A/N: I know I haven't updated Burying Sephiroth, but I'm trying to break out of one bitchkitty of a writer's block, so I hope this will tide everyone over.

The nausea had set in shortly after Hojo had given him the shot and dismissed him. The old man didn't tell him what he was being injected with, he never did. He just rattled off a list of side effects as he swabbed down the inside of Sephiroth's elbow with alcohol before shoving the needle in and pushing the plunger. Tremors, nausea, blurred vision, headache and on and on.

"They're temporary, son." Oh how he hated it when Hojo called him that. As if he had the right. "But you can handle it, can't you? Don't forget to close the door on your way out." With that he left the room, whistling and not looking back.

It had been this way for as long as he could remember. The third Friday of every month he would submit to these injections, and would endure the after effects. When he was very young, Gast would sit with him as he fought his way through the side effects, rubbing his back between his shoulder blades and murmuring comforting words. "It's going to be okay, buddy. You can do this. I'm so sorry." Sometimes, when Sephiroth would start crying from the frustration of trying to deal with suffering his mind was too young to process, Gast would gather the boy into his arms and gently rock him until he fell asleep out of exhaustion. After Gast went away, sometimes a compassionate lab tech would talk him through it. That didn't happen often, though, and eventually they stopped seeing him completely, leaving him to tend to the lonely business of puking and suffering on his own.

The next morning, he wouldn't remember fumbling with the lock on the door and leaving it wide open after he burst through it. He would only barely recall rushing through his quarters, willing his stomach not to rebel against him before he made it to the bathroom. He was oblivious to a second set of light footsteps that began following him in the corridor of the barracks building. But the sickening clench of his stomach and the sour saliva that pooled in his mouth, that he always remembered. Every time.

He stumbled into the bathroom and fell to his knees in front of the toilet just in time to start retching. Two gloved hands settled on either side of his head and carefully swept his hair away from his face, but at that moment it didn't occur to him to flinch away from the contact or wonder what the hell someone was doing in his quarters with him. After he brought up what felt like everything he had eaten in the last twenty-four hours, he reached blindly for the toilet's handle with a shaking hand and flushed the foulness away. The hands left his head, and a few seconds later he heard water running.

He leaned back on his haunches, eyes blurry and watering, and a glass of water was pressed into his hand. "Drink this, sir. If you can," said a hesitant, nervous voice. He obeyed, feeling profound relief as the cool liquid slid over his tongue and down his throat, washing away the sharp, burning taste of mako-laced vomit and stomach acid.

He looked to his right and wondered if hallucinations were a side effect that Hojo neglected to mention, because that would certainly explain why there was a skinny talking chocobo in his bathroom wearing a Shinra infantryman's fatigues. He blinked once. Twice. No, not a chocobo. Just a kid whose unruly and impossibly spiked blonde hair made him resemble one.

After a moment, he recognized him. Cloud something. Striker. No, that wasn't right. Strife. Yes, Zack's friend. He had dismissed the boy out of hand the few times they had met, as he always ended up stammering and fawning like all of the other star-struck fanboys Sephiroth would encounter in the ranks. This time Cloud just studied his face, his blue eyes wide with concern.

"Are you going to be okay, sir?"

"I'll manage," he spat out, the irritation he felt at a grunt seeing him at his worst, at his most vulnerable, evident in his voice.

"I didn't mean to overstep my bounds, sir. I was on this floor because I was visiting my friend Zack. I saw you and you were staggering with your hand over your mouth and you looked like you were gonna yack so…" He trailed off, dropping his gaze to the tiled floor.

"I'll manage," he repeated, milder this time. The kid was just lending a hand, and the least he could do was not bite it off at the wrist. Besides, although he had long ago grown accustomed to enduring alone, he remembered what it was like to have someone nearby. The childish, yearning part of him was grateful that someone, anyone cared enough to see to his comfort, and that part of him didn't bother to question the motives behind it. Perhaps he would give the kid a proper dressing down when what was going on really sunk in, but at that moment, he felt far too lousy to concern himself with what was and was not appropriate.

Cloud nodded and rose to his feet. "Do you want me to stay here, or, you know, call someone?"

"No!" Cloud jumped at the vehemence and alarm in his superior officer's voice. Then he understood. Sephiroth didn't want anyone seeing him like that, on his knees and puking his guts out as if he was weak; as if he was just like everyone else.

"Okay then. I'll go now. I'm sorry I intruded." He turned his back and started out the door, but paused for a moment before adding, "I won't tell anyone, sir."

"Cloud."

He turned around to see Sephiroth looking up at him.

"Yes, sir?"

Sephiroth's gaze shifted to the floor, and in that instant, Cloud saw a peculiar mixture of defeat and gratitude. "Thank you."

Cloud looked at Sephiroth for a moment, noting how tired he looked. How very young he looked, then nodded quickly before his gaze started to look too much like scrutiny and walked out, quietly closing the door behind him.