Title: Handle With Care
Chapter 4/4: Ends and Beginnings
Word Count: ~4700
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 of chapter one.
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: I almost died writing the last half of this chapter. Just so you know. I had to keep typing to prevent my fingers from freezing and falling off. Waiting for trains on the platform in winter for three hours sucks.
Anyways, this is the final chapter of Handle With Care. Yay! I finished something! There's no eta on the sequel, but I'm working on it and it's coming along really well, I think, so it shouldn't be long before I can start posting it. I leave Japan tomorrow, and I'm giving myself a week to get over the jetlag and trauma from flying, then it's back to work.
Much fanfare and whatnot goes to the anonymous Windy, who was the 100th reviewer! Seriously, over 100 reviews on FF dot net alone for three chapters. I can't believe it. Thanks so much, everyone.
Cloud jerked out of his doze when the noise outside their office suddenly increased. He rubbed his eyes and yawned widely, wondering what was going on, but too sleepy to bother getting up. Sephiroth was really good about making sure he was in bed for eight hours, but their routine usually meant that Sephiroth took a shower after he gave Cloud his bath and put him to bed. He could never get to sleep until Sephiroth came to bed too. So he took naps while Sephiroth did his paperwork; he was focusing well enough now that he could get it all done on his own.
From the shouting, it sounded like someone had come back, probably from a long mission. "Wonder who it is," Cloud mumbled, reaching for his cold cup of coffee.
"I don't know. Do you want to go look?" Sephiroth asked, setting his pen down.
"You just want a break from your work." Cloud grinned. "Let's go."
Someone knocked at the door just as Sephiroth was gathering Cloud up, and he paused. "Come in."
The door opened and Cloud froze, arms wrapped around Sephiroth's neck. A man with bright red hair and a long red coat, much like Sephiroth's black one was standing in the doorway. A bigger man in a normal first class uniform with a massive sword strapped to his back was slightly behind him. What were they doing here?
"Genesis? Angeal?" Sephiroth sounded like he didn't quite believe what he was seeing. "What are you doing here?"
Genesis shot a weird look at Cloud, who squeezed Sephiroth a little tighter and narrowed his eyes at the pair as they waltzed in. "We managed to arrange our leave so we were off at the same time," Genesis said airily. "Zack's been bugging Angeal to come see you, so here we are. Who's the kid?"
"This is Cloud," Sephiroth said proudly, stroking Cloud's hair, "He's my toy. Cloud the Chocobo Toy. Merchandising gave him specially to me to test out."
Cloud flushed with anger as Genesis snorted derisively, barely containing his laugher as he choked out, "Toy? You think you've got a toy?"
"Yes," Cloud said calmly, trying not to let his anger show in his voice, "I'm Sephiroth's toy. If you've got a problem with that, take it up with merchandising." Sephiroth was looking confused and was clutching Cloud tighter; he was getting nervous, Cloud could tell. He didn't handle people trying to tell him that Cloud wasn't a toy very well; it just confused and upset him.
Genesis burst out laughing, nearly doubled over as Angeal finally spoke. "Kid, I don't know what he's told you, but –"
"But nothing. I'm a multi-functional toy. I work as Sephiroth's personal assistant and I'm his friend and companion."
"So you're his fuck toy?" Genesis got out between gasps for air.
"Fuck... I do not fuck Cloud, Genesis! He's not for sex!" Sephiroth stood up so quickly his chair slammed back against the wall. He held Cloud protectively in shaking arms.
"Oh come on, cute little thing like him? You're saying you don't like making him writhe under you?" Genesis came closer, holding out a red-gloved hand, and Cloud felt his heart speed up; he didn't like this man. Sephiroth had him out of reach before Genesis got the chance to touch him, however. "Like you used to make me writhe?"
"Genesis..." Angeal said quietly.
Sephiroth was sputtering, too upset to form his thoughts into words, so Cloud took over. "Sephiroth and I do not have sex. Any other thoughts about that can be kept to yourselves," he said icily. "Sephiroth, let's go home." He wiggled out of Sephiroth's hold and grabbed his hand firmly. They could get their coats tomorrow; it wasn't that cold. For now, Cloud wanted to get Sephiroth out of here and away from these people before he started crying and gave them more ammunition. From the look on Sephiroth's face, he had maybe fifteen seconds to get him into the privacy of the elevator.
Angeal tried to get in his way as he dragged Sephiroth to the door, but Cloud gave him his most determined look. "Get the fuck out of our way. Now." The big man blinked at him in surprise, but backed off. He got Sephiroth in the elevator and the doors shut, then held out his arms so Sephiroth could pick him up just as the first few tears began to fall.
"Shh, it's okay," he murmured, hugging Sephiroth tightly. "It's okay. I love you. You're the best owner and best friend I could ever ask for. You make me so happy, Sephiroth. Did you know that?"
Sephiroth shook his head, trying to fight back the tears. "Y—you make me ha—happy too."
"That's good. I'm glad I make you happy. Don't worry about them, they have no idea."
"Best... best friend?"
"Yeah, you're my best friend." Cloud sat up a little as the elevator came to a halt on the ground floor, trying to hide Sephiroth's face from view.
It wasn't terribly cold, but the wind was strong and Cloud shivered when they went outside, tucking himself in close to Sephiroth's warmth. "I'm sorry," Sephiroth said, hesitating in the doorway, "I forgot your coat."
"Don't worry about it, let's just get back to the apartment. Getting out of there was more important than a coat."
"Don't be damaged." The pleading tone in Sephiroth's voice was hard to listen to.
"I won't be damaged at all. I promise. When we get home, let's change into our pyjamas and snuggle under the blankets and drink hot chocolate, okay?"
"I – I like that plan."
"We can order in Wutaian food and eat dinner in bed. How does that sound?"
"That sounds good." Sephiroth hurried across the open space to the apartment blocks and got them inside before Cloud got too cold. "Cloud?" he asked when they were safely in the elevator. "You – you won't leave me, right? Toys don't leave."
"No, they don't. Toys are good like that. I won't ever abandon you, Sephiroth. You do too good of a job taking care of me; there'll never be a reason why I'd have to leave."
"Good. That's good. I don't want to be alone again."
"I know. You won't be. Clouds are friends for life."
Angeal dropped his bags in his temporary quarters and collapsed on the couch. Why hadn't Zack explained the situation properly instead of just telling him to come back and pay a visit to Sephiroth? He would have hurried if he had known if was important. How long had Sephiroth had that kid? Zack first told him to come back about a month ago, and surely he would have tried getting... what was his name? Cloud? Angeal snorted. That probably wasn't even his real name. Just what Sephiroth had decided to call him, no doubt. But Zack would have tried getting him away before calling for help. He just should have made it clear how urgent it was!
"But what am I supposed to do?" he asked the empty room. He supposed that if he went to Sephiroth's to get the kid out, and it came down to it, he was armed and Sephiroth apparently wasn't. He wondered briefly if he should wait for Zack to get back. He had been told that he was just on a short mission in Kalm, and would be back by tonight.
No, he decided. His honour wouldn't let him leave the kid in Sephiroth's hands any longer than he already had been. Decision made, Angeal grabbed his buster sword and headed for Sephiroth's place.
It seemed to take forever after he rang the doorbell before he heard footsteps and the lock being undone. A brief glimpse of blond spikes was all he got before the door started to slam shut. He got his foot in the way just in time, but bit back a curse when the kid's bare foot connected with his knee.
"Get out! Get the fuck out! Haven't you hurt him enough for one day?"
Angeal easily shoved the door open, causing Cloud to stumble backwards. Holding out his hands in a non-threatening manner, Angeal spoke quietly. "It's all right, I'm going to get you out of here. Where's Sephiroth?"
"None of your business and I'm not going anywhere," Cloud spat out, looking at him with pure contempt. "And if you try and force me, you will sincerely regret it." There was a noise from down the hall and Cloud glanced back, looking anxious. "Stay in the room, Sephiroth. I can handle this."
"You sound upset." His old friend's voice sounded hoarse.
"Please trust me, Sephiroth. I'll call you if I need help, but for now, stay in the room. Okay?"
Angeal heard a door shut and took his chance, grabbing Cloud's arm. "Let's go."
"Don't you fucking touch me!" Cloud's foot connected with his knee again and he twisted out of his hold. Damn, the little brat knew where to kick to make it hurt, even without much strength behind it.
"Listen, I'm not going to hurt you." He got that the kid was scared, but he was trying to help.
"No, you listen. You think you can abandon your friend for almost two years and then suddenly show up and start acting like you know what the fuck's going on? Zack tried to tell me that you guys weren't all bad, that you still had some honour left, and I almost bought it. I know what happened to Sephiroth must have been really hard to deal with, but then you show up and fucking laugh at him?"
"I –" Angeal was at a loss for words. What was he going on about? This wasn't about what happened with Sephiroth.
"Shut up. I've been wanting to say this for a long time. You and Genesis are monsters. You were his best friends and you left him without a single explanation when he needed you most. He is so fucking scared of being abandoned again that he relies on a toy for companionship because toys don't fucking leave you. I may not be human, but I do a hell of a lot better job pretending than you do."
"Shit, kid, Cloud's your name? You're not a toy. He can't treat you like this." He had to ignore everything else Cloud was saying right now and focus on what was important. Did he actually believe that he was a toy?
"Yes, I am. And I'm a very happy toy at that. You have no fucking clue how Sephiroth treats me, so you can drop the concerned citizen's act. It's not wanted or needed. You're not wanted or needed. And if you try and take me away from him, against my will, I will put up a fight like you won't believe. Just ask Lazard how big a pain in the ass I can be." The doorbell rang and Cloud glanced up at the clock on the wall. "Now get the fuck out. We've got comfort food to eat and more cuddling to do after a couple of assholes ruined our day."
Cloud began shoving at him and Angeal let himself be pushed towards the door, thoroughly confused by what had just happened. If Cloud was simply scared into submission, he put on a good act, pretending that he wasn't. He needed to talk to Zack, find out what had been going on while he was away.
Zack banged on Angeal's door as hard as he could and pounded on the doorbell. As soon as the door opened and Zack saw Angeal, he swung his fist as hard as he could, catching his former mentor off guard with a punch to the face.
"Sonofa—! Zack! What're you –?"
"Favour for Cloud. He didn't think he was strong enough to make it hurt. What the hell, Angeal? I asked you to come back so you could see how well Sephiroth was doing and the first thing you do is laugh at him and make him cry?"
"You – I thought you needed help! Zack, he's got some kid that he's calling his toy! And you're saying he's doing well?"
Zack held his head in his hands, starting to figure out what had happened. Everyone around here knew about the situation with Cloud; he had just assumed it had spread to the other bases as well. Apparently not. "Let's sit down. I'll explain what's going on.
"It was... a little over three months ago. Sephiroth found Cloud in his office and mistook him for a toy because of a warnings tag for a chocobo toy that happened to fall on the floor next to him." Zack explained about how the president had decided to let Sephiroth keep Cloud, and how he had come up with the idea of making a manual. "Sephiroth takes good care of him, because if he doesn't, he knows Cloud will get taken away."
"Zack! What happened to your honour? You're saying you not only let this happen, but encouraged it?" Angeal looked furious, but Zack just shrugged it off.
"Yeah. At first I was pissed off, but my hands were tied because of the president, so I did what I could to make sure that Cloud wasn't being abused. The easiest way to do that was to go along with the toy thing. As time passed, I began to realise just how lonely Sephiroth had been, and how much help he needs with his day-to-day life. He was barely getting by, Angeal, and everyone had just left him to fend for himself."
"How bad was it?" Angeal asked hesitantly.
"Cloud reminds him to eat, to brush his teeth, to use a can opener instead of a knife. He was forgetting to eat, Angeal. I had no idea until Cloud told me. So he helps him out."
"How so? He's what, fourteen? How can he be expected to take care of a mentally disabled adult?"
"Fifteen, actually. He figures out what needs to be done and he does it. A lot of the stuff is simple, and Sephiroth's gotten better at remembering to do things on his own since a lot of it he does as a part of taking care of Cloud. As for the rest, he muddles through and asks for help when he needs it. Or he yells until someone else fixes it for him." Zack grinned; he was still so proud of Cloud for that first time. "That's how he got Shin-Ra to stop stealing from Sephiroth..."
"They were stealing from him?"
"Yeah, I couldn't believe it. They were taking money directly off his paycheck and leeching it out of his account as well. Cloud keeps track of all his financial stuff now. And he's his friend. He's improved so much since Cloud started living with him. He can carry on a conversation now, he's nowhere near as unpredictable, and he's a lot more aware of what's going on. All because of Cloud."
"Who thinks he's a toy."
"No he doesn't," Zack laughed. "But you'll never get him to admit that he's not if there's a chance Sephiroth could overhear. I could have gotten him away dozens of times by now, but he doesn't want to go. He's happy taking care of Sephiroth. He got Lazard to hire him as Sephiroth's personal assistant and he gets a salary, most of which, I believe he sends to his mother. Sephiroth provides him with everything he needs here."
"So Lazard is supporting this too?"
"Come on! Cloud works hard and he deserves to be paid. When he demanded a salary from Lazard, he told him that Shin-Ra should have hired someone from the start to help Sephiroth out, and it's true. And we were shitty friends, Angeal. We really were."
"I know I should have stayed in touch better, but..."
"You don't have to explain, I do understand. I did it too. But I think we gave up our right to protest when we left him to the wolves."
"Maybe, but... he's so young. This isn't right."
"I know it looks fucking weird from the outside, but they're not sexually involved or anything. Cloud thinks he might consider it one day, but he's not ready yet. Trust me, he's not being abused."
"You really think that?"
"Yeah, splitting them up would be devastating for both of them, so unless Cloud comes up to me one day and says he wants out, I'm not going to let anyone get between them. They're happy. Why don't we go see them tomorrow so you can see for yourself? Assuming Cloud lets you through the door. Did you really laugh at Sephiroth?"
"No," Angeal said quickly. "That was all Genesis. I'll... I'll try talking to him. And I do want to see them together; I'll apologise for both of us, if that's what it takes."
"All right, but I still owe Genesis a punch too. He's not getting out of it. I'll talk to Cloud in the morning and convince him to let us come over. If you were just trying to help him and didn't actually make fun of Sephiroth, he'll understand. It's my fault for not explaining beforehand. But I don't want to disturb them tonight. Cloud said they were planning on eating in bed and watching kid's movies; he'll be cranky if I interrupt."
"Yup, they sleep in the same bed. Get over it." Zack grinned cockily at Angeal and snapped a salute before heading for the door.
Sephiroth looked down at Cloud, smiling fondly; he was snoring softly, snuggled up against his chest, and Sephiroth pulled the blanket further up over his shoulders. He was such a good toy. Why did people keep trying to tell him he wasn't? Who else would have spent all afternoon with him, telling him that it was all right to cry? He lost count of how many times Cloud had reassured him that he loved him, and that he wouldn't leave. No person would ever do that, he was sure of it.
Cloud had stood up for him. He told Angeal to go away. Sephiroth had been worried, waiting in the bedroom while Cloud fought with Angeal. He had had no idea that Cloud was so angry with Genesis and Angeal; he never liked talking about them, but he supposed he let a lot of things slip. And he said that he'd put up a fight if anyone tried to take him away. Cloud was good at fighting and getting his way; everyone said so.
But... Sephiroth needed to stand up for himself too. He was a warrior, born to fight; surely he could do something a toy could do. Sephiroth shut the TV off and cradled Cloud in his arms. If they saw them again, he'd do it. He'd tell Genesis not to laugh at him, that he didn't need him anymore. He'd tell Angeal that he loved Cloud and would never hurt him. He could do it. No more tears over lost friends.
Staring at the door, waiting for the bell to ring, Sephiroth had never felt so anxious in his life. He glanced up at the wall clock; they would be here soon. Cloud said that Zack had talked to both Angeal and Genesis. He had tried to sound reassuring, Sephiroth knew that, but he could tell that Cloud wasn't happy they were coming over. And now Cloud looked just as anxious as he felt.
"Remember," Cloud said, squeezing his hand tightly, "It doesn't matter what they say. If they say something hurtful, just remember that you've got me, and nothing they say can change that."
"I'll remember." Sephiroth was determined to not let them upset him like they had yesterday. While Cloud had said it was okay to cry, he didn't want to do that in front of people who would just laugh at him for it.
The doorbell rang and Sephiroth jumped. Cloud reached up and tugged on his shoulder, so Sephiroth leaned down and Cloud quickly pressed his lips to Sephiroth's cheek. "You can do this," he whispered.
Feeling slightly awed, Sephiroth touched the spot where Cloud had kissed him and smiled. "I can." He took a deep breath and opened the door.
Zack was there, with Angeal and Genesis standing behind him. "Morning, guys," Zack said cheerfully. "Can we come in?"
Sephiroth nodded and stepped aside. "Come in." He hoped he sounded confident. He couldn't figure out the expressions on his old friends' faces; Cloud was easy, and he was getting better at reading Zack, but other people were hard.
When everyone was sitting down in the living room, Sephiroth looked around nervously. What was he supposed to do?
"Do you guys want something to drink?" Cloud asked, breaking the uncomfortable silence.
"Do you wear a little butler outfit while you serve drinks?" Genesis asked and Sephiroth bristled at the way he looked at Cloud.
"Genesis, don't," Angeal said quietly. "He's just being polite. Could I have some water, Cloud?"
"Yeah, I'll have some water too. Do you need help?"
"I'm good. Sephiroth, do you want to help me?"
"Y—yes." Sephiroth followed Cloud to the kitchen, grateful for the respite, even if it was short. He was rapidly losing confidence in his ability to get through this.
"You're doing great, Sephiroth," Cloud whispered so the others couldn't hear. "Just ignore Genesis if you have to."
"He – he shouldn't say things like that to you."
"I know. We'll just get this over with and hopefully we'll never see him again. He's creepy."
"Can I hold you when we go back in?" Sephiroth asked. He was pretty sure the others would laugh at him for it, but having Cloud in his arms gave him an extra boost of confidence when it came to dealing with people.
"Of course you can." Cloud finished filling the water glasses and handed two to Sephiroth. "Ready?"
The three men stopped talking amongst themselves as soon as Cloud and Sephiroth re-entered the room. Cloud set the glasses down on the table and Sephiroth followed suit.
"Sorry, my butler outfit's in the wash, so I figured you wouldn't want anything, Genesis," Cloud said as Sephiroth sat down as far from everyone else as possible. Cloud crawled into his lap and Sephiroth held him close, trying to calm his nerves.
Genesis gave a loud huff and tapped his foot impatiently. "So now what? We all congratulate you on your new toy and go on our merry ways?"
"I – I don't want your approval or your congratulations," Sephiroth said, probably too softly. "I –" Sephiroth raised his voice a bit, trying to sound confident. "I want to tell you that I'm happy. Everyone thinks I'm doing well, and I think so too. If you and Angeal don't want to be my friends anymore, that's okay. I don't need you."
"But," Cloud whispered in his ear.
"But if you still want to be my friend, I'd like that."
"Sephiroth..." Angeal started, but Genesis interrupted.
"Is that what your toy told you? You don't need me anymore? Who saved your life back in Nibelheim? Who killed Hojo to get you out of there? Do you have any idea how much trouble I got in for that? You think some cadet you found and kept –"
"Genesis!" Zack snapped.
"You think your toy would do that?"
"You left!" Sephiroth shouted, angry now. "You said I didn't need Jenova! That I had you guys! And then when we killed her like we decided, you left me! You never visited me once in the hospital! We checked the records..." Sephiroth trailed off, all he could remember from the hospital was the crushing loneliness. Mother was gone, his friends were gone... he had been so alone.
"We were really busy, Sephiroth. Without you –" Angeal tried to explain.
"He was in the hospital for six months," Cloud said coldly. "You couldn't find time once to go visit him? Zack managed and he was nowhere near as close to Sephiroth as you guys were."
"This is bullshit," Genesis said suddenly, standing up. "I'm not going to let some little shit try and guilt trip me. You have no idea what it was like, what he was like."
"Neither do you!" Zack shouted. "You just listened to what the doctors said and never even tried to see for yourself."
"Genesis," Sephiroth said, "You should just go. Please." It hurt to say it, but he was sure that Genesis didn't want to be his friend. It would be best if he went. He felt Cloud's arms tighten around him; it would be okay.
"Fine," Genesis spat out. "Have fun with your toy. Just know that you'll never replace me."
The door slammed with an air of finality and Sephiroth hid his face in Cloud's hair for a few moments. He wasn't going to cry.
"Do you want us to go too, Sephiroth?" Zack asked quietly. "We can come back later, if you want."
Sephiroth shook his head. "I'm okay."
"Just give him a minute," Cloud said, stroking his hair soothingly.
"No problem. So how does it feel to know you made a SOLDIER commander jealous, Cloud?"
Cloud didn't say anything, but Sephiroth felt him shake his head. After a long silence, he finally raised his head. "Sorry," he said sheepishly. They must have been uncomfortable, waiting for so long.
"It's okay, Sephiroth. They understand." Cloud gave him another hug and poked at the corner of his mouth, pushing it up. "Smile."
Sephiroth couldn't help but grin at the gesture. Cloud could always cheer him up.
"You really do want to be with him, don't you, kid?" Angeal asked quietly.
"Yeah, I really do. Can you deal with that?"
"I think I can. Sorry for not listening to you earlier."
"It's okay. I get why you were worried. I'm so realistic that people mistake me for a person a lot."
"And... I'm sorry, Sephiroth, for the way I treated you. I can make excuses, but they're all pretty terrible, so... sorry. Just, sorry."
Sephiroth blinked in surprise. Angeal was sorry? Did that mean he still wanted to be friends? It would have been enough if he had just stopped trying to take Cloud away; that was all he had been hoping for. "I – I – you –" Sephiroth wasn't sure what he was supposed to do now and his voice was going all funny like Cloud's used to.
"Do you want to forgive him?" Cloud asked.
Sephiroth nodded. He really did. He just...
"Then say, 'I forgive you'. That's all it takes."
"I – I forgive you."
"Thank you, Sephiroth. That means a lot. It'll be tough with me stationed in Fort Condor, but I'll keep in touch. And I'll try to come visit more often."
Sephiroth nodded. "Cloud will remind me to keep in touch with you too."
Angeal smiled at Cloud. "Thanks, kid. You keep him on track."
"I've got it covered."
"Well, I guess we should get out of your hair, then."
Sephiroth nodded, he was tired; this whole thing had been too stressful.
"Let's all go grab dinner sometime before you have to go, Angeal," Cloud said. "You guys should catch up."
"Sounds like a plan, Spiky."
Sephiroth grinned as Zack ruffled Cloud's hair and led Angeal to the door. Dinner with his friends would be nice.
As soon as they were gone, Cloud turned to him. "Sephiroth, I'm so proud of you."
"Me too. I didn't think I could do it."
"I did. You're better at this stuff than you realise, and you're only getting better. Want ice cream to celebrate? We've got chocolate syrup and sprinkles."
Sephiroth laughed, scooping Cloud up and hugging him tightly. He was glad he had fixed things with Angeal, but Cloud was still his favourite. He would always be his favourite. "Cloud?"
"Thank you. For being my toy. You... thank you."
Cloud looked up at him and smiled gently. "You're welcome."
Or not. Stay tuned for the sequel that doesn't have a name yet. It'll be out... probably sooner, rather than later. I have a sneaking suspicion I'll finish it before I get back to work of Prisoners of War.
Thank you so much for reading! See you when I get home!