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Blond Devils

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It all started with a mass email sent out early in the morning of the new work week.

"To all employees of ShinRa Corporation:

Starting in one week, there will be some changes regarding the current heads of departments. Vice President Rufus Shinra has volunteered to replace the current empty position as the permanent Director of the Investigation Sector of the General Affairs Department. In return, SOLDIER Director, Lazard Deusericus, will be promoted to take the Vice President position that Rufus Shinra will be leaving vacant.

To fill in the empty position of the SOLDIER Director, Cloud Strife has been hired with excellent recommendations of both previous Vice President, Rufus Shinra, and temporary department head of Investigation Sector of the General Affairs Department, Tseng, and will officially start in three months time once officially trained. To offset the absence, Lazard shall continue overseeing SOLDIER until the new Director is ready while covering half of the Vice President operations. The other half shall be taken care of by Rufus Shinra himself.

Let us congratulate our new heads of departments, Cloud Strife and Rufus Shinra, as well as our new Vice President Lazard Deusericus.

Have a nice day,

From the Human Resources Department.

Co-signed by President Shinra."

The stunned uproar that followed said email was expected and as a result, word of the news traveled swiftly throughout the various divisions. Within thirty minutes, the entirety of ShinRa Corporation had learned of the newfound changes and the turmoil that followed afterwards remained as a sign of foreboding.

No one knew what was to happen now and that was the scary part to all those that would be affected, especially the SOLDIERs.


"Director Lazard!" The sudden yell was followed up with a loud bang against the door, nearly startling the individual inside the enclosed office. "We need to talk. Now."

Lazard sighed, pushing up his glasses along the curve of his nose as his blue eyes glanced up at the metal frame before him. He should have expected this the moment he entered his office to start the new work week and it hadn't even been five minutes since he sat down in his office chair. He hadn't even pressed the system button to start up his computer.

Luckily, he had picked up an excellent cup of coffee from the shop two blocks down (because everyone knew that ShinRa's coffee was retched and it was the very reason he was late to work) with two extra shots of espresso, though he wasn't certain it would be enough to push him through the day. Perhaps later, he would take a break and grab more, should probably get some Aspirin too. He had a strong overwhelming feeling deep within his chest that it was going to be a long day.

Sighing once more, he pressed the 'on' button of his computer before calling out, "Come in!" As he waited for his door to be slammed open, he pushed his chair back and decided grudgingly to ignore his current workload that needed to be completed by the end of this week. The announcement had been unforeseen to everyone as he had expected and he should have known that there would be certain individuals that wouldn't be pleased with the abrupt changes. Still, to become Vice President, to gain a higher position that would allow him to keep a closer eye on the company itself, well, he would be a fool to not take it.

His door opened, revealing General Sephiroth himself, dressed in his modified overcoat uniform, the silver-haired male clearly frazzled. Right behind him was the Crimson Commander, Genesis, and Honor-bound Commander, Angeal. Both were dressed in their usual uniforms and all perceptibly stressed, the blond speculating from the news.

Lazard observed from behind his rims as Angeal closed the door behind him, locking it to keep eavesdroppers from slipping in. Not that it mattered since the three best SOLDIERs were standing before him and they had the most sensitive hearing. Sneaking up on these three was impossible. Unable to hide his smirk, his pleasure of seeing the 'Holy Trinity Firsts' (a nickname some men had given them) so frazzled, Lazard placed his folded arms against his desk. "I take it that you're here about the announcement?" There would be no other reason as to why all three of them would be here.

Sephiroth decided to make the point of this hasty meeting, stepping forward before the other two. "It should be obvious. You haven't once mentioned anything regarding this. It's unexpected."

Lazard's lips twitched into a smile. "Yes, well, it was unexpected for me as well. The decision was only made last month."

"Last month? And you never once thought to alert us?" Sephiroth wasn't pleased regarding the changes. For himself and the rest of SOLDIER, Lazard was one of the few good uncorrupted men of ShinRa that actively sought to help his men than just use them as expandable goods. Anyone else would willingly send them to their deaths and not even blink an eye at it.

"My apologies, but I've been too busy dealing with these changes to actively seek out a meeting with the three of you, much less send a message. It doesn't help that two of you were off on missions and the other was on mentoring duty with Third class, Zack Fair." The three Firsts glanced at each other, knowing that little tidbit of information was true. They had been busy the last month, dealing with Wutai, outside terrorist groups, and just the regular hordes of monsters surrounding Midgar. The combination just simply ate into their free time. Attending regular meetings with other members of ShinRa, sorting through potential cadets, and various complaints from their own men hadn't made things any easier. Lazard sighed, tilting his head to the side as he took in the three men's facial expressions. They were unreadable except for Angeal, all of which wasn't unsurprising. "And to be honest, I'm not entirely one-hundred percent sure what's going on to cause these changes. It was Rufus himself that asked me to take his position and the very same to employ Cloud Strife as my replacement."

The surprise that followed was obvious, Sephiroth glancing towards his fellow companions to ensure what he was hearing was indeed correct. "Rufus? Rufus himself? He actually willingly demoted himself?"

Lazard nodded. He too had been surprised when his younger half-brother had suddenly called him out, considering they rarely spoke to each other outside meetings between board members. He wasn't oblivious to the detestable rumors that circulated around the ShinRa heir, but this sudden development was eccentric. It wasn't like the blond to give up such a high position of authority so willingly, not when he was known to be power-hungry. Lazard almost sighed once more and leaned back against his chair. "I don't know Rufus very well, but I can say for certain that he's up to something and I've been included in his little plot. That's all I can say on this matter."

Sephiroth shuffled in his stance as he tried to look anywhere besides the blond man before him. Genesis already had a sneer on his lips, looking just moments away from getting in a verbal fight.

It was Angeal that spoke up, wanting to get things rolling. "And this Cloud Strife? When will he be making his appearance? He'll be spending these three upcoming months training with you, yes?"

"About that..." Lazard sighed heavily. He was definitely going to need more coffee today and perhaps for the rest of the week. "He actually already started two weeks ago."

"What?" This time, the yell came from all three SOLDIERs, each surprised by the unexpected news.

Lazard wanted nothing more than to take off his glasses and rub in-between his eyes. This was going to take a while. "Remember I mentioned that these changes were decided last month?" He received a nod. "Well, Cloud decided to get started right away instead of waiting. The first week, he was with me, learning the ropes of the business and management. I'll admit, he's quite the...competent individual. He memorized everything and more during that time, and has already started thinking up of ideas to reorganize everything I've done. Apparently, he found my organizational skills regarding the paperwork for missions and individual SOLDIERs...unsatisfying." There was a click of his tongue, unsure if he was impressed or offended. For now, he would go with impressed. "He finished learning everything within a week and has moved on to something else."

There were three looks of confusion facing him, but none of them were entirely sure on what exactly to speak up about. And the thing is, either did Lazard. He was...uncertain when it came to Cloud Strife. A single week wasn't enough time to get to know someone and he hoped that in the upcoming months before the complete switch, he would be able to learn more.

"To be completely honest, I'm not entirely sure what he plans on doing, Cloud at the very least. But I can give you all certainty that he's a decent individual. Very thorough too. If he's to make changes to the SOLDIER program, it'll be for the benefit of the men themselves than for personal gain."

"How certain are you about that?" This time, Genesis spoke, voice bitter as he folded his arms, crinkling his red coat underneath. "How certain are you that he won't absolutely fuck everything up for everyone?"

"Genesis!" Angeal automatically called out, sending a disapproving glance towards his childhood friend.

The scolding wasn't enough to stop Genesis. The Crimson Commander was livid and sneered in reply. "No, Angeal! This new Director could damn us all! I'm not going to follow orders that could very well lead us to our death!"

Lazard quickly raised his hand up, stopping the Firsts before their verbal arguments turned physical. Sometimes, he felt like he was handling children than men when he got in-between them or at least when he tried. It wasn't like he could do anything to the super soldiers except get in the way and he was unenhanced as it is, damageable. Genesis, known for his explosive personality, had once destroyed three entire levels in his rage against Sephiroth. It was lucky that the only people on the floors had been fellow SOLDIERs, but even they hadn't escaped unscratched. If it had been anyone unenhanced, they would have been burned to a crisp within seconds, only their ashes remaining as proof that they were once there.

"I understand your complaints, but I wouldn't have agreed to switch or have this man as my replacement as Director if he wasn't thinking for the best for you and your men." The silence that followed was enough for Lazard to follow up. "And as far as I can tell, he's enhanced so he'll be a little more understanding to your conditions compared to how I was."

"He went through the SOLDIER program?" Angeal spoke up, folding his arms to raise his hand up under his chin. Was there a chance that they had already met this individual? If so, why was Cloud the one that got promoted and not say, one of them instead?

Lazard sighed. He was already exhausted and it had only been thirty minutes into this meeting. "No, he didn't."

Genesis snorted, "What the hell does that mean?"

"It means," This time Sephiroth was the one to interrupt, drawing the attention to himself. "That our new Director will be a mystery to us because the information regarding him won't exist or is so tightly covered up that it'll be impossible to get into. This is ShinRa, after all. But you know the real reason as to why, don't you, Director Lazard? Because you've already worked with him."

The blond smirked, folding his hands onto his desk and leaned forward. This was astonishing. Trust Sephiroth to figure out the details when there was hardly anything on the table to reveal. "I'm afraid the information regarding Cloud Strife is highly classified, so much so that not even the President of ShinRa can get it."

The brief widening of eyes all around conveying their shock, until the red head spoke, "How the hell does that work? The President should be able to get into anything."

"It means that the information doesn't exist. Can't give something that's not there." Lazard almost laughed at the almost comically confused faces he was given. Yes, not even the President himself could get information on Cloud Strife that the blond didn't want to give away.

Because there was absolutely nothing on the man in the systems.

It was like Cloud Strife didn't exist until now.

Genesis and Angeal peered at each other, trying to understand what their Director meant. Sephiroth, however, looked like he was starting to figure it out. After all, the silver-haired General had spent most of his life in the labs and understood hidden concepts, little details, and blurred out meanings because of Hojo. Those cat-like green eyes were almost smiling in a way as they pondered through his shared knowledge.

"Interesting..." Sephiroth hummed, "So this means that either this Strife is an enemy they want to reign in and they want no one to know...or he's an experiment."

Right on both regards, Lazard smirked, but kept his lips sealed shut on the matter.

"But that doesn't mean he holds any loyalty towards us. He could still very well tell us to march to our doom."

Lazard almost wanted to laugh. Apparently this conversational turn was lifting up his spirits. To see the three most powerful individuals completely lost was just...funny. "I highly doubt it. Believe me when I say this, you'll all be impressed with him. If anyone is going to change ShinRa and help protect you and your men, he'll be the one."

Lazard nodded as if agreeing with himself. Yes, he could see it. Despite Cloud Strife's personality and blank expression, he had seen the burning ferocity in protecting those he considered dear to him during the times they talked in that one week, and if the men of SOLDIER went under his protection...

Well, he could see the following explosions occurring. It would be quite the site to see.

The blond smiled, "That I'm certain of."


Three weeks before...

Lazard stared at the door before him in question, the uncertainty keeping him from knocking and entering. It was...extremely rare for him to be summoned like this. Actually, he had never been, at least not by Rufus of all people. The President, yes, but the Vice President? Absolutely not. It was for that very reason why he was hesitating.

Still, there was the burning sense of curiosity. He knew Rufus was his younger half-brother and he always wanted to have a more official meeting with him than just glances out of the corner of their eyes. He was absolutely certain that the other already knew about his identity, having worked with the Turks multiple times in the past, but never once had it been brought up.

A momentary flash of worry slipped through him. Ah, that's right. Hasn't Rufus had been involved in an accident a week and a half ago? He had survived the blast only by pure chance, considering he had been the only survivor out of at least fifty individuals. There was little news regarding the attack, everything swept under the rug within a day or two, never to be mentioned ever again.

Taking a deep breath, he mentally decided it was high time to get this done and over with. Stalling wasn't making it any better for his nerves. Lazard reached up to politely knock on the door, but was stopped by a resounding voice that came through the metal frame.

"Come in!"

Lazard blinked once, surprised he had been caught, but shrugged it off. There were cameras inside the room to monitor the outside, to keep eavesdroppers from getting too close. This meeting room was one of the few that had that option.

As he opened the door, Lazard took immediate notice that it wasn't just Rufus who was waiting inside, but two others as well. He recognized Tseng instantly, the man familiar with him, but the other, nothing. The person was blond, leaning against a wall on the opposite side of the windows with his eyes closed shut. It was almost like he was sleeping, unbothered by the rest of the world surrounding him. He hadn't even stirred from his position upon Lazard's arrival.

The windows covered two sides of the room, illuminating the late night scenery of Midgar, the bright lights of the various buildings glittering in the haze. It would have been a beautiful backdrop if Lazard didn't have a sense of dread. Stepping closer inside and closing the door behind him, the SOLDIER Director peered up at his younger brother curiously, who was currently standing close to the window near the corner and facing the outside world.

"Vice President Rufus?" Lazard called out, circling around the large table between them. No one was sitting down and he didn't want to be the odd one. "You called for me?"

"Yes, I did." Rufus didn't turn around, continuing to gaze out the window with his hands behind his back. His reflection on the window showed an impassive feature, as if thinking about something. "If you don't mind, I want ask you a direct question."

Unable to help raising an eyebrow up, Lazard answered. "Of course not."

Nodding to that, the Vice President's reflection smirked with his eyes drifting towards one side like his attention had been caught by something in the distance. "Tell me, Director Lazard, what do you think of this company?"

"What?" The older blond couldn't help his response, confused by the question. What he thought? About this company? There was plenty on that single subject, but he wasn't a fool to openly admit it, especially here in front of Tseng, Rufus, and this unknown blond.

In all honesty, he hated this place. From its corruptive nature to its inability to not use someone until they were completely dried out and the human experimentations that were going on in the background didn't help. There was a long list and he had joined this company in hopes of fixing them. However, it was proving to be more difficult than originally intended.

Going with the safer response, Lazard answered, "It's good. There are a lot of opportunities, great pay, diversity in jobs, and a safe environment. We have it all for our new employees. It's a place one strives to be at."

Rufus snorted, shoulders shaking like he was laughing, before spinning around. No, he was actually laughing. The man strode forward to grab the chair beside him. He was...amused by that answer, Lazard could see it on his face. "You're just repeating the useless brochures we send out. I want to know your true opinion on this company."

The SOLDIER Director went silent, eyes narrowing behind his glasses. His true opinion? Now that was definitely asking for trouble. His eyes went back over the younger looking blond in the corner of the room, never having moved once from his spot, then to Tseng, who was standing faithfully at Rufus' side. There was no way in hell he was going to admit anything, even if the truth was that he despised this rotting position.

The Vice President just smirked, as if having read Lazard's inner thoughts. "Oh please, be honest with me. You hate it here. You hate everything about this place."

Lazard kept his face miraculously still, "Those are your words, not mine." Complete deniability on his side, he has played these little games all his life, too familiar with the miswording.

"Scared that I might do something if you were to say anything negative? The truth of the matters at hand?" Rufus was clearly amused by the whole thing and shrugged his shoulders to it. "Don't worry, I know exactly how rotten this company is and I hate it just as much as you do if not more so."

"If you hate the company that much, what exactly do you plan on doing?" Lazard could admit that he was curious. This wasn't what he had been expecting when he had been called out and hearing such...derogatory words gave him a little hope. His half-brother wasn't like everyone else here, he wasn't like what the President had trained him to be, or how the rumors had been whispered. Perhaps Rufus could possibly be an ally to his plans?

Or was it all a ruse to drag him out into the open?

The blond Vice President huffed, attitude shifting slightly towards a darker side, taking in something that didn't quite belong to him. He looked older in a way as the background lights hit him, creating an illusion to that effect. "First things first, I don't give a shit about your plans. And yes, I do know about them." Rufus rolled his eyes, like what he had just done was mere guess work. Like he had just typed it up on a search engine on the internet and got his answer.

Lazard was barely able to hide his flinch. So he had been found out. Damn, and it stung that his younger half-brother would say it so bluntly too.

Still, it didn't look like Rufus was done, far from it. The man huffed once before taking two more steps forward, the luminosity dancing along his body like there was an open flame nearby, darkening the shadows along his features. "Because, to be perfectly honest, your plans are ridiculously dim-witted and are bound to fail at the slightest tumble. They're so fragile and so revolving around someone else that they'll fall apart at the first notice." At this, Rufus sneered, creeping around the table with his gloved fingers scrapping against the oak wood. "So I want you to throw them all away. Every. Single. One of them."

Lazard looked absolutely offended, grinding his teeth together out of frustration. His fingers clenched together into a fist, just moments away from attacking his brother regardless of their relationship and position. The only thing that had held him back was the thought of throwing away his dream. If he struck, it would all be gone, all his hard work, all his sweat and tears, all of it wasted away. And for what? Because of a verbal argument?

Rufus just chuckled, clearly having already expected this. Manipulating his older half-brother was simple, too easy to read, too easy to twist. Cloud, the other blond, was a complex challenge (who he could hardly get a read on at times) compared to Lazard, but that might be because the other was used to his antics.

Stopping before Lazard, the Vice President chuckled softly, "I can't have you getting in my way for what I plan to do because of your ideals or because you're questioning my orders. I want to change everything about this company and you're either going to help me or be a liability. And to be honest, I'd rather have you at my side."

The SOLDIER Director almost sneered at first, offended by the whole verbalization and was about to argue in retaliation, but caught himself. Momentarily taking a step back, he thought. He was being baited, he knew that. He wasn't dealing with any normal person, a SOLDIER, or a board member. This was Rufus Shinra.

Taking a deep breath and exhaling, he observed his newfound situation carefully. Rufus was taunting him, waiting for a reaction, to see how he'll counter. The knowing smirk resting on the younger blond's lips, the positional reflection of the lights, gave it all away. At the same time, it was like Rufus wanted him to think that too. Oh, he was a tricky one. Lazard almost laughed, unable to find anything in this situation but amusement.

Still, that brought up the question: Was Rufus really serious? For the son to take down the company his father had built up? Or was this really some bizarre idea to wheedle out the traitors in the company? However, there were worse ones in the departments, ones stealing money, one experimenting on people, and the list goes on. Why go after him out of all of them? What he wanted...it wasn't anything like that. His was peaceful, for the sake of the people. He wanted... Lazard pushed his glasses back. Yes, if anything, he would be the least threatening of them all.

So that means Rufus wanted him as an ally, someone to work with him for the same achievement or one similar.

Lazard smirked. He didn't get this far into the company through sheer dumb luck. He had the brains, the will, and the burning ambition. He wasn't averse to playing dirty to get what he desired, especially in a company like ShinRa where backstabbing, blackmail, and death were prudent. One made allies where they could and played themselves up as a useful individual to their enemies to ensure they would never be missed, that their enemies would never want them to be expendable. He fought tooth and nail, bled, tore his very fingers, to get this far and he had every intention to continue moving upward.

He had his ambition for revenge against the man that had caused the fall of his mother, pushing him forward, and the sense of justice of the unfortunate, the people of the slums that decayed down below the plates because of ShinRa's vile deeds. He had suffered that fate first hand, understood the bitterness and loathing of defeat and helplessness towards those that held everything. He had been beaten down as a child, spat on, and tossed aside like garbage. But nothing compared to his hatred when he watched his mother get taken away through death, suffering and gasping for air that would never fill her lungs once more.

One didn't get this far in a company such as ShinRa without some darkness in one's soul.

Those that were pure never lasted long, taken advantage of and thrown aside when their usefulness was no longer needed.

And though he couldn't physically fight like his men, he could strategize instead.

This time, Lazard laughed, throwing his head back. A dark bitter laugh it was. This... This was his chance, the chance of a lifetime. He could feel it. Rufus wanted to destroy this retched company and he was asking him to join him in his little game. Oh, this was exactly what he had been waiting for since stepping into this building when he had been a sixteen year old boy long ago.

Rufus grinned as he watched his older brother finally break loose, cracking through the carefully constructed mask the man kept on for public relations. "I knew you couldn't be the forever polite man you made yourself out to be. I've learned that everyone has bitterness within them, a scalding darkness that chokes oneself in the middle of the night, especially those that work here. Some are just better at hiding it than others. But men like us," Rufus purposefully tilted his head, his lips stretching upward as he spread his arms out before him. He looked like a demon, the shadows curving around his facials, and his blue eyes almost glowing unnaturally in the dark. "We live in the darkness, we breath it in, and we move through it. It means nothing to us but a sorry excuse to run away and hide. But we'll never do that because we're stronger than those weak-willed individuals. We'll attack and if we can't go through the front, then we'll sneak through the back, slowly crumbling them down until they beg for forgiveness."

Rufus wasn't done. Oh, he was far from done. Everyone in the room knew it and they listened to him, hanging onto every word.

"But you know what?" The Vice President looked positively demonic in nature, lips stretched wide. "They will never get that forgiveness. We'll slit their throats the moment they turn around, the moment they show their weakness."

More laughter, a slow chuckle that was picking up in a bitter edge, coming from Lazard himself. Rufus wasn't laughing, but he didn't need to, not when the obscurity decorated his expression so beautifully. Tseng, meanwhile, remained quiet at the side of the room and the blond settled against the wall. He still hadn't budged an inch. It was like he was sleeping, almost like a statue.

Rufus smirked, revealing his teeth. "If ShinRa wants to make monsters, then we'll just have to become the figurative monsters they didn't want behind their backs, to tear them down with claws in a way they would never expect!"

Lazard laughed louder. Oh-

Oh!

This was-

This is-

PERFECT.

Lazard slowly calmed down from his high, gasping for breath. "And what exactly are you planning to do? Changing this company isn't easy as saying one-two-three."

The younger brother snorted at the mocking he was shown, but knew he had Lazard's full attention. "I already have a plan, a really good one, but it's one where I need to have you at my side to completely work without fallbacks and to cover areas I possibly can't." Rufus tilted his head slightly. "Plus, you're better at dealing with certain idiots in the higher divisions than me. I'll probably just shoot them out of mere frustration and that won't get me anywhere." Despite the odd humor at the end of his words, Lazard felt his lips twitch in amusement. Yes, he could agree that there were a lot of idiots in the departments, many of whom needed to be fired or killed off long ago. "Anyway, I need someone trustworthy to take my place."

"What?"

Now Lazard was confused. Take his place? Was Rufus planning on leaving the company? No, that would never be allowed. The President would rather bolt his son down personally with rods made of steel then give him a chance to get out. Rufus Shinra is the heir to the company. He would never be allowed to escape, never. No, and Lazard couldn't allow that. Even if they were half-brothers and barely knew each other, he couldn't help the concern that overwhelmed him.

"Worried, Brother?" There was amusement in Rufus' voice, the grin present even as Lazard twitched in return. "Just to confirm for your sake, I don't actually plan on leaving the company, just my position."

Lazard almost wanted to sneer. He had been tricked. Rufus had wanted to see if he would be worried about him and the man had won when there was a flicker of emotion that slipped through his mask, even after just piecing it back together from his break. Damn...

"I plan on demoting myself." Rufus strode closer to his eldest brother until they were mere inches apart. They were about the same height with familiar hair and eyes, despite the older keeping it purposefully straight to prevent him from being identified. "And you are to take my place as Vice President."

"What?"

"You heard correctly." Rufus continued, ignoring the surprised exclaim from the other. "I can't do anything if I'm the Vice President, so I need to head somewhere else where I can work in the dark, where I can gather secrets, where I can watch over everyone from far away. And as I do so, I'll strike them down with a knife in their back or a bullet in their brain. That's not exactly behavior from a Vice President, yes?"

No, no it wasn't. That behavior belonged to a... Lazard's eyes widened as realization came to him. "You don't mean..."

"You guessed correctly, Brother." Rufus grinned, the manic look slipping through his eyes. "I will become the Director of the Turks. What better way to signalize the rotting individuals in the company than to become the assassin that lurks in the dark."

Tseng, having been quiet the entire time and nearly forgotten, decided to make his appearance known. "Director Lazard, I have already agreed to the changes. I too...think that this is a good idea, one that places you at an advantage over the company. You want to make changes? You would now be in a position that can do so."

Lazard couldn't believe what he was hearing. This was...too much. All he ever wanted was to get higher up in the company, to have an ally that would support him. He had wanted to make a change, to make a difference. And now...now he was being handed it over on a silver plate perfectly tied together in a neat little bow and he had the support of insiders he never had before: the Turks. Could this really be true? Still, there was one more thing. His old position, he couldn't just leave it empty. His men depended on him to keep things effectively rolling. "And what of SOLDIER? If I'm gone, I have no doubt that Heidegger will attempt to take control of it. I'm not about to let that man run the program to the ground because of his idiocy."

"Now, now, you don't think I already have that covered?" At that, Rufus glanced towards the one individual that hadn't spoken the entire time. "Meet our younger half-brother, the youngest among the three of us, Cloud Strife. Your replacement."

At those words, and knowing it was time for him to get involved in this conversation, Cloud opened his eyes and pulled away from the wall. He ignored the following gasp from Lazard, stepping forward until he was beside his brothers.

The eldest of the siblings stared at Cloud, unsure on where to start from the sudden announcement. He had known that Rufus was his half-brother and that there were others out there in the world. Or so he thought. When he had investigated on his various half-siblings, many were either put down or in hiding. So to find one before him, all of a sudden, was a complete surprise. It didn't help that Cloud had mako eyes, eyes that only belonged in SOLDIER, and Lazard was absolutely certain he had never seen this man before in his entire life. A man like Cloud would be memorable simply because of his abnormally spiky golden hair and oppressive aura. In a way, Cloud reminded him of Sephiroth with his imposing attitude (except the blond before him was missing a weapon.

Lazard decided to ask the current safest question. "Our younger brother?"

"Yes, our younger brother. Half of course."

That wasn't entirely the answer he was expecting, Rufus purposefully twirling around on his words. Lazard didn't know what to think about his now youngest sibling, examining him carefully. Cloud simply stared, unbothered by the sudden announcement, probably having known about it in advance. But damn, if Rufus is twenty-five currently, just how old was Cloud?

"He's young."

"So what?" Rufus couldn't help rolling his eyes, spinning around once more to face the window. "He has seen and knows enough beyond anyone's years. We all know age doesn't matter much when it comes to certain things." He then shrugged his shoulders, almost like he was offended by the subject matter. "Get to know him and then you'll see what I mean. Before you know it, you'll be admitting to yourself that he's the absolute best thing for SOLDIER."

Lazard almost wanted to look offended. For Rufus to openly admit that Cloud Strife, their youngest sibling, was the best was like admitting all the hard work he had done was for nothing. At the same time, Rufus wouldn't want anyone but the best at his side. It made Lazard a little happy to know that he was being included on that list and being placed in a much higher position than before.

There was still one last thing.

"The President will never agree to it."

Rufus just smirked, "Don't ever underestimate a Turk. I have my ways of being...convincing." The sinister expression that slipped onto him made Lazard almost shiver in fright. There was no doubt about it. Rufus was thinking more like a Turk than as a normal person. "The President has so much black worthy material against him, it'll be a simple little matter to take care of. The bubbling idiot has gotten so reliant on everyone else to do the work for him that all he does now is sit on his little throne, give orders, and rot in his chair."

Well, wasn't that the most accurate description of the President right there.

"So leave everything to me, I'll have everything taken care of within twenty-four hours and we'll make the official announcement regarding the changes in three weeks time. That's more than enough time to get started, don't you agree?"

Lazard could only stare.

Since when had Rufus become such a scary individual?


Two and a half months passed relatively quickly and no information regarding the new Director had been announced since then. No one had seen the man considering there was no profile picture uploaded on the website yet. It contained the bare minimum, not enough to gather a full picture of whoever this man was to be. There wasn't even a hometown listed or an age. Whispers floated about, people speculating, and rapidly threw about various initiatives into the wind. However, it was just that, ideas and nothing more. Some attempted to ask the two Commanders and General, but even they didn't have any information to share. They too were in the dark regarding the entire ordeal. Some dared to ask Lazard personally, figuring he would have at least seen the new Director to get a feel on him, but the blond kept all details regarding the identity to himself.

"Stop worrying so much. I'm sure everything will work out just fine."

Regardless, people continued to speculate back and forth, unsure of what changes their new Director would bring. It was hard to say as most held high regard to Lazard as their current leader. Many feared they would receive a person like Palmer or Heidegger as their Director, neither of which are excellent. SOLDIER needed a person that knew exactly what he was doing as these were people's lives on the line and they had already seen what Heidegger had done to the regular army.

Before anyone knew it, another email was sent out to all SOLDIERs.

"To All SOLDIERs,

Mandatory meeting at 08:00 hours on Monday morning. Location will be at the ShinRa Stadium near the gyms. All missions that were handed out before are to be completed before then, preferably on Saturday to prevent any layover. All future missions that have the chance to overlap the meeting shall be either suspended or delayed until a later hour. Information regarding the latter shall report to their mission leader for updates regarding the changes.

Those currently deployed to Wutai are to remain there to complete their current rounds as exchange will not occur until after. A meeting regarding those deployed will be scheduled at a later date.

Both Vice President, Lazard Deusericus, and Director of the Investigation Sector of the General Affairs Department, Rufus Shinra, will be attending for official position adjustment and regards to new changes within both departments.

Attendance is mandatory. Those that don't show up will receive disciplinary actions.

Have a nice day,

SOLDIER Director, Cloud Strife"

Another uproar followed soon after as the speculations began anew and no one was left untouched by the questions. Even the three Firsts were starting to prowl for accurate information, information they would never receive.


Cloud had never been one for dramatic appearances, but in this case, he didn't quite mind. He opened the door to the stadium from behind all his men, knowing their eyes would turn to stare out of curiosity.

After all, he had purposefully been the last one to arrive.

Rufus and Lazard stood at the front, both patiently waiting for his arrival and dressed in their usual attire. For a split second, the youngest blond examined the middle brother and almost chuckled. It would appear that the three months had been plenty of time for Rufus to gather an assortment of weapons, the budges barely noticeable under the white overcoat. At the same time, Lazard had twin pistols holstered to his side, something that was new to the eldest of the siblings. Rufus must have convinced him to carry around something for protection, something Cloud greatly approved of. It was never good to be unarmed in ShinRa Corp.

After all, there are monsters prowling about.

But who are the monsters now?

Them? Or him?

As the youngest blond went up the steps to stand on the podium, Cloud examined over his men, many startled by both his young appearance and the modified uniform he had been wearing for years. It didn't help that he was carrying First Tsurugi on his back and his bracer. He was never one to wear a suit, too uncomfortable and restricted to maneuver freely like he desired. Even Rufus had refused to wear the blue Turk suits, loving his white overcoats instead, which concealed his weapons underneath perfectly, and Lazard stuck to his dark striped blue blazer and tie, matching them with the white undershirt and pants. In a way, the collection of all three of them stood out among the rest.

He smirked, still unbothered by the stares and gazed into the young men before him with his glowing blue eyes from the very front of the podium. He had expected the strange looks. After all, he was so out of place among the people...but well, that was never anything new. For a long time, he wanted more than to just simply blend in, to be forgotten.

He almost smirked at the thought. Like that would ever happen.

As Cloud spent a few seconds to ponder over everyone, especially the three well-known Firsts that were standing right before him, he rotated slightly to Rufus on his right and then to Lazard on his left, getting a small nod from each. Knowing that it was finally time to get started, Cloud reached up to tuck a loose strand of hair behind his ear.

"Good morning, everyone. Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedules to attend this meeting." His voice was soft but strong, the microphone unnecessary, considering all the enhanced men could hear him clearly regardless.

There was only a resounding silence that followed, no one daring to speak up, everyone listening intensely to the man before them, to their new leader.

"As you may have already noticed, you may have seen me under a different name during these last three months." There was a shift at that admission, some of the men looking between each other as they paled in realization. Some had most definitely seen him, either in passing or on a mission. The three Firsts couldn't hide the shock that overtook their expressions, having remembered placing this very man under their radar for a potential SOLDIER promotion when he first appeared, never knowing the now obvious undercover nature of the matter. Cloud couldn't help but revel in that. Ah, to see the Holy Firsts Trinity in shock... Pulling himself out of that little thought, he continued, "The purpose for such tactics will be explained later into this meeting. However, first things first."

There was a small purposeful pause before he took a step forward, letting the heaviness of his weapon weigh his foot down to create a loud crack on the ground, reveling in the echo that followed.

"My name is Cloud Strife, and I am your new SOLDIER Director."

His hair bounced slightly and Cloud smiled softly as he gazed down at the scared men in amusement, purposefully channeling Rufus Shinra through him.

"It's nice to officially meet you all."

Chapter Text

Cloud could voluntarily agree with every burning fiber and cell in his body that he never had much of a normal life. From childhood, to joining the army, and then afterwards, normalcy just wasn't possible and he had wholly expected that little tidbit to continue even after the entire business with ShinRa and Sephiroth was complete. He was cursed in a way but he could live with that. It was just something he had to take in stride after years of having random nonsense thrown at him and the constant battles that would follow to keep him readily occupied and...relieved. Occupied from his own thoughts, to give him something to do than just deliver items for people, and relieved because it gave his hard battle-worn muscles the fight it desperately desired.

In the end, he had to admit that he loved to fight.

It had taken him a long time to get that through the denial phase, trying to half-heartedly push that he was tired of everything and had wanted a break from the battlefield. It was a lie to himself and his true desires. As everyone else was ready to retire and live their lives, to settle down, Cloud wanted to keep going. He wanted to fight the next biggest baddie, to feel the pump of adrenaline through his veins, the wind he created from his powerful swings, and the sting of materia usage.

It was...fun.

It made him feel alive, feel...normal.

However, no one else seemed to understand that, and slowly, he pulled away, taking jobs that allowed him to slay monsters that were gradually popping up now that ShinRa was gone. The corrupted company had been the one to organize patrols and monster extermination missions with their army, but now that they were gone, there was an empty hole left behind (despite what WRO pressed out). The harder monsters had to be generally left to one man, Cloud himself, who had the ability to undertake these creatures with little trouble.

So after a while of tackling various monsters from all over the world, Cloud ended up working with the Turks more often than not, forced to team up with them to take down a creature that was either too far away or was a little tricky due to location. WRO didn't have any men that were officially trained to handle such situations, skills localized to one area and one area only. The Turks, on the other hand, were diverse. They could offer backup, strategies, and held insight information regarding the monster, knew when to stay back, and accommodated to the terrain.

It had been strange at first, especially after the first couple of times, and his friends had actively warned him from getting too close (except for Vincent, but he was rarely around anyway). He could still remember what the Turks had done to him and his companions during his travels long ago, but there was also a difference when comparing present day to before. The Turks were now...relaxed in a way. They really only collected information and distributed it to the correct persons, planning assassinations for certain individuals that were getting too aggressive for WRO to take care of, and just keeping an eye on matters from afar in the dark. They are an independent team that worked separately from everyone else, working for a boss that no one except those that got close enough could figure out. To the rest of the world, Rufus Shinra was dead, despite the man secretly working in the background. The blond had apparently given up all prospects of running a company, talking full delight in creeping in the shadows like his Turks.

So it wasn't strange that Cloud ended up hanging around Rufus every now and then when with the Turks, sometimes the man following for certain jobs that came from WRO.

("Cloud, I'm worried. Rufus Shinra isn't a good person. Remember what he did to us all those years ago? Remember what his company did to you?"

"Tifa, that was years ago. And I'm fine, I've moved on. I'm not going to let something in the past hold me back from going forward."

"Are you really moving forward, Cloud?"

"Tifa...")

Despite what everyone said and the incident with the Remnants, Rufus had indeed changed for the better, even if it took a few years later to realize that little fact. He had grown lenient, gaining an aged insight he never had before. He wasn't strict or demanding. He simply let things go with the flow and edged around them fluidly like a grace that belonged to an assassin. That didn't mean he wasn't powerful or had lost his manipulative edge. It was more like he had...grown up (Cloud's best way to describe the vast change). Despite his empire crumbling before his feet ("It was bound to happen, my father had done a great number of terrible things. When I became president, it was already too late, despite my desire to repair ShinRa to its former glory. I simply prolonged the fall while you, on the other hand, sped it up. I don't hold it against you, Cloud Strife. The ShinRa Corporation was so corrupted that it needed to be torn down. I only learned that years later after having enough time to sort my thoughts out about everything."), his intelligence was all around encompassing, able to plan various deviation of attacks depending on the enemy, and sort through information like he was breathing air. He was a true Turk in that manner, plotting better than even Tseng, and later was able to defeat them in a fight when he had gotten tired of being physically weak. He was crafty and was quick to recognize weak points, exploiting them to his advantage both in and out of combat. He was an opponent one could never underestimate, never, and even Cloud himself couldn't help but tread carefully when Rufus started asking him for a brawl.

("Come now, Cloud. I don't have a lot of good competition these days. I can beat Tseng with my eyes closed and he's the next best after me. My Turks have taught me all they could and I've gone far beyond their expectations. They have nothing left to teach me."

"And you've decided that fighting me would be the next best thing?"

"Hard to say. I don't have to hold back because I know you won't break, at least, not easily."

"And I have to suffer your attacks instead?"

"Depends."

"On what?"

"Do you still despise me?"

"...No, not really."

"Good. Now, come at me.")

Fighting Rufus had been...interesting. That was the best way of putting it because Rufus was sneaky in his attacks, quick on his feet, and wielded enough weapons to put Cloud to shame. He had been a challenging opponent, despite being unenhanced, one he hadn't faced for a long time. Rufus knew how to put up a fight and it led to Cloud growing personally familiar with Turk tactics, some he incorporated into his own skills list overtime. Though, that wasn't enough to stop the older blond from taking him by surprise.

("So you're now duel-wielding modified shotguns and handguns, twin short blades, numerous knifes, and mini-bombs. You're a walking arsenal and I'm not really sure where you actually keep all of that on you at all times."

"Look who's talking. Don't think I don't notice those mastered materias on you and that sword of yours says enough."

Cloud scoffed, ignoring the raised eyebrow from the older blond.)

Even with Rufus being supposedly dead, he continued to plot and tug at the strings of WRO in the background, using the organization to his advantage for himself and his Turks. It was only because he had hung around the Turks and Rufus enough that Cloud recognized those said strings and slowly began to pinpoint the outline of what Rufus desired. In the end, he couldn't make out anything...bad. Rufus didn't put his name out, avoided the public completely, and hid like a ghost. He didn't want power, he didn't want to rebuild ShinRa, he wanted nothing at all except to observe from the sidelines and correct matters that needed to be corrected. People continued to say never trust the man ("He's a Shinra, enough said. Spiky, you need to stop hanging around him.") but he had yet to do anything that warranted attention, and so, Cloud continued.

Years passed, and soon a certain issue was brought to light.

Cloud hadn't aged a day since the day of the Remnants (Or was it before that? It was hard to tell) and people were beginning to notice that after six years. He looked the same as always while everyone began to gather wrinkles and grey hair. The only one that didn't age with the others was Vincent, and that man had hidden away once more, popping up every two to three years, which was fine since everyone else knew that if he showed up, then there was something bad bound to follow. It obviously strained his relationship with Tifa, who never once gave up on attempting to have something romantic with him, and with the kids, who were now teenagers. He looked far too young to be considered a father figure to them and so Barret stepped up to handle that job for him.

To avoid suspicion and questions from the population of Edge, Cloud left a note and promptly disappeared into the darkness, taking only minimal belongings that could be stored on Fenrir with him.

No one had been happy about that, but there was nothing they could say to bring him back. Still, he kept his PHS with him to allow his friends to keep in contact with him. That was the least he could do. He traveled alone with nothing more than what he had on his back, his bike, and his swords. Honestly, it was all he really needed. In the way, the constant traveling gave him the freedom to explore the world the way he wanted to, never staying in one place for too long. He learned of monster habits, of people, of the environment. He was, in a sense, free.

However, that didn't stop him from feeling utterly alone. He no longer had a home, a place he could put his head down and rest. Aerith's church wasn't possible anymore as it was now a popular visiting area for people looking for the healing waters, despite the various dangers of the area, too populated for his liking to hide about.

("Cloud, it's Rufus. I heard what happened. I won't question you about it and I've decided to give you space to let you settle. But it's been six months. I'm not taking this silence from you anymore. We've known each other for years, and despite not always being on the best terms, I would like to think at this point, we could be considered friends. So, for your own stubborn good, you're coming to stay with me, whether you like it or not. Do not think I won't come after you with my Turks and drag you back.")

In the end, with some harsh pulling and scolding from Rufus and his Turks, Cloud found himself settling in Kalm with them (they had moved from Healin Lodge). They didn't question about his lack of aging and instead used their information networks to completely cover up his identity. They kept people from poking around and gave Cloud the privacy he desired.

It was strange to be relying on Rufus to keep him safe from the outside world, but he settled into his new life easily, already having been used to it after hanging around them for so many years. He was thirty now, Rufus thirty-four. With their age, they gained new insight on the world, observing from the sidelines as things changed with each passing year. The Turks came and went as they pleased, new recruits popping up here and there to replace some of the old, all the while attempting to find a new life for themselves. Some found love and got married and others remained utterly loyal to Rufus' side and in a way, Cloud's. They were a tight batch, understanding each other without words needing to be spoken, and even with more years passing, they simply cemented their bonds. Even Cloud couldn't resist, slipping into the group without his notice, and when he finally did, he just shrugged his shoulders. He had found a new home for himself, a place that accepted his fighting nature, and was...content.

His friends hadn't been joyful to hear that.

("You're crazy, Spiky. Rufus Shinra of all people to turn to!")

"I can't believe you!"

"Have you forgotten everything we've all been through?!"

"He'll turn on you! That family is nothing but trouble!")

But that frustration simply passed through as his friends settled into the idea of him being around Rufus. They knew he couldn't hang around them like he used to, no longer able to step out publicly with the world so electronically connected (Cloud now had to use the Turks' name as a cover to take missions from WRO), but they were in denial, wanting to be close to the man that had been their leader long ago. They visited every now and then, checking up on the blond to make sure Rufus wasn't doing anything he didn't want.

(Rufus rolled his eyes at the accusations. "If you really think I can get Cloud to do whatever I want him to, then you're not thinking too highly of your once leader. You have to be out of your minds if you really think I can control him. Cloud is too stubborn and brilliant to fall into my hands like that. He's not the type to offer loyalty, especially considering our history together. He'll continue to do whatever he pleases regardless of my wishes and that's just fine. I'd rather him act as he always has. He's better that way.")

Cloud, on the other hand, had obviously gotten too used to his new group, settling in and speaking more freely in a manner that wasn't expected. Much to his friends' chagrin, Rufus had been accommodating and the newfound sarcastic personality from Cloud was unexpected.

("Blondie, you've always had a dry humor. We just made it so much worse, yo!")

In the end, their protests had no merit. Rufus was no longer the man they remembered, nowhere close to it. The age had done Rufus too much good, too mature, and too intelligent. Even Reeve couldn't figure out the man anymore...except for Cloud, who had learned how to read the older blond like he was breathing air. It was so easy. He had been able to predict Rufus' actions before the man even knew it, which just had the other raise an eyebrow up in question, and sometimes had him throwing his hands up into the air in defeat.

The Turks found it absolutely amusing, watching from the sidelines when the two verbally fought.

Then, two years later, Rufus came up to him with an idea that was greatly supported by Tseng.

("You know, I've always wanted to test this theory of mine between us."

"Theory? Why do I have a feeling I won't like it."

"You most likely won't, but I want to test it regardless."

"And what exactly is this theory about?"

Rufus hesitated, biting down on his bottom lip before unwillingly speaking, "Have you ever wondered why we look a little too similar? I know for a fact that you've mentioned your mother never saying much about your father, that he supposedly died before you were born. At the same time, I know mine is a whoring bastard and I just want to make sure about my suspicions."

"...You're kidding."

"Sadly, I'm not.")

In all honesty, Cloud had never thought about it, not even for a single passing second. The idea of having other family relatives out there when all he had had was his mother never occurred. His mother had told him his father was dead and he never really questioned the idea. He could tell from the hesitation in his memories when inquiring about the man had left her broken and shaken in return. So, he never dived any further into the thought and his mother wasn't around anymore to give him the information. With all that had been happening once he left home, he had forgotten all about it. Until now of course.

Tseng took the blood and personally went to do the test, not trusting anyone else, something Cloud was grateful for. He had learned that the Turks were too loyal their leader and despite their relationship with Rufus, they had extended that same loyalty to him as well. Cloud had eventually learned many of their little tricks over the years and it had been interesting to learn their real names underneath the masks they used to cover themselves from the outside world.

Anyway, as the test proceeded, Cloud took that time in-between to look closer between him and Rufus. There was some resemblance, it was there, and he wasn't entirely sure on what to do with it. He pondered over the idea and...didn't really mind it all that much. It would be interesting no doubt. He knew if he had been younger when the question had been asked, he would be mortified, denying every little thing, and promptly run away. It might have destroyed him, torn down all he had known and pieced together about himself, and be horrified to be related to the ShinRa President that had a hand in the destruction of the planet. Now, he had hope, hope that he had someone sharing his own blood with him, even if it was half, even if it meant having him be related to the bastard of a man.

Three days later, the test came back.

("It's a match."

"So...we're...brothers?"

"Half actually. Related by our bastard of a father, who doesn't fucking understand the concept of a damn condom. You wouldn't be the first bastard child he's had, and before you say anything, I'm just as much as a bastard child as you despite him saying I'm his heir. I know the truth of the matter, I'm not stupid. He may have treated me better, but he was an absolute asshole and groomed me since I was young to take his damn blood-soaked throne. It's the reason why I was so arrogant and cruel in my younger days. Raised in such a harsh environment, surrounded by deceit and death, it wasn't unexpected. I know better now." Rufus paused, uncomfortable with the subject. "Anyway, many popped up to claim they bore his child and they were generally killed off. People believed that bearing a child of his would gain them money and a free lifestyle, but all they earned was death in return. Many of the offspring were killed before they were even born."

"...I'm glad my mother told me my father was dead."

"It's better that way. You may just have half of his DNA, but he was never your father. You don't need him and you don't need him to identify who you are."

"I think I'm going to require a drink after this though."

Rufus snorts amusingly, "No kidding. I think I have some of the stronger stuff for you stored somewhere in this house of ours.")

It was strange at first to get the official result, but in the end, it didn't really matter. Cloud accepted it and moved on. It actually gave him more of a reason to remain around his newfound brother, finding Kalm home compared to before. Rufus didn't mind. He enjoyed having a little brother to spoil (kinda) and their bond together tightened. It was rare not to see either of them beside each other when not working, chatting it up like they had been raised together for years. Cloud's companions found it strange, eyeing them oddly as they tossed possible ideas over their minds on their newfound relationship.

Some horrified Cloud and others had Rufus crackling madly, ignoring the odd looks he received in return. They were funny, even though most were sexual in some kind of fashion. Those that didn't know about Cloud's condition would look between the two brothers questionably, unsure on how to proceed as it did appear to them that a near middle-aged man was banging a young twenty-year old. There was some eye-rolling at those idiots and one had dared to make a such derogatory comment against Cloud that Rufus stepped in to land a punch in retaliation. No one ever made such a comment ever again.

("Guys, Rufus is my brother. Well, half-brother really."

"What?!"

"You've got to be fucking kidding me!"

"Of all things that it could be, it had to be that!")

The truth placed a further strain on his relationship with his friends, the distance hurting him. It couldn't be helped in a way and Cloud was alright with that. Everyone had really moved on with their lives (except Vincent who was still rarely around) and he...he just remained behind by time, never physically changing. Denzel was twenty-one at that point and was one of the very few individuals that still made a point to visit due to the fact the now-man idolized the once hero since he was young. However, sometimes it did worst to the younger blond, bringing back the fact that he had been left lingering by the rest of the world. Everyone could move on with their lives, grow older, and then die to leave behind their own legacy. He, on the other, couldn't do that. He would forever remain young despite the constant changes around him. Rufus recognized that and would pull his brother away from the outside world, sometimes sending him for a mission (with Tseng accompanying) to use his frustrations on a horde of monsters. Cloud would return with a clearer mind, calmer in sense, and with less energy to argue.

("It's not fair."

"It never is, Cloud. That's how the world works. Some just receive more shit than others. Whatever Hojo did to you is keeping you from aging, same as Vincent Valentine, though it could be from the mako as well. Many other SOLDIERS and those involved with DeepGround are showing the same symptoms as well. Luckily, most are already dead or in hiding. Makes me regret not getting those enhancements when I was younger. If I had known that, you wouldn't be alone in this situation. I would have joined you."

"Rufus... Thank you.")

Years passed by some more and there were a few incidents on the uprising of organizations that wanted ShinRa to come back, along with the power they once wielded. More importantly, they wanted SOLDIER. Rufus, Cloud, and the Turks were obviously not pleased with that and set out to undermine these groups. It wasn't difficult as they had the years of experience on their hands and the talent that was no longer grown and cultivated anymore. Rufus could be absolutely vicious, plotting every little step almost ten to twenty ahead of the organizations, and cutting them off before they even got a chance to stride outside. The Turks weren't any better and handled the assassinations that were required (even Rufus stepped in now and then to take aim), especially on the scientists that were gaining ideas on human experimentation to further their power. At times, Cloud found it odd how his life had ended up in working together with the one person he swore he would never go with...but times were changing.

Before anyone knew it, Rufus was turning forty. It was an odd sensation to see the once young man age through the years for Cloud, but that just pulled him closer to his brother. He had never really been this close to anyone, not like this. He loved his mother, he really did, but his memories of his childhood were shattered and trying to remember them led him nowhere. Rufus was the only family member he had left. There was Zack and Aerith, but they were, well, dead. He could feel their presences around him, but never close enough to touch or see. He was lonely and his brother was filling that void. He depended on him and that scared Cloud. After all, once Rufus passed away, what would happen to that emptiness?

He didn't want to think about it.

So he didn't.

("You know, there was another Shinra bastard son in the system."

"Really? Who?"

"Lazard Deusericus. He was the Director of SOLDIER. He was older than me by seven years, but we never really met except during meetings."

"Was?"

"He disappeared when ShinRa was attacked, but everyone knew he died since he was involved with Hollander. This was during the time I had been sent away to Junon for 'house arrest' after the President found out I had been funding AVALANCHE. The story surrounding him is a long one."

"I have time."

"I know. So let's get a good bottle of scotch and we'll play story time. From what you've told me, the memories you gained from Zack only had a vague idea of what was truly happening in ShinRa. Besides Sephiroth, there were two other powerful First Class SOLDIERs...")

More years passed and time just continued to move on in an endless march. Cloud kept doing what he always did, but had to keep himself hidden to prevent suspicion on his forever young features. Rufus and the Turks were thorough in keeping him out of the spotlight and he was forever grateful for that. He visited his aging friends, who had their own families and businesses to run. He met Denzel's wife, attended Marlene's wedding, and snuck into Cid's funeral when the man had been caught up in an explosion that ended his life.

Time kept going and events kept happening in turn. He crept into the hospital when Marlene had her first child, had a couple of drinks at Seventh Heaven to see Tifa, wandered Wutai to learn the culture as demanded by Yuffie who had become the empress when she turned twenty, before finally slipping into Barret's funeral when he got trapped in a cave-in at the mines from a series of explosions that went wrong. Vincent popped by now and then more often and the two of them would travel together to keep the silence away, enjoying each other's presence as they were the only two immortals (that really knew each other) that would be there to the end after everyone was gone.

("It's sad isn't it, Vincent? We've been completely left behind."

"Indeed, we have."

"We look exactly the same. I even saw Shelke and she hasn't changed much. Makes me at least appreciate that I had been changed when I was a little older than younger. That's got to be a real curse."

There was an amused chuckle from the cloaked man. "Even with everything that's happening, you seem happy."

"I do?" Cloud glanced away from his companion to stare out into the distance, watching the setting sun from the cliff they had settled on. "I guess I'm, in a way, content with my life, despite all the sadness in it."

Vincent simply stared at the blond, his gaze even, despite it being so obvious that his mind was pondering over those words. Cloud had gotten good at reading people, too used to the Turks and Rufus. Even though Vincent was considered an ex-Turk, he followed some of the same methods by pure ingrained habits. "Rufus and you are good for each other. You've changed and at the same time, balance each other for the better."

Cloud didn't respond, listening to the dark haired male intently. He had known about all that already. There was a drastic difference if one were to look at their past selves and now. There was an openness that never existed before, an easiness, a flow that made them slide together perfectly. Before, Cloud had never been talkative, giving one worded responses, but now he happily chuckled and joked with his brother. Rufus had been arrogant, condescending, downright cruel and abusive to those lower than him long ago during Cloud's journey against Sephiroth. Now, it was all gone, replaced with a relaxed man that shared his time with those that cared about him, unafraid of nestling up close, and sharing his knowledge.

"This Rufus would have been a good leader if ShinRa was still around."

"Yeah, he would have been. Shame really...")

Time continued on endlessly, no end in sight and people aged further. Of the original four Turks left after ShinRa's fall, only Tseng and Reno remained behind. Rude and Elena quit long ago to have their own families, but kept in touch just in case something came up, their loyalties to their boss forever there. Among the few new faces that had been added, none of them got anywhere close as those four, but Rufus and Cloud accepted and allowed them in. They were a tightly bonded family in everything other than blood and they were all content with that.

Sometimes, Cloud would look at his older brother and wonder...wonder how the man would act with his own lover and children. Despite all these years, Rufus had never once officially gotten together with anyone, keeping himself far away from those attachments. For a while, Cloud figured it was because of his work, but then it came to him. Rufus couldn't leave him. He didn't want to leave him. It made Cloud both blissful and depressed at the prospect. He was the reason the older man was holding back, but no matter how much the younger blond brought it up, Rufus would just roll his eyes and refuse profusely.

("Why don't you go out and look for someone to settle down with? I mean, you don't have to stay with me."

"I've told you multiple times before that I have no intentions on doing such things. I plan on letting ShinRa's sins die with me. Plus, I can't really leave you alone. You do stupid shit when I'm not around to watch you."

"Rufus..."

"Don't look at me like that. We both know it's completely true. Don't you remember that incident last week where you-"

"Rufus!")


Rufus sighed heavily, craning his neck gently as he worked out the sore muscles in that area. It was four in the morning and he had just finished a job with his fellow Turks, an undercover operation that took out one rigged truck containing three individuals that had been kidnapping children for a slave ring. It wasn't a pleasant job but the payout was worth it and the thought of helping innocent kids from being corrupted gave him some closure to the terrible things he had done when he had been younger. The strain of having to wait for three hours in the same position for the vehicle to pass by had been the hardest part.

To use fear to control the population...

He must have been a fool, a fool built up by his father.

Fear could only control people for so long, but love... Love made people want to fight and love made people want to die for something, to protect that precious something to the very end. It made people want to stand up against something they are scared of. It also made people do unreasonable and, sometimes, unpredictable things.

Now, Rufus wasn't an idiot. Love wasn't his thing. He was more useful in terrorizing people, creating death and destruction, and placing an end to his enemies. That was how he was raised, what he was trained to do, what he was meant to be. However, that didn't mean he didn't understand love. He loved his brother and his Turks. And he may not outwardly show it like normal people, but his family was never really normal in the first place. The last time someone decided to hurt one of his precious family members, well, they're no longer around.

Getting back to the topic, while Rufus could use fear, Cloud, on the other hand, could inspire people. He could bring people together for a common cause, gather them up to fight a battle that appeared unwinnable, or at least, long ago when he was the hero of the world (much to his reluctance). If Cloud was the bright light that drew people in, then Rufus was the creeping darkness that snuck behind to take out the light's enemies. Despite the sensation he felt when admitting that to himself, he was content. He would rather be the one to protect the light than stand out there in the open.

Plus, it worked more to his advantage. After all, a Turk works better in the shadows.

As he slipped into the dark house he had called home for years, his eyes glanced over towards the side from the entry way. The welcome mat had been shifted slightly, alerting him that someone had come inside while he was gone. Still, he didn't bother with gathering the weapons hidden on his person and silently stepped deeper into his home. There was only one other person that dwelled here, that regularly came and went besides Tseng. The only thing that was concerning was the lack of light since Cloud would habitually keep one on for him during the nights he was gone late.

As he strode towards his room, his eyes immediately noticed the slightly ajar state of his door before shaking his head. Well, it seems like he knew exactly where his brother had disappeared to. Opening the door with a creek, he could make out the figure on the bed from the little moonlight edging through the window.

"I see you've crashed back in my bed again." Rufus huffed, almost looking like he was about to roll his eyes at the sight of his little brother lazing about.

Turning on a nearby light, he peeled off his signature white coat, hanging it up on a hanger, before organizing his various weapons on his person. After being alive for so long, he was a fearsome person on his own, as deadly as Cloud without the enhanced strength backing him up. His weapons were laid down on the table, all within reach, but had a few still on him, hidden in his pants and attached to the holster on his sides. Striding forward, his blue eyes examined over his younger brother curiously, searching for any wounds or injuries, and when he found none, settled on the mattress.

He huffed once more, shuffling as he got his body into a more comfortable position. Getting old sucked. He could feel his bones beginning to creak more with each passing year. He was just lucky to avoid any medical conditions that tended to pop up as people aged. "You don't do this unless you're upset about something."

Cloud didn't answer at first, face pressed against the soft pillow with his eyes closed shut. His body barely moved, despite breathing normally. It was that abnormal silence that had Rufus swinging his legs onto the mattress, scooting towards the head of the bed so his back rested against the frame. Carefully reaching over, he rubbed his brother's back, offering silent comfort for something he wasn't sure about. This wasn't normal and it meant something extremely upsetting had occurred while he had been away. He mentally went through all the reports he had been given throughout the day, but hadn't heard of anything related to Cloud, unless this happened recently.

"Cloud? Did something happen?" His fingers continued to rub along the spine, sensing the tense muscles underneath. Finally, his younger brother rolled over to his side, facing the elder with a blank expression. There was no emotion in those bright blue eyes tinted with mako, nothing at all. "Cloud?"

"Tifa's dead."

Rufus blinked once, then twice, before he finally responded. "What?" Shaking out of his stupor, he continued, "When? What happened?"

As the elder sat up straight, he was already reaching for his phone, ready to dial out numbers to confirm that information. Tifa was only forty-three, too young for any medical condition to take her...unless...

"There was an accident at Seventh Heaven." Cloud started, voice calm despite the emotions that were beginning to creep into his eyes. "A drunk driver crashed into the side of the bar at one in the morning. It went through the wall..." There was a slight hesitation in the blond's voice, slowly beginning to waver in strength. Rufus reached over to rub the right shoulder, offering comfort to help his brother push through. "The wall where the bar was located, where Tifa was located, and kept plowing through the crowd. Nine people, including her, are dead. Twenty-six others are injured, ten of which are in critical condition."

"Shit..."

There was no better word to describe the horrific situation. There was nothing at all. And from what Rufus suspected from the description, it had been an instant death.

Run over and crushed by a car...

What a way for a once-hero to go. A brutality that sadly wasn't unheard of in this day and age.

And she had been married with children.

"The driver was a twenty-one year old male with a blood alcohol level of 0.16 percent." Completely drunk, completely under the influence. There were no excuses for his destruction and Rufus would make some calls once he was away from Cloud's enhance hearing to make sure that the bastard suffered through hell and back. Slowly, Cloud rolled onto his back, staring up at the ceiling with an utter defeated sigh, before going back to his side. "There's more."

More? More what? Rufus wasn't sure if he wanted to hear more about this horrific situation. What could be worse than having just heard Tifa being killed by some drunk child?

"Marlene was there visiting."

Marlene? Rufus narrowed his eyebrows at that. Last he heard, she was happily married with her caring husband for four years (Marlene being twenty-seven now) with one kid already and was halfway through her second...

Oh...

Oh god...

"She was injured in the accident...and the doctors were forced to abort the pregnancy to save her life."

"Fuck..."

They had skipped all the references of the pan and oven and were simply burning painfully alive at this point. This...This was... There was no words to describe any of this. No words at all. Rufus may not have been close to either of these people, but he had known them for most of his life, and to hear that they had been brutally taken away like that... It just left a bitter hole that couldn't be filed. In Cloud's case, gaping with only darkness to enclose.

And there was nothing in the world that could fill it in. Time could slowly replace it, make it hurt less, but this was an individual that had been with him since he was young, that knew him well, that had cared for him even when he hadn't been himself. It appears that tragedy was something that was far too familiar with Cloud. He just couldn't get a break from it all. And then there was Marlene, a woman that had felt like a daughter to Cloud.

"Worst part is that I can't even visit Marlene while she's in the hospital or attend the funeral. It's a public broadcast. All the news stations will be there. I'll have to call or wait until the public dies down before visiting."

Rufus sneered angrily at that one. They had been very careful to keep Cloud out of the camera view and it wouldn't take much for people to notice that the once hero of the world hadn't aged a day. Vincent was never around, so there were no issues there, but for Cloud, he would stand out like a beacon.

Rufus did what he did best: plot. He spoke of his first idea, "Perhaps you could pose as my lost son? Change clothes, use gel to dampen your hair. It's not common knowledge that you're my brother, so I could get the Turks to admit it if anyone asks. Just changing your appearance would be enough. I'm forty-eight now. Having a twenty year old son wouldn't be unsurprising. I could have gotten someone pregnant before my supposed death."

Cloud sat up slightly, his elbows pressing against the mattress. There was a shine of hope in his eyes. "You would do that? For me?"

"Obviously." Rufus hummed underneath his breath as a more thorough idea came to him. "However, I think the best way for people to stop being suspicious of you is if I were to pose as you. There's enough family resemblance that no one would question it. You've supposedly aged, so it's apparent that there would be some changes. Anyway, the public doesn't know that 'Rufus Shinra' is still alive and if they do, it's just rumors. My Turks don't mention me and only associates that are close enough to me would be able to tell the difference, but they wouldn't say anything either. Still, having you play as my son wouldn't be too bad. You would just look like a younger version of 'you' as my son." There was a coy smirk on Rufus's lips, clearly amused by the idea. It was probably the one idea that was most likely to work. It would give Cloud the most freedom afterwards. No one would question it. Ah, the things he does for his little brother.

The younger blond just smiled, flopping back down onto the mattress as if all his worries had disappeared. "Thank you, Rufus. Thank you."

"Yeah, yeah. I feel the absolute adoration from you, little brother." Rufus chuckled sarcastically, unable to help teasing the younger. "However," His blue eyes suddenly narrowed, still examining the other carefully as if pondering over something else. "You still haven't told me everything on your mind. There's one other thing that's bothering you, don't think I didn't notice."

Cloud snorted, rolling onto his back once more. "Should have known it was impossible to hide anything from you."

"It's because I know you so well. So what else is on your mind?"

At first, the younger blond didn't speak, but he had learned at some point after being around Rufus for so long that it was just easier to give into the demands. "I'm scared," Cloud admitted, easing against his brother, and closed his eyes. "I'm afraid of you growing old or getting killed. I'm afraid of you no longer being by my side. I can't imagine how it'll be once I'm all alone."

There was no correct response to that because there just wasn't any. Rufus sighed, knowing that they had gone in circles around this specific topic. Each time there was a death of Cloud's companions, this matter was brought up and each year it was getting harder. He was nearing fifty and the average life expectancy of the people of Gaia was eighty, if he wasn't taken away by a tragic death.

The older blond shuffled down the bed until he was lying beside his brother and stared into those abnormally bright blue eyes with a heavy sigh. Reaching over, he grasped Cloud's hand and tightened it, as if telling the other he was still here with him.

That night they slept side by side, unwilling to leave each other's presence. It had been a long time since this had happened, only rare occasions when one of them was in emotional distress. They didn't mind, despite what it could possibly look like to outsiders. In their home, they were safe from prying eyes and that was all that mattered. Closing their eyes and settling to the sounds of each other's heartbeat, they kept one hand attached to the other as if reassuring each other that their brother was still there with them.

Rufus woke up later when there was some shuffling around him, unable to feel Cloud's warm hand in his own. His fingers twitched at first, figuring that was his brother moving around in the room until he realized something. Why was he on his back? He had been certain he had been sleeping on his right side. And the shuffling of feet was too light to be Cloud's.

Carefully opening his eyes, Rufus stared at an unfamiliar ceiling, one that didn't belong to his home.

Chapter Text

Carefully opening his eyes, Rufus stared at a ceiling that didn't belong to him.

Rufus blinked. His senses quickly became fully alert and ready to spring at a moment's notice. Despite that, he remained perfectly still, listening for every single sound in his surroundings while keeping his breathing as even as possible. He had been trained for these types of situations, but it had been a long, long time since anything like this had ever happened. With his age, the blond had gained experience and skills that made him lethal in every sense and he was more Turk than humanly possible. He was a person that should never be underestimated and at the same time, never undermined. He knew how to kill a person thirty different ways with a single object off the top of his head within five seconds.

Still, this was strange. Rufus was absolutely certain he had been sleeping beside his brother at home. His security was top notch. Tseng and himself had programmed it personally and all its little security measures in case the power went out. There was no possible way that someone could get the drop on him, especially with Cloud beside him. The not-SOLDIER had hyper senses, a hearing that could pick up the smallest shuffling and a nose that could identify an unusual scent even when there was nothing for a normal person.

To get a drop on both of them when they were within touching distance was quite frankly...impossible.

As he focused on his surroundings, the blond picked up some unusual noises. There were machines, a beeping that sounded familiarly like a heart monitor and a clicking sound of some pump. Was he in some medical ward? Had he been captured to be experimented on? Rapid thoughts shuffled through his mind, but he pushed them back, furthering his identification on his surroundings. Rufus sensed one person in the room, at the corner of his bed, and it was a presence that was...familiar? He blinked once more. Yes, it was definitely familiar. A Turk. He was certain of it. Carefully, his eyes drifted down to the edges of the bed, finding that he was indeed on some medical floor, settled in a hospital bed.

What the hell happened?

He got that answer when a sharp shot of boiling pain went through every nerve in his body from his small twitch of movement. Rufus covered his hiss. Had he been injured? Well, that would explain the medical then. But that just brought up more questions than answers. Carefully, the blond jerked his fingers first, testing them, and found himself unrestrained. Clearly, if someone wanted to capture a Turk, they needed to lock them down in metal, encase their bodies so they wouldn't attempt to slip out of their binds. Neither these idiots were inexperienced or a fool or both. Well, it worked to his advantage.

Still, for there to be a Turk close by, there had to be some safety in the matter. Cautiously, he sat up, feeling the pull of his aching muscles and the bandages that are wrapped around his neck up to his forehead and down to his left hand. He blinked, surprised by the damage. Now, he knew for certain he hadn't been injured. He would have felt the injury first before blacking out.

His confused shuffling had caught the attention of the other individual in the room. A few steps came towards his location, but Rufus wasn't focusing on the person just yet, lost in his own thoughts.

"Rufus, sir?"

That voice...

No, it wasn't possible.

He knew it far too well, but it was younger, so much younger than the man he knew now. Tseng had been almost four years older than him, and after spending so many years by that man's side, Rufus had memorized everything about him. And that brought him back to the voice. Despite, it being younger with a bland tone, he would recognize it anywhere. As his eyes drifted upward, he could only stare in shock. Impossible...

It was Tseng, but he looked so...so young. The black haired male appeared as he had when he had been caught supporting AVALANCHE with his hair tied up in a short ponytail. No, it had still been up during the events before Meteor but the tail had reached past his shoulders. The man's expression was blank, as like any Turk (except for Reno), but there was an air of insecurity that had been there when Tseng was younger, only broken after being together for so long.

"Tseng?"

The black haired male nodded his head, eyes closing momentarily. When Tseng didn't speak up, Rufus took the initiative to ask.

"Where am I?"

"In the medical wing of ShinRa Corporation. You're condition was quite critical, so we decided to have you treated here first before moving you to your private quarters. I hope you don't mind. It was to get access to the necessary equipment to stabilize you. Materia usage was included as well."

ShinRa Corporation? Private quarters? What the hell? Had he gone back in time? Or was this some strange dream?

Shaking his head, Rufus focused on one thing: Tseng. If he had gone back, this Tseng was going to take a while to get used to. The Tseng in his time was open, voice colored with warmth and affection after years of working together. There was a bond of trust that rivaled his own with his brother and, in turn, Cloud had gotten closer to the stoic man. They were practically best friends.

Tseng, on the other hand, was observing the blond before him. This was...unexpected. He had predicted arguing, demands even, and the usual whining from the ShinRa heir. But the silence and calculating gaze that followed was...unsettling. It was like he was being examined from all angles, peeled apart to be exposed from the inside. For a moment, Tseng thought he was looking at an older Turk that had been through many years of service. However, that wasn't possible. This was Rufus Shinra, a person that had never experienced true hardship. Perhaps the event that had led him being injured had done more damage to his mind than thought possible? If so, then its best to get a gauge of the condition.

Tseng took that moment to speak up, "How much do you remember?"

Remember? Rufus was entirely certain he remembered everything. Regardless, he kept his face purposefully blank, blue eyes carefully observing the other. Now, if the other was asking what had occurred to cause this, well, the other would get nothing from him because he knew absolutely nothing. Cautiously, due to the various bandages and unknown condition of his body, Rufus shook his head.

"I see." There was an almost unnoticed huff in Tseng's voice, one Rufus wouldn't have recognized if it hadn't been for the outside knowledge. "Yesterday at 1600, you attended a private party alone in the celebration of ShinRa taking down a fort, much to our reluctance. You were the only ShinRa representative there along with thirty other attendees ranging from movie celebrities to outside donors. One of the attendees had a bomb rigged onto his body and detonated it during the proceedings. By the time we figured out what was to occur, it was too late to get you out."

'Well, doesn't that sound lovely and incredibly stupid of himself,' Rufus thought. He could just see his arrogant pompous younger self attending something like that, believing himself to be indestructible. Had he really been that idiotic? No wonder he was so well hated in his younger years. Rufus was even hating himself for his stupidity. By the way, fort? What 'fort' was Tseng talking about?

"Among the rubble, we were able to find you alive, but pinned. You were lucky to avoid most of the blast and not get crushed by the collapsing building. Everyone else was pronounced dead on site." Tseng spoke as if none of it had mattered and in a way, it probably hadn't. Among the people at the party, he had been the most important individual to ShinRa. Everyone else had been just collateral damage, unworthy of even a gil, no matter how well-known or famous they were. "While you were unconscious, the responsible party has been captured and executed. They weren't hiding what they had done and there was no meaning in keeping them alive as there was no possible information that could be gathered through their torture."

Still, from the sounds of it, it was too strange that he had been the only survivor, especially in such a setting. So his younger self had been killed by the blast or the resulting damage. It would make sense. Kinda? Rufus found it hard to tell, but it would explain how he had somehow made his appearance here. In a way, he was just taking the place of someone that was no longer around. That didn't explain his body though...

Pushing those thoughts aside, the blond would have to think about his situation once he was alone. For now, it was time to start gathering information about his setting without being too suspicious. It would be easier if it had been anyone else except for Tseng in the room where he could foreign memory loss, but this man would catch on too quickly. Reaching up, he gently rubbed his head, feeling the roughness of the white bandages around his cranium, and tugged slightly at it in return. He hadn't suffered an injury like this in a long time, not since the blast from WEAPON.

Rufus snorted. He really was in the past. "Can I see the report regarding my injuries?"

"Of course, Sir." Tseng reached to the side where a clipboard had been attached to the front of the bed. He promptly handed it over without a fuss.

Rufus grabbed it and quickly examined the top portion that contained his personal data. Most of it had been taken off like his identification and certain dates due to privacy issues as no one in ShinRa wanted his data to get out and no one wanted it to be collected into a profile. Still, he could figure out the necessary information from what little it held and it wasn't as if it held much. The data regarding his injuries were minor at best as he had already figured it out from location of the pain.

His eyes zoomed on one little line in the report:

"Rufus Shinra - Age: Twenty-five."

Well, that just told him everything he needed to know. He was twenty-five...He was definitely in the past, a past so long ago that it seemed more like a vague memory than anything else at this point. It was a past he had regretted and felt guilty for, for all the deeds he had done and all the stuff he couldn't have stopped. It was a chance in the making, he knew that.

And yet...he didn't want it to register in his mind. If he did, then all the responsibility of his actions would either doom or save the planet. It wasn't something he wanted to bear. That was pressure he didn't want to face. He wouldn't be able stomach it if he had to look at his younger brother and tell him that this chance had been nothing but a failure.

His younger brother...

His mind was already calculating all the possible loops that could occur.

"Tseng," Rufus swung his feet over the hospital bed, ignoring all the pain that followed. He had been trained as a Turk since he was young, and though he didn't have the complete loyalty of his men at this point of time, there was ways he could get around.

"Yes, sir?"

"When you rescued me, was there anyone else there? Perhaps another blond male?" He knew the chances were small considering the report he had heard from Tseng regarding the causalities, but he needed to ask just in case, to confirm everything. He hoped his brother had made it to this time, and wasn't in the party as well. At least then, he wouldn't be alone in all this. As the Vice President of ShinRa Corp, he had all the sway in the world to get things shifted towards an acceptable path. Still, the blond needed someone on the lighter side to help him carve out that said path and no one was better at that than Cloud himself.

Tseng narrowed his eyebrows slightly, almost like a twitch, before shaking his head. "No, Sir. You were the only one that was still alive in the rubble. Our priority was to rescue you. Everyone else there was crushed and I don't remember seeing a blond male among the pile during the body count. Even the attendance list and workers had you as the only blond male."

Ah, that just meant Cloud might have returned to his younger body as well, or at least that's what he hoped. Well, no, not really. It would mean that Cloud would be considered a terrorist if people went pondering deeply into his profile.

The Turk's eyes hadn't once left his boss, raising an eyebrow up by just a centimeter, not enough to be noticed by the normal person. He was curious. There weren't many people that could get under Rufus' skin or catch his attention, except for his father and Professor Hojo, but that was normal for everyone. Taking his boss's lack of explanation, he decided to take the incentive and ask, "Was he one of the men that was responsible for the bomb?"

"No. No, he's not." Rufus didn't want a search party going after Cloud for vengeance. That would leave his younger brother at an enormous disadvantage. It was best to change the story slightly from the grainy details he had managed to receive. "However, he's probably the reason as to why I was able to survive the attack in the first place." Best to keep the man on a positive point, that way if they were to question his morals and roles, he would already have the backing of Rufus Shinra in his pocket. "My memory of the incident isn't that clear just yet but I definitely remember him. He was...unusual in a way. I'll tell you more details later once everything comes back." Meaning that, he knew more about the man and perhaps on a personal level. It was a meaning hidden underneath the layer of words. Rufus knew Tseng would understand, at least, he hoped so.

"I understand. Do you want me to put out a priority search for him?"

Well, it wouldn't hurt. The sooner, the better. Even placed in a brand new setting, Rufus was already plotting every little detail and action he could take. He hadn't become the leader of the Turks and survived so long to stop now. He was going to change things...but before he can get started, he needed to know if Cloud contained his memories or if he really was by himself in the past. He already had a few ideas that would work perfectly regardless.

Rufus spoke up, knowing he had been silent too long. "Yes, but you're not to confront him until I say so. I want all details about him, from his equipment to his movements." That alone would tell him all he needed to know. "Once I get that report, from there, I'll decide whether to confront him or not. If not, then we'll just leave him alone."

"Understood, sir."

Rufus scooted off the mattress, warily standing up while keeping a firm grip against the bed rails. Tseng looked like he was about to offer his disagreement about his actions, but one firm gaze from the blond kept him quiet. The ShinRa heir needed to start moving and being confined in a bed would just put his plans behind. "I wish to return to my quarters to rest."

Tseng still looked like he was about to argue, but gave into his order. "Understood, sir. Your clothes are on the chair beside you."

The blond quickly got dressed, ignoring the tugging pain that followed his movements and the fact that Tseng was still in the room. This pain was minor compared to what he had felt before. This was something he could push through. The clothes that Tseng gave him was a plain white suit, nothing compared to his usual long white overcoats he had favored later in life. He would have to remedy that. He also needed his weapons back. Only having a shotgun made him feel utterly defenseless. Then, there was the lack of training in his current body. He had never been out of shape when younger, but he required the upper body strength for his heavier weapons. Lastly, he needed to slowly get Tseng out of his habit of saying 'sir' to him, at least privately. It was starting to become borderline annoying.

So many things that needed to be fixed, so little time.

Stepping out of the medical ward, Rufus ignored the various eyes that fell onto him and pushed through. Luckily, he still remembered his way through ShinRa despite it being over twenty years. As he got into the elevator, he slipped towards the back wall and leaned against it, letting Tseng push the button. It would take a while to get to the upper floors, always had. Even with eight elevators, they were always constantly in usage, too many floors to accommodate, too many employees coming and going. There was a ninth that wasn't for the public, used only by the higher ups, much like himself, but Rufus didn't want to chance any risk of meeting someone he sorely wanted to blow their brains out with his shotgun.

The list of people he wanted to kill was long after all and most pertained to the Department Heads.

The elevator doors opened once on its way up and Rufus peered up curiously. He blinked. Those glowing eyes, those uniforms, those weapons...Ah, SOLDIERs. Actual SOLDIERs. It had been a while.

Tilting his head slightly, Rufus observed the two men before him curiously, knowing he was being watched in return. It was so obvious that they were hesitating from entering and it didn't help that Tseng was standing beside him, the obvious Turk. Rufus snorted, amused, but annoyed at the same time. Straightening his back, he spoke. "Either you're going to get in or you're going to allow those doors to close."

The two Third Class SOLDIERS, by the looks of the purple uniforms, stared at each other once before taking that step forward. There was still some hesitation, even as they shifted to the opposite side after pressing for their floor, wary of both Turks' presence (well one really). Luckily, they weren't in the confined space for long. Their destination was only three floors up. Rufus huffed slightly as the metal doors closed, leaving the compartment in silence once more.

After the Nibelheim incident, making SOLDIERs had been harder, probably due to the fact that Hojo hadn't been bothering anymore during those four years, too obsessed with making clones to replace his prized experiment. It didn't help that ShinRa's public opinion had went down the drain, no one wanting to be employed by the company unless desperate, and the lack of Sephiroth's demanding presence, who had been the original sensation people wanted to become. People just simply...turned away.

"Who is currently in charge of SOLDIER?" Rufus swore he was going to kill someone if it was Heidegger. That fat prudent man should be gutted and left to be plucked by the crows. Heidegger had destroyed the entire military, had ruined the Turks during the time he had been in command once. Those badges on his clothes were nothing more than deeds done by others, people who had probably lost their lives for his greed.

Tseng raised an eyebrow at that. That was a...strange question (to him). Yes, very strange. Still, he answered. "Director Lazard Deusericus is in charge of SOLDIER."

Rufus blinked. Wait...

What?

That's...not possible. Rufus peered down to the cold metal floor, closing his eyes as he focused on his memories, ignoring the confused expression from Tseng. The blond knew the raven haired man was suspicious as hell, but at this current time, he didn't care. There were too many confusing matters popping up all at once. Yes, Rufus was absolutely certain about the chain of events. He had been twenty-five when the dealings had occurred with Sephiroth, Cloud, and Meteor, when he had become President for that short time, and when ShinRa had completely fallen apart.

"It seems my memory is a bit...lacking right now. The hit on my head must have messed with my memories somehow. Tseng, when was Lazard hired as Director?"

Tseng gave a curt reply, "He was placed into that position two years ago due to the brilliant working ability he demonstrated. Despite it being only two years, he has made some improvements to the department. Perhaps not as grand on a scale like we were hoping, but he has attempted to fix what was greatly suffering."

"Two years ago?" Now that couldn't be right. Lazard had only been working for three years before the whole mass SOLDIER Desertion lead by Genesis and that meant he had a year before that event occurred. It also meant they were currently at war with Wutai as well. Now, the 'fort' comment made more sense...as did the suicide bomb. He had been an enemy to the nation, considering he was the son and heir of ShinRa Corp. You couldn't blame them for the hatred. Even he hated the company. And that led to his next question: "Tseng, what year is it?"

"1999, sir."

Rufus blinked before the date settled in his mind.

Fuckkkkkkkk.

Holy shit. There were some major mess ups right now. The timeline had been completely thrown off. He had been twenty-five when it was 0007, when meteor had happened. No wonder everything was different. There was an eight year divergence. He would have been around seventeen or eighteen originally in his timeline. What happened? Had events changed that much? Damn, he needed to find Cloud now.

However, if he thought about it...Was Cloud thirteen right now? Or was he twenty-one? Depending on the answer, his ideas would have to be completely thrown out the window and burned. There was no way a thirteen-year old Cloud Strife could get into the ShinRa system without all the suspicions that followed.

Rufus sneered. This was going to be more troublesome than he originally thought. He continued to ignore Tseng in the background, lost within his own mind.


In an abandoned church down below in Sector five of Midgar, a blond male stirred.


Rufus sneered angrily to himself. It would appear that besides himself, everyone was at their accurate ages. Now instead of Tseng being older than him, they were pretty much the same with a year off. That was going to take some time getting used to. His father was even the same, except that his deceased mother had gotten pregnant earlier than expected. The only other thing that had been changed was that Lazard had remained twenty-eight, making only a three year difference between them instead of seven like it had been originally.

Apparently, there were some other drastic changes in this world that the blond had learned about while researching. In fact, his dealings with AVALANCHE had been placed as black out material and his name had never been brought up once, which lead to him never being placed under house arrest by his father. If anything, it had been completely erased. It would appear that his dead self had been, at least, thorough enough to keep things from being traced back to him (probably because he was older) and kept himself in the Vice President position. That also meant that Veld had already deserted them to be with his dying daughter, passing the Turk's head torch to Tseng. However, not all the Turks left with Veld, leaving about half behind to continue working.

Rufus mentally smirked to himself. There was some good materia he could use for future reference. Oh, he was already thinking up of multiple ideas, linking them together like a jigsaw puzzle. The knowledge the blond had gained from the future and from Cloud had given him all the advantages he needed to make some drastic changes.

At this current time, Sephiroth was twenty-two (about fifteen when the Wutai war started in 1992) and damn was it weird to be older than him this time around by a year or two (same with Tseng). The General had been twenty-five when the whole Nibelheim incident occurred (Cloud being sixteen around then), so there were a couple years there to work with, more than enough time to get some shit together. He had one year before the Mass SOLDIER desertion event and in turn, fix Genesis Rhapsodos and Angeal Hewley from degradation.

Ah, so much shit to do. At this rate, Rufus would need to keep a list. But well, he was a Turk. He will get it done and get it done right. Still, ShinRa was just a mess waiting to be tugged apart, which was probably why it had fallen to pieces in the future, and so easily too.

But one always knew how it was. If you want to get rid of the rot inside, you have cut it out. Sometimes, yourself if necessary.

"Sir," Tseng called out as he entered the door to the Vice President's office, bowing slightly before stepping forward. The door was closed behind him and tucked under his arm was a brown envelope with a red 'Confidential' stamp at the side.

Rufus gave a firm nod as he pushed aside some of the research on his desk. Back when he had been working as the Vice President, when he was younger, he hadn't really done all that much except laze around like some lucky bastard. Really, all he had been doing was monitoring the departments and adjusting their demands, which he hadn't really been doing in the first place. Most were bypassed through him by the President anyway, especially those related to the Science Department.

He had his part in the downfall of ShinRa and he knew that. Now, he was fixing things or, well, attempting. As much as he could handle funding, paperwork and such, it wasn't his thing. He was used to the gritty details, the lack of information, the independence, hacking, and much more that came as a Turk. It had only been five days since stepping in an office that clearly hadn't been used for a long time and he was already tired (despite still bearing a few remnants of the attack). At least, his other self had been smart enough to completely cover his tracks regarding AVALANCHE and during this week, Rufus buried it under loopholes and editing. He didn't want anything to come back and haunt him.

Tseng stopped at the dark oak, unable to help but raise an eyebrow at the sight before him. He had expected Rufus to act as he usually did. Perhaps the near attempt at his life woke him up a little? It had been the closest someone had ever been in actually taking him out, most intercepted before they even left the building. He was almost completely different and Tseng would be suspicious of Rufus being an imposter if the man didn't already know all the codenames, passwords, and had the backing of the doctors assuring that this was the official body. Still, it was hard not to notice the changes in behavior. The Rufus now was acting so...mature and less like an arrogant child that had been given everything he wanted since birth. Pushing those thoughts aside, Tseng spoke. "Sir, I have the information you had requested."

The blond peered up, narrowing his eyes slightly, and grasped the offered envelope. Just as he expected from Tseng, work getting done as quickly as he wanted. It was something he enjoyed about Tseng, his future right-hand man. Pulling open the tab, the blond spilled the contents onto his desk.

Photos, several of them, and they all contained one single, very familiar, individual. Rufus shuffled through them, examining each and every carefully. He recognized some of the scenery as the slums, Sector Five by the looks of it, and they had been taken at various angles.

As he pondered through the items, Tseng continued in the background. "The man was found wandering in Sector Five recently, suddenly appearing approximately five days ago, from what the residents said. He stood out among the crowd due to his...choice of clothing. The unknown blond male appears to be wearing a modified SOLDIER First uniform with glowing eyes consistent of mako and wields a large buster blade-stylized weapon. He carries multiple materia from the glance we were able to take of his weapon, bracer, and a small looped bag along his waist." Tseng's eyes observed his boss vigilantly, barely able to hide his curiosity regarding this matter. It wasn't often that something like this happened, and for Rufus to gain such an interest in the individual, it was odd. "He has gotten close to a special target of ours, but I told Rude not to engage him, just to observe from afar for the time being."

Rufus flipped to the next photo which revealed Cloud's full face. The younger blond was staring directly at the camera as if knowing it was there, and from what Rufus knew about his brother, Cloud probably did.

Cloud Strife...He looked exactly the same as he had when they had fallen asleep together on the bed, but without his full battle gear. There were no differences. First, Tsurugi was attached to Cloud's back and that blade had only come after the defeat of WEAPONS. There was a faint glow underneath the leather sleeve on his left arm, alerting him to the various materia he was carrying. A walking arsenal as usual. He had to be one and the same. There was no doubt about it.

Rufus smirked as his mind began forming a firm plot of how to use this to his advantage and couldn't help the laugh that slipped through his lips. This was it, this was exactly who he needed to start the process.

Everything was quickly coming together, just the way he wanted it to.

Oh, they were going to have so much fun with this.

But first things first. He needed to protect his little brother from outside forces, and that included the Turks themselves.

"Tseng, I don't have to tell you that the identity or even the fact that this man exists is to not be shared with anyone." Rufus' blue eyes turned to burn at his once-companion, almost daring him to speak against him. "This is to stay between us and Rude. No one is to see him, hear him, or even sense him. I don't want to even hear a whisper of anything regarding him. At this time, he's a blackout on paper." To emphasize his point, Rufus tossed all photos and papers regarding his younger brother into the trash bin and with the fire materia he had picked up three days ago, promptly setting everything ablaze.

Rufus ignored the stench of smoke and flickering of embers that fluttered up before dissipating into thin air. And all throughout, the blond kept his fervent gaze on Tseng, wondering how the man would react. At first, the black haired Turk was still, unbothered by the dark smoke, before finally tilting his head downward.

"I understand, Sir."

Rufus smirked, pulling back his intensity, and folded his arms against his chest. He almost let out a 'tch' at the fact that he wasn't carrying his normal collection of weaponry, unable to feel the comfort of it against his skin. It was like missing a limb. "Now, I need to talk to this man privately. Sneak him in during the night when security is at its weakest, most likely around four in the morning. That's when the night-shift guards are starting to feel drowsy. If this was anything else, I wouldn't mind sneaking out to meet him personally, however, I'm certain that would pull wandering eyes towards my direction, which is unnecessary at this point. The public is still asking about my condition and stepping out would just get me swarmed." The blond huffed, "And since it's you, no one would question your access to my private rooms during the middle of the night. Oh, and before you ask, I'll hack the security room and place the cameras in a loop from a previous visit to cover you."

Tseng couldn't hide the twitch of his eyebrows.

This thought process, this thoroughness, the skills, the planning...It was a Turk's, and though he had helped train the blond to protect himself against adversities, this was too much. This spoke of experience, experience he was absolutely certain Rufus had never gained. Just what happened during the bombing event to change him this much? If anything, it was like the Rufus before and the one now sitting before him were two completely different people. More so, what did this blond individual mean to Rufus?

Yes, the raven haired male had sworn an oath to work loyally at Rufus Shinra's side for the trade off for Director Veld's life as well as the hiding members that deserted ShinRa. And he had worked tirelessly to keep the blond happy for that bargain. In turn, it gave him insight on ShinRa's corruption and Rufus' personality.

So back to that last thought, there was a drastic difference in the blond before him, too drastic. It was so obvious that Tseng would have to be an absolute idiot to not realize it. As he furthered his observation, this Rufus appeared...older? Was that possible? Mature, definitely. However, it was like he had the wisdom of years at his backing, like everything he had just done was old school. In a way, Rufus was acting like a senior member of the Turks that had seen it all and just laughed about it on the way out. Kinda like Veld...

As there was no leader to the Turks anymore, Director Veld gone, that left Tseng to fill in the empty space and as such, there was no one to report about these changes regarding Rufus except to the President himself, which he refused to do as it conflicted with his oath. Tseng may be loyal to the company, but he wasn't blind.

Regardless, Tseng could never take control of the Investigation Sector of the General Affairs Department, even though he was technically supposed to. He wasn't meant to nor did he want to. Turks like him weren't intended to be in the spotlight. They were meant to hide in the background and stab the enemy before they even knew what was happening.

However, at this time, there was no proof for him to use against this Rufus, so all Tseng could do was agree. "If I am to meet him and convince him to follow me, what should I say to him?"

Rufus smirked, leaning back against his chair as he pondered over the correct wording. He had plenty of things to declare, but at this moment, he needed something to get his brother moving. "Tell him I said 'Your big brother is getting tired of waiting for your slow ass to get into gear'. If you say those words exactly, he'll know it's from me."

"I see..." Big brother? Tseng was fully aware there were other illegitimate children spawned by the President, Lazard being one of them, but most had been silenced and they were only required to do that if they spoke up about their supposed inheritance (which was almost all of them). "I understand, Sir. I'll send you a secure message when I'm on my way back with him."

"Ah, good." Rufus scooted forward, refocusing on his paperwork, pushing a few sheets closer. "Just a heads up, I'll be creating a public profile for him and a resume to get him hired. You're welcome to look over it once I'm done, but I'll need your backing to ensure it gets through. Also, stop calling me 'sir', I'm finding it irritating."

That was an even stranger request, and it just gave him more questions than answers. Was Rufus planning on hiring this male? "Rufus," Tseng was completely lost, something that hadn't happened in a long time. Despite his training as a Turk and years of service he had gone through, the cunning atmosphere surrounding Rufus made him want to take a step back and literally run. "What are you planning?"

The blond just grinned, almost sinisterly, as if he was plotting someone's terrible demise and, in a way, he was. "I think it's about time the ShinRa Corporation makes some drastic changes concerning certain matters, don't you?"

Chapter Text

Cloud was confused.

No, that was an underestimate. Perhaps the underestimate of the year?

He shook his head at that very thought. He knew better than to think that, especially with his type of shitty luck. Still, he was absolutely certain that this was Midgar, the one before it had been destroyed by Meteor, before the plates had fallen, killing millions. Specifically, he was in Sector Five where Aerith once called home, where the familiar church filled with white flowers rested. It hadn't helped that he had woken up in said place. It wasn't something he could ever forget, the tangled memories still prudent in his mind, considering he had spent a few years living off the broken land.

For the first two days, Cloud had really thought all of this was some sort of crazy reflective dream and with that thought, he hung around the interior of the church as much as possible, refusing to step outside to see the rest of the slums (unless necessary). Still, the blond could only be contained in one area for so long and he wandered along the church surroundings in his boredom, taking in the visual sights before retreating back inside when it became too much. The rest of the time, he slept.

For him, this...this was a nightmare. It couldn't be the past and Cloud didn't want it to be. He wanted to be back home with his older brother, curled up on the bed beside him with Tseng in the other room, and just be...happy. There he was safe. There he wasn't alone.

This...This was nothing like that...because this meant he had a heavy responsibility to take care of, willingly or not. He didn't want that pressure, that liability that would leave him guilty if he did nothing or if he took another path. He didn't want to be a hero again, to make those decisions again. He didn't want to see his loved ones perish and suffer and knowing that there was nothing he could have done to prevent it. He was finished with all of that, had been since the very day he went to live with his brother.

And Rufus always had a way of saying exactly what he needed to hear to snap him out of his depressive states.

Cloud briefly smiled at the comforting thought. Since when had he gotten so dependent on his older brother?

On the third day, he had a visitor, one that left him breathless and scared as if fate was pushing him into motion, like it was pulling his strings to play the role he was meant to. Still, he couldn't help but freeze in place. A passing flutter of a thought made him want to believe once more that who he was seeing before him was nothing more than an illusion, hoping that everything was still a dream, that he wasn't really here, that none of this was true. Except it wasn't and the way she stepped down the walkway with the sun glowing behind her back sent chills down Cloud's spine.

He grudgingly knew this was real.

All of it.

Aerith wandered closer to the center of the church, dressed in a white sundress, and smiled brilliantly like Cloud remembered so long ago. When she finally noticed him, standing behind the field of flowers, hesitation flashed in those green eyes and her steps slowed to a stall, obviously wondering whether or not to continue. To her, Cloud was a stranger and she was years younger than he remembered, something which threw him off.

As he studied her, a small flash of memories that didn't belong to him slipped through his mind and gave him all the answers he required. They were Zack's. He must have met her all those years ago, even before they (Cloud and Aerith) had first met, before the SOLDIER had even made it to First. The church was even lacking the hole on the roof, meaning that they hadn't gotten together just yet, much less met. From those memories, Aerith had been extremely skittish towards anyone from ShinRa, loosening up only when she had met the Zack.

Zack...

That's right. He will be alive too.

If they met, Cloud wasn't sure how he was supposed to act around the male. How was he supposed to anyway? He was much, much, older than how he was originally.

Wait? Did that mean there was a younger version of him running around right now?

He was pulled out of his thoughts by a waving hand before his eyes, snapping his attention directly to the brunette. He couldn't help the minute flinch, belittling himself for being caught off guard despite knowing Aerith had been making her way towards him, observing his reactions. Luckily, he had stilled the instinctive response to grab his sword, the massive blade placed on the benches along with all the materia that had appeared with him.

"Hello!" The brilliant smile she gave put some rest to his pondering thoughts.

Still, Cloud couldn't help but stare, the back of his mind still wanting to believe that she was nothing more than a hallucination. He wouldn't be surprised though. He had seen her in the corner of his eyes all his life, watching over him from the Lifestream. Except this one couldn't be her. He knew that. Her young teenage appearance and the fact that Midgar was still around attested to that. He was really seeing a past version. An alive version.

Meanwhile, Aerith didn't seem affected by Cloud's lack of response, continuing to smile luminously to the side. When she got bored of waiting, she skipped around the confused blond once as if checking him out before eventually kneeling down at the edges of her garden. She tended to her flowers, keeping the guest in the corner of her eyes as she inspected the soil of her blossoms. "So, stranger, what brings you here?"

Cloud observed her from his spot, not entirely sure on how to answer that question. He didn't sense any Turks close by (for now), so he knew they were safe from being eavesdropped. "I'm...not really sure." He paused, his eyes drifting away from the teenager to the rest of the church. "I don't really know why I'm here. I just sort of woke up here two days ago."

Aerith didn't seem affected by the vague response, humming to herself as she focused on a particular flower, pressing her fingers carefully into the petals. "What's your name then?" At that question, she stood up from her spot, patting down her white dress and getting a few crumbs from dirt staining it, and maneuvered to the other side of the garden. Momentarily, she paused to give a warm smile. "I'm Aerith."

"Cloud. Cloud Strife."

"Well, it's nice to meet you, Cloud."

A silence settled between the two as the teenager continued to work on her plot, Cloud off to the side, unsure on what to do. What was he supposed to do? He really wished Rufus was here to make the choice for him. His brother always knew what to do. Minutes passed before Cloud finally got tired of waiting. He had hoped that Aerith would explain his existence here, the reason as to why he was in the past, but he got nothing but a blank expression.

Sadly, he was never one for subtlety. "Do you know who I am?"

Aerith blinked at the odd inquiry, "You don't remember who you are?" The brief worry and confusion that flashed in her wide eyes told him all he needed to know. It was as he feared. She really didn't know anything about him.

"No...that's not what I meant." Cloud sighed heavily, raising a hand up to run it through his spiky locks. He felt them bounce as his fingers slid through. "I have a question, but I don't think you're the one who can answer it."

"Huh?" Once more, the teenager was confused, peering at the man in suspicion, as her hands hovered over a flower. A question she couldn't answer? Then why ask it? She couldn't understand that logic. Still, she tried to pick the sentence apart, furrowing her eyebrows, before eventually giving up. "I don't think I understand."

"I'm not surprised." He really wasn't and that left him in a particular position. Cloud didn't know how to word this without scaring the poor girl away. He knew that she was cautious at the very beginning, regarding her abilities after being hunted down throughout her childhood. It was the reason why she had grown up in the slums and not on the upper layers where she was most likely to be seen and recognized. Here, down below, she blended in perfectly with the rest of the population and it helped that the Turks weren't quite as willing to assist Professor Hojo in his little sadistic experiments. Cloud sighed, "I don't know how to really say this without..."

Ugh, this was going to be much harder than he originally thought.

The confusion on Aerith's expression grew before she hesitatingly smiled, "Silly, just say it." She stood up to focus her full attention on the other, waiting for his response.

Cloud closed his eyes. She made it sound so easy when it never is. "I know, Aerith." He paused as if trying to give the girl a chance to back out, but he should have known better. "I know about your heritage."

It was like a switch had been flipped as the teenager froze, eyes growing wide, before eventually scooting back. Dread had overwhelmed all her emotions. "Oh..." She was practically oozing fear, glancing side to side as if searching for an escape path. Well, considering how her life had been since young, he couldn't quite blame her. Past influences weren't easy to get rid of, him being the most accurate example.

"Sorry," Cloud couldn't help but apologize. He didn't want to be the one to cause Aerith so much pain and grief, but it wasn't like he had an easier way around it. He needed answers and she was the only one that could possibly help, considering her connection to the Planet. "I didn't mean for you to get scared...But I expected it the moment I mentioned that little tidbit."

Aerith paused upon hearing that message, carefully reconsidering the man before her. She could make the connection, realization slipping through her features, but that wasn't enough to take it totally away. Still, to her, it at least explained why Cloud had been hesitating and muttered another "Oh..." under her breath.

The blond shifted his stance, running a hand through his hair once more as he pondered over formless ideas. He had never been good at emotions, always leaving such things to Rufus. Cloud almost snorted at that reoccurring thought. He really depended on his brother to do most of the human interactions for him or be his backup in uncomfortable conversations, Tseng second to that. Being a leader and directing people had been granted to him by Zack, but once he had found himself, the distinction slowly began to crumble in pieces. He wasn't Zack and he never will be. Still, that didn't help his current predicament. As he stared at the teenager, he ultimately blunted the first sentence that came to mind. "That's why I said it's a question you can't personally answer."

Aerith, thankfully, made the connection for him once more. "Because the Planet can."

"Yes, that's right." Cloud could still see the fear in her eyes, but he remained immobile for her sake. He needed to keep this conversation going and give her something to focus on besides his big reveal. "Does the Planet know why I am here, Aerith?"

The teenager scrunched her eyebrows, unsure on what that meant. It was vague after all. "Here?"

Cloud nodded. "Yes, here. In this time, in this body."

Again the brunette looked confused, cautiously stepping forward, as if finally taking the chance to examine the bizarre blond. She tilted her head, letting her long braid slide over her right shoulder. "I...don't understand. I know I didn't bring you here...and the Planet didn't either."

"What?" Had Cloud heard correctly?

"The Planet...has been noisy the last three days, so much that it's been giving me horrible headaches, enough so that I couldn't even leave the first two. It wasn't until the third, today, that it finally quieted down." At that, the teenager scrunched her nose as if she was hearing something else in the distance. In a way, she probably was. "The Planet is...scared. Really scared."

Cloud blinked, clearly surprised with this new information. "Scared?" Of what? Him? That's impossible. He would never do anything to the Planet. He did live on it after all. Where else would he go? It wasn't like he could just up and leave and head to a new one. Jenova, maybe, but he wasn't Jenova, nowhere close to that alien.

"Yes, scared, but it's hard to tell when there's so many voices speaking at the same time." She shuffled in her little place, nervous as she concentrated on something far beyond Cloud's capabilities. "I don't think it has anything to do with you personally though, but regarding something else. You just happened to be connected to this something else."

Something else? What else could there be? Unless someone came here with him? Someone terrible. That would be the only explanation for the Planet's reaction. In any case, it meant little to his current predicament. Cloud almost wanted to speak up regarding it, but the brunette beat him.

"As for your appearance, it's like you were just picked up by some outside force and then dropped off, like you were snatched. I don't...think you originally came from this world...or this timeline." Aerith nodded her head, agreeing to something internal, and spun back to her flowers, trying to focus her thoughts.

Remarkably, the flowers waved as if there was some sort of wind blowing through, twirling their leaves, but they were in an enclosed environment. Wind wasn't possible.

She peered over to Cloud, nowhere close to being finished with this conversation. "Yes, I'm absolutely certain. It's like you were plucked out of one story book and placed into another. And because of that, the Planet is confused. It doesn't understand why you're here because it wasn't the one that put you here. It's not even sure how to react towards you. To the Planet, you're a...alien. You're an outsider that doesn't belong here."

"What..." The word was a mere whisper, heard to no one but Cloud himself. He wasn't in his world anymore? Alien? What the hell was going on?

"But you are not the reason why the Planet is so scared. No, it's scared of the being that placed you here. A being that so easily slipped through..." Aerith paused a bit, her hands hanging over the flowers. She glanced up after a moment with a tense apologetic smile. "Sorry, it's hard to understand the Planet sometimes. It tends to jumble up all its messages together as one. Anyway, from what I got, this being slipped through dimensional barriers, through time itself, through various parts of the universe in seconds. The Planet..." And Aerith got frustrated as she listened to the various whispers, trying to pull apart the ones that mattered, that contained the information she desired. "The Planet felt certain factors being altered to allow you to stay here, like someone reshaped the past and the laws of space and time in order for you to fit perfectly in without disturbing anything in return. It made it appear like you have always belonged here."

As the flow of conversion slipped into a darker path, Aerith could no longer focus on her work anymore. The messages she was hearing from down below horrified her. This wasn't something that was normal. This was beyond that.

The Planet was more scared of this singular being than that of the Calamity.

And that was a horrifying thought.

Cloud could only stare in shock, unsure of how to respond. How was he supposed to? He knew nothing of this 'being' that was being spoken about. He had done nothing in the last couple of years to draw anyone's attention. It had been quiet in terms of conflicts besides the usual uprisings. No one really powerful had made their appearance, no evil corporations, no nothing, and if anything, he honestly held the title of strongest in the world. No one had been able to beat him in a match, the only one close enough was Vincent.

"And that's not the only thing that's happened." Aerith continued, placing her hands onto her lap and closing her eyes as she concentrated. "This being replaced someone that came with you. Well, more like the person died and was switched out for someone else. After making all these changes, this being is now just...hanging around. The Planet can't find it and with that, can't communicate with it. And there's no telling just how strong this being is, so it's scared. The Planet is unsure of this being's plans and what it holds for the future. You and this other person are minor issues compared to that, despite being involved."

Cloud could only remain quiet. He didn't know what to say. He didn't even know what the hell was going on in the first place. Still, Aerith gave him plenty of other things to ponder over. He wasn't home. No, there was no home. He wasn't even on his own planet anymore, placed in one where he doesn't exist. All his hard work, all his accomplishments, had vanished into thin air. It was all gone. The family and friends he had fallen in love with, had stood side by side with, were gone as well. Still, who was this person that had followed him? Was it Rufus? Cloud hoped so.

"Tell me, Cloud." Aerith stood up from her spot and stepped forward, cradling her hands underneath her bosom as she unintentionally brought the blond out of his depressing thoughts. "What do you plan on doing while you're here? The Planet senses parts of the Calamity within you and at the same time, WEAPON. Are you one? Or the other?"

"What?" Cloud thought he must be on repeat today because apparently that was all he could say. He thought deeper on the questions. WEAPON? Calamity? What was she talking about?

Oh, wait... The blond peered towards the benches where First Tsurugi was settled at. His blade, made from parts of WEAPON, and then to his hands. He had the cells of Jenova running through him, of Sephiroth, of whatever else Hojo had thrown in for the mix. No wonder Aerith and the Planet was confused.

Amused, he stepped away to settle on the bench, right next to his weapon and materia, as he looked over the open area. "Neither honestly. I'm just an unfortunate man caught up in a battle he never wanted to join and was left trapped in its wake."

At that, Aerith smiled, relaxing into the blond's presence. It was like all the fear she had disappeared with the wind and it helped that there was something faintly familiar about the blond, not that she had ever met him before. The warrior just had an unusually calm aura, despite his standoffish nature, one that spoke of love and adoration. "Well then, Cloud. You're welcome to stay here at the church in the meantime." She giggled, almost like she was amused by the whole thing. "But don't stray too far now. You have someone waiting for you out there."

"Someone?" Cloud didn't get much of an answer after that, left with a constantly drifting flow of questions. He sighed as he was strung along, pushing aside the sensation of seeing his once dead friend alive and young. He knew with time, it would eventually go away. And he had plenty of time on his hands.

Regardless, he never wanted to see what had happened to her in his timeline ever again. It was those very thoughts that had him planning out his future. It gave him that push to make him want to stand up and walk outside. Aerith would never become his Aerith and it hurts to know that, but that thought was a comfort just as much.

Change the present, save the future.

Even when knowing he would never have what he had previously experienced, to be left alone in a group of people that would never fully know him, that was fine.

With those thoughts, he snorted. Why was it always left up to him to do such immense things? Why was it always him that had to be placed into the role of the hero? Why couldn't he just live a normal life with his family?

Cloud almost rolled his eyes when he thought about his 'family'. His family wasn't normal in the first place, but still...

Sighing heavily, he tilted his head back against the top of the bench and closed his eyes. Rufus Shinra. His older brother. How was he doing? Was he still back in his old timeline? Was he worried about his disappearance? Was he searching for him? At those thoughts, Cloud clenched his fingers tightly into a fist, his fingernails slowly pushing though his gloves. Rufus had to be absolutely worried and unhinged by his sudden disappearance...And what about Tseng?

Damn, this was why he didn't want to do things like this anymore.

There was always someone out there worried.


On the fifth day, he received another visitor. One he hadn't expected and at the same time, was pleased. It was a familiar face, one he had known for years despite it being much younger and closed off, but that was really all that mattered. It still brought the same sensation and dread that came with seeing Aerith, someone he that had known for the better part of his life who wouldn't be there any longer, that no longer existed. It was like his best friend had been replaced with a stranger, a stranger that simply shared the same face and nothing else.

However, it was the message that changed everything: "Your big brother is getting tired of waiting for your slow ass to get into gear."

Oh...

Maybe he wouldn't be alone here after all.

That single sentence was enough to give him a flicker of hope and he was going to cling to it with everything he had.


Sneaking into ShinRa Corp wasn't that difficult. Cloud had long learned how to silence his heavy steps, creeping through the dark corners of the building with Tseng at his side. Avoiding people, shifting through various routes, this was all just routine for a Turk and the blond had long gotten used to such matters. It had taken a couple years for Cloud to push aside his basic SOLDIER training from Zack and learn how to move and think like an assassin. He was used to busting through barriers and enemies with brute force and, though there were times he had to slip into a facility in the past, it hadn't been his best strategy or attempt.

As his abnormally bright blue eyes glanced towards Tseng, he wondered for a moment if this was a bad idea. Tseng was still loyal to the company, to the President. He wasn't with Rufus yet, not completely. It was possible that he was walking straight into a trap, but the message had definitely belonged to his brother. There was no one else that would know about their relationship, especially here.

And those words had been exactly what he needed to get him moving. Rufus, his Rufus, was the only one that knows.

Stepping into the designated dark room, Tseng stood to the side as if wanting to observe. However, once Cloud stepped far enough within, the Wutaian spun around to close the door behind him. There was a sharp click as the door was locked, but that didn't mean anything to the blond. A locked door wasn't enough to stop him. It never was. He had more than enough power to demolish the entirety of the ShinRa building singlehandedly and leave nothing behind.

Still, he wandered further in, eyes observing the flashing light from the windows to the rest of the room. He was looking out for his brother, unable to hide his curiosity and hope.

"Hello, Cloud."

The blond instinctively froze before relaxing as he recognized the familiar voice. Slowly rotating around to face the near hidden individual in the dark corner, just barely perceivable even with his enhancements, he huffed as he shook his head. "Brother."

The older blond smirked, standing up from his corner of the room before making his way into the light. The city beyond was beautiful. The way the lights glittered in the darkness of the night was like the world was blinking. It, of course, gave Rufus's visual appearance all the illumination it needed for his younger brother to see his new form.

Cloud had to take a double look at Rufus' physical state. "Your body..."

"It would appear that I'm much younger. I don't get to retain my old body like you, which suits me just fine." Rufus shrugged his shoulders, unbothered. "Honestly, it's more convenient. Can't really be running around as an old man after all."

The younger blond still couldn't help but stare. It was strange for him, too used to the aged features and mature Rufus. Having the older blond converted to his younger form was...odd but, at the same time, hopeful. To Cloud, it meant that his older brother had more years to remain with him. The flutter of happiness in facing this newfound state almost overwhelmed Cloud. Still, there was information he needed to exchange and he was already putting things together from his conversation with the Ancient. It was obvious who had been switched out. "Your new form explains what Aerith mentioned earlier."

Rufus raised an eyebrow, curious. "Aerith? What are you talking about?"

And Cloud did, repeating everything he remembered as well as how he had woken up in the church surrounded by Aerith's flowers. In return, Rufus shared his own story, along with the details of how his previous self, he suspected, died in the blast.

"So you're telling me that some unknown being just...placed us here?" the eldest openly questioned, not waiting for the other to respond. "This very being sounds like a God or Goddess. The power level it would require to accomplish all of this and to even reverse death itself. Still..." Rufus was already pondering over every little detail, leaving Cloud to simply stand there and listen. "It doesn't sound like it belongs to this Planet, obviously outside like how Jenova was, so perhaps from another world? Or does it rule over something? That would explain its power and the Planet's fear. But what does it hope to accomplish from sending us here?"

Cloud shook his head at the various questions, unable to answer a single one. He was going to leave the planning and constructing of ideas to his brother, who was already going through the motions. While Rufus did that, he would listen and offer his own advice in the background. It was how they constantly worked, never stepping on each other's toes while fitting perfectly together.

Rufus ultimately sighed. He had more questions than answers at this point. All he could make was estimated guesses until he got more concrete details and there were other matters to deal with in the meantime. "Regardless of this being, we're stuck here and we'll have to make do with our new life. I don't think this being will just send us back after doing all this work."

"I doubt that as well." The youngest stepped forward, gazing out the window. "So what do you want to do?"

At that, Rufus amusingly raised an eyebrow, folding his arms across his chest. He couldn't help the taunting little tone as he spoke, "What? Just going to follow me? Thought you hated orders."

Shaking his head, Cloud replied. "That's not it." There was some hesitation in his voice and Rufus patiently waited for the other to continue. He knew better than to push. "I am...unsure of what to do from here on out. I have the basic idea of how to fix certain things, but nothing really concrete." Finally turning around, Cloud faced his brother. "So I'm leaving the planning to you. I trust you to do the right thing."

Rufus snorted, shifting his hips to one side. "That's a lot of pressure you're placing onto me."

"You can handle it. I know you've handled worse."

At those words, the oldest chuckled, definitely pleased. It was true, all of it. "That I have."

"And I'm absolutely certain you already have a couple plans laid out."

This time, the eldest laughed outright. "You know me all too well." Rufus decided to take a seat at the table, crossing his legs underneath. "I already have some ideas on what to do. Its complex and it will take some time to complete, but it'll work perfectly even if there are some inconveniences."

Cloud almost wanted to roll his eyes. His brother's plans may be complicated, but they tended to work out in the end no matter what happened, especially when he was involved. He, himself, wasn't the type to plan that far in advance or work out the various possibilities that could occur all in one setting.

"We both know that we need to stop the three Firsts, kill Hojo and Hollander, destroy that alien parasite, stop DeepGround, and finally stop the pumping of mako. The last one might take longer since most of the Planet relies on it and cutting it off suddenly will definitely bring about chaos and destruction."

"You don't want to destroy ShinRa?"

Rufus hummed softly. He had thought about it, going over the various possibilities and scenarios. His blue eyes stared up into his brother's, knowing he had Cloud's full attention. "Perhaps once everything has been completed and we've reached the last stage of my plan. But for now, it needs to stand in order to get my plans to proceed. We need the backing and the resources the company offers and the stability it gives for certain individuals. It'll also keep everyone within our sights without having them attempting to disappear into their own hidden locations." He was talking about the scientists who had their private labs scattered around the planet, which they could seal themselves in and basically vanish for years. He didn't want them disappearing. He wanted them close by, where he could keep an eye them and where he could crush them within the palm of his hand.

Cloud, as if reading Rufus' mind, nodded to that. He hated ShinRa, but he could also see the need to keep it going for now. Everyone they would need to take care of would be within one place, within reach.

"Personally, once Hojo's dirty little secrets are revealed, certain people can come out of hiding or, well, if they want to. I can't forgive Hojo for what he did to the Turks, much like you can't forgive him for what he did to you and your friends." The anger they shared towards the crazy scientist was communal. They had their own personal reasons to kill the man and it was something they both readily agreed to. "Experimenting on my men and those I love will not be forgiven. Turks are family based and are extremely loyal to each other and though you aren't technically a Turk, you're still family to us. I will slowly tear him apart for his past deeds."

Cloud smiled at that confession, giving a small nod. He couldn't agree any more than that.

"Now we're going to schedule a meeting with our eldest half-sibling, Lazard. We need him to go along with our plans." Rufus pulled out a badge from his coat pocket, tossing it over to Cloud. "For now, you can head upstairs to my quarters while I take care of a few loose strings. Rest there in the meantime and leave your equipment in my room as well. I'll go over what I plan in the morning once we're both adequately rested. I'll join you once I'm done."

Cloud nodded once, catching the item easily before spinning around. He knew vaguely where Rufus' apartment was located in this building and even if he didn't, the instructions had been purposefully written on the badge. His brother knew him too well. As he stepped outside the meeting room, his eyes glanced towards the man waiting patiently outside. Tseng was standing like a statue, face blank, never allowing an emotion to slip past his mask. Nodding towards the Wutaian, Cloud wandered down the hallway to the elevator, leaving the two men to themselves. This wasn't a conversation he needed to get involved in and even if something dreadful happened, Rufus could take care of himself, younger body or not.

Still, Cloud knew this was something that was meant to happen. Rufus had purposefully left Tseng outside to listen in and the Turk was too good to not take advantage of the situation.

Once the elevator doors closed, Tseng stepped inside, locking the door behind him as his dark eyes focused on the blond man sitting calmly at the table. It was so obvious he had been eavesdropping on the conversation and yet, no one had stopped him either. Rufus smirked at the obvious flicker in those eyes, used to reading Tseng's expressions despite this man being a foreigner. Still, the blond remained quiet, giving time for the other to speak and collect his thoughts.

Eventually, Tseng did. "Want to explain, Sir?"

Rufus simply shrugged his shoulders, keeping his elbows resting against the table. "You've already heard everything. What's there to explain?"

At the confession, Tseng narrowed his eyes slightly, remaining silent for a few moments before finally answering. "You purposefully had me outside to listen in. No," He closed his eyes for a second, opening them to stare accusingly at the other. "You knew I was going to."

Rufus didn't deny that, his expression never changing. "You were already suspicious about me. I'm too different compared to the 'Rufus' you once knew and eventually, you would make the obvious connection, if you haven't already. I know you far too well. It was simply easier to have everything out in the open now than later." His sharp blue eyes never left the Turk, observing and cataloging each shift and twitch in Tseng's movements. He wasn't going to drop his guard on the other, not yet. "It's less likely to cause future conflicts if we talk about this now."

The Turk carefully edged around the large table in the center, used for meetings and junctions. "So 'Rufus' is dead."

The blond snorted at that, leaning back against his chair. There was no fear on his expression, calm and collected like an impassible wall. "Somewhat. The 'Rufus' you know is dead, having died in the explosion. I suspect the reason why it happened was by this unknown being's interference, which would explain why the Turks hadn't been able to hinder the bomb until too late. And I know the Turks, I know you especially. Something like this would have never happened." Rufus tilted his head by two inches, allowing his blond bangs to slide across his forehead while stating the facts of their newfound situation like he was talking about the weather. "But as you've already heard, I'm an older version that has taken his place. I am Rufus Shinra, but not the one you know. Just like you are not the Tseng I know and have worked with for the last thirty plus years."

Tseng remained quiet at that, unsure exactly where to start next. This Rufus was smart and he had figured that out within moments of meeting him. Those ever calculating eyes, it was so very obvious that Rufus was already planning ahead, probably registering Tseng's movements. The careful wording of subjects, the smooth dialogue, the tactful shift of his fingers, it was all there and the Turk had no doubt the man had the deadly skills to back him up. This was a man that had most likely seen it all, had survived it all, and had done it all. A powerful man, aged through the years with knowledge that could tear down the world, placed into a young twenty-year old body in charge of a powerful corporation. The ability this man held in his mere fingertips was more than the current President and he bore a charisma that was unmatched. The ShinRa President had created the company through sheer power, backstabbing, and money. He held none of the loyalty of his men, not even the full cooperation of the Turks (they obeyed because there was nowhere else for them to go and without the backing of the company, all their dark affairs would be out in the open for public execution). This Rufus, he held the sway to bring people to his side, to obey simply because they wanted to and not because of the power he wielded.

Still, would anyone believe what he had heard just moments ago? Or would Rufus use the company to erase him? It wouldn't be the first time someone had disappeared for knowing too much. It didn't even matter if he was the current leader of the Turks or not. Yet, the lack of distrust from the blond told him differently, that Rufus was waiting for his response on the situation before he decided.

"How about you take a seat," Rufus nudged towards the chair to his right, the amused smirk never leaving his lips. "I have a story to tell, one you'll most definitely be interested in. And then at the end, you'll make a decision. And if you need time, I will give it to you. I simply ask that this doesn't go outside this room."

Tseng remained still, staring. "And why should I listen?"

The blond didn't look offended by the blunt response. "Because I need you by my side as my second-in-command. I trust you to know my intentions whenever I'm not around or when I'm unable to."

Tseng unconsciously allowed his fingers to twitch. What was he supposed to do in this situation? The man he had been following, had made an oath to, was gone, replaced with someone else. He had followed that Rufus only to protect his men (the sense of simply wanting to follow the man, to surrender everything to him, hadn't come until much later). He had lost his temporary purpose and though he could always find another (there was always something going on), he couldn't help the curiosity he felt towards this man. There was just something about this Rufus that drew him closer, much like how Aerith made him want to disobey certain orders, and how people were swayed by the SOLDIER Trinity.

He wanted to get closer.

But for now, he would listen and learn. He could always change his mind later if he didn't like something or if it didn't work with his intentions. Tseng pulled out the chair beside Rufus and took a seat, settling in for what appeared to be a long conversation. "I can't promise you anything."

The blond almost laughed, glad to see the fire back in his once friend's eyes. "Wouldn't have it any other way."


Next month, an email was spent out regarding the changes of the Vice President and Directors of ShinRa Corporation.

Chapter Text

The first week...

The first day Cloud Strife stepped into Lazard's office to officially orientate to the work office, he had come in dressed as a SOLDIER Second Class, helmet included. Saying Lazard had been surprised would have been an underestimate. The soon-to-be ex-Director had almost sent the man away by pure habit because he hadn't recognized him, believing the supposed SOLDIER as one of those that pestered for better missions and equipment religiously. Honestly, the eldest had originally expected Cloud to come walking in with his modified First Class uniform, decked out in his equipment as if owning the place, but no, Cloud had done something...unforeseen. With that Second Class uniform, the younger blond blended in perfectly with the other SOLDIERs that roamed the hallways, and the helmet covered his extremely noticeable hair. He simply looked like everyone else and no one would question his placement in the army, even if someone were to spot his glowing eyes.

It was, in a way, a perfect disguise.

Still, Lazard was confused about the sudden appearance change, but regardless, he had a job to do and he would work with Cloud to that end. It wasn't the first time he had been struck with astonish, considering how many eccentric people dwelled in these hallways of the ShinRa Corporation.

It wasn't anything new.

That initial day was spent explaining what went on in the office, what paperwork needed to be filed, which missions needed to be followed up, etc. There were also meetings, conferences, messages, and other little tidbits that tended to eat up his time during the workdays. The computer programming took a little bit longer since Cloud wasn't used to the system, but he learned quickly, clicking through the courses, and was already filtering through the stored data. Cloud just followed along behind Lazard's every movement, barely asking questions unless necessary and was absorbing the information rapidly like a sponge.

If anyone came in asking for the Director, Cloud would simply put his helmet back on and pretend that he was helping Lazard organize his data. He would even step out if the conversation was meant to be private or secure and never once did he look too out of place since this wasn't be the first time Lazard had asked for assistance.

Eventually, the older blond blinked in question when he noticed how his younger brother was shuffling everything randomly into one place. No, wait, Cloud was actually organizing his data and placing them in alphabetic order as neat little piles before tucking them away into either the drawers or the shredder.

What the hell?

Lazard hoped that none of the papers that were being destroyed were important.

Nonetheless, he couldn't help but ask the rising question from the back of his mind. "I take it you've done something like this before?"

Cloud paused for a moment to look back up after shuffling a stack of papers into another tidy heap. "Yeah, I used to help Rufus every now and then with his own paperwork. When he goes out for a job, it tends to accumulate quickly, so whenever I'm around, I help organize everything." The younger blond stopped once more before shaking his head. "Actually, I helped out all the time since it kept things more effectuate and Rufus from falling behind, especially whenever he went on particularly long missions. The computer system is similar to the one he uses, though lacking on speed." Cloud didn't mention he did the Turks' paperwork too. It was probably for the best.

Lazard, meanwhile, chuckled. Cloud helping Rufus, of all people, with his paperwork? Now that was a sore sight to see. No wonder the younger blond was so good at it. But then...when had his two younger half-brothers gotten the chance to know each other long enough for Rufus to trust Cloud with such important and highly sensitive information? Surely, he would have seen Cloud in the ShinRa hallways or there would be some whispered mentioning. Cloud's hair was...a little too obvious to not miss. There was more questions running through Lazard's mind than answers and he doubted he was going to get any straight responses from either of the two. "I take it that this orientation process won't take long then?"

Cloud smirked, "I doubt it. I'll give it a week at best."

The eldest of the siblings wasn't sure if he should be disappointed or amused. Disappointed that he wouldn't be given much time to learn about his newfound younger brother and amused because it was nice to see such a competent individual. He was still curious about Cloud though. It wasn't often that a family member he hadn't known about would suddenly appear out of nowhere.

Cloud seemed to recognize at least one of those emotions, a flicker of distress flashing through Lazard's blue eyes, barely hidden under the rim of his glasses. The not-SOLDIER couldn't help the hint of a smile gracing his lips. "Don't worry. Even if we finish early, I'll hang around for the rest of the week. I'd...like to get to know my older brother."

So at least the sensation was shared. Lazard was happy to hear that.

"So...Cloud, you seem a bit young to be working in a place like this." Lazard was attempting to make small talk as he went through his daily business. It was true, Cloud really did look too young, but, at the same time, not. The age listed on his profile stated that he was twenty-one, but Lazard could tell that was most likely a lie. The way the blond acted, moved, thought, it felt like he had years on him. It was similar to Rufus, whenever he got the chance to be alone with him ever since the incident. These identifying markers couldn't have come from a clean background, but one filled with hardship and pain. It made him question Rufus's background as well, considering the man had been so spoiled and...clean for most of his life. Everything was supposedly handed to him on a silver platter with enough cash and influence to get him whatever he desired with the snap of his fingers.

For Lazard, with his mother passing away when he was young, he had been forced to grow up all too quickly in the slums where corruption rampaged like a disease, and knowing who his father was gave him the motivation to succeed. He hated his father, the ShinRa President being the very reason why his mother had died in the first place, tossed aside like a worthless toy that no longer had any use, and that hatred had pushed him forward to where he was today. He had crawled and forced his way through to the very top, leaving behind a trail of broken hearts and betrayal. No one got into the high positions just because they were good, especially in ShinRa.

Lazard eyed the younger blond and decided to question the more obvious miss-identification he had thought about only moments before. "Your profile online states that you're twenty-one or, at least, that's the profile that was created for you says."

"That's correct."

"That makes you seven years younger than me."

"That's also correct."

Lazard almost huffed. He had to admit, Cloud had a poker face to die for. He would hate to play any games against him. Hmm, now that he thought about it, a game of poker between him and the Turks and maybe certain individuals in SOLDIER would be a sight to see. Who would win? Lazard shook his head, pushing those distracting thoughts aside. He had more important things to consider.

The eldest tried again. "Do you always answer shortly like that to annoy people or is it because you have nothing to say?"

This time, Cloud's lips twitched into a smile as he replied. "Both actually."

"I see." Lazard simply chuckled, giving up on questioning his brother for the time being, and shook his head as he typed something into his computer, making orders for future supplies. Just from that small exchange, he knew his younger brother would fit in just fine with the ShinRa Corporation. Cloud had a strong stubborn personality and no-nonsense attitude, but had the willingness to admit his wrongs. "Well, tell me about yourself, Cloud. I'm quite curious since this profile states absolutely nothing noteworthy about you."

At that, the youngest folded his arms against his chest, rotating towards Lazard curiously. A flash of hesitation fluttered through his overly-expressive blue eyes before it was gone. "I'm not really sure of what to say and the profile only has the bare minimum purposefully. There are also things I can't talk about."

Ah, secrets. Of course, there were secrets. This is ShinRa, after all. Well, Lazard had worked with worse before. "Tell me what you can. You can start with simple things like where you were born, favorite foods, things like that. Don't have to start with big topics right off the bat."

Cloud couldn't help but relax at the clearly offered escape and sat down in front of Lazard, moving away from his little corner where he had been working on his brother's paperwork. He carefully began going over little tidbits that wouldn't conflict with his profiled history Rufus had created. It was a little difficult considering some of his knowledge came from an impending future that would never exist. At least, he wasn't alone in the planning, Rufus backing him up every step of the way and giving him offhanded comments that would aid in his decisions. Cloud briefly wondered just how much of the future had been already altered with the planned switches in the ShinRa Company.

As Lazard listened to the edited history, there was a prickling of...something, something he couldn't quite identify offhandedly. There was just something strange with the way Cloud acted and spoke. It was almost like...

Ah, yes, Lazard could see it now. It was difficult to spot, but it was there: resemblance from the two most dangerous groups in ShinRa. "Tell me, Cloud. Were you originally a Turk or a SOLDIER? There's a mix of both in you."

Cloud simply shrugged, openly unbothered by the question. "Neither actually. I never really joined either of the two groups, but I had the training in both." He paused as he thought deeper into this subject matter, his eyebrows narrowing from concentration, and was momentarily confused as he pondered through his memories. "Kinda..." Considering his history, he only had some training from both areas; SOLDIER from Zack's thorough memoirs and Turks from Rufus and Tseng.

Lazard frowned, unsure of what that meant. He decided to voice his thoughts, hoping to get a little more information. "What do you mean?"

"Since I received training from both (kinda), I have their skill sets. I can think like a Turk: know how to collect information, usage of devices, categorize details, things like that, but I don't share the same sense of blind loyalty to the company nor do I have the type of personality that's required to complete certain missions. We both know what they sometimes have to do to get the job done." Cloud paused for a moment to let those words settle.

Both blonds knew exactly how deep the Turks sometimes had to get, dirtying their hands to the point of no return. A good example was Reno being forced to drop the plate in the other timeline, killing hundreds of thousands with the press of a button. The red head had forever been scarred by the nightmares that followed, knowing exactly what he had done. However, orders were orders. He couldn't say no even when he wanted to.

Cloud continued, "I can comply with taking mindless missions like a SOLDIER: go to battle, fight for something I or someone else believes in, protect the populace. Things like that. But, at the same time, I hate following blindly. I question my orders, look deeper into them, and I can easily switch to play the role of an assassin instead of just using brute force." He sighed as he rubbed in-between his eyes at the impending headache this conversation was beginning. "Anyway, I'd say I'm more SOLDIER, but I can never be certain of anything. If you look closely at Rufus, he has certain qualities that could identify him as SOLDIER, gained from me."

Well, if Lazard was going to be honest, that didn't help him with anything. He got absolutely nothing from that conversation, at least, nothing he could use. Cloud was just making things more confusing than before. It was almost like the youngest didn't know how to fully describe himself. The eldest decided it was time to switch topics before the perplexity got worse. "And you have those eyes. You have mako eyes. You must have gone through the program to receive that."

"Lazard," Cloud froze his movements, spinning in his seat to look at his eldest brother directly with a blank expression. It was unreadable and in some ways, he could almost pass off as a porcelain doll, except Lazard could tell he was anything but. The training he had partaken in had given him that expression. It made people think little of him when he was plotting in the background, an extremely dangerous skill that could only work for someone like Cloud. "There is more than one way to receive mako and none of them are pleasant."

Meaning he had been an experiment of some sort. Lazard flinched at that realization and watched as Cloud pulled away from his chair, heading back to his corner to flip through the papers distractingly once more. To think a brother of his would be forced into such a disastrous position. How unforgiveable.

Lazard quietly sighed. It had only been a few days and he was already getting protective of his (somewhat) baby brother. Cloud just gave an aura that you wanted to protect, despite every thought in his mind that told him otherwise, that Cloud could protect himself just fine. Shaking his head, Lazard got back to work and after a few minutes passed, quickly pointed out a couple more pieces here and there for the Director job.


Learning the job wasn't that hard for Cloud. He already had memories from Zack and he was using them to his full advantage. In his original timeline, after Lazard had disappeared and Sephiroth had taken over as the head of SOLDIER (because Heidegger was useless and following his orders would just lead to unnecessary deaths), Zack had ended up doing a combination of everyone's work as second in command. It wasn't much (due to Zack's incredible laziness), but it was enough for Cloud to study and memorize. Bringing that old knowledge to the front and observing what Lazard was doing, it was easy to pick up the pieces and so, it made his transition into this job quite simple. It helped that he was used to paperwork from Rufus and his old delivery business, ranging from budgeting to which mission was ideal to which Turk or Turks.

The only difference between that and what he had before him was that there were more people to covey with and a vast variety of missions to pick and choose from. There was also the various other people in different departments to converse with too, something Cloud could tell he wasn't going to enjoy much. From the brief glances on the reports, he automatically labeled most of them as fools. Regardless, taking over as Director was simply going from a smaller scale of business to a larger one and it took him only a week to finish.

Well, he concluded the lesson earlier, but stayed behind to get to know his older brother, the one he never got a chance to communicate with. The only thing he had of Lazard was the brief memories from Zack, ranging from those 'before mission' meetings to his very death as an Angeal copy. Despite the stay being quite short, Cloud could tell he would come to love the eldest. They just needed a good few months before there was an unbreakable connection and it helped that Lazard wanted it to develop just as much.

The funny thing, though, was he suspected that the eldest was going to baby him as the youngest, not that Cloud minded. He had always been forced to bear a weight far too large for him, placed into positions of unwilling power, and it was nice every now and then to have someone take care of him instead. It was usually him, Cloud, that had to play the mother hen role to everyone, make sure that everyone was well-fed and happy (because Rufus could only do so such, despite wanting to do the opposite, and some of the Turks were just plain reckless).

However, he didn't like Lazard's organizational system. It was too vague and varied too much depending on the result. It was no wonder there were piles of endless paperwork on his desk regularly (quickly disappearing due to Cloud's efforts) and was habitually running behind on certain mission details. There was just far too many basic ones eating away Lazard's time and Cloud didn't like the fact that people had to come by to grab mission papers. He was definitely going to have to fix that. He couldn't afford to fall behind on anything or get interrupted continuously throughout the day.

Now, Cloud was no genius, no matter what everyone else wanted to believe, even when not knowing the truth. No, he just had the years of experience and the hidden knowledge that no one else possessed. That was it.

If there's a will, there's a way.

And he had every intention of making it his way, even if it meant cutting down a few enemies straying into his path. There will be no hesitation on his part.

There were going to be some adjustments around here, very soon.


"So, tell me, Cloud, what do you plan on doing for this upcoming week before the announcement of the changes and the following three months afterwards?"

It was a sincerely curious question. Lazard wanted to know what his youngest brother planned on doing in his free time. He could already tell that getting a read on Cloud would be a difficult thing to accomplish, but he relished at the challenge.

"I plan on going undercover."

"Under...cover?" Lazard stared.

"Sometimes to find the root of any problem, one must head in and experience it. I've already asked Rufus to make two fake profiles for me already, one as a cadet and another as a Second Class, which I already have a uniform for."

There was silence as Lazard continued to eye his brother, unsure on how to respond to that. He went with the safest option. "What?"

Cloud didn't appear fazed by the question or the look he was receiving. He remained seated across his brother's desk, arms folded against his chest. "From what I can tell, the training of the new cadets has just begun, so it wouldn't be too uncommon for someone to just...slip in unnoticed, a delay because of certain issues, all of which would have been taken care of at this point on paper. I'll spend about one to two weeks with the training before moving on."

Lazard continued to stare, his mind processing the information. "Wait, what?"

"Since cadets can use some of their own personal equipment, considering ShinRa doesn't provide much, I can use that to my advantage to easily blend in. I already have contacts that I can use to hide some of the glow in my eyes and it'll be my reason as to why I had to be delayed. The report will state that the medical staff was uncertain if I was enhanced already or not and they didn't want me joining to accidently kill someone during practice. Liability issues, you know?" Cloud paused a moment, as if finding some hidden joke only he found hilarious. "Obviously, on paper, I'll just have the glow with none of the enhancements. As for my hair, I'll either wear a wig or a bandana. For the bandana, at least, it shouldn't be too much of a problem if I let the instructors know that it's to prevent my hair from getting in the way. Of course, I'll be on the older side of the recruitment age range, but no one should really care. There are always people coming in from the regular army to retest into SOLDIER, after all."

"Huh..." Lazard was definitely impressed that Cloud had thought this comprehensively, extremely thorough on the matter. He had to admit, it could work. He almost snorted as that thought slipped through his mind. Yeah, that right there was a Turk attitude. It was also the most he had ever heard from his brother, in one setting too, and he had no plans on stopping him anytime soon. "And the other?"

"As for the Second Class position, well, helmets there can hide my identity, but since my official picture isn't out yet, because I asked for it to remain a secret until the three months are up, I'll have the freedom to move about without being questioned. I'll just say that I've been on some long term classified missions and just managed to come back because of the new Director recalling everyone, which I have every intention of doing."

That could all work too, Lazard could honestly see it. "And what do you plan on doing during that time? The three months, I mean."

"Attend missions, of course. Mainly with large groups and with the two Commanders and General. I want to see how they lead."

"I don't need to ask about your skills, right? They take on some rather dangerous ones, you know?"

Cloud smiled at the concern. He knew the top three Firsts took some of the most difficult missions in the program, but they still took constructive ones to connect with the less experienced SOLDIERs to give them the experience they required for live battles. Still, if he was able to defeat Sephiroth when he went bat-shit crazy singlehandedly multiple times, he could handle a couple of rogue monsters. "I'll be fine. You don't need to worry about me."

"I'm your older brother, I'm allowed to worry."

"Rufus isn't worried."

Lazard twitched. "That's because he's Rufus."

"Ah, right."

They shared a brief laugh at the joke.


Cloud hardly remembered his time as a cadet and from the looks of it, he was grateful for it. From the harshness of the sergeants he was currently experiencing, he probably didn't want to. The man standing before him was someone he wouldn't mind tossing around out of mere frustration. The constant yelling, belittling, rough shoves, and unnecessary comments were really messing with his sense of calm. It was beyond the normal range of abusive. He knew the man was just trying to toughen up the cadets, to prepare them for the life of harshness that came with SOLDIER, a life of uncertainty, and constant fighting to survive. Cloud understood that, so he let it go.

Still, that didn't mean he wasn't annoyed like everyone else, especially the sergeant before him, who was beginning to fray his nerves. Yes, Cloud didn't want anyone holding the cadet's hands or trying to soften them and yes, it might be annoying, but this was starting to get a tad bit ridiculous. The sergeant didn't have to shove someone into the mud or slap their faces when they were too tired to fight or twist an arm when the cadet didn't follow his orders perfectly.

At least the constant exercise felt good to him, though he had to be very careful not to show too much, forcing himself to look tired to blend in with everyone else. He was a cadet, an unenhanced individual, not his current overpowered self.

The first time he had failed was because of behavioral issues, his size, and his lack of ability (learned from Tseng's information network). He had never been good towards authority figures, mainly because of the way Nibelheim had treated him for his status. With that background, he always argued with his sergeants, picked fights with his fellow cadets, despite his attempts at keeping quiet. The desire to become SOLDIER had been fragile at best, just the desire to become a 'somebody' other than the title Nibelheim had thrown at him: a bastard child. Being tossed out and placed into the regular army had been a wakeup call to figure out some deep-rooted personal issues and Zack had done just that when he came along, getting him to relax and learn. Cloud would be forever grateful for that second chance.

At this current time, Zack is a Third Class, just joined the mentor program with Angeal maybe two to three months ago. He wouldn't be able to see the man (or teen at this point of time) that had saved him more than once until later and that was fine with him. Cloud had every intention of preventing everything that had happened in the past of his original timeline, wanting the teen to live a more positive life. His memories regarding the incidents were vague at best, but with the combination of Rufus and the memories of Tseng from his timeline, he had a complete list of what needed to be done.

First things first, he needed to be placed into a position of power to make those changes. Next, he needed to know exactly what needed to be fixed, which led him to slipping into the cadets program and then later, the SOLDIERs.

As his first day finished, he followed everyone to the showers, wanting to clean off the dirt and grime that had been collected throughout training. He intentionally made sure to not wet his hair, keeping the bandana on, but held no care to his clothes or if anyone saw his body (no one passed a second glance at him, apparently his short height made him blend in). There wasn't much he could really hide, but he was going to try, remaining in the very corners of the rooms. Even with his toned body, it meant nothing due to the rigorous training everyone shared as it was meant to push them passed their normal limits. As the cold water rushed over him, his enhanced hearing picked up the various conversations that fluttered around in the room.

"Man, Sergeant Flute was terrible today, but it's nothing new at this point."

"I know. I hate it when I see his name on the list for the day's training. You already know how it's going to end."

"Dude, a friend of mine who joined SOLDIER before me mentioned him. Everyone hates him. Even afterwards, when people make it through, he acts exactly the same, regardless of his rank."

"You know, he made one of the cadets quit and another cry."

"That's not surprising. I feel like crying at the end of the day too."

Cloud hummed silently to himself, finding nothing important amongst the group for now, and quickly got dressed at the edges of people's visions. For a second, his eyes roamed over the other cadets before peering at himself out of curiosity. He knew he was muscular, more on the lithe side than a body builder, unlike most of the other males here. His eyes continued to travel over the surrounding area inquisitively before eventually shaking his head and slipping out to the cafeteria where everyone was settling for dinner. He could have easily gone back to Rufus's apartment, order takeout or cook something, but he really wanted to experience what everyone else was going through.

To be honest though, he hated every moment of it. The gossip he received in return, however, was gold, and it wasn't always the cadets he was getting said information from. Apparently, the sergeants had loose lips regarding certain matters in ShinRa.

After checking the placement of his bandana, he slipped into the cafeteria with the others and began digging through the slob called food. His ears picked up little threads of conversation. Most were garbage, nothing really noteworthy, just the basic whining. After all, the cadet program wasn't easy. It was meant to pick out the best of the best after passing the mako exams. It was harsh and for a good reason.

He was brought out of his thoughts when someone suddenly plopped down in front of him. Cloud blinked, unable to hide his surprise. He hadn't expected a cadet to actually come up to him, contented with being isolated from the group.

The teen before him just smiled, overly friendly by the way his eyes sparkled. "Hey there! I can't say I've ever seen you before. Are you new?"

Cloud slowly shook his head. "Not really. There were just delays in me joining. Once I...rejoined, I just kinda hung around in the background." The bandana was working to keep his wild hair under wraps, his features merging in with the other cadets. He was also careful to position himself into the middle of the group, not wanting any attention to be focused entirely on him, considering he couldn't possibly hide everything about himself. He just hoped that none of the older SOLDIERs came out to supervise the new batch.

The cadet sent him a baffled look. "Delays? What delays?"

Cloud shook his head once more. "Can't really say. I was forced to sign a contract to keep me silent on the subject."

"Ugh! That sounds horrible. Almost as bad as this slob they call food."

The blond almost chuckled at that. It was a horrible joke, but it at least lightened the tense mood surrounding them.

"Well, I'm Brian. What's your name?"

"Lufus." Cloud replied while mentally cursing out his middle brother, the one that had formed this blasted identity. Really? Lufus? It wasn't even that creative, just a one letter change from Rufus's name. Cloud could actually see his brother snickering in front of his computer from the lack of creativity this one took. Even the background Cloud had been saddled with was boring enough that even he felt pity for it. It was ridiculous. He was actually amazed no one had bothered to pull him aside and question him regarding the many inconsistencies of his supposed identity. Unless his brother had done it on purpose in order to test the facility in their terms of inspection, in which they obvious failed. Horribly so.

"Aright then, Lufus. We should buddy up while we're in the program. I'll introduce you to the others too."

Cloud nodded, knowing he could at least use the teen to wheedle his way into the group. "Thanks."

At first, Brian was a good companion, helping out by keeping him company and establishing him to other cadets. But then, he got...irritating. The cadet chatted most of the time, delaying his instructions, and would lazily twirl his weapons, something of which Cloud didn't approve. He attempted to gently scold the boy, trying to edge him to further his studies. After all, he was here to make SOLDIER, not to flunk out.

Brian just shrugged his shoulders and muttered, "Ah, it's okay. I know everything so I'll be fine."

Cloud stared for a few seconds when he heard that response before spinning right around to march away, not wanting to get further involved. No, the boy knew nothing. His sword stance was atrocious, his test grades were poor (Yes, Cloud checked. He had a PHS to keep him up-to-date at all times and for emergencies), and the one time Cloud asked him for a practice fight during class, it had been so horribly dreadful that the blond was tempted to actually tell him to quit while ahead. It had taken only two days into his first week and he was leaving his newfound companion for someone else. Except, there weren't many that were actually proficient.

As he gazed at the other cadets, their numbers staggering from fifty to sixty in total (five rooms to hold twelve individuals in each), he recognized that half were new and the others were those that had joined the regular army, reattempting to test in. However, at the end of three months of basic training, a series of conclusive tests would be held to throw out three-fourths of the cadets (if they hadn't quit before that). The remaining would be placed under further rigorous training until only the best of the crop or those that showed the highest potential remained. During that time, maybe one or two might be pulled aside for possible Turk recruitment, to see if they were compatible. However, among this group, Cloud couldn't really see anyone standing out for either. Oh, well.

During sword stance training, the blond tilted his head inquisitively as he examined the other cadets from his little corner. They were all following the same sword motions as the instructor, most failing to grasp the concept of a sword swing, much less the actions of a follow up. He himself purposefully fumbled, still attempting to keep himself out of focus. He was undercover and he couldn't gather attention to himself without explaining his bizarre existence. As he observed, Cloud could pinpoint a few possible potentials, but that was it, possible. It meant nothing at this current time.

As he drowned out the instructor, the man having stopped to heavily scold someone's form, his blue eyes drifted towards the back. It was a shame that the cadets could only be taught one type of swordsmanship, the typical bulkily builder, but he did understand that not everyone had the free time to actually teach. In a way, it forced the cadets to learn what they could and develop on their own individual style afterwards, which was exactly what ShinRa wanted them to do. It wasn't the best way to go about things, but well, business is business. Money ruled this world and ShinRa wasn't going to waste resources on those that weren't worth a dime.

Still, Cloud made a mental note to have someone watch for those that excelled in a combat based more on speed like his own or a combination with materia. Thinking deeper on the later, he would need to fix the hatred between those that could wield materia and the standard SOLDIER units. He had only been in this program for a few days, but he could already pinpoint the misguided issues. Most didn't want to go into materia because they thought it was for the weak, despite Genesis excelling in that singular area. Cloud mentally grumbled. There was going to be a lot of things to fix. Maybe getting Genesis more out in the open compared to Sephiroth would help shift the views? But how? That was another concern.

"Ah!"

The blond blinked at the startled yell, spinning around with everyone else to see a practice sword go soaring through the air. The blade was dull, but even he knew it could pierce someone if it landed just right. Reaching up, he snatched the blade out of thin air as it rushed passed him. Cloud sighed once he realized what he had done out of mere instinct, about to mentally berate himself for doing something so stupid. He knew he shouldn't have done that but, at the same time, he didn't want anyone going to medical if he could help it. Fortunately, no one had noticed.

Unable to stop his curiosity, his eyes drifted over to the cadet that had accidently thrown the weapon. The teen was small in size compared to the rest of the men, barely fitting the profile ShinRa wanted of their SOLDIERs. ShinRa wanted bulky men, those that looked like bodyguards, and ones that showed the very power they wielded in their bulging arm muscles. It also made the training style they required easy to incorporate.

Almost immediately, the instructor spun towards the tiny cadet, verbally criticizing/attacking him for losing his hold. Cloud drowned out the abuse, stepping forward to quietly hand the sword back before scooting away. As he did so, his blue eyes observed the teen curiously, the boy almost reminding Cloud of himself when he was younger but more reserved. The poor boy was forced to redo his entire lesson three times under the surveying eyes of the instructor before the man finally moved on to someone else.

It was obvious the cadet's swordsmanship was sloppy and inexperienced, which wasn't unforeseeable, but when Cloud pondered closer, there was a flow that came with his moves, one that no one else had. However, because of the cadet's size and lack of muscles to hold the heavy practice arms, the teen messed up more times than not. Cloud snorted. Oh, he could definitely see his younger self in the other. Really, all the teen probably needed was some positive couching on the correct stance.

Well, hmmm. Cloud could provide that, though he had never been great at these types of things. Mentally calculating a strategy, he waited until the day was over, when everyone was heading out for dinner before confronting the teen. He just hoped that things would go as easy as he envisioned it, but he knew better than to firmly believe it due to his luck.

As the day ended and everyone was trudging towards the cafeteria, Cloud put his plan into action.

"Hey, you." Cloud called out, slowly stepping towards the cadet whose back was facing him. There were others in the area and a few spun towards him curiously, wondering if it was for them, but they went ignored. Cloud quickened his pace to catch up. The blond really wanted to test his theory, but at the same time, he didn't want anyone to see his intentions. When the cadet didn't turn around, he reached out and tapped the teen on the shoulder. "Hey."

Automatically, the cadet flinched at the sudden contact, but complied, rotating his body to face the blond as his steps slowed to a stop. "Y-Yes?"

Cloud stepped back once, retracting his grip. All the while, he was trying to not appear threatening. He could tell the teen was skittish from the way his eyes flickered from him to the surrounding cadets to the cafeteria door and then back to him. Shaking his head, Cloud spoke. "What's your name?"

The teen blinked once, focusing intently on the individual before him. "Name?" When he realized the question, he continued, "Ah, its Anton."

"Anton then, can you come with me for a moment?" Cloud motioned down the hallway, away from everyone else. No one really paid any attention to the two cadets, their minds focused on food and rest after a hard day of work. There weren't any arguments as they went around the corner, the cadet following directly behind despite his jumpy nature. "I'm Lufus, by the way." He could see the teen nodding behind him out of the corner of his eyes and he almost sighed. The boy was incredibly shy, overly timid, and his steps lacked all the confidence he needed to make it through the program unharmed. Probably a little gullible too considering the teen had just followed him to an isolated location without question. As they stepped into an empty gym, the blond locked the door behind him, not wanting anyone to wander inside and see what he was about to do.

When Cloud finally turned his attention back to Anton, he blinked dubiously. The boy had done...a complete one eighty in attitude. Anton was utterly terrified (for some odd reason), quivering in his standardized military boots with his hands tangled together against his chest. Cloud tilted his head slightly, almost wanting to laugh. Now the boy was terrified and suspicious. Shaking his head and ignoring the other, the blond wandered over to the locked cabinets that held the practice swords and picked the lock, releasing the door. Carefully examining each weapon within, he pulled out the smallest sword he could find. It was slightly bent with a crack on the bottom edge, but it would suit his purposes for now.

Turning his attention back to Anton, he sighed. "I'm not going to hurt you if that's what you're thinking." Cloud then added. "But next time, don't follow strangers into unknown areas, might not get as lucky next time."

The shaking died down slightly. "O-Oh..." The cadet peered intriguingly over Cloud's confident form before nervously scratching his right cheek. Short brown hair sprayed around his large brown eyes, eyes that were gazing curiously in wonder. Dear Lord, it made the teen look younger than his actual age and his size wasn't making matters any better. Anton took a wobbly step forward. "So, um, Lufus, what are we here for? I don't think we should be in here after hours. A-And the instructors said stealing equipment is forbidden."

"Just seeing if this will work. Here," He handed the blade over and watched as Anton hesitatingly took it. "I want you to go through the same instructions you learned today. As for the instructors, that's if we get caught and we're not stealing, we're borrowing. There's a difference."

Anton didn't look convinced, but eventually followed his new set of orders, shifting through the sword motions. "And if we are caught?"

"Then I'll handle it." Cloud knew the boy was still skeptical, but whatever. He only had a limited amount of time to work with and he didn't want to spend it explaining his abnormal amount of knowledge. Quickly, he corrected the obvious concern: the boy's lackluster form and his hand position on the blade. "You also need to be more confident in yourself. Don't lose to your own fears. The blade can't hurt you if you wield it properly. It's part of you, an extension of yourself. The only one that should be afraid is the monster or person you use it against."

"R-Right." Anton didn't look convinced however, his hands still shaking.

"The SOLDIER style they teach everyone doesn't suit you. You don't have the size or the bulk to properly wield the standardized blades without overcompensating your posture and balance. You're overexerting yourself in return when you try to bring yourself back each time you swing." Cloud continued, unbothered by Anton's look of disbelief. "A smaller blade will work better for you."

The teen didn't speak up, staring down at said smaller weapon. Cautiously, the cadet once more went through the sword motions, finding there was indeed a sense of ease to his movements compared to before. He wasn't trying to drag his arm back from the massive weight of the blade and prevent himself from toppling over.

Cloud mentally patted himself on the back. The boy was making small improvements in his wielding with the shorter blade. Nothing brilliant or eye-popping that would set him far beyond his peers, but enough to correct the issues underneath that had been plaguing the cadet, enough to cause him to fall behind. Anton was already shifting his newfound style around, easing it into the smaller blade. As the boy practiced, Cloud couldn't help but give a few extra pointers for the teen to constantly work on.

Well, looks like he finally found a potential among this sad group. He only had less than a week to help teach this teen, but if the boy managed to use what Cloud taught him and got himself into the program itself, well, who knows.

Cloud wasn't going to get his hopes up on the cadet passing, but it at least gave him something to do while pretending. He was, after all, starting to get bored of these mundane exercises the sergeants kept throwing at him.


Rufus glanced up momentarily when the front door of his apartment suddenly clicked open before refocusing back on his phone. It had been a busy week, trying to reorganize everything that had been left behind. His father hadn't given him many responsibilities while he had been Vice President, keeping his son tied down with little things. Now, however, Rufus was fighting for his place, even though he would be leaving the seat of Vice President shortly. He wanted to give Lazard as much command as possible, all organized the way it needed to be. He didn't want to leave his older brother with a mess to repair.

Sadly, some wasn't working out too smoothly, foolhardy individuals being overly stubborn on getting their old ways. It was going to take some time to get things fixed, even after he leaves, but he knew Lazard would continue fighting for his place. In return, Rufus would do his part.

The soon-to-be ex-Vice President didn't bother glancing up once more when someone came trudging down the hallway, heading straight towards the kitchen without a single greeting. Rufus could see the individual out of the corner of his eyes, the man's features overly recognizable. After all, hair like that was impossible to miss. "How was cadet training, brother?"

"Miserable. It was a long week." The younger brother huffed, pausing halfway to his destination. The bottom portion of his body was obstructed by the leather couch, but it was apparent that he was filthy, covered in specks of mud and dyed in sweat. The cadet uniforms were too big for his body size, meant for someone taller. "Could only last a week honestly. Halfway in, I just wanted to beat both the cadets and the instructors to death. Some of the stuff they were teaching was ridiculous, absolutely unnecessary too."

"Well, what do you expect? ShinRa isn't going to waste time teaching idiots and the instructors that are there because they have to be. It's part of their agreement when they signed up for SOLDIER, to train the younger generation of men." The older blond kept strolling down his contact list, keeping those that would still be useful. He had to get a new phone with a different number (because he despised the old Rufus' one with useless people constantly texting him), new equipment, new everything. His other self didn't have much of anything he wanted or required. "Also, don't get all that dirt everywhere. I know I apparently like white, but dirt shows up way too easily."

"Yes, yes." Taking that advice, Cloud spun around, heading towards the bathroom instead. There he could at least strip down, take a nice warm shower, and change his clothes. Unfortunately, he didn't have anything here with him, other than what he had on his back (the materia stored securely in Rufus' safe). Anything he got came from Rufus himself. In the closet, Cloud avoided the suits and expensive materials for obvious reasons, that and the fact he had never been good at keeping stuff intact. He would hate to see the original price tags for any of these apparent custom sets.

As Cloud gave himself a quick rinse, he tossed the cheap cadet uniform into the trash can without a second thought. He had concluded this part of his plan and so, there was no use keeping such an item anymore. Finishing up with his warm bath, he pulled on some loose fitting pants and a tank top he managed to ruffle from the back of his brother's closet.

Cloud huffed. He knew he needed to go shopping and soon. Alas, he didn't quite have his bank accounts set up just yet, nor did he have any paychecks coming in either.

"It would do you some good to get some black suits instead of white, might look nice with a blue button-up." Cloud offhandedly commented as he stepped back into the living room. Though there was a guest room (or three) he could stay in, he preferred being with Rufus. It gave him the reinforcement and clarity that he wasn't alone in all this. As for the eldest, Rufus didn't mind, actually preferring his brother close at hand within touching distance. Oddly, neither of the blonds were physical individuals, avoiding any sort of contact, but with each other, they made their exceptions. "And some regular clothes too, which, by the way, I need as well."

"You can go shopping then."

"No me. We." Cloud passed behind his brother's chair, nudging the back of it, just enough to get Rufus's attention. "We both need to go shopping."

Rufus made a face at that. "Shopping..." Oh, he hated shopping. He would rather just order something and have it delivered, much like how he did with his groceries, or have someone come up to take his measurements.

"I hate it too, but you know it's true. Besides, I don't have any money. I'm in a bind when it comes to purchasing supplies." Cloud rolled his eyes, shaking his head as he stepped into the open kitchen. There was no wall between the two rooms, everything spacious and grand. The large row of windows ranged at one side of the room, granting a delightful view of the city below the tower and, naturally, the smog above. "Plus, if I'm going to be cooking, I need certain items. We can't rely on takeout and cafeteria food for the rest of our lives here."

The eldest sibling glanced up momentarily, pulling away from his device as he studied the other. "You must be annoyed with something if you're starting to lecture on food, supplies, and apparently, my eating habits of all things."

The younger blond paused, sighing just as he opened the refrigerator door that was far too empty for his liking. "Kinda. I just...hate your place. Too big, you know?" Cloud leaned over, pulling out a few items from within. He carefully tossed them onto the counter before shuffling through the pantry for other items required for his recipe in mind. "Not that it's bad or anything like that, but I just feel, you know, out of place."

Rufus chuckled, finally shutting off his cell phone. Perfect timing too, he had just finished up with the last of the transfer. "Yes, I know what you mean. After all these years, living a different life, I too feel that way. I loved our old place. I'm going to miss it dearly." He stood up from his chair to follow his brother, leaving the device on the table in front. "I'll be downsizing once everything goes through. I have two places out in the city, both private condos, but I can't really use them. They're more of a get-away from work and everything related to ShinRa."

Rufus ended up right behind his brother, hands in his pockets. He was dressed casually, plain pants and a loose button-down shirt. Within the safety of his apartment, he didn't have to wear his classic suits and appear as the cunningly confident, manipulative, Vice President the rest of the world knew. Somewhat. He was still all that and more but here, beside his brother and out of judging eyes, he could relax and be himself.

The eldest smirked, keeping away from anything related to the kitchen. "Don't worry. I'll give you the keys for both if you need to use them in the future. Right now, however, I need to remain close to the tower. And once your stuff is through, you'll have your own place as well."

Cloud continued to trundle through the kitchen, tugging out pans this time. "Good to hear." He eventually placed the one he wanted on the stove and pulled out a couple of mixing bowls. "By the way, Lazard is coming over for dinner. I invited him over. He's very pleasant. Lazard, I mean. He's not...what I expected."

"He is, a good man. He was one of the very few in ShinRa. He was crafty like everyone else, but still kept a great sense of morals. Shame what happened to him in the future." At this, Rufus paused, stepped around his brother to lean against the counter. "I never really got to know him. I was too selfish and focused only on my tasks. I was ignorant too."

"And now?" Cloud didn't even turn around to see Rufus's face. He didn't need to either. "And don't touch anything."

Rufus huffed, annoyed. "I don't plan too. I know I can't cook. Why do you think I've been ordering takeout and cafeteria food?" The older blond grumbled a little longer under his breath, absolutely hating the fact he couldn't cook anything worth a damn. Eventually, he calmed down enough to answer the original question. "Regarding Lazard, I'd like to say I've grown up. I'm different compared to how I was before. With that said, I want to know my older half-brother. Not just for business, but personally too."

"Good."

"By the way, and completely off topic, I plan on casting Palmer out as a Department Head from the Space Program. There's plenty of blackmail I can use against him, so it'll be pretty easy, but he's mostly harmless otherwise." Rufus shrugged, scooting down the counter to give some space for Cloud to work with. "If anything, I want him to stick around just long enough before I make all these changes. Don't want to stir up too much trouble all at once. And I already have someone in mind to take his place too: Cid Highwind." At that familiar name, Cloud glanced back for a moment, raising an eyebrow curiously before spinning to refocus on his current task. "He'll do a better job, more dependable too."

"That's fine with me."

Rufus was grateful for the distraction, wanting to move away from the previous emotional topic. It wasn't like he needed to say anything else. Cloud had always been good at reading him. "So you've just completed the cadet part of your plan. That leaves you with the three Elite Firsts to investigate and the surrounding facilities. Sadly though, you won't be able to do anything about the Wutai War until after you become the Director." Rufus pulled away, heading towards the kitchen table to sit, neatly folding his arms on top of the wood. "So, who's first of the three you're going to visit?"

Cloud froze, pausing in his mixing of ingredients.

A heavy sigh slipped through his lips, "Sephiroth, of course."

Chapter Text

Cloud could honestly admit that meeting Sephiroth again without thinking about killing him was probably one of the hardest things he ever had to do. It was just...different. It required him to push back all that anger he held for the man, lock it up, and see the current Sephiroth as who he currently is.

Regardless, he had a job to do and he needed to get to know the three top SOLDIERs under his command. There were other Firsts, but these were the ones that everyone looked up to, that the public viewed, that had been the downfall for everything in his timeline. His memories regarding two of the Trinity were vague at best, all coming from Zack and what he had experienced during the Desertion. Rufus and the previous Tseng had managed to fill in any holes in his memories, or at least as best they could since certain information had been buried away.

So when he found out that Sephiroth was heading out for a nearby assignment regarding a horde of monsters that had collected near a traffic range, he took that chance to join in. Luckily for him, one of the men that normally joined Sephiroth's private little platoon had gone out for a month long assignment (something Cloud suspected to have been done on purpose by Lazard) and so Cloud used that chance to slip in. Apparently, the General had taken some of the best SOLDIERs under his direct command much like how the other Commanders did, mostly consisting of Seconds and Thirds (it was a good way for people to get promoted too). A couple of Firsts may be included here and there depending on the difficulty of the mission, but this one was simple and the location wasn't too far out.

So with Lazard's approval and a direct order in hand, he went down to the departure location to meet up with everyone else. Hopefully, there wouldn't be any issues regarding the switch. He was dressed as a Second once again, no longer bearing a helmet or anything that would hide his hair. He knew he would gain some attention, but that was fine. No one knew about him or his new position and there was already an excuse at hand he could use if anyone asked why he had never been seen before. As for his weapon, he obviously couldn't take the full blade with him. Carrying around a massive weapon like he normally did was bound to gather more attention than he already had and it wasn't something a Second class would have. Instead, he broke it apart and took two straight-edged blades. He would simply duel-blade with the two where he could flip from one hand-grip to another, depending on the situation (He left the main blade, the two saw-tooth edged ones, and the two smaller blades in Rufus' room). The original First Tsurugi had six blades, but Cloud had decided later in life to add a seventh, balancing both sides equally instead of having one bear most of the weight (there had only been one of the straight-edges). As for the materia, well, he could just hide that away on his body.

As Cloud came up towards the departure site, he could already make out the group gathered there with the silver-haired General standing before them imposingly with Masamune sheathed at his side. Obviously, the blade was too long to hang loosely at his waist and too much of an inconvenience to be strapped on his back (attacks would make it difficult to pull off). Instead, Sephiroth held it in his hand, carrying it with him like it was a staff. Cloud would have mentioned something at the handling (whenever he fought Sephiroth, the blade was already out and rumors from Lazard stated that the man just threw the scabbard around during battle to prevent it from getting in his way), but he could see the point. After all, this Sephiroth hadn't yet figured out how to materialize his weapon from thin air. Luckily for Cloud, First Tsurugi was short enough to strap comfortably to his back, sometimes taking apart one or two blades to counter balance it from the opposite side.

Stepping up behind the man that had once caused all his angst, Cloud called out. "General, sir!" The following action almost came unnatural to him, considering he had never done well with authoritative figures in the past. It didn't help that this was Sephiroth, his once-enemy, though the years since the last fight with him had helped settle his mind. The General rotated around from where he had been cluing in the rest of his men, raising an eyebrow at Cloud's appearance.

Cat-like green eyes took in Cloud's visual appearance, a flicker of confusion in them, before Sephiroth responded. "Yes?"

"Sorry to bother you, but I have a message from Director Lazard for you." Cloud automatically held out the envelope, watching as the silver-haired male grasped it and ripped the flap open. Those sharp eyes drifted over the printed letters, an eyebrow slowly raising as he processed the message.

"So you'll be joining us," Sephiroth peered at the official paper curiously once more, wondering why Lazard would replace one of his men like this. And so suddenly. Now, it wasn't uncommon, but also, not usual. Typically, he had a say in the matter. This was somewhat odd. "Fenrir, yes?"

"That's correct, sir."

The General didn't reply, his eyes gazing over Cloud's features. The two could tell they had the full attention of everyone else behind them, eagerly eavesdropping on the conversation. A few more seconds passed before Sephiroth spoke, "I can't say I've ever seen you before. Your appearance..." The rest of the sentence didn't need to be said. Cloud already knew the truth about his looks. Spiky blond hair wasn't common amongst the SOLDIERs unless it had been dyed, so he stood out like a beacon among all the black, almost as much as Sephiroth did.

Cloud already had his lie on the tip of his tongue. "I'm generally not at headquarters, sir, as I regularly take long term missions either alone or with a Turk. Due to the new Director announcement, all of my usual long term assignments have been postponed and I've been placed into the regular schedules. However, since I haven't worked with anyone else besides by myself and the Turks, Director Lazard believed this would be a good experience before I head out once more." This lie gave him the most mobility in explaining his obviously notable absence. "As for why no one has seen my appearance, I normally wear a helmet while in ShinRa, but on my last mission, it ended up getting destroyed in a monster attack and I have yet to find the time to get a replacement."

"I see." There wasn't much that could be tackled against those words, at least, not where Sephiroth was situated without pulling up the actual profile of the blond. "Well, do you understand this current mission?"

"Yes, sir. I was briefed by Director Lazard himself. But if there are any additional instructions you need to give me, please let me know."

Sephiroth shook his head, "No, there was no additional information. The packet contains everything you needed to know."

"Understood, sir."

As the standard ShinRa truck pulled up, Sephiroth was the first to slip in, heading towards the very back. The rest followed and Cloud was the last to get in. He could see that most of the people here had been working with each other for months, already budding up in pairs, and taking most of the available spots in the truck. Since he was last, there were only two open areas for him to settle in, one between two bulky Third Class males and the other...beside Sephiroth himself. No one was really watching him, too excited for their mission with the General.

Cloud sighed heavily. No one wanted to sit beside Sephiroth in the truck, despite the fascination, absolutely no one, and even placed an open seat to keep them apart. There only consisted a group of ten individuals, the van large enough to hold more, except most of the group had large weapons, some requiring the spot beside them.

It was kinda sad to see that Sephiroth was treated so isolated, even amongst his own handpicked men. It was like everyone respected, but feared him at the same time. It was like he was ignored in a way. Cloud decided to end that today. Sephiroth didn't need people to push him aside. He needed people that were willing to take the initiative to get closer. After all, this isolation had played a factor in Sephiroth's madness. Still, that didn't make things any easier for Cloud himself due to his history.

Taking a deep breath, the blond went forward and settled into the open space, pulling off his twin blades to hold them in-between his legs. Cloud watched in amusement as the General looked startled by this sudden turn of events.

"Um..." Sephiroth was honestly confused by the unexpected presence pressing up close to his side. He never had anyone actually touch him this willingly before, not unless he was friends with them or if they had misguided intentions. With his sheathed sword on his left, he peered over the blond beside him curiously, wondering how this two hour ride might go.

Cloud almost frowned, but ignored the other for now, settling himself in. "Hope you don't mind. The only other available spot will probably get me crushed if the van suddenly stopped."

Sephiroth blinked, unsure of how to react to such a...joke. Was it a joke? He wasn't entirely sure. He knew from the way his friends spoke that he wasn't good at social ethics, so he couldn't quite tell what the other had meant. How was he supposed to react to such a...setting? "No, it's alright. I don't mind."

"Good."

As the truck started, it gave a powerful lurch, enough so that Sephiroth couldn't help but swing slightly to one side. He nearly ended up half sprawled across the blond, silver hair flying everywhere. Apparently, he wasn't the only one, a few others had the same issue, though some much worse where they ended up completely on a lap. Carefully, Sephiroth glanced up at the blond he had bumped against, pondering over what the other was feeling. All he saw was a slight red tint of his cheeks before Sephiroth moved away, gathering himself back into his previous spot.

"Sorry about that."

Cloud coughed once, trying to get the awkwardness to disappear. "It's...It's alright. Not your fault, sir."

The two fell into silence, the chattering of the rest of the crew and the motor of the vehicle filling in the emptiness. Cloud had honestly not expected that to happen on his run with Sephiroth. It had been...surprising to say the least. This was going to be an awkward two hour drive to the site. As minutes stretched, Cloud unable to truly tell if time was passing due to the lack of natural light, he found himself curious about his once-mortal enemy. Slowly, his eyes drifted down to his weapons, adjusting them enough to be comfortable between his legs.

He could feel Sephiroth's green eyes boring on him, feel the man's curiosity rolling off him in waves. It was strange in a somewhat amusing way. Of course, the silver-haired man didn't speak up, keeping silent in his little corner. Cloud didn't mind at first, letting time pass by, before he began to drift. He eyed the other eight individuals in the truck before growing bored. Everyone had similar weapons, no difference in sight.

That also meant everyone fought in a similar style too.

He sighed. No wonder ShinRa had fallen so easily when he had been fighting against them. Everyone fought the same and so patterns were easily to figure out after such repetitiveness, which made them easy to take down.

He eyed his weapons once more, loving the way the familiarity felt against him and the manner he was able to wield. He was never one to localize to one singular style, enjoying the way he could mix and match to make his perfect own. It made him flawlessly deadly in combat.

"Are you a Turk in disguise?" a familiar voice suddenly called out into his mind, pulling away from his thoughts.

Cloud blinked, "What?" What?

Sephiroth didn't appear undetermined, arms crossed neatly against his chest. His silver hair was pulled over his left shoulder, spraying outward from his lap. "You don't act like a typical SOLDIER and I felt you were lying earlier, but I'm not sure where. I would have definitely remembered someone with your hair type since I look through all the accepted cadet forms." The silver-haired male was definitely sharp, sharp enough to pick through Cloud's vague background immediately and spot just how observant the blond truly is. "Regardless, there is no denial of the glow in your eyes. However, if you're an undercover Turk, that would explain certain factors." Luckily, Sephiroth hadn't been able to gather the real truth, but Cloud had no doubt the man would slowly tug the pieces apart and together until he formed the hidden picture underneath. Cloud had known the General is brilliant, near genius level, but to see it in person was...

"Permission to speak freely, sir?" Cloud hated having to ask such words, but he would rather not get in trouble so soon into his undercover mission.

"Of course."

"I can honestly say I'm mixed."

Sephiroth's interest perked, tilting his body to face the blond easier. "Mixed?"

"Yes, I've been working with the Turks for so long I have no doubt that I might have picked up a few of their...quirks." Cloud couldn't help the amused twitch of his lips, a brief flash of memories from working with Rufus slipping through his mind. "And with my lack of appearance and separation around other SOLDIERs, there's no doubt I would have been influenced greatly by them. They also want someone they could trust to follow their job details without question since most SOLDIERs despise Turks."

(Rufus sneered, "Stop predicting me, Cloud!"

The younger blond could only laugh at his brother's frustration. Even Tseng wasn't able to hold back his snicker. "I can't help it. Perhaps you taught me a little too well? That and I know your thoughts personally."

Huffing, the boss of the Turks could only sigh. "Being a SOLDIER is wasted on you, Cloud. You could have been the perfect Turk. You have the features, the size, and the attitude. You're quick both mentally and physically, able to solve problems at a drop of a hat, and resourceful as hell. All I needed to do was tweak a few places here and there and you would start looking at everything like a Turk, you would start thinking like a Turk. You have everything we look for in a member." Rufus paused and turned towards Tseng. "Why the hell was Cloud not picked up by one of us when he was in the cadet program?"

Tseng blinked at that question, surprised, before turning back to Cloud. "That's...a good question actually. Perhaps that batch went unnoticed or at that time, he didn't show any prominent features that made him stand out."

Cloud just shook his head, almost wanting to laugh out loud from the conversation going before him. "It was probably both. At that time, I was horrible. There was no denying it. Even I knew it. Plus, its better I hadn't been recruited into the Turks, things might have been very different if I had."

"True. You may have never become the same Cloud Strife before us."

"There you go.")

Sephiroth broke into the memory, pulling Cloud away. "That would explain why you work with them on your missions instead with other SOLDIERs."

"Huh?" Now Cloud was both confused and scared. Watching Sephiroth try to figure him out, make those connections with little information, was startling. When the once-hero had been engulfed by the madness of Jenova, he had lost all form of coherent thought except for his need to please 'Mother'.

Sephiroth continued, "You think like a Turk in a way. I saw you plotting and planning regarding those around you, categorizing your allies in this truck, even regarding me. From there, it's obvious that you strategize against your enemies, of the elements outside your hand, and you do that in various leaps away in time." Those green eyes continued to stare, observing Cloud's every movement. Even though Sephiroth knew very little regarding the little blond, he was observant enough to pick out details. "For an undercover mission like the Turks tend to take, you have both the mind set and the skills to make your way through any situation, brute force if needed from the mako enhancements. I have no doubt that those long-term missions you mentioned earlier were undercover-based. You make a perfect in-between that the Turks can work with or where you can go out on your own with little backup."

Cloud actually smiled at that. Oh, Sephiroth was good. So good that he had done exactly what Cloud and Rufus had wanted him to do. The General's mind was definitely brilliant, enough so that he could pick through the fabric lie and make the connections. Cloud had already known that he was a mix and hearing it in person just made it more solid. Still, Rufus was much better at the plotting. "Not bad, sir."

Sephiroth narrowed his eyes, focusing only on the blond, pushing out all outside interference. The two were in their own little world, no one able to hear them and they unable to hear anyone else.

Now to push the General's buttons just a little more.

"I'll give you a warning, General." Cloud grinned, tilting his head back against the wall. "You should meet the new Turk Director, Rufus Shinra. He won't just give you a mere run for your money." He could see the confusion flickering through those green eyes. "He'll take it all and rip you apart all at the same time like you're absolutely worthless compared to him. He's extremely ruthless, much scarier than Tseng and the previous Director, Veld, combined. He won't hesitate to slit your throat even when you're down."

Sephiroth managed to hide his flinch. Scarier than Tseng and Veld? Now that was quite the horrifying image. And he knew just how powerful those two individuals already were. "He's the President's son and the previous Vice President. He shouldn't have the skills or knowledge to become the Director originally."

Cloud shrugged his shoulders. "You can never know with someone. But the Rufus before and the Rufus now are two completely different people. You can't compare them as one singular person."

The silver-haired Elite stared for a moment before finally speaking up once more. "Then I take it that you know who the Director of SOLDIER is? That you've met him in person?"

Oh, Sephiroth is definitely good. The man was too smart for his own good, now if only he had actually used that intelligence to figure out the truth in Hojo's plans before falling into them. Cloud chuckled, "Can't really say, but the two Directors are very close friends. They talk a lot between each other."

"Which tells me that our new Director will either have a tricky mindset like a Turk or he's already plotting something in the background of company politics."

Cloud smirked.

Sephiroth spoke up once more. "Is it true that the new Director is enhanced?"

The Director nodded in agreement. "Yes."

"Interesting..." And indeed it was to the General. He knew he had heard from Lazard that the new Director would have mako enhancements, but it hadn't really settled in his mind. It was just another mystery to the man, covered by more. Never had there been a Director that personally knew what one of his men went through. It was generally just vague ideas smashed together in hopes that the previous Directors would understand. Lazard always made a fuss at how much they broke, their own injuries, their avoidance on certain areas (the smells). He just couldn't understand that it wasn't always their fault how some things occurred. However, that didn't mean much if the Director was a fool. As he peered back at the blond, about to ask for more information, he watched as Cloud shook his head.

"Sorry, can't give more than that. I wasn't actually supposed to find out. It was merely chance when I came by the day of my return and saw the two talking."

"I see. Thank you regardless for the information."

They settled back into a silence, once more filled in only by the various conversations surrounding them and the motor of the engine. Cloud shuffled slightly in his seat. He hadn't wanted to cut Sephiroth off like that, but the man was quickly piecing things together at breakneck speed. Any more additional data could quickly and bluntly have all fingers pointing at him, if he hadn't already placed the notion.

Time passed by, the two males settled wordlessly against each other, never pushing too far into each other's personal space. Cloud was still finding it strange to be this close to his once enemy, touching even, and not have anything go wrong. He shuffled with his blades between his legs once more, just enough to accidently draw Sephiroth's attention back on him. He could tell the silver-haired man was eyeing his weapon and saw him tilt his head out of the corner of his eyes.

Eventually, Sephiroth's curiosity got the better of him. "You have an interesting weapon there." As mentioned before, most of the individuals here had the standardized blade and only those that were lucky or had the funds had something else. Even then, one needed the special training to wield a new weapon with ease before going out into the field effectively. "Not many can duel-wield."

Cloud shrugged his shoulders. He couldn't quite tell Sephiroth that these blades were only part of his original weapon. "It depends honestly. It fits well with me as I rely more on speed and agility than mere brute force like everyone else in SOLDIER. However, it does make casting magic harder." Not that he really used magic, despite all the materia he kept on hand. He lifted one of the blades up, pointing the sharp end at the ceiling of the truck. "To be perfectly honest, I'm just as effective with a two-hand or single-hand weapon."

The silver-haired General hummed, raising up his left hand, and placed it underneath his chin as if thinking. "So you wield a variety of skills, but that's not expected if you're part of the Turks. Remarkable though...I'm quite curious to see you out on the battlefield."

Cloud couldn't help the minor flush that slipped through his mask. He was being praised by his once-idol. Oh, how he had wished for something like this long, long ago before everything had gone wrong. Just being next to a sane Sephiroth, who was looking at him with such childish enthusiasm, brought back sensations he hadn't felt since...forever. "T-Thanks." He bit down on his bottom lip, his bubble of nerves acting up, and decided to burst. "Here," Holding out his weapon towards Sephiroth, he nudged the man with his knee.

The Silver Elite blinked once before finally taking the weapon in hand. Most people never gave their weapons to someone else, even if it was just meant to be looked at. It was almost like a forbidden practice. He himself never gave his weapon over to another except his closest friends. It was like giving a piece of oneself away. Still, Sephiroth held the weapon carefully with his right, grip awkward considering his sword arm was the opposite and being unfamiliar with such a unique blade.

Cloud shuffled closer against Sephiroth, pressing up against the man's body, and reached out to grasp the other's hand. "You can flip the blade like this," Proceeding to do just that, he had the blade now pointing downward with the sharp edge away from his body. "I can use this style in order to boost my speed, less air resistance while effectively cutting my foes down."

"So you can switch your hand around depending on the situation, either for speed or for power."

"Yeah. My non-reliance on a single set of skills is probably what enables me to be sent out for a different type of missions compared to others."

The truck suddenly came to a stall, everyone's conversations halting in return. They had arrived at the site and, carefully, everyone prepared themselves for the upcoming battle. Cloud glanced towards the General and gave a minor nod before letting the silver-haired male head out first, followed by the front, Cloud bringing up the rear. Strapping his blades to his back, the Director mentally prepared for the upcoming battle and stepped out into the blazing sun of the surrounding wasteland. Squinting his eyes at the sudden brightness and dry area, he got to work.


The two hour ride back had been quiet, most of the men too tired to do anything but rest. Cloud and Sephiroth were some of the very few that remained awake, the job too easy for someone overly qualified like them. The horde of monsters hadn't even been that hard and Cloud had dispatched them with ease. He cut through them like they were butter, breezing around the attacks as if they were nothing, and weaving through the hordes with practiced ease before eventually holding back to allow the rest of his supposed teammates take care of the remaining. He had to continuously remind himself to remain hidden amongst the group, but it was getting harder to remember as time went by.

Sometimes, Cloud's eyes would drift to the edge where Sephiroth was located, the man hardly breaking a sweat as he cut down groups of monsters on his own with a single swipe of his blade. The blond knew he could do the exact same thing, but there were too many people congregated beside him, not unless he wanted to accidently cut one of his teammates in half.

Regardless, the battle ended as quickly as it began and they were piling back into the truck to head back home. Everyone took the same seats as before so Cloud found himself pressing up against Sephiroth once more, not that he really minded. Neither of them was drenched in sweat or beginning to smell, though that wouldn't matter as they were enclosed in a small area with others (Damn enhanced sense of smell). Cloud was almost tempted to sigh, but instead ran a hand through his spiky hair, a brief flash of annoyance as the locks simply bounced back into place like a spring. If there was one thing that would never change, it would be his own stubborn hair.

"It appears you are indeed as skilled as you say you are." The low voice from beside him almost had Cloud jumping in return. It had been about thirty minutes into the ride.

The blond blinked and simply stared as if trying to understand what exactly had been spoken to him. "Oh...Thanks." He should have known that Sephiroth would have noticed his abilities, despite purposefully holding back.

"You're only Second class, correct?"

Cloud nodded. Well, that's what it stated on his profile. He had been tempted to try Third, but he had a feeling that one of the more advanced First Class members would figure him out. It was hard to hide experience and knowledge in his movements regardless of his attempts. That and he was absolutely certain he couldn't act like a typical excited Third class. He just couldn't pull off that personality change. It made him want to shrivel up and hide at the mere thought.

Sephiroth unknowingly cut into Cloud's thoughts. "If you're around ShinRa more often, you should be promoted to First."

The Director blinked. Huh, he hadn't expected Sephiroth to figure it out so fast, but, well, it's Sephiroth. How funny. Shaking his head, Cloud replied. "If it was that easily, sure, but honestly, I'm content with where I'm at."

The silver-haired man was tempted to speak up against the notion before hesitating. As the General of the entire SOLDIER army, he knew he should say something, to promote acceptance, but he couldn't quite form the required words. He didn't even know what to say in the first place. It wasn't as easy as putting on a mask for ShinRa or his men. This was something more personal, something he knew he wasn't good at. As such, he went silent, slumping against the wall. It was almost like Sephiroth was sulking.

Cloud, sensing the man's frustration, decided to change the topic. "Hmm, how about a story to pass the time?"

Sephiroth couldn't help but perk up. He would never admit it, but he loved stories, fairytales in particular. It was an outside world he would never experience but, at least, envision. It gave him a break from the harshness of his life, allowed him to focus on something else besides work and the labs. It was a small piece of freedom he could give himself.

Cloud almost chuckled at the sparkling interest in those eyes, amused by the way this Sephiroth was acting. This was the Sephiroth before he had been twisted by Jenova, by the lies, by everything. Cloud could honestly get used to this version. He might even come to like him.

Ah, but that was getting a little too far ahead.

"It's a story passed down by the people of my hometown, from one generation to another. It's one that has been changed depending on the family that tells it, on their own beliefs, but the basic history is always the same." Cloud paused as he allowed the old memories to flood through him. The only two people that knew about this story were his brother and the previous Tseng and they had been the ones to help dig through his forgotten history. "We worship the Old Gods, or used to actually, beings that once ruled over the planet long ago. It was said they faded away with the world's lack of belief, disappearing into the wind to be forever forgotten. Others said they used to be Cetra of the greatest power, leaders that held the influence over the world in their very hands before a great war killed them all off except for a few that had gone into hiding. Because even if there was a lack of belief in the world, even if there was a war, some would always survive to the very end. It was their very nature to continue on despite all odds."

Sephiroth, unmistakably engrossed in the story, listened. His green eyes glistened slightly, ignoring the world around them. The rest of the men were talking amongst each other or sleeping, leaving the two lost in their own little bubble.

"Back home, there was a old tradition where, when you come of age, you are to choose a God or Goddess to be placed under, to represent you for the rest of your life and your choices. It would be like you had their protection, influence, and gifts. However, I left town before that could happen." Cloud continued, uninterrupted. "The age there was sixteen, I left one year before that, and so my mother, next in line, had to choose for me. I didn't really mind, I figured that whatever she choose for me I would accept. After all, she knew me the best and I would live with her decision to the end of my life. One didn't normally go back to change their God or Goddess."

"You didn't have a particular one you wanted to follow?"

Cloud shook his head. "Not really. Most of the Old Gods are what one can call as cruel. They would harm and torment those for the slightest blunder and if the future they had foreseen was horrible, they would punish the person even if the crimes hadn't been committed yet. Apparently, the Old Gods didn't realize the concept of self-fulfilling prophecies, that them causing the harm first created the foretold future." The Director smirked, leaning back against the metal wall. He could feel the vibrations of the road against his body, jumping at each bump on the road. It didn't seem to bother the sleeping men. "For their stupidity, I hated them and refused to choose someone that would do something like that to represent me, which was another reason as to why I left so early to join SOLDIER. I didn't want someone that would allow such things so freely without justifications to represent me."

Sephiroth nodded understandingly. He made a small note to read up on the history of Fenrir's hometown. It sounded...quite interesting. It was unlike the science, the history, the stories that were told elsewhere. Old Gods... Who would have represented him if he had been born there? He was so in tuned by the story that he never bothered to ask what hometown Fenrir was talking about. Instead, he asked the more adamant question. "What did your mother choose for you?"

Cloud closed his eyes, mentally peering through the brief memories he contained about his mother. They were vague, torn apart by time and mako poisoning. With the help of his brother, he had been able to find the buried secrets of his hometown, hidden underneath the charred remains of the old Nibelheim. He had pieced together what his hometown, the people there, had been like and how he had lived as with his mother. Tifa, sadly, had decided to forgo all that culture and history the moment she left town.

"My mother was under Loki, the God of chaos, a very unpopular being that all the townspeople despised."

"Chaos..." The General hummed slightly under his breath. "I can see why. People don't like chaos. It represents evil, yes?"

Cloud snorted, "Most see it like that, but everything has a purpose." Opening his eyes, he peered up into those curious greens, amused by the enrapture his story held within them. "There's a balance in the world: good vs evil, light vs dark, order vs chaos. You can't have one without the other. They purposefully balance each other out. Too much chaos brings about destruction, madness, savagery, and solipsism. At the same time, a good amount of chaos brings changes, free will, and creativity." The blond paused for a moment to let his words settle. He hadn't really expected to have such a deep conversation topic regarding philosophy with Sephiroth of all people. This wasn't his cup of tea. Still, Cloud was enjoying it. "Much like chaos, too much of order brings about extreme control and conditioning, fascism, even mindless obedience. A balanced one brings rules, civilization, and protection."

The rising interest in Sephiroth's features was so prominent that even Cloud could see it a mile away. The silver-haired Elite wanted to pick that theory apart, he was twitching to. "That's a fascinating concept. I've...never thought about it like that before." His mind was going over the words, tugging at the speculation. "So what did your mother choose for you?"

This made Cloud smirking. "Loki had three children: Fenrir, Hel, and Jörmungandr."

Realization dawned onto the swordsmen as if knowing exactly what Cloud was talking about. It was an obvious connection. "Ah, Fenrir then."

"Surprisingly, no." The blond had actually thought about it for a long time since learning the truth. A wolf had really suited him, it really had, but his mother believed differently. "It was Hel, the Goddess of the Dead. The middle sibling."

Sephiroth couldn't help but feel surprised by that. "That's...different. She chose a Goddess instead of a God. Most men wouldn't like that."

"Indeed. I, too, didn't understand at first, but my mother must have known. Hel is a very powerful being. She rules over the Underworld and punishes those that have done great harm or protects those that have been mistreated. She's a being everyone will eventually meet in the end, whether willingly or not." Cloud paused for a moment, trying to tie together his memories of the past. This was a subject he had spent years uncovering, wanting to learn the forgotten culture and language the Nibelheims bore. "It was once said that she could bring about the end of the world with her siblings, slaughtering all those that had wronged her, that had imprisoned her down below. She cannot die for she is already dead, a true immortal among the living, one that will survive even after The End. As such, she's patient, so very patient, and she plans, hovering in the darkness until the time comes when she can drag her enemies down to her realm. A menacing figure that all men fears and respects, a being that all can't help but love and hate. A Goddess so cold yet so warm to her loved ones."

The blond stilled for a few moments to allow Sephiroth some time to absorb all the information he had just been given. Still, it was helping in passing time. He had never been good at car rides, getting easily motion sick. It had gotten better over the years, but having something to focus on, besides the movement of the vehicle, greatly helped. As Cloud glanced around the room, he wasn't entirely certain if anyone was listening into their conversation, but it wasn't as if there was anything really important in it.

"Hel is neither evil nor good, a being that will continue to exist even when the world begins to fall to pieces. She's a survivor." Cloud chuckled as he continued to draw on the memories, trying to correlate them with himself. "Among her siblings, she was much closer to Fenrir, the eldest sibling, as the wolf helped guard Hel from the others that tried to overthrow her throne. He was known as the God Eater, the Devourer of Immortals, and he was feared among all the Gods and Goddesses." That description of Fenrir he had read about most accurately described his older brother, Rufus, now that he was thinking about it. But where did that leave Jörmungandr? Would the snake describe Lazard? But then there were the roles of their positions. Lazard was the eldest brother among them...unless they considered their real ages into the equation.

"This has been very informal." Sephiroth glanced away from the blond as their vehicle finally came to a stop, having just arrived back at the facility. He hadn't expected the talk to last this long, but it helped fill in the silence he was always faced with when separated from his men during these types of missions. "Thank you."

Cloud shook his head. "No, it's alright." He waited for the General to stand up before continuing. "Maybe one day when we met up again, we can continue the story. If it's outside of a mission, I'll even make you the Hot Chocolate my brother absolutely adores."

Sephiroth tilted his head at that reveal, pausing in his steps despite gathering his equipment. "Your brother?"

Cloud nodded, "Yeah, I have an older brother, two actually."

"Three brothers, three siblings from the story."

Ah, he should have known that Sephiroth would make that connection. It honestly wasn't that hard. The Director almost laughed. "Yep, funny, right?"

"And you got chosen as the middle sibling from the story."

This time, Cloud just shrugged his shoulders, refusing to derive in that. He watched as the General slowly stepped away, the man's long hair twirling behind him as it fanned out in a curtain-like fashion. As everyone filtered out the truck, Cloud being one of the last few, he stood in line with the others. He may not be familiar with the military procedures just yet, but he could observe from the sidelines.

However, there was an unexpected individual standing beside the General at the front, a familiar long-haired red head in a blue suit. It seemed he wasn't the only one that was confused by the Turk's sudden appearance as Sephiroth couldn't help but eye the man from the corner of his eyes. A barely noticeable twitch of his eyebrows gave away Sephiroth's annoyance and slowly, those green eyes rounded through the group of men before finally landing on Cloud. It was pretty obvious who Reno was here for and the blond almost reluctantly sighed out loud.

"Yo! There you are, Fenrir." Reno called out, grinning manically as he gave a friendly wave. "The boss man is asking for ya!"

All eyes turned towards him and he mentally cursed the red head out. Yes, put him in the spotlight, just what he needed. Tempted to just face palm at the reveal, he stepped out from line of men. It was too late to remain hiding, though Sephiroth had already been speculating on him being an undercover Turk. This just solidified that idea, probably what Rufus wanted. Cloud strode towards the two men at the front, giving a faint nod towards Sephiroth. "My apologies, General." He had slipped back into a subordinate role, compared to when he had been freely talking to the man in the truck. Cloud had completely forgotten his part for a little while. "Thank you for allowing me to join you, sir. I appreciate it."

"No," Sephiroth started. "I must thank you. You've given me some great insight into certain matters."

Cloud knew the man meant keeping him company and for the stories, but the stoic General had a position to keep up. Giving another respectful nod, amusement shining in his eyes, he spun towards Reno. They wandered off, getting further from the area and into the ShinRa main building, before Cloud finally decided to speak up regarding this sudden matter.

"Any reason as to why you suddenly pulled me out like that?"

For a moment, Reno looked nervous before it was morphed back into his usual cockiness. The red head grinned, hands resting in his pockets. "Ah, you'll see when you get there, yo."

Oh, that answer didn't sound too good.

What the hell had Rufus done?


Cloud took one look at the chaotic nature of Turk division before heavily sighing. He didn't want to come in, not at all. It was pure pandemonium here, absolute unholy pandemonium. There was paper everywhere, Turks running back and forth between various rooms and cubbies. Phones were ringing constantly, fingers flying everywhere on the keyboard, and the look of absolute frustration and exhaustion was on each and every person's expression. It was clear they had been doing this for a while, probably since the start of Rufus' new reign.

Ah, Cloud so didn't want to join in this mess. It already looked like a nightmare in the waiting and it was obvious that the Turks had been in this state for a while. His bright blue eyes glanced at Reno beside him, already seeing the exasperated look in those green ones.

Cloud should have taken his time in getting here. Maybe if he snuck out now, no one would see him.

As if reading Cloud's pending thoughts, Rufus stepped out of his office and spotted him right away. "Ah, there you are."

Too late.

Letting out a small curse under his breath, Cloud stepped forward, dodging around wayward Turks. Reno had already joined back to the fray, settled at his computer, and Cloud see the reflection of the screen in Turk's green eyes. He spotted Tseng in his office, surrounded by stacks of papers, but it appeared spotless as always. However, the tick in Tseng's right eyebrow told the SOLDIER Director everything he needed to know.

"What the hell happened here?" The younger blond motioned towards the rest of the room, blue eyes wide.

Rufus grumbled, actually grumbled. "Since there hadn't been an official Director in charge for a while, everything has been backed up and disorganized. I'm trying to get that all fixed, but it's at least a year's worth of paperwork to sort through and that's not including the previous Director's batch he never went through." He groaned at the mentioning. No matter how much he managed to get through, there was always more. Veld's system before had somewhat worked, but there had always been delays in certain things, pushed by either lack of available Turks (most hated paperwork, not that he blamed them) or the information was scrambled somewhere in either drawers or the computer system (which thankfully was on a separate isolated server, but didn't receive the regular updates it needed to keep up with the constant influx of information). "You won't believe what I've been uprooting that has been covered up by other matters."

Cloud snorted, "I'm not surprised. Really, I'm not." He took another look around the room, knowing exactly what he was bound to do. He had been lucky that Lazard managed to keep up with his own system, even though Cloud didn't like the processing of everything. It was the reason why he could go undercover as he did while leaving Lazard still in charge.

"My hands are a little tied since I'm handling work from both as the Director of Turks and Vice President until Lazard can officially take over."

"And so you've asked me to help." Yep, he knew it. This was his punishment, wasn't it? Oh well, it wasn't anything Cloud was unfamiliar with since he had always helped sort Rufus' paperwork back home, even if the man wasn't away for business. The SOLDIER Director knew he also had time in between missions since he had to wait for another opportunity with the other Firsts he could sneak into. "Fine, where do you want me to start?"

Rufus motioned towards a stack that was on a separate table. "That one. You already know what to do, but ask if you have any questions."

Cloud took one look at it before groaning himself. He really hated paperwork, he really did. "Fine, but, before you go back into your office, give me your wallet." The younger brother held his hands out expectantly, fingers flexing enough to make his intent obvious. Rufus just stared. "Give it to me before I decide to steal it from you. Don't think I won't fight you and we both know I'll win even without my full blade."

A few Turks paused in the room to listen in, a couple heads peering up from behind their offices and cubicles.

Rolling his eyes, the eldest reached behind into his back pocket and pulled it out, handing it over without a fuss. "Any reason as to why I'm handing my money to you?"

Cloud huffed, "Because I still don't have a working account with ShinRa yet and, as such, can't order anything." He at least had a phone, already working it to place some digital orders with the use of Rufus' card as payment. "I can tell this will be an all-nighter for everyone, myself included, so I'm ordering food and drinks, especially for me because I'm starved after coming back from that mission with Sephiroth. Don't worry, Rufus, I doubt this will even make a noticeable dent in your account, unlike the clothes shopping trip we took."

"Very funny." The sarcastic tone in Rufus' voice didn't even faze his younger brother. Spinning around to head back to his office near the very back of the division, the Turk Director continued, "Do whatever you want, Cloud. I leave the fate of my account in your crippling hands." He closed his office door soon after, shutting himself inside.

Cloud chuckled softly at the joke, shaking his head, before turning towards the nearest Turk, who happened to Cissnei. "You think he'll be mad if I used his money to buy a motorcycle?" It was meant to be a joke, but with his expression cut off as emotionless, it wasn't as readable.

Cissnei paused what she was doing, glancing up at the blond curiously. "I wouldn't advise that, sir. Director Rufus would most likely be mad about the waste of money."

The blond sighed, "It was a joke. I'm not really going to do something like that. If I was going to make a purchase that expensive, I would do it myself."

Cissnei looked like she wanted to expand further on that topic before Reno decided to interrupt, wrapping an arm around Cloud's shoulder. The grin the male red head gave was full of mischief, acting like the two of them were the best of buds. "So what are you getting for us, Fenrir? Something good I hope. It better not be any of that cafeteria slob they serve here." Reno had purposefully used this chance as an excuse to get away from work while looking over Cloud's shoulder to observe what he was doing. Reno blinked once as he read over the page. "Whoa, whoa, are you ordering from 'Lieu De La'? I know they have some good coffee."

A couple Turks paused in their work once more to look up at the mentioning, purposefully eavesdropping. They were curious, after all. It wasn't often a SOLDIER would come into their isolated department, much less get the chance to examine their paperwork, and it was clear he was connected to their new Director. The sounds of the keyboard died down slightly as they listened in. It didn't help that they were all hungry and desiring some excellent coffee to keep them functioning.

"Yep," Cloud popped the 'p' purposefully. "And I hear their donuts and kolaches are too. We're going to need some sugar and snacks to keep all of us awake for the night. I can tell this is going to be an all-nighter." The order was sent and the blond was already opening another page. "I'm also getting some catering from Panera as well. This one might take a little longer, but that's fine. The best part is that they all deliver and even if the food gets cold, it's still edible."

Reno stared for a moment, processing the offer of good food, before tightening his grasp around the SOLDIER Director. "Can I seriously kiss you? You're, like, a lifesaver for all of us. It hasn't been too great the last few days, yo."

Slowly edging away as Cloud finished up the orders, payment already sent, his blue eyes peered at the red head. "Kiss me and Rufus will shoot you through that wall, don't think he won't." His enhanced hearing picked up the snort on the other side of said wall.

The Turks were obviously listening in, despite still working in the background, even Tseng wasn't able to hide his interest all that well, if given the slight tilt of his head so his left ear was facing the open doorway was any indication.

Reno just laughed, slapping Cloud's back like they were good buddies. "Is that so? So what's your relationship with the boss anyway? You his lover or something? Will we be hearing kinky office sex?" He winked, nudging closer to the blond, if that was physically possible.

Except that distance was interrupted by a loud bang.

The room stilled just for a split second before people were moving, some going for cover while others were grabbing their weapons, ready for battle. Reno, however, twisted his head to peer at the wall behind him, where the still smoking bullet had buried itself into the metal structure. Cloud could see the rapidly paling features on the red head, Reno immediately yanking away, so startled that he almost tripped at the force.

"Holy shit! He actually shot at me!"

"He purposefully missed." Cloud deadpanned, entirely amused by the whole situation and he could tell Rufus was too. The rest of the Turks quickly realized that they weren't being attacked and settled back into their positions. "And you're a moron." He rolled his eyes, pocketing his phone and Rufus' wallet. He would hand it back later, he had all night to do so. "And no, I'm not his lover. I'm his brother."

The resulting silence was humorous to say the least as everyone froze into their spots, well, except for Tseng who already knew about the strange relationship the brothers had.

Cissnei, who was still on the other side of Cloud, was the first one to bring up the question everyone wanted to ask. "Brother? You're related?" It wasn't actually hard to see considering the two were blonds with spiky hair and blue eyes. It also wasn't uncommon for the President to have illegitimate child outside of wedlock either. However, they knew about all the offspring's the President had, they kept a sharp eye on them for obvious reasons, but Cloud here was a mystery. Still, the connection was obvious. "Ah, you're half-brothers."

Cloud wasn't going to deny that. It was the truth, after all. "Yes, I'm the youngest."

Rod decided to call out from behind his cubical. "Dude, Reno, you're messing with the boss's baby brother."

Then another, one Cloud couldn't see. "No wonder he shot at you."

"You never mess with someone's baby brother. Never."

"And the wrong someone's too."

The insistent chatter that followed went between the Turk members, clearly amused and excited about this new information. Normally, Cloud would never reveal something like this to a group of people, but these were the Turks. They were built on secrets and he knew that with Rufus in charge, they were bound to find out, considering how much he would be coming here in the future. They were brothers, after all, and Turks always found out what they wanted to know.

Reno's pale face looked hilarious, like he had seen a ghost or something. He pulled away from Cloud, taking a few steps back as if trying to place some distance between them. The memory of the bullet was too fresh to be forgotten and his grin was stretched a little too wide to be normal. "S-So, Fenrir-"

The blond cut in. "Ah, no, sorry. My real name isn't Fenrir. It's Cloud."

Reno blinked, processing the name. "Wait, Cloud?" He blinked again. "As in Cloud Strife from the email? As in the new Director of SOLDIER?"

The chattering went silent once more.

Cloud tilted his head, a brief small smile on his lips, clearly entertained by one-upping the Turks. "That's me. Nice to meet all of you."

There was a faint laughter in the background coming from behind a certain closed door.

Chapter Text

Cloud wasn't certain on how he felt about Genesis, how to go about this notorious red clad man that had been the start of everything wrong in SOLDIER. It was mainly because he didn't really know Genesis, even with the memories from Zack, and that was mostly after the defection. There was no identifier on the First from his timeline, not even from Rufus. Tseng and Lazard had a few choice words, but it didn't give the full picture Cloud desired.

However, from the reports and word-of-mouth (those that didn't fall on the man's bad side), people acknowledged Genesis as hardworking, creative, and understanding. He was willing to put his life at risk to save his men, rushing into the middle of a fight, or using his precious energy to heal the injured. With those actions, Genesis had gained the absolute loyalty of his men, even with his well-known temper and random moments of sprouting literature, something the SOLDIERs all learned to work about. It was probably why when the Red Mage Commander defected, they followed. SOLDIERs aren't loyal to the company, they were loyal to their commanding officers, especially those that lead them to and from battle, that stood at their side, and there was an endless amount of grievances towards ShinRa that could have been taken advantage of.

As for the memories from Zack, all Cloud had received regarding Genesis was, of course, after the defection, when the red head had gone mad with desperation for a cure. The knowledge of knowing one's demise, especially a painful and degrading one in such a strong willed individual, can most definitely change a man for the worse.

("Cloud," Rufus spoke to him from behind his desk back home, age lines beginning to become more prominent on his features with each passing year. "Death is a scary concept to the young, especially to those that have barely started living. For the elderly and diseased, death is an old friend that has come to take you away from the pain, from your misery, a release, to be free from your broken body. I too once feared death, so much so that I struggled to make my place in this world. I didn't see it as a release. I saw it as defeat and I was hardwired to do whatever I could to rise to the top. Now, I fear death for a different reason, but that's the way of how one's view and age gets to oneself.")

It hadn't helped that the degradation played a mental influence on the individual.

Fortunately, the cure for the degradation had been created long ago back in Cloud's timeline. It was only with the survivors of DeepGround that it had been procured, enhanced, and perfected. It was also where Genesis had given his genes over originally to create the DeepGround SOLDIERs and Tsviets (sadly nothing could be done regarding the mako dependence). Unfortunately, it was far too late to help those that had once suffered from its fate, dead and gone from the world.

Ironically, from research, degradation wasn't too far off from Geostigma, similar enough in its way of handling, except one went into the genetics than on the surface. Degradation caused the body to age rapidly while Geostigma made the defenses of the body weaken to there was nothing left. For both, illnesses were the main cause of death. There was no defense left to fight and so the infected individual fell.

No one here in this timeline knew the cure.

Except Rufus himself.

The man had memorized the details, the workings of the influences, the materials required. He was no scientist, but he had learned. He had done so in the hopes of saving Cloud from himself one day if he was to be effected by something similar and if the world was once more attacked by Sephiroth from the other side of the Lifestream. However, just because Rufus knew it, doesn't mean he knew how to put it together. He was a fighter, a manipulator, a businessman, an assassin. He was anything but a scientist. He couldn't just put two and two together to form something out of nowhere. There needed to be someone else to take the job, that could make the cure a reality, and finding that said someone was the most difficult part.

ShinRa's scientists are too corrupted to be trusted with anything.

So for now, until Genesis began to show signs, Cloud would leave the entire process to Rufus himself, trusting his half-brother to complete the daunting assignment. Besides, Rufus was probably the only one that could get around ShinRa unnoticed at this point. Cloud was just barely good enough to avoid attention, but Turks could disappear into the heavy crowds, even with their apparent clothes and outlandish features, and never be seen again unless they wished to.

Cloud's main job was to watch over the three Firsts, improve their relationship amongst each other, produce trouble for the science department, and stabilize the military might of ShinRa.

So when Cloud saw a mission containing Genesis and a request for four additional SOLDIERs to be added to the roster, he placed his fake name on the list. It was a battle group of five, a mission out in Kalm to take care of a monster infestation that had been growing out in the fields, steadily closing on the farms. Such a detail wasn't enough to require multiple SOLDIERs to be deployed. However, the monsters, mutated by mako, had originally been from a different area, traveling closer to human populations to scavenge for food, and becoming a menace the regular army couldn't handle. After all, mako enhanced monsters could be unpredictable. Still, despite the monster activity, it wouldn't require a First to appear, especially not the Commander, but ShinRa desired insurances and positive publicity.

Located near the hanger area and gathering into a single vertical line before Genesis, they received their mission status. It wasn't anything new, just directions and precautions everyone has heard before. During the process, Cloud kept his attention focused on the red head leader, carefully examining him over. Seeing the vibrant man in person was different compared to Zack's memories and any video clips he procured. These short moments of watching Genesis lead, Cloud could see he was passionate, someone who loved people far too deeply, and, the way he went about, in that obnoxious flare, just gave it away. Still, despite the Commander's peculiarity, the blond could tell he was competent and reliable when it came to getting the job done.

Of course, there was still that scorching temper of his. Genesis's rage was well-known amongst ShinRa, a blazing fury that, once started, would burn everything to ashes if allowed. It was that very reason why he was feared, never allowed to train platoons or cadets or even attend meetings. Everyone just knew better and, compared to the other SOLDIERs, Genesis was considered a wild card, whose actions each and every day was different compared to the last.

However, Cloud honestly didn't mind it. There were always faults in people, him being no different and neither was Rufus. No one was perfect and no one would ever be. It was what made each and every person an individual and not a replica.

Cloud almost smiled as the group gathered into their commissioned vehicle for Kalm, reflecting on reports regarding incidences containing Genesis.

Who knew the Commander despised idiots?

The trip to the identified area had been short at best, no one really speaking up. It was silent, filled only by the motor of the van. One of the five men was driving, Genesis in the front passenger seat with his leather book out before him. The last three, Cloud included, were in the back two rows, physically keeping apart as comfortable as possible.

About halfway into the silence, Genesis began to recite lines from LOVELESS to fill the silence and, despite a few obviously holding in their groans of annoyance, no one dared to speak up regarding it. Cloud, on the other hand, didn't mind, tuning it out, and eventually closed his eyes to get an extra hour of rest. As he listened to the Commander's voice in the background, droning on, the blond actually found it quite soothing. It was...nice. Not too high or too low, just the ideal pitch. It was like someone was reading a bedtime story to a child. Before he knew it, Cloud had actually fallen asleep, leaning against the neck piece.

"Even if the morrow is barren of promises, nothing shall forestall my return. To become the dew that quenches the land, to spare the sands, the seas, the skies, I offer thee this silent sacrifice."

As those last words of the poem slipped through Genesis' lips, the red leather book loudly snapped shut, startling Cloud from his slumber. He blinked blearily, refocusing his attention on his surroundings, and tried to push the remaining threads of doziness from his body, identifying that he wasn't the only one that had fallen asleep during the ride. Cloud sighed, stretching awkwardly in the confined space, and leaned over into the middle of the row to look out the front. They were almost at their destination, Kalm already appearing in the distance.

Hopefully, today wouldn't turn out too bad.


The battle with the horde of monsters was simple, much like his encounter with Sephiroth's. This time, however, all SOLDIERs worked on their own, taking care of their individual set of beasts. Genesis remained close to the center, keeping a sharp wary eye on everyone, while throwing a firaga blast whenever one of the creatures managed to sneak up on one of the men or a cure whenever someone got injured. Cloud kept himself out of the way, effortlessly gliding through the arrangement, cutting down any monsters that stood in his path. He was light on his feet, dodging one side to another. Never once was he hit, leaping out of range before dashing right back into the fray with his blades ready for the kill.

However, sometime during the fight, Cloud spotted an odd action out of the corner of his eyes, something that disturbed him greatly. Shifting his stance just faintly, he kept a sharp eye out for the SOLDIER beside him, who was currently fighting off one of the large chimeras. Cloud knew enough about the creatures to have memorized all of its capabilities (having hunted them for many years), from the snake tail to the lion head.

The SOLDIER was struggling against his own, held currently at bay by the chimera's three frontal heads, dodging and blocking its razor-sharp teeth and claws. It was evident he wasn't familiar with the monster and soon made a mistake, bringing that sensation in the pit of Cloud's stomach true. The SOLDIER had forgotten about the chimera's snake tail that could cast status spells and Cloud could make out the emerging enchantment: slow.

Killing off his own batch of monsters, the Director spun around and sprinted over to the man's side in mere seconds. "Watch the tail! It can cast status elements!" Cloud called out as he cut through the snake from behind, using the in-fighting as a distraction to sneak up, and listened briefly as the chimera roared in rage, immediately revolving towards him. Hopping back to dodge the incoming attack, Cloud swiveled about the next two strikes fluently as he made way back to his side of the field.

The SOLDIER, surprised by the sudden reinforcement, was grateful. "Thanks!" During the chimera's distraction with Cloud, he sliced through two of the three heads, rounding the frantic creature's focus.

Seeing as the man he rescued would be fine, the Director concentrated once more on his own task.

A minute later, the battle was over as Genesis cast a final show of magic, wiping out the final three monsters, but no one relaxed, still pulsing high on adrenaline with their weapons at their sides. Cloud scrutinized around, discerning for any remaining life-force in the distance, but found the surrounding areas completely voided. Sighing, he sheathed his weapons behind his back.

Slowly, the rest of the men followed, even Genesis, who took the lead heading back to town. Among the group, only the Commander and Cloud looked unfazed, barely out of breath by the fight and kept towards the front as the rest of the team began to lag. The walk back to town was silent, everyone on guard despite the danger being gone.

Taking that time, since the two of them had become somewhat isolated from the rest of the group, the blond observed the Commander once more as they marched and almost smiled. Cloud had been correct in his original deduction. The man was confident, flamboyantly so, but he had the skills and power to back up that buoyancy. Besides Sephiroth, Genesis was the second most power individual amongst SOLDIER, preferring to battle with a combination of swordplay and materia. He was a quick and deadly on his feet, striking areas most normally wouldn't be able to reach.

Suddenly, Genesis, who had been ahead of the group, slowed in his steps, enough so that Cloud almost bypassed him. The blond blinked curiously, taking leisure steps, just enough that he was standing beside the Commander.

Genesis took one look at Cloud, eyebrows raised, before giving a charmed snort. "I take it you're Fenrir?"

The Director blinked, not expecting the instantaneous recognition. He was the least likely person to be remembered on the rooster among the other three that had joined, despite knowing the evident fact his hair made him conspicuous. "Um, yes, that's me, Sir."

The red head hummed before turning his attention away towards the caves in the distance where the monsters had been located before back to the road towards town. "You went on a mission with Sephiroth recently."

Ah, so that's how Genesis knew about him. Sephiroth must have mentioned him to the others or saw his name on the mission roster. From the sound of it, probably both. "That's right, Sir."

"He wasn't kidding when he said that you're hard to miss, especially with chocobo hair like that." Those blue-green eyes mischievously twinkled as they drifted towards Cloud's back where the twin blades were located. "Or with those weapons. There aren't many around that duel-wield."

The Director snorted, "You've been gossiping, Sir."

The remark was teasing at best, hidden in the undertones, but Genesis decoded it, if the faint twitch of his lips was any indication to that. "Sephiroth also mentioned that you had no qualms on talking back either."

Cloud smiled, "That depends on one's point of view."

Had he really talked back? Cloud didn't quite remember saying anything that would be considered, but, well, he had never been good at following orders and, in the end, it didn't matter. Though, he didn't enjoy the fact the three Firsts' attention was focusing so intently on him during his undercover mission.

"Oh?" Genesis, clearly amused, tilted his head back. "And here, you've sparked some interest in our infamous icy General, enough so that he's been keeping an eye out for you. Some congratulations are in order."

More teasing, Cloud could literally feel and hear it. "I have done absolutely nothing. He just looked bored when I was sitting next to him so we talked." More like lonely. Sephiroth appeared like he was being isolated while everyone surrounded him, fallen vehemently into the role as leader, a role the man didn't want, but was forced to upkeep because of ShinRa.

The Commander hummed, honestly not believing Cloud. "Bored, huh." His eyes meticulously examined over the blond, drifting lightheartedly over the man's physical appearance. The Director was small in size compared to the regular men they recruited into SOLDIER, but his skills and mental capabilities clearly made up the difference. Still, there was a sense of mystery with this one, one Genesis couldn't quite put a finger on. Sephiroth hadn't been kidding when he said the man was a mix between a SOLDIER and Turk.

"Tell me, SOLDIER, what's your dream?" Genesis was mildly curious, hoping to gather more intel on this person. Most of the men he had met, he could immediately figure them out. Their ideals had been all the same: to be First class, to be a hero, to be the best, and the list goes on. It was silly, even though it had facilitated people towards a path of their choosing, had given them that beneficial tug to keep working.

For a moment, Cloud looked positively confused. He hadn't expected such a question from the red head, more from Angeal. "My dream?"

Did he really have a dream?

No, not really.

Sure, Cloud wanted to save those that had died once long ago, but that was it. There was nothing else. What was there to dream at this point in time? Everyone would just continue to age once more and he would be back to where he was previously at, watching all those he loved grow old and die.

There was no purpose.

Then what about Rufus?

What was Rufus's dream?

Cloud mentally smirked. Oh, he knew it. He knew his brother far too well after all these years. Rufus didn't want power, no, he had given that up. Instead, his brother wanted a place to belong, to prevent the tragedies of those he didn't want to go, and a place where Cloud no longer needed to hide. Rufus didn't require much anymore, having grown out of the power hungry phase, and they both knew that.

("Rufus," Cloud called out, stepping into the office his brother had been hiding in the last few hours. They had just started the process of getting Cloud his own place. "What do you plan on doing with ShinRa?"

Rufus peered at his younger sibling curiously, gazing inquisitively for a moment, before he rotated back to peer outside his large office windows. He wasn't used to such large quarters anymore, much less such expensive tastes. He had gotten accustomed to the lesser things, the simple delights, thanks to Cloud and Tseng. Such grand scale left him feeling too small. "Do you mean now or after?"

"You know what I mean."

"So, after then. After everything has been settled and fixed." Rufus smirked, able to spot Cloud rolling his eyes in the reflection. "To be perfectly honest, I'm not...entirely sure. I wasn't unhappy with our previous life. I enjoyed my work and I know you didn't mind it too, despite your annoyance in certain assignments. After all, your morals never allowed you to stray too far, a good feature to have. Mine, however..." Fascinated with his brief thoughts, Rufus snorted. "Well, you already know about them. I have no issues in dirtying my hands for the benefit of others."

"I know." Cloud stepped closer, rounding to Rufus' right side, not minding the last comment. "And you use me to be your moral sense of right and wrong and I'm perfectly fine with that. Back home, we were free in a way, free from expectations, free from the past, free from those that haunted us. Just...free."

"Yes, free." Rufus sighed, shoulders slumping slightly. "And here we are, chaining ourselves back up." He tilted towards his brother, letting the bright lights shadow across his face. "We're back to where we started, working for a company that destroyed us both, that took our lives. How ironic." There was a pause, just a moment to let the silence slip in before it was gone. "Still, there's no doubt that the best place to make such changes would be right here. If we want to change the future, to make a place that we can call our own, then we'll have to change the company itself. And then afterwards... Afterwards..."

Rufus trailed off. He couldn't give an answer to that. He had never bothered thinking beyond completing his work, his new mission. He didn't even want to think about it. He would have completed everything he had ever wanted to do, all those what-ifs in the back of his mind that had haunted him in the previous timeline. But he would still remain chained to the company in the end, placed underneath his father's thumb. It wasn't like he could just leave, not if his plans came to fruition. That freedom he once strived for would never return, and for what? To keep him trapped in a relentless system? To keep him enclosed and controlled?

And he had readily dragged Cloud into this retched mess with him.

But, if it gave Cloud a place to live without fear...

Well, that didn't sound too bad for the price of his own livelihood.

Cloud rolled his eyes, as if already seeing Rufus' mental thought process and nudged the man on the shoulder. "You're an idiot, Brother. I'll follow you wherever you go. If you wish to step into Hell, I'll be right beside you the entire way."

Rufus laughed, his mind lightheartedly blissful, and pressed his body a little closer against his brother. "I know you will."

"I'm not a Turk. I follow you because I love you and I know you'll do the exact same for me."

"That, I will.")

"My dream, huh. Don't know." Cloud wistfully glanced away towards the distance and hummed gently to himself before continuing, "Or more like, I don't really have one."

Genesis raised an eyebrow up, unquestionably surprised. Everyone had a dream, even him. He wanted to be a hero, the hero that everyone would look up to, one that everyone would remember. He wanted that role so desperately, but Sephiroth... Sephiroth, of all people, had taken that place, that position, and one day, Genesis would strip his rival of that title. Still, turning back to the blond, the one who apparently doesn't have a dream, Genesis examined the male further. "Everyone has a dream, especially when joining SOLDIER."

Cloud shook his head, denying such a motion. "Perhaps long ago when I first stepped into ShinRa, but I no longer remember it and there's no point of doing so. I was childish and stupid, thinking I could fit the entire world into the palm of my hand, that I could get the recognition I deserved." A flash of pain flickered through his eyes before it was gone. "But I deserved nothing and so, received nothing."

Genesis wasn't certain what type of conversation he had wandered into. He had expected one of the usual arguments pertaining to ShinRa, not a depressing cynical man. Taking that fleeting reveal from the blond, he poked further into the story. "You wanted to make something of yourself?"

"Maybe, but it matters little now. I don't really have anyone worth fighting for, not really." Yes, he could fight for Rufus, but in all honesty, the man could perfectly defend himself. He didn't need Cloud to battle for him or to act as his shield, that's what the Turks are for. No, Rufus was willing to step into the front lines and set fire to his enemies himself, to take the mark and pull the trigger.

As for Cloud, he was fighting for what? For the people he didn't want to be killed? To keep Sephiroth from falling into the deep end? He never really wanted to do any of that. He wanted nothing. He wanted none of the decisions, none of the responsibilities, and none of the assertion.

And so, he left everything to Rufus. He would play his part, his role, because his brother had told him to, and that would be it. And Cloud would play it well.

The blond glanced backwards at the other three SOLDIERs behind him, wondering if they were listening in. Sighing, he spun back to Genesis. "What is your dream, Commander?"

At this, the red head smirked, clearly amused. It was a change in topic, but he allowed it, storing the information away for later use. Having a slight skip in his step, Genesis jumped dramatically over a large rock that was in his path. "To be a hero, of course."

"A hero, huh?" Cloud should have known. Almost everyone wanted to be a hero, especially those involved in ShinRa's military, and many for the wrong reasons. And yet, they never realized how stupid of a dream it truly was. There was no hero here, only despair and madness in its wake. A hero, a true hero, was one that sacrificed everything, that lost everything. "If you don't mind me being frank, it sounds like a fucking pain."

Genesis immediately froze, his blue-green eyes snapping at the blond, and hissed. "What?"

Cloud almost rolled his eyes, but kept his facial expressions impassive. "I honestly don't want to be anything like that. Sounds more troublesome than not."

This time, there was a sneer in Genesis' tone, clearly upset at his dream being disregarded so bluntly. "And why do you think that?"

"Aren't heroes made from tragedy? From loss? From devastation?" Cloud started, continuing ahead despite the Commander having fallen beside him. The anger in those features was still prominent, but the man was listening. The three SOLDIERs had immediately fallen farther behind, not wanting to get involved with a noticeably angry Genesis after recognizing the red head's current mood. Everyone knew what would happen if he blew up. "Why would I want to sacrifice everything I love and care about to become a hero?"

Cloud knew he was correct. He had experienced it personally and he despised the title. It was his very own personal hell, filled with nothing but loss and despair, reminders of where he failed and whose sacrifices he had to step over.

Plus, there was also the other side of the coin to take into consideration.

"And then once you reach the top, when you get declared as the hero, where else can you go? You can't go any higher on a mountain, no matter how much you wish. There is simply nowhere else to go. So, if you can no longer climb, then you must go back down. After all, as the saying goes: 'what goes up, must come down.' And once you start the decent, can you really stop the process?"

Genesis stared. He had heard from Sephiroth that the blond was interesting, but shit, he hadn't expected this. The man was jaded as hell...but had a lot of common sense and wisdom hidden in those all-too-bright eyes. This man was speaking from experience. The blond had personally seen a hero fall, come crashing down into the pit of darkness, and swallowed whole.

But, where had he gained this experience?

No doubt, the Commander was inquisitive. He had been angry at first, but now, it was slowly washing away, revealing nothing but keen curiosity. Genesis asked the question that was presently disturbing him the most. "And at the bottom, what shall happen to this hero?"

Cloud sighed, a far off look in his eyes. "What else can a hero become but a villain. A monster. A demon. Alone, bitter, and resentful. You'll hate those that had pulled you down. Then you'll hate those that surround you. You'll look at them and despise their happiness, their contentment, their way of ignoring all that's happened. You'll hate them. You'll hate your friends that should have supported you even though they have since the beginning. You'll hate the people that had placed you so far up. You'll hate your family that should have saved you even though you drove them away in your bitterness." He paused for a moment, reflecting back on memories.

Sephiroth was a pitiful person, but he made his choices and he would have to live with them to the very end. It was sad that the silver-haired General had no true friends to come to his aid, to push him towards a better path, and ultimately, fell into the hands of a puppeteer, Hojo's, that had been controlling him all his life and, then eventually, Jenova's. Sephiroth called him, Cloud, a puppet, but who was the true puppet? Whose strings were always being tugged in the background? His? Or Sephiroth's?

Cloud pulled away from his thoughts to resume. "And then, you'll hate everything and will want nothing more than to watch the world burn for doing this to you, for corrupting you, for destroying you. Eventually, someone will rise up to cut you down, to put you out of your misery. And, now, that person has gained the title of hero, for putting a stop to the villain that once was. And the cycle begins again, over and over till the end of time."

Cloud had been lucky to avoid that fate. He had vanished once he realized things were turning for the worse, disappearing into the darkness to never be seen again for years, and it hadn't helped that he had stopped aging. It was those very reasons why he remained hidden with Rufus, under his brother's protection, under the Turk's protection. He knew very well that he would eventually be turned against by the populace, that he could very well become Sephiroth. He didn't want that, he wanted none of it, and so he hid.

And ran.

Genesis stared, carefully trotting over the rugged environment. They were almost to Kalm, able to pick out the voices of the townspeople with his enhancements. He didn't speak up at first, still mentally calculating the man before him.

"My friend, the fates are cruel. There are no dreams, no honor remains." The Commander smirked, pleased by his little talk with the blond. He had been upset at the beginning, but Cloud had explained himself and well... Genesis had seen what the other was talking about (mostly in drama shows, but there was a truth to it). How amusing. "Sephiroth wasn't kidding when he said you had quite the insight. I think I'll be keeping an eye out for you as well, Fenrir."

No one spoke for the rest of the trip and back to Midgar.


There were days where Cloud simply strolled aimlessly through the hallways SOLDIERs dwelled in, mindlessly wandering to keep himself busy when there was no missions or paperwork to complete (with his absolute avoidance to help Rufus with his stacks of paper nightmares). It helped keep his mind focused and it allowed him to become familiar with everyday things his men faced.

SOLDIERs are mainly housed in a separate building, interconnected to the main ShinRa Corporation like many of the employees that don't live on the plate sectors. Due to their enhancements, SOLDIERs couldn't quite integrate with the rest of the population of Midgar (unless they wanted to) without there being issues or complaints. Their apartments required strengthened doors, thick walls, and metal framings in all construction. They are destructive even when accidentally. There was also the enhanced hearing to take into consideration as Midgar was never known to be silent.

Among the main ShinRa building, there were five common floors for all classes. It contained some of the equipment, storage, and relaxation areas. For food, SOLDIERs were required to either make or buy their own or head to the cafeteria.

In the various ShinRa complexes that wrapped around a third of the tower, most Thirds shared apartments with three others, their numbers vast in collection, and in order to compensate for the lack of available spaces. There were generally twelve apartments on each floor for the Thirds, more than enough to compensate. Seconds had just one roommate, their numbers almost half of the Thirds. First class, however, lived in their own individual studios, four to five fitting on one singular floor. There weren't many in total, ranging between fifteen to twenty rooms, and there were still two open floors available, empty of human life.

Cloud, of course, wanted to stay close with his men and not reside in the main tower. Various Turks (who didn't have their own places or needed to be continuously close by for emergencies) stayed near the SOLDIERs with the higher ups, like the Directors and special individuals. In a way, it was extra security. Anyone that wanted to attack the higher ups would have to go through an army before getting anywhere. Of course, some of the Department Heads and even the President himself slept in the main ShinRa building, something Cloud wanted to avoid at all costs. He didn't mind his work, but he didn't want to be married to it. Other lower workers like custodians, cooks, and those that couldn't afford their own places, were located in a separate area.

Rufus, not minding his wishes, secured Cloud one of the apartments for Directors, but was remote from the rest of his fellow coworkers. Obviously, Rufus planned on moving out from his suite in the main building as well, wanting to be closer to his Turks and having every intention of residing beside Cloud. He was no longer the Vice President and, as such, held no sway over the room any longer despite his blood relation with the President (Cloud had a feeling that Rufus wanted to move away from his past self who had once lived there). Lazard, of course, didn't take that suite, remaining where he was previously at.

With enough boredom, Cloud took two more single day missions, mainly around Midgar, to keep himself busy. It helped him get to know another variety of men he never usually bothered with and it gave him insight on exactly how the people of Midgar treated SOLDIERs. As he expected, the upper plates had no problem with them, instead edging closer in hopes of catching their attention. There was a variety of reasons, many of which were their popularity and the people's hope of gaining a good life in their connection with ShinRa. The slums, however, was the complete opposite, avoiding them entirely and cursing them from afar. Cloud, knowing this would happen, paid no mind to the diverse comments and stares. As long as they didn't attempt to move closer to attack, nothing happened.

Still, it was a shame there was such a vast amount of hate, and yet, he couldn't blame them either. ShinRa was the one keeping them in poverty, stealing away the sun, but the company was also the best bet in getting out.

Sometimes, when Cloud wandered through Sector Five, he would catch a glimpse of Aerith before turning away. To see her so young, content, and innocent, Cloud wouldn't dare get her involved in his mess.

One day, he found a man huddled in a dark vacant classroom. Cloud had just barely picked up the muffled sounds with his enhancements, drowned out by the constant voices of various men in the surrounding area. Still, it was there and he focused intently on it until he found the source buried in the darkness.

"What are you doing?" Cloud called out, easily distinguishing through the shadows to identify the individual despite the lack of light. The man, bundled in the corner, jerked at his voice and the sudden brightness of the outside hallway lights, glowing eyes snapping up from underneath his arms. Stepping inside, Cloud closed the door behind him.

The individual didn't move and Cloud could feel those eyes observing his every action. Carefully, he edged around the room, making sure to not trip over the left-out wires, before he was standing in front.

Attempting to break the tension, the Director said the first thing that came to mind, "Hello."

Cloud didn't need to see the man's face to sense his confusion. There was a long silence, filled with hesitation, before the man decisively replied. "H-Hello?"

Lips twitching in amusement, the blond carefully eased himself down against the wall, settling beside the other. "My name is Fenrir. What's yours?"

"L-Louis."

Cloud nodded to that. "Well then, Louis, can you tell me why you're here in the darkness of an abandoned room?" The man didn't answer and Cloud hadn't expected him to. "Are you hiding?" Still, no answer. "Are you hurt?"

This time, he got something. Louis shook his head, "No."

Cloud almost wanted to smirk. At last, some progress. "Good. How long have you been in SOLDIER?"

Louis was still emitting uncertainty, but continued to answer the harmless questions. "Two years."

"Second or Third Class?"

"Second."

"Same."

Louis perked up slightly at that admission, peering over to get a better look of the blond that had persistently joined him. "I don't recognize you."

"That's because I'm never here." Cloud admitted. The lies were getting easier now, not that it mattered much in the end. His whole position here in the company was a lie fabricated by Rufus and Tseng. "Are you strong?"

The SOLDIER was baffled by the random questions, eyebrow furrowed underneath his bangs. "I...guess?"

Cloud huffed, "That's either a 'yes' or 'no' question. 'Yes', you're strong. Or 'no', you're weak." Before the man could answer, he continued. "If you say 'yes', then why are you here on the ground and not out there, fighting? And if you say 'no', then why aren't you pushing yourself to get stronger so that you'll never be in this spot ever again?"

Louis stared, letting those thoughts settle. "I...I'm strong."

"That's good to hear." Well, Cloud got an answer at the very least. Observing the male a little longer, he promptly recognized the signs of what the other was suffering through. It wasn't difficult to do so since, once long ago, he had been in the exact same position, back when he had been a trooper. "So then, if there's something or someone who is bothering you, you should fight them. I know, it's hard to stand up for something that sometimes isn't worth the effort, but it is. This is about you, not them, not anyone else. You need to protect yourself. Do you have anyone you want to protect?"

Louis was slowly gaining confidence as they spoke, pulling away from his huddled mess, and leaned back against the wall as he relaxed. "I... Yeah, my girlfriend."

Ah, prefect. The man had someone to love and care for. That was always good. Cloud smiled at the idea of young love. Sadly for him, love just never truly worked out for him and Rufus was in the exact same position. Neither of them had truly found anyone they could come to care for, not with Cloud's eternal condition and Rufus' background/position.

For a good long while, Cloud had considered Vincent Valentine as a love interest, but things just never sparked. Cloud was busy with Rufus and the Turks while Vincent... Vincent just wanted to be left alone, hiding somewhere in the world. It wasn't something Cloud wanted for his old friend (he had seen what isolation did to people, him included), but he couldn't force someone to move from their set ways. Regardless, Cloud was confident that even if they didn't truly care for each other as lovers, they could at least find peace and acceptance amongst themselves, with no amount of hesitation, rejection, and/or fear.

Cloud knew Rufus had looked at his fellow Turks, people that were similar to him, who wouldn't mind his profession. But, well, things just never worked out... There was always something happening and hesitation when things were peaceful.

Shaking his head and pulling away from his internal thoughts, his blue eyes glanced back at Louis, focusing on the conversation. "Well then, if you're not at your best, how can you protect her when the time comes? Or will you be too weak to do anything but watch?"

It seemed those words burned a strong connection within the man, tensing up at the thought of someone actually hurting the person he loved. It was then that Louis narrowed his eyebrows out of aggravation, biting down on his bottom lip as his eyes glanced back and forth across the ground. "Oh..." Louis finally eyed the blond once more, slowly nodding his head. "I think I get what you mean."

"Good to hear. So, what are you going to do?"

"I have to fight, right?"

"Yes."

"But Director Lazard-"

Cloud cut him off. "Don't worry about the Director. There's going to be a new one and during the confusion, you can do whatever you like." He paused for a moment, realizing his words could undoubtedly be taken the wrong way. "Just don't take it too far please. I doubt you'd like to get on the new Director's bad side. And don't be afraid to run away and get help when things get life-threatening. It's better to live another day than to not and sometimes, being a coward takes more bravery than running blindly into a battlefield."

Louis just smiled, understanding. "Thanks for the...help."

Cloud simply gave a shrug, rising to stand up. He had to be the first to leave, giving the SOLDIER adequate amount of time to ponder through his words. The rest was left to him. "See you later, Louis. Hope it goes well." The SOLDIER didn't reply, simply watching as Cloud went around the room towards the front door.

As the Director stepped outside, he sighed. He was beginning to find trouble wherever he went and it was starting to get a little frustrating. Why couldn't SOLDIER be together as one then separate?

Cloud snorted at the question. Well, it wasn't surprising considering the state of ShinRa and that it was the very nature of people in general. Nothing can be perfect and nothing would ever be.

Still, why did it feel like he was falling into a therapist role for his men?

He really hoped that not everyone had issues to work through...

Cloud mentally groaned.


"Are you sure about this?"

Rufus nearly sighed, glancing up as he watched Lazard enter his work quarters. The man had barely stepped inside and was already asking about things. He huffed, "What? No 'Hello? How are you?'"

Lazard didn't respond to the taunt, pulling out one of the various chairs, and took a seat before Rufus' desk. Various Turks were quietly working outside, the door closed shut to prevent them from eavesdropping. It was after hours, and yet, there was still plenty of work to be finished since Rufus' so-called demotion. The eldest stared, noticing that Rufus was observing him underneath those blond bangs, and reluctantly sighed. When had Rufus gotten so mature and knowing? Lazard grumbled, "Fine. Hello, brother. Is that better?"

"Your sarcasm needs serious work." Rufus stabbed a pen towards the eldest. "But, whatever. However can I help you?"

"It's about your plan."

Of course, it is. The younger blond simply shrugged his shoulders, pushing a few documents around. All the secretive ones were already hidden in his drawers or shredded. The ones he had now before him regarded budgeting and it didn't matter who saw those. It wasn't like it was some special secret when any department could easily pull them up on the computer. The only thing about the Turks was that their main office location had to be an absolute secret from the rest of ShinRa (too many secrets buried in their very cabinets). Only a small handful, along with the higher-ups, knew the general location and there was always someone in the office at all times. There was another facility that all Turks could privately train in, but that location was known only to the Turks themselves (and Cloud now).

Rufus responded without skipping a beat, signing his name on the bottom of a sheet. "What about my plan?"

"Are you sure this plan will...work?" Lazard was already starting to feel off. It wasn't that he didn't enjoy his new position, already learning the ropes of being Vice President, but all the changes that would follow... That was the part he was uncertain of. He could already tell that Cloud was loyal to Rufus and Lazard honestly saw the man becoming a great leader to the SOLDIERs. The youngest brother had an astonishing charm about him that could sway people. It was similar to Sephiroth at times and it was almost effortlessly. However, unlike Sephiroth, Cloud didn't have such a standoffish profile. He appeared more...approachable compared to the silver-haired General and there was definitely something that shined in his eyes that spoke of kindness. Lazard shook his head, pushing those thoughts aside as he focused on his middle sibling. "Are you sure that everything will turn out alright?"

Rufus huffed, finally putting down his pen. "Listen. Plans are plans. Nothing ever follows completely by the dotted line. Things happen, things always happen. That's life." Especially anything involving Cloud Strife in particular, who had some of the weirdest luck of them all. And then, there's him, Rufus Shinra, whose luck had been cursed since birth. "I always accommodate for such changes and work around when things unravel. It's normal if something happened. I'd be more scared if nothing did."

The eldest sighed. "Perhaps, I'm afraid that this might backfire on us." It was terrifying. Despite knowing that this plan was long-term, sometimes Lazard wanted immediate results. As a man that knew how things worked, plans could never happen too hurriedly. Rufus was providing a foundation, a steady one, but time was time. "Maybe I just wanted things to happen immediately."

"Don't we all. But we can't rush anything. Rushing leads to mistakes and multiple inconveniences."

"I realize that. I'm just uncertain with everything. I'm grateful for my new position of power and the ability to keep an eye on certain matters. I'm making small changes to the company, tiny and unnoticed, but it's there."

"And small things will slowly build up into bigger ones." Rufus answered, picking up his pen once more. "It's normal. Get the company used to the idea before implementing larger changes. Less resistance. Less backfire. That's how things work."

It wasn't something Rufus had learned about until later on in life, too used to getting his way back when he had been both Vice President and then later on, President. When forcing something large, there would always be resistance and arguments. Slowly tugging things along had people getting used to the idea instead and they would eventually go along when Rufus began pushing for bigger changes.

Rufus leaned back against his chair, legs folded underneath the desk, while he twirled his pen aimlessly in one hand. "You're hesitating now. Afraid of whatever future you're heading towards, too used to simply working the same old routine with the SOLDIERs. Now that you've been given freedom you've never experienced before, you don't know what to do with it."

Lazard blinked. How had Rufus found out?

"So, do what you always do. Learn, work around things you're not certain about, and continue on. You didn't become the Director of SOLDIER at your age just because you wanted the position."

The eldest snorted, shaking his head soon after. If this was Rufus' way of cheering him up, it was odd at best, but working. Just because there were changes, it didn't mean it was the end. He would have to work, like he always had. Relaxing, Lazard smiled. "Sometimes, I question you, Rufus. Ever since I met you long ago, you've never been the most honest or outgoing person, even during those meetings between the Department Heads."

Rufus knew his brother was talking about the previous version. "Things change, things happen. Cloud was a good influence on me. Helped me figure out some shit in my life."

"Cloud, huh?" Lazard could see it, he really could. The youngest brother of the three had a gravitational effect with him, but that same sensation belonged to Rufus too, the younger brothers gaining acceptance from all those around them. Lazard could see these two individuals working together to bring their proposed plan into fruitarian.

Rufus huffed. "I'll give you a warning in advance. Cloud has some of the most shittest luck I have ever seen. If there's trouble, sure as hell he'll be involved or it'll occur in the most speculator way. However," Rufus paused, reflecting on his memories from the past. "He's also has the best luck in getting out of said trouble, that it'll all go away. When he's involved, things just...work out." And really, it did. Rufus had given up on understanding that logic involving Cloud, as did the rest of the Turks in his timeline. There was no point in trying to define it. It was just easier to go with the flow. "So you don't have to worry about him. Or me, while we're at it. Focus on yourself and your job. Leave everything else to myself and Cloud. We got things covered on our side."

The eldest smiled. "Thank you." It was strange how independent and reliable Rufus was. It was a large shift from one end to another and Lazard loved it. He had never been this close to anyone before besides his mother, not his friends, not anyone. Now, he had someone that he wanted to get closer to, to learn about, to actually know.

"How's the Vice President position treating you anyway?"

Lazard knew it was a topic change, but he went with it. "It's busy work, but your secretary, Celestia, helps out quite often. She's very efficient. Apparently, she was only hired about three months ago. Heard your last one kept flirting with you more so than actually doing her work."

Rufus glanced up at that. Three months ago? He wouldn't remember that, but perhaps it was one of the many changes in this world. He had seen the woman a few times when passing by his old office and when he had started working there once more after waking up in this world, but there was never much of a conversation between the two of them. There was never any time, but she did her work and stayed out of the way. She was also too new to recognize any signs of difference between the two Rufus', which was actually quite convenient, and he suspected this was purposefully done. Regardless, that was all he needed at that time to get his work done. Mentally pushing those thoughts aside, he continued. "So, do you like being the second head boss?"

"I'm seeing all the idiots at play." The eldest couldn't help but grumble. He had to meet up regularly with the Department Heads, the Directors, and others, and that always resulted in a headache. He was keeping pain relievers regularly in his office and was almost popping them around the clock. Bless his secretary, Celestia, for giving him a helping hand in all his paperwork, for turning said idiots away, and keeping his caffeine steadily going. At least, there were a few people in the company that he could depend on to keep his troubles away, his brothers included. "Was ShinRa really this chaotic?"

"Yes."

Lazard glared.

Rufus just smirked in return, "And it's all yours now. Congratulations."

The eldest leaned displeasingly against his seat, tempted to pout. "I'm beginning to learn all sorts of new things from you. Never knew you had a sarcastic streak."

"Because no one gets close enough to notice. If I did say anything, only a few people would actually understand." Rufus huffed. "Watch out for Cloud though, he's just as bad, but more sassy." He almost snickered at a few memories that slipped through his mind, comments that had broken him into fits of laughter. The previous Tseng had fallen victim to them as well. Cloud never looked like one to say such comments and because of that, rarely anyone really realized that they had been insulted until much, much, later. Shaking his head, he let the topic drift again. "By the way, Lazard, you need to learn how to protect yourself."

The Vice President blinked, surprised. "Protect myself?"

"Yes." Rufus stressed. "We're going to be uprooting certain dangerous factors in the company. The plan I set out doesn't cover everything that will possibly occur, just long term changes." He had left out the science department that needed to be completely overturned, which would be the hardest and most treacherous part, but it wasn't impossible. Once Cloud settled into his position, it would truly begin. "So you need to know how to protect yourself. I plan on personally teaching you regarding guns and Cloud will get involved later with heavy blades. You don't have to use those, but at least know how to fight someone who does."

Lazard didn't respond to that.

"And while we're at it, you should come over more often for dinner. Cloud always cooks. Can't be ordering take-out every day and the cafeteria food here is shit."

The eldest snorted. He had come here with insecurities and ended up with a list of compliances for his half-siblings. He smiled. "Sure, no problem."

Chapter Text

The meager thought of seeing Zack alive and well once more had been something Cloud had struggled with, much like the idea of Sephiroth. He knew it was bound to happen, considering he had been trying to get closer towards the three Firsts and Zack was obviously interconnected with each and every one of them. Cloud's memories of the man were sometimes vague at best, but the sense of friendship and openness radiating from the man whenever reflecting back always made him feel welcomed. In the past, it was so hard to say 'no' to him, just the same as Aerith, but Cloud had grown older, reliable, and when he took one look at the teen, he sighed.

This Zack was young and inexperienced, lacking the maturity and knowledge of the world he had gained through the tragedy that had occurred in his later years. Hopefully, this Zack would never have to face such things ever again. Perhaps, with Cloud's interventions, the teen would get a better chance of life, one he never fell into the role of a sad science experiment left to be abandoned and rot out in the country side.

Still, that didn't mean it was going to be easy to deal with said immature hyperactive Zack that had yet to learn the harsh reality of the world, who wanted to strive to be the best he can. Since Zack was still a Third, currently under the mentorship of Angeal, they would be together at all times, which was fine in a way. This Zack, as Cloud watched from the sidelines, was overly energetic, radiating enormous amounts of energy, and was sometimes downright silly. He was a kid walking in a ruthless adult world, just waiting for someone to come along to trample him down under the heel of their shoes.

It was probably for that very reason Zack had caught the attention of Angeal and was placed under his protective mentorship, to keep the teen safe and leaning towards a straight pathway without negative outside influences.

On the other hand, Cloud wasn't sure on how he was supposed to react to Angeal, Zack's instructor and one of the three Firsts that had gone rogue, much like with the others. Cloud suspected it would be the same as the other two. This time, Cloud had the stable memories of the man from Zack, from before he had fallen, enough to give him an idea on the man's personality. Of course, Cloud still had the ones when Angeal had gone mad like the others. Still, he hoped Angeal wouldn't be a problem for the future.

"So, Fenrir."

The blond glanced up at Angeal, the man's physical appearance being exactly what ShinRa desired their SOLDIERs to look like, all muscles, all brawn. He towered over Cloud easily, but there was a hidden intelligence within those eyes. Angeal was smart, perhaps not like Genesis or Sephiroth or even among the Turks, but he knew his way about and had the ability to think on his feet. The man simply wanted to see the best in everything, unintentionally ignoring all the bad surrounding him at times, and that was one of his main weaknesses. It was much like how Zack was until the whole SOLDIER desertion, until he had to face his once mentor, kill him, and wield the harsh memory sealed into a single blade. Having to bear such a tragedy had waked Zack up to face the cold hard facts of life and the dark truth that was buried underneath the bright surfaces ShinRa had fashioned.

Cloud slowly nodded, agreeing to his fake name. He couldn't wait until he was able to shred his false identity. It was starting to get tiresome having to react to something he wasn't fond of. Next time, if he ever does any undercover work, he would come up with a better name. Well, if there was a next time. This was probably one of the many reasons he couldn't quite be a Turk. "Yes, I'm Fenrir." He paused, noticing the way Angeal's eyes never left him. "Is there something wrong, sir?"

Angeal gave a warm smile, shaking his head. "No, just curious. You've caused quite a stir amongst some of us."

"Oh..." Ah, he should have figured that was the reason. Genesis had done the exact same thing when they first met and Cloud had purposefully been avoiding all interactions with any of the Firsts. He couldn't allow any of them to figure out his true identity, not until that time in the future. So Cloud didn't reply, not wanting to cause any further questions.

His eyes glanced towards Zack, who was leading the way down one of the various pipelines that went around Midgar with two other SOLDIERs at his sides, the scientists they were escorting in between. Cloud knew Angeal had purposefully made this arrangement in order to speak to him, but he had done nothing to fight it. After all, he too was curious about the First.

Cloud almost smirked. "So, do you guys have nothing better to do than gossip?" It was a sly remark, one that bordered insubordination, but well, Cloud had never been good at following rules and neither was Rufus. It wasn't as if anyone could really touch him at this point.

The black-haired male raised an eyebrow, his lips twitching in amusement. He had already gotten the warning from both Genesis and Sephiroth, but to hear it was something else. "In a way. Can't talk about our jobs all the time, now can we?"

Cloud huffed, "And yet, it's still related."

"That's true." Angeal was really beginning to see what his friends had detected, not that it was hard. "You're not good at following protocol, are you?"

The blond stilled slightly for a second before pushing that sensation away. He had obviously not expected such a response, but he really shouldn't be surprised. He blinked, gazing up at the First. "Following commands?" Wasn't he already doing so? That's why he was here, right?

Angeal sighed, "Let me reword that. You're very blunt and it seems you have little to no military style commanding system ingrained into you through training. You know some, since you're following my orders and calling me 'sir' when appropriate, but you hold no hesitation when talking to your commanding officer."

They came up to a fork, the scientists before them pointing towards the right, towards the nest of monsters that had been troubling them during their own jobs. It was a monster extermination and escort mission all tangled into one. Cloud and Angeal remained behind, protecting the rear, while unbothered by the brief irritated conversations of the arguing group with the three SOLDIERs at the front.

"I was told that you're rarely here, which would explain some of your issues. That and we found in your profile that you have issues towards those higher than you."

Cloud smirked. The three of them were good, able to pick out certain consistencies in just two meetings, and then research him with his fake online profile. Of course, they had made the conclusions the blond wanted them to construct. "I must be some sort of interesting puzzle to you guys. A surprise when you should know most of your men under your command."

He didn't need to look beside him to know he was correct. The three Firsts kept an eye for such individuals that stood out amongst the crowd, always had, and he had appeared out of nowhere to them when he had apparently been in the system for 'years'.

"I'm not fit to play SOLDIER." Cloud started. "Never have been. Can't really follow orders to the 'dot' nor would I blindly follow commands I don't believe in. However, because of my...skills, ShinRa doesn't want to lose me to some competition."

"So they found a way to keep you." Angeal concluded. The blond was right. He didn't fit with the rest of the standard SOLDIERs and, at the same time, the same applied with the Turks. ShinRa wanted loyalty, people that would follow their every command and not second guess it. Only those that were higher up or held some importance to the company could do so or, at least, do so discreetly. However, Cloud currently didn't have neither of those.

Not yet anyway.

Cloud kept the smirk from slipping onto his lips. "They want me on their side. They want my skills so they made do with what I was willing to give them. The benefits outweighed the cons."

Angeal nodded, despite not getting the full answer he desired. There were always special cases, much like Sephiroth and the Turks. Sometimes, even he himself fell into that category. His eyes traveled to the front of the group, checking over each and every person before landing on Zack. His student is young, very young, and not knowledgeable beyond the inner workings to the company corruption.

"You're training Zack, correct?" Cloud suddenly brought up, shifting the conversation away from him. "What made you decide to teach?"

Angeal tilted his head, his two bangs sliding across his forehead. "Teach? Well, it's hard to say. I think I like getting the chance to impart my knowledge to a younger generation, to teach them how to defend themselves, to be strong and honorable. I don't want anyone taking a dark path if they don't have to."

"Hmm..." Cloud hummed gently. It was ironic, considering what had happened to the man in the end. "Not a bad notion. I've...never been good at such things. Could never really explain things that easily." Except for Rufus and Tseng, who figured him out and read him like an open book. Why teach or talk when the two already knew what he was going to say or do?

The black-haired man chuckled, "Yes, I wouldn't be surprised by that. Sephiroth has the same issues." Angeal wasn't extremely sure if he should be talking about the General so publicly like this, but well, he didn't want the world to think of him as some perfect being. Everyone has flaws, Sephiroth especially. "Genesis, surprisingly, would be a good teacher. Except he has a temper that tends to get the better of him."

Cloud could see that, he really could. "Genesis is easier to talk to."

"Oh?" That was surprising. Most feared the Red Mage, but it seemed that Cloud hadn't been deterred despite the various violent rumors...which were most likely all true.

"He's...personable. He looks and acts harsh, but you can tell he cares, that he'll look out for those under his command." Cloud found the words sliding out easily as he thought about the two said individuals. "He's approachable compared to Sephiroth..." Yes, if people compared the two, Genesis was more well liked within SOLDIER, regardless of what everyone thought otherwise. People only liked Sephiroth because of what the media portrayed him, of how supposedly perfect he is, and the power he contained within. "Genesis acts more human. He's easier to identify with compared to Sephiroth..."

Angeal stared. That...was an interesting portrayal of his friends and yet, it was incredibly accurate. He ignored the little fact that Cloud was speaking about the two strongest men in ShinRa so personally.

"Sephiroth may draw people in, grab their attention, may edge people to look up to him, but Genesis and even you, Angeal." Cloud glanced towards the honor-bound Commander, staring straight into those blue eyes. "You two inspire people. You raise them up from their delusions born from the media, from ShinRa, and give them something to strive for. You give them purpose and morals. Sephiroth may lend some help in those factors, but not much. He's that figure everyone knows is impossible to touch, to become, and many just simply don't realize it, too trapped in their own illusions."

Angeal snorted. "I'm beginning to see exactly why Sephiroth and Genesis are both interested in you." His eyes glanced forward, his enhanced hearing able to pick up the sounds of shuffling and growls further down the pipeline. They were finally reaching the nest of monsters that had been blocking the scientists' transit. "You're quite the remarkable individual."

Cloud raised an eyebrow, reaching automatically behind to grasp his twin sword handles. "Thanks?" He wasn't pleased with all this attention, but despite that, he had a job to complete and people to watch out for. Angeal took the lead, edging through the men clad in white to Zack's position, purposefully keeping an eye on his rumbustious student.

It was just another monster hunt at this point, even if it had some extra elements in the mix, one Cloud could conclude with his eyes closed shut.


Cloud wasn't certain how he got involved in such an outstanding fight. One moment, he had been hanging around Zack and Angeal, returning from their mission, and the next they were running towards one of the simulation rooms to stop a fight. However, upon seeing who exactly were fighting made him almost sigh in misery.

Of course, it would be Genesis and Sephiroth. Who else could it be?

Apparently, the little tidbit of information regarding the rivalry had momentarily left his mind, but what he saw before him wasn't anything that belonged to a simple rivalry. No, this was just hatred, pure unadulterated hatred, and all of it was rolling off of Genesis like waves. Sephiroth was, of course, indifferent towards the matter, unintentionally toying with the fiery red head whose temper was volatile, igniting it into a blaze.

Luckily, the simulation room hadn't been damaged just yet, considering they were using a replica of the ShinRa building, but Cloud knew that sooner or later things were going to take a more serious turn. Himself, Zack, and Angeal stood at the control rooms, observing the fight warily.

Just what had Sephiroth done to unintentionally piss off Genesis? Especially since they just had a conversation regarding the silver-haired Elite on the previous mission. And it had to be Sephiroth as the cause, his lack of social skills coming back to bite him in the ass.

The swift strikes from the two Firsts were too rapid for the normal eye to catch and Genesis wasn't helping in his usage of materia. Sparks, fire, and the shift of bodies flew through the area, disappearing and reappearing behind corners.

"Damnit, they're really serious this time."

Cloud perked slightly as he heard those words whispered from Angeal's lips, his eyes gliding over their reflections on the one-view glass window before focusing back on the battle. He was able to easily keep up, already tracking all movements and styles the two Firsts bore, and he was partially familiar with Sephiroth's techniques, though it had been years since he last fought the man.

Zack, meanwhile, could only stare in wonder. He had never seen such a fight before in his life, especially between two people so high leveled. Angeal huffed from the side and stepped forward, fully intending on interfering before the fight took a turn for the worse. He automatically borrowed Zack's standard blade and shuffled towards the door that would lead to the main battle area.

"Zack. Fenrir." The honor-bound First class glanced at the two, eyebrows narrowed slightly. "Stay here, I'll handle this."

"Aww, Angeal." The pout that followed Zack was enough to get Angeal's lips to twitch into a smile before it was gone.

Cloud remained quiet from the side, simply observing with no intentions on actually interfering unless necessary. His blue eyes watched as Angeal quietly slipped into the field unnoticed.

As Sephiroth and Genesis were about to strike, Angeal made his sudden appearance, using Zack's blade to cut a line between them. His rough voice was strong, never wavering as the other two snapped their attention towards the bulkier male. "Enough!"

Sephiroth's green eyes widened, surprised by Angeal's sudden appearance, and jumped back to gain some distance from where the heavy blade had landed. Genesis, on the other hand, wasn't thrilled at suddenly being interrupted.

The red head sneered, his sharp blue-green eyes focusing on his childhood friend. "Get out of my way, Angeal!" He didn't jump back like Sephiroth had done and, though the materia in his hands had faded in intensity, the Red Mage was far from done. Creating a spin, Genesis shoved his old friend aside like a ragged doll and aimed a firaga at his abdomen, preventing Angeal from immediately striking back. Angeal managed to block the attack at the last second, but the movement cost him, the force shooting him back through the fake wall. He disappeared amongst the rubble, smoke filtering upwards with flickering of the broken electricity.

"Angeal!"

Cloud momentarily glanced towards Zack, who had called out for his mentor, and quickly caught the teen on the scruff of his vest to keep him from running out from the safety of the observation room and straight into that hectic mess. It wouldn't be good to have the teen get himself killed, caught up in such a dangerous battle. Zack was only a Third class right now, he had no strength or skill to defend himself against two Firsts, especially since they had restarted their attacks against each other. If Angeal had been tossed aside so easily, then Zack would definitely not fare any better.

The black-haired male spun to him, violet eyes blazing, while struggling with Cloud's grip. "Hey, let go! I need to help Angeal!"

The blond simply shook his head. "No, you can't. Not at your current level." He tugged a little harder, easily overpowering the taller male and tossed him effortlessly into a nearby chair. "You'll only get in the way. And most likely, Angeal will attempt to jump back into the fray to protect you even at the cost of his own life. He'll only get harmed in the end and you'll end up feeling guilty afterwards."

Zack couldn't stop the full body flinch. He grudgingly eased into the chair, unsure on how to proceed. "But, we can't just leave them to fight like that. Someone has to go in and stop them!"

"Obviously." Cloud nodded, mentally preparing himself as he stepped towards the door to the simulation room. He already had a hand on one of his twin weapons, already mentally calculating what he needed to do. He was most likely the only one that would be able to stand up against the two and hold his ground. "Don't leave the safety of the room."

"Woah, woah! You can't be serious!" Zack snapped forward. "Even you can't do anything against them! You're only a Second!"

Cloud kept his face straight before shrugging his shoulders, yanking out the twin blades from behind his back. "I have a few tricks up my sleeve. It might be just enough to break them apart. I don't really intend on fighting either of them one-on-one."

"Seriously?"

The rest of the complaint went ignored as Cloud quietly closed the door behind him. He couldn't see Zack anymore, now that he was part of the simulation. The observation room looked like any office space and within seconds, the door disappeared. It was such an interesting design made by ShinRa engineers. He had to give kudos to whoever created this system.

Shaking his head, he focused on the two figures flashing through the narrow hallways. The sparks and singing of their blades gave their positions away and they moved rapidly along the walls, jumping from one end to another. Cloud easily maneuvered through the broken passages, skidding to one edge as he neared the current battle site. Neither of the two Firsts had noticed his appearance, too focused on each other. Tightening his grip along his two blades, Cloud prepared himself for the strike. He was going to pull exactly what Angeal had done, except this time, he was going to lock their blades against his own.

When he saw his chance, the two dashing forward to clash again, he jumped.

They didn't notice him, not at all, not until he was right there in the center looking at the two of them a bored expression. Getting his blades ready, Cloud easily held the power behind the strikes when all three of them met. Sephiroth had luckily pulled back on his strength upon seeing the intermission, allowing Cloud to focus on the more explosive of the two.

The blond huffed, his body never once shaking at the force and held his place comfortably. "Are you two done yet?"

The two Firsts' eyes widened in shock at the interruption, this time more surprised simply because it was someone they obviously hadn't expected. Cloud kept his cool, holding the two blades up with ease, his grip never wavering. He shifted his foot just slightly, taking more weight from Genesis' blade, focusing on him only.

"Fenrir?" Sephiroth whispered his name, his grip laxing completely. He looked frazzled by the appearance of the man he had only spoken to during that single mission and slowly retracted all force on his weapon, just leaving it out for show purposes. "What are you doing here?"

Genesis also faltered momentarily. "You..."

Cloud rolled his eyes, never wavering. He placed more of his strength into holding the one against Genesis, constantly observing the red head, who was practically growling at this point. Genesis had no intentions of stopping anytime soon. "Yes, me. Now, stop this."

The red head sneered as he glanced towards Sephiroth, "Get out of my way. This doesn't concern you."

Cloud just stared, as if that was really going to stop him from interfering. "No. Whatever Sephiroth said isn't worth it."

Genesis growled at the blunt denial, his left hand already glowing red from the gathering of energy. "I won't let anyone stop me! He deserves it!"

The blond already knew what was bound to happen and easily dropped his grip on the blade against Sephiroth, letting it clatter onto the floor. Using his now free hand, Cloud grabbed Genesis' left along the wrist, preventing the red head from using his magic, and spun. He twisted his body, giving himself some propel, and promptly kicked Genesis in the abdomen, using his enhanced strength to send the man sprawling back. Cloud made sure to let his grip go, watching as Genesis slammed into the back wall of the stimulation room. Deciding that that was the end of this skirmish, Cloud edged away, bending down to pick up his fallen weapon, and attached them to his waist.

"This is nothing more than a childish squabble, you should know better at this point. It's even worse when it's among two of the strongest SOLDIERs." Cloud scolded, huffing in disappointment. He had hoped that the relationship between the two would be better than the rumors. but it seems it was hopeless to believe.

He continued to observe Genesis as the red head picked himself up from the floor and then to Sephiroth out of the corner of his eyes. There was also Angeal, who had shuffled outside his little hole in the wall. They were all cautiously watching him, not expecting a man smaller than them to put a complete halt to their advances. Cloud could feel an extra pair of eyes from inside the VR observation room and sighed. He had gained too much attention, all at once.

Well, at least, he only had a week and a half before his official announcement. He only needed to wait a little longer before revealing his true identify to everyone in ShinRa and then he would be free to do whatever he wished.

Carefully backing out, Cloud spun around to head out the exit, cutting the simulation off completely. He didn't want to stay when all three started questioning him and his abilities. He wasn't ready for any of that. Still, he had hoped that his conversation with Genesis last month had been enough to place some seeds of doubt. But, well, they were all stubborn for a reason.

The second he heard them calling out for him, to question his power and reasons, the door closed shut and he ran for cover.


"Rufus."

The Turk Director snapped awake, instinctively reaching for his weapons underneath his pillow and on his nightstand. As quickly as he moved, Rufus recognized that voice and just as he gripped his guns, he paused. His eyes could make out the clock beside him and he blinked blearily.

It was one o'clock in the morning.

Letting out a 'tch', Rufus rolled around in bed and searched through the darkness, looking for the figure that had woke him up at this unholy hour. Cloud was standing purposefully in the peeking light that slipped through the edges of the curtains, right at the opposite side of the bed.

"Cloud?" The younger sibling was obviously dressed for sleep, wearing loose silk pants only (which he had borrowed from Rufus' closet). When Cloud didn't respond, Rufus sat up, focusing his attention solely on the other. It was unusual, bluntly so that all alarms in Rufus' mind was going off. "What's wrong? Did something happen?"

When Cloud still didn't reply, Rufus pushed the comforter back, pocketing his weapons back into their original locations and scooted closer. He could barely discern Cloud's face in the shadows, but he could tell from the darker lines that his brother was frowning.

"Cloud? Speak to me."

Eventually, the younger sibling sighed. "It's stupid. Really."

The Turk Director raised an eyebrow, snorting unseemly. "It can't be stupid if you're here at one in the morning waking me up. What happened?"

Cloud closed his eyes momentarily before taking a seat at the edge of the bed. "It really is silly. Though it was small and very brief, I kinda fought Sephiroth today."

"Ah," Rufus knew exactly where this was going. He had seen the footage of the skirmish earlier and should have known that his brother would be affected. He had dealt with this state of Cloud for years. "And seeing him in person, weapon drawn against you, brought back memories you thought had long been buried."

"It's been twenty plus years. I should have gotten over this by now."

"It's trauma, Cloud. It's not something you can just slap a band-aid to and call it a day." Flopping back down onto the bed, Rufus rolled onto his back, staring up at the ceiling. "Sephiroth," He paused for a moment as if considering something else. "And Hojo too actually. Those two caused you a lot of grief, misfortune, and misery. They took a lot from you."

Slowly, Cloud spun around on the bed, propping a leg up onto the mattress, so he could get a better look of his older sibling. "Yeah..."

"This is something that takes time. It's not going to disappear and many times, it never does. You will have your good days and your bad ones. And sometimes, you just have to bite down, bear with it, and move on."

Cloud snorted, his lips twitching up into a small smile. "Since when have you fallen into such a therapeutic role?"

"We both know I'm not good at that and neither are you, but someone has to keep you stable." Rufus pointedly stated. "Tseng, strangely, once you got passed his blunt attitude, was better at these types of things. However, I know you and I know exactly how you think after all these years. So, stop thinking about things you couldn't have prevented and get in." He pulled back the covers to make his point, teasingly patting the mattress. The resounding snort from Cloud gave the eldest hope.

"We're middle-aged men now, Rufus, nearing fifty. I mean, I'm forty-four. We really shouldn't be sleeping in each other's beds like children."

"Cloud, I'm forty-eight. I. Don't. Care. People can talk all they like about me...or you, by the way, if they want to. They can gossip to their heart's little content, but I bear no concern to their useless opinions and neither should you. And you never complained a few weeks ago when either of us wanted to leave each other's side." The look in Rufus' expression told Cloud that he was done with everyone's bullshit, his in particular. "Now, shut up about this useless blather and get into this bed."

Cloud laughed, he was honestly laughing, and the noise sounded delightful to Rufus' ears. "Is this how you flirt with people to get them into bed with you? I must ask if this actually works, Brother."

Rufus huffed, but was unable to hide the relief in his eyes. He had broken through Cloud's depressive state. "Only for the people that I love and care about. Now, stop making excuses and jump in."

The laughter didn't stop, but Cloud complied, effortlessly crawling into bed with a radiant smile. "Didn't know you felt that way about me. Maybe we should facilitate our so-called relationship to others."

"What is wrong with you?" The eldest smirked, unable to help himself. "Why do you keep insisting that we have some sort of incestuous relationship?"

"Revenge, obviously." Cloud nestled against his brother's side, tucking his head along the crook of the shoulder. Almost immediately, he felt contentment, peace, and could feel the pull of slumber creeping back into his body.

Rufus shuffled slightly in position, getting comfortable. He was still on his back and tugged the covers over them both. "Revenge? For what? All the times I've teased you in the past?"

Cloud smiled, tightening his grasp around his brother's body. "Exactly."

"And how 'exactly' is this to punish just me?"

"You'll see."

The Turk Director snickered. "I'll see? Oh, you snarky little bastard. Sometimes, I can't tell whether I love you or hate you."

"Isn't there a fine line between the two?"

"Oh, that's it! Get out! You're heading back to your own bed!" Despite his words, Rufus just laughed, tugging Cloud closer, grinning the entire time.

It was these little brotherly moments that Rufus adored the most and it seemed to do Cloud mental justice to all the hardships the two of them have faced. Later, when Cloud finally fell back asleep, bearing no signs of nightmares, it was almost like the entire incident had been forgotten. Regardless, Rufus kept watch over the younger, stroking Cloud's spiky hair a couple of times, smiling contentedly at the way the younger rubbed his cheek blissfully against his shoulder, before eventually drifting off once he was absolutely certain that Cloud would be fine.

They had forgotten that coming back to this time period would drag up some unpleasant memories neither of them wanted to truly face.

But, they would bear with it as always.

After all, neither of them were alone.


It had been a few weeks since Rufus had taken the reins of Director of the Department of Administrative Research and with that, the entire division had been overthrown by the changes Rufus progressively brought in. Their computer systems had been updated, there was new management regarding missions, new training methods, new weapons, new budgeting, new everything.

The differences between now and before was definite and the Turks were nothing but adaptive. They adjusted, taking the ideals into the inner workings of their core, and they weren't bad, the changes that is. They were all progressive, the methods outstanding, and Rufus took the time to fully explain why such things needed to occur. It didn't take long before all the Turks were working together more effectively than ever before, completing missions they previously had difficultly.

Regardless, the division wasn't gathering any new members since half of the force had disappeared with Veld, but at the same time, they weren't losing any either. There just weren't any outstanding individuals that would fit with the Turk's heavy lifestyle at this current time.

In any case, the complaints vanished and the Turks began to follow Rufus' new commands, almost like the man had been in charge for years. They realized that Rufus Shinra taking command wasn't some hoax that would ruin their department. No, he would restore it, improve it, and rectify the department's power beyond its old standards.

The Turks may be loyal dogs, to be ordered to do whatever they were meant to do, even if it was something they didn't particularly like or was morally against, but since the desertion, there had been a mentality that never existed before. The President could no longer control them and Rufus took full advantage of that weakness, sweeping in to explain the inner details of his ideas and purpose.

There wasn't a bond like they had with the previous Director or the current Second-in-Command, but Rufus knew all he needed was time and he was already earning his respect he deserved from his men.

Tseng, on the other hand, wasn't sure on how to react just yet around this new Rufus Shinra. He had tossed aside his previous knowledge, finding no correlation between the two, and gradually began working around the man, making his own observations from the background.

Due to Tseng's hesitation and wariness, Rufus didn't forcefully push anything towards him, didn't compel him to bend to his will, and Tseng could tell the blond was giving him abundance amount of time to amend. Sometimes, just a passing thought in the back of his mind, Tseng believed he should report the switch, that the old Rufus was dead and this impostor from another had taken over. But, well, they are similar in nature and the difference wasn't noticeable to anyone except for Tseng, who had been the only one that was close enough to identify the said transformation. People simply thought that Rufus was currently in a phase and that it would eventually come to an end. Except, Tseng knew for an absolute fact that Rufus had no intentions on stopping anytime soon.

This Rufus was driven, extremely independent, and held a cunning intelligence from the way he plotted in such intervals. There was a decisive clarity that was different when comparing him to Veld and oddly, Rufus was...kind, in the most unusual ways. The blond connected with his men better than the others, looked at the orders closely instead of simply giving them out. Sometimes, if Tseng was paying close attention, said orders either disappeared completely out of the system or were reworded to better suit the intended nature. The Director pondered relentlessly through the databases, following events silently from behind the computer, and listened to the various complaints of his men and the gossip around ShinRa.

Eventually, some of the other Department Heads and Directors attempted to take advantage of the new Turk Director...only to find themselves bluntly shut down at every corner.

"What?" Rufus huffed, blue eyes shining in amusement as he belittled the idiots standing before him (who amazingly had access to this heavily restricted floor) while sitting at the edge of his desk. His door was wide open, the rest of the Turks listening in from the way the noise volume outside had decreased. "You thought you could get something from me? And for free? No, that's not how things work around here and you know that."

One of the scientists sneered in return, "Then what about my requests? I've sent in three already and yet, they've all been erased!"

"Erased?" Rufus gave the perfect expression of innocence, even to his tone of voice, but Tseng knew better. All the Turks that were listening knew better. "I assure you that our systems are completely independent, so the chances of hacking is nigh impossible. Someone would have to actually step onto this very floor, use one of our computers that is password protected, to do so. Are you sure it's not something that's going on your side? Perhaps...competition?" That was a lie and all the Turks knew it, yet Rufus had spoken it without a single twitch of his expression. His mask was perfect.

Before the man could speak up regarding that comment, another did. "And what about mine? You denied mine!"

The Director snapped towards the bumbling idiot, earning a flinch as his blue eyes glared at the individual. "Your request has so many flaws it looks like Swiss cheese. I'm not about to send four of my Turks out for a mission that could, no, will end their lives in the process." The blond pushed forward from where he had been sitting on his desk, hands clenched safely in his pockets where he couldn't reach most of his weapons. No need to shoot someone just yet out of mere annoyance. "I'm not sacrificing any of my men. We're not SOLDIERs so you're more than welcome to send the request their way. However," Rufus smirked as he paused. "I doubt the new Director will approve your request either. He's as protective of his men as I am over mine. And anyway, I'm short staffed as is. I wouldn't have anyone to let you borrow anyway."

"How dare you!" the same scientist yelled out, face red with anger. "I'm an important figure in my department! I'll make sure you hear about this! I'll get you fired for this misgiving! Or demoted again!"

Rufus snorted, not even bothered by the supposed threat, and stepped closer. "I think you're forgetting who exactly you're threatening. I'm the Rufus Shinra and I choose to be demoted, so I'd like to see you try and do something about me." He leaned in, smirking, and gave a low chuckle, enough to look like those vicious villains straight out of the movies. "But, just a fair warning, since you're obviously too stupid to realize the truth of who exactly you're messing with: do you know what happens to those that make too much noise? This in ShinRa, after all, and you're talking to the Director of the Turks." He didn't let them answer, knowing very well he had grabbed their absolute attention. "They disappear."

"A-Are you threatening me?" It was ridiculously easy to see the fear in their eyes, so very easy, and it was enough that Rufus laughed.

Raising an eyebrow as the blond quieted down, he almost rolled his eyes. "No, just stating a fact. You are, after all, messing with the Turks and myself. We're not SOLDIERs. We strike out of the dark and if you keep talking, you'll find out very personally why we're so feared in all of Gaia." Knowing he had gained the calculated frightened reactions from the pitiful men, he waved his hand. "Now get out. I don't want to see any of your faces again."

Rufus barely finished his sentence before the scientists scattered and, without even bothering to relock the door, he simply went back to work. It was just another day to him at this point. He didn't even look up when his office door was closed shut and a pitter of near silent footsteps arrived before his desk, already sensing the man long before his arrival.

"Director, is it wise to make enemies like that?" Of course, it would be Tseng. The man could be a mother-hen when one turned around or wasn't paying attention. It was, of course, more prominent in the future. Sometimes, Rufus needed to remind himself to make sure not to get the two mixed. This wasn't his Tseng. This was a stranger that simply bore his face and personality. Though, that didn't mean Tseng couldn't become the future him later on (but Rufus doubted that).

The Director waved the concern off. "Don't worry about it, Tseng. I have things covered."

"Sir, that's not what I'm concerned about."

Rufus peered up, focusing on his second-in-command and sighed. "Tseng, stop worrying. It'll be fine. I know how to handle myself. I've done this multiple times."

"Yes, but this is different!"

Tseng froze, blinking. He hadn't expected himself to actually yell at his new boss, and so suddenly at that. Even Rufus was staring from shock. The silence that settled between the two was awkward and, despite it being absolutely quiet, Tseng's mind was in a panic.

Why?

Why had he done that?

Why had he yelled?

Why did he feel like Rufus was doing something reckless again?

Again?

Tseng shook his head, pushing those thoughts out of his mind. He had more important matters to deal with. "M-My apologies, I didn't mean that."

"I... Yes..." Rufus tried to find a response, but came up with nothing. He wasn't entirely sure on how to actually bring something so odd up to the forefront. It wasn't Tseng's typical behavior. "It's fine. If you're worried about something, just bring it up. I don't mind. The Turks are family-based so there needs to be a level of trust between us. I know everyone doesn't trust me yet. There's barely any that been built up considering my original position, but I don't want them to hide their opinions on what once was."

That wasn't related to Tseng's current matter, but the Turk welcomed the distraction. He didn't want to think about his previous reaction. "I understand. And you're slowly gaining it from everyone. It'll take time."

"And that's fine, I am in no hurry. However, this brings up a matter I would like to ask of you." Rufus sat back into his chair, temporarily ignoring his current work and pushing the unusual behavior aside for later. Tseng nodded, allowing the other to continue. "Tseng, you know where Veld and the rest of the Turks are currently hiding, correct?"

The Second-in-Command blinked, surprised by the sudden request. Despite that, his face remained impassive. Of course, he knows. Only he did, in case one of the other Turks got captured. Tseng kept silent, waiting for Rufus to continue.

The blond spread a few pieces of paper across his desk, not caring that Tseng could easily read them upside down. None of them were related to the request anyway. "Don't worry. I'm not going to ask them to come back. They had far too many grievances with ShinRa to do so, but I do have a request I'd like to make of them if they're willing. They'll be able to move about without detection unlike the rest of us who will be closely monitored, especially after the desertion. I'm certain that each one of us can slip away, but that's a chance I can't risk."

Tseng could do that. Half of the deserted Turks lived in Midgar, one of the biggest cities that allowed such a thing in the first place, especially Veld. The rest were scattered across the world. All the current Turks either wouldn't recognize them or would simply look the other way if they met by accident. Still, Tseng needed to know precisely what this said request entailed. "If they are willing to meet up with you, they'd like to know what this is about."

"Obviously. Even though I'm the new Director, I'm a Shinra. They'd be suspicious. If they weren't, well..." Rufus didn't continue. It wasn't like he needed to. "Anyway, it's regarding Professor Hojo and Hollander."

"The Head of the Science Department and the Second Professor?"

"Yes, I know for a fact that those two have separate lab locations, multiple if I'm to believe. I want to know where each and every one of them are and perhaps the secrets they have buried within. I'm not asking them to shut it down, considering that would alert those two of what's happening in the background. If anything, I'd like them to keep an eye on those locations just in case one of those two tries to defect or do something...unpleasant. I have no issues compensating them for this."

That seemed more plausible. Those two were loose cannons in a way. There was no telling what those two were willing to accomplish considering what they have already produced within SOLDIER. Tseng could understand the concern. The previous Turks had tried multiple times to locate all the areas, but they were always swamped with other meaningless stuff from the President. Thinking about it, Veld and the others wouldn't mind assisting, especially the former Director, considering Hojo had experimented on his daughter.

Tseng nodded, "I understand. I'll ask them, but I suspect they'll agree after much consideration." As the Second-in-Command observed his boss, he wandered closer towards the desk. "Do you wish to schedule a meeting with them?"

Rufus just shrugged, "Only if they want to. I'm not going to force them. Whatever they decide, let me know. They know my number and where I'm located."

"Understood."


Tseng was thoroughly exhausted. It had been three days since his talk with Rufus regarding the previous Director, Veld, and he had spent all that time on the field organizing for a hidden meeting within Midgar's slums for the ex-Turks. It wasn't anything overly difficult, but just getting there, sending the announcement without anyone outside realizing, and moving through all the various traps that had been added to the surroundings had taken all his energy. In the end, he got what he wanted and arranged for the audience he desired.

"Rufus Shinra is the new Director of the Turks? You've got to be joking." Veld sneered, barely able to believe his ears. The rest of the ex-Turks were sharing similar reactions. Everyone knew about the old Rufus, not the new current one. The old one had been arrogant, controlling, demanding, and a downright oversized child despite being twenty-five. He wasn't like his father, but he was starting to head towards that dangerous path of no return without anyone to put a stop to his ridiculous plot ideas. Veld continued, "He'll drive the Turks into ruin. Is this his punishment for doing something stupid? Are the current Turks being included into his punishment? Tseng, you were the Director. I placed you in that position before leaving. How could you let this happen?"

Tseng shook his head, immediately disagreeing. No, this Rufus wouldn't do any of that. This Rufus was changing the game. He was changing everything. He was vastly improving it by leaps and bounds and everyone that was beside him could already see it manifesting. "No, Veld. Director Rufus willingly stepped down and promoted his older half-brother, Lazard Deusericus, as Vice President. From what I've been told, he blackmailed the President to do this."

A round of mutters followed. Everyone knew that Lazard was one of the better men in the departments, someone that would keep his word. He had his corruptible points, something that wasn't unusual in ShinRa Corporation, but he was leaps better than those in the Science Department or even Heidegger, Head of Public Safety Department.

Tseng continued, "The announcement was recent and was most definitely surprising. In Lazard's place, a man by the name of Cloud Strife will take his position of Director of SOLDIER. Meanwhile, Director Rufus has already made an abundance amount of changes to our department, all beneficial. He's even been willing to take criticism from his own men."

Veld sighed, leaning back against his chair, and folded his arms against his chest. His gun arm was completely covered, a glove in place to help it blend into his outfit. "Tseng, stop. That's just you talking. Everyone knows you've always been a little closer to Rufus than anyone else here. You willingly allowed him to take over your position and push you back."

"Perhaps." Tseng couldn't disagree with that. He had been more loyal to Rufus than to the President himself, but that didn't change the fact that the previous Rufus is dead and gone. The Rufus of now, and even Cloud, had a way of gravitating people towards them and earning their loyalties, even Tseng himself could admit he wasn't immune to it. They made him want to do things he would never do for anyone else, to follow their requests, their orders. Tseng nodded, mainly for himself. "But Veld, you must understand, change is necessary. The current Turks have faced many recent hardships so things need to be different and at this time. I can't do that."

It took a lot of confidence to admit that single weakness, the fact that Tseng had failed at something, but he knew in his heart he was correct. This path he was currently walking with the blond siblings is the correct one. He was absolutely certain of it.

"I take it it's hard to understand without actually being there, to know what we're currently facing, but Director Rufus hasn't done anything to drag down the Turks." Tseng couldn't help but smirk teasingly, his dark eyes drifting over everyone in the room. "Maybe when you feel up to it, you should pay him a visit and when you do, you'll understand exactly what I mean."

The former Director stared silently, carefully observing from his end, and yet Tseng never once flinched, never hesitated. It was the whole truth. He knew his former subordinate well. Nodding, Veld responded. "I see. While I'm still unsure about this 'Rufus Shinra,' I will assist with his idea. I too would like to keep an eye on those two scientists, especially after everything that has happened." He turned towards the various men and women in the room, nodding. "I understand that the current number of Turks won't be able to do anything at this time, too short staffed for any large projects such as this. Rufus must know this very well."

Tseng nodded, everyone knew that. "We're currently looking for new members, but there hasn't been any outstanding individuals recently. It hasn't helped that both the President and Department Head Heidegger hasn't been allowing us to recruit either. Director Rufus is currently trying to find loopholes in all this...chaotic mess."

"Understandable."

Tseng momentarily peeked at his watch, read the time, and quietly sighed. He needed to leave soon before anyone noticed he was missing. He was certain his fellow Turks would cover for him, as would Rufus, but it wasn't worth the risk putting any of them in jeopardy. Glancing up, he recognized Veld reading his response and nodded. They both knew this was a risk, but it was worth it in the end. The exchange of information was always necessary to keep themselves up to date on the matters regarding the company that ruled most of the world.

Veld unfolded his arms, leaning forward in his chair. "Perhaps another time then?"

"Yes," Tseng nodded, standing up. "Thank you." The unmentioned words of 'be careful' didn't need to be said. He quickly took his leave, barely talking to anyone else, and as he reached the exit to the room, he paused. Tseng had remembered Rufus' final words. "Ah, before I forget. Director Rufus said if you want to see to him, you have his number and address."

Tseng didn't bother turning around to read Veld's response, having no time for such pleasantries, and quickly vanished into the darkness of the streets upon stepping outside the meeting location. Blending in was an easy trait for a Turk, disappearing along the sidelines of people's visions before reappearing when desiring so. Despite all the danger and secrets that were involved, Tseng couldn't hate this lifestyle. There were times he greatly enjoyed it and, of course, there were obviously times when he wondered if he really shouldn't have gotten involved. These days though...well, he couldn't complain. He was quite curious on how Rufus would change this world, scheming for the future that only he could see (and Cloud too apparently).

Later in the evening, when Tseng finally managed to drag himself home with a vague report finished and ready for the Director's eyes only, he was finally able to relax. A quick meal and shower was all he needed before he turned in for bed, fully prepared to face the next day. As Tseng closed his eyes to sleep, relaxing against the soft fabric of his pillow, he listened to the near silence, just the faint sounds of the outside world creeping through the walls and windows. The darkness of the room was comforting and he snuggled deeper into his comforters, letting himself drop his guard and actually sleep deeply into the night.

"Good evening, Tseng."

The Wutaian snapped towards to the voice, immediately awake and alert for action. Was it an enemy? If so, how did they get in? He had thoroughly checked his apartment beforehand and there had been nothing. None what so ever.

Tseng blinked as he realized a few things in that split second, calculating his newfound situation.

First and foremost, he was standing up. Why was he standing? Hadn't he been in bed? Glancing down at his body, he noticed he was fully dressed in a plain black suit he didn't recognize. It wasn't his blue Turk uniform, but something else, something more comfortable. But, why was he dressed? Hadn't he been about to sleep?

And why was it this bright? With the sun shining outside? Shouldn't it be nighttime? Tseng knew for an absolute fact that he had gone to bed just past midnight. There was no way the sun would have risen in the few moments of slumber.

More importantly...

Where was he?

This house... It wasn't any he had ever seen. It was large yet held a warmth that didn't belong anywhere he knew. He was in a kitchen of some sort, neatly decorated. It wasn't anything too fancy, but simple enough to make it look nice without overexerting.

Tseng's eyes immediately snapped towards the person sitting at the table before him, the one that had called him out, and stared in wonder. He knew the man, the blond, even when dressed in loose fitting black pants and a plain navy blue t-shirt. He could never forget a face or hair like that, not when it was so closely related to his boss, and the role he played in Rufus' plans. Yes, Cloud Strife.

But, why was he here? Just where were they?

The Cloud before Tseng tilted his head, putting down his newspaper onto the table. It was obvious he had been reading it before Tseng had become aware of his situation. Cloud raised an eyebrow, tilting his head as he smiled. "Visiting? Or are you here for business? If so, Rufus is in his office. The usual place as always."

Tseng found himself shaking his head. "No, no business today."

The blond nodded. "Good, then you're staying for dinner." He stood up from his spot at the table, rounding the kitchen island to the stove. A large pot sat on top of the burner, the heat on low, with the sounds of something bubbling dimly within. Faint outlines of steam evaporated upwards from the top and the scent of something delicious filled Tseng's nostrils. Cloud called out without looking back. "Make yourself at home as always, Tseng. Dinner will be ready in about twenty minutes."

"As long as Rufus isn't the one cooking. We both know that among you two, only you can cook, Cloud." Tseng had spoken without thinking and paused soon after. He blinked, surprised. Had he just spoken Rufus' name that openly? Without calling him 'boss', 'sir', or 'director'? And why did he know that little fact about Rufus being unable to cook? Before he could think much on the subject, a voice called out.

"Har, har. Laugh it up. I wasn't trained to cook."

Rufus...

Tseng spun around to peer behind, staring at the older brother curiously. He knew that had to be Rufus, the voice little deeper than usual, but he recognized it anyway. Tseng gawked at the individual standing at the hallway, walking into the kitchen dressed far too casual to represent the man he knew. There was no white coat or pants, no uniform, no suit, just loose pants and a button up long-sleeve shirt. The Turk examined this 'Rufus' curiously. The older blond was aged, probably in his early to mid-forties, and held an aura that reminded him of the Rufus in present day. The man's eyes are matured, knowledgeable, and when they turned towards him, Rufus smiled.

The older brother then gave a nod, stepping closer towards him. Tseng felt...familiar, like he had known this man all his life.

How...was that possible?

Just what the hell was happening?

"Well, neither was I." Cloud retorted without skipping a beat, drawing the conversation to himself, never once spinning away from the pot as he carefully stirred the contents within. "But I learned and it helped that I had some cooking lessons ingrained back from my childhood. After all, someone has to cook in this household and it can't be you. You'll just burn the house down."

"I'm not that bad, am I?"

Both Cloud and Tseng stared.

Rufus relented. "Okay, maybe you guys have some merit to that." He continued to grumble under his breath, settling into the seat at the table, to the right of where Cloud had been. He peered at the forgotten newspaper before reaching for it, flipping it towards the front. Tseng caught the brief flash of the date at the top.

Year 0029, March 15th.

That was like a thirty year difference from the present. Tseng glanced back at Rufus. The time difference at least explained the man's aged appearance, but that didn't explain Cloud's. He still looked the same as he does in the past.

Then what about him? How did he look?

Tseng was curious. How much would be changed in thirty years? Regardless, this explained nothing of the strangeness.

"I'll be back. I'm going to wash up first." His response was curt and he thought that perhaps he wasn't really the one talking. The movements of his body was too smooth to be his own, his wording and carefree nature too peculiar. Had he slipped into some strange dream? Or was it something else? A memory?

Oddly, Tseng suspected the later.

"Go ahead. You know where everything is at this point." Rufus snorted, thumbing through the forgotten newspaper on the table, his eyes never once glancing up from the printed letters.

Tseng did know where the bathroom was. He didn't understand why or how, but he knew. Slipping down the hallway Rufus had appeared from, he took a sharp left and opened one of the various doors. It was obviously the bathroom and his hand automatically reached for the light switch, flipping it on. It didn't take long before his eyes adjusted to the sudden flash and he stared the image standing before him.

The mirror. It told him everything he needed to know.

He was older, much older than his normal appearance. Tseng tilted his head. Was it him or was he older than Rufus? Shaking his head, he pushed those thoughts aside for the time being. Examining his appearance closer, he could see that his hair had gotten much longer, falling towards his mid-back and was tied up neatly into a high ponytail. There were small streaks of white making its appearance among the black, but, even with the aged wrinkles, he looked almost the same. The familiar religious dot on his forehead had never been removed and his eyes... His eyes looked as old, mature, and aged as Rufus's.

These were the eyes of a survivor and fighter mixed into one.

As he leaned forward to examine further, a voice called out. One that sounded like his own.

He knew it was his own. He knew his voice anywhere.

"Stop. Don't go any further."

Tseng felt himself being jerked back, his vision blackening out instantly. When he snapped his eyes open, wide awake, heart galloping within the confines of his own chest, he found himself back in his own bed.

He had never moved from his location. His body was settled in the bed sheets, having them wrapped around him protectively, and as Tseng glanced towards his clock on the nightstand, he stared. It was only four in the morning.

There was no way he would be able to fall back asleep, especially after that, too wired to do anything else. As Tseng lay there in bed, rolled on his back to eye the ceiling, he slowly calmed his racing body, but regardless of what the body was doing, there was a single thought circling through Tseng's head:

What the hell was that?

As he went over his memories, filtering them through his current knowledge, Tseng found himself left with more questions than answers. Was it related to Rufus and Cloud? It had to be. Rufus had mentioned before that he had come from another timeline, another dimension. Had that been it? Just how familiar had the other him been with those two? Enough to invite himself over for dinner? To know the house by heart? To talk to the two so freely without his guard up? To joke without a single care in the world?

Tseng reached up to run a hand through his long black locks, hoping that single movement would give him some clarity. It obviously didn't help.

Just what had he seen?

Damn, there was no way in hell he was going back to sleep now.

Chapter Text

"Ready?"

"Absolutely not."

Rufus snorted, "You've got this, Cloud."


The email had been sent, one to gather all the SOLDIERs that weren't currently deployed out in Wutai for one giant meeting. Cloud sighed heavily to himself. He would need to head over to the meeting area soon. It was about time to end this squabbling matter regarding the various individuals within SOLDIER.

There was also the war to take into contemplation, considering it was never healthy for anyone, and even though he wasn't out there on the battlefield, he could feel the strain of the budgeting and constant need to find more men to cover the vast losses. There was also the emotional trauma to take into consideration, those that have lost friends or parts of themselves to the vile of warfare. He pitied the regular army that had Heidegger in charge, ruining them with ridiculous and outlandish orders. The only reason the army was still together was because of the competent men that avoided those said orders.

Ah, so much to fix. Cloud was glad that he at least he had Rufus on his side, taking care of the Turk Department, and maybe Lazard, if all things went well. He wasn't foolish to believe his eldest sibling would willingly work with them just like that. No, everyone in ShinRa had plans and desires and Lazard is no different. Cloud and Rufus' are similar in goal and are familiar with each other to know how to work together to get what they wanted. Doing this all alone, it would have been impossible to complete.

Cloud sighed as he checked the time on his PHS.

Its time.

Now, Cloud had never been one for dramatic appearances, but in this case, he didn't quite mind as he opened the door to the stadium from behind all his men, knowing their eyes would turn to stare out of curiosity. After all, he had purposefully been the last one to arrive.

He almost froze at the sudden onslaught of stares, suddenly uncomfortable with the presence of all these people, but pushed forward, knowing he had a job to complete and a purpose to fulfill. At least, from now on, as the Director of SOLDIER, he would be able to wear his own clothes. He had never been one for suits, too awkward and restrictive in movements, and it appeared that most people higher up in the ladder did whatever they wanted and he had every intention on following that ideal. Glancing up a head, Cloud spotted his two half-brothers.

Rufus and Lazard were both standing patiently at the podium, looking almost bored of the silent proceedings. The entire room was hushed, the chattering amongst the men gone. All that was left was the vague whispers and Cloud knew for certain they were about him.

As Cloud sundered towards the front, he took that chance to examine over his siblings. The middle sibling was dressed the same as he had been in the previous dimension, just with a younger body, and was completely decked out in his usual assortment of weapons, the budges entirely unnoticeable under the white overcoat. Rufus had straight-out refused to wear the blue standardized Turk suits, wanting and needing to stand out amongst his men purposefully. As Cloud glanced towards the eldest of the three, he hummed to himself in approval. Obviously, Lazard stuck to his dark striped blue blazer and matching tie with the white undershirt and pants, but it seemed Rufus had managed to convince Lazard to constantly have a weapon with him, something Cloud greatly approved. He had no doubt that Rufus would train him on how to effectively use them and other combat terms. Later, Cloud would come in with heavy blades.

They weren't about to leave the eldest unprepared for the internal war within Shinra.

As the youngest blond went up the steps to stand at the front of the podium, Cloud examined over his men, many startled by both his youthful appearance and the modified uniform he had been wearing for years. It didn't help that he was carrying First Tsurugi on his back or his bracer. Regardless, the collection of all three siblings stood out amongst the rest. It didn't help that they were all blond and blue-eyed either.

Cloud almost smirked, growing steadily used to the stares he was receiving and continued to gaze into the young men before him with his glowing blue eyes as he spun around to face them at the front of the podium. He had expected the strange looks. He knew the various reasons for them. After all, Cloud was so out of place...but, well, that was never anything new. After all, for a long time, he wanted nothing more than to just simply blend in, to be forgotten.

He nearly laughed at the thought.

Like that would ever happen.

Damn, Rufus has been influencing him a little too much.

As Cloud spent a few seconds to ponder over everyone, especially the three well-known Firsts that were standing right before him (who were honestly gapping at him), he rotated slightly to Rufus on his right and then to Lazard on his left, getting a small nod from both. Knowing that it was finally time to get started, Cloud reached up to tuck a loose strand of hair behind his ear.

"Good morning everyone. Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to attend this meeting." Cloud's voice was soft, but strong, the microphone unnecessary considering all the enhanced men could clearly hear him.

There was only a resounding silence that followed, no one daring to speak up, everyone listening intensely to the man before them, to their new leader.

"As you may have already noticed, you may have seen me under a different name, a different alias, during these last three months." There was a shift at that admission, some of the men looking between each other as they paled in realization. Some had most definitely seen him, either in passing or on a mission, his spiky hair conspicuous. Cloud recognized a few from the various missions he had taken, some he already had plans for.

The three Firsts couldn't hide the shock that overtook their expressions, having remembered placing this very man under their radar for a potential SOLDIER promotion when he first appeared, never knowing the now obvious undercover nature of his newfound official position. They apparently wanted to say something, but due to the situation, they couldn't.

Still, Cloud had no doubt that they would try to corner him after the meeting. He was expecting it, but, in the meantime, he'll revel in their shock. To see the Holy Firsts Trinity like that... Pulling himself out of that little thought, he continued, "The purpose for such tactics will be explained later into this meeting. However, first things first."

There was a small, purposeful pause before he took a step forward, letting the heaviness of his weapon weigh his foot down to create a loud crack on the ground, pleased with the echo that followed.

"My name is Cloud Strife and I am your new SOLDIER Director."

His hair bounced slightly and Cloud smiled softly as he gazed down at the scared men in amusement, purposefully channeling Rufus Shinra through him.

"It's nice to officially meet you all."

The resounding silence that followed had Cloud actually smirking. This was going to be entertaining, very much so. A quick glance towards Rufus already told him that much.

"Now, I don't plan on wasting everyone's time as I know you all have busy schedules so I'll try to keep this meeting as quick as possible. As I mentioned earlier, I've been wandering through various parts of ShinRa under a different identity. I know many of you have seen me around, either with you on a mission or in the hallways." Cloud could feel the eyes of those certain individuals on him. "I wanted to use the time before I officially started to get to know how things really worked around here, from beyond the desk and paperwork. I wanted to get to know how the system worked, how all of you acted, how missions generally occurred. It was...an interesting experience."

It was something Lazard himself couldn't quite do, being unenhanced as he is. The eldest was more of a dependent variable that would simply get in the way of a mission if things were to go sour. There was also the fact that people always lied when it came to higher-ups, not wanting to get anyone in trouble, avoiding standing out. Cloud had easily slipped through, held his own on the field, and learned things he really couldn't see on mere paper.

"I can honestly admit there are a lot of impressive individuals here, many of which aren't aware about. They walk in the shadows and that's nothing to look down upon. Everyone here has their roles, their individuality, their purpose. People in the spotlight don't always realize the hard work you all put in, all the effort you do to keep the mission running smoothly, but as long as you yourself knows it, take my 'congratulations' and 'thank you' to heart, and don't ever let anyone ever say otherwise. You are just as important to SOLDIER as anyone else." Cloud's smile was weak at best. He wasn't excellent at something so cheery, but he knew his message had gone across from the shining of certain individuals' eyes. He knew they understood what he was talking about.

They were the ones that collected the information, the ones that gathered the supplies, the ones that made sure that everyone was healthy and ready for battle, and the ones that gave their energy to constantly heal their companions' injuries. They were important because half of the battle was already won by just being prepared for the worst.

"However," And, here he goes. Cloud knew he would have to bring this part up sooner or later. "During that time, I've also noticed some things I don't approve of." At that, Cloud's bright blue eyes narrowed, taking on a darker form to force his point. "SOLDIER is an elite group. We are sent out into areas, with various types of people, to complete missions. We put our very lives on the line to do our jobs, to protect, to kill, to fight. But some don't seem to realize that you're not alone on these types of jobs, especially when you're sent out in groups. You decide to fight alone, abandoning your teammates to go on your own. You don't understand that you are your teammates' backup, just like your teammates are yours. You cover their backs, watch for attacks they miss, and help them when the need arises. This isn't some one-person crusade."

Cloud continued, "Now, if you wish to continue this charade and abandon your teammates, then fine. I shall purposefully assign you to take missions alone. You can fight alone, you can survive alone. Perhaps this might awaken some sense because I'm not going to risk four others for your selfishness."

Damn, he was starting to get off topic now. He knew that, but there was just so much that needed to be said. Oh, how he hated talking for such a long period.

"Now, to bring up another point, I've noticed that some of you hold some sort of jealousy towards other classes, either higher or lower. Some even bare hatred towards those that are apparently better than you, and though, some are alright because it's normal, because its normal to be jealous, to be frustrated by your own weakness, there are those that have crossed the line." Cloud almost wanted to sneer because this little subject always made him want to rage out. "So you set out to harm those you hate, even if they are your colleagues, those you work with on the battlefield or team up with. And that will no longer be tolerated."

The men's attention remained on him and Cloud refused to accidentally focus on a couple certain individuals he was knowingly pointing out.

"Now, I'm not asking you to go out of your way to be friends with each other, to be the best of buddies. I'm asking you to protect your allies, to watch each other's backs in and out of battle. The men beside you, behind you, in front of you, these are your comrades, your brother-in-arms. You will fight together and you will die together. And I'll be honest, I want each and every one of you to come back alive and well and happy. So if I get any reports of such incidents, I will personally come after you. Or I will ask the Turks to do so." Cloud purposefully glanced towards Rufus, who grinned viciously.

There was no need to say what would occur because everyone in ShinRa knew about the Turks and what they truly did in the background. It wasn't some hidden secret.

"Now, this brings up another point of mine. The relationship between the Turks and us, SOLDIERs, is poor. Horribly so. We're constantly fighting against each other, pushing the other aside, and simply getting in the way of our jobs. That's going to stop now. Do you know why?" Cloud left the open question to settle in everyone's minds. He knew each and every SOLDIER was focused solely on him and he could see the guilty looks, the hesitation, the hope, everything. Despite this being a simple speech, it showed exactly what he planned for the future and whether or not they conformed to such changes was up to them, but there was going to be changes. If they didn't go with it, it was crystal clear they would be taken out of the game. "Well, if it wasn't obvious, I'll let you know. The new Director of the Turks and myself are actually close friends." And just like that, Cloud stepped back towards Rufus, who, at the same time, came forward to meet him halfway.

The middle sibling smirked, knowing that all eyes had snapped towards him. Rufus knew what everyone's opinion held on him, but that was the old version, he refused to be pinned down by a mere spectacle of a man. "Indeed, Director Cloud is correct. We are and, as such, myself and the rest of the Turks will be working much closer with the SOLDIERs. More so than before. I expect everyone to treat my men as comrades and as such, I expect my own to do the same." Rufus could tell that many were a little put-off by that idea, but only time could tell in changing stubborn options. "My men are the ones that gather information regarding various missions you handle, that are out on the field before you arrive. The updates located in your papers are sometimes the very reason you are prepared to face your enemies. As Cloud here has stated at the beginning, everyone has their roles and us, Turks, tend to work in the background, to ensure ShinRa's and your safety."

No one spoke up to argue with that, not wanting to get that individual attention on themselves. Cloud nodded to Rufus before switching places, standing back at the front of the podium. He let the silence rein everyone in and he could see some confusion and that was expected. Many of those that had worked here for so long had their set ways and it would take time to revolutionize.

"Since many of you don't know a single thing about me, let me give you a little tidbit about myself, long before I got involved with ShinRa and..." Cloud glanced back at his middle half-brother and huffed. "Him."

Rufus simply raised an eyebrow, giving an amused smirk. There was a conversation there, unspoken words between them and everyone could see it from their spot. The Turk Director also had to hold his tongue from making a comment regarding Cloud's choice of words. There were implications within that could be taken the wrong way, but well, he would leave his younger brother to handle the questions.

"Anyway, long ago, I used to fight alongside many people, various individuals that came from different backgrounds, much like all of you. It didn't matter who they were, age, gender, race, we all had a purpose at that time, all focusing to complete it together. Did it really matter how a person acted? Or their gender? In the times of battle, no one cared." Cloud didn't want to touch this subject, but well, he needed to. Taking a deep breath, he began. "I once knew a man that had dreams of traveling beyond this world, wielding a spear so effortlessly that he could singlehandedly take down hordes of monsters with one fell swoop. I once knew of a young teenage girl from Wutai that used materia so explosively that sometimes the combinations she created honestly scared those closest to her and it didn't help that she was extremely quick on her feet. I once knew of a woman with fists that could break bones and concrete, of a robot that gained its own conscious mind and will. I met two lovers that, even in the years they were forced apart and eventually died tragically, could never fully part from each other...and me in a way." Cloud sighed, the memories of all his once friends all gathering in his mind. It was horrible, remembering people he would most likely never fully connect with. He would eventually see them here in this timeline, but they would not be his. They were someone else's, strangers to him.

Rufus didn't let any emotion slip through his mask, but he was glancing out of hidden concern at his little brother, knowing that this was a tough subject. Lazard remained calm in the background, standing perfectly straight.

Cloud took a deep breath as he continued. "I once knew of a man a village considered a hero, that was adored and well loved, a man that I used to look up to and had once strived to be, who in the end became everything he hated: a villain, a murderer that despised everyone, that hated himself, that wanted to destroy everything because he saw nothing good out there anymore." He was purposefully talking about Sephiroth, though he had to change bits of the story to have it make sense in this lifetime. "In the end, he was cut down."

He knew everyone was listening to him intently, engulfed in his story, his very words. Even the three Firsts standing nearest to the podium were observing intently.

"Over my lifetime, I've met many people and I have no doubt that I will meet many more. Unfortunately, no one in my original group is alive any longer. I'm all there is left." Except maybe Vincent and Nanaki, but Cloud needed to make a point. "With that said, I know all of you will experience the same sooner or later. You will face tragedies, you will face betrayals, you will face love, and you will eventually face your own death. But, that's life. Life isn't easy, it's full of hardships, tears, and happiness, and we have to be mentally and physically strong enough to stand up to keep walking, to keep fighting for what we believe."

Cloud couldn't help the brief smile that slipped onto his expression as he reflected back to his previous life. Yes, it had been hard, but in the end, he had loved his life. He had people that cared for him, people that would fight for him, that would fight with him. That was all that really mattered.

Shaking his head, Cloud continued. "Anyway, the reason why I'm stating all of this is because I want there to be differences, I want everyone to experience these differences. Doing the exact same thing never changes, has never brought improvements. I want us all to grow, mentally, not physically, and it means interacting with those outside what ShinRa desires. So I plan on changing certain rules of the system to bring in those the army has never considered, from the unusual fighting styles to different races, woman, to even the smaller-sized individuals."

Cloud could already see the confusion. He knew it would occur. He had been expecting it.

"Some of you may question this. Why? And I will tell you: why not? No one realizes that we've grown stagnant, not even the higher ups, not even yourselves. We've grown comfortable in our little place without ever seeing what's outside our windows or we see it, but don't ever get up to step outside and experience it. Is it because that outside looks scary? Or is it because you're too scared to do it yourself? The world is ever changing and we must change with it. Nothing ever stays the same. Maybe tomorrow, will be a new day? Maybe tomorrow, someone upstairs will be replaced? Maybe tomorrow, one of the plates in Midgar will fall? Maybe tomorrow, the Planet will decide that it doesn't want humans on its surface anymore and sets out to kill us all." Cloud snorted at the last one, hoping his little joke got through, though from the looks of everyone, it hadn't. "I highly doubt that last one, but hopefully you get my point."

At least, he hoped they were getting his points. He was trying to keep his speech understandable, not wanting to get anyone lost in the confusion.

"Now, the changes I want to bring won't happen immediately. They take time. Small shifts towards the better. Some will work out, others won't, and that's fine. But I hope that everyone will be lenient towards these changes and give it time to accept its place. I plan on making SOLDIER better, to improve its purpose, and how the people of this world looks towards us. I don't want what happened to the person I once respected happen to anyone else, to have the public turn against them until they feel they have been betrayed by the world. We are not machines that can simply be replaced when we break down, that our parts can be merely switched out. We are not monsters. We have emotions and feelings like everyone else. We are not some science experiment that can be controlled and contained. We are human and we will always be human despite everything that has happened to us. We change and improve and we keep going. We are stubborn people that will continue to survive even when the world falls apart around us."

Cloud peered out into the group, slowly making his rounds over each and every face. There weren't many SOLDIERs, nothing compared to the regular Army, an elite force that only had about three to maybe four hundred men with most being mere Thirds.

"So I hope that one day, you'll make the choice on where to stand. Either with me or someone else. But, in the end, you must believe they are correct, that these decisions are your own. You shape your path and we are the ones to either guide you or impend your progress. Until you reach that end, I'll do my upmost best to ensure your safety despite SOLDIERs being the strongest individuals alive."

Cloud stared out in the group, knowing that all eyes were resting on his body. He could feel both brothers' eyes on his back, comforting him and giving the push he required, but he had already reached his limit for the time being. He had never been good with crowds, always despised them.

Taking a deep breath, he pushed through the last bit of his speech. "We are SOLDIERs and we will fight. That is all. Dismissed." The SOLDIER Director didn't wait for those in the audience to call out to him, immediately heading towards the right where one of the various exits was located, and if they did, he ignored them.

Rufus allowed his brother to slip away, knowing Cloud had used up all his mental strength to speak for today. The youngest had never been the most outspoken person, keeping sentences short and sweet and blunt, and this has been the most he had ever spoken all at once. The Turk Director glanced over to Lazard, giving a small smirk before taking his leave as well.

To both of them, they knew it was going to be an interesting year at ShinRa.


Cloud glanced up momentarily upon a loud knock on his door, only three hours since the official start of his Director position and the scheduled meeting with his men. It wasn't nearly enough time to recover his wits just yet from all that exposure, but he was getting there. He sighed. Still, the knock hadn't been a surprise. No, he had been expecting it.

After all, he was the one to call the man over for a meeting, well, messaged him actually. Pushing aside his work, not that there was much considering Lazard and himself kept things organized, Cloud called out for the individual to enter. "Come in!"

His bright blue eyes momentarily glanced down at his papers: mission reports, budgeting, financing, possible new recruits, possible promotions, and the list went on. Most of these, Cloud had every intention of turning digitally and had already made a personal request with the tech departments. It would not only shorten his work time by a considerable amount (especially anything dealing with numbers), but it would make processing time cut by at least three-fourths. His time spent in the future with Rufus and the new technology his brother had brought with him (the memories) had helped him learn exactly what was the most useful and he had no intention of letting that simplicity go.

As his door opened, Cloud glanced right back up, giving a small welcoming smile. "Ah, Kunsel, correct?" He had vague memories of the man from Zack, not enough to form an accurate picture. However, he at least recognized that this Second Class was known for his outstanding information gathering skills. If someone wanted to know something, one went to him. As such, many wondered why the man hadn't become a Turk instead, but everyone had their wishes and desires. "Please take a seat."

"Director Cloud." It was a short greeting, nothing more than that. Kunsel immediately took his seat in front of Cloud's desk, remaining upright. It was clear, despite his face hidden by the helmet, that he was nervous. It wasn't exactly normal, after all, to be called out right after a grand meeting regarding future changes. "Am I...in trouble?"

"No, you're not." Shaking his head, Cloud continued. "I just wanted to ask you something."

"Oh..." The SOLDIER relaxed, almost like he was letting out all the air in his body. "That's good to hear."

The blond was about to head straight into his discussion, shuffling through his papers for the topic, when he noticed something out of the corner of his eyes. It was small twitches, not obviously noticeable, but enough to catch his attention. Cloud smirked, recognizing the symptoms. "You want to say something," Cloud could honestly see it radiating from the man's body. Sighing, he leaned back. "Go ahead, I won't be offended."

Kunsel's eyebrows rose up from underneath the helmet, surprised. "Are you sure, sir?"

"Yes."

"It could be offensive."

"Then even more so for you to come out and say it. We'll be working together in the future and I'd like us to have a good work relationship."

"I'm impressed, Director." There was a smile on the man's lips, barely hidden underneath the helmet. It was obvious that this wasn't what Kunsel expected, nowhere close. "I've never had anyone slip through my information networks like you have. I couldn't get any ounce of info regarding you no matter who I asked or where I dug."

Cloud almost snorted. "I was very careful. If I wanted to get to the bottom of certain issues plaguing my department, I needed to go unnoticed. People tend to clamp up when it comes to higher ups. They won't admit the truth."

Kunsel snickered. "That's very true." And it was with him being no different from anyone else. No one speaks to their bosses so unreservedly, not unless they wanted to be punished. It was a well-known fact. "So, what did you call me here for, sir?"

"Ah, yes." The blond reached into one of his drawers, pulling out a folder, and opened it, revealing various reports buried within. "You see, I want to start some required classes for all SOLDIERs. I've noticed some...blunders when it came to monster hunting." Kunsel, already leaning forward and despite the pages being upside-down, read the reports that held pictures of monsters and the individuals that handled them. Knowing he had the Second's attention, Cloud continued. "Some of the men were getting their information mistaken regarding monsters. You could say they were handling them all wrong and many ended up paying the ultimate price for it. For example, this one."

Kunsel followed the pointed finger and quickly read over the details that were located there. He almost winced at the information. The listed SOLDIER in the papers had died, brutally too. The man had been torn apart by the targeted monsters and the individual that had witnessed it had been left horrified before being killed one week later on another mission. Both had misinterpreted the monsters they were supposed to defeat, the details completely wrong, and even Kunsel could see that this was completely their fault. The first deceased SOLDIER had been using the wrong materia magic against the creatures, accidently healing instead of weakening. The other SOLDIER had done something similar except attacking its strongest spot.

"As you can see, I don't want things like this occurring to anyone anymore. These could have all been avoidable events and the SOLDIERs would still be here today." Cloud closed the files, tucking them back into his drawers. He knew he had the informant listening intently, eyes boring Cloud from underneath the helmet. "However, I can't fix things that have occurred in the past, just prevent new ones. So I plan on having monster education classes for all SOLDIERs and I want you to be in charge of handling them."

Kunsel jolted back. "M-Me?"

Cloud nodded, "Yes, you're one of the best informed regarding matters related to anything both in ShinRa and outside. I figured that it would be best to leave it to your discretion. I know you're capable."

The Second Class blinked rapidly in question. "What about my missions? Or the classes I'm already teaching?"

The Director settled back into his seat. "That's up to you, of course. I have no issues with you teaching or taking missions. Since I'm asking this as a favor, you do have a say on what you'd like to do. For example: you can request for the total number of required missions you are made to go on to be less. Or you can teach less. I can even give you preferences over your mission types as well. And, of course, your pay will increase with this added responsibility."

Kunsel didn't respond, thinking over the deal. Teaching a class to everyone... That wasn't easy. There was so much material to go over, people he would have to come in contact with. Usually, the simple classes he taught were guided towards those lower than him or on his same level, not...everyone.

"The classes will probably only be twice a month at most. You can have it as a repeat session or something different. I know many won't always be able to make one of the classes due to their schedule. Maybe both if unlucky."

Nodding, the Second Class lifted his head to stare at the Director from behind his helmet. "Is it alright if I think about this? Or do I need to say something now?"

Cloud shook his head. "No, take your time. I want you to do this, not force you to do so." As Kunsel stood up, prepared to head out considering the conversation was coming to a close, the blond followed from behind. "Just let me know whenever you've made your decision."

"Of course, sir."

As Cloud escorted the Second Class to the door, he gave a small smile. He was trying to push more emotions out to the front, but, well, he was never one. It was easier whenever Rufus was around, using fond memories in order to give him something to work with. But right now? He couldn't procure a single one. As the blond opened the door, he froze and beside him, Kunsel did the exact same thing.

"Oh..." Cloud raised an eyebrow at the sight before him and Kunsel, waiting for them to exit. "I see I have some visitors already." He was obviously motioning towards the three men that were hovering close by. Cloud briefly glanced at Kunsel with a sigh. "Well, I guess I'll hear from you later."

"Yes, sir." With those words, the Second Class hustled towards the elevator, wanting to get off the floor before anything happened. Having three of the strongest Firsts anywhere together never meant good things and they looked like they were itching for a fight. As much as Kunsel would love to stay and gather blackmail material, he knew when to run and hide. Getting that type of information wasn't worth seeing a blade slice through his gut.

The second the elevator doors closed, Cloud almost rolled his eyes at the three. "So...what can I do for you guys?"

Angeal decided to pull away from the wall he had been leaning against, arms crossed against his chest. "Can we talk, Director?" Genesis and Sephiroth were edging closer, they too wanting to be in this conversation.

"Of course. Come in." Cloud stepped back, letting the three Firsts follow, and watched out of the corner of his eyes as Angeal closed the door behind. Genesis and Sephiroth sat down in the two offered chairs in front of his desk, getting themselves comfortable, while the last First slipped towards the side, leaning back against the wall. Cloud carefully spoke as he looked over the three. "I'm grateful that you at last waited until I was done speaking with Kunsel." He rounded his desk, sitting back into his seat he had just vacant moments ago. "So, what is it?"

The three Firsts glanced amongst each other before Genesis decided to be the one to speak up. "You went undercover to observe us, didn't you?"

Cloud didn't deny that. "That was one of the reasons."

"One of the reasons?"

"Yes, I needed to see how SOLDIER functioned on the field and behind closed doors. I know very well that people don't tend to speak up when it comes to higher-ups. I needed to find the deeper seated issues." Cloud was honestly a little irritated that he was repeating the same subject matter for the third time in a row today.

As for the three SOLDIERs, neither of them could deny that.

Genesis hummed, slightly impressed with that thought process. Lazard couldn't do anything like that, no skills or power to back himself up during battle. He was a liability. Cloud, on the other hand, could keep up, able to hold his own with practiced ease. The red head unfolded his legs, leaning over to rest his elbow against the arm of the chair. "So? What do you think of us so far?"

Cloud didn't skip a beat, face impassive. "You are all competent in your work. Your skills and knowledge on the field are excellent. Even though you may have limitations or are weak in a certain areas, you're able to make it up through sheer will or use of resources. You also all trust each other, know how to work amongst each other, and that is definitely needed in a military place."

"So you're familiar with such settings?"

Cloud nodded. "In a way." He kept his eyes on Genesis before shifting towards Sephiroth and Angeal once, then right back. "Is this your way of interviewing me?"

The red head didn't seem fazed by the question, simply shrugging his shoulders out of amusement. "What? You can research us but we can't do the same with you?"

"You have plenty of months coming up to work on that."

Genesis smirked, "How very cold of you. Shutting me down like that."

"Whatever you say."

Cloud was tempted to roll his eyes once more. He wasn't annoyed. No, he was used to such outlandish personalities and had learned to deal long ago. Rufus was one of the worst later in life, doing random shit that would get them in trouble just for the sake for finding out whether or not the plan would succeed. At least, he was confident his brother would get them out of said sticky situations.

Shaking his head, pushing those thoughts aside, Cloud peered over the three Firsts carefully before reluctantly sighing. "While you're here, I want to propose something new." He could already see them glancing between each other, confusion and curiosity decorating their expressions. "It won't happen now as it's too soon and there's a lack of staff to compensate the missing positions that will result from the shift."

"But I take it that it has to do with us though." Sephiroth spoke up, leaning a little closer. Genesis unfolded his legs from where he had been sitting, his attention focused on the Director. Angeal remained where he was at, still leaning against the wall.

"That's correct." Cloud nodded, agreeing to their conclusion. "I want to change the military profile. You know, rearrange the positions for the top three areas." He paused for a moment, letting the idea settle into all three minds. He had been thinking about this for a while and Rufus and Lazard had both agreed that it was an excellent idea. It would help take off some of the media attention on Sephiroth, diverting them into three individuals instead of one.

"And this plan?"

"I want there to be three Generals instead of one." Cloud found himself smirking as he watched the expressions among the three. It was entertaining to see such contained individuals morph into surprise. "And obviously, I want all three of you to take those positions." He didn't give anyone the chance to talk back, continuing. "From there, each of you will have a Commander and a Lieutenant. After that, it'll be like the regular positions, no changes there."

Angeal finally pulled away from the wall, the first to gather his wits. "That is quite the change." He had never really had any thought on becoming a General or rising up from his current position. Genesis, however, looked absolutely thrilled. It was a shame it couldn't happen too soon. For the both of them, they knew that Sephiroth hated all the attention he received due to his high and lonely position. Angeal persisted, "How soon though?"

Cloud shook his head. "Not soon enough, sadly. Like I said, there isn't anyone I can immediately pick out to take those missing positions, and all of them have to be filled first. It's just not possible. That and there's other issues. These are people you must fully and confidently trust as they will be placing your orders in mind to the men or directing the field when you're not around. And I'm certain you all don't have any in mind currently." He paused for a moment before continuing. He knew he was speaking the truth, the Three Holy Trinity barely interacted with their men outside of work except for Angeal (but he was too much of a softie in a way, thinking the best of everyone). "I know you want to pick out your own individuals to place into the positions below you, but I don't want you guys getting someone overly similar to you. You need balance, diversity, and someone that can think differently than you, see things you wouldn't normally see. You're welcome to recommend someone and I won't stop you on doing that. If they fit, they can have the position."

"Alright..." Sephiroth almost wanted sigh, depressed despite his calm expression. He was the one most troubled by this request, the one that would be trapped by this proposition. Beside his two friends, he really didn't have anyone that he could honestly trust with his orders. This wouldn't be an easy decision and he could see Cloud's point. He needed two more people, but Sephiroth couldn't think of a single individual.

Luckily, or unluckily, he wasn't the only one.

Genesis and Angeal were pondering through the list of names they were at least familiar with, but none stood out. Everyone had issues with something or they were too much like them.

Cloud could read it in their eyes. "This is why I said it won't happen right away. I'd give it at least a year, maybe two. That's plenty of time to gather up some names and start altering the positions." He chuckled at their depressed expressions, despite it being carefully hidden. Cloud then turned towards the silver-haired General. "Luckily for you, Sephiroth, I already have an idea on who to place as your Commander, but I'm waiting for him to become a First before doing anything. He just needs the experience. A year or two will be plenty of time."

Everyone looked up, curious.

Cloud shuffled some of his paperwork on his desk, his expression never betraying his thoughts. "He'll become a Second soon. Apparently, a certain someone recently sent a request for the position change. He'll become one of the youngest to move up in rank besides you, Sephiroth."

Angeal snapped over. After all, he had been the one to make the request. "Wait, you don't mean-"

"Correct, Zack Fair. He's young, but within a year or two, I'm certain you'll see just how good he is and why I recommend him."

Genesis snorted, rolling his eyes. "That overactive puppy? Who can barely keep his attention focused on one subject for a few seconds? I highly doubt that."

Cloud could only shrug his shoulders. He was familiar with Zack, had his memories, his abilities, and knew the teen in terms of personality. The Zack now was childish, trying to run towards his dream, and was still dashing head on. Though it had taken the whole fighting his mentor and being independent from him to truly grow into his place, Cloud knew the boy would eventually find it. He expected it. "Right now? He's most definitely not ready. Not at all. But give him a year and I'm certain you'll see the difference. He has a lot of potential, more so than the others."

"Why do you think Zack would be good for me?" Sephiroth, being the one most affected, spoke up. He was curious. He had met the hyperactive male a small handful of times, mostly in passing, but never really thought much on him. He would have to examine the black-haired teen closer later on once this meeting was over. He wanted to see what Cloud saw. "Why not someone else?"

Cloud sighed, scooting closer to his desk. He knew Sephiroth would ask that. How could he not? "Sephiroth, I'm going to be blunt with you. You have absolutely no social skills whatsoever. You can hardly talk to your men without being curt. Your orders are good, no doubt about that, and extremely thorough, but you lack chemistry with your men at times. Zack will actually make up what you're lacking. He will, in a way, help loosen you up and bond. He'll be the type that will egg you on in a positive manner and help you relax. He's your opposite in a way. He's...perfect in contradicting you." Cloud then turned to the other two Firsts, giving Sephiroth some type to ponder over that information.

He knew in the future Zack had helped replace the two friends Sephiroth had lost, not completely, but he had made his own little place in the General's heart. It wasn't enough to stop him from falling into Jenova's hands, but Cloud knew Zack had tried his best in such a disastrous position.

"He can't work for either of you two." Cloud focused on the two Commanders, glancing at the red head first. "Genesis, you'll argue too much to get anything done. Your personalities would clash constantly. You can be friends, but you'll fight over orders and nothing would ever get done by the end of the day." He turned his attention towards the honor-bound Commander. "Angeal, you're his mentor. He looks up to you. If he becomes your Commander, there's really no change there. He'll still look up to you and follow your every word down to the 'dot', which is what I don't want. I want someone that is willing to question their orders and know what they're doing is what needs to be done."

"But this is all currently in the proposal phase, correct?" Sephiroth decided to speak up, drawing the attention to himself for the time being. Cloud nodded. "I have no complaints regarding the plan. I approve it."

"Yes, and it'll cut down your work and split it into three." The blond continued, "It'll also help split the media attention away from you. After all, you hate getting on stage for anything." He couldn't hide his little smirk at recognizing that little tidbit, having watched Sephiroth during one of his speeches when he was free.

The General had looked so out of place, giving hidden signals that he wanted nothing more than to run and hide. He hated all the attention, hated how people stared at him, hated having to say things he didn't even like or believe.

Sephiroth blinked in surprise. No one had ever realized that about him, only his friends. Just how good was Cloud at reading people? Or was this a Turk thing? Regardless, Sephiroth chuckled, amused. "I'm beginning to see why Lazard wanted you to take his position when he left..."

"Someone has to." Cloud shrugged his shoulders, not bothered by the way the conversation was going. "It was either going to be me or Heidegger or one of Heidegger's little toys. It doesn't take a genius to figure out who is the better option."

Angeal snorted, "No. No, it doesn't." He tilted his head slightly, watching his two friends and Cloud from the back. "So far what you're doing is quite admirable. I don't have anything to complain about. I doubt any of us do."

The two other Firsts went quiet, unable to retaliate against that notion. It was true. They didn't really have any firepower against the blond. Cloud, though just started in his position, had already done things no one else had ever been able to. They could all see that it would be an interesting year or two. There was, of course, the question of where he had gotten his enhancements, but that could be done at a later time.

Genesis hummed, blue-green eyes glowing mischievously from his spot on the chair. "Changing the subject, you mentioned something about a hero back in your town? Or was it village?"

Cloud stared for a moment before shaking his head amusingly. That's right. Genesis had been obsessed with becoming the hero of the people, when really the man should have been focusing on being a hero to those that loved him. It wasn't enough to stop the red head from attacking Sephiroth violently, despite their little talk about heroes weeks prior. "A bit off topic, but yes. What about it?"

The red head continued to stare, eyes sharp. "By any chance, were you the hero that took down the villain?"

Cloud couldn't hide the active flinch, definitely not expecting that. His entire body was tense, every cell in his body wanting nothing more than to run. However, he knew he couldn't. He was the Director of SOLDIER. He could never run, not without losing the respect and lives of his men. Cloud knew the three Firsts were carefully watching his every move and had definitely seen his reaction.

Genesis smirked, knowing he had been the one to pull something out of their new somewhat stoic leader. "Or were you the villain that was supposedly cut down?"

This time, Cloud couldn't help the glare that scorched the man. Enough to make Genesis jump, fingers clenching into the chair by default. The red head had been surprised by the intensity, even Sephiroth and Angeal had been affected, though it hadn't been turned towards them. Eventually, Cloud relaxed, closing his eyes as he tried to focus on something besides the horrid question that brought up all sorts of long forgotten memories. He sighed, staring apologetically at the red head. "Look, it's...not a good subject to bring up. Especially all of a sudden." Leaning back against his chair, he sighed again. "Let's just say, I ran away before I could become the next villain, hiding behind my brother in order to protect myself."

It wasn't the answer Genesis had wanted to hear, but that was all he was going to get, all three knew that. Despite the act on the stage, Cloud was an extreme loner. They were reminded of Sephiroth himself in how he responded to people, even those that he had known for years.

"I've realized something..." Sephiroth suddenly spoke, drifting the conversation towards him and immediately changing the subject. For a moment, he looked almost like he was almost pouting. Memories of that time he had been so engulfed with the story Cloud had told during the van ride weeks ago came to the forefront of his mind. Sephiroth knew he had never bothered to ask, too taken by the weave Cloud created, and when he had looked up the information regarding Fenrir, there had been nothing, only disappointment had remained. "You never once mentioned your hometown when we were talking that one time."

"Oh," That's right. Cloud had been purposefully avoiding that. He didn't want anything to be connected to him just yet, until now.

"Were you lying about the stories regarding the Old Gods? I couldn't find it anywhere on the internet or in the libraries."

Cloud blinked, definitely surprised. He hadn't thought Sephiroth would go that far just for information. He chuckled at the idea. In a way, just watching the man he once feared huff and twitch, it was...adorable. Cloud froze. Oh, he shouldn't be having such bad thoughts like those, especially towards this man.

"My hometown is Nibelheim. I can say that now since everything on my profile has been updated." The Director shrugged his shoulders. "Anyway, I know I mentioned before that the stories were passed through families. They weren't written down on paper and we don't have internet access. Education in such a tiny town is extremely limited. It's possible that the town kept copies in their libraries, but it's so far out in the middle of nowhere."

"I see..." The General briefly had a flash of disappointment, shoulders slumping just slightly. It wasn't noticeable unless one really knew where to look. "A shame. I'm interested in learning more about these Old Gods."

Cloud almost chuckled at the sight sitting before him. It really was bizarre to see how this Sephiroth and the one he remembered could act so differently. "Sorry about that. I can't really do much."

"I understand." As the General went over the details he remembered during those brief six hours trapped in a van, he pulled up something else. Hadn't Cloud said he had a brother? Yes, that's right, he had.

Sephiroth blinked.

Oh...

"Your brother..." Sephiroth huffed, already making the connection, not that it was difficult. Seeing the three blonds standing up at the podium made it so obvious that one had to be blind not to see it. "Or should I say brothers..." He trailed off, watching Cloud's expression. "Which one of the two represents Fenrir?"

"Sephiroth?" Angeal questioned, not quite following the conversation. He hadn't known about 'Fenrir' having siblings. Sephiroth probably left it out by mistake. "Fenrir was just Cloud's undercover name."

"No, the name belongs to a series of Old Gods that comes from Nibelheim. There are three siblings named Fenrir, Hel, and Jörmungandr. It was just chance that Cloud was using the wrong name as Fenrir when he essentially represents Hel, Goddess of the Dead." It was a brief description, but it was enough for his friends to catch up on the conversation. Sephiroth's gaze never once left the blond, curiosity eating him.

Cloud just smiled. At times, the silver-haired General could really be charming. "Rufus is Fenrir and Lazard would be Jörmungandr."

Sephiroth tilted his head just slightly, letting some of the strands of silver hair fall across his shoulders. "Interesting. I thought it would be the other way around."

"One would think, but no, Rufus is definitely Fenrir. I know him well enough. And now he has his own little pack, bearing sharp teeth and claws to watch out for. The God Eater who is close to Hel, who guards her throne."

"Pack?" There was a brief flash of confusion before Sephiroth realized what Cloud had meant. "Oh! The Turks..." He nodded. "I see your point now. So that leaves Lazard as Jörmungandr."

Yes, Rufus definitely fit Fenrir, just as much as Cloud fit Hel's role. And as the Goddess of the Dead, he had an army of men to back him up (though, not the undead obviously). Shaking his head to push those thoughts aside, Cloud went ahead and alerted the General what he suspected the other represented. "I'm not too familiar with Lazard, unlike Rufus, but I can tell he's sneaky, crafty like a snake. He'd rather fight with words than physically. He's more of a single loner than the other two siblings, who have each other."

"I can see that."

"Well..." The blond drifted off, not entirely sure on how to keep the conversation going. "Well, if you'd like, I can see if I can get you a book on the Old Gods. No promises though. Like I said, it's generally passed through word of mouth."

"I'd appreciate that. Thank you." And just like that, Sephiroth rose up to his feet, straightening his clothes momentarily after sitting so long in the seat. "Well then, we'll take our leave, but don't forget that we'll be watching you, Director Cloud." Heading towards the door, Sephiroth's long hair and coat flapped behind him and he paused just as he reached the end. Glancing back, he smirked. "I hope that you won't let SOLDIER down." Genesis and Angeal were beside him, just a couple inches behind.

Cloud's facial expression never shifted, though he couldn't hide the amusement shining in his eyes. "I won't, but you're welcome to watch. Come visit me if you have any concerns."

Sephiroth smirked, closing his eyes as he stepped out. Genesis gave a small hum in content before following, red coat trailing behind like a wildfire.

Angeal gave a respectful nod before he left, a small smile resting on his lips. "Have a good day, Director."

"You too, Angeal. Genesis." The door closed shut and Cloud finally relaxed, rotating his neck and back muscles now that his source of stress had taken their leave.

He glanced at his clock and sighed. It was just before twelve. If he was going to get surprise meetings like this, it was going to be a long day. Getting to work, Cloud made a small mental note to pick up some groceries for tonight.

Chapter Text

A month passed since Cloud's official start as Director of SOLDIER and he honestly had to admit it wasn't...too bad. He was settling into the job, not minding the workload, the communication among the men, or the daily budgeting he had to complete. It was different compared to the jobs he has taken in the past, but he made due. He was adaptable if anything.

Regardless, his peculiar ways was creating a wave amongst the SOLDIERs, the men quickly realizing he wasn't some hardcore military personal. Cloud wasn't the type to make orders, unless necessary. No, he planned to leave that to the three Firsts, letting them take charge of their men, take more control. Cloud would simply be the glue that held everything together, communicating with all sides, and making sure that everyone remained safe and sound.

As for interacting with the other Department Heads (besides Rufus, of course), Cloud had luckily only been to one meeting, President included. He had met all except Heidegger, who was currently in Wutai overseeing the battlefield, but that one single gathering was all he needed. Within moments, Cloud had already mentally declared that almost everyone was an idiot of sorts, zoning them out as they crackled in the background. As for Hojo, Cloud barely managed to hold himself from outright killing the vile man upon sight. It was tempting, but he kept to Rufus' long-term plan.

It, of course, didn't stop him from imagining himself running his blades through the madman multiple times out of spite.

Evidently, Rufus sat right beside his younger sibling, nudging Cloud every now and then, and pulling him into a low-key conversation as a distraction. A few of the other Department Heads had gloated at Rufus' apparent demotion, the grins in their eyes oh-so obvious, while others glared with jealousy at Lazard from behind his back. The displeasure at being one-upped by the former SOLDIER Director infuriated them and they didn't hesitate to show it through snarky remarks and minor backstabbing (something that wasn't new). Rufus just scoffed at the stares and, if anyone dared to voice their thoughts to his face, the Turk Director gave them a verbal lashing to remember while Cloud simply watched amusingly in the background, silently chuckling. 

Despite that, no one really bothered Cloud, not yet anyway. He was still considered new and there was no trust amongst his men. He couldn't quite blame them though and he wasn't going to force the issue. So, Cloud just continued his work, sending off missions and reports through the servers.

That to say, Cloud had plenty of free time once his regular documents had been completed and he took to wandering the hallways once more (without his weapon), much like he had when undercover as a SOLDIER Second. Some of the SOLDIERs greeted him as he passed by, but most avoided him entirely, hastily disappearing around the corner. He wasn't offended by the actions and mentally shrugged them off.

Cloud eventually checked up on the cadets, especially Anton, to see how they were performing, but it was the same as before when he had originally snuck in. There was only one or two that would make it through all the exams and become SOLDIER, unless something changed amongst the group. There just wasn't anyone that really stood out, even after a month, and it would be another five before they could train a new batch.

Oh, well.

Cloud even passed by Louis, who didn't recognize him, and gave a nod for a greeting. Louis, of course, narrowed his eyebrows, confused and mentally wondering why the Director was looking at him of all people, before scurrying around the corner. The Second Class appeared healthy, was even smiling whenever Cloud managed to get a drop on him, so he suspected that whatever issues that had been plaguing the man before had been taken care of.

Other times, Cloud visited his eldest half-brother, Lazard, and couldn't help the brief snicker that escaped at the sight of the other engulfed by his paperwork, despite being already accumulated to his position as Vice President. After all, Lazard was used to such ordeals and excelled behind a desk than on a battlefield, unlike the rest of his siblings.

On said visits, Cloud offered to take him out for lunch or a simple coffee break, both happily accepted. Even Lazard knew he needed some time away from his desk, letting his secretary, Celestia, handle everything while temporarily gone. It was pleasant to sit down and actually have a conversation, a normal conversation, that didn't relate to work in one way or another (unless it was gossip). Sometimes, for breaks, Cloud would take Lazard down to the gyms to show him some moves on how to defend himself. Rufus excelled in certain areas, Cloud the opposite, and the combination kept Lazard consistently exhausted. Now, both younger brothers knew perfectly well that Lazard would never be as good as them in battle, as fast or as strong, but they hoped it would be enough to keep him safe from harm until backup arrived. That was all that truly mattered.

There were times when Cloud wandered towards Rufus' area, pestering him for an hour or two in his office. The middle sibling had finally caught up on the backlogs, reorganizing the system, and revamped the workload. It was obvious he was looking for new recruits to fill in the empty spaces where some of the Turks had deserted with Veld, but even he was having trouble finding such individuals. It wasn't like he could pull trustworthy skilled persons out of thin air. There was Elena to take into consideration, but as long as Gun (Emma), who is the older sister, was in the department, Rufus could do no such thing, not without creating a rift.

Still, besides the three Turks (Elena not included) Cloud had known in his timeline, he wasn't too familiar with any of the others. He didn't know who left and who didn't and Zack's memories weren’t helpful in that area since he only communicated frequently with two: Tseng and Cissnei. Rufus had a list of names, but even he wasn't familiar with every single one, though he recognized a small handful. Luckily, of the major players (the ones Rufus knew about), only Knife, Legend, Nunchaku, Player, and Martial Arts (M) had left with Veld. The rest had remained behind, not including the smaller and/or newer members that held no codenames. So while looking for new recruits, Rufus had taken up the ordeal with retraining the current Turks with new skills and weaponry he brought from the future.

In the beginning, the Turks had simply gone along with the idea, humoring their new boss, until they got their asses handed back to them. Rufus had wiped the floor with them, defeating them with practiced ease with his own overhauled techniques, purposefully using his future knowledge to his advantage in weaponry and abilities. His ability to read the surface of people's thoughts, their patterns, their intentions, sensing their next ten movements from the twitch of their muscles was unmatched. Rufus knew how someone was going to react before they even did and rapidly retaliated with five plans that correlated with said reaction. It was also good practice for his newfound younger body, but Cloud had already beaten that into him.

Even Tseng had a difficult time figuring Rufus' next moves, effortlessly tossed aside like a rag doll despite his training, but the Second-in-Command quickly caught on. All the Turks did and they studied Rufus' moves, incorporating their own into the mix. Before long, Rufus was finding challenging competition and upped his plans to ten paces to keep himself ahead of his quick-thinking men. Some of the Turks took to the new weaponry like breathing air, taking parts to reformate their own and strengthening their signature equipment.

It didn't help when Cloud got asked to be involved, arriving to the training building after hours to give them someone that wouldn't easily break under certain techniques. It was obvious the Turks were hesitant to bring in the SOLDIER Director, an outsider into their fold, someone from the opposite playing field, but they relented upon their Director's request. Curiosity regarding the man, since the information on Cloud Strife was bare minimum, played a factor in turning the tide. However, when the two blond brothers fought each other, the Turks could only stare in awe. 

The respect in their eyes was growing, obviously able to see the competent man beneath his youthful appearance as well as his unusual...background. His no-nonsense attitude and ability to predict had him back-talking against certain higher-ups or departments, arguing that certain missions would obviously lead his Turks to their unnecessary and untimely demise.

Cloud came in to visit during those rough days, calming the raging Turk Director when his temper started to get the better of him, and his different point-of-view was greatly appreciated when Rufus got himself trapped in a spiraling mess (luckily rare). Eventually, over time, the Turks accepted Cloud as part of their unit, not even passing him a second glance when he entered their secured office, and even had his personal PHS number stored in their phones for emergencies. They didn't even bother lifting a finger when they saw Cloud dragging his brother out the door for lunch, or even to just to get away from the desk by his collar, despite the man's colorful cursing. The Turks had quickly learned that the two brothers went hand-in-hand, and sometimes, Tseng found himself getting tagged for said outings.

It was starting to fall into a normalcy for everyone.


"Holy shit..." Rod muttered, mainly to himself, as he stared at the dully tiled ceiling. He was starting to get used to the sight of it, had even begun counting the number of dots on each panel. His body hurt everywhere, especially his back from landing on it hard enough to knock the air out of his lungs and his right arm, where Rufus had just twisted it moments before, painfully so. Luckily, the back of his head had just missed from being smashed against the hard floor, rolling his body to decrease and comfort his injuries. He could still hear the sounds of combat in the background, but knew he was down for the count, defeated.

Turk practice was deadly and there was no such thing as holding back, not even when broken bones and blood came into play. There was no safety structures, no mats, no nothing. Just a hard concrete floor to cushion their falls. Limits were obviously in place and they knew when to stop to prevent themselves from getting any serious injuries that could limit their abilities to perform. Rod, himself, would really like to not have his head cracked open like a coconut. He was certain he was just an inch away from getting a serious concussion from the way he had been thrown to the ground. 

A body being flung above him was enough to pull his dazed attention away from the ceiling. Craning his neck, he watched as Two Guns slammed into the wall, wincing at the loud crack that resulted. He didn't even move when his fellow Turk collapsed to the ground beside him, a loud groan of pain breaking through. Two Guns, at least, was conscious enough to protect himself from the fall forward, outstretching his hands to protect his face. Afterwards, the man just laid there, down for the count.

The two momentarily stared at each other.

Rod grinned, giving a small teasing wave. "Well, don't you look pleasant, Ruluf."

Two Guns huffed, spitting out blood that stained his once-white teeth, and reached up to wipe the dripping droplets trailing down his chin. Apparently, Rufus had landed a crushing punch, breaking the skin on his right cheek and splitting his lip. Ruluf snorted. "You don't look any better, Alvis."

They both glanced up to see Rufus taking on Reno and Rude, the Director weaving between the two easily. They weren't using any weapons, except for their fists, but that wasn't enough to stop Rufus. The blond had obviously discarded his usual white pristine clothes, dressed instead in loose gym slacks, which offered absolutely no protection against physical hits but, in return, gave him free unrestrained movement. Still, it wasn't like anyone else was dressed any differently, no one wanting to get their business suits dirtied. Apparently, the cleaning bills were dreadful.

A few specks of blood decorated Rufus' clothes, much like everyone else's, and his shirt rode up as he moved, revealing a soon-to-be massive bruise at his left side where Tseng had managed to get a good shot in. There was also a couple long bleeding scratches across Rufus' left cheek and unprotected right arm (Rod had managed to tear the sleeve off earlier) where Reno had gotten sneaky with his rings. Regardless, it wasn't enough to stop the Turk Director from retaliating in revenge.

Rufus was literally taking on most of his Turks with minor struggle, depending on who went against him, letting his men weave in and out of battle however they liked. The group had decided to throw one to two at a time, the rest watching from the sidelines for an opening, observing for weaknesses. Most of them normally depended on weapons, with a few taking on martial arts, and Rufus sought to fix that discrepancy. Despite the constant movement and hits he had taken, it wasn't enough to stop the Director from striking back with the same output, pulling moves that some of the Turks knew they couldn't physically maneuver, except some of the females, nowhere close to being that flexible or creative (Rufus had learned them as the best tactic against Cloud, who fought at an arm's length, effectively restraining his brother).

"I mean, I've faced off against Tseng and Veld once for training, separately by the way, but shit, Rufus makes it so much harder. It's like he knows exactly what you're going to do before you do and already has like fifty fucking plans to react with." Alvis grumbled, rolling onto his stomach as he forced himself to stand, ignoring the burn of his right. "Look, he's even coordinating with those outside the ring."

And Rufus was. He had kicked Reno's legs out from under him, hard enough that even the red head couldn't hide his screech, but not enough to snap bones from the force. As Reno fell forward, the Director rapidly spun around, twisting his body, and spiked the red head towards the resting Turks hovering at the sidelines.

Tseng, having recognized the move, managed to roll out the pathway. Katana and Gun, unfortunately, didn't. The group of three fumbled into each other, crashing to the floor, and groaned as they tried to untangle themselves, only to make things rapidly awkward. Rude, foolishly distracted by his partner's defeat, gave an opening for the Director to take advantage of and he found himself facing the ceiling as Rufus flipped him from behind, carefully cradling the larger man's neck to show he could easily snap it.

It was then that Rufus raised his hands up to call for a break.

Alvis was tempted to whistle at the amount of destruction his boss had singlehandedly created and instead grinned at Ruluf. "If Veld went against Boss, who do you think would win?"

Two Guns huffed, carefully standing up while putting as little pressure as possible on his wounded side. "That is a battle I'd hate to see."

"But come on, who do you think would win?"

This time, it wasn't Ruluf that answered. "Rufus, of course."

The two Turks snapped their attention towards the newcomer that had interrupted, eyes wide with surprise. Neither of them had heard the other sneaking up on them.

Cloud shook his head, dressed in his usual uniform, and stepped around Ruluf until he was in front of Alvis. "I'm afraid Rufus would be the winner of that one." Outstretching his hand, he helped the Turk rise up to his feet when the man had only managed to get halfway. He sent a quick cure to both Turks, repairing some of the damage his brother had caused, earning a small nod of thanks from the instant relief.

"Is that so..." Ruluf patted down his clothes, dusting them off until they looked as neat as physically possible. In gyms clothes, of course. "Why do you say that?"

"You'd be surprised what Rufus knows and can do." After all, Veld and Rufus’ real ages were about the same in this timeline, but they were completely different in attitudes and abilities. Cloud tilted his head at the thought, letting his bangs slide across his face. "But don't think I'll tell you. That's something you're supposed to figure out on your own."

Alvis huffed, crossing his arms. "You're no fun." As he started heading towards the main group, the rest followed behind. "So, Director Strife, wh-"

"Please, we're outside of work. You can just call me Cloud." The expression that flipped through Cloud's face was nearly indescribable, mainly because it disappeared as soon as it appeared. Titles had never been his thing and never will be.

"Right, sure, I can do that. So, Cloud, when did you get here?"

"Just a few moments ago. In time to see Reno get thrown across the room."

It wasn't uncommon at this point to find Cloud trailing not too far behind Rufus outside of work or vice versa. Those two were rarely separated for long and the Turks were quick to notice that. Wherever one went, the other wasn't too far behind. It didn't help that the two brothers were good at reading each other, almost to the point they were seeing into each other's minds. It was creepy how Cloud picked out Rufus' inner thoughts on subject matters or their Director on Cloud's next actions.

As the group gathered in one corner, trying to rehydrate and treat their injuries, Rufus leaned against a wall. He swallowed gulps of water before wiping down his face with a towel, tucking his sweaty bangs behind his ears. The older blond glanced over as the three arrived at their little corner and gave a welcoming nod towards his sibling. 

"I'll admit," Alvis started as he took a seat beside Reno, who was rubbing his kneecaps with a small mutter of curses under his breath. Rude was on the other side, cradling his neck, his glasses skewered. "It’s been a long time since I've had this sort of training. Certain people got lucky to miss this." Some got to remain behind at the main base to monitor the servers and department itself.

Cloud shrugged his shoulders, sending a couple more cures to everyone.

Ruluf huffed, "That should be a good thing...right?"

"Oh? Please tell my unfortunate ass that just got handed to me on how this is a good thing." Reno grumbled as he leaned against the back wall, barely hiding a wince. Everything still ached despite the cures and he closed his eyes to push back the growing headache.

"Well, if we're struggling this bad against one single person, that can't be good." Two Guns then added, "And the boss isn't even enhanced either."

Rufus stared at three Turks from the sidelines, placing his water bottle down onto the bench.

"Are you serious? That's bullshit, yo." Reno grumbled some more, growling his bitterness. "I can fight just fine."

Rufus, at the pointed stare from Cloud, took the lead. "It's more that I've noticed many lacked training or familiarity with the combat style I use. All of you are smart, quick-thinking enough to compensate any of your weaknesses, but as you've already experienced, it's enough to cause you trouble." The Turks continued to stare, but were unable to ignore the aching bruises on their body, the telltale signs of their defeat. A few unconsciously rubbed the spots, wincing as they touched the tender areas. Rufus continued, "I doubt that you'll face anyone as competent as myself in battle with this style, but fifty percent of the battle has already won by being prepared."

Cloud almost rolled his eyes, letting out a little snort, before breaking away, letting those words settle in their mind. In the meantime, he gave his brother a quick one-over, checking for injuries, and spotted the worst on the ribs, quickly giving it a heal. Rufus huffed, shaking his head, letting the spell wash over, ignoring the itching under his skin.

"At least, it helps that about three-fourths of the people out there, SOLDIERs included, are muscle heads. Literally. It's exactly what ShinRa wanted from both sides. All brawn, no brains." There was a resounding snort from someone amongst the group, but here was no denial on that basic assessment. Rufus gave a small stretch and glanced up at the walled clock for the time. "Alright everyone, back to training.”

As the Turks slowly made their way to the ring to be beaten down once more, Cloud settled in his little corner off towards the sidelines, but it wasn't long before one of the Turks slipped by curiously, his turn near the end. Katana, one of the very few that used a blade as a primary weapon, stared inquisitively at Cloud's large buster-style sword that had been propped against the wall. "So, about your weapon..." 

Cloud blinked once before twisting his neck to glance at First Tsurugi. "What about it?"

"How heavy is it? What is your combat style?"

"Ah," The blond wasn't really certain on how to answer the latter question. It wasn't exactly something he could just explain. Eventually, he defaulted to a regular response and shrugged his shoulders. "Can't say much on that second question, it's something to be seen." Cloud grabbed the sword handle, propping the sharp end to dig into the floor. "As for the weight, it's about fifty-five kilos. If I didn't have SOLDIER strength, this weapon would be near-impossible for an unenhanced to wield."

"But if you factor that SOLDIER strength," Cissnei came by, interested in the conversation instead of the beat down Rufus was currently giving to Gun and Shotgun on the opposite side of the room. "This weapon, already deadly as is, becomes destructive. It's basically overkill."

"Agreed." Katana kneeled to examine the blade closer. He ran his gloved finger over the edges, noticing the thickness of it as well the various designs incorporated into the metal. "The material is different too. Not damascus steel...How interesting." As Katana stood up, he peered up at Cloud with his hand stretched outward. "May I?"

Cloud shrugged and offered the handle over, letting Katana lift the blade up on his own. The Turk was able to, but it was obvious that just holding it with two hands was starting to strain his muscles. Katana didn't even bother trying to go through any katas, knowing he wouldn't be able to lift the blade back up soon after.

The SOLDIER Director chuckled amusingly, arms folded against his chest. "This weapon was made by my design. It's called a Fusion Sword, but I named it 'First Tsurugi.'"

By now, the rest of the Turks were easing over to eavesdrop, interested by the show. At least, those that had been rotated out. Reno stepped forward, his grin wide despite sporting a large red smack across his left cheek, his goggles completely gone. His long red hair was mused, yanked out of his ponytail as if someone had grabbed the back of it for leverage. "Yo, partner, why don't you try and lift the blade? Think ya can do it?"

Rude just stared silently, his sunglasses cracked and skewered. Just moments before, he had gotten a good roundhouse kick to the head, knocking him out momentarily, but it wasn't enough to keep him down. Rude shook his head at the question, knowing it was impossible, but winced as it made his headache pound vividly.

"Fusion sword?" Apparently, Katana was the one to pick up the hidden meaning. He had to let the tip of the blade rest against ground, no longer able to bear the weight. "Is there more than one?"

Rod unconsciously took a step back, eyes wide as he took the blade currently before him into consideration, his right arm raised like he was going to block an attack. "Are you seriously telling me there's another one? How the hell do you wield that?" The resulting murmur amongst the Turks had them stating the exact same thing.

Rufus just laughed from the opposite side of the room, breaking the whispers. Training had been busted again, everyone too amused to focus.

Cloud just smiled, taking the blade back into hand, effortlessly swinging it around. "No, there's no second blade like this. If there was, then I guess I'd be indestructible, but, well, I wouldn't be able to use First Tsurugi to its full capabilities."

"I do remember someone mentioning you're compensating." Rufus snickered as he folded his arms across his chest, eyes twinkling in mischief. Despite being on the other side of the room, they had a clear view of each other. "I've seen your sword collection." 

Cloud just snorted. "Right, sure. Come at me, bro. We'll need to talk about your gun collection then." Rolling his eyes, he rotated the blade to access the clasps. They weren't normally visible unless one knew where they were located. Taking the blades apart into its separate parts, he laid them out, knowing he would be spending the rest of the afternoon talking about them.


"You know, despite the two bosses being weird, they're actually kinda cool." Alvis called out amongst his fellow Turks in the locker room. "Competent too. Not what I was expecting when the switch was announced."

The two Directors had left earlier by thirty minutes, training finished, and had nearly slipped out of the training center unnoticed. As for everyone else, they were slowly getting dressing into their navy blue uniforms to head home or back to the office, mindful of their injuries, despite the healing Cloud gave them all.

Alvis continued, buttoning up his shirt, "I mean, I can't be the only one."

There was a mutter of agreement amongst the Turks.

"I know, Alvis! I know exactly what you mean!" Shotgun called out from the other side of the room, where the woman was changing. "Don't you think it's weird that Rufus ShinRa suddenly became incredibly skilled in such a short period of time? He didn't really have any former training besides what he received from us, right? I mean, those moves he pulled off looks like he's been doing it for years."

Her words sent a thrill down everyone's spines. Shotgun was right. Rufus, the previous Rufus, had received enough training for defense purposes only. The type of moves the blond had been able to pull off had never been considered nor taught by any of them. So then, where had he learned such a thing? And it wasn't just that, there was also the weapons he was using with ease that normal Rufus would never have touched, the man too stubborn for his own good, too prestige for something so lowly.

Cloud Strife needed to be taken into consideration as well. That type of strength and skills wouldn't have been missed in such a heavily monitored world. It was like he had appeared out of nowhere and had taken over just as quickly. There was absolutely no actual data regarding his enhancements besides the fake identity listed in the systems. 

Those dangerous thoughts brought up more questions than answers.

"Dude...Tseng, ya know exactly what's going on, don't ya? You know all their little dirty secrets, right?" Reno accused, his green eyes narrowed on the Second-in-Command, eagerly waiting for the response. If anyone would know the truth of the matter, it would to be him and him only. Tseng was the only one that remained around the two blonds constantly, weaving in and out of their offices and homes.

"You must admit, it is a bit inconsistent, Tseng." Katana continued, carefully attaching his scabbard to his left hip.

Tseng sighed, knowing everyone's attention was focused solely on him. He was glad his men could sense this peculiarity. It meant they could at least think compared to others in ShinRa. "Perhaps I do." He closed his locker shut, hearing the snap and click in return. He tidied his clothes, making himself as presentable as always without a single strand out of place, hair perfectly tied up into his usual ponytail. Perfection. With a low huff under his breath, Tseng continued. "But I'm not the one to give you those answers."

Letting those words settle and ignoring the disappointed expressions thrown his way, Tseng stepped around his men and headed towards the exit, ready to head back to the office to do last minute checks on their systems.

However, unable to help himself, Tseng momentarily paused as he wrapped his fingers around the door handle, glancing back with a smirk. "Investigate if you want, but you won't find much. I'm afraid they're quite thorough on hiding their secrets."

With that, Tseng closed the door behind him.


Rufus was tired, hardly able to keep his eyes open on the way back to his suite, while Cloud drove, zipping down the highways in a ShinRa company car. Yawning, Rufus stretched within the confined space before tilting the seat halfway back. It had been a long while since he had to fight so physically hard. It had been nothing but mental stress for the past few weeks.

"Tired?" Cloud called out, his eyes momentarily flickering to his brother, then back to the road.

"It's been a long day." Rufus ran a hand through his hair, pushing back any bangs that had fallen down. He was dressed in his usual white, but the large overcoat was resting in his lap.

The SOLDIER Director briefly smiled, taking another turn on the road. "We have about thirty minutes. Take a nap. I'll wake you up five before we arrive." His blue eyes observed the vast scenery on top of the highway, taking note of the billboards and high-rise buildings. "It's too late to cook, so I'll pick something up on the way back. At least, it's the weekend tomorrow."

"Thank the goddess." The older sibling pushed the seat all the way down this time, happily sprawling. He then curled up, getting comfortable, purposefully facing Cloud, and used his overcoat as a blanket. He was mindful of the seatbelt and made sure to have enough room to cover his head if required. Cloud's appearance wasn't well known to the public, but Rufus, on the other hand... "I want nothing more than to sleep in tomorrow and there better not be any emergencies."

"Hopefully." Cloud offered. "Your men are better controlled than mine."

"Not really. Give them a couple of uninterrupted minutes and they'll all act like children."

Cloud couldn't stop the chuckle at the mental image those words brought. "I'm certain. Luckily, for me, I have the three Firsts as my barrier."

The older sibling rolled his eyes, a momentary flicker of a smile flashed by before it was gone. "Fine, fine, I'll sleep."

Ten minutes later, Rufus was out and Cloud was pulling up to a drive-through of some fast food restaurant. He quickly made his orders, knowing Rufus' preferences well. Making sure Rufus' face was unidentifiable, Cloud paid for the order and waited at the second window for his purchase, currently behind another car. He glanced at the clock momentarily, finding it just past eleven, and sighed. Neither of them had expected training to last this long, but well, some things were out of their hands. Still, it had been a good break.

Glancing towards Rufus, Cloud smiled. The eldest sibling was definitely out, his hair just barely peeking out from the top of the coat. His expression was relaxed, his breathing soft and even.

Unable to help himself, Cloud ran a hand through those still sweaty locks, pushing any bangs that had fallen across behind the ear. Rufus squirmed a bit at the touch before nuzzling closer, letting out a content sigh. That action had Cloud chuckling.

"You're horrible." Rufus suddenly spoke up. A blue eye peeked open, taking in his surroundings, before closing once more.

Cloud released the break petal as the car in front left, inching towards to the pickup window. "Yes, so very horrible. Now, back to sleep you." There was a light chuckle beside him as Cloud rolled down his window, taking the packaged food from the attendant.

The rest of the ride back was silent, traffic nonexistent this late at night. The scent of food filled the car and before any of them knew it. They were arriving at the housing area. No one was around except for security and a couple late night goers, the two siblings slipping up to their floor unnoticed. The brief nap was enough to refresh Rufus, getting him to eat, clean up, and change out of his clothes for bed.

"Hey, Rufus." Cloud called out just before his older brother closed the bedroom door. They were in Cloud's apartment, Rufus taking the guest room since the eldest didn't want to bother making the short track across. "Tomorrow, did you want to head out for dinner or something? With Lazard too. Not here, but somewhere on the upper plates."

"Yeah, sure, and I know just the place to eat at." Rufus nodded. "I haven't been there since... Hmm, since the SOLDIER Desertion. It was destroyed during the time Genesis attacked the city. It's a bit fancy, so you'll need to dress nice and I'm certain our pictures will be taken while we're out. The media likes to eat these things up."

Cloud sighed at that mentioning, running a hand through his hair. "I'd like to go back to my own privacy and people not knowing who I am. I'm not fond of the publicity that comes with this job."

"A price to pay for our wishes. At least, it’s small."

"Yeah, yeah. Well, good night, Rufus." The SOLDEIR Director grumbled, closing his door shut, able to hear the faint sounds of laughter from behind.


Rufus groaned, gasping heavily as he tried to take in a breath of air stagnate with dust and smoke.

He needed air.

He needed air!

He's suffocating!

He had miraculously survived against Emerald Weapon, only to be trapped in a tiny boxed area made of rumble. There was no light, just absolute darkness. Breathing was getting difficult, he felt dizzy and lightheaded. Rufus was able to taste dust, dirt, and metal on his tongue, and coughed as it tickled the back of his throat.

Help!

He can't breathe! He can't see!

His hands scratched wildly, desperately, against his enclosed area, unable to find an opening of any sort.

He can't get out...

He was going to die here, wasn't he?

Rufus screamed.

No! He can't die! There was still so much to do! So much to be done! So much left to accomplish!

And yet, logically, Rufus knew he had no chance of survival, not when buried so deeply. He had seen the blast radius, had felt the top of the building collapse with him still in it. He was buried so far underneath the rumble that it was impossible for anyone to dig him out in time, before he ran out of air.

There was no escaping from his retched fate.

Despite that, Rufus screamed, banged against the walls until he was certain his hands were bleeding. There was nothing he could do but wait for his end in blind panic.

Damn it all to hell!

"Rufus."

The broken voice was jumbled, like he was hearing it through water, crackled even, and yet it cut through his terrified screams like a knife. He stilled, listening, hoping.

"Rufus, wake up! You're having a nightmare!"

It was then that he actually snapped his eyes wide open, the flash of light blinding him momentarily. Rufus flinched and flailed, feeling tightly bounded, but it was the warmth that radiated through that had him pause from automatically striking. Gentle fingers threaded gently through his hair, pushing his bangs aside from where they had been sticking to his forehead.

"I'm here, Rufus. You're okay. You were just having a bad nightmare."

That voice, he knew that voice. He knew it by heart. Rufus blinked, feeling tears dripping down his cheeks. Had he been crying? He doesn't remember, he hadn't even noticed. "Cloud?"

A head full of familiar hair popped into view, concerned blue eyes glowing. When had Rufus gotten cradled against his brother's chest? "I'm here, Rufus. You're okay. Can you take some deep breaths for me?"

Rufus followed the commands and with the gentle stroking along his hair that fell to his neck, he carefully unwounded. Slowly, his breathing evened out and he relaxed, unconsciously nuzzling against Cloud's chest. Without the adrenaline coursing through his veins, he felt utterly exhausted and his eyes slowly drooped close.

Cloud continued his petting, massaging at the back of his brother's neck, right along the spine. Minutes passed, continuing his kneading, until he finally spoke. "Feeling better?"

"Yeah..." Rufus' pulse was no longer racing and he curled up between Cloud's legs, unbothered by their awkward position. "When..."

The youngest answered. "A few moments ago. Heard you calling out, but you didn't wake up despite the usual attempts, so I was forced to grapple you in your sleep. We both know how you react to rude awakenings."

Rufus managed to smile, though weakly. "True. I tried to snap your wrist one time."

"Rufus...You did snap my wrist. Three times actually. I was not happy about any of those times."

"Ah, my bad." There was nothing apologetic in his tone.

Shaking his head, Cloud changed topics. "So, was it the usual? Building or bodies?"

"Building." And that was enough said. Rufus sighed, enjoying the enveloping safety his brother provided, and closed his eyes from contentment. When Cloud suddenly stopped the massages, he uncharacteristically whined and reached behind to place the hand back.

Chuckling softly, Cloud complied. "Greedy bastard." A minute passed in silence, enjoying each other's warmth. "So, what triggered this one? It's been a long time since it’s happened."

Rufus hummed, pushing back against the hands for more. "Not sure. I don't...remember doing anything that could trigger it, especially today. Nothing that would give me a reminder." His eyes opened up, taking in the familiar bedroom, and then peered up into Cloud's deep blues. "Maybe it's just one of those nights."

"Maybe..." Cloud reached up with his free hand and wiped away the nearly dried tears, caressing the checks. "But whatever nightmares you face, I'll be right beside you."

"You like to say the darndest reassures, don't you."

"Oh, be quiet." The two of them were now smiling, evaporating the dark mood surrounding the two of them.

Rufus crawled around in his brother's grip for a moment, looking for the time. Was it too early or too late? It was hard to tell since it was still dark outside. "What time is it?"

"A little after eleven."

Rufus blinked. "What?"

"You were asleep for only an hour."

"Ah, I see." The eldest hummed gently, quite comfortable in his little spot. He didn't want to move but he didn't want Cloud to complain about a sore back tomorrow morning neither, especially since they had plans. "You going back to bed?"

Cloud snorted. "Obviously. Right here with you."

"Good." With that, Rufus pushed their bodies down onto the bed, lying completely on top of his brother. He ignored the loud 'ouf' sound Cloud released and grinned, placing his left ear against Cloud's chest, able to hear the steady beat that had temporary sped up from the fall. "You know, you've always been good at calming me down at my worst moments."

"And you with cheering me up." Cloud replied as he stretched over to click off the light, letting the darkness overtake the room once more. One arm was still wrapped around Rufus, keeping him unbearably close against his body, stroking the short blond hair contentedly. "We're quite the pair."

"Of course." Rufus sighed pleasantly. It's been a while since he's had anyone hold him this tight. The number of people he has allowed this close of contact could be counted on one hand and all but one currently existed with him now. It would have been so incredibly lonely without his brother around to make remarks in the background, the only person that didn't fear him and will call him out on his crap without any ounce of fear.

All his life in ShinRa, back before coming here, before the fall of the ShinRa Company, he had been raised on a pedestal, breed to be the best and to rise to the top. There was no trust between him and any of the other workers in the building, even with his own father. He spent his days working on himself to be better, smarter, more devious, gathering intel to use against anyone that came across his path, and would eventually return to his apartment to be alone once more. He was isolated in a way, never receiving or understanding what love is, calling it nothing more than some fling that made people act foolish around others. If anything, at that time period, he have found it absolutely repulsive. He had been arrogant, ruthless, and had been willing to do anything to get his way, even if it meant cutting down a wall of bodies that stood in his path.

A younger version of him might look down on him now, call him weak and overly dependent on someone else. Pathetic to have friends, to love, to care and nurture, but Rufus didn't care. He would just give his infamous smirk, make a cunning snarky comment, before walking away while giving the younger version the finger.

Love can go both ways and for Rufus. The love he had for his brother made him stronger than ever before. It made him want to stand up to face the world, even when everything was crumbling around him.

Reaching forward, he clasped Cloud's left hand and intertwined their fingers together before closing his eyes, peacefully falling asleep for the rest of the night.


Getting Lazard to agree to dinner had been easy. Convincing the Turks and the so-called escorts to leave them alone, not so much. Since the three of them are considered public figures, the last thing ShinRa desired was a kidnapping or murder. Regardless, two of the strongest individuals in the world walked through the restaurant door with little fear, Lazard following right behind, all of whom heavily armed. Cloud didn't have any of his swords equipped, but he had a couple hidden knives and materia at hand. Rufus (bearing his usual weapons) and Lazard with a single handgun. It would take more than an armed force to capture all three of them willingly.

Cloud, the obvious driver of the three, used the same vehicle as yesterday, handing the keys over to the valet upon arrival.

Lazard hummed gently, peering around inside the restaurant upon arrival. It had been a long time since he had actually gone out, excluding company-related matters. "This is quite nice, Rufus." He pushed his glasses further up his nose, examining his half-brothers consecutively. Rufus had dressed in a slick black suit and gloves with a sky-blue undershirt. He looked dangerous in black, smoothing the rough edges of his frame (the guns carefully hidden underneath), and the blue made his eyes light up, almost like that of a SOLDIERs.

Cloud, despising suits due to its restriction on movement, wore sleek black pants and a plain white button-up shirt. A neat black and white vest covered his chest, giving him that mobility he desired.

Lazard, on the other hand, wore a plain black and white suit with nothing else that was considered special, especially when standing close to his younger half-brothers.

Cloud nudged the middle sibling at the side. "I told you, Rufus. You do look nice in blue."

Rufus snorted, tugging at his gloves by habit. It was unusual to not wear his white layers out in public, but at the same time, it was a delightful break. Still, he could see how eyes wandered over his frame, both of his brothers, and the way people stopped to stare. There was no doubt the three of them stood out amongst the regular crowd and Rufus wouldn't have cared long ago, once thriving on the attention, but now? He hated it, despised it even.

Perhaps coming out wasn't such a good idea...

In the previous timeline, he had become reclusive and free speaking. He enjoyed that freedom, loved it actually. He didn't have to hide his horrid personality or words, not when there was no one watching or caring any longer.

Here, eyes were always there in the background, inspecting him, waiting for a flaw.

"Rufus," Cloud's voice snapped the Turk Director out of his thoughts, his right hand grasping Rufus's arm. His blue eyes examined the other carefully, as if searching for something, frowning the entire time. "You alright?"

Slowly nodding, Rufus finally spoke. "Yeah, just a moment of weakness, nothing more."

Lazard came up to Rufus' left side, eyes shining with concern behind his glasses. "We can head back if you're feeling unwell." Reaching up, he pushed a loose bang of his middle sibling's normally slicked-back hair aside. "You're quite pale, Brother."

Rufus blinked, leaning over a little towards Lazard. "You...called me 'Brother.'"

The eldest sibling flushed as if being caught by something he hadn't meant to let out. "That...That is not important right now. We're talking about you, Rufus."

"Oh, yes, it is. This is the first time you've called me brother." It was a suitable distraction from Rufus' current thoughts, letting the fact he was teasing the eldest take over. Cloud chuckled from the sidelines, noting the vast improvement in Rufus' attitude, and watched the Turk Director reached over, tugging Lazard closer. Rufus grinned. "And here I thought you didn't love me."

The crimson grew, Lazard stuttering some response that neither of the two younger siblings managed to understand. Cloud almost laughed, leaving the two to their bickering fate as he went towards the receptionist, locating their reserved table. He could hear the proceeding argument continue from behind, unable to hide his amusement. As the host grabbed their menus to lead them to their table, Cloud rounded to Lazard's left side (Rufus on the right) and tugged, effectively keeping the eldest trapped.

"Alright, you two, let's stop squabbling and head out. Our table is ready." Cloud then proceeded to drag the two, Rufus joining in soon after.

Lazard grumbled, his face still a cherry, obvious amongst his complexion and blond hair. "I hate you both. Really, I do."

"Hear that, little brother? Big brother hates us." Rufus teased, unable to stop himself. He was enjoying this far too much, his previous depressing mood completely dispersed as color returned.

Cloud joined in. "I know, brother. Who knew big brother could be this mean?"

Lazard just huffed. "Oh dear goddess, you two are going to drive me insane."

"It wouldn't be the first time we've done that."

"I don't want to know. Both of you, shut up."

Cloud decided to add in. "You're making it too easy for Rufus to tease you."

Lazard looked like he was about to scream, glaring at his two younger siblings. He eventually settled with, "That's it. I'm leaving. I want nothing to do with any of you any longer."

Cloud and Rufus just laughed.

Eventually, the three siblings settled, ordering their drinks and food, chattering happily, and just simply enjoying themselves. It was a relaxing Saturday night, without a single care in the world. Wine was ordered for Lazard and hard liquor for the other two, each telling stories about work and life in general. They were in one of the corner tables for privacy, far away from eavesdroppers and those glancing through the tinted windows. Regardless, the three of them stood out amongst the rest of the patrons. It couldn't be helped considering their stature and features.

Lazard, sometimes feeling like the odd one out, never let that bother him. He was enjoying the company of his younger siblings. It was...quite pleasant, sucked into the conversation. He could pick up subtle cues from the two, letting him know they were truly interested in him, and found himself smiling for most of the meal. The three of them bickered here and there, the usual sibling nonsense, before moving onto something else that settled their attention. At least, if there was gossip, Lazard had to admit that the two younger siblings had some of the best, especially Rufus (which wasn't surprising considering his new role in ShinRa).

They were so in tuned with each other, they didn't notice a presence creeping up on them, or well, Lazard didn't. Cloud and Rufus noticed from the corner of their eyes, but never paid any mind to it, letting it grow steadily closer to their position, until said presence finally spoke up.

"Director Cloud?"

The three brothers snapped their attention up from each other to their newfound guest. The SOLDIER First was out of uniform, dressed in civvies, but despite that, he was obviously recognizable by his mere flamboyant hair. That shade of red and deep tone of voice was hard to mistake.

"Ah, Genesis. How can we help you today?" Lazard decided to speak up, being the obvious conversationalist between his half-siblings. "I take it today's your day off."

The red head smirked, unable to help himself in flaunting his hair by pushing loose stands off his shoulders. "Of course, Vice President. Just came back from seeing a LOVELESS play when I happened to catch a certain glimpse out of the corner of my eyes." His blue-green eyes examined each blond curiously, hovering momentarily, before moving on. "A dinner date?"

Rufus almost snorted at that and turned away, hiding his smile. Cloud, on the other hand, just raised an eyebrow.

Lazard, being the more sensible one, answered. "Somewhat. Just some rest and relaxation. It's been a long time since either of us actually had a meal outside of our homes and work."

"Oh?" Genesis knew about the relationship between the three blonds, Sephiroth long filling him in. Now that he knew the truth and had all of the brothers side by side for comparison, he could spot the obvious resemblance. Cloud, visibly the younger of the group, had more of his (unknown) mother's features than the other two, Lazard and Rufus sharing theirs from their father. "Must be nice."

The red head continued his observations of the three before gazing at his surroundings. It was obvious that they were gathering numerous stares, standing out amongst all the regular common people in Midgar, especially now that Genesis had joined.

"No protection?" Genesis questioned. He couldn't recognize any Turks in the surrounding area, not even those that are undercover. There wasn't any SOLDIERs or troopers either. The three blonds were truly all on their own and that was dangerous considering how high on the food chain they were positioned. "Now, that can't be right."

Rufus waved off the concern. "Don't worry. We didn't want any. We're more than capable handling our own affairs."

Genesis just stared, not really believing the Turk Director. It was mostly he had never seen the middle sibling in a fight, not trusting whatever skills the man held. He didn't even like the Turks in particular either, holding them at a distance to ensure his own personal safety. Deciding to ignore the Turk Director, he turned towards Cloud. "Director Cloud, though I've seen you in battle, you shouldn't head out without protection."

Cloud blinked twice. Him...needing protection? That was...strange, but considerate. To think that Genesis was actually concerned about him. Shaking his head, he replied. "I'll be fine. Don't worry." He leaned back against his chair, tilting his head just slightly. "It's your day off, correct? You should enjoy it, Genesis."

Genesis looked like he wanted to retort to that, clearly biting down his bottom lip. Eventually, he huffed and spun around with a drastic flare to his steps, storming out the restaurant without saying anything else. It was kinda amusing the way his hair and clothes flashed with his fiery personality.

Lazard leaned forward, his blue eyes observing the scene curiously before glancing at his youngest sibling. "I think that's the most concern I've ever seen from Genesis during all these years I've known him."

Rufus snorted, gazing at Cloud mischievously, purposefully shifting his eyebrows upward as he took a suggestive sip of his mixed drink. "You plan on capturing all three of them?"

"Shut up, Rufus."

Lazard, not understanding the internal joke, shook his head.