Cloud was still well outside of Midgar, racing against the storm clouds building ominously behind him, when his phone rang. It was Lazard’s ringer, so he routed the call to his helmet’s radio and kept driving.
“What did Zack do now, Deusericus?” he sighed.
“Oh, it’s not Zack for a change,” Lazard drawled. “I’m afraid it’s Sephiroth this time.”
Cloud brought his bike to a screeching halt and tried to process that. Sephiroth wasn’t usually prone to sudden accidents or lapses in judgement, whereas Zack’s enthusiasm frequently got the better of him. “…..I’m sorry?”
“The wings are still…..problematic,” Lazard said carefully. “And prone to making their own decisions concerning when and how they’re going to behave….”
Cloud cringed. In the process of treating Angeal and Genesis’ degradation, there had been a very wild week in which all three men had spontaneously sprouted wings. Large, technically functional wings that where, unfortunately, equipped with a massive learning curve. They weren’t present all the time, popping in and out of existence with little warning, but Cloud had never seen them vanish when actually in use. There was, apparently, a first time for everything.
“……what did he hit?” he asked carefully.
“Oh, he went straight through the roof of one of the glass houses, because he is nothing if not dramatic.”
“What did he break?”
“…..obviously the roof.”
“Nothing. Well, mostly nothing. He cracked a fair number of ribs when he hit one of the crossbeams on his way down, but nothing’s broken.”
Cloud pulled one glove off with his teeth and rubbed at his face with the bared hand, still trying to take it all in.
“Any other injuries?”
“His clothes were a complete loss, and naturally he wasn’t wearing his leathers so he had very little protection against laceration. And there’s a fair bit of bruising, but you know how fast he gets over bruising, at least. And his pride has taken a serious blow.”
“Where is he now?”
“Fighting his way out of medical. How long until you’re back in the city?”
“In the city or at the Tower?”
“At the Tower.”
“……if I get lucky with traffic inside city limits, maybe two and a half hours…..probably closer to three….and if I’m not lucky….”
He heard Lazard swear quietly.
“I can send someone out to you for a pickup….someone needs to come deal with him and Zack is supposedly further out than you are.”
“What about Angeal? Or Genesis?”
“Angeal is on assignment. Genesis tried already and got smacked into the wall when the wings came back.”
Cloud winced. Genesis would not have appreciated the manhandling.
“Right. How am I being picked up?”
“Switch your beacon on. Someone will be there shortly.”
Cloud hung up and did, starting back towards Midgar. It wasn’t too long before he could see a dark shape heading for him, too large to be a person. As it neared enough for him to make out the rotors, he searched for a suitable area for the bird to touch down.
He had to pull off the road a ways, and waited at the edge of a wide, flat area with minimal rocks, so that when the chopper set down, he was ready to duck his head and run for the side door as it slid open.
Genesis hopped out as he neared, and Cloud slung his helmet to the redhead, then clambered into the chopper. They were back off the ground before Genesis had gotten the bike started.
“If I could get a pizza delivered as fast as I can get a Turk, it would be a perfect world,” Cloud sighed, dropping into a seat as Rude hauled the door closed again. “Thanks for the pickup.”
“Anything to get General Hissyfit out of the building before he breaks something else,” Reno muttered, turning their nose back towards Midgar.
“Did he break anything other than the glasshouse roof?”
“The table he landed on after the roof.”
“……was there anything on it?”
“No, thankfully, because the one right beside it was covered in tools. He got real lucky.”
“Are you gonna need help getting him home, or…..?”
“How did he get to the Tower? Did he fly?”
“No, he drove.”
“I have no idea.”
“Well, if he came on his bike then I’m borrowing form the motor pool. Otherwise I’ll take whatever he came in.”
Reno nodded, and pushed the chopper to it’s limits.
In Shinra Tower, Cloud found Sephiroth brooding in the exam room he’d been herded into, folded onto a too-small bed with his wings fluffed protectively and cupped around him. Someone had found him some pants, much too short in the legs, and the rest of his skin was bared, showing Cloud the assortment of bandaids, bandages and stitches covering him in a patchwork.
“Look at you,” Cloud groaned, watching Sephiroth sit up and open his wings halfway. The movement revealed the wrap around his middle. “Oh Seph.”
“Can we just go home?” Sephiroth growled. “I feel like shit and I want to sit somewhere I can fit. Everything in here is too small. Even the pants are too small.”
“Yes, well, you’re not a small man. And if your wings don’t go away, your options for comfort are limited,” Cloud warned. “How did you get here?”
“I broke a roof with my tits.”
Cloud scrubbed his hands over his face, resisting the urge to groan aloud- Sephiroth would grump even more if he did that.
“How did you get to the Tower today? Bike? Jeep? Wing?”
“Great. We can take the back seat out and you can ride in the empty space.”
“Like freight,” Sephiroth grumped.
“Yes, like the fluffy feathery goose that you are,” Cloud sighed. “Keys?”
“In the wreckage of my pants, post roof dive.”
“Right. I’ll go see if Tseng’s still got our spares.”
“Why does Tseng have our spare keys?”
“Because things like this happen and Tseng’s most likely to keep spares in a sensible place for us. I’ll get that taken care of while they finish anything they need to for you, alright?”
Sephiroth nodded sullenly. Cloud heard the rustle of his feathers fluffing up further as he turned and hurried back in the room.
It was a long drive back home, with Sephiroth nested in the back of the Jeep on some wadded up blankets. He wasn’t comfortable, which he reminded Cloud of several times, but they got home in one piece after a brief detour through a drive-through so Sephiroth could nurse an enormous milkshake. He’d need the calories for his healing factor to do proper work, after all, and the treat silenced his mutterings.
At home, he got Sephiroth settled into the papasan in the living room, more than large enough to hold him with his wings and still leave space for cuddling if he wanted it, and went to see if they had things on hand for feeding a SOLDIER who had bones to mend.
Not much, not on that scale. Especially not when he’d need extra calcium. And collagen, for the skin. Hmm……leafy greens……broth…..definitely needed to do a shopping trip.
“Seph? Babe? I’m going to do some shopping real fast, okay? So we have groceries. Do you want anything special?”
Sephiroth looked up from his milkshake. “……Gongagan smoked sausage?”
“Yeah, sure. But you have to have it with kale or something.”
He sighed heavily, but nodded. “And I’m sure they don’t want me to drink with these painkillers.”
“They didn’t say.”
That meant a trip to a specialty shop. But it would make Sephiroth happy- and that would make him easier to manage while the healing kept him awake and miserable.
“Alright. You want me to put a movie or a show for you before I go?”
Sephiroth hesitated for a moment, then nodded. “Fantastic Planet?” he asked softly, with a sad tone Cloud recognized. It made his stomach clench with sympathy. Sephiroth only wanted that particular documentary when he was feeling utterly miserable. It was just like Zack’s od disk of show tunes and Aerith’s ratty SOLDIER sweater. Like the spicy butter tea Cloud made himself when he was having a bad day.
“Of course,” Cloud promised, leaning in to kiss his face. “if you need anything, call me.”
It was probably the fastest shopping trip Cloud had ever managed, but he still had to go well out of the way to get Spehiroth’s lambic. On his way out, though, his phone rang. Zack’s ringtone.
“Heeeyyy, sexy,” Cloud purred, patching the call through the Jeep’s system. Handsfree was a necessity when trying to navigate Midgar’s streets, especially in a military Jeep. “Are you going to be home tonight?”
“Y-yeah….are you home yet?” Zack’s voice was soft, and the characteristic good humor was absent. Cloud frowned.
“Yeah…just out doing some quick shopping. Sephiroth needs calcium and collagen, and probably iron. And he wants lambic for his pride.”
“……oh, that’s not good. What happened? Lazard called me but he didn’t say much once I said how far out I was.”
“His wings checked out in the middle of a flight and he went through a glasshouse roof. Busted ribs and really cut himself up good. Plus the wings came back while he was being seen in Medical, so he’s fluffy and sulky and working on a milkshake and watching Fantastic Planet right now.”
“And what’s up with you? You don’t sound like you’re having a good day.”
“I dunno yet…..think I’m getting sick, I really don’t feel too hot….’s Aerith home yet?”
“Awww, Zack,” Cloud sighed. “No, she’s not. I think she had a late shift tonight…..something about one of the shelters under the Plate….I think she’s doing well-woman visits, y’know?” But it had to be bad if Zack wanted Aerith and her nasty tinctures and teas. Usually he was the loudest about not wanting to suffer such treatment. “You want me to get you anything while I’m out, in case she’s as late as I think she’s gonna be?”
Oooh, that wasn’t a good sign. “Yeah, Zack, of course. Anything else?”
“No….I’ll see you when I get home. ‘m about an hour out, I think.”
“Alright. See you soon, sweetheart. Hang in there.”
“Love you too.”
Cloud shouldered his way back into the house in Sector Four and kicked the door shut, toeing his boots off through feel alone- his hands were too full go bags for him to get a good look at his feet, but he’d undone his bootlaces before getting out of the Jeep for just this purpose.
“Seeeeeppphh?” he called, leaving one sock snagged on a boot and the other wriggled out of in the middle of the hall. “I’m home.”
He put the bags on the kitchen counter and went to peek into the living room. Sephiroth’s wings were gone and he lay in the papasan, propped up by pillows Cloud had left within reach before he left. Fantastic Planet was still playing, showing a herd of chocobo migrating across a plain somewhere. Cloud left it on and went to get some cooking done.
About an hour later, Cloud paused in his chopping of a small mountain of kale to listen carefully. Someone was at the door. Someone wasn’t doing a very good job of getting the door open, from the sound of things. They were struggling with the lock. Odd…..he put the knife down, dried his hands and headed into the hallway.
The door slammed open before he could reach it, rebounding off the wall with a sound Cloud knew meant he and Aerith would be patching a dent in the plaster and nearly hit Zack in the face as he barreled inside.
His face was ashen and Cloud knew, he knew the moment he saw that look that this wasn’t going to end well. But he tried to get out of the way anyway, because sometimes Zack’s optimism was infectious.
It wasn’t Cloud’s presence that was Zack’s undoing, though. It was the fault of Cloud’s sock, abandoned on the polished wood of the floor right in Zack’s path. Zack skidded on it, lost his balance and hit Cloud, arms windmilling in a desperate attempt to keep himself on course. Cloud braced, but he wasn’t prepared to take over two hundred pounds of SOLDIER moving at speed. The wall he hit held him up and Zack clung to him at the hip and shoulder, coming to a halt just in time to vomit generously onto Cloud’s chest.
Cloud gave a high-pitched yelp of disgust and performed a truly impressive acrobatic maneuver that got him some ten feet away and across the hall in the stretch of a moment, but the damage was done. Zack crumpled to the floor with an aborted heave, leaving Cloud to freeze where he was, dripping and horrified.
After a long moment- in which Zack retched again- Cloud reached carefully behind himself and tore his t-shirt open down the back so he could remove it without having to pull it over his head. It could go straight into the garbage when he came back to clean up. He squirmed out of his jeans next and padded over to Zack in just his jewelry and his briefs.
“You didn’t say it was this bad,” he murmured, taking Zack’s arm and helping him up. A feverish heat rolled off of him, and his skin was slick with sweat. “Come on. You need cleaned up and you need bed.”
Zack coughed, nodded and allowed himself to be led away.
Sephiroth slept through the whole affair, so once Zack was cleaned up and asleep in bed and the hallway had been cleaned, Cloud returned to the kitchen. He threw a rice bag into the microwave and leaned against the counter while it spun, drinking greedily from a glass of water. Dinner hadn’t been spoiled by the interlude, thankfully, though at this rate he’d be the only one eating it. He pushed away from the counter and went to finish preparing the kale salad, which went into the fridge, and turned the doctored-up broth down to a simmer. Sausages could wait until Sephiroth woke up.
That done, he collected the hot rice bag and went to sprawl on the couch, hot pack slung onto his back right under his shoulder blade, where he had separated ribs two weeks previously. He was mostly healed- the benefit of having mild Mako enhancement to keep up with his partners- but the injury needed to be babied for awhile yet, and hauling two men as large as Sephiroth and Zack around aggravated it more than he cared to admit.
And it had been such a long day, too. He’d overnighted in the village he had been running a delivery to, couriering a locked briefcase to the research center on the outskirts, and he never slept as well when he was away from home.
Without meaning to, Cloud fell asleep.
He woke up to a dark room lit only by the DVD menu for Sephiroth’s documentary. Sephiroth was a darker shape in the papasan, still asleep. Someone with light steps was moving around in the kitchen.
Cloud heaved himself upright with a soft groan, caught the rice bag as it slid off his back, and shuffled into the kitchen, scrubbing at his face with his free hand.
“You’ve been busy,” Aerith remarked. She sat on the kitchen counter with a bowl of Cloud’s salad in her lap and a bottle of ginger beer beside her, steadily munching her way through the grains and greens in her bowl. Her hair was up in a knot at the back of her head and she was wearing worn-out working clothes, but she was the most beautiful thing Cloud had seen all day.
He went to her at once, leaning into her side with a sleepy sigh. “Sephiroth fell through a roof at the Tower. Zack’s got food poisoning or stomach flu or something.”
“Is that why the hall is suspiciously clean?”
“You could have called.”
“I was going to,” he promised, accepting a forkful of salad when it was thrust into his face. “Just needed to take a break with the heat pack. And I feel asleep.”
“You didn’t sleep last night.” It was a statement, not a question, and Cloud only nodded, leaning towards the bowl until she fed him another bite. Now that he was waking up, his stomach growled angrily, reminding him of his skipped lunch and accidentally missed dinner. “Get your own bowl. Was this all you planned for supper?”
“Seph wanted sausages. We should probably wake him…..he needs painkillers too.”
“He’s out cold, sweetie. Best to let him sleep. He’ll be awake early, if he broke bones…”
“Yeah, bunch ribs.”
“Mmm. Well, he’ll be up then and I’ll manage him. You are going to fry up a couple sausages, eat, ad go to bed.”
“Are you working tomorrow?” He pulled away reluctantly and fished the package of sausages out of the fridge, then reached for a frying pan off the overhead rack.
“I called myself in as soon as I got a look at the three of you. I swear, what would you boys do without me?”
“Flounder our way through life and probably die of something totally preventable,” Cloud laughed. Pan and sausages heating, he padded back to Aerith and looped an arm around her, nuzzling into her shoulder. “Welcome home.”