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You have got to be KIDDING!?!?!?

Chapter Text

Swerving quickly to the side the blond warrior dodged the heavy body that sailed at him from the top of the cliff. The monster hit the ground with a heavy thud as the black motorcycle skidded to a stop a couple feet away. Quickly the blond rider slid from the bike, pulling two large swords from secret compartments in the sides. The monster’s faintly humanoid face twisted into a sadistic smile as it prowled around the blond swordsman. Narrowed blue eyes tracked the creature’s movements, his grip shifting ever so slightly on the two swords.

 

“So, you are the Savior of the Planet, Cloud Strife. You’re not what I pictured,” the beast hissed as it paused long enough to change direction.

 

The blond, Cloud, stiffened slightly before speaking, “Oh? What were you picturing then?”

 

“Honestly?” the monster’s eyes traced over his body for a few seconds before snapping back to his face. “I was hoping for something, well, more.”

 

Cloud didn’t even dignify that with a verbal response. He just shifted his weight before lunging at the monster.  The thing just cackled at him as it jumped out of the way. Cloud gritted his teeth as he leaped after it. They carried on with their cat-and-mouse esque game for a good few hours before the monster grew bored. Just as suddenly as it appeared the monster seemed to disappear. The blond fumbled for a couple steps at the sudden disappearance and spun around, trying to locate the monster. A dark chuckle was the only warning the blond had before a large paw slammed into his side.

 

Flipping over in the air Cloud managed to dig the longer of the two swords into the ground as a way of keeping himself from flying too far away. Looking over in the direction the attack had come from the young man saw the grinning monster for about two seconds before it vanished again. This time there was a slight buzzing sound right before the monster appeared again, this time directly in front of him. Growling softly the blond jumped backwards, bringing his two blades up to block the monster's attack. Snarling, its humanoid face distorting grotesquely, the monster lunged again. Cloud quickly went from attacker to defender as the beast pounded relentlessly at his defenses. Eventually the monster whirled around and kicked the blond warrior in the chest.

 

Cloud grunted as the clawed hind paws connected solidly with his chest, sending him flying backwards. Flipping over in the air Cloud drove the point of First Tsurugi’s main blade into the ground. The heavy blade created a deep trench before Cloud was able to arrest his backward momentum. Dropping to the ground he pulled the blade from the earth, leaning back slightly as he did. Throwing a glance over his shoulder the blond swordsman cursed as he realized he’d been pushed all the way back to Fenrir. Growling softly he glanced back just in time to see the monster gearing up for a materia attack. Blue eyes widened at the unfamiliar indigo color even as he called on his Time materia.

 

The two attacks slammed together with a concussive force. Cloud was thrown back against Fenrir, flipping over the large vehicle to land in a heap on the other side. He felt Tsurugi’s main blade slide out of his hand as his head slammed back against Fenrir’s side. Stars appeared before his eyes as a brilliant flash of light filled the area. When it faded nothing seemed to be very different than before. The only major difference was the sudden addition for the sound of a helicopter in the distance.

Chapter Text

Cloud slowly drifted back into the waking world. The first thing he really noticed was that the monster was congratulation itself. He heard the beasts paws scrape across the ground as it pranced around, clearly pleased with what it had done, whatever the hell that was. Shifting slowly the blond reached out and grasped the hilt of Tsurugi’s main blade. The weapon had skittered almost a foot away. Moving slowly he managed to pull the blade in close without alerting the monster to the fact that he was awake and not dead. When the monster let out a happy roar he risked connecting the two blades, the click of their joining hidden under the roar. Carefully flattening his hair with one hand he peered over Fenrir’s seat.  

 

“HAHAHAHA!!! I did it! I killed the Savior!!! He said it was impossible, but I proved him wrong!!!” the monster crowed, face contorted by a grotesque laugh. “Take that you white coated, pony tailed freak!!”  

 

Cloud froze. There was only one person he knew that wore a white coat and had a pony tail; Hojo. Now the monster actually made a little bit of sense to the blond. Its body looked like several different monsters and human had all been spliced together. That, and having that strange new materia, should have been a dead giveaway. Growling softly he shifted into a more ready stance. As he moved he became aware of another sound, just off in the distance. Swearing softly he peered over Fenrir’s seat again, this time looking up.   

 

A lone black helicopter hovered just out of range. Cloud’s eyes narrowed slightly as he recognized the red insignia on the side. It was a Shinra chopper. He only knew one group to actually use the Shinra helicopters; Turks. He growled again as the door on the side opened and a familiar bald head poked out. Thankfully the monster hadn’t noticed the helicopter. It was still prancing around and gloating. Rolling his eyes slightly Cloud moved, tightening his grip on Tsurugi. When the monster pranced back in front of the motorcycle Cloud leaped over the back.   

 

The monster froze as he flew over the bike before shouting, "You're supposed to be dead!"   

 

"I'm a lot harder to kill than people think," Cloud said as he lunged forward. "It takes more than that to kill me."   

 

Lashing out with Tsurugi the blond warrior managed to clip the monster's right front leg and by clip I mean totally sever it from the shoulder down. The beast howled as it reared back on its hind paws. Cloud pulled back long enough to separate his two swords again before lunging back at the monster. Roaring loudly the monster rushed forward, heedless of the fact that it now only had three legs.   

 

Cloud met the  beast’s  teeth with Tsurugi's main blade even as the hollow blade bit into the monster's side. Ignoring the blade in  its  mouth and in its side, lashing out with  its  good paw. The long claws caught the blond warrior in the side again, this time digging deeply into his side. Cloud hissed sharply but that didn't stop him. He just lifted one leg to plant a heavy kick to the monster's unprotected stomach. The beast was thrown back several feet.   

 

Shifting his grip on the weapons Cloud leaped after the monster, not giving it a chance to recover before attacking again. He flipped up and over the beast's head to land squarely on its shoulders. The monster wailed in pain as the addition of the swordsman's weight forced the damaged limb into the  ground. Swiftly Cloud swung both blades around on either side of the creature's neck, quickly jerking his arms to the side. The vaguely human head tumbled to the side as the rest of the body sagged limply to the ground.   

 

Slipping off the corpse's back Cloud flicked his swords to clean them.   He could feel the eyes of the Turks on him as he stepped away from the corpse. Glancing back up  he  saw that the  bald  Turk was holding  a video camera. That had the blond scowling slightly, but he decided to ignore them unless they came to him. Even as he made his way back to Fenrir he heard the chopper landing.  Sighing softly Cloud waited by the massive bike,  folding his arms across his chest as he did.   

 

They didn’t keep him waiting too long. As soon as the chopper touched down two men jumped out easily. Both men, along with the redheaded pilot, were wearing sleek black suits denoting them to be Turks. Even if they hadn't been wearing the suits Cloud still would have recognized  Rude's  bald head and Reno's red hair, even with it being considerably shorter than he was used to. Quickly though his eyes refocused on the man who had stepped out of the chopper with Rude. His dark hair was pulled back into a short pony tail at the base of his skull and  had  intense dark eyes. Despite being a little small, in comparison to the mountain of a man beside him, he cut a rather intimidating figure. Cloud bit back a  growl as a decidedly younger Tse ng marched over with Rude at his side.   

 

Cloud straightened slightly before speaking, "Quite the welcome party.  Should I expect that every time I come to  Midgar ?”   

 

“No, normally the monsters aren’t that much of an issue,” Tseng   replied  with a faint smile.      

 

“Perfect. Who are you guys, by the way?” Cloud asked, pretending he didn’t know who they were.   

 

“We’re Turks,” Tseng answered softly.   

 

“I figured as much, but I was asking names. If you don’t mind, that is,” the blond replied giving a faint smile of his own as he crossed his arms.   

 

Rude snorted softly as Tseng shook his head slowly, "Alright, you have me there. I am Tseng, this is Rude and our pilot is  Rude's  partner, Reno. Who might you be?"   

 

"I'm Cloud Strife,” Cloud replied with a nod. “Quite the set up you got there. Tracking anything important?”   

 

“We were, but you took care of it for us so we’ll just take that off your hands,” Tseng said gesturing at the monster.    

 

Cloud watched Rude as the large bald man moved over to the carcass, sliding his arms under the massive body. Somehow he managed to pick up to body and start stumbling towards the helicopter. Tseng he picked up the head, stuffing it into a sack when something fell out of its mouth. Cloud picked up the small blue orb. He could feel the Turk’s eyes on him as he inspected the orb. It was clearly materia, but Cloud had never seen blue materia before.   

 

“You might want to give that back,” Tseng said slowly, one hand drifting towards his gun.   

 

“I think you can spare on piece,” Cloud replied as his hand curled loosely around the orb.   

 

“Oh? As I see it you have the only piece,” the other said with a raised eyebrow.   

 

Cloud shook his head slightly and gestured to the monster. Rude glanced at his boss, who nodded, and set the body back down. Quickly Cloud picked up the hollow blade before splitting the monster open. Several more pieces of the blue materia came rolling out of the monster’s gut. Cloud sat back and looked at Tseng, a faint smile on his face.     

 

“Well, with that being the case I think we can spare one piece,” the Turk said after a few seconds of consideration. “Just don’t try to use it against us, alright?”   

 

"I hadn't planned on using on you guys, especially considering I don't really know what it does," Cloud stood, dusting his knees off slightly before looking at the Turk. "Do you know what it does?"   

 

Tseng just gave him a small smile before gathering up the materia in a new bag. Cloud rolled his eyes, but didn't say anything. That's how the Turks worked; they only talked when they felt that they had something to say. Steeping back he let them finish their work with the corpse. A sharp twinge in his side forced him to remember that he was injured. Dropping one hand to his side the blond warrior inspected the wound.   

 

"That doesn't look too good," said a voice at his side.     

 

Cloud swore as he jumped at the sudden sound. Turning  he  found Tseng standing at his left shoulder, looking faintly concerned. Cloud sighed softly and turned away before pulling his shirt away from the wound. There were four  jagged holes along with slight claw marks running across his side. Hissing softly he pulled his shirt the rest of the way off before digging in Fenrir’s  hidden compartments for some bandages. Once he found them he peeled shirt all of the way off and began patching himself up. Tseng watched off to the side as the blond warrior wrapped the bandages around his torso.   

 

"Can I help you with anything?" Cloud asked after a minute, when it became apparent that Tseng wasn't going to leave him alone.   

 

"I was merely going to offer the use of proper medical supplies and faciliti es in  Midgar ,” Tseng said,  hands  folded behind his back.   

 

“Oh? What’s the catch? I do know that it would have to be a Shinra facility so what do you want from me in return?” Cloud asked, pulling his bloodied and ruined shirt back on.  

 

"There's no catch. I simply wished to help you out after you helped us out. Besides, don't think I didn't notice that you were trying to keep the monster from noticing us while you were fighting," Tseng replied a faint smile on his face.   

 

Cloud just looked at him for a few seconds before shaking his head and smiling to himself. He actually thought about mentioning that he saw them filming the whole thing, but refrained mostly because he wasn't 100% sure how the Turk would react. Glancing back over at the dark haired man the blond saw that he was still waiting for an answer. Sighing softly he turned back and nodded. Tseng  nodded and turned back to  the helicopter.   

 

“Hey!” Cloud called and Tseng turned back to him, one eyebrow raised. “I can’t leave my bike here so do you mind if I follow you on the ground?”   

 

"That would be fine. Just don't get lost or fall behind," the Turk replied, a faint smile on his face.   

 

The blond just rolled his eyes as he swung a leg over the massive bike. Waiting for the chopper to take off Cloud considered his options. If he was actually in the time he thought he was then there were a number of things that he could change. If not then this was just one really fucked up dream. Either way he was going to assume that he had actually been sent back in time. Revving Fenrir's engine he took of after the chopper toward  Midgar . Maybe this time around things would be different. That was the hope anyway...  

Chapter Text

Following the chopper was actually easier said than done. It seemed that Reno was trying to do everything in his power to try and loose the swordsman. Cloud growled softly as he dodged around another rocky protrusion. By now they were in sight of the city, but Reno was still trying to lose the blond. Sighing irritably Cloud gunned the engine and headed straight for the city. He knew how to get back into the city and that Tseng and the Turks would be heading to the Shinra building. So, with that thought in mind he took off for the Shinra building. He arrived fifteen minutes later, just in time to see the Turk’s helicopter land in front of the building.   

 

“Well, it seems that you certainly know your way around,” Tseng called as he walked away from the chopper.   

 

“Yeah, well, we probably would have arrived at the same time if not for your pilot trying to get rid of me at every turn,” Cloud all but snapped back at the man.   

 

“Sorry about that. That was actually my fault. I told him to try and test you to see if you could actually keep up with us,” Tseng smirked as he walked past Cloud and up toward the building.   

 

Cloud growled darkly, but didn’t say anything. He just swung off Fenrir and followed the Wutian into the building.  Without even a lick of hesitation he headed straight for the elevators. The blond followed, shifting slightly at the weight of the hollow and main blade strapped to his back.  Stepping into the elevator Cloud shifted on his feet before looking over at Tseng.   

 

“Where are we going?” he asked crossing his arms.   

 

“To the SOLDER Director’s office,” Tseng replied, staring steadfastly at the doors.   

 

“Oh? I would have thought that you would be going to the labs to talk to Hojo,” Could said shrugging, hissing softly as his momentary memory lapse sent a wave of pain shooting through his side.   

 

“What makes you say that?” Tseng asked sharply, turning to the blond.   

 

Cloud blinked slowly before dropping his arms, “The fact that the monster said ‘ Take that you white coated, pony tailed freak ’. I’ve heard about Professor Hojo and his science department. As far as I know Hojo himself is the only one to have hair long enough to fit into a pony tail.”   

 

“I see,” Tseng replied after looking at him for a few seconds. “Anyway, it was actually Lazard who asked the Turks to handle this assignment, so now that it’s finished I report to him while Reno and Rude take the carcass and materia back to the labs.”   

 

Cloud nodded and refolded his arms as he leaned against the elevator wall.  After a few more minutes of waiting they arrived at Director Lazard’s floor. Both men stepped out, walking down the short hall toward the main part of the office. Cloud suddenly stopped as a very familiar voice spoke up.   

 

“Come on! Do we really have to wait for Tseng before taking off on our assignment?” the voice, one Cloud thought he would never hear again (properly that is), complained.   

 

“Yes, Zack, you do,” another voice, Director Lazard presumably ,  replied. “Thankfully you won’t have to wait for much longer. Right, Tseng?”  

 

“Indeed,” the Turk replied stepping into the main room and galvanizing Cloud into motion.   

 

Slowly he stepped around the edge of the hallway and faced the desk, jaw tight. Zack, tall, dark haired, goofy Zack, stood off to one side while  Sephiroth  stood on the other side. The silver haired man was leaning against the desk behind him, leafing through a thin file folder. He looked the same as he had when Cloud had fought him over Midgar, almost eight years from now. All long limbs, black leather, and flowing silver hair. The only major difference was that there was no look of madness in his eyes. Cloud may not have been able to see them clearly, but he could still tell that this  Sephiroth  was still sane. He was distracted from his thoughts when Lazard spoke.   

 

“So, Tseng, who is your brooding friend over there?” he asked drawing everyone’s attention to Cloud.    

 

“This is Cloud Strife. I brought him here for multiple reasons. Chief among them being he’s the reason we were able to finish this mission so quickly,” Tseng said, gesturing for Cloud to step a little closer.   

 

“I see,” Lazard said folding his hands and placing his chin on them as Cloud stepped up next to Tseng. “How exactly did he help you finish your mission?”   

 

Tseng didn’t say a word he just pulled a small silver disk out of his coat and set it on Lazard’s desk. Without even looking at it Cloud knew that it was the video of his fight with the monster.  The blond man picked up the disk and gave it a critical look for a few seconds before putting it into the computer. For a few seconds  nothing happened , but then they all heard Reno  as the bald Turk panned the camera around the chopper. The redhead was complaining about having to track and follow the monster Hojo “accidentally” let out while Tseng was looking through the window on the helicopter’s right side door. Suddenly the dark haired man pulled the door open and motioned to Rude.   

 

The first thing the camera focused on was the monster prancing around and looking rather proud of itself. They could see that it was saying something, but it was unclear exactly what the monster was trying to say. It pranced around for a few more seconds before the duo’s attention was drawn by Reno.  

 

“Holly shit! Look at that!” the redhead gasped.   

 

Rude leaned a little father out of the chopper to see a short blond swordsman leap over the back of a massive black motorcycle that had previously gone unnoticed.  The monster and the swordsman exchanged a few words before the blond lunged at the beast. Blood flew everywhere as the heavy blade sliced the leg clean off, causing the thing to rear back with a roar of pain.   

 

Stepping back slightly the blond actually pulled his sword apart before diving right back into the fight. The now handicapped monster tried to bite the swordsman, but he caught the thing’s teeth with the longer of the two blades while the other bit deep into its side.  Everyone watched as the monster struck out with its other paw before being sent flying by a powerful kick from the blond. He didn’t even hesitate to follow, leap onto its back, and behead it. The video ended with seeing the blond flick the blades clean after sliding off the corpse’s back.   

 

“Impressive. Being able to keep up with, and kill, that monster took quite a bit of skill, didn’t it?” Lazard asked, turning back to Cloud.   

 

“Yes. Even so I didn’t come away totally unharmed,” Cloud replied, one hand drifting toward his right side.   

 

The movement drew everyone’s attention and Zack,  in a momentary lapse of common sense , decided to dart forward and poke Cloud’s side. Cloud reacted like he’d been struck by  lightning Not only did he push Zack back, but he wrapped an arm around his side in the same instant that he drew his sword. He swore softly as he lowered the heavy blade and focused more on his side.   

 

“What the hell was the all about?” the dark haired man shouted, both hand s  in the air.   

 

“Sorry. It was a bit of a knee jerk reaction. I get really touchy when I’m injured,” Cloud replied as he slowly, painfully, flipped Tsurugi around and sheathed it once more.   

 

“Quite the reaction,”  Sephiroth  murmured, his deep voice just barely audible.   

 

Cloud shrugged slowly  even as he pressed his hand further into his side to keep it from bleeding. Zack gave him an apologetic look to which Cloud smirked at the younger man. Lazard glanced at Tseng and gave him a raised eyebrow. The Turk stepped forward, a faint smile tugging at his lips.   

 

“I also brought him here so that he could have his would properly treated,” he said before looking at Cloud. “Not that you didn’t do a fine job for yourself, of course.”   

 

Cloud just smirked and nodded his head.  Lazard nodded quickly, gesturing at Zack as he did. The 2 nd  Class SOLDIER nodded happily and bounced over to Cloud’s side. This time he was very careful to not touch the blond so suddenly.  Getting shoved back with a sword pointed at his throat once was enough.  Cloud gestured toward the doors and Zack bounced ahead of him while he turned back to the others. He inclined his head at both  Sephiroth  and Lazard, but held out a hand to Tseng. After shaking the Turk’s hand the blond followed Zack.   

 

“So, sorry about the whole practically punching you in the side thing,” Zack said as he leaned against one of the elevator walls.   

 

“Don’t worry too much about it, Zack,” Cloud replied as he leaned against the other, a little more heavily against another. “I can call you Zack, right?”   

 

If anything the spikey haired man brightened considerably, “Totally!  You can totally call me Zack.”   

 

Cloud smiled and that sent Zack off into a mad babble of chatter. He knew that the dark haired man was totally ecstatic about having someone to talk to, even if they were a captive audience. Even so he couldn’t seem to find the energy to focus on anything the other was saying. Belatedly the blond realized that he had lost quite a bit of blood, quite a bit more than he was used to after a fight anyway.  Blinking slowly he tried to focus on Zack, but to no avail.   

 

Something must have shown on his face because Zack suddenly stopped talking and asked him a question. Cloud blinked stupidly at him, his ears and brain refusing to process whatever Zack was trying to say. Even as he watched Zack he could see the edges of his vision blacking out. By now the other man was starting to panic. He had his PHS out and was dialing a number. Cloud didn’t hear who he was talking to because at that exact moment he blacked out       

 

-- Meanwhile  

 

After Zack and Cloud left Tseng filled the director and  Sephiroth  in on the rest of the details, such as the new materia that came from inside the monster. He left out the part about Cloud still having a piece for two reasons. One, he wanted to see what the blond did with it and two because Cloud didn’t really need anyone harassing him about a piece of missing materia. The blond may have brushed it off, but he was hurt worse than he was letting on. When he was finished Lazard nodded and thanked him before dismissing him. Right as he turned to leave a shrill ring split the air.   

 

Sephiroth  made a slightly annoyed face as he pulled out his PHS, “Wh..”  

 

He never got to finish his statement as Zack’s panicked voice cut over whatever he was going to say, “Seph! I need help, like now!”  

 

“What’s wrong?” the silver haired man was suddenly alert and not nearly as annoyed seeing as Zack so rarely called him for help.   

 

“Cloud passed out in the elevator! I can’t wake him!”   

 

Green eyes widened slightly before he hung up. The others looked at him, Lazard looking concerned and Tseng holding a seemingly impassive mask. The General didn’t say anything he just turned as stalked toward the elevator, Tseng following behind. After all but punching the button the doors slid open. Both men stared wide eyed at the interior.   

 

Zack was seated against one wall, still freaking out, holding the unconscious Cloud. He had removed the heavy sword from the blonde’s back and leaned it against the wall next to them while he tried to keep Cloud from bleeding all over the place. One hand was pressed firmly against the shorter man’s side while the other arm was pressed against his body. Blood had already soaked through Zack’s gloves and was covering the floor. Once the doors slid open he looked up, blue eyes wide.   

 

Cursing silently  Sephiroth  knelt down next to them, “What happened?”   

 

“I don’t know. One minute he seemed fine and then the next he was collapsing, with blood going everywhere,” Zack explained voice slightly higher than normal.   

 

“Did you try the Cure him?” Tseng asked kneeling on their other side.   

 

“I did, but it didn’t actually do anything! I don’t know what to do!” By now the black haired man was trembling slightly when he spoke.   

 

Without a moment’s hesitation Tseng pulled off his suit coat and handed it to  Sephiroth . The silver haired man took it without comment and quickly tore it to pieces. Moving with nearly inhuman speed he tied the shredded jacket around the blonde’s body before lifting him out of Zack’s arms. Tseng pulled the 2 nd  Class to his feet and punched the button for the infirmary floor. Time seemed to slow to a crawl as they waited for the elevator doors to open again.   

 

As soon as they slid far enough open  Sephiroth  was gliding through them, Cloud cradled against his body with his injured side sandwiched between them. Those just milling around the infirmary scattered like flies as the General all but ran down the corridors.  Stepping into the infirmary proper a doctor was by his side in an instant . Sephiroth barely spared the woman a glance as he stepped quickly into a room.   

 

“What  happened?” the doctor asked as Sephiroth set the blond warrior on the bed.   

 

“Monster attack, outside the city. His only injuries are puncture wounds and claw marks leading out from the punctures across his chest,” the General replied as he stepped back a pace.   

 

"Did you try Curing him?" was the next question even as the doctor started gesturing for nurses and other medical staff.   

 

"I did, but it didn't do much," Zack replied having finally joined them, voice soft and very subdued.   

 

Both the doctor and Sephiroth turned to look at the dark haired man. Zack stood in the doorway looking more than a little despondent, Cloud's massive sword held tightly in his hands. Clearly Zack was blaming himself for the  blonde’s  current state . Sephiroth found his face softening slightly  when he saw him. Stepping over he raised a hand to pat Zack on the shoulder, but stopped when he realized that his hands were covered in Cloud’s blood.   

 

“Very well then. I’ll do my best to patch him up, but you two need to leave,” the doctor said before Sephiroth could say anything at all.   

 

The silver haired man nodded and quietly ushered the young SOLDER out of the room.  Once they were outside the door Zack refused to go anywhere.  Sephiroth sighed softly, but didn’t say much. Shaking his head slightly he leaned back against the wall, rather content to wait for the moment.  Unfortunately that attitude didn't last long before he started shifting around. Cloud's blood was starting to dry and even through  Sephiroth  wanted to stay to make sure the blond would be alright he was not very fond of trying to scrub dried blood from his uniform. Zack noticed his shifting and looked up.   

 

"Why don't you go and clean up,  Seph . I'll call you when the doctor comes out," he said softly, thankfully understanding the reason behind the general's uncomfortable shifting.   

 

The Silver General just nodded at him before all but stalking away. Zack turned back to the door and sighed. Even through he really knew that it wasn't his fault he still felt whol ly  responsible for the fact that Cloud was in the infirmary. If only he had actually thought about what he was doing that maybe this whole thing could have been avoided. Either way the dark haired SOLDIER was determined to stay put and find out just how bad the blond was hurt. Cloud seemed like a good enough guy. There was no way he was going to just leave him behind after practically forcing him here.   

 

Leaning back against the wall Zack shifted the massive sword he was holding to the side. It was a rather impressive blade and since it was clearly important to the blond warrior he was more than happy to keep ahold of it for now. Sighing softly he settled down to wait, resolving to ap ologize  as soon as Cloud was fully conscious and all patched up. 

Chapter Text

Zack didn’t realize that he had fallen asleep until someone was shaking him awake. Blinking bleary blue eyes he saw the doctor standing in front of him. That woke him right up. Straightening he opened his mouth to say something but the doctor beat him to it.

 

“He’s going to be fine. Sure, I had to stitch him back together, but he will be fine. He’s still unconscious right now so even if you go see him he won’t say anything,” the doctor said before sighing softly. “There is one thing that has me a little worried, though.”

 

“What? What’s wrong with him?” Zack asked feeling decidedly worried.

 

“Nothing is wrong. Other than the obvious that is,” the doctor said, holding up her hands in a placating gesture. “It’s just that I found something inhisbloodthatisdecidedlyoddfor a civilian.”

 

“Oh? What did you find?” Zackasked, worried that it was something harmful.

 

"Well, I don't know how, but I found mako. I'm not sure how much, but I would hedge a guess of him having enough to be either a Second or First Class, actually," she replied with a shrug. "I would actually have to send a blood sample to the labs to confirm, but I swear I saw his blood glow slightly under direct light."

 

"Really? That is odd. Really odd," Zack put a hand to his chin before his eyes widened almost comically. "I almost forgot! I need to call Seph!"

 

The doctor smiled softly at the hyper SOLDIER as he dug out his phone. Turning she slipped back into the room only to find that the blond was actually awake. Well, not fully awake, but he was certainly conscious. Hazy mako-blue eyes were half lidded as the blond tried to register his surroundings. Upon sighting the doctor the haze dissipated slightly and the blond tensed. It was almost as if he was expecting her to attack him or something.

 

"Hello," she said softly, keeping both hands in plain sight. "I'm Doctor Melinda Reed. You can call me Dr. Melinda or Dr. Reed, whichever you prefer."

 

The blond stared at her for a few seconds before nodding slowly, "Cloud... Strife..."

 

It took him a minute to get the words out, but that was to be expected what with how heavily sedated he was. Dr. Reed smiled before asking if she could come closer. Cloud nodded after a few seconds, but he was still tense as she stepped slowly to the side of the bed. She started checking on the little bit of equipment attached to the blond, explaining what she was doing as she went. The woman was slightly unnerved by the look the blond was giving her and she actually thought that he seemed to already know what she was doing. Either way she continued explaining until she had finished and stepped a bit away. Thankfully before the situation got any more awkward Zack stepped into the room.

 

"Hey! You're awake!" The dark haired man said as soon as he focused on Cloud.

 

"I still... feel... like I... got hit... by a train," the blond managed to grit out past the medication.

 

Reed stepped forward after a moment and Cloud's sharp blue eyes were on her in a second, "I'm just going to turn down the amount of pain meds you’re getting. It should go a long way to help clear your head.”

 

Cloud nodded slowly before looking back at the ceiling. Zack settled in a chair on the blondes other side while the doctor adjusted the amount of medicine Cloud was receiving. After she finished she quickly stepped back. Zack noticed her reaction, but didn’t say anything about it. He turned his attention quickly back to the blond, who was finally able to be more aware of his surroundings.

 

“The Infirmary?” he asked, glancing around slightly.

 

“Yep! You passed out in the elevator on the way up here,” Zack shifted slightly before continuing. “I ended up calling Sephiroth because you were practically bleeding out. He’s actually the one who made sure you made it here alive. Literally and figuratively.”

 

Cloud just blinked at him for a few seconds, but before he could say anything the door opened again. Blue eyes widened slightly as Sephiroth stepped into the room. Reed practically pressed herself into the corner as he did. Cat-like eyes green eyes spared the woman a quick glance before coming around to focus on Cloud. The blond tensed up slightly, but didn’t do anything else. Despite himself Cloud was relieved not to see madness in those eyes, only a mild curiosity.

 

“You’re awake,” the General said softly.

 

“All thanks to you, according to Zack that is,” Cloud replied, his voice held at a careful neutral.

 

Sephiroth didn’t say anything to that, he just turned to Reed with a raised eyebrow. The woman stepped slowly out of the corner, clearing her throat as she did. Quickly she detailed everything that happened with Cloud’s injuries to the General. He nodded before turning back to the blond. Reed clearing her throat again had him turning back to her, a faintly irritated look on his face.

 

“Yes?” he asked giving her a deadly look.

 

“There is something else,” she said folding her arms across her chest. “I found mako in his system and large quantities of it.”

 

Sephiroth and Zack both cast looks at Cloud, who didn't really seem all that surprised by the news. Glancing between the both of them he sighed softly. Looking back up the blond found Zack giving him a very concerned look while Sephiroth's face was carefully neutral. Even the doctor looked a little worried.

 

"I know about the mako," Cloud said, speaking to the doctor but looking at Sephiroth. "There was an... accident... when I was younger. Some kids thought it would be funny to trip me so that I fell into a pool of natural mako. As a result I spent the next five years in a catatonic state and when I came out of it I had a SOLDIER's enhanced senses, strength, and speed."

 

“I see… That would partially explain how you were able to defeat that monster while injured as you were,” Sephiroth said looking slightly thoughtful.

 

“That and a whole lot of training,” Cloud said a faint smirk on his face and giving the Silver General his full attention.

 

Sephiroth nodded slowly at the blond even as he leaned back against the door frame. Cloud sighed softly before looking away. Shifting slowly the blond gauged the extent of his injuries. Now that he wasn’t moving as much or trying to push his body past its limits his accelerated healing was taking effect. He could feel the way the stitches pulled slightly but they weren’t really a problem just yet. They would need to me removed eventually but for now they were actually helping to speed his healing. Zack saw him shifting around and leaned over.

 

“You OK there?” he asked, sounding really worried.

 

“Yeah, I’m fine,” the blond replied looking up. “I was just trying to see how my injuries were.”

 

“Dude, you really shouldn’t be moving around like that. You were really badly hurt and stuff like that takes time to heal,” Zack said straightening up and crossing his arms, a worried look on his face.

 

“I’ve actually had worse Zack. This is nothing,” Cloud replied folding his hands in his lap.

 

“How does almost getting torn in two count as ‘nothing’?”

 

Two sets of blue eyes focused on the silver haired man by the door. Cloud was still a little tense but he didn’t seem like he was going to leap out of the bed anytime soon, so that was reassuring. Zack on the other hand looked like he was going to pop with unasked questions. After a few seconds Cloud chuckled softly and looked away. Sephiroth gave the blond a raised eyebrow and the other held up his hands.

 

“Easy. Worse, for me anyway, is almost getting pulverized by a giant rock falling from the sky. Stuff like this,” he gestured at his bandaged torso. “Is something I deal with every day.”

 

“They why did you collapse?” Zack couldn’t help but ask.

 

“I was pushing myself too far. There is a limit to everything, even the accelerated healing of someone with mako in their system,” Cloud said with a small shrug.

 

Before anyone else could say anything the door suddenly slid open. Four sets of eyes snapped to the door, one in surprise and the other three in acknowledgment. Lazard stood in the doorway, a concerned look on his face. Upon seeing that the blond was awake the look vanished, replaced by a small smile. Stepping into the room he nodded at Sephiroth, Zack and Reed before walking over to the side of Cloud’s bed. The doctor took it as her cue to leave and slipped out the door a few seconds before it closed, hands clasped in front of her chest. Cloud found it a little odd but before he could say anything about it Lazard spoke.

 

“How are you, Cloud?” he asked, tilting his head to the side a bit.

 

“Better. Not fully recovered but I should be fine in a bout a day or so,” the blond replied with a shrug.

 

“Really? Only a day or so?” Lazard seemed truly puzzled by that. “I thought that Curing you didn’t work.”

 

“I that it might have been because whoever was trying to Cure me was freaking out too much to focus properly. I’ve personally discovered that a distressed emotional state has a tendency to affect the healing magic like that,” the other replied with a small smirk.

 

“Really? That was it? I was just too freaked out to actually make the spell work?” Zack asked eyes wide.

 

Cloud turned to him and nodded, “More than likely, yes.”

 

The dark haired SOLDIER sighed heavily and collapsed back into a chair, a huge smile forming on his face, “Good! I was so worried that it was just beyond my ability to heal or not!”

 

Cloud smiled softly before looking back at the others. Sephiroth’s shoulders had relaxed slightly, he just noticed not because it was a huge change but because he was used to watching the man for any sudden changes, while Lazard smiled. Now that Zack had effectively dissolved all the tension in the room the older blond felt a little bit bad about why he was there. Clearing his throat he sat down in the other chair next to Cloud’s bed. Both the sound and the motion drew the blonde’s attention like a moth to a flame.

 

“Cloud, while I hate to ruin the moment, I came here for a reason,” he begane and from the way the spiky haired man tensed he knew where the director was going. “I came here with two options in mind. Opotion one if you were asleep to just leave a message asking you to come see me or option two. Option two being that, were you awake, I would ask you something.”

 

“Seeing as I’m most definitely awake, ask your question,” Cloud said still tense.

 

“Very well, even though I have a feeling that you know what I’m going to ask already,” Lazard chuckled before pushing his glasses up his nose a bit. “Cloud, how would you feel about joining SOLDIER?”

Chapter Text

Cloud just stared at him for a few moments, blinking slowly.  He could feel the tension in the room as both the SOLDIERs and the director watched him. Zack was a coiled spring of boundless energy while Sephiroth was a bit more of a stoic force standing off to the side. Cloud shifted slightly at the feel of three pairs of eyes. It wasn't because he was nervous, no it was simply because he was in an uncomfortable position. Nothing to do with being nervous at all.  Glancing over at Zack he saw a rather hopeful smile plastered across the 2nd Class' face. A brief look at Sephiroth revealed nothing but the man's standard stoic mask.

 

Looking back over at Lazard the blond sighed softly, "Thank you very much for the offer, Director, but I'll have to decline."

 

"Are you sure? There are a great many benefits when it comes to working for Shinra," Lazard said sitting back in his chair slowly.

 

"I am well aware of that, but I've heard some... Unpleasant... Rumors about some of the things that go on in the science department that tend to bleed over into the rest of the company. I have a bad experience with doctors and scientists in general.

 

"Dude are you sure that's a good idea?" Zack asked, now looking a little worried.

 

"I'm sure, Zack. Look," Cloud said sliding off the bed and unraveling the bandages.

 

Sure enough the claw marks across his side were already faded to little more than scratches on his skin rather than the gaping wounds they had been not but a few hours prior. Sephiroth stepped over to one side of the room and came back with something small in his left hand. Holding out the instrument he took note of how Cloud flinched slightly but otherwise didn't give any signs of discomfort. As he took the scalpel from the general's hand Cloud had to suppress the urge to shudder at the contact. Considering the fact that they had never met before this the blond had a feeling that even his conditioned response to pull away from the man was going to garner a suspicious reaction. That would do nothing to help him make sure that Nibelhiem never happened.

 

"Thanks," he muttered, gesturing with the scalpel before going about cutting and pulling his stitches.

 

He was on the last set of stitches when the door slid open again. Dr. Reed stood in the doorway, looking more than a little surprised. Before she could say anything about the number of people in the room she saw Cloud pulling out the stitches he had just cut. With a small sound she started across the room, fully intending on chewing the blond out, but was stopped by a strong hand on her shoulder. Looking up the woman paled as she realized who was holding onto her. Sephiroth barely shook his head before looking back up at the blond. Reed just stared at the silver haired man for a minute before looking back at the blond as well. Cloud easily pulled the last stitch out, tossing it onto the bed as he stood.

 

Sephiroth turned back to Reed, "I think you have a little explaining to do, doctor."

 

"W-what do you mean? What do I have to explain?" she stammered slightly, swallowing nervously.

 

"When you left you left in a rather suspicious manner. That is what I am referring to," the Silver General explained crossing his arms.

 

"Yeah, you did seem a little off, doc," Zach chimed in before straightening. "I also remember you saying something about getting Cloud's blood checked for the mako content."

 

Reed looked around the room for a minute, eyes wide before Cloud spoke up, "You took some of my blood down to the labs. Didn't you?"

 

The woman tensed slightly before looking over at the blond, suddenly feeling bold, "And if I did?"

 

Cloud sighed and leaned back against the bed, flicking his wrist sharply. Reed felt something zip last her head and turned to the side. She squeaked softly when she saw the scalpel that Cloud had been using to cut his stitches imbedded in the wall next to her head. Looking back at the blond wide eyed she found herself met with a rather cold glare. Cloud still had his hand extended from where he threw the small device. Said hand dropped easily back to the bed beside the blond warrior as he straightened back up.

 

"I don't take kindly to people sneaking behind my back. Especially when it comes to doctors and scientists. Mostly doctors though," Cloud said, voice soft and deadly.

 

Now looking thoroughly terrified Reed tried to back up, but having forgotten that Sephiroth was standing behind her, didn't make it far. Squeaking again when her back slammed into the general's chest the woman swung back around quickly. Even with the blank look on his face even an idiot could tell that Sephiroth was more than a little upset. It was all in the stiffer than normal set to his shoulders. Feeling decidedly more than one dark presence behind her Reed spun around once again to face an angry Zack and Cloud. Cloud was more of an icy wall that radiated anger whereas Zack expressed it all on both his face and in the way he carried himself.

 

"Is it really such a bad thing? I took it down to the labs to get the mako content checked. Nothing more," she said looking rather pleadingly at Cloud.

 

"If you had only asked I could have told you. I am well aware of exactly how much mako is in my system," Cloud said folding his arms across his chest.

 

"You can't know an exact count off the top of your head. It's impossible," Reed replied with a huff, mimicking the blonde's position, but in a more defensive manner.

 

Cloud raised an eyebrow at her before spouting off a seemingly random number. Reed just stared at him, effectively stunned. Sephiroth twitched as well, but seeing as he was a master at masking his emotions nothing really showed. Zack gave him a confused look and the general signed out that the number was an actual count of the amount of mako in Cloud's system. The dark haired man blinked again, but still looked rather confused. Sighing internally Sephiroth signed out that the number Cloud gave was around the same level as either himself or Genesis and Angeal. That really caught the black haired man's attention. It was well known that Sephiroth, Genesis and Angeal were the strongest of the 1st Class SOLDIERs. To have someone who got to that level just because of an accident was amazing and more than a little frightening.

 

"Cloud," Sephiroth began, but upon noticing the blonde's flinch amended his address. "Strife, you do realize that that high a mako content puts you at the level of 1st Class, correct?"

 

"No, I wasn't. Thank you for that little bit of info. All I really knew is that even having that mako in my system made me something more than human. I just wasn't sure if it was a good thing or a bad thing," the blond replied with a small nod.

 

"It's a good thing, Cloud. It's just really unexpected. Considering the circumstances I mean," Zack shined in waving one hand around in an almost nonchalant gesture.

 

"Zack, I told you about the accident right?"

 

"Yeah. Why?" Mako blue eyes blinked innocently.

 

"Well, what I forgot to mention was that I was actually totally submerged in the spring for about three weeks because shortly after theater kids ran back down the mountain a massive blizzard blew in. It took about a week to get people up the mountain to even try looking for me. Then it took another two for them to bring up enough gear to get me out without risking contaminating anyone else," Cloud replied earning a totally stunned look from the dark haired man.

 

“Oh… Yeah… That might have been a good thing to mention earlier…” Zack mumbled, scratching the back of his head.

 

Cloud smiled softly at the other before looking back at Reed, his cold façade sliding back into place. The sudden change only served to make the doctor even more nervous. As Cloud sat back on the bed slightly, crossing both his arms and ankles as he did. The doctor gulped nervously as she studied the blonde's rather impassive face. Glancing around the room she found her self met with the impassive face of the General, a clearly upset 2nd Class SOLDIER, and a very disappointed looking Director. There was not going to be an easy way out of this one. Sighing deeply the woman looked back at Cloud.

 

"Yes, I took a small phial of your blood down to the labs. I honestly was just trying to discover the amount of mako in your system. I meant no harm by it," she said softly, hoping against hope that the earnest tone would make the others believe her.

 

"I bet you didn't. I really do, but the damage is done," Cloud sighed and pushed away from the bed. "Again, Director, I'm sorry but I have to decline your offer. As much as I would like to help you all out I can't. Simply because of stuff like this."

Chapter Text

“I understand, Cloud. Are you interested in finding anyway that we can set up something that is mutually beneficial?” Lazard asked standing slowly with his arms folded behind his back.

 

Cloud nodded before looking over at Reed, “I really do have to leave now. I know you took my shirt when you stitched me up, but I also know that you probably would have stashed it somewhere because of the blood. Right?”

 

Reed nodded slowly, “Right, I did take it. Do you want it back?”

 

“That would be nice,” Cloud said with a nod. “The only problem is that I can’t walk out of here in a blood stained shirt. And it will stay that was until I get somewhere where I can wash it…”

 

“Oh! OH!” Zack cried bouncing around into the blonde’s line of vision.

 

“What, Zack?”

 

“You don’t have anywhere to stay in Midgar, right?” he asked still bouncing a bit.

 

“No,” Cloud replied slowly giving the black haired man a suspicious look. “I was only supposed to be here for maybe two hours and then get back on the road. Why?”

 

Zack finally stopped bouncing and grinned widely, “Dude, then you can totally stay at my place until you find something! I have a feeling that you’re going to be staying in the city for a while, what with you having to talk to the director about stuff and all so why not stay with me until you find a place?”

 

Cloud blinked slowly, not having considered that at all. In all honesty he was just planning on getting a cheap, crappy apartment in the slums and just never inviting the bouncy 2nd over. Zack continued to beam at him like a kid at Christmas even as he considered his options. The only thing Cloud was certain of right then and there was that staying with Zack would allow him to be much closer to Sephiroth, thus making it that much easier to prevent him from going insane. The only minor hitch was that staying with Zack would put him that much closer to Hojo, the one person he was trying to avoid at all costs. Sighing softly and knowing he was going to regret this later he nodded at the other spikey haired man. Zack whooped happily at that before practically flying out of the room.

 

Looking over at Sephiroth he jerked his thumb at the door, “Is he always like that?”

 

“Pretty much, yes,” Sephiroth nodded, a very faint smirk crossing his lips. “It has earned him the affectionate nickname of “Puppy” from his mentor and practically everyone else.”

 

Cloud smiled, “It fits him.”

 

That got a faint snort from the General and a smile from Lazard. A small hand on his arm drew his attention to his right side. Reed stood there, one hand on his arm, the other holding his shirt. True enough the garment was still covered in blood and the blond was loath to put it back on. He was saved from slipping back into the garment by the door sliding open a gain, revealing a slightly out of breath Zack. The 2nd Class had a wad of dark blue fabric in his hand and a huge smile on his face.

 

“This is one of my spare uniform tops. I figured you’d be OK with it considering that your shirt is practically a 1st Class uniform top with some minor modifications,” he said holding out the shirt.

 

“Thanks, Zack,” Cloud replied taking the shirt and pulling it on.

 

Needless to say it was a little too big for the blond, but it didn’t seem to bother him all that much. Either way he was going to have to get both of his shirts cleaned and repaired as well as maybe augmenting his current wardrobe. Especially considering that, for the moment anyway, it all consisted of what he was wearing and the two shirts he had already gone through today. Clearing his throat slightly he gave Zack a rather pointed look, glancing between his face and the hilt of the sword strapped to his back.

 

“Oh! Sorry! I was just holding onto it while you were unconscious, but now that you're awake you obviously want it back. Right,” Zack pulled the blade off his back slowly before handing it over. “Here.”

 

“Thanks Zack,” Cloud replied taking the weapon back. “I seem to remember having a harness to go with my sword as well as a few other things...”

 

The blond trailed off as he meaningfully glanced at Reed. The woman’s eyes widened slightly and she nodded, scrambling slightly to retrieve the last of Cloud’s gear from where she stashed it. Handing it over she stepped back quickly, clearly not wanting to upset the blond and make him change his mind about her. Cloud suppressed a smirk as he pulled the harness and the single pauldron back on. Fingers completely used to working the buckles easily fastened and tightened all the little straps keeping everything in place before he secured his sword to his back.

 

“Hey, silly question, but what’s your sword’s name?” Zack asked as they started walking out of the infirmary.

 

“Why do you think that’s a silly question?” Cloud asked back instead of answering.

 

“Well, most people who use a sword don’t really name them so I was really just wondering if yours had a name or not,” Zack replied totally missing the fact that Cloud only asked why it was silly rather than wondering why he asked in the first place.

 

“Relax, Zack. My sword is First Tsurugi. Tsurugi for short,” Cloud replied a soft smile on his face.

 

“That’s really cool,” Zack said with a smile.

 

Cloud just shrugged and they headed off toward Zack’s apartment, leaving Sephiroth, Reed, and Lazard behind. Once the pair was out of sight Sephiroth turned to Reed. The woman flinched sharply when the General’s feline eyes fixated on her. Shifting nervously Reed started at the ground, fiddling with her hands as she did. For a few moments nothing happened until Lazard sighed softly.

 

“Doctor, you do realize that what you did was a huge breach of your doctor-patient confidentiality agreement yes?” he said pushing his glasses up his nose.

 

“I do, Director. But...” she was cut off swiftly when Sephiroth shifted at her side.

 

“Even if all you were doing was making sure that there was nothing wrong with him you should have asked for his permission before sending his blood down to the lab. Since you did not it could be considered a breach of your contract. You do understand where I am going with this, yes?” Lazard pressed, crossing his arms.

 

Gulping nervously Reed nodded still looking at the ground as she did. Lazard just continued to look at the top of her head before glancing at Sephiroth. Reed was one of the few doctors that the General actually tolerated, so he wasn't about to fire her without his consent. Sephiroth shook his head and held up one finger, a clear indication that even though he wanted to keep her on she had one more chance before she was out. The blond nodded at him and cleared his throat. Reed looked up slowly at him.

 

"Doctor Reed, I think that everyone deserves a second chance. If something like this happens again your contract with Shinra will be terminated. Understood?" Lazard said pushing his glasses up with his middle finger.

 

"Yes, sir. I understand sir," she replied, clearly grateful to still have her job.

 

Lazard merely nodded before heading out of the room, Sephiroth right behind him. The two walked in silence for a few minutes before the director glanced over at the silver haired man. He seemed to be deep in thought about something. Lazard knew better than to interrupt him, but he had to ask. Reaching out one hand he gently touched the Silver General's arm just below the large silver pauldron. The man flinched slightly but otherwise didn't really react.

 

"General?" Lazard asked softly.

 

"Yes, Director?" Sephiroth replied finally glancing at the shorter man.

 

"What do you think of him?" was all the blond said in reply.

 

"Who? Strife?" Sephiroth paused long enough to get a nod from the other before continuing. "I think he would be a great asset even if he was not a member of SOLDIER. From the tape we saw it was obvious that he has quite a bit of combat training. The only thing that concerns me is the way he reacts to me."

 

“That is a little worrisome, yes. I hope that with working with you, though, he will shall we say, conquer, that reaction,” Lazard responded with a faint smile. “It seems that spending time with Zack is doing him some form of good. He seems less jumpy even just from spending time with him.”

 

Sephiroth merely hummed in agreement. There was something different about the blond swordsman and it wasn’t just the way he reacted around the Silver General. He was going to find out what was so different about this man. Even if it took him actually asking the Turks for a favor. Sephiroth was determined to find out what he could about the blond. Nodding to himself the man resolved to ask Zack first, considering he was going to be sharing a room with the blond for a few days. Glancing at Lazard he bowed his head slightly.

 

“If you would excuse me, Director. I have a few things that need taking care of,” he said, stopping just before the elevators.

 

“I understand General,” the blond nodded as he pushed the button to call the elevator. “Though I would like for you to be there when I speak to Cloud about our arraignment, whatever that may be.”

 

Sephiroth simply nodded, receiving a slight smile in return. Turning with a swirl of his coat and hair the Silver General stalked off, fully intent of talking to Tseng about the blond before going to Zack. He was certain that the Wutian had already done a background check on the blond. It might put him in a bit of debt to the Turks, but it would probably be worth it in the end. At least he hoped it would.

Chapter Text

Even as Sephiroth went to seek out the Wutian Turk down in the labs Professor Hojo was making some interesting discoveries himself. After a rather concerned medical doctor came in with a vial of a patient’s blood that had a high mako content Hojo had been hard at work to discover how it was the man wasn’t in a coma from mako poisoning. As it turned out the man in question seemed to have a remarkably high mako tolerance and had been able to absorb all the extra mako, preventing him from succumbing to the sickness.

 

He was about to discard the sample when something interesting caught his attention. It was something that should not be present in a man who had no connection to Shinra. Dark eyes narrowed as he focused the microscope on the anomaly. They widened almost immediately as he realized that what he was looking at was dormant and not active like it should have been. Scowling Hojo pulled up one of his studies of Jenova Cells and found that nothing, at least in any of the tests he’d conducted thus far, should have been able to force the Cells into a state of dormancy. There was nothing stronger than Jenova Cells. She was practically a god! Nothing stood higher than the gods!

 

Going back to the blood sample he confirmed that the anomaly was indeed dormant Jenova Cells. As strange as that was Hojo found himself highly eager to get his hands on the person the sample had come from. Already his mind was formulating the perfect way to get the man down to the labs. He was going to have to be very careful with his execution of the plan though. Because of the high mako content, which rivaled Sephiroth’s by the way, he would have to use as much if not more of his special tranquilizer just to get the man complacent enough to either be dragged to the lab or to come down on his own.

 

Laughing softly the scientist whispered, still looking at the computer screen, “Yes, you will be an excellent specimen, once I get you down here that is…”

 

--Meanwhile--

 

“Tada! Home sweet home!” Zack cried as he threw open the door to his apartment.

 

Cloud looked past the black haired 2nd and into the practical black hole he called home. Glancing back at the other he gave the man a raised eyebrow. Zack just smiled sheepishly as he scratched the back of his head. Cloud rolled his eyes, a small smile tugging at his lips. The bouncy 2nd flounced into the apartment, trying in vain to clean up a bit as he went. Unfortunately he was just making messes elsewhere by trying to clean.

 

“Zack, it’s fine,” Cloud said stepping into the apartment. “But, if I’m going to have to stay here long it will need a deep cleaning.”

 

Zack smiled sheepishly at the blond, “I know I just wasn’t expecting company so…”

 

“I get it Zack. I’m the same way. We’re just going to have to change that if we intend to stay sane though,” the blond smiled as he lightly sidestepped a teetering pile of… stuff…

 

“That should be doable. Especially if we can get Seph on board with it.”

 

“Why would getting Sephiroth involved help?” Cloud asked after a moment.

 

Zack just stared at him for a moment before laughing. Cloud frowned slightly and searched his memories of the Silver General for anything that would indicate why Zack would say that. After coming up with nothing he simply crossed his arms and looked at Zack, practically demanding an explanation with his body language alone. Zack smile before flopping down on the couch.

 

“Dude, the guy is like, a total neat freak! You should see his apartment. Sure it’s really impersonal and all but it’s still really clean,” the 2nd said, casually waving a hand around. “I think he spends the time when he isn’t on missions, in the office, or training, cleaning.”

 

Cloud blinked and was about to argue when he remembered. The way Zack saw Sephiroth was the complete opposite of the way Cloud saw him. Cloud only knew the insane mad man Sephiroth had become after Jenova had gotten her claws into him. Zack knew the real Sephiroth. The sane man who was the world’s greatest general, the most powerful man in the world (aside from President Shinra that is). That was a rather sobering thought. That and the fact that the more time Cloud spent with the black haired teen the more he was going to get to know this Sephiroth. It was going to be a bit interesting, considering what he knew but he was willing to give it a shot.

 

Nodding slowly at the 2nd Cloud moved over to the couch, setting his sword aside as he did, “Alright. Well if that’s the case we need his help ASAP.”

 

Zack floundered for a few seconds before he realized that Cloud was smiling at him. Pouting the spiky haired man threw a pillow at the blond. Cloud dodged with a laugh and plopped down on the couch himself. He sat for all of about two seconds before shooting back to his feet and staring at the couch. The other stared at him for a few seconds before shooting up as well. They shared a look and Cloud pointed at Zack’s PHS.

 

“Call him now. We need a neat freak,” Cloud said looking at the couch warily. “Now.”

 

Zack just nodded frantically at the blond and was already dialing even as he did. Cloud reached over to his sword and with a soft click pulled the Hollow Blade away from the Main Blade. Swinging the blade around he poked at the couch, earning a soft protest from Zack. Shooting a mild glare at the dark haired man he poked the couch again, half expecting it to leap out at him. As it was whatever was inhabiting the thing hissed darkly at the blond. Cloud merely gave Zack a raised eyebrow as the 2nd spoke into his PHS. From his tone Cloud could tell that it was going to be a bit before Sephiroth was able to come by. Sighing the blond settled in to wait for the Silver General, but not before setting fire to and subsequently dousing Zack’s couch.

 

“Cloud!” the black haired man cried.

 

“Zack, there was something inside you couch that made it come to life. There was no saving it,” Cloud said poking the charred remains, pleased when it didn’t move in response. “Trust me on that one.”

 

Zack pouted before going into the kitchen and getting a pair a stools. The two settled down to wait, trying their damndest not to touch anything else that might have become sentient. Cloud sighed when Zack turned it into a game. It was going to be a long wait.

 

--Meanwhile--

 

Sephiroth strode purposefully down the hall, his very demeanor screaming at people to leave him alone. People scurried left and right to get out of the seemingly pissed off General’s way. In reality the man was just in a bit of a hurry to try and get his answers. Getting bothered by people who needed little inane things would do nothing but actually piss him off. Finally arriving at his intended destination he swiped his cardkey across the access panel, sending the door sliding back into the wall.

 

Inside was full of black suited men and women. A few of them looked up when the door slid open but most went back to their work when the realized that it was just Sephiroth. He snorted to himself at the thought, wondering why it was that only the new Turks actually seemed to be intimidated by him. Shaking his head slightly the General made his way to the back of the room. He knew that the man he was looking for would be there, simply by the virtue of hearing a very familiar drawl. A drawl that could only belong to Reno who, as it turned out, loved to try and piss his boss off. Shaking his head again Sephiroth knocked on the door.

 

“What do you want, yo?” Reno drawled from inside.

 

“I need to speak to Tseng,” Sephiroth replied, voice cold.

 

The door swung open, revealing the redhead in question, “Hello, General. What do you need to speak to our boss about, yo?”

 

“None of your business, actually,” Sephiroth shot back brushing past the redhead and into the office.

 

Tseng was sitting at his desk typing at his computer, apparently ignoring everything that was going on in the room. That was not the case, however, especially considering the way his eyes flicked up toward the door. Behind him Sephiroth could feel Reno tensing up. At a subtle shake of the head from Tseng the redhead shrugged and walked out. Once the door clicked shut the Wutian turned to give the General his full attention.

 

“To what do I owe this visit, General?” he asked folding his hands on top of the desk.

 

“I need some information on someone,” Sephiroth replied not bothering to sit down.  

 

“Let me guess; Cloud Strife, right?” Tseng asked leaning forward slightly.

 

At the General’s nod the suited man turned back to his computer. After a few moments of rapid typing a mildly surprised look crossed the man’s face. Sephiroth just gave the man a raised eyebrow but didn’t say anything. A few more minutes passed before Tseng sat back and sighed. The Silver General shifted slightly, redrawing the Wutian’s attention to him.

 

“Well?” the tall man asked.

 

“I found some information but none of it makes sense,” Tseng said sitting back in his chair, looking back at his screen.

 

“What doesn’t make sense?” Sephiroth prompted.

 

“All I found, that I could access mind you, is that his name is Cloud Strife and that he was born in Nibelhiem. Beyond that his file is a jumbled mess of encrypted data and completely top secret classified blocks that I can’t access. And all of it keeps changing, even as I watch it. It makes no sense,” the Turk replied gesturing at his computer screen.

 

“Show me,” was all the General said.

 

Tseng gave him an odd look before turning the computer for the General to look. Sure enough the only thing the Turk had been able to dig up was his name, birthplace and a photo. The rest of the file was either totally covered in red and black lines, indicating classified information, or it was all a random jumble of numbers and symbols. Even as Sephiroth’s green cat-like eyes watched the way the numbers and symbols as well as the classified markings were positioned changed. Out of the entire file only three or four words were even readable. Even then they were totally out of context so none of it made any sense at all. Sighing and feeling a headache begin to form Sephiroth turned the computer back around.

 

“Is there any way to get past all of that mess?” he asked, resisting the urge to rub at his forehead.

 

“No. I’ve tried everything. Even…” the Turk was interrupted by Sephiroth’s PHS ringing.

 

Pulling out the devise with an irritated sigh the silver haired man flipped it open without even looking at who was calling, “What?”

 

“Hey Seph!” Zack’s overly chipper voice sounded from the speaker.

 

“What do you want, Fair?” he growled his headache taking on full form.

 

“Umm… Could you come up to my apartment please? We need a little help with something,” the 2nd replied toning down his chipper attitude upon hearing the growl.

 

“We? We who, Fair?” Sephiroth asked sighed, finally giving into the urge to rub at his forehead.

 

“Cloud and I. We need… Cloud!!” Zack broke off of his explanation to shout at the blond man.

 

“Zack, there was something inside you couch that made it come to life. There was no saving it… Trust me on that one.” Sephiroth heard dimly on the other end of the phone.

 

That had the General blinking slowly before sighing, “You need help cleaning you apartment, don’t you?”

 

“Please? Cloud just torched my couch because it came alive and tried to eat us,” Zack replied a pout obvious in his voice.

 

“Fine. I’ll be up there in a few minutes,” he said snapping his PHS shut on the black haired man’s enthusiastic reply.

 

Giving a brief nod to the smirking Turk the Silver General turned on his heel and left. That had gotten him nowhere. Despite his (albeit minor) faith in the Turks that had given him far more questions than he really wanted. Questions like; why was Cloud’s file so heavily encrypted that it was constantly changing? Why did the blond act quite a bit like a SOLDIER when he had never been in the army before in his life? How did he acquire his rather impressive sword? All of those questions and more were buzzing around in the General’s head, topped off by the biggest (and probably most important question of all), just who was Cloud Strife exactly?

Chapter Text

Leaving the Turks office Sephiroth, feeling slightly vindictive, walked slowly up to Zack's apartment. Upon arriving though, he almost walked away. There was a loud crashing and banging behind the closed door. The low sound of Cloud cursing up a storm had the silver haired man staying. Taking a deep breath to brace himself for what would greet him the Silver General knocked. The crashing and banging stopped but the cursing only seemed to get louder.

 

When the door was wrenched open the reason became obvious. Cloud, looking rather irritated, threw another curse and a low level Fire spell back into the apartment. A loud yelp from inside said that the intended target was somewhere near Zack. After throwing a low level Blizzard spell back into the room Cloud turned to the door. Most of his irritation bled away as he looked up at Sephiroth, but returned full force when there was another loud crash from behind him.

 

 Whirling around the blond snapped, "Zack! Can't you sit still for at least thirty seconds and not try and piss off the newly sentient crap in your apartment?!"

 

 "Newly sentient crap?" Sephiroth asked softly.

 

 "Yeah. Apparently Zack hasn't cleaned his apartment in so long stuff has actually started taking on a life of its own. The couch even tried to eat us," Cloud replied still glaring back into the apartment even as he stepped aside to allow the General in.

 

Sephiroth entered the apartment slowly and was immediately assaulted by the smell of burnt… well… burnt shit. Pressing a hand to his nose the silver haired man looked at the blond beside him. Cloud simply held up a Fire materia and threw a low level Fire spell at the apparent pile of clothes that was trying to chase Zack around the room. He put it out almost immediately with a well-placed Blizzard, but you could almost hear something scream when the pile caught fire.

 

“Alright…” Sephiroth murmured, glancing around the room.

 

All over the room there were piles of ash that looked like they had received the same treatment. Zack stood sheepishly beside the largest pile of ash that used to be the couch. Sephiroth ignored him for the moment and stepped around the apartment. There was a soft hiss to his right and with a flick of his wrist he set it ablaze. A Blizzard flew past him, causing him to repress a faint smile.

 

Making a quick circuit of the apartment the Silver General returned to the living room. Giving Zack a dark look he gestured for the dark haired man to gather a few of his things. Cloud, knowing where this was going, smirked and grabbed his stuff. A rather confused Zack joined them at the door, his sword across his back and a duffle bag full of stuff on one shoulder. Sephiroth nodded quickly before turning and activating his Mastered Fire materia.

 

“Seph!” Zack yelped as he set the entire apartment ablaze.

 

“To quote Strife ‘there was no saving it, trust me on that.’ Zack, there really wasn’t anything that even I could save about your apartment,” he replied throwing a Blizzard back into the apartment.

 

Zack whined softly as he looked into the charred remains of his apartment, “I’m sorry, Cloud. I guess I won’t be able to put you up for a few days considering that I’ll be needing to be getting my own apartment, again.”

 

“Its fine, Zack. I’m sure I can find something else,” Cloud said with a smile and a small shrug before giving the black haired 2nd a look. “What do you mean ‘again’, Zack?”

 

“Umm… Let’s go find us a new place to stay, yeah?” Zack was quick to change the subject and walk away.

 

Cloud turned to Sephiroth with a raised eyebrow, “What did he mean by again?”

 

“This has happened before, just not like this. We didn’t end up torching his apartment we just bolted the door shut and forbade anyone from opening it ever again,” the General replied with a shrug.

 

“So this is kind of normal, isn’t it?” the blond asked looking at the black haired man’s retreating back.

 

Sephiroth nodded and started after the other SOLDIER but he paused after a few seconds to turn back to Cloud. A faintly irritated look crossed his face for a moment before he sighed and walked back. Swiftly he grabbed one of Clouds hands. The blond barely managed to suppress a hiss and his knee-jerk reaction of leaping backwards as Sephiroth raised his hand. After forcing Cloud’s finger to uncurl from their tight grip he dropped a single key card and a small scrap of paper into the blonde’s hand before walking after Zack again.  Only once the two disappeared around the corner did the blond look at what the General had given him. There, looking up at him rather innocently, was General Sephiroth’s personal ID card. Blue eyes widened as Cloud realized why the Silver General had pressed the card into his hand.

 

“Holy shit…” Cloud murmured looking back up in the direction the two had vanished in.

 

Sephiroth, by handing over the card, had basically just told the blond that he was welcome to stay in his own apartment. Or he could use it to go to the lab and… no… that wouldn’t work. If Hojo was as prompt as Cloud remembered the scientist had already looked at the blood given to him by Reed. Besides using Sephiroth’s ID for anything other than getting into the man’s apartment would be a huge breach of his trust. He knew Sephiroth might not trust him all that much but there must have been something there in order for him to simply hand over his ID card to the blond. Taking a deep breath Cloud shifted his grip on his sword, swinging it back over his shoulder. With the blade settled behind him once more before looking at the paper.

 

In a barely legible hand were directions to get to the Silver General’s apartment from Zack’s. Cloud smiled softly and shook his head. Sephiroth may have been a great man but his handwriting was atrocious. Giving the paper another quick look the blond warrior headed for the elevators. Following the barely legible instructions Cloud soon found himself standing at the end of a rather long hall with three doors, one on either side and one at the very end. Glancing back down at the paper Cloud quickly surmised that the room on the end was the General’s.

 

Striding down the hall he glanced at the other two doors. There were name plates beside each but one had been bolted shut. The door to the right said “Hewley” while the door to the left (the bolted one) said “Rhapsodos”. He could hear Zack talking on the other side of the right hand door so he assumed that the black haired man had found his new room for the time being. As soon as the thought crossed his mind the door flew open, revealing the man in question.

 

“Cloud! Hey, buddy!” Zack cried throwing his arms out and almost clocking the tall brunette behind him. “How did you get up here, man?”

 

Cloud simply held up Sephiroth’s ID card before glancing over behind the black haired teen’s shoulder. The brunette behind him was giving Zack an indulgent look. With a start Cloud realized that this must be Angeal, Zack’s mentor. He vaguely remembered Zack talking about him after they escaped from the lab and a few times before, but he’d never met the man. Until now that is. Before he could really contemplate anything about it though, Zack was snapping in his face.

 

“What, Zack?” he asked barely suppressing a glare at the teen.

 

Angeal’s soft chuckle before Zack replied said he didn’t do a good enough job but the blond focused back on his friend first, “Dude! I asked how you got Seph’s ID card!”

 

“Oh… he just handed it to me after you took off before he followed you,” Cloud replied getting mildly surprised and totally flabbergasted looks from Angeal and Zack respectively. “Why? Is that not normal?”

 

“No actually, it’s not. I’ve never seen him just hand out anything personal to someone he barely knows,” Angeal replied with a small shrug. “Then again Sephiroth has always been a fair judge of character despite being socially awkward. Perhaps he saw something in you that he finds trustworthy.”

 

Cloud just looked at the larger man in surprise for a few seconds before Zack claims his attention by trying to steal the ID card. Quickly the blond tucked the card into the top of his shirt, hoping that the 2nd Class was nothing like a certain ninja he knew. Zack pouted, but Cloud was glad that his hunch about the teen being totally different from Yuffie. Even with that being said if Cloud did anything else with the card there was almost no doubt in his mind that Zack would try and snatch it away from him. Thankfully before the younger man could try anything at all the elevator dinged again. This time Sephiroth himself stepped off.

 

“Angeal, Zack, Strife,” Sephiroth said in acknowledgement, making sure to still use Cloud’s last name rather than his first.

 

“Hey Seph!” Zack cheered, as excitable as always.

 

“Sephiroth,” Angeal nodded before cuffing his student and dragging him back into the apartment when he noticed how the silver haired man was looking at the blond.

 

“Angeal? Wha-,” the teen’s voice was cut off as the door shut behind the two SOLDIERs.


Cloud and Sephiroth looked at each other for a few minutes before Cloud pulled out the man’s ID card, holding it out as he did. The General stepped forward to take the card. With the other hand he gestured at the last door in the hall and waited for Cloud to turn around. Just as the green eyed man was about to side the card through the reader he heard a soft sigh from behind him. Turning he gave the blond a raised eyebrow, a silent request for him to speak.

 

“General, I hope I didn’t misunderstand what you meant when you handed over your ID card,” the blond began, stopping when Sephiroth held up a hand.

 

“I am well aware of the fact that the only living arrangements you made were with Fair. I am also aware of just how limited your… funds… are at this point. I was indeed offering to let you stay in my apartment for the time being, if that is what you were worried about misunderstanding,” the General said slowly.

 

“Well, with that being the case I think it would probably be best for you to call me by my first name then,” Cloud said shifting slightly on his feet.

 

“Oh? I was under the impression that you would rather I not.”

 

Cloud’s lips thinned before he spoke, “I had an… opponent… who only ever called me by my first name. It was rather… unnerving… to say the least. You reminded me of him for a minute back there.”

 

“I see,” Sephiroth’s eyes flashed down for a few seconds. “What changed?”

 

The blond met his look evenly, “Honestly? I have no idea.”

Chapter Text

The pair stood there for a moment before Sephiroth nodded slowly, “Then you might as well call me by my name as well. So as to avoid awkward conversations, at least.”

 

Cloud nodded and followed the General into his apartment. Once the two were inside Cloud realized that Zack was right, Sephiroth’s apartment was more than a little impersonal; it was a lot impersonal. There was next to nothing to say that the space was even lived in. The blond gave the living room a quick once over and had to append his previous thought. Over on one wall there was a large black bookcase full of books. Several, while not looking too beat up, were obviously loved and often looked at.

 

There were a few obvious details to suggest that someone really did live there, but they were hard to spot. Cloud quickly picked up on most of these things simply because he was so used to being on guard when Sephiroth was around. At the thought of the silver haired man sharp blue eyes darted over to the man in question. The General had slipped off his shoulder armor and SOLDIER belt, setting both calmly into the small closet near the door before taking off his boots. Looking down quickly Cloud toed off his own boots. Pushing them off to the side Cloud waited for Sephiroth to step farther into the apartment.

 

“You may leave your sword there as well,” Sephiroth said without even looking over his shoulder.

 

Cloud tensed at the thought of being unarmed around the man. It actually took him a good few seconds to force himself to actually put Tsurugi down. It was even longer before he was able to pry his hand away from the hilt. By the time Cloud managed to step into the living room Sephiroth had already gone and changed out of his leathers. The blond stopped and stared at the man as he walked into the kitchen. There was almost no way to match the man before him with the total mad-man from his memories.

 

Shaking his head slowly the blond moved into the kitchen after the General. The man was standing at the counter making himself a cup of coffee. Cloud gave the man’s back a raised eyebrow, but said nothing. Sephiroth, catching the blonde’s look, raised the cup along with one of his eyebrows. Cloud shook his head slowly, declining the offer. Broad shoulders shrugged easily as Sephiroth finished the one cup and got himself a second one. As he prepared the seconds cup, this time with generous amounts of sugar and cream, Cloud stepped back into the living room.

 

This time he spotted something he missed the first time. The Masamune was sitting on a rack near the bookshelf. Mako blue eyes widened slightly as he stared at the fearsome blade. Unconsciously one hand twitched up to the center of his chest. Realizing what he was doing the blond dropped his hand with an imperceptible growl. There was no way that the action wouldn’t attract Sephiroth’s attention.

 

As if summoned by his thoughts Sephiroth appeared in the doorway, "I don't normally have house guests so until I can clear out one of the guest rooms you will have to make due with sleeping on the couch. I hope you don't mind."

 

"It can't be worse than sleeping on the ground without a bed roll," the blond countered back, not even really looking over at the silverette behind him.

 

"Hm... I see you point," the man said after a moment.

 

The two lapsed into silence again and after a few seconds Cloud fidgeted under the General's intense gaze. As if finally realizing he was making the blond uncomfortable Sephiroth disappeared back into the kitchen. Cloud let out a breath he hadn't realized that he'd been holding. Shaking his head slowly the blond stepped into the living room. He avoided the large, surprisingly plush wing-back chair that looked like it had had the stuffing squished out of it a few times in favor of sitting on the couch. Sinking slightly into the cushions the blond finally allowed himself to relax for the first time that day. 

 

He settled back into the couch as Sephiroth walked back out of the kitchen. Blue eyes followed the silverette as he stepped easily over to the wingback chair. Cloud found himself relieved that he decided not to sit there as the man sank into the chair with a soft sigh. They sat there for a few minutes in silence before Sephiroth tossed something at the blond. With a quick flick the blond caught the item out of the air. Opening his hand, he saw a Shinra issue ID card with his name and picture on it.

 

“What’s this for?” he asked glancing back up at the silverette with a critical look.

 

“I know that nothing has been made official yet but I have a feeling that something will be set out soon. This is just an early welcome,” Sephiroth said as he sipped at his coffee. “Also, since you are staying here for the time being your ID will get you into the Executive elevator as well as getting you into the apartment should I not be around. That being said you also have executive level clearance, which will allow you into most of the facilities here at Shinra.”

 

Cloud just stared at him for a few seconds before looking back down at the ID card in his hand. This one little card could possibly get him into the labs to make sure what happened to his time line didn’t happen. Then again there are other things that could happen. A vague snippet of a memory of a red clad man with a single black wing and faded red hair flitted across his mind’s eye. While he may not have really known the man Cloud could figure out that it was probably the man who lived in the room across from Angeal. There had to be a way to stop the degradation of both his and Angeal’s bodies. Perhaps having access to the labs would allow him to do just that.

 

Looking back up at the General sitting across from him he nodded slowly, “Thank you for this. Perhaps I can speak to Director Lazard soon and we can get something worked out.”

 

Sephiroth just nodded at him before the two lapsed back into silence. Cloud fiddled with the ID for a minute before pulling out his wallet and slipping it in over his old Shinra ID card. Somehow he managed to keep the card he’d been issued when he was in the infantry. It was more than a little shocking to see the two cards side by side, but he dismissed it quickly. Now was not the time to reminisce. Now was the time to start over and make things right.

Chapter Text

A few days passed before Cloud was even able to meet with Lazard. When he finally walked into the blonde's office Angeal was there waiting to talk to him as well. The blond inclined his head at the brunette and the taller man gave him a rather tense smile in return. Cloud found himself frowning when the other turned back to the door.  Something was wrong with the man but he couldn't quite put his finger on it. Angeal was called in to see Lazard first and as soon as the door slid shut Cloud remembered what it was.

 

While the memories he got from Zack might not have been as clear as he would have liked he still remembered, with startling clarity mind you, certain events. Somehow he just knew that something was going to happen to Angeal. Something that would set in motion everything that happened in his original time line. That was another thing he'd discovered to actually be true, along with Sephiroth being totally sane. He really was eight years in the past. Cloud had picked up a newspaper from the coffee table the morning after Sephiroth gave him the new ID card and almost choked on his coffee at the date. What was even more surprising was that the general poked his head into the room and asked if he was alright. The blond had just waved him off and the silver haired man retreated back into the kitchen. Shaking his head slightly the blond came back to the present just in time for Angeal to step out of Lazard's office, a hard look on his face.

 

"Everything alright?" Cloud asked as he pushed away from the wall.

 

"Yes," the reply was surprisingly curt and Cloud raised an eyebrow.

 

"Are you sure?" Cloud asked again.

 

Angeal looked at him for a moment before sighing, "We are being deployed to Wutai tomorrow. Fort Tamblin to be specific. The president wants to try and bring this war to an end as soon as possible."

 

"I see..." the blond murmured, his suspicions confirmed.

 

They stood there for a moment in a slightly awkward silence before Angeal shook himself slightly. Giving the blond a slightly more genuine smile the SOLDIER turned and walked away. Cloud watched his retreating back for a few seconds before nodding to himself. Things were not going to happen the way they did last time. Not if he had anything to say about it. Turning back to the door he only waited for another few seconds before Lazard called him in.

 

"Hello, Cloud. How are you?" he asked folding his hands in front of him on the desk.

 

"I'm alright. You wanted to see me?" Cloud fired right back, standing almost stiffly in front of the desk.

 

"Right to the point, I see," the other blond chuckled before leaning back in his chair. "I take it Sephiroth already gave you your ID card "

 

"He did. He also said that you were going to want to talk to me about just what I was going to do with the company," Cloud replied with a faint shrug.

 

"Good. Then you should know why I called you here. Why don't you sit so we can talk easier?" Lazard invited gesturing at a chair that the blond had missed when he first walked in.

 

Slowly he managed to relax his stance in order to walk over to the chair. Dropping down into it he felt the borrowed shirt he was wearing slip slightly off his shoulder. He still had not gotten around to replacing his destroyed shirts and was actually wearing one of the smallest shirts that Sephiroth had managed to scrounge up from the depths of his closet. Even so the shirt was still far too broad in the shoulders for the blond. He had to keep adjusting it so that it didn't fall too far to one side or the other. Growling softly to himself he pulled the shirt back into place before facing the suit clad man.

 

"Alright, I know you refused my offer to join SOLDIER but perhaps you could have a position similar to a SOLDIER 1st? It would be a contracted position set up for a certain number of years and you would have access to all of the SOLDIER facilities. You would also be assigned missions with the other SOLDIERs or asked to train cadets and such. Would that be amenable to you?" Lazard said looking at the other blond.

 

"Would I have to spend any time in the labs at all?" Cloud asked quickly.

 

Lazard blinked before rubbing his chin for a few seconds, "No, I don't think so. According to Dr. Reed you mako levels are more than stable enough for you to never really have to have a mako injection, which is predominately why you would ever be in the labs in the first place."

 

"That's not exactly what I was asking," Cloud said sitting back in his chair stiffly. "What I was really wanting to know is would I ever, despite not actually being part of SOLDIER, be required to go down to the labs for anything?"

 

"No. Because you are not an official SOLDIER you are not required to go down to the labs for anything. Should you go down there it is of your own volition. Anything else?" Lazard asked leaning forward.

 

"Can I request to be part of certain missions?"

 

"Yes. Unless it requires only a certain number of people to complete it."

 

"Any other benefits I should know of?" Cloud was quick to ask.

 

"Standard benefits that apply to all SOLDIERs. Medical, transportation expenses, etc." Lazard replied with a faint smile.

 

Cloud nodded before sitting forward slightly, "Now, for my main concern; pay. What would you pay me for all of this? For essentially being a mercenary for you?"

 

"I can, for the moment at least, guarantee you the salary of a SOLDIER 1st. After a few months, depending on how you do, I can try and negotiate getting you a higher salary," Lazard smiled as he propped his chin on his hands.

 

Cloud sat back slightly, running all the details in his head. After firing off a couple more questions the shorter blond finally agreed to the other's terms. Lazard was all smiles as he proceeded to quickly and easily type up the contract. Cloud watched over his shoulder just to make sure that the man followed what they agreed on. Once he was satisfied with the contact and the three-year time limit he signed it. Pushing it back over the desk he stood to leave. Before he got to the door, however, he stopped.

 

"Oh, I almost forgot," he turned back to the man. "I want to be part of Angeal's team for the Fort Tamblin mission. Will that be a problem?"

 

"I don't see why not," the blond man looked mildly startled but agreed easily. "Also I'll send up some 1st class uniform tops to the General's apartment. We wouldn't want you to be on a mission in something so ill fitting, now would we?"

 

The last part was clearly a dismissal so Cloud let himself out. Once in the elevator he sighed and leaned back against the wall. He was going to have to figure out a way to help both Angeal and Genesis sooner rather than later. Shaking his head again the blond pushed the button to get him back on a floor where he could catch another elevator back to the General's apartment. Once the doors closed he sagged back against the back wall slightly, rubbing a hand over his face. This was it. He was going to change everything by going on this mission.  

 

Closing his eyes, he thought of his friends, for the first time since arriving here. There was almost no guarantee that he would ever see them as he remembered them ever again. That thought was a little heartbreaking. Especially when he considered Marlene and Denzel. Neither one of them might have been his children but he loved them both dearly. Bowing his head a bit he only allowed a few tears to fall before regaining himself. There was no use crying over what he had no control over. He could only move on and hope that he would see them again, somehow.

Chapter Text

The next day rolled around, bringing with it the standard crack of dawn military wake up calls. Both Sephiroth and Cloud had finally gotten around to clearing out one of the guest rooms so Cloud came tumbling out of bed when he heard the shrieking of Sephiroth’s alarm. Swearing colorfully the blond disentangled himself from the sheets before heading out into the kitchen. As he expected as soon as he turned on the coffee pot the apartment’s other occupant stumbled out, looking rather bleary eyed himself.  

 

“Sleep well?” Cloud asked, a teasing lilt to his voice.   

 

Sephiroth just glared at him before turning to grab two coffee mugs. The blond refrained from laughing at the response. He laughed once and had one of the cups thrown at his head for the trouble. Even so it became a morning ritual to ask if he was up before the General. Settling down into his seat at the island he waited for the other to join him with coffee. When the other sat down he took the offered cup, sipping slowly. This was another routine that they had fallen into in the last week. Cloud usually stumbled out of bed first, followed by the General before they sat in silence for a few minutes drinking coffee. The former AVALANCHE member tried not to think too hard on the decidedly domestic nature of this routine. Instead he just let his mind wander to how he was going to stop everything from going all to hell.  

 

He was pulled rather abruptly out of his thoughts when Sephiroth shifted beside him, "So, you are going to be accompanying Zack and Angeal on their part of the Fort Tamblin mission, correct?" 

 

"Yes," Cloud replied before glancing over at the man. "Is there a problem with that?"  

 

"No, I was just trying to figure out why. That's all," Sephiroth replied with a shrug.  

 

That was another thing that Cloud had discovered about living with the General. In the mornings, before he was fully awake, the man was far less formal in his speech and tended to use improper grammar and conjunctions far more than usual. It was a nice change compared to the stiff, stoic man the blond had to deal with on a more regular basis. Cloud just nodded at him and went back to his coffee. They were silent for a few more minutes before Cloud noticed the time.  

 

Sighing softly he stood, "As much as I like keeping to our little routine here I have a few things I want to take care of before we ship out."  

 

Sephiroth didn't say anything. He just made a soft noise of acknowledgment before going back to his coffee. Cloud smiled softly as he turned back to his room. Changing quickly the blond slipped back out the front door, grateful that Sephiroth was not nearly as alert as he usually was before his first two cups of coffee. Otherwise the shorter man was sure that the other would have wondered why he was dressed in something only someone who lived in the Slums would wear. 

 

Managing to get out of the building was easier than he thought. All he really needed to do was use his ID card to gain access to the stairwell and simply drop to the bottom. It was only after he got outside that things got a little more complicated. There were Turks patrolling Sector 8 and by now all of them knew who he was. It didn't help that he had Tsurugi wrapped in a bit of fabric and slung over his shoulder like some strange kind of package. They were sure to notice something odd about that.  

 

Thinking back he managed to remember all the little things that both Yuffie and Vincent had taught him about sneaking about. Slipping into the first crowd he came to Cloud managed to blend in well enough to fool most people. Following that same pattern he was able to slip out of Sector 8 without too much trouble. Now that the hard part was over he all but bolted for the train station. Instead of boarding the train he simply jumped up on to the top of the train. Thankfully everyone there was more than used to seeing SOLDIERs do the very same thing so no one bothered him about it. Stretching out his legs and laying back the blond settled down to wait.  

 

Once the train finally stopped below the Plate Cloud leaped nimbly off before setting off for Sector 5. Someone, probably Zack, had come down recently and cleared out all the monsters so the journey was rather uneventful. Cloud was thankful for that. He really didn't want to have to possibly change before reaching his destination. Spotting his destination the blond made a bee line for the old church. He stopped before the doors, just looking up at the building. It took him a few minutes to muster the courage to actually open the doors and step inside.  

 

As it was now the cavernous building barely resembled the one from his memories. The flowers were still there but there was no hole in the ceiling, nor was there one in the floor. He could clearly still see where both of those places were going to be and it saddened him that the events that caused both incidents might now come to pass. There was a bit of movement to the far side of the flowers that drew his attention. Looking over he saw the one young woman he was here to see. She looked different than he remembered her but that was OK. Carefully he pulled Tsurugi off his back and set it beside the door. There was no point in scaring her by carrying it around.   

 

Stepping farther into the room he cleared his throat, "Excuse me?"  

 

Aerith stood up suddenly and gave him a brief deer-in-the-headlights look before she answered him, "Yes? What can I do for you?" 

 

"I... um... I just want to talk to you about something," Cloud said slowly making sure to have his hands fully visible so as not to startle her further.  

 

"What do you want to talk about?" Aerith replied slowly still looking more than a little wary of the other.  

 

"I just want your opinion on something, something that could change everything," Cloud stepped closer slowly, stopping just before reaching the flower bed and sitting down.  

 

Aerith just gave him an odd look but she lost the highly defensive stance she'd been in when he started talking to her, "Oh? What could be that powerful?"  

 

Cloud sighed and leaned forward. This was going to be the hard part. He knew that she could just ask the Planet for clarification but getting her to even stay long enough to believe him was another thing. A small hand resting on his shoulder had him looking back up at her. Their eyes met and she gasped softly before her eyes unfocused on him. Cloud watched, unaware that he'd stopped breathing until her eyes slid back into focus. Her hand trembled on his shoulder slightly but she did not remove it.  

 

"Aerith?" He asked softly and she blinked at him.  

 

"You mean to change the future, don't you? You want to stop Jenova from taking over," her voice was soft, but there was a conviction behind it that Cloud could recognize.  

 

"Yes. I do," Cloud replied, just as soft. "I know what will happen and I can stop it. What I want to know is should I?"  

 

Aerith just looked at him for a few seconds before sitting beside him, "Honestly, I'm not to sure. Though I think the real question is do you want to change the future? Everything you knew will be different. Somethings may stay the same, yes, but there are others that will not. Are you prepared to live with that?" 

 

Cloud looked away from her, staring sightlessly at the ground, "I take it the Planet told you everything?"  

 

Aerith just nodded at him, blue green eyes gazing sadly at him. The young man sighed softly and pressed his hands to his face. A small hand continued to rub gently at his back while the blond tried to gather his thoughts. They stayed like that for a few minutes before Cloud lifted his head again. Aerith gave him a curious look and he smiled softly at her.  

 

"I know that things will change if I try to stop Sephiroth from going mad but I would rather get to know and try to save the man he is now as opposed to trying to fight and kill him again. I don't think I have it in me to do it again. Emotionally, that is. Physically I could fight him forever, but emotionally I'm tired of fighting him," Cloud said looking back over the flowers.  

 

"Then I think you have your answer, Cloud. If you need anything just ask me, OK? I'd be more than happy to help out," the flower girl said with a bright smile.  

 

Cloud smiled back before he remembered something, "Actually I think there is something you can do to help. Not right now, but a little later on."  

 

"Oh?" Aerith looked a little surprised but she let the other continue.  

 

Cloud quickly explained about what was going on with Genesis and what was going to happen to Angeal. A sad look crossed her face until Cloud talked about how she could help fix the pair. As he spoke about the healing rain she summoned during the Geostigma Crisis in the future she started nodding slowly. The way the both understood the degradation it was just a far more aggressive case of Geostigma that took far less time to kill those affected and had a tendency to cause mental problems as well as physical. In the end he managed to get the young woman to agree to try and call on the healing rain if he could get both Angeal and Genesis to the church.  

 

Standing he held out a hand to her, simply expecting her to just shake his hand and be done with him. Unfortunately he forgot that Aerith was a bit of a hugger. Instead of taking his offered hand she threw her arms around his neck. Cloud froze in shock for a few seconds before he hugged her back. She tightened her arms around his neck before leaning up slightly.  

 

"Good luck, Cloud," she whispered softly to him. 

 

"Thanks, Aer, I'm going to need it," he replied as they separated. 

 

She just smiled and waved at him as he left the church. He just barely remembered to snag Tsurugi on his way out and was accompanied by bright laughter as his sudden move caused him sto tumble ungracefully out the door. Shaking his head as the heavy doors swung shut the blond headed back up to the top of the Plate. It was time to get ready for his first official Shinra assignment.  

 

-Time Skip: After Fort Tamblin Falls- 

 

"Zack! Cloud! Take Director Lazard and find Sephiroth!" Angeal shouted at them as he turned to face the strangely armored men.   

 

"But Angeal...!" Zack started but was cut off by the man himself.  

 

"Just go Zack!" Angeal shouted as he let loose a Level 2 Fire spell.  

 

"Zack, come on," Cloud said tugging at his arm.  

 

The dark haired 2nd looked at his mentor's back for a few more seconds before taking off down the path. Lazard ran in between the two warriors as the made a break for their base camp. Unfortunately their way was blocked by a few more of the strange armored men. Cloud skidded to a stop and drew First Tsurugi. He could feel Zack stop at his side and prepare to draw his own sword but the blond stuck out a hand to stop him.  

 

"Zack, take the Director and go. I can handle these guys," he said focusing on the men before him. 

 

"Are you sure?" Zack asked voice tight.  

 

"Yes, now go!" Cloud shouted as he leaped forward, breaking one of the six blades free of the main sword.  

 

Zack and the other blond darted around the combatants and to the other side of the clearing. Cloud stopped one of the ones trying to follow with a well placed Level 3 Bolt spell, frying the man instantly. He made quick work of dispatching the others with his swords. While they may have had some skill they weren't even close to his level. Stepping up next to one of them he pulled off his helmet only to be met with a familiar face. Swearing and leaping to his feet Cloud headed back to Angeal, leaving the unmasked Genesis copy to disintegrate into the Lifestream.  

Chapter Text

Darting down the trail Cloud couldn't help but think about what would be set in motion if he didn't make it back in time. If he messed up here there was even less of a chance of him successfully changing the future. Those dark thought circled around in his head for a little bit but he was dragged back to reality when he arrived in the first clearing. Stopping quickly, just barely long enough to catch his breath, the blond dove into the still trembling foliage. To his surprise Angeal was leaving a rather bold trail to follow. Almost like he wasn't even thinking about anyone following him. Cloud grit his teeth and upped his speed a little. He had to catch the man. If he didn't it would make things that much harder.  

 

Finally, he caught sight of the larger man. Angeal came stumbling into the next clearing like some kind of awkward child. There was a haunted look on his face that spoke volumes. He just stood there for a few moments before shaking his head and starting to move. Cloud took that as a signal to jump in. Stepping out of the trees he called out to the man.  

 

"Angeal!" 

 

Angeal whirled around, eyes wide. They fell on the blond on the other side of the clearing and he froze. The pair stood there for a few seconds in silence before the larger man started to back away. Not having any of that Cloud darted forward to grab at the front of the SOLDIER's uniform. Mentally thanking the Planet for his strength and the strength of SOLDIER uniforms he swung the larger man around by the suspenders. Angeal gave him a wide eyed look as they came to a stop, but Cloud spoke before he could say anything.  

 

"Just what the hell do you think you're doing? Huh?" The shorter man asked glaring up at the other.  

 

"I can't... I..." Angeal trailed off as he looked away, unable to come up with an appropriate response.  

 

"You were running away, weren't you? Those things back there, that could end up happening to you couldn't it?" Cloud pressed and upon receiving a slow nod he continued. "So you just decided to run away?!"  

 

Angeal looked down and away. Cloud wasn't having any of it, though. He grabbed the larger man's chin and forced him to look at the shorter. Once the 1st was looking at him again Cloud spoke again.  

 

"What about what you said to Zack? What happened to the man who refused to back down because his sense of honor would not allow it? Hell, what would you leaving do to Zack? To Sephiroth? If there's one thing I've learned in just a week of being at Shinra it’s that both of them rely on you far too much for you to suddenly take off like this," Cloud said still holding the other's chin. "As far as I know you and Zack are maybe Sephiroth's only friends, and that's not counting the MIA Genesis. He needs you, Zack needs you. Do you really think that if they find out about this they won't try to help you? Do you honestly think that they would turn you away? Treat you like a freak or a monster?" 

 

"They wouldn't understand..." Angeal began only to be cut off by a sharp glare from the shorter man.  

 

"Sephiroth would understand better than you think," Cloud said before taking a deep breath. "There is something that can be done about the degradation. I can help you get better, if you would just let me!" 

 

"Genesis said..."  

 

"That Hollander is the only one who can help you? Bullshit! He will only make it worse! In my experience with doctors and scientists they only say they can help if whatever they are doing can benefit them. Not to try and actually be helpful but to just do something they feel like doing. In reality all they do is just make things worse while saying that things will get better. I can actually help you. What I am proposing will actually make you better," Cloud finally let go of the other man completely. "But I can't do that if you take off on a mad dash after a total madman. Will you let me help you? If not for your sake, then for Zack and Sephiroth?"  

 

Angeal stood there in silence, just staring at the short blond man. Mako blue eyes darted from one side of his face to the other before looking around the clearing. Cloud just stood there calmly waiting for the other man's response. Silence reigned for a few minutes before Angeal nodded slowly at the shorter man.  

 

"OK... OK, I'll let you help. I don't want to end up losing either of them," he said as he stepped closer.  

 

"Good," Cloud nodded before starting back the way he came. "The first step is to get back to them before they think the worst." 

 

Angeal followed quietly behind him as they took off into the trees, heading back to the first clearing. They were almost back when raised voices reached their ears. Sharing a look, they abandoned speed for stealth as they edged closer. As they got closer the voices resolved into Sephiroth and Zack. They seemed to be arguing about something.  

 

"No! It's not possible!" Zack cried shaking his head sharply.  

 

"I'm sorry, Zack, but it's true," Sephiroth stood from where he had been crouched over one of the Genesis copies. "Angeal has abandoned Shinra."  

 

Beside him Angeal made a sound like a wounded animal before dropping swiftly into the clearing. Both of the other two SOLDIERs snapped to look at him. Sephiroth was tense and looked ready to jump into a fight at any moment whereas Zack looked like he was about to start crying. They all looked at each other for a few seconds before Zack actually did start crying. Angeal stepped forward immediately to fold the smaller man into his arms. Cloud stepped slowly out of the trees behind them while Angeal murmured softly to the top of Zack's head.  

 

As he stepped around the pair Sephiroth caught sight of him. Immediately the silver haired man stepped forward. Cloud met him halfway and gently pulled him away from the other two. Green eyes watched him carefully, confusion just barely hidden behind slit pupils. Quickly Cloud explained that Angeal had taken off after a few other copies that had escaped into the woods. The shorter man had followed him just as a precaution, in case he needed backup. That turned out to not be the case and they returned. When he was finished Cloud just looked at Sephiroth carefully. The general glanced back over at Angeal and Zack before looking at the blond again.  

 

"Are you certain that's all that happened?" He asked lowly.  

 

"Are you seriously asking me that question? Or are you trying to ask if Angeal was trying to defect like Genesis? Huh? Be straight with me here, because I will be brutally honest with you when I say what I told you is exactly what happened. Some copies escaped, he went after them, I followed and then we came back. Simple as that," Cloud said just barely managing to keep the beginnings of rage from spilling over into his tone.  

 

Sephiroth looked away, decidedly uncomfortable with everything. He wasn't trying to assume that Angeal was going to abandon him like Genesis did but that was still a worry for him. The two were close, closer than he really knew. They were also his only friends. It was easier, when one looked at it like that, to be more worried about one of them trying to leave. Though, now that Cloud had brought it up, it really did seem like he was just trying to find something to accuse Angeal of. Sephiroth looked away from the blond and back over at Angeal and Zack.  

 

Angeal was still holding his former student with Zack almost wrapped monkey-like around him. The 1st spoke in a constant barely audible stream of soothing words that eventually trailed off into just comforting noise. Sephiroth dared to take a glance at the other’s face as Angeal gently swayed the younger man back and forth. What he saw had the Silver General backing up half a step. Despite trying to comfort the smaller man in his arms Angeal also had tears streaming down his face. Looking away he met Cloud’s eyes again. The blond caught his eye and gave him a look. Sephiroth bowed his head at the blond before turning back to the way they came from.  

 

Cloud watched his back for a few moments before starting after the taller man. Sephiroth said nothing about the other following him but he did shorten his strides a bit so that the other didn’t have to jog to keep up with him. They both arrived back at the came just as the other SOLDIERs were packing everything up into the transports. Without really thinking about it the general headed for one of the transports, not noticing that Cloud was lagging behind a bit. 

 

When he finally did notice he turned around and gave the blond a raised eyebrow, “Aren’t you coming?”  

 

“I am but unlike you I have my own ride,” Cloud replied over his shoulder as he headed for a large tarp covered object.  

 

Sephiroth’s other eyebrow joined its twin in his hair line as the blond walked away. Glancing over at the couple Turks who had joined the mission he saw Tseng shaking his head slightly with a faint smile on his face. Before the SOLDER could contemplate the odd look on the man’s face a loud roar split the air. All at once the SOLDIERs jumped, reaching for their weapons. A sharp laugh replaced the roar as the noise cycled down to a low idle and all eyes snapped to Cloud. The blond was seated astride a massive beast of a motorcycle.  

 

It was from the powerful bike the that sound had originated while the laugh had come from it’s smirking owner. Everyone relaxed at realizing that the roar had just been the bike starting up. Cloud’s blue eyes glittered as he reigned in his laughter with a little bit of difficulty. The other SOLDERS just stared at him for a few minutes before going back about their duties. Sephiroth walked slowly over to the still grinning blond, a faint scowl on his face.  

 

“Was that really necessary?” he asked crossing his arms over his chest.  

 

“Probably not but I rather enjoyed watching you all jump like small children,” Cloud replied leaning against the front of the bike.  

 

“Even so, it is probably not a good idea to startle SOLDIERs like that. They tend to be a little trigger happy,” Tseng chimed in as he walked past the pair.  

 

“Oh, shut up you. I know that,” Cloud snarked back at the Wutian sitting up as he did.  

 

“That’s good,” the man replied with an even tone before looking at the blond over his shoulder. “I do wonder about that thing though.”  

 

Cloud just gave him a raised eyebrow but didn’t say anything. The Turk chuckled softly before making a comment about the sound of the engine compensating for the speed of the bike itself. Blue eyes flashed dangerously at the words. Tseng gave him a raised eyebrow but said nothing.  

 

“Oh? You think Fenrir is slow do you? How about a little race then?” he snapped glaring at the dark haired man. 

 

At the challenging words all action in the camp stopped. Now everyone was looking at the two men, eyes wide. Cloud and Tseng seemed quite oblivious to the awed stares they were receiving. The pair had quickly become the center of attention for the entire camp. It was a well known fact that the Turks prided themselves on being some of the fastest moving members of Shinra. It was almost unheard of for anyone to challenge a Turk to a race.  

 

“A race? Are you sure?” Tseng asked slowly. 

 

“I’m sure. From here to the harbor. Unless you’re afraid that I’m gonna kick your butt,” Cloud said crossing his own arms across his chest.  

 

“I am afraid of nothing, Strife. Very well. You on that little thing while we take a chopper? First one to the harbor has to give a favor to the other,” Tseng said with a nod as he stepped back to one of the helicopters at the edge of the camp.  

 

“A favor that can be called in at any time, with no questions asked,” Cloud countered quickly.  

 

“Fair enough,” Tseng agreed easily. “There needs to be a referee or two though. Any takers?” 

 

After a few seconds of total silence Sephiroth stepped forward, drawing every one’s attention. He motioned to another SOLDIER and waited for the man to step up beside him before turning back to the others. Both Cloud and Tseng gave him raised eyebrows but other than that neither of them moved.  

 

“I will go with Strife, Rayes will go with the Turks," Sephiroth said gesturing to the man at his side. "That should be sufficient enough, yes?"  

 

"Very well. First one to the harbor is the winner. Whoever wins gets one unconditional favor from the other," Tseng said looking at Cloud.  

 

"Sounds good to me as well," The blonde nodded.  

 

Cloud didn't even hesitate to accept the wager. By now everyone was looking more than a little nervous about what was going on. It got even worse when the stakes were announced. A single favor might have seemed like a small thing between SOLDIERs but between a Turk and a SOLDIER it was a huge deal. Whoever won could ask for anything, at any time. It was unheard of.  

 

"Shall we get started then?" Tseng made for the helicopter, Rayes falling into step just behind him.  

 

"Sure, one thing first," Cloud turned to Sephiroth hand handed him a small band. "You might want to put your hair up."  

 

Sephiroth slowly took the band and pulled his long silver hair into a low ponytail at the back of his head. While he was doing that Cloud was pulling out a couple pairs of goggles for them both. Looking back at the Silver General he blinked slowly before shaking his head. Gesturing for the man to turn around he set the goggles on the dash and pulled off his gloves. Sephiroth turned slowly, wondering just what the blond wanted from him.  

 

"Just putting it back in a ponytail isn't really going to keep it from getting tied into massive knots. I don't care who you are or the magical properties of your hair, riding a motorcycle at high speeds will whip it into an unmanageable mess that we would be better off removing as opposed to trying to fix it," Cloud explained as he pulled the tie out of the taller man's hair before carding his fingers through it slowly.     

 

"Then what do you suggest?" Sephiroth asked just barely managing not to turn and look at the shorter man.  

 

"I'm just going to braid it. That way you only have to worry about the ends getting tied up together," Cloud replied even as he started working on the braid.  

 

Sephiroth just stood there and let him work. Once the blonde was finished he threw the long silver tail over one of the general's shoulders. Green eyes focused on it for a few seconds before he turned back to the blonde. Cloud just smirked and handed him a pair of goggles, positioning his own on his face as he did so. Shaking his head slowly, totally missing the stares of his men, the Silver General pulled on his own goggles and climbed onto the bike behind Cloud.  

 

"We're ready when you are, Tseng!" Cloud called as Sephiroth wrapped his arms around the shorter man's waist.  

 

"Let's be off then, shall we?" The Turk called back before gesturing to Reno, who was piloting the chopper.  

 

As the chopper lifted off the ground Cloud turned to Sephiroth with a smirk on his face, "I'd hold on a little tighter if I were you."  

 

"Why?"  

 

Cloud just laughed but said no more. Instead he revved Fenrir's engine, causing the bike to jerk forward a bit. Sephiroth tightened his grip a little but not as much as he probably should have. Once the chopper was above the tree line Cloud took off, the back tire spitting dirt and gravel as he did. Sephiroth found himself all but clinging to the blond at the sudden rush of speed. There was no way this was going to end well for them, he was sure of it.    

Chapter Text

The trees and brush whipped past the pair as Cloud steered them confidently through the dense Wutian jungle. Sephiroth still had his arms wrapped tightly around the blonde’s waist, his face partially buried in the shorter man’s shoulder. After Cloud sent them flying around yet another tree, close enough to touch the bark, Sephiroth finally had enough. Lifting his head from the blonde’s shoulder he had a brief moment of vertigo as the world flashed past him before shaking his head slightly the man turned to Cloud.

 

“Is this really necessary?” he called over both the rushing wind and the roar of the bike.

 

“Is what really necessary?” the blond shouted back as he dodged yet another tree while getting far too close for the General’s comfort.

 

“The excessive speed and the constant close call swerving around obstacles,” the General shouted back, tightening his arm around the blonde at a particularly sharp turn.

 

Cloud didn’t respond for a few moments as he dodged through a large copse of trees, “Simple. This is a race and if I were to take a more direct path to the harbor I would have to cut my way through the jungle. Trying to cut our way though is time consuming and very slow. It might actually cost us the race considering that not only would it take time to do the actual cutting we could attract a mass multitude of monsters in our passing, something else that would slow us down. I have absolutely no intention of losing. Especially after Tseng insulted Fenrir like that.”

 

Wide green eyes stared at the back of the blonde’s head for a few incredulous seconds. The look didn’t last long before both were forced to dodge a low hanging branch. Sephiroth was about to say something else when a bright light assaulted his eyes. Once again he found his face pressed against the other man’s back as his eyes tried to adjust. When he was able to look up again without going blind he found that they had left the jungle behind and were now racing across the plains. Taking a surreptitious glance around he could not find a trace of the Turk’s helicopter.

 

“Relax,” Cloud said, seeming to read the General’s mind, as he pointed off to their right and up. “They are right there.”

 

Sephiroth turned his head in the appointed direction after a moment’s hesitation. Sure enough there was the chopper, just now crossing the tree line. They had been forced to fly low and slow because despite the victory they were still in enemy territory. Now that they were out in the open, however, they pushed the speed. In no time at all they were right above Cloud and Sephiroth. Cloud took a moment to flip the pilot (Reno) the bird before leaning back over the controls. With a quiet word to Sephiroth the blond hit the gas. Sephiroth barely had time to tighten his hold before Fenrir shot forward.

 

Almost like the had been launched from a cannon the bike with its two passengers raced across the ground. Even at the much higher rate of speed Cloud still had perfect control of the massive, powerful vehicle. Faintly Sephiroth could hear Reno cussing over the comm-system as the black bike became merely a black speck on the horizon. The man was distracted from the cursing Turk by a faint, but still noticeable, tremor in the blonde’s body. Before Sephiroth could say something about it the blond threw back his head and laughed. It was so surprising that the larger man nearly lost his grip on the smaller. Thankfully Cloud was quick enough to catch the stunned man’s wrists before he slipped too far.

 

“Everything OK?” he shouted as he pulled Sephiroth’s long arms back around his waist, only letting go after the larger man regained his grip.

 

Sephiroth didn’t reply for a few second but when he did the only way Cloud was able to hear him was because of his enhanced hearing, “I have never heard you laugh before. Not like that anyway, I mean.”

 

Cloud was silent for a few seconds before replying, “You haven’t heard me laugh like that because I haven’t really had something to laugh like that about. Riding like this is my one way of being truly free. This is as close to escaping the rest of the world as I can get.”

 

Sephiroth went quiet at that, just letting the blonde’s words settle in his head. There was really no denying them anyway. At this rate of speed and their current location it was almost as if the rest of the world didn’t even exist, as if they were the only two people in the world. Carefully he tightened his arms around the shorter man’s waist before leaning forward to rest his chin on Cloud’s right shoulder.  Cloud tensed for a moment but when Sephiroth made no other moves he relaxed. He just maintained their current course, trying his damnedest not to think too hard about the body pressed against his back and the head resting on his shoulder. It was probably bad luck for him to hope that the harbor was closer than it was but it didn’t stop him from trying.

 

-With Zack and Angeal-

 

Shortly after Sephiroth and Cloud left Zack managed to pry himself away from Angeal. His mentor let him pull back but didn’t release him completely. They both stared at each other for a few second before Zack finally worked up the courage to speak.

 

“What happened? Why did you leave?” he asked, voice soft and shaking.

 

“I-,” Angeal trailed off, looking away slightly and just barely remembering what he heard Cloud tell Sephiroth. “I missed one of the copies. It escaped into the jungle and I followed it. I was more concerned with stopping it and didn’t really think about what it would look like if you to come back here. I’m just lucky Cloud decided to come after me thinking I might need help.”

 

Zack nodded at the older man’s words. They were all lucky Cloud thought Angeal might need backup. Had he not Sephiroth might have reported Angeal to be a traitor. The Second wasn’t entirely sure he could live with having to fight him mentor in the future. Shaking his head to dismiss the thoughts he pulled Angeal back in for another bone crushing hug. They released each other after a few more seconds before stepping back. Zack gave his mentor a brilliant smile which Angeal was helpless to return.

 

“We should head back to camp, shouldn’t we?” Zack asked gesturing with his shoulder in the direction that Sephiroth and Cloud disappeared in.

 

Angeal just nodded, not really trusting his voice, before heading off in the appointed direction with one arm around Zack’s shoulders. The pair walked back along the trail toward the camp. By the time they arrived the camp was a flurry of activity and they could faintly hear to the loud roar of an engine fading into the distance. Angela sent Zack off to help gather up the gear while he went to find Lazard. The blond was in the command tent, trying to get a route narrowed down to get everyone to the harbor. Looking around the 1st was surprised to not see Sephiroth in the middle of everything as well.

 

“Have I missed something big? Or did Sephiroth vanish?” Angeal asked walking over to try and help the SOLDIER director.

 

“The only thing you missed was Cloud challenging the Turks to a race. Sephiroth and a 2nd by the name of Rayes are the two referees to make sure there is no cheating,” Lazard replied without missing a beat. “I just hope that when one of them gets there they remember to arrange overseas passage for the rest of us.”

 

“Is that really a good idea? Having all of those people missing right now?” Angeal asked giving the Director a concerned look.

 

“Normally I would say yes but considering what the stakes are I am more than willing to overlook it,” the blond replied with a small shrug. “Though that is not stopping me from insisting that we move out sooner rather than later.”

 

Angeal nodded, going back to his work before looking back up at the other man, “What are the stakes?”

 

“One unconditional favor to be called in at any time.”

Chapter Text

Nothing was said between the two riders as the massive black motorcycle glided around a bend in the road. Then again nothing really needed to be said. They had left the Turks helicopter in the dust miles ago and Cloud was finally relaxed enough not to freak out every time Sephiroth shifted a bit behind him. Things were going good when, suddenly, Sephiroth tensed and lifted his head from Cloud’s shoulder. The blond sat back a bit as well, even as the Silver General’s arms tightened around his waist.

 

“Something’s out there,” was all Sephiroth said looking around slightly but not quite finding what he was looking for. “I am not quite sure where but it is there.”

 

“I feel it, too,” Cloud replied, eyes narrowing and shifting his weight slightly and leaning forward. “Grab your hair and hold onto it.”

 

Sephiroth gave the back of the blonde head an incredulous look, “I thought the point of putting it up was to keep it out of the way. Why should I hold onto it since it is already out of the way?”

 

“Can you use Masamune while riding a moving motorcycle?” Cloud asked glancing back.

 

“No,” Sephiroth replied with a frown. “But as far as I can tell you left your weapon back at the camp. With that being the case it would be better for us to just avoid whatever is following us.”

 

Cloud chuckled and shook his head at that before telling the larger man to pull his long trailing hair in as close as he could. Still not quite seeing the point Sephiroth freed one of his hands to wrap the long silver braid loosely around his throat. No sooner had he wrapped his arm back around the blonde’s waist that a large beast leaped out at them from behind a large tree. Cloud wasted no time in breaking sharply before sending them veering wildly around the beast.

 

Sephiroth tucked himself against Cloud’s back, mind running at a million miles to some up with a workable strategy to deal with the monster. Cloud on the other hand simply swung Fenrir around to charge back at the beast. It roared a challenge and lunged forward. The blond grinned slightly as he thumbed the button to open the weapons compartments. Waiting until the last second, right as the beast lunged at them, Cloud pushed the button. Fenrir’s sides flew open and he took both hands off the handlebars to draw the main and hollow blade. They slid smoothly out of their slots with barely a sound.

 

Cloud swung both blade around with expert precision, just barely missing the trailing edges of Sephiroth’s coat. The man in question actually found himself flinching away from the twin blades even as they got closer and closer to the monster. By now he was actually starting to think that Cloud was insane for charging the monster with two weapons and seemingly no control of the vehicle. He was more than ready to leap off and take his chances with the monster when Cloud shifted his weight slightly, sending the bike shifting in that direction. As he did he reached out with both blades to cleave the monster in half. Even before the two pieces hit the ground Cloud was already digging he longer blade into the ground and using it as an anchor to swing them back around to the proper direction.

 

With an ease born only of practice he twirled the blades around before leaning forward and sliding them into the lower portion of his harness. The Silver General could feel the edges of the blades as they slid past his legs but never actually touching them. Once they were settled Cloud reclaimed his hold of the handlebars and they were once again back on track, all without losing control once.

 

Sephiroth was quiet for a few seconds before he finally spoke, “How?”

 

Cloud chuckled before responding, “Simple, Fenrir was designed with my style of fighting in mind. Since Tsurugi is multiple weapons combined into one it makes sense that I can dual wield."

 

Sephiroth just stared at the back of the blond's head but chose not to comment further as the small port town came into view. As they got closer and closer to the town Cloud slowed down to more acceptable speeds. Gliding into the small town the blonde made a beeline for the harbor itself. Pulling up to the harbor master's station he brought his behemoth of a motorcycle to a halt. Sitting up he turned to look over his shoulder.

 

"Well?" He questioned, just barely managing to keep a smug tone out of his voice. "What say you, Ref?"

 

Sephiroth just looked at the blond for a few seconds before sliding off the back of the motorcycle, "I say you won, that's what I say. Congratulations, Cloud."

 

Cloud just nodded before turning Fenrir off while Sephiroth got to squaring away their transport with the harbor master. Once everything was all said and done the pair simply just waited around for the Turks to arrive. It took the Reno and the helicopter a good half an hour to arrive in the small town and upon seeing the massive motorcycle in front of the harbor master's station the redhead started cussing a blue streak. Cloud barley managed to suppress a grin at the sound. He failed to suppress the snort of laughter when Tseng cuffed him upside the head for jerking them all around. Sephiroth glanced at the blonde at his side and hid a fain smile behind one gloved hand. The dark-haired Turk walked right up to the blond swordsman, holding out one hand as he did.

 

Cloud smirked and took the other’s hand, “No hard feelings right, Tseng?”

 

“No hard feelings, Cloud. You won fair and square,” Tseng smirked back shaking their joined hands quickly. “The favor is yours fair and square. Congratulations.”

 

Cloud just nodded before stepping back to his bike. Sephiroth just rolled his eyes slowly before turning to head toward the inn to wait for the rest of their group to arrive. It wasn’t until almost nine that night that everyone else arrived. Loading all the equipment and personnel onto the ship took another four hours, so they didn’t end up actually leaving Wutai until one the next day. Everyone was quick to settle into their assigned cabins for the trip back, so the ship seemed downright deserted. Sephiroth was probably one of the only people still awake by then.  He settled for patrolling the boat for a few hours before trying to get some kind of sleep. As he walked he couldn’t help but think back to when they found Angeal after the fort fell. Something seemed off with it. Not that he didn’t trust Cloud’s word or anything (hell he let the blond live in his apartment, not even Genesis or Angeal got to stay for more than a couple hours). It was just that something seemed off. Perhaps it was in the way that Cloud was a little too short in his explanation, like he was trying to hold onto some information. Shaking his head the silverette stopped. Even if the blond was withholding information whatever he was holding onto must have been enough to get Angeal to stay. Sephiroth couldn’t help but feel grateful for that fact alone. Even though the circumstances were strange the end result was something he could live with. He only hoped that Cloud and Angeal would tell him the truth sooner or later.

Chapter Text

Upon arriving back at the Shinra Building Angeal is immediately pulled aside for an in-depth debriefing. Cloud had watched the taller man walk away, a blank look on his face. Glancing to the side he sees Zack staring rather forlornly at his mentor’s back. Sighing softly the blond scrubbed at his face with one hand before reaching over and cuffing Zack on the shoulder. The younger turned his body to face him, eyes following a few seconds later.

 

“I know you’re worried about Angeal but why don’t you head up to his room and wait for him to come back. They can’t keep him for too long, you know that,” Cloud said giving the dark-haired man a look.

 

“R-right,” Zack mumbled looking at his boots before giving Cloud a fake smile. “I’ll see you later then, Spike.”

 

Cloud froze at the familiar nickname, just barely managing to smile before the other man walked away. Shaking his head sharply and pinching the bridge of his nose the blond decided that he needed something to drink, now. The only problem with that was he had no idea where he could actually go to get something strong enough to knock him out. That was what he wanted; something that would not only put him on his ass but make the spike of pain at hearing that familiar nickname not feel as sharp. Rubbing at his temples the blond headed for the front door. He would have totally missed having Sephiroth fall into step beside him if not for the soft brush of leather against his elbow.

 

Looking up blue met cat like green as the General looked the shorter man over, “Are you alright?”

 

“Not really...” Cloud murmured after a moment. “I really need a drink, something that will more than put me on my ass. My head is spinning and I can’t get it to stop.”

 

“I might know a good place for something like that,” Sephiroth murmured before heading into Sector 8.

 

Raising an eyebrow Cloud followed after the taller man. Sephiroth bypassed Loveless Avenue in favor of a much smaller, far less populated side street. Leading the sorter man through several narrow streets and back alleys they finally came to a small with a pair of lanterns out front. Sephiroth slid the door open with ease before ducking inside, fully expecting the blond to follow him. After only a moment's hesitation Cloud stepped through the low door.

 

Inside the lighting was almost non-existent, a dim flickering glow provided by candles placed strategically around the small room. Despite the dim lighting he could tell that the place was Wutian in design. His thoughts were confirmed when a small woman walked up to the taller man and spoke in broken English.

 

“Welcome. Have seat?” she asked slowly with a thick accent that made the words almost unintelligible.

 

“A place for two to drink,” Sephiroth murmured in perfect Wutian, surprising the woman.

 

The woman nodded and lead them to a low table near the back of the shop. As they folded themselves properly onto the cousins she bustled through a curtain near them. Cloud just watched the other man, aware that both of their eyes were glowing at about the same level as the candles. Sephiroth just gave the other a small smile before those green eyes flicked to the curtain. The blond followed his look to see the woman heading back their way with two small papers.

 

“Since you speak Wutian I assume you know how to read it, yes” she asked with a raised eyebrow.

 

“I know I do, Madam. I’m not sure about him though,” Cloud smirked and placed his chin on one fist.

 

Sephiroth just eyed the blond for a moment before accepting both papers. The woman took that to mean the other’s capability. She nodded sharply and strode off. Cloud snorted and rolled his eyes before snatching one of the papers. Looking over the paper he smiled softly at several familiar items.

 

He was almost afraid that some of the thing Yuffie had shown him while he visited might not have been created yet. It might not have been obvious to the girl but he had acquired a few favorites out of the Wutian cuisine and drinks. By the time the little woman came back he was looking around the restaurant, chin pillowed in his hand. Cloud was oblivious to the way Sephiroth was looking at him from across the table he was so lost in his head.

 

After giving the woman their order the Silver General cleared his throat slightly before speaking, “I was unaware that you knew Wutian.”

 

“I have a friend from there. She insisted that I learn how to speak, read and write it,” Cloud shrugged carefully. “She’s one of those people who won’t take no for an answer no matter how many times or different ways you give it.”

 

The other nodded, a faint smile on his face that had Cloud almost wish he had Vincent’s photographic memory, “Zack is a little like that. He eventually gets the message though.”

 

“What, after you toss him around the room by his ankle or something?” Cloud smirked as he leaned his chin on his hand again, this time facing his companion.

 

“Something like that, yes,” Sephiroth said, green eyes glittering in the dim light.

 

Cloud laughed softly, imagining the other actually had to do that at one point. The pair lapsed into silence as the woman brought out their drinks. She informed them that their food would be out in a moment, glancing at Sephiroth as thought she expected the SOLDIER to snap at her for it. Both men just thanked her before she scurried off to the back room again. No sooner had the curtain fallen shut behind her that Sephiroth was looking down at the table.

 

“What’s wrong?” Cloud asked slowly after taking a sip of his drink.

 

“They always think that just for telling me that something is going to take a few extra minutes that I am going to hurt them for it...” the man responded after several seconds, still looking at the table top. “I have never tried to harm any of the people here so I am uncertain as to where that line of thinking came from.”

 

Cloud just watched the other for a moment, taking another sip before calling out, “Hey!”

 

Sephiroth looked up at the blond, eyes a little wide, as Cloud shifted in his seat. Before the silverette could even blink the other snapped a hand out and he felt two fingers digging into his forehead followed by the heel of the other’s palm. Reeling backward the man just stared at the other even as one hand rose to the already fading read mark on his skin. Across the table Cloud just smirked at the other, raising his drink before taking a drink.

 

Blinking quickly the other man dropped his hand to the table top, “What in Gaia’s name was that for?”

 

“Stop feeling sorry for yourself and relax a little,” the blond shrugged. “You’re famous, your reputation precedes you and that makes people nervous. Calm down and relax. You’re so uptight, it’s no wonder people get jumpy around you.”

 

“That is easy for you to say. People here do not look to you to be a leader. They don’t expect you to be perfect in everything that you do. You aren’t expected to be able to handle everything thrown at you. You-!” Sephiroth started to growl only to be cut off when a small clump of rice bounced off the tip of his nose.

 

Cloud just looked at him from across the table, had still raised from throwing the food, “You do realize I’ve seen you in the mornings and you are a total monster before coffee, right? Have I ever said anything about that? Have I ever given the appearance that I care about you being some perfect leader?”

 

The silver haired man just sat there for a few seconds, processing. It was true. Aside from the first time Cloud tried to talk to him before he’d had his coffee the blond just gave him a little light ribbing about his attitude. Nothing more nothing less. Cloud never looked at him like everyone else, even Angeal and Genesis, did.

 

Blinking slowly down at his plate (he had been so focused on Cloud he hadn’t realized that they had received their food) Sephiroth slowly allowed his spine to curl into a slouch while he absently cracked his knuckles under the table. Glancing back up at the blond he just found the other giving him a soft smile before returning to his dinner. Rolling his shoulders a bit he propped an elbow up on the table as he finally took a sip of his drink. Letting out a long breath when he set the glass down he looked back over at the blond to see the other raise his glass in a ‘cheers’ gesture. Copying the motion the Silver General found himself relaxing into his seat a bit more.

 

“See? Now we’re getting somewhere here,” Cloud smiled softly as he turned back to his food.

 

“You are a total menace, you know that right?” Sephiroth asked as he followed the other man’s example.

 

The blond just shrugged before holding up his glass, “So people tell me.”

 

Snorting Sephiroth let the conversation fall away in favor of enjoying their food. The rest of the meal passed in silence as they both took the time to just sit and reset. Even the woman who had been serving them seemed to calm down and take a few breaths. She stopped flinching every time the Silver General addressed her. She even tossed a few good natured jabs at the pair that had both men laughing.

 

All in all it ended up being a good night. They didn’t end up blackout drunk but Cloud still felt the effects of the alcohol. It might not have been what he wanted, but by the time they made it back to the taller man’s apartment he realized it might have been what he really needed. Spending time with someone who was just trying to make him feel comfortable was something he had been sorely missing.