Author's Notes and Warnings
1) The entire story is from Cloud's slightly out of character point of view and with a short attention span, his thoughts tend to ramble off the subject.
2) This is Alternate Universe. Although some events will be familiar, I've changed the timeline and a few other things around to fit the plot. It shouldn't be too confusing because Cloud's thoughts will pretty much tell everything.
3) Lots of colorful, graphic language will be used.
4) There will be some mild sexual content. Depending on my mood, I might write more explicit content that I'll edit out of the chapters before posting them on this site. But I'll make the full chapters available via email by special request.

Disclaimer – Cloud Strife and other characters and locations from Final Fantasy VII and Advent Children are the property of Square-Enix.

Chapter 1 – Breaking the Habit

Every bone in my body ached from the long hours riding Fenrir to and from Fort Condor. I thanked all the Gods I didn't have to make that trip more than once a month. But the payout for the job made up for all the days I had no deliveries.

It wouldn't be half as bad if I didn't have to deal with that damned Midgar Zolom every single time I needed to go south, resulting in two fights, once on the way to Fort Condor and again on the way back home. It had like a million lives or something. I lost count of how many times I killed it. The stupid thing just didn't want to stay dead.

I groaned in bliss as I crawled under the covers of my small, but comfortable cot. It felt good to sleep on a mattress, instead of the cold, hard ground. Granted, it wasn't one of those grand, queen-sized beds like Aeris had in her bedroom, but at least it didn't feel like I was sleeping on a bag of rocks.

I shut my eyes. No weird howls to wake me up in the middle of the night whenever I had to sleep outside while on the road. Peace and quiet at last.

Thump! Thump! Thump! Thump!

A loud, female moan followed the banging on my wall. My eyes popped open and I waited. Maybe it was over.

"Yes…yes…YES!!! Ahh!!!"

Or not.

"You gotta be shitting me," I groaned. Not again! That was twice already this week and it was only Monday. I forgot about the howling in the night when I was home, and it wasn't coming from some wild animal. I rolled on my stomach and jammed the pillow over my head. Why did she have to bring that asshole here? Why couldn't they go to his place? Why did she have to be with him at all? I might have been more tolerable of any other guy…but not a fucking Turk. And the most annoying of them. Didn't she know all he wanted was a piece of ass…Her ass.

The banging on the wall got louder and it was like a constant stab of a knife right in my gut. I launched myself off my comfortable cot, slid into my pajama bottoms as I stumbled toward the door and flung it open.

What I wanted to do was walk up to Aeris's door and pound on it until it came off the hinges. But then she'd yell at me for being an idiot, which was pretty close to the truth to let this all happen right under my fucking nose.

Where could I go to escape the annoying sounds of sex? In a bottle, that's where.

I headed downstairs to the bar and proceeded to pour myself a hefty helping of alcohol, purposely choosing the best stock on the shelves. Even after drinking half the contents of the glass in one solid gulp, Aeris's cries of pleasure were still affecting me. Not to mention the full-blown erection happening in my pajamas…just imagining me being the one pounding into her. I had plenty of mental images because I nailed her once…back in our AVALANCHE days. That brought back some vivid memories…especially after she found out the guys had been sneaking peaks of our grand performance. Good times…

I plopped my butt on a barstool and emptied the rest of the glass down my throat, then poured myself another. Fuck! I should be the one making her cry out like that. There had been plenty of opportunities to continue where we left off…but I admitted being too chicken to advance the relationship. Something about forever made me alittle sick to my stomach.

Aeris Gainsborough was my friend. I wanted to continue our friendship and didn't want anything like a forever commitment fouling it up. Unfortunately she wasn't very receptive to my idea of 'friends with benefits'. So why was an occasional romp in the sack with her totally out of the question? I couldn't figure out why she wouldn't go along with it.

There were times I just didn't know how to act civilized around her because she drove me crazy and I hid my frustration behind rudeness and pessimism. She was convinced I was deathly allergic to commitment, and that might have been true because I liked my freedom and I liked doing whatever I wanted, on nobody's schedule but my own.

I was pretty sure she thought if she could make me jealous, then I'd change my tune and give her an engagement ring. That's how this all behind my back. Well, not really behind my back because she paraded her dates right in front of me. When that didn't work, she went through the Turks like a cyclone. First it was two guys I didn't know. Then it was Rude. Then Tseng. And then Reno. Except Reno suddenly became a permanent fixture. But I was a little surprised…and disappointed…that Aeris didn't make a play for Elena. I wouldn't have minded watching alittle of that action.

So what the hell was so special about Reno? "Mother fuckin' snake," I hissed through clenched teeth before taking another gulp from my glass. Muscling in on my territory…my girl.

Other than the boyfriend/girlfriend crap I had no use for, I felt so undeserving and inadequate around Aeris. In truth I was seriously insecure, even if I didn't show it. She was beautiful and charming and likeable, whereas I was hard-headed and ignorant and a real prick when I wanted to be. I was always saying the wrong things at the wrong time.

Plus she was a Cetra, the last of the Ancients. I had her so high on a pedestal, I couldn't even reach her.

"Ohhh, Reno!!!"

I gulped down more alcohol until the bottle was two spits shy of being empty. Wow, that didn't take long. Maybe I could go back to bed now and pass out. I stumbled off the barstool, losing my grip on the glass. It hit the floor with a loud shatter. "Oops…"

Hm…the sounds immediately ceased upstairs. Finally! Silence.

I carefully tried to avoid stepping on the broken glass with my bare feet and nearly fell over. Oh, come on. I couldn't be that drunk. It was only one bottle. Get your skinny, pansy ass moving, Strife.

Just as I staggered around the bar, a vision in pale pink silk floated down the stairs and approached me. It was Aeris. Damn, she looked all innocent and virginal. But that was far from the truth. How many guys had she been with anyway? Probably more than the number of girls I had gone all the way with…all three of them. Including Aeris. It might have been more, I just couldn't remember. But lately whenever I was with someone, I got to a certain point and things would just stop cooperating. Anger wasn't a harsh enough word to describe the resulting tone when I told them I was done.

I straightened up as I faced Aeris and tried to appear nonchalant. "Hi."

"Cloud, I didn't think you'd be home so early."

I gestured toward the floor. "I accidentally…broke a glass."

"Are you drunk again?" she accused.

I met her narrowed green eyes, but was instantly drawn by her cleavage when she crossed her arms. I think she did things like that on purpose, pushing her jugs up higher for me to notice…and picture unclothed. "No…" But I sounded unconvincing even to me. In the last two months I think I was more drunk than sober.

She glanced toward the bar and suddenly rushed over to the empty bottle sitting on top. "Oh, Cloud. Do you have any idea how much this stuff costs?"

"Yeah, and it's worth every gil, too."

"Then why'd you drink all of it?"

Here was the problem. I occasionally said the wrong things when I was stone-cold sober. But with a little alcohol in me, it was a sure thing. "I needed something to drown out the noises coming through my fucking wall, alright!" There, I finally said it right to her face.

Her cheeks suddenly turned a shade of crimson. "I…I didn't think you were home."

"Never stopped you before." My bitterness was really starting to show and I hated when I didn't care that I was upsetting her.

"Fine." She folded her arms again. "I'll try and contain myself from now on."

I scowled at her and my mouth was about to get away from me again. "How come you let him do that?"

"Let him do what?"

"Let him have his way with you."

She looked pissed. "Because it makes me feel good."

I stalked toward her and she backed away until I had her against the wall. "I made you feel good once, Aeris. I can do it again."

She pushed against my chest, trying to keep me off her. "Cloud, we've been through this a million times."

I leaned to the side of her neck and inhaled her scent…except it was mingled with someone else's…Reno. "Can't we just try it?"

"No. I told you I want more than just a relationship based on sex."

Well, she was certainly giving Reno enough of it. I'd be happy with three or four times a week, too. Did she really think Reno would give her the commitment she wanted and make her happy? I wanted to voice my thoughts, but I suddenly couldn't get my mouth to function the right way. Besides, the scent of Reno on her was making me sick and I felt like I was about to puke.

This was not me. I never got mad at her. I never solicited her like this. It was degrading to me and to her. I was starving for sex, deprived for longer than I could remember and the lack of it was turning me into someone I didn't even recognize.

Why couldn't things go back to the way they were before we disbanded AVALANCHE? When sex was the furthest thing from my mind. Not like now, thinking about it all the time…but not with just anyone, just her. I was terminally bored. Not even my delivery business kept my mind preoccupied enough to not think about it. But no matter how hard I tried to relieve the torture, the more I couldn't seem to find the fulfillment for myself or the one I was with.

Aeris was a hard habit to break. Yeah, what a laugh. I did her once and it ruined me for anyone else.

As I pushed away from her, the room started spinning and I fell against the wall beside her. My knees gave out and I slid down the wall.

"Come on, let's get you back in bed," she said with a small laugh.

I allowed her to steer me toward the stairs. She couldn't get me up on my feet, so I opted to just crawl. When I finally got to my bed, I welcomed the dark oblivion that awaited me. Away from her and her alluring cries of passion that got me so fucked up I wanted to cry.

It was all her fault.

A loud ringing woke me, but I couldn't open my eyes. They seemed to be glued shut. The ringing continued and I realized it was my phone. I blindly pawed the space above my head until my hand fell on the offending gadget. Normally I checked the display to see who was calling, but I didn't want to open my eyes yet. Flinging my cellphone open, I coughed to clear my scratchy throat before speaking. "Strife."

"Cloud…did I catch you at a bad time?"

"Who's this?" I asked blandly, not recognizing the voice right away.

"Rufus Shinra."

I managed to pop open one eye. "How'd you get my number?" After losing my phone a couple months ago and getting another one, I made sure no one had my number except my close friends. So how did Rufus get it?

"I have my sources," he chuckled.

Reno. It had to be. The bastard probably checked my phone behind my back and got the number off of it. The asshole tried to kill me on more than one occasion awhile back, so I had my reasons for not trusting him…or anybody associated with Shinra?

"You sound a bit under the weather, Cloud. Are you sick?"

Rufus Shinra was at the top of my list of people I didn't trust. But I was curious to know why he was calling me, so I decided to humor him. "Had a date with a bottle of Blue last night."

"Ah, Aeris and Reno. I see."

I sat up and stared at the phone with my mouth open. Did everyone on the planet know how much I hated the relationship between Aeris and Reno? This was getting old real quick. "No, you don't see. Just get to the point, Shinra. I'm a busy man."

"Alright. You're obviously not familiar with patience."

"Not when you and your Turks are involved."

"I have a job for you."

Why wasn't I surprised to hear he wanted my help again? "Sorry, I'm too busy these days."

"Too busy for half a million gils?"

I juggled the phone in my hands, nearly dropping it as I swung my legs over the side of my cot. I was wide awake now. "What kind of job pays that much? You want me to kill somebody?"

"Not quite. Come to Healin and I'll give you the details."

"I'll think about it." I slapped my phone shut before he could convince me otherwise. Hell, who was I kidding? Five hundred thousand gils was a fortune for us…for me and Aeris. Emerald Weapon couldn't keep me from going to Healin. At least to find out what kind of a job paid that kind of money.

This was the second time in under two months I paid Healin a visit. The last time had been to find out three clones that had been trying to kill me were looking for Jenova's head, which eventually resulted in Sephiroth's resurrection. Scared the shit out of me that time because I remembered killing him two times before that. Once in the reactor at Nibelheim when I was just a Shinra guard and the second time in the North Cave when I was with AVALANCHE. But I defeated him for the third time. Just like that Midgar Zolom, Sephiroth didn't like to stay dead. I wouldn't be surprised if a couple years down the road, he'd suddenly show up again somewhere. Maybe cleaning tables at a diner in Kalm.

Why couldn't Zack come back from the dead? I could have used his help in some tight spots. Plus he'd know how to handle Aeris. They had a thing back when I was still at the SOLDIER academy. On more than one occasion…eighteen to be exact…Aeris told me I reminded her of Zack. It was probably the main reason she liked me around. Forget the fact that she called out his name instead of mine that one time we did it.

Thinking of Zack made me recall that there were still so many gaps in my earlier life I couldn't remember. Occasionally I'd get some of it back…sometimes sparked by a person or an object. It sucked living this way, but one thing was certain, whatever suppressed memories remained locked in my head, maybe it was better they stayed like that.

As I pulled up near the Healin complex and dismounted, I noticed a legion of Shinra guards standing in various places around the perimeter. A glance up the hill revealed more guards. Since when did Healin need so much security? Something was definitely going on and my interest was peaked.

I approached the wooden stairway only to be stopped by a guard.

"State your business," he said with firm authority.

"Shinra's expecting me."

He stared into my eyes for a minute before he decided to let me pass.

Then came the long walk up to the side entrance. With Rufus Shinra in a wheelchair, why didn't they just install an elevator? Dumb asses. Eh, I wouldn't have taken it anyway. I hated elevators. I had enough of them while sneaking around Shinra headquarters not too long ago.

At the top, I barged through the door, expecting to be confronted by Rude. Not Reno because the jackass was probably still with Aeris…which was where I should have been.

Instead I found Shinra himself, the self-appointed President of the only power company in the world, standing near the window. Standing? What happened to the wheelchair?

"I'm glad you decided to come, Cloud."

I shifted from one foot to the other, feeling a weird sense of Dejavu. "I thought you were in a wheelchair." That's how I found him the last time I was at Healin a couple months ago.

Shinra turned around to face me. "It was only temporary due to the geostigma. But it was mainly to confuse my enemies into thinking I was…"

I really didn't care so I cut him off before he really started babbling. "So what's this job you mentioned?"

"Did you happen to notice the guards outside the compound?"

"What's going on, Shinra guard convention?"

He ignored my joke like it never happened. "An increase in security has recently become necessary. I've called on all hands to provide surveillance at Healin and at…"

Was he ever going to just get to the point? Rufus Shinra was a man of too many fucking words. He had no clue how to summarize. I folded my arms and made a show of impatience.

He immediately stopped rambling and folded his hands behind his back. "I've received a number of death threats in the last two days."

"No shit?" I wasn't too surprised. Afterall, the guy had been responsible for some major destruction over the last couple years. But I thought he was one of the good guys now…or at least the newspapers said that about him.

Not that I believed what was in the papers anyway. I didn't trust reporters lately. Mainly because they liked to make up stories about me and the other members of AVALANCHE. Somehow or another, we became famous after that incident with the Bahamut summoned by Kadaj a couple months ago. Too many witnesses and too many people with cameras snapping pictures of me beating the crap out of the giant, fireball- breathing monster. The latest headline was a big joke: 'Cloud Strife Hooks Up Six Times' and the story went on to say I got with half a dozen hookers in a Strip Club. They even had a picture of me walking out of the place. Nobody bothered to ask me the real reason I was there…to deliver something. I mean, come on, six hookers? Who the hell had that kind of energy anyway? Not me.

"I'm in need of a bodyguard," Rufus continued.

Breaking out of my wandering thoughts, I looked up at him. "What for? You've got six hundred men working for you."

"That may be so, but this is more on a one-on-one level. I thought of you right away. Day and night surveillance. For as long as it takes the threat to be eliminated."

Was he crazy? The last thing I wanted was to spend every second of my day with him. He'd probably drone on and on and ON about shit I didn't give a rat's ass about. Then I'd have to slice my wrists just to drown him out.

"You're the only one I trust to such a task. I need your exceptional skills of observation."

I scratched the back of my head. Yeah, I was exceptional when it came to observing, but I wasn't going to be lured by his sneaky tactics. I didn't take compliments too well anyway. In fact, he sounded desperate…a little too desperate. Maybe he was thinking I'd be doing him some extra…favors. Hell, it was time to just tell it like it is. "To be honest, Rufus, I can't stand being around you." No need to beat around the bush.

Shinra chuckled. "The feeling is mutual, Cloud."

"Then why the hell're you wasting my time?" I turned around to leave. This guy was obviously not dealing with a full deck. Maybe the geostigma got to his head.

"I'm not asking for you to be my bodyguard. It's for my little sister."

Rewind…I turned back to Rufus. "Sister?"

Rufus went inside his white suit jacket pocket and pulled something out.

As he held it out to me, I walked over and took it. It was a picture of a kid…about twelve or thirteen. Short, stringy, dark brown hair, huge front teeth, enormous brown eyes. Something was familiar about the girl, but the nag at the back of my head wouldn't give me any hints. I looked up and took in Rufus's blonde hair and blue eyes, then looked back down at the girl in the picture. They didn't look anything alike. "I don't see the resemblance."

"I look more like the mother we had in common, whereas she has her father's traits and last name."

I handed the picture back to him. "So you're gonna pay me half a million gil to babysit your kid sister?"

"My fear is that whoever's behind the death threats will find and use her to get to me."

"She's not living with you?"

"No, she's in a private school in Icicle Village. That's where I need you to go."

Icicle Village? I groaned. Couldn't it have been in a warmer place, like Costa del Sol? Even Mideel would have been better. I nearly froze my nuts off the last time I was at Icicle Village. Seriously, they were frozen and I kept waking up at some old guy's cabin. Come to think of it, I was pretty sure I didn't see anything that looked like an academy. "I gotta check my busy delivery schedule, so I'll get back to you."

Rufus chuckled and it was starting to annoy me. "Be honest, Cloud. Business has been rather slow for you for some time now, don't you think?"

I frowned at him. "How would you know anything about my business?"

He smiled that sneaky smile I wanted to punch right off his face. "I have my sources."

Again with the sources. "Take your sources and shove 'em." I turned with the intention of walking out for sure this time. Fuck him, fuck his sister, fuck the whole Shinra army. And fuck the money…even if it was more than I'd ever see in my lifetime. I didn't like being spied on and I needed to do something about it real quick.

The door suddenly opened and Reno strolled in. "Hey, Cloud. How's it hanging, man?"

I stared at the redhead for an undetermined amount of time. He looked cheerful and was grinning like someone who had gotten laid all night long by somebody else's girlfriend. I wanted to amputate his head. Somehow or another I had a feeling I'd be subjected to more of the previous night's activities. No way could I go through another night of that shit. If I couldn't be the one in Aeris's bed, then I didn't want to see any other guy there. I'd just leave for awhile. Maybe she'd miss me so much that she'd dump Reno and come around to seeing things my way.

Turning back to Rufus, I forced my most sincere smile. But I was pretty sure it looked more like I was baring my teeth like an angry wolf. "You got yourself a bodyguard."

I'm still working on "Addiction", so no worries about me abandoning it. It's just that I started writing this one and I'm having way too much fun with Cloud's point of view.

Please review. I'd like to know if this is worth continuing.