Cloud finally left the apartment Sunday afternoon.

The clone sat in a closet on the farthest end of the loft for two whole days, leaving only a couple of times to steal into one of the more remote guest bathrooms for a piss and a drink of water – two very stupid urges to have at the same exact time.

The only time he'd even relaxed enough to poop was in the middle of Saturday night, when there had been nothing but silence for what felt like hours. But from the bathroom, it was very easy to hear the tinny audio quality of laptop speakers blaring porn from the other end of the loft.

The clone had been both startled and amused, and listened intently to what sort of porn Cloud watched when left to his own devices. All he could tell was that it they weren't speaking any language he could understand, and that both voices were very deep and masculine. It was then that the clone quickly recognized one of the words being grunted repeatedly – one was saying 'fuck me' in the Nibelwyn language. Cloud was beating it to a couple of Nibelheim lumberjacks.

It was strange being in a child's body because nothing about this was arousing. He didn't feel lust or envy from hearing Cloud getting off, it was almost as if he was just somebody else entirely, accidentally getting an earful of someone else's boyfriend.

The clone had caught a glimpse of his own glowing eyes in the bathroom mirror. He was someone else entirely. And that was somebody else's boyfriend and his weirdly specific choice of porn. The clone focused on his bowel movement to get back to the safety of the closet.

After only two days without medication stolen from Sephiroth's bathroom mirror, Jenova's voice was beating around inside his skull. She'd been almost comforting when he was out in the wilds of the slums, but the second he'd gotten here he'd kept her far away with the use of drugs. Now that she was back, she was making up for lost time with her usual insanity.

She kept telling him to get out of the loft before he was found, telling him to kill Cloud on the way out, telling him to arm himself to the teeth with all the weapons, ammunition and materia stashed around, to set fire to the building as a power move against the treacherous General Sephiroth.

Jenova was telling a six-year-old to start a war.

Flying through the cosmos and crash landing onto a planet was one thing, but this alien didn't know the first thing about human society. He was in a child's body and there was only so far a kid could get in life on his own. He didn't have the physical strength to overpower anyone in SOLDIER – maybe a third class if he was scared enough, but that was pushing it.

But alright, say he killed Cloud, burnt down a bunch of shit, became a one-kid army. Then what? What kind of life was that? The more rest he'd gotten by staying in the loft, the more he needed. He didn't want to leave and didn't even think he really could survive the winter if he left the city for the outskirts.

He certainly didn't want to kill Cloud. He was probably going to kill Sephiroth, but not Cloud. He could have. He thought about it. Eh, he might try. Maybe he should.

No! The clone slapped his hands over his ears in a feeble attempt to stop the voice in his mind, "Shut up! Just leave me alone about it."

Once Cloud was gone, the clone all but ran to Sephiroth's medicine stash. Three pills and ten minutes later, her voice was gone. Oh, she was pissed. She was still screaming alright, it was like sensing someone's anger and energy through a thick panel of sound proof glass. He couldn't fucking hear her, and she couldn't fucking touch him, and that's all that mattered.

There were other things he needed, though.

The clone had been in existence over a month and while he'd helped himself to Sephiroth's medication, he hadn't had any mako put into or taken out of his body. Mako transfusions were an ugly little ordeal, but it something Sephiroth just had to do every few months. If he ignored it, he'd succumb to the dark, groggy side effects of polluted mako in his system.

He could already start to smell it seeping out of his pores a little bit. It was the sickening stench of rotting sugar.

He'd had mako transfusions done in the field in Wutai – there'd been medics to help but he didn't need the lab or specific equipment to get it done. Some alcohol, a knife, some plastic tubing, and a turkey baster was all he really needed. And a certain type of biohazard barrel that could hold the bad mako. And medical grade mako to put back into his system. And like... cotton balls?

Fuck it, he'd figure it out. He was going to feel a whole lot worse before he felt better, but he'd overdose on Sephiroth's medication before he'd ever turn himself into the lab, that was for damn sure.

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

"How did you contaminate every single piece of evidence?" Vincent griped, looking over the lab analysis. "Fingerprints on everything, saliva everywhere. Did you literally talk on top of evidence?"

"I toldja that this wasn't my skillset," Sephiroth sighed distantly as his thumbs moved on the keypad of his phone.

"God help me, I'm going to smash that fuckin' phone if I see it one more time!"

Sephiroth put it down on the table and folded his hands. He looked up at Vincent with no expression.

Somehow this offended Vincent far more than the texting had. "I've never seen you like this. You seriously lead the SOLDIERs with this kinda work ethic?"

"Do you literally ball bust your subordinates nonstop? Why don't ya just leave me alone – y'know, like you did for years?"

"It really will be years before I talk to your smug little ass again. You're drivin' me nuts!"

Sephiroth glanced around the table at the other members of the investigation team, who were all silently begging him to just not engage. Vincent and Sephiroth had been very publicly pushing each other's father and son buttons for the past seventy-two hours. It was like they were all trapped at an awkward family dinner with no foreseeable end.

Whatever strange pantomime of dysfunctional family life they needed to act out was unstoppable, and every else was trapped in the crossfire.

"We've been here nine fuckin' days and we have nothing," Vincent was reading the lab analysis over and over again. "I was supposed to report to the President an hour ago and I don't have anything to tell him except General Sephiroth spits when he talks. Why don't you all do somethin' useful until I get back? Especially you... don't you dare get back on that phone."

The moment he was gone, Sephiroth picked his phone up and resumed texting, and the rest of the investigation team slowly made their way back to their stations.

Sephiroth would have never survived in the Turks. His body was screaming for physical activity from a sheer biological standpoint. Even during the promotion season, Sephiroth had every opportunity to train and run and roll around outside with the other SOLDIERs. But being a Turk was all about leaning against walls, being suspicious of people, and noticing details from the ether of monotony.

He thought he'd hit the jackpot by finding Lieutenant Nowicki to do all the mental work for him, but all she had done was tell the same story she'd told Sephiroth, and then produce a big fucking trash bag full of evidence and a bunch of bodies. Processing physical evidence was not fun, and it was not in her jurisdiction. She wished them all good luck in their findings, and she was out.

And so Sephiroth stood around in a surgical mask and gloves and watched... and waited... and listened... and pretended to be interested when the workers explained the finer points of harvesting organs... for nine long days. And he'd been awake with not a minute to himself for the past four of those days.

Staying awake for that long wasn't so bad when something exciting was happening. But the whir and warmth of the centrifuge was downright seductive, and it was a struggle not to fall asleep leaning against it.

It was a fantastic way to get yelled at by Vincent. At one point the man had threatened to time Sephiroth's blinks to force him to alertness. The investigation just wasn't going his way. That was another thing about Turks that Sephiroth never much liked – they were the most supportive group of people on the planet, but sometimes they're real dicks to each other on the job.

Sephiroth slumped in his chair and sought pity from the only person who gave a shit about him in the entire world, 'he yelled at me again'

Cloud's texts were always sugar sweet and instantaneous, 'I'll give you a kiss for every time he's been mean to you'

'I want two'

'Two kisses for each time Vincent's been an asshole – so at least 10,000 kisses. When will you come home and get them?'

Sephiroth didn't know when they were leaving, but didn't want to tell Cloud that. 'What are you doin right now?'

'I'm in bed. Me and Cam are watching Netflix on his laptop.'

'whatr u watchin?' Sephiroth texted back enviously.

'Junon Horror Story.'

'ur watching something scary by choice?'

'It's not very scary, it's kind of sexy!'

'pfffft I bet ur still scared'

'I wouldn't be if I had you here to cuddle with'

'after all this time you still dont get that I'm gonna do WAY MORE than cuddle with you'

Cloud took the bait, 'like what?'

Sephiroth smiled, and it was the brightest thing in the entire lab, 'Sit on my face an find out'

'Can't you be sweet for once? I'd rather cuddle up in bed and be your little spoon and watch tv'

Sephiroth tried to bite his grin away, but couldn't. A tiny drop of sweetness and warmth in the cold, lonely North was too good not to indulge in. 'Alright bb you got it'

Cloud's reply came before Sephiroth's had even fully sent, 'With your cock inside me'

Sephiroth bit the side of his mouth again, searching for a cheeky response and tripping over his own hormones. It left him only with a jumbled: 'O yeah?/?'

'I want you to hold me and kiss me and just be inside me. Not even sex, just like... us connected'

Sephiroth's forehead dropped onto his arm. He hadn't had any sleep or privacy in four days and he needed a little bit of everything. He then snuck a glance around the lab space, and found that nobody was paying him a goddamn bit of attention. He spread his knees enough that his coat slipped to the side, and snapped a quick shot of the semi-hard line of leather tenting the crotch of his pants.

'Makin me hard...' Sephiroth texted after the picture was sent, just in case Cloud missed the point.

Cloud replied with a picture of his own. He was lying in his dormitory bed, the light through open door of the bathroom casting enough glow to outline the long jut pressing up through his duvet. Sephiroth found himself staring at it, appreciating every detail of the scene. He could imagine how Cloud's mattress would cry out against his weight as he crawled up between his thighs. He could smell Cloud's soft, unbathed scent after a long school day. He could perfectly imagine closing his mouth over Cloud's and feeling his quick, pierced tongue welcome his. The fact that heaven like this even existed on Earth made Sephiroth melt down low in his seat.

'what are u gonna do with that thing?' Sephiroth finally replied. His whole world narrowed in on the screen of his cell phone screen as he awaited the answer.

'Nothing LOL I got banned from repetitive wrist motion! So I've been saving it aaaaaalllll for when you get back! 10 days, a personal record'

Sephiroth was grinning at his phone, 'Will you live?'

'I DUNNO my balls are kinda huge right now lmao'

'show me those balls!'

"Sephiroth," Vincent called from the doorway. He looked like he wanted to give him shit for being on his phone again, but lost the energy. "President needs a word with you."

With a grieving heart, Sephiroth had to put his phone in his coat pocket and stand up. He felt the buzz of Cloud's reply against his hip, and stopped in the middle of the room to open it and peek at the screen, hoping thirstily for a gratuitous picture of full, heavy balls dusted with honey blonde hair.

It wasn't that. Cloud's response had been, 'Eww noooo!'

Sephiroth took hold of a whim and quickly hit the call button, shifting his weight slightly as he watched the doorway in case Vincent returned to catch him in the act.

"Is this a butt dial?" Cloud answered curiously.

"Please show me?" Sephiroth asked.

"I can't," Cloud denied with a soft, quiet whine that left plenty of room for convincing.

"Seph!" Vincent called from the next room.

Sephiroth grunted, "Gotta go."

"Already?"

"I don't have time to talk, I just really wanted to be close to you for a second."

"Did I just hear Vincent yell at you?"

"Yeah."

Cloud popped two kisses against the phone, "There's two. I love you."

Sephiroth's entire posture curved toward that sweet energy, "Can I keep textin' you? Or are you goin' to sleep?"

Cloud's voice dropped to a barely audible whisper as his roommate screamed in the background for him to leave if he was going to have phone sex, "Call me back if you can."

"I'm gonna try to fuck up that ten-day record."

"You already are..." Cloud's whisper was husky, "Your voice is making it leak."

"Sephiroth!" Vincent bellowed.

Sephiroth gave a frustrated snarl and snapped his phone shut as he jogged out of the lab space. He made a sharp u-turn into the room next door. The President's face was larger than life on Vincent's computer monitor, the high definition display catching every inflamed vein and enlarged pore. The entire situation was seething, jiggling visibly with rage as the General came into view.

"President," Sephiroth greeted respectfully, faking a little breathlessness as if he'd just been called away from something distant and critical.

President Shin-Ra wasn't fooled, "Who broke into my base? Who do I need to go to war with? The longer we wait, the weaker I look. If you two can't solve this simple matter, which one of you do I need to demote?"

Vincent was standing at the Keurig machine and helping himself to a paper cup filled with piping hot generic coffee, "General Sephiroth is completely unfit to assist on any sort of investigation."

Sephiroth's face was a mask of serene political smugness, "Before I signed off to accept this mission, I wrote a very lengthy argument on why this isn't my skillset. You both insisted that I be here."

"You trying to write your way out of missions is nothing new, General. I think you're the only one who feels like an order is negotiable..." the President was positively vibrating with anger. "Your presence was supposed to boost morale at the base. But instead, you managed to contaminate all evidence?"

Vincent was nodding as he took a sip of coffee and sat beside Sephiroth, "His fingerprints and saliva are all over this goddamn building. I'm not even sure how he did it."

"You weren't supposed to go up there to process physical evidence General," the President spat. "You're the muscle, just like you always are. Why did you even touch anything?"

"I didn't touch anything. I even found someone who works here to do it for me - "

The President wasn't hearing it, "You've had a couple of golden years since the war, lazing around Midgar and doing whatever you please and facing zero consequences. That's over, Sephiroth! You've shown the most unprofessional side of yourself that I've ever seen! This is the last time I'm going to use you in this sort of capacity, and you should count yourself lucky that I don't put you on an unpaid suspension for the remainder of the year!"

A couple of months off work didn't sound like much of a punishment, until he factored in the probability that the lab would snatch him up just in time for the holidays. He hadn't been poisoned in a long time, and that threat cooled Sephiroth's anger fast. He rolled his cell phone in his pocket, knowing it connected him to people – one person in particular – who mattered more than this discussion. In moments this would be over and he would tell Cloud all about it, and that would feel worlds better than mouthing off to the President.

When it was apparent that Sephiroth wasn't going to reply, the President lifted both hands, "What? You're not even going to try and defend yourself? No teeth left after all these years?"

Every tooth in Sephiroth's mouth had been pulled more times than he cared to remember. The jab was insensitive and careless, and even Vincent in all his righteous Turk Commander anger looked at Sephiroth in a mixture of remorse and shock, waiting to see how he would reply.

Sephiroth clutched his cell phone tight, and was able to say without a crack in his eyes or his voice, "No Sir. You're right."

Finding no opposition, the President turned his attention elsewhere, "Valentine, you're the Commander. If Sephiroth's amateur investigation skills have impeded this process, it's on you."

One of Vincent's hands began patting his coat pockets, unconsciously searching for cigarettes, "I have a plan. I made a list of Turks with medical backgrounds to assist -"

"Forget whatever you found time to think of, I've already got a new team in the air. I should have personally selected someone from the labs to oversee the physical evidence in the first place, so I'm also partly to blame for this mess. The Turks are busy here in Midgar, and I can't spare any of my lab workers. Grimoire and his own team are already on their way."

Vincent dropped his packet of cigarettes on the floor, "What?"

"What?" Sephiroth echoed, a clear chime of delight in his tone.

"He will be landing early tomorrow morning. Both of you be there to greet him, and prepare to answer to him as your superior."

Vincent's ass was no longer touching his chair, "He's retired! He's been retired for twenty – are you – is this for real? What's he gonna do -"

The President's angry flush was blotting back to his usual pink pallor, and it was clearly warming his overworked heart to see Vincent so flummoxed, "We've been speaking about reintroducing him into some of our research, a part-time lab consultant. He shied away from genetic testing, but our success has got the better of his curiosity after all these years. To reintroduce him to the company, he volunteered to go up there and clean up your mess, Vincent. And maybe teach you something about conducting a physical investigation, Sephiroth. Neither of you are the boss of shit, anymore. You'll learn something tomorrow, both of you. Do you understand?"

"Yes Sir," Sephiroth was wearing a very wide, genuine smile.

The President's rage instantly returned, "I don't know what you're looking so pleased about."

Sephiroth didn't make it this far in life without knowing how to butter up the President. He took a deep breath to prepare himself for the shit sandwich he was about to eat: "I understand that my sloppiness has slowed down the investigation, and I apologize. I have a genetic condition."

The President glared at Sephiroth through the monitor for a few moments, veiny and red faced and looking like he probably should have taken a time out to chew up an aspirin or something, "... I try with you, Sephiroth. I try to never place blame on you for your own savage nature. For the most part, you've always been a very good boy."

The noise and commotion of Vincent's shock finally went still. He looked at Sephiroth with a hiked brow.

Sephiroth's nose wrinkled into a sneer in an attempt to smile. "... That means so much to me, Sir. Sometimes it's a real struggle to behave as a human. But even as child, I've always... looked up to you, Mr. President. As an example of how a human man should conduct himself."

Vincent hacked a low coughing chuckle, taking a sip of his coffee and spitting it back into the cup. It had already gone ice cold.

The President was eating it up, "Well, it's important for children to have a strong role mode, even if they are a genetically modified monster."

A lot of Sephiroth's teeth were showing as he struggled to continue to smile, "... That being said... my failure in this investigation is due to Vincent's total disregard to my personal needs, both as a SOLDIER and as an extra-terrestrial."

"That must be terribly uncomfortable," The President leaned closer to the monitor in all seriousness. "What do you need, Sephiroth?"

Lately Sephiroth had had nothing but time to ponder this exact question: "I'd like to answer any monster sightings during the remainder of my time here, as that's where I'm best utilized. I'd also like to organize a new training program for the SOLDIERs stationed here. I think that a formal training session with me would boost morale - considering that's why you sent me here in the first place."

"See? Marvelous. That's the Sephiroth I know," the President encouraged.

Still sneering his manic fake smile, Sephiroth continued, "And I need permission to text at my own discretion to release personal anxiety and tension."

"That's certainly not too much to ask."

"What is this?" Vincent cawed from rock bottom defeat.

"Let him train the SOLDIERs, Vincent!" The President spat. "And let the kid text. What's the harm in that? At least he won't be touching anything."

"Thank you, President," Sephiroth interjected primly.

Vincent lit a cigarette indoors without shame.

The President seemed in lighter spirits, "Wrap this up in the next sixteen hours. The three of you will be back in Midgar by Saturday. It's Rufus' birthday and it's important that we all show him that we love him and are proud of him for over a year of sobriety."

Vincent and Sephiroth's eyes found each other.

"He's sober and he's home and he's talking to us and... we're just very happy to be celebrating that for the first time in a long time," The President didn't miss the awkwardness and quickly cleared his throat. "The wife is planning a party at our home at seven o' clock and she wants you there, Valentine. And you too Sephiroth, to entertain Rufus. Bring a date, both of you. Don't bring any gifts, drugs, or excuses. This is your RSVP."

"Yes sir," Vincent obliged.

"Okay," Sephiroth agreed, unable to mask his reluctance at the thought of 'entertaining Rufus'.

"That'll do," the President straightened his coat before reaching out to turn the feed off. Before he did, he eyed Sephiroth. "I might have been a little harsh this evening. Rufus and the wife have me on a grapefruit cleanse."

"Oh," they both said.

"Sephiroth? If I may, a personal question, man to man? Do you eat much grapefruit?"

"I dunno what a grapefruit is."

"It's a big nasty orange," Vincent told him.

"I don't eat that."

"I knew it," The President shook his head in disgust. "I knew it. I can't continue this cleanse. Just tell me honestly, what do you eat to stay in such impressive shape?"

"I don't eat food, I don't even have a stomach. I only get liquid nutrition, like a car," was Sephiroth's lie. The President would literally believe anything he was told about Sephiroth's biology.

"What about smoothies?" the President asked, sizing Sephiroth up. "You seem like you probably drink a lot of smoothies with... stuff in it. Powders and stuff."

"No," was another lie, but it was mostly Cloud's thing. He had gallons of whey protein of almost every flavor in his kitchen.

"Is it youth, then?" the President lamented. "Maybe I'm just too old to get into shape. How old are you Vincent?"

Vincent exhaled smoke, "No comment."

Sephiroth tried to offer some real help to the man, "I'd be happy to train you. You can eat whatever you want if you give me an hour in the morning, maybe three times a week. It could be fun -"

The President immediately shut that nonsense down, "I just envision something like a... sauna. And a smoothie that I can drink while I'm in a sauna. Just a hot sauna and an ice cold, fat burning smoothie a few times a day. Surely after a few weeks that should have an effect, right?"

"No."

"Wonderful! I'm getting a steak, this cleanse is bullshit. I'll see you both Saturday," and then the President was gone and the monitor went dark.

"Hey," Vincent pressed a finger between his eyes, "Shoot me right here."

"I should. You threw me right under the bus."

"It's not personal, it's self-preservation. He hates me, but you'll always be his good boy," Vincent stood up with a stretch. "That's it for today. Get some sleep."

"Really?" Sephiroth got up to follow Vincent out of the room. It was early-afternoon at the Northern Crater, but not sleeping for several days made time kind of irrelevant.

"Set up your training program for the guys and be ready for that in the mornin'. I'm shuttin' everything down and lettin' Grim take it from here," Vincent gave a condescending smile. "Grandpa."

"Grandpa," Sephiroth parroted nasally, his tongue lolling out a little. "Shouldn't you call him dad?"

"Never!" Vincent rasped a husky smoker's laugh, "And don't go sayin' that grandpa shit to him. He'll lose his mind."

"When do we meet tomorrow?"

"I'll give you a wake-up call," Vincent dropped what was left of his cigarette into his cold cup of coffee and tossed it into the trash. "... Seph."

Sephiroth looked back at him, phone already up to his ear.

Vincent searched for words, "It's been a shit time up here."

"Yeah."

"I'm glad to have had you around, though. Woulda gone crazy here alone."

Half of Sephiroth's mouth involuntarily smiled, "... Just doin' my job."

"See ya tomorrow."

"See ya," Sephiroth turned with a smile and spoke into his phone to Cloud, who had picked up fifteen seconds prior, "Hey baby."

"Was he being mean to you again?"

"Nah, he was bein' cool. We're done with work for now."

Cloud gave a sleepy little cheer, "I missed you this week! I'm happy we can finally talk."

"How you likin' the new phone?"

"I don't know how I was living before with the old one! I can't wait until you have yours too. It'll be fun sending each other little movies any time we want."

"Yeah it will," Sephiroth purred in agreement, taking a tray in the cafeteria. "Oh hey, I got some good news - I'll be back by Saturday. Don't make any plans, we got a party to go to."

"A party?" Cloud chirped.

"Not like a fun one or anything, it's just for Rufus' birthday."

There was suddenly a lot of movement coming from his end of the line. "What do we wear?"

"I dunno."

"Is it black tie?"

"I dunno."

"You look good all the time no matter what, but some of us take effort!" The sound of hangers and clothes being thrown could be heard. "The only thing I have that cost more than like five gil from a thrift store are those stupid red Gucci pants!"

"You love those pants. I love your ass in those pants."

"I can't wear them around rich people, they'll know they came from a clearance rack!"

"I'll text Rufus and ask what we should wear."

"No! Don't let him know I'm panicking! Ask Genesis!"

Sephiroth didn't look forward to a conversation where Genesis was dictating what he and his boyfriend should wear. He changed the topic, "You still got my credit card, right? Just go to mall and get whatever you want. No clearance shit."

The sounds of hangers stopped. "... What's my budget?"

"The card doesn't have a limit."

"What are you saying?!" Cloud screamed in agony. "Do you know what clothes cost?"

"You're tryin' to marry me but you won't even use my credit card? Loser!"

That quickly brought Cloud back to reality. He dropped back down into bed with a crashing squeak of his dorm mattress. "How about we just call this my Christmas present and then you won't have to worry about getting me anything for like years and years -"

"Fuck off with that shit too, this isn't a Christmas present it's just you gettin' somethin' you need. I'm glad you brought up Christmas, though."

"What about it?"

Sephiroth was frowning at the less-than-pleasing selection in the Northern Base cafeteria. Since meeting Lieutenant Nowicki his portions were always generous, but it was still shit, "Do you know how to make garlic bread?"

"I can find out! You want that instead of the onion rolls?"

"No, no, I want them too. I want as many types of bread as you're willing to make."

"Anything you want, dear!" Cloud's smile dimmed a bit, "So... you actually liked the tree, and all that food? It didn't feel like a waste since it was just us?"

"Just us? What's that supposed to mean? Every single lame ass couple I know blow it out for the holidays. Why not us?"

"I just don't want you to just go along with it, but secretly think your boyfriend is basic."

"What's wrong with bein' basic?"

"... Nothing!" Cloud sniffed a sudden wave of tears, "Nothing at all! All I want in the whole world is to be basic with you!"

This was not a big revelation. Sephiroth moved on to his next point, "So anyway, I took three days off -"

"Three days?" Cloud squeaked with joy.

Sephiroth was going to have to pay dearly for those days, but happily continued, "Can I shop with you and actually help this time? Last year I feel like it all just happened to me, and you worked way too hard all by yourself. I know stuff this time."

"Of course!"

"And I wanna make a new tradition of my own."

"Anything!"

"Don't invite anybody."

Cloud agreed, but due to the nature of friends and family, this tradition was one that would never be honored.

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

Alright so the pressure was off - Rufus' birthday party was not a black tie event. However, Genesis did make the strong suggestion that Sephiroth and Cloud wear something 'acceptable to be photographed with him in' on a carpet of a certain color.

Cloud asked what color. Sephiroth had to tell him outright, "Red, dipshit."

Sephiroth was not worried. His fashion plan was to wear leather pants he'd worn all week to work, a thin white cotton v-neck that came packaged in a bag of four, and this dark gray dress coat given to him for free by Tom Ford that he'd had for like two years and was photographed in all the time and would never be called out for by the media.

Cloud was disgusted, because he would never, ever, ever, ever look as good as Sephiroth did without even trying.

Sephiroth found out through Genesis that most of Rufus' clothes came from Hugo Boss. And while his actual clothes came custom from a fleet of top designers, there was a Hugo Boss store at the fancy upscale mall near headquarters. It wasn't even called a mall – it was a gallery. So pretentious! That's exactly where Cloud went to make his first attempt to look like he belonged with these damn Shin-Ra Electric Company people.

He didn't feel very glamorous as entered the Hugo Boss store. He was un-showered, slightly burnt from the late autumn sun, and in a red Academy hoodie and black jeans that barely covered his ass anymore. But as out of place as he felt, he didn't let the sleek atmosphere or the gorgeous sales girl deter him from rubbing his dirty hands on every single thing in the store.

He spent three hours searching for the right combination of careless and fashionable. He sent dozens of dressing room pictures to his mother, Cameron, Skylar, Tifa, his aunt Geraldine, his cousin Stella, and anyone on Facebook who would pay attention to him that wasn't Sephiroth. He'd also tormented the patient and model-esque sales girl with his indecision, who was just trying to make her fucking commission and send him on his way.

It had been a long, tiring process and his skin was practically raw from trying on clothes. But Cloud finally had an outfit.

He was going to wear tight black pants labeled 'casual pants' that cost more than everything in Cloud's entire wardrobe combined, a soft blue v-neck sweater that brought out his eyes (according to his mother), and a blue and green plaid 'evening jacket', whatever the fuck that was. It was certainly too clean and expensive to ever be authentically punk; it was what rich people called punk in fashion editorials.

He didn't show Sephiroth what he was buying because there was too much pleasure in getting ready for a date and revealing a new outfit. Sephiroth always put on a real good show of being blown away by Cloud's style and charm, and if he was going to hang out with the higher ups, Cloud needed the goddamn ego boost.

It was almost closing time and nobody else was in the store when Cloud finally emerged from the dressing room in his own clothes. He made sure to fold everything he'd tried on nicely and put everything back on hangers, which the sales girl seemed shocked by, and not particularly thankful for.

"I just thought I'd help," Cloud tried to smile at her.

"... Okay," was all she said.

And then came the big moment.

"Your total is..." and when she said the number, Cloud's entire body visibly broke out in hives.

"... There won't be anything this weekend will there?... Like a Friday sale? Or a weekend coupon or..."

"What?"

"Nevermind..." Cloud gulped, and reached into his four gil thrift store jean pocket to retrieve Sephiroth's credit card. It was black and made of something much heavier than plastic, and screamed buying power. He was about to hand it over, but then snatched it back at the last second, "Wait!"

"What now?"

Cloud looked up at the ceiling, trying to remember the exact amount he had saved in his bank account. He really wanted a car – or perhaps a motorcycle… Some kind of vehicle! He'd been saving almost half of his Cadet pay every month, plus he had most of what his dad had paid for an abandoned childhood, plus a couple of paychecks from Dirty Rubbers...

"What?" the sales girl repeated impatiently, very close to losing her composure.

"I don't know if you'll understand, and I'm sorry to dump this problem on you... but my boyfriend offered to buy me this and I just don't think I can go through with it."

"Why not?"

"Because it's a lot of money."

"To you," she looked him over head to toe. "But not to him, judging from that card."

Cloud held the credit card against his heart, "I just love him so much, I'd hate to ever give him the impression I'm using him or have some kind of claim on his money. He works so hard, I just feel terrible coming along and blowing this much money on one outfit like it's nothing."

"Listen... friend to friend," she bent down a little to look into Cloud's eyes. "You sound like you're new to this lifestyle. But successful men of a certain age like to financially take care of sweet young - "

"Oh no he's not a sugar daddy or anything! He's only a couple years older than I am..." Cloud dug around in his pocket and produced his own bank card. "I've made up my mind. I think I have enough to cover it on my own. If not, I'll put something back."

She sneered down at his thin, weightless, brightly colored plastic debit card, "Get that thing out of my sight. Spend your boyfriend's money. It's the right thing to do!"

"You really think I should?"

"This is one of the most sincere forms of intimacy. He earned the money, he earned you, and it's activating a certain part of his animal brain to provide for you. This is simple biology!"

"I'm scared!"

"If you don't spend his money... right now..." she shook her head gravely. "He'll never come to fully understand your value."

"Don't get me started on the word value -"

"Gimme that goddamn credit card!"

Cloud shakily handed it over.

She snatched it and looked at it sharply. Then her face became pale underneath her spray tan, "... Sephiroth?"

"Yes ma'am, he's my boyfriend. I can call him if you need to verify that I'm allowed to use it."

"Is your name Cloud?"

"…Yes, " he answered carefully.

Her breath shuddered just a little, "Do you know who I am?"

He started to panic, "No! I'm sorry... should I?"

"I'm Kristen. I dated Sephiroth for a couple months last year."

"Dated?" Cloud whispered, staring up at Sephiroth's ex-girlfriend. She was everything he'd heard about: tall, and blonde, and boobs, and beautiful, and scary. Cloud offered her what he hoped was a friendly smile, but it was more like a grimace, "... Hi."

Her icy blue, smoke rimmed eyes curiously studied his face, "I read about you, but they didn't have any clear pictures. Your hair..."

There was no more to that statement, just his hair. It'd been fluffed up from trying on so many different shirts and dirty from a long school day, and he found himself combing it with his fingers and apologizing for his own appearance, "I'm so sorry! I need a cut, it's a little crazy right now."

"It's cute," She told him without a smile, still eyeing him critically. "Your accent, too."

"Nibelheim."

"What?"

Cloud was turning redder by the second, "That's where I'm from."

"Never heard of it."

Cloud began to pick at the skin around his fingernails as he recited for the millionth time since moving to Midgar, "It's a small town on the other continent."

"Oh," she pouted, narrowing her eyes. "... Your nose is sun burnt."

"I'm outside all day," Cloud rubbed his cheeks and nose bashfully. "I should probably use sunblock."

"Don't bother, freckles are in. Your eyes are a really pretty blue."

"Thank you, so are yours - " and right then it dawned on him that Sephiroth had a type. Blonde hair, blue eyes, slightly tinted from the sun or less natural means. Cloud even sometimes wore makeup like she was wearing, carefully smudged to look like some sort of fashionable apocalypse had occurred.

Except that Cloud was a far smaller version, which gave him an eye-level view of her cleavage. He wouldn't know what to do with them if he had the chance, but he always enjoyed the sight of nice boobs.

"Well?" she finally huffed, crossing her arms.

Cloud realized he'd been staring and looked up quickly, "Well what? You're making me sick - you're beautiful."

"And you're a fuckin' upgrade!" She suddenly roared. "I'm trying to find something wrong with you and I can't!"

Cloud couldn't tell if he was being complimented or insulted. He stammered, "Wha-at? Are you serious? You work at Hugo Boss! You're six feet tall! You're practically a model!"

"I am a model. Part time," She lamented, losing some of her statuesque height as she leaned glumly on the counter. Much like Sephiroth, she slipped farther into her accent when she relaxed.

Cloud cracked a smile at that, "So... are you seeing anyone now?"

Her mood instantly lifted, "I just got engaged, actually!"

"That's wonderful!" Cloud clapped and opened his mouth to share the same news about himself and Sephiroth before shutting it again.

"Yeah," She waved that topic away by flipping her long ponytail behind her shoulder. "Look, I don't want to be nosy or bother you, Cloud. But I'm just wonderin'... how is Sephiroth?"

Cloud swallowed, a whole slew of weird emotions spiking his heart rate. He was mostly kind of excited to talk about Sephiroth with someone who had also known him intimately, "He's doing well! Always busy with work, but we see each other as much as we can."

"That's good," she weaved a little where she stood, shifting her shoulders in some sort of straight girl dance and choosing her words. "How long have you been together?"

"A year and a month," Cloud answered with a proud smile. "We went on our first date last Halloween. You dated him for... four months in the springtime or something?"

"Don't act like you don't know," she sneered. "Just like you said, he was gone for work mostly."

"He doesn't mean to be," Cloud said softly. "I'll be working with him soon, so it won't be so bad."

"That's good," she pouted, still doing the teetering, weaving dance and trying to send Cloud some kind of message telepathically.

Cloud guessed what she might have wanted to say, "He told me about your break up. I'm sorry you had to go through that. You're beautiful – he even told me so. I think he must have been really confused at that point in his life, and very shocking for you to find out your boyfriend is - "

"I knew he was gay from our first date."

Cloud gasped, "You did? How did you know?"

"Because he is."

Fair enough. Cloud continued the interrogation though, "Then why'd you keep dating him?"

"Why? Why not?" she answered with a sharp laugh. "Besides bein' rich and handsome - he was a great listener, funny, an amazing kisser. And like... do you find it really easy to just eat in front of him?"

"Yeah!" Cloud realized.

"I thought things would work themselves out eventually, but they didn't. The talks were good, though."

Cloud couldn't imagine what the hell Sephiroth would have to talk about with this girl. But he was an active listener, and could provoke a conversation about absolutely nothing until dawn. Then again, those all night conversations usually had sexual intermissions.

Cloud blurted out what he was wondering while he had the goddamn chance, "Did you ever sleep with him?"

She shot him a glare from under her brow, "Sephiroth never told you?"

A chill of dread. "… He said you didn't. But I honestly don't believe him."

"I'll tell you if you tell me somethin' first."

"Sure."

"The last time I talked to him, I said a lot of... hurtful things that I feel really bad about. Do you think an apology would mean shit to him? I mean... I called him the 'f' word."

"Fuck?"

"Faggot," she mouthed silently.

Cloud pondered on that for a few moments. As a young adult that had become one of his favorite words – but it certainly didn't feel good to get called that by unauthorized straight people. Sephiroth had told Cloud about this break up fight in detail, and he always laughed about it. But the look on Kristen's face made it clear that she didn't look back on it lightheartedly.

"You were upset, he knows that. And I have this feeling like he thought it was kind of funny. But I'm sure he'd like to know how you feel! We could call him. We should call him!"

"No no no, I can't talk to him. Will you tell him? It'll sound better comin' from you. I want him to know that I regret that last conversation. He wasn't the man for me, but he's a good man."

"He's a very good man," Cloud agreed, his eyes a little watery for no apparent reason. But it was an emotional thing and he was a creature of empathy, so he let himself get carried away.

"I was at my worst when we were together..." Kristen thought aloud. "I think I just got caught up in how bad I wanted to make it work, and I became this awful person. Do you ever just annoy yourself? I know I had to be annoying to be around. But Sephiroth's so sexy, such a great body, and he's cool, and mysterious, and has money. Suddenly I'm with this famous guy, he gets me the truck I want, magazines are writin' about us and all my friends are jealous... but when we're alone - "

"He got you a truck?"

"A Hummer. I wanted a tank just like his, but that was the closest thing."

Cloud slammed both hands on the counter, "What the shit?! How did this happen?!"

Kristen was always careful to say Sephiroth 'got' her the truck, not 'bought' her the truck. The truth was that Sephiroth only went along to go window shopping and skillfully avoided hints that he buy one to "let her use". The dealership staff were so thrilled that General Sephiroth was there with his beautiful girlfriend, they gave one of the brand new floor models to Kristen for fucking free. Sephiroth had vehemently refused the gift since it could have the appearance of bribery, but Kristen and the sales manager both seemed so happy with this arrangement that he just kind of stepped way, way back and allowed it to happen.

She would take the facts to the fucking grave. Her version was much more fun to tell: "It's simple. I asked daddy to take me shopping and he did."

"That's my daddy!" Cloud immediately realized what he had just said and clapped both hands over his mouth. "Don't ever make me call him that again, we all have enough daddy issues as it is!"

She laughed openly at Cloud's ridiculously cute anger, "You get his dick, right?"

"Well, yes."

She waved Sephiroth's credit card in the air, "And his money?"

"… I suppose."

"Don't I deserve something for my time and effort?"

"Well, when you put it that way..."

She sighed down at the credit card wistfully, "My fiance is gonna be a brilliant plastic surgeon, and we're gonna be very well off one day... but right now he's in med school and broke. I don't even have a ring, yet."

"But don't you see that that's how things should be? You're by his side during the come up! He knows you're not a gold digger and that you really love him!"

"But I am a gold digger," she told him bluntly. "At least I used to be. I miss my rich, gay boyfriend."

"Come on! It's not like he's actually rich," Cloud laughed in willful ignorance.

"You're sweet... I'm glad Sephiroth met you. Tell him that for me."

"Girl, I am going to tell him every word of this conversation!"

"And then you're going to make him get you a car. You are General Sephiroth's long term boyfriend and you're fuckin' sexy. Look at you! You're worth it!" She put her hands on her hips and looked at him intently, waiting.

He made a flat face at her before he recited without passion, "I'm worth it."

She pointed a finger at him, "And stop being so shy about spending his money. If you've been fucking him this long, you deserve privileges!"

"Fucking him is the privilege."

"I wouldn't know," Some of her gusto deflated. "He's the only boyfriend I've ever had who put on more clothes as the night went on. He started the date in leather, hot as hell... then when we got back to his apartment he'd wind up in sweatpants, two t-shirts, a hoodie with the hood up, a blanket around his shoulders - this isn't funny!"

But it really was, and they infected each other with laughter. Kristen at how absolutely stupid and uncomfortable the situation had been for both her and Sephiroth, and Cloud at the mental image of Sephiroth as a closeted, petrified virgin.

She continued, "Actually attempting to have sex was the deal breaker. We got naked, and then he just hugged me for like a full minute before he threw his clothes back on and left."

"Traumatizing!" Cloud screamed.

She nodded, "It was! He was so disgusted! His dick looked so sad!"

"He's so good in bed, I swear!" Cloud managed to wail. "I feel so bad for you! I'm so sorry! But you deserved it!"

"I know! I swear to God I'll never try to convert a-" She couldn't finish the sentence, this was the kind of laughter that needed to play out in its entirety.

When Cloud reflected back on it, they'd probably gone a little too far that first day as a brand new couple. The first time they were alone in his apartment, Cloud had probably been too nervous to realize how much Sephiroth was bluffing that feline confidence. But skin and warmth and closeness and kissing felt so good, and it must have been something Sephiroth needed for a long time. To know he wasn't broken sexually, to be physically close to a man without fighting him.

What took Sephiroth so long to realize this about himself? Especially surrounded by so many friends who were all different kinds of queer? How could he not know?

Sephiroth had been a late bloomer, and maybe a little bit in denial, and probably working too hard to have much time to think about it. All the stuff happening with the medical lab was also a built-in excuse not to get too close to anybody, especially the latest girl he was dating.

This cycle had worked out marvelously for Cloud to swoop in and snatch him at the perfect time in both of their lives.

Their laughter died down to giggles, and they caught their breath.

Kirsten's face elongated as she tried to wipe her eyes without messing up her makeup more than it already was. "... It feels so good to laugh about this. You have no idea."

Cloud was less composed as he wiped his wet eyes with the back of his hands, "I'm really glad to have met you, Kristen. I'm happy that you found the man you love as well."

"His name's Ethan. Wanna see him?"

"Desperately!" Cloud all but screamed, and gave a little hum of approval when she produced pictures of an ebony-skinned young man with a bright grin.

She had hundreds of pictures of him and of the two of them in tiny bathing suits at the coast, playing with a puppy that eventually grew into a large dog, doing kissy poses, and generally being incredibly attractive human beings. She skipped over ones with groups of friends and families – but they were obviously very involved in each other's lives. She preferred to linger on the ones of his body, and while Sephiroth might have been muscular for practical reasons, this guy was pure civilian aesthetics and it was incredible.

"That's Ethan," she finally sighed, putting her phone away.

"He's gorgeous!"

"He's adequate."

"Stop being cool for one second and tell me you love him!"

"Alright! I love him to death. I kinda lost some confidence after Sephiroth... downward spiral, all that. He really saved me," Kristen suddenly recomposed herself and was six feet tall once more. "Now go tell Sephiroth I'm with someone really hot, and that I'm really happy and in love and having great sex. It's only fair since the same thing happened for him."

"I will," Cloud promised.

She processed the transaction. After a moment of thought, she leaned on the counter, "I think... I'm gonna need verbal confirmation that you're an authorized user of this card, afterall."

Sephiroth picked up the call right away and was eating something crunchy, "You done?"

Cloud let out a shaky breath, "Almost, the sales girl would like to talk to you for a minute."

His mouth was full but he was able to agree, "'Kay."

Cloud handed her the phone. She took it and swallowed before losing her accent to a prim customer service voice, "... Is this General Sephiroth? This is Kristen for Hugo Boss speaking. Can you verify the last four digits of the card?... Thank you. And you are confirming authorization for this transaction for Cloud... uh?"

"Strife!" he whispered.

"Cloud Strife... Thank you, we just like to make sure your card is secure. Yes... Thank you."

She looked at Cloud and made a large motion with her hands, and he silently encouraged her to continue. "Um... Sephiroth? It's Kristen. Your Kristen – your old Kristen... yeah, it's me! I'm good! Guess what? Remember how I wanted that contract with – yeah! So I model every couple weeks, I don't get paid much yet but it's fun and I meet people. Yeah, it's good! I work here at the mall, too. I've been helpin' Cloud all night. Then I saw the name on your card, and we've been talkin'. I just thought I'd say hi."

She looked at Cloud for a few moments, her expression becoming grim. She was listening, and Cloud tried to crowd closer to hear what Sephiroth was saying. She elbowed him away, "Oh no, it's nothin' like that. What I really wanted to say is... I'm sorry. No, lemme say it. I was so ugly to you at the end, and... I just wanted to say I really regret actin' that way. I know you don't give a shit, but I just hope you don't think back and hate me, that's all. Sometimes I just think about things you did or said and laugh... we had some real good times. I guess I hope you do, too."

Cloud narrowed his eyes in a sudden wave of jealousy. What kind of good times? What kind of funny things? She was a lot cooler and they seemed to get along a lot better than Sephiroth ever let on, but then again, maybe they just got along better as exes. They'd both grown up a lot in the past year and a half, and the greatest difference was that they were both happy now.

She listened for a long while. Sephiroth was saying a lot. Cloud strained his ears to try and hear but just couldn't make out anything but the rumble of his voice.

Kristen's eyes suddenly popped open wide, "I'm not a fag hag! I am not! I didn't even like you, I just wanted your money! … Shut up!"

Cloud could clearly hear Sephiroth laughing, so from the sound of it, the apology had been enthusiastically accepted.

"I'm so done with you! I'm givin' you back to Cloud now. And Seph, you probably already know this, but this guy is a keeper. He's literally the nicest guy I have ever met in my life. So sexy, too... I don't need to make him turn around to see the other side, I've been looking at it all night! You take care of him, okay? Okay. Okay! You too, Seph. And thank you for everything, I mean it. Alright, you too. Take care. Bye bye."

Cloud took the phone back with his nose scrunched guiltily, "Heeey!"

"I don't care how sexy you are, I'm gonna kill you."

Cloud was fearless, "I'll call you back in a few and tell you every word, okay?"

"Awright, love you," Sephiroth chuckled as he hung up.

They completed the transaction and Cloud took his bags. Most of the lights were off in the mall and the other stores were dark. Knowing how it felt to close a store at the end of the night, Cloud decided to forego a long goodbye, but did chance to give her a small hug.

"I'm very glad I came into this store tonight!"

"Me too," she smiled, pressing the button to bring down the gate as he left. "Thanks to you, I hit commission."

"And you healed your heart!" Cloud reminded her.

"I need commission more," she locked the gate and wiggled her fingers from the other side. "Bring that credit card back soon!"

"Probably sooner than you think."

"Feels good to spend his money, doesn't it?"

Cloud nodded happily and waved like an absolute dork before starting to walk away. A fat mall cop on a segway rolled up to him, "Sir, the mall is closed and all of the exits are being locked. I'll take you to the remaining open exit."

"Okay!" Cloud stepped up onto the segway behind the cop and wrapped his arms around his huge waist. "I've always wanted to ride one of these things!"

"... I mean you walk behind me to the exit."

"What?"

"Please let go of me and get off my segway."

"Oh! Sorry..." Cloud hopped down, rubbing his neck with a blush. He looked back to see if Kristen had saw that terribly awkward moment, and of course she had. He gave her a small wave as he followed the cop with his head down.

Kristen shook her head in disbelief from the other side of the gate, "Definitely a keeper."

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

"Surprised?" Grimoire called as he descended the stairs of the airship.

"What the hell are you doin' here?" Vincent called back.

"I was on vacation."

"For twenty-four years," Vincent remarked. "And you reappear to conveniently save the day the one time I can't perform a miracle."

"A miracle is anything that happens with the probability of less than twenty percent," Grimoire said an octave lower, coming closer and pulling Vincent into a very brief, loose embrace.

"Welcome back," Vincent grumbled, returning a clap onto his father's back before slithering out of the embrace.

Grimoire turned his attention to Sephiroth, but said nothing.

Sephiroth had been very bold in his assertions that this man was his grandfather, but that was mostly just to piss Vincent off. Family was really the only button of Vincent's that he had available to push, and so push it Sephiroth gleefully had. But now looking at the man that was Vincent's father, Sephiroth was very suddenly and terribly shy. The kind of shy he hadn't felt in a very long time.

Grimoire was looking him over head to toe. "General Sephiroth. It's been a long time."

"Sir?"

"You were the reason I took my vacation," Grimoire said with a wry, dimpled smile on his face. "But look at you now."

Sephiroth stared back at him curiously, a crack in the facade of unimpressed professionalism he was trying to fake. And when he smiled, that shallow dimple popped out on his cheek.

Vincent looked between the two of them, and his eyebrows lowered.

Maybe it was the silver dusting Grimoire's temples, matching Sephiroth's more polluted mako silver hair. Maybe it was the cut of Grimoire's old leather coat, similar to the style Sephiroth wore. Maybe it was because Sephiroth was a fully grown man, and Vincent had never seen him beside Grimoire to notice any similarity before.

Lucretia had cultivated a close working relationship with his father before Vincent had even graduated the Academy. Grimoire could have definitely been one of the candidates for a biological sample. And it would make sense why Lucretia had been so scared shitless of finally publicly admitting that they dated... other than the fourteen year age difference.

The possibility of being Sephiroth's father tortured Vincent almost every single day. It never occurred to him that they might share a father.

Vincent's heart craved pain, and since his little rift with Sephiroth had healed he had noticed himself looking for melancholy in other places. His tragedy afflicted nature could never have dreamed of this though, and seized onto the notion until he could physically feel it feeding on his heart.

Sephiroth and Grimoire were saying things, talking about something. Sephiroth's demeanor was melting a little bit, he was relaxing. Grimoire liked him already, what was not to like about Sephiroth? They began to walk toward the building, and Grimoire turned back to call Vincent forward.

''Come on Vincent, show me what he fucked up," Grimoire beckoned.

"I swear I didn't touch anything," Sephiroth repeated in a grumbled defensive, holding the door open for him.

"We'll know all there is to know very soon," Grimoire was assuring him kindly. "Did you know I used to work very closely with your mother?"

"No," Sephiroth answered, and there was a silent, 'and I don't give a fuck.'

Grimoire fully understood the interpretation. "I won't bore you with details about the science department, you probably know enough about that place. But I have some things you might like to see one day."

Sephiroth tried not to sound too interested, "What?"

"Do you like to read?"

"No."

"You wouldn't understand most of it anyway," Grimoire then spoke to Vincent. "Come on, introduce me to the staff as your boss, and do it slowly so I can enjoy it."

Vincent didn't reply, just led him towards the lab space.

Sephiroth realized he'd just been given the brush off but was still walking with them, "You need any help -"

"Absolutely not," Grimoire told him over his shoulder.

Sephiroth was on his heels, "Commander, I trained the stationed men here for three hours this morning, I'm havin' them come out tonight, too. I made up a plan for -"

"Do whatever it is you do. We'll be in touch if we need you," Grimoire put a hand on Sephiroth's shoulder to squash him back as he and Vincent turned a corner.

"I really didn't touch anything," Sephiroth insisted yet again as he watched them go.

Later that evening, Sephiroth was in the cafeteria, drinking straight from a pot of coffee and thoroughly enjoying his newfound freedom as he texted openly, and without shame.

One of Grimoire's team approached him, "Excuse me General Sephiroth, but Commander Valentine wants to see you."

"Which one?"

"The old one."

"Which one?"

"The old-er one."

Sephiroth entered the lab space and approached where the team was clustered around a microscope.

"Ah, General. Come here for a moment," Grimoire invited, holding up a clear piece of film. "Kindly remove the glove from your left hand. Hold up one finger."

Sephiroth did as he asked. He refrained from holding up his middle finger, and instead went with the pointer.

Grimoire held up a slide to the pad of his finger. "It should have been very obvious to all of you that they're too small."

"Huh?" Sephiroth asked, mildly offended.

"These are your finger prints, but not from your fingers. They're a child's. A clone broke into this base. Then I suspect he killed his way back out."

Vincent was absolutely furious, "You haven't even looked over all the evidence, yet!"

Grimoire ignored him, "There was a clone sighting in the slums about a week ago. Ripped a Turk's arm off. I suspect that was the culprit."

"What clone sighting?" Sephiroth asked. "What Turk?"

"General Rhapsodos has been dealing with it in your absence, but there was an escaped child clone in the slums that created a big mess. You'll get briefed on all that when we return. Let's pack up and get the hell out of here."

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

Cloud threw his bag on the floor and his keys on the counter in the kitchen, and sat down on the tile to unlace his boots. The days were short but the setting sun and lights from the city made the loft seem romantic.

Sephiroth would be arriving in the middle of the night. Cloud had a busy evening ahead of him preparing to welcome him home – he liked to make sure the sheets were washed and everything in the refrigerator was fresh. He'd heard stories about Sephiroth leaving for months at a time only to come home to rotten milk and dust all over everything. Even if Sephiroth was only gone for a week or two, he still noticed that the effort had been made and appreciated it, and it was something that Cloud enjoyed doing for him.

Not to mention Cloud had certain wifely duties to prepare his body for Sephiroth's return. They were enjoyable in their own weird way, and certainly also appreciated.

When Cloud flipped on the lights in the living room, the smile left his face.

There was shit strewn all over the place. Pill bottles. Empty cartons of ice cream and a couple of boxes of pizza with nothing but chewed up crusts. A mount of wadded up tissues that looked like they were blotted with blood, and a fucking scapel.

There was also an unforgettable odor, and it got stronger as Cloud took steps into the living room. Sugar. But darker, rotting.

Cloud was frozen, "... Seph? Are you already home?"

No response. But there was a certain intelligence hiding in that in the heavy silence, something heard him.

Cloud didn't stop running until he was on the sidewalk across the street.

He tried to call Sephiroth, but he was already on the airship coming home and the call couldn't connect. He could text him though, and was barefoot and shaking as his thumbs moved fast on the keypad, 'you know all those talks and stuff I went through at the lab and how I'm always supposed to speak up if I see or sense anything weird?'

Dots appeared to indicate Sephiroth's reply a long while before it actually sent. It told Cloud that he was probably blinded by his phone light in the dark and half asleep on the flight home, 'what'

Cloud had a million details to text, but all his thumbs could manage were, 'Seph there's something evil in your apartment, I SWEAR'

'no more junon horror story'

'SEPH IM SERISSOUS!' Cloud shakily began to text in detail what exactly happened, but was interrupted by a text from Sephiroth.

'go back to the dorm. ill get u first thing in the morning, ok?'

'I don't want you to be here alone, either!'

'call a friend over and have a drink, you'll feel better'

Cloud was surprised, 'I can invite someone over?'

'its your place too'

Cloud was elated. For the first time ever, he extended an invitation to his best friend to come over and spend time with him at Sephiroth's apartment.

"No fuckin' way!" was Cameron Wedge's answer.

Cloud was not prepared for that response, "Wh-no?! What do you mean no?"

"Ya really expect me ta go into General Sephiroth's mother fuckin' apartment and check fer monsters?"

"This is supernatural! Demonic, even!" Cloud hissed, looking up at the windows in the loft from across the street and expecting to see a grim face looking back out at him. They were tinted so that he wouldn't have seen anything anyway, but still.

"I know what ya dead lift, plus I know ya killed one before. Handle yer own demons."

"That was a baby demon!" Cloud wailed. "Just come over and hang out for a while. Please? Watch a movie with me, Sephiroth has a huge TV! I'll let you snoop around the apartment!"

Cameron bawled laughter, "Everyone at school already thinks we screw, I don't need yer boyfriend thinkin' I screw ya, too!"

"We live together! We sleep like four feet apart every night! Why would we be any more likely to have sex here?"

Cameron was baffled by his own heterosexual male logic. "F- I – I dunno!"

"Fine, I'm just coming home then."

"NO!" Cameron wailed. "Stay away! I got a date tonight and we might come back here!"

"Am I not even welcome in my own room?"

"I love ya like a brother, but we need time apart ta get laid!"

"I thought you were an exhibitionist and liked doing it outside?"

"My new girlfriend isn't like that, she's a lady."

"Girlfriend?" Cloud gasped in delight. "You never told me it was that serious, who is she? What's her name?"

"Yer breakin' up, I gotta go!" Cameron hung up.

Cloud had officially been abandoned. He then realized that he could call Zack... it wasn't something he'd normally do. He loved being around Zack and saw him all the time, but he'd never really texted him to hang out before... especially not now that he had a pregnant girlfriend and everything. Surely he'd be busy with her...

Cloud threw caution to the wind and texted him, 'Zack! What are you doing tonight?'

Zack replied quickly, 'Little sis! I'm at HQ. You going to the birthday party tomorrow night?'

'Yeah!'

'Awesome, I'll see you there!'

'HEY... you ever get weird feelings?'

'I am a weird feeling'

Cloud smiled as he texted back, 'I mean it. I'm at Sephiroth's apartment and somethings inside. I know it sounds crazy but I can't go back to the dorms because my roommate has a date and I'm stuck outside with no boots and it's starting to snow and I'm scared.'

That was more than enough for Zack to reply with a phone call.

Cloud felt terrible as he answered. He could barely talk from shivering, "Hey, I'm really sorry to bother you."

"I'll be there as soon as I can. Just do me a favor and go back inside and sit in the hallway. Don't go in the apartment, just wait for me there so you don't freeze to death."

"Okay I can do that," Cloud agreed, and instantly felt taken care of. "You're my hero!"

"I always wanted someone to say that to me!"

Forty minutes later, Zack appeared at the end of the hallway. He was sweaty and slightly flushed, and dropped his gym bag onto the floor, "Honey, I'm home!"

"Hey!" Cloud eagerly stood up and hugged him. He tried really hard not to inhale Zack's intriguing scent of clean man sweat and a generous spray of Axe, but it was like fucking impossible not to. He smelled like ultimate forbidden fruit – sweaty straight boy.

Zack finally pulled away from the hug with a smile, "Alright, let's figure out what's going on here."

"Okay..." Cloud shakily used his key to open up the door. "Do you sense anything here with your psychic powers?"

All Zack could see with his psychic sense of past-sight was that there wasn't a surface in the immediate vicinity where Sephiroth and Cloud hadn't screwed. Except maybe the ceiling. "... Not really. But I can take a little walk around, make sure nothing's here."

"Want a drink?"

"Absolutely, I'm dying," Zack stuck out his tongue and billowed his shirt for air. "I hate doing Sephiroth's work when he's gone."

Cloud opened the refrigerator, "What do you have to do?"

"So much running. I dunno why he loves to run so much. It's embarrassing when I can barely even keep up with troops I'm supposed to be training."

Cloud popped open two beers and gave Zack one, "How's Aerith? Sorry to make you late going home to her."

Zack gulped half of it down before replying, "Oh, she's fine! She's got Turks lording over her twenty-four hours a day, she's the safest girl in the city."

Cloud took a thoughtful sip before asking, "... Why?"

"It's a courtesy Shin-Ra does for expecting partners," Zack lied. He wasn't about to tell Cloud about anything concerning the clone. It was exactly why he came by though; Sephiroth's apartment was the first place the Turks wanted to look. But everyone in the Shin-Ra Electric Company knew better than to sniff around this place, to say General Sephiroth valued his privacy was putting it mildly. But getting invited over by Cloud was another story.

Cloud's eyes kept diverting to the hallway leading to the dark, less developed rooms in Sephiroth's sprawling loft.

Zack turned to see what he kept looking at. "That where the ghost went?"

Cloud didn't smile and finally told someone the entire story: "I came by last weekend and this place was a mess. Sephiroth isn't a neat freak but I've never known him to leave a big mess. I gave him shit about it and cleaned it up. And I swear I almost saw something out of the corner of my eye. I definitely heard something... I felt like I wasn't alone but I let it go. Then a whole week went by and come back tonight, and that feeling is still here. There's also a mess in the living room again."

Zack peered into the living room, "Where?"

"What do you mean where -" Cloud paused. Everything had been cleaned up. Even the mother fucking pillows had been fluffed.

When Zack got visions of things that had happened before, the best way he could describe it were shadows under a black light; sometimes color or faces caught the light and he could see them clearly, the rest was mostly shadow and intuition. While Cloud described the situation at length, Zack saw something small dart from the living room into the hallway, and its hair was bright enough to shine under the black light of his subconscious.

It was the clone, no doubt about it. It was smart enough to hide in the one place he knew they wouldn't be able to look.

"I swear, Zack! I'm not lying! This place was a mess before I called you, it looked like someone had the flu or something, there were tissues and dishes and -"

"I believe you," Zack murmured, and Cloud had never heard a tone so serious come from him. "Come on."

Cloud followed him into the kitchen. "What do we do?"

"A few things, all at once..." Zack threw the beer bottle in the trash. It landed on top of tons of wadded up tissues and a few folded up pizza boxes. Most of the tissues were soaked through with blood, and the sugar odor wafted up like a heavy fog. "Found the mess."

Cloud sucked in a sharp breath and pointed, "Told you! I'm gonna fucking lose it!"

"Does Seph have any materia here that you know about?"

Cloud nodded, his eyes growing wider by the second, "In the freezer."

Glass bottles of liquor rattled against each other, and there amongst ice cream and vodka were a handful of various materia left in the ice maker, "Low static environment and nobody would think to look here. Why didn't I think of that?"

"I'm not supposed to practice with them."

"This isn't exactly practice," Zack helped himself to two, then let the freezer door close on its own as he went to his gym bag and pulled out a small sword. With the press of a button it almost doubled in length and width, and once he slid one of the materia in place it sang with power. "How good are you with lightning?"

"What like, materia?" Cloud's voice cracked. "I'm not good with any of them!"

"That's not true, Sephiroth's been bragging on you," Zack put the sword in Cloud's hands.

There was no visible sign of the materia being equipped, but holding the sword felt almost like holding a bottle of soda that had been shaken up; there was a lot of energy and power there, more than he knew what to do with.

Cloud looked up at Zack, "What's happening right now?"

"I gotta make a quick call, and you're gonna put your boots back on."

"Why?"

"Never go into a fight with bare feet if you can possibly help it. Always remember that."

"A fight with what?"

"It's a surprise," Zack smiled, pulling out his phone. While Cloud dropped to the floor next to the door and pulled his boots on, Zack was whispering. "We need a containment team at Sephiroth's apartment. It's here."

Cloud was nearly hyperventilating.

Zack slid his phone into his back pocket and left the front door open. He went to his bag to take out a second sword, and equipped it with what Cloud guessed to be some sort of elemental materia, "Why the long face? Consider yourself lucky! This an impromptu training seminar with a very handsome First Class SOLDIER! You just happened to be in the right place at the right time and called the right guy. That should be rewarded, shouldn't it?"

All of Cloud's teeth were bared, but he wasn't smiling.

Zack grabbed a handful of Cloud's hair and shook his head, "Have I ever let anything hurt you?"

"Physically? No. Emotionally? Yes!"

"You just need to learn how to relax!" Zack pushed his shoulder, "Life isn't so serious, Cloud. This is gonna be fun."

"It is?"

"You've done area clearances with a partner in school, right?"

"Yeah."

"I'll clear, you guard. Nothing walks out of this apartment on its own two feet, got it?"

Cloud was shaking, "What do I do if it tries?"

"Ruin their day. Nobody breaks into Sephiroth's place and gets away with it. This is his home – yours too."

"Yeah," Cloud agreed, his face set into determined, shaky lines. "Nobody walks out."

"Remember though, and this is very important – we need to take them alive," Zack smiled, watching his little pal get amped up. "So don't go too medieval on them."

"Alive... but on a stretcher!" Cloud nodded enthusiastically.

Zack led the clearance procedure, making no secret of his approach as he began to flip light switches and throw open doors. Sephiroth had a sightly unorganized series of rooms on this side of the loft, all of them vague, half finished ideas of what they might someday be. One would be a gym. One was becoming Cloud's man cave. A couple were future guest rooms complete with full bathrooms. All of them were riddled with places that something might hide, and Zack cleared each one quickly and methodically. He opened closet doors and inspected corners like he knew every inch of the place. Some light switches didn't work and he moved through the dark like a predator, completely unafraid and in control.

Cloud's senses kept diverting to the end of the hallway. He knew there was a method to follow, a series of checks that needed to be done in order to determine where the threat wasn't, in order to close in on where it was.

They both knew where it was. It was in the last room.

Just like Sephiroth's bedroom at the other end of the loft, this one had huge windows that overlooked Midgar. Zack tried the switch and found that it didn't work, but there was so much light from the city that they hardly needed it. The only dark place in the empty room was the closet, and the door was slightly ajar.

There was a fixation from that opening, the weight that two eyes carried.

Cloud held his breath and listened. It was so quiet, but the tinny sound of adrenaline pumped in his ears, almost like there'd been a gunshot and he was temporarily deafened by his own fear. But there, in the closet, even Cloud's unenhanced ears picked up on breathing.

Zack opened the door. There in the blackness of the closet were two tiny points of green light glowing from inside. They disappeared for a split second, blinking in the dark.

The whisper was loud in the silence, "Kill me."

Zack wasn't even startled by this request, "I really, really want to take you in alive. So we're gonna stay right here for a few minutes and wait. That alright?"

"I'm sick. I can't fight," the voice said, almost trying to convince itself. "I wouldn't win if I could."

The voice didn't seem to be talking to Zack, but he responded anyway, "You're right. I'm a lot tougher than Cissnei."

"She had it coming."

A flash of anger sparked Zack's sword, "Aerith told me that you think you're Sephiroth, and I'm here to tell you that you're not. He would never do something like that."

"He would if it meant staying out of the lab."

"Who is that?" Cloud suddenly asked. He felt like he was having an out of body experience.

The little voice grew desperate, "Get him outta here!"

"Who are you?" Cloud asked, coming closer.

"No," was all Zack said, but it was nothing short of a bark. That tone made Cloud stumble back.

"Who's comin'?" The little voice asked.

"Everybody," Zack answered.

The little person suddenly scrambled out of the closet. Zack snatched his arm easily, and tossed him into the corner of the room like a ragdoll. The little voice broke as he cradled his shoulder with a hiss, "Don't you know what they did to me there when I was a kid?"

"Yes, I do. And between you and me... I hope they rip your little ass limb from limb."

Cloud could hear the sound of boots stomping outside, could see the flashing lights of Shin-Ra Medical emergency vans, and knew there would be people in the loft at any moment. And in the safety of that knowledge, or maybe trying to beat it before he lost his chance, Cloud felt for the light switch, knowing which ones were temporary and faulty in the loft and how to properly put pressure on them to make them function. After a few tries, the light flickered on in the room.

The form in the corner was just a little boy. Small hands covered a red, tear stained face. Sephiroth's clothes hung huge on his small frame, and the toes on two small feet curled underneath in shame. The boy's tiny hands eventually dropped to his knees, and he finally looked up at Zack. "Kill me."

"No," was the answer.

"Who are you?" Cloud asked.

"Go wait in the hall," Zack ordered over his shoulder, not taking his eyes off the child.

Cloud ignored him, "What happened to you?"

"I shoulda left a long time ago," the little boy was saying out loud, mostly to himself. "I just... don't feel very well. I tried to drain some mako out of myself but... didn't really work."

"Cloud, don't talk to him -"

"Shut up, Zack!" Cloud roared, taking a few steps closer. "How long have you been here?"

"It doesn't matter," was the answer as the little boy's eyes finally drifted to Cloud. He winced, "God. You look so grown up."

Cloud stared, trying to find the answer to a million questions in the skinny, trembling form.

The little boy stared back, fondness and sorrow in his big, green cat's eyes, "She told me to kill you. I coulda done it. Guess I'm a failure, too."

"Who are you?"

"Why do you keep askin' me that?!" The kid laughed boisterously, not the innocent laugh of a child but the dark biting humor of a much older person. "Listen Cloud... you're a good person and you're gonna have an awesome life, and this is gonna be like... so far behind you one day. But before that happens, will you help me?"

"How?"

"I can't do this all over again. I need you to kill me."

Boots were thundering down the hallway.

The child spoke loud and fast, "They'll take me to a compound in the medical lab – Sephiroth knows where! Come find me, it'll be real easy, you might just have to pull a plug or flip a switch! Bring a gun, a sword, a syringe, I don't care how you do it!"

Medical staff carrying restraints of all kinds, army with machine guns, SOLDIERs with swords, and Turks strutting casually with their hands in their pockets flooded into the room.

The little boy stood up with his back against the wall, trembling and eyes wide, "I can't do this all over again! I won't go back there!"

The red dot of a laser sight pointed on the little boy's forehead. Another one appeared over his heart.

Someone calmly ordered, "Put your hands behind your head."

The little boy lifted both middle fingers in the air, "Fuck all you assholes! You know what it's like there! You're gonna have to kill - "

He was still talking but his words became a wet, convulsing gurgle as the lab's recovery team tazed him and collared him like a rabid animal. There was a strait jacket. Then there were handcuffs and zip ties on his wrists and ankles. A mask-like muzzle was placed over his little face. There was an injection in his neck, and then lab workers in white hazmat suits laid him on a stretcher and pushed him out of the room.

The whole thing took less than ten seconds, but it happened in slow motion detail that was excruciating, and Cloud couldn't look away. Zack's arms were around him. He didn't realize he was actually fighting back against Zack until after the little boy was taken out of the room and he finally relaxed, and the restraint became a hug.

"Sorry," Cloud gasped for air, coming back to reality from beneath the wave of shock.

"It's okay," Zack assured him, rubbing his arms and back.

"Cloud Strife?" a man in a lab coat assumed. "We have some questions for you."

Hours later, Cloud was lying on Sephiroth's couch in an interrogation delirium.

"How long has the clone been here?"

"Look, I don't know. I've been here since six," was Cloud's far away answer. "I called Zack."

"Why?"

"I came here, and I saw a mess and I thought I smelled something - "

"Smelled what?"

"Last weekend I was listening to music but I thought I saw something - "

"Saw what?"

"I don't know. I called Zack to come over, he gave me a sword to use and we cleared the loft until we found him."

"Found him where?"

"It smelled like really nasty... sweet... something."

"What was the smell?"

"I don't know... Sephiroth smelled like that when he was sick. I could never forget that smell."

It was past midnight when Rhonda finally broke into the interrogation, "He doesn't know anything else, stop wasting your time. The clone's been hiding out here, Cloud came home and followed his gut. Case closed."

"I should take you back to school," Zack suggested.

"I'm not fucking going anywhere."

Every inch of the place was thoroughly exercised of the possibility of more "clones". People were taking samples from the closet, the bathrooms, the bedroom, and took the contents of the garbage can underneath the kitchen sink.

A biohazard cleaning crew threw plastic down all over the loft, almost like an insecticide bomb would be going off. A separate crew from the Shin-Ra building showed up, and they were technicians – they told Cloud that Sephiroth had ordered a security system immediately be put into place.

Cloud's phone was long since dead, so he allowed himself the inevitable adrenaline meltdown now that things were under control. He was watching them work from the open doorway with swollen eyes that refused to stop spilling tears.

Zack put his back against the wall and slid down to sit beside him. He had brought the remainder of the twelve pack of beer from the refrigerator and set it between them.

Zack opened one in the crook of his elbow and handed it to Cloud. "Weird night."

"Weird night," Cloud agreed, sniffling quietly and trying to will himself to stop crying.

"We turned in a fugitive alive!" Zack took a bottle for himself and clinked it against Cloud's, "To a job well done."

"To... something done," was all Cloud could agree to before drinking.

"It was easy. You know? It could have been hard."

Cloud agreed silently, wiping his face on the inside of his shirt.

"That's what she said," Zack supplemented thoughtfully.

"... What?"

"Coulda been hard. That's what she said," he let out a weak little amused noise and it trailed off. "Sorry."

Cloud smirked out of pity, just to ease Zack's insecurity about a shitty joke with shittier timing. "My phone's dead. Have you talked to Sephiroth?"

"Oh yeah. He's already landed, had to finish some stuff at HQ. He said he'll take you to a hotel as soon as he gets here. Wanna call him?"

Cloud shook his head as he finished his first beer, "What time is it?"

Zack checked his phone, "Almost two."

"Okay," Cloud reluctantly agreed as if Zack had had some sort of control over that answer.

"So what happened was, a clone escaped the labs and was hiding out in the apartment," Zack told him as if he had somehow missed the point over the last few hours.

Cloud gave him a blistering glare, "... Makes total sense."

"Do you have any questions?"

"Yes..." Cloud opened a second beer and proceeded to drink the entire thing.

Zack waited. Finally he asked, "What is it?"

Cloud had opened a third beer and was already drinking it before he asked, "Was that little boy Sephiroth's son?"

Zack hawked a laugh, "No! What? No way! Don't you know what a clone is?"

Cloud was so stressed that a vein was popping out on his neck as he spat, "Maybe you've just been in SOLDIER so long that you don't even know how fucking crazy that sounds!"

Zack pursed his lips and tried to squash any frustration he might have felt. Cloud was new to this. But the only reason he hadn't sent him outside and taken the clone himself was because Cloud needed to see, needed to know, needed to understand that this came with being in SOLDIER, with being employed by Shin-Ra, and most important being in Sephiroth's life.

Zack exhaled slowly, "What you saw tonight was not a little boy. That was a clone."

"Everyone keeps saying that, but it looked..." What Cloud couldn't bring himself to say out loud was that the clone looked like one of his most wild fantasies brought to life. An insane, impossible future where he and Sephiroth might have a child of their own together. A sweet little version of Sephiroth to love and give a better life than the real one could have ever dreamed of, safe and warm and far from the horror of the medical lab.

Cloud started to sob all over again.

"Please don't cry, Cloud. I get it," Zack scooted closer to him and lowered his voice. "Can I tell you something that might make the clone seem a lot less cute and cuddly?"

"What?"

"That little guy killed twelve people that we know of. I'm sure that number is higher. And he ripped Cissnei's arm off."

"What?" Cloud gasped, his eyes wide and drying fast.

"Sephiroth doesn't know that part yet, so don't tell him. He'll find out soon enough."

"Holy shit."

"They're grown in a tube. They're not even real people, they're kind of like for study purposes. Sephiroth's their Mr. Perfect so they try to duplicate that. Imagine if Shin-Ra had a whole army of just him. Then they'd really take over the planet. There'd be no pizza left in the city!"

Cloud didn't smile at the attempt at a joke, "Isn't one enough?"

"I kinda think so. But I guess they figure Seph can't do this forever."

"... The way they treated the clone. That's really how they treated Sephiroth when he was little, isn't it?"

Zack frowned into another mouthful of beer, "He's told me some fucked up stuff. Other people have, too... he's better off now. He has us to make sure that won't happen to him again, right?"

"Yes!" Cloud let out a little sob and desperately reached for another beer, "I don't want to think about this anymore."

"Hey... this might not be the time, but I wanted to ask you something. It's kinda why I came here tonight in the first place..." Zack drained half a bottle before continuing. "You're not mad at me, are you?"

Cloud was prying the cap off of another bottle, "Why would I be mad at you?"

"About... stuff. When I saw you downtown and I was with Aerith, you seemed really upset."

Cloud actually couldn't have given less of a shit. "I just want you to be happy. I'm glad she kept the baby."

"I told Seph about it."

"You did?"

"Well, I thought I did. Turns out I was talking on the phone to that clone. But the clone was really cool with it, so it was like a dry run for telling the real one."

Cloud smiled, "I think the real one will be cool with it, too."

"And then there was the whole mom thing."

Cloud took a long drink before asking, "What mom thing?"

"Halloween was another really weird night. I mean, thanks for not saying anything to Aerith about it. I really thought you were going to when we ran into you at your side job, though."

"About what?"

"About your mom..." Zack's mouth thinned into a grimace. "Oh shit. You didn't know?"

April Strife was not only a skag, but she was also a liar, "She said you two talked!"

Zack looked panicked, "Well, we did! I also went down on her for like forty minutes and then she showed me this really weird -"

"I don't want to know details!" Cloud shrieked. But like his mother, he was also a skag and a liar, "She seemed super depressed and said she was going on a dick sucking strike! Was it because of you? Did you do something weird to my mom?"

"No! I suggested that she quit sucking dick unless she really wants to, even mine!"

"Ridiculous," Cloud muttered into another sip of beer. "Who doesn't wanna suck dick?"

Zack opened his mouth, but quickly closed it.

Cloud answered the unspoken question, "I have never not felt like it."

"It seems we're both enthusiastic givers of a certain kind of service," Zack put a hand on his chest humbly. "But Aerith cannot know I gave it to someone else. Ever!"

"You were broken up, though," Cloud reasoned.

"She's having my kid, and I wanna marry this girl someday. I don't need her thinking every time we fight I'm gonna fuck around, y'know? That's not me. I've never done anything like that before. I'd never even... y'know. Been with anyone else."

"So out of the two women you've slept with, my mom is one of them?"

"I know you're gay, and you're her son, but have you seen your mom?"

"Ugh," Cloud made a face as he drained the rest of his beer, but he knew damned well that April Strife was a beautiful woman. Any minor imperfections on her body was Cloud's own doing as a fetus. "Can I tell Seph? I mean, I'm gonna tell him."

"I think he can keep his mouth shut."

"But except for him it's a secret. Promise," Cloud held out his pinky. Zack wrapped his own around it and they shook on it.

Soon the beers were all empty. Cloud and Zack were both fast asleep where they sat in the hallway. That's how Sephiroth found them.

All Cloud had wanted that night was to wake up in Sephiroth's arms. Even if he was freezing in the hallway of his apartment building, suddenly being engulfed in Sephiroth's warmth and presence and scent made everything that night feel like a dream. And not even that bad of a dream, just a really fucked up one.

Cloud pressed his lips against Sephiroth's cheek, and was met with several urgent, hard kisses all over his face before being yanked into another tight hug.

"You alright?" Sephiroth finally asked.

"Mmhm," Cloud nodded into the leather of Sephiroth's shoulder. "You're so warm."

Zack roused with a wide stretch of his arms, "Hey, where's my kiss?"

Sephiroth grabbed him by the collar, "Asshole! Why didn't you get him outta here?'

"Easy! I saved the day!" Zack insisted. "And he got some field experience! He did great, by the way."

"He offered me a ride back to school. I wanted to wait for you," Cloud said against his coat.

"You hungry?"

"No," Cloud shifted to stand. "I got some clothes for you for tomorrow. Do you need anything else from inside or - "

"I got my bag from the Crater, I'm good," Sephiroth helped him to his feet with great care, smoothing down his hair and kissing the top of his spiky head.

Zack held out a hand, and Sephiroth pulled him up as well. Once he was standing, Sephiroth pulled him into a side hug, "Thanks."

Zack wrapped his arms around both of them. "Hey, nothing to thank me for. I didn't have anything better to do tonight than turn in escaped clones."

Cloud's spine stiffened, "I have to get out of here."

Sephiroth held Cloud's face, "Hey, these guys are putting in security like you wouldn't believe. Okay?"

Cloud look pained, "Okay but - "

"I'm so, so sorry I didn't take you seriously when you told somethin' was wrong. I'm never, ever gonna just dismiss you like that again. I mean it."

"It's okay! Can we go - "

"This is your home and I don't want you to feel like you're not safe here. I'm sorry I didn't do this sooner, I thought I was too cool for security but I didn't even think about the possibly you might need it. You're never gonna have to worry about anything like this happenin' again, okay?"

"That's perfect, thank you so much," Cloud went on his toes to kiss him before he began to shift from foot to foot. "I drank like seven beers. I gotta get out of here!"

"Gotcha," Sephiroth momentarily poked his head into the apartment. "Lock up before you leave. You have my number if you need me."

"Yes, sir," one of the workers responded.

Even Zack was quiet as they drove, only saying goodnight when they dropped him off at his apartment. Cloud just rested his head against Sephiroth's arm while he drove. Midgar was too bright, too loud, too much for him in that moment. He didn't even attempt to fuck around with the radio or plug in an aux cord. Sephiroth just held a hand tight on Cloud's thigh when he wasn't shifting gear, and tried to keep his shoulder steady.

The hotel wasn't conspicuous from the street, just a tall, thin building tucked between two larger office buildings. The staff was very aware of who they were and handled their late arrival with urgency. Sephiroth was just the type of man to handle details with ease and even carry Cloud's bag, all he had to do was hold his hand and follow.

The room was a minimalist space intended for travelers on business. It was not for tourists; the moment the door closed, nothing of Midgar could be seen, heard, or felt. No lights, no vibration of trains or traffic, no noise.

Cloud rushed into the bathroom and peed to a count of almost forty. He then rinsed his hands and looked in the mirror with mild horror. His eyes were swollen, his nose was red, his skin was blotchy from the cold, his hair was a wreck. But Sephiroth loved him, so he gave up on himself before returning to the room.

It was so quiet that Cloud could hear Sephiroth breathing, and the rustle of leather as he took off his coat. Sephiroth left the bathroom door open as he stood in front of the toilet, and in all that glorious silence, his piss hitting the water was symphonic. Only to a count of ten, though.

"I'm so tired that I'm listening to you pee," Cloud announced, motionless for a moment before slowly bending forward to untie his boot laces. "You can do anything you want to me, you know? I mean that literally."

"For the last time," Sephiroth snorted from the bathroom, turning off the light as he came out and continued to undress. "I have no desire to piss on you."

Cloud only responded with a smile. His eyes were sleepy but fixed as black leather gave way to ivory skin.

"Since this is a hotel I'm guessin' we can be cold as shit and call up for extra blankets or be uncomfortably warm. What do you feel like?" Sephiroth stood on one foot and peeled his pants over his feet. It put his entire ass very nicely on display, hole and everything.

"Uncomfortably warm, please," Cloud answered, tilting his head slightly to get a better look at it.

Sephiroth set the temperature and then yanked the pristine sheets up to shove them to the end of the bed. "Get your clothes off and get the fuck over here."

Cloud immediately complied and climbed onto the bed, walking over to Sephiroth on his knees.

"This is literally all I wanted since the last time I saw you," Sephiroth told him, sliding his hands over Cloud's hips to cup his perfect little ass. He smacked one cheek slightly out of sheer contentment.

Kisses began soft, sweet, and warm. But that warmth grew into something much hotter as his tongue touched Cloud's, teasing him with the kind of gentle flicking motion that set his skin prickled with pins of desire. Cloud eventually eased onto his side, and Sephiroth followed, sliding his knee up to part Cloud's thighs.

"You taste good," Sephiroth growled against his mouth.

"But I look like hell," Cloud chuckled between kisses. "Just don't look at my face, okay?"

"I love this face," he insisted, kissing it all over. Sephiroth couldn't say it with words, but a little bit of tear stained griminess on Cloud's angelic features was sometimes very sexy. That thought might have been a little selfish, but he intended to make it up to Cloud by wiping away any anxiety the night might have brought.

Soon Cloud was on his back with his legs spread wide, easily transported by the sharp prick of Sephiroth's teeth against the side of his neck. A low animal growl sent shivers up Cloud's spine and his back arched off the bed as Sephiroth sucked a certain little spot behind his jaw.

Sephiroth greedily tasted dirt, salt, and sunshine from the Academy, as he slowly moved his fist over his cock, "I kinda love it when you don't take a shower after school."

Cloud's eyes popped open in realization and his whole body tensed, "... Oh fuck."

"Yeah?" Sephiroth purred in encouragement as his fingers lifted Cloud's balls and slid underneath.

Cloud abruptly pressed his legs together and yanked on Sephiroth's wrist, "Wait! Stop!"

Sephiroth jerked his hand away like it was burned, "... You okay?"

Cloud stared up at him. Normally his eyes were the kind of blue eyes you could see from across the room, but an onslaught of emotion made the color almost alarming as they swam under a film of tears.

"I love how this feels right now," Cloud let out a staggered breath. "I love you so much, Sephiroth... but I can't..."

Sephiroth's heart dropped into his stomach, "What do you mean?"

A tear slipped down the side of Cloud's face and onto the pillow beneath his head, "With everything that happened tonight... I can't..."

Sephiroth swallowed, "You wanna talk about it?"

"Talk about what? I didn't have time to... get ready!" Cloud's face was burning red as another tear fell. "And I can't do it now, I'm so tired and it's too quiet in here you'd just hear everything - "

"For fuck's sake," Sephiroth face dropped to Cloud's shoulder as he felt relief wash over him. Normal people would have every reason to back away from him or ask for a break, but all Cloud had on his horny, beautiful little mind was making love. "... Y'know, you don't always gotta worry about that. I'm sure it'd be fine - "

"I'm not taking the risk."

Sephiroth had taken the time to clean up before his flight home, and wagged his hips playfully, "Wanna top?"

Cloud bit his lip and looked tempted, but then deflated, "I'm too tired."

"You do look tired..." Sephiroth put any further non-intercourse sexual suggestions about of his mind. He rolled onto his back beside Cloud and looked over at him, "Hey. I love you."

Cloud looked forlorn, but at least he wasn't crying anymore, "I love you, too. I'm sorry."

"Don't worry about sex," Sephiroth laughed a little just saying it, and pulled Cloud closer to him with a deliberately innocent cuddle. "I like this just as much."

"No you don't! You always say you don't wanna cuddle with me, you want to pound me into dust or whatever. You only let me cuddle you afterwards when you're too tired to fight it."

He always felt like a real sexual dynamo when he texted threats like that to Cloud, but now he felt a twinge of guilt, "That's not true. I like cuddling a lot, actually."

"Really?"

"Yeah. You're warm and soft and you smell good..." Sephiroth didn't want to say that when Cloud laid on top of him it gave him an amazing view of his ass, but he ran his hand over it to say so without words. "Let's sleep."

Cloud closed his eyes with an unsatisfied sigh, but there was a smile on his face. "... My eyes are like, burning when I close them."

"See? That's too tired to pound into dust. Lights out," Sephiroth announced as he reached out past Cloud to turn off the bedside lamp, treating Cloud to a momentary face full of his armpit.

In the dark they curled together, moving pillows, silver hair, and limbs until they came to perfect rest. Cloud breathed against Sephiroth's collar bone. Sephiroth breathed against his forehead. Their cocks were pressed together, creating their own kind of humidity that was difficult to ignore, but they liked to be close to each other as well.

Sephiroth felt Cloud's fingers pick up a piece of his hair and start winding it around and around.

"Got somethin' on your mind?" Sephiroth whispered softly.

"You just never mentioned clones."

It appeared Cloud was going to get some sort of satisfaction this night, and if it couldn't be sexual it was going to be a fight. Sephiroth steeled his nerves and decided to give it to him, "... That's a thing."

Cloud's finger start twirling faster up Sephiroth's hair, "I know it's hard for you to tell me stuff about the labs. But clones, though? Kid clones?"

"All ages."

"Your age?"

"I guess."

"They all look exactly like you?"

Sephiroth considered his answer, "Kinda... but worse."

"He knew me. Do they have the same memories as you?"

"How would I know?" Sephiroth lied. Most of them did.

"How can I tell for sure that you're the real one?" Cloud almost joked, but it was a real question.

Sephiroth shrugged with the shoulder Cloud wasn't lying against, "I guess you could tell because my hair's a whole lot longer than any of theirs. And they're all pretty fuckin' crazy... I know I'm a little fucked up but I'm not crazy like that."

Cloud let the spiral of Sephiroth's hair spin off of his finger, and said nothing.

"... I got a tattoo," Sephiroth finally concluded. "I guess any of them could get one, but it'd be kinda hard to be exactly the same, right?"

Cloud spread his hand over Sephiroth's rib cage possessively. He was grateful for a real, definitive answer, and also ashamed for asking the question. "I'm sorry, Seph."

Sephiroth put his hand over Cloud's, and pulled it up to his lips. "It's okay to ask me stuff like that. You can ask me anything you want, I'm not tryin' to keep secrets from you."

"You told me all about your stupid ex-girlfriend but somehow failed to mention that there are clones of you? How am I supposed to know what to even ask? I could never have pulled clones out of my ass to ask about, so what else haven't you mentioned yet? What don't I know about you?"

"A lot."

Cloud went up onto his elbow in the dark above Sephiroth, "What am I supposed to do with that?"

"What do you want from me? I could talk for days. I told you some stuff but there's... so much. And the more I think, the more I remember."

Cloud swallowed, and then hesitantly asked, "What would happen if you were made to live in the labs again? If you were a kid and helpless again. What would you do?"

"Kill myself."

That easy answer hurt Cloud like a punch in the gut. He felt the soreness of his overworked tears ducts as more started to gather in his eyes, "... Are you in therapy?"

"Don't even – just –" Sephiroth lost his words to irritated noises. "It was all so long ago! It doesn't affect me now-"

"It's affecting you right now, right this second! We're in a hotel because somebody broke into your home! What if it tried to hurt you?"

"Hurt me?"

"Yes!"

Sephiroth just laughed, and Cloud was incensed by the smug expression that had settled on his beautiful face. It was dark and he couldn't exactly see it, but he could fucking hear it. He reached out and jabbed the button on the bedside light, and sure enough, there it was.

In sheer frustration, Cloud spread his whole palm wide over that perfect, irritating face and squeezed as hard as he could. "Stop laughing!"

Sephiroth's hands shot up to Cloud's weakest spot – his ribs. He knew just how to tickle to make Cloud go out of his skin, and it only made him angrier, "Goddamnit Sephiroth, I'm trying to have a serious conversation with you!"

"This doesn't feel serious," Sephiroth said from underneath his hand.

After a few moments of chaotic wrestling, Cloud cried out in a tone that halted any further horseplay, "Sephiroth! Stop it!"

He did.

Cloud's pose was defensive, "Zack said they're trying to make more SOLDIERs like you. What if they do? What if they make some jacked super clone and it decides to get you out of the way?"

Sephiroth's wild, amused expression dimmed only slightly, "... What do you think you joined the Shin-Ra army for?"

Cloud struggled with several false starts. "I joined because I needed to be with my soul mate."

"Well that's damn charming," Sephiroth's smile widened but it didn't reach his eyes as he corrected him. "You wanna be a SOLDIER, right?"

Cloud wanted to say that being a SOLDIER was secondary, was simply the easiest way to remain close to Sephiroth, but knew that that wasn't the entire draw. He wanted that status, that power, that fucking uniform. He wanted to prove to everyone in Nibelheim who told him he was good for nothing, everyone who underestimated him because he was everything that a "real man" wasn't, and to his father who abandoned him that he had the fucking mind, body, and balls to perform at the highest physical and mental peak.

The first time Cloud saw Sephiroth, it was a deep infatuation. He wasn't sure if he wanted to fuck Sephiroth or be him. Now that he had one, he wanted both. That drive kept him going every single day.

Sephiroth spoke, "They're tryin' to find the right host and dosage to make SOLDIERs just like me. That means you, that's the whole point of you bein' here. And when that happens, when they don't need me any more, you can be sure that the lucky SOLDIER, or clone, or whatever fuckin' monster it turns out to be – they're gonna get rid of me."

Cloud stared at him, speechless.

Sephiroth went on, "There's hundreds in the lab like me. I fight 'em all the time, testin' 'em. There's somethin' different wrong with each one – they're sick or they're insane. It's almost like if they've got brains, they don't have the power in their body to fight on my level. If they're closer to where I'm at physically, they're too nuts to do anything with it. I'm just lucky. I got the perfect combination of all the shit we're made of. If they make one better, I'll be the one tested, and I'll lose."

"Couldn't they just let you go?"

"Where to? They've been tryin' to kill me since I was born. I'm not what they had in mind, when they do make whatever it is their perfect specimen is, I'm done."

"We're never gonna let that happen!"

"You and what army?"

"Your army."

"They're Shin-Ra's army. They'd kill me right now if he gave the order."

Cloud reached out with a much gentler hand to touch Sephiroth's still very much perfect, irritating face, "I feel like my great-grandma right now, but I wanna tell you something old people say all the time in Nibelheim when things in life seem really bad."

"Let's drink and fuck until we forget this shit?"

"That's good advice too, but what they say is..." Cloud seemed embarrassed to say it, but did: "Life is cold, but death is warm."

The smirk left Sephiroth's face.

"Bad things might happen right up until the end, but the end is always kind," Cloud swallowed. "I think your death will be the opposite of how you were born. It will be gentle, and lovely, and there'll be no pain. You'll be an old man, and probably still hot because that's just you, and I hope I'm somewhere close and will have had the chance to say goodbye. But you're alive now, and your birth and upbringing were just... crazy. I'll probably never know how crazy it all really was. But right now you're loved, and not just by me. You say you weren't supposed to be born, and maybe that's even true, but... you make the world better by being in it. You make me so happy. I might not be able to protect you from the perfect specimen, but I'll be with you to give it a really good fight. And I'm not the only one who'd choose you over an order. Don't you know that?"

Sephiroth really, really wanted to feel jaded and dark about this whole wild escaped clone thing – especially having it invade his home and make him forfeit over his privacy for the sake of security. He'd always endured these sorts of incidents with a helpless sort of melancholy throughout his life. But now Cloud was here to take half the burden. It was like he had this little blonde love shield to protect him at all times.

The weirdest part was, Sephiroth actually believed every word Cloud was saying, "This is better than any therapy I ever had."

"You need to go see someone."

"I might."

"I'll make Rhonda get on you about it."

"Fine. I'll go," Sephiroth told him, easing just a little of his concerns. "You really handle all of this weird shit in stride, don'tcha?"

"I sure didn't sign up for it! But it's too late now. You're mine."

Sephiroth cupped Cloud's skull with both hands, gently tilting his head to kiss him completely. Cloud knew the shape of Sephiroth, his smell, his taste, his temperature, that crack in the middle of his lower lip. It would be impossible to replicate.

Heat dwindled into little embers. Cloud reached out to turn the light back off, then laid his head on Sephiroth's shoulder.

"Hair?" Cloud whispered.

Sephiroth pushed fingers into his spikes to tickle and scratch against his scalp, lulling him to sleep while sending pleasant chills down his spine.

Cloud was almost purring, but found the voice to ask: "... You don't think I was in like, danger do you? That thing in the loft with me? You don't seem very concerned about that part."

"If it's my clone, it loves you too," Sephiroth's tone was soft and sweet. "Now wouldja shut the fuck up and sleep?"

He was awake after Sephiroth's fingers slowed down and finally went still. He listened to Sephiroth's heart beat and his breathing, the small sounds he made while he was sleeping, thinking about that answer.

Cloud didn't sleep that night at all.

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

Sephiroth was aware that his cock was down Cloud's throat long before he actually woke up. He opened his eyes and blinked a few times to focus on Cloud kneeling on the bed between his legs, outlined in silhouette from the warm glow of the bathroom light.

"Hey," Sephiroth greeted, his voice raspy with sleep.

Cloud's skin was damp and his hair was wet and slicked back off his face to allow Sephiroth an unobstructed view of his lips and tongue moving against the head of his cock. He licked his lips almost apologetically, "It's still early. Am I bothering you?"

Sephiroth stretched his limbs out as he yawned, lifting his hips a little as Cloud's lips brushed across the skin of his inner thigh. The yawn dwindled down into a, "Nope."

Cloud went back to work guilt free, swallowing Sephiroth's cock down deep and running his tongue across the tip as he came back up. His piercings were out and his lips and tongue were soft and hot, and he wasn't shy about letting his throat create a loud wet suction slurp now that Sephiroth was awake.

"C'mere," Sephiroth slipped a hand down to tug Cloud's hair. It was too wet and slicked back to get a grip on, so he cupped the back of his skull to urge him up.

Cloud spread kisses on Sephiroth's hip, belly button, ribs, and chest as he crawled up, finally colliding into Sephiroth's open mouth. In that moment Cloud didn't even attempt anything as organized as a kiss, he just moved and tasted and felt Sephiroth out with his lips and tongue, savoring how good and raw he tasted when he first woke up.

Sephiroth eased Cloud onto his side, trying to manage a position to get close to him while keeping up with desperate, messy kisses. Cloud's legs were eager to lift up high and wrap around Sephiroth's hips.

"Can I touch now?" Sephiroth asked between waves of kisses.

Cloud whined a little in agreement, "Please touch."

Water drops clung to Cloud's lower body, and heat from the shower radiated off his damp inner thighs and ass. His public hair was matted and dark against his navel, and his cock was visibly throbbing between them. Sephiroth didn't want to tease him, and slid his middle finger between Cloud's cheeks, finding his little hole already slick with lube.

"You got all ready for me?" Sephiroth commented, pushing the finger easily.

"Yeah, well," Cloud waved it off, seemingly a little embarrassed. "It was kinda hard to stop once I started."

"Didja really not come at all since I saw you?"

Cloud's mouth dropped open as Sephiroth immediately jabbed his prostate with the kind of rough precision he could never muster the courage to inflict upon himself, "... No, I haven't."

Sephiroth took the chance to slip a second finger in, enjoying the play of emotions across his face. He was anxious about what Sephiroth might do, how hard he might push, but also spread wide and all but begged for it.

"You been up long?"

Cloud looked guilty, "I've been up until now."

Sephiroth's fingers went still, "Baby - "

"No, no – I'm fine. I've just been cuddling with you... thinking... then you randomly got hard around six and I decided to get ready for it."

"I randomly got hard around six," Sephiroth repeated, moving his fingers inside Cloud and easily catching his prostate on each pass. "Probably the most accurate story of my life."

Cloud giggled, wrapping his fingers around Sephiroth's wrist, feeling the tendons and bone move as he worked his fingers. Their lips met and Cloud reached out with his free hand for the lubricant he'd brought to bed.

He pulled his lips away, "Look."

Sephiroth tried to focus on what was in Cloud's hand but was too busy kissing his jawline, "What about it?"

"Same brand, but it's something new to try."

"New lube?"

"New lube," Cloud agreed sneakily.

Sephiroth poked his tongue out. Cloud looked at it for a moment, and then took a little dab of lube on his finger and touched it, shuddering a little when Sephiroth sucked his finger down to the knuckle.

Sephiroth released Cloud's finger thoughtfully, "Just tastes like water. What's it s'posed to taste like?"

"It's not supposed to taste like anything," Cloud laughed.

Sephiroth coughed, "Why the hell didja put it on my tongue, then?"

"Because you stuck your tongue out!"

"New lube obviously means flavored lube!"

"Well it's not. But it's supposed to be extra long lasting..."

"You tryin' to tell me something?"

"No! Just maybe we won't have to stop for more so much," Cloud explained, pouring some into his hand and reaching down to wrap it around Sephiroth's cock. "Sometimes I need more just as it starts getting good. I can't stand that."

"Well I hope it gets good and stays good," Sephiroth held his tongue out again.

Cloud caught his tongue and kissed him, sighing as it pushed into his mouth with a suggestive thrust. He spread the new lubricant from the base to the tip of Sephiroth's cock before he leaned back against the mattress and lifted his hips a little.

Sephiroth knew an invitation when he saw one. He took a pillow and shoved it under Cloud, taking a moment to enjoy the splayed out and propped up view of his boyfriend's ass and thighs. He brushed the hole with the head of his cock, watching it react to his closeness by tightening in surprise and then relaxing. This pulse was an invitation, and it was a perverse joy to see the hole in his cock line up perfectly with that little place that so welcomed him.

"Put it in," Cloud whispered, greedily pushing himself halfway onto the head. It wasn't far enough to engulf the entire thing, just enough to tease Sephiroth right back. It stretched him though, and he shuddered a little as he moved just enough to key up the tension.

"Keep doin' that."

The memory of it would probably embarrass him later, but Cloud lifted his hips off the mattress and wriggled them down as far as he could go, only to lift up and give Sephiroth a real show of his cock almost popping free. He wouldn't give it up though, and continued riding him from underneath as gratuitously as he possibly could.

Sephiroth ran a hand up Cloud's stomach and over his ribs, "You look so good, baby."

Cloud was biting his lip not to moan at his own teasing, and instead huffed, "You have to say that because you love me."

"I do, and I mean it. Your body... every inch of you is just..." Sephiroth framed Cloud's hips with his hands and following their easily fluid rolling motion. His fingers became claw-like as they raked over his smooth, warm skin, fascinated and appreciative of how Cloud could move his lower body. "Damn, Cloud."

Sephiroth didn't murmur his name like that often, and it made Cloud's eyes flutter shut. He stopped teasing and pushed his hips to take as much of Sephiroth as he could, and opened his eyes, "Fuck me."

Sephiroth set his jaw and pushed the rest of the way inside. He didn't stop until his hips hit the back of Cloud's legs.

"Seph!" Cloud cried out, always a little shocked at how it actually felt once it was buried inside him. He felt it from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet, in his lungs, in his brain, in his heart. His hair was starting to dry, and stuck up at wild angles as he lifted his head and looked down to where they were abruptly connected. He might not have been able to actually see it, but, he could see Sephiroth's powerful torso pointed towards him, and that was more than enough. "Seph..."

There was a certain face Cloud made when he wanted a kiss, and Sephiroth smiled down at it. Cloud could easily bend his legs back to let Sephiroth come down to rest his forearms on either side of his head. They looked at each other up close for a moment, deeply connected and totally alone in the world.

After the events of the previous night, Sephiroth only wanted to offer some stability and satisfaction to this beautiful young man. Cloud loved him enough to not only put up with a whole slew of crazy shit, but to also blow him awake? He was an angel.

It hardly covered the scope of how he felt, but Sephiroth said it because he knew Cloud needed to hear it as often as possible, "I love you."

"I love you too," Cloud whispered, hugging him with both legs and arms and kissing him firmly on the lips. "... I daydream all the time about this, right here. You all the way inside me."

Kissing him, being held by him, being totally surrounded by him was like being surrounded by light. But again, words failed Sephiroth and all he could say was, "Me too."

Sephiroth could feel Cloud's heart pounding from where their chests touched, and pulled his hips back a little to test if he was ready. Dragging his cock up out of that tight grip drew a ragged breath from his throat.

"Seph..." Cloud whispered. "Gentle? Make love to me?"

"Okay baby," Sephiroth nuzzled his hips against Cloud at the deepest point. He obeyed the pace Cloud had requested, letting the smallest pressure from Cloud's hands dictate how he moved. Cloud's body relaxed and swallowed his cock, then gripped it hard as he pulled away.

Cloud's feet were locked behind Sephiroth's ass, and his face was pressed against his shoulder, holding on for dear life despite the agonizingly slow tempo. Cloud's teeth found Sephiroth's skin, and when he opened his mouth to bite hard, a desperate moan escaped.

"You feel so good right now..." Cloud whispered on a broken voice, sliding his hands up into Sephiroth's hair. "Does it feel good?"

Sephiroth's lips were pressed tight, "Mm-hm."

Cloud gazed up at him, "Say something dirty."

"I'm tryin' to make love to you."

"You can do both."

Sephiroth swallowed hard, making fists against the edge of the mattress as his hips tensed with the effort to keep the pace gentle and slow. Cloud was tight and hot around him, and the new lube was doing a fantastic job of ensuring every little bit of him was perfectly slick and welcoming and stayed that way. He thought about fighting – reps, training, things he needed to do, anything at all but the way Cloud was moving and purring and gripping underneath him.

There was movement between them, and Sephiroth leaned up a little higher, giving Cloud room to work his cock. It gave him a better view of Cloud's chest, his thighs, his beautiful eyes as they stared up at him... Sephiroth's teeth were clenched, but he managed to growl, "You close?"

"No, but you are..." Cloud smiled wickedly.

That smile forced Sephiroth to pull out abruptly. Without stimulation, it throbbed and dribbled a few drops onto Cloud's lower stomach, which Cloud eagerly moved his fingers through and rubbed across his abs and down through his pubic hair. That sight made Sephiroth's eyes slam shut and he fought not to blow a load all over Cloud.

Cloud laughed at the torment his beloved was going through, "Why don't you just let go and do it?"

"Shut up. I just need a second to chill out, we've only been doin' it for like a minute..."

Cloud was pitiless, "Welcome to my world! I'm lucky to make five minutes inside you, you don't have to be so hard on yourself."

"You did weird stuff to me while I was sleepin'..." Sephiroth's hands went into fists a couple times as he gazed down at Cloud, who in that moment was smoking fucking hot underneath him. His legs were lifted to present his pink, hungry ass, his cock was rigid against his toned stomach, even his toes were curled in anticipation. To make matters worse, a smile was rested on his reddened, kiss swollen mouth as he was waiting to be filled.

Sephiroth swallowed hard as he delicately touched himself again to line back up to Cloud's body. They groaned together as he slid back inside.

Cloud's limbs wrapped around him and he moaned against his ear, "Mm, yes. Deeper."

"You're evil," Sephiroth realized out loud.

"I just want you," Cloud spoke softly, but locked his legs behind Sephiroth's back. "You're allowed to just come without any edging games, Seph. Make love to me and just let go, that's what I want."

Sephiroth fell over onto his back and pulled Cloud along with him, "Get up. I'll use Slow."

Cloud groaned in disagreement but had no choice but to follow along and readjust to the new position, "Don't use Slow! Just enjoy the moment and let it happen!"

"You got long lasting lube!" Sephiroth finally spat.

Cloud was laughing, "Seph, it wasn't some comment on how long you last!"

The feeling of being inside Cloud while he laughed made Sephiroth's back arch off the bed, "Oh fuck..."

"Yes..." Cloud hissed with a smile, sitting all the way down. He moved just enough to create the tiniest bit of friction while holding the entire length tight. "Don't use Slow. Please?"

"You're like the only person on Earth who gets this excited about premature ejaculation!" Sephiroth laughed but his words were slurred with lust.

"It's not every day my boyfriend is this turned on for me." That wicked grin reappeared on Cloud's face. "I'll probably come right with you... knowing how on edge you are is like... super hot."

"... 'Kay," Sephiroth's eyes were lidded and his hands were heavy as they raked up Cloud's thighs. The status effect wore off and Sephiroth's hips began to pop off the bed, the tiniest bit of bounce from the mattress forcing his cock up that much deeper inside Cloud.

He wasn't moving much, but it was more than enough. Sephiroth dug his fingers into Cloud's ass and held him still, and something about how deep Sephiroth was thrusting forced a series of short, throaty chirping sounds out of Cloud. It made them both laugh a little, and Cloud bent down to kiss him.

"Don't laugh at me," Cloud strained to say between giggles and every deep thrust was punctuated by one of those little noises from the back of his throat.

"You're cute."

"I can't help it," Cloud said between involuntary noises and kisses. Sephiroth's hips were moving a little faster underneath him, and he reached behind himself to cup Sephiroth's balls and feel how heavy and full they were. His fingers trailed up the base of Sephiroth's cock, feeling the thick, hard throb of vein right up to where it disappeared inside him.

"Goddamn baby..." Sephiroth gritted between his teeth, reaching down to where Cloud's cock was weeping precum between them.

"So good... don't stop," Cloud whispered, letting whatever noises rose in his throat free. After a few moments he sat up on Sephiroth's hips, pressing his hands to Sephiroth's chest and meeting the upwards slap of Sephiroth's hips with a rolling rhythm of his own.

Sephiroth cupped Cloud's ass with both hands and followed the motion, "What are you tryin' to do?"

"Make love to my husband," Cloud whispered. "Get an ass full of his cum."

The look on Sephiroth's face was well worth the future embarrassment Cloud would most definitely feel. But he'd said it without stuttering and he most certainly meant it.

"You're gonna get it," Sephiroth growled, his green eyes positively glowing neon with lust.

"Please?"

"This hot little ass hungry for it?" Sephiroth asked, smacking one of Cloud's cheeks and wincing at how much tighter his grip could be.

"Again," Cloud whimpered, balancing on Sephiroth's chest with one hand and using the other to wring himself. "More."

When Sephiroth slapped Cloud's other ass cheek, it made the first shot of Cloud's load fly up and hit the underside of Sephiroth's chin. A second shot hit Sephiroth's cheek. Cloud was coming so hard and so suddenly that he could barely even keep his eyes open, let alone control where it was landing.

Sephiroth yanked Cloud down by the back of his hair to kiss him, forcing him to taste some of the mess as his hips moved erratically up between Cloud's legs. His cock pumped its hot load up into Cloud, who was well used to that volcanic heat, but still gasped at the sudden rush of it. Cloud let his inner muscles relax a bit, and slid up and down a few times as he felt the steady throb of Sephiroth's orgasm.

The sounds Sephiroth made against his lips were Cloud's absolute favorite. They were helpless, lost, relieved, and for just a few seconds he couldn't hold a single thing back. Cloud watched him carefully, and knew just when to lift his hips up and off him before it became too much, shuddering a little at how much semen slid down the back of his balls.

"Better?" Cloud smiled against his lips.

Sephiroth didn't have words to reply, but instead slid his tongue up into Cloud's mouth and kissed him languidly.

"Don't mean to sound ungrateful, but can I have some more?" Cloud dragged his cock over the pool of semen covering Sephiroth's abs. "Or do you need a break?"

Sephiroth's eyes were lidded, "Turn around. Sit on my face."

Cloud waited for the punchline, "... Are you – really?"

One of Sephiroth's eyebrows lifted and he poked his tongue out as he lightly slapped one of Cloud's ass cheeks.

With shaking thighs, Cloud turned and gingerly hinted at possibly taking a seat on Sephiroth's beautiful face. Before he could overthink it, both of Sephiroth's arms wrapped around his hips and pulled him close. Losing balance, Cloud let his entire weight rest there, and... waited. For Sephiroth to complain or gag or anything – but all Sephiroth did was sigh and eat his ass like he was in seventh heaven.

"Seph," Cloud's voice cracked when he found the ability to speak. "Can you breathe, dear?"

Sephiroth made a sound that affirmed he could, but his arms were still appreciatively wrapped around Cloud's waist. Experimentally, Cloud wiggled his hips a little against his face, just a little roll to gauge any reaction.

"Hell yeah," Sephiroth said clearly against his hole, smacking one of his cheeks.

In a million years, Cloud would never have done that to Sephiroth unprompted. It just seemed rude. But then again, sex with Sephiroth often involved rudeness in some form or another.

He looked down at Sephiroth's cock, still thick and twitching against his thigh. After a gentle taste test, he was licking the mess off Sephiroth's hips and stomach and sucking his cock clean. It was thick, hot, and salty against his tongue. Cloud pulled up Sephiroth's balls to kiss and suck them too, because there wasn't a single part of his body that Cloud intended to neglect.

Cloud lifted his hips and rolled onto his back shakily. All he could say was, "You're disgusting."

Sephiroth squirmed until he was next to Cloud. His face was sweaty and he was breathing hard, the closest his complexion ever came to a blush, "If I can't disgust my husband, then who?"

A sweet little expression of shock popped Cloud's eyes open wide.

"Yeah, I can say it too," Sephiroth grinned.

It was another hour before they were finished with the second round, and by then they were completely spent and all the nastiness had been exorcised from their systems. They could rally and marathon all day if they really wanted, but in that moment, it was a little bit more than just enough.

Cloud sprawled on Sephiroth, boneless and his brain wiped blank.

"Do you mind if I smoke?"

"Now?"

Cloud sighed dreamily. "… That was so good."

"I don't mind."

He gave Sephiroth's shoulder a warm kiss before he rolled over the side of the bed and began to dig through his bag. He came back with a nearly empty pack of cigarettes, and didn't think twice about lighting up.

He was happy, relaxed, and sore in all the right places. He dreamily inhaled before he tapped ash onto the room service menu - a little makeshift ashtray.

Sephiroth watched him, enjoying a smell that reminded him of good times as a child with Vincent, and more recent times with his friends. He didn't necessarily encourage the practice in Cloud, but didn't discourage it either.

"Are you addicted?" Sephiroth wondered aloud.

"To you," Cloud flirted.

"Really though."

"Addicted to cigarettes?" Cloud asked as his lips pulled it, and then he softly exhaled through his nose, creating a long plume of dainty, white smoke as he turned his eyes to Sephiroth. "Not really."

"If you are, you better get out of it. You'll get all winded at school."

"I wasn't winded a little while ago…" Cloud scooted on his stomach closer to Sephiroth. "Wanna kiss an ashtray?"

"Hell yeah," Sephiroth stretched his neck out to kiss him, and tasted menthol, toothpaste, ass and semen. Zack sometimes complained about the way Aerith tasted from smoking so much, but Sephiroth didn't see anything bad about it. Cloud was delicious, and Sephiroth thrust his tongue in deep to savor his taste.

Cloud laughed into the kiss. "You want to try?"

Sephiroth shook his head.

"Try it," Cloud insisted, gently placing the cigarette between Sephiroth's long fingers.

"I'm gonna cough, and you're gonna laugh at me," Sephiroth predicted.

"Sounds about right!" Cloud chirped.

With a roll of his eyes, Sephiroth mimicked what he'd seen Cloud, Vincent, April, Rufus, Zack, Aerith, Julie, Elena and just about everyone else he knew do at one time or another. He raised it to his mouth and sucked for a moment, the cherry on the end burning bright.

He then repeated the action, searching for some sort of release, or good feeling, or even some sense of completion. He shrugged a shoulder, as there was no reward to be found. "Why do people do this? Nothin' to it."

"It looks sexy," Cloud grinned, watching in adoration as his boyfriend fumbled with a cigarette for the first time. Even though he was new at it, he still looked sultry and pensive with it burning between his soft, full, kiss bitten lips.

Sephiroth inhaled again, not feeling very sexy at all. Smoke puffed from his mouth as he griped, "I don't get it."

"It's just something to do... something kind of comforting," Cloud guessed, taking the cigarette back. He seemed to breathe it in deeper than Sephiroth could, and effortlessly exhaled an endless plume of pretty, wispy smoke.

"Gimme that," Sephiroth muttered, and tried again. He breathed in as deeply as he could, getting it way down into his lungs until he couldn't stand it anymore.

Sephiroth then coughed up a very small, but very real fireball.

It was quick and bright, and burst into a black puff of burnt smoke that lazily drifted toward the ceiling. Cloud blinked with wide eyes, staring at that little collection of dark mist as it rolled upwards and evaporated.

Sephiroth pulled a pained face while handing what was left of the cigarette back to him. "... My throat hurts now. I need water."

"There's a bottle on the nightstand that costs ten gil if you open it."

"Whatever, give it to me."

Sephiroth drank half of it. Cloud cracked a wide smile at his boyfriend's innate weirdness, and took one final drag before putting the cigarette out. He then wrapped both arms and legs around him with a satisfied sigh.

"I'm tired."

"Were you up all night thinkin' about what happened?" Sephiroth asked gently.

"I didn't sleep because I'm nervous about the party," Cloud answered with a straight forward honesty that only drunkeness or great sex could induce, his face smooshed against Sephiroth's shoulder.

"Oh," he breathed, running his hands up and down Cloud's back firmly enough not to tickle, but soft enough to soothe. "Sleep now, you got lots of time."

"Can we eat something before we go? I don't wanna eat there. I wanna drink there, but I don't wanna eat there. Does that make sense?"

Sephiroth had spent the majority of his young professional career scarfing down fast food in his truck and waiting out his anxiety before entering corporate parties. Nobody else understood why, not even he was really sure why. But somehow, Cloud knew. Every once in a while he had a way of re-convincing Sephiroth that they really were soul mates.

His blonde spikes were air dried, sex rumpled and wild, and Sephiroth pressed his nose into them to breathe him in deep before answering, "We'll go somewhere to eat."

"Will it be a place people on dates go?" Cloud mumbled groggily. "Because I'm gonna look good for once, just saying."

"It's always a date," Sephiroth kissed the top of his head. "And you always look good."

Cloud kissed whatever his lips could touch – the side of Sephiroth's neck – and purred in contentment. "Make sure we don't sleep too late, though."

"We won't."

"We have to help that clone."

Sephiroth knew that this was coming eventually. He held Cloud with both arms, "We will."

Cloud finally slept.

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

A/N

1 – It's been a long time! How have you been? Probably in a way different place in life than the last time this story was updated, that's for sure. I hope it's a good place, and I hope having an update brings a little light into your day.

2 – I do give a shit about this story, and I do think about it a lot. I struggled with this chapter way more than anything I've ever written. I thought I had a clear direction I wanted it to go, because of writing and media influences I had at the time, and it would have spelled a very angsty end for this story. I really, really don't intend for this story to be anything but feel good, even if I do dip our collective toes in dangerous dark feelings now and then. I think the direction I originally planned for this would literally have destroyed everything I wanted this story to be. And then I struggled with 'Maybe I WANT to destroy this story, Maybe I'm just tired of writing'. A lot of those sad thoughts came and went over the past couple years.

3 – Do you know who really saved this story? KRISTEN. When she introduced herself as Sephiroth's ex girlfriend I was as shocked as Cloud was. She came out of NOWHERE and she had SO much to say. And I had SO MUCH FUN writing that portion of this chapter, and it really made me feel like writing this story in the beginning where I had no plan and certainly no deep, dark, tragic plotlines and I was like... why am I making this so hard for myself? There are so many more people to meet and fun to be had in this world. Maybe I should leave drama and angst to the writers who know what they're doing with it.

4 – I'm very sorry that it did take so long to figure out where this is going, but I'm very glad I took the time to rebuild a new idea and a direction to take this in where I can keep writing it for a long, long time. Maybe forever. I DO NOT think the next update will take years haha, but give me until the summer until you get unhappy with me again. Thanks for all your kind words over this hiatus, and I hope it was worth the wait.