It was an off day. Zack Fair could not figure out what was wrong with his morning no matter how long he spent trying to think it over. He'd been rough on his training group of first and second years, third years were ten times worse than he knew them to be but that didn't make him yell any quieter. He was annoyed by something and he couldn't figure it out. Sephiroth must've noticed as well because he pulled himself after his trainees left, moaning and complaining how they already felt sore and could hardly walk to their next class, and immediately demanded to ask what was wrong.

Naturally he didn't do this in the public view. No, he dragged him all the way to the top floor where his apartment was located, sat him down on the bed with his arms wrapped around him from behind and, kissing his neck, coaxed the problem from his partner.

"I'm not sure what's going on today, Seph," Zack admitted. "Everything's going wrong this morning. My alarm was too loud and I threw it against the wall," he made a mental note to go into town to get a new one because his was beyond repair now, "breakfast was colder and nastier than usual," another note to have a big dinner because he didn't want to test his luck with lunch he only took two bites of the meal meant to be breakfast, "and it felt like everything was going poorly in training and I couldn't stop myself from yelling at everyone, telling all of them they sucked and didn't deserve to even be in Midgar for training and I know that's wrong. A lot of them have a lot of talent." Zack hid his face in his hands and sighed harshly and heavily.

Massaging his shoulders, Sephiroth listened intently to everything his lover said. He knew exactly how the first class Soldier felt. There were many times in his military career that he felt that way and he told his partner so.

"How do you get over it," Zack questioned eagerly, turning to face the General and his face where neck and shoulder met, wrapping his arms around him and mumbling into the warm skin. "I hate feeling this way."

Sephiroth hushed his lover, petting his untamable hair and soothing strong, sword-calloused hands down his back. "It just means that both your mind and body are tired of the same routine and you are feeling the need for a change of pace. With your attitude though I'm surprised you don't know more about it than me, but I suppose since you're always jumping around feeling happy about everything that since all you've been doing is missions and now you're stuck here for quite a while you're starting to feel the effects of being here constantly." Welcome to my world Sephiroth indulged. Both him and Zack had been stationed in Midgar for the next three months and he was surprised that his lover lasted the two weeks he did before starting to feel on edge.

Moving out from behind the Soldier, Sephiroth picked up the phone and dialed in to the president. "It's me, I need to leave for a few days and I'm taking Fair with me." He hung up quickly and then headed to his closet, removing a duffel bag and some clothes.

"Uh…Seph…what just happened," Zack asked, looking from the closet to the bag.

"We're going away," the silver-haired man stated simply. "The president knows I can get on edge when left with nothing to do so whenever that happens I let him know I'll be out for a few days to kill something and let the tension go. He insists I take someone with me when I go though so I don't lose track of time."

A small grin broke out on Zack's face and he half-waited for Sephiroth to lay the joke on him that they weren't getting out of Midgar for a few days, but it never came and each second that passed the larger his grin grew before he assaulted his lover with breathless kisses to his face before jumping up and running from the apartment to pack his own bag.

Shaking his head, Sephiroth returned to packing before calling down to the storage and supplies room to have them ready gear for two within the hour. There was stuttering and a quick confirmation before the connection was severed. At that point Zack returned with a stuffed bag and a huge grin.

B R E A K

Panting moans and gasping voices echoed around the campsite as Sephiroth slid inside his waiting lover and paused to let him adjust. "It's been so long since we didn't have to be quiet for someone," the silver-haired general commented, flexing his hips and enjoying the resulted breathy gasps. Only around this man could he relax and not be 'Sephiroth the Hero'. Only now could he relax and be who he wanted. Around Zack he could be a normal person who only wanted the same as any other person. His lover and his teacher, who had brought up whole new emotions inside him and made him feel different things only when he was around: hurt when they got in a fight, worry when he came back from a mission injured, lonely when he's too busy to partake on more interesting pleasantries, and love when they joined together like now.

Zack lie there in his half euphoric state while Sephiroth stepped outside to start a fire. His rear thrummed pleasantly with the aftermath of their joining and he could still feel some of Seph's liquid seeping out his hole and down his leg. He often joked when that happened that his lover filled him so well sometimes that he overflowed, that seemed to put Seph's mind at ease that it was a normal occurrence because when they first started their sexual relationship it worried him that he might've broken Zack in some way.

However, now it was the usually cheerful Soldier who needed the jokes and prodding to smile again and not the other way around when his silver-haired lover would get into one of his moods. He still felt…wrong. There's got to be more to this restless feeling than what Seph said it was…The funny thing to Zack though was that he realized the feeling that something was off lately temporarily deceased while in the throes of passion only to replace steadily and comfortably in his chest again once he was left alone to his thoughts. That thought only made him feel bad though because he and Sephiroth were on a rare outing with just the two of them and a tube of lube bought specially by Seph for this occasion. A feeling of guilt settled in his stomach when his lover walked in and it was easily sensed.

"Still there," he asked worriedly, seeing the grim expression on a face usually so happy and full of smiles. A nod in reply and a drawn-out sigh.

"Now I just feel bad because I dragged you all the way out here and I don't think I'm going to be in the mood to do anything."

Sitting down on the bed, Sephiroth smoothed one hand up and down Zack's back, resting in his spiky tendrils of hair. "Didn't you once tell me that the sex was only half of our relationship? It's still nice to spend some time together and that just means I have one less bottle to go buy when you are in the mood again." Zack nodded, that had some reasoning. When they first started sleeping together he was worried he was going to make his poor lover broke after buying so much lube the way they went at it sometimes. Seph was quick to put his mind to rest by telling him he was paid plenty and often received discounts in town if he knew which stores to choose because of who he was.

That night Zack lie awake staring at the roof of their two-man tent while Sephiroth slept, an arm wrapped loosely around his waist. He wanted to know what was wrong with him and he didn't even know where to start. It was true he was feeling confined while stationed in Midgar, but leaving for a few days should've helped, right? Then why did he still feel so horrible? And why couldn't he shake it when he loved being alone with Seph? It didn't seem fair at all.

When they returned to Midgar late the next day Zack's mood had not improved. Their trip was a complete waste because he didn't want to make his lover be with someone who wasn't even in the mood to do anything. He spent the rest of his time staring out at the vast land, watching dust clouds roll by and the occasional monster drift over the landscape. The only thought that came to Zack's mind during the duration of their trip was: This sucks!

"Fair," a cadet shouted from down the hallway, racing towards him. He was a lower soldier, Zack recognized from his uniform, only a third class. He waited for the man to catch his breath before acknowledging him. "The orientation is starting without you, sir."

Zack wanted to start hitting his head against the wall. He had completely forgotten about the new troops coming today. He was supposed to be showing them around after they all signed in and take them to the barracks to get them settled. How could I have been so stupid to forget? He usually loved orientation and getting the new troops relaxed with his jokes and easy-going attitude. Now he was just going to depress everyone with his depressed mood. "Thank you; I'll be right there." They saluted each other and the third-class Soldier left and hurried away. Sighing, Zack followed at a slower pace.

The place was packed with newly recruited candidates for shoulder and every single one looked nervous and sick to the stomach from nerves. All of them were already dressed in the traditional cadet uniform: black pants, sleeveless green turtlenecks, and black boots. Zack hated that uniform when he had to wear it and wasted no time in adding a few things to make it original as well as telling every cadet he was in charge of that they could do the same if they wished.

He hung back by the door, waiting to find out the students he would be leading around the base for the rest of the day. Crossing his arms he pulled off his best Sephiroth expression, which he'd had lots of practice since he was in a relationship with the guy, and deemed himself unapproachable….for about five minutes.

One soldier walked by, Zack didn't pay much attention as it was one of the new recruits, and spoke with one of the guards. Then walked back and smiled. That's when Zack noticed him. Baby blue eyes bright with excitement and spiky blonde hair that stood out among all the dark-haired people in the room. How am I now just seeing him Zack wondered.

"Are you Zack Fair," he asked hopefully, waving a piece of paper in his hand. Nodding, he took the paper, feeling a well-missed bubbling sensation in his chest, and glanced at the name.

Looking back into those eyes he matched the large grin on the younger's face. "Cloud Strife? Welcome to Midgar."

"You're a…a first, aren't you," he questioned with excitement glowing in his eyes. Zack nodded. "Is it really hard? I promised everyone back home that I'd be a hero."

Zack chuckled, clapping Cloud on the shoulder and knowing that him and this new kid were going to be spending a lot of time together. "A lot of work, my friend; a lot of work. It looks like you're in my group today so we'll just wait here for the group to gather, shall we?"

Sephiroth walked by the large glass window, ready to make his customary appearance at the new cadet orientation. He paused and looked down seeing an unusual but very welcomed site. Zack, his Zack, was smiling again and it was a true and well-missed expression. The boy who seemed to be able to bring it back was a blonde, one of the few blondes in the building, and a new cadet. He was small, but that would definitely change after a few months and he was a good head shorter than Zack was, but he would grow. Most new cadets are barely old enough to leave their home so he must've been around sixteen. Walking down the stairs and through the hallway to the orientation room, all the new cadets stopped talking immediately to stare. Used to such behavior, Sephiroth walked over to his lover and the blonde.

"Hey, Seph, this is Cloud Strife," Zack greeted cheerily.

Staring into his blue eyes, Sephiroth mentally nodded. He's even better than normal. Whatever this kid has, it's good. "A pleasure," he greeted, lending his hand. Cloud took it silently, giving a gentle squeeze before quickly taking his hand back. He nodded, but didn't say anything.

Zack frowned wanting his lover and new friend to become close too, but afraid that the jitters of being in front of the 'hero' for the first year would get in the way. His mood suddenly dropping, Zack tried to think of different thoughts but only came back to the same thing. Sensing the same mood switch, Sephiroth leaned down slightly and placed a light kiss on Zack's neck, starling all the new cadets, not knowing the great Sephiroth was in a relationship, let alone with a guy. There was a collective gasp but no one said anything as expected. Whispering in his ear, the silver-haired general told Zack that things would get better before he made his exit.

"You and…Sephiroth," Cloud asked. His face was slightly white but he didn't look to be too freaked out.

Nodding, the first class Soldier blushed lightly. "It came…very unexpectedly but we're very happy with each other. It isn't difficult to talk to him and he knows I don't use him to further my career." He turned and looked at the way Sephiroth left and frowned. "We don't get very much time together but we make the most of it when we can. Cloud," he asked, looking back at the now smiling blonde, "his greeting was sincere, I know it was. He generally wanted to get to know you. Perhaps, you could make the effort. He doesn't really like approaching people if he doesn't have to but if you went up to him every now and then when you could I know he'd like it." Zack smiled brightly, not mentioning how he'd love it if him, Cloud, and Seph hung out together sometimes without the awkwardness.

B R E A K

Cloud waved as Zack left for the night. He enjoyed the tour despite the fact some of the other cadets were loud and rather annoying. He heard Zack mumble more than once under his breath that he couldn't wait for them to get whipped into shape. He tilted his head in curiosity when the black-haired Soldier turned over his shoulder and smiled.

"Come have dinner with me tomorrow. I'll give you some pointers to make the first year easier." Cloud nodded, smiling largely. Will do he thought happily.

The next day after the initial and getting to know everyone important and making notes of who to avoid for the year Cloud found himself making his way down the hall of some of the first class Soldier rooms. A few who saw him gave him dirty looks at the sight of his cadet uniform but other than they ignored him. He found the room noted on the piece of paper Zack had given him around lunch time before he hurried off to a class he was in charge of. He knocked attentively on the door, waited a few minutes, and froze when a silver-haired, green-eyed man answered the door, shirtless.

"Cadet," Sephiroth noted, holding the door at a small angle so it was impossible to see inside the rest of the room. "Is there something you needed?"

Finding his voice, Cloud answered quietly, "I'm sorry, sir. I thought this was Zack Fair's room." He turned to leave but a familiar voice cursed from the room.

"Oh shit!!" There was a loud clunk and then Zack pulled open the door the rest of the way. His pants were held up loosely by the zipper, half-done and unbuttoned. He too was shirtless and hair mussed up. A large blush covered Cloud's cheeks, but he couldn't keep his eyes from staring. "Cloud, I am so sorry!"

Turning away, Cloud let his bangs cover his face. "No, I'm sorry. I misunderstood is all; I got out of class early and I thought…I'm sorry."

Sephiroth huffed and turned away, going deeper into the room and out of Cloud's sight. Zack fixed his pants and then closed the door slightly behind him. "No, no, it's my fault, Cloud. It was unexpected and…you know how it happens, right?"

Shaking his head, Cloud looked up at Zack. "No, I don't." He left quickly down the hallway and back to his room.

The next afternoon Cloud was pulled from his last class twenty minutes early, a messenger telling him the general wanted to see him in his office. The note he handed him he instructed to hand to the secretary on the thirtieth floor and she would let him have admission into the higher floors. Doing as he was told he handed the slip of paper to the stuffy woman in a blue striped suit and she told him that he would be allowed onto the thirty-fifth floor only and that she would know if he went anywhere else. Rolling his eyes Cloud continued to the general's office.

Arriving at the office Cloud blushed as he remembered the day before but tried to keep a straight face. Sephiroth however, hadn't faced him and took to staring out the window.

"Strife," the general noted. "Cloud," he said, changing his mind. He turned to the blonde and his face was unusually soft. "I wanted to apologize for my actions yesterday. Had I known you and Zack had plans I wouldn't have intruded and have you in bad graces."

Surprise etched across the blonde's face and wasn't sure how to respond. He opted for nodding and sitting down in the nearest chair when Sephiroth motioned to it.

"I could send word to Zack for tonight if you'd agree to meet him for dinner." Cloud nodded again and he was dismissed.

He stopped at the door and looked back. "You wouldn't mind, sir?" Sephiroth looked over at him and waited. "I mean, you and him…I may only be sixteen but I know enough to know what you were doing. I don't want you to think that I'm trying to intrude in your relationship."

Green, mako-filled eyes widened before a soft smile settled on his features, startling the young cadet. "I wouldn't dream of it. I trust Zack and he knows better than getting to know people that he couldn't trust as well."

Cloud smiled back and then hurried away with a quick wave, startling the secretary as he practically skipped out of the higher-ups elevator and into another one across the hall that only led down. She yelled something that sounded like, "Get a hold of yourself, you're in the ShinRa building," but Cloud was much too happy to care. He still has Zack as a close buddy and he'd talked to the Great General Sephiroth, his hero since he could remember, without stuttering. No matter how short of a talk it was, it certainly constituted as a good day in his book.

B R E A K

The blonde cadet once again stood outside Zack Fair's room that evening, stomach growling since he'd skipped lunch in his excitement to voluntarily finish his laps that he'd missed when pulled from class. After all, he didn't want his other cadet-mates wanting to think he was using the excuse of the general to get out of doing exercises. Now, he was wishing that he'd grabbed something at least small before running around the cadet barracks, a total of ten miles and on a near empty stomach. At least I didn't notice I was starving until after I finished. Unfortunately, by the time he did finish the cafeteria wasn't handing out any more food until dinner rolled around, but luckily Cloud didn't have any more energy-exerting classes to attend.

Raising his hand to knock, he only had to wait a few seconds before the door creaked open and once again Sephiroth stood in the doorway, this time more appropriately dressed to be answering the door. He greeted Cloud with a small smile and moved out of the way to let him in. "It's almost ready," he announced, closing the door after he'd stepped in.

The room, to Cloud's dismay, was a complete mess. It looked like someone had hastily taken everything that had been inappropriately on the floor and shoved it all into a corner and out the way. There was a small coffee table a few feet from the door with a broken leg that had been greatly nursed in duck-tape to keep the table upright. There were some shelves thrown up and a few pictures on the wall, filled with mostly old trophies and family, medals and awards. Cloud peeked at one more closely and it had said "Clown of the Year" and it had a picture of a much younger Zack with mud all over his clothes and face and an unhappy looking toad squished tightly in his little hands. There was a room that led off somewhere else, probably the bedroom or the bathroom, or both, and then another that Sephiroth had disappeared through with a wonderful smell wafting through it. Behind the coffee table was a scruffy but well-worn couch and on top of that couch was a cross-legged, cross-armed, scowling Zack, who every so often an eyebrow would twitch.

Considering that both were still relatively dressed (since Zack was in pajama bottoms and an open button-down shirt) and neither of their hair seemed to be ruffled up, Cloud figured it was safe to assume that he hadn't interrupted anything too…sexual.

"Did I miss something," he finally asked, taking a seat next to Zack as he continued looking around.

Zack grumbled, but Sephiroth entered the room carrying three drinks and set them each on the table. He leant back against the couch and refused to answer, his bottom lip pouting childishly.

With a smirk, the silver-haired Soldier flicked his long hair over his shoulder and chuckled. Cloud blushed at the sound and quickly looked to Zack instead. "Don't mind him, he's a bit put off because what he was making had to be thrown out."

"Shut up, Seph," Zack blushed, sinking lower into his seat.

"It burnt," the Soldier finished and Cloud burst out laughing.

The blonde turned to the younger first-class Soldier and pat him on the back jokingly. "Ah, honey, you invited me to dinner without even knowing how to cook. How sweet of you." He continued laughing and Sephiroth even chuckled as he took a swig from his drink before he paused. Cloud was too busy laughing to notice but Sephiroth wasn't. A pink hue covered Zack's cheeks and he looked away angrily. Suddenly the meal that Zack had made just seemed all that much more important. He'd heard his lover muttering, but he thought it was just pointless ranting because he was mad his attempt at cooking failed. Now it just seemed like he was genuinely mad simply because Cloud knew he couldn't cook.

"Cloud, could you check the stove for me, make sure they're not overdone. If they are just turned the heat off and I'll be along in a minute." The blonde nodded and hurried off to the kitchen, still chuckling.

Zack turned violet eyes on him and there was a hint of a snarl to his curled lip. "Why'd you have to say that, Seph," he asked, hurt.

"I wasn't aware that you were trying to impress anybody, Zack."

Turning onto his side, he pouted. "I thought it was painfully obvious I wanted him to look up to me when I was trying so hard to cook in the first place. Or the fact that I was running around nervous, biting my nails, trying to figure out what was the best thing to make." He knew he was talking a bit loud, but wasn't worried since Cloud wasn't under mako injection treatments yet and none of his senses would be enhanced enough to hear the conversation unless he actually stepped into the room.

Sephiroth sat down on the couch beside his distressed lover, flicking his hair out of the way so he wouldn't sit on it. "Why is this affecting you so much," he asked, not understanding how Zack could know someone for so little a time and be as upset as this after failing to make dinner. It couldn't have been more than three days since he first met the young cadet.

"I don't know," he whispered back, hiding his face in the palm of his hands, pressing harshly against his eyes to make an explosion of color behind his lids. "It's just, when I look at him I want to protect him and when he looks at me and his whole face brightens up I feel this swell in my chest and I know I never want that smile to go away."

A serious expression overtook Sephiroth's face and his hands clenched into fists at his sides. His eyes hardly ever hardened when he was around Zack unless it concerned work and missions, but there was no denying the hurt he felt at the newest confession and a hurt that swelled in his stomach from what it would imply for their life together. "Are you wanting him instead," he accused.

"No!" Zack stood up so abruptly that he'd knocked over the coffee table and the drinks splattered to the floor. One glass hit the corner of the table on its way down and broke, shards rained over the carpet. Violet eyes were wide with hurt but everything else about him seethed anger. How dare Sephiroth accuse him of wanting anyone other than him? He loved Sephiroth and he was glad that his normal personality returned but he couldn't help but notice, and he knew his lover did too, that his mood had changed drastically from his depressed self to normal and better once Cloud entered the picture.

A gasp from the doorway caused them both to look up and the way the two by the couch were positioned Cloud couldn't help but feel he was once again walking in on something private and wished he stayed a bit longer in the kitchen watching over the food. He held a rag in one hand from holding one of the hot pans, pouring hot water into the sink, and he immediately knelt down and started cleaning up the drinks that spilt before they stained the carpet.

Zack immediately felt guilty and his mood worsened once more. The stress from everything happening lately just made him want to hold his head and scream. Sephiroth was angry with him because of Cloud and said person was a guest in his apartment for dinner that he burnt and his own lover had to start over and he was cleaning up the mess he made on his own floor. "No, don't. Cloud, you don't have to." He reached down to take the rag from the blonde.

"It's okay, really," Cloud protested, leaning away from Zack and losing his balance. His hand shot out to catch himself before he fell and he flinched with a quiet whimper when he felt glass cut into his hand. Steadying himself on his legs he lifted his hand up and stared absently at the glass imbedded in his hand and the blood that was starting to drip down his hand. There were a few small pieces that he easily brushed aside and the cuts sealed quickly, but one large piece he couldn't move etched across his palm in an awkward line and just the thought of taking it out made him want to flinch.

Zack stared at the injury with a sense of blame and he pulled the rag from Cloud's nimble fingers while the blonde was engrossed with his other hand. "I'm sorry," he whispered, kneeling beside him.

"Stay here and clean up," Sephiroth ordered, voice still harsh and cold, the way it was before Zack entered his life and the sound cut deeply in the violet-eyed man's chest. Cloud looked up at his voice also, suddenly very afraid of the one person he's come to admire for so long. For some reason he thought it was his fault for the sudden mood change in the room and he made to stand. "I'll take Strife to the medical room and then I'll be back to help." He took Cloud by the arm and led him from the apartment and down the hall.

The whole walk was quiet and strained. Sephiroth's mind was still hard-set on what Zack had told him about Cloud and said blonde was upset because he'd once again gotten in between the only two people he'd become close with during his short stay in Midgar and the Soldier compound. He suddenly stopped and Sephiroth paused, looking back at the blond, who refused to raise his eyes to look at the general.

"It's okay, sir," Cloud suddenly rushed out, looking up at Sephiroth with a guarded face. "I can go on my own. Zack needs you more than I do. You're together after all." With that he sped past the general and ran through the corridor without looking back and careful of splattering blood everywhere as he cradled his hand to his chest. Sephiroth stared after him before he finally decided that Cloud wasn't going to allow him to be in the infirmary if he tried following him and he did say he'd help clean up once Cloud was taken care of.

B R E A K

Neither had seen or heard from Cloud Strife in the next few days and Sephiroth noticed it was starting to take a toll on his lover, the culpability consuming him over something as little as a cut. He decided it was time to find out exactly what was going on before they had another yelling match to rival the one they had when he returned to help clean up the mess. It took the rest of the evening for the general to calm down enough to accept the excuse Zack gave him for what it was: he felt the need to protect Cloud and enjoyed his company.

Despite what they said to each other the general tried to convince himself that Zack still was his and that he still belonged to Zack. So he gave his lover some space and dove into the paperwork piling on his desk. Halfway through he needed a walk to un-cramp his hand and walked aimlessly around the compound. He paused only when he passed a window and a flash of blonde caused his eyes to dart over. He frowned though when he realized it was just some other blonde cadet that had been running on the track with a few other teammates. Deciding to watch, Sephiroth let his eyes wander around before his green, mako-ridden eyes landed on the only other blonde among the new cadets.

Cloud Strife was currently at his instructor's feet, doing push-ups to no end. From the sweat matting his hair down and the red in his face, he figured the cadet had either been doing quite a few pushups for the instructor or something was making him work twice as hard. Upon closer inspection, the large amount of mako in his system adding a huge benefactor, the general immediately noticed that Cloud was leaning off to the side, favoring his heavily bandaged hand that had been on the sharp end of the glass shards and the extra effort to stay balanced while only using his good hand and to top off the earful he must've been getting was putting quite a strain on his life at the moment.

Stepping into the room the whole gym froze and looked at him expectantly, knowing the general didn't walk into any room without a reason. The only one that didn't stop was Cloud, who was furiously trying to finish whatever round of pushups he was told to do. "What's going on here," he questioned, motioning to the cadet who only stopped at his voice.

"Insubordinate, sir." The instructor saluted after he answered. "He was supposed to complete two-hundred pull-ups on the bars today before he finished the workout and after only five he fell off without making an attempt to resume the exercise. When I demanded to know what he'd been up to in order to incomplete his set he refused to answer."

The general shook his head and looked down at Strife, whose baby-blue eyes were pleading with him not to interfere. He would definitely have to question him later, but in the meantime he couldn't just let Cloud force himself to do pushups that were obviously worsening his injury more than helping his career. "How many more does he have?"

"One-hundred and fifty, sir. Then he'll be put back on the bar until he finishes."

If it had just been a short number Sephiroth might've let him finish before pulling him from the room, but one glance at his hand proved that even that number was going to be too much. "He's dismissed," he ordered. Everyone stared at him in disbelief but refused to say anything out of respect. After all, the great general Sephiroth must've had his reasons for not wanting a cadet to finish out a punishment and exercises. "If you would just open your eyes, Soldier, you'd see that his inj -."

"No!" Everyone froze, holding their breaths as Cloud shouted, voice echoing around the quiet room. The resolve was in his eyes and it was obvious his hand pained him, but Sephiroth couldn't help but admire that he'd rather be in pain and finish than weasel his way out of his Soldier conditioning. He'll make a fine Soldier one day.

Breathing deeply, Sephiroth took Cloud by his arm and led him from the room. When they were finally safe from ears did the general release the young blonde and waited impatiently, staring down at him with his famous no-nonsense stare. The young blonde turned away, sighing and cradling his hand to his chest as it throbbed painfully. He no doubt needed a new bandage too. "I won't let this be my excuse sir," he finally admitted.

"So you would rather that cut take longer than necessary to heal," he questioned, eyes blazing with an attempt to keep himself under control.

Cloud was about to respond when a gasp caught them both by surprise and Zack stared at them with wide, violet eyes. "Seph," he asked, "What's going on?" He had just been on his way to pull him out of class so he could apologize, but was shocked when the instructor announced that said cadet had already been dismissed. The blonde beside him with his downward stare by his chest ache in the most unpleasant of ways. "Cloud, are you okay? How's your hand?" The cadet was about to dismiss the concern, not wanting the extra attention, but before he realized it strong hands took his and were removing some of the bandages softly.

"Cloud," Zack gasped, his breath hitching, "What have you been doing?" The cut was irritated and red around the edges and the bandages were stained slightly pink from where it was bleeding, pooling into the palm of the youth's hand. The two First-Classes knew that new recruits weren't allowed to take a Cure so they wouldn't come to rely on it when they made it to Third-Class but they still should've given Cloud a notice that he wouldn't be able to overdo it and strain the injury to the point where it delayed healing.

"He was working out on the pull-up bars and doing push-ups in the middle of class, obviously favoring it but with little outcome on that," Sephiroth answered, watching as Cloud looked away. Even from the brief periods he'd been with the cadet up to this point he already had a good idea of his personality: determined and eager to please. Definitely going to be a hell of a Soldier. But that was also going to be in question if the boy couldn't take care of himself properly. The medics in the Shinra building were top class and would've never forgotten to dismiss Cloud from exercises that included use of his hand. The only question now was what Cloud had done with the dismissal notice.

There was a commotion around the corner signaling that Cloud's class had been let out. Murmurs of several conversations going on at once before the doors shut once more. There were a few stragglers that opened the door again every now and then to catch up with their friends, but there were two cadets that left last whose conversation Sephiroth and Zack found interesting.

"Seems like Strife is trying a different means of getting into Soldier," one of them sneered.

There was a chuckle from his companion. "You act like you're surprised. He's the smallest one out of all of us, but he can't be stupid. He must know there's no way he can become Soldier with his scrawny frame. He'll be turned away at the entrance exams with a laugh and told to go home."

Their conversation died down as they walked further away from the hallway where the group of three listened. Cloud hid his face as his uninjured hand slammed against the wall angrily with tears in his blue eyes. He knew who those two were. They'd turned all his bunkmates against him while he'd tried making friends just because they didn't like how he'd made friends with the two top Soldier in the compound so quickly. If they'd seen who he was with now it would only help fuel their rumors about him using other means of getting what he wanted. He had to work harder! And on top of that said First Class Soldiers had heard everything.

"Cloud," Zack whispered, "why didn't you say that people were picking on you."

Angry eyes looked up into his and the Soldier moved back in surprise. "Did you think it would matter," Cloud growled. "You would've only made it worse if you had tried to do anything! Look at little boy, Cloud Strife," he mocked, "Can't even fight his own bunkmates, what good is he against monsters!?" With that he pulled away from the two First Classes and ran the opposite way from his class, storming out the door at top speed with a loud crash.

Zack wanted to go after him, but a hand on his shoulder stopped him. "He's right," Sephiroth stated quietly, knowing his lover didn't want to hear it. It was the first the two had actually talked alone on a personal level since the day Cloud got cut in Zack's apartment. "We would've made it harder for him if we tried taking care of it for him." He'd thought it once and he immediately thought it again, Strife would make a great Soldier.

Shoulders shaking with anger and confusion, he turned away from his silver-haired lover. "I know that, but it still isn't fair! Cloud isn't the kind of person who would do that; he's too kind." Looking over his shoulder with unshed tears in his eyes, he wanted some kind of comfort that Sephiroth was with him on this. "There has to be some way to take care of this though. Seph, he has potential to be great but he's never going to see that if he's going to be around people like that this whole time. You saw what it was doing to him and he's only been here a week."

"If he's as strong as you say and believe him to be, he had to have been subjected to something like this for a lot longer than a week," the general noted, guessing that Cloud had a past with people like his bunkmates treating him cruelly. "Has he said anything about his hometown?" If Zack's noticed it as well it makes me wonder what other Firsts have seen him. Cloud will definitely make things interested once he's put into Third. And he would make sure he got to Third. Even the thought of Cloud getting turned away made his eyes green up slightly.

Shaking his head, Zack couldn't help but stare at the last place the blonde disappeared. "No, I asked him about it and all he would say was Nibelheim and he got all silent and walked away."

The one word explained a lot. Zack might not know what went on in Nibelheim, but Sephiroth certainly did. He'd taken a few missions on around that area and each time the people there were cold and nasty. Since then he'd only send Soldiers he did care for very much to the mountain town and Zack was definitely on the top of the list of people he liked and cared for, Cloud becoming a close second even to his own surprise.

B R E A K

Cloud stood out on the roof of the highest building his cadet clearances would allow him access to. He felt stupid and embarrassed all at once. His head hurt from the setting sun in his eyes, his legs hurt from never running so hard up the stairs in his life, and his hand hurt from his stupid injury because he wasn't paying attention to begin with. He removed the bandages on his hand the rest of the way and let the wind have what Zack didn't take off. Knowing Sephiroth, even as little as he did, with Zack's influence he knew he wouldn't be doing anything that would require padding on an open cut.

The door to the roof creaked open and Cloud didn't bother looking up to know it was either or both of the First-Class Soldiers. A hand clapped gently on his back and he knew immediately that it was Zack.

"I'm not really in the mood, Fair."

The hand was instantly gone and Zack appeared with a bright, but obviously hurt smile. "Ouch, on last names now, Cloud. I'm hurt." He turned looked out past the horizon towards the sun, feeling the warmth on his face. "Nice view. Does it remind you of home?"

He flinched…visibly.

Zack hadn't wanted to believe it when his lover had hardheartedly told him what went on Nibelheim. People couldn't be that cruel on a regular basis and without any good reason. It didn't seem right. Or human. And if it was true than why was his blonde buddy so different. "Cloud, I know you don't really want to talk right now, but Seph and I need to know what's going on. I know you're going to be a great Soldier and I want to make sure you do get there so I want to help. But I can't help unless you tell me what's going on."

The blonde turned away and started to walk back towards the door. "That isn't your business and I can take care of myself." He slammed open the door and froze, coming face to face with the one person he wouldn't be able to walk away from. Zack certainly didn't seem like the kind of person who would pull rank on a friend, but with Sephiroth, the famous General himself, was a completely different story.

"It's our business if you want to make it to Soldier," Sephiroth told him. He stared down with stony cold, mako eyes into Cloud's and watched as he backed up into his lover's chest where Zack wrapped his arms around him and held him until he refused to struggle anymore.

He looked up into Sephiroth's eyes and pleaded with sad eyes, wide and looking more innocent and childlike than even the general himself had looked into before. "Please, don't make me talk about it more than I have to remember. I left home so I could escape the torture I had to endure only to have it here as well. If I can just get through my training with top grades I'll be able to get my own set of rooms and then I'll have some peace."

Zack released him with cold fingers, unable to hear what he was being told. He thought it was odd that he'd felt such a strong protective urge towards someone he'd known for so short a time, but now he suddenly knew why and Sephiroth had already figured it out after finding out where he came from. Someone with such a tortured past, their soul must've been screaming out for help without Cloud even realizing it. Before the blonde could disappear down the stairs he called back to him, throwing a small silver key his way.

"I know you can't call it yours completely, but if it helps. I usually hang out in Seph's rooms, but you're welcome to go in there whenever you need to be alone."

Cloud looked at the little key in his hand and allowed a small smile to grace his features. He whispered a quiet thank you before he turned back towards the stairs. He knew the chances of him using the key were highly unlikely but it was the thought that there someone who cared even a little enough to try giving him a piece of mind was what made it worth it. When he returned to his bunk that night, before everyone else returned, he fished out an old necklace his mother gave him, he'd long lost the real pendant that had hung from the chain, and slipped on the little key he'd been holding onto tightly since Zack gave it to him before clasping it around his neck and hiding it underneath his shirt.

B R E A K

Sephiroth and Zack lay in bed that night in the general's top pent house apartment. Zack lay awake with Seph's arm lying across his chest, his lover dozing comfortably.

"Do you think he's using it," he asked unsurely.

"No."

A small frown covered his face and an arm tightened around his lover's face. "Why not? I wanted him to be happy about getting a place to be alone and that's why I gave him my key."

"I'm sure having the knowledge that he has some place to go is enough to help him get through, but the same reason goes of why he never said anything is keeping him from going to it."

B R E A K

Cloud looked out over the afternoon sky and sighed. An arm wrapped around his shoulder and the blonde leaned into the warm, strong chest. It had been a couple months since the initial incident with the glass in his hand, the wound having healed nicely. Since then neither Sephiroth nor Zack, in the short times he got to spend with either of the two busy First Class Soldiers, the conversation of Nibelheim or his pushy bunkmates had come up. Until now.

"I heard," Zack whispered. "You can hang out in my room while Seph takes cares of it."

Pulling away, Cloud stared into Zack's tense face. "No," he cried, "He can't fight this for me. It's just something I have to deal with!"

Zack glared with harsh, violet eyes. "Cloud, have you seen your face? You can hardly open your eye; it's glued shut! They attacked you with no real reason and they deserve to be punished."

It was true that Cloud had seen his face. It was where Zack had first found him before he contacted the general. He'd been walking out of the showers after his class' workout for the day when he'd been jumped on both sides by the two people he went out of his way to avoid. They led him away from everyone else before he was punched in the gut and forced to keel over onto his side. They kicked him and called him all sorts of nasty things before someone who must've heard the ruckus came to see what was going on. For good measure, one of them knelt down, grabbing a fistful of hair and pulled roughly, telling him if he knew what was good for him he'd stay away from Zack and Sephiroth before socking him in the eye and trying to make the rest of the cadets look bad. He crawled away before anyone could find him and wasn't found until his eye was already shut as he stared at his bruises in the bathroom mirror where the violet-eyed Soldier found him.

"Come stay with us," Zack whispered. Cloud's good eye widened as far as his injuries would allow. "I want you to stay with us." When the blonde looked at him he smiled and leaned down, pressing his lips to Cloud's and holding him tightly. The corners of his lips crooked upward when he felt his kiss being returned, arms holding onto his shoulders tightly.

A cough from the doorway was the only thing that separated them and they parted, panting lightly for air. Sephiroth stared at them and Cloud froze, hiding partially behind Zack as he waited for the yelling to come. When Zack patted his arm for him to come out he glanced with blue eyes into a cure materia and instantly felt his injuries fade.

"The boys that attacked you are being held in a detention cell until further notice. You'll be notified of what their punishment is when it's decided," Sephiroth told him, putting the materia back in his pocket.

Zack watched his lover turn, letting him be alone with Cloud. He knew his eyes very well at this point, they were the only thing that gave away his feelings most of the time, though they were so fleeting that one could hardly noticed unless they truly knew him. He smirked and knew that his silver-haired lover felt the same for Cloud that he did and wasn't angry at the fact that he'd kissed him, but rather that Sephiroth hadn't gotten to taste first.

"Aren't you angry with me," Cloud shouted, finally coming out from behind his sanctuary.

The general stopped and looked back at him, motioning for him to come forward with a silent promise that he wouldn't hurt him. When Cloud stepped forward Sephiroth leant down so he was face-to-face and ran his hands through his soft blonde hair. "I know Zack very well and I know even better that he would never leave me, even for a little cute one like yourself." Leaning forward he kissed his cheek and grinned. "That doesn't mean I don't know he doesn't have feelings for you as well." He stood back up and headed back out the door, leaving a very stunned blonde and a grinning Zack behind.

"Well, that's encouraging," Zack smiled. "The last guy I kissed on a whim got torn apart before he could think about kissing back. They're still looking for the pieces." Cloud whimpered, body shaking in quick tremors. "Hey, hey, I'm kidding," he chuckled nervously, rubbing the back of his head. "I wouldn't have kissed you if I wasn't completely certain that he wasn't going to go crazy on you, especially with the chance that he was going to be up here any minute."

Cloud glanced up at him in shock. "What is that supposed to mean?"

Zack leant down and kissed him gently on the lips again, not expecting him to return it but was definitely happy when he pulled back and the blonde's eyes were closed gently. "It means that he must like you to some certain degree above normal, especially if he kissed you too," he grinned. He turned to go down the stairs, but he looked back over his shoulder with his eyes shining brightly. "By the way, I really meant what I said. Meet me in the lobby with a change of clothes for tomorrow." He left without letting Cloud answer him back.

B R E A K

That night Cloud stood in the lobby with a small bag of overnight clothes and his uniform for training in case he wouldn't have time to run back to his bunk. He'd been waiting for ten minutes and was about to go back to his room and admit he was an idiot for taking Zack seriously and then brush his teeth and face to get both of the First-Class Soldiers' kisses off him. Just as he was pushing off from the wall and walking away the elevator doors chimed open and Zack and Sephiroth stepped out. Zack spotted him just as the blonde was turning the corner and ran after him.

"Cloud, where are you going," he asked, nervous that Cloud had changed his mind after he and Sephiroth had just argued over where Cloud would feel more comfortable for the night. He was only able to stop him from walking away when he grabbed his wrist and stubbornly refused to let go. "Cloud, come on."

Pulling his wrist back towards him, Cloud stubbornly refused to meet the violet eyes he knew he wouldn't be able to deny. "I was foolish to come here. It would only make it harder for myself to get accepted here if I allow myself to get involved with the two people who could only protect my own interests."

"You're being stupid," Zack growled, yanking on the wrist still in his tight grasp. "You aren't that kind of person, Cloud, and we both know that. Even in the short time we've known you and spent time with you we both know that you can be trusted and you aren't going to be using us to further your career here."

The silver-haired general stepped forward, resting one hand on Zack's shoulder gently while his eyes bore into Cloud's enough to insure the younger man wouldn't look away. "He speaks the truth. We won't give you special treatment in your Soldier life if that is your wish."

"All we know right now Cloud is that both of us want to be near you. Before I met you I was feeling completely dead inside and couldn't remember how I smiled and was so optimistic about things. When I first saw you I genuinely wanted to know you. I instantly brightened up and I was so surprised that all I could think was that I had to keep you close." Zack finally released Cloud's wrist and prayed that the blonde wouldn't retreat. It was obvious that the cadet hadn't a very easy life thus far and he was still so young. He could only think of the want to protect him and always seeing a smile on his face. He only wished they could've gotten closer and gotten to know him more fully before the need became too great that he just wanted to have Cloud involved with them. That was mostly what they talked about on the way down in the elevator and Zack was only too ecstatic that Sephiroth felt the same as he.

When the violet-eyed Soldier broke out of his reverie he was all shocked, elated, and surprisingly very aroused at the sight of his lover and, hopefully, soon-to-be new lover kissing. The general had his arms resting lightly on the youth's shoulder while Cloud's arms rested limply at his sides. Sephiroth's face was completely relaxed as he moved his lips against the blondes'. The First Class Soldier had become aware just as the surprised expressed on Cloud's face melted away, blue eyes slipping closed just as he began to respond to the kiss helplessly. Zack, happily, knew just what he felt. There were times when even Zack had to wonder about the iciness about Sephiroth and wondered just what it was, mostly when they just came out of death-blow match with a serious round of monsters when the General was stone-faced and closed off eyes that made it seem as though no soul existed inside the well-formed, muscular body, that made him crazy in love with the man to begin with.

When they separated and Cloud was in a daze Zack had previously dubbed as "the happy Sephiroth-kissing place" they ushered the blonde into the elevator, Zack carrying his things. He came to only when he sat down on the couch and Zack was closing the door behind him.

"Welcome back, Cloud," Zack grinned. He turned to his silver-haired lover. "That must've been a really good one, Seph, to have knocked him out for that long. I don't even think my first kisses compared. I should be jealous but I think I'm a little too happy right now to care."

The blonde glanced around and immediately wondered if he'd been tricked or if the kiss really put that much of a shock into him. Zack didn't seem to be fazed, especially that one night he interrupted them. So apparently the dizziness after kissing Sephiroth occurred only in the beginning. I'm sure once I get over the shock of him wanting to kiss me it'll go away. Zack too…but…do I really want to do this. Inevitably, this will only make things harder for me in the end.

"It's better if you don't think too much about things right now and just feel. That's what I'm always telling Seph when he gets that stoic look on his face," Zack teased, ruffling his blonde hair before plopping down on the couch beside him.

The general nodded. "It is as he says. However, Cloud," he became urgently serious and stared into Cloud's eyes intensely; "this does not have to be anything other than what you truly want. Despite the fact that Zack and I would be entirely too pleased if you did agree with a relationship between us, we also don't want you to be forced into anything if it isn't what you want as well." Eager to please the General reminded himself. Good for Soldier, bad for personal relations.

Cloud nodded and absently rested his head against Zack's shoulder and didn't notice the hand that squeezed his.

"Even with that thought in mind, please stay the night here. I have a bud that owes me a favor in case you have bunk checks tomorrow and he'll agree to have you excused, saying you were on an overnight mission with him," Zack explained. "This wouldn't be special treatment," he added quickly, noticing the narrowing in Cloud's sky blue eyes and the sudden tilt to Sephiroth's head. "You're already up here and you'd be passed curfew by the time you walked back to your bunk now. This way you at least get one night away from your bunkmates." Cloud thought for a few minutes before he finally gave in and closed his eyes. So Zack did somehow know he'd never used his key so now he could stop feeling bad about not going there.

Sephiroth turned, making for the kitchen. Zack made to follow, used to helping his lover with making meals while in his apartment, but this time the general stopped him and poised a finger over his lips in a silencing gesture. The First Class Soldier paused before his ears did a double take. There was a quiet breath against his ears and he smiled calmly as he realized the exhaustion and the promise of a quiet night had lulled the cadet to a quick sleep and Zack would only too happily hold out on his need to always be on the move to allow his and Seph's potential third to rest.

It was only the smell of a well-cooked meal that made Cloud move towards wakefulness. His baby blues opened just a fraction to see a plate set on the coffee table in front of him and he heard a chuckle as he quickly moved to take the meal and set it in his lap. The meat was juicy and tender, sliding down his throat with little resistant while the vegetables and salad on the side were very refreshing and crunchy to the point where his mouth started watering for more.

Zack sipped from his iced tea, watching Cloud with a certain interest that only a First Class to a cadet could have. Cadets were rarely let out of the military compound except on training missions for free time, and even more rarely outside of Midgar except for the same training reasons. It wasn't until they actually reached Third-Class (or quit and left altogether) that they were given more freedom with their new rank. With that knowledge, everyone knew that cadets had to painfully live on the Mess Hall food in Shinra's cafeteria until they had earned the right (and some money in their pockets) to finally earn a well-earned meal. Silently he handed his half-full glass to the cadet and watched as he took tentative sips before pulling in a small ice cube and sucking on it with relief.

"It's about that time," Sephiroth mentioned, glancing at the clock. He started to clear the coffee table and made for the kitchen with Zack. When they returned minutes later Cloud figured they must've discussed something, probably something to do with him that put a serious tone in Seph's expression and sulking one on the usually cheerful Zack's face. "Where would you like to sleep, Cloud. You're welcome in the bedroom with us with the promise that we won't do anything you aren't comfortable with," with that said Zack's eyes lit up hopefully, "Or we make make up the couch and we'll wake you in the morning," the First-Class Soldier's expression once again fell.

Cloud had wanted to agree to the bedroom as his first thought, but he also remembered Sephiroth's earlier words about not wanting to feel pressured into anything. In the end he decided on an impulse thought and oddly enough he felt slight regret at what he would answer. "I'm sorry, but I-I can't. Not yet; I'd rather have more time to think about this before I…before joining you."

Zack was crest fallen, but did his best not to show his hurt to the young blonde with a cheerful smile. Cloud and Sephiroth both knew better, but didn't say anything and the general was inwardly proud that the cadet hadn't allowed himself to be forced into anything.

"It's isn't fair," Zack pouted, sitting in the middle of his and Seph's bed after they'd made sure Cloud was comfortable on the sofa. "I want him to be comfortable with us."

"Perhaps what you aren't realizing, love, is that for him to be comfortable around us he would have to be comfortable with the idea of being with us. Would you rather he bend to our wants immediately and later have regrets he moved too quickly?"

Zack stared with wide-eyes at his lover. "Seph," he questioned calmly, "since when are you so adept in the ways of the heart. You're a lab experiment." The general rolled his mako-green eyes at Zack's choice of nickname.

"I've been spending so much time with you that I am glad to admit I'm beginning to remember the words you say to me more often than that fool of a scientist Hojo has burned into me from the beginning."

An honest and true Zack-fashion smile broke out on the Soldier's face and he fell back on the covers with a relieved sigh. "That's good to know." He paused, closing his eyes and resting an arm to block out the bedroom light from his eyelids. "Loathe though I am to admit, you're right about Cloud. I would've been more than happy to have him sleep with us tonight I would've had to wonder when he started getting edgy when he thought about it later."

In the morning Cloud definitely looked more refreshed that he did when Zack saw him in the mornings for breakfast and silently agreed that the blonde probably wouldn't have looked better or even the same if he'd agreed to sleep in the bedroom. His joy only escalated when Cloud changed into his uniform and left them both with light kisses on both of their cheeks as he left with gratitude-filled thanks, a blush staining his cheeks.

"Now, do you think you would've gotten such a thank you if he'd made a different choice," Sephiroth questioned with a slight grin of his own.

Zack didn't answer as he stared at the door where the blonde disappeared, his hand resting against his cheek in a feather-touch.

B R E A K

Cloud sat nervously in the lab with the fierce, wrinkle-faced man that was Dr. Hojo staring at him with an almost gleeful expression. The blonde tried to keep his body from trembling at the thought that in order to get what he most wanted since he joined Soldier he had to go through the most intense pain he'd ever been through. It was his first appointment in the lab to receive a mako injection and from what he'd heard so far there were various levels of reaction to the treatment and all of the ones he's seen haven't been good.

He watched as they crazy-eyed, long-haired scientist loaded up a syringe from a large metal container by the back wall, furthest from the door, with a shimmering green liquid that seemed to have its own glow about it. Holding the needle over a cup he let the mako spurt in the cup as he released the excess air before injecting Cloud. Turning back to the nervous blonde he grinned widely, "Do you have anyone to take you back to your bunk afterwards," he asked briefly as he rubbed an alcohol patch over Cloud's left arm. He shook his head in the negative. "Pity, you'll have to lay here until the high wears off by yourself then because I'm not going to hold a bucket for you and push your hair out of your face while you puke your brains out at the initial rejection." Cloud's eyes widened, but he pushed back his fear. It wasn't like he forgot to ask for someone to help him to his room, but rather that nobody would've helped him. He had considered asking either Zack or Sephiroth before he'd left their rooms that morning but remembered both of them were First Class Soldier and were entirely too busy to care for a mako-induced cadet. With the fact that having one or both help during the hardest point of cadet training Cloud knew it wouldn't help his low status with the rest of the cadets who only had lowly other cadets or themselves to care for them.

He braced himself and tried to relax as he saw Hojo tie a string around his arm tightly and then pushed the needle none too kindly past his skin before releasing the mako. At first he felt nothing, but after a few seconds his head was swimming and all his muscles began to clench with upcoming spasms. Just as Hojo removed the syringe from his arm and turned to clean up he felt the absolute and dreaded upcoming and unavoidable urge to be sicker than he could ever remember being.

B R E A K

Sephiroth was sitting at his desk looking over the cadet schedules and attendance, looking for the potential skippers that came about with every new round of to-be-Soldier. As he came to Cloud's classes he felt the uncontrollable urge to check his grades as well and highlighted his name with two swift clicks of the mouse. When he opened his file though he saw for the next two days Cloud had a round of bold 'Excused Absence's for every class and he immediately wondered why. Scrolling to the bottom of the page towards the 'Special Notes' section, his throat constricted and he all but crushed the phone in his hand as he hurried to pick it up and punched in Zack's PHS number.

Why didn't he mention he had a mako injection today he wondered while waiting for his lover to pick up the phone. He knew Zack's schedule by heart and around this time he'd definitely be able to make it before Sephiroth could to the lab. If his suspicions were correct Cloud wouldn't have had anybody who could take him back to his bunks and Sephiroth didn't want a potential lover and someone he already deeply cared for to be in the lab for any longer than necessary.

"Fair," Zack finally said into the PHS.

"We have a problem."

B R E A K

Zack slammed his PHS down and hurriedly excused his trainees as he ran from them and into the nearest building that connected with the lab. He screeched down the hall with his combat boots and burst into the lab, rushed for breath, just as Cloud leaned over the trashcan for what had to be the umpteenth time in ten minutes and dry heaved painfully. Zack took three large steps towards him and rubbed his back soothingly.

"v'thing hurts," Cloud moaned as he collapsed onto his back and shielded his eyes from the overly bright lab lights. He could've sworn they weren't that bright before the injection.

"I know. I'm going to take you home now," Zack whispered, remembering from his own injection days that the slightest of sounds could make the headache worsen.

Hojo stepped into the lab and stopped at the unexpected visitor treating his most recent patient. "Fair, what a pleasant treat," he greeted sarcastically, knowing this was the Soldier that reversed much of the work he'd put into his greatest experiment. "To what do I owe this visit?"

"Just here to pick Cloud up," Zack sneered, too pissed off for being in the lab and worried Cloud had been subjecting himself to stay here willingly to care about how he spoke to the masochistic scientist. When he was certain the blonde was finished for the moment he helped him off the examination table and hauled one arm over his shoulder. "Be seeing you Ho-Joke," he mumbled.

Hojo clapped his hands behind his back with annoyance. "There must be some mistake, Fair. This cadet told me himself that he hadn't arranged anyone to pick him up after his appointment."

"Consider the arrangement arranged then. Sephiroth," he accented," and I won't let him stay here with your grubby, wrinkled hands to do what you will with him when he's in an unguarded state." With that he tightened his hold on the sickly cadet's arm and half-carried half-dragged him from the lab, ignoring the stares of everyone he passed when he was walking the opposite direction of the cadet barracks.

Sephiroth met him at the door and led him to the back of the apartments and into the master bedroom. It was obvious that after they'd hung up with each other a few minutes earlier that the General had made way for the rooms and set up the bed especially for Cloud with a bowl of hot water and washcloth, cool bed sheets, lots of pillows, and a trash bin at the side of the bed. Zack eased the blonde on the sheets and quickly unbuttoned his shirt and removed his boots for him. Cloud was moaning painfully and thrashing quickly and Sephiroth was glad he'd decided to look further into the cadet's schedule that afternoon and regret what happened as a result of that. It was well known among the First Class that to whoever was unfortunate enough to have to stay in the labs after injection was unknowingly succumbed to Hojo's more illegal experiments since their throats were sore enough from getting sick, they wouldn't have had the strength to scream and alert anyone. That's why they warned the cadets to always find someone when it was their turn for injections and tried to keep track of who wouldn't.