Title: Handle With Care
Chapter 1/4: A New Toy
Word Count: ~4300
Characters: Sephiroth and Cloud
Genre: AU, friendship
Warnings: angry!Cloud swears a lot, canon timeline has been thoroughly ignored, read the bolded part of the author's note.
Disclaimer: I do not own FFVII and make no money from this work.
Summary: Cloud had no idea how his life would change on the day he was sent to deliver some papers to the former general Sephiroth's office. A mistaken identity turns his world upside down.
A/N: This was supposed to be a crackfic based on the amusing warnings tag that came with the Tonberry plushy Square Enix forced me to buy (at cutepoint, which is like gunpoint, but cuter). It's not. Well, it's still based on the tag, but it turned out rather serious. It's complete and will be four chapters long, although I do plan on writing a sequel for it eventually. After I've gotten back to work on PoW...
Anyways, this is more a friendship fic, but Cloud and Sephiroth have a rather weird relationship and it will probably evolve into a romantic relationship in the sequel. Cloud is fifteen in it, however, so if you're worried about that, feel free to PM me and I'll give you more details if you want them.
P.S. I really hope FF net doesn't eat bullet points. If it does, go read it on LJ. I'm not fighting with it. (Okay, yeah, it totally eats them. What the hell, FF net? Bullet points can be part of a legitimate story and who the hell are you to tell me they aren't? This is why I refuse to use your page breaks. The properly formatted version can be found here: http: / / xpaperplanex. livejournal. com/ 31895. html Take out the spaces.)
Sephiroth froze as the door swung shut behind him. There was someone in his office. There was never anyone in his office. Not anymore. Not since Nibelheim. Not since they all started treating him differently. It was a little thing, quite a lot smaller than him, with spiky yellow hair. He tilted his head to the side, pondering why it might be there.
Nobody called him 'sir' anymore, either. It was wearing a uniform: shorts and a button-up shirt with a Shin-Ra logo on it. He couldn't quite recall which uniform that was. Maybe it wasn't actually a uniform.
"Sir, I'm supposed to give this to you." It held out a small stack of papers, but Sephiroth ignored them as something else fluttered to the floor. He knew what the stack was anyways; he could always remember that: orders and more questions from the science department.
Bending to pick up the fallen scrap, Sephiroth turned it over and read it carefully.
Shin-Ra Merchandising Division
FOR AGES THREE YEARS AND UP
"Chocobo..." Sephiroth said out loud, glancing up at the... toy? It looked a bit like a chocobo. And toys weren't always exactly the same as the real life things they were based on. The stiff cardboard was folded in half, so he opened it up and looked at what was inside.
Warning:Please read before use.
Handle with care and avoid damaging this product in any way.
Keep away from fire. Failure to do so may cause product deformation or fire.
Discolouration will occur if product is submitted to licking or biting.
Keep away from direct sunlight, store in a cool, dry place.
Contains small parts. Be careful to avoid swallowing them.
DO NOT let children under the recommended age play with this product.
For safety, do not use if broken or damaged.
Keep wrapping material away from children to avoid risk of accidents.
Do not wash.
"They sent me a toy?" He was awfully lonely lately. Maybe one of his old friends wanted to give him something. Zack would do something like that. Zack still talked to him – a lot more than Genesis and Angeal did – though he was still... well, it didn't matter. Zack might have noticed that he was lonely.
"Sir?" A hesitant voice interrupted his thoughts and Sephiroth looked up. It was still holding out the papers from the science department, but Sephiroth didn't care about that. He had a toy. It could talk and everything. He took the papers and tossed them on his desk, reaching out to touch the chocobo's head. It held still as Sephiroth stroked its hair, though a frown crossed its face. "Sir? Are you all right?"
"I'm fine now, Chocobo," Sephiroth murmured, still petting his toy's head. "I'll take good care of you."
"I – My – I'm not – My name's Cloud."
Sephiroth furrowed his brow. Maybe there was something wrong with its voice? Well, it did look like the finest technology Shin-Ra had to offer, but some bugs were to be expected with technology like this. It wasn't damaged. They couldn't take it away. "Cloud... okay. I'll call you Cloud. Go sit down on the couch, Cloud, and wait a moment for me."
The chocobo blinked at him a few times, and looked like it was going to say something else, but then turned and obediently sat down where it was told. That was good; it could follow instructions. Sephiroth was still holding the warnings tag in his hand and wondered where he should put it so it wouldn't get lost. There was a string going through a hole in the card... he bent down and tied it around the chocobo's wrist, smiling at his ingenuity. He nodded his approval and turned to gather his things up. He wasn't allowed to carry Masamune when he wasn't on a mission anymore, but it was winter, so he had his coat and scarf. And those science department papers. Filling out the daily quizzes they sent him was a mind-numbing task. It could wait until tomorrow, he decided. For now, he had a new toy.
"Let's go, Choco—Cloud," Sephiroth said, holding out his hand.
Cloud looked at him curiously, but reached out and took his hand without hesitation. "Where are we going, sir?"
"You want me to go with you?"
"Of course. Why wouldn't I?" Sephiroth opened his office door and ushered Cloud out.
"Lotta reasons, according to everyone," Cloud whispered so quietly that Sephiroth barely caught it.
He paused and turned to face his toy, a frown creasing his forehead, his head slightly tilted to one side. It looked so sad... "I don't like people," he stated simply. "They make me sad too. You can be happy with me." With that, he tugged on Cloud's hand again and pulled him towards the elevators. He felt Cloud give his hand a tight squeeze back as he followed.
Frowning, Sephiroth studied the label once again, while Cloud sat patiently with a blanket wrapped around it. They weren't very detailed instructions for such a complex toy. Obviously he shouldn't set it on fire, but what should he do? They hadn't said anything about how Cloud would get cold when they went outside. He had nearly had a heart attack when it started shaking all over.
"I'm fine, sir, really. The wind was just really cold and, well, shorts aren't the best winter clothes ever. I dunno why they make us wear them. Thanks for giving me your coat, though."
"Are you sure you're warm enough?" Sephiroth asked. He didn't want to turn the heat up too much, since the instructions said to store it in a cool place, but obviously it didn't handle cold well. Maybe the instructions were wrong. He wouldn't put it past Shin-Ra – even the merchandising division couldn't be trusted. He needed to be extra careful with Cloud; if he damaged it they'd probably take it away and never let him have another.
"I'm sure. Nice and warm now." Cloud reached out of the blanket and patted his knee.
Sephiroth nodded, feeling slightly reassured. Hopefully it would know if it was damaged. He paused... surely a toy this detailed wouldn't be genderless, yet he kept referring to Cloud as 'it'. "Are you a boy or a girl?" he asked.
"I – I'm a boy!" Cloud sat up straight and narrowed his eyes at him.
"Okay, just wondered." Quick as a flash, Sephiroth leaned over and licked Cloud's cheek.
"Wha—what are you doing?"
"Checking. You do discolour," Sephiroth said, pointing at the bright red hue that was now tinting Cloud's face. "It didn't say to not lick or bite you," he pointed out defensively when Cloud looked like he was going to protest. "It just said that you would discolour if I did. But look, you're already turning back to normal. That's good."
Cloud brought his hand up to his face and stared at Sephiroth with his mouth hanging open. "You licked me!"
Sephiroth shrugged. "I wanted to know. Look, I can do it again." He leapt, moving far faster than Cloud could ever hope to manage, and licked up the other side of his face. "See? Red again!"
His toy squirmed and hid his face under the blanket. "Quit it!"
Sephiroth stilled completely and he could have sworn his heart shuddered to a stop as well. "Did I damage you?"
"What?" His Cloud's face appeared from behind the blanket, still discoloured. "No. No, I'm not damaged. Umm... I guess it's just a little weird for you to lick me, that's all. You didn't do anything wrong."
The breath he had been holding in escaped with a woosh. "Are you sure? I don't want to damage you. It didn't say I couldn't, but I don't think the instructions are very good."
Cloud looked at the tag around his wrist, frowning again. "I – I think you're right. These aren't very good instructions. I think I would be damaged if you bit me."
Sephiroth nodded quickly, wanting to reassure his toy that he was a good owner. "I won't bite you, then."
The toy smiled up at him. "Okay. Thank you." He looked down again, discolouring slightly. "Licking doesn't damage me, though. Just... don't do it all the time."
That was good. Licking Cloud was fun. Sephiroth reached out and stroked his hair. He was pleasantly surprised when Cloud leaned into his touch. "How are you powered? The tag doesn't say anything about batteries."
"Um, I eat food."
"Just like a person," Sephiroth murmured, liking the feel of Cloud's hair. So soft.
"Yeah... like a person. I need to eat as often as a person, too."
"Okay, I can do that." Thinking about food made Sephiroth realise that he was hungry, so he told Cloud to stay and went to order his evening meal.
The catering company person seemed surprised when he said he wanted enough for two people, but said it wasn't a problem. That was good. People always yelled at him if he went to the store to shop; they wanted him to use the delivery service, but he could never think of what he wanted when he tried to order, so he rarely had any groceries in the apartment. He liked the store because it had everything on the shelves where he could see it. It was easier that way, so he didn't understand why it was such a big problem. Sighing, Sephiroth returned to the living room to check on Cloud. At least he was able to feed him. That was what was important.
Holding Cloud while he waited for the food to arrive was pleasant. It had been so long since he'd had the chance to even be near anyone, let alone touch them. Even if Cloud was just a toy, he was warm and soft and the perfect size to cuddle up with. It was disappointing when the doorbell rang and he was forced to get up; he wouldn't have bothered if Cloud hadn't said he needed to eat.
Sephiroth eyed his toy as he set the food down on the table. Would Cloud be able to feed himself, or did he need to be fed? He would have thought that a toy would need to be fed, but Cloud was awfully high-tech. On the other hand, if he fed him, he'd be able to have Cloud sit on his lap again while he did so. He placed everything down at one end of the table while keeping an eye on Cloud to watch his reaction. Cloud seemed to be able to react to everything, so that was an important thing to watch.
Cloud seemed... nervous, maybe, when Sephiroth sat down and patted his lap.
"I can feed myself, you know," he said softly. "Do you still want me to sit on your lap?"
"I – I guess you don't have to." Sephiroth glanced around and pulled a second chair over. "Will you still sit next to me?" he asked hopefully.
"Sure. It's probably just a lot easier if I'm not in your lap." Cloud smiled brilliantly at him; whoever had designed the toy's face had done a wonderful job. There was so much detail.
Dinner was a simple steak and potatoes affair, but Cloud seemed to really like it, which pleased Sephiroth. When they were done eating, Sephiroth reached over and rubbed his hand over Cloud's stomach area, smiling when he felt it protruding slightly. He had fed him, taken good care of him; he was doing a good job, despite the bad instructions.
"Can I hold you again?"
"Yeah, I guess, if you want. I... I'm going to have to get back to the barracks soon though..."
"No," Sephiroth said, scooping Cloud up and carrying him over to the couch, "That's all right. I'll keep you here." He sat with his chocobo curled up on his lap and patted his head. Cloud didn't need to go anywhere; he could take proper care of him here.
Cloud sat quietly on his lap, just letting Sephiroth pet him for several hours, until he finally yawned widely. "Sir? I'm tired. I should –"
"Okay. We can go to bed." Sephiroth stood, carrying Cloud with him to the bedroom.
Cloud's head shot up from off his shoulder where it had been resting and his eyes were as wide as saucers. "Um..."
"Do you sleep in those?"
"I – I have – have pyjamas, but not – I – barracks..."
"You can wear these, then." Sephiroth pulled a pair of his lounge pants out of a drawer. They tied at the waist, so they wouldn't fall off, even if they were big. He sat Cloud down on the bed and stripped his shirt and shorts off, pausing a moment to stare at what had been underneath the wrappings. He hadn't expected that level of detail. Cloud's voice seemed to have gone wrong again – he was just making sounds now – but that seemed to just be a temporary glitch sometimes. It wasn't a problem. He reached out to touch, wanting to take a better look at what was between Cloud's legs, when a hand smacked his away.
Sephiroth pulled his hand back even further. "Damage?"
"Um... ye—yes, you'll damage me. Can – can I please have the pants?" Cloud was shaking again and Sephiroth quickly handed him the pants.
"I'm sorry, it didn't say anything about – I won't damage you – I won't. Are you cold again?"
Cloud hastily pulled on the pants as he stammered, "N—no, it's just – you just – you scared me a little, that's all. I – I didn't think you'd take off all my clothes like that. And – and I didn't expect... that."
Cloud was upset, Sephiroth could tell that easily, but he had no idea how to fix it. Frantic, he rummaged through his drawers again and found a t-shirt. He held it out cautiously, too scared to risk touching his toy again. "Here."
Cloud snatched the shirt up and pulled it over his head. "Th—thank you."
"Does your voice go strange like that because you're upset?" he asked, as Cloud seemed to be calming down.
"Um, yeah, I think so."
"Okay. I'll pay more attention next time. I'm sorry I scared you. I didn't even think that I could scare you. You didn't act frightened of me like people do."
"People are scared of you?" Cloud asked, reaching out a small hand to touch Sephiroth's face.
"I think so..." Sephiroth turned away to look for his own pyjamas. If he could frighten a toy like that, of course people would be afraid of him too. No wonder Angeal and Genesis went away.
"Hey..." There was a shuffling sound behind him and a pair of arms wrapped around his waist. "You don't scare me. You startled me, that's all. And you stopped when I told you to. That's what's really important, isn't it? So don't feel bad."
"I don't scare you?"
"Nope. You confuse me a lot, but that's okay. Just... hands above the waist, all right?"
"All right. Hands above the waist." He could remember that rule.
"Sephiroth, the scie—what the hell?" Zack paused in the doorway. What the hell was a kid in oversized pyjamas doing sitting on Sephiroth's lap? "What's going on, Sephiroth? Who is that?" He slowly stepped into the room, not wanting to startle Sephiroth and risk the kid getting hurt.
"This is my toy," Sephiroth said, gently stroking the kid's head while keeping what looked like a firm grip around his waist.
"Sephi—" Zack changed his mind and moved slowly over to the chair. The boy didn't look terribly upset, but he didn't look terribly happy, either, and there were dark circles under his eyes. "Hey, what's your name, kid?"
The blond glanced up at Sephiroth before answering. "Cloud, sir. Cloud Strife."
"Shit, you're that AWOL cadet... Have you been, um, with him? This entire time?"
Strife nodded slowly. "Since yesterday afternoon."
"Okay, um... are you hurt?"
"I didn't damage him!" Sephiroth yelled, pulling the cadet closer to him and trying to hide him from Zack with his body. "I followed the instructions! I didn't damage him! You can't take him away!"
"I – I'm fine, I think. He hasn't hurt me. This is just a bit weird."
"All right. Sephiroth, you need to let him go, okay? You can't keep –"
"NO! He's mine!" Sephiroth stood, shuffling the cadet so he was holding him with one arm, and glared violently at Zack. "You people took everything from me and now you're giving me things and just taking them away again? I've taken really good care of him. You can't just take him away like that!" Sephiroth was pacing the small room, sword arm twitching, as he yelled. Even though he was unarmed, the former general could still do a lot of damage, so Zack reluctantly decided to back off for now, lest the kid get caught in the crossfire.
"All right, all right. No one's going to take him away. Just calm down, okay? Don't hurt him."
Sephiroth came to a halt midstride. "Did I damage you?" he asked.
"No." Strife's voice was shaking a little; he was clearly frightened. "I'm not damaged, but can we sit down again?"
Sephiroth nodded and took a step towards his chair. He stopped and glared at Zack distrustfully. "Move," he snarled, holding Strife protectively, like he thought Zack would try and snatch him out of his arms. Not that he wouldn't if he thought he had a decent chance of getting away with it. Instead he backed away towards the door.
He watched as Sephiroth sat back down and rearranged Strife so he was in pretty much the same position as before, and then went back to petting his head. He tried to catch the kid's eye, let him know that he wasn't abandoning him, but he didn't think he noticed. He walked backwards out of the office, then turned and ran for the elevators.
"Sir!" Zack burst into Director Lazard's office, not bothering to knock on the door after ignoring his secretary. "Sir, I found that AWOL cadet. Sephiroth's kidnapped him."
Zack cringed inwardly at that voice, but turned sharply towards it and snapped a salute at President Shinra. "Yes, sir. He's had the cadet with him since yesterday afternoon, apparently. I tried to get him to let him go, but he became upset and I was worried he'd hurt Strife. He's not acting rationally; he called Strife his new toy."
"Was the cadet hurt at all?" Lazard asked, shuffling through a stack of papers. "Is he in immediate danger?"
"I don't think so. I talked to him a little bit before Sephiroth flew off the handle and he said he hadn't been hurt. And he seemed to get Sephiroth to calm down again before I left."
"Well, what's the problem then?" Shinra asked, laughing. "We've got to keep our weapons happy, don't we?"
"Sir, with all due respect, there's a very scared human being down there who can't get away. We need to send someone in to sedate Sephiroth and take Strife out of there."
Lazard had paused with a folder in his hands, frowning. "I think Fair is right, sir."
"Nonsense, do you have any idea how much it would cost us? Not to mention the damage the loon would cause when he figures out we've taken his 'toy' away. Always take the path of least resistance; that's just good business sense."
Zack sputtered, he couldn't believe what the president was saying! He wanted to just sacrifice a kid to save a few gil?
"Sir," Lazard said, looking at the contents of the folder, "Strife is fifteen years old. We'd be... I mean, who knows what Sephiroth might do to him?"
"You wouldn't be so blasé if it was your own son who had been kidnapped, would you?" Zack pleaded, but Shinra just rounded on him with narrowed eyes.
"Watch yourself, Fair. The kid is not my son. End of discussion. I'll go tell Sephiroth the happy news myself."
Zack snarled at the president's back. He was really just going to let Sephiroth keep a person as a toy! As soon as the elevator door closed, Zack turned on Lazard. "What the fuck is wrong with this company and that man!"
"I know. I know. Look, I can't knowingly let you disobey his orders and I'd rather not lose you to a bullet from the Turks, so there's not a lot we can do. But I'll give you free reign to do what you can to protect the kid. Just, don't try and go against Shinra."
"So what am I supposed to do? Tell Sephiroth to please not rape his new toy? Would he even realise if Strife's telling him 'no'?" Zack flailed his arms helplessly.
"Just, try and think of something, please? I don't like this any more than you do, but we're stuck between a rock and a hard place."
"All right, all right. I'll – I'll go try talking to them both again." Zack shuffled over to the elevator, at a loss as to how he could help without making Sephiroth let him go. "I should have taken the risk and gotten him out of there."
"You know that would have been extremely dangerous for him. Don't fault yourself for not being able to guess just how much humanity the old bastard is missing. I don't think anyone would have thought he'd be that cruel."
Zack held his arms up where Sephiroth would be able to see them clearly, took a deep breath, and pushed the door open. He flinched as he saw Sephiroth tighten his grip on the visibly upset cadet into what looked like a bone-crushing hold.
"Out," Sephiroth snarled. "Shinra said I could keep him."
"I know, I'm not here to take him away, I promise." Zack stayed where he was, fighting the urge to yell at Sephiroth to stop squeezing so tightly.
"Too tight – you're going to damage me, sir," Strife whimpered.
Zack's jaw dropped at the effect those words had on Sephiroth. He loosened his grip so much that Strife nearly fell out of his lap. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to." Sephiroth began stroking Strife's hair and crooning at him. "I was worried he'd take you away."
"I'm not going anywhere... am I?" Strife turned and looked at Zack.
"No..." Zack said apologetically, unable to bring himself to explain why they wouldn't help him. "He's really worried about damaging you, huh?"
Strife nodded and held out his wrist, while Sephiroth seemed to be off in his own little world, murmuring apologies and promises that he wouldn't do it again. "These are the care instructions he's following. They're not very good, though."
Zack crept closer and took a look at the tag tied around the kid's wrist. It was a damn toy label! No shit, they weren't very good! "How...?"
"The others in my bunk... they left it – the toy, that is – on my bed as a joke. I ripped the label off and I think it must've stuck to my uniform. It fell on the floor yesterday when I was delivering some papers here and he noticed it."
Throwing a quick glance up at Sephiroth to make sure he still wasn't paying attention, Zack scooted a little closer and lowered his voice. He had an idea. "I can't get you out of here, but I think I can help, as long as you don't mind playing along with the toy thing."
Cloud nodded, looking relieved that he wasn't going to be completely abandoned.
"Sephiroth," Zack said, standing up straight, "Cloud showed me his instructions, and I don't think those are the right ones. I'm going to go down to see the merchandising guys and try and find the right ones for you, okay?"
Sephiroth stopped muttering and looked at Zack. "Thank you, Fair. That would be most helpful. These are almost completely useless. It's been quite difficult trying to figure out what I should do."
Zack almost laughed out loud when Strife cleared his throat and tapped the last line on the card meaningfully. Do not wash. Poor kid, he rather doubted Sephiroth had even let him wash his hands. "I'll see if he's got any accessories too, like different outfits or something. In the meantime, to avoid damaging him, make sure you listen to everything he says. I hear that these toys really know if something's going to damage them."
"I will," Sephiroth said firmly. "I've been very careful about trying to remember what will damage him. Biting, touching below the waist, squeezing too tightly... that's all so far, right?"
"Right," Strife whispered. He had blushed furiously when Sephiroth listed them off. Zack was afraid to ask how biting and touching below the waist had come up, but he was incredibly relieved that Strife had apparently said 'no' and that Sephiroth had listened. He just had to make sure that Sephiroth knew that he had to keep listening. Strife was pointing at his card again, at the third line. "I think this was a mistake. I told him that licking won't damage me, but biting will."
"Okay, I'll make sure they fix that." Zack supposed that while Strife was probably uncomfortable with being licked, he had most likely made some concessions to avoid upsetting Sephiroth. And they probably couldn't go back on what had already been decided. Sephiroth didn't really get things like people changing their minds anymore. Toys changing their minds would probably be even more difficult for him to understand.
A/N: I swear I had something else to write here...