Chapter 9

Sephiroth wasn't happy. In fact, it was the first time anyone had ever seen him so openly disgruntled. He snapped at everyone, higher officers and trainees alike. He hadn't seen hide nor hair of Cloud since his meeting with Heidigger and the resourceful little blonde seemed to have stumbled upon how to block his thoughts. When he had asked Zack about Cloud's sudden willingness to see Hojo thinking they had some prank up their sleeves, his friend had only goggled at him.

/Well, its time to deliver the lamb to the slaughter./

It then just occurred to Sephiroth that Cloud /might/ not be said lamb in this situation.

/But then, maybe Cloud just agreed to make it easier for me? He knows I can't deny Hojo without permission. No matter how much I want to press that man between a hot waffle iron./

From his left approached a slender blonde figure, eyes bright with life.

"Good morning, sir."

"Morning soldier. Follow me, we're going to see Hojo in lab 6."

"Yes, sir."

Laughter again.

"We're here."

Sephiroth punched in the code and the doors slid open allowing them entry. Inside were Mako in various forms and stages of process and testing. Animals, fibers, charts, machines, even some corpses and tanks filled the room. At the far end was a non-descript door, and it was there Sephiroth led Cloud to.

Before Sephiroth could question him again, the door slid open and the menacing form of Hojo stepped out.

"Hmph, I finally got you Strife."

Cloud pressed his lips together and refused to reply. It was obvious however, that this wasn't their first meeting. Sephiroth maintained his stoic demeanour and followed behind, feeling the familiar sensation of his skin crawling as the door slid shut behind him. He had been here too many times to count.

/Hell, I spent my childhood here./

Hojo led them to a portion of the lab which Sephiroth realized with a start, was unfamiliar to him. He thought he had explored this whole place in all his years here but it seemed Hojo was trickier than he thought.

"Don't dawdle, Sephiroth. It'd not as if hidden rooms had just been invented."

Sephiroth blinked and found Cloud and Hojo waiting for him to enter a room previously unseen. The moment the door closed, both Cloud and Hojo relaxed.

"Hojo, how have you been?" Sephiroth was stunned. And he wasn't sure he wasn't hallucinating when Hojo smiled warmly in return.

"I've been alright. Better if a little brat hadn't seen fit to lead me on a merry chase."

"Heh, sorry but appearances you know. Can't be too eager or compliant otherwise people will notice."

"Yes, well. It's not my fault that these stupid men haven't gotten over childhood fears of white coats and needles. As if it's my fault. The way some of them act you'd think I was the devil incarnate."

/Hojo isn't a sadistic nasty scientific freak?/

"I don't understand."

Hojo sighed. "I know your childhood was never the best, Sephiroth. I know I treated you terribly and that your time in the lab was a nightmare but you must understand, it could not be avoided."

Sephiroth raised an eyebrow. "Convincing as you are Hojo, I really do not believe a word out of your mouth."

"Just listen to him, Sephiroth. It's very important. Gast wasn't what everyone thought he was."

I have my reasons Seph. And I'm sorry if I misled you guys. I've never hated Hojo. I've known him since I was a child.

"Sephiroth, if I could have given you the freedom to live as any other child I would have. But after what Gast had done to you, I couldn't just leave you."

Sephiroth was confused. "What do you mean? Everyone says Gast is a good person. I doubt he would have done anything harmful."

"You're wrong. Cloud's mother was a civilian who just happened to match Gast's criteria for a test subject while my childhood friend Lucrezia was another. We tried to lie and said we were married but everyone knew she had been seeing a Turk. When she died, he came after me and Gast. Gast forced me to perform operations on him. I never forgave myself for that, but I couldn't allow Gast to kill me. I needed to be there for you."

"So my mother was… your friend and my father a …Turk…?" Sephiroth's head spun. It didn't occur to him to ask if his father was alive. If the story was as bad as it was, he had probably been killed soon after the operations. "And Gast was the one who conducted evil experiments on humans?"

"Yes. Cloud's mother was very receptive to Mako treatment. She was Gast's long term experiment. He tried all manner of things on her. Eventually, he wanted to see what a child borne by a Mako infused person would be like."

Sephiroth swallowed hard and glanced at Cloud. The blonde's face had shuttered and his hair hung low casting shadows upon his features, hiding his face.

"Cloud was not a child of love. His mother did not miraculously fall in love with her torturer. Gast raped her until he was certain she was with child. After he had ascertained the foetus was stable, he began his tests again. When she finally gave birth, he was ecstatic. Cloud had all his mother's features but he also had none of the weaknesses of a human baby. He was perfect. Eyesight, lungs, organs, features… everything. The only significant differences were his high intelligence and blue eyes. If you haven't noticed, his eyes have an inner glow very much like a muted version of Mako glow."

Now, Cloud lifted his head so that the silver haired man could see his eyes.

/How could I have missed it?/

"What about…my mother? And how did Cloud's mother escape to Nibelheim?"

Hojo wearily polished his glasses as he continued to speak.

"Lucrezia as I told you, died at childbirth. With her and her lover out of the way, Gast was delighted to have a baby nobody would miss to use. With you, he wanted to see how a body, would accept and adapt to Mako infusions externally instead of from the womb. It was after his success with you that Cloud was conceived."

Sephiroth stared at a lock of his silver tresses. "Are you telling me I was born with hair this colour?"

"Oh no!" Hojo chuckled softly. "Your hair colour changed after I had to inject serums and medication to help combat the effects of Mako poisoning. Gast was dead by this time and he never told me exactly what he did so I had to guess. Before you had the same raven hair and green eyes as your father. You still have the eyes though."

/I had black hair?/

Sephiroth tried to imagine himself and failed miserably.

"I can't imagine the general with hair any other colour but silver. It's just unnatural."

"Yes Cloud, just as it is unnatural for your hair to stay down."

"I like my hair like this!"

"That's because any other way and you would look like a girl." Cloud's cheeks flared in pink.

"Don't say a word." But Hojo was enjoying himself.

"Why, I remember a time during your seventh birthday when I bought you that lovely kimono. You couldn't wait to put it on. What a delightful little girl you looked like, with your hair long and clipped back. I think I still have the picture somewhere."

Sephiroth peaked in interest. "May I see it?"



Hojo just gave his trademark smirk before continuing. "Cloud's mother escaped with my help a month after childbirth. I convinced her to take Cloud with her, and helped her to break out."

"She didn't want her own child?!"

Cloud flinched and stared at the floor. Sephiroth moved over to place a gentle hand on the small shoulder, offering comfort and apologies.

But it wasn't alright. Sephiroth could feel the hurt of rejection through their link. Sending mental comforts, he turned to Hojo to listen to the rest.

"She was angry and violated. To her, Cloud represented everything that had gone wrong in her life. Six years of torture and abuse. In him, she saw the final culmination of nature's abomination. Something made from hurt and science. Nothing natural. Nothing to love. I told her to go to Nibelheim because the old mansion was there and it was a retreat for me. I would journey there a few time a month to conduct private research.

She was weak. The Mako in her system had begun to poison her, destroying her body. I had no way of helping her outside the lab. By the time she reached Nibelheim, she was almost at death's door. A recently widowed and childless woman took Cloud in. She gave him the name Strife and raised hima s her own. I would go every on in a while to perform checks and monitor is progress. Like you, there were some complications as his body began to change, but we managed to contain it. The only side effect is that he will forever be a slender diminutive individual. He will probably grow another two inches or so, but that is it. He will remain like this until he dies."

Cloud nodded at Sephiroth's disbelieving gaze.

"It's true. It's just like your hair always being the same length, or why you can never get a tan."

There was a dark undertone but Sephiroth could not ask him about it now. From Cloud's body language, whatever it was, he had obviously not confided to Hojo.

"There is one more thing. You both know that Mako is taken from the Planet, correct?"

Twin nods. Now Cloud was interested. This part he hadn't heard before, whatever it was.

"Very well. Now, Mako is not just taken from the Planet, it is part of the essence which sustains life on this Planet. Both of you have huge amounts of Mako running through your system. It has been integrated sp deeply into your physique, I doubt you could live without it. There are only three who are like this. Two of them are you both. The Mako will sustain your body, perpetuate and continuously heal any damage or aging within. Simply put, you are both immortal."

"What?!" Cloud gaped at the scientist who was rubbing his forehead tiredly.

"I don't know how Gast managed it. The secret died with him. But the fact is, the both of you are now looking at a very long existence. Many illnesses and poisons will no longer work. Furthermore, injuries that would kill a normal SOLDIER will not be fatal to you. You are three times harder to kill, twice more possible to kill your opponent first."

A soft chime rang through the room, startling its three occupants.

"Its time for my meeting with the President. You two should go now. Think about what I've said. If there's anything you need to ask, you may find me here. Be sure to come after hours."

Ushering them out, the rode up the elevator in silence, where Hojo parted ways with them. Striding to the office, white coat billowing behind him, two sets of glowing eyes followed his progress, shock and bemusement obvious in their depths.