Warnings: Anal, AU, Language, M/M, Minor, Non-con, Oral, SH, Violence
AN: This was the ending I had originally planned for this story. Not quite as fluffy and definitely not as smutty. I hope you enjoy it anyway.


Epilogue

Midgar was in ruins, ShinRa had collapsed, and after all that had happened: Sephiroth, Meteor, DeepGround, Remnants, Summons and Weapons, there was only one class – Survivor.

Of course, some might argue there was a second class – Hero.

There were those who considered him an unlikely hero. Except for the big-ass sword he carried in a fancy harness on his back, he looked too small and too young to have saved the world, but he had – three times, and he'd helped on other occasions.

In a cozy bar near the center of Edge, the city that had developed on the outskirts of what was once the capital of the world, he sat quietly sipping his drink. The alcohol would have no effect on his much-altered system but he still liked the taste. Cloud sat at his corner table, enjoying the tang of his drink, the mild burn as it went down and the quiet of the day. He let his eyes and ears wander over the other patrons.

In an odd way, listening to their stories about their normal lives helped him feel normal himself. He wasn't normal. He'd never be normal again, not that he really remembered what he'd been like when he was normal. His memories had been diced and grated in Nibelheim, and then fried once for good measure when they'd been chasing Sephiroth.

He remembered being a cadet though the memories were vague: a train, noisy showers, endlessly running around a field. He remembered leaving Nibelheim because his ma was sick. He remembered Tseng in a car, but not why or what was said. Sephiroth was there, or at least his voice. That rich, baritone stroking his name and causing shivers. He didn't get shivers from his voice anymore, they'd fought each other too many times and too bitterly for the silver-haired general to have the same effect. There were other memories, all fuzzy and distant. For the most part he was content to leave them in the past.

He remembered Zack – he remembered far too much of Zack actually, although he was getting better at identifying his memories when they came up and not claiming them as his own. Some of the black haired SOLDIERs memories featured them together. It was... intriguing, seeing his own memories from Zack's point of view. He wasn't the only one who'd experienced fireworks. He was glad he had those memories even though they made him yearn for days long past and to wish, even more hopelessly, that Zack had been with him through everything. So many years, fighting, with no one to really make him feel safe.

Actually the last battle had been long enough ago that people didn't always recognize him anymore. He could walk down streets and just be normal. That was definitely okay with him. He'd never been comfortable with praise and, being mobbed and hounded for autographs by overenthusiastic crowds, had become one of his personal definitions of hell. He could remember being safe in a crowd of hundreds but feeling absolute terror when faced with less than ten, but he couldn't remember why. Those odd holes in his mind, again.

He got mobbed a lot less now. People still remembered, especially in Edge but it had been a couple years and there were quite a few world saviours hanging about. Anyway, Vincent was a more colourful and alluring hero. He was taller, older (much older!) and even more reclusive and mysterious than the blond. The media had a new target for their speculation.

He was never mobbed or begged for an autograph at Seventh Heaven. He was never asked 'what was it really like to kill Sephiroth. To kill his role-model, his general, his hero – he absolutely hated that question.

The regulars never asked, they never told; they discouraged 'the tourists' as they called the ones who came to point and stare. This was their bar and they were secretly proud that so many celebrities chose to hang out there. They'd call out their normal greeting to the blond haired warrior, the same greeting they used on each other. They treated the other former members of AVALANCHE the same way. Even Vincent, the latest 'Greatest Hero the World Has Ever Known,' felt safe from the fuss that so often happened in other places.

Here saviours of the world and genetically altered freaks could have their drinks in peace. This crowd even accepted minions of the former evil corporate overlord. He heard them long before they entered. His hearing was one of the things that had been enhanced. Though he really heard just one voice, a lazy, nasal drawl that could only belong to Reno, redheaded scourge and ShinRa's resident anarchist. Since he was talking to someone, and since even Cloud's ultra-sensitive hearing couldn't pick up a verbal response, he knew the other person had to be his partner, the ever-silent Rude.

The Turks were here.

Cloud's mind did some odd things around the cocky Turk. Reno'd been a Turk when Cloud was a cadet, he was sure of that but he couldn't figure out why he always associated Reno with roast beef. His emotions wavered around him too: friend-enemy, trust-hate, protect-kill. They flipped so fast sometimes his head hurt with it.

They'd fought each other several times in the past. Not mock-ups or sparring, but fights to the death. At least they should have been to the death, they were skilled enough, and their weapons deadly enough, except they'd never, either one of them, taken advantage of potentially fatal openings. It was as if they didn't want to kill each other. It was Barret who'd seen it, that time in the train tunnel. Until then, Cloud hadn't noticed. He still didn't know why they'd done it, but couldn't deny that they had.

Cloud had searched and searched his memories. All he'd gotten was the impression of food and, for some strange reason, office cubicles and getting his cheeks pinched. It was like there was this huge pit in his mind and all his memories of the redhead were on the far side, he could sort of see them but, no matter what he did, he couldn't convince his body to make the jump.

It bothered him. It bothered him a lot.

Whenever Reno was around he would frown at the abrasive, loud-mouthed Turk and it would itch at him, like one of those bugs that burrow under the skin to lay their eggs. He was already frowning and they weren't even in the bar. He could hear them, well, him, though.

"…she didn't pull out a gun. It wasn't a trap, yo. I said at the bar that she just wanted to fuck a Turk. Didn't you believe me?" A pause, probably Rude was making some small gesture that only Reno knew how to interpret. "No, I didn't feel cheap or used. Would you stop interrupting me?"

A pause for Rude's silent comment.

"Anyway," he drawled, "we get back to her place and things are heating up nicely, when she drags me into this bedroom that looks like it belongs to a ten-year old kid; all frills and stuffed animals, and I'm like 'woah!' 'cuz I ain't into that shit at all."

They were nearly in the bar now. Cloud could almost hear Rude lift his eyebrow. "Of course I got over it. Think I'm stupid? Don't answer that, yo," he added hastily. "Turns out all the frills? A fucking lie. That girl had more toys and gadgets in her closet than Rufus!"

They finally walked in the door. Cloud didn't have to watch them to know that they each did a quick and comprehensive examination for any hidden threats. They found none of course, so they made their way to the bar, Reno talking all the time. "She liked to role-play though so she's getting undressed and she's talking in the this high-pitched, squeaky voice that she must've thought sounded like a kid but it was just really fucking annoying, and I'm starting to think this whole thing was a bad idea."

Rude had spotted Cloud in the corner and gave him a polite nod in greeting. Rude was always polite. Reno had reached the bar by now and broke off his story to greet the dark-haired owner, "Hey Tifa, Rude thinks you're looking particularly fine today. Ow! Fuck, Rude!" He turned to his partner. "Does that mean you don't think she looks fine?"

"Whatever, yo." He shrugged and turned back to the woman who was hiding a giggle behind her hand, "I think she looks good especially when she's pouring me my usual. The brood isn't around?" he asked.

"No, Denzel's at a friend's and Barrett has Marlene for a bit." She put their drinks down in front of them.

The redhead took his drink and turned to face the room, elbows on the bar, one knee bent. He looked very casual but Cloud knew that he could snap into combat mode before you could blink. (How did he know that?) "Good, they shouldn't hear this shit anyway."

"Too bad, Rude, you gotta listen, 'cuz you're my partner." He spotted the blond in the corner, "Hey, Strife." He lifted his drink in salute. Cloud lifted his hand in acknowledgment. Reno made it all seem so easy. (All what, he itched.) "So anyway, she digs through her toys, telling me in that annoying voice, that she prefers to have both entrances covered. I'm impressive, but even I can't do that by myself."

"Yeah, that's why she was hitting on you at the bar too. Not that I object to sharing or anything but, no offense, I never want to see you like that."

"She had a solution. She takes out this dildo, but it's not like a regular dildo. Turns out she had it specially made to go up her butt. That's bad enough, but her anal dildo thing is coloured pink, and purple, and orange and green. I swear it looked like solidified puke. Then she gives it to me to hold so she can lube it up. Now I'm holding the puke looking thing, my enthusiasm is waning fast, and then she brings out the lube. She opens it up and the stuff fucking reeks! I mean, I don't mind a light scent in my quicker-slicker-upper, but this! Cherry flavoured lube and strong enough to make me puke..."

Cloud scowled and let Reno's voice fade.

Cherry flavoured lube. Cherry flavoured lube? That was important. Why? He allowed his brain to process it: the smell of it, the texture, the colour of the containers. The memory popped into place and he said his discovery out loud.

"Renton Sinclair."

"Goddamned fucking shit!" The redhead spewed his drink out in front of himself. Everyone was staring at Cloud, bewildered. What had he said to cause such a reaction in the cocky Turk?

The former ShinRa cadet smiled and Reno, no last name, smiled back.

"Hey, shrimp."


AN: This was originally going to be the end of the story but I wound up continuing it a couple oneshots: Forgotten (a response to a Halloween prompt) and Remembered (because it was Christmas). You can access them through my profile. [6 Apr 09]