Chapter 1/8: The Flower Girl
Word Count: ~3900
Characters: Sephiroth, Cloud
Genre: AU, friendship, drama
Warnings: language, a few violent situations, canon timeline has been thoroughly ignored, references to sex, potentially upsetting issues regarding brain injuries
Disclaimer: I do not own FFVII and make no money from this work.
Summary: The sequel to Handle With Care. Cloud and Sephiroth have adjusted to their roles as toy and owner, but life isn't always easy, even with each other. Dealing with the past and the present can be a rough ride.
This is a sequel and Handle With Care should be read first.
A/N: I did it! Mislabelled is almost twice as long as HWC, and there are still a few bits poking at my brain. At least two side-stories and an alternate ending that I couldn't bring myself to make the official one, but I really want to write anyways. Riiiceballe on won the guess what the title will be contest without even knowing there was a contest. (I didn't know there was a contest either, so there's no prize, sorry.)
Anyways, this chapter is a bit of back story and fun, then it's on to the nittier, grittier stuff.
Sephiroth woke up shaking and covered in a cold sweat; Mother's screams were still ringing through his ears. That dream had been far too realistic. The thing in his arms stirred and made a soft, whimpering noise. That was... Cloud! He was squeezing him too tightly!
"I'm sorry, Cloud," he murmured softly, hoping he hadn't disturbed him. It was too late, though, his chocobo rolled over and opened his eyes.
"Are you okay, Sephiroth?"
"Uh huh. Did I damage you? I didn't mean to squeeze you like that."
"I'm fine. What's wrong? Did you have a nightmare?" Cloud sat up and brushed a few strands of hair out of Sephiroth's face, looking concerned.
"Yeah," Sephiroth muttered, feeling embarrassed. He knew he shouldn't be, his toy never laughed at him for stuff like that, but he shouldn't have disturbed him. Cloud needed his downtime to recharge. "I'm sorry."
"There's nothing to be sorry for. I'll be right back, okay?" Cloud slipped out of bed and padded out of the room. He returned a few minutes later with a mug and handed it to Sephiroth before crawling back into the bed and snuggling up next to him. "Drink that. Do you want to talk about the nightmare? That sometimes makes people feel better, I've heard."
Sephiroth sipped at the drink Cloud had gotten for him and held his toy close. It was tempting to talk about it; he really wondered what Cloud would think of what happened sometimes. If he thought he had made the right decision. "I should let you rest."
"Don't worry about that, I can take an extra nap tomorrow if I need it. Remember, Zack told you it's all right if I nap."
"Yeah, it was a long time ago though, just a little while after you got me. You were worried that there was something wrong because I kept falling asleep while you were doing your paperwork."
"Right, I remember." Zack had told him that Clouds like to get in recharge time when they can and that it was nothing to be concerned about. "Are you sure?"
"I'm sure. I like to know about the things that upset you, too. It helps me be a better toy."
Sephiroth nodded slowly. "I... I was dreaming about Nibelheim." The fragments of his dream were already slipping away, but he didn't really want to talk about that, anyways. He wanted to talk about the real Nibelheim and hoped Cloud wouldn't mind. He didn't think he would.
"You dream about Nibelheim a lot," Cloud said.
"Yeah... it was... it was a bad place. We were sent there on a mission, only it wasn't right."
"Why wasn't it right?"
"I... I think... oh! I remember. Only Genesis and I and some troopers were supposed to go, but at the last minute, Angeal said that he and his student would come too. That was Zack."
"Why did they come?"
"Um, I'm not sure. I think maybe for extra training for Zack. We fought a Nibel dragon on the way there."
"So what happened when you got there? What made it bad?"
"There was... Mother," Sephiroth's voice hitched and he couldn't talk for a moment. He still... talking about her was still hard. Cloud sat patiently and rubbed his back until he felt like talking again. "She... she confused me, I think. I remember feeling really angry at everyone. I wanted to kill everyone. Destroy them..." His voice trailed off and Sephiroth stared at the messy spikes on Cloud's head, distracting himself.
"But you didn't. Why not?"
"I... Genesis, I think. He said that I belonged with him, not Mother. I don't know. I think he said something more convincing than that. But we decided that M—Mother should be – that we should kill her." He felt tears forming in the corners of his eyes and tried to hold them back, but Cloud was already reaching up to brush them away. "Everyone said that she was bad, but..."
"If she was making you feel like you wanted to kill everyone, she was probably bad. But it hurt, didn't it?"
Sephiroth nodded. "She was – I had never – a mother."
"I understand." Cloud hugged him tightly. "But you needed to destroy her, didn't you?"
"I did it. I... it hurt. It hurt so much, like... like my mind was being ripped apart." Sephiroth rubbed his temples; just thinking about it was painful, even now. Cloud gently pushed his hands aside and began massaging them himself, leaving Sephiroth's arms free to hug his toy. The pain eventually faded away, but Sephiroth had had enough talking about it. "Can we go back to sleep now?"
"Sure we can." Cloud kissed each temple and then lay back down, letting Sephiroth curl himself around him. "I love you, Sephiroth. You know that, right?"
"I know." Cloud told him a lot, but it was a nice reminder that he wasn't alone anymore. "I love you, too."
"What's this?" Cloud was sitting on the floor in his office, going through one of the bottom drawers of the desk. He had said it was about time he organised their desk.
Sephiroth glanced down, always happy for a distraction from what he was supposed to be doing. "That was from when I had my flower." He reached out and took the delicate glass vase from Cloud, thinking of the pretty flower it had once held.
"You had a flower?" Cloud pulled himself up off the floor and climbed onto Sephiroth's lap.
"I did! A girl in the slums gave it to me after I killed some monsters there. I don't remember who gave me the vase for it. She was really nice. She thanked me and said to wait a minute, and then she came back with a flower for me. It was so pretty. I kept it until it rotted and the cleaning people took it away."
"Wow, I heard it's really hard to find flowers in Midgar. You're pretty lucky."
"Yeah, I was sad when it was gone, though."
"If you ever get another one, I can show you how to dry it, if you'd like. Dried flowers don't rot, so you can keep them a long time."
"Really?" Sephiroth felt himself getting excited at the possibility of having a flower that wouldn't rot. "I'll look for her again. She was nice; she'd probably give me another one."
"I'm sure she would if you asked nicely. Do you remember what sector you were in when you met her?"
Sephiroth frowned, thinking hard. "I was... I remember seeing that big hole in the wall, do you know the one?"
Cloud shook his head. "I've never been below the plate."
Right. Cloud was built here; he never would have had an opportunity or a reason to go below. "I'll look around there. I want to find her again."
Sephiroth trudged down the hall to his office, disappointed again. That had been his third mission to the slums since he had decided to look for the girl with the flowers and he still couldn't find her. It didn't help him that they hardly gave him any time to look around after he was done with the missions. Maybe Cloud could ask Lazard to let him have some time afterwards on the next one. Cloud would probably have better luck that he would. After all, it had been Cloud who had convinced them to let him carry Masamune again. The sheath for it was pretty nice too, and the safety catch only slowed him down enough to think about why he was drawing it. It was a good compromise. He didn't want to accidentally damage Cloud because he was startled, after all. Damage from Masamune would definitely be irreparable.
Cloud was sitting at their desk, as usual, when he came in, writing something. He often wrote what looked like letters, though he never said who he was sending them to. Not that it mattered; Cloud could do what he wanted. What mattered was that no matter how bad a mission had been, or how down he was feeling, Cloud was always waiting for him when he got back and was always happy to see him and willing to cheer him up.
"Hey!" Cloud looked up and put his pen down. "How did it go?"
"I didn't find her." Unlike with everyone else, Sephiroth never had to explain what he was talking about to Cloud. It felt like he had told everyone else about the flower girl a thousand times and they still didn't remember.
"That's too bad. Where were you today?"
"Sector four, but... Cloud, can you ask Lazard if he'll let me have some extra time after the missions to look for her? The drivers and Turks are always telling me to hurry up and get back after the mission is done. I'll never find her like this."
"Sure I can. I'll go do that right now, if you'd like." Cloud put his letter away in his drawer and hopped up, smiling at him. "I think Lazard's just started agreeing to everything when he sees me coming; I won't be long."
"Thank you." Sephiroth sat down and waited anxiously for Cloud to come back. He was pretty sure Cloud was right; he hardly yelled anymore and Sephiroth never had to be his 'backup', as Cloud put it.
Barely twenty minutes passed before Cloud was back, grinning. "You have an hour after each mission to look and still get a ride home. Is that okay?"
Sephiroth nodded, perfectly happy with that. "That's lots of time."
"Good. Have you asked anyone you meet down there if they know her? Someone who grows flowers is bound to be pretty well-known."
"I've tried, but people avoid me when they see me."
"Hmm... what do you look like when you try to talk to them?" Cloud climbed into his lap and sat with his legs hanging over the armrest.
"I look like me." Sephiroth was puzzled by the question, but knew that that probably wasn't what Cloud meant.
"No, I mean, it's right after a mission, right? So you're probably messy. See, you've got some blood on your pauldron." Cloud pointed to a rather large splattering of blood that must have been from some monster. "Do you put Masamune back in her sheath before you go up to them?"
Sephiroth shook his head. "Should I?"
"It would help a lot, I think. If people see a complete stranger coming up to them, covered in blood and holding a sword, they're going to be scared and run away."
Sephiroth frowned. "Right... people are scared of me."
"It's not you, Sephiroth," Cloud said vehemently. "They'd be scared of Zack if he did that. They'd be scared of me if I did that. It's not you. They just don't know that you won't hurt them. Understand?"
"They'd be scared of you?" Sephiroth had a hard time believing that. Cloud was too cute to be scary.
"You bet they would! If I can scare Lazard, I can scare some random strangers. So how about you try bringing a clean jacket that you can change into and putting Masamune away, then try talking to people. I think you'll get a lot more help that way."
"Okay, I'll do that. I still don't think you'd scare people." Sephiroth leaned down and licked the tip of Cloud's nose, making him discolour. Chocobo toys just weren't scary, even if they were bloody.
"Excuse me?" Sephiroth approached the young woman with his hands where she could see him, like Cloud had said to do. "Do you have a moment? I'm looking for someone."
The woman looked a bit surprised, but she didn't run away, or even look scared. That was a good start. "Sure, what do you need?"
Sephiroth almost forgot what he was going to say, he was so surprised that the woman had actually spoken to him. But he got himself under control. "I'm looking for a girl, she was wearing a blue dress when I met her, but that was a while ago, and she has brown hair. She gave me a flower; she said she grows them. Do you know a girl who grows flowers?"
"What do you want with her?" The woman narrowed her eyes at him. Cloud had said not to be hurt if people didn't trust him. Lots of people in the slums don't trust people from Shin-Ra. It wasn't him.
"She gave me a flower when I first met her, but it died," he explained. "I wanted to ask her if I could have another one. I liked it a lot."
"You just want a flower?"
"Yes. It was really pretty. I kept it in a vase on my desk."
The woman seemed to consider him for a few moments, so Sephiroth waited patiently and hoped he looked trustworthy. He had cleaned himself up nicely after the mission; his driver had told him he looked okay. Eventually she nodded. "If you go south from here, staying on this road, you'll come across a big church on your left after about fifteen minutes. She's usually in there this time of day. Her name's Aerith."
"Aerith... Thank you very much, ma'am." Sephiroth held out his hand, smiling broadly.
She hesitantly held out her hand and Sephiroth caught it, shaking it enthusiastically. "Just... you'd better not be lying to me."
"I'm not. I promise. I'm going to learn how to dry it and Cloud says it will last forever that way." Not wanting to waste any more time, Sephiroth took off down the street, barely keeping himself from shouting for joy. He was so close!
The church was easy to find, but the big doors were mostly shut and Sephiroth hesitated in front of them. What if she wasn't there? What if she said he couldn't have a flower? Was he supposed to knock, or could he just go right in? What if he said or did the wrong thing and scared her? He couldn't do this. He needed Cloud. Cloud would know what he was supposed to do and say.
He found himself backing away from the doors and stumbled when he reached the steps. Dejected, he sat down, wondering if maybe he could call Cloud and someone could bring him to him. Sephiroth took out his phone; Cloud would make someone take him down here if he asked. He wouldn't be annoyed, either, Sephiroth was sure, but... it felt like a silly thing to bother him with.
"Are you lost?" A pretty voice spoke behind him and Sephiroth whipped his head around.
"It's you!" he shouted, forgetting his nervousness. "You're the flower girl!"
The girl looked a bit startled as she backed up a few steps. "You remember me?"
Right, he was supposed to be calm when he spoke to her. No shouting. "Yes, I was on a mission and I killed some monsters down here and you gave me a flower to thank me."
"I remember. You're pretty unforgettable. Did you need something?"
"I... I wanted to ask you if I could please have another flower. The old one died and got taken away, but my chocobo says that if I get another flower, he'll show me how to dry it."
"Your chocobo? Don't chocobos eat flowers?"
"I don't know... he's a toy chocobo, not a real one... and I've never seen him eat a flower." Cloud wouldn't eat his flower... would he?
"Well, if you haven't seen him eat flowers, maybe he won't. I'll go get you one, okay?"
"Okay! I'll wait here!" Sephiroth bounced nervously on his toes while the girl disappeared into the church. He was going to get a new flower! He hoped it would be as pretty as the last one.
"I've never seen anyone so excited about a flower before." The girl came back out, holding the prettiest flower he had ever seen. "Here you go."
"Thank you!" Sephiroth took the flower delicately, holding it with both hands. "Thank you so much!"
"You're welcome," she said, laughing lightly. "Do you think you can find me again if you ever need another one?"
"Umm..." Sephiroth glanced around. There wasn't much recognisable other than the church. He knew which way he had to go to get back to where he had been, but that hadn't been very long ago.
"Well, if you ask anyone where you can find Aerith's church, they should be able to point you in the right direction. And you can just come right in. No need to sit out on the steps or anything."
Sephiroth nodded. "Okay. I'll remember that. And I'll tell Cloud. He's better at remembering than me. Cloud's my chocobo," he added. Aerith wouldn't know who Cloud was.
"That's good that you've got Cloud to help you remember." Aerith smiled at him. She was so nice.
"It is. I love Cloud. I should go now. Thank you for the flower."
"All right. You take care, okay?"
"I will. You too." Sephiroth ran back to the transport, shielding his flower from the wind. He couldn't wait to show it to Cloud; he'd be so happy.
"Cloud! Cloud! Cloud! I found her! I got it! Cloud, come look!" Sephiroth's voice got louder as his heavy boots thundered down the hall. Cloud heard a few shouts of protest; Sephiroth was probably barreling into people as he went. He set his book down and jogged over to the door, excited to see what sort of flowers you could grow in Midgar.
He opened the office door in time to see one last SOLDIER dodge out of Sephiroth's path. "That's great, Sephiroth. Let's see!"
Sephiroth ground to a halt and put his hands behind his back. "You... you don't eat flowers, do you? She said that chocobos eat flowers."
Cloud reined in his giggle and smiled. He supposed that could cause concern. "No, I don't eat flowers. Even if I did, I wouldn't eat your flower without asking first."
A huge smile spread across Sephiroth's face. "Okay! I didn't think you would, but I thought I should check first."
"So can I see?"
Sephiroth brought his hands out from behind his back and held out a pretty flower with yellow petals that faded into white at the tips. "Isn't it nice? I remembered to say 'please' and everything."
"It's really nice, Sephiroth. Wow, I had no idea you could get a flower like that here."
"Oh, you need to remember that the girl's name is Aerith and if I want to find her again, I need to ask someone where to find Aerith's church."
"Okay, I can do that. She was nice?" Cloud took Sephiroth by the arm and urged him into their office. They were disturbing everyone else.
"Yeah, she was really nice. I got all nervous when I found the church, but she came out and talked to me."
"That was nice of her. Maybe you could take me to meet her someday."
"Yeah! I should do that! I told her about you. I told her that you would show me how to dry the flower."
"That's right, should we do that now? We just need a string."
"Yes! Let's do it now! I'll go find a string." Sephiroth carefully handed the flower to Cloud and ran back out of the office. Cloud chuckled as he heard him bursting into offices, demanding string. The company could survive a slightly disrupted afternoon; it wasn't very often that Sephiroth had something to get this excited about.
"Did you call Angeal yet today?" Cloud asked, perched on the corner of their desk and watching Sephiroth examine the flower hanging from the ceiling.
"Not yet. He's probably wondering."
Cloud held out the phone to Sephiroth, grinning. Maybe it was a little bit mean, to encourage Sephiroth this much, but Angeal deserved it. He abandoned his friend for nearly two years. A daily status update on a drying flower wouldn't kill him. He knew Lazard was starting to get some flack about Sephiroth's distraction, and it would eventually begin to trickle down, but he'd deflect it for as long as he could. The man deserved some happiness, even if everyone else thought it was stupid. Besides, the flower would be dry soon enough, and it wasn't like Sephiroth wasn't doing his missions; it was just when he was in the office that he was pretty much useless.
"...and I went shopping and we got a glass box for it so it wouldn't get dusty because Cloud says they're really delicate when they're dry, so you have to be careful."
Sometimes, just sometimes, he almost felt sorry for Angeal. They got the box a week ago and Angeal had heard about it every day since then. And as long as Angeal continued to sound like he was glad to hear about it, Cloud would continue to almost feel sorry for him. It seemed fair. At any rate, it kept Sephiroth's mind off more troubling things; he hadn't had a single nightmare since he got the flower. It wouldn't last forever, but for now, it was pretty nice.
Cloud hopped up and went over to Sephiroth to give him a quick hug. "I'm just going to go grab a snack," he whispered, not wanting to interrupt Angeal's torture. Sephiroth nodded distractedly and gave Cloud a pat on the head.
"Is it safe?" A SOLDIER Cloud thought he recognised accosted him when he got two doors down.
"Huh? Oh, you mean... go quick. He's on the phone, so he probably won't notice you."
"Thank you. I would, but I just don't have time right now." The SOLDIER scurried past their office door, ducking down so he'd have a better chance of not being seen.
"You're enjoying this, aren't you?"
Cloud spun on his heel and flashed a big grin a Zack. "A little. I never claimed I'm not petty."
"Evil's more like it. Don't you get sick of it?" Zack followed him towards the kitchen.
Cloud shrugged. "It's mostly just at the office, when he can see it right there, that he gets so excited. At home we've got movies to watch, and we're reading a really good book right now, so it's not all about the flower. It'll be dry soon and we'll put it in the box and then he'll calm down."
"Can't you... I mean, he's not the best at controlling his emotions on his own, but can't you rein him in a little?"
"Why should I?" Cloud glared as he grabbed a drink out of the fridge. "He's not hurting anyone. He's happy. I like it when he's happy."
"But what? I don't let him capture anyone for longer than five minutes. If they can't handle five minutes of bullshitting about how pretty they think a flower is, they shouldn't be able to call themselves SOLDIER. You know, you haven't been in yet today, Mr Fair." Cloud held out his arm. "Shall we?"
"I hate you."
"Don't let Sephiroth hear you say that." Cloud grinned and dragged Zack back to the office to ooh and ah. "Sephiroth! Zack wants to see how the flower's doing!"