Disclaimer: I do not own FFVII or anything in it.
A/N: This is the Happy Ending. I decided to write and post this after I had declared the ending of the story. I know, annoying.
I know not everybody likes tragic endings, but I figured 'what can I do? I already wrote the ending!' Well hell. This is fan fiction, I get to do what I want. I can do anything. I can post two endings if I like.
If you already read the last chapter, skip forward to where Sephiroth starts making fire (something had to change there), then skip forward again to where Zack comes up on the fire scene, then one more jump to where Sephiroth decides to sacrifice himself for Cloud. I have bolded the first word in each jump paragraph to help
Cloud picked up the receiver before the second ring, despite the fact that he was all the way across the room, on the couch, covered in pillows and a laptop, and he didn't hurry. It was one of the odd aspects of having increased speed, daily things that took normal people say, three rings of the telephone, took him one without any extra effort on his part.
"This is Cloud," he said.
"This is professor Hojo. I need to speak to Sephiroth."
Cloud wrinkled his nose, partly because he had absorbed Sephiroth's distaste for the scientist and partly in annoyance, because he knew Hojo had the clearance to check the General's schedule and could have known Sephiroth was out on mission until maybe 3 am. Cloud looked at the caller ID just to be safe; it read 032, which was the lab alright.
"He's not here, won't be back tonight," Cloud said, "You need to try his PHS. But he's on stealth mission and probably won't answer."
"Well, that won't do. I have a refill on one of his medications; he's out and needs to take this tomorrow morning. I won't be in tomorrow and he won't let anyone else in the lab handle his formulations. You know how he is. I would send it up, but again, same problem."
Cloud sighed. Sephiroth had been on some new meds to help smooth out the whole wing transition thing and was pretty uptight, paranoid even, about his drugs. If having to take some drug from Hojo was bad, taking it improperly was worse.
"I imagine he would be alright with you coming down and picking it up?" Hojo suggested.
"Yeah, um, I'll be down in five minutes."
"Good. I'll be in my office; it's off to the right in the back."
Cloud hung up, wondering why this was bothering him. He was in the same building for Shiva's sake; he didn't even have to go outside. And if Sephiroth was out of something (although Cloud hadn't heard about it) he would want the refill so he could take the drug on schedule. Probably the idea of Hojo just bugged him. He went to the door to put on his boots.
Sephiroth knew immediately that Cloud wasn't home when he opened his door. The smell wasn't right. There were a lot of smells associated with Cloud, Cloud sweaty, Cloud wet from the shower, day old Cloud. The one that was missing was fresh Cloud, current Cloud, Cloud was at home Cloud. He passed by the counter where they normally left notes for one another; there was none. Cloud's boots, wallet, and keycard were gone, but not his gear. Nor his jacket. But it was an unseasonably warm night as a bit of summer intruded into the fall before real winter came. Cloud had probably just gone out with some of the guys. The young Second Class didn't have duty until noon the next day so there was no reason for him not to be out late. Except that he normally left a note. Sephiroth frowned, but decided it had probably just gotten later than Cloud had expected. Soldiers were a raucous bunch and many of the bars downtown were open until 4am. Sephiroth showered, went to bed, fully expecting to hear Cloud at the door at any moment.
At 6:30 am Sephiroth woke, conspicuously alone in his bed, and this time he knew there was something wrong. Surely Cloud would have called. He speed dialed Cloud's PHS, and after six rings it went to voicemail. He speed dialed Zack.
"What?" Zack snapped, having no phone manners at that hour of the morning.
The single syllable was so laced with tension that adrenaline spiked Zack all the way awake. "Seph? What's wrong?"
"Tell me you know where Cloud is."
"No, sorry, I don't. Last I saw him was at lunch yesterday."
"He wasn't here when I came in this morning at three and he's still not here. He's not answering his PHS. You don't have any ideas?"
"No, I don't." Only once had a Soldier actually disappeared since Zack had joined, but he knew it used to happen with some frequency. They had a procedure for it, but the few Lost Soldier Alerts he'd participated in resulted in a chagrined, accidentally AWOL, drunken Soldier who incurred ridicule and wrath for a month. "Is he supposed to be on duty?"
"No. Not until noon."
"Well... shit Seph, he might be boozed up somewhere, sleeping it off. It happens. Maybe even to Cloud."
Sephiroth nodded, finding it odd to hope that was the case. "If he doesn't show up for duty at noon I'm initiating the LSA. I want him found before that." Sephiroth paused. "Something doesn't feel right. I'll call the commanders and make them take roll call so we'll see if anyone else is unaccounted for and out of PHS contact."
"And I'll call the Soldiers who I know he hangs with. Somebody must have seen him."
Two hours later they were both in Sephiroth's office, comparing notes. Every Soldier in residence had been woken up and questioned. Every Soldier but Cloud was accounted for, and the last guys to see Cloud were early yesterday evening. They thought he was going home. Sephiroth was getting ready to punch the LSA code that sent every Soldier into high alert. They would stop everything they were doing and form teams to search in widening circles from the point of disappearance, harassing every barkeep, shop owner, private citizen until they came up with their man. They didn't search within ShinRa- that was part of the point. Instead they made themselves such a nuisance and PR nightmare that if anyone within ShinRa were holding him they'd be pressured to give him up. Even …
Sephiroth looked up from his desk to the impossible figure in his doorway. His mind finished the last thought: Turks.
Sephiroth stood up and came around to the front of his desk, Zack holding a ready position at his side. They had forgotten this possible avenue for trouble.
"Reno!" Sephiroth growled, and noticed that even though the Turk looked relaxed he had positioned himself for quick getaway.
"Don't be snarling at me," Reno said, casually examining one fingernail. "I'm not the source of your troubles this time. In fact I owe you, in a weird way to be sure, but I always repay my debts. Here," he held out a small slip of paper, "You want this."
With that Reno abruptly disappeared. Sephiroth looked down at the paper; it had a series of letters and numbers on it in two lines.
"What is it?" Zack said.
"It's a network address for one of the security cameras," Sephiroth said "and maybe the security code for the stored data."
He went over to his computer and typed in the information, and then in the box for code he typed in the password. It was a camera in one of the shipping docks. At the menu for the saved files he clicked on the one for the previous evening and let it run through on in high speed. At about 8 pm something caught his eye and he slowed it.
"Hey, that's Cloud!" Zack said. "Where is he going with Hojo? Why is going with Hojo?"
Sephiroth took in Cloud's slow, clod like movements. "He's drugged. It's called dominithol, it leaves the subject partly awake and susceptible to voice command. Hojo used to give it me before I developed a resistance to it."
They watched in rapt horror as Cloud stepped slowly up the ramp and disappeared into the ship. The hatch closed and they could see the number.
"Seventy-two," they said simultaneously, and raced out towards the dockyards.
"I'll check for the ship," Zack said, and took a rapid run around the yard looking for number seventy-two. Sephiroth went right to the control booth.
"I want to see the logs for last night."
"Sir, I can't let you see that." A nervous, balding attendant stared at him, adjusting his glasses as though he hoped he were seeing things. Sephiroth hoisted the man one handed by the lapels of his work jacket.
"I want to see the logs for last night," he repeated, with no strain or change of any kind in his voice.
The worker's eyes widened like a terrified animal and his feet flailed in the air under him.
"OK!" he squeaked, no doubt remembering the hundreds of rumors that circulated about General Sephiroth, especially the ones about how he might be crazy.
Sephiroth put the man down and found the written ledger thrust into his hands. Computer data might have required a another special Turk code, but as long as shipping insisted on keeping duplicates on paper he would never need one.
The worker tried to make a run for it, to slip silently past the General while he was distracted, but as he passed both feet were kicked out from under him and he found himself laying him flat on the floor with one heavy soled boot parked on his back.
"Stay," the General said as he continued to flip through the ledger. Then he stopped and the boot was suddenly removed.
The man did so, all thoughts of escaping now vanquished.
"Why is there no name or description for departure of ship 72 at 8:00 PM last night?"
"I don't know, I wasn't on duty last night," the man said, but one look at Sephiroth let him know that answer was inadequate. "Sometimes that happens! Execs don't have to sign the log."
Sephiroth's face hardened. He was an exec and he always signed the log. Fucking Hojo. "I need," he worked to unclench his teeth, "to know where that ship went. How do I do that?"
The worker in front of him blinked rapidly, letting Sephiroth know he was getting dangerously close to freezing the man if he didn't back off.
"Th...the pilot, they always keep good logs."
"Ship's not back." Zack had returned at a dead run, barely breathing hard.
The worker's attention turned to the other Soldier who appeared in the office, looking quite as crazy as his General. It was the eyes, the man decided, those freaky Soldier eyes. Normal sane people didn't have eyes like that.
"You could call the pilot, Zimmer" he said, "Call him on his radio, or even PHS, here, I have the numbers here." The worker dug frantically in a file, desperate to find some piece of information to get these two away from him. No sooner had he pulled the contact information then it disappeared, literally vanished from his hands. He looked around, confused, and saw the General had the list and was already dialing. He stood with mouth open. He never even saw the man move.
Sephiroth got nothing on the radio call for Ship 72, and dialed the pilot's personal PHS. He answered on the second ring.
"This is General Sephiroth, I need to know your destination after takeoff from Midgar central at approximately 8:00 PM last night."
"Sure thing General," the pilot said. One thing Sephiroth liked about pilots, they didn't give a damn about ShinRa regulations. If they liked you they talked, and they mostly liked Sephiroth and Soldiers in general. "We touched down in Corel for fuel then landed in Nibelheim."
"Nibelheim?" Sephiroth said. "Your passengers?"
"Hojo, looking like his usual scrawny Hojo self, and some young guy in sweats, lab coat, and blond hair. Kind of muscular looking but sick or drunk or something, he never picked his head up. I thought he maybe was a tech or something."
"He was one of my Soldiers."
"Oh, shit General, if I had known I'd have called you."
"It's not your fault Zimmer. Tell me everything you can about them."
Zimmer said everything he knew, which wasn't much. They had one equipment case with them and one small overnight bag. Hojo carried both. They didn't get off the ship at Corel, and both disembarked at Nibelheim and walked towards to town. The young man never looked up or said anything.
Sephiroth thanked the man and returned his heated gaze back to the shipping office attendant. "I need a ship to Nibelheim. Now."
Eight hours later Sephiroth and Zack stepped off an airship into the evening air outside of Nibelheim. They had nothing with them other than what they were wearing that morning. They needed nothing more, they had dressed for work and so were already outfitted with every essential item – fighting clothes, tools, gear, and weapons. Zack had initially been confused over why Hojo would be bringing Cloud home, but Sephiroth had explained that Hojo had taken recent interest in the reactor at Nibelheim, plus there may have been another ShinRa facility there in the form of a residential mansion in town that Sephiroth may or may not have been kept at as a young child. This did little to clear Zack's confusion but he decided just to go with it. He never understood anything thing Hojo did anyhow and it didn't seem Sephiroth understood either.
They made a quick run to the aforementioned mansion, where they found a new lock on the door that had replaced the one Sephiroth had destroyed months earlier. He busted the new one the same way.
"Fuck it's cold here," Zack said. Sephiroth agreed; the weather was certainly different here than Midgar. Winter was on its way in the mountain. Once inside the mansion Zack looked to Sephiroth for direction.
"Somebody's been here within the last day," Sephiroth said, "The dust has been disturbed. You take the east wing. Be careful."
Zack nodded. He hadn't needed to be told to be careful. Hojo may have been an old spindly fart but he was sneaky, and he had that nasty shit that knocked Soldiers out, plus the new drug he had just learned about that allowed him to control a Soldier. And the weird thing about Hojo, maybe because he had been inflicting pain on Soldiers as a daily routine for so long, the scientist never triggered anyone's precog against danger.
Sephiroth took the west wing and almost immediately found something new. In what should have been a bedroom or maybe a study one wall was completely slid away, revealing an inky black opening behind it, the sight and the smell of which sent gooseflesh up Sephiroth's back. The opening and the terrified feeling it brought were both familiar, just as the house was. He had been here too. He calmed his mind against this unasked for irrational fear and detected Cloud's sent among what smelled like chemicals and decay. The smell was faint. They were fourteen hours behind Hojo, so Cloud maybe wasn't here anymore, but he had been within the last day so Sephiroth followed the trail. A narrow twisted stair led into a basement area, and at its bottom he located a light switch using nothing more than the moonlight trickling down from the room above. He flicked it and lights blazed overhead, causing his pupils, almost round in the dark, to slam back down to their normal vertical slots. A side room caught his attention, and in it a large box, a coffin sized box. It too was familiar and pestered him from the edge of his memory. Facing his fears he stepped in and gently lifted the lid. It contained a corpse, or a rather a man as there was no decay and it smelled only of aged dust. He was dark haired and Sephiroth experienced immediate relief that it wasn't Cloud. Then the man opened his eyes, unseeing, unmoving, and as red as blood, but by the blank look in them Sephiroth decided the man was some kind of dead. He and shut the lid. As long as it stayed there and didn't bother him he wouldn't need to bother with it.
He moved further into the lab, past dusty lab benches, then to one that had been recently cleaned. On it was a notebook with Hojo's scrawl on the outside; Hojo must have planned on coming back because he never left a notebook behind.
Sephiroth picked it up and flipped through, reading quickly. A short intro on himself informed him that he had been given at a young age cells from some 'creature', the thing called Jenova, a name he had heard before. That was disturbing. That he wasn't responding as hoped to these cells left him relieved. That other subjects responded more poorly than he somehow made him happy, maybe just because it meant Hojo was thwarted in his efforts. The rest got worse. His unusual mako which originally came from a spring outside of Nibelheim somehow made him a superior receptacle for the creature's cells, but a newer fresher subject was needed with the same mako. A fresher subject had been found in the form of Cloud.
Alarm raced through his body as he scanned the rest, and down a table of time and injections and "subject response." Sephiroth dropped the notebook when he saw the last entry that logged the subject as "unresponsive". He scanned the room and immediately headed towards a door emitting a faint green light. There his breathing stopped, his mind paralyzed in a synaptic electrical storm. He had found Cloud, not in a healing tube but a rectangular tank filled with a diffuse mako solution. It wasn't bubbling, it wasn't sealed, and it wasn't hooked up to anything. Cloud was drowning.
With two giant steps he crossed the room and sunk both arms in to pull Cloud up by the shoulders. He knew as soon as he touched him. Cloud was cold, he wasn't breathing, his heart was still. Cloud, his beautiful Cloud, was dead. Cloud's head fell back, spilling solution out of his lifeless mouth, and the eyes, dimmed to a pale death blue, peeked unseeing through cracked open lids. Sephiroth crumpled over the dead form, pressing his face to the body as a keening wail unlike he'd ever heard from any creature escaped him and filled room. He squeezed as fluid dripped and his hair fell heedlessly into the tank. Then he forced himself to stand, mechanically, and let Cloud's body slip back into the liquid. His vision had taken on a greenish cast as his brain limped the limp of the fatally wounded. Cloud wasn't supposed to die this way. He had steeled himself against Cloud injured, even Cloud dying in an honest fight, but not like this. Cloud had died because of the special mako in his body, Sephiroth's mako. With every coupling, every act of love and precious connection, he had moved Cloud closer to this fate surely if he had been poisoning him. But Hojo had done this. Hojo had killed his last Soldier and finally he would pay.
With frightening speed Sephiroth was out of the building and on the street, trying to force his poorly responding mind to focus. His feet brought him to the main street, right in front of a large ugly building. Cloud's school. A new fire burst to life inside him, a burning rage for the place that had hurt Cloud. That fire flowed down his arm and expanded into sphere in his right hand where burned ever brighter, and when he could no longer contain the white heat he hurled it at the building. It exploded into a satisfying wreath of flame, so bright his head involuntarily turned away from it and his eyes fell upon the town hall across the street. The centerpiece of this town, this town that had Cloud for fourteen years and brought him nothing but pain. Sephiroth had only gotten two years, less than two even. He launched another fireball at the town hall and was exhilarated to see it similarly engulfed. Several angry townspeople emerged from whatever cracks they were skulking in and ran directly at him, meaning to stop him no doubt. They were yelling something he couldn't understand and didn't care to.
He smiled. So now they come. To protect their damn building they come, but for a boy beaten in their streets they do nothing. He swatted three of them aside like the mere nuisances they were. The fourth he held aloft momentarily by the throat just so he could see the panic there, before releasing him to scamper away, coughing and sputtering. The rest of the rats cowered away from him, and he tried to remember what he was doing. Right, Hojo hunting. The reactor, Hojo had this Jenova creature at the reactor.
Zack Fair had heard the sound, the horrible, wailing scream, and had known instinctively that it was Sephiroth. He wasn't sure how he knew, he had never heard the General make a noise anything like that before, but somehow he knew. He also had the distinct impression that it was down, basement level, and he ran back to center part of the mansion, located a door to a basement, but found no Sephiroth there. There was nothing in this basement but junk, dusty storage boxes, and a few rats. He thought Sephiroth had not even been there, for he caught no scent of him. Either he was wrong about the 'down' part or the place had more than one basement.
"Sephiroth!" Zack bellowed. It shouldn't matter where in the house they each were, anyone should hear that. But there was no response. Zack ran back up the stairs, still yelling for his commander, and methodically started checking each room in turn. At one point he thought he heard steps, but they were gone when he came into the hallway. Finally he came to the room with the open wall section and spiral stair. He ran heedlessly down the towards light below, another basement, just as he had suspected. Seph had to be here. He trotted past a lab type notebook on the floor, giving it only the barest glance, and entered the far room. A moment passed while he stared at Cloud in the tank before he leapt forward and sunk one arm in to pull him out. Dead, dead as dead as dead and Sephiroth had been here.
Zack ran out the front door, knowing now he had missed Sephiroth, and was greeted to a town on fire. He ran to where two large buildings were burning and the town fire brigade was just getting organized. Several figures sat on the curb, holding heads or bloody noses, and a man ran up and grabbed his shoulders, rather rashly, Zack thought, given Zack's current state of agitation.
"He's mad! General Sephiroth's gone mad! We tried to stop him…" the man waved his hand at those sitting curbside as if to show what was the result.
"You attacked him?" Zack asked, incredulous. Fucking idiots. Zack looked at the two buildings, nearly engulfed and endangering their neighbors.
"Anybody in there?" he yelled, shaking the man a little to get his attention. The man shook his head negative. Zack accessed a mastered materia and sent several ice spells right where he knew they would to the most good and was suddenly grateful for all the fire extinguishing practice Sephiroth had pressed him into on New Years patrol. He then went over to the three injured men and put a light cure over all of them, even though he had half a mind to let them be.
"Where is the General?" Zack demanded of his original guide who had taken to following him around through this.
"He went towards the reactor! You have to stop him! He's a maniac!"
"Where- how do I get there?" Zack yelled.
The man ceased his wild arm waving enough to point down one road. Zack took off running, wishing he had better directions but finding he didn't need them. It was a straight shot down road to the edge of town and once in the forest he followed where it was clear heavy machinery had traveled recently. The road led to a bridge, a new one. Sephiroth and Cloud had told him all about the lack of bridge and the whole rope cross thing, but somebody, ShinRa most likely, had been at work here in the last few months.
Zack ran across the bridge and to the reactor, finding the big steel door ripped open and half off its hinge. The sight gave him pause but he continued on. That was more door than he could have ripped free. Once inside Zack didn't have to hunt for Sephiroth; he could hear him bellowing in the gray darkness.
"HOJO!" The yell was followed by what sounded like metal-on-metal destruction. Sephiroth was wrecking the place. Cursing and more ruckus followed. Zack found the stair, followed it up and around, to an area hanging over the mako pool. He skidded, slowing, calming himself before approaching within even twenty feet of his enraged commander.
"I don't think he's here, Seph," Zack said quietly. Sephiroth stared at the floor, his left hand clenching and moving on the hilt of his sword. Zack was unsure if he'd heard him. "Look, I'm all for killing the bastard, but I don't think he'd be out here in the middle of the night. More likely in town."
Now Sephiroth looked up, a cold stare that gave Zack a chill as the strange eyes blinked but didn't blink. The long silvery eyelashes remained still but the inner eyelids were heavy at work, sweeping over and over across his eyes. Then Sephiroth dropped to his knees, a crumpling of the body that was no less graceful for its defeat. His head hung so Zack could no longer see his face, the silver hair forming an unbroken waterfall that pooled onto the dusty metal floor. Zack stepped forward, cautiously, and put a hand lightly to Sephiroth's shoulder.
"I'm done Zack. With all of this, with the fighting and the horror and my own abomination." He stood up abruptly, slipping out of Zack's reach. "Finish me."
Zack shook his head in denial and confusion. He understood what Sephiroth meant, just not how he could ask it of him.
"No," Zack said, with less force in his voice than he would have liked. "I won't do this." Not again his voice pleaded inside his head.
Something hostile flashed in Sephiroth's eyes and he brought his weapon slightly forward. "You dispatched of Angeal easily enough."
Zack felt himself light green, partly from the unfair comment and partly as pure physical response to Sephiroth's state.
"Seph," Zack said, pleading now, "Don't do this to me."
A thin wicked smile spread across Sephiroth's face. His ragged breathing ceased and the confident fluidity that had always marked his person re-took possession of his body.
"Come now, Zack," he said, his tone now smooth and calculated. "You'll survive this too. You were ever the strong one. And you'll get play the hero; you like that. I just thrashed several citizens and lit the town on fire. Come for me; it's the right thing to do and you know it. You've always known it."
Zack shook his head against the surprising effectiveness of these almost whispered suggestions. He put his weapon forward and took several steps back. He recognized this mode of Sephiroth's, the one he termed 'the sadist', the one Sephiroth wore for interrogations and torture. It was deadly difficult to jar him out of it before his target was finished. He'd only seen that happen once, and Cloud had done it. At the moment the General's target was own self, and he meant to use Zack to that end.
Zack took a cautious step sideways, thinking if he could only just stay away maybe this would burn out. He knew Sephiroth would not turn his weapon on himself because that never worked for Soldier. Their bodies were so tough they tended to resist all on their own, and your arms would stop the strike half way through your own neck or body or whatever it was you were trying to do, so that you couldn't finish the job before passing out and then healing up again. Like his contemporary, Angeal, Sephiroth hoped to engage Zack strongly enough to force Zack to throw lethal blows.
Sephiroth started the attack and Zack parried and moved, parried and moved. Then came a flurry so vigorous that it sent Zack up and over some of the piping, swinging and retreating until he was out of sight.
"Come on, Zack." that odd, compelling voice floated across the space as Zack caught his breath, hiding behind a large vertical column. "You know defense isn't your strong suit."
Then the column was hacked in two in front of him and Zack was on the run again. Sephiroth was right; Zack was a better attacker and might stand a chance if he did so. But there was no way, no fucking way he was going to give into that.
Or so he thought.
Zack's Soldier instincts for self preservation proved the stronger, and when the opening presented itself he attacked. Soldier instincts prevailed over Sephiroth as well, and although this was the attack he was waiting for he defended despite himself. The timing conspired to have Zack back off in horror at his own actions at the moment Sephiroth threw a combo back kick followed by a diagonal strike. Zack flew and hit one of the cinderblock walls, cracking his head so strongly that even with Zack's hard skull consciousness abandoned him. Sephiroth stepped over to his opponent, moving slow, face cold. He looked at the blood trickling onto the floor under Zack's head and from a slice on his torso. Part of his mind logically logged the injuries as non-fatal to Soldier. Already the blood had stopped flowing, but the crack to the head would keep him out for awhile because head healing was slow, something to do with keeping the brain from swelling. Some other part of his mind wondered at his own detachment. Normally he was frantic when Zack was hurt. He knew he should be so now, even if Zack had survived worse. But he couldn't care, about anything, in fact he felt as if he was floating above the whole scene, his body and this bleeding Soldier below both belonging to someone else.
A piece of Sephiroth's mind reminded him he had something he could do. Hojo had the Jenova sample here, the contributor to the cells Hojo needed for his research. He would find that thing and destroy it.
Deep in the Nibelheim mansion, a cold, mako logged body sat straight up out from a tank filled with pale green liquid. The blond warrior coughed fluid from his lungs and his skin steamed as metabolic chemical reactions jacked up his body temperature. Cloud felt suddenly hot, unbearably hot, and he was needed. He had to protect his mother. Mother was in danger. Blurry eyed and confused he raced up narrow stairs and through a large house before coming out into the street. The downtown smelled like it had been on fire, and there was a strange amount of people in the streets for Nibelhiem at this hour. Cloud tried to turn his feet south, towards home, but they got hijacked elsewhere. He ran through the town and out the side road at his top speed, which was considerable. Part of him understood he was heading for the reactor, because his mother was in the reactor, but this didn't even register to him as strange. He just ran. He ran over the new bridge and through the ruined door, and up a three flights of stairs.
Near the top he instinctively quieted, creeping along with every ounce of his stealth skill. He saw the aggressor first, moving around the tank, looking for a way to get at Mother. Cloud balked. The attacker was familiar, but the mist in his brain wouldn't let him know from where. He got the idea the man was a brother, but it didn't change the fact that he had to be stopped.
Another man lay prone nearby, and next to him that which Cloud needed. He crept over and slowly lifted the Buster Sword from the limp fingers. Zack Fair roused slightly, and seeing Cloud would have smiled if his brain had fully reconnected to his facial nerves. Cloud was alive, Sephiroth was going to be all right, and everything was going to be all right. But the joy passed when he saw Cloud's eyes and knew Cloud was not in there. He was some sort of zombie and heading over to Sephiroth with his Buster. Zack tried to call out, to warn Sephiroth, but he was drifting again, thinking if only he had a few more minutes to recover.
Sephiroth had pulled away the coverings from the vertical cylinder healing tube holding the Jenova creature. Now he just had to get it out of there, and then... he wasn't sure. Hack it to bits? Throw it in the reactor pool? He leaned in close, and peered at it, a female looking creature with tentacles and destroyed wings. It was alive, and he might have felt pity for it as one of Hojo's victims on another day. But tonight only destruction filled his heart.
Suddenly the glass of the tube cracked upward in wild patterns, and he looked down for the source. Something pointed had impacted the surface, something large and pointed, and emitting from his midsection. Something that had penetrated through his body to strike the glass. He recognized it finally, but the pleasure that Zack had regained consciousness and done his duty wasn't quite enough to stop his Soldier reflexes from whirling and sinking Masamune into his attacker. Green eyes widened in shock, then confusion as he was unable to understand the why and how of the young man on his blade. But his Cloud's eyes were hollow, devoid of thought and fixed on the thing behind him.
Quite suddenly Sephiroth could hear it too, the pleading and demanding inside his head, and with a start realized he could always hear this voice but it had become such a familiar part of his mental landscape that he had given it no notice. It had been the voice that soothed him as a child, but when he needed to harden himself to survive his life in the lab he had shut out it and all such softness. Not that it mattered now. The Jenova creature had Cloud in its grip and if there was anything left of Cloud to be saved he had to get rid of the thing. But he didn't have much time; unlike the relatively slim Masamune, the enormous Buster was a deadly blade to be stabbed with. He was already dizzy from the blood loss and he could feel his innards alternately sticking together and ripping free with his movement as his body attempted to heal the gaping wound.
Gently he tipped Cloud off of his blade, careful not to cut sideways. Cloud lay still and he turned back to the damaged tube, quickly calculating what he could do. With the last of his strength he swung sideways at the tube, Masamune shattering the glass and cutting the creature's head off. As far as he had experienced if a creature had an identifiable head the intelligence and control resided there. He staggered and picked up the head, dripping with mako solution and a fluid that might be blood. He staggered over to the edge of the platform, ready to throw it in, and thought just to be safe he should accompany it down and not risk it getting hung up somewhere, or it having some motion or flight capability that would save it. He turned back and looked at Cloud, acknowledged that his desire to stay with him was probably selfish, that there was almost no chance that Cloud was left alive in that shell, that his last motions had been that of the animated dead called forth somehow by the Jenova creature. He had seen such a thing once before, in Hojo's lab. He turned back to the pool and let the head fall. He would take the risk; he had made Cloud a promise, after all. He could always find some other way to kill himself if it came to that, death by Turk maybe.
Sephiroth took a step towards Cloud and felt his knees hit the metal floor below him as his vision collapsed. Too much blood, he had lost too much blood. He thought he heard the splash of something hitting the mako pool and smiled as the rest of him hit the floor.
With that splash Cloud opened his eyes, now clearing into their normal blue, and memory started creeping back. He was cold, wet, and still wearing the T-shirt and sweats he had left the apartment in. There was a sharp pain in his chest and some popping-gurgling sounds in his right lung, indicating he had a wound there. He remembered blurry haze of movement, then bright lights and unbearable pain, then nothingness. Then not so much his mind as his body remembered more, his legs told him he had run, he had climbed stairs. His fingers told him he had clutched the handle of Zack's Buster, he had lifted it...
"No," Cloud croaked, moving his head to see the limp form of silver and black lying face down near him. He crawled over and touched Sephiroth's bare neck; it felt hot to his too cold fingertips. His eyes cast down to what he knew he would see; a slice through the battle coat almost a foot long, sticky with blood. He was grateful he had held the blade vertical, if he had held it horizontal he'd have sliced Sephiroth in half. Still the cut went up through several ribs and through other vitals. He hoped Sephiroth's intestines and other organs had realigned themselves before knitting back together. Cloud reached up to his right ear; he still had his earrings.
"Cure3" he whispered, trying not to let the worry as to whether he had the energy for the spell taint his concentration. He felt the cure go out of him and knew he was at his limit, but before he passed out a fresh surge heated and invigorated him enough to stay conscious. But he had no time to puzzle over this new phenomenon, Sephiroth had rolled, and with the panic of a newborn kitten who finds its feet not on the ground he struggled to right himself to a more defensive posture.
"Shhh, it's OK," Cloud said, managing to get on his hands and knees above Sephiroth.
"Cloud..." Sephiroth whispered. "I thought you were dead."
Cloud frowned. He didn't feel very dead.
"Zack," Sephiroth croaked.
"I'm here," Zack came over, staggering a little but quickly regaining his feet. He picked up his Buster sword and looked at the coating of blood covering the last two feet. "Shit, Seph, I swear you're held together with mako and will power."
Sephiroth sat up. The healing was going nicely, and as usual it confused him a little. He knew he had lost too much blood to be sitting up, and he hadn't taken anything into his body to make up for that loss, but somehow more blood was made for him. He knew Hojo thought it came out of the air, that he sucked lifeforce out of the air to make new blood and body cells, but that always sounded absurd to him. He put a hand to Cloud's chest.
Cloud winced, Masamune was a narrow blade but it still meant an inch and half wide hole in his body. Sephiroth checked the materia slot in his armguard.
"Oh no you don't," Zack said, "I'm the liveliest; I'll do it."
He knelt down to heal Cloud's wound, and noticed Sephiroth staring at the side of his face. Zack returned the stare; his face hard.
"Zack, I'm sorry."
Zack sighed. He never was any good holding a grudge. And he supposed he could forgive Sephiroth one nutso episode, after all he had forgiven Angeal for knocking him clean through the plate. Actually that had worked out pretty well for him. But he couldn't let this develop into a pattern.
"I'll forgive you, but only if you to promise me you won't do that again."
"I promise to make sure Cloud is dead next time before I go on a destructive rampage."
"Ugh! How about you promise not to go on a rampage even if I am dead?" Cloud interjected.
Sephiroth looked around sullenly. Cloud poked him.
"I promise, but that doesn't include executing correctly directed revenge."
"Agreed," Zack and Cloud said together.
"Speaking of revenge," Zack said, "Isn't there something we should be doing?"
The three of them managed to stand and walk out of the reactor, Zack occasionally having to right one of his stumbling companions. Sephiroth had wanted to give his coat to Cloud, who was looking a little cold, but Cloud refused it on the basis that with its sewn in armaments it was too damn heavy and he'd rather shiver. Zack's head was feeling pretty good and the slice across his chest had sealed up enough for action, although Sephiroth made him promise that once they were safe he'd take a cure on it to keep it from scarring. Sephiroth was vain about his men that way.
"Are you sure you want to kill Hojo?" Cloud asked as they walked.
"I've always wanted to kill him. My question lately is whether I should. I've been wondering if I really need him as I once thought I did." He smiled at Cloud and squeezed the arm that was around him tighter.
"I think I'll just play this by ear."
When they reached the downtown area it was still full of people. The fires were out, but half the town seemed to be out and excitedly yammering at one another. They quieted and backed away when the bloody trio came into view.
Cloud laughed a little. "This is more excitement than they've had in a hundred years."
Zack spotted the man who had talked to him earlier, the one he began to think of as his guide, and motioned him over.
"There's another ShinRa employee in town, an older man with dark hair and glasses," Zack said. "Do you know where he is?"
"Sure," the man nodded enthusiastically even as he gave Sephiroth a suspicious glance. "Nobody comes in or out of Nibelheim without everybody knowing. He's staying at the Inn. He came out to look at the fire, but then went back in. Not a very gregarious fellow."
"Do me a favor? His name is professor Hojo, fetch him for us? Tell him the General needs to talk to him."
"Sure," the man said. Zack guessed he was the type who liked to be in the thick of things and was happy to be given a job, even he didn't know why he was doing it. But before he left he turned and looked at Sephiroth once more.
"He's not going to, um..."
"No. Everything's fine now. Just get the professor for us."
They stood between the two burned buildings, the acrid smell of burned wood strong in their nostrils and the residual smoke that hung in the air burning eyes slightly. Cloud looked at the destruction.
"Did you do this?" he asked Sephiroth.
Cloud looked again appreciatively at the rubble that had been his school. "Sweet."
The crowd at the far end of the street parted then knotted up again, the whole curious group coming forward behind a dark figure.
"Ah." Hojo stepped forward upon seeing Sephiroth. "This looked like your work. Quite a fit you had here." Then his eyes fell on Cloud and his face opened with child-like excitement.
"Well, well, young man! You're up! Not such a failure after all! How delightful!"
Sephiroth gave no warning for his next move. He was weak, sluggish, dizzy, but his sword still swung with blinding speed. Most of the townspeople heard the 'whoosh' of the blade but were unsure of where it had traveled, at least until Hojo's head toppled slowly off his shoulders. There was a collective gasp from the crowd, and then a louder exclamation as the headless body hit the ground with all the ceremony of a sack of potatoes. Sephiroth stepped forward and looked down at the back of the severed head. His blade had also cut through the ponytail that Hojo normally wore at the nape of the neck, leaving the hair shorter and loose. He bent down and grabbed a handful of the hair, and deliberately not looking at its face he hurled it with a grunt clear of the town where it crashed into the wooded mountainous area beyond.
"Wow," said Zack's guide, who had returned to his side. "He must be really pissed." Zack nodded absently.
"We need a place to stay," Sephiroth said to Cloud, "And I want to keep an eye on your mother to make sure there's not some sort of mob retribution directed at her. We're going to your house."
Cloud hooked Sephiroth's arm before he could walk away. "We should clean this up," he said, motioning to Hojo's body.
Sephiroth looked down in disgust. He really didn't want to deal with that right now.
"I'll take care of it," A man in his mid-sixties came forward from the crowd. He had a proud posture and serious face, his body showing rugged strength despite his years.
"I remember this bastard," he continued. "My daughter was friends with his wife when he lived here."
Sephiroth's face showed clear surprise, the confirmation that Hojo had been working in Nibelheim paling next to the shock of discovering the madman actually had a wife. He wondered what kind of drug was involved with that one.
"When his wife disappeared my Greta was adamant that something had happened to her. She went up to that damn mansion to confront Hojo and I never saw her again. ShinRa Turks came and investigated, they said she'd run off. But I know that wasn't the truth."
The man spit on the corpse. Sephiroth looked around and saw several other crowd members, all older like the grieving father, eyeing the corpse with the same malevolent look. It seemed Hojo had made plenty enemies in his time here.
"I'm sorry," Sephiroth said, and the man and the crowd looked up, their faces warming. Zack smiled a little; one thing about Sephiroth, when he said he was sorry you believed him, because you could tell he didn't say it often. Although this was the third apology tonight; the man was getting plenty of practice.
"For the buildings as well." Sephiroth said, "You have my word you'll be compensated." The group nodded their heads, somehow willing to believe in the honor of the General even if they had no faith in ShinRa.
When Abby Strife first opened her door her shock was so great that her face showed no surprise at all. It took a full second before her mouth and eyes widened as she took in the fact that her son was at the doorstep, looking like a drowned rat that had been dragged down a bloody alley. Not only was Sephiroth with him, but another man whose shirt had been torn down the middle with a big sagging gap that revealed clotted blood all over his chest. She looked up at this third man who flashed her a beautiful smile as if he hadn't a care in the world.
"Can we come in?" Cloud asked gently.
"Yes," Abby said, looking absent and confused. Cloud stepped in first, putting an arm around his mother to pull her out of the way.
"Were you downtown?" Abby asked. "I heard there was a fire. I didn't go see because the smoke would be bad for my lungs. Friede kept calling me, telling me one unreliable thing after the next until I told her she was a nuisance. I think she's mad at me now."
Sephiroth peeled his coat off, peeling because it had glued itself to him with dried blood and was making him rather uncomfortable. Abby's eyes went wide at the sight of so much blood.
"I lit the town on fire, Mrs. Strife," Sephiroth confessed.
"The whole town?"
"No, just the school and the Town Hall."
Cloud, finally understanding why those two buildings had been chosen, started to laugh.
"And what do you find so funny, young man?" Abby asked sharply. "Why are you laughing?"
"Because I never played rugby," Cloud said.
His mother shook her head, confused.
"Never," he repeated, "I never played."
"But all those bruises, that broken arm..." Suddenly she understood. Her son had been making excuses all those years.
"Most of it happened in back of the school, and once in front of the Town Hall. I told Seph about it on our last visit; I guess he decided to work through the pain of my death on those poor buildings."
Abby stood frozen; this was getting more bizarre all the time.
"I'm not dead," Cloud stated the obvious. "But he thought I was."
"I thought you were too," Zack said, pulling Cloud close and kissing him on the head.
Abby's mind whirled as she tried to grab onto something normal, something she could understand.
"Is this Zack?" she asked finally, pointing at the third Soldier who matched a description she had heard many times on the phone. At least his hair matched.
"Zack Fair," Zack moved in front of Abby, hand outstretched. When she took it he covered her small hand in both of his. "I am so excited to meet you." He smiled that disarming smile and started to fill her in on their situation, glossing over to such a degree that coming from him it sounded like a grand and not very dangerous adventure. Cloud, grateful for the charm and distraction of his friend, melted against Sephiroth and wrapped his arms tenderly about his waist. When Zack was through with her she patted Sephiroth on the arm and left the room, slightly dazed and saying she would get some extra towels out so they might shower, and then heat up something to eat.
"You're amazing," Cloud said to Zack.
"Best bullshitter in Gongaga, which is saying something," Zack admitted, but his proud grin fell at the sound of a knock on the door.
"Since when does the angry mob knock?" Cloud asked.
"I got it," Zack said, still asserting himself as the most fit and lively. With a smaller, indoor appropriate blade deployed out he opened the door with his body off to the side. Nothing charged through for him to slice. He peeked cautiously around at the two blue-suited men standing there. Zack put his weapon away and stood in front of the two Turks, Reno, whom he knew, and another bald guy he had seen but didn't know the name of. Behind them his little guide from town moved from side to side, trying to get a better view inside the house. The man apparently didn't care who he played with, as long as he got to play.
"I'll speak to them," Sephiroth said, seeming not at all surprised to find Turks at the door. He bristled at the sight of Reno but resolved to remain businesslike.
"You Turks must have followed immediately after us. How many are here?"
"There are six, two in town, two at the reactor, and us," the bald one said. A radio crackled as the reactor group reported in. "You should have alerted us to your activities."
"Why bother? Sephiroth said, "You seem to know what I'm doing all the time anyway."
The Turks didn't have a good answer to this.
"What'd you do with the head, yo?" Reno asked.
Reno frowned, remembering with annoyance the reactor group said there was some sort of headless monster at the reactor. But nobody cared about monster parts.
"Hojo's head," he said slowly, "We had to wrestle the body away from some townspeople who wanted to burn it on a stake or some other barbaric thing. They wouldn't cooperate as to the location of the head."
"I threw it into the forest approximately due east of the kill."
"Shit," Reno said as his partner radioed the information along. They'd probably never find the thing. His eyes scanned around the living room behind Sephiroth where he spotted Cloud.
"He's all right?" Reno asked softly.
Sephiroth considered Reno. He seemed different to him. He was still insolent and arrogant, but his demeanor towards Cloud and himself lacked ill intent.
"He's fine," Sephiroth said. "And thank-you."
Reno smiled a little and turned away to consult with the other Turk. Sephiroth liked the attitude of this bald Turk. He seemed very disciplined. And quiet.
"You, General," Reno finally said, "Have earned yourself a Turk guard tonight."
"I'm not going anywhere. You can arrest me in the morning."
"No, not to keep you in, to protect you against any angry townspeople."
"We don't need protection."
Reno looked again at the General and his two men behind him. "You guys look pretty beat up. You need sleep. Besides we don't want to risk you breaking some fool miner's neck who decides to mess with you. Rude and will take shifts standing watch."
"You can stay outside," Sephiroth said.
"Oh no they won't, where's your manners?" Abby Strife had returned and gave Sephiroth a mighty swat on the shoulder. He backed up, unprepared for this forceful intrusion from her.
"Come in," she said to the two Turks, "I'll not have people hanging about my doorstep all night."
"Thank-you, ma'am, we'll spend the night down here," the polite Turk said, motioning to the living room. Reno sauntered in after him, smirking at the big General cowed by his future mother in law.
"You three," Abby, still in charge, faced the Soldiers. "Upstairs! Shower that grime off please. There's only one guest bed. Zack please take that one. Sephiroth, you'll have to share Cloud's room."
"That'll be fine," Sephiroth managed after a stunned pause.
Abby went to the kitchen to busy herself now that she had five guests instead of three and Sephiroth pulled Cloud back under his arm.
"That'll be more than fine," he whispered in Cloud's ear.
Six months later, early summer, a small glade in the mountains south of Midgar
"Cloud, will you relax, you're making me nervous." Zack Fair upended a plastic champagne glass and Cloud scowled at him. It was about his tenth one and Cloud wondered how the older Soldier could be nervous after that much alcohol.
"I can't help it," Cloud said. "I feel responsible for everyone here. That they have everything they need, that they have a good time."
"But you're not, I'm supposed to be responsible for all that."
"Yeah, but you're drunk."
"Am not," Zack countered as he refilled his glass. "And anyhow, I did everything already, and a fine job I did I must say. Plus the only person we really have to worry about is your mother, and she has the best tent, a real bed, her own solar shower, and five Soldiers every time she turns around to cater to her every whim. And look at her, she's happy, yapping away with Aerith. The rest of these guys..." Zack waved at the crowd. "Pfft. This is the cushiest field operation they've ever had."
Cloud had to admit he was right. With the exception of a few spouses and serious partners that Sephiroth had personally cleared as trustworthy enough to even view Aerith, all the guests were Soldiers. They could take care of themselves.
"And what are you supposed to be doing?" Zack accosted him, "Relaxing, feeling the planet, filling yourself with good vibes and such. Here-"
Zack bodily pulled Cloud along towards Sephiroth, who appeared to be having no problems with his nerves at all. He was talking with several of his First Classes, including Major Niven who was smiling, actually smiling. It completely transformed the man's face. He looked so young, beautiful, even. As Cloud approached Sephiroth wrapped an arm around him.
"Look- relaxed, happy," Zack said, motioning towards Sephiroth with his glass. "You need to suck some of that off of him. Let it floooow into you." Zack punctuated this with a swooping motion with both arms. The entire group stared at him. Apparently deciding they didn't quite understand, he repeated himself.
"Floooooow," Again with the arm swooping.
"Zack, I think you're drunk," Sephiroth said and appropriated Zack's glass for his himself.
"Hmm. Maybe a little," Zack admitted. "But it's not every day my best friends get married."
Just then the light abruptly changed, the way it does in the mountains when the sun just kisses the ridgeline to the west. Sunset comes on fast and is over quickly in the mountains, and they meant to do the ceremony during that time, that special moment. The whole assembly hushed as one then the next noticed the change, and Nanaki, a rare flamewolf from Cosmo Canyon chosen by Aerith to conduct the ceremony, took his place in the center of the glade.
That had been a piece of work to get Nanaki's blessing, with the intended couple having to make multiple trips out to see him before he would agree. Like Aerith, he originally found something objectionable in Sephiroth's energy, and a hint of it even in Cloud although he noticed whatever it was dissipated in Cloud with each visit. Sephiroth, far from being annoyed at being called 'contaminated', was wildly happy about the decrease of said contamination in Cloud. Whatever Hojo had done to him hadn't stuck.
In the end Nanaki agreed because together they seemed whole, whatever poisonous, dangerous thing was inside the odd General was mitigated and calmed by the presence of Cloud, and in the end it seemed better all around. And they were so obviously in love.
Sephiroth and Cloud stepped in front of Nanaki, Sephiroth squeezing Cloud's hand reassuringly. The flamewolf looked old and wise to them even though they understood he was young for his species. He was heavily tied to the planet and its history, one of the reasons they wanted him to lead the ceremony. Aerith herself wouldn't do it, claiming to be too young, since the one who joined the couple should traditionally be older than either of them. Nanaki addressed the crowd, reminded them of the serious bond a forbinde represented, made a joke that if they were flamewolves they'd have to put up with the same mate for five hundred years. The crowd laughed; they were enthralled by his deep rich voice and calm presence. Most of them had never seen a flamewolf before, and eyes kept flickering to the fiery tailtip that moved slowly to and fro, appearing ever brighter as the sky dimmed.
"Cloud Strife, son of Abby and Edward Strife, have you understood everything said here in this place holy to your heart, about the nature of the commitment you are about to enter?"
"Yes," Cloud said, feeling his face hot, heartbeat rapid.
"Do you enter this Forbinde with the one before you?"
"Yes, I do." Cloud swallowed, choking up a little and hoping with all his might that Sephiroth wouldn't perceive him as uncertain because of it. He was just so nervous, and he couldn't explain why. He knew people got nervous at their wedding, he just didn't expect to fall apart himself.
"Sephiroth, parentage unknown but cared for by many, have you understood everything said here in this place holy to your heart, about the nature of the commitment you are about to enter?"
"Yes, and yes, to the other question. I enter this Forbinde with the one before me."
One irreverent Soldier piped up, "A little eager, are we?" The crowd chuckled and Cloud looked up at Sephiroth, realizing he was nervous too. Cloud's eyes filled with water and threatened to send him to tears.
Nanaki smiled, a toothy and terrifying gesture. It was close enough.
"I pronounce this Forbinde sealed," he said and applause filled the glade as the couple kissed, releasing some of their tension. Well wishers came forward and clapped both on their shoulders and champagne was shoved in front of them. They found themselves separated, reunited, squeezing one another hard, then pulled back into the crowd again. Finally Cloud's two young friends managed to get him to themselves.
"A toast," Anthony said, "to the first of us to bite the dust." Cloud laughed and they all three drank.
"I suppose you'll be next?" Anthony said to Thom who remained silent. His eyes had drifted up to Gavin, who was laughing with the General.
"Thom?" Cloud asked, "Are you..."
Thom nodded slowly before speaking. "Yeah, maybe around Winternight."
Cloud and Anthony stood still for a second, then buried their friend with arms and weighty torsos, hooting and hollering and inflicting some pain to his head with rubbing knuckles.
Somebody turned on music from a small portable player. It sounded thin and small and glorious in the glade, and Soldiers danced and drank and flipped each other around through the air, yelling in unbridled joy. Cloud, feeling a little spent from his day, or rather days, of anxious anticipation, took to watching the display after awhile in a quiet spot where his mother, Aerith, and other non-enhanced partners were sitting. His mother was watching open mouthed as if she were at the circus. He heard somebody fall in the stream in a particularly uncoordinated landing.
"Boda!" they heard across the field, and Aerith laughed. Cloud was relieved she was doing OK; Zack had been a handful all evening.
"Hey." A quiet voice whispered right in Cloud's ear. Its owner, smelling of persimmons and pepper had snuck up behind him. "There's one more thing we're supposed to do tonight."
"You don't say?" Cloud reached his arms up around Sephiroth's neck and kissed him.
"I think we're going to turn in," Cloud said to his mother, "Do you have everything you need?"
"Yes, thank-you dear. I'll see you in the morning," Abby said, eyes still glued to the show.
He kissed her on the cheek and let Sephiroth lead them to their tent, not the small tent, nylon, two man, but the big one the General had during final camp. On the floor was the futon mattress, a box with a small battery lamp on top, snacks, another bottle of champagne, lube, and tissues. Cloud smiled. Zack had arranged all of this- everything, the food, the tents, the latrines, the air drops, and the helicopter transportation. He had worked his tail off the last couple of weeks. He deserved to kick his heels up tonight.
They owed him so much, and not just him, so many people had helped them along the way. That's what Soldier was about, helping one another. Even Turks had done them a good turn, writing such a compelling report of the Niebelheim incident that Sephiroth had been forgiven, provided he paid for reconstruction of the school and the town hall in Nibelheim out of his own pocket. They were big buildings for Nibelheim, but small as far as buildings went. They cost only a few million gil each. At the urging of Aerith he spent an extra 500K for a top architect and fancier construction to make sure the things were beautiful, because as Aerith said beauty begets beauty, ugly begets ugly. Cloud had to agree that it at least couldn't hurt. His mother had said the town was so excited about the new buildings that they were going to name one after Sephiroth. How they had all laughed.
Cloud took off his boots and lay on the mattress, still ruminating. Hojo had been replaced by a new, young scientist and ShinRa discovered that Hojo wasn't the end all be all of a science. The new guy was hard working, pleasant, cheaper than Hojo, and full of new ideas. Cloud suspected Sephiroth liked him, even if he did keep his distance.
"What are you thinking about?" Sephiroth set himself down on the mattress next to Cloud.
"Just... everything. How everything worked out, how many people helped us. How lucky I am."
"Hmm. You and I both. But don't get too comfortable, I'm sure something will come up to put our lives on edge. We are Soldier after all. Wouldn't want you to get bored."
"I'm not bored," Cloud protested.
"Are you sure?" Sephiroth put his lips to Cloud's neck and pulled with his fingers to free Cloud's shirt. That accomplished, he ran his hands back and forth over Cloud's skin, Cloud felt the heat rise in his body, his loins respond.
"I'm sure," he answered, pushing Sephiroth's coat free of his shoulders. It was his newest, softest, leather coat that he wore for special occasions where he still wanted to feel defensively dressed. Or comfortable, at least. Sephiroth spent most of his time in a battle coat so he chose to wear a coat to his Forbinde. Sephiroth got very attached to these coats, in fact Cloud had to make him throw away the Frankenstein stitched coat from the materia bomb in Wutai since there was more stitching than leather in that one.
"Slow," Cloud said, "I want to go slow."
"Me too." Sephiroth had gotten Cloud almost undressed and was starting a line of tiny kisses down Cloud's abdomen. Cloud reached for Sephiroth's waistband and unhooked one button. Then he pressed his hand to the swelling below it. He unbuttoned another and did the same, each time feeling the response surge and push against the tight fabric. Sephiroth moaned, his trail of kisses now requiring him to push Cloud's boxers downward, slowly downward as Cloud finally finished his teasing work with Sephiroth's fly. Eventually they were free of all clothing and lay naked, rubbing the entire length of their heated skin against one another, pressing leaking erections together. Cloud reached down to both their organs and squeezed them together tight.
"Oh, Cloud," Sephiroth said breathing hard.
"No more slow," Cloud said, "I want you inside of me. All the way inside of me."
Sephiroth didn't argue, he found the bottle of lube, discovered Zack had forgot one thing as he had to rip the safety seal off the new bottle with his teeth. He flicked the top open and stopped. Cloud had lifted his knees up and Sephiroth couldn't help but run a hand up and down one beautiful thigh. Then he started with that small trail of kisses again, this time down one inner thigh, slowly, occasionally nipping lightly.
"Seph!" Cloud jerked and pushed his hips upward until he was able to press his hardened shaft into Sephiroth's cheek. Sephiroth pushed back, then took Cloud into his mouth. He finally poured some of the lube into his fingers and slid them into the silken cavity, finding the hardened knot inside to pressure and rub with tiny strokes, just the way Cloud liked it. Cloud was panting now, and Sephiroth could tell he was holding himself back. He lifted away and smiled; he hadn't meant to tease Cloud on their Forbinde night, he meant to give him everything he wanted. But sometimes it was too fun not to tease him a little. He withdrew his fingers and pressed his weeping tip against Cloud's opening. A small push let him in to warm, slick ecstasy.
"Oh, Cloud, Gaia you feel so good,"
"I know," Cloud panted, probably meaning 'yes it feels good' not 'yes I know I feel good to you'. Either way Sephiroth couldn't be happier with him, with their sexlife, with his personal life, with his Forbinde choice. He did one final thing that Cloud loved, the tent exploded into a mass of black feathers and he tipped and tilted Cloud so he could slide the wing under them both. Cloud moaned and mewled and sunk fingers deep into the dark, fragrant plumage as Sephiroth thrust and stroked Cloud, the extra support of the wing freeing him of the need to use his hands for support. With an enormous wail of climax that Sephiroth was sure would have Soldiers giving them grief for weeks Cloud came, screaming Sephiroth's name, sending his shot up over his own head and into the black wing. Such a display he made of himself Sephiroth barely noticed his own orgasm emptying out inside of Cloud, holding himself deep as his abdominal muscled twitched the last fluid out.
Both faces relaxed as slowly the world became real again, the night pressed in cool and clean, Soldiers laughed played outside their tent door.
"I love you, Cloud."
"I love you too. I always will." A common phrase drifted into his mind: 'Forbinde means forever'. Cloud smiled.
A/N: I got to do everything I wanted here that the tragic ending didn't allow. I got to kill Hojo. I got to end on a lemon. I got to do the Forbinde.