl next door approach was a stroke of genius, no one ever believed her capable of being quite as ruthless as she could be. He, however, much preferred it when she was being herself; it was much more fun teasing her then. She flashed him a smile when she caught him looking and pushed across a plate of biscuits.

This was another reason he liked her, she always seemed to have an endless supply of homemade sweets and cakes, something he had most definitely missed out on as a child.

“We have a new assignment.” Tseng said.

Reno looked up, his sigh spraying crumbs over the table, eliciting an ‘eww!’ from Elena and a stern look from Tseng, Rude was just ignoring him, his partner was far too used to him nowadays. “Already?” he asked, slumping further into his seat.

Tseng simply shook his head, also too used to him. It seemed that he would need to do something very unexpected soon or they would begin to take him for granted.

“The President has received a threatening letter.”

That made Reno take notice. Someone was threatening Rufus? Not a smart idea. Did people just not learn?

“What kind of threat?” Rude asked, slipping his glasses back on.

Tseng slid the letter across the table; Rude read it quickly and passed it to Reno. As he read it, Reno realised it wasn’t a typical threat. There was nothing about kidnapping, there was the obligatory reference to killing, but not just specifically targeted at Rufus. In fact it seemed a little too global. He passed the letter to Elena and sat up straighter, leaning forward to rest his elbows on the table.

“This is a big threat.” He said.

“It mentions ‘Clone’, what does that mean?” Elena asked.

Reno smirked, and spoke up before Tseng had he chance. “Well Elena, a clone is something that is made to be an exact replica of something else; this can be a plant, or an animal, or even, very rarely a person.” She really should learn not to say things that gave him such easy opening for teasing.

“I know what clone’s are! I just meant why does the person writing it mention it? What sort of clone is his looking for?” she snapped, glaring at him.

He smiled back sweetly before turning his attention back to Tseng. “Human cloning. That’s never been properly sanctioned right? That insane episode with the Geneses Clones is about as close as it ever came, right?”

Tseng sighed, and Reno went on immediate alert, Tseng did not sigh that particular sigh unless he was about to impart information he knew would not be well received. Three files fanned out, one for each of them. There was no explanation forthcoming, so Reno opened the file and groaned.

On the first page were three pictures, of those three psycho reunion freaks. He had hoped that this particular chapter had been closed. He had helped direct people to Aerith’s church alongside Cloud, and he doubted the other man would have been as calm and collected if Kadaj and his gang had not been dealt with.

These three were dead. They had to be.

The rest of the pages were filled with odd bits of information, about Henderson Labs, the cloning process, a short piece of information on Soldier Clones and Assassin Clones, and an equally short piece on three doctors. Dr Henderson, Dr. Gray and Dr. Jameson. It wasn’t a lot to go on, and explained very little.

“As you can see we don’t have that much to go on. But the President believes that we should look into this. The threat that the supposed Dr. Jameson makes might be a bluff, or it might be someone using his name as a joke of some kind; but I think we all know enough about scientists who worked for ShinRa to be suitably wary. He claims to have created a weapon that can kill hundreds, all without leaving a mark or a trace.” Tseng explained.

“You forgot to mention the part where he’s going to lay the blame on us for it.” Reno pointed out. Other than directly threatening the President or one of his fellow Turks, the single thing that could rile Reno up was someone blaming them for something they hadn’t done. It might not have bothered him so much before, when ShinRa had been a massive worldwide corporation; after all, it was easy to ignore what people were saying then. But now, when they were only five against the rest of the world, he was not about to take any shit.

Tseng nodded, clearly as unhappy as Reno about this. “That is what makes this particular assignment difficult. He wants us to return his Clone to him, our problem is that we don’t know which of the three are his, or even if any of them are still alive.”

Elena shifted and Reno slid his eyes over to look at her, and had to snicker when he saw that she was about to actually put her hand up. She aborted the movement and glared at him, clearing her throat instead. “Why now? What brought this wacko out now?”

“Elena!” Reno snickered, trying to copy Tseng's disapproving look. “Such language!”

She let out a frustrated sigh. “Reno! Could you be serious for five minutes! I swear if you don’t shut up I’m going to poison your next batch of cookies!”

Rude was smiling, and Tseng was a hairsbreadth from rolling his eyes at their antics. Reno was pleased. To anyone who didn’t now them, or understand how they worked, he knew this would look strange, like he wasn’t being as serious as he could be. But what no one but his fellow Turks (and Rufus of course) knew was that it was infinitely better for him to be teasing and making light of the situation.

Reno was always serious about his job, being a Turk was his entire life, and despite all the dark things he had done in the past, he was proud of them as a group. More so of Tseng, Rude and Elena than the deserters, who’d just left, no warning and no care for what they’d left behind. The others knew he was serious, but they also knew that the image he projected when on the job was a necessary one, it was how he, and they, monitored his mental state, because it wasn’t unusual for him to get so engrossed in an assignment that he lost focus completely, and when that happened he dropped the façade and he got reckless. Depending on the situation they knew then whether to pull him out or just get out of his way.

He had pasted on his mask like a second skin the instant he had finished reading the threat, readying himself for the complications that he knew would follow. So, in keeping with this persona he flashed Elena a cheeky smile before turning a sly look to Tseng, waiting for his answer.

“There was mentions of what happened on the news.” Tseng said, looking at each of them. “No footage, but the three were mentioned and their striking resemblance to Sephiroth. The WRO are set to make a statement about the incident, hopefully that will be enough to quell the rumours and the like from spreading too far. It’s likely that this Dr. Jameson heard the mentions on the news and put two and two together.”

“There isn’t enough information.” Rude said.

Reno smirked, easy and carefree. “Come one Rude, we’ve done more on less.”

Tseng shook his head, drawing Reno’s attention back to him. “No Reno, he’s right, we don’t have enough information. That’s why we’re splitting the assignment. You and Rude will get out there and look for the clones, even if you find their bodies it might be of some use to us. Myself and Elena will try and find as much information as we can on this Dr. Jameson, with any luck we might be able to locate him and end this without too much trouble.”

Reno sat up ramrod straight. “How come you get the fun job!?” he demanded to know.

“You hate paperwork.” Rude reminded him.

Reno waved him off. “Not the paperwork thing, Elena can do the paperwork.” He ignored Elena’s spluttered protest at that. “But why do I not get to go deal with the mad Doctor?”

Tseng smiled. “I’ll make you a deal Reno, if you can find Kadaj and his gang, be they alive or dead, before Elena and I find his location, I will let you deal with the mad doctor. Agreed?”

“A race?” Reno asked, his eyes shining, it wasn’t often Tseng allowed such competitiveness.

Tseng nodded and Reno slumped back into his seat again, satisfied.

“Do you really think they’re still alive?” Elena asked, a slight tremble to her voice, reminding Reno with a painful ache in his chest, that she had been hurt by those bastards, as had Tseng, but Elena was the baby of the group now, and anything done to her sent a rush of protectiveness through Reno, cleverly hidden because it wouldn’t do for her to know that he would happily disembowel someone who hurt her, it might make her think she could get herself in trouble more often.

“If they are, then it’ll be time for some payback.” He said. “I owe that long haired one a good beating.” He pushed himself to his feet. “That everything?” he asked of Tseng.

Tseng nodded. “For now, but keep in contact.” He warned.

Reno waved him off. “Yeah, yeah. Man it’s like having a mother.”

“I take full credit for your knowing what a mother is like.” Tseng replied, shaking his head and standing himself. “Go, and keep it to yourself. The President doesn’t want anyone outside of us to know about this.”

Reno sketched a salute, grinning. “Get your ass in gear Rude, we gotta a race to win!” and without waiting for Tseng’s dismissal, he left the room, and the lodge, knowing Rude would be close behind.

“Reno?” Rude asked when he finally joined him outside, making Reno look round at him, smirk firmly in place though his mind was already working hard on the case, and what he’d come up with so far was somewhat worrying.

“Nothing Rude.” He lied.

Rude didn’t call him on the lie, he knew better. Reno thought better when he didn’t have to cover up the lies he told, Rude had learned to just let him get on with it. It wasn’t a concrete idea yet, which was why he didn’t want to mention it. He’d think on it some more before he brought it up with Tseng.

He took the steps down from Healin Lodge two at a time and made his way to the car, waiting impatiently for Rude to open it. His keys were confiscated by Rude every time he got a new set, a fact that was very unfair he felt, but Tseng had refused to take his side on the matter, citing that it was better if he just stuck to piloting rather than driving. He could have hotwired the car if he wanted to, but like Rude had learned when it was best to leave him alone, he had quickly learned that the car was a topic that was better not broached with Rude.

Besides, the ride into Edge would give him the time he needed to think before all his energy was channelled into finding Kadaj and his gang of freaks.

Chapter Text

The observation room was quiet, and Cloud was glad that he was alone. It was the first time since he had agreed to this that he had the time to actually think about that he had undertaken. Reeve’s doctors dire predictions about the… Was it right to call them Remnants, or would it be better to call them clones? As he watched the scene unfolding in the infirmary he eventually settled on just Brothers.

The doctors' predictions had been dire, and every word Reeve had told him was burned into his head. He knew that Reeve and Cid believed that he had lost his resolve to take the three in after he had been told those things about them. But that wasn’t the case. It had all just overwhelmed him for a moment, the sorrow, the hatred towards those who had done this and the realisation that if what Reeve said was true, there was nothing he could do to help them, nothing he could do to make their lives easier.

Which was why he watched them now, looking to see beyond the morbid predictions for each of them. 569, Loz, was proving to be the one who defied all the doctors and scientists had said about him the most. Of the three he seemed to be the most stable. He wished he could hear what they were talking about, but he had deliberately switched off the intercom to the room to give them as much privacy as he could, but watching them could only tell him so much about their states of mind.

Once he’d closed to door he’d immediately gone to check on Reeve, who had just waved him off with a gasping chuckle that was so like the man, it was easy to see that there was no blame in him, which had immediately put Cloud at ease, he had been worried the attack would have turned Reeve and consequently the entire WRO against the idea of rehabilitating the clones. Cid had gone with Reeve to get some sleep in one of the nearby bunks, leaving Cloud alone to watch over the brothers in the infirmary.

By the time he’d returned they had moved Kadaj onto 92966—Yazoo’s bed, Yazoo was sitting at the head of the bed, Kadaj’s head cradled in his lap, Loz was standing by the end of the bed, looking relaxed, but Cloud could see he was ready to fight at a moment’s notice. They had been speaking, softly, and if he listened hard he would have heard every word. Instead he had flipped the switch on the intercom, giving them the privacy to talk.

The seizures that had shaken Kadaj’s body had eased almost completely, and Cloud recalled the shock he had felt seeing him collapse from them. It seemed that Kadaj’s reports had not been far wrong by just how messed up his brain chemistry was, and that could prove a problem, especially if he always lashed out like that before a—fit Loz had called it—took hold. He’d need to have a talk about that. His eyes flicked to the image of Loz, he’d try and do it as discreetly as he could with Loz, he had a feeling he’d get a far more honest answer then. But even if his reaction had been violent, it had, in the end been for a reason, and not just because he wanted to kill.

Even if Loz had not tried to smooth things over, there really wasn’t any way to place blame at Kadaj’s feet for the misunderstanding. If it had been him waking in a strange place he might have reacted in the same way if he’d believed Tifa, or any of the others would be in danger if he did nothing. That put him outside the psychopathic category as far as Cloud was concerned.

Yazoo didn’t appear to be taking much part in the silent conversation between them, his head was angled down and his hand was making soothing motions over Kadaj’s hair. There was even less to disprove the doctors reports on him thus far, aside from moving to stop Kadaj killing Reeve and the faint whispered words Cloud was still not sure he had actually heard, he hadn’t so much made the brainwave monitor, that had gone unnoticed so far, blip. It stayed at a constant level well below average, very almost at brain dead, and as he looked at how close it actually was he was honestly surprised that he was even conscious. At this level, one of the doctors had helpfully informed him, the patient was normally in a coma.

They were a walking set of contradictions and if Loz was anything to go by then there were likely hidden depths in the other two as well. Cloud wondered if he should be surprised to find that he was looking forward to uncovering them.

He glanced back at the screen and was surprised to find Yazoo looking directly at him. He sat back, surprised. He realised then that Loz was making his way to the door and Kadaj had pushed himself up into a sitting position. Cloud stood and went to the door. He didn’t open it right away, waiting until Loz gave it a quick bang, a glance at the screen showed Loz quickly backing up a few steps, and Kadaj readying himself to get off the bed.

He opened the door and slowly stepped inside.

“I don’t like this!” Kadaj said as he entered, and Cloud was shocked by how weak he looked, in fact, if Yazoo’s hand hadn’t been on his shoulder he had the impression Kadaj would have just fallen backwards.

“Kadaj.” Loz said, pleading. “Just… please?”

Kadaj looked away, leaning back heavily on Yazoo.

This must had been agreement of some kind, because Loz turned his full attention back to Cloud, who waited patiently. This was an interesting byplay to watch. When he had faced them before Kadaj had been the undisputed leader, it had been obvious, but now there seemed to be far more equality between them. Jenova’s influence had dulled this bond they had, and Cloud felt himself smile as he realised that Aerith had known of this, had known that without Jenova they were a far more stable group.

Loz squared his shoulders and said. “We’ve discussed it, and… and we’d like to take you up on your offer.”

“We have no intention of staying with you.” Kadaj said his tone just shy of sullen.

Loz nodded. “It’s not that we… We’d rather not…”

Cloud summoned a smile for them. “That’s ok. We’ll need some time to get something set up, but it should be doable. It’ll take a few days though.”

“About that.” Loz hesitated before he barrelled on. “We can’t stay here.”

“Try and make us and you won’t like what happens.” Kadaj added, though the threat fell short as it was obvious he wasn’t anywhere near strong enough to do anything about it.

“It’s too much like the Labs.” Loz explained. “We can’t stay here.”

Cloud was silent, studying them. It took a moment before he recognised it as a test. He smiled again. “You can stay at the bar until we can find you something then. If that’s ok with you?” If there was anything he had learned from living with Tifa and the kids before the Geostigma drove him away, was that it was better to ask than order.

It was Kadaj who answered, sighing and turning to look at him. “Yes. Anything is better than here.”

It was then that Cloud realised the real extent of their fear of the Labs they kept mentioning. They would be willing to do anything, stay anywhere to avoid being in any place that reminded them of the Labs. It was sad, and it was also the instant Cloud realised that he, and anyone else who helped him fulfil his promise to Aerith, would have to prove that they could be trusted, just as much as the clones needed to prove the same.

*x*

Tifa was just finishing cleaning up in the bar. She wouldn’t be opening tonight, it was the second day, but she didn’t really mind; she made more than enough at the weekends to cover closing up once or twice during the week. Besides, after the stress of the last few days she needed the time to devote to Denzel and Marlene.

Explaining why Cloud had disappeared again to them was difficult and not helped in the slightest by Barret’s constant negative grumbling. He had even been making noises about taking Marlene away with him for a while, something Tifa would have seen as a great opportunity for the two to reconnect had it not been for the fact that she knew it was more a reaction to the presence of the Remnants and Clouds intentions to keep them, and her own to help.

If he really intended to take her, Tifa knew she would have no real right to stop him, to all intents and purposes Marlene was his daughter, and he did truly love the little girl. But if it happened Tifa thought her heart might break a little, she had grown so used to Marlene as the closest thing she had to a daughter of her own.

Eventually she had made them both understand, it hadn’t been pretty, and there were more than a few hurtful words thrown around, mostly from Denzel. She had tried not to take the things said to heart, but she had not fully managed it, and Denzel’s continued silence at what he considered to be a betrayal was hurting her. She needed to try and break through that silence tonight, to try and stop up the hurt she knew both he and Marlene were feeling.

She cast a final glance around the bar before tossing her cleaning rag in the sink. She’d been thinking of expanding out the bar, turning it into more of a café/bar, it had been just a vague idea, rattling around in her head, as a way to move away from late nights. She sighed, maybe after this entire fiasco died down she could speak to Reeve about getting planning permission for an extension. Maybe a few big windows, it would be nice to have some light in here.

“Tifa.”

She started in surprise, her eyes wide as she turned to find Denzel standing by the door to the stairs. His eyes downcast and his hands twisting into the fabric of his trousers.

“Denzel.” She said, caught somewhere between her heart melting at the sight of him so nervous, and fear of what he had come to say to her. If she was going to lose Marlene to this, she didn’t think she could stand losing Denzel as well, she had grown to love him in the year he had lived with them.

He looked up at her, but dropped his eyes immediately afterwards and stepped further into the bar. The silence stretched, and Tifa was at a loss as to how she could break it.

“Tifa…”

He sounded so very lost right then that she wanted to take the five steps forward and wrap her arms around him, but she was frozen. “Yes?” she breathed out.

He looked up again, and there were tears shinning in his eyes and she was suddenly unfrozen and moved forward quickly, kneeling and pulling him into a hug. As she did so she felt him give a shudder and suddenly the tears began to fall. His thin arms wound round her neck and he dropped to his own knees, burying his head into her shoulder. It took a long time for her to distinguish the words that were forming in the sobs, but when she did hear them she just pulled Denzel tighter.

“You have nothing to be sorry for” she whispered, drawing away and brushing away the tears still clinging to his cheeks. “Now, do you want to tell me what’s wrong?” she asked.

He looked at her, all his despair and sorrow plainly obvious in his eyes. “I said awful things.” He told her. “And I didn’t really mean them.”

Tifa sighed and considered her response carefully. “You were angry. And that’s understandable, after everything that’s happened it was maybe a bit much to expect you and Marlene to take this news in good grace.” She smiled to reassure him that she wasn’t angry. “But it’s ok to be angry sometimes Denzel and its ok for you to have an opinion on what happens here. This is your home too.”

He swallowed and nodded and looked away from her, embarrassed now. “Why does Cloud want to bring them here?” he asked.

Tifa took the question as a good sign, though she could still hear the despondent air behind it. At least he wasn’t shouting again. “Sweetie, you remember me telling you why I wore this ribbon?” she asked, and he nodded. She had told him all about Aerith, and what she had done to help them stop Sephiroth. It had become his favourite bedtime story because it was a true story involving his very own hero, Cloud.

Which was why he was so angry now. She could understand it, Cloud was away, at the WRO headquarters seeing to the same three who had kidnapped Denzel and Marlene, and not only that, but he wanted to bring them home. It was always hard when your hero didn’t act in the way you’d come to believe he would.

“Well, Aerith still speaks to us, not all the time, and some of us can’t hear her so well. But Cloud can hear her, better than any of us, and she asked him to do her a favour. She asked him to make sure that those three were given a second chance.”

“But why?” he asked.

She smiled and shook her head. “Everyone in the whole wide world deserves a second chance Denzel, because sometimes, if you offer it to them they can show you a side to themselves that you could never believe possible.” She rubbed a finger between his eyes, where a frown line was forming, forcing it to smooth out, before tracing upwards to where the Geostigma had been at its worst. “I’m not saying that everyone will change, in fact, most adversaries you face all your life will never show you more than one side, no matter how many chances you give them. But some are just waiting for the chance to change, some people are trapped, maybe by what someone has told them, or has done to them. Maybe they’ve been hurt in the past, or maybe someone is still hurting them when you meet them. Sometimes all they need is someone to listen, and to believe in them.”

She looked to see if he was following this, he looked at little confused, but he nodded for her to continue, so she did. “Aerith has faith that those three can change. She told me that Jenova had hurt them, had manipulated them into doing what they did. That they had never been shown love.”

“Never?” Denzel asked.

“Never. I can’t even imagine what it must be like to have never known love. I always knew my mother loved me and it broke my heart when my mother died, but I don’t think I would trade any of my precious memories of her.”

“Neither would I…” Denzel whispered, and Tifa gave him an encouraging smile, it wasn’t often he brought up his parents in conversation, and even something as small as this could ease the pain, at least a little.

“So you see, she asked Cloud to try, to maybe help show them that there’s more to life than Jenova. That’s why he’s there now, and that’s why he’ll be asking them to come back here.” She pulled him back in for a hug when he tensed a little at that. “It’s not set in stone yet Denzel. They might not want to stay here with us. But if you don’t feel comfortable then I’m sure you could—“

“No!” he cried, pulling back from her and getting to his feet, she looked up at him in surprise. “I don’t want to leave Tifa!”

Tifa closed her eyes and swallowed the lump in her throat, trying to force back the tears that welled up in her eyes. “And I don’t ever want you to leave Denzel.” She told him, blinking to hide how wet her lashes had become. “And if you’re uncomfortable, then we’ll work something out.”

He sighed and moved closer to her again, kneeling back down, and Tifa wasn’t sure exactly how, but somehow they changed positions until she was leaning against the shelves under the bar, uncaring about her comfort, and he curled up at her side, leaning heavily on her.

“This is important to Cloud isn’t it?” he asked.

“Mmm?” she breathed, nodding. “Yeah.”

“Barret doesn’t like it.” Denzel pointed out.

“I know.” Was all the reply Tifa could give.

There was a long silence before Denzel spoke again, long enough for Tifa to once again become lost in her thoughts, most of which centred around how to talk Barret round to their way of thinking how to keep Marlene here, with her, just for a little while longer at least.

“Will he take Marlene away?” it was said with such sorrowful apprehension that Tifa could no longer hold back her own tears and began to cry. She felt Denzel’s arm circle her waist and tighten. She didn’t answer, but she could tell he already knew that she had no way of knowing, to say anything different would be lying.

He said nothing as she cried, just hugged her, and she hugged back, secure in the knowledge that she would not lose him, even if she did lose Marlene. Eventually the tears stopped, but they remained where they were, content to let the time pass. There was so much uncertainty running wild with the whole situation, so much that she was afraid it would rip them all apart.

But she had to trust in Aerith, she had to trust that this was not in vain, that there would be a happy ending. Aerith would not have asked this of them if it would break them she just didn’t have the nature to be cruel in that way. She leaned down and pressed a soft kiss to Denzel’s hair, closing her eyes and breathing in his scent. She had been so worried that she would lose him, seeing him standing there, blank and under Jenova’s control, she had thought for an instant that the Denzel she had grown to love, the scrappy little boy who had stolen a piece of her heart, would never return.

Sometime later the insistent ringing of the phone woke her from the doze she had fallen into and she groaned as her back protested to the position she had been sleeping in. The phone rang off but she gently woke Denzel anyway, this wasn’t the best place for sleeping, he woke groggily and she smiled.

“Come on, maybe you should go to bed.” She urged. It was still early, they hadn’t been sleeping long, but it was obvious that the upset had tired him out completely. He nodded slowly and got his feet, Tifa stood too, and stretched the kinks out, she smiled when she saw just how adorable Denzel was when he was tired. “Go on.”

“Wake me when Cloud comes home?” he asked.

She rested a hand on his hair. “I promise.” She told him, shooing him towards the stairs. The phone started ringing again and she turned to answer, lifting the receiver. “Seventh Heaven bar, Tifa Lockhart speaking.”

“Tifa?”

“Cloud?” she was surprised, she hadn’t expected him to call, just turn up unexpectedly, like he had in the past. She glanced behind her to see Denzel had stopped and was looking at her curiously.

“Tifa, we’re on our way home.”

Vague as always. “Are you bringing them back with you?” she asked, knowing Denzel could hear, but perhaps it would be best if he had some warning one way or another.

“Yeah.” She looked across at Denzel and nodded slightly, knowing he would understand. All the emotions he had been feeling since she had first told him about this were plainly visible, but he surprised her with a look of determination. “But we’re going to have to find someplace else for them to live. They’ll only be staying until then.”

“Really?” she asked. “They decided this?”

“Yeah, but they can’t stay at the WRO until then. I’ll tell you about it when we get back. Do we have somewhere to put them for a few nights?”

She had already been thinking of clearing out the attic for them if they had been staying, but if it was only going to be until they found them somewhere else then she had just the place. “As long as you don’t mind giving up your office, and they don’t mind camping out on the floor.”

“I don’t think they’ll mind.”

“Ok, hang on just a minute.” She set the receiver down on the counter and went to Denzel and smiled a little uncertainly. “Cloud’s coming home tonight. And he’s bringing them with him.” The determination she had seen warred for a moment with resignation and she reached down, tipping his chin up so he looked at her. “But they’ll only be staying a few days. Do you think you can handle that?”

He blinked and considered what she’d said, finally nodding. She smiled her thanks. “Ok, could you go and get three sleeping bags from my room cupboard and set them up in Cloud’s office for me. And try and get some more sleep, you look tired.”

He nodded again and turned to leave, she had just turned back, ready to pick the phone back up when she heard a soft, “Tifa.” And she glanced back to see Denzel’s head peeking round the door jamb. He seemed to struggle with something for a moment. “I… we… I mean Marlene and me… we love you, you know.” And his cheeks turned red and he disappeared round the door. Her fingers curled tight around the receiver of the phone, and she swallowed back the tears as she listened to him bound up the stairs. Blinking rapidly she swallowed again before lifting the phone back to her ear.

“Cloud.”

“Tifa? Are you alright?”

Did she sound as close to tears as she felt? She let out a small laugh. “I’m absolutely fine. So, what’s your ETA?” she asked.

“About an hour and a half as soon as we get ourselves on the Airship.”

“Ok, I’ll have something to eat ready.” She told him. “And Cloud, you need to talk with Denzel when you get back.”

There was silence on the other end, and then a small sigh. “I guess I do. Are you sure you’re alright?”

She smiled, her eyes drifting to the ring on her right hand, his promise to her. “I’ll tell you about it when you get here Cloud, but it’s not a bad thing.”

“Ok, I’ll be home soon.”

“Bye.” She replaced the receiver and leaned against the counter, glancing up at the ceiling as she heard Denzel’s footsteps in Cloud’s office, his words reverberating in her head, and settling warmly into her heart.

She wasn’t sure how long she had been there, when Barret’s hulking frame appeared in the doorway, startling her, and she quickly steeled herself to hear him say that he was taking Marlene away.

Chapter Text

Barret was not a man who admitted he was wrong often, but he could admit it. And as he stood in the doorway to the bar, watching Tifa, he could see he had been wrong. Wrong to start talking about taking Marlene away somewhere safe. Marlene had always been safe with Tifa. But the whole situation was just… it was getting too out of control. It was mind boggling to think that Cloud would ever take in something that was a part of Sephiroth.

Wasn’t it bad enough that they had tried to bring back the original Sephiroth? They were obviously evil and given a chance they would do it all again, or maybe do something even worse. It hurt Barret more than he could even begin to describe to think that Marlene might end up hurt, or even dead, when the inevitable rampage came.

He sighed, and could see that the sound startled Tifa who turned to look at him, apprehension clear in all her movements. Barret sighed again and stepped into the bar. It was time to set the girls mind at ease.

He could remember his first meeting with Tifa, then only eighteen and already working hard at making the Seventh Heaven Bar a haven in the sector seven slums. He’d not thought a lot of her at first, until Marlene, who up until that time hadn’t shown a single sign that she liked other people at all, had happily attached herself to Tifa’s leg one evening when he’d gone in to have a drink, it hadn’t taken long after that for him to start seeing Tifa like a little sister, and she had never once complained about him leaving Marlene with her while he did Avalanche business.

“Had a talk with Marlene.” He said, cursing the fact that it was just difficult to admit that he’d been too hasty. “Seems she’d prefer it if I stayed here for a while.”

He looked away from Tifa’s surprised expression and sighed again. “You gotta understand Tifa, all I want is for Marlene to be safe. That’s all I ever wanted. And this damn fool idea of Cloud’s… it ain’t gonna be safe, an’ I just can’t get why none o’ ya see it ‘sides me.” He looked back at her, willing her to understand his side.

She stepped forward and put a hand on his arm. “Barret, nothing is safe, we can try all we want to make it that way, we can fight a hundred Sephiroth’s, take on a hundred Jenova’s, but we’re never going to be able to make the world completely safe. Marlene could trip and fall down the stairs and break her neck, it would be tragic, but there is no way we could prevent it. We can’t just wrap her and Denzel up in wool, no matter how much we might want to.”

Barret knew she was right, there were any number of things that could happen, and there was no way he could stop it. But this was something he could stop. “But what Cloud’s doing… it’s like puttin’ a cat in a birdcage, there’s only one way it can go, and it ain’t pretty.”

She sighed and he looked at her. “Don’t you trust Aerith?” she asked him.

Now that was a loaded question. He had loved the girl, hell, it had been hard not to with her personality. He had trusted her when she was alive, but she was dead now. The dead were dead, and they didn’t go interfering with the living. “She’s dead Tifa.” He said simply.

“I know that, but we all wear the ribbons in remembrance of her. And even if she hadn’t asked Cloud to do this, hadn’t asked me to do this, I think we still would have.”

Barret frowned. “What?” Surely he hadn’t heard her right. She would have done this anyway? “Why?”

Tifa smiled. “Because Aerith was forgiving, and if she was alive right now she would be with Cloud at the WRO trying to convince Kadaj and the other two to come with her. Just because she’s not here anymore doesn’t mean we can just conveniently overlook the things we should do. If someone had shown them a bit of compassion, a bit of care then they would never have fallen to Jenova’s will so easily.”

“How can you say that?” Barret questioned her, truly at a loss. “How can you know that they just didn’t do it because they wanted too?” he asked.

She didn’t answer, and Barret thought that he had maybe gotten through to her. If he could just get through to her then maybe he could put a stop to this madness. He was dismayed when she did finally speak.

“I don’t.” she sighed and continued, not looking at him. “I don’t know why exactly they did it, and leaving Aerith aside for the minute then I can see why you’d think they did it because they wanted to. But isn’t it better to give them the chance to prove that they aren’t evil, that they aren’t going to rampage through the streets on a killing spree. If we judge them it makes us no better than Sephiroth.”

Barret shut his eyes and sighed heavily. “I’m not gonna get you ta change yer mind am I?” he asked, she shook her head. “Then I suppose I’d best hang around, make sure they don’t do nothing they shouldn’t.”

The smile she gave him made him feel guilty again, and he had to tell her, for his own peace of mind as well as hers. “You know I wouldn’t just take her and never bring her back for visits. You know that don’tcha?” After everything Tifa had ever done for him, all she had done for Marlene, there was no way he could ever do something so final. He coughed to cover his embarssement and looked away when she looked like she was about to cry and said.

“So when’s spiky bringin’ them in?”

*x*

Marlene was quiet after Daddy had left the room, clutching the small stuffed toy version of Cait Sith Reeve had given her all those years ago after he’d Kidnapped her and Aerith’s mum. Marlene remembered being afraid at first, but after the first two days all the fear had seeped out of her, at least, it did when it was just Reeve with them. The Soldiers, Heidegger and Scarlett were scary, and it had been obvious that Reeve hadn’t wanted to be a part of taking her and tricking Tifa, Daddy and the others.

He’d always been kind, and when he’d found out she’d been having bad dreams he’d brought her the toy cat. She knew Daddy thought it was strange that she enjoyed being with Reeve, whenever he had the time off work to visit, but she had always just known that he was a good person, and that he was being made to do what he did. It had always been like that, for as long as she could remember. Daddy called her special, but she didn’t think he really understood exactly what that meant.

Denzel said it was like a superpower, but Marlene didn’t think it was quite like that either. When she’d asked Tifa once, she had just told her to trust in her heart, and it would never steer her wrong. She could only remember ever choosing to believe in the good in someone for the first time with Reeve, anything before that was a little too faded, and she supposed it was also the first time she had ever been outside Daddy and Tifa’s protection, it was the first time she didn’t have someone she truly loved and trusted to tell her it was ok to speak to that person, or to stay away.

But she had liked Reeve, and it had all worked out, and Reeve had become one of her most favourite people, ranked above Cloud even. In the same way she had known that Reeve wasn’t a bad man, she had gotten a feeling, only a small one, hidden away under all the darkness, that maybe the one called Loz hadn’t been as bad as she’d originally thought. It had been no more than a flicker, and very faint, but she was sure it had been there.

That was why she hadn’t gotten as angry as Denzel had when Tifa had told them what Cloud was doing, and it was also why she had refused to go anywhere with Daddy, not when she knew it would hurt Tifa so very much. She had tried to explain, but Daddy hadn’t really understood. To be honest, Marlene herself didn’t really understand, just that there was a part of her that was just sure that the one called Loz wasn’t all bad, and if he wasn’t all bad, then wasn’t it safe to assume that the other two weren’t all bad either?

Hearing Denzel in the hall she went to the door of their shared room and looked out. “Denzel?” she questioned when she saw him holding three sleeping bags.

He looked over to her and she knew he’d been crying. “Cloud’s coming home tonight. And he’s bringing those three back with him. They’re going to stay in Cloud’s office.”

“Oh.” She stepped out and followed him down and up the other set of steps to Cloud’s office. “Is that ok?” she asked.

He shrugged.

“Did you talk to Tifa?” she asked.

He nodded, and that was all she needed to know. She didn’t like it when the people in the house were fighting. “Is your dad taking you away?”

The question surprised her, but she quickly shook her head. “No. He’s going to stay here for a while instead.” He looked up at her and she smiled at him. “Were you worried?” she asked.

He turned red and deliberately started setting out the sleeping bags. “No, of course not.” He said, but it wasn’t convincing. And she laughed.

When he was done, having put the sleeping bags in a perfect order tweaking them to cover for his earlier embarrassment, they returned to their room. They talked for a while, but Denzel fell asleep less than half an hour later, and not even the sound of the Airship coming to rest over the house, the engines humming, woke him.

Marlene deliberately climbed under her quilt, having changed into her nightdress after Denzel had fallen asleep. She had promised that she would stay in her room tonight, just in case something happened, and though she didn’t think anything was going to happen, she would do as Daddy told her and wait for him to come and say goodnight after everything was sorted out downstairs.

She waited, and listened, hearing footsteps coming up the stairs, there was some talking, but she couldn’t hear the words with the door closed. She buried herself in deeper under the covers as the footsteps soon came towards the door to her room and she could hear Tifa and Cloud speaking.

“Maybe I should wait until tomorrow?” Marlene could almost see the eye roll Tifa gave in response to that and stifled a giggle, Cloud was an idiot sometimes, but he was learning, which was really all Marlene could hope for.

“If you don’t go in and talk to him tonight he’ll think you don’t care. I promised him he could see you tonight, and tired or not he’s going to want to see you.”

Marlene shut her eyes when the door opened, pretending to be asleep, knowing that if they thought she was awake they would feel too embarrassed to talk. Marlene could only be glad that she had Tifa, because boys were very silly creatures sometimes. Why was it so hard for them to say ‘I love you’ to each other?

“Denzel?” she heard Cloud said quietly, and it took a minute before Denzel muttered something sleepily and woke.

“You’re home?”

Marlene angled her Cat toy up to her face and opened her eyes to slits, she didn’t really mean to be nosy, but she just knew that Cloud was smiling, and he did it so rarely that she wanted just a little peek. Yep, he was smiling, that small smile, the one he used when he was watching Tifa work and thought no one could see him, or when she showed him the newest dance she’d learnt at the little club down the road, or when Denzel gushed over his swords, asking a million questions about them, she didn’t know the exact word for the emotion behind it, but it was her favourite Cloud smile. She closed her eyes again and listened.

“Yeah.”

“Are they here?”Denzel asked, a lot more awake now.

“Yeah, they are, but only for a few days, until Reeve can find us a place for them.” There was a long silence. “While they’re here, just be careful not to startle them, ok. I expect they might spend most of their time in my office, but just in case they do decide to explore a bit, try and stay with one of us, at least until we see if they are trustworthy, ok?”

“Ok…”

“Maybe you should go back to sleep, Tifa told me you were a bit upset today.”

“I wasn’t upset! I was… I was just…”

“Hey, it’s been a stressful couple of months, the last few days especially. You’re allowed to be upset… or at least that’s what Tifa keeps telling me when I get that way.”

“Really?”

Marlene could only assume Cloud nodded in response, and then there was silence, broken only by Denzel moving to get comfortable.

“What’s say we go do something, once I get those three settled?” Cloud asked.

“Something?” Denzel asked dubiously.

Cloud let out a little huff that could have been a laugh, or confusion. “Yeah, something. You pick.”

“Just the two of us?”

“If you want. But that rules out the Golden Saucer, it wouldn’t be fair on Marlene.”

“Or Tifa.” Denzel yawned.

The sound Cloud made then was definitely a fond laugh. “Yeah, or Tifa. Goodnight Denzel.” He got up and went to the door, pausing long enough to say. “Goodnight Marlene.” Marlene wasn’t sure if he’d realised she was awake or not, but she decided to keep up the pretence of sleep as he left the room.

The next thing she remembered was Daddy kissing her forehead and whispering. “Night Baby girl.” To which she mumbled out a sleepy “Night Daddy.” And fell back to sleep immediately.

Chapter Text

The town of Edge looked peaceful early in the morning.

Not nearly as peaceful as the Ancients city, but serene in its own way. The only reason Kadaj knew this was because he had been leaning against the window of the room Big Brother had given them last night, trying his hardest not to fall back to sleep. The Fit had left him tired, as all his fits did; but it had been such a long time since he had had one like this. He was awake only by sheer force of will, and just as soon as his brothers returned safely from downstairs he would gladly go back to sleep.

It hadn’t felt right letting his brothers leave the room without him, but if he was being honest, if only to himself, then he knew there was no way he could have made it down the stairs without falling flat on his face, making it up them last night had been difficult enough. He had managed it though, and without having to lean on his brothers to do it. He could not afford to show any weakness, not to any of them.

Their entrance into the bar Big Brother lived in had only solidified his worries about this group of people, and it had made him all the more certain that they should go, get as far away as possible. Perhaps they could return to the City of the Ancients. They had been happy there, and it was big enough to hide in, should anyone come after them. But first he had to rest, he had to regain his strength. He had to wait for the shaking to stop, and it was far easier to do that here, despite being surrounded on all sides by the enemy, than at the place Big Brother swore was not a Lab but was.

It would also be far easier to get away from here than the Lab, with all its camera’s and soldiers around every corner.

Tifa… he was sure that was the name Big Brother had introduced her as, had told them, when she’d come to leave some food in the room, that they were welcome to have whatever they wanted, in terms of food, and even Kadaj, in his post Fit paranoia believed her to be sincere. Which was the only reason he had agreed to let his brothers leave the room to get them some food. Loz would protect Yazoo if something did happen, and he would be able to hold his own for long enough, just until his brothers could reach him, he had enough faith in himself for that.

Big Brother… Should he call him Cloud now? After all, they weren’t related, and nowhere near as close as he Loz and Yazoo were. They weren’t even of the same blood, despite the Jenova cells in each of them. Yes, perhaps Cloud was a better choice of address, less intimate, and far less trust inducing

Kadaj shook his head in an effort to clear his mind, and to keep sleep at bay. He turned away from the window and looked down at the tangle of sleeping bags before forcing his eyes up and to the door. Surely they had been gone long enough. It didn’t take that long to pick out a few tins of food and take them back. He bit back a groan when he realised that he had let Loz and Yazoo go down and scavenge, neither had a good track record when it came to doing things quickly.

It was still early though, so hopefully they would return before anyone else got up.
He left the window and sank gratefully down into the chair Loz had moved close by for him, his entire body felt heavy. He tipped his head back until it thudded lightly against the wall, with just enough force to shock his brain more awake. He hated Fit’s, hated the way they made him feel. They could be treated by drugs, but Kadaj didn’t know the correct combination of them, and he figured that most of them had been experimental and had likely been destroyed with the labs and the scientists. They were his control mechanism, a way to leave him unable to fight them, and for that he hated them, the scientists.

He had almost gotten used to not having the fits anymore, since Moth… No, since Jenova had been in his head he hadn’t had a single one. It was the only thing he could now honestly be thankful to her for, and even then he hated her for letting him experience so long without them. But he was glad she was gone, and was horrified when he thought of what he and his brothers had done while under her spell. He was not so much horrified by what he himself had done, after all, it was more in his nature to do things like that, but she had come far too close to twisting his brothers into the beasts their scientists wanted them to be, and he had let it happen.

That was the part Kadaj hated the most, the fact that he had let it happen. How could he have ever believed that allowing her to change him into Him, Sephiroth, would benefit his brothers? He snorted in some amusement at the thought of the great Sephiroth, the perfect one, looking after Loz and Yazoo, it would have been a disaster.

He blinked his eyes back open and glared at the ceiling. What were those two doing down there? It felt like he had been waiting for hours. If they didn’t come back up in the next five minutes he was going to look for them.

The next time his eyes opened it was to yelling, loud and shrill and coming from beneath the floor. He looked blearily around the room, and was immediately seized by fear when he realised Loz and Yazoo weren’t back. When the yelling cut off with a piercing scream of attack Kadaj was on his feet and opening the door before his body reminded him that he was still too tired and weak to be doing this. But when he heard the crash of something below him smashing he shoved the feeling aside and stepped out, stumbling the few steps down from the room.

He was brought up short when he almost smashed into Cloud, and was surprised when the older man reached out to steady him.

“Yuffie’s not in the kids room!” Tifa called from the doorway of said room.

Cloud sighed and looked at Kadaj. “I’m going to assume Loz and Yazoo are downstairs too?” he asked.

Kadaj nodded warily, but defended their actions quickly. “She said we could!” and pointed over Cloud’s shoulder towards Tifa.

Cloud blinked and looked confused for a moment and Kadaj braced himself to try and break out of his admittedly light grip to try and reach his brothers first. It looked like they would need to be making their escape sooner than planned.

Cloud glanced down the stairs to the bar and something close to a wry smile appeared on his face. “Oh, I know exactly who’s to blame for this, and it’s not your brothers.” Cloud gave him a reassuring nod and let him go before quickly taking the stairs down at a speed Kadaj envied right now.

Kadaj wavered a little as he stood, surprised by how easily Cloud had dismissed the idea of Loz and Yazoo causing the trouble. He started when he realised the woman, Tifa, had come to stand beside him, she offered him what might have been a friendly smile, but the winch that crossed her face as another crash was heard downstairs quickly told him it was forced.

“I’m thinking you want to get downstairs too.” She said, her voice deceptively light and cheery, and Kadaj didn’t like it, it wasn’t the same kind of fakeness as the scientist had used when testing him, but it was still fake, and Kadaj found that grating, but he nodded, because he did want to get down the stairs.

She didn’t offer to help him, though he knew it was painfully obvious that he was far too worn out to be doing this. After a few steps he dismissed her as non-threatening, and focused his attention on the sounds of the fight below. Cloud had joined those below and was calling for them to stop, but he was met only by the sounds of splintering wood and falling bricks.

“Not my bar!” he heard Tifa beg. “Please don’t let them be ruining my bar!”

Kadaj finally reached the bottom step, he ignored the door to the bar in favour of looking into the kitchen, and he breathed a sigh of relief when he saw Yazoo inside, looking bewildered. He ignored the sharp intake of breath from behind him and entered the kitchen. Yazoo reached forward and caught him before he could fall.

“What happened?” he asked.

Yazoo pointed to the small counter off to one side, where a plate of pancakes sat, the one’s he and Loz called ‘Yazoo’s surprise’ because they were made of such a mismatch of ingredients which always seemed to work well with each other.

“Pancakes?”

Kadaj looked over his shoulder to see Tifa fuming, a far more honest reaction, and one that put him at ease, simply because he knew how to deal with that, but before he could say anything, though whether he was going to defend his brothers or simply say ‘Yes’ because he was just too tired to do anything else, Yazoo had gently pulled him in closer and nodded slowly.

“She—“ Tifa spun on her heel and marched out and into the wreckage of the bar.

Kadaj closed his eyes for a second and shook his head, hoping to clear it enough to let him make his way out to see what had happened to Loz. These people couldn’t be trusted, they could turn on Loz in an instant. He just had to…

“Sit.” Yazoo said softly, pushing him back and into a chair. He said nothing else, but that wasn’t any surprise, Yazoo rarely spoke unless he absolutely had too most times, that he was speaking at all was a miracle given the past few days.

“How can you be so calm?” Kadaj found himself asking. “And what are you doing?” It was possible he was just seeing things, but Yazoo was back at the stove and cooking again.

“Too many mouths.” Was the cryptic response. “Loz is fine.”

He didn’t want to, but Kadaj was soon lulled to sleep by Yazoo’s unconcerned behaviour, and was soon dozing fitfully, unaware that the moment his eyes closed Yazoo turned, worried, to look at the mess beyond the broken door. He wasn’t worried about Loz, the part of him that didn’t exist wouldn’t let him be worried about such an insignificant thing.

There was something much bigger coming

*x*

It was the clang that woke him, or rather, not so much the actual clang itself, but the sound of something wrong with his ship. It dragged him up and out of his well earned rest. With a muttered curse he sat up, shoving that ridiculous claw of Vincent’s aside, cursing again when it caught on his t-shirt, he immediately started to untangle it.

“Need some help?”

Cid glared balefully to the man lying beside him, who still had his eyes closed. “Nah, I’m doing jus’ fine on my own thanks.” The sarcasm in his voice was heavy. He smiled in victory as he managed to free himself. “We gotta get you a hand like Barret’s. I can’t keep doing that every morning.”

Red eyes opened to slits, and Cid could feel them watch him as he pulled his goggles on round his neck. “You’re not going to change?”

He looked back at Vincent and frowned, glancing down at himself. “Somethin’ wrong with what I got on?” he asked. Vincent’s eyes drifted down to his pyjama bottoms, his meaning perfectly clear without words. Cid looked down again, his bottoms were perfectly comfortable, and he happened to like the little rocket ships. Someone had bought them as a joke for him, obviously the joke was now on them. He waved his hand at Vincent, reaching up to push his goggles into their customary position. “Everyone knows better than to be commentin’ on my clothes. An’ you ain’t one ta talk with yer getup.”

He made his way to the door, looking back when he heard Vincent getting out of bed. “Ain’t no need for you to get up ya know.” He said, frowning as a yawn crept up on him, when he opened his eyes again after it was to find Vincent already pulling on his cape, which looked ridiculously funny worn over the good black trousers and jumper Shera had bought for him. He grinned but said nothing.

Vincent frowned at the grin when he saw it. “There is no reason for you to get up either Highwind, your crew is more than capable of handling whatever problems arise in your ship.”

Cid rolled his eyes. “I wouldn’t trust ‘em as far as I could throw ‘em. Maybe when I get the fleet up an’ running properly I can get some of them engineering one’s on board. ‘Till then I’m all my birds got.” He pulled open the door and stepped out. “An’ how many times I gotta tell you, call me Highwind once more and I will clock ya one!” he called out as he left.

He was ten steps from his room when he realised he didn’t have his cigarette’s on him, and with his third, and most colourful round of cursing of the morning he turned back, only to be brought up short when he realised Vincent was right behind him, a moment later he realised Vincent was carrying his cigarettes, he reached out to snatch them.

“Yer a lifesaver Vince.”

Vincent let the packet go, and Cid knew his bemused smile was being hidden behind the collar of his cape, which was fine, because Cid knew it was there and that was all that mattered. “Don’t go climbing around on the hull without a safety harness this time.” Was all he said, brushing past and continuing down the corridor, as if he had somewhere to be.

Cid frowned after him, taking out a cigarette and lighting it, shaking his head as Vincent disappeared round the next corner and out of sight. “Fall one time and I never get to live it down, not like I never saved his ass enough times for him to return the favour.” He muttered. Taking the opposite corridor to the one Vincent had disappeared down, Cid made his way towards the wheel room. To get there he had to pass the door to the outside, which was open, and three of his crew were standing around it, peering down.

There was shouting coming from below. Curious he made his way over, smirking at the way the three nosy parkers jumped and saluted, trying to look like they hadn’t just been eavesdropping on what was admittedly a rather loud argument going on below. Ignoring the three for the moment he stuck his head out to see what was going on.

It surprised him for a second when he saw that it was Tifa who was doing most of the shouting, most of which was directed at Yuffie. Cloud and that Loz one, were standing just over to the side. Curious now he grabbed hold of the handle on the wall beside the door and leaned out, Tifa yelling like that was so unheard of that he just knew something serious had probably happened; and in the current clime, with all the anger about the clones going around it was better to nip this sort of thing in the bud.

“What th’ Hell is going on that ya hadda wake me up for?” he yelled down, drawing all their attention to him. “Aww, Hell, never mind, I’ll come down.” He pulled himself back in to find the three crewmen holding the rope ladder out to him, each of them looking a little too eager for him to go. With a suspicious glare he took the ladder and dropped it over the side.

As he climbed down he could hear Tifa once again start leathering into Yuffie, and he could well imagine what she had done, picked a fight with the clones most like, even though she’d been warned off doing it. But then, Yuffie was never really known for her brains, still too much a little kid. Hell, they were all little kids when it came to just about everything. It was like being some sort of father or uncle, hanging with this group. Or at least that was what it always felt like to Cid.

Even when he was Mayor of Rocket Town he hadn’t had to deal with half the stuff he did when he was with this lot; even Barret, who was older than him by a good three years, on occasion behaved no better than a kid without a grasp on his temper. Now Cid didn’t claim to be a perfect man, or even a good one, but he’d at least learned how to fend for himself without needing someone else to step in and sort things out.

He didn’t hold it against the rest of them, they all had their reasons for being the way they were, most of those reason’s dark, and none of them had ever been shown the right way to deal with it, which was simply, Move on, because the futures always brighter than the past. The only blip on his otherwise spotless slate, was the Shera and the Rocket incident. But to his credit flying that rocket into space had been his dream, and one he was undertaking in the name of his mother, who had died just months before the space programme became a big thing on ShinRa’s agenda. He’d thrown himself into working on those Rockets, determined to make it into space, until the incident he hadn’t ever really let himself grieve for his mother, which was why he was sure he had clung to his anger at Shera for so long.

He landed on the ground with a thump and turned. “Wha’ happened?” he asked.

Tifa was making a desperate attempt to curb her temper, out of everyone she was the most like him, able to deal with her emotions and not dwell so much on the past. “There was a fight Cid, no need to worry about it.” She told him.

“Come on now, you think I’m an idiot? Yer yelling Tifa, you don’t ever yell. An’ not only that, but yer yelling outside, where anybody can get an earful and take a look over the fence.” He nodded over towards Loz. They had decided last night that it would be better to keep the clones presence muted, at least until the memory of what they had done had time to settle a little in the minds of the others in Edge.

He saw the moment Tifa understood what he meant, and she looked apologetic and worried all at once. She immediately turned her attention from yelling to ushering Loz and Cloud back in doors. It was only then that Cid realised something was wrong. He quickly reviewed what he had said and nodded, turning his attention to Yuffie. She had passed up a perfect opportunity to mock him, and from the way she was trying studiously not to make eye contact he knew she’d done something he wouldn’t like.

Very slowly he tipped his head back to look at the Shera.

There was a long scratch under the prow of the ship, with Yuffie’s pointed whatever-it-was-called sticking in. The electronics for the wheel room were in that area. If she had damaged them he would kill her.

“Yuffie.” He said, as calmly as he could.

She squeaked in response and dived behind Tifa, who shook her off with a glare. “Oh no, you wrecked my bar, if he wants to kill you I’m not stopping him.”

“But it wasn’t just me who—“

“You picked a fight with him over pancakes! The blame lies totally at your feet here.”

“But Tifa-!”

“Yuffie?” Cid said again, very carefully dropping his cigarette butt to the ground and crushing it under his boot. “Do you have any idea what I’m going to do to you if you’ve hurt my baby?”

“It’s a ship, Cid, not a baby, and it’s nothing a bit of paint won’t fix…” she tittered uneasily, she only ever used his name when she was genuinely uneasy about something, normally when she knew she was about to get her ass kicked for pulling some stupid stunt on him.

Cid took one step forward, and that was all that was needed to send Yuffie off like a bat outta hell towards the front of the bar, skirting the building. Cid grinned, self satisfied. Let her worry, because she’d need all the time she could get to come up with a way to talk him out of what he was going to do to her if she had damaged his ship. He turned his attention back to the others.

There was a thump behind him, and Cid turned to find Barret standing at the bottom of the rope ladder, glaring over his head at Loz, who Tifa was trying to usher back inside through the new hole in her wall. Cid fought back the urge to roll his eyes and sigh. Today was beginning to look like a bad day, a real bad day.

~*~

Nanaki often lamented being of a different species to the others in the group; it made it easier for them to overlook him. He didn’t blame them for it, it was just one of those things that happened, and he knew they didn’t mean to. The fact that the only one he was eye level with was the robotic cat also wasn’t very helpful, because unless it was Reeve’s voice coming through those speakers, Cait Sith’s input was often overlooked too.

Which was a shame, because the robot was quite insightful in his own right.
But despite the frustration of being so often overlooked for his opinion in matters, it was being overlooked that afforded him the chance to observe, allowing him a deeper insight than the humans would have seen.

He had been sleeping outside, stretched out over the grass behind the bar when the violence had erupted. Knowing better than to become involved in a fight like this he stayed back, watching. He was quick to see that although Yuffie was putting all her effort into doing some kind of damage to Loz, Loz himself was simply playing.

There was no other word for it. He was fighting and he was enjoying himself, like he was playing a game and not trying to protect himself from the onslaught of blows. Oh, he fought back, but there was no real force behind any of his hits. Nanaki watched until Cloud and Tifa had finally managed to break them up, but he did not step in, content for the moment to watch, to observe and to learn what he could of the clones.

Loz was instantly contrite, and clearly confused. It was clear to see that he realised that the damaged caused was obviously a big deal, but he had been enjoying himself, something Nanaki doubted the clone had had the chance to do often. It was also clear that Tifa’s anger at Yuffie was confusing him greatly as well, Nanaki knew Tifa well enough to know that she would not single one of them out for no reason.

When Cid landed on the scene, Nanaki took this to be his cue to leave, Cid was much like himself, the voice of reason, albeit in a far more aggressive way than Nanaki himself, which meant he was far better suited to dealing with the other humans when they were irate.

Nanaki made his way inside, sighing to himself when he saw the wreckage. There was a gaping hole in the wall, and the bar itself looked like it had been hit by a tornado. At the far side of the room the long haired brother, the one they called Yazoo was straightening a table and arranging a large number of chairs around it.

“Yazoo stop it.” Kadaj muttered, and Nanaki looked at him, seated on the chair closest to the wall, leaning his head back, clearly drained.

“Too many people.” Yazoo responded cryptically.

Kadaj sighed, clearly the words did not confuse him as they did Nanaki. “Why do you even care? We won’t be staying here much longer, and once we’re gone we won’t be coming back. You never get attached to anything, so why are you starting now.”

Yazoo stopped arranging the chairs and faced his brother. “Because it is important.”
Kadaj sighed, and either he accepted Yazoo’s explanation, or he was just too tired to argue further, because his eyes closed and his head dropped back.

Nanaki remained silent, slinking into the bar slowly; but he was surprised to see Yazoo’s head turn and his eyes fix easily on him. Their gazes locked for a short time before Yazoo broke the gaze and returned to what he was doing. Nanaki came closer, watching him carefully, curious.

Yazoo set the table, quickly and efficiently, and was just placing a plate of pancakes onto the table, after having deposited a number on a plate he had set down close to Nanaki, when everyone poured in through the hole in the wall.

Faced with breakfast not a single one of them knew how to react, though Loz did quickly make his way across the room to get himself into the best possible position to protect his brothers. Breakfast was muted affair, not even Marlene, when she bounced downstairs not long after could lift the mood any.

Only when the three had retreated back upstairs afterwards did the atmosphere change and a heated round of quiet arguments began.

Chapter Text

Loz had always found working on something with an engine incredibly soothing; but he had never tinkered with anything that hummed and vibrated to a low, steady beat, feeling just a little bit alive under his fingers.

He had been surprised when Cid had accepted his hesitant offer to help patch up the ship; after all, it had been partially his fault, he could have ended the fight at any time; but it had been such a long time since he had just fought someone for the sake of it, with no motive, violence or intent behind it save to enjoy the experience. He was sure the girl did not see it that way, she had been very serious in her attempts to kill him, but he had known he had nothing to worry about; nothing short of a shot to the head would do any truly terrible damage.

He had been created to be the human equivalent to a battle tank, to be as indestructible as living flesh could be. It had its advantages.

He and Cid hung from harness’s below the prow of the Airship, Cid had been adamant she not be moved as the only open ground to set her down was outside city limits, too far away should anything happen. Loz was silently and secretly glad of this decision, he would not have liked to be too far from his brothers.

“Hey Kid.”

Loz glanced across at the man; they had been working in silence for nearly half an hour, broken only by muttered curses, and vague threats of death, all centred around the girl. Loz had expected everyone to immediately pin the blame on him and his brothers, but as of yet no one had even mentioned his involvement; except the black man with the mechanical arm, but he had been distracted by the little girl; the one he had taken at the church.

“Yes?” he was wary, understandably. He was waiting for the other shoe to drop.

“Yer brother, Kadaj. What’s his problem?” Cid did not look at him, concentrating on smoothing down one of the jagged ends on the tear so he could get his hand inside where Loz could see some sort of mechanics, and wires. It was like he was just making conversation, like the answer didn’t matter, but Loz know better, even if his social education had been lacking, and their isolation since their escape had made it near impossible to interact with regular people.

He thought quickly, hoping to find some way to answer without really answering.

“I want the truth Kid. We can’t help you unless we know what the hell’s wrong. So far you and Yazoo have shown us you ain’t all that dangerous, an’ that ya can keep Kadaj’s fits o’ temper in check. But ya gotta know, he’s the one that everyone is gonna be watching, if he puts a foot wrong there ain’t gonna be anything me or the others are gonna be able to do to stop others killing him if they think they have a justification. So, you tell me what his problem is and we can start trying to find ways to fix it, or at least limit the damage if it does happen.”

Loz, who had been watching Cid the whole time blinked slowly. Cid had still not looked up, still just as focused on the stubborn bit if hull as he had been before.

Could he trust him?

Could he explain the fits? He knew that Kadaj would be the most likely of all of them to start something that could endanger them. Not of his own will, but if he was having a particularly bad fit there would be nothing that could stop the destruction; and it could be mistaken as a deliberately malicious attack, even if it wasn’t. If he told, explained, made even this one man understand, would it help?

“Kadaj…” he had made his decision, likely the hardest decision of his life. But he knew, if they were to make a new life for themselves they would have to start trusting. It seemed like Cid would have to be the first.

“When we were in the labs they used to have him on a lot of different drugs. I don’t know what they used, and neither does he. When we got out he started to have fits… some of them weren’t too bad, just left him tired. Others made him get violent, he attacked everything. It took a long time for me to realise what was wrong. He wouldn’t tell me… Yazoo always knew, when a fit was coming.” He clarified, turning his attention to the ship and the area he had been charged with fixing, hoping to hide his shame. “At the labs they gave him tests.” He continued quietly. “Things to challenge him, time limits, things that would keep his mind active and focused, things that would make him a better killer. When we escaped there wasn’t all that structure, and there wasn’t anymore drugs. It was hard for him. He has a… a suicide protocol; they brainwashed it into him or something.”

Loz closed his eyes, hand clenched hard around the tool in his hand, mind flashing back to that terrible day when he had found Kadaj seizing on the dirt floor of the cave they had been living in, choking on his tongue. But even that was overshadowed when Kadaj had informed him after that he had given in to the overwhelming urge to just swallow his own tongue and end his life.

“When he can’t think his way out of something, or he isn’t being challenged enough he… he’ll…”he flinched away from the words, taking a steadying breath before continuing. “I started sending him out to find things for us, anything to keep him occupied when we weren’t moving. Teaching Yazoo to talk helped, because it took Yazoo a long time to catch on.” There was little more he could add.

There was silence, and Loz could not keep his apprehension in check any longer, and glanced at Cid. The man had finished smoothing down the edge of hull he had been working on and was eyeing the inside, considering, and Loz wondered for a second if his trust had been misplaced.

“I’ll need to tell the others.” Cid said finally, his eyes leaving the ship to lock with Loz’s, steady and honest. “Doubt I’ll be much use, don’t reckon him for the mechanical sort.”

Loz couldn’t stop the snort of laughter at the idea of Kadaj trying to fix up a bike or an airship. Oh, Kadaj had taken a cursory interest, but once he had learnt the basics he had shown no further interest, mechanics were more Loz’s area of expertise. “No, no, definitely not mechanically minded at all.”

Cid smiled easily. “Figured. Not to worry though, Tifa and Reeve will come up with something.”

Loz tried to put a face to the name Reeve before recalling the man Kadaj had nearly killed. His concern must have shown on his face because Cid reached across the space between him and gave his arm a reassuring pat.

“Reeve doesn’t know how to hold a grudge kid, don’t worry about it.”

Loz found himself inclined to believe him.

The both returned to their work, and soon only muttered curses broke the comfortable silence once again.

~*~

More often than not Reeve felt out of touch with those he considered his friends and allies. After ShinRa had fallen he had been content to fall back into what he did best, building. He had laid out tentative plans for the construction of Edge, intending to only offer up plans, to get the rebuilding started. He had not expected to become the CEO of the World Regenisis Organisation. That had happened by accident, and was entirely the fault of a certain loudmouthed pilot.

So, following a comedy of errors and miscommunication, Reeve had found himself the leader of the WRO, terrified that he might become the next ShinRa. It was because of this particular fear that tended to keep him very much separate from those he now considered to be important to him; simply because he had to double and triple check all his orders, all his scientists reports, all his military reports and all his building plan approvals.

He did this, not because he didn’t trust the people he had hired, recruited or otherwise brought under his WRO wing, instead it was because of his own paranoid fear that he might miss something that could so very easily turn into something too big to deal with; something that could turn him into the new ShinRa.

Because of this, Reeve tended to work nearly twice as many hours as anyone else on his staff.

“Hello?” he answered his desk phone with no trace of the fatigue that was creeping in at the edges.

“I don’t think your secretary likes me.”

“Rufus?” Reeve asked, surprised. He had not spoken to Rufus ShinRa in many months, not since he’d made his anonymous donation to the WRO, anonymous in the sense that everyone knew exactly where the money came from, but pretended they did not. They needed the money, but they could not afford the residual stigma of being associated with ShinRa.

“I doubt anyone else would have such a difficult time getting through to you.” Rufus’ tone was wryly amused, and Reeve shook his head with a small smile; despite the younger mans short-comings, Reeve had always had a fondness for him.

“You do have my PHS number.” He reminded him.

“Would this be the same number that keeps sending me straight to voicemail?”

Reeve frowned and reached for his pocket to dig out is PHS, flipping it open when it was free from the confines of his coat. The screen was blank, and hitting the “on” button failed to power it up. “Sorry about that.” He said.

“I would tell you that you are working too hard if you forget to charge your phone…”

It was the note of apology in his voice that alerted Reeve to the fact that there was something wrong; a slip Rufus rarely let show. “But?” he asked. Rufus did not ask for favours, the Turks did not ask for favours, they had even refused his offer of assistance when Rufus had been kidnapped.

“I’ve received a threat.” Rufus told him.

“Against yourself?”

“No, not as such. We are dealing with the situation; but I am willing to admit that there may come a time when we might need some assistance.”

Reeve could hear the reluctance in Rufus’ voice, and he knew it was serious if it had forced Rufus to call in the WRO. “What’s the situation? I’ll have a team set to standby.”

“A Dr. Jameson has made contact in the form of a letter, demanding the return of his clone, or he will wreak havoc with some weapon that can kill without leaving a mark.” Rufus informed said.
Reeve stifled his shock at the mention of the clones; ShinRa meetings had been useful for something beside’s driving him to an early grave after all. “Clones?” he asked, feigning ignorance.

Rufus sighed. “It seems my father and his idiot henchmen were involved in more than just the ridiculous experiments that created Sephiroth. We are verifying the information now, but it seems that the three… lunatics, behind the ‘Reunion’ might actually be clones of Sephiroth as opposed to just Remnants of himself.”

Reeve glanced at the three files at the edge of his desk. “But didn’t Cloud kill them?” he hoped the lie didn’t sound as obvious as it felt.

“Most likely. I’ve got Reno and Rude out searching for their bodies. Tseng and Elena are looking for information on this Dr. Jameson and anything they can find on the clone’s.” There was a rustle of paper on Rufus’ end of the phone, and he was silent for a moment. “I’ve been going through what files I have left looking for whatever this weapon might be, but I have had no luck so far, my best guess is that it is some sort of poison or gas..”

Reeve pulled over a sheet of paper and a pen. “So what sort of resources do you think you’ll need?”

“A containment team. It’s likely that the Turks can handle the scientist. The problem arises if this weapon goes off. My people don’t have the means to stop the spread of an airborne agent.”

Reeve nodded. “Let me know when you intend to move in and I can have a perimeter set up just in case, with some scientists ready to make a counteragent.”

“I wouldn’t ask Reeve,” Rufus began, but Reeve gently cut him off.

“This is bigger than you can handle alone Rufus. There is no shame in asking for help when you need it. There may come a time when the WRO requires your aid.”

That startled a laugh out of Rufus. “An organisation such as yours Reeve?” there was humour behind the words.

“I keep my options open, and one never knows what the future holds.” Reeve told him. “I’ll have that containment team ready and waiting.”

“Thank you.”

When he’d hung up, Reeve dropped his head into his hands for a long moment, weighing his options. Finally he pushed his chair back, and with a determined set to his mouth stood, pocketing his phone and striding out of his office. He paused briefly to tell his surprised secretary to inform the head of security to put together a biological containment team, before he continued his way to the helicopter bay.

It was best if he took this news to Cloud and the others in person.

~*~

“You’re redecorating?”

Reeve had never seen the bar look in such a state. He hadn’t been sure what to think when he’d arrived to find the bar shut and the sounds of heavy work going on within.

“Oh Reeve!” Tifa said from across the room, where she was directing Barret and Cloud in removing the larger pieces of… was that broken wall? Reeve shook his head and stepped gingerly around a stack of broken wood. “Good timing. I was just about to call you.”

“About?” Reeve asked before he realised exactly what she would have been calling him for. “I’ll sign off on the permission when I get back to my office.” He promised. “What happened?”

“We had a bit of an incident earlier.” She told him with a pained look.

“It wasn’t my fault!” Yuffie burst out suddenly, giving Reeve the impression that this was an ongoing argument.

Tifa rolled her eyes. “It started over pancakes and escalated to building demolition and airship defacing.”

Reeve had to fight to keep the chuckle from escaping, taking a quick glance around the room to be sure that Cid was not within sight or earshot. “I take it you’ve had a rather trying morning?”

“It has been that.” Tifa smiled. “What can we do for you. I don’t think you came down to lend a hand.”

Reeve’s amusement faded. “How are your guests?” he asked.

Tifa frowned. “Reeve?” she asked, growing worried.

“We need to talk, and I believe it would be best if your guests were not present, for the moment at least.”

“Kadaj and Yazoo are upstairs, and Loz is with Cid fixing the airship up.”

“Perfect. Yuffie, could you gather everyone else together for me.” Reeve asked.

Yuffie made a huffing sound. “Since when did I become your servant?”

“I don’t have servants Yuffie, only staff.” Reeve reminded her. “And the jobs still there if you want it.”

Yuffie gave an inelegant snort before stomping off to do as she was asked. Reeve watched her go and did his best to contain a weary sigh.

“Sit down Reeve and I’ll get you some coffee.” Tifa said, taking his arm and leading him to an unbroken chair. “You look like you’ve been working too hard again.”

Reeve gave her a grateful smile. “I’m always working too hard.” He said. He was not looking forward to telling the others this new information, not at all. “No rest for the wicked.” He infused as much humour as he could into the words, but from the look on Tifa’s face he could see he had fallen short.

It did not take long for everyone barring Cid and the clones to gather. Reeve waited until they were seated before starting to explain his sudden presence, but he was interrupted before he had even begun to speak by a loud knock on the door.

Chapter Text

Reno was absolutely covered in dust. No amount of patting his clothes down would change that fact. Every single time he moved, it sent up a small cloud that would catch in his throat and send him into a coughing fit. It was during his six hundredth dust induced coughing fit that he decided it was time to call it a day. It was late afternoon now, and he and Rude had been sifting through the rubble that was all that was left of the WRO’S tunnel, searching for some evidence that those freaks were dead, since morning.

Was it too much to ask for a severed arm… or better yet, a head?

Sitting on one of the larger pieces of concrete, he looked over at Rude, who, aside from a thin coating at the bottom of his trousers and his cuffs, had managed to avoid the dust. By comparison, Rude looked pristine, straight out of the Turk box.

Hey Rude!” he called, rubbing the sleeve of his short across his face in a vain attempt to clean the dust off. “What’s say we blow this joint, yo?”

“Hmm?” Rude rumbled in what Reno was going to take as agreement.

“Yo, let’s go get us some alcohol!” he cheered.

“We’re still on duty.” Rude reminded him, but in that way that Reno knew meant he was only saying it for appearances sake.

Reno shrugged easily, grinning. “What Tseng doesn’t know, can’t come back to bite our asses.” He said easily. “Now come on, we have some drinking to do and some helpers to pick up. And I know just the place!” he sprang to his feet.

Rude shook his head in amusement as he made his way to stand beside him. “Don’t you always.” He said, brushing at his cuffs, and Reno could only watch jealously as the dust just fell off.

The walk through the streets of Edge was quiet. It always was as the light began to fade. When Edge had first been established, the people of Midgar who had moved there had had a huge shock when on the first night the small encampment had drawn in all the wild animals. Even now it wasn’t uncommon to see wild animals prowling the streets after nightfall. Children were always inside before dark, and only a small number of adults bothered risking the admittedly small chance of meeting something dangerous on the streets.

The WRO was working to build some sort of safety net to protect the town, but Reno had no idea how close they were to finishing it. For him it was still strange not to be constantly surrounded by hundreds of people be it day or night. When he had been growing up he had often snuck into the sections of Midgar that were under the plate, down there had been even more packed than above the plate, and it was so easy to get completely lost. After all, no one looked twice at some skinny little kid down there so long as they didn’t look rich.

It wasn’t like his mother had ever cared to check up on him.

Thinking of Midgar brought him, as most thoughts inevitably did, back to the problem at hand. The problem that was driving him to seek aid outside of the Turks. Reno couldn’t explain it, but his gut was telling him to go to Avalanche; that they knew something. He had no evidence to back it up, but his intuition had never steered him wrong before.

There was something about this whole thing that just didn’t sit right with him, and one memory kept pushing itself to the forefront of his mind whenever he tried to work out why the situation felt off. It was of his fight with clone 92966, and though there didn’t seem to be anything strange in and of the memory itself, there was just something nagging him. He didn’t have nearly enough pieces yet.

“Just what exactly are you intending to say to Cloud?” Rude asked him, distracting him from his thoughts.

Reno didn’t bother wondering how it was that Rude knew who they were going to see, just shrugged and said. “Don’t know yet. Something.”

Rude made a sound that could have been anything from acknowledgement to derision.

“Something doesn’t fit.” He said suddenly.

“Like?” Rude asked, and Reno was glad his friend knew him well enough to take his changes in conversation in his stride.

“I don’t know yet, just something. I mean, first off, why contact us? Why not the WRO? Everyone knows that Reeve is the one with the big company now, and everyone knows he probably do anything to stop something happening. He also has a hell of a lot more people working for him. So if the guy sending the threat wanted to make sure that this clone of his was found, then setting the WRO on the case would just make more sense.”

Rude made a considering noise and was silent for a long moment. Reno frowned at the road ahead, waiting for a reply. “Maybe he doesn’t want the clone found.”

“But why? I mean, it might be a hoax, but I don’t know, it just doesn’t feel like one.”

It didn’t take long to reach the bar, and Reno frowned, a sharp furrow between his brows when he saw that people who he knew to be regulars there were walking away towards the other bars in the area. “What th’ hell’s this?” he asked, quickening his pace, arriving at the locked door a number of strides ahead of Rude. “Closed?” he scoffed, trying the handle anyway, scowling when the door remained stubbornly locked.

He banged hard on the door.

Speaking with Avalanche could probably wait until tomorrow, but he wanted this done now.

There was no answer, so he banged again. “Open up Tifa! We need to talk to you and Cloud!” he yelled, knowing he would be heard if there was anyone in the building. He waited, staring intently at the door, willing someone to answer it.

The door swung open. “Reno, what a surprise.” Tifa said dryly. “What brings you here?”

Reno smiled his most charming, endearing smile. “Need to talk with you and Cloud. Can we come in for a tick?”

Tifa glanced behind her, and whatever silent communication went on with whoever was behind her ended in his favour, which was really all that mattered, so Reno widened his smile to his winning grin and strode past her when he moved aside. He gave a whistle when he saw the state of the interior. “No wonder your closed.” He said.

“We’re remodelling.” Tifa said easily, true, but Reno could see the lie there. He ignored it for the moment.

“What do you want Reno?” Cloud asked.

Reno flicked his gaze over Avalanche reunited. “Need your help.” He said, doing away with all preamble, it would be wasted anyway.

“No.” came Cloud’s predicable answer.

Reno swallowed his sigh but ploughed on. “We need to find those Sephiroth freaks, or at least their bodies.”

“ShinRa doesn’t asked for help.” Cloud pointed out evenly.

“Actually Cloud.” Reeve cut in smoothly. “they have this time. That was what I was coming to tell you. Rufus called me today to request I have a biological Containment team on standby.”

“How do you know they’re alive.” Tifa asked.

Reno’s eyes darted around the room, reading faces as easily as words and seeing a lot of something he didn’t like. “We don’t, but we’ve been searching all day at the tunnel and come up with nothing. Tseng won’t be happy I’m here, but we’re going to need a lot more than just a containment crew.”

There was a long silence, and Reno watched the silent battle of wills between Cloud and Barret Wallace, and the nervous energy in the air around the group. The only ones who seemed unaffected were Vincent (which was to be expected of a former Turk) and Red XIII. Finally Cloud returned his attention to Reno and said.

“We’ll see what we can do.”

Reno smiled as if he hadn’t just seen everything he had. “Thanks.” He said cheerily. “Let me know if you hear or find anything.” He turned on his heel and gave Tifa a cheeky wink before leaving, Rude a silent shadow.

“They’re hiding something.” He said finally once they had travelled a few streets.

“Yes.” Rude said.

“But what?” Reno snapped his fingers a few times as he thought, a hundred things already flitting through his brain as he considered and disregarded each on in an instant. “We need to keep a watch on them. Forget the tunnel, this is where we need to be.”

“You’d have to tell Tseng about it.” Rude reminded him.

Reno winched, he hated being caught doing something he shouldn’t. “I know, I know. But if they know something then we need to set up a watch. If we get put off the scent by Avalanche and this weapon actually ends up existing then it’s us who are going to get the blame.” Reno heaved a bitter sigh.

Rude would understand. The Turks had been Reno’s life from he was a child, barely even five, if that. They had been his family his whole life, they meant everything to him. He was determined not to let anything happen that would destroy them.

*x*

Elena’s fingers tapped slowly on the keys of the computer, using them to navigate her way through the files and systems left intact after the fall of ShinRa, she had always found it easier to forgo using the mouse. Reno always made fun of the problems she had when she did use one. So far her search had only turned up reports on the Genisis Clones, nothing on Sephiroth clones.

Nothing was available on a Dr. Jameson either.

Blowing out a sigh she clicked another few keys and eyed the system folders on the screen, fourteen uncorrupted folders, each one with a wealth of information on some of the very secret ShinRa projects, dating back as far as ‘62 when the systems had been introduced. There were a few she had marked for further investigation once this situation was solved. However, it was the five corrupted folders that held her interest; it was possible that she might just crash her computer and infect all the current systems in the Lodge, but if she was right…

Without stopping to consider she typed in a command and the first of the corrupted files opened, she caught her lip with her teeth and waited, hoping she was right. The file didn’t load, and the computers security settings just managed to catch the virus before it infected the computer.

Elena frowned, but refused to be deterred, she tried the next file with the same result, but the third yielded a hidden system of files, and she could not hold back a smug smile. Filing away the usefulness of marking an uncorrupted file as corrupted to protect the contents she started to sift through the files inside.

[ 12/04/83
Dr. Henderson
The funding you requested for Project TSC has been approved. Your work has been validated and approved by Dr Hojo, and we look forward to receiving positive word on your work soon.
Priesident ShinRa ]

Elena clicked on the next few files, revealing similar letters.

[ 23/06/1983
Dr. Henderson
Dr. Gray
Dr. Jameson
The shipment of Jenova and Sephiroth cells will arrive on the 31/06/83. There are limited samples at this time so use them wisely. If there are any problems do contact me.
Dr. Hojo ]

[ 31.06.83
Shinra Inc Suppliers
Shipment Details
1x Case of Blood samples (Frozen)
1x Case of Jenova Cells (cloned) (frozen)
4x Cases of Sephiroth blood samples (cloned) (frozen)
3x DNA Analysis Apparatus
12x Cases of 0.02mm needles ]

[ 19/08/1985
Dr. Gray
The company was pleased to hear of your success in creating the Soldier Clone’s. I myself would appreciate an analysis of your work, I am intrigued by the outlines you provided in our last correspondence.
How do you intend to factor in your slower aging process? Will your next batch age more quickly? I have a number of small genetic experiments I could offer up to help you. Though I must admit, it would be ingenious to send an army of small children at the enemy, imagine their surprise at being beaten.
Ingenious!
Dr. Hojo ]

None of the files were labelled, so she could not discern their contents unless she clicked on them, and she did, reading through them quickly before printing them off, searching for something more on Dr. Jameson. Finally she found two.

[ 18/09/1992
Dr. Jameson
Unless we begin to see results in regards to your PO division of project TSC within the next three months we shall be redistributing your funding to the other divisions of this project. We are quickly losing patience in your work Jameson! ]

[ 20/12/1992
Dr. Jameson
As we have received no positive results from your division we are cutting all funding for your project. You may remain on at the institute to continue working on TSC project as a whole.
If at some future point your work becomes valid we may look into funding you again.]

Elena gathered up the printed sheets, and quickly divided them into separate piles, one for Jameson, one for Gray and one for Henderson. Then she went to find Tseng. She found him in Rufus’s study, looking over some old files, making a comment or two to Rufus, who shook his head. Usually she would take the time to admire the man she was in love with, and lament on the fact that he had never taken their relationship past that initial asking for a date. But today she had a mission.

She gave a knock and stepped into the room. “Sir.” She said, nodding her head in respect towards Rufus.

“What have you found Elena?” Tseng asked.

Elena made her way to the desk and set down the information she had found. “Dr Jameson was a scientist working on a project known as TSC, with Dr. Henderson and Dr. Grey. He ran a division known as PO, I’m afraid I haven’t been able to find out what it stands for, the files are limited and none go into great depths to explain anything about the project.” She looked apologetic.

“It’s fine Elena, go on.” Tseng said, already reading through the files. “His funding was cut for his division when he didn’t produce results. My working theory is that one of the clones is his, and might be the only proof of his work.”

“It’s a good theory.” Rufus agreed. “But which Clone was his?”

“Well, Dr. Henderson and Dr. Grey were working on solider clones and infiltration/spy clones, looking back at what we know about the three, I would have to surmise that it was 92966.”

“On what basis?” Tseng asked her, setting the sheets down and looking at her intently. It wasn’t as difficult as it felt to stop the blush from spreading, she was professional.

“From what I can remember of them from our capture.” She began, “and what Reno and Rude and the President reported afterwards, I think we can safely say that 569 is the soldier clone, he’s clearly built for fighting, and he also followed orders. 52325,” she shuddered a little when he remembered him, he had been the one to do must of the questioning. “It’s clear that he was the leader, so obviously he was built for operations where he would need to think for himself, and he was well versed in ways to extract information; so it’s safe to assume that he is the infiltration clone, which leaves the third one, 92966. If Dr. Jameson is looking for any of them, I think it’s most likely to be that one.”

Tseng nodded, and she felt a quick swell of pride. Rufus leaned back into his chair and sighed.

“Recall Reno and Rude. Elena, if you could have another look through the old systems, see if you can find out anything involving the TSC project, anything which might give us a clue to what we’re dealing with.”

Elena nodded and went back to her computer, Tseng already on the phone.

Chapter Text

Tifa had lain awake all night, mulling over what Cid had told her that evening. After Reno and Rude had left, Reeve had explained the situation in more detail. They had held off on discussing it properly until much later in the evening, when the Clones had retired to Clouds office to sleep. Cloud and Vincent would go and ‘lend a hand’ to the Turks, and lead them away from Seventh Heaven as much as possible. Reeve would try and hurry up some alternative accommodation that would be safe.

Cloud had suggested the Ancients City. Yuffie had suggested the old ShinRa building. Cid had pulled her aside while they were arguing over logistics, and simple common sense, and told her what he had learned from Loz about the youngest of the clones.

The following morning she had watched Kadaj covertly. Loz had again dived straight in to helping out, and was working alongside Cid and Barret at the broken wall, widening the gap for the extension she was going to have put in. Reeve had promised he would send some supplies for the building over within the week. Yazoo had allowed Marlene to drag him behind the bar to help her and Denzel sort out the glasses that had survived the fight yesterday.

Kadaj had taken up the role of sentry, taking a seat that allowed him to see both his brothers, his eyes flicking between them constantly. They lingered most often on Yazoo she noticed, and wondered why. But the way he drummed his fingers constantly on either his arm or his knee bespoke of his restlessness. He needed to be doing something. It was almost exactly the way a child with ADHD sat, if they sat at all.

Before the bar had become the bar, Tifa had set it up as a home for children, only for a few months, while families reunited, or new families were found, and she had come across a wide range of children, each with their own problems. She’d had a little girl stay who simply could not stop moving, she needed to be up and doing everything, exploring, cooking, playing, just constantly on the go. Kadaj had that same restless energy, but the only recognition of it was the drumming. It was like someone had tried to force that energy out of him, or driven it inwards, forcing him to direct it in another way, a potentially more dangerous way.

The fits, as she understood them from what she had been told, were a result of all that physical energy being repressed. Her martial arts master had once told her that body and mind needed to be in sync, there needed to be balance. She was well aware that the drugs Kadaj had been subjected to in his youth coupled with the strict training he had probably had to endure in these labs, had resulted in this imbalance, but she might be able to help.

It was clear his mind was in overload, it was moving too quickly, searching for problems that weren’t there, fuelling his paranoia; which was the very last thing they needed. She would be able to help him, but she would need to gain his trust first.

Her mind made up she straightened up from her tidying and made her way to the stairs. His eyes flicked to her and she felt them lingering the whole way. She quickly reached hers and Clouds room and knelt beside her bed, reaching beneath it to find the small box of knickknacks she had collected. Inside was a book on Wutanise. She wasn’t sure if Kadaj had learned the language or not, but maybe it would be a start to gaining his trust. And if he hadn’t learnt it before, then maybe it would keep him occupied for a while.

“Here you go.” She said when she returned, holding the book out to him. His eyes flicked to the book and then up to her, suspicion clear in his eyes. He went completely still and said nothing. Whether he was trying to reign in some sort of reaction, or getting ready to attack she wasn’t quite sure, but she held her ground and continued. “I thought you might like to give it a go, if you haven’t already learnt it that is.”

His eyes flicked away from her to catch sight of his brothers, almost as if he expected them to have vanished in the time his attention had been focused on her. But she was patient, and at last his eyes flicked back to the book.

She smiled slightly, gently. “I’ll leave it here for you.” She sat it down on the table and went back to what she had been doing before. It was a trick she’d learnt with some of the picky eaters, leave them alone and they’d end up eating anyway. So she watched him out of the corner of her eye, and grinned to herself when he finally reached for the book.

~*~

Something was pressing in on him, making him uneasy. He couldn’t tell what it was, it was pulsing out from the part of him that shouldn’t exist, wave upon wave of unease. Something was coming. Something that could not be prevented. It felt like Jenova, consuming and frightening and impossible to fight against.

It was not her though, of that he was certain. ‘Mother’ was gone now, faded entirely to nothing; not even a wisp of her left to torment Kadaj and Loz. Yazoo was glad of that, he had hated watching his brothers become something they were not, despite their training, what their fathers had wanted them to become, they were not killers, but Jenova had tried to change them, to twist them into what their fathers had wanted them to be.

Yazoo had been incorruptible, in a sense at least. She had taken him, but she had not been able to make him into something he wasn’t. She didn’t know what he was supposed to be, she had been limited by what he was, failed.

He shifted, feeling a weight come to rest on his shoulders, uncomfortable and too heavy. He needed to move. He stood, casting his eyes about for Loz and Kadaj. Loz was with Cid, and Yazoo was pleased that someone had taken Loz under their wing, Loz was far more intelligent and companionable than others would believe; he needed someone to nurture that. Kadaj was reading, completely consumed in the book in his hands. Yazoo’s eyes flicked for an instant to Tifa, and nodded to himself; she would be able to help him, for the moment at least.

Assured that his brothers were safe and looked after, Yazoo began to move, unnoticed by everyone in the room, driven to move by that weight on his shoulders and the unease that crawled up his spine. He needed to leave. It was important that he leave, that he get as far from here as he could.

It was important that his brothers did not see.

He left by the side door, waiting as Cloud, who had been coming in gave him an assessing look, and kindly told him he should go upstairs and rest if he was feeling unwell. Yazoo had nodded, and waited until he had passed him and the door to the bar swung closed behind him and then he had slipped free.

He was aware, on some level, that he had picked up some followers. He could feel the crackle of lightening, picking it up the same way he had last night, and he remembered the feel of the red haired one –Reno, his mind supplied him easily- and the crackle of energy between them. The way it had lit up that part of himself that had been nothing but dark for so many years.

But he ignored them, he could evade any capture they had planned, and besides, they were curious, he could tell.

He stuck to the least used parts of town, the alley’s and the backstreets, as much because he was aware the sight of him may cause a stir unneeded in the community as much as because it was an ingrained habit his brothers had drilled into him since they had escaped the labs. His thoughts drifted, thinking back over those years as his feet steered him onwards to a confrontation he didn’t want to face, but had to if he was to keep his brothers safe.

He lost them. His followers and he could hear the one made of lightening cursing him, and the other trying to reason it out, discuss their options. He listened until they were gone, turned back towards the bar, and he knew he had to hurry, before his brothers, each content right now and where they needed to be, realised he was missing. Before he could no longer keep them safe.

He continued, following a path he knew on some level he shouldn’t know to a place he recognised though he had never been here before. And then he stopped, and waited.
There was a clarity within him at the moment, one of those rare bursts where the rest of the world around him faded away, but it felt like he could see and feel everything that was going on.

He touched their minds, ever so softly and briefly as they arrived at the bar. The one made of lightening crackled as he kicked in the front door and stormed into the room, and Yazoo narrowed in on him, and his energy and watched.

He felt a pang as he saw Kadaj realise that he was not there and he wished he had a way to apologise for leaving them. It was important that he do this alone. He was broken anyway, and by the time this ended he would either be fixed or dead, but either way it was better his brothers not see it.

“Hello father.” He said voice soft and a monotone, leaving his brothers images and the welcome crackle of energy behind to return to the place was standing, waiting.

Before him was a man ravaged by fire and time, he had not escaped the explosion of the labs without injury, he was scarred and twisted, his patched hair greyed with the time between. He looked frail and weak, and easily crushed. But Yazoo made no move to touch him, this man, however twisted and cruel, knew how to fix him, or kill him, either would be welcome.

“92966.” Came the rasp of a voice that had once frightened him. “You’ve come to me.” The old man sounded so pleased.

Yazoo nodded. “Yes.”

“I see you’ve learned much in your time away from me.” Father continued, thoughtful, a gleam in his eyes that Yazoo recognised and felt a dull horror at, dulled by time and by frequency.

Yazoo said nothing, and waited.

Father watched him, walked around him, touched his back, his arms and his face, inspecting him. He allowed it, could seem to help but allow it. He had always been so obedient, following where father lead, doing as he was told, that to do otherwise, right now, without his brothers beside him to bolster his up, felt impossible.

So when father said. “Come with me.” He did, matching his pace to the old man’s shuffle, and together they disappeared. He felt a pang that he was most likely going to die, and that he would not see his brothers again. But they were safe, and they would be looked after now, which was all that mattered.