Disclaimer: I do not own FFVII or anything in it.

A/N: Bugger, sorry, I know I promised this before Nov 1, but I was a little slow and then I went into the boondocks where there was no internet. Also it's another 10K wordie, so no wonder it was slow. This is the last chapter.
Thanks for reading, especially you nice reviewers.

It was nearly dawn before Sephiroth woke. The sun hadn't risen, but there was faint pre-dawn light outside that Sephiroth could feel rather than see through the heavy canvas walls of his tent.

"Come on Cloud, time to go."

Cloud whimpered some sort of protest. Sephiroth bounced him a little, then sat him up.

"Out with you, back to your bunk. It'll be Reveille in twenty minutes or so.

Cloud managed to find his clothes and get them on with one eye barely cracked open, kissed the General, kissed him again, and ducked out the door.


"You are so fucked," Thom hissed as Cloud crawled into his bunk next to him. "Pardon the pun."

"What?" Cloud asked.

"Malik already came in for some sort of early morning bed check. Anthony tried to tell him you were in the can, but since your bunk had obviously not been slept in he got cracked upside the head for his effort."

"Yeah, thanks Cloud," Anthony mumbled from his bunk, still trying to eke the last few minutes of sleep out of the morning.

"Sorry, guys," Cloud said.

"Yeah, well, I hope he was worth it. You might not graduate for this." Thom knew he should be worried for Cloud. He never had worried while Cloud was with Sephiroth, because surely any problems would be fixed, but now he was unlikely to be granted any favors from the General to excuse his sleeping around. Probably quite the opposite. But right now all he wanted for Cloud was pain.

"He's always worth it," Cloud said, annoyed with whatever stick Thom had up his ass.

Thom sat up. "You were with the General? I thought you gave him up."

"I was an idiot. Who'd you think I was with?"

Thom lay back down and looked at the ceiling of their tent. "Gav."

Cloud took a moment to puzzle through this. Gav. Gavin. Colonel McIntyre. Oh. Thom had spent his assignment month in Junon with Gavin's unit. Cloud had been so self absorbed in the last few weeks it was possible he had no idea what was going on with his two best friends.


"I saw him sniffing around you earlier. I figured..."

"You like him?"

"I'm crazy about him. But he has no interest in me."

Cloud thought about this. It made no sense, really. Thom was funny, good looking, good natured. He'd always be thin, and his features were fine and sharp. Probably he and Gavin liked one another or Thom wouldn't have developed this attachment, and Gavin wouldn't have said he meant to request Thom to work with him. Thom seemed like a fine choice for the powerful First Class colonel who seemed clearly interested in finding a pretty young man for his side.

"Maybe he just doesn't know," Cloud suggested.

Thom gave him a doubtful look.

"I think Gavin needs an uke, a submissive, or he wouldn't show interest in me. Thom, you always act like a dominant, and straight to boot. If I didn't know you well I'd think the same."

Thom appeared to consider this.

"Just go talk to him. What's he going to be, offended? You're beautiful."

"I'm a cadet."

"Not for long."

Thom shook his head. "I can't."

"Oh, and you can stand feeling like this?"

Thom never got the chance to answer as Malik came in to roust the group out of bed.

"Strife, come out here. I presume you're still dressed."

Cloud followed the First Class outside where the older man glared at him with bright amber eyes.

"You were out of your bunk last night, cadet. Our rules for this camp were clearly stated, and Gaia help you, simple. I don't see how there's any way we can make a Soldier out of you if you're too stupid or too undisciplined to follow basic orders. I'm sending you back to Midgar today. You can go home, look for another position at ShinRa, or repeat your second year."

Cloud's ears rang and he ground his teeth as Malik flipped through the score sheets on his clipboard to find Cloud's. He was either going to have to re-do his second year or drag Sephiroth into this. Actually there probably was no way Seph would stay out of it. He wasn't sure which sounded worse to him at the moment.

"Hey, Mal!" Zack came trotting over and pulled the other First Class aside. Cloud had to remind himself not to hold his breath, so hard was he was hoping that Zack could fix this. He and Malik were the same rank, but everyone knew Zack held more favor with the General and that tended to count for quite a bit. But Malik was in charge of camp this week.

"You can't do this," Zack said, "He's top of the class."

"I can and I will. And I should, you know damn well the reason we run this camp so close to Blue Street and obvious temptations is to test their behavior."

"So hand him to me for disciplining."

"Fat chance, everyone knows you're partial to him."

"I promise you'll be happy with what I give him. I also promise I am saving your ass even if you don't know it."

Malik looked hard at Zack. The man was indicating he had stumbled on something politically dangerous with this kid. Maybe he was somebody else's favorite besides Zack's. He was pretty enough to be sure. Where had Cloud been all night? With one of the colonels maybe? Maybe McIntyre, he had seen them talking together yesterday. That was one guy he really didn't want to piss off.

"OK, he's yours. And please, whatever you do with him I don't want to see him for the rest of the day."

Malik strode off without looking back, and Zack turned to Cloud.

"Sorry kid. Grab your mess kit."


Cloud followed Zack, holding the small metal packet that held two curved plates sandwiching his half length utensils and a small drinking cup. They headed over to a direction that could only bode bad news. The porta-potties at the edge of their camp. Zack undid a latch to an enormous barrel and flipped open the lid, and immediately both scrunched up their faces at the foul odor.

"OK. What's in there," Zack pointed to the smaller containers housed under each of the five units, "Has to go in here." He pointed to the barrel, "And you're using that." He pointed to the mess kit in Cloud's hand. "And they're all full right now, so it should take all day. In fact please make sure that it does."

Cloud was looking rather dismayed at the scene. He was going to have to throw his mess kit away after this. And neither the plates nor the small handle-less cup was suitable for the job at hand. He supposed that's why Zack had chosen them.

"How do you come up with this stuff?" Cloud asked.

Zack smiled. "I had to do this myself during final camp. I had a tendency to sneak into town. Blue Street was like a siren's wail to me back then, I couldn't stay away. Just like you I was in danger of being thrown out, but my mentor Angeal didn't want to see that. So he came up with something suitably horrible to appease everyone else. And now I pass this punishment on to you. Maybe you'll inflict it on another cadet someday. The beauty of this one is that every single guy in camp will see you suffering at least once today."

Cloud made another woeful face.

"Alternatively we could have Seph step in."

"No." Cloud shook his head, "No, I don't want that."

"Me neither. So get scooping."

Zack sauntered away and Cloud turned to the first portable potty. He grabbed the thirty gallon bucket from under the platform and pulled hard to drag it towards himself. It was heavy, at least 150 lbs, and as he dragged it through the dirt some of the brown sludge sloshed out onto his pantleg and boot. He sighed. It was going to be a long day.


"Hey Gav!" Thom trotted up to the First Class Colonel outside of the mess tent during drill change. "Can I talk to you?"

"Sure, Thom, what's up?" Gavin McIntyre cocked his head to one side, causing that lock of hair to shift on his forehead. Dimples showed themselves at the merest hint of a smile, a face far too young for his thirty plus years. His face was also not consistent with his experience. Thom knew the man had been in Wutai with the General, and Thom always had trouble imagining that face amidst those horrors, directing carnage, cleaning up the aftermath, repeating. But he knew Gavin had more time battle time than almost any Soldier, and he knew that was one of the things that attracted him.

"It's, uh, kind of personal."

Gavin's bright eyes took on a cast of concern and he put an arm around Thom's shoulders to guide him towards the edge of camp, away from prying ears. Thom shivered inside at the touch, although he could tell from Gavin's posture that it was purely platonic.

"You know I'm friends with Cloud Strife, right?"

Gavin nodded.

"You're... interested in Cloud?" Thom asked.

Gavin's eyebrows shot up. "Maybe."

"Can I ask why?"

Gavin looked at the young man at his side, marveling that even Thom would be so brash as to ask such a question. But he meant to add Thom to his unit, hopefully as a close comrade given how well they meshed, and maybe it was helpful for Thom to understand him.

"I'm not entirely sure. He's certainly beautiful."

Thom died a little inside at that comment but hoped it didn't show on his face. But something must have showed because Gavin gave him a worried look.

"It's been a year since Kiho was killed," Gavin explained, "And I'm not only lonely but I need my second in command to be in my bed as well. Subordinate in both positions. It's just the way I operate. Otherwise I fall in love with my second and if I don't arrange for that to work beforehand the result is... awkward to say the least. Strife strikes me as someone who might work well under that arrangement. And his records suggest he's going to be strong Soldier. I'm just wondering if he might be for me."

"Gav, he belongs to the General."

Thom saw for the first time ever what looked like real fear on Gavin McIntyre's face.

"Holy shit!" he said, actually leaning away from the bearer of this news. "You mean is, or was?" Not that it mattered which it was. If Cloud was the lost love Sephiroth spoke of last night he wasn't going to touch him with a ten foot pole.

"Was, and now is again."

"Gaia, Thom, thanks. You probably saved me a disembowelment. I'd seen them together before, but they really didn't give any indication of being attached." Gavin shook his head at his near miss and rubbed his palm along the bottom of his square jaw.

"You're welcome," Thom said. A voice in his head whispered that he could leave, that now his approaching the colonel on such an intimate topic had been explained, he could just walk away. But it appeared Cloud had been right about what Gavin needed. And he was probably right about the other thing. Thom wouldn't be able to stand feeling like this.

"It's not the only thing I wanted to talk to you about, Gav." It took all of Thom's last resolve to spit it out, and now he found he could do no more. He knew Gavin was peering at him intently, but he couldn't raise his eyes while words that seemed just plain wrong caught in his throat and his face flushed. Breath that normally flowed evenly in and out of his lungs came in great gulps, threatening to sob on him. He never had this kind of trouble, around anyone, but trying to talk to Gavin about how he felt about him always caused him seize up in some way.

Gavin stared at this new manner Thom was displaying and put a hand to Thom's cheek. Thom leaned into it, his head following as Gavin moved his hand. Pliant, Gavin thought, he's pliant to my touch. This wasn't a side of Thom he had seen before, and had pretty much convinced himself that the young man didn't have this inclination. And hard he had worked at it, too.

"Thom, I didn't tell you the last part of this. The reason I've been looking for someone these past few weeks is that I mean to request that you be assigned to Junon. I think you'll eventually be an excellent commander at my side. And I wanted to embroil myself in a romantic interest before you arrived, because frankly I've already fallen in love with you and I hadn't expected that to be requited."

Thom looked up sharply. Surely he had misheard.

"My question now is, are you for me? Would the arrangement I described be acceptable for you?"

"It's all I want," Thom said breathlessly. "I want to be yours."

Gavin smiled and pulled Thom into kiss him, enthralled to experience this entire hidden side of Thom. Thom, pliant, agreeable, letting Gavin take care of him a little, that was the Thom for his bed. The other, the aggressive, fearless, liked to order guys around Thom, that would be the commander he needed. He was perfect.

"Can I see you tonight?" Gavin asked.

Thom nodded.

"You know which tent is mine?"

"Third one from the end," Thom answered quickly, no longer caring if it showed he knew exactly where Gavin was at every hour, even while he slept.

"Good. We don't have to do anything you're not comfortable with, I'm happy just to see you."

"I want to do everything," Thom said. "I want to try everything. I think I've done everything there is to do with you in my mind already."

Now Thom flushed a little. That maybe was a bit much to say on a first date. But Gavin only laughed and pulled him in for another kiss, this one more passionate than the first. He hooked an arm around Thom's waist to pull their hips into closer contact so thier mounted flesh could meet. He let his hands caress Thom's long, lean body, knowing that he too in his mind had done the thousands of delicious things to Thom that he now meant to enact physically. There was no rush; they would have a lot of time together. But if he didn't stop this rubbing he was going to take Thom right here between the trees.

"Get to your next drill," Gavin ordered, giving Thom a light push away from him.

Thom, grinning, took off at a trot, stopping once to pull at his fatigues to try and adjust himself.


Cloud looked at his watch, rubbed the face clear of brown muck, and looked at it again. 10 am. Not even lunch time. He stood up and stretched his back; this was going to make him more sore than if he had gone to the drills. And today should have been kind of a fun day. It was a makup day; if a cadet failed an exercise, or missed it due to disciplining, or just wanted to try for a better score he could try again today. Cloud didn't need to repeat anything, especially now that he didn't need that top score. Cloud smiled at the reason why.

"I would not have thought this to be that enjoyable."

Cloud's smile broadened. He hadn't heard Sephiroth come up.

"I was thinking about you," Cloud said.

Sephiroth smiled and shook his head, amazed at the ease at which Cloud spouted such affectionate statements. He had been missing that. Cloud was covered head to foot in smears of brown, a large swatch graced his forehead where he had forgotten himself and wiped sweat away with a soiled arm. Even his blonde hair was tainted with it. He smelled terrible.

"I'm sorry for this Cloud. Do you want me to excuse you?"

Cloud shook his head. "I'll finish. Another hour, maybe two. Then I'm going shower for the whole four minutes."

Sephiroth frowned. Four minutes was the cadet limit, and they only had cold water. He knew how much Cloud wanted to do everything under his own steam but he had his own limits. And that smell was exceeding them.

"I think I want you cleaner than that," Sephiroth said. "The officer's shower has a solar panel on the tank so the water is at least warm. I want you using that one. If anyone gives you flak tell them I OK'ed it. Will you do that?"

Cloud nodded. Repulsing his lover with his person was not actually on his list of goals at the moment.

"Everyone will be finishing early today, two or three o'clock," Sephiroth said, "Most cadets nap, and then there's the crab boil tonight."

Cloud's face brightened. The crab boil! A night off for everyone, boiling freshly delivered crabs outside over a fire in an enormous pot. Every cadet had been looking forward to this all week.

"I normally don't go; the atmosphere is more relaxed without me. I guess I make cadets nervous."

"I want to be with you instead," Cloud said.

"No, please go, Cloud, at least for a little while. You can see me afterwards. And they serve Junon brandy, watch out for that stuff. It's not like normal brandy; it can knock you on your ass in a heartbeat."

Cloud frowned, a little annoyed to be told to be careful about his drinking. It's not like he was some kid who never drank before. He knew he didn't have much of a tolerance, but he also knew what his limits were. He pushed his annoyance aside. He really didn't want to be starting an argument with Sephiroth right now.

"OK," he said, then smiled at Sephiroth's fond gaze. He was just looking out for him, after all. He knew how much Sephiroth enjoyed that and Cloud rarely indulged him. Maybe he should allow it more often.


After an actual warm shower and a nap Cloud was feeling fabulous. Euphoric, really, compared to the last few weeks. He had forgotten how it felt to be happy. And his mood was shared by the crowd gathered around the fire and steaming crab pot. Every cadet and Soldier laughed and smiled, and as he approached Thom shoved a large, red, plastic cup into his hand.

"Look who it is, latrine boy!" Thom was positively giddy, quite a contrast to this morning.

There was a round of applause for 'latrine boy' and Cloud took a good natured bow. He had been putting up with their various jokes and jabs all day, queries as to how he liked the smell, was this his new career, comments about how lucky he was due to the quality of stool they were about to deposit… but at the moment he could care less. Cadets and Soldiers both clapped him on the shoulder, saying they were impressed he survived it. Oddly is seemed Zack was right about the punishment fostering good will and sympathy.

He sipped at his drink; it was sweet. He had assumed this would be the brandy, but he didn't taste any alcohol at all, and looked at Thom questioningly.

"I mixed ours with soda," Thom said, "Junon brandy isn't something you shouldn't be taking straight. My first time I was sick as a dog."

Cloud nodded, thinking that was a perfect solution. Mix the stuff. He found his way over to the food table and managed to snag one of the first crabs out. Soldiers laughed as cadets unfamiliar with the delicacies fumbled in attacking the crustaceans with their Leathermans. They leaned over their plates and showed them the secrets of crab cracking, told field stories to rapt listeners, and answered questions cadets had always been too afraid to ask.

After an hour or so Cloud discovered that Thom was nowhere to be found. Cloud thought maybe he was at the latrine.

"Heh, at least the latrines are emptied," he said to himself, chuckled, and wandered over to the drink table. He had been relying on Thom for his drinks, and looking at the table by himself he found the arrangement oddly confusing. He frowned at the table, working his brain hard to unlock its mysteries.

"I got it Strife."

Cloud looked up and took a moment to identify the speaker.

"Oh. Jens. How are ya?" he said.

Jens grinned at him and poured an amber liquid into Cloud's cup. Cloud accepted it and took a gulp.

"Well," Jens said, "I repeated three tests today, but I wasn't having such a hot day. I failed to improve any of my scores. So we," he topped off Cloud's cup again, "are still tied my friend."

"Well that's nice," Cloud said, taking another large swallow. This stuff was really good. "We're, um…" What was he saying? He pursed his lips in concentration. "The last, uh, four events. They're not my best. They're not tomorrow, right? Friday?" Why couldn't he remember this?

"Right, none tomorrow. Because we'll all be hungover."

Cloud nodded, but nothing was really registering. "Oh, I'm out," he said, looking at the bottom of his cup. "Fill me up."

Jens did so, grinning smugly as Cloud Strife staggered away from him.


Hours later Cloud stood in the woods somewhere near the First Class tents. He knew he was supposed to meet Sephiroth, and now it was dark. He wasn't sure when it had gotten dark. He had no idea what time it was. And he was having trouble seeing trees well enough to not run into them.

"Gaia, I'm drunk," he said to the woods. What was Sephiroth going to say? How had all these hours passed? How much had he drunk anyways?

He stepped forward, stopped, righted an imbalance that kept arising and sending him to his right, and repeated. He thought about maybe just laying down and taking a little nap.

Sephiroth heard the uneven gate outside of his tent and listened for a bit. That one was way over the top to be sure. Cadet, certainly, his First Classes were better disciplined than that plus they all knew what was going on tomorrow and would be exercising caution. He put down the paper he was reading and went outside to route this one back to the group. Then maybe he would retrieve Cloud. He hadn't expected him to stay so long at a party that he originally said he would skip, but he didn't want to interfere if the boy was having a good time.

"Seph!" Cloud said, when he saw the General emerge from his tent, and immediately fell on him. Sephiroth had to right Cloud bodily since the cadet seemed to have forgotten how to stand up.

"I'm vreelly drung," Cloud said, holding onto Sephiroth and slurring his words into the bigger man's chest.

Sephiroth, one arm under Cloud's armpits holding him up, took his other hand and lifted Cloud's chin. The cadet was completely unfocused, and looked as drunk as he'd ever seen any of his men.

"I'm surry," Cloud said, "I nuvr felt anethin." Then he started weeping.

Sephiroth rolled his eyes. Great. He was a weepy drunk no less. "It's OK, Cloud," he said, stroking the blond hair and bringing him towards his tent.

"Really?" Cloud said, "Becuss I'm gunna throw up."

Sephiroth grabbed him tighter and managed to drag Cloud 30 feet away from his tent into the forest before he started spewing. Sephiroth wrinkled his nose as he held on to Cloud's torso through the spasms. It seemed bad smells were the theme for Cloud today.


Zack whistled as he made the trek from the latrines back to the party. It was certainly shaping up to be a grand time. Who knew this group of cadets was so funny drunk? And tomorrow was going to pretty good too. He rather liked upchuck day, being on the other side of it, that was.

And already it was starting; he heard the sound of retching off in the woods. He looked over to the side and saw something unexpected. Surely that was the General's hair shining in the dark, hunched over. He made his way over and the situation became clear.

"Wow, Cloud. You really downed a lot of crab. Too bad you're not keeping it."

"Not now, Zachary," Sephiroth snarled, struggling to hold Cloud up and also keep his long hair out of the spray.

Zack reached over and gathered up Sephiroth's hair and held it behind his back as Cloud emptied more of his stomach. It struck him as an odd variation on an old theme; instead of holding the hair for the puker he was doing so for middleman. But it would last long. Cloud's stomach had to be empty pretty soon; they guy just wasn't that big.

And Zack was right, Cloud started dry heaving, moaning in between. Zack came around the front and with a handkerchief from his pocket wiped Cloud's mouth as Sephiroth managed to get him more or less upright. Cloud let all his weight fall into the General, thinking vaguely in his half conscious mind that this was one of those times he really wanted Sephiroth to take care of him.

"I'm going to keep him in my tent." Sephiroth said. "Will you get us some extra water? And a bucket?"

"Sure, thing. But you know he's gotta do the thing tomorrow."

"Zack, no."

Zack looked silently at his commander. Finally Sephiroth shut his eyes and sighed.

"You're going to have to come take him away from me. I won't be able to bring him out there."

Zack nodded and trotted off to find water and bucket.


Reveille sounded extra early the next morning. Cloud woke in a haze and immediately wished he hadn't. At least in sleep there was no pain. He was vaguely aware of Sephiroth making him drink water all night, Sephiroth holding him as he repeatedly threw it up into a bucket, Sephiroth putting a cold cloth to his face and talking softly to him. He was able to keep some water down now, but it still made him nauseous every time he swallowed. And his head felt like it might explode. He wished it would and get it over with.

"Seph?" Zack's voice came from the outside before the young Soldier stepped in. His eyebrows rose at the large, thick batting on the tent floor. Some sort of futon mattress maybe. So that's what Sephiroth had delivered from base yesterday. It looked comfy; too bad he didn't get to enjoy it the way he had probably anticipated.

"It's time," Zack said. Cloud gave a little whimper and Sephiroth closed his arms around him more tightly.

"C'mon, the rest of his class is out there, he'll have plenty of company. This is all part of the cadet experience, and if he doesn't go his classmates will remember for the rest of their lives."

Sephiroth slowly rolled Cloud out of the bed and stood him up. He said something soft into Cloud's ear, Cloud nodded and Sephiroth kissed his temple several times and held him close for a moment. Then he released him into Zack's arms.

"Make sure he gets plenty of water. And keep an eye on him."

"Yes, sir. You know I will."

Sephiroth lay back down and put his pillow over his head. He didn't want to hear this.


"OK, cadets, we're starting our day with a twelve mile run."

There was a general disgruntled moan and some squeaks of disbelief.

"I thought we had the day off," said one cadet, emboldened by pain.

"Now whatever gave you that idea?" Malik asked, a smile on his face. "Because there's nothing on the schedule? You think Avalanche or Wutai terrorists or Bahamuts schedule attacks? Move your sorry asses!"

The whole group moved off at a pitifully slow pace, the First Classes trotting easily along the outside, scooping up cadets who fell to the wayside and shoving them back in formation. Any cadet who forgot to pack water or ran out had to grovel with a humiliating little rhyme to get some from a First Class, who carried extra exactly for this purpose.

At mile four they took a break. Zack squatted down to where Cloud was and refilled his canteen for him. He dug in his pocket and found an electrolyte tablet and dropped it in for good measure. Cloud was one of the worst off, but luckily his buddy Thom was in good shape and kind of dragging him along. He'd be all right. Zack left, figuring he could afford to spend some attention on some of the others.

"Thanks, Thom," Cloud said, carefully sucking down water as fast as his stomach would allow. This was the worst physical hell he'd ever experienced. He was half hoping that it was cyanide that Zack slipped into his water, but he supposed it wasn't. Probably something to help him. He poured half of it into Anthony's empty canteen so he wouldn't have to go begging.

"Hey, no problem," Thom said, "Remember all those post-injection days, you two did the same for me. Hey, you look kind of like how I felt."

Cloud smiled weakly, grateful one of them had the sense to stay sober last night. And at least Anthony wasn't as nearly as bad off as he was; Thom only had to drag him occasionally.

"Hey, if I'd have known you were an idiot I'd have hung around and kept an eye on you," Thom said

Cloud looked at him, trying to remember. Thom had disappeared pretty early, during part of the party that Cloud sort of remembered.

"Where'd you go?" he asked.

But Thom only smiled and the officers rousted them up again for another four miles.


It took them over two hours to run those twelve miles. After which they were allowed food if they could handle it, and then they were re-timed on the obstacle course, ran through focus target drills and scored for power and accuracy, and then had to fight the First Classes. Before dinner the abysmal scores were read out loud and compared to the cadet's normal test performance.

"I think this was some sort of exercise to convince us we should not drink," Anthony said at dinner.

"I think it worked," Cloud grumbled.

Oddly enough the brandy was set out again and a few of the cadets went for it. Anthony shook his head. "Crazy bastards." But he was eyeing the big, red, plastic cups. So much bigger than their little messkit cups. He snagged two and gave one to Cloud so they could fill off the water barrel. Cloud was surprised at how good he was feeling. Well, relatively. He was brutally tired and shaking a little, but he was hungry, and his headache had broken. He smiled, laughed, and joked with his friends, enjoying the realization that he wasn't going to die after all and the amazingly good company he had found himself in.

The first classes were milling around the edges of the mess, watching the cadets. Malik was taking notes. For the moment most of the cadets were too tired to give a damn what they were up to this time.

"Takers?" Sephiroth asked, coming up behind Zack.

"Four," he answered, "Two who drank very little last night and are nipping again tonight; their performance was fine today. The other two were wrecked today, but they're at it again."

Sephiroth nodded, Malik would add the last two to a watch list for alcoholism. Alcoholism was a fight they'd been struggling with since the inception of Soldier during the war.

"Oh, and, eww, looks like two more," Zack cringed and motioned his head over to Cloud. Both Cloud and Anthony had the large, red, plastic cups in their hands.

Sephiroth growled and strode over to Cloud's table before Zack could say anything. With thumb and middle finger he grabbed the rim of Cloud's cup and removed it from his hand and held it aloft. Cloud, catching the terrified look on Anthony's face, turned around, but resumed smiling as soon as he saw the General.

"It's water, sir," Cloud said.

Sephiroth gave it a sniff and Cloud could see the relief melt his face. The expression was apparently too subtle for Anthony to read and the other cadet remained stiff and nervous. Then Sephiroth actually sat down at their table, and fixed his gaze on Anthony.

"Oh, I uh, should get seconds. Or something." Anthony hurriedly got up and walked away, intercepting Thom as he did so and preventing him from taking his normal seat at their table.

"How are you feeling?" Sephiroth asked.

"Good, I guess, considering," Cloud said. "Thanks for taking care of me last night. And for not chewing me out."

"Well I was shown some kindness the first time I did the same. Although I could have done without the pride and dreams lecture afterwards." Sephiroth frowned. "I wasn't really having an attitude problem; it was more from lack of experience. I think I'll skip the lecture with you."

"Thanks. I'm OK; I just didn't know you could not taste it or feel it until it was too late."

"Junon Brandy is notorious that way. We choose it for that reason. It's unfair, I know, but better to learn it now than in the field where the enemy might be bearing down at you at any moment."

"Well, I'm still sorry I didn't listen to you," Cloud said, "And I'm sorry I missed out last night."

Sephiroth concealed a broadening smile by putting a hand to his face and rubbing his jaws. "Well there's always tonight," he said, green eyes glinting. "I promise to send you back to your bunk early. We have a meeting until about nine, but after that I'm free."

Cloud lowered his smiling face towards his food. Maybe he could grab a nap before then.


"He's a freak, plain and simple."

Cloud's ears pricked and he swerved off the roundabout path he had chosen to bring him to Sephiroth's tent from the far side. He crept close to a group of maybe eight cadets waiting on the showers.

"That's why the General's got his own section in the lab," the same voice said, that Cloud now recognized as Jens, "He's some sort of planet monster that ShinRa domesticated. I heard the found him up in the Northern Crater. Hell, he might not even be human."

Cloud stepped into their midst and stood in front of Jens, who had apparently attracted quite an audience.

"You're going to want to retract that statement, and quit your gossiping about the General," Cloud said, face red and heart pounding.

"Yeah? Well what's it to you blondie?" Jens cut his eyes.

"Nobody talks about the General."

"Well you aint my commander, Strife, and you certainly aint no first Class, and I don't see any of your First Class friends hanging around to help you out, so I think I'll just go on saying whatever I please."

Cloud connected his elbow with Jens's face with more speed than he knew he had. He barely registered the bright spray of blood before Jens was spinning back to him to sink a fist into Cloud's stomach. Cloud tensed his abdominals and moved with it, annoyed to have been caught as flat footed as he was but grateful Jens had missed the floating ribs. He wrapped his elbow around the offending arm and clotheslined Jens across the throat with a ridgehand, then hit him again in the face on his way down, breaking his nose. Then quite suddenly his feet were no longer firm on the ground and both arms were painfully immobilized behind him. He struggled, but felt like he was entangled in an iron trap. He swiveled his head around to see what had him. Oh. Malik. Quite suddenly in a few seconds five First Classes had materialized from who knew where. One was picking Jens up off the ground. Jens was having trouble breathing and spitting blood. Cloud knew that throat strike he threw was uncalled for, but he couldn't feel bad for the guy. His blood boiled, the mild green haze over the world let him know his eyes were greened up, and he was still angry. The guy had talked about the General.

"Out of here, all of you!" Malik growled. One of the other First Classes took Jens off to medical.

"What the hell is wrong with you, Strife?" Malik gave Cloud a shake that flopped him about like a ragdoll.

Zack came up and gripped Cloud's jaw in a firm hand. "Calm down, Cloud, I want that green out of your eyes."

Cloud forced himself to take several deep breaths through his nose and concentrated on Zack's calm, confident face. Eventually his own face relaxed and the green subsided. Only then did he realize what he'd done. He had fought during camp. Another dismissible offense. And he had thrown the first blow. And he had his opponent down and looked like he was going to finish him.

"He's OK, you can let go," Zack said to Malik.

Malik rolled his eyes at Zack but released the kid to Zack's obviously concerned attentions. Zack had been true to his word with the latrine punishment, but there wouldn't be any way out of this one. Three other First Classes had seen the fight along with at least half a dozen cadets. Not unless Zack was going to call in his General shaped trump card.

"What's going on here?"

Malik blew out his breath at the low, resonant voice behind him. Sephiroth was apparently one devil you needed only think of to have appear.

"Unruly cadet, sir," Zack answered before Malik could. "He was fighting."

Malik looked between Sephiroth and Zack, puzzled. What could Zack hope to achieve by maligning his favorite?

"Where's the other?" Sephiroth asked.


Now if Malik wasn't mistaken the General looked a little pleased. Well, the guy did appreciate a good fighter.

Sephiroth looked at Cloud, whose eyes were down, face worried, his breathing still rapid. He knew Cloud hated the idea of taking favors, but he was going to have to do something this time. So much for not wanting to make a spectacle out of Cloud during camp; the boy seemed to be doing a fine job of it all by himself.

"What were you fighting over, Cloud?" Sephiroth asked.

Cloud looked up at him. He knew he was going to have to accept some help. Maybe he should let Sephiroth know he was alright with it.

"You, Seph."

Cloud could feel the surprise of three of the First Classes at his use of the General's name. And actually it felt pretty good.

"Come here, Cloud," Sephiroth gave a small motion of his hand.

Cloud stepped forward and allowed himself to be enfolded in the General's arms. Sephiroth put his chin on top of Cloud's head and looked out at his men.

"Gentlemen, I'm afraid I need a little indulgence from you. Most of this one's problems this week have been due to me."

His First Classes smiled genially at him, all except Malik who looked a bit like someone had just struck him. To think he had been riding this cadet's ass all week. A cadet who was favored by the General.

"Is this... him?" Malik asked. The two looked too comfortable to be brand new, and the General's mood had taken a one-eighty yesterday.

Sephiroth nodded, now smiling a little himself.

Malik considered. It was still a sticky problem. Their whole organization was held together with blood, sweat, and rules.

"We have to do something with him. He just beat the tar out another cadet. In fact the very one he's in competition with for top honors. He'll never be forgiven if he skates."

Sephiroth looked down at Cloud and stroked his blond head, his brows knit anxiously. But Zack had gotten a thoughtful look on his face.

"It takes two to fight. And there is a traditional punishment for fighters. Hasn't been used in awhile..."

"Not since you were a cadet, Zachary. It's cruel, though." Sephiroth looked down at Cloud, questioning.

"What, worse than cleaning latrines with my mess kit, or getting us drunk and then making us run at five am the next morning?"

The group laughed, confirming Cloud's usual opinion that they were sadistic bastards. Sephiroth squeezed him.

"Well then, for the third time this week, you are in Zack's hands. Good luck, cadet." Sephiroth left him with a tender caress to his cheek.


"Feeling alright, Jens? I hope so, because you're going to need to start this one feeling fresh." Zack looked the cadet over. His shirt was still bloody, but his injuries had been healed up.

Jens nodded, eyeing Zack suspiciously. Zack had on his sternest demeanor, which was considerable. Cloud often forgot he could be as terrifying as any other First Class when he had a mind to be, worse maybe. At the moment Zack was even greened up a little and Cloud wondered how he did that. Maybe he was actually angry. Normally Cloud wasn't mindful that Zack could snap both of their necks before they could even make a move to defend, and it was widely believed he could get away literally murder (of cadets at least) given the General was so highly forgiving of him. Cloud stood up a little straighter.

"Boots off, socks too." Zack said.

Both cadets removed their boots, puzzled. Cloud tucked his socks into his boots and stood in the dirt, small rocks poking the bottoms of his feet. His feet used to be tougher, but since he had joined the Soldier program they did everything, everything in their boots and the calluses from his barefoot childhood were long gone.

"Each of you is going to stand up on one of these," Zack kicked one of two crates with his toe.

The crates had open tops and held empty glass soda bottles, their tops upward. Cloud looked at his crate, thinking it wasn't going to make an easy surface to stand on. He'd have a hard time getting more than maybe three bottles under a foot at once. He stepped carefully up and shifted himself around until he more or less could stand.

"Here's the deal," Zack said. "You stand here all night. If you both make it until morning everything's good. But if not, the first one down is sent back. Repeat your second year or be out of Soldier."

Both looked at Zack with mouth open. Cloud frowned in confusion. Sephiroth wasn't going to let him be held back, was he? Maybe he would. At least it would be an easy second year. Or maybe Sephiroth was sure he'd make it until morning, it really wasn't so tough just to stand up through the night.

Zack left them, stupidly standing alone on their crates, both refusing to look at one another. Other cadets passed by with quizzical looks, but understanding this was some sort of bizarre punishment none of them spoke.

The first five minutes didn't hurt at all. During the next five minutes the bottom of Cloud's feet started to get uncomfortable and he shifted the locations of the small rings of the glass tops around on his feet. After thirty minutes it didn't seem to matter where he moved his feet around, the smooth glass rings seemed to dig and burn. After an hour he wondered if he was going to make it through the night. He looked over at Jens and saw the same worry on the other boy's face. Jens moved a foot, looking to relieve the pressure and hissed. He snarled at Cloud and looked away. Cloud did the same.

After another half an hour Jens let out a groan. "I don't think I can do this," he said in a ragged voice. A flash of glee ran through Cloud at the idea of being able to get off his crate and not having to repeat year two if Jens got down first. Jens would have to repeat his second year. Cloud frowned.

"No, you can do it," Cloud said. "Just talk about something. Take your mind off of it."

"Right," Jens said.

"Seriously, we hate each other, we can argue."

"I don't hate you, Strife. Well maybe a little."

"That's the spirit," Cloud said, and Jens laughed a little.

"It won't matter for me anyhow," Jens said. "Tomorrow is target testing and I shoot like shit if I don't sleep. Even if you shoot like shit too, which you normally do, I still won't get that top spot. You know Amon is right behind us, and he's a crack shot. I figured it out; I'd have to hit a personal best just to stay ahead of him if he shoots his average."

Jens hung his head and Cloud could tell he was thinking about his feet again.

"Why do want that top spot badly?"

"Don't you?"

"What, you also have a fight with your lover and need to feel like you have to be sure to get the hell out of Midgar?"

Jens looked up sharply, unbelieving what he just heard. Cloud pursed his lips, unbelieving what he just said.

"No. I um..." Jens shook his head, still trying to clear it of Cloud's last statement.

"My father is dying."

Cloud was silent for a moment, trying to figure out how this affected things.

"I need to get assigned to Wutai," Jens continued. "I'm Wutain, you know."

Cloud didn't know. Jens Akita, he guessed part of his name sounded Wutain. He didn't look it.

"I'm afraid he won't live another year, this is my last chance to spend time with him. I need to get assigned to Wutai. No first year Third Class with Wutain heritage gets assigned to Wutai. Some sort of unwritten security rule. But if I win the Choice I might be able to go. If I can't get assigned to Wutai, I'll leave Soldier."

Cloud didn't know what to say. Suddenly his own burning need to win the Choice seemed petty and self centered. "I'm sorry, Jens. I didn't know."

"Well, yeah. I haven't told anybody." Jens looked down again, shaking his head slowly.

Cloud watched him, knowing he was thinking of stepping down. He really was doing a poor job at encouraging him. If only he were Zack, he could yack away and distract him, somehow motivate him to hang in there. Zack was so good at that type of thing.

Then, without further warning, Jens took a step down. Cloud jumped down just as Jens hit the ground, his feet screaming at the injustice of a ten inch drop to the dirt. Jens looked over at Cloud.

"What'd you do that for?"

Cloud just stared back at the other cadet, and before he could even open his mouth Zack appeared from nowhere. The Soldier must have been lurking around in the dark, just waiting.

"Ah, I see we're done," Zack said. "Who stepped down first?"

"We came down together," Cloud said.

Zack grinned. "That, cadet, is the right answer. Go to bed, both of you." Zack disappeared back into the darkness.

"What does that mean?" Jens said.

Cloud smiled. "It was a test. We passed. Get some sleep; you have to do some sharp shooting tomorrow."

Jens stared at Cloud's retreating form, confused as to why his rival should leave him with such an encouraging remark. But he thought maybe he understood when he realized Cloud had not turned toward the cadet's tents, but rather towards the grouping of First Classes. Maybe Cloud didn't need that top spot anymore.


Sephiroth stepped out of his tent just as Cloud approached, shirtless and pants still on. Cloud wondered if he slept with pants on all the time when he wasn't around. Sephiroth ushered him into his tent.

"I just heard Zack come in," he said, waving towards the tent next to his. He kissed Cloud lightly. "You passed?"

"Yeah, I guess so. But Gaia I'm tired."

Cloud lifted his arms to let his shirt come off, and his pants were undone and dropped to the floor.

"That's fine," Sephiroth said. "I'm happy to just hold you. And kiss you some." He stroked Cloud's torso, pleased to see him looking healthy and not puking on anything.

Cloud kissed him back and then laid his head onto Sephiroth's chest.

"Say Seph?"


"My level has actually flagged quite a bit in the last seven weeks without you."

"I know," Sephiroth said. He had checked up on Cloud on every way possible even while the boy wasn't speaking to him.

"I know I'm probably too tired to, um, join you, and I don't want to seem unromantic, but would you mind? Otherwise I have a lab appointment Monday when I get back."

Sephiroth chuckled. "As if I'd mind. And I'll cancel that lab appointment for you."

Cloud smiled and helped Sephiroth out of his pants, and the two dropped down to the mattress on the floor, and Cloud's eyes were nearly shut the next time they kissed. Sephiroth rotated him around in front of him and grabbed the lube he had nicked into the city to pick up. There were apparently some advantages to camping just outside of town from Blue Street.

"Just relax, cadet," Sephiroth said, and Cloud laughed a little thinking of their first meeting.

Sephiroth slid inside Cloud, and reached around with one slick hand to find Cloud's half-hard member.

"Mmmm, feels good. I won't be able to, though," Cloud said.

"It's OK," Sephiroth said, and continued his motion until he quietly came, still holding Cloud. Cloud rotated his head for one more kiss, and drifted off to sleep. Sephiroth moved him around so Cloud lay on his stomach on top of him, and then he too fell into sleep, smiling in the dark.


Sephiroth woke before dawn. He normally did, but he was particularly conscious this morning with Cloud lying next to him. He wanted to see him. He flicked on the soft battery lantern on top of his trunk. Cloud had rotated around so they were again front to back and Sephiroth caressed his skin, up and down arms, neck and face, until Cloud started to stir. He ran his hands down and felt a healthy stiffness in the boy's organ.

"What is this?" he asked, getting a little groaning from Cloud.

"A little morning wood, I think," Sephiroth gave him squeeze, and Cloud wriggled in front of him, smiling and sleepy.

They moved around under the smooth sheets until Sephiroth had Cloud under him. Sephiroth kissed him and alternatively pressed his body down and relinquished until Cloud was fully awake and reaching up for him.

"I think I can do this now," Cloud said.

Sephiroth smiled and grabbed the small lube bottle from where it still lay on the side of the mattress. Cloud took it out of his hand, grinning slyly.

"Let me," he said. He poured a small, cool pool into his hand and put his whole palm around Sephiroth's shaft. He clenched his fingers and felt the tip squeeze out the back of his hand, then pushed his hand back down again. He looked down and could just see in the dim light the rounded head with its pinkish slot sliding in and out of his hand. Sephiroth sighed, letting his head fall towards Cloud, surrounding him in soft locks of hair that fell onto Cloud's face. Cloud lifted his knees and slipped his feet over Sephiroth's shoulders, catching some of that hair between toes. Sephiroth lifted up and Cloud poured a more of the viscous fluid between his own legs, mostly missing his target and having to pour again. He squinted with concentration and moved his fingers to smear the fluid between his spread cheeks. He wished suddenly that he could see himself in this position, with Sephiroth over him. Maybe he could convince Seph to put some mirrors in his bedroom. He lifted his hips to Sephiroth might enter, and the older man put his arm under Cloud to hold him up in position. He poured another large dolop in his hand and grabbed his own member, spilling most of it on his stomach.

"Pretty slap happy with that lube," Sephiroth said, "As if I don't already buy it in bulk."

"Do you mind?" Cloud asked playfully.

He didn't really need the answer. Sephiroth laughed a little, but he was soon moaning and thrusting, and Cloud joined him by stroking himself. Sephiroth came up on his knees, the firm surface of the mattress providing such a good hard surface that he pulled Cloud up with him until Cloud was partially inverted, and Cloud spilled out just as the blood also rushed to his head. Cloud pushed his elbows into the firm mattress until they formed a stand underneath him, and he watched mesmerized at Sephiroth's strong arms and shoulders pulling him back and forth, his green eyes glowing slightly in the dark as he growled in the back of his throat with desire. He pulled them together sharply, forcefully. Breathing hard he looked at Cloud with a question in his eyes, and Cloud nodded that it was OK. He had been wondering if Sephiroth wanted to put some more force into this act. Once before, early on, he'd asked the man had been told 'not yet'. But Cloud was stronger now, his level was that of a Third Class Soldier, and he was happy to take a little more. His lips parted, reaching, wishing he could to kiss Sephiroth as he came but due to mechanics had to be satisfied with putting his fingers to the General's lips as he moaned into his orgasm.

"I love you, Cloud," Sephiroth said as he withdrew and rolled them both over.

"I love you, too," Cloud said, and Sephiroth could see from his face that it was true. Cloud's face showed what Sephiroth thought he never would see again even after Cloud had forgiven him: that dreamy, utterly trusting look. The one he had worn the first night they confessed their love.

"On your stomach, cadet," Sephiroth said, "That is the last time I am going to say that."

"Really?" Cloud mumbled sleepily, thinking there might be some nice reasons to be on his stomach.

"I won't be calling you cadet any more after today. I guess I'm going to call you rookie."

"Ugh," Cloud moved around so he could jab Sephiroth with an elbow.

The older man laughed, pulled Cloud tight so his arms couldn't move, "Soldier," he said, "You're going to be my Soldier." He kissed Cloud and felt him relax back into sleep. They lay there for a few minutes, Sephiroth caressing up and down Cloud's back, then moving down his buttocks. He let his hand fold over one firm, rounded mound. Cloud had the most unbelievably soft skin. He let his fingertips slide up and down the cleft, and felt his own erection lift along the outside of Cloud's hip. He pressed the shaft against Cloud's skin with his palm. He rubbed a little and moved his lips around Cloud's face, remembering that Cloud had said he wanted to bump up his level.

"Cloud?" he asked softly. The boy mumbled and stirred, then fell still again. "Cloud, I want you again."

Cloud opened his blue eyes, shining in the half light. He smiled a little. "Already?" he asked.

Reveille sounded outside and Sephiroth groaned. He focused with his ears until he heard the barest stirring in the next tent over. He covered Cloud's close ear with his hand.

"Zachary!" he bellowed. In scarcely a second the young Soldier was at his tent door, still fastening his pants.

"Sir?" he said, sweeping the tent anxiously.

"Everybody sleeps in today. At least another hour."

Zack looked at Cloud's head, tucked into the crook of Sephiroth's neck.

"Oh, right," Zack said smiling. "Gaia, you about gave me a heart attack, I thought something was wrong." Zack rubbed one hand across his bare chest, feeling his heart racing. "And... I think we can afford three hours if you want them."

"Thank-you, Zack," Sephiroth said, and turned back to Cloud as Zack left. He put several small kisses on Cloud's face. "Can we go again?"

Cloud smiled, a warm feeling spreading through his midsection. It felt so good to be wanted that much, but...

"I want to, but I'm still so tired I'm not sure I can manage another myself."

Sephiroth slid out from under him. "Stay on your stomach."

He hovered over Cloud, taking time to admire the new musculature of his back in the dim lamplight. He ran his fingers up to the webbing into Cloud's blonde hair on the back of his head. He moved his knees between Clouds, nudging Cloud's legs apart as he laid his body on top of Cloud and they both moaned at the sudden full body contact of skin. Cloud was still slick from Sephiroth's last deposit, and so he moved inside easily. He pushed and leaned, Cloud's body rubbing up and down against the bottom sheet. Sephiroth groaned and lightly grabbed onto the back of Cloud's neck with his teeth. Cloud gasped a little as the feel of Sephiroth's teeth on his neck and the rubbing against the firm mattress elicited a familiar response.

"Seph," Cloud wiggled under his lover, trying to get some space and movement to his groin.

Sephiroth, understanding what was needed, snaked one arm under Cloud's hips and lifted him up to hands and knees. Sure enough, the kid had stiffened up. He lubed up a palm and gave Cloud a good squeeze. Cloud moaned.

"I need fast," Cloud said.

Sephiroth nodded. Cloud was tired, he would need it exactly right to get to get off. And Cloud should come first. "You'll need to help me," He whispered in Cloud's ear.

Cloud added one of his hands to the effort, to guide Sephiroth's work and keep him at the right rhythm.

"C'mon, Cloud, c'mon," Sephiroth blew a slow, hot breath into Cloud's ear and ran his tongue along the edge of the cartilage. Cloud was painting heavily and intermittently whimpering. The whimpering became louder, more desperate, more frequent until it culminated into a wailing yell.

"Seph! Aghurh!!"

Sephiroth climaxed also with that yell, almost surprising himself because he was so absorbed in Cloud's progress. And that last yell was LOUD. Surely the whole camp heard that one. Too bad. Once Cloud was Soldier he meant to make sure everyone knew he was his. He collapsed on top of Cloud, neither man able to stay up now. Sephiroth barely had the presence of mind to roll back over and put Cloud back on top of him.

"On your stomach, cadet," he said.

Cloud laughed a little as he dropped off to sleep. So much for the last one being the last time Seph said that.


Cloud had a mediocre performance for his shooting tests, even with the extra sleep. He didn't care much as it was his least favorite subject; Soldiers had to understand firearms but they usually didn't use them. Jens turned out to have a hot day. He was close behind or even up with their crack-shot Amon, and at the end of the day he had won the top honors and his Choice. Cloud came in third, which he was happy with giving the difficult week he had. And really, he couldn't complain. He had what he really wanted.

The cadets all lined up in the common area in the early evening. They were all dressed in their new black Soldier uniforms that Malik had passed out – fatigues and short sleeved high collared shirt in plain black, but it was recognizable the world over as Soldier. The First Classes all came out wearing every dress decoration they had. The war veterans were particularly laden down, most notably Sephiroth and colonel McIntyre who stood together almost blinding the company with gold and silver medals, epaulettes, and braided cords. The ceremony was simple, no lecture because the General disliked lectures. The idea was that everything that should have been communicated was done so through physical lessons during the week. Cloud looked around, realizing he wasn't the only one who had been subjected to these. Almost every cadet in line he had seen suffering at least once during the week under one of the odd punishments, even if he didn't understand the point of some of them. Probably they were all designed with dual purpose, like his bottle standing exercise.

The First Classes, minus the general and Gavin, were holding the last piece of equipment to be bestowed upon them: the kisori, the traditional leather strapped body armor. At a command from the colonel the First Classes stepped forward to a cadet and strapped the kisori on him, saluted, moved to another cadet, repeating until all were finished. Then they stepped back in formation and saluted the new Third Classes in sharp coordination. Gavin made a call, and the entire company turned and simultaneously saluted the General. He saluted back and the whole field erupted in a cheer. Their formation fell apart and both groups mingled together as several cork pops from the sparkling wines punctuated their revelry. First Classes with someone special went directly and collected them. But the General remained at the far side of the group looking unapproachable even as Cloud saw, with only mild surprise, that Gavin had walked over and collected a very happy looking Thom.

"All right, Cloud," Zack slung an arm around Cloud.

Cloud looked at Zack. He adored Zack, but at the moment he wasn't who he wanted. Why hadn't Sephiroth come over to him like the others had?

"I talked to Seph about this," Zack said, "and I convinced him to follow convention. You're Soldier now and he doesn't come to his Soldiers; they go to him. So he's not coming over here. It has to be the other way around. But I think you at least warrant an escort."

Cloud smiled. Good enough. But they didn't move, they just stood there. Gavin returned to Sephiroth with Thom under an arm, and still they didn't move. Cloud looked at Zack, questioning. Zack had that mischievous look on his face.

"See that little impatient toe tap he gave? I am so going to catch it for holding you over here."

Zack strolled them around a bit, deliberately staying away from the General, and Cloud laughed a little. He was teasing his commander. Well, the guy always did have more guts than sense. Finally they wandered over to Sephiroth and Zack handed Cloud off, judiciously ducking a swipe from his annoyed commander. But all Sephiroth's ill temper fell away as he pulled Cloud close and surprised him with a kiss. He kissed him for a really long time, and Cloud reddened, imagining every eye on them since the General was always at the periphery of every Soldier's attention. The kiss continued, and Cloud decided the only thing to do was to settle in and enjoy it, wrapping his arms around Sephiroth's neck. Finally Sephiroth broke it off, leaving them both breathless.

"Welcome to Soldier, Cloud." Sephiroth said, and both smiled at each other as if they were the only two people in the world.