AN: Although this story stands alone, it is based on my story 'Making It Work'. All I've done is moved the events of the last couple chapters into a less happy place and jumped forward three years. You can access Making It Work through my profile.

Summary: Sephiroth returned from the Lifestream determined to find the two who saved him at Nibelheim. Hojo and Deepground control half the planet and ShinRa is in shambles. That's not going to stop him, but saving them is only half the battle, now he also has to save the planet.
Disclaimer: If I owned it, Hojo would've been a smear on the pavement long ago
Fandom: Final Fantasy VII
Pairings: Cloud/Sephiroth, Cloud/Sephiroth/Zack, Chaos/Zack, Tifa/Vincent and more as they *koff* come up.
Warnings: Anal, Anthro, AU/AR, Explicit, Het, HJ, Language, M/M+, OCs, Oral, Solo, Violence, Yaoi

Chapter 1 : Release It

Sephiroth stared across the valley to the remains of the small village.

His vision, enhanced genetically, chemically and with any other substance his progenitor had decided to use, picked up the movement of troops through the ruins. Grenades and mortars were being used against Hojo's altered fighters since the bulk of Shinra's forces in the battle were unenhanced, although the General had sent in some of the more experienced SOLDIER Second Class as this battle was very important to him. The Seconds would not be at risk if the rumours of Jenova's presence proved to be correct.

He couldn't see the concurrent battle at the reactor, but the small receiver on the ground beside him let him eavesdrop on the CO's headset. That let him know enough. There was light to medium resistance at the reactor, mostly the quickly manufactured battle clones, fast but dumb, and some more exotic mako mutations thrown in, fast, deadly and dumb. None of Deepground's elite forces seemed to be at play. Which made the rumour that parts of Jenova were still active at the facility more likely to be false.

He recognized the soft footsteps approaching and didn't bother to look at the scarred creature. Nanaki, like Sephiroth and the other Firsts, had to wait on the sidelines while the less altered troops did the bulk of the fighting and discovered if there were parts of Jenova present in Nibelheim.

Mako alone could make a Third or a Second, but not a First. A SOLDIER First Class was the result of injecting trace amounts of viable Jenova cells along with the regular mako treatments. It made them quicker, stronger, harder to kill as the cells reproduced themselves and buried into their systems. It also made them vulnerable to her because she called and the cells demanded that the host-body obey.

Even small parts of her had proven to be difficult to withstand for those who'd had her cells fused with theirs. Sephiroth already knew he had no built in defences where the alien creature was concerned, since much of his genetic structure was based on hers, but neither did many of the remaining Firsts. In the beginning, Firsts could usually hold out for over two days of exposure to her call, but the more they were exposed the more susceptible they were to it the next time, until now there were very few who had any resistance at all.

Nanaki had also been one of Hojo's victims but no one was sure exactly what had been injected into him. Notes on the experiments performed by Hojo had been lost when Midgar collapsed so it had been decided, after seeing Nanaki in full battle mode, that everyone would be safer if they didn't risk Jenova taking him over.

"You cannot will the battle to go faster." Sephiroth ignored him. "Barret and Kunsel have it under control." Sephiroth almost sighed impatiently. Nanaki wasn't the easiest person to discourage. He would keep making comments until he got an appropriate response, or what he considered appropriate. "Once we know for certain that there are no parts of The Calamity in the area then we can join the battle."

It was Nanaki's 'we' that broke the General's resentful brooding. Of course, the creature wanted to fight, wanted revenge. He had suffered years of torture and experimentation. His people had nearly been wiped out by the extended siege of Cosmo Canyon. Plus he had his father's legacy to live up to, now that he knew Seto had died defending the village and hadn't run away as he'd always thought.

Revenge wasn't what Sephiroth wanted however. Not here. Very few people knew why this mission, to this place, was important to the General. "That is not my purpose," Sephiroth stated.

"Oh," Nanaki questioned gently, "I thought this was an important strategic location? I believe what you told the Council was 'it's the most easily traversed pass through the Nibel Mountains. From here, we can defend all the southern part of the continent while preparing for the invasion of the last of the Western Continent under Hojo's control'." It was mild teasing and completely accurate. He had used that argument to justify using more troops for this engagement.

"It is essential to Shinra for those reasons," he stated flatly. "It's just…" he started only to trail off. It's just what? It's just that they might be here. It's just that he'd had a brief taste of something infinitely precious only to have it snatched away from him by a madman and the actions of his best friend. It's just that he wanted to personally destroy any part of Jenova or Hojo left down there. It's just that he was terrible at waiting…

Leaked reports indicated that Hojo had decided against taking the 'experiments' with him to his stronghold on the northern continent. Whatever he'd been trying to make them into had failed, and the insane scientist felt he'd learned everything he needed from them. If Hojo had ever guessed what the two men locked in his basement lab meant to Sephiroth he would never have abandoned them. They would have been the bait in a trap to capture and pervert the Silver General, as Nibelheim had been.

"My grandfather says the ability to await exciting news with a patient heart requires either great age or no heart."

"Your grandfather is," annoying "very wise."

Just then the slurred, overloud voice of Barret Wallace came through the radio's speaker, "Dat bitch ain't here nowhere. Iz all shut down an' cold."

Sephiroth raised his mouthpiece, "Very good. SOLDIERs First Class will move to assist in both locations. Firsts, acknowledge." A handful of affirmatives echoed from the radio. He also heard Kunsel's voice relaying the information to her regular troops. He knew what they would be thinking, that now the fight was as good as over. It was probably true, however all SOLDIERs had orders not to take unnecessary risks, the Firsts most of all. There were just too few of them left.

With Hojo gone and his lab destroyed, the only source of viable Jenova cells was the silver-haired General. He had reluctantly agreed to donate blood and semen to Shinra's new science department in a desperate attempt to rebuild their elite fighting core. SOLDIERs were dying off faster than they could replace them, thanks to the hyper-enhanced elite fighters of Deepground. The female, Rosso, had decimated their ranks in Junon, and the dark one that appeared in a haze of purple smoke, he had been more selective but just as devastating.

Just one of the many little 'surprises' Hojo had left behind to be discovered. Like the massive network of systems embezzling millions of gil from the Shinra Electric Power Company. President Shinra probably would've forgiven Hojo everything in order to obtain The Promised Land, running away, destroying the tower, everything – except stealing his money.

Sephiroth, on the other hand, would forgive him nothing.

He moved swiftly toward the village remains, skeletons of lives written in burnt wood and weeds. Nanaki was forced into a gallop in an attempt to keep up with the swordsman. Once they'd taken the valley, Shinra would establish a forward base. Nibelheim would live again although Gruber Junior would never inherit the inn that had been in his family for generation. The judgemental town elders wouldn't sit in the shade playing checkers and swapping malicious gossip.

Cloud's mother would never invite them in for tea.

No. Sephiroth would not forgive Hojo. Not for anything.

In the end, Hojo's forces were easily overcome. Left here to defend the ruins to the death, it looked like they had stopped eating when their supplies ran out; not even going into the mountains to hunt or forage because they didn't have enough independent thought even for basic survival – they reminded Sephiroth uncomfortably, of the clones Genesis and Hollander had made. It had, however, made it ridiculously easy for the five Firsts to overwhelm them. Some had retained enough of their own brains to retreat to the reactor, and Kunsel and Barret were coordinating to catch them between the two forces. Tifa Lockhart was helping them decide on the paths the retreating DG's would have to take and where would be the best ambush locations.

As the last known survivor of Nibelheim, she had proved invaluable in providing routes through the treacherous mountains for the Shinra forces, allowing them to attack the village and the reactor simultaneously. However, she wasn't with the forces on the mountain paths, she was here. Hoping, like him, to discover the rumours were true. It wasn't only part of the General's life that could be buried beneath them; it was part of hers too.

"Are you ready?" she asked waiting with the troopers and the four-person medical team that would be going with him into the mansion. She wasn't judging Sephiroth's hesitation, merely confirming their mission.

Sephiroth gazed at the path leading to the Shinra Mansion, familiar but not, anticipated but dreaded as well. Being frozen between hope and fear when so close to the truth, the General decided, was a stupid place to be. He gave himself a mental shake, "Of course."

The short trip was uneventful. All the monsters, man-made and natural, had been cleared out. He strode confidently through the gate and into the building, but he was surprised at how few memories he had of the actual building and even then, most of those were from when he was a child. He couldn't tell if it was in better or worse shape than the last time he'd been here.

Three years ago, he'd been far more aware of the small, strong hand that had grasped his so protectively. He'd enjoyed the smell of the young corporal, sweat sharp but still soft and inviting. He'd known that he'd soon be Cloud Strife's lover during their walk out of the lab. All his senses had been focussed on that event, building up his anticipation and desire. He'd had very little thought for the state of the stairs or the windows or the path.

This time he was somewhat more attentive.

The large, three-story entrance was empty although there was evidence of activity in the scuffed floors. He didn't want to get caught up in exploring the huge old mansion. If something attacked them, then they would fight. He led the group up the stairs and into the room with the secret entrance to the stairs going down, and into the maze-like system of caves that held Hojo's once secret lab. Even here, very few creatures jumped out at them. The most dangerous was a Yin-Yang that Sephiroth dispatched without an effort.

Dr. Imeera, head of the medical team and a mako-exposure specialist, commented on the scarcity. The General thought the caves maybe had her more spooked than she would admit too. According to her file, she'd cleaned up Hojo's secret labs before but they'd all be long abandoned and any booby-traps had been carefully cleaned out before hand. This was essentially a 'hot' site. Deepground had been active in this lab right up until the last couple days. There was no way to know what was waiting for them. It could be nothing or it could be a Tsviet or a plain, old altered Nibel wolf.

She was scared and wanted reassurance. Sephiroth had none to give her. Dr. Imeera was apparently the best qualified to deal with what they might find. That's why he'd had her assigned to this team. He didn't care if she was scared. Luckily, Tifa was a kinder person than he was, always cheerful and encouraging.

"Hojo probably took them to experiment or alter them," Tifa answered flatly. The General almost snorted He doubted if Dr. Imeera found that encouraging at all.

There were a few creatures stirring in a couple of the side rooms, ones that Hojo had missed perhaps? But he wasn't interested in those rooms. He could feel them. Like a compass needle pulled to point north, he was drawn to the one side of the caves. He wanted to run to them, to curse his escorts – so slow and unconcerned, he wanted to stop and turn back in case… in case it was awful and they were no longer themselves.

He wanted to change the past.

It was at the small room before the main lab that more of his memories came back; of being a child and not being allowed to speak, or run, or play because the doctors were doing important work. He'd been kept here, in a cold room in a back corridor as he recovered from the latest treatment. Memories of Hojo invaded his mind; the Professor wielding needles and knives and leaving pain behind him for someone else to deal with, though nobody had. He remembered consuming and believing the fancy lies in dozens of books left just for him. He'd begun to hate everything and everyone until Zack and Cloud saved him. He remembered Zack doing squats and feeding him, while Cloud massaged his back, touching more than his skin.

As he opened the door to the main room, Sephiroth couldn't stop the prayer that repeated in his mind, a child's prayer:

By Titan's strength and Shiva's sight;
By Ramuh's ancient guiding light;
I send this out with all my might;
May Odin grant my wish tonight.

Please, let them be… what? It was too late for them to be safe and unharmed and, as much as he wanted his shyly teasing Cloud back, and his annoying, bouncy First, they were unlikely to be unchanged. Perhaps it was enough to wish that they were alive and that they'd still be his friends.

The centrepiece of the room was the sturdy examining table, with its massive lights, its restraints, and the channels along its sides to carry away excess liquids – like blood. There were four empty tubes along the walls. There was the passageway that led to the library where Zack had found him so long ago. Found him and saved him. Now it was his turn to save them, but where were they?

"This is an evil place," Tifa said, looking around with her nose scrunched in distaste. "Can we get on with our job or do you need us here?" She bent down casually to pick up a cloudy ball that appeared to be materia. She wasted a moment trying to sense what it was, she was pretty good with materia usually, but she couldn't get a feel for this one. It was a void. With a shrug, she put it in the bag at her waist while she waited for the General to make a decision.

The General stretched out his senses, ignoring the rustle and breathing of the humans in the room with him. He could hear the gurgle of liquids in a tube of some sort, a lot of liquid. It was behind one of the walls, perhaps another false wall. His heart sped up in helpless yearning, but he didn't hear any living thing other than the people in this room. "Set the charges."

"Right," she said and went back out with the captain. Only the two of them were authorized to handle the explosives. The young captain, Biggs, had been trained by Shinra; nobody asked who had trained the young woman.

There were decorations on the walls; charts and expensive artwork. There were books lying around; journals, textbooks and tomes. Computer screens flickered while equipment hummed. All of it lent an air of 'serious research for the greater good' to the complex but the restraints and the claw marks on the inside of the tubes told the real story.

The medical team had spread out looking at the equipment, examining the data discs. He wasn't interested in those things. Sephiroth examined the wall that hid the gurgling tubes. He could find no handle or lever, but he hadn't really looked that hard and he wasn't willing to wait. He drew Masamune, focussed himself, and swung, slicing it through the stones as easily as it sliced through flesh.

Rocks fell. People screamed. He ignored it because the bubbling was louder. He strode down the short hall and there, tucked away and hidden, were two tubes filled with noxious liquid mako and the naked forms of his friends. They were suspended in green poison. Breathing tubes were inserted into their nostrils and clamped painfully to their heads.

Sephiroth was drawn, slowly, painfully, to the small blond form, so slim, so beautiful. He reached out to touch the glass. "Cloud," he whispered.

This close he could see dozens of thin filaments that ran from the casing to various points on his body. It made him look like he was caught in a spider's web, which, Sephiroth reflected, was as accurate a description of Hojo as any. The wires were attached under the skin and gave him an oddly lumpy appearance. He didn't know if they were there to monitor Cloud's physical condition or to stimulate underused muscles. He didn't care he just wanted Cloud released. Those beautiful blue eyes were closed but he didn't look peaceful. In fact, he looked distressed. He was frowning, then his muscles twitched, and then he started to convulse.

"Doctor!" the General yelled down the hall.

Sephiroth was pushed out of the way as the Shinra medical team responded to the emergency. They knew what they were doing, after all many of them had worked with Hojo on his 'projects' and all had dismantled at least a few of Hojo's secret labs. They were familiar with mako tubes. They had the cylinder draining within moments. Cloud's movements eased as the liquid drained away but didn't stop.

"Why isn't he falling?" one of the technicians asked. Sephiroth was curious as well; surely Cloud should've sunk to the ground as the liquid drained. The filaments and the breathing tube weren't enough to support his weight, even slight as he was.

A different tech, standing on the other side answered, "There's a secondary harness," he paused, head bobbing around as he tried to get a better look. "I think we're going to be lucky. It looks like a non-invasive type."

Sephiroth barely restrained himself from growling his hatred at the absent Professor.

Finally, the mako was gone and it was safe to open the tube. Eager hands reached in to remove the wires and the breathing tube. It wasn't long before those hands were pulling out the soldier and laying him on a smaller version of the table in the main room. Dr. Imeera had covered the steel surface with a towel, not wanting the cold metal to startle the patient, a bit of kindness Sephiroth appreciated. "Pupils - unresponsive." "Tickle test - negative." "BP is 141 over 90." "Heart rate – 90."

Tremors ran through Cloud's too-small body in nearly continuous waves. Sometimes they faded but other times they turned into full-scale convulsions. Sephiroth watched and could do nothing.

There was a thump from the tube behind him. It shifted his attention away from the drama on the table. The sound repeated: thump-thump-pause, thump-thump-pause. Turning, Sephiroth remembered the other person trapped in mako. Was Zack convulsing now too?

He wasn't. He was pounding the glass of his cage in a near fury, demanding without words to be released. He was practically bouncing with urgency and the sight was so familiar, so Zack, that the General lost his breath. He reached out a hand to his friend's cage. A plea for something he could barely acknowledge, even while his other hand manipulated the door's controls. He'd watched as they opened Cloud's and he'd always had a quick memory.

The viscous green goo slid away. Unlike Cloud, Zack was capable of removing the wires from his own skin, which he started doing as soon as he saw Sephiroth start the cycle, uncaring of the wounds he was leaving behind. As the mako drained, his weight dropped onto his own feet so there was no harness. He kept glancing towards Cloud who was shaking harder now, so hard he would have fallen off the table if weren't for the medics holding him down. Of course, being restrained only added to the young man's stress.

Only once did the black-haired warrior look at his former commander. He half raised a hand to give a small wave. He looked tired, Sephiroth thought, his bright blue eyes dimmed by the years but he managed one soft smile that said so much: I'm okay, I forgive you, I'm glad you're here, We're still friends.

It said everything Sephiroth had wished for.

Sephiroth looked down at the control pad, blinking rapidly. The tube finished draining and the indicators turned green, so he disengaged the locks and opened the door. Only now did one of the medics notice what he'd been doing, "Hey!" she protested. The former SOLDIERs ignored it.

"Turn him on his stomach and step away," Commander Fair ordered, unconcerned with his green glow, his naked state, or his complete lack of authority.

"I beg your pardon?" Dr. Imeera said in outrage.

"You heard me, lady. Put him on his stomach and clear off. He won't have complete control and he might hurt you." He'd reached the table and placed his hand on Cloud's exposed foot. "Shh, Spikey. It's okay, we're here... we're both here. We'll keep you safe." He spoke to Sephiroth in the same calm tone without taking his focus off his friend. "Help me flip him over, Seph."

Cloud had calmed somewhat at the first touch but he was whimpering as if in pain. Zack kept murmuring to him, kept his hand in contact, as he moved to the top of the table. When Sephiroth put his hand on Cloud's leg the blond made what sounded like an excited 'meep' and stretched. The shivering had nearly stopped completely, just some spasms around his chest and shoulder areas.

The General did as Zack had done and trailed his hand up Cloud's leg. He enjoyed the texture; so smooth, so silky – just as he remembered. He reached the hip area and couldn't help but look at his lover's groin, his penis was flaccid and lying in the crease of the hip joint. It made him look even more vulnerable.

"Ready?" Zack's voice cut off his musing.

"Yes." They easily turned the slight young man over.

Again, he made an odd, wordless noise. It could've been fear or desire, excitement or happiness, Sephiroth couldn't tell. Zack could and he knelt by Cloud's head to reassure, "Its okay, Spike, go ahead. No one's going to get angry or hurt you – not anymore. Go ahead, release'em." A soft questioning sound, "Yeah, I promise," Zack responded.

Cloud let out a long relieved breath. His shoulder blades twitched, muscles shivering and then the wings appeared. Two beautiful, white wings with a span about the width of his stretched arms. He stretched them fully, flicking the long feathers on the end a little, as if waving to say 'hello'.