Warnings: Language and some smexing.
Chapter 57: Sunrise Serenade
"Have you found them yet?" Tifa's face was still buried in Chaos' broad chest.
*Were we looking for them?* because they hadn't been.
"Gods, yes please," she gasped. "I just need to put my feet on something solid."
Chaos didn't want to land where they would have to let go of both their lover, partner, mate, and of themselves. Their host would take the body back and they would be relegated once again to being a voyeur in someone else's life. This—this flying, soaring, being—was much better.
'Chaos,' said a quiet voice inside their head, 'this isn't about you. Tifa is a creature of the Earth. Titan chose her as his avatar,' Vincent pointed out. 'She is not meant for the air and every moment she spends away from the dirt and the rocks is not a treat for her as it is for you.'
The demon listened to their host's words, examined them and, unfortunately, could admit they were reasonable and logical. They growled in rejection of logic and reason.
'Chaos!' Vincent's voice was sharp. 'You are torturing her and it won't be much longer before she never forgives any of us for this.'
That argument Chaos could appreciate completely. *Don't worry, my small warrior, we are headed there now.*
The helicopter heaved. The helicopter jumped. The helicopter bobbed and wobbled and almost spun but it did, eventually, land on the big H painted on the surface of the carrier. That didn't, however, stop the world from heaving, jumping, or from bobbing and wobbling because that's what the sea was doing to the big ship. It took a crew of twenty, using robotics and steel hawsers to secure the 'copter to the deck. Getting the rotor blades secured took even longer but it had to be done or they risked decapitation. By the time it was safe for them to exit, Yazoo appreciated Zack's comments about vomit bags more than he had when he first said it. The clone's stomach hadn't liked being stuck in a flimsy aircraft sitting on an unknown surface that wouldn't stop moving.
It was better once they were allowed out. Being able to see the shifting sea made it easier to accept the impact it had on his body. Yazoo took a deep breath. It was filled with water and salt and bitter acidity that reminded him of the lab he'd been grown in. The sky was blurred yet sharp with the last of the daylight. It gave the roiling sea the look of teeth breaking though a mouthful of fresh blood
"So Reno got us down safely," Zack teased his CO. "You going to kiss his feet or just thank him?"
"Kissing… feet is why I have a Second-in-Command," Sephiroth shot back. Cloud snickered and Zack grinned ruefully. A slim figure in white approached them across the pitching deck: Rufus Shinra, looking wind-blown and elegant despite the patch covering his left eye.
"What's with the patch?" Zack softly asked the General.
"I told you he was injured when DGS collapsed the Shin-Ra Tower," Sephiroth responded just as quietly.
"Thought that was it but wasn't sure," Zack shrugged. "The Rufus I remember was a spoiled, over-dramatic diva who would've worn a patch because he thought it looked badass. I mean… look at the outfit he's wearing now." Sephiroth had to concede the point had merit—whites in a war zone was impractical—but he also understood the young president's insistence on wearing his trademark style was a way of exerting control over a situation that was, in all ways, completely out of his control. He did the same thing by maintaining his hair at its impractical length.
Behind them Reno exited the 'copter with a shout heard over the crashing sea. Automatically, Cloud and Yazoo turned to assess the possible threat.
"I had to do some funky manoeuvres, yo," the red-head drawled at the crew who'd be moving the helicopter below deck. "So I'll be coming down later to check her over." He was already doing a check on it, running hands and eyes over stress points.
Cloud frowned; he recognized their pilot. He had an image of the red-head in a kitchen filled with food standing in a clump of Turks and Zack who had his wings out—so that part was imagination. Still, best to be sure. He placed a hand on the First's arm. "Zack," he said softly, "Have I ever met Reno before?"
Zack watched the Turk slouch his way across the bouncing deck. "I never introduced you," the SOLDIER answered before raising his voice and striding across the deck toward the wiry Turk. "Reno! You nutjob. It's good to see you!"
"Hey, hero-man," a one-sided smile slide up on thin lips, "Couldn't let you have all the glory. I need my year-end bonus, yo." The two men didn't hug or anything wimpy like that but Reno raised his fist and Zack bumped it before they thumped each other on the shoulder. They couldn't look any more different. Zack was tall and wide, with black hair tanned skin and bright eyes. The Turk, Reno, was a lot smaller, about Cloud's height, whip-thin and just as deadly. He moved with a liquid fluidity that reminded him of Yazoo.
Yazoo, who was standing right beside him staring at the Turk with his mouth a little open and his eyes a little glazed.
"Yazoo?" he prompted but the youth said nothing, just swallowed. "Yazoo!" he gripped Yazoo's shoulder and broke him out of his trance. Blue cat eyes turned to stare at him and Cloud thought he now had an image to match the phrase 'thunderstruck'. "You okay, Yazoo?" he asked because the teen's cheeks were flushed a little.
Yazoo turned to look at Zack and the Turk. "Look at that hair," the clone said, "And those eyes. And… what are those marks on his cheeks? And did you see the way he moved?"
Oh, Cloud thought. Ohh…
"You know he's a Turk," Cloud warned because that's what big brothers did, right? "They don't have much of a life outside of Shin-Ra and the President."
Silver eyebrows went up. "They are forbidden to have relationships?"
"I don't know," the Corporal answered honestly. "Probably don't see many people other than, y'know, other Turks so they don't have many chances, is all. Plus they have to be discreet."
"I can be discreet," Yazoo breathed. He tipped his head and his lips quirked up. "He looks very flexible, don't you think."
Cloud decided that the red-headed Turk probably needed more protection than his adopted brother. "If you're interested, you should go over there," he encouraged Yazoo with a hard shove in the small of his back, "Zack will introduce you."
"I will," Yazoo said with narrowed, predatory eyes and Cloud watched as he prowled closer to where Zack and the Turk were still swapping stories. He shook his head in sympathy for poor Reno.
"So did you collect your winnings from Rufus yet?" Zack asked his friend.
Reno snorted, "Not my job to collect your pay, yo. Don't you zombie army types have to follow the chain of command?"
"Like corporate assassins don't." Reno just grinned because neither of them had ever been good at the whole 'taking orders without question' thing.
"I hear you got wings," the Turk said as casual as if he were asking if Zack got a new car.
For a moment the SOLDIER didn't know how to respond to that. "Um, yeah," he said, hands running nervously through his hair. "How'd you…" his voice drained away. Odd, he'd never thought how the rest of his friends would take his 'additions'. He'd gotten used to the group's casual acceptance of each other's oddities. "How'd you hear?" he asked peering anxiously at his once and possibly future friend.
Reno shrugged, a sinuous movement that travelled all up his body. "Turks, it's what we do," he reminded Zack and the First thought that might be all he got but, with an odd grimace, Reno continued. "Funny thing… I used to have dreams about hanging out with you in Aerith's old church, yo, and you'd always have wings, little bat wings with fingers that wiggled at me." There was a faint flush on the Turk's cheeks. "Silly, I know but… they kinda stuck in my mind, so then I heard you'd developed wings I, uh, couldn't help but wonder."
"You dreamt of my church?" Reno's eyebrows went up. Zack coughed and waved it away. "Yeah, I got wings," he said and, just like that, they were out and waving happily at the Turk.
"Shiva's never-ending light," the Turk whispered in fearful awe. "They're exactly what I, I dreamed." The awe didn't last long. It took only moments for the wily Turk to frown. "Wait a minute…"
Before he could finish his question, Yazoo sidled up to the SOLDIER and leaned into him even as he kept his blue cat-eyes on the red-head. "Zack," he said, voice husky, "who's your friend?"
Zack was glad of the interruption. "Hey, Sprite," he chirped overly cheerful. "This is Reno, no last name. Reno, this is Yazoo, also no last name."
"Yazoo," Reno tapped two fingers to his forehead before he frowned. "Yazoo… I know that name…"
"One of the clones Hojo grew from Sephiroth's cells. We ran into him and his brothers in the Cetran capital."
Reno's eyelids narrowed even more as he processed the brief sketch Zack had given him and compared it to the files he'd skimmed back in Junon. "Only Yazoo?" he asked.
"Well," Zack glanced down an apology at the silver-haired youth. He needn't have bothered; Yazoo's attention was focussed on Reno.
"I'm the only one that survived," Yazoo supplied calmly.
"I turned him into a frog," Zack said unthinkingly, still watching his young friend. Yazoo coloured, frowned and dug an elbow into the SOLDIER's side hard enough to push the air out of his lungs with an oomph.
"Sephiroth adopted me," Yazoo said trying to smooth over the embarrassing bit, "as kind of a brother."
Reno threw a glance at the big First, "That so."
"But of course I can't live under his wings forever," Yazoo continued. "I need to learn how to be…independent."
"You do?" Zack asked because this was the first he'd heard of it.
The clone ignored him. "Tseng has invited me to join the Turks."
"He has?" Zack's voice was louder this time. Yazoo ignored that as well.
"Could I ask you some questions?" The clone was leaning closer to the red-head, leaning in like he wanted to smell him. Reno's glance toward the SOLDIER was a bit more confused this time. "About what it's like to be a Turk," Yazoo clarified.
"I guess, but I'm not the best one to ask, yo," Reno answered, "I'm not good at the whole discipline thing."
Yazoo inched away from Zack's side, closer to Reno. "Oh, I'm very good at discipline… and discretion. I've heard that Turks don't have sexual relationships except with other Turks. Is that true?" There was no misinterpreting the reason behind the clone's question and Reno's jaw dropped and his cheeks changed colour enough to clash with the narrow stripes on his cheekbones.
It took him several tries to close his mouth and get saliva back. It took several more seconds before he managed to growl out some words. "If you don't stop fucking laughing, Fair, I'm going to put molasses in your shampoo."
Tseng was already standing beside his boss, whispering in his ear when Cloud joined them. The way Rufus' eyes flicked over the group, lingering on Lazard, the soldier knew the Turk was updating the President on the events in the crater. Sephiroth stood beside the former-director, confident but somehow alone. A couple quick steps and Cloud was back beside the General—his General—and he felt more than saw Sephiroth's shoulders relax. A gust blew him left, another pushed him back but he easily kept his balance on the heaving deck. He could almost feel his wings flicking and adjusting with every shift. It was kind of cool actually.
The President was talking to Lazard, "Once General Sephiroth briefed us on your condition I put people on it, trying to reverse engineer what Hollander had done."
"Anything?" the former director turned traitor-victim-spy asked.
"There are some theories but, unfortunately, the only way to test them is on you." The President's voice was filled with harsh understanding and Cloud remembered what Sephiroth had said about him being injured. Rufus Shinra had probably spent lots of time in hospitals and labs, enduring how many procedures and rounds of Cure. It was never pleasant to be experimented on.
Lazard sighed. "I will think about it." He gave a little huff of breath, "I've looked like this for so long I don't even remember what I looked like before."
Rufus' face hardened. "I do." He reached out and grabbed Lazard's arm. "I swear to you, I didn't know. I didn't know I had a brother." A brother? Cloud glanced at Sephiroth and Tseng for clues but both their faces were impassive. "If I had known—"
"You could have done nothing," Lazard stated calmly. "You were a child, both spoiled and ignored." There was a particularly violent roll of the large ship. Most of the people on deck had to jump-hop to catch themselves on the unstable surface. Many of them fell anyway.
"Mr. President," Tseng said clearly. "If I may be excused, there is something I need to do."
"Now?" Rufus asked him, surprised. Tseng nodded once. Pale blue eyes narrowed and Cloud knew the President was going to ask why. Tseng stared back, calm and implacable, and Cloud knew the Turk wouldn't answer. Rufus realized it too. "You believe it to be important?" Rufus asked instead of whatever he'd originally planned to say.
Rufus considered the request, considered Tseng who looked rumpled and a little unnerved. "Do what you need to, Tseng. I trust your ability to prioritize."
With a nod and a quick, almost nervous glance at his audience, Tseng moved to the railing. He didn't bother going any distance because he was aware that most of the people on deck would be able to hear him and would listen in. Well, Cloud couldn't say anything. He fully intended to watch. A glance at his General showed him that Sephiroth had some idea what was going on. He almost felt the string that the Jenova-infused swordsman threw out to Zack. He certainly felt Sephiroth give it a little tug pulling his SiC's attention to them.
Tseng stood a moment at the ship's railing before he removed the band from his hair, clasped his hands together, palm to palm, fingers flat, and bowed his head. It was a Wutaian obeisance that the soldier had never seen Tseng give to anything or anyone.
Cloud felt Sephiroth's awareness sharpen and he automatically responded by snapping to attention. Lazard noticed his movement and started to comment. "Wha—" he managed before a sharp flick of the General's hand cut him off. Even Zack and Yazoo joined them silently. Reno wasn't as quiet but his "Holy shit," was nearly silent and he stilled as well.
Tseng took one last breath then bowed, formally and deeply, to the ocean. "Leviathan-sama, wa kami hateshinaki," Cloud heard him say.
It was followed closely by Zack's translation: "Leviathan, the never-ending god."
He bowed again, touching hands to lips. "Watakushi no seikatsu no itadakimono, Leviathan-sama ga mottomo fukai kansha o shimasu."
"For the gift of my life, I give thee deepest gratitude."
Another bow, hands touching heart. "Watakushi no teki no shōri, Leviathan-sama ni kenkyo o hyoushimasu."
"For victory over my enemies, I give thee humble tribute."
This time Tseng's bow took him to his knees. He leaned forward on the tossing deck and touched his forehead to the surface, making himself completely vulnerable. "Anata no chie to keitaku ni Anata no tegara ni chikaru o agemasu."
"May your wisdom and grace strengthen me in your service."
"Arigatou, Leviathan-sama, wa kami hateshinaki," the Wutaian said.
"Thank you, Leviathan, the never-ending god."
In front of them, Tseng kept his head down, waiting to be released from his prayer.
There was a rumble through the deck of the ship, a creaking groan that had the sailors scrambling for emergency stations. The group on the deck didn't move. Rufus' eyes were glued to his Turk, watching him kneel in supplication. Both Sephiroth and Zack had their heads bowed respectfully. Reno, although not in any kind of formal stance, was quiet and still. Both Yazoo and Lazard were looking between them all, confused. Cloud was watching the ocean, watching the Wutaian god's domain.
The ship creaked and rolled. Clouds gathered and lightning hit the water; one, two, three times in quick succession. From under the water, from the depths of the sea, slid a massive serpent. It leapt up, pointed beak open and screaming its power into the world above. Its scales were the colour of the sea and the stormy sky, changing, shifting, never still. It arced up, small wings fluttering, then it twisted around on itself, flowing back down in a smooth unending motion. Its head twined around its body in a dizzying spiral, and then, without a splash, it entered the ocean in practically the same spot it had left it.
The ocean that was now miraculously calm.
"Holy shit," Reno breathed out. It was a sentiment that Cloud echoed internally.
"Rami-sama, arigatou," Tseng said before he lifted himself from the deck of the ship. He ignored his wet pants and walked calmly back to stand at Rufus' side.
Rufus flicked a glance over the Wutaian's compact form. "So now I guess I have to share you," he said accusingly.
"Yes, sir," was Tseng's placid response.
Rufus was quiet, only the rapid rise and fall of his chest gave away the strength of his emotions. "It'll be worth it, I guess, since you came back safely. And successfully, of course," he added.
"Thank you, sir," Tseng replied.
The President glared at him, "Just because you're the avatar for your God, don't think you outrank me, Tseng."
Tseng's lips twitched. "Of course not, sir."
"Does this mean you can keep the rain away when I'm on stake-out?" Reno asked seriously, so seriously everyone knew he was teasing.
Most of the people on deck turned to stare at him but, whatever rebuke the Turk's irreverent comment would have earned him was forgotten as a red-white light streaked toward them through the clearing skies. Once again, sailors were scrambling over the deck but this time it was to battle stations.
*Hello, my little bat.*
Zack's voice easily cut through the noise of running feet and the alarm siren. It froze the sailors in place long enough for Chaos to reach the ship safely. He halted in a scream of displaced air. Then he stepped delicately onto the deck and revealed Tifa cradled gently in his arms. Cloud counted five before they retracted and the small fighter was deposited gently onto the deck. She wobbled. Instantly Zack's hand was on her elbow steadying her.
"Oh thank the gods," Tifa moaned. "Something solid."
Chaos took a step backward. He flared his wings and roared at the sky as the red energy built around him, growing until it was a cloud that he could hide behind.
"Cover your eyes," Sephiroth instructed. There was a flash, a thump and, when Cloud opened his eyes Vincent was back, lying on the deck curled under his cloak. Tifa wasted no time getting down beside him but she didn't do much, just checked his pulse and his temperature before sitting back to wait his return to consciousness.
"Ms. Lockhart," Sephiroth said, "It's nice to have you back."
She smiled weakly, still pale from the flight. "Thank you, General. It's nice to be back." Cloud watched as she absently stroked the surface of the carrier. He was pretty sure she wasn't even aware she was doing it.
Armed sailors were running across the deck, running towards the downed Vincent. Sephiroth lifted his chin and Zack, Cloud and Yazoo formed a wall between them. Rufus had already raised his hand stopping the advance.
"President Shinra," Sephiroth said into the sudden quiet. "Ms. Lockhart you already know. However, allow me to introduce Vincent Valentine formerly of the Turks… and my father." The silence suddenly weighed twice as much. Not by so much as a flicker did Rufus reveal any surprise or discomfort. The Shinra intelligence service was as efficient as ever, Cloud surmised, or the young President was trained very well. Maybe both.
"Tifa," he said, "as always, the pleasure is mine. Valentine, welcome back."
"I am not returning to Shin-Ra Power Company," the growly voice was faint but firm.
"As it no longer exists that's hardly an issue," Rufus responded smoothly. He flicked a glance as Tseng who dipped his chin. "And this is a conversation for another day. Right now, what everyone needs is food and rest."
"Showers," Lazard said and Tifa moaned agreement.
"A change of clothes," Zack added, plucking at his shredded uniform shirt, still tacky with blood.
Rufus smiled and gestured towards one of the reinforced doors. "It's all available downstairs."
They spent an hour devouring everything the galley could put in front of them. Even Vincent had eaten as long as the dish hadn't contained meat. Rufus sat with them, chatting casually, updating the group on events that had no strategic or military significance whatsoever. Meteor was still in the sky but they were taking this time to enjoy being alive and well-fed—very well fed. Rufus' galley chef would have been right at home in the best five-star hotel in old Midgar.
After the meal, the President left taking Tseng with him and the boat's Senior Chief had showed the team to their various quarters. Vincent and Tifa were bunked down in their shared stateroom and Tifa had moaned her desire for sleep. The much-altered gunman was probably perching not sleeping, Cloud thought with a smile.
Yazoo had originally been given a room of his own but Zack told the Senior Chief that the young fighter would be staying with him, a simple statement that had relieved Yazoo's instinctive fear of being alone. The Senior had nodded easily and, with a couple quick commands, the First was given his own large state room. One that also adjoined Cloud and Sephiroth's of course, just in case. Cloud couldn't help but wonder if the ship's gossip would have them all piling in one of the beds for an orgy and how long would it take for the story to make it to the mainland? Would any of them care that Zack and Yazoo were spending their evening with Reno?
Actually, from what Zack had told Cloud, Yazoo was trailing behind Reno and Zack was following them both because watching Reno try not to appear completely freaked by the young warrior's attention was the most entertainment he'd had since Cloud had faced down a chocobo.
So now it was just he and the General in their large, large room, with the soft, soft bed and the full stomachs and they were clean and safe and Cloud was starting to drift as he waited for Sephiroth to emerge from the shower. Cloud had offered to, um, help him wash his hair but one look at the shower stall—generous by ship standards but still freaking tiny—had put an end to that plan. Instead, he'd changed into the sleep pants provided. They were smooth and silky and definitely not security force issue. He'd pulled back the coverings and laid himself out on the bed and waited and waited… and wai—
It was the almost purr that pulled him out from his sleep. A soft, continual hum that rumbled through his chest.
'I don't have any cat DNA,' he thought muzzily and then he caught the scent and smiled. He didn't have any cat, but Sephiroth did and the General was busy licking and nipping just about every centimetre of skin on his chest. Cloud approved of this so it seemed logical to lift a sleep-heavy hand to that wonderful silver hair and stroke though it. Maybe, his brain thought, the General will purr louder.
"I am not purring." Cloud's eyes opened wide in shock, his heart kicked into fourth gear. "I am enhancing your sexual experience by providing aural stimulus."
"I said that out loud?" he asked horrified.
Sephiroth raised his head and looked up at him. "No, but your thoughts were easy to deduce as soon as you started petting me." Cloud let out his breath in a huff of relief. They really didn't need another Zack. "Now," the General instructed, "I shall continue with my activities and you shall continue to lie there and enjoy them." He bent his head and placed those sculpted lips near Cloud's nipples. You may continue to run your hands through my hair."
Cloud's eyebrows went up. Somehow that wasn't the reaction he'd expected from the world-famous swordsmen. It was odd, despite the gaps in his mind, he could remember the stories that had gone around the trainee hall; how the General had broken an intern's wrist for touching his hair. Not once, since he'd claimed Cloud three years ago in a small mountain inn, had Cloud ever seen any sign of that. Actually, it seemed to him, that Sephiroth loved having his hair played with; that he enjoyed having Cloud pull it around himself so he was covered with its texture and its scent. But maybe he was one of the privileged few.
And it was a privilege.
It was a privilege and a joy and an honour and a turn on like Cloud could hardly stand. But the General was doing all the work and he was just lying here. "I should…" Sharp teeth nipped and he sucked in his breath.
"You should just lay there, Corporal, and let me play." Hands ran down his body and Cloud lifted himself to press back, to intensify the contact. The heat of the man…
Sephiroth chuckled. "Such a sensual little creature, you are Cloud. How did my luck bring you to me?"
Cloud thought the question should go the other way but he couldn't speak, not with Sephiroth's talented lips sucking on the tender flesh just under his ribs. Long fingers with short, little nails were lightly running over his collarbone, scratching down his arms, rubbing up the insides of his thighs.
Oh yeah, he could get used to this.
"You look very smug, Cloud," Sephiroth cooed, "Perhaps you think you're the lucky one?"
"Sir, yes, sir," Cloud's voice was lazy, lost in the sensations. He stretched lazily.
"Perhaps, Cloud," he breathed over the sensitive skin of Cloud's hip. "You know what they say about fortune favouring the bold…" and that mouth, that beautiful mouth, swooped down on his erect penis and swallowed it whole.
Cloud jerked and cried out. His hands tightened automatically. A hot, wet tongue licked and twirled. Carefully covered teeth scraped and pressed. And there was sucking… and humming… and Cloud knew he wouldn't be able to last long. He could feel his orgasm building like electricity in his spine.
Then Sephiroth let him slip out of his mouth with a little lick. Cloud whined lightly.
"Of course, fortune can be fickle," Sephiroth purred and smirked at the blond. His eyes gleamed with pleasure. His nails scratch-scratch-scratched over Cloud's pale flesh bringing the nerve endings to tingling life.
Cloud swallowed, wide eyes stared at Sephiroth's narrowed ones. "Sir?"
Fingers dug into his hip. "There's also the rule about… paying the piper."
"My name, as I have oft told you, is Sephiroth," the General stated, "Let's see if you can learn to use it."
Cloud discovered that the threat in his General's voice was real. As a trained warrior, Sephiroth knew the location of every vulnerable area, every nerve bundle, every sensitive spot on the human body. As his lover he knew when and how to touch, press, bite, scratch, kiss, suck, lick and blow on each and every one of them. Time after time he played with Cloud's body, forcing him right to the edge of completion…and then backed off when the young blond didn't call his name, or swatted his erection lightly in punishment when Cloud called out his rank instead.
It was a game.
It was an excruciating game of erotic torture that Cloud knew he'd win even when he lost, for he would lose. Eventually, he'd call the General by name and Sephiroth would let him cum. Even better, he'd bury himself deep in Cloud's body, thrusting to completion and leaving that small part of himself behind.
Cloud moaned thinking about it.
"You know what you have to do, Cloud," Sephiroth purred at him. He had three fingers inside the Corporal now, twisting and stretching… and teasing, and his face was filled predatory enjoyment.
"S-sir, yes, sir," Cloud answered and fingers curled and teeth closed and Cloud called out in delicious agony.
Oh yes, Cloud would lose… but not just yet.
"Do you not like sex with other males?"
Reno coughed in surprise and Zack laughed at him, so Reno tried to hit him but Zack dodged because he was expecting it. "Mother's tits, kid, what kind of question is that to ask a complete fucking stranger?"
They were in the large hanger underneath the deck watching as Reno checked out his 'copter. He'd had the engine cover up until moments ago. It was down now or else he'd've banged his head on it and Zack would've really had something to tease him about.
Yazoo blinked his blue cat eyes at him in confusion. "It is because you are unknown to me that I must ask. If I knew you, I'd already know the answer to my question so I wouldn't need to ask it." The Turk didn't respond except to stare so Yazoo helpfully added "Sephiroth said that it was always acceptable to ask a question."
Zack took pity on his Turk friend and gave him an out. "Didn't say anything about having to answer though."
Reno looked at him but it wasn't a look of gratitude. It was more internal, as if he were turning thoughts over in his brain. "Why me?" he finally said. "If you can give me an answer to the question that makes sense, then I'll answer yours."
Yazoo took his time thinking out his response. His brow furrowed and his mouth pursed, and his eyes paled as he looked inside himself. Then the young fighter dipped his head and swayed, setting his long hair flowing gracefully. His eyes travelled all over Reno, feet to hands and all parts in between, before settling on his face. "You are the most vibrant being I have ever interacted with. To you, life should be gulped down, enjoyed. Not examined, dissected or obsessed over. I have lived with dark people all my life but you bring colour everywhere you go. That attitude… pulls at me."
Reno blushed painfully bright but Zack easily refrained from making fun of him. Yazoo's assessment had been too earnest, too bare to mock.
"Why not Zack, here?" the Turk protested. "He's got the same attitude."
Zack is… close," Yazoo agreed, "but his time in Hojo's lab has given him darkness, an anger that dims his colours. Besides, he is already claimed."
"Hey!" Zack's protest was half-hearted.
"And if I were claimed?" Reno asked.
Yazoo closed the distance between them in less than a blink. He put his face close to the red-head's neck and sniffed long and loud behind his ear, over his chest to his arms. "You're not. You have a partner, someone you work closely with, but you don't share your body with him."
Reno smiled, "You can tell that from sniffing my 'pits yo?" Yazoo opened his mouth to answer but the Turk waved him quiet. "You answered my question—weirdly but honestly—so it's my turn to answer yours. Not liking sex with guys isn't the reason I'm dodging you. I don't do sex with strangers."
"But—" Yazoo tried to interrupt but Reno glared at him.
"I like sex, good sex. But good sex requires vulnerability, and vulnerability requires trust. I don't know you so I don't trust you so we're not having sex."
As he'd spoken, the clone's face had grown more still, more closed off—more like it had been back in the Cetran capital, Zack thought. He swayed, letting his hair drop in front of his eyes, hiding them. "I understand."
"I don't know you yet," Reno said over him. It immediately brought Yazoo's head back up, eyes focussed hopefully on his face. Zack started to smile; he had a pretty good idea what was coming. "You become a Turk and prove to me that you can be trusted and we'll see, yo. That means keeping your mind on the job and out of my pants. That means having your partner's back even if your partner isn't me. That means not risking anyone's life because you're jealous of the time they spend with me. You understand that, Yazoo?"
The clone nodded.
"And if you do become a Turk that doesn't automatically mean that we will become lovers, just that we might. You get that too?"
"Now," Reno finished wiping the grease off his hands. "You say you want to be a Turk. Let's see what you got." And with just that short warning he kicked out with his leg aiming at the side of Yazoo's head. The clone bent backwards, avoided the kick, and turned the move into a graceful backflip that nearly clipped the red-head's jaw in retaliation. Reno moved ahead, right fist already moving. Yazoo blocked it, caught it, and swung with his free hand. Reno dipped and slid and suddenly he was standing behind the silver-haired fighter and both his arms were free.
Zack whistled in appreciation and backed out of the danger zone. Having watched Yazoo spar with General Sephiroth, he had a pretty good idea who would win if this were a real fight. It wasn't, not really. Didn't mean that either of the participants took it easy on the other. At one point, Reno flew through the air, doing a slow flip, to land on all fours. Next time he went flying, he didn't even do that, just pancaked onto his stomach and slid under the tail of a helicopter.
The SOLDIER watched Reno's face as he pulled himself to his feet and knew that Yazoo was doing his case more good than harm by kicking the Turk's ass. It was, he thought with a chuckle, a very odd kind of courtship.
Tifa slept, curled up into Vincent's side with one hand draped possessively over his thigh. Vincent—and all his parts—stood guard over their lady's rest, unmoving and eternally alert.
If Chaos chose to make comment and suggestions, Vincent chose to ignore them.
"Sephiroth! Sephiroth please…"
If the bed hadn't been bolted to the ship's steel flooring, the General thought smugly, then his little blond would probably have shaken it hard enough to cause the walls to dent. He watched in contented victory as Cloud's face smoothed out, as his muscles spasmed and relaxed. He felt Cloud's body clutch and release and he let himself go.
"Oh gods," his lover gasped. "I think you killed me." His lips were quirked in a satisfied smile and his eyelids were drooping in post-coital exhaustion.
Sephiroth chuckled and the movement sent small aftershocks running through the Corporal's body. "Is that a compliment?" he teased.
Cloud was already drifting. "Oh absolutely, sir. Absolutely." Sephiroth gave up. Cloud had won and he had lost because the corporal would call him whatever he wanted.
Of course, he could keep trying to train him otherwise…
With that thought he realized it was a win all around and he fell asleep with a satisfied smile.
-Wake up, my warriors, and see what you have wrought -
It whispered through their minds, a soft voice, gentle but insistent. To Zack it was Aerith's voice. To Tifa it was her father's. To each who had been there at the Cetran capital, who had fought to give Sephiroth time to complete the ritual or to stop him, it was heard as the voice of one admired or loved and missed.
-Wake up, wake up-
"Mo-om, five more min'tes, promise," Cloud huffed and snuggled closer to his nice electric blanket that was keeping him so warm and smelled so enticing. His blanket wrapped him closer in return.
-Wake up, my warriors, the last battle has yet to be fought -
*Did you hear that, my immortalis?* Chaos' voice was eager. *It is not over yet.* Chaos might not have been a WEAPON, but he did like a good fight.
'The planet's WEAPONs go to fight Meteor, I imagine,' Vincent's reply was meant to depress that eagerness. It worked. Too well in fact, because now it felt distinctly like Chaos was pouting.
'Perhaps, once the battle is over and if the planet survives, we might be able to interest Tifa in a quick spar,' he offered. He let the memory of adrenaline pumping through sweaty bodies, of chests heaving as clothing was hastily stripped, run through his mind.
*Ooo. Excellent plan, my host,* Chaos cooed. *I see you've learned something from me after all.*
Beside him Tifa stirred.
-Wake up, wake up-
"Yo, Zack!" Reno called, snapping his fingers. "Where'd you go?"
The trio had retreated to Zack's room so that Reno could get some off-the-books first-aid after his little throw down with the genetically-designed super-fighter. Then they'd stayed up talking and telling stories. Yazoo couldn't join in the reminiscing, so he'd taken up an elegant reclining position on Zack's bed that, deliberately or by accident, was enticing. He watched Reno more often than not, but it wasn't the heavily intense stare of before.
"You didn't hear that?" the SOLDIER asked. From Reno's blank return gaze the answer was 'obviously not'.
Yazoo had already risen to his feet. "We should go on deck," he said. "The WEAPONs must be near Meteor."
"You can hear it?" Zack asked the clone.
"Of course, I was Chosen of Ramuh," Yazoo smirked and rubbed the wrist where the lightning-bolt bracelet had disappeared. "And I did help. I even saved your life."
"You saved Zack's life?" Reno asked and his thin lips lifted in teasing enjoyment. "Did he do something stupidly brave and noble?"
Yazoo chuckled, "Of course he did."
"Oh come on," Zack whined. "It wasn't stupid; it was necessary."
Reno looked at him, eyes wide and falsely guileless. "Zackary Fair," he said in an obnoxiously nasal voice. "You're my heeerro." And then he looked at the clone so they could enjoy the SOLDIER's embarrassment. A shared moment that made Yazoo's breath catch in hope.
-Come, my warriors, time to witness the ending that you sought-
They gathered on deck as instructed, joining a few of the boat's crew that were already staring up at the approaching asteroid. As Sephiroth knew it would, their presence brought others: Rufus and Elena, any sailor that wasn't required elsewhere or had high enough rank to set their own duty schedule, even the Captain came to stand on deck and stare into the sky where Meteor dominated and threatened their futures. It was so close it easily blocked out the constellations. It eclipsed the rising sun, still just a sliver of light on the horizon. It was a huge luminescent ball easily visible. At least the mass of it was since Meteor was huge, but to the unaugmented eye its details would be smudged and indistinct through the planet's atmosphere. It was a blessing because, seen that way, it could almost be called pretty
Rufus asked for binoculars and some no-name sailor practically skidded across the desk in the rush to fetch the President a pair. Sephiroth wondered if it would help or would Rufus feel even more nervous after seeing the spell clearly because to Sephiroth with his enhanced vision, Meteor looked toxic and deadly. Its glowing centre was surrounded by red streaks that resembled flowing blood, and the circling spots of darkness would be the flies blood attracted. It was pure destructive evil.
"Are those the WEAPONs?" Zack asked, standing bent backwards hands on hips, and bat wings out and fluttering for balance. "Those look like the WEAPONs." He pointed at specks circling in the sky, sparkling slightly in the faint light of the rising sun, glowing slightly more in the harsh red light of Meteor. "You did say they'd be fighting Meteor." Cloud shrugged.
"How long," the General asked of the crowd.
"It hasn't breached the atmosphere yet," Rufus answered, "but I'm told it has to be within 200,000 kilometres for it to have affected the oceans the way it has."
The General looked at the young president in question but it was Tseng who answered. "At the line where Meteor's trajectory would run through the planet, the oceans have risen nearly ten metres higher than normal. It has lowered by an equal amount on either side of the line. If the WEAPONS and Holy succeed in destroying Meteor then the water will be released from its gravitational pull."
"It will rush around the planet trying to restabilize itself," Sephiroth concluded.
"Indeed," Rufus agreed. "The tsunami from the explosion at the Crater might look like raindrops in a lake in comparison."
"Evacuation of all coastal regions is continuing on schedule," Tseng informed them. "Very few difficulties have been encountered." Sephiroth was impressed; mobilizing a population in a short amount of time was always difficult and frustrating. He said as much.
Rufus smirked at him. "What's the point of having the world's largest standing army if you can't order them around?"
"What's that?" Yazoo asked, his low voice easily heard above the continuous murmur of the crowd. Unlike everyone else looking up at the sky, the young warrior's attention had quickly refocused on a more terrestrial body—one with thin lips and fox-red hair—so he was the first to see the green tendrils flowing out of the surface of the planet. They were organic streams, like roots of a tree, or leaves unfurling, at high speed. Embedded in them were sparks and bright lines that reminded the General of what he'd seen in the Lifestream and he realized that it was the Lifestream.
"That is the result of casting Holy," Sephiroth replied slowly, "The Planet is joining the fight."
He watched as more and more of the green streamers rose up through the air; sometimes twirling around each other as if in play, sometimes merging then parting, but always, always, rising up through the dawn-sharp sky.
"The green light is heading towards the WEAPONs," Yazoo said, his attention finally pulled off the red-haired Turk and into the sky.
Sephiroth watched as the glittering streamers finally came together in one thick cable of light before separating into five columns. His eyebrow went up as he saw the possibilities. He watched the Lifestream and the WEAPONs combine into spheres of glowing energy. He watched as they increased in size as more and more of the Lifestream joined them until they could each touch the other in one large loop. Then the WEAPONs started to move, circling round and round each other, braiding the living light into a tight net. As one they moved toward the threatening asteroid and, to the people who could see, it looked like the woven light 'caught' Meteor.
"Is that it?" Yazoo asked, even as the WEAPONs flowed around the object, completely encircling it. Then they started to rotate around it, flowing, gaining speed, gaining bulk as more Lifestream joined them, until the WEAPONs were no longer visible as individual entities. It was all one mass of green and red and black fighting it out in Gaia's heaven.
"You wanted an explosion?" Rufus asked?
"Of course," the silver-haired warrior answered with blithe unconcern.
Reno barked out a laugh. "I take it back. You'll make a fine Turk, yo."
Sephiroth's attention pulled away from the battle in the sky to the face of his…brother-son. "You are going to join the Turks?"
Yazoo's eyes slanted toward Reno but he halted them halfway. Too late, of course; Sephiroth had already caught the move. The clone lifted his chin, blue cat-eyes flashed. "Yes, I am," he stated mutinously. "It will give me income, structure and challenge… and some freedom too," he tacked on as if he didn't really care. It was possible, Sephiroth conceded, that he didn't.
The General could feel everyone's gaze settle upon him, as if he were the arbiter of the boy's fate. Perhaps, in a way, it was an accurate assessment for he could say no and Rufus would respect that for he needed Sephiroth far more than he needed another fighter, enhanced or not. But if he said no, what would Yazoo do with his life? Circle around him, hoping to be useful? Or would he go out and get into trouble because he was bored and young and powerful?
"It sounds like you have given it a great deal of thought," he said neutrally. Yazoo flushed because, although he had thought about it, logic had played no part in his decision. Sephiroth smiled at the response and his eyes flashed over Zack's friend. "The life of a Turk can be filled with…contradictions. If, at any point, you no longer feel it is the best fit for your abilities and desires, you must say so—to Tseng or I—and we will help you find a path that suits you better." He finished off his little speech looking at the head Turk and Tseng nodded in acknowledgement. Not that the General thought Yazoo would use the out he had negotiated for him, but he knew what it was to feel trapped and without options, as did Yazoo. He couldn't recommend it.
"That's what you're going to do once this is over?" Tifa asked the clone she had befriended, "Become a Turk?"
"Yes," he answered. "Yes, I believe I will."
"Well, forget Sephiroth and his genteel threats," she said with a bright smile at Rufus, "If they don't treat you right you tell me. I still know a few people who'd love an excuse for a rematch."
"May I remind you, Ms. Lockhart, that we live in new and more peaceful times?" Rufus replied mildly.
"Tch, it wouldn't be a war," she said dismissively, "more like a training exercise, so that nobody gets bored."
Above them blood-red light tried to escape and the fly-black rocks tried to break through the barrier that was stopping Meteor from achieving its purpose. The green of the Lifestream rippled and bent but remained whole, moving in a continuous swirling motion that tightened and tightened on the threatening asteroid. In the end, Meteor was a mindless spell. It had no heart and no will of its own. The Lifestream was the living soul of a whole planet and of all the creatures that had lived and died on her for countless ages and the WEAPONs were the embodiment of that will. What Gaia wanted, it would have, and it wanted to live. The asteroid was forced to move, first at an angle to the planet, and then almost parallel.
"They're forcing it into orbit like a satellite," Cloud said. The General hummed his agreement of the assessment. "That should help minimize the damage from ocean flooding."
"Indeed," Tseng responded, "Depending on the distance they finally establish orbit, there may be little to no, um, slosh-back."
They stood and watched as the slow movement as the sun slowly rose above the horizon gilding the ocean with gold.
"What about you, Tifa," Cloud asked finally. "Are you going to move back to Nibelheim?" Cloud made a slight grimace of distaste as he mentioned it and Sephiroth was relieved that his lover had no great desire to return to a place that held so much personal sorrow for all of them.
Tifa's reaction was much the same as theirs; she wrinkled her nose and shook her head. "I don't think so. I liked living in the city; so many people to talk to, so many different ideas. I don't think I could go back to the insularity of a small town." The Lifestream that surrounded Meteor was starting to send out tendrils of light that flicked like the ends of a whip. "Actually, I liked running the bar. I know it was just a cover but it was fun."
"I am not fond of crowds," Vincent growled. "They agitate me." 'And the creatures inside me' went unsaid but everyone heard it anyway.
"Maybe an inn near the highway," Tifa compromised, "Or a town somewhat smaller than Midgar."
Zack laughed, "That's like every other place on the planet so at least you're not limiting your choices."
"What about you?" she asked the dark-haired First. "What does a SOLDIER First Class get up to in peace time?" It was the question Sephiroth had been asking himself since they'd entered the crater: if they survived, if they won, what comes next? Unlike Tifa, he didn't see himself operating a saloon.
Zack jerked his thumb at him, "I go where he goes, or where he tells me." Zack laughed. "So that's not gonna change, but there are probably still monsters out there, natural and DGS, so it's not like it'll be totally without challenge."
"True," Rufus agreed. "There's much work that needs to be done to restore the planet and to rebuild it."
Tseng coughed. It was a very suggestive cough. Sephiroth caught the young president looking at his head Turk in surprise. He also caught Tseng's slight nod of confirmation so he was hardly astonished when Rufus spoke again. "This isn't the time I would've chosen for this discussion but, since you are discussing your futures and making plans." His voice trailed away.
Sephiroth moved his gaze from the battle going on in space to the young President. Most of the team's attention was on them now, on Sephiroth and Rufus, and the General had an odd moment of déjà vu except, instead of Yazoo's fate, now he was deciding the future of the world.
One silver eyebrow lifted. "Yes," he prompted.
The President cleared his throat, then stilled, becoming once again the almost arrogant heir to the Shinra Empire. "You are probably aware that Reeve has elected to head the World Reconstruction Organization." The General nodded. "From roads and power grids to houses and sanitation; the WRO is going to do as much as they can to rebuild what was destroyed."
"But not the mako reactors, right?" Tifa interrupted aggressively.
"No, not those," Rufus assured the fighter. "We're working on developing new energy sources, ones with significantly less environmental impact than mako."
"Wind generators would be good," Cloud suggested. "Or, if we're going to have a closer moon, that'll mean more tidal activity so you could install generators where the tidal flow is the greatest. That'd be cool." Everyone was staring at him. "What?"
Zack replied with a goofy smile, "Most of the time you're a quiet and unassuming little soldier then, all of a sudden, this raging geek breaks out and you can't speak fast enough. It's cute." Cloud glowered at him.
"I know nothing about power generation," Sephiroth stated. He could see the white-blue tail of Meteor changing colour to the green of the Lifestream, pulling it into the main mass. Once the WEAPONs were done with the lifeless ball, would it have some form of sentience as the planet did, he wondered, or would it remain unaware and barren—merely a hunk of dirt hanging in Gaia's sky.
"But you do know about urban planning," Tseng countered. Both of Sephiroth's eyebrows went up. "In order to know the best way to attack a town, one must first know its strengths and weaknesses. For example, the best way to weaken a desert outpost is to locate its water supply and divert it or seal it off, correct?" The General nodded. "It stands to reason, that to build a town in the desert one must know how to locate and access that same supply."
Sephiroth couldn't help the small smile that lifted his lips. The comparison was both charming and ridiculous. Unless Shinra intended to rebuild the townships as fortresses, his strategic training was still mostly useless.
This time Rufus spoke. "The other requirement is the ability to organize men, equipment and supplies so that construction proceeds smoothly and with a minimal disruptions. Just like moving troops and weapons to a battlefield, it requires an understanding of each task and the ability to estimate the time needed to complete them. You must be able to schedule many related tasks so that everything is in place exactly when it's needed."
That actually made sense to the General. War was a logistical knot that was always one move away from unravelling. He could see that intricate and multi-headed construction projects would be the same.
"You are, in essence, asking me to become a project manager."
"Yes," Rufus answered simply. "Three decades ago, my father allowed Hojo to make a super-soldier. A creature he would use to destroy any resistance to his dreams and schemes. We already know you are capable of destruction, General. Are you equally capable of creation?"
The dare—he couldn't call it a challenge—wasn't even subtle but then subtlety wasn't needed here. Sephiroth thought of it; of thirty or more years of working for Neo-Shinra, having to listen to its Board of Directors and put up with bureaucrats, petty and otherwise. Of having a part in creating the future…
He turned to Cloud, for this wasn't a decision that would affect just himself, and the blond soldier gave him a small smile and a short nod. "I have lots of ideas," Cloud said and Zack barked out a laugh and whispered 'geek' fondly.
"I'm already in if you are," the SOLDIER said before the General could ask. "Plus Aerith might like some input even if it's through an intermediary."
"I'm sure more direct participation can be arranged," Sephiroth responded and he knew he'd made his decision.
Above them, the battle between the Planet and Meteor ended with a flare of light pulsing out from their center in a beautiful ring. All the colours were there: ruby, diamond, sapphire and emerald—and when it dispersed the WEAPONs were gone; the Lifestream was falling back towards the earth, and Meteor was a solid grey ball and Gaia had a new moon that glittered in the light.
It was over. The old world was finished. It was time to build the new one.
AN: Well, this is it; story ended. It's unbelievable and weird and wonderful and freaky. I'm happy to have it finished (especially as I truly dislike eternally unfinished tales—if I enjoyed those, I'd spend more time in real-life) but it's also unsettling because I've invested so much into it. As have all of you, my readers. Thanks to all of you for commenting and encouraging and enjoying, for just sticking it out through nearly 350,000 words. Many of you may want more, but I'll say what I always say at the end of a story: I have no plans to continue, but I can't predict when or where plot bunnies are born so you never know…
One last word of thanks goes to rsasai who provided me with the translation for Tseng's prayer. Arigatou.