Author's note: Daaaaaaaaamn it's been a while, y'all! I know, I know... I'm sorry... I will try harder next time, as I've told many of you reviewers...
But anyways, thanks to everyone who's put up with my laziness and haven't given up on the fic. I really hope all you guys will like this new chapter.
I'd like to answer a question a lot of you seem to be wondering about. Zack and Cloud. I can't tell you what I'm planning, and I know I said at the beginning of this fic that there wouldn't be anything between the two of them... but their will be something... no relationship and this fic will always remain Sephiroth/Cloud oriented, but their will be something between Zack and Cloud, at some point. I can also tell you that their will be other - hmm... let's say "couplings" - than Sephiroth/Cloud... but I won't tell you who or how or when... you'll just have to wait P
I'd also like to comment on the fact that a few people mentioned that they had never expected Cloud to act the way he does in my fic. I actually understand this, because Cloud seemed pretty well... weak in Nibelheim, letting himself be insulted by others when he was blamed for Tifa's accident. I think that from the moment he decided to leave to Midgar and become a SOLDIER, he decided not to take anyone's bullshit anymore... although, inside, he's still the weak, small boy who thinks lowly of himself. That'll come back to haunt him later and it still haunts him in certain ways.
Anyways! I'd like to give a special thanks to the Demonic Duo and also to my Beta who's been a very big help. I love you both.
Also, to all those who reviewed but I couldn't reply to, I apologize... but don't worry, I read every last one of your reviews and thank you all for them!
Alright! Onto the REAL deal!
The new chapter!!
The blankness of his mind sometimes surprised him. How did one manage to not have anything on their mind? How could he be completely focused on only one thing, without his thoughts ever wandering to places which they should not meander? Was that not the purpose of youth, after all? To endlessly ponder on pointless details? To contemplate silly ideas and nervously mull over every aspect of his life?
Yes, those were the 'wonders' of youth… but he supposed his youth had ended long ago, even though his twenty-three years of life had yet to pass.
Whenever he found himself waiting on people, like he was now, he could usually stand staring into the nothingness, his mind completely devoid of any thoughts. The ability came to him naturally; he had no need to rid his thoughts of inappropriate dwellings like most individuals of his gender constantly had to.
Not that he had never experienced 'inappropriate thoughts'. Sharing the pleasures of the flesh had always been something he rejoiced in, but like conversations, it rarely occurred. People scarcely ever sparked his interest very long - and this could be said for every aspect of life, and so his mind remained blank, for lack of need to think of anything whatsoever seeing as how nothing lit his interest… nothing was worthwhile.
The blankness of his mind was soothing to the numerous irritabilities he was daily faced with, but more often than most, the void in his soul caused him to dwell upon himself instead… therefore his thoughts could no longer be called "blank".
In the end, the General perhaps was faced with the same aspects of life as any other young man.
A very boring, brooding young man.
Which, from a more normal point of view, was usually called an old man.
Or was it?
Why did he ever bother pondering on these pointless things as of late? Never before had he found it to put aside any train of thought that did not belong in his line of duty or business of the day.
Had he been any other person, he would have sighed in exasperation, but somehow, physical reactions to emotion rarely found their way through the teasingly impenetrable barrier that was his skin.
It was in these moments that he remembered that the blankness of his mind was his hidden streak of… 'laziness'; his brain had subconsciously developed a self-defence mechanism against confusion, because it was simply too troublesome to sort through… hence its ability to naturally remain blank.
And as the 'laziness' had finally seemed to kick in, a voice tickled his consciousness and pulled him out of his peaceful trance-like state.
"Do ya think we should kick him awake, yo?" a man's familiar voice spoke but a mere feet behind him. The lazy, laid back attitude was perceivable even through his tone.
"Hm…" came another man's voice, lower and deeper than the previous. His short response was emotionless, his tone serious and business like, but Sephiroth could still distinguish some trace of amusement in the reply. He was accustomed to emotionless responses, after all.
There was a short pause before the first man spoke again.
"What the hell you laughin' at, yo?" the lazy man asked, annoyed.
"I'm certain that he could slash your head off before your foot ever reached, Reno…" came a third man's voice, as steps were heard moving closer inside the room.
Sephiroth turned around slowly to face them, a single silver eyebrow raised slightly. His aqua eyes inevitably first fell on untamed flaming locks where black goggles lay on his forehead beneath the mess.
The lean man's bright hair would forever remain the first thing to attract attention in a room.
Like moths to a light, the ironic thought echoed in his mind. Of course, Reno couldn't very well be considered a "light" in any other aspect than his hair; the man wasn't very bright - or acted as such most of the time - and it was better left unsaid for what brightness he might have lacked, he countered with rudeness.
He glimpsed only a second of twin scars underneath blue green eyes before Reno turned around sharply, his thin waist-length pony-tail flapping in his back as he raised his fist at the taller, dark haired man, conveying his thoughts to his superior in a rather annoyed fashion.
My point exactly… Sephiroth thought, staring at the man with slightly confused fascination. How did one lose their tempers so easily? He did not dislike the sluggish Turk (he rarely held such emotion for anyone… or any emotion for that matter), he simply acknowledged the man for what and who he was… but that did not change the fact that he would never understand the sort of person that Reno was.
Lazy as he could be, the red-head still openly divulged his thoughts and emotions, which frequently bounced from one extreme to the other. Most of the time, it was noticeable that he wasn't concerned with what others thought of him; a trait that could only be found in a rash and reckless individual. Yet he, Reno, was still a professional. He knew to act cool, calm and collected when he needed to be.
He was of the Turks after all.
No, Sephiroth definitely could not understand this man with a presence larger than his own could ever be. The flame of his soul burned as bright as his incandescent hair; Sephiroth's held none whatsoever. The General might have brought awe to whom he was ever in the presence of, but Reno's blazing personality had much more presence… so much more meaning than Sephiroth's empty shell.
Perhaps he somewhat envied such… lively traits.
He might have, had he the ability to feel such emotion.
The scarred man's trail of lazy complaints went unheard as Sephiroth diverted his attention to the taller, broad shouldered man adjacent to Reno. Standing there, his posture and silence exposed his unperturbed state to the insult his friend had just been served. His eyes were hidden underneath his eternal shades, destroying any chance of reading emotion that could have been seen through them. His shaven or naturally bare head nearly shone with the light coming from the windows behind them. The dark hair that was missing from his head was instead found around his mouth.
It was, more than likely, safe to assume that Rude might have attempted to hit him had he ever heard the silver haired man make that kind of reference to his goatee. The… hairless man was very touchy on the subject of his… lack of hair. The fact that people dwelled on his baldness grated terribly on his nerves.
They exchanged a silent stare, as was tradition of their greeting; Rude and Sephiroth had always shared a unspoken complicity.
Then again, how could there not be complicity when two said individuals always remained silent towards each other?
Hmm… a good question indeed…which was too deeply psycho-analysis-inclined for his tastes.
He wasn't a people person, obviously.
Had his idea of an understanding with the man been only a one-sided foolish belief all these years?
Sephiroth blinked slowly, inwardly confused.
Since when had he even cared?
His brain needed a reboot; he had briefly wandered into the terrifying depths that were the universe of The Drama Queen.
Something must have been wrong with him.
More and more of these… thoughts-slash-emotions had bubbled in his mind in the last month, which made it extremely straining for him. A few hours of mind activity - which didn't involve fighting tactics or other work related logic - was a very demanding task… and more than he could handle. They were aspects of life he was not accustomed to deal with and if he were to be completely honest, he had never felt the need to address them before; they usually just came and went through his mind, briefly tickling his conscience before they were quickly discarded with ease by his subconscious.
Only a few seconds had passed since Rude and himself had began to share their common greeting and set the silver haired man into an internal dilemma; a fact that awfully surprised Sephiroth as he suddenly realized.
Of course, no emotion had traced his features during that time, but still, at that very moment, Rude slowly raised a single dark eyebrow at him, as if understanding everything that had rushed through Sephiroth's mind.
Takes one to know one… or was that the saying?
No, Sephiroth was certainly not a people's person for he would have known the answer to that question.
The General decided that he had greeted Rude long enough and averted his gaze to the third man in the room; Tseng.
The long, dark haired Wutainese leader of the Turks, nodded politely at him, giving Sephiroth a thin, strained smile.
Strained because Reno was still complaining at him and he would soon need to tell him to shut up.
Tseng was a very polite man and usually addressed everyone (and everything) with a business-like civility. Swearing and rude behaviour were not some of his fortes and were scarcely ever used by him.
Until he'd met Reno and let him join his team all those years ago, that is.
Sephiroth supposed the red-haired man was the biggest problem in Tseng's life, for he constantly needed to deal with someone whose behaviour was conflicting (not to mention completely opposite) to his own. His indifferent rudeness also often offended several of his superiors, which only put Tseng into more stressful predicaments.
However, Tseng had yet to remove him from the Turks, even though he had every good reason to do so. There was a fact that simply could not be ignored, no matter how insufferable Reno could be; he was very good at his job.
Rude and Sephiroth shared a mutual (and silent) acquaintanceship while Tseng and Reno shared a loud animosity. In truth, it could be viewed as a friendly relation. Friends, as some would put it. He preferred the term acquaintance, however. Tseng seemed more inclined to agree, since his attitude towards Reno was mostly a building tolerance. It seemed vaguely likely that he had even grown to enjoy the man's awfully irritating behaviour.
This aspect was, again, a mystery to Sephiroth. Relationships of any nature were not subjects he preferred to dwell upon, nor, again, had he ever felt the need to.
So why was it, again, that he was even considering them at this moment?
He wondered once more what had made him so uncommonly contemplative. If he continued to remain so, even though he was a naturally silent person around everyone, it would begin to be apparent. The Turks were here earlier than they usually were at Shinra meetings for a reason, after all; the General had made it a personal request.
"After all these years at Shinra, I would have assumed that one would have taught you to respect your superiors, Reno…" Sephiroth finally spoke, staring down at the red-head who had yet to finish complaining. His words held no real conviction, for he cared not about rules and knew better than to try and correct the careless Turk; everyone else had stopped long ago.
The three men whom all wore an identical dark blue business suit simultaneously averted their attentions to the silver haired man before them, somewhat surprised, as if having forgotten of his presence.
Reno, mouth still agape with the last complaint he had meant to voice, closed his mouth and smirked slowly, giving Sephiroth what he would have best described as a chester-like grin; the expression screamed mischief.
The lazy Turk took a single step closer to broad shouldered General and slung the arm which held his electro-rod over his shoulder, cocking his head to the side.
"Respect to my superiors? You sure didn't seem to mind insubordination, yo…" Reno said, giving Sephiroth a knowing look.
The elite SOLDIER, had he been anyone else, would have narrowed his eyes suspiciously at the slighter man. Was he supposed to read something behind those words? Did Reno know something that others did not?
"Shut up!" a teenage boy's voice echoed in his mind, reminiscing the spiky haired blond's face staring up at him, azure eyes flaring with anger.
Yes, he supposed he was not one to mind insubordination.
Then again, one did not know how to respond to another's behaviour when faced with it for the very first time.
He decided not to dwell on this matter either, nor the fact that the sneaky red-haired Turk seemed to know more than he should. He did not need more inconsistent thoughts; he'd gotten more than enough of his unusual dosage for today.
"Where is the file?" Sephiroth asked briskly, cutting their exchange straight to the matter at hand and by so doing, ignoring Reno's previous words as well as the canny stare the bright haired man was still sending him.
Reno sighed and fisted inside his jacket, pulling out a thin file. He extended it out to the General.
The brown folder was folded in two and was slightly wrinkled.
Perhaps it would have been a wiser decision to give Tseng his request, instead. Reno could be somewhat sloppy when it came to things that weren't particularly of important nature. This too, could be seen simply by the man's appearance; the way he wore his suit, the white dress shirt underneath his open jacket pulled out of his pants and buttons halfway undone, told everything. But alas, Reno had been the one Sephiroth had crossed pathes with first.
Paying no heed to the state of the folder, Sephiroth accepted it, unfolded it and read the dark letters stamped across it.
He opened it only to be faced with the same rebellious expression of the blond he had remembered only moments before.
"So whaddya want with this Cloud Strife, anyway, yo?" he asked, extending his neck nonchalantly to stare at the boy's picture inside the folder.
He did not respond to the Turk's inquiring words, reading the reports inside the teen's personal file. Cloud Strife; a country boy from Nibelheim of only 14 years of age and from what had been written by his instructors, the short teen could barely be considered an average SOLDIER candidate; no particularities nor special talents had been reported on his case.
He was simply a short, plain, typical cadet - and he had walked up to him surely and squarely told him to shut up the previous morning.
Sephiroth blinked, eyes somewhat wider than normal.
He had believed that after screening through the teen's file, he would have been able to understand what had made the cadet so abnormally confident to have the courage of facing the General with such bluntness. Sephiroth had even considered that Cloud could perhaps be another pompous prodigy, or even a spoiled child who came from a rich, powerful family.
Never would he have expected to see such a bare and even rather diminutive personal file.
At the beginning of the new academy semester, two months ago, he remembered seeing that same boy; how could he not have noticed such a rare sight amongst the crowd the young men? That day, he had made nothing of his presence at the academy, he had even forgotten about the sight of him, only to remember when they had met face to face the day before. He had simply pitied the boy knowing what kind of treatment one of his build would endure and had at the same time congradulated his foolish courage. The fact that the spiky haired blond had nearly shrunk under his gaze, that time, was excellent proof to his assumptions.
But what he had witnessed the day before changed the situation entirely.
He had felt, even sensed, the potential this boy held within him, even though he'd seen the fire in his small body quickly diminish and die as soon as Cloud had noticed him. The azure eyed cadet fought clumsily and without any technique whatsoever, yet with an exceptional passion through his rage.
He had expected to find more impressive a personal file.
He had assumed that by viewing said file, his confusion would have been dealt with. He had believed that he could find the cause of the boy's actions, that it could have been easily explained with personal information, academy reports and statistics. Instead, he now found himself even more perplexed.
He had a tendency to underestimate the complexity of individuals, he had to admit.
He did not, by any means, consider himself so superior and that therefore, he should be treated with utmost respect, no… but every one else had done as such in the past. Reno acted nonchalantly towards him, yes, and even though he did not address Sephiroth in a very admiring or respectful way, he still never addressed him directly in a rude fashion and held his tongue where he would have usually insulted others. It was one of the reasons the tall General endured - even liked - him more than most people.
But the Turk was in a somewhat high position in the Company whereas this mere cadet - teenager - nearly still a child - had done what no one else had ever been able to do.
Sephiroth felt something awaken inside on him, although, for the life of him, he could not determine what it was.
"Cloud Strife, hmm?" he paused, feeling the corner of his lips quirk slightly. "Interesting…"
The three Turks' nearly appalled stares went unnoticed as he once again found himself lost in his own confusion.
"E-Excuse me…" came a teenager's voice from the entrance of the room. All four occupants averted their attention towards him, somewhat startled at the sudden appearance.
There stood a short Wutainese boy wearing what seemed to be a Turks' uniform.
"I apologize for being late, sir… they had trouble finding a suit… small enough… for me…" the boy said awkwardly, staring down at his feet as crimson colored his cheeks discretely.
Tseng approached him slowly. "It's not a problem, Hiroki. The meeting has not yet started." he firmly put a hand on his shoulder.
"'That our new recruit, yo?" Reno whispered to Rude, who nodded in answer. "Keh! Givin' our suits to newbies… think that'll make 'em live any longer, yo?" Reno complained, staring out of the window behind Sephiroth, irritated.
"Should they not at least be allowed some sense of pride before the end?" Sephiroth asked rhetorically, his emotionless voice barely above a whisper. Rude nodded in agreement, his face more solemn than normal, if possible, while Reno shifted his attention opposite of the silver haired man's direction. They all knew that only a few number of Turks survived the life style; being a Turk was, by far, neither the noblest nor the safest of occupations and taking part of the organisation represented a great risk.
"Let me introduce you to your new co-workers," Tseng said calmly as he led the slighter Wutainese to the three other men present in the room.
"This is Reno," he motioned to the red haired man.
"Yo," Reno greeted, eyes narrowing as he cocked his head to the side; a posture he apparently thoroughly enjoyed.
"… And Rude," Tseng then turned to the hairless man.
The silent man simply nodded politely to the boy.
"Pleased to meet you," the boy named Hiroki said, his impassive tone betraying his words. He looked back and forth between Rude and Reno as if inspecting them, when finally his gaze settled on Sephiroth who stood a few steps behind the pair.
"Of course, you must already know the General," Tseng added off-handedly, noticing where the boy's eyes had fallen.
"Yes, I do. It's an honor, General Sephiroth…" but again, his tone deceived his words as his brown eyes narrowed suspiciously. He shot an even more mistrustful look at the folder the man still held between his gloved hands.
The reaction was extremely curious. Normal youngsters usually exploded into awkward praises of admiration before him.
He supposed he should have been thankful to the Planet that this boy hadn't, but this again, just as the other smallest of details rendered him confused as it had for the last two days, when normally he would have never given them a second thought. A meeting with all the head executives of the Shinra Company would soon be starting; he did not want, much less need useless ponderings so he simply nodded coldly.
Turning around, he moved to the closest window and gazed down at the City below.
The view of the city truly was an excellent one from sixty-seventh floor of Shinra Headquarters.
But that was besides the point…
He successfully blocked all remaining thoughts from his mind as he looked at the buildings below.
He effectively forgot that he still held the personal file of a certain Cloud Strife in his left hand.
It was all irrelevant.
The eternal void of his mind had finally been re-established and stabilized when the head executives of each department of the company arrived. Sephiroth calmly sat down between Tseng and Reeve, the Head of Urban Development, neatly folding Cloud Strife's personal file, sliding it in the pocket inside his leather coat. The dark shoulder length haired man beside him smiled softly.
Reeve was another of the few people he could endure more than most. His friendly and open-minded attitude could warm up to someone even as cold as Sephiroth, if only a little.
He would not have gone as far as to consider him a friend, for he did not yet understand the principles and logistics of such relationships, but he was… a good acquaintance, he supposed.
The turquoise eyed man acknowledged the older man's smile with a polite nod and switched his mind to its "business-mode" as the meeting began, the President having made his entrance, Vice president - a.k.a. his son - in tow.
Each executive reported the going-ons of their department, requested and suggested diverse things to the President at the same time as they conversed, or argued with some of the other Heads of the company. Sephiroth listened through it all with a detached interest and remained silent until the end, talking only when Heidegger asked him his report on the task that had been assigned to him the night before his meeting with two spiky haired individuals.
"Sgt Zack Charon's evaluation determined that he was not yet apt of becoming a fully-fledged SOLDIER, sir." Sephiroth informed the obese, dark haired and bearded man.
Heidegger, although he sadly had to refer as 'boss', was not one of the people he preferred. He could normally remain unaffected by his incessant laughter and attitude, but he was convinced that today would probably not be a good one to test his tolerance; correction – his newly acquainted tolerance, for he had never felt the need to use such a term before.
Something was truly changing inside of him and it was frankly… unsettling.
Irritation seemed to flash in the executive's eyes. "And exactly why is that, Sephiroth?"
"I did not deem him ready for what it is one must face as a SOLDIER," he simply answered emotionlessly, his aqua eyes staring calmly into the older man's dark ones; he disliked those eyes filthy of greed.
"From what I heard, the man showed great promise; that he deserved a higher rank than the one he occupies now," Heidegger continued, the irritation rising in his tone.
Sephiroth could always see the thirst for power and control in this man. He knew why he was unhappy that a new SOLDIER was not admitted to his army. He understood why the man always seemed to be irritated with him. Heidegger wished to entirely control those under his command, craved their fear of him, but he had never yet accomplished the task with Sephiroth and it seemingly frustrated him to no end.
"Had he become a SOLDIER, he would have endangered future missions, something I assumed this company would not have benefitted from," came Sephiroth's reply, his stare at the man's eyes never wavering, which simply darkened the man's already foul mood.
"He would have learned like every other new recruit! As Head of Public Safety Maintenance-"
"Do you question my judgement, sir?" Sephiroth asked icily, interrupting the foolish man's tirade.
Fear suddenly grew inside those dark irises as General's words seemed to echo in the large man's mind, remembering who exactly Sephiroth was. Heidegger was his superior, but in the end, he was no match for the army's most powerful and ruthless SOLDIER.
The fat coward's mouth closed sharply. Anger was exploding relentlessly inside of him and yet, he had no choice but to restrain it.
Sephiroth did not abuse of his power; he merely knew exactly which words to use with arrogant rich men of his nature. He stared intensely at his superior, coolly waiting for the moment the man would give up the fight.
The Head of Public Safety did as he had expected only seconds after, averting his gaze sharply, grumbling furiously to himself.
"Let the man do what he thinks is best, Heidegger," President Shinra finally spoke sternly. "He knows what is best for his army, after all - he wouldn't be the General and best SOLDIER this nation has ever had, if not…" the blond man finished smirking, eyes lighting with something Sephiroth dared not interpret.
"Continue your wonderful work, Sephiroth," Shinra said to the General, tone full of praise, as he shot Heidegger a last sharp look.
The silver haired man nodded politely and averted his eyes away from the President shortly after. He did not enjoy seeing the permanent look of near-sadistic glee that always seemed to be present in the man's eyes when they settled on him.
The meeting ended only moments after, to Sephiroth's relief. Scarlet, the Head of the Weapon Development Division, a woman who always dressed in whorish apparels and showed extremely too much skin for his tastes, sat across him at every meeting, repeatedly sending suggestive looks at him. Amongst all the other things he had to bitterly endure through these events, he definitely did not need more of her attention.
Thankfully, she was one of the first to leave the conference room along with the President, his son, Heidegger, Palmer and the Turks. All in all, no one ever remained in this room longer than it was required of them.
"Well, another boring meeting over," Reeve yawned to his right, while Tseng, to his left, stood up and joined the other members of his team whom were already out of the room, close to the door, Reno always one to eagerly flee a conference... the others had simply followed, he supposed.
Sephiroth noticed that another dark haired man stood with them, speaking with Reno.
The man wore a white lab coat over his shoulders, his hands held together behind his back as he conversed with the red-haired man, long greasy black hair tied low in the back of his neck.
Hojo. The man's name echoed in his mind with the same sensation of bitter distaste it always did.
The scientist had not attended the meeting - he rarely ever did. He was only ever present when very specific reasons demanded it... but here he was, after it had already ended, talking to one of the Turks… to Reno…
He felt something tickle at his mind, but it had blissfully remained blank until now and he preferred to keep it that way.
"Hey, Sephiroth, how about we have coffee together some time?" Reeve asked, his friendly tone pulling the tall SOLDIER out of his thoughts.
The silver haired man averted his attention away from Hojo, thankful for the executive's fortunate timing.
"No," the word dutifully slipped out of his mouth before he even considered the man's offer.
Reeve frowned at him. "Are you going to tell me coffee's not good or something?"
Sephiroth stared down at the man for a brief moment. "It isn't; caffeine is addictive and causes people to act dreadfully irritable in the morning, if deprived of their daily dosage…"
Reeve opened his mouth, about to add something, but apparently thought better of it because he closed it a second later, smiling. He shook his head in amused disbelief.
"You need to unwind from time to time, Sephiroth," he said and reached for the silver haired man's arm, patting it gently.
The first class SOLDIER stared down at the man's paddling hand emotionlessly yet internally confused. Why were people acting so strangely towards him as of late? Were they all out to drive him utterly and completely insane?
"Unwind…?" was the only word that managed to slip through his lips, as he was at last able to look back at Reeve's face when the man finally removed his hand. He never knew how to deal with these types of friendly gestures. Part of him always felt the urge to ask 'why?' like a four year old.
Perhaps in some aspects, he still was.
To others, it might have appeared as though he had stared at Reeve's hand in an attempt to dematerialize it, as one would want to destroy a very offensive thing, but truthfully, he simply could not help it. His stare always remained cold and unfeeling.
Perhaps he should practice different expressions in front of a mirror?
He mentally reproached himself; he was thinking again.
"Yeah, you know, relax… you always look so tense and I don't know… how old are you now, twenty-three? Shouldn't you be getting drunk every night and waking up to unbearable hangovers, not to mention strangers in your bed of whom you have no memory of?" Reeve winked lecherously at him, chuckling happily.
He stared blankly like never before.
For a long time.
Had it been summer in the middle of an open field, crickets would have joyously sung to make themselves known.
Reeve always seemed to bring up the strangest of subjects, but of course, his repeated attempts at conversation usually ended up fruitless and the metaphorical crickets always made their entrance in the end.
Reeve finally sighed, rubbing the back of his head as he looked away from Sephiroth's blank stare and shook his head, laughing softly.
"Guess not…" he sighed "I should know better than this, shouldn't I? It's kind of pathetic of me to keep on trying… how many times has it been now?"
"I have honestly lost count," Sephiroth answered with an inscrutable sincerity.
Reeve quirked an eyebrow at him, laughter apparent in his amused brown eyes. "That was more of what you would call 'rhetorical' question…"
This was becoming quite troublesome.
Sephiroth could not possibly reply anything to that. What was there to answer? People usually left when things became silent. It made them awkward… but not Reeve, evidently.
The man really was a good acquaintance - he was simply a strange one, at that... but then again, to Reeve's eyes, he supposed he was the strange one.
"Okay, no coffee then… is there something you actually like to do?" Reeve inquired in a tone of mock despair.
Why all the inquiries, so suddenly? Had he perhaps looked more strained than he had previously believed? Reeve had attempted to approach him several times in the past, trying to befriend him and he had politely declined any offer, having no interest in social meetings... but this was the furthest Reeve had ever gone, by asking him something of personal nature.
Perhaps he should try to scare him to prevent him from ever trying again? This was a disconcerting, unfamiliar territory for him to deal with. Sephiroth was used to order, something his mind had found extremely hard to obtain in the last hour.
"Fighting…" the word escaped his mouth before he gave it much thought and yes, he concurred, he did very much enjoy that. He could succumb to the adrenaline, the rush of fire inside his every nerve, the burning sensation of the boiling blood running through his veins. He finally felt alive. In those precious moments, he could drown in the void of his mind and let his instincts take over the task of making the intricate calculations needed to overcome his opponent.
A burst of laughter brought him out of his reverie and he blinked down at the chuckling man before him.
"Now, why didn't I see that coming?" he shook his head. "I think I'll pass... I'd prefer keeping all of my members intact, thank you." Giving the younger man a last smile, he turned around, moving towards the exit of the room. "I'll see you around then, General." he said over his shoulder, mock-saluting him and disappearing behind the wall as he turned left past the threshold.
Sephiroth quickly pushed the entire encounter out of his mind before it crawled its way into his consciousness and nagged at him for hours. He swiftly, yet calmly made his way out of the conference room only to be stopped as soon as he stepped out of the room by the slithery, gruesome voice that he knew so well.
"Sephiroth," Hojo spoke behind him.
The silver haired man did not even turn around to address him, simply waiting to let the man continue on to whatever business he had with him.
"I believe you missed your monthly examination yesterday," the scientist said in the same creepily pleased tone he always used when talking about his test subjects; it was also a tone, unfortunately, he seemed to reserve to Sephiroth as well.
Yes, Sephiroth was well aware of the fact that he had missed the examination; he would be missing all of the future ones, also. He did not understand why they needed to be conducted in the first place, aside from his monthly dosage of health supplements... but in contrary to what Hojo believed, he did not think he needed such medical attention. His health had always been more than perfect; he did not need any kind of treatment to insure the absolute balance of his body's metabolism.
"What is the purpose of this conversation, Hojo?" Sephiroth queried somewhat rudely, looking at the man over his shoulder. He reserved this tone for this man alone.
"Oh, I simply wished to know how you were feeling…" Hojo said, his eyes roaming over Sephiroth's body, calculating, as if scanning it for whatever it was his insane scientific mind could convey.
The beginnings of suspicion awakened inside the General's mind. The mad man was up to something.
"I am feeling quite fine… if you'll excuse me, I have more important business to attend to," he terminated the conversation abruptly, turning his gaze away from the man as he took a step forward to leave.
"Do come and visit the lab again some time, Sephiroth," were the last words Sephiroth heard the scientist speak as he left the man to his own devices.
He had never enjoyed the man's presence or his lab and today was no exception.
No, today was even worst. He could distinctively feel the rush of throbbing fire inside his chest, a feeling that normally always accompanied the man's presence… but it was usually much more subdued.
He did not appreciate these new developing sensations and myriad of thoughts.
He had a feeling that Hojo might have taken notice of them also… and it was all the more a reason to avoid the scientist.
He would never ask advice from his kind.
He would rather suffer these new developments instead of ever alerting the scientist of his slight discomforts.
The spiky blond teen was a pitiful sight indeed as he groaned loudly, letting his head fall against the table he was sitting at. The thump as his head collided with the table went unheard, drowned in the bustling noises of the lively crowd of military men around him.
The Mess Hall was always less crowded at dinner time, but for some reason, it didn't make the environment any less insufferably loud.
Or maybe the whopper head-ache he was suffering from at the moment was amplifying every little sound around him.
Correction; body ache.
Cloud – to put it clearly - felt like shit… or more like a pile of dog excrement left on the side of the road that had been ran over by a rabid hoard of… something… very heavy… at least a hundred times.
Then again, he was also renowned to be a fatalistic pessimist, but that was beside the point; every inch of his body still throbbed like crazy.
Again… but he could still feel something dancing happily in the pit of his stomach, no matter how miserable and battered he felt.
Cloud knew that he was finally starting to make progress with Zack's help. He had almost won against Zack this morning and the previous one - of course, that time his chances had utterly been crushed by a… a particular distraction… which had almost participated in the materialization of his own demise.
No - even worst - had nearly cost him all of his remaining pride.
Never mind that he had told General Sephiroth himself to shut up – quite rudely at that – he had nearly disgraced himself by trying to prove the silver haired swords master that he was wrong in his consideration of the term 'weakness'.
Oh yeah, like he was one to talk, Mister Spiky Haired Shorty Cadet.
He let his blond head drop again, enjoying with a somewhat masochistic interest the banging sound it brought as his face bashed against the metal surface. For some reason, he found the whole situation hilarious and the 'thump' he himself made in the process of hurting his head against the table made chuckles bubble inside his stomach, which were promptly hidden behind groans with every new collision.
Yep, he had finally gone nuts.
He'd just let his head fall against the table once more when a ruffling sound was heard in front of him, on the other side of the table.
He raised his eyes slightly, chin still resting against the wooden surface. He was greeted by the sight of two full duffel bags resting on the bench in front of him, a frowning Wutainese boy standing behind them.
"Going somewhere…?" Cloud asked more out of obligation than genuine interest, his words a near incomprehensible grumble. His throat had become clogged by lack of use of his vocal cords, causing him, once again, to sound like a total retard.
Why did he always manage to make a fool out of himself without even trying; if, at least, he produced an effort to do so, he could receive the title of "goof off" instead of "total idiot".
But of course, his reputation would forever be destined to remain... shitty... for lack of more eloquent terms. Not that he even particularly cared about the articulatory state of his sentences (or total absence thereof).
Why did an absolute moron need to sound intelligent anyways? It seemed that whatever words came out of his mouth ended up being used to his disadvantage whichever the case.
The dark haired teen in front of him, of course, frowned down at the pitiful sight that Cloud probably was, before sitting down in front of him, laying his duffel bags on the floor underneath the table.
"Turks members and recruits have special housing in the main building of Shinra HQ. I'm leaving tonight." The slight Wutainese explained.
Cloud reminded himself that even though he might have amused himself with his "head banging" (literally) game a few minutes ago, it would probably look less lamentable to others if he straightened himself up in his seat. He still had a reputation as die-hard stubborn fool to protect after all. Obstinate shorties did not show defeat... often.
He had decided never to show the weak, resigned attitude he had once shown to others, back in Nibelheim. He had left that scared, defenseless boy back home, in the memories of all those who had once tormented him. He would show them all one day. He would show Tifa, more importantly, what he was capable of. He had a promise to keep after all.
Now... that was just becoming cheesy. He mentally shook himself back to normal.
He couldn't think back on those dreadful memories. That 'Cloud' didn't exist anymore.
He sat up slowly, cocking his head to the side to pop the bones in his neck which had began to feel extremely stiff.
"So you're really going to start your training as a Turk?" Cloud asked his friend, actually starting to take interest in the conversation. His moment of self-pity had ended. He once again silently reproached his mind for letting himself feel such emotions in the first place.
"Absolutely!" Hiro beamed. "It should be alot more interesting than fighting and training. The whole idea of becoming a SOLDIER or even just a lowly grunt is sooooooo boring."
Cloud narrowed his eyes, eyeing the almond eyed youth doubtfully. "Coward..." he scoffed. "You're just glad that there'll be a reserved spot just for you in the shadows instead of on the front lines."
Hiroki smirked haughtily. "Well, at least I know I'll be comfortably hidden, watching you while you're out there working your ass off and getting your face bashed in by disgusting monsters scattered all over Gaia... oh and don't forget angry citizens and terrorist organizations!"
Cloud sighed shaking his head in disbelief and exasperation. He would never understand how some people, like Hiroki, could not be filled with pride at the thought of becoming powerful, of risking ones life. He could not understand how some people could not feel every vein inside their bodies pulsing with adrenaline at the mere thought of a battle, of the thrill it can provide.
Hiroki's brown eyes suddenly darkened solemnly. "I'm just glad that my future has been safely decided, now. I won't ever live in the slums, act like one of the slums... eat like one of the slums..."
The blond haired boy suddenly felt awkward at the sudden turn in his friend's mood. He didn't know what life in the Slums meant, but from the seriousness of Hiroki's usually carefree attitude, he didn't really want to know.
He suddenly understood why Hiro had acted so strongly to Zack's words a few days ago, when he had explained just exactly what could be heard about the Turks, down in the Slums.
The heavy atmosphere abruptly lifted when Cloud unexpectedly let out a sharp cry of pain, his upper body thrusting forward roughly. His face might have collided with the table once more (in a much more brutal way than before) if his newly developped reflexes hadn't reacted instantly by lifting his arms and clapping his palms flat against the table, safely stopping the brusque movement caused by the unforeseen shove.
The spiky haired teen glared over his shoulder at the gloved hand still against his shoulder, the evil doer which had dealt the blow on his already painful back, curtesy of Zack Charon.
Had he been a cat, the hairs along his back would have puffed in displeasure as he hissed angrily at him... but he obviously wasn't a cat, so he could only scowl heatedly at the older man while Zack grinned friendly at both Hiroki and himself, oblivious to his actions' effects on his unofficial trainee, which of course only worsened the spiky haired cadet's foul temper.
Zack's deep blue eyes widened in wonder as he finally focused his attention solely on Cloud, cocking his head to the side innocently.
Zack... innocent? Ha!
The bastard was rubbing it in. In fact, Cloud was seriously considering the option of removing the name "Zack" itself from that official list of name that existed somewhere and replace it by "bastard". He knew, without possible doubt, that Cloud was in pain (and had been ever since their first day of training, at that) and took every chance he had to remind him.
But more importantly...
What the hell was he doing here? This was the first time Zack had ever come to see him outside of training business, in front of other people (excluding Hiroki), no less . He had managed until now to slip out from his dorm room every morning before Bill woke up. Luckily, the brute had been absent on several occasions, probably partying with his other neanderthal friends... now that he thought about it, he'd rarely ever seen the asshole anywhere else than during practical training and theoretical classes where he made it his duty to make Cloud's life most unbearable, as usual.
But that was beside the point; he'd been able to let his training with Zack go unnoticed up until now and the idiot was going to ruin it all by letting Cloud be seen in his presence... in public!
He could already hear the other cadets' sneering voices, taunting him. He knew what they would think - what it probably seemed to other's eyes already; weak shorty boy was getting special treatment from kind, compassionate Sergeant Charon. Sometimes, he, himself, still believed that it was what Zack truly did, no matter what he had said before the training began and no matter how difficult he made it for Cloud. He couldn't help but think that he had taken pity of him and decided to keep him under his wing.
He'd rather die than to ever be treated differently because of pity or have others think that of him.
"What the hell are you doing here?!" Cloud hissed viciously at the taller young man, pushing his hand (which Zack had yet failed to remove from his back) off him. "Go away!"
Zack frowned at him, his grin never wavering. "What ever for, Cloudy-Boy! Hey... that rhymes... wait... uh... not really..." he chuckled sheepishly, rubbing the back of his head, apparently embarrassed.
"... because!" Cloud growled angrily under his breath, frustrated at his helplessness in this situation; Zack was too damn carefree to deal with. He didn't want to be seen with Zack but like hell he would explain anything to that imbecile! He wouldn't look more pathetic than he probably already did.
Zack pouted childishly. "I thought we could hang out... besides, I better watch your back in case Sephiroth suddenly decides to pop in and kick your ass for yesterday's... happenings; we're buds after all, now, aren't we?"
"Like hell, we are!" Cloud spat at him, still keeping his voice low so as to not attract more attention to Zack and himself. He hadn't dared assure himself that no one was staring at them, but he was certain he could feel eyes all over him, mocking glances watching him intently.
"Hey, Cloud..." Hiroki's voice suddenly broke through his paranoid thoughts just as Zack was rolling his eyes at him, momentarily pushing his anger and panic away from his conscience.
The blond haired teen quicklly glanced towards the dark eyed boy on the other side of the table, having almost forgotten of his presence.
Cloud simply gave him an annoyed, inquiring look to silently ask him what it is he wanted.
The wutainese Turks recruit paused for a second, frowning in thought. "Could you... have done something... incredibly outrageous to draw the attention of General Sephiroth himself?" he asked in an almost concerned tone.
The spiky haired blond's eyes widened slightly as he flinched awkwardly at the question.
Zack, who still stood beside him, scoffed once before chuckling lightly. Hiroki's gaze fell sharply on Zack, only to slide back quickly to Cloud, eyes narrowed in both intense curiosity and worry.
Cloud cowered slightly under Hiroki's perplexed stare, looking away.
Ever since it had happened, he hadn't felt very proud of himself for his actions towards not only the General of Shinra Military, but the world's most respected SOLDIER. He had even harshly reproached himself - and mentally given himself numerous proper kicks where he needed it most - but now that Hiroki inquired on the very fact without even knowing and stared at him with an almost grave expression, he couldn't help but feel utterly ashamed.
"Kind of..." Cloud finally answered, shrugging with practiced indifference, his aloof tone betrayed by a light trace of controlled uneasiness as he stared down at the table in front of him adamantly. He refused to show more of his feelings than what could not be stopped from being revealed.
"Kind of?" Zack repeated, amused. "I'd say it was more around the lines of 'hell yeah'! And of course followed by 'murder me now'." the dark spiky haired young man happily corrected.
Cloud shot him another murderous glare just as Hiroki raised an eyebrow questioningly, quietly pressing Cloud to elaborate.
The short blond groaned miserably before taking a deep breath. He really was condemned to make a total fool of himself over and over again. "Yesterday, during my training, Sephiroth, of all people, came to see Zack for this special SOLDIER evaluation-"
"-And between you and me, that's gotta mean something; having Sephiroth conduct your evaluation before the due time!" Zack whispered conspiratorially to Hiro, hiding his mouth behind the back of his hand. Hiroki blinked, a corner of his mouth quirking with restrained lauughter.
Cloud glowered. "... and... one thing led to another...and I just... ended up being rude to him."
Zack scoffed once more, which made Cloud all the more nervous when Hiroki seemed to grow more worried, staring at him silently.
"... rude?" the other cadet finally asked him after a few short moments.
Cloud glanced to the side stubbornly. He had enough of feeling guilty and pathetic and stupid already. It wasn't the end of the world! What he had done surely hadn't been that bad... right?
"This guy here," Zack pointed towards Cloud sharply and paused in his words, for dramatic effect, of course; he was having a blast out of this. "yelled at Sephiroth... and told him to shut up."
Hiroki's jaw dropped, his eyes bulging impossibly as he stared at Cloud in utter disbelief.
The spiky haired boy averted his eyes stubbornly, avoiding Hiroki's appalled look. He refused to acknowledge and be reminded by someone else the fact that he was a total fool. He had enough of his own conscience nagging at him, he did not need, or want anyone else rubbing it in anymore.
"He was being an asshole himself..." he explained defensively. "and... and what was he even doing awake at that time of day? Shouldn't a General like him be comfortably sleeping in his king sized bed or something?" he added, having successfully added bitterness in his irritated tone of voice to make sure his own shame was safely hidden.
"Of course, only Cloud Strife would be able to justify his disrespect against The Great Sephiroth..." Hiroki shook his head in exasperation and incredulity, sighing. "And FYI, Shinra Company never closes. In HQ, people work 24/7. They have several shift changes through out the day; the General probably had night shift and had been asked to meet Zack the evening before, I would figure..." Hiroki explained, always willing to divulge his knowledge. He of course, forgot to say that he in fact, knew the answer to this matter, for he had attended the conference yesterday, in which Heidegger had heatedly divulged his displeasure at Sephiroth's refusal to admit Sgt Charon into his SOLDIER ranks.
He had been somewhat surprised that even Turks recruits had to be present to meetings in the first place; all members of the organization needed to be aware of the company's situation at all times, apparently. The Turks were the company's eyes and ears, he needed to learn very quickly. New recruits were scarce and precious.
"You know, I actually heard Sephiroth often takes two shifts in a row and-"
"Spare me the gossip!" Cloud groaned in annoyance. Although, if he were to be completely honest with himself, the mention of Sephiroth had piqued his interest; all the more a reason to have Hiroki shut up about it.
He could not let his admiration for Sephiroth take over.
"Fine, Fine..." Hiroki relented, smiling softly in amusement. Stretching lazily, he slowly reached for his duffel bags beneath him and stood up, walking towards Cloud's side of the table. "Well, I should be going. Watch yourself, Cloudy-boy; I won't be there to watch out for you anymore."
Cloud glared murderously at him as he stood up angrily. "Like you ever did... and don't you dare call me that too!"
The mischievous Wutainese grinned at him. "Well, anyways... uh... we might see each other again; the main Shinra Building is right between the two Military buildings, after all..."
Cloud nodded. The two teenagers stared at each other for a few moments, both uncertain of what should be said next.
They were both extremely grateful for eachother's acquaintanceship, for they would have been alone for their first months at the academy, if not for one another. But to voice these sorts of feelings of gratitude...
Cloud, after thorough consideration, decided upong smiling thinly and with slight discomfort. He hated these kind of situations and apparently, for once, Hiroki seemed no better.
"See you around, Hiro..." the blond spoke softly, uncertain.
The dark haired cadet smiled gratefully at Cloud and nodded in understanding. Perhaps the spiky haired boy and he understood each other more than they believed.
They again shared a silent moment, gazing into each other's eyes. The silence which could've been considered disturbing did nothing to disrupt the intense moment Cloud and Hiroki shared with each other. True, no words were spoken, but between each other, between that intense gaze…they knew what the other had in mind. They knew what was going on. They knew neither one was able of properly setting up the good-byes so they stayed content with what was what.
"Aaaaaw! This is all too much! All in my arms!"
That was until an inhumanly loud outburst shattered their peace.
Zack, whom Cloud had almost forgotten about, nearly squealed, causing a shudder to run down his spine. The short cadet's blue eyes widened impossibly when the words finally registered in his mind and he saw Zack extending his arms on both sides of his body, moving closer to Hiroki and him.
He only moved to kill when the next words followed.
"GROUP HUUUUUG!" Zack sang heartilly and Cloud sprung, shoving both his palms against the taller man's firm chest, putting all his strength and lowly weight in his thrust.
"Hands off!" he snarled, cheeks flaring with both anger and embarassment. Hiroki on the other hand, stayed rooted there on the ground, gaping at Zack's extended arms. The sudden, unexpected outburst left him dumbfounded, struck and at loss for words.
It wasn't everyday you fell upon this sort of jovial charisma. In a place like Shinra, anyway. And to think that was a renowned Sergeant acting that way!
The whole idiocy of the situation finally sank in, and the more he thought over it the more distinctive his chuckles grew. Unknown to him, Cloud looked like he was going to strangle him in any given moment.
"Hey, c'mon now, this is your last moment together! Where are all the friendly kisses, the strong embraces! I wanna feel some affection, some man love, here! You gotta learn how to live a little, dude!" Zack exclaimed, unconcerned, waving his hands animatedly and closing them into fists with passion.
"What the hell?! What kind of teletubby freak do you think I am? You're insane! Go get yourself some man love with other mascots!" Cloud raged.
"Party-pooper..." he pouted. He sighed dramatically, turning around with an obviously false dejected expression. Taking a first step away from the pair of cadets, he looked over his shoulder. "Show more respect to your superiors, Strife," Zack instructed with an awfully fake low voice, imitating the tone of an angry uptight officer. The corner of his lips quirked with amusement, unable to completely wear his mask of disgruntled authority. "We wouldn't want another officer on your ass, would we?" He added, winking mischievously before walking away, joining another group of Sergeants several meters away.
Cloud reminded himself to control the violent impulses he wanted to release upon Zack; he was his superior, after all, as impossible as the situation may seem. Instructors rarely ate at the Mess Hall, but if Cloud was found disrespecting an officer, that too could arouse suspicion among others. He needed to calm down.
Even if Bastard had again taken pleasure into rubbing in the fact that he had acted foolishly.
He closed his eyes slowly and took a deep calming breath.
When he glanced to the side, Hiroki was staring at Zack, eyes wide with shock as he blinked repeatedly.
"He's crazy..." he said, shaking his head.
"Don't remind me..." Cloud groaned miserably.
"You're sooooooo stuck with him for the rest of your life..." Hiroki scoffed.
Cloud did not take the time to grace those words with an actual response and simply groaned this time, sitting back down on his chair and hiding his face behind his hands. He stayed this way for several minutes and finally removed his hands from his face to look up, still feeling Hiroki's presence behind him.
He looked over his shoulder. "Don't you have somewhere to go?" he snapped, seeing the grin on his friend's face.
"Yeah... I do, but seeing you drowning in self-pity is too priceless to miss," the Wutainese boy dodged the fist throwned at him and quickly swung his bags over his shoulder, running away.
"Good luck!" He taunted, looking over his shoulder as he rushed out of the Cafeteria.
Cloud hid his face behind his hands once more, grumbling.
Hidden beneath his palms, no one could see the soft smile that graced his lips.
Yeah, he was definitely going nuts, because, for the life of him, he could not find any reason for his need to smile, nor the pleasant blankness of his mind.
Comments: Man, that was one LONG chapter, huh? Well... I hope you all liked it... and, again... I WILL try to update sooner!
Please review! Your comments mean the world to me!