Cloud was haphazardly tossing his classmate's shit onto the lower compartment of the bus with very little regard to the potentially breakable contents. The bigger stuff he couldn't hurl quite as far, but he tried. He was nearly done when yet another bag dropped onto the ground next to him.

He was surprised to find a familiar face. "Hey Skylar! What are you doing here?"

"I'm coming on the seminar, too!" He grinned. "The sheet was mostly full of people in your Sword Tactics class, so I didn't get a spot. I signed up as an alternate though; I guess some guy got sick or something. So they had room for me."

Cloud was listening, but was currently trying to groin bump a fairly large wooden trunk into the bus compartment. Once it was in, he wiped his raw hands on his fatigues and attempted to make a pleasant facial expression. "That's great! It'll be more fun with you going!"

Skylar watched while Cloud threw more bags onto the bus. "Why are you stuck doing this by yourself?"

"Don't ask," Cloud cut him off, because he needed to fully process this situation before he let his emotions run away with him. Something awful could happen in that event, like breaking down in tears in front of his class and General Hewley. Instead he focused on the joy of having an ally, "Help me load the rest of this stuff, would you?"

Skylar most certainly did not, and was instead satisfied to watch Cloud work.

When Cloud was finished, he reached up to close the compartment door. To his dismay and Skylar's amusement, he had to jump up to reach it. After a couple of tries, he got the thing closed down and secure.

"You are no help at all," Cloud panted, wiping his damp forehead despite the light, wispy afternoon snowfall. He grabbed Skylar's waist and pulled him to the bus, where he stomped up the steps to face Angeal and his assistants.

"You took way too long. You have us at a minute and a half behind schedule," Angeal barked at him.

"I found a straggler, Sir!" Cloud declared with a tug on Skylar's waist.

Angeal's face changed completely, relaxing from a shrewd scowl to a soft, handsome smile. "Hello... Why weren't you in line up?"

Skylar pulled his arm from around Cloud's shoulder to stand at attention. "I was called in as a replacement for another student, Sir."

"That's right, I called him in," one of Angeal's assistants interjected, a Junior SOLDIER with a buzz cut that exposed an oddly shaped head and huge ears. He looked at his clipboard and made a check with his pen. "So your name is... uh... wow - "

"Your sheet might say Sakol Thanwarattanamangkul - but my Shin-Ra draft name is Skylar Than," he quickly supplied, raising his badge to prove it. He was very used to having trouble when people needed to learn his name for any reason.

"Say your real name again?" Angeal asked with a wince, leaning over to see the name written on the clipboard to compare it to what was on Skylar's badge.

"Well, Skylar Than is my real name - "

"Say your real real name," Angeal insisted.

This was music to Cloud's ears, and he relished not having the weirdest name on the bus. Skylar's great-grandparents had immigrated from Wutai, making him one of the few Wutainese members of the Shin-Ra army. He was definitely the only one in their class year, which made Skylar stand out for many reasons - mostly that he was fucking exotic and gorgeous, and also because he had a really crazy, long ass name.

"Skylar Tan, then?" Angeal clarified, mispronouncing even the drastically shortened version of Skylar's name.

"Yes Sir," he nodded respectfully, not even slightly interested in correcting the pronunciation.

"You and Strife take a seat. We're four minutes behind schedule!" Angeal gave Cloud a rough, careless shove down the bus aisle that sent him stumbling all the way to row M, and then gently guided Skylar's bare shoulder to follow.

It seemed that each boy needed his own private seat to stretch out or lie down on, and so every bench was occupied all the way to the back of the fucking bus. The back of the bus was where the most potent motion sickness happened, but Cloud had no other option besides finding someone's lap to sit on. There was a choice of a normal sized bench, and this little half bench loser seat.

Cloud peered up behind his shoulder at Skylar, who towered six inches over him. And he was Wutainese. Weren't they supposed to be short, too? It wasn't fair. "I guess you assume I'm taking the small seat."

"It's the perfect size for you," Skylar agreed.

With an irritable sigh, Cloud chose the tiny bitch seat, giving the bigger boy more room.

"Don't make that face," Skylar chuckled, and dropped down onto Cloud's lap. "Fine, I'll take the smallest seat on the bus."

"Get off of me!" Cloud cried, pounding two fists against Skylar's back.

"That feels good, go higher." Skylar leaned into the abuse as though it was a massage.

"General Hewley!" Cloud screamed childishly.

The man stood up like a demonic vision of darkness at the head of the bus. "I don't wanna hear a word from anybody until we get to the camp site."

The bus became silent. Skylar quickly slithered off Cloud's lap and to his seat, where he stayed low below the seat line. They peered at each other with wide eyes, before both of them began giggling all over again.

Across the aisle and ahead two seats, Taylor peeked back at Cloud. "Pssst."

"What?" Cloud mouthed at him.

Taylor glanced up to make sure Angeal wasn't looking, and crept back to kneel next to Cloud's seat. Well, he was a little bit too huge to creep effectively, but he put in a little bit of effort into the act. "Hey Cloud, I don't mean to be nosy, but... isn't Sephiroth your, uh...?"

Cloud sighed and gave his practiced response for when anyone asked him about his life partner. "Yes. We're very happy and in love."

"So... what'd you do to him?"

"Huh?"

"Angeal said, 'Seph told me to break you'. Obviously you did something, so what'd you do? Why are you in the doghouse?"

Skylar's ears perked at this topic of conversation. "You having trouble with General Sephiroth?"

"No! I didn't do anything! He and Angeal are just... I think they're giving me tough love." Cloud sat up straight and wagged a finger as it dawned on him. "Ohh, that's it! They think I'm going to whine and bitch and complain, so that way Sephiroth can finally convince me that I'm just a prissy queen and not cut out for SOLDIER!"

"It's kind of true," Skylar observed, before he weighed the statement against the forlorn look Cloud gave him. "Just kidding."

"You better be! Taylor thinks that I'm best swordsman in the class!" Cloud wailed. "Tell him, Taylor."

The big hulking boy shrank down a little in shame. "You are pretty good... but I'm not sure if you're the type to actually use the talent. You're way too pretty."

"And Sephiroth isn't pretty?" Cloud challenged.

"Uh..." Taylor blinked as though that thought had never occurred to him before. "I guess he is."

"He's not that pretty," Skylar commented.

"There are pretty SOLDIERs, there are manly SOLDIERs and there are SOLDIERs who are downright fucking ugly. It shouldn't matter what someone looks like as long as they're good at what they do!" Cloud was furious, but paused to smoothly brush the bangs out of his eyes and lift his chin up arrogantly. "You're probably just jealous."

Taylor seemed a bit baffled by this accusation, and was sheepishly backpedaling, "I didn't mean to make you feel bad, Cloud. You're a really good cadet, but it's just hard to picture you..."

"You don't think you can fight alongside a gay man?" Cloud prodded, ready to call Rufus Shin-Ra, Oprah, and Lady Gaga to back him up on this human equality issue. "You think I'm gonna try to fuck you during a mission? You think I'm not going to have your back when shit gets tough? I'll have you know I'm a fucking veteran of the Northern Crater battle and I had everyone's back all the time! I mean... I was unarmed so I was literally behind them - but not in a gay kind of way. In a SOLDIER way."

Skylar butted in, "Over a third of the army is homosexual. Even General Sephiroth is, obviously."

Cloud nodded, "Genesis, too! I think Angeal's bi or something."

Taylor was bright pink. "I... don't think, uh... sexual... orientation... really matters. I mean, I can admit you're a way better cadet than I am. But you're also one of the only people here who's ever been nice to me. You're nice to almost everybody, even when they're assholes who make fun of you. I guess it's hard to imagine you, like... killing people."

"Oh."

"You're also the only person who's ever told me I'm cute," he admitted. "I guess I think of you as like... a gir -"

"Nope," Cloud warned.

"Yeah that was a bit far," he quickly agreed.

"I do think you're cute, though," Cloud smiled.

Taylor only smiled with half of his face out of awkwardness, but it still pushed in a dimple. "Well... I think you'll be a good SOLDIER. Sorry if I offended you."

"You did, but I forgive you. Let's have a make-up kiss," Cloud invited, leaning forward.

That concept exorcised Taylor from the back of the bus, and he clumsily hobbled back up to his seat.

"I think I deserve a Nobel Prize," Cloud sighed demurely at Skylar. "I'm a pretty positive and awesome ambassador for the homosexual community."

"They don't award Nobel prizes for being a huge tease," Skylar observed.

"What the hell's that supposed to mean""

"How many times a day do you threaten to fuck, blow, kiss, or impregnate straight guys?"

"A few..."

"Dozen? That's like your signature go-to response for pretty much any confrontation."

"I have to stand up to these big jock assholes somehow... I've always been made fun of for being the way I am..." Cloud shrugged a shoulder. "I might as well do it first."

"You make a joke of yourself, though."

"I like making people laugh."

"Fair enough," Skylar tucked himself sideways on the seat and rested his head against the window. "... But I'm waiting for the day when someone actually takes you up on one of those offers and totally rape-kisses you."

Cloud settled back into his tiny seat and huffed in bemusement. He chewed his thumbnail and let his mind wander over the subjects of teasing, of jokes, of being bullied... by Sephiroth, his mean lesbian friends, and now his fellow Generals.

That conniving snake of a man. He and his big muscular-thighed friend Angeal thought they were going to 'break' him, did they? They had news coming! It took more than a little military meanness to break Cloud Duffy Strife. He was never more in his element than when he was being bullied. He would handle anything they tried to throw at him!

With... aplomb! If that's what that word meant. Cloud wasn't quite sure.

One thing that he was sure of was that Sephiroth had to pay. Cloud thrust his hand into his bag and felt around for his phone. Without even taking a moment to check for texts, he turned it off and vowed to not turn it back on again for the entire weekend. He wasn't going to call whining to Sephiroth, he wasn't going to text him with updates, and he wasn't going to go to the apartment when he got back from the trip.

He was going to swagger back to his dorm room and wait for the General to come crawling to him. And then Cloud was going to top him, just for the hell of it.

Yeah! Sephiroth was his bitch, and Cloud was going to remind him of that!

Just when he was feeling most dominant and badass, a wave of putrid nausea washed over him like a fog. The bus hit a bump and made his stomach quiver, and he shrank down onto himself before waving one arm in Skylar's direction. "Hey, do you have anything?"

"Like what?" Skylar asked, pulling one of his headphones away from his ear.

"I get carsick," Cloud complained. "I forgot my medicine."

"Want a cookie?"

Cloud blinked, "What kind of cookie?"

Skylar gave him a dry look. "You know what kind of cookie."

Cloud gasped, "You brought those on a seminar?"

Skylar shrugged. "I get really sore. Weed's natural; it's better for you than over the counter pain killers. It's also supposed to help with nausea - my mom smoked it all during her pregnancy with me."

"This explains so much about you." Cloud smiled, snaking a hand up his shirt to rub his nauseated tummy. Somehow touching it from the outside helped, and he swallowed down a little bit of hyper salivation. "Fuck. I think I'm gonna throw up for real."

"Just try one, they're mild. It's not gonna hurt you," Skylar offered, a little transfixed by the sight of Cloud's hand rubbing back and forth across his tight, tan abs.

The kid sitting in front of him peered over the seat line at Skylar. "Can I have one of those?"

"Sure," Skylar said, blinking out of his trance. He pulled out a small paper bag and let the kid take a couple, and then held it out to Cloud.

He shook his head, "I can't. I always get caught doing shit. Leave it to me to get high one time, and then be randomly tested and thrown out of the army."

Skylar was ready. "Rule 14b : Any narcotic or steroid found in a cadet's system will result in a dishonorable discharge from the academy. Marijuana does not fall into either of those categories, I checked with the Dean myself."

"You asked the Dean if you could eat pot cookies?" Cloud asked doubtfully.

"I'm Wutainese. My grandma sent me these cookies in a care package," he said with a chuckle. "But if you get tested for whatever reason, you have to rat out whoever gave it to you, and you get a write up. So if by some miracle you do get caught, nothing's gonna happen to me."

"You mean you get a pass for being Wutainese? That's racist!"

"It's the best kind of racism ever," Skylar pointed out.

"Well I'm from Nibelheim. So if I get caught, I still get written up," Cloud pouted. "Then my mom will find out."

"A SOLDIER who never got written up in the Academy is a total pussy," the kid sitting in front of Skylar interjected with his cheeks full of tainted weed cookie.

"... I'm telling you. I know myself, I know my life. Somehow this will bite me in the ass." Cloud moaned in queasy sickness as the bus took a sharp curve onto the highway out of the city. "Somehow... my mother will find out."

"Then vomit all over yourself," Skylar shrugged.

They hit a large bump at that moment, and Cloud moaned again against the back of his seat. They had at least three hours to drive to the camp site, and he was now steadily hyper-salivating. Any relief was welcome, "Alright... give me a damn cookie."

"It's really not a big deal," Skylar promised, letting Cloud take the bag. "I started smoking with my dad when I was eight."

Cloud thought back to when he first began taking shots of liquor with his mother and stealing her cigarettes, and realized he had been roughly the same age. By the time he was twelve, he was adding vodka to his soda after school without even having to ask for permission.

That was normal in Nibelheim, so pot was normal for Wutai. He still hesitated, though. "What's gonna happen to me? I've never been high before. Will I spend the rest of my life chasing the dragon?"

Skylar gave him a pained look, clearly unwilling to acknowledge such a stupid statement. "... No, nothing like that happens. Since it's your first time you probably won't even get high, you'll just feel mellow and the nausea might fade a little. You'll probably come back down before we get to the camp site."

"I don't think I've ever felt mellow in my whole life," Cloud thought aloud. Even in the warmest of Sephiroth's embraces, the back of his mind was always filled with concerns about Sephiroth's comfort, his lover's feelings and intentions, the future, his to-do list, and willing himself desperately not to fart in his sleep.

Even though Sephiroth deserved a fucking Dutch oven for meddling in his seminar weekend. Telling Angeal to target him was a low-down tactic, designed to punish him for the mere fact of being too busy to be at his beck and call. Why did their quality time always have to be on Sephiroth's schedule? Did Sephiroth really love him at all, or did he just love being adored and sexually worshipped by someone else? If Cloud became a SOLDIER and faced the rigorous lifestyle and schedule, would Sephiroth's interest in him wane? Was that the reason Sephiroth didn't want him to become a SOLDIER -

With a small cry, Cloud quickly shot up to his knees, shoved his window down and vomited up his soul. A few drivers in traffic honked at him, but he couldn't tell if it had actually hit anyone's car - he was too busy retching up droplets of stomach acid.

Cloud felt a few soothing hands on his back. One of Angeal's assistants brought him a bottle of water, and he took it gratefully. He drank small sips as he hung halfway out of the small window and collected himself. Vomiting was so traumatic, and it felt like he did it way more often than any human being deserved.

After rinsing his mouth out with clean water and spitting a few times, he came back inside but was feeling no better. He closed his eyes and tried to relax, until he heard a brown paper bag rattle softly beside his head.

"Do me a favor and please eat one," Skylar begged. "It makes me sick to see other people be sick."

"Anything to shut you up," Cloud groaned, sticking his hand into the bag and selecting a cookie. They were small, and looked like they might have tasted like peanut butter.

In reality they tasted nothing like peanut butter, and instead lacked any discernible flavor that Cloud could think of. The closest thing he could imagine that they tasted likes were vegetables in cookie form. After choking one down with a few gulps of water, he didn't even feel any better.

"What flavor cookie was that?" Cloud grimaced.

"Sugar snap peas," Skylar answered, nibbling on one. "It's a savory cookie. My favorite."

"Wutainese food is so disgusting," Cloud muttered, and curled a little to press his knees into the seat in front of him and face the window.

Slowly, the motion faded slightly into the background. It became almost soothing. He shut his eyes and let the bus rock him to sleep.

A little while later when they'd exited the city and the temperature began to drop into late afternoon lows, Skylar reached over Cloud and shut his window. He then pulled a jacket out of his bag and draped it over him.

After spending a moment appreciating the innocent vision Cloud made while he slept, Skylar decided it wasn't so bad being friend zoned by the cutest boy in school. He leaned down and dared to give a small kiss to the tip of Cloud's nose. He was tempted to go for his parted lips, but the kid did just recently vomit.

It might have been worth it, though.

The thing with Sephiroth would run its course. All relationships did.

Skylar would try to remain satisfied with stolen kisses until then.

-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-

There wasn't a single acceptable item of clothing in the SOLDIER wing that would fit the clone's stupid little kid body.

He snuck into several rooms, the laundry facility, and even the uniform depot - which was unfortunately still being constructed and totally empty. Everything fell off of his tiny frame, even with a belt cut to the smallest possible fit.

As it was, he was creeping around the base in an Eminem concert t-shirt and a pair of red plaid boxer shorts. There was no possible way he was going to face the harsh cold of the Northern Crater in that, though. He'd probably get frostbite on what little balls he had left, and that wasn't a risk he was willing to take.

The base had no idea that there was an intruder in their midst. It was good that nobody had crossed his path, because he was way too hungry to kill anyone at that moment. Witnesses had to be disposed of though, or else his new lease on life was going to come to an abrupt end in the fucking Shin-Ra medical lab.

Sephiroth stopped to crouch down low, closing his eyes as his vision swam a bit. He was absolutely fucking starving. It occurred to him that this stupid little kid body had never eaten before.

He crept into the cafeteria, and first tried to reach his skinny arm up into the vending machine to steal something, but the design of the drop panel prevented theft. He considered just breaking it open, but it wasn't worth the commotion, and he really didn't feel like chips and candy bars were going to do much for the ravenous hunger he felt.

He then snuck into the kitchen, where there was a fully operational buffet lunch line with enticing military ration menu. But all the food needed to be cooked, which meant mess, time, and evidence left behind. Sephiroth then found several packed lunches with names marked on them stored in the refrigerator, and took as many as he could fucking carry.

"Hey!" an older woman called after him. "Where do you think you're going?"

It was a food service worker. Sephiroth slit her throat with one of the kitchen knives and put her in the freezer behind some crates. She only had a few gil on her, but it was enough to get a much needed energy drink.

While he was eating everyone else's lunch in a bathroom stall, a thought occurred to him.

Turks were going to be stationed at this base, too... meaning Turks were probably already there. Meaning fit, young females. Meaning smaller clothes. Meaning underwear that hadn't rubbed up against a stranger's dick.

At the prospect of getting someone's used underwear off of his body, he went quickly ate to his contentment and then rushed to the Turk side of the base.

After a few empty rooms, and the room of a larger male, he managed to find a petite lady's room and raided her suitcases. Her yoga panties were nice and fit well, but her purple Victoria's Secret sweatpants were still way too long. He compensated by stuffing the bottoms into a pair of small boots that he was able to lace up to almost fit. He also took a plain black t-shirt, a blue sweater, and then bundled up into a fashionable brown parka with a fuzzy hood.

He looked really fucking stupid. But at least he wouldn't freeze to death on the journey back to Midgar. With the hood up he looked harmless; he could easily pass for a little girl.

Before he left her room, he also helped himself to her supply of petty cash, which Turks always carried while on the go. He left the room in such a way that the break in wasn't too obvious, but any decent Turk was going to know she'd been robbed pretty much immediately.

He considered staying around to just kill her and be done with it, but was kind of in a hurry.

Sephiroth crept down onto the airship runway, beginning to love the ease of stealth that such a tiny body afforded him. He could see a few smaller choppers being loaded or unloaded, their propellers turning lazily while the crews went about their business. Beyond that, a larger airship was resting on the tarmac, an unhurried crew fueling it.

Sephiroth didn't know where it was going, but figured it was his best chance to get the fuck out of the Northern Crater. Anywhere in the world was better. He had enough cash on him to get some real clothes, rest for a day or two, and find some transportation to Midgar.

But he was a little kid... It wasn't like he could just rent a car, or check into a hotel, or buy a train ticket. If the airship went somewhere too far away, he'd be stuck getting back to Midgar by more primitive means... Walking, hitchhiking, or maybe riding a smelly chocobo. It's not like it would have been hard, but it'd leave a path littered with more dead bodies.

Nobody who saw him could live. It'd be a lot of work.

So if he was going to stow away on the airship, he had to gather intelligence regarding its destination and purpose. Sephiroth leaned on his cheek with a sigh. He was stressed, fatigued, and wanted nothing more than to talk to someone, to get some advice or help. There were dozens of people he wished he could call... he had a fantastic support network that he'd taken for granted for so long.

He felt as though he'd wasted so much time emotionally wounded and moody, a little unappreciative of everything he had... He'd always lived in the past, dwelled on what he'd never had and failed to see what he did have. But now, seeing it now from afar and from a fresh young perspective, Sephiroth realized that he really should have loved his life and lived it with a burning passion. He used to have everything he could possibly desire.

Why hadn't Sephiroth been happier? In this new incarnation, he really didn't know.

The older Sephiroth would never be able to see their life the way the newer version did. He was going to do his original self a favor, put him out of his misery and take it all back, and appreciate it more than the other ever possibly could.

Sephiroth stopped musing and instead pulled out the stolen cell phone. He had a plan.

He thought for a moment before deciding that it wouldn't hurt to call Cloud just to hear his gentle, accented voice... but it went straight to his voicemail.

So instead Sephiroth coughed and worked up some phlegm to imitate an older, deeper voice, and dialed Shin-Ra HQ. After jumping through a few hoops, he managed to talk to the Northern Crater air dispatch, and figured out that the huge airship was going to Mideel.

But after some high pitched persuasion from the General, the airship would stop in Midgar first, at the airport that was closest to the slums. He wouldn't even risk going to the upper plate, and would instead hide within the huddled masses.

Aerith lived down there.

Gross. What a judgmental, feminist cunt. What a liberal, self-righteous twat. What a worthless, anti-Shin-Ra, flower growing hippie...

What a beautiful, bright young enterprising lady! She absolutely hated Sephiroth! Maybe he could convince her to help kill him once and for all! She might be the perfect ally!

If not, he'd just kill her. Then he could hide at her place in peace, and figure out how to kill Sephiroth himself.

-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-

Cloud didn't have a dad to teach him how to play baseball. He had a boyfriend though, which was far better in his opinion.

He didn't like his afternoon baseball class one bit, because there was just too much gay innuendo associated with baseball terminology. Being the only homosexual in class, God help him if he made a great catch, and any day he was trapped on the pitcher's mound was a bad one. Even when it was his turn to be umpire, everyone made fun of his accent when he announced the calls. It was a tough crowd.

Playing with Sephiroth in the park after school was much more fun. There were no humiliating team selections to endure, and no need to try to impress him or apologize if he fucked up. And Sephiroth would never tease him for throwing like a girl... because Sephiroth's natural feline grace caused him to throw way more girly than he did.

In the realm of baseball, Cloud was a better pitcher.

But with all the excitement of Cloud's progression in Sword Training, they were focused on that instead of baseball.

Sephiroth swung the bat with a smile on his face. "Know how everyone has a personal space bubble? When you're usin' any weapon you make a bubble like that for yourself."

"With your sword it's pretty easy to do," Cloud had commented dryly. "You have a fucking seven foot long bubble."

"It's not the length of the weapon that creates the bubble, though. If you point it straight out and you leave 359 degrees completely open, and even doin' that for a second is too much -"

"I know that," Cloud said indignantly. "I should always strive to keep the length of the blade parallel to the ground."

"Parallel isn't the best; go for this angle. And you keep someone at a distance with this sort of motion here." Sephiroth demonstrated by swinging the baseball bat in a wide, low arc.

Cloud took the bat and confidently tried the move out.

Sephiroth sighed. "How many times do I gotta tell you to use your fuckin' left hand?"

"How many times do I have to tell you that I'm not fucking left-handed?"

"You can be if you try. C'mere. Don't hold it like a fuckin' axe." Sephiroth forced the bat into Cloud's left hand, moving the positioning of his fingers for the best grip. "Your forefinger and thumb need to be kept lined up to maneuver the weapon."

Once Cloud held it to Sephiroth's liking he attempted to mimic the move as Sephiroth had shown him, but instead it ended in a limp swing of his arm. "I can't hold it like you do. It doesn't feel right."

"Because that hand is weak right now," Sephiroth said, watching Cloud with an air of worry.

"The only thing I do better with my left hand is jerk off," Cloud dared to suggest, swinging the bat towards Sephiroth and stopping short - only to poke him gently in the stomach.

Sephiroth brought his knee up and bopped the bat right out of Cloud's hand. It clattered to the ground and he shook his head. "Right handed swordsmen are predictable. You can learn to use the left one if you try."

"What if I was trying to make you use your right hand?" Cloud challenged.

"If you were better than me, I'd do it."

Cloud realized it wasn't fair to have his own personal guru to teach him tricks, but when it came to the SOLDIER exam he didn't give a flying fuck. He had to deal with what he had available to him, and that happened to be one of the greatest swordsmen that ever lived. That swordsman was left handed fighter, so Cloud would try to become one as well.

Cloud wasn't asleep, but didn't necessarily want to be awake as the bus neared the campsite. He didn't know why he chose to think back to baseball with Sephiroth in the park. Maybe it was the piney, outside smell of the wilderness reminded him of rolling in the fake upper plate grass. The notion of becoming a better swordsman over the weekend with Angeal's help, a very different General with a totally different style, was extremely exciting. Cloud decided to make the attempt to become an ambidextrous fighter, if only to learn from any teacher he might encounter... but especially from Sephiroth.

When they'd arrived at the campsite and began to file off the bus, Cloud still felt a little queasy and a little light headed, but decided he quite liked the effect of Skylar's cookies.

In fact, he was feeling so loose and relaxed that he didn't bother worrying about his hair, which was ridiculously fluffed up and bent from hanging outside the open window for a length of time, and then sleeping on it.

Skylar laughed when Cloud trotted off of the bus looking like he'd been electrocuted. "You are a mess. Did you bring a comb?"

"Hm." Cloud shook his head with a smile. "What's the point? We're supposed to be roughing it."

"It's rough looking at you. Come here." Skylar pulled Cloud closer, and began running his fingers through the yellow mess. Quickly it was tamed into something more becoming, and Skylar took the liberty of framing it prettily around Cloud's face. "Much better."

Once he was free, Cloud run a defiant hand up the back of his head, fluffing up Skylar's work.

Angeal gave the class twenty minutes to set up camp, issuing tents and sleeping bags for those who did not bring their own. Cloud was extremely familiar with how to set up a standard issue cadet tent, and was the first to have his erected.

He then laughed to himself over the word 'erected'.

Cloud threw his one bag into the tent, and then shook out his issued sleeping bag, praying not to find bugs, crusty white stains, or small dead animals. A few leaves came falling out, but despite that it was clean and smelled like detergent mixed with the dark, mysterious, sexy cologne of whomever slept in it last. Cloud inhaled happily before refolding it for later. Sometimes using standard issued shit was nice.

"Time!" Angeal bellowed with no need for a bullhorn. The man was fucking loud when he wanted to be.

There was a small clearing beside the tent area, and it was there that the seminar went through sword warm up drills, and then a series of very brief sparring matches. Angeal broke the little spars up if he found them boring, often switching out students to pin people of similar skill levels together. He and the assistants watched carefully, chatting quietly about each cadet while taking tons of notes.

Cloud would have done nearly anything to get a peek at them.

But contrary to his nosy nature, the rest of the class wasn't even permitted to stand around and watch the matches. Angeal refused to allow them the time to catch their breath - another Junior SOLDIER relentlessly drove them through a brutally paced, never ending series of push-ups, sit-ups, jumping jacks, lunges, crunches, and squats.

Why was it that old school calisthenic exercise was so much worse than more advanced special training? Cloud threw up a second time that evening, and was then forced to do sit-ups in it.

This went on until the sun began to set, and the dark provided the comfort that this torture would soon end. But to the entire seminar's collective woe, one of the assistants kicked on some heavy duty field lights, effectively illuminating the entire camp.

Getting called over to sword spar was like a break. Cloud was summoned several times, and felt that he'd showcased some good work for the General and his cronies. But as the evening was blacked out by night, Cloud was terribly hungry, sore, tired, and cold. His body managed to work without his brain's permission, spurred on by the knowledge that the end had to be near.

"Alright class," Angeal eventually called. "My preliminary evaluations are complete. I have some news for you. Take a seat."

Many boys dropped onto the ground and simply stayed that way. Cloud himself lying on his back like a starfish, but eventually found the will to slink up into something like a sitting position to hear whatever Angeal was about to say.

"You're all very green, but I do see a lot of promise. You've had the benefit of being in a smaller class than previous years, and the extra attention has been good to you. But I don't want to waste my time on certain individuals that aren't anywhere near capable of surviving the SOLDIER exam. I'd rather spend the time and energy on those who I feel are SOLDIER material. So if I call your name I want you to get up and pack up your things, the bus will take you back to Midgar in twenty minutes."

Cloud's heart dropped. What the fuck was this? Midgar's Next Top Model? Was he about to be eliminated? He'd just done about 500 pushups for nothing?

"If I let you go, you're of course welcome to try again at my next seminar if you still want to pursue the SOLDIER exam. Study hard, get more practice and prove me wrong, alright? So the ones going home are... Bristol, Holbech, Lynch, Rutgers, and Strickland. Thank you for coming; enjoy your weekend."

Cloud planted his hands on the ground, looking around in disbelief. He wondered if he'd gone temporarily stupid and missed his name being called. Angeal had said Strickland, right? Did he really mean Strife?

He then realized that Taylor's last name was Lynch. Cloud watched in utter disbelief as the huge boy hung his head in defeat and slowly picked himself up off the wet, freezing grass. How in almighty hell could Angeal send a huge powerhouse guy like that home, and keep a runt like him around?

"There are now fifteen boys in the seminar. I won't be sending anyone else home. You're all in it until the end. We'll be leaving Sunday afternoon, so for the next two days I'm going to push you past any physical limits you've set on yourselves. By now you're used to the cadet schedule, and many of you might have recently hit a plateau. By breaking away from that, you're all going to grow, and be capable of pushing each other further this winter and spring before the exam next summer.

"This weekend has a core lesson plan of sword tactics, maneuver theory, and we're going to touch on limit breaks. Every SOLDIER I know hit a limit break at least once in the Academy; maybe we'll even see one this weekend. So it's not going to be all about raw energy expenditure. Have you guys had enough exercise for one day? You want some dinner?"

The class all perked up a bit, becoming a bit more animated.

Angeal pointed towards an area nearby where the trees became thicker and more dense. "There's a short, two mile trail that starts over there, loops a bit through the forest and spits you out again right where it started. You'll get dinner and the rest of the night to yourselves once everyone has completed the trail. I'd recommend running in a group to get it over with, but I can understand if some of you have to drag your classmates through it."

"Really?" someone cried out.

"Now you can do it twice," Angeal amended with a smile. "Really."

There was a long silence until one of the boys in the class stood up. His name was William, but to Cloud he looked like his name should have been Striker or Diesel or something badass like that. Anyways, this kid found some supernatural wellspring of energy and took off at a sprint, disappearing into the dark forest.

"That's a SOLDIER," Angeal nodded.

The rest of the class was a little slower to drag themselves up, but eventually everyone was running. It was actually a little bit fun and hazardous, muddy and dark and surely full of wild monsters that could pop out at any moment. The thought of it would have terrified him before, but as a more experienced Cadet it was an awfully fun possibility.

It was cruel to exit the dark, freezing trail, to see picnic tables and tents and Angeal and the assistants working to prepare food. But like good cadets, they went right back into the forest to go through the run a second time.

It took them half an hour to complete the task, and were already beaten by hungrier, faster students who were eager to get some food. Once all fifteen emerged from the forest a second time, they were beckoned to sit at the tables. Cloud expected a simple camp stew like at the Northern Crater, or maybe some cruel form of rations that they'd have to fight to the death over. But he was delighted to discover that Angeal had rewarded the class by bringing little personal pizzas to grill over the open fire. There was even a spread of fresh toppings to sprinkle on them.

Cloud took three little pizzas for himself, and loaded them with veggies and bacon. Soon he was happily filling his empty stomach, the irony not lost that he was eating Sephiroth's favorite food without him. There wasn't much conversation at the tables, so when Cloud was finished he excused himself on wobbly, sore legs to retire to his tent.

He wriggled out of his clothes and into some warm fleece pajama pants and a clean hoodie, and then crawled into his sleeping bag. He fully relaxed and was able to feel the devastating effect of a hard training day; every muscle on his body throbbed and ached. He was almost too sore to sleep, and so reached into his bag to eat a few bonbons. His hand bumped his cell phone, but he left it in the bag.

Cloud stared at the creased walls of the tent and ate his feelings.

It'd been probably the longest day of his entire life. It was difficult to comprehend that he'd woken up that morning, went through an entire school day, vomited and napped on the bus to the site, went through an entire evening of hellish torture, and was now expected to get a good night's sleep for at least a month's worth of physically activity.

After finishing his candy, Cloud turned onto his side and blinked in the dark. He wanted to call Sephiroth.

'Seph told me to break you,' Angeal growled in his short term memory, refreshing Cloud's anger and resolve not to communicate with his beloved for the duration of this seminar.

He sighed through his nose and turned onto his other side. It would be so nice to hear Sephiroth's quiet, rumbly, monotonous voice, though. Cloud was comforted by just listening to him speak at length about something, like politics or color schemes or movie directors while he just closed his eyes and drifted away. Sephiroth was never boring, but rather his voice was a calm, smooth body of water that Cloud's drowsing mind could simply float away on.

Cloud was starting to doze at the thought of it when a rustling shot him back into awareness. His eyes went wide and his fingers crept out of his sleeping bag and curled into a fist.

There was rarely any peace to be found when sleeping outside. It could be a monster. It could be a rabid raccoon. It could be a rapist. It could be all of those things mixed into one which would really suck.

To his horror, there was the slow, deliberate sound of his tent zipper rising. Something big shuffled into the small empty space beside his sleeping bag.

"What's up?" Cloud asked clearly, keeping his trepidation out of his voice.

"It's just me," a gravelly voice answered, and a flashlight was switched on to reveal a horrifying face in the dark.

Cloud gasped and clutched his chest, when he realized it was Angeal Hewley, lighting his face from the bottom to look like a fucking grim Halloween pumpkin. "General Hewley! You fucking terrified me!"

"Oh sorry," Angeal said, lowering the flashlight to set on neutrally on the ground beside them.

An awkward silence fluttered in the air between them, until Cloud repeated himself on a much more conversational level. "Uh, what's up?"

"Okay so, I know we've never really talked before, but I just wanted to say hey..." Angeal said to him, sounding much more conversational than the sadistic villain he'd been all evening. "I'm just stopping at everybody's tent to make sure you're all okay. Do you need anything? Bottle of water? A snack? Are you warm enough?"

After a long evening of being his bitch, the last thing Cloud expected was to kindle a friendship with this dude. He could not figure Angeal out at all, and gave him a small shrug, "Uh... I'm fine."

Angeal gave him a hard glare, but it didn't match what was coming out of his mouth at all. "Okay, good. I'm training you boys hard this weekend, but I don't want you to get sick or anything. Just let me know if there's anything you need - I'll probably yell at you and humiliate you for asking, but really, don't be afraid to ask me for anything at all."

"... Huh?" Cloud squinted his eyes, totally confused by everything Angeal had just said.

"Well, I'm off," Angeal told him kindly, still giving him that stony, severe glare. "Cloud... one more thing. You're completely within your right to say no, and this is completely off the record, but I've got a favor to ask you."

"Yeah?..." Cloud squeezing his eyes closed and expecting the very worst possible thing to come out of Angeal's stubbled mouth. Surely he was about to suggest that Cloud gargle a cup full of his hot SOLDIER piss. This 'nice guy visiting tents' thing had to be a totally sadistic, twisted ploy to further torture the class.

"Could you... tell me a little bit about Skylar?"

Both of Cloud's eyes shot open. "Huh?"

"Is he seeing anyone?"

Cloud felt like he was knocked back several feet by the force of that question, and took in a chestful of air before screeching, "You have a crush on - !"

Angeal muffled the rest of his outcry by covering Cloud's mouth with both gloved hands. "Shh! Be cool!"

Cloud nodded rapidly, eyes smiling up at him and he peeled the hands off his mouth and whispered, "You like Skylar?"

"I dunno. I was just wondering what his situation is."

"Get in here and zip up the tent!" Cloud giggled, scooting back to give Angeal's large frame enough room to make himself comfortable. "He's single! He hooks up sometimes but nothing serious at all. I can tell he would be into something longer term, though. He's just waiting for the right person."

"I don't know about all that," Angeal laughed, and it was odd. His mouth didn't really curve into a smile, although he sounded amused and friendly. "I just wanted to make sure he wasn't involved or anything. You think I might be his type?"

"How could you not be?" Cloud told him shyly. "You're... well... hot. If you don't mind me saying so."

Angeal seemed caught off guard, "Oh... thank you."

"You're welcome!"

"So what's he into? What's he like?" Angeal asked, becoming slightly more animated as the awkward tension dispersed.

"This is gonna sound a little weird, but Skylar is super into bicycles," Cloud said apologetically. "Like super into them."

"Bicycles?"

"Yeah, he's really into old school bicycles. He draws them, he looks at pictures of them, he gets dressed up in like vintage 50's clothes and rides them around town, and he has like ten fucking bikes. He goes to those old people markets and looks for super rare, vintage parts for bicycles and trades them online with people. I mean, he's normal though and cool to talk to."

"... Bicycles?" Angeal repeated. "That's so... that's... that's kind of cool, I guess?"

Cloud shrugged. "He's into any kind vintage stuff. Like his iPod has a lot of like old timey music and... It's really strange. But when he dresses up, it's sort of hot. Wanna see a picture?"

Angeal agreed. "Sure."

"Lemme turn my phone on... I'm trying to ignore Seph," Cloud admitted while he quickly pulled out the device.

"Why?"

"Well... having you ride my ass all weekend is sort of shitty." He ignored his inbox which had a slew of unread texts, and went to his photo album to locate pictures of Skylar.

"Riding asses is my job. It's literally my job description," Angeal stated without a drop of irony. "I would be doing it even without Seph asking me to."

Cloud swallowed nervously. "Understood... but he'd not supposed to involve himself in my school stuff at all."

"He's going to be making tough calls on your behalf whether you like it or not. That's what superiors do... especially if they care."

"... Do you mind if I ask you a question?" Cloud asked nervously.

"That's fair, considering you answered mine."

"Well... you sent some guys home earlier. If I weren't dating Seph, would you still have kept me?"

"I didn't do Sephiroth any favors by keeping you here. He would have probably paid me to send you home."

"... He doesn't believe in me, does he? I knew it. I knew it! He wants to keep me in the infantry, doesn't me?"

"He wants you safe," Angeal corrected. "When I said he told me to break you, he meant that I should be totally sure that you're ready for combat. You're fast as hell, you swing hard, and you surprise your opponents by appearing harmless. Do you want to be a SOLDIER?"

"More than anything!" Cloud affirmed desperately, then lowered his volume to keep the declaration private. "... I want to be a SOLDIER more than anything."

"Who cares if anyone else believes in you, then?"

"I guess I do."

"Fuck what anyone else believes. Believing in yourself is everything. Good lord, you young kids have such low self-esteem these days. I blame porn. Do you watch a lot of porn?"

Cloud's eyes went wide.

Angeal's features remained severe. "You can't tell when I'm joking, can you?"

"Not at all."

"Story of my life."

Cloud smiled guiltily, then scooted closer as he found the pictures on his phone that he was looking for. "Anyways, this is Skylar on his personal time."

Skylar had slicked his bleach blonde hair into an old fashioned part, and was wearing a fetching light blue sweater over a tight white t-shirt that contrasted against the yellow undertones of his skin beautifully. With gray slacks and shiny shoes, he appeared to have stepped out of a time machine - a look Cloud had sometimes tried to pull off but never quite succeeded in the effort. If anything Cloud looked like he came from the future, but Skylar's exotic features were perfect to set off a retro weekend wardrobe. Cloud smiled as he showed Angeal a few more pictures, watching the older man's reactions.

"He's so..." Angeal couldn't seem to find the right word.

Cloud couldn't either. Skylar was an odd person, but he was really fucking easy on the eyes. He offered Angeal a word to complete his sentence: "Hot?"

"I've never given a second thought to bicycles. I think I'd like to have a conversation about them, sometime."

Cloud grinned as he put his phone away. "Skylar will talk your face off about bikes if you let him. Want me to like... set something up?"

"No. I'll talk to him myself, sometime... Thanks for the information." Angeal went up to his knees and made for an exit.

"Am I at least allowed to tell him you asked?" Cloud pleaded, shivering a bit as cold air entered while Angeal exited.

"... Sure. That wouldn't hurt," Angeal decided, zipping Cloud's tent up. He then quickly unzipped it to poke his chiseled, handsome face back in. "Let me know if he's not interested. Don't let me ask him out if he's gonna turn me down. I'm extremely sensitive."

"Aha!" Cloud giggled. "I'm starting to be able to tell when you're joking!"

"I'm not joking. I'm extremely sensitive."

"Uh... okay. I'll let you know one way or the other!" Cloud promised with a nervous laugh.

"Cool." Angeal actually smiled then, curved lips and all, and it was a goddamn handsome thing.

"One more question!" Cloud cried.

"What?"

"Can a right-handed swordsman be just as good as a left-handed one?"

"Seph?" Angeal assumed.

Cloud nodded. "He's trying to make me learn left-handed. I don't think I can."

Angeal narrowed his eyes. "Tell Sephiroth that the only thing a left hand can do better than a right one is jerk off."

And then he was gone, and Cloud was left alone to wallow in the happy, cute news of awkward Angeal and his crush. He wanted to share it with Sephiroth...

Instead Cloud turned his cell phone off without reading his texts. If Sephiroth wanted him to train hard, that was what he was going to do. As a direct result of that, he needed sleep and had no time for conversation.

Once this decision was made, Cloud grabbed his phone and turned it back on.

Sephiroth answered before the second ring, "Hey - "

"Shut up. I can't sleep without saying goodnight to you. So goodnight."

"G'night, baby."

Nothing was quite as irritating as Sephiroth's ability to defuse Cloud's rage. "... I love you, Seph. I'm still furious, though!"

"Will ya call me tomorrow?"

"I will..." He paused before making a soft kissing noise against the phone.

He waited until a soft sound echoed from Sephiroth's end, and then Cloud smiled and closed his phone. Once it was done, he was asleep in moments.

Back in Midgar, Sephiroth turned off the infomercials he'd been watching and rolled over with a smile of his own. It was hard for him to sleep without saying goodnight, too.

-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-

Trumpets didn't belong anywhere in the musical realm as far as Cloud was concerned, because whenever he heard one it was horrible news. Either it was bullshit ska music, or he was on Angeal's weekend seminar and it was time to wake up.

It was the freezing early morning hours, and he was sore from sleeping on the unforgiving ground. When compared to how he could have woken up that morning - in Sephiroth's warm bed and sore from passionate love making - it made Cloud wail in anguish.

He wriggled into a clean pair of undies and a fresh wife beater, and then shoved his boots on. All the while the trumpet continued to rattle his nerves with a brash, quick beckoning call. Cloud angrily exited his tent with the intent of ramming the fucking wake-up trumpeter's instrument down his fucking throat.

The trumpet played until the entire group of boys groggily met Angeal and his assistants in the small clearing beside the campsite. Once the entire group was present, Angeal stepped forward with a broad smile. "We're going for a morning run, same trail was last night. Earn your breakfast by beating us back here."

The class was not very enthused.

"Earn coffee by beating us back here."

The class became a lot more enthused.

And so Angeal and his comrades took off at a slow jog on the trail. The class was forced to run faster, knowing that if Angeal passed them they suffered humiliation and hunger and no caffeine.

Eventually as the sun broke over the horizon and he was settled into the run, Cloud slowed down a bit to run alongside Skylar and panted a greeting. "Morning!"

"Hmf," Skylar replied. He was sporting bloodshot eyes, a cold sweat and a runny nose, and his bleached hair was flopping against his forehead. It was cute that General Hewley was developing a crush on him when he looked his absolute worst.

Cloud galloped happily alongside his train wreck friend, "I know a secret!"

"Hmf?"

"It's about you!" Cloud rasped, leaping a little to avoid a wet cluster of leaves that might have been the remains of a dead animal. "Someone has a crush on you!"

"Who?" Skylar managed to articulate.

"It's someone here on this seminar!" Cloud told him.

"Who? Hng!" Skylar heaved a little and spat at the ground, but didn't slow his legs. Cadets were well accustomed to vomiting on the go.

"I'll give you clues until you figure it out!" Cloud declared, happy for something to take their minds off of their mutual misery. Games like this had gotten each other through a year's worth of mornings in Nurse Rhonda's Run class, and this was no different.

Through clever clues, Cloud revealed that Skylar's secret admirer had dark hair, blue eyes, probably had a big cock, and was capable of growing facial hair. Skylar guessed every single boy in attendance, even those who didn't come close to fitting the description.

He was out of people to guess, so he threw out a wild suggestion. "Oh I dunno, then. Angeal?"

"Ding ding!" Cloud cheered.

Skylar didn't say anything more. After a few minutes of running in a highly anticipatory silence, they were back at the camp site where a few picnic benches were covered in breakfast items and coffee carafes.

The students waited for Angeal to return, and were mildly relieved to find that everyone had beaten him and nobody would be going hungry. Once they had the okay to eat, Cloud stormed the breakfast lineup and grabbed what he wanted. He snatched a styrofoam bowl, a few small cereal boxes and a carton of milk. He also helped himself to a red solo cup full of coffee, and plopped down in the wet, cold grass to enjoy.

Skylar eventually sat down near him, chewing his way through a pyramid of sugary doughnuts.

Cloud felt a little awkward, so extended his foot to tap the toe of Skylar's boot. "Hey. Did you hear me?"

"Hm?" he asked, licking powdered sugar off the side of his mouth.

"Ya know," Cloud said, taking a sip of coffee.

"What?"

Cloud mouthed, "Angeal."

"... Yeah?"

Cloud traced a heart in the air with both index fingers.

Skylar raised an eyebrow. "... What's your goal?"

"With what?"

"Are you making fun of me? It's not cool."

"No!" Cloud cried out, grabbing his plastic cup of coffee and scooting closer. He then lowered his voice to a whisper. "He came into my tent last night to talk to me about you."

"Let's pretend that you're telling the truth. Why would he ask you about me?"

"I don't know him well, but I think he's secretly a big, sensitive teddy bear," Cloud suggested, peering over at Angeal through the corner of his eyes, who was shirtless and stoic as a hawk. The man was eating beef jerky for breakfast and sipping from a flask. "Um... well anyways, he just wanted to know if you were seeing anyone, and if he might be your type."

"... And what did you tell him?" Skylar asked.

"I told him he definitely was!" Cloud grinned.

"... What would lead you to believe that?"

Cloud stared at Skylar for a moment, then made a wild gesture towards the hunky General. "Are you fucking kidding? You wouldn't be into that?"

Skylar took an agitated bite of another doughnut. He seemed to have a lot to say, but swallowed his words along with his sugary confection.

Cloud was in disbelief. "Wh... What? Why not?"

"He's not my type at all. Like, at all."

"Are you insane?" Cloud gawked.

"My type is a slim, smooth, pretty... blonde haired, blue-eyed twink. That's my type," Skylar stared at Cloud. "I think you know that."

"Oh," Cloud blurted, then took a long drink of his coffee to avoid replying to that particular comment. Instead he continued on happily in an effort to talk about Angeal. "Well, Angeal has the blue eyed part! And who knows, he might have been a twink in the past and have a little of that bitchy spirit! And have you ever considered going for an older man? It might be really awesome!"

Skylar aggressively ate for a few moments, before he let loose a low volume tirade. "You know, if I wanted to get with a SOLDIER, I could do it without your help. You don't have to throw me your boyfriend's ugly friend as a consolation."

"C'mon, Skylar! I don't feel the need to throw you anything... you are a really great guy. Furthermore, Angeal is far from ugly! He's like ten times hotter than anyone you've bragged about being with... but this isn't me trying to hook you up with anyone. He expressed an interest, and I'm letting you know. I'll tell him it won't work out, and that'll be the end of it... although I just don't know why you wouldn't even consider talking to the guy - "

"And you don't see how this is kind of insulting?"

"... I never asked you to like me," Cloud said, finally addressing the tension that had been building in their friendship since the first day of school.

"Don't act innocent, like you weren't stringing me along and playing with me all this fucking time. You have done everything in your power to..." Skylar trailed off and shook his head angrily, still not looking up from his plate.

"What did I do that was so wrong? Talk to you? Go to the gym with you? Sit by you in classes?"

"Everything you do is wrong! Your smile, your clothes, your hair, your smell, and especially your stupid accent. You always have to be the center of attention no matter what... you always have to be so..." Skylar looked up, his eyes stormy and his yellow complexion burnt into a smoldering red blush. "You're perfect, and it's not fair."

"... I never knew you felt that way. I mean... I guessed maybe you liked me a little. I thought it kind of went away, and we became good friends."

"... You really didn't know that I'm basically in love with you?"

Cloud was helpless, truly ignorant as to how to handle such a situation. Nobody had ever liked him before in his entire life, especially not with such an intense melancholy. He'd never had to really consider anyone else's feelings about him, and thought back to all the times he'd touched, or hugged, or flirted with Skylar. He supposed in Skylar's eyes, he really was the biggest tease in the world.

A massive guilt settled onto Cloud. "... I dunno what to say."

Skylar figured that he'd said enough to sever their friendship entirely, so he might as well get everything he'd been stewing over for the past year off his chest. "Say you finally see that there's no future with Sephiroth, that he's a fucking megalomaniac, and that he's not even that hot. Say that you know it's gonna end badly anyways, so you want to quit wasting time and give this... thing between us a chance."

"... None of that is true." Cloud swallowed hard, his throat tight and sore. "You don't know him. And I'm not sure if you even know me."

"I do know you. I'm with you most of the time, Cloud. I'm with you every single day... then whenever he's in town you disappear on weekends and act like that's love. That isn't love! That's... sex. That's Sephiroth killing his down time. That's not a real relationship."

Cloud always thought that if this conversation ever arose so bluntly, he'd have all the right words to say to justify what he and Sephiroth had. From an outside perspective it must have looked strange, even a bit sad that Cloud waited, longed, and thirsted for any opportunity to be with Sephiroth. The General was less vocal about it, but their love never felt one-sided... Cloud knew Sephiroth relished their time together, too. Not simply for sex, but because they gave one another something intangible and addicting.

His friendship with Skylar was important to Cloud. He cared about him, and searched for the right way to remedy this situation. "I never intended to string you along, or tease you, or do anything but be your friend. You've got a really twisted opinion about me and Sephiroth, but you can think what you want. What's going on with me and Sephiroth is totally beside the point of you and me, and our friendship. I'm happy with dating Sephiroth, and I'm happy being your friend."

"It's so sad that you think that's the best you deserve."

Cloud gave a little cry of frustration. "I have no idea what that means. What's Sephiroth supposed to do that he's not doing?"

"If I was him... I'd yank you out of this army and take care of you. You don't belong here."

"... What?"

"Admit it, Cloud..." Skylar gave him raised eyebrow. "You only joined so you could meet Sephiroth and get a trophy fuck from him. You got it. And you only want to be in SOLDIER to continue to try and get it. So what's going to happen when he's tired of it? You're going to be stuck in infantry."

A white hot anger blinding away any desire to patch up their friendship, as no friend he wanted to keep would think that he didn't belong in SOLDIER. He rose up to his feet, collecting his breakfast bowl. "I'm guessing if things did go bad between me and Seph, you'd completely lose interest... You don't want me. You just want me to be as miserable as you are."

Cloud threw away his dishes and made his way to the clearing where a few of the students were already starting to warm up. He walked right up to William, "Hey."

William had never spoken to Cloud before, because he found the short kid to be very loud and obnoxious. A loner by nature, William was not interested in loud, obnoxious people, and was caught off guard by the abrupt greeting. "... What?"

"Are you straight?"

"Very."

"Perfect! Wanna be friends?"

"No."

"That's fine, but can I train next to you this weekend?" Cloud asked, already starting to stretch alongside him.

"Why?"

"I like your style, and I kind of had a fight with my - "

"Actually never mind, I don't care why. But sure. I like your style, too. Just don't talk to me at all."

"Deal." Cloud locked his mouth with an imaginary key and tossed it away.

He didn't want to talk to anyone. He wanted to focus on sword training and forget anything else that had happened in the past few hours. Sephiroth's concern for him was not important, Angeal's crush was not important, Skylar's stupid feelings were not important. The only important thing to Cloud was beating some ass.

William had the right idea by being a loner. That was how you became a SOLDIER.

Hard training stretched Cloud's Saturday into an eternity. It snowed heavily that night, but warmed up by early Sunday afternoon.

They were going through the achy, exhausted motions of a final sparring lesson. The bus was loaded, and the class was more than ready to leave. But one more final evaluation was necessary to gauge improvement potential.

As promised, Cloud hadn't said a word to William all weekend. He simply fought him, meeting the bigger boy at every turn and pushing him back in his low-angle, heavy ax-swinging style of fighting.

Cloud dug his sword into William's side, hacking out a chuck of flesh. The instructors were ready with a Cure, and had healed the wound almost before it even bled. But it still happened, it still counted, it still added up in some invisible tally that existed inside each warrior on the planet since the day they were born.

That particular wound was the one that pushed William over his limit.

He came at Cloud with a fiercer swing than he'd ever encountered in his life. Cloud thought he heard a crack of lightning, but would later find out that it was both of his wrists snapping under the pressure of William's limit break.

A curious thing then happened. William's limit break broke dozens of bones in Cloud's hands, and that raw damage encouraged a limit break of Cloud's very own.

It felt better than an orgasm, like his entire body came alive from somewhere deep inside, and it was well rested, energetic and exhilarated to fight. He didn't even realize he'd broken bones. He didn't have the time to think that far, all he could do was react.

It was only about five seconds that both boys were over the limit, but it felt like hours.

Cloud did what he could to defend himself, but his hands eventually quit listening to the signals from his brain. His fingers went loose and his sword slid from his grip, and Cloud felt several hot, heavy sears of pain across his chest and arms. It scorched like a severe sunburn from the inside out.

William's limit died off abruptly. His pure rage extinguished to reveal a cherubic calm, and he slipped unconscious down into the snow.

Cloud was still standing while the narcotic rush of energy bled away. A pain that he couldn't even process replaced the euphoric high, and he turned his eyes to Angeal. In the roar of his confused thoughts, he wondered if he'd done a good job in the spar.

Instead of praise or criticism, Angeal and his assistants were looking at him in pure horror. Cloud looked down at himself, and was surprised to find that his white wife beater was now red.

"I'm okay," he said, before collapsing straight down like a demolished building.

-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-

Aerith quickly finished her cigarette, taking one last long drag before she flicked it out onto the sidewalk. Still exhaling smoke, she went back into the church.

She promised Zack that she'd quit smoking for the baby, but she knew it wasn't going to do anything to her child. Cigarettes had no adverse effect on her body.

She jiggled her shirt anyways in an effort to shake the smell out. She threw her long braid over her shoulder and began to make her way to her garden when a tiny knock echoed slightly from the door.

Nobody she knew would knock, so she picked up her staff from the last pew and hesitantly approached. There wasn't a single crack head in the slums that she was afraid of, but there were a lot of people in the world capable of doing her serious harm.

It was her habit to be careful, so she raised her defenses and called out, "Yes?"

Instead of a verbal response, there was another tiny knock.

She closed her eyes and concentrated a good amount of energy into her staff, effectively charging her fazer to 'stun'. She then opened the door a tiny bit to peer out.

There was a little boy standing there looking up at her. A silence extended between them until Aerith finally spoke, "Hi... are you selling something?"

The little boy visibly struggled for words. "... Aerith, this is awkward for me... but I really need your help."

"Do I know you?" She asked, taking a good look at the odd looking little creature.

"Do I look like anyone you might know?" He asked cryptically.

She opened the door a little more and crouched down to be on the little boy's level. He was a platinum blonde with bright green eyes, who seemed to be dressed in Victoria's Secret workout gear. "Who are you?"

He leveled her a flat, dubious glare. "Seriously? Think hard."

"You have a big attitude for such a little boy, don't you?" She giggled a little bit at that and reached out to stroke his soft, chubby cheek. She had two reasons for doing this : a touch might give her some insight to his spirit, and he was an utterly adorable little boy.

He indignantly backed away from her hand, "... I look like someone you know. I look exactly like someone you fuckin' know." He then made a rolling gesture, as she obviously wasn't getting it. "Maybe not someone you like, but someone you know. Who has the displeasure of knowin' you. He works with Zack... you hate his guts..."

She perched her chin on her knuckles, trying to decipher the odd static feeling she got when she'd touched him. The only other person who made her feel that way was, "Sephiroth?"

"Aha, you see a resemblance! After all, he's my..." the little boy's eyes widened, and he shouted dramatically, "My father!"

"Fiddlesticks," she told him doubtfully. "No woman in her right mind would reproduce with that giant, creepy douche."

The little boy paused for a lengthy moment, grinding his teeth and glaring at her. Then he continued, "... I'm not from this current timeline. I'm from the future."

She giggled, and it ended on an abrupt fit of coughing. "What?"

"Yeah, in my timeline Sephiroth bangs chicks all the time! And they're totally into it!" the little boy declared proudly, making a tiny thrusting motion. "That's not important though - listen to me, Aerith! You cannot tell anyone that I'm here, or else... Or else Midgar will get nuked by a robot army from Wutai and Zack will die, and more importantly, your baby will die. See, your baby's gotta survive, he's the only hope for mankind against Sephiroth!"

She was grinning. "Wow, really?"

"Yeah, Sephiroth is evil - he's from the future, just like me! He's friends with Zack and always tries to get him to break up with you because he knows your baby is the Earth's only hope! He's planning to destroy the baby! I followed him back in time, where Zack is still young and vulnerable, and is preying on his weakness..." The little boy then gazed meaningfully up into Aerith's eyes. "... That's where you come in. You gotta let me stay with you, keep me safe and order me pizzas while I make my plans to defeat Sephiroth. Help me ensure that Zack will remain safe to fulfill is destiny as the father of your mighty warrior son."

She was lighting a cigarette, only half listening. "I don't believe you."

"Y... you don't?" The little boy's shoulders fell. "You haven't seen Terminator, have you?"

"Of course not," she exhaled. "But I know you're full of beans because my baby's a girl. And there's a lot about me that you apparently don't know."

"Like what?" he whined, irritated by the fact that he was going to have to kill Aerith instead of earn her support against his crusade against his bigger counterpart.

"A whole lot," She flicked some ash off her cigarette. "Do you - or Sephiroth for that matter - know what a Cetra is?"

"A... kind of gum?" he guessed.

She grinned, glad for a little confirmation that the Jenovians had no idea what she was - which was always in the back of her mind when she was around him. She always supposed that might have been the reason Sephiroth never liked her - but now she knew it was only because he had a giant crush on Zack and was simply a big jerk face. "Sweetie pie, nobody travels through time on this planet without me knowing about it. And nobody is born on this planet without me knowing about it, either. Which makes you a very special little boy... you didn't come from the Lifestream, and you're not from the future. Where'd you come from?"

Sephiroth's body language told her that he was about to attack or run, so Aerith touched him with her staff before he had the chance to do either.

The little boy was gently tazed. "Ouch!"

"Answer me."

"Umm... nowhere... never mind..." He began to back away, slowly realizing that he came to the wrong fucking place.

"Come back here," she ordered, tapping the stoop of her church with her staff. "I can catch you if you run, trust me."

He reluctantly obeyed, but said nothing. He stood there nervously staring at his stolen shoes, wiggling the ends of them against the cement.

"Tell me the truth," she invited in a kinder tone. "Where are you from?"

He let out a sigh. "... Awright, I'm not from the future, and Sephiroth's not my dad. I'm... a clone of him. I woke up at the Northern Crater a couple days ago. I know everything Sephiroth knows up until... maybe a week or two ago. I thought I was him... I kind of am. But better."

"Come closer," she said, reaching out. He seemed reluctant but did, and let her stroke his cheek again. After a moment, she asked him a strange question, "... What's your name?"

"Sephiroth!" he said automatically, and then shook his hands. "No, no! Not like... well, I'm better! I'm different... but I'm... just... that's still my name. I think."

"You've killed a lot of people."

"I had to. I had to get inside from the Crater... I had to get on an airship... I couldn't let anyone see me."

"Why'd you come here?" she asked, pulling her hand away and rubbing her hands together with a shudder.

He planted his feet apart, putting his hands on his hips and looking down at her over the bridge of his tiny button nose. "I'm gonna kill Sephiroth. I dunno how yet, but I couldn't think of anywhere else to start but here."

She giggled at the little boy's very grown up resolve. "Why here, though?"

"I thought you were dumb enough to buy my story," he admitted. "And I know you hate Sephiroth more than anyone... You'd wanna see him dead, wouldn't cha?"

She took another puff of her cigarette, "A lot more people hate Sephiroth than you can imagine."

He huffed, angrily glaring down at the cracked cement. "... Why? He's... I'm the good guy."

"If you're a clone of Sephiroth, you know that's not entirely true."

His eyes were narrow, clouded with fatigue, confusion, and Sephiroth's very specific brand of stubbornness. "Then help me kill him."

She met his neon green stare with concern. "You're just a little boy... Why do you want to kill anyone...?"

"I can't go to the lab," he blurted in a quick breath before sucking in his bottom lip. It was shaking between his teeth. "If Sephiroth finds out about me, he'll either kill me or put me in the lab. And I can't go there."

"The lab," she repeated softly. "The one in the Shin-Ra building?"

"I won't - " He paused on a hiccup as a fat tear slipped down his cheek. "I won't go there, never."

"Why don't you come in and sit with me for a while? Tell me about Sephiroth and the lab," she invited, straightening up and gently touching the back of his head to guide him inside.

"I don't wanna talk about the lab."

She changed the subject. "Are you hungry?"

"Yeah..." He nodded, but was hesitant to follow.

"Do you like peanut butter and jelly?"

"Yeah."

He still didn't seem entirely willing to enter the church, so Aerith crouched down again to look up at him. "Sephiroth, come inside and have some lunch with me. Tell me about how you got here from the Crater."

The little clone wiped the tears off his cheeks and stood up straight, then proudly marched past the threshold of the church as if he owned the place. "I want more jelly on my sandwiches than peanut butter. Strawberry jelly if you got it."

"Is there any other kind?" She smiled and closed the door, and led him down the aisle of the run down church towards the renovated back area that she inhabited. "Maybe after we eat and talk some more, we can take a nap?"

"I don't wanna take a nap!"

But after eating two big jelly sandwiches with a tiny bit of peanut butter, he was drooling on the arm of her couch and peacefully snoozing away.

It gave Aerith a chance to call Tseng.

-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-

Cloud came to awareness with the gentle sounds of The Clash buzzing away in his ears. He listened, waiting for the particular moment that Joe Strummer delivered his favorite line in 'Brand New Cadillac'.

"Jesus Christ! Where'd ya get that Cadillaaac?" he always asked. Cloud always wanted to know where the bitch got the fucking car, too. And who would ditch Joe Strummer's cheek bones like that, anyways? He was one of the coolest mother fuckers that ever lived.

Cloud opened his eyes and made the discovery that he was in an infirmary room in what could only be the medical lab. No other place on Earth stank like that joint, and he knew the standard room layout well from when he'd staked out during Sephiroth's coma.

But now instead of being the stalker boyfriend, he was in bed. He moved a little, and immediately regretted that decision.

"Oww," Cloud groaned, piecing together what had happened. If he was waking up by natural means and not by an alarm, it meant he was late for something. "... What time is it?"

The question fell upon deaf ears, as Cloud was all alone. His phone was nowhere to be seen, which also added to his anxiety. He glanced around as he pulled out his earphones, before relaxing back with a moan that meandered across several octaves before settling on a high pitch whine.

He looked down at himself, and found that he was wearing a loose, black cotton t-shirt. He peeked underneath the covers and saw a baggy pair of sweatpants. If he'd woken up in different clothes it meant someone at the lab had seen him naked.

But that wasn't the worst of his current situation. With a harsh swallow of dread, he experimentally rotated his wrists.

They were sore, but had obviously been Cured. He didn't feel so seriously injured...

Why was he in the lab?

What if the scientists had kidnapped him? According to Sephiroth's horror stories, the medical lab loved performing horrible scientific experiments on a ripe teenage body. None was riper, or would be less missed than the short, skinny, rare native Nibelheim carcass of Cloud Strife.

What did they want to do?

What if they strapped him naked to a table and let rats and cockroaches crawl around on him? What if they cut him apart and sewed him back together with some fucked up goat-man calibration? What if they forced him to participate in some strange alien sex ritual with Sephiroth?

No... Any terrifying act the medical lab could conjure would be far less enjoyable that any of that.

First they'd take samples of everything - from snipping off his taste buds to scraping off tiny chunks of his bowel lining with metal hooks. Eyeballs would be scooping out of their sockets, fingernail beds would be ripped away, and every hair would be plucked from every part of his body. Then, whatever was left of him would have to fend for itself in the dark underbelly of the Shin-Ra medical lab.

Then, and only then would he fall victim to alien sex rituals, and definitely not with Sephiroth.

"Help!" Cloud cried out, jabbing the emergency call button several times, "Please! Somebody! Sephiroth! Help!"

It was Nurse Rhonda who swung open the door. "Cloud, what's wrong?"

"Rhonda, thank God!" He shouted, already in tears. "Get me out of here!"

"Calm down. Shh. It's okay," she said in what was meant to be a soothing manner. But since she didn't have a soothing bone in her body, it came out as a blatant order. "Shh. Shut the hell up."

"Get me out of here!" Cloud repeated, a lost and mournful expression on his face. "I'm late for school!"

"You're alright. It's Sunday night."

"Oh god, I missed part of Angeal's seminar!" Cloud's eyes streamed tears of frustration as he began to babble hysterically.

"It's alright! The seminar was over! Stop freaking out!" Rhonda patted the top of his head a few times before she covered his mouth.

"Mmph!" He whined until she let him speak again. " - let me go!"

"You lost a ton of blood, Cloud! You received a fucking transfusion!"

"Oh, gross!" Cloud cried before his throat went dry. "... Did I almost die?"

"Come on now, it wasn't that severe. You would have lost your fucking nipple though if it had been any - "

Cloud's eyes doubled in size, "What?"

"The laceration on your chest wasn't deep enough to pierce anything vital, but - "

"What happened to me?"

"Stop interrupting me and I'll fucking remind you. You and another Cadet lost your limit break virginities together, and your skinny little wrists snapped under the pressure. Then you dropped your sword on yourself, lost a little blood and passed out."

Cloud moaned morbidly, but then his eyes brightened as he gave her a mischievous smile. "... Do I have a badass chest scar, now?"

"No."

Cloud immediately pulled his collar away from his neck to peer down at himself. To his utter disappointment, his chest had been freshly Cured and appeared hairless, bony and normal. At least with a scar it would have looked a little more rugged.

"Why the fuck weren't you wearing wrist guards?" Rhonda interrogated.

"They're optional."

"Not for you!" Rhonda cried. "I have dildos thicker than your wrists!"

"Yeah, me too..." Cloud fell back against the bed with a sigh. "So how long do I have to stay here?"

"You can leave in a little bit. We're just keeping you around until the doctors can take one more look at you while you're awake. You're really just here to sleep off the meds."

Out of nowhere, Cloud began to sob.

Rhonda crossed her arms, unsure of what to say to this seemingly grown, crying man. Cloud was the worst kind of patient, and she would have loved nothing more than to give him exactly what he wanted : one more half-hearted Cure and maybe a shower of Mako before throwing his skinny ass out of her medical wing.

But in an effort to be comforting, Rhonda reached out and patted his shoulder. "... There there?"

"Sephiroth was fucking right!" Cloud bawled. "I'm not fit to be a SOLDIER! General Hewley is gonna tell Coach Dunn to flunk me! They were all so right!"

"What are you talking about?" she asked with a sputtering laugh. "Angeal said you were amaz - "

"And - and!" Cloud couldn't hear her and was now in the midst of a nervous breakdown. "And Coach Dunn said at the start of the week that if we did badly at this seminar, he could fail us if he wants to!"

"Sword training classes are dangerous enough without blowing a limit break wad for the first time," Rhonda said. "It wasn't anybody's fault that you stumbled."

"Stumbled? General Hewley told you I stumbled? Oh great! Now he thinks I'm clumsy and stupid!" Cloud sniveled until he could regain control enough to speak. "... I might as well just fucking drop out. You'd tell me if I had no chance, right?"

She took a seat on the edge of his bed, draping an arm around him. "You're really stressed out about SOLDIER, aren't you?"

"... Honestly?" Cloud blew out a breath, pulling up the collar of his shirt to wipe his face. "... I'm losing my mind over it."

"You want some drugs?" she offered, already making her way to the medicine cabinet.

"Please just kill me!" Cloud begged.

"Everyone gets hurt at some point during their training," Rhonda said to him, preparing a cocktail of a decent painkiller and a very mild sedative. "Guys who don't get hurt during the learning process aren't trying hard enough. You're not going to be flunked for being hurt, and if Jake or Angeal or even Sephiroth told you that, they're full of shit. It was probably tough talk to make sure you were extra careful. Not that it helped."

That made sense to Cloud, and he took a deep, shuddering breath as he accepted the pills and immediately threw them into his mouth. With a few more sips of water he was beginning to feel a little more rational. "... So will I miss any class time? Do you think I'll be okay to go to school tomorrow?"

"I don't see why not." She gave him a smile. "But you have it off, remember? Tuesday you'll be back to 100 percent. Promise."

"... Okay." He smiled back. "Thanks."

"For the next couple weeks you might wanna avoid... repetitive wrist motion."

Cloud's cheeks flooded with color. "Gotcha."

"And no heavy lifting for at least a week."

"I can't afford to miss any sword training, though!" Cloud turned huge, worried, wet eyes to her.

"Use one of the foam ones."

"But what about weight lifting? I need to pump as much iron as possible!"

Rhonda stared down at him, unable to resist thinking that his bravado was a little bit cute... but mostly just obnoxious. "Your body needs a little time, Cloud. A Cure does not replace biological healing, even SOLDIERs need recuperation time. You wanna run your body into the ground and be out of commission before you're even a SOLDIER?"

"I'll never be a SOLDIER..." Cloud gave her a thin lipped smile that didn't reach his freshly watery eyes.

"Jesus Christ. You are out of your mind."

"I wish I'd have died! Just fucking kill me!" Cloud swooned against the pillow with the withering drama of a daytime soap opera starlet.

"Gladly. How would you like to go?"

Cloud's eyes fluttered as he accepted his fate. "Make it look like an accident."

"Would you like a present from Sephiroth before I smother you to death?"

Cloud's eyes shot open, but he tried his best to remain sullen. "... What was his reaction to all of this?"

"He is so proud of you."

"Really?" Cloud smiled.

Rhonda ignored the question and handed him his school bag, which was now filled with clothes, magazines, and the chargers for this Mp3 player and phone.

Cloud gave a small smile as he pulled out a package of Oreos, and felt his heart skip a beat at the small, but intimate gesture. "Where is he?"

"He's working upstairs. He sat with you for a while, but it's hard for him to avoid work if the President knows he's in the building."

Cloud quickly became consumed with his phone, and found that his friends and classmates had filled his text box with wishes for a speedy recovery. Even people from his sword training class that he didn't know that well had gotten his number to tell him to get well soon. He spent time responding to each one, and munching his way through Oreo sleeves.

And then he found a school faculty email from General Hewley.

With a shudder of dread, Cloud read it so quickly that he missed most of the information. Once he'd gotten to the end he was confused, so he forced himself to calm down and then re-read it in its entirety :

'Cadet Strife;

I hope you're mending well; your Coach and classmates look forward to your return on Tuesday.

You're good. I'm taking it upon myself to change your class schedule. Instead of 'Intro to Infantry', you will spend that time in Coach Dunn's advanced sword training class. It's made up of Third Year Junior SOLDIERs, from whom I'm sure you will learn a great deal.

I feel responsible for your injury. You should have been wearing wrist bracers, and your sword training coach will issue you a set. I think it'll help you step up your game even more, and I look forward to seeing the results.

Since you didn't technically complete this seminar, I can't give you full credit. You can make up the remainder by assisting me at my next seminar.

Get well soon.

General Angeal Hewley'

Cloud made a long reply mostly consisting of groveling, endless appreciation, and the guarantee that he was going to be the best seminar assistant that the Shin-Ra army had ever seen. It wasn't enough to say that Cloud was relieved by the reassuring email from Angeal... he wanted to sit on that man's face.

And speaking of sitting on people's faces, Cloud noticed that there were no texts at all from Sephiroth. It made sense considering the man had actually been there to see him and had left a gift, but Cloud was always nervous when he couldn't guess what Sephiroth was thinking.

Cloud decided to find out, and texted him : 'Hey Seph, just wanted to say I'm fine and I got your presents. Thank you! I love you 3'

It was only a few minutes before Sephiroth texted him back, 'How do u feel?'

'Shitty! When can you come kiss me?' Cloud texted Sephiroth nervously. He wanted to see his beloved more than anything, but he wouldn't have held a single thing against that man for not camping out at the stupid medical lab on a day off. Being in this part of Shin-Ra HQ was the last place Sephiroth ever wanted to be.

Sephiroth texted back immediately, 'I got a few things to finish. I'll b down in a couple hours 3 I love u'.

His mother had texted him approximately a thousand aggressive get-well messages, along the lines of 'you'd better call me the minute you wake up you little shitface'. And so Cloud did, and then enjoyed a frantic phone conversation in which she declared that she was already on her way to Midgar to take care of her precious child.

So besides the impending doom of his mother's visit, it was the most relaxing Sunday evening on record. Cloud realized that it had been quite some time since he'd done nothing for a bit. His weekend time was taken by studies, extra training with his friends or spending precious time with Sephiroth.

Despite his dreams of being SOLDIER, most of his life had been spent sprawled on his back in his room hiding from the world, reading magazines, daydreaming and touching himself. With his mouth full of Oreos and Vice magazine at reading distance, Cloud felt like he was in his natural state.

Slowly the magazine drifted down to Cloud's chest, and his eyelids held onto a blink a little too long. He was snoozing peacefully when his first visitor came into the room.

Upon the sight of her son in a hospital bed, April Strife was immediately stricken with a mother's very specific type of tunnel vision. Cloud appeared to be five-years-old, without a shred of manhood and completely vulnerable.

"My poor baby!"

Cloud awoke with such a start that he tensed his injured body in all the wrong places. It felt like fire under his skin, but was so happy for some company that it didn't even really register, "Momma!"

She came forward and scooped him into a very tight, but very careful embrace, "Don't do this to me, you have to be more careful!"

"I'm alright," he pouted bravely, squeezing her back with his good arm. It was so fucking nice to be hugged. That sort of thing was in short supply in his everyday life, but after such an event an awkward pat from Rhonda wasn't the sort of physical contact Cloud needed.

April prolonged the hug until Cloud finally let go of her, and then she kissed both of his cheeks. "Do you need anything? Are you hungry? Have you had dinner yet?"

"Sephiroth's coming by soon; I'll eat with him. Maybe just something to drink for now?" he asked pitifully.

His mother fetched some soda and a Twix from the machines in the lab's break room, and then went about fluffing his pillows, adjusting the room temperature, checking out every wire that was connected to him, and listening to the heroic tale of his life threatening LIMIT BREAK.

"So there I was! Fighting with the giant kid called William! He looks a little like Blade, that vampire movie guy - anyways. It was snowing really hard and there was all this lightning - when it happened! Our swords met, and I looked him right in the eyes... and then we both limit broke! I felt like the Incredible Hulk, I'm pretty sure I got a little taller, too. We clashed again, and then I got totally fucked up. I heard a loud snap and I thought it was another crash of lighting... but it was my wrists! They were totally broken, some bone was even sticking out! I dropped my sword and didn't even realize I'd cut myself wide open. Then he dropped his sword and passed out because I was just that badass. But I was all, 'No Sir, it's alright, I'm okay. I'll walk myself to the bus.' And so I did."

"So you both got over zealous, you broke your wrists and then dropped your sword on yourself?" she clarified with her uncanny ability to hear an actual event through the flimsy veil of bullshit he was constantly spinning.

"Well... that's a less cool way to say it."

"And then you got up and walked your happy ass to the bus?" she reaffirmed doubtfully.

"No. I think General Hewley must have carried me," Cloud admitted, getting a chill at the thought of it. How unfair was it to be pressed all against Angeal's body and be too unconscious to even enjoy it. He probably went home with Cloud's blood all dried up in his chest hair and had to take a really sudsy, soapy shower.

"What are you grinning about?" his mother asked, jerking him out of his impromptu daydream.

"Nothing!" Cloud lied, biting the inside of his mouth.

Cloud eventually became restless, so he spent his energy getting cute for Sephiroth. Halfway through his shower, all the rinsing and washing made the soreness of his wrists pronounce its presence loudly. He got a little worried and cut his bathing routine short, then attempted to dry himself off without using his wrists too much... which made him look and feel like some sort of dysfunctional robot.

Getting dressed was a whole different kind of challenge, since yanking on jeans was sometimes a pretty violent ordeal. Especially lately, since his crusade to gain mass seemed to go straight to his ass and thighs. Once he shimmied into some underwear, he plucked up the courage to ask his mother for help with his jeans.

"How can you be comfortable in these?" she muttered, holding the cigarette between her lips while hiking them up his legs.

"It's like how grandma is with heels. She's all off balance when she's in sneakers - I'm all weirded out in loose jeans," Cloud said, hopping a little to help her out.

"You're not used to the circulation," she commented, standing to yank them up over his round little butt. Then she didn't even hesitate to shove the fleshy bulge in his underwear into his pants to quickly secure the zipper and button.

"Mo-om!" Cloud screamed in horror as he crossed his hands over his crotch. "Bad touch! Stranger danger!"

She was unimpressed as she looked through the bag Sephiroth had packed to select a shirt. "Do you know how much of my life I've spent dealing with your little wee-wee?"

"It's not little anymore..." Cloud grumbled, shimmying around in discomfort. "... And you put it on the wrong side."

She ignored this information, pulling out a plain looking pullover. "You wanna wear something big? It'll be easier for you."

Cloud wrinkled his nose, but agreed. "I guess so."

"Is this even yours? It's huge... there's no size, the tag just says Hydrogen."

Cloud's eyes then lit up when he realized it was super expensive and belonged to Sephiroth. "Put it on me!"

"Alright, alright." April took a quick drag off a cigarette, and then put it out as she looked him up and down. She then experienced a sudden attack of girlish laughter.

"What? What are you laughing at?" Cloud asked, feeling very self-conscious.

"Nothing."

"What?" he begged.

"... You have your dad's nipples."

"That's inappropriate!" Cloud screamed, crossing his arms over his chest like an exposed girl.

"You do... You're built way better than he ever was, though. You're like a little man."

Cloud blushed bright pink, "Shut up!"

"Flex for me, show me your manly muscles."

"No!" He shrank down a little in on himself bashfully.

"I wanna see, it's cute!" she insisted. "Turn around, too."

Cloud hesitantly showed off his fully developed chest and stomach, which he was pretty proud of. His back was also becoming pretty cut, although he didn't care much about it because he couldn't really see it or anything... he'd heard good reviews lately from Sephiroth, though. He also let her feel his hard, shapely arms. "I'm still working on getting bigger, but I like my tone. I just wish I would grow! I want just one more growth spurt so badly!"

"I think those years are behind you." April easily pulled Cloud's arms through the long, loose sleeves of Sephiroth's pullover.

He relaxed onto the bed. After he'd had a moment to think, he then found the nerve to inquire. "... Does anything else of mine look like my dad's?"

"You've got his hair texture, that's for sure." She smiled, running her fingers through it and fluffing it straight up. "Otherwise, not so much. You take after your grandpa - remember those pictures from when he was a kid and working on the mountain highway? That could literally be you."

"Yeah, I know..." He patted his hair back down, slightly disappointed because that wasn't really the information he was looking for. All the Strifes looked like blonde -haired, blue-eyed Children of the Damned, and so Cloud was more interested in his father's input into his genetics. "How tall is my dad?"

"Maybe a few inches taller than you."

That gave Cloud a shining ray of hope. "Was he bigger, too?"

"Not at all. I'd say he was skinnier than you are now. I guess how you would look if you hadn't come to Midgar. He had nice arms from drumming, though."

"What's he look like now?"

"... He's handsome. And he's aging well, so don't worry about anything."

"Did you check out his hair line? His hair isn't thinning, is it?" Cloud fretted. "The last thing I need is a fucking bald spot with this shit spiking all around it."

"I think you're safe," she laughed, lighting a new cigarette.

"Did he have a lot of like, body hair? I'm not gonna wake up with a hairy back one day, am I?"

"Doubt it."

Cloud was grateful for that. "... Does anything bad run in his family? Like cancer, or any weird diseases?"

"Ask him. The only thing that's really different about him is that he wears glasses, now."

Cloud figured he could deal with glasses one day. He'd stolen Sephiroth's a couple of times to take pictures of himself and they looked pretty cute on him. He chewed on his thumbnail for a moment before he finally asked, "... Can I ask you a personal question?"

"No, thank you."

Cloud asked anyway, "Would you ever sleep with him again if you could?"

"Shit. Wow." Her eyes went wide and she blinked a few times. "No. No fucking way. He was my first love, but... seeing him now? He doesn't match my memory. I could pass him in the street and hardly recognize him, not because he looks different but because he's not who he used to be. Just like I'm not who I used to be. Does that make sense?"

"Yeah, I guess it does... but what did you love most about him?"

"I don't wanna talk about it. You're not gonna like the answer, anyway."

Cloud was intrigued. "Tell me."

"You are what I loved most about him."

"That's such a mom thing to say," Cloud tutted, just as disappointed with that response as she'd predicted he'd be.

"Not in the way you might think... I dunno if this is going to make sense to you, but... there's something really sexy about seeing your man with your kid. I thought it was so hot when he fed you, or played with you, or fell asleep with you. I wanted to jump on him practically any time he got near you."

Cloud's initial reaction was a teenage wail of embarrassment, but he took half a moment to really consider that scenario. He hadn't felt any primal reproductive spark seeing Sephiroth holding Rhonda and Julie's babies, but rather a sense of irony. It was like seeing a tiger at the zoo cuddling with a stuffed animal - Sephiroth was very much a fierce, exotic creature, and seeing him cradling something so delicate had been preposterous and sweet.

But if it was their child... if Sephiroth was actually caring for that tiny person and not just going through the motions of a photo-op, Cloud could see it definitely being something potentially sexy. Maybe.

But that would be a case of adoption. And that was way down the road. And that was if Sephiroth agreed. If they were even still together by the time Cloud came to an age to make such an important commitment to care for another human being.

It was a lot of ifs. In all reality, he'd probably never experience that rush of primal lust of seeing Sephiroth care for their child. Maybe if he'd been born a female, he could simply trap Sephiroth with love and reproduce as nature intended.

His mother seemed to sense a lull in her son's attention, and rubbed his arm. "Did I gross you out?"

"No..." he answered, coming out of his thoughts, a touch of melancholy in his eyes. "Mom?... Do you wish I was straight?"

Her eyes went wide and she leaned back a bit, utterly shocked. "Where are all these fucking bizarre questions coming from?"

"I'll never have a real family."

"You do have a family, and we all love you - "

"I mean, like a husband. And kids. You know?"

"I never had a husband either." April shrugged.

"You could have had one if you really wanted one," Cloud frowned. "The other day I asked Sephiroth how he felt about like, maybe someday way down the road adopting kids. He just brushed it off."

"You two are way too young to be thinking about that. Especially you; you're still a baby yourself."

"I've always wanted kids," Cloud admitted. "I like the idea of being a family with him."

"You crack me up," April groaned with a smoker's laugh, "You're just like your Aunt Judy. You found a good man, and now you're determined to run him off with all this heavy commitment shit. Are you ovulating or something?"

Cloud rolled his eyes at the comparison to his desperate aunt. "It's not like that! But if he doesn't want a family like I do, then I'm afraid... someday we might drift apart, that's all."

April reached up and tousled Cloud's hair. "You think way too much."

"I know," he agreed, but was clearly unsatisfied.

She intently snubbed out her cigarette, and put her focus on her son. "I never wished you were straight because I thought a soul sucking woman might make you happy. But I did think it would be easier if you were straight when you were younger... because I knew school was hard for you. And I worried about you being able to find a good relationship close to home... I mean, there's not a huge gay social scene in Nibelheim. It's basically just the Men's Gardening Club, and they're all about seventy-years-old."

"As if," Cloud rolled his eyes.

"There was nothing for you in Nibelheim. I knew I'd have to lose you one day," April said, turning the pack of cigarettes in her hands over and over. "... And if you want my honest opinion, I think that if there comes a choice someday between adopting a kid and staying with Sephiroth... I'd rather you stay with Sephiroth."

"You don't want grandkids?" Cloud asked.

"All I want is to know you're taken care of."

"I'm not a helpless girl. I can take care of myself."

She thumped him against the head with her middle knuckle. "Who said girls can't take care of themselves? I'm not saying you're a girl, I'm saying you're a pansy. And pansies need plenty of taking care of!"

Cloud rubbed the sore spot she left behind on his scalp. "Remind me never to talk to you about life-important shit ever again!"

"Just let life happen, Cloud," she said, leaning forward to kiss his cheek. "The good news is that if you do adopt kids, they won't destroy your body like you destroyed mine."

"I should have done more damage while I had the chance," Cloud remarked.

Around eight o'clock, there was a soft knock at the door before it cracked open.

Bright green eyes peeked in before it swung open the rest of the way, and Sephiroth came in in full uniform. "There he is."

Cloud keened a bit, "Here I am!"

"Hey April," Sephiroth came into the room, touching her shoulder on his way to Cloud's bedside.

"Hello," she greeted, smiling a little as she watched him go to her son.

His leather creaked a little bit as Sephiroth leaned over to accept Cloud's open embrace. He was careful as he enveloped him in a tender hug. "I threw a fit about wantin' to see you this weekend, but I didn't mean like this."

"I'm sorry!" Cloud pouted, and craned his neck to steal a kiss. Then two, then three. It bordered on inappropriate considering his mother was only a few feet away, but Cloud couldn't resist opening his mouth just a little. He felt the hot brush of Sephiroth's tongue and sighed aloud, having no will to tone down the PDA for his mother's sake.

Sephiroth tried to pull back, but Cloud tightened his hold on the back of his head. He was able to swipe his tongue at Sephiroth's once more before he forced Cloud to let him go.

Sephiroth took a seat beside the bed with a warm grin. "Psht, he's fine. This is all an act."

"I know, I feel great! And I'm sick of sitting here!" Cloud complained, reaching out to snatch the end of Sephiroth's hair and twist his fingers around it. "Dearest, do you think you could throw your weight around and get the doctors in here so I can go? Let's all get the hell out of here and do something fun!"

"They don't listen to me..." Sephiroth smiled, tucking a piece of Cloud's hair behind his ear. His hand lingered there, fingers tracing down Cloud's neck.

Knowing her presence wasn't needed or wanted any longer, April stood up. "I'm gonna go grab a drink, and see about finding a doctor. Maybe they'll listen to me. You kids want anything while I'm up?"

"No, thank you!" Cloud chirped politely.

Sephiroth shook his head. "Nah."

It came as no surprise to her when the wet, hungry sounds of kissing were audible before the door was even finished closing.

Cloud whined a little as he greedily savored Sephiroth's lips, and then let go with a desperate growl. "This sucks so bad. I meant to totally dominate the seminar and for you to hear good things. Not this."

"It does suck, but not for the reason you think it does," Sephiroth hummed. "I love knowin' you fight so hard. I just hate seein' you hurt."

"I have to wear bracers, now," Cloud complained.

"It's common. I wear 'em too," Sephiroth took Cloud's hands, smirking a little at how delicate his bones were. He ran his thumbs over his narrow wrists thoughtfully, "Wanna take a pair of mine? Til you get some of your own?"

Cloud curled his fingers around Sephiroth's hands, and guided it to his upper thigh. A few wet kisses had made him painfully aroused, and he smiled. "I can't wait to go home..."

"Settle down," Sephiroth said, unable to resist squeezing that hard cock before pulling his hand back.

"I feel fine," Cloud insisted, running his palm over the nagging ache in his jeans.

"Your face was white earlier," Sephiroth said. Even though his color had returned, a part of Cloud was currently broken, and Sephiroth would be damned if he was going to prevent his full recovery by accommodating a momentary sexual impulse. So he rattled off some bullshit. "All the blood in your body is down in your cock. Now chill out so it can disperse back into your bloodstream, before you fall into a very dangerous and life threatenin' cardiac... pulmonary... anemia paralysis."

"You're making shit up!" Cloud laughed.

"Seriously. There's no way you're well enough to be doin' anything." Sephiroth then stood up from Cloud's bed and began to take off the more cumbersome pieces of his uniform. "Not to mention the cameras. I dunno how I can get it through your head that when you're in HQ, you're bein' watched."

"I don't give a shit about cameras! Honestly, I'm sure they're going to catch us screwing around someday, if they haven't already. Did you hear that, security spies?" Cloud called out to whomever might be listening. "I want some head and I don't mind if you watch! Send us a signal if you're okay with that!"

Cloud could have sworn the lights flickered a little.

Sephiroth was not amused, "Will you give it a rest?"

"So you were here when I was brought in?" Cloud asked, changing the subject as he watched Sephiroth change his clothes. If he couldn't touch, at least he could look.

"Yeah. I woulda stayed if I could've, but there was some stuff to do upstairs." Sephiroth took off his coat, belt and boots and left them in a pile on the floor. He squatted down to fish around in Cloud's bag of clothes, and then gave him a crooked glance. "You're wearin' my shirt."

"I know!" Cloud said, hugging himself. "It looks cute on me."

"What do ya expect me wear?"

Cloud smiled sweetly at his half naked boyfriend, "What's wrong with what you've got on?"

"Geez..." Sephiroth gauged all of Cloud's shirts until he came back with one that might fit him, and stretched it over his head. It was a red Nibelheim Mountain Lions jersey that barely touched the top of his pants, and gripped onto his biceps like he was about to burst out of it at any moment. The color of the shirt also made his skin flush bright red by association, and Sephiroth regarded himself in the mirror woefully. "... I look dumb."

"You look like a sunburnt slut. And you're stretching my shirt out!"

"Watch this - " Sephiroth took a deep breath and then pushed out his stomach as far as it would go, creating a big, rounded air bubble underneath corded muscle. He struggled to speak, but was able to grunt out : "... You're finally gonna be a daddy, Cloud."

Cloud giggled wildly, patting his boyfriend's hollow belly. "Is it a boy or a girl?"

It was at that moment that April Strife re-entered the room.

"Now that's cute," she commented.

Sephiroth gave her a cheeky smile, until Vincent Valentine walked in behind her.

Cloud had never seen Sephiroth move so fast. Suddenly he was standing next to the bed with the Nibelheim Mountain Lions jersey yanked down tight. Unfortunately, the red of the jersey only added to the bright blush on his face, "Vincent?... What are you doin' here?"

Vincent was paused at the door, "Well I uh - "

"Sephiroth's pregnant!" Cloud interrupted.

He shot a look at his boyfriend. "Cloud's about to have another unfortunate accident."

Vincent seemed to have a lapse of purpose, until he spat it out, "Ah - Laz said you were probably down here - sorry to pull you away Seph, but I need to talk to ya. And this broad was smokin' in the hallway so I told her to knock it off before she gets kicked out. She told me to go fuck myself, and the minute I heard her talk I knew she had to have somethin' to do with uh you there, so uh, here I am."

"There you are," April muttered, wagging her half burnt cigarette between her fingers.

"I heard about the accident. How you feelin'..." Vincent groped for something to refer to Sephiroth's boyfriend as, and came back with, "- Strife?"

"I'm feeling great! Thanks for asking, dad."

Vincent staggered back a step at the term, groping for the door handle. "Fantastic. Seph? Just meet me out in the hall."

Once Vincent was out, Sephiroth attacked Cloud, "Gimme my shirt! Put your arms up!"

"Fine!" Cloud laughed, and allowed the oversized garment to slip up off of his frame.

Sephiroth tore the small jersey off and snaked into the pullover. He met Vincent out in the hallway with an apologetic shrug. "Sorry about that, just goofin' off. What'd you need?"

"They found a bunch of bodies at the Crater base," Vincent told him, getting straight to the point. "One of them was a retired SOLDIER."

Sephiroth leaned a hand against the wall. "Shit..."

"They've got the place on lockdown now. The cameras were running on an eight hour loop, which offers the investigation jack shit. The bodies were found too late to replay any useful footage. But some cameras were disconnected entirely. Whoever's behind it is a pro, maybe even an inside job."

"You think it was a group, or an individual?" Sephiroth wondered.

"One female doing recon. That's my guess based on silent style of the intrusion. Plus some items were taken from a female Turk agent. A Prada snow jacket. She's inconsolable about the loss." Vincent leaned against the wall with a chuckle.

"I'm a little more inconsolable about losing a veteran SOLDIER," Sephiroth growled, a little heated about the cavalier way Turks always acted about the loss of life.

"That base is nothing but a waste of time. Toldja that," Vincent pushed off the wall and straightened his coat. "We don't have to go up there yet, but I'm overseeing the investi - "

"We?" Sephiroth groaned. "I'm not goin' back up there."

"I'm tellin' you right now you're prolly gonna have to," Vincent said, pulling out a cigarette just to feel it between his fingers. "That Strife broad made me wanna smoke bad. Wanna go outside?"

Sephiroth ignored the invitation. "But why would I need to go up there to investigate? What good would I do?"

"Your precious vets might like a little comfort. Whoever did this got the drop on some good Turks, too."

"Who knows about this?"

"The Turks. You're the only SOLDIER that needs to know as of now..." Vincent put his cigarette behind his ear. "Plus you know a little somethin' about espionage. Wouldn't hurt to have another pair of eyes."

Rhonda was approaching from the far end of the hallway, already waving at the pair of them. They let the conversation stop where it was, and Vincent held up a hand to greet her back. "Hey gorgeous."

"Hey you two," Rhonda said, hitting a clipboard against her thigh. "I have some interesting news about Cloud."

Sephiroth lifted his eyebrows, not finding anything ominous in her tone. "Yeah?"

"If anyone else found out what I'm about to tell you, he could face some consequences for the injury," Rhonda warned him.

"They limit broke," Sephiroth stated. "Big deal."

"True..." She sighed, moving the clipboard to cover her head in preparation for a proverbial shit storm. "But Cloud has marijuana in his system. Fresh. As in he was probably smoking yesterday or the day before."

Sephiroth laughed a little in anticipation for a punch line. When none came, he scoffed. "No way. Cloud doesn't smoke weed. Cigarettes, maybe. Hookah, sure. Not fuckin' weed."

"Urine doesn't lie."

Vincent found something very funny in that statement.

Sephiroth shook his head, "There's no way. Cloud is not a stoner. He's way too serious about SOLDIER to do that. He doesn't have time to do that."

The three of them peeked into the narrow window into Cloud's room. He was shirtless, finishing up a package of Oreos and closely regarding one of the cookies. He said to his mother, "Do these symbols actually mean anything?"

"I dunno," she responded absently, looking at her phone and shamelessly smoking in the room.

Cloud thought to himself, running a finger over the ridges in the cookie's design. "Probably Illuminati symbolism... that you eat. So they're even watching from inside your guts."

"There's not a chance that he could be a pot head," Vincent drawled sarcastically, backing away from the window.

"Shut up," Sephiroth crossed his arms, usually finding Cloud's ditziness a source of amusement, but now it was just embarrassing. "What now?"

Rhonda sighed. "I'm not reporting this to the Academy. I doubt it had anything to do with the accident."

"Report it. Please report it," Sephiroth implored. "Make him face the consequences if he's gonna be a retard."

"Lighten up General," Rhonda bumped her elbow into his arm. "There wouldn't be any Cadets if we wrote them up for every little thing they do. His system was squeaky clean just a couple weeks ago, he probably just tried it. Just tell him to knock it off, he'd be in trouble if I told the Academy."

"He's in way worse trouble than that," Sephiroth suddenly yanked the door open. "I'm gonna tell his mom."

"Tell me what?" April asked, glancing up from her phone and attempting to hide her lit cigarette.

Cloud's eyes were wide and fearful, half an Oreo in his mouth. "... Tell her what?"

"Cloud smoked pot."

After a long squeal of panic, Cloud spat the chewed up Oreo into the plastic sleeve. "I did not! I can explain! Let me explain! I only tried it - "

"You tried what?" April roared, standing up violently from her seat.

"A cookie!" Cloud shrank down flat on the hospital bed. "I was really bus sick and it was just ate one pot cookie because my friend - "

"You ate what?"

"My friend is Wutainese!"

A few minutes later, one of the nurses at the station approached Cloud's room to find Vincent, Rhonda and Sephiroth peering into the window.

"Did someone press the 'Help' button?" the assistant nurse asked.

Rhonda pulled away from the scene unfolding in Cloud's room to give her a wide smile. "He's fine. Bring the doctor to give him a final check, please. And an ice pack."

Once April beat the living hell out of her son, Cloud was given the chance to explain his chronic motion sickness in detail. Rhonda prescribed him some pills, the doctors took a good look at his wrists and hand x-rays, and he was given one final Cure.

April then hugged and kissed him goodbye. She had classes to teach in the morning, and it was a tedious drive back to Junon. Sephiroth and Cloud rolled through a drive-thru and took some tacos home. Since Sephiroth had gotten a bit of work done that night, the Shin-Ra gods took pity on him and allowed him to have Monday off with Cloud.

Sephiroth supposed he had a little apologizing to do, but he wasn't going to fucking do it.

"You aren't supposed to get involved with my school shit!" Cloud complained.

"Tough," was Sephiroth's rebuttal.

"You said at the start of our relationship that you weren't going to! That was your condition! So what's different now?"

"Everything," was Sephiroth's answer.

"And why'd you have to tell my mom about the pot cookies?"

"Because," was Sephiroth's reasoning.

These were all very valid answers when coming from the General. So Cloud accepted his fate that Sephiroth was extremely bossy, meddling, and mean. He looked damn good while he did it though, so it was something Cloud would happily live with.

They sat on Sephiroth's couch, eating tacos and watching a show about catching monsters. Cloud was tired and uninterested, and soon crawled over into Sephiroth's lap. "Take me to bed."

"Yeah?" Sephiroth asked, as it didn't really seem like a seductive request, but more or less a mode of transportation.

"Yeah. I don't care what we do there. I could go for anything... kissing... sleeping... talking... fucking... anything. Just as long as it's you and me in bed. That's where I wanna be."

Sephiroth agreed that anything taking place in his bed was acceptable, and turned off the lights and TV. He obliged in carrying his boyfriend to the bedroom and gently dropped him on the mattress.

Cloud immediately rolled onto his stomach and rubbed his face against the pillow he usually used. He curled up just so, and the baggy flannel bottoms he had on dipped low on his spine, making visible a tiny peek of his asscrack.

Sephiroth rubbed that one soft curve on the lean line of Cloud's body, and shifted closer to kiss the back of his head. "You tired?"

Cloud was already asleep.

-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.

CHAPTER IMAGES!

Baby clone and Aerith – owmyhearteries dot deviantart dot com / art / Blonde-Ambition-Ch-30-Terminator-392866505

Seph and Cloud – owmyhearteries dot deviantart dot com / art / Blonde-Ambition-Ch-30-Braver-392866877

A/N

1 – Thanks for all the nice reviews from last time! And the constant, abusive demands for more! Nothing says loving like death threats, I always say! I think a few even threatened to haunt me even after death if I didn't update this soon, which certainly spurred me into action.

2 – I have news for you. I work as a digital artist at a t-shirt printing shop, and have been tossing around the idea to maybe start up a little webstore. Shirts will be a fun addition to the stuff I sell at cons, but it might also be fun to do like, fandom, custom, or just random kind of shirts online. If you'd like to stay updated with that, I actually have a webpage – nothing is up there right now, I'm still getting all the kinks worked out. The website is …. www dot dirtyrubbersonline dot com.

3 – Yeah, I'm weird enough to try to make Dirty Rubbers an actual thing.