The Time Traveling Delivery Boy

Yay! The one-shot sequel to Delivery Boy In Shangri-La is here. But this can be read as a Stand Alone one-shot.

You just need to know that a goddess has reset the Planet back in time with an immortal Cloud Strife from six hundred years after the events of FFVII: AC to make a new future.

Disclaimer: I don't own Final Fantasy VII. I'll just go cry in the corner now…

000

Cloud Strife ducked under the bullets shot his way. He held up the complete First Tsurugi and to fend off more. He rolled forward and leapt to his feet. He twirled on his heel and ran for it. More guns fired after him, missing the entire time. He spotted Fenrir. The former delivery boy lengthened his stride. He took a flying leap onto the back of his motorcycle. He revved the engine. He shot out of the Midgar Slums like a bat out of hell.

"Shit, I failed," he shouted to the wind and Fenrir. The motorcycle… barked? "Shut up, we'll come back." He swerved to avoid a shower of ice from an Ice 1 attack. Cloud glared over his shoulder at the amateurs chasing after him with low level Materia. "You boys want ice?" he growled. He activated the Mastered Materia in his right arm. He held out that same arm over his opposite shoulder. "ICE 3!" he cried. He sped up as the helicopter crashed into the grasslands. It didn't even burst into flame; it shattered like glass. Cloud laughed and leaned down farther against Fenrir. "Let's get out of Shinra territory. We'll head to the Marshlands! Don't worry about the Zolom. It'll be a piece of cake to kill."

000

The blackened corpse of the Zolom snake crashed down. It splashed muck onto Cloud's pants. The blond grunted in annoyance. A black wolf with ocean blue eyes did an odd trot-hop over to him. It was shaking its paws after every step in an effort to remove swamp sludge. It whined at the swordsman, his Alpha. "You can take a romp in the water in the cave after we get out," Cloud said. "Take it easy, Fenrir." He ruffled the top of his wolf's head. The wolf huffed and ran as well as it could in the sucking, slurping marshlands.

"Hey! Wait for me!" Cloud hurried after his wolf motorcycle.

000

Kagome, Kagome, the bird in the cage,
when will you come out?
In the evening of the dawn,
the crane and turtle slipped.
Who stands right behind you now?

000

Sephiroth watched the scientists scurry about in a panic. An intruder had tried to take him from the labs of Shinra Inc, a blond stranger with glowing blue eyes. The silver-haired pre-teen stared at the hand he had used to grasp the stranger's own outstretched fingers. He had tried to save him. Sephiroth clenched his left hand. If only a scientist hadn't walked in, he would have gone. If only the stranger had never come, he would have not hoped for the impossible. Frustration made him want to scream. He had been so close to seeing the outside world.

"Well, well, it seems we have to move you to a new location," Hojo's slimy voice said from behind the twelve-year-old experiment. The professor walked around the examination table. "He didn't taint you, did he, Specimen S?"

"No," Sephiroth said. There wasn't a single nuance in his voice to show his rage at being foiled. "I am fine."

"I'm so glad to hear it. Tell me, how would you like to go on an adventure? You always wanted to go somewhere new, right?" Hojo smiled. But his smile was only a vulgar stretch of his lips and showing of his teeth. Pain struck at the experiment that would be General. Sephiroth stiffened and stared down at his forearm. He grimaced at the sight of a syringed with black liquid stuck in his arm. Hojo pushed on the syringe to inject the liquid. "So take a nap. When you wake up, we'll be somewhere new.

Dark spots danced in Sephiroth's vision. Mentally he cried out. 'NO! How can he find me again? I don't want… ' He slumped forward and nearly toppled off of the table. Hojo caught him and smirked.

000

Cloud looked up from his meal in the little town of Hanga. He shook his head. He slipped a piece of meat into the waiting mouth of the wolf pup in his lap. The black pup swallowed too quickly to have chewed. The blond smiled. "Easy, Fenrir. If you don't swallow, you'll choke," he said. He stroked the top of his bike's head. "I wonder how they're doing." Fenrir cocked his head to the side while he looked up at his Alpha. "You know, the Sanzo-ikkou. You think they're okay?" The pup let out a soft woof. "Right, Sanzo's too grumpy to die so easily."

"Sir?" a waiter asked. Cloud grimaced and scooted his chair forward to hide Fenrir under the table. "Sir, would you like anything else?"

The blond blinked at his empty plate. "Oh! Err, no, I'll just take the bill," he answered.

"Yes sir, I'll be back with your check." The waiter walked off.

"Whew, that was close," Cloud sighed to Fenrir. "Think you can sneak out of the restaurant and wait outside?" He received an affirmative bark and the weight of the motorcycle pup disappeared from his lap. He smiled at the returned waiter and took the check. After mentally recording the amount due, he handed it back with a silver credit card. A few minutes later the last receipt was signed and he left the restaurant with his traveling pack.

"Um, excuse me…" a child tugged on Cloud's pants leg. The blond looked at him with a raised eyebrow. "Is that your motorcycle?" the boy breathed. He pointed at the sleek, black form of Fenrir.

"That's right," Cloud said. He pried the child's fingers from his clothes. He frowned as the unknown boy followed. "What do you want?"

"Can I have a ride?" Immediately the question was repeated by seven more little voices. Cloud whirled around to the sight of a munchkin brigade.

"Oh no, not again!" Cloud ran toward Fenrir. "Let's go, Fenrir! Time to ride!" The motorcycle revved itself and the swordsman hoped on. They drove away from the screaming, disappointed monkeys… er, children.

000

Cloud kept his head bowed underneath his hood. He clutched Fenrir to his chest underneath his black traveling cloak. The early winter sun shone brightly in the afternoon sky. They were on a ship from Junon to head back to Gongaga. He briefly wondered how little Zack was doing. He smiled to himself.

In the beginning, when he wasn't in time to stop Gast and Hojo from discovering Jenova and taking her, Cloud had stayed in the tiny, jungle village of Gongaga. It was disconcerting that, without Cloud paying attention, Zack Fair had been born. He had choked on his coffee at the time in Grandmother Willow's home when the old woman burst into the cottage with Samuel and Marie Fair. The pregnant woman was in the later stages of labor. He had helped deliver his SOLDIER friend of his old past into the new future that he had wrought by using the Scroll of Rebirth on the Planet. Zack was five-years-old now and clearly still had the same wild energy he had in Old Gaia at eighteen. In other words, Zack Fair was a hellion with a frightening amount of hyper energy.

The short swordsman fought a bout of motion sickness. "Ugh…" he moaned. His thoughts were, unfortunately, not keeping his condition at bay.

"You all right there, lad?" a sailor asked. He was a tall, mostly unremarkable sort of man. "You need some medicine?"

"Medicine won't work on me," Cloud whispered through his nausea. "Trust me, I've tried." He made sure his face stayed in the shadows of his cloak. "Thank you though."

"Okay then. Just tell me if you need anything." The sailor patted him on the shoulder and went back to his duties. Cloud lifted his head a little to watch him go. He smiled. It was nice to know that human kindness wasn't totally extinct in this part of the world. Now if only his motion sickness would go the way of the dinosaurs the world would be a better place. No such luck though…

000

"UNCLE CLOUD!!" five-year-old Zack Fair screeched in delight. He took a flying leap into the blond's arms. "Presents!" The little boy ignored grown Fenrir's snort. "Where are my presents?" he asked again.

"Zackary Fair, that is not how you welcome your uncle home!" Marie Fair scolded. She stepped into the living room of their cottage from the kitchen. "Welcome home, Cloud." She wiped her hands on a dishtowel and swung it onto her shoulder.

Cloud laughed. "I have your present, Zack," he said. He set the boy down. He then took his traveling pack off of his back to set it on the floor. He squatted down. The swordsman opened it and began to rummage through it. Marie sat on the couch to wait as well. She knew well enough that he had brought presents for both of them. "Were you a good boy, Zack? Not too much trouble for your mother, right?" Cloud asked.

"Nuh-uh, Uncle Cloud. I was a good boy!" Zack threw his arms up over his head. "I was good this much!" he crowed. Cloud laughed again and held out a package wrapped in brown paper. "Present!" Zack squealed. He tore into the wrapping. The older male chuckled and gave another package to Marie.

"Really Cloud, you spoil us," the woman scolded with a laugh.

"LOOK MAMA!" Zack held up his toy airship. "AIRPLANE!" He held it aloft and ran around the room, making play-flying noises.

Marie Fair opened her smaller package carefully. Her eyebrows nearly met her hairline. "This is beautiful…" She held up the smooth rainbow crystal with shaking fingers. "Oh Cloud, this is too much." She turned her violet gaze to the blond. "Ever since Samuel died, you've given us so much."

Cloud shook his head. "Marie, how long have I been your friend? Since before you married Sam." He stood up to sit next to her. He leaned in close to whisper to her. "I'll take care of you and Zack. That's what a godfather does for his godson and his godson's mother who happens to be his dearest friend." He winked at her. "So no protests, all right?" He leaned back and held out an arm. Cloud gently caught Zack in the crook of his elbow and lifted him into his lap. "You like your present?" he asked.

"It's the best one yet!" the boy laughed.

"I'll go finish dinner. Will you stay?" Marie said to Cloud.

"Depends, what are you cooking?"

"Beef stew and dumplings," she answered. She laughed at the eager grin on her friend's face. "I'll take that as a yes, then?"

"Better than what I had at Gringe Village," Cloud replied, mentioning the dirty little village that was on his route between Cosmo Canyon and Gongaga and his last pit stop before home. Even Marie grimaced at the thought. But Gringe Village was still a day's ride from Gongaga, even on Fenrir, and Cloud's appetite was tremendous at best. He had to eat there.

"Right then, I'll throw in more meat and vegetables."

"Vegetables are icky!" Zack interrupted. He pouted when Cloud playfully pinched his nose.

"You'll eat them anyway."

"Aww…"

000

Kagome, Kagome, the bird in the cage,
when will you come out?
In the evening of the dawn,
the crane and turtle slipped.
Who stands right behind you now?

000

Sephiroth shivered in the drafty room. He was dressed only in a thin tee shirt and just as thin pants. On his feet was a pair of dirty socks. He looked at the dusty room he had been thrown in with distaste. He hated this creaky old mansion. Shinra Mansion in Nibelheim was not his ideal place to get his first glimpse of the outside world. The windows were painted black so he couldn't even look outside. He sniffled and fought back tears.

'How is he supposed to find me now?' he wondered. 'Is he even alive?' The pre-teen shook away the morbid thought. 'No, he has to be alive. He has to be. He promised before he was chased off that he would come back.'

-No, he won't.- an insidious voice hissed in his head. Sephiroth clapped his hands over his ears, knowing it was futile. But why now? He had not heard the voice in a year. –You will be mine… Sephiroth.-

"No…" the silver-haired boy whispered. "You're lying!" The voice vanished but Sephiroth was afraid. "Hurry, stranger, hurry."

000

"Going again?" Marie Fair asked when she saw Cloud walk in. It had been a few days since he had come back. But she knew how restless her friend's spirit was. He seemed wraithlike at times, without an anchor and searching for something to hold him down. It was like he had a purpose but did not know how to go about it. "Cloud?"

The blond looked up and smiled. "Noticed, did you?"

"You're not dressed in jeans and a tee-shirt today but your traveling outfit; with boots, gloves, and holster," Marie pointed out. "Will you say good-bye to Zack?"

"I said good-bye during his morning recess at the schoolhouse." Cloud stepped fully into the kitchen. He pulled the woman into a hug, his cheek nearly even with her temple. He felt her delicate fingers flex on his chest through his black, zippered sweater. "I hear someone calling out to me. He needs me, Marie."

Marie bowed her head. "We need you too, Cloud." She looked up when the blond man stepped back to gaze at her with his disconcerting, glowing blue eyes.

"Marie, not now."

"Cloud, please!"

Cloud shook his head. "It's been three years since Sam's death and I'm glad you've moved past your grief. But…"

"Don't say it, Cloud." She wrapped her arms around herself, as if to ward off his words.

"Marie…"

"Go and find him," she said. "Find him and your purpose. Then maybe… you can feel for me too." She whirled around to have her back face him. "So go and finish what you need to do and come back. That's all I can really ask you anymore."

"I'll be back soon."

"I know."

000

In the grasslands on the outskirts of Nibelheim, Cloud stared at the place where everything started. It was over six hundred years ago before he reversed time with the Scroll of Rebirth. Nibelheim, the mountain town that was cut off from the rest of the world even more than Icicle Town and Rocket Town. No one but the townspeople wanted to be in this gloomy place. And Shinra's scientists.

Cloud ran his gloved fingers over Fenrir's furry head. The motorcycle in grown wolf form whined at his Alpha. "Don't worry, boy," the swordsman soothed. "Just stay out here in the fields at the outskirts and be ready for a quick getaway." Fenrir laid back his ears and grunted. "And yes, I'll get him this time. No more failures, I've done enough of those in my six hundred years of life." The wolf hummed in apology. "Yeah, it's okay." The blond sighed and walked away. Fenrir melted into the grasses. He ignored the hostile stares of the people and approached the iron-wrought gates of the old Shinra Mansion. He kicked open the lock. The people scattered into their homes. Like deer in a forest, they sensed danger and avoided it. Cloud took out First Tsurugi. "No more failures…" he whispered.

Cloud Strife charged at the double doors.

000

Kagome, Kagome, the bird in the cage,
when will you come out?
In the evening of the dawn,
the crane and turtle slipped.
Who stands right behind you now?

000

Sephiroth looked up from the decrepit book at the sounds thundering in the mansion. Gunfire and shouts made the floorboards of his upstairs room vibrate. He snapped the book shut and stood from his seat on the bed. He shuffled toward his door only to have Hojo burst in.

"Come with me!" Hojo snarled. He wrapped spindly fingers around Sephiroth's thin wrist. The boy cried out in pain as he was dragged out. He caught a simple glance over the railing that looked down onto the foyer. He gasped. "Be quiet!" the professor hissed.

"NO!" Sephiroth screamed. He struggled against the grip around his wrist. He brought Hojo to a forced halt with his unnatural strength. "HELP! HELP!" He felt elated when the stranger from Shinra Tower looked up with his unique glowing blue eyes. "HELP ME!" he screamed again. The pre-teen twisted his head and bit into Hojo's hand. The madman shouted and let go. With Mako-enhanced speed, Sephiroth dashed around the banister and down the stairs.

"NO! My specimen!" Hojo screeched. He struggled to run after the boy. A fire spell made him stumble back. He glared over the flames at the stranger and his outstretched hand. Many assistants and guards lay dead or dying in the foyer.

Sephiroth reached the blond stranger and slammed into his body. He blinked in surprise as he was lifted by the swordsman's free arm. "You came," he breathed in relief.

"I promised, didn't I?" the stranger asked rhetorically. "Let's go." He twisted on his heel and bowled over the few remaining guards. As he burst out of the mansion, he twirled his massive blade and holstered it at the small of his back. "Hold on." Sephiroth nodded at him. He wrapped his arms around the man's neck. He curled his body tightly against him. He watched with wide eyes at the way they rushed past the meager buildings of Nibelheim. They entered the grasslands and the stranger whistled sharply. The rumble of a powerful engine answered and a black motorcycle drove itself over. The blond man swung his leg over the bike with Sephiroth still in his arms. "You're going to have to get behind me on Fenrir so I can drive. Can you hold onto my waist?"

"Yes," Sephiroth answered. He scrambled around to seat himself against the stranger's back. He tightly wrapped his arms around the blond's waist but heard him wheeze. "Sorry."

"It's all right. Anyway, Hojo won't be able to chase after us because he's the only one left alive. No minions to boss around until he gets back to Shinra."

"That's fine."

"Heh, I figured you'd say that. By the way, my name's Cloud." The blond started the motorcycle and drove off.

"I'm Sephiroth," the silver-haired boy shouted as best he could against the wind. Apparently he was heard just fine.

"I know. Hold on tight; it's a long drive to North Corel, the Golden Saucer region and even longer beyond that. Unfortunately we can't stop at Cosmo Canyon…"

Sephiroth burrowed his face against Cloud's back. The boy smiled.

He was free.

000

Sephiroth wriggled his toes in the new brown, hiking boots Cloud had bought him. They were in the coastal village of Yanne at the outfitter's shop a day's ride from the Cosmo Canyon region. He had loved the red cliffs but he didn't like the tiny fishing village here. It was a little place that wasn't even on the map that he used to study when the boy was bored.

Anyway, the pre-teen was no longer dressed in his thin, gray shirt and pants. Now he looked like a real boy in black jeans tucked into his boots and a long sleeved, forest green shirt. He brushed slender fingers down his shirt in awe. His new clothes were warm and finely made. He grinned in delight at the oblivious Cloud. The blond was looking for a suitable brown leather jacket for Sephiroth to wear to further protect himself from the early winter wind. He held up a brown leather bomber jacket designed from the old days of the Shinra Flying Corps.

"This will go nicely with your boots and belt. It's the same brown." Cloud handed the pre-teen the jacket. "Try it on," he urged.

The silver-haired boy eagerly shoved his arms through the sleeves and zipped it up. The subtle scent of good leather wafted into Sephiroth's sensitive nose. He inhaled and sighed in delight. "I like it," he announced.

"It's yours then." Cloud led the boy toward the back and headed for the summer clothes that were on clearance. "We'll get you some hot weather clothes, too."

"But it's winter."

"Winter in Gongaga is still warm, in the seventies at least."

"Gongaga?" Sephiroth inquired.

"It's not on the map yet," Cloud answered.

"Oh. But you got me a lot of clothes already."

"Four long-sleeved shirts and three pairs of jeans are not a wardrobe. You can't prepare for only one season and one region."

"But… you've helped me so much." Sephiroth yelped when several tee shirts and shorts were shoved into his hands. "Wha…?"

"Give those to the shopkeeper to add to your pack that I'm paying for."

Sephiroth nibbled his lower lip in uncertainty but obeyed. After all, Cloud was helping him, had set him free. "Okay," he said.

000

Cloud watched as the child Sephiroth bounced a little on the bed. He had rented a room at the only inn at Yanne. The boy was in a set of ducky pajamas that he had seen in another shop for children's clothes. Cloud had been dragged into the store and had the pajama set shoved under his nose for inspection. And the blond, sap that he was, couldn't say no to the mental image that popped up of little Sephiroth with his chin-length, silver hair and wide, green eyes dressed in the blue flannel pajamas with dancing yellow ducks. The set had been tailored for a nine-year-old; however Sephiroth was so small that he fit in them perfectly. Who knew that, at twelve-years-old, the would-have-been General was a tiny boy? It explained the delicate, feminine features he had as an adult in Cloud's past.

"Cloud?" Sephiroth's young, tenor voice interrupted Cloud's reverie.

"Hmm?"

"Why did you rescue me?" the silver-haired boy asked.

"I don't know."

"I do not understand."

Cloud sighed and sat down on the bed next to the one that Sephiroth had claimed as his own. "I should have killed you…" he started. Sephiroth flinched but let the blond man continue. "But I couldn't. When I first saw you, you were a toddler at Nibelheim. I had snuck into the mansion in the dead of night. When I entered your room, you were awake. But at the sight of me, you did not scream. All you did was smile and I knew…. Oh god, I knew that I couldn't kill you. What kind of monster would I have been to kill a harmless child? But at the same time, I was confused because I knew, under Hojo, you would have turned into a killing machine." He held up a hand to stop Sephiroth from speaking. "I wandered in and out of Gongaga and across the world for ten years, wondering. I wondered why I spared you. Then I realized something." Cloud looked up and stared the boy straight in the eye. "It's not your fault. You were just a puppet. And so I tracked you down to Midgar and Shinra Tower. And you saw my first attempt to rescue you, a spectacular failure. But you and I are connected. Several days ago, I felt you north of Gongaga and I knew where you were."

"Shinra Mansion."

"Exactly." Cloud rubbed his face. He reached out to grab Sephiroth's hands with his own. "I have more to say; so, I ask that you listen to my words and think about them."

"What is it, Cloud?" Sephiroth whispered. "What?"

000

Kagome, Kagome, the bird in the cage,
when will you come out?
In the evening of the dawn,
the crane and turtle slipped.
Who stands right behind you now?

000

Sephiroth was sitting on his bed with his legs pulled up tight against his chest. He had his arms wrapped around his knees. He stared out into the darkness of the inn room. Cloud had walked out with after uttering his last few sentences.

'I'll let you come to terms with it, Sephiroth. It's up to you how this goes from here. If you wish to leave, at least take the clothes with you and the money I left in your pack.'

The boy burrowed his head against his bony knees. His shoulders shuddered. A thousand thoughts and a thousand more half-thoughts ran through his head. Cloud had figuratively dropped a bomb on his head. The name Lucrecia popped out in his head.

"Lucrecia…" Sephiroth tasted the name upon his tongue. "Lucrecia is my mother," he tested aloud. "Jenova is not." The name Jenova sounded harsh and ugly and tasted like ash. Lucrecia was like honey, sweet but thick. He remembered the taste of honey. He had been a boy and an assistant, obviously new, had given him a taste of biscuits and honey. Oh, how Hojo ranted about it when he found out. And the assistant, she had disappeared shortly afterward. It was Hojo who had said that Jenova was his mother.

'Since when had Hojo ever told the truth?' came Cloud's voice unbidden in his head when he had been refuting Sephiroth's denial. 'Hojo lies to everyone, especially you.'

"Especially me…" Sephiroth paused. "Especially me! He lies to everyone, especially me." He raised his head. "But Cloud doesn't tell the whole truth either. But… he tells more truth than Hojo. Hojo always lies," he hissed. "Liar, that goddamned liar." The pre-teen trembled in rage. He pushed back what he now knew was Jenova's voice in his head. He had decided. "I'll stay and I'll find the truth. I'll find the truth, even if I have to rattle it out of Hojo and Cloud myself!"

'Who are you… Cloud?'

000

Cloud walked into the inn room, expecting to now see Sephiroth. He raised his eyebrows in surprise when he did see the boy fully dressed with his pack on his back. "You decided to stay, then?" he asked rhetorically. All he received was a determined nod. "Well, then, I see you're ready to go." He sighed. "May I ask why?"

"You may," Sephiroth said haughtily. His tone only made Cloud grin. Already he had the attitude of the sane Sephiroth of his past.

"Why are you staying with me?"

"I want to know the whole truth and the only way to see it for myself without Hojo's taint is to stick with you. But mark my words, Cloud. I will know everything about Lucrecia, about whether or not Hojo is really my father, and…"

"And?"

"I'll find out what you're hiding. I'll find out everything about you, all the way down to your underwear size!" Sephiroth proclaimed with his chin raised in defiance.

Cloud just laughed and shifted his pack onto his back. "We'll see," he said. "I'll guide you to the truth. I won't just tell you; I'll show you."

"Good."

000

"This is Gongaga," Cloud said with a gesture toward the village. It had been three days of riding to finally arrive. On the second day Sephiroth had been made to change into a light blue tee shirt. He had refused to change his jeans and boots. Maybe that hadn't been such a good idea… "Come on, I have to visit someone and I would like you to meet my godson." The blond man grinned and guided the boy into the village. Fenrir trotted along the other side of Cloud.

"It's really small," Sephiroth whispered to his rescuer. "Smaller than Yanne."

"It's home," the swordsman murmured back. At the end of the only street there was a forking, gravel-covered lane. They turned left onto a short path. It ended into a wide cul-de-sac that sat in packed down dirt. Twelve small cottages made a semi-circle, each merrily painted a bright color. Cloud directed them to a bright blue cottage with a white picket fence of all things. "This is the Fairs house." Immediately the front door burst open and a small boy with short, porcupine-spiked hair and dancing violet eyes dashed out. "That's Zack," Cloud managed to say before the boy actually leapt over the fence to land roughly into the man's arms. "Oomph!"

"UNCLE CLOUD!" Zack screeched. Sephiroth winced as the sound reverberated painfully in his Mako sensitive ears. "PRESENTS?" the child bellowed in question.

"ZACKARY FAIR!" a woman's voice called from the open door. "WHAT HAVE I TOLD YOU ABOUT SLAMMING THE DOOR… open? Cloud?" Sephiroth watched as a woman, who appeared to be in her mid-twenties, rushed out the front door but managed to open the fence gate. "Cloud, you're home!" She made a move to hug Cloud but stopped herself when she saw the small, silver-haired boy nearly hiding behind Cloud and clutching Fenrir's fur in apparent nervousness. "Who is this?" she asked softly.

Cloud put down the pouting Zack and patted him on the head. He received a grin for his effort. He reached behind him to propel the suddenly shy Sephiroth forward. "This is the one I've been searching for," he replied. "Sephiroth, this is Marie Fair, my dearest friend." He ignored Marie's downcast expression. He knelt down to clap on hand on both Sephiroth and Zack's shoulders. "And this is Zack Fair, her son and my godson. Marie, Zack, this is Sephiroth."

"It's very nice to meet you at last," Marie said quietly. "Cloud has been looking for you a long time."

"So he's told me," Sephiroth said. He looked down at the sensation of a small hand tugging on his jeans. "Yes?"

"Hi-hi, I'm Zack!" Zack pronounced with a wide grin nearly splitting his face in two. "Wanna play a game? Uncle Cloud got it for me a while ago. It's called Ladders and Stairs!" He wrapped his tiny hands around Sephiroth's bigger one. He tugged on the older boy's arm in excitement. "Come on! Come on! We'll play it and maybe you'll win! But I'm the best; so you'll have to work hard!"

Sephiroth tried not to smile but couldn't help himself. "Oh yeah? Well, I'm the best, so it's you who'll have to work hard." He let himself be pulled into the cottage.

Marie and Cloud watched them go. Cloud had a gentle look on his face. He spoke. "I found him," he said solemnly.

The woman sighed at him. "And how long will you keep him?" she asked. She had her head bowed and her fists trembled by her sides. Her face was shadowed by her bangs ominously. Cloud didn't miss the signs of jealousy. "Cloud?"

"He'll stay with me for however long he wants to stay," Cloud answered. He looked down slightly at her. "Marie…" he sighed.

"Don't!" Marie cried. "Don't be so nice, Cloud." She looked up with tears streaming down her face. "You're such a damned hero! First, you save Zack and me. Then you save this boy! How many more do you have to save until you're satisfied to just stay here? To stay here with me!?"

"Don't be so selfish!" Cloud snarled. Marie's face twisted in surprise. "I'll save as many as I can. There were many that I couldn't save! So many have died before I could prevent it!" He jerked his gaze away but continued in a harsh voice. "I can't return your feelings and I never will."

"It's because of that boy, right!?"

Cloud's angry gaze turned back onto her. She shrunk back a little at the furious glow of his blue eyes. "Don't take it out on Sephiroth! He's had enough to deal with! It's because of me! I don't do romance, never! I can only be your friend but you're pushing it! I promised to take care of you, not to be your lover." The glow of his eyes dimmed and he seemed to deflate. "I'm sorry that you have romantic feelings for me. That's not what I tried to cultivate. I only wished for friendship." He smiled bitterly. "But you're just like her, never satisfied with the only thing a broken man like myself can give. I can't be in love with you. I love you but in friendship alone. Don't you get it, Marie? I'm broken and I can't be fixed. I've forgiven my old sins but my new sins are not so easy. Of course, my old sins were hard to forgive, especially at the time. Once a sinner, always a sinner."

"Cloud…" Marie reached out only to have him flinch away. She withdrew her hand and clasped it to her chest.

"Don't," this time it was Cloud who pleaded. "Don't touch me like a lover comforting me. I have no lover and I have no wish for one either."

"I'm sorry," she sobbed. She buried her face in her upheld hands in an attempt to stem back her tears. "I tried to force my feelings on you. I'm sorry."

"That's what she said on her deathbed," Cloud said in a dark voice she didn't recognize as his. Marie looked up only to watch his back as Cloud walked away. "I'll come back in an hour for Sephiroth. Then we're leaving again for Costa Del Sol." He disappeared back into the village proper with Fenrir at his side. The woman didn't look away as doors from the other cottages slammed closed at the end of the drama.

000

"I thought we were staying," Sephiroth said. He and Cloud were shopping at the supply store in the morning after. "Cloud, hello…"

"Hmm?" Cloud glanced away from the sleeping bags to look down at the boy.

"I said, 'I thought we were staying'. Why aren't you paying attention? Is it because you and Mrs. Fair were shouting at each other beforehand?"

Cloud sharpened his gaze at the defiant boy. "You heard us? Did Zack hear too?"

Sephiroth shook his head and tapped at his ears. "Mako makes everything sharper, especially my hearing. But Zack was too busying chattering at me; I couldn't hear everything. He didn't hear a thing, though. Remember, he's normal." His own gaze sharpened at the subtle way Cloud's shoulders relaxed a little. "What were you fighting about, anyway?" he asked.

"We'll talk about that later," Cloud said instead of an answer to the boy's question. "We're going to need some canned foodstuff and jerky. We'll go through the mountains of Cosmo Canyon and skirt the desert the long way around the Golden Saucer to avoid being too close to Nibelheim. From there we'll go through North Corel then straight on to Costa Del Sol."

"Won't Shinra people be in Costa Del Sol?" Sephiroth asked.

"Yes, but it'll be easy enough to avoid them," Cloud replied. They walked up to the counter with their items. "We'll end up in Mideel after everything." Cloud paid for their stuff and they left the store. Sephiroth helped the man put things into Fenrir's motorcycle saddlebags. Fenrir, in his metal form, rumbled a greeting from his engine. Sephiroth shouldered the large pack that had all of their clothes since he had complained that pressing against Cloud's pack while riding was uncomfortable. Both males had two changes of clothes and a small tent to house the both of them at night. The boy hopped on after Cloud and they drove out of Gongaga.

The man following them in the store opened a PHS.

000

"So where are we really going?" Sephiroth asked after nightfall. The duo was setting up camp after a fourteen-hour drive from the village.

"Rocket Town and then Bone Village."

"So you noticed him too?"

"He was no native of this side of the world. He was dressed in fancy clothes from the wrong continent. That, and he was kind of obvious."

"Shinra works fast.," Sephiroth pointed out.

"They have planes and helicopters to get them around. I didn't get to smash up the communication equipment at the old Shinra Mansion either," Cloud countered. "Hojo must have made Old Man Shinra cooperate." He threw a few more logs onto the fire. "So we'll go through the Nibel Mountains and to Rocket Town."

"You know the way?"

"I grew up in those mountains. My hometown used to be Nibelheim."

Sephiroth looked at him in surprise. "Are you serious?" he inquired.

"Yes. And I hated that place." The subject was obviously closed. "Our final destination is the Chocobo Sage."

"The Chocobo Sage?"

"He's an expert breeder of Chocobo with the memory retention of an amnesic."

"Oh."

"But no one's been there except for me. Shinra won't be finding us anytime soon. Besides, my Gold Chocobo is probably restless."

"But Gold Chocobos are myth!"

Cloud grinned. "Not anymore," he stated. "Get some sleep. We leave before dawn."

000

"Cloud, there are Shinra workers here!" Sephiroth hissed. He looked nervously at the engineers and mechanics walking around in jumpsuits with the Shinra logo from under his baseball cap that Cloud had shoved onto his head before they arrived.

"Take it easy, Seph. They're just here for the space program. But we're going to see Captain Cid Highwind."

"I've heard of him. Isn't he supposed to be a pilot over in the Wutai War?"

"They transferred him for the space program. He has a plane that we can fly in to Bone Village." Cloud knocked on the door of a house. A young woman with bulky, round glasses perched on her nose answered the door. "Hello, Shera."

"Huh? Oh, Cloud! H… how are you? Come in, come in." The woman, Shera, ushered the two into the house. "Are you here to see the Captain?"

"Yeah. Shera, this is my nephew, Seph. Seph, this nice lady is Shera."

Sephiroth weakly waved at her. He wrapped his arm nervously around Cloud's leg when the brunette woman bent down to smile at him.

"He's cute." She stood back up. "The Captain is at the rocket site, yelling orders when he doesn't need to. Oh, don't tell him I said that!"

Cloud laughed. "I won't," he assured her. "Do you mind if Seph stays here while I talk to the Captain?" He pried Sephiroth's arms from his thigh. "It won't take long, yeah?"

"Cloud…" the boy hissed. He scowled when he was patted on the head.

"These are good people, I promise. Keep you hat on though." Cloud looked at Shera. "Shera, Seph is very important to me. Keep him safe until the Captain and I come back."

"He's safe here. After all, Palmer had just left four days ago. So, any Shinra personnel, other than the engineers and mechanics, won't be visiting."

"Ah, you know then?"

"I could tell you want to keep him from Shinra just from your voice."

"Too obvious, huh?"

"Only to me, Cloud. Don't worry, Seph. We only put up with Shinra; we don't like them." Shera gently guided the boy to sit at the table. "I'll make some tea for us to drink and a plate of fresh cookies that I had just finished baking."

"Okay," Sephiroth whispered.

Cloud smiled. "I'll come back," he promised.

"You'd better come back!" the pre-teen snapped.

"Don't I always?"

000

Cid Highwind huffed in annoyance. "You need a lift to Bone Village?" he grumbled. "The hell, Cloud? This is a big project and I…" He paused when Cloud held up something. "Is that a goddamned box of Wutainese Sakura Green Tea?" He practically salivated at the sight. "Are you fucking serious?" He made a grab for it only to have Cloud play keep away. "SHIT! You motherfucker, you know I'm addicted to that stuff and with the war I can't fucking get any here!" Cid stomped his booted foot in rage. He stopped suddenly and his shoulders slumped. "Okay Spikes, you got me. Just you and the wolf, right?"

"Add one more passenger, but yeah."

Cid eyed the large box of tea. "I don't know…" He gaped when Cloud took out another box of the same size with the same tea from his pocket. "Okay! Three passengers to Bone Village!"

"I'd thought you'd say that," Cloud said with a smirk.

000

Cloud and Sephiroth waved goodbye to the Tiny Bronco as Cid flew off back to Rocket Town. The boy turned to his guardian. "How did you get him to give us a ride?" he asked.

Cloud grinned. "I gave him tea," he replied. Fenrir snorted at the answer and rolled his eyes. Typical of that Alpha for fall for his Alpha's bribe.

"I don't get it."

000

Kagome, Kagome, the bird in the cage,
when will you come out?
In the evening of the dawn,
the crane and turtle slipped.
Who stands right behind you now?

000

The two males stomped their feet as they entered the Chocobo Sage's hut. The floating Sage turned around. "Oh, you're here again! Who are you?"

"You were right about his memory," Sephiroth muttered.

Cloud snorted. "Sage, it's Goldy's owner," he said.

"Oh yes, yes. I remember now… I think…"

"How long are we staying here again?" the pre-teen whined.

"A couple of years," Cloud said absently as he stowed their gear on the first floor by the two cots opposite of the chocobo stall that held a light green Chocobo.

"Your name's Clow… no, Skye…. No, wait, that's not it…."

Sephiroth groaned. "It's going to be a long couple of years," he grumbled. The transforming Fenrir, in wolf pup form, barked his agreement.

Cloud laughed. This future was going to be interesting.

000 End 000

I couldn't get this out of my head. It called to me like chocolate during a binge… or something like that. I swear I'll go back to the Naruto universe now… I think… XD