REVIEW: Cloud is living in Midgar's orphanage, starving for freedom. Meanwhile, ShinRa is on the verge of a second war with Wutai. Upon Cloud's escape, can he make a place for himself in a world teetering on the edge of destruction? Can he find the love and care he's never been given? Can Sephiroth gain the trust of a broken soul?

DISCLAIMER: I do not own Final Fantasy, or any of its sexy characters.

WARNINGS: Suicidal Themes, NONCON, Violence, Language, MAJOR Angst.

"Broken and Twisted"

By Love's Martyr

Chapter One

Longing

A thunderstorm raged maliciously above Midgar's orphanage, located in Sector Six. Regardless of the late hour, a pair of stunningly blue eyes, sparkling with silent tears, gazed with desire at the soggy streets below from a third floor window.

Cloud often stayed awake past regulation bedtime, and, just like tonight, he'd stare fixedly out the window, wondering what life on the other side of the walls and fences of the orphanage could offer him. He sat with his thighs against his stomach, and his hands on his knees. Resting his head lightly on his fingers, he'd long been grateful that the windows of the orphanage dorm were merely fifteen inches from the floor, allowing him to see the outside world more easily from a comfortable position.

By age fifteen, he had been in the orphanage for nine long years, and had only been outside the walls twice. Once, for a short, and to someone who'd never set foot on a street before, fascinating field trip. It was only a quick venture to the docks, where the instructors allowed their charges to play along the banks. Cloud still had two seashells from that day. They weren't much, but Cloud treasured them. They were his only souvenirs from the outside world. The second time he'd been outside the confines of the orphanage was his vain attempt to run away. He'd climbed the eighteen-foot fence around the playground's perimeter and injured his foot upon landing on the other side. He'd managed a few limps toward his freedom, then collapsed from the pain.

When he awoke to find himself back in this hell hole, he considered taking a page from his mother's book, and ending his own life then and there himself, but didn't. No, not like that, he would be strong. He'd vowed to himself at a young age, after his first emotional crisis, that he'd never take his mother's way out. He'd prove to the world that he could face whatever it threw at him and use it as a shield to make himself stronger. He would be the victor in the end.

Happiness, to Cloud, was as imaginary as a unicorn, a fire breathing dragon from the days of yore, or any other such fantasy.

I suppose I was happy . . . well . . . happier than I am now . . . when I lived with Mother . . . at least . . . at least I had my freedom . . . but, who . . . who cares . . . if I can't even remember . . .

His heavy sigh was drowned out by the rumble of thunder. Even then, before his mother chose to take her own life with a dagger, even then, he hadn't been happy. What memories he did have of his life nine years ago, they were all of pain, of sadness.

His father had abandoned his mother as soon as she'd told him of her pregnancy, leaving her alone and incurably depressed. She mourned every day until her death, clinging to the prayer less hope that, one day, he would return to her, ready to be a father, but he never would, and never did. She must have realized that her futile dreams would never come to pass. She must have realized that true love would be hers to treasure nevermore.

She did it right in front of Cloud, six years old at the time. He found her kneeling on the floor of their one room house when he returned from school, cradling a short dagger in her hands like a child. He recalled feeling jealous that she'd never done such for him. He still remembered her tears, her sigh of relief as death took her pain away. She smiled like an angel had come to rescue her, when, really, it was the grim reaper himself. She'd called him, begged him to take her to his realm. She'd pleaded for him to become her only eternal lover. Most of all, Cloud remembered the blood. He remembered how the thick crimson liquid had welled up and spilled from her throat. He hadn't cried, didn't even feel great sadness. Sure, he felt sympathetic toward his mother's plight, anyone would, but all his life, she'd never truly cared for him like a real mother should. She'd always looking past him with a smoggy hue in her once bright blue eyes, never at him. She had never loved him. No one ever had.

Love, like happiness, was just an illusory fantasy, something unreal, something he could never feel, something he could never deserve. His mother merely provided him with the essentials. The minimal of basic things he needed to live. In his mind, the memory of her death had marked the day of his own death as well, had marked the beginning of his miserable freedom less imprisonment; it marked the beginning of his slow, painful torture. Not physical torture, he could live with the everyday pains of his body. They were tolerable, but the aches of his heart, . . . they were something else entirely.

He'd been brought up taught that he was nothing. His mother had always told him so. He never stopped to question why she treated him so. He'd grown used to it over the years. Now that he looked back on his past, he realized she hated him because his father had left her as an effect of his birth.

Considering the fact that Nibelhiem, his hometown, was too small to support an orphanage and none of the locals would take him because they all considered him a 'demon of a child' simply because he hadn't shed a single tear upon his own mother's death, he was shipped here, to Midgar. No one had cared what happened to him from then on, not that anyone ever had to begin with. As long as he was gone, away from their ignorant eyes, the world could just pretend he didn't exist. They could all pretend they'd never seen his suffering and go on with their precious lives.

He, like his mother, hoped, dreamed, that someday he would get what he so graciously longed for, his freedom. He knew, that upon his eighteenth birthday, he'd be thrown out of the orphanage, legally an adult, into the world outside, where he so desperately wished to be, but still, the thought frightened him. His inner voice, the one that usually contradicted his hopes, told him it would be no different besides that fact that he'd have to feed himself, fend for himself, but it was worth it, so much better than rotting away here, wasting his life. He'd rather die on the outside than grow up not knowing anything else, and, so fare, the latter looked to be his future. Three more years. He'd already thrown away his childhood, and he wouldn't let his adolescence suffer the same fate. He would have his freedom. Maybe, he'd even have the chance to find someone who'd care, someone to love.

No one will ever love you. You're too scarred, too broken. You don't own a damn thing. Hell, not even the clothes on your back belong to you. You're not even good-looking. You're just plain, simple, poor, Cloud Strife. That contradicting inner voice again. In a way, it was right.

None of the adopting families chose Cloud because they all wanted a happy child, not one whose mentality had been cut so deeply, had been shaped and formed like clay by those around him into something grotesque, something seemingly incapable of feeling. He'd failed time and time again to impress a family; to win a couple's hearts; to be rescued from this moshe pit of scum. Each time he'd failed he felt further alienated. The wounds cut deeper, they festered, and the scars grew thicker. Now he was too old to even think of adoption. Most couples wanted small children, happy, young children, not him, never the outcast.

The few times he'd actually seem himself in a mirror, which were rare in such a poor orphanage, he'd noticed he wasn't even good looking. He wasn't ugly. His spiky blond hair and blue eyes were beautiful, but he was painfully unhealthy. Due to nine years of malnutrition, his body was small, lanky, and thin, too thin. You couldn't see his ribs, but he was still growing, and that was bound to change soon. The orphanage never let him eat his fill, never. This also caused many other problems. His hair always had a limp look to it, always seemed so dull, so lifeless. His skin always seemed sickly pale, even though he physically felt fine, or maybe he was sick, had always been sick. Had been so for so long he'd forgotten what health felt like and had grown used to the feeling. No, he wasn't ugly, he'd be pretty if he were healthy. His hair would bounce, light and fluffy, and his skin would glow. Maybe he'd actually grow. (Yes, he was short for his age, 5'3.) Yes, he could be pretty, apparently no one had thought about him long enough to notice . . . except for one person, whose affection was unwanted, and came only from deprivation and lust.

At age twelve he'd been playing by himself at the fare end of the orphanage's pathetic excuse of a playground when he was confronted by an older, much larger boy who was fourteen then, but was now seventeen and would be released from the facility's custody in less than four months.

After making sure the instructors couldn't see, the older boy, Matthew Phillips, wrestled Cloud around the corner of the building, where no one could see them, and drew a makeshift blade made from a spoon that had been sharpened somehow until it bore a killing edge. Dull maybe, but it would suffice. He pressed it to Cloud's throat. Cloud gasped, leaning heavily against the building. He still remembered Matthew's exact words.

"Scream, make any sound at all, and I'll slit your pretty little throat. No one will miss you"

Cloud had known Matthew wasn't bluffing, orphans 'mysteriously' died often, so he didn't fight. Not when he was forced to his knees, not when Matthew unzipped his own pants and produced his hard cock, pre-cum already glimmering at the tip.

"Suck it bitch."

Matthew pressed the blade further into his throat, not drawing blood, but painfully close, just to add to his already intimidating appearance.

Cloud looked up to Matthew's dark brown eyes pleadingly, to his raven hair, anywhere but the swollen cock in his face, aching for his touch. Even at twelve he knew what Matthew wanted, he'd seen it happen to other boys too many times before not to know, but he never once considered being forced into this type of activity himself. He never thought it could happen to him, but was shockingly, dead wrong. He remembered his thoughts.

I don't want this . . . I'm scared. Maybe . . . death is better . . .

No, you won't let him kill you . . . you swore to yourself that you'd never give up on life, no matter what sick prank it throws at you. Just give him what he wants . . . then . . . it'll be all over . . .

Cloud lowered his gaze to the cock in his face, calming himself for the task.

Matthew lost what little patience he had, and forced down the tip of the spoon-blade even harder, this time breaking the skin. Cloud felt warmth at his neck, not deep enough though, not enough blood to kill him, only a warning.

"I'm growing gray here . . . "

Matthew's hand palmed the back of Cloud's head and forced him forward. Cloud stubbornly turned his face away, still not ready. He didn't think he ever would be.

"Wait," he pleaded, ". . . just . . . wait . . . I will . . . please, just wait."

"Wait?" Matthew snapped. A moment of silence followed as, presumably, Matthew felt some sympathy for Cloud, but his sexual urges pushed him onward. He sighed. "You've got until I count to ten. One . . . "

Cloud swallowed hard and further examined the cock.

Just do it . . . there's no reason to drag this out . . . I could wait until someone finds us, but then . . . he'll just try again tomorrow . . . with more force . . .

When Matthew reached eight, Cloud tentatively licked the pre-cum dribbling from the tip, loathing himself for it. A salty taste brushed over his tongue. Matthew clenched his hand on Cloud's head in anticipation.

Cloud collected himself and took the pulsing head into his mouth, pressing his tongue beneath it experimentally. He slid downward, stroking the under shaft strongly with his tongue. He'd thought of biting, but he remembered the blade at his neck, and changed his mind. He would have to do a good job of this in fears that Matthew would cut him anyways if he performed prroly. He was proud of himself for not crumpling to tears as he felt like doing. He was glad Matthew didn't have the pleasure of watching him break down.

The dark-headed boy groaned as Cloud went further down to the hilt. Struggling not to choke, the blond backed off a little. Composing himself, he went back down, but his throat hadn't had time to recover when Matthew's hand forced him back down roughly. His throat spasmed uncontrollably until Cloud was sure he would choke.

"Ha . . . new at this then." Was all that Matthew had to say, still not allowing Cloud to pull back, even though the blond did try.

Finally, he did manage to calm his muscles down. He felt even more like crying now. He felt like rolling over and taking the last breath he ever would.

Cradling the head of Matthew's cock on the back of his tongue, he pressed upward in a caressing motion, prying a moan from his molester. In a bid to end his humiliation sooner, Cloud lapped out his tongue to massage the sack. This won him his goal. Matthew dropped the blade as he cried out, and his free hand joined the other behind Cloud's head, gripping handfuls of blond spikes and pressing his face into the older boy's hips. This time, the salty flavor burst into Cloud's mouth with a surprising heat. Matthew continued to hold him there. Cloud almost vomited as he was obligated to either swallow the mess or let it sit on his tongue. He reluctantly chose the former.

Breathing erratically, Matthew released Cloud and began to zip his pants.

"You're good. We'll be doing this again bitch."

Indeed they did, Cloud unwilling every time. By the present, Cloud had been subjected to Matthew's libido at least twenty times over the span of three years, and had grown shamefully good at it, now able to bring Matthew to orgasm in less than a minute. Personally, Cloud was glad that the older boy would be gone soon, but he had no doubt that he'd be non-consentually forced to do it again as a parting gift.

Cloud, coming back to the present, shook away the hurtful memories.

My life sucks . . . literally . . .

He looked over to his bed, a cheap uncomfortable mattress slapped onto a cheaply made, creaky, metal frame. Conveniently the closest one to the window. Matthew slept on the other side of the room, eight rows away, a stroke of luck Cloud was thankful for. With a heavy sigh, he wiped away what was left of his tears and crept under his blankets, wincing when his bed groaned loudly from his weight. Luckily the creaks woke no one. His mind being too tired to think any more tonight, Cloud slipped into a pleasant dream about a forest he'd never been to, where he lay in flowers he'd never seen, and listened to the singing of birds he'd never before heard, a simple dream maybe, but to Cloud paradise.

88888888

Sephiroth woke earlier than his usual schedule that morning. He'd also gone to bed earlier than usual the night before, so the slight alterations to his internal clock made sense.

Following the monotony of his morning routine, he walked to the kitchen of his small apartment, still in his navy blue boxers, and started a pot of coffee. Then, as he did every morning, he went to shower.

With one swift movement, his boxers pooled to the floor, exposing strong lithe thighs and perfectly carved buttocks. As he waited for the water to warm, he decided to relieve himself. By the time he was finished, the water had heated to a steaming temperature, just the way he liked it. Not wanting his coffee to be bitter, he quickly shampooed his waterfall of white silk, quite a challenging aspect seeing there was so much of it, and lightly conditioned it, even more difficult than shampooing. He then slid a soapy washcloth over his body in haste.

He stepped out and toweled himself dry, wrapping his hair in the towel so it wouldn't drip and make the rest of his body wet again.

Still naked, he sped into the kitchen to turn off his coffee . . . only one problem . . . it was already off, and a good portion of it was notably missing.

"You make coffee in the nude? Make it taste better or something? I can't imagine it'd feel too good if you accidentally spilled it . . . "

Sephiroth wheeled around, yanking the towel from his hair to his waist to cover himself. He knew that voice, but still didn't want his friend to see him in all his naked glory.

Zack, being his only trusted friend, had a key to Sephiroth's apartment, in case ShinRa's new general dropped by while Sephiroth was gone. Yes, ShinRa's new general.

Sephiroth had retired early two years ago at age twenty-six. He had enough money to live off of luxuriously for the rest of his life, so, why not? Sephiroth was, in fact, a millionaire, though by looking at his apartment and lifestyle, one would never suspect. Zack, being his second-in-command for three years and having adequate sword skills, received the promotion the day Sephiroth left, with the help of a few well-placed words of recomendation.

Of course, Sephiroth got bored, and often he'd drop by ShinRa unannounced for a little entertainment: sparring, to visit Zack, or to watch recruits in training. Sometimes, when he felt the old itch, he'd accompany Zack on an assignment, usually giving him the chance to fight without holding himself back, as he usually did in sparring in fear of harming another SOLDIER.

"You know Seph, you almost let your coffee hard-boil . . . good thing I came in, or. . . . " Zack gestured to Sephiroth's nudity, ". . . maybe not . . . Go put some cloths on before you blind someone," he joked.

"Very funny . . . " Sephiroth tightened the towel around his waist, potentially avoiding one of Zack's usually sexually inclined pranks, like swiping the towel away as he passed, and went to dress.

Wearing everything except his leather coat and shoulder armor, which he'd replaced with a white button-up shirt, Sephiroth brushed the tangles from his hair, and blew it dry, a daunting task. He emerged from his bathroom some long moments later to find Zack waiting patiently on his couch with a half-eaten turkey sandwich in his hand.

"You come just to raid my fridge, or is there another reason?" Sephiroth asked, bemused.

"What? A guy can't live on ShinRa surprise all his life. That's why you quit, isn't it? The slop they try to pass as food." His dark-haired friend took a bite of the huge meal he was attempting to pass off as a sandwitch. Sephiroth was obliged to wait for the man to chew and swallow. "No, I didn't come here originally with the intentions of cleaning out your fridge. No real reason really. Just thought I hadn't seen you in a while, and, well, here I am."

Zack had worn his usual uniform . . . Sephiroth hated that black sleeveless . . . it gave him ideas, and he'd discovered the hard way that his friend was straight. Thankfully, Zack, being as loyal a friend as he was, forgave him for his advances. To Sephiroth, he didn't deserve such a luxury, seeing as he still thought of his unavoidably heterosexual friend in that manner, but he knew his boundaries and would keep his distance for the sake of their brotherly friendship.

Sephiroth lowered himself with unintentional grace onto the other side of the couch, slouching back and loosely crossing his legs in a comfortable position, waiting. He knew his spiky brunette friend had come for a reason, but decided he wouldn't press the matter. He'd wait until Zack had found the correct time to bring up, whatever the issue, himself.

"So . . . how've you been?" he inquired. "Has anything happened back at ShinRa I should know about?"

"Besides the fact that we're on the verge of war with Wutai, again, no . . . "

"War?! I didn't think I'd missed that much. Care to fill me in?"

"Don't feel bad. ShinRa isn't too keen on relaying information on this subject. This is what I've been told, but I don't believe it. They're pissed because one of Hojo's old mako reactors are apparently leaking into the ocean, therefore into the rivers, ergo, into their water supply . . . They say they can't filter it out, and that the mako is killing their crops, and their people are dying from mako poisoning. There's nothing we can do about it. I mean, come on, the damage is done. What do they want us to do? Purify the entire fucking ocean? Those reactors aren't even, technically, part of ShinRa any more. Godo, their leader, you probably already know he's an irrational bastard, wants to strike us down in an act of revenge. Or. . . . like I said, that's what I've been told, but I don't believe it."

"Godo may not be the most rational person alive, but he's not stupid. From what I know of him, it sounds as if you're speaking of a completely different person. I schemed and plotted against him for years during Wutai War One, and it wasn't a walk in the park. But, if what you say is true, it would seem we've already won this so called war before it's begun . . . If their people are dying, they'll have fewer soldiers, and if their crops are failing because of tainted water, the rest will starve themselves out . . . They think they can survive those conditions, and us?"

"No, I don't believe they'll last long if what they claim about their poisoned water supply is true. In my opinion, they're just making up an excuse. I don't want to go to war over something so meaningless, but, if they strike first . . . they give us no choice . . . I don't know what Godo is thinking . . . I believe he just wants a reason to strike at us. We triple checked all of the reactors, and haven't found any damage at all, much less a leak." Zack sighed.

"Don't worry," Sephiroth felt concern for his friend, Zack had been to war with Wutai before, but not as a general. "I promise, if we . . . if you have to go to the front lines, I'll come out of retirement for your sake." Sephiroth placed a reassuring hand on Zack's shoulder. "This time, you'll be the general."

"I . . . thanks . . . you're such a good friend, Seph. Actually . . . there is a reason I'm here. War is a high probability, judging by what the intelligence agency has said. I'm being sent to Wutai on an assignment. I'm supposed to go alone, but . . . "

". . . you want me to accompany you . . . " Sephiroth finished for him.

"If you don't mind . . . " Zack looked into the white-haired man's impossibly green eyes hopefully, and found he couldn't hold his battle hardened comrade's gaze. God, Sephiroth was so intimidating, even as a friend. Zack knew he had no reason to be intimidated by him, Sephiroth would never harm him intentionally, even if he was all too capable, but he didn't trust Seph for no reason. He had grown more comfortable in Sephiroth'd prescence than most people. His thoughts wandered to a memory of when a young cadet, fresh into the company, had wet himself simply because Sephiroth had entered the same room.

Sephiroth removed his hand from Zack's shoulder, bringing the dark-haired man's thoughts back to the present.

"If I don't mind? Zack, I've been bored out of my whits lately . . . I was hoping you'd invite me anywhere. What is our mission, and when do we leave?"

Zack hadn't expected an answer like that, judging by the blank look on his face.

"Well, I'm supposed to spy on them basically. I'm not the only one who has suspicions as to why Wutai is so eager to attack. We have to watch for unusual behavior, and find evidence incriminating them of other potential motives. There has to be more behind their anger than mako polluted water and dying crops . . . They could've just asked to open trade with us for food, a peaceful solution, but no, they want to attack."

"I see. Wouldn't something like that usually be a job for a Turk?"

"President ShinRa didn't elaborate on the situation, but apparently all of the Turks are off on missions of their own."

"All of them?"

Zack only shrugged.

Sephiroth nodded dismally. "ShinRa's keeping their own general in the dark . . . something's happening."

"You're right. I've been thinking the same thing. But what I wonder? What would ShinRa want to hide from their own military?"

"Your guess is as good as mine. The mission?"

"Oh, right. We leave August seventh, in five days. Uh, you meet me in my office then, we'll have to travel by chocobo to stay out of sight. I mean, come on, we can't exactly show up in one of ShinRa's blatantly obvious vehicles of transportation. Do they have to put big crimson diamonds on everything they make? I'm surprised they don't force SOLDIERS to get fucking big red tattoos."

Sephiroth chuckled at his friend's joke, glad he'd soon be leaving for what he'd consider a vacation.

Then, there was always that little voice in the back of his mind. What information was ShinRa holding back from Zack, their own general? He had a bad feeling about this assignment. An even darker cloud loomed over his mind every time he thought of events to come. What did ShinRa's secrecy mean? For Zack? For himself? Would he have to come out of his uneventful, yet comfortable retirement?

88888888

Cloud sat at the long table in the kitchens of the orphanage, slowly stirring his cold cream of wheat. He had no appetite. Tomorrow was Matthew's eighteenth birthday. He knew because the dark-haired teenager had reminded him a few days ago, winking as he'd said, "See you then." Cloud knew all too well what that meant. His suspicions about a 'goodbye present' were correct, and he didn't look forward to it, knowing it would come today.

Cloud's nerves were edgy the entire day as he tried his best to stay around other people, tried not to find himself alone, vulnerable to Matthew. He survived their hours outside by staying with a red headed boy named Arlex, a fairly burly sixteen year old who, like himself, never spoke much, so Cloud concluded he might not mind a little company as long as he was quiet and stayed out of his way. Cloud cautiously followed him around the entire time they were forced to remain outside in the sweltering heat of Midgar's evening sun, surrounded by depressing chain link fencing of course.

Cloud couldn't help but wonder how someone could keep such muscle on their body with the small amounts of food the orphanage allowed each occupant. He decided it was because Arlex had been an orphan for only a few months, his body hadn't yet begun to show the effects of poor nutrition. Cloud decided he'd like to have big muscles someday. Well, not quite that big, just enough to show he had them. His body, as it was now, couldn't produce much strength. Hell, his ribs were becoming visible when he removed his shirt, maybe he should've eaten his cold wheat this morning, churning stomach or not. That reminded him of the reason he felt so ill, and he nervously glanced around for any sign of Matthew. Surprisingly . . . he didn't see him anywhere. Maybe his plan of hanging around Arlex for protection was working. He didn't even know the guy, and if Matthew tried something, Arlex would probably leave him to his own devices, but Matthew didn't know that.

"How long have you been here?"

A sharp tenor of a voice startled him somewhat. Arlex had spoken, perhaps for the first time he'd been at the orphanage. Recovering from the shock that anyone would actually want to make conversation with him, Cloud answered. "Nine years . . . "

"No wonder . . . " the red head's eyes raked over Cloud's thin body quickly, then rested on his face once again. "I've been here three months, and I'm already losing weight."

Cloud's cheeks reddened in shame, realizing his health problems had become visible through his clothing. He stared at his own feet as if they had suddenly detached themselves from his ankles to do somersaults.

Arlex turned away, realizing he'd stricken a chord somewhere in the blond. Cloud concluded that Arlex was shy, and possibly one of those submissive types of people, the type that didn't want to say or do anything in fear of angering others. Cloud discerned that he himself could be such often. Arlex was likely punishing himself now for making such an outward statement, thinking he'd angered Cloud.

"How'd you end up here? I mean, if you don't mind my asking . . . how did you become an orphan?"

The only answer Cloud received was, "My parents died . . . "

Well DUH! I kind of knew that much. How thick are you? Cloud didn't voice his thoughts aloud.

". . . My parents died . . . when I was ten, killed by monsters. I wasn't with them at the time, so . . . I had to wait weeks before I knew what had happened."

"Ten? You've been to another orphanage then?"

"No, I lived on the streets . . . with some friends . . . we got captured by the Midgar Police Department, they said I'd be better off in a place like this. Now, here I am . . . "

"Where are your friends?"

"Different facilities I think. I don't know why they weren't sent here with me . . . I guess the government thought it'd be fun to separate us . . . after all we went through together . . . surviving . . . relying on one another . . . "

"I know it probably won't help, but . . . I'm sorry." Cloud tried to cheer up his wary companion. "Maybe, they escaped . . . that could be why they're not here with you."

"You think? Maybe they're waiting for me to return, no?" The red head sighed heavily, closing his lavender eyes in frustration. "I'll never escape this place . . . Well, yeah, I might get out, but I'd be captured again before I could find them." Arlex looked Cloud over again, with a pained expression on his face. "You . . . you can have my supper if . . . you want it . . . you look like . . . you . . . need it more than I do."

Cloud gaped open-mouthed at him, astonished that someone actually cared about his well-being.

"I . . . I don't . . . "

Arlex cut him short.

"No, I haven't been eating it anyway . . . too worried about how my friends are fairing. Besides, look at yourself, you look like death warmed over. So thin and all . . . "

Cloud still hadn't recovered from the fact that another person could actually care . . . he'd only just really met Arlex. The emotions welled up inside him. He noticed Arlex wouldn't look him straight in the eye, but dismissed it as acquired timidness.

I will not cry dammit!

The red head had a point though. How long can the human body last on such rations as he had? How much thinner could he get before he collapsed? How much longer could his body hold out before he wasted away to nothing?

"I . . . thanks."

His right hand subconsciously snaked itself to the back of his head in a gesture of nervousness.

They talked until the instructors called them back inside. Cloud telling Arlex about his past, his mother. Arlex describing to Cloud, what street life was like, how everyone lived in small packs, how those gangs sometimes fought over territory, money, food. Arlex himself had been in many of these brawls. The red head showing Cloud a jagged scar on his shoulder where he'd been slashed with a broken soda bottle. The wound had almost killed him from infection, considering there was no real medical help to be had when one lived on the streets.

They ate dinner together at the end of the long table. Or, for better description, Cloud ate his potato soup, then Arlex forced him to eat his as well, saying he needed it. With reluctance, Cloud gave in and complied. He still couldn't believe someone was actually talking to him, and he'd never eaten with someone before . . . he usually sat alone. Arlex was telling Cloud about each of his street friends, three of them, Samson, Miah, and Celeste. They'd all been like siblings to Arlex, and Cloud could tell the older teen missed them immensely.

"You'll meet them again someday. I tried running away once . . . I broke my ankle as soon as I scaled the fence."

"You climbed the fence?" An incredulous expression had found its way onto Arlex's freckled face.

Cloud nodded. "You know, since neither of us can escape alone, maybe . . . if we work together . . . " a meek expression of hope crossed his face.

"...if we work together we can do it."Arlex finished for him.

A long moment of silence passed as they both pondered this separately. To Cloud, this was a dream come true, a wonderful day. He'd made his first friend, and Arlex could possibly help him escape this cesspool. He was still alien to the concept of relying on others for companionship, had always thought he didn't need anyone else. He could take care of himself, but Arlex had spent, what, two hours with him, and he was already feeling hungry for more friendship, but inwardly told himself he couldn't get this lucky twice in one day. Likely as things were, he and Arlex would use each other to escape, then go their separate ways, Cloud being left to fend for himself on unfamiliar streets.

"You can meet my friends, if they're still out there, they'll be at our hangout, all we have to do is get there, and you can stay with us, be a part of our gang. I'm sure they'll accept you, . . . after all, we are a small group."

Cloud was stunned at this revelation. Arlex wanted him to stay with him and his friends? Cloud began to wonder if he were dreaming. There's no way so many good things could happen in one day. If this wasn't a dream, something bad was bound to happen sooner or later. This was naught but the silence before the storm. Maybe Arlex wasn't as nice or as ignorant as he put off to be. Cloud's past experiences had taught him to trust no one, rely on no one, and befriend no one but oneself. Those were the basic rules he'd lived by all his life. If he didn't trust anyone, they couldn't betray him, couldn't cause more harm to his mental persona.

Maybe Arlex was playing him a fool. Throwing out bait: friendship, food, the hope of freedom, for something in return, but what? Images of Matthew flashed through his mind, followed by images of himself kneeling before the dark-haired boy's groin, bobbing, giving pleasure against his own will. In his mind's eyes, Matthew began to shift. He grew taller, shoulders broadened, hair lengthened and changed from black to auburn. Fear and alertness marred his consciousness. His hands began to shake. Arlex was no friend, but an enemy who wanted the same thing as Matthew.

Speaking of Matthew, where was he? Cloud glanced around quickly, making his change in demeanor obvious to Arlex.

"Is something wrong?"

Cloud couldn't hear the red head. He spotted Matthew on the far end of the table, watching them both intently with an unnerving smirk on his face. Arlex, he and Matthew had planned something somehow.

Without thinking, Cloud leapt from his the table and made a wild dash to the sleep hall. He didn't turn around to see if anyone pursued him. As soon as he was behind a closed door, he'd be in less of a panic. He sped to his bed and slammed his fists into the creaky mattress out of anger. How could he have been so stupid? So . . . so trustful? Had the many long years of vigilant self discipline, years of suffering at the hands of others taught him nothing? He was utterly disappointed in himself. Himself, his only reliable ally, had let him down.

He buried his face in the thin pillow. Unable to suppress his emotions like he'd always done before. Hot tears dampened his cheeks. He'd let himself down twice in one day, first, by trusting, second by outwardly displaying his own weakness. He hated himself for allowing those tears passage, allowing his weakness to show. He hated himself for who he was, what he was. He wanted to be anywhere but in this pathetic worthless body, anywhere but here. Even if that meant eternal unconsciousness, death. He, like his mother, would call the grim reaper to his side, beg him graciously for release.

No, he could not, would not, let himself down thrice in such a short time period. He remembered his vow and clung to it. He would not be that weak, never. Eventually, when the pain of his own failure to himself had eased a little, he'd turn the situation around and use it as a shield to protect himself in the future. He'd learn from this mistake. Never again would he allow himself to trust another individual. He learned that, every time he reached out to someone, they pushed him away, thoroughly crushing his heart. No one wanted to befriend him. They all wanted to use him for money, entertainment, or sex.

As Cloud expected, not one person disturbed him as he wept into his pillow. The fact that nobody cared enough to comfort him in his moment of need didn't surprise him, but it intensified his self loathing. Oh, how he longed for a shoulder to cry on, wished someone would hold him close at least once in his life. But no, he couldn't expect someone to touch something so detestable as himself. He couldn't force such a burden on any soul. He simply lay there, wallowing in self hatred, until his breathing returned to a normal pace, and his body ran out of tears. Red-eyed and exhausted, he finally took it upon himself to seek shelter beneath the little warmth his thin blanket offered, and warily drifted off into an uneasy sleep.

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Sephiroth stood stoically on the fourth floor balcony of the Blue Parrot, a widely renowned club. Zack had goaded him into coming as a celebration of their return from their mission, and he now regretted it greatly. He was undeniably bored. Sure, it was likely better than sitting in his apartment all night, but not by much.

Their mission had gone as smooth as work could behind enemy lines. Unfortunately, they hadn't been given the chance to thoroughly brown nose for information. They were attacked two days in by six cloaked swordsmen, all of which had inhuman speed and strength. They were almost as powerful as Sephiroth himself. Strength of that degree could only be attained through SOLDIER means, such as mako injections. One small issue there, Wutai didn't produce mako, only ShinRa did, thanks to their esteemed scientists, Professors Gast and Hojo. Strange indeed.

How did they know we were there?

Good question. They'd taken every precaution to remain hidden, camping out in the outskirts of Wutai's political capitol, where all Wutanese dealings of secrecy and political importance took place. No one had known of their presence, as far as he knew.

Those warriors didn't fight like Wutanese mercenaries either.

He'd let the issue drop for now. So much thinking on his first day back was giving him a headache.

He binged down yet another beer, his eighteenth one in less than an hour. Nope, still nothing. Being in SOLDIER had both its upsides, and its downsides. On the optimistic hand, he had inhuman speed, strength and agility, not to mention, the heightened senses and ability to heal almost five times faster than an average human. On the pessimistic hand, he couldn't get drunk or high no matter how damn hard he tried. He usually gave up after beer ten, but he'd tried even harder tonight, and still failed.

Not wanting to be the only sober person left in the building, he'd decided to find a secluded corner alone, where he could sit and glare menacingly at those who could get drunk, and were doing said activity all too well for their own good. Zack was in SOLDIER and had just as much mako in his veins as Sephiroth, he couldn't technically get drunk, but sure as hell could act like it. Sephiroth shook his head as he watched Zack attempt to break dance with a purple lamp shade on his head, and a pool stick down his left pant leg . . .

. . . sad.

Sephiroth had to admit, Zack was doing a decent job for someone who'd been wounded less than twenty-four hours before. While Zack was quite a force to dealt with, he had trouble holding his own against those six cloaked enigmas. Sephiroth fought them off, killing two, and fled with a bleeding Zack in his arms. The dark-haired man had suffered a blade through his chest, piercing one lung. They hadn't brought any cure materia. They didn't think they'd need any. It was then that Sephiroth made a mental note to always keep one on hand, no matter how simple the assignment. Sephiroth had immediately holstered up his golden chocobo and returned to ShinRa. His first visit, the infirmary, where he'd gently lain Zack, barely breathing on a hospital bed and let the doctors have their way with him. SOLDIER or no, Zack wasn't immortal. He stayed by his side, unrelenting in his watchfulness, not leaving even to eat until he awoke. Zack was his only friend. If only he knew how much the emerald-eyed man cared.

Zack had been awake no longer than fifteen minutes when he'd pleaded with Sephiroth to come 'party' with him. That was Zack for you, always cheerful and upbeat. Now, here he was, watching his newly revived friend pretend to be drunk. Zack was now up on the bar, singing "Stand by Your Man" with a half-full bottle of vodka in one hand, acting as a microphone, and an empty daiquiri in the other.

Sephiroth was fine in his dark corner for about ten minutes, but all good things must come to an end. He was unsuspectedly bombarded by four drunken prostitutes, who made it all too obvious that they'd offer him their 'services' free of charge. That would have been well and all, except for one tiny, minor, unimportant detail. HE DIDN'T LIKE FEMALES! At that, he'd stood and pushed them all away, storming for the nearest escape, which just happened to this balcony on which he now stood, peering angrily at the stars.

God, I need a boyfriend . . .

He thought back to the prostitutes who had all but raped him and shuddered.

. . . badly . . .

True, Sephiroth did go on a lot of dates, but they all wanted him for his title, his money. Yes, money. While he lived in his large apartment instead of a home, he did so only to mask his income because he didn't want a lover who wanted him only for his possessions, but that bright idea was crushed by the fact that almost every being on Gaia knew who he was. If it wasn't money they were after, it was his body. He'd been with far too many men who wanted nothing more than to sleep with him only for the pleasure and bragging rights and never see him again. Sephiroth avoided most of these mishaps, not wanting to feel the pain of being used as a tool for someone else's enjoyment. Sephiroth longed for someone who didn't know him as The Great General Sephiroth, if such a soul even existed, which he doubted.

If he could find such a being, a homosexual male who didn't know his title, and would love him for who he was, the man Sephiroth, not the general Sephiroth, he would undoubtedly love him just as much, if not more.

There is no such person in existence. ShinRa advertises too fucking much . . . I suppose I could always travel to some pathetic deserted little colony of half-starved pygmy natives in some distant rain forest and choose a lover from their pitiful existence . . . hmpf . . . yeah right, I think I'd rather remain celibate for all eternity than resort to that.

Sephiroth allowed his gaze to wonder onto the streets almost fifty feet below. They were empty, save for a few late night stragglers, likely drunk to the point that they no longer obtained the aptness to find their own homes. Across the street, there was a dingy brick structure one floor shorter than the Blue Parrot with barred windows and a fenced in area diagonally across from where Sephiroth leaned on the balcony rails. The Midgar orphanage.

Sephiroth wondered at it for several minutes, then was abruptly roused from his musings by the tingle of a cold wetness on the back of his neck. He looked to the sky where black clouds loomed overhead, ready to hemorrhage down upon the mostly empty streets of Midgar. Sephiroth pitied any who hadn't found shelter yet, judging by the energy in the atmosphere that only highly trained SOLDIERS could feel, an electric storm of mighty magnitude was preparing to unleash its wrath.

The winds picked up, blowing chillingly against Sephiroth's side. He stood from his perch on the railing and pulled his coat tighter around himself, anticipating more gusts to come. The rain drops gradually increased in intervals, falling faster, and heavier each second. Sephiroth merely backed against the building. The balcony's roof would keep him dry enough. He'd risk the fury of a thunder storm rather than the raging hormones of over active whores any day. Thunder roared across the sky in waves, causing his ears to ring. He watched in curiosity as lights illuminated a large window on the third floor of the orphanage.

Frightened by a little storm?

His enhanced hearing picked up angry and terrified shouts from that general direction even through the howl of the winds and pounding of the rain. Was something of importance happening? He strode forward, as close to the patter of cold water against metal railing as he bothered.

A flash of color from below drew his attention. In the fenced in area behind the building, a shadow hastily made its way to the tall fence, running straight into it. It's blond hair acting as a red flag, shouting, 'Here I am'. The figure stayed there for a moment, clinging to the chain links, Sephiroth strained to hear his heavy breaths.

He's not going to . . . ? He'll hurt himself . . . A grown man couldn't take that leap over the other side, much less a boy.

Sephiroth watched in slight interest as the figure slowly started up the fence. Once he'd made it to the top, he slung both legs over . . . and waited.

Afraid of heights, or are you just tired from the climb? Or maybe, you've thought this through, and know you're going to get hurt.

The blond readied himself, and dropped from the full height of the fencing, landing on his feet, but dropping to his knees afterward, cradling an ankle. Sephiroth wondered if he should do something about the escape he'd witnessed as the youth limped to his feet and recovered quickly, running off toward the heart of the city. He shook his head, knowing the boy likely had nowhere to go, and would end up recaptured, if not dead in a few days.

A normal, non-SOLDIER boy risking a fall like that for freedom. Is that place really so insufferable?

He stood quickly, ears alert, as he heard the singing of sirens, distant, but growing closer. He knew from experience that Midgar's police didn't respond immediately to things like this unless other factors were involved, but what kind? Sephiroth decided it was none of his business and walked back inside the club, thinking that the escapee would have a rough night, between the searching police, and the cold weather.

It's a win/lose situation. On one hand, the rain wil likelyl make him sick. On the other, it'll mask his scent from search dogs . . . from what I've seen, he's probably willing to risk a cold, even if that means sleeping on the streets.

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A sharp sound startled Cloud awake. He sat bolt upright in the darkness of the sleep hall, straining his ears to determine if he'd dreamed the sound, or if he'd really heard it. Darkness veiled his eyesight, so he'd have to rely on sound until his eyes adjusted. He thought he heard a shuffling sound, perhaps someone walking on the wooden floor. Before he could react, his bed gave a loud creak and a hand was over his mouth, muffling his shout of fright from the ears of the sleeping orphans. A knife was at his throat in an instant, not a spoon-blade, a real knife. Was this another orphan? If so, how had they gotten a real knife onto the premises?

He shivered as whoever restrained him sadistically chuckled into his ear. The voice was male, and familiar, but Cloud couldn't place it. Cloud flinched as he felt the weight of another body at the foot of the bed.

"Get him to the floor. This bed's gonna wake those sleeping fucks."

The whisper was so soft Cloud couldn't discern who it could be. The warm body behind him forced him to the floor between his bed and the window with strength much greater than his own.

His eyes had adapted enough to see the silhouette of a figure crouched over him. The silhouette's head lowered. He felt hot breath on his ears.

"Where's my birthday present, hmm?"

Once realization hit, Cloud squirmed determinedly, both angered and terrified at once. The sharp sting of a new blade cutting into his throat settled him. His blood flowed to the floor and stained his hair and clothes. This cut was deeper than the one he'd received the first time he'd been forced into this, but still not lethal. His breaths became short and labored from the fluttering beat of his heart as panic seized him.

Matthew growled at him, "Any sound out of you, any sound at all, and, well, Arlex has been wanting to try out his new blade. Take your hand off his mouth." He directed to Arlex.

Arlex complied. Just as Cloud opened his mouth for sufficient air, rough lips ravaged his own. Matthew's tongue in his mouth was enough to make Cloud gag, he tasted as if he'd never brushed his teeth once. Their bodies were close, too close. Matthew pressed his knee to Cloud's groin, attempting to spark an arousal.

Cloud was too disgusted with the idea to feel anything at this point. The fact that Matthew was male didn't bother him, he liked other guys, but the fact that Matthew was Matthew, and that he just didn't want this, that pissed him off. Cloud felt what must have Arlex's hands on his wrists, pinning them down. Matthew continued to bite his lips, his tongue, his chin, drawing blood more than once. His assailant's idea of a kiss hurt.

Warm hands found their way beneath his shirt and groped his nipples. They ran up and down his sides. Then, Cloud felt Matthew's hardened length at his thigh. He struggled as a new wave of fear and anger wracked his mind. Matthew threw all his weight down onto his chest to hold him, divesting his lungs of air. He choked from lack of oxygen, and his eyes watered. Matthew sat up.

"We're going to do something a little different this time bitch, not a blow job . . . something . . . better."

Cloud's eyes widened, knowing what came next. He felt Matthew's hand at his zipper, pulling down. He noticed Matthew had lessened his hold on his legs, and brought one up in a hard kick, landing the blow in the brunette's face. Matthew fell back with a snarl, clutching his nose. In a brief moment of shock, Arlex had loosened his hold on Cloud's wrists. Not much, but adrenaline coursed through Cloud's veins like wildfire, giving him the strength to free himself. Rolling over, he charged Arlex, head-butting him in the abdomen. The red head's audible grunt stirred a few other orphans awake as he fell holding himself, but they weren't aware enough to know what was going on yet.

As Arlex fell backwards against the wall, he dropped his knife, and Cloud snatched it up without a second thought. He hadn't forgotten about Matthew, but apparently Matthew had forgotten about the blade. His abuser's hands came from behind, crushing his neck. With both hands still free, Cloud elbowed Matthew in the side, laxing Matthew's grip in sudden pain, giving Cloud room to maneuver. In that instant, Cloud whirled around and lashed out with the blade. A new alien sensation tingled through his arm as he felt the tear of flesh by steel, blood spattered his face, his hand and arm, the floor.

Matthew dropped to his knees holding his side with a blank stare on his face. Shock ravished Cloud's mind. What had he done? Killed. He had killed another human being with a blade. Oddly enough, it felt good, considering the human being in question. All those years of sexual abuse. He'd finally gotten revenge. Not premeditated, but still revenge. His thoughts continued to race as blood poured from those foul lips that had dared touch him without his consent. Matthew fell forewards into a pool of blood that had quickly accumulated, a small gurgling squeak escaping his mouth.

Cloud turned, Arlex was still on the ground, stunned into inaction. Cloud's mind was so bereft of coherent thought he spared the red head. Voices broke out as those asleep gained enough consciousness to understand what had awoken them, and what the horrible scene before them implied.

Fear rose to its peak in Cloud's mind. He raced to the door, breathing heavily. The reddened blade still grasped in his hand, he threw the door open with a booming clash of wood striking concrete with ample force. He dashed to the stairs, headed for the fenced in play area outside, where Arlex had told all those lies about street life, and friends. Cold rain fell thickly in fat drops at an angle, blinding his eyes. The blood at his neck washed downward, further staining his blue shirt. Lightning lit the sky, accompanied by a roar of thunder. He didn't care about the weather. He didn't care that he'd likely be pursued for murder. He focused on one thought, freedom. He didn't care that he'd probably hurt himself again. He ran straight to the tall fence, not glancing back once to see if he was pursued. Fingers clinging to the wet links, he leaned on it to let his thoughts catch up with him.

What have I done? I'm a murderer . . . I didn't mean it . . . I was scared . . . he would've . . . raped me if I hadn't. That was my only way out, and I took it.

Now you'll have both the health department and the police after you.

Oh who the hell asked you. I'll deal with that later.

They'll search tonight you know. They'll be after you, Cloud the murderer, not Cloud the victim of a rape attempt. A murderer. You've really done it now. There go your hopes of one day living a happy life.

Oh shut up will you?

Sometimes that inner voice of his common sense was just plain annoying, but, as usual, it was right. The police would be on his trail in less than an hour, regardless of the weather, and with dogs at that.

Well, I guess this rain is good for something. It'll wash my scent into the gutters and carry it into the ocean.

He looked up to the top of his first obstacle, the fence. Or was it the second? Did murder count? He shook those thoughts away, only to have them replaced with memories of his first and last attempt at freedom. A ghost pain shot to his ankle.

Ignoring it, he began his ascent of the eighteen-foot tall fence. He took his time carefully reaching the top, seeing as the links were wet and slippery. Lightening flashed, and he prayed it wouldn't strike the obvious target the metal fence posed. He reached the top, swung both legs over to the other side, and waited.

The freezing rain pounded his back, and weighted his hair, large droplets dribbled from his bangs and into his eyes. They continued further to drip from his nose, washing away the dead teen's blood. His thoughts were filled with trepidation as he readied himself for what would likely be a painful jump. The memory of his last fall didn't help. Forcing it aside, he took a deep breath, and pushed off.

To him, the fall took forever. In retrospect, he learned one important thing that day. Just because you can stand on your own feet with no problem, that doesn't mean your legs will hold you when traveling toward asphalt at a steadily increasing momentum.

When he landed, his legs gave out beneath him, and he fell to his hands and knees. A sharp pain jolted through his ankle, the one that had been injured before.

Dammit. Figures it wouldn't be completely healed yet. Fuck, I can't believe this.

Look on the bright side. You're not in the orphanage anymore.

He checked his injured ankle. It was usable. Then he held up his hands. The palms were bloody and dirty. Tiny rocks had embedded themselves there. He winced as the cool rain washed away the blood. He was also aware of a throbbing numbness in his knees, caused by the impact of bone and stone.

I'll fix them later, right now, I need to stand.

He waited for the pain in his ankle to dissipate, then stumbled to his feet. As he'd expected, the throb returned, and he almost fell again. He ran, not knowing where to, not caring about the increasing pain in his leg. He had to find shelter from the rain that would double as a hiding place from the police and their mongrels.

He wondered down the first back alley he found. His leg was killing him. He'd done more than sprain it, judging by the pain, perhaps a fracture. Luck was on his side as he turned the corner. There, he spotted an old car. So old, it's model and original color were indistinguishable. He made his way to it, and leaned against the side to peak through the window. It still had upholstery. Torn and moldy, but it looked better than wet concrete or a cardboard box, so he wrestled the rusty door open and slipped into the back seat. To his relief, he didn't have to fight any rats out of the way, and there were no leaks. It was quite dry and cozy.

Settling in, he lay his injured leg out in front of him and rolled up his soaked pant leg. He then pressed his fingers along the swollen flesh, assessing the damage. He yelped and bared his teeth. Yeah, it was definitely fractured. What was he supposed to do about this? He couldn't go to the hospital. He'd committed murder and they'd just send him right back to the orphanage as soon as he was healed. The orphanage, in turn, would turn him in to the authorities. Sure, orphans killed each other all the time, but the others who'd committed such a crime weren't dumb enough to do it while over half of the facility's charges were present, sleeping or not.

Well, it's not as if I had a choice now is it? I didn't exactly choose to be subjected to attempted rape.

Did you really have to kill him?

Okay, I got a little carried away. I was scarred and pissed. The knife was in my hand, and I panicked. I have a feeling if I hadn't escaped, they'd both have gotten some of me.

You should have killed Arlex too. If you're captured and taken to court, he'll deny what he and Matthew did to save his own ass. Don't you ever think?/

I won't be captured. I'll die before I go back there./

Well, with your leg in this condition, it looks like you've made a pretty good head start.

Shut up. Why am I arguing with you anyway, you're me after all . . . I can make you shut up if I want to.

Suuuure you can.

SHUT UP!!!

Hmpf . . .

Shaking his head, he held up his palms. He began the tedious task of removing the tiny gravels, digging the knife into his own flesh and wrenching them out like a dentist pulling loose teeth. It took longer than he'd expected. When he'd finally finished, he explored the gash on his neck. It wasn't deep, but could still get infected. As of now, he had nothing to bandage it with. His cloths were soaked, but he'd much rather have them than not.

I'll have to find something tomorrow.

He lay down in the seat and curled up to keep warm the best he could, using his own arms as a pillow. The storm raged. Winds whirled and lightning bolted from the heavens with deafening quakes, but he didn't care. His leg throbbed, his knees were numb from the fall, and his palms ached, but he didn't care. He didn't care that if he was found, he'd most likely spend the rest of his life in prison for defending himself. Neither did he worry about where he'd find his next meal, or how he'd fix his ankle. The only thought that made itself known in his mind was the fact that he was free at last.

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Author Notes:

I'll have you know, this is the first fanfic I've EVER written, so don't be too harsh.

Just in case you're wondering, Cloud doesn't go to prostitution. I'm not a fan of things of that nature. This is a SephirothXCloud fic, though I've decided to take my time in getting them together. They do meet in chapter two, but it's not a 'love at first sight' type of thing. It's more like a 'Cloud makes a bad decision that turns out good' kind of thing.

This chapter has been revised as of 12-10-08