Title: Now With Punch Action
Word Count: ~3800
Summary: Toys don't cry. They don't get scared. So why can't he stop crying?
I'm going on a merry adventure on Friday which will hopefully include the research I've been meaning to do for the third part of HWC. (It involves dinosaurs.) In the meantime, here is a lovely accessory for your Cloud the Chocobo Toy. It's set shortly after Sephiroth saved Cloud from the nasty people who stole him. Kind of in the middle of chapter 7.
"I h—have to go to the bathroom," Cloud said it, hoping he wouldn't have to ask.
"Okay." Sephiroth pushed the chair back to give Cloud room to get down, but made no sign of moving further.
Shit. It wasn't—he wasn't afraid. He wasn't. Only an idiot would be scared to go to the bathroom by himself, but... "Will you come with me?"
Sephiroth stood and took his hand. "Of course."
Sephiroth didn't judge or question it. He probably liked the excuse to take a break, but he was used to Cloud just doing stuff on his own, so he had to ask. And asking meant admitting to himself that he was too much of a coward to go on his own.
Cloud could feel the gazes of the SOLDIERs following them as they walked, and he knew what they were thinking. Weak, pathetic Cloud. Can't even take a piss without someone to hold his hand.
Sephiroth waited at the door to the washrooms for him. At least he could handle that much on his own. But as he washed his hands and saw himself in the mirror, he felt a wave of helplessness wash over him, and tears pricked at the corners of his eyes.
Why did he have to be so weak? He lifted up his shirt and rand his hand over the big scar on his ribcage. He was useless. He had given up on escaping after one try. Cloud winced, remembering the way his teeth had rattled when his jaw cracked on the step when they tackled him. All of his air had been forced out of him when he slammed into the step, and the weight of the guard on top of him had cracked his ribs. He had felt and heard them break and it had hurt so much. He hadn't been able to do anything but gasp as they dragged him back to his cell.
"Cloud? Are you okay?"
"Yeah, half a second." Cloud quickly splashed some water on his face and went back out, forcing a smile. "Thanks for waiting."
"Not a problem." Sephiroth took him by the hand again and led him back to the office. "Is it because you missed me that you don't want to go alone?" he asked once they were seated.
Cloud shook his head and pressed his face into Sephiroth's shirt. He didn't want to admit it out loud. He couldn't. Stop crying, he ordered himself. He gasped for air and tried to hold back the tears, but it was useless. Within seconds, great shuddering sobs were wracking his body as he clung to Sephiroth.
He could feel Sephiroth's strong hands holding him close and rubbing his back. Sephiroth was humming and rocking him—Cloud sobbed again as his stomach twisted in on itself. He was scaring Sephiroth, who was most likely at a complete loss about what was wrong and probably thinking he had done something to cause it. But still, he couldn't stop the tears.
"Sephiroth, I need you to look over these battle plans and let me know..." Lazard's voice trailed off. "Is everything all right in here?"
Cloud tried desperately to stop crying; he didn't want the whole of SOLDIER to see him like this. But he started hiccupping, and then the thought of everyone else knowing he was a complete crybaby got the waterworks going again.
"I don't know what's wrong," Sephiroth said. He sounded terrified, Cloud thought as he let out another great sob.
"Cloud, what's wrong? Can you tell me or Sephiroth?" Lazard crouched down beside him and turned his face away from Sephiroth's chest so he was looking at him.
Cloud hiccupped painfully and shook his head. "I'm sorry. I'll stop soon. I'm sorry."
Lazard reached out and laid a hand on his head. "Don't worry about it. It's not something Sephiroth—"
"No! Sephiroth didn't—" He hiccupped again. "Didn't do anything wrong."
Lazard nodded and stood, letting Cloud go back to hiding his face. "I think he's just having a bad day, Sephiroth. Why don't you let him calm down a bit, then take him home?"
"Is it okay? You don't think he's damaged, do you?"
"No, I don't think he's damaged. What does Cloud do for you when you have a bad day?"
"He... he makes me something good to eat, and then we watch movies together until I feel better."
"How about you take him home and try that, then. Order in a pizza or something and just relax. Don't worry about your work; we'll make do without you. I think that spending some time with you will have him feeling better again in no time."
Cloud felt Sephiroth nod. "I can do that."
He felt like such a tool, getting sent home because he was bawling, but he was grateful to Lazard. He just needed a day. One day and he'd be fine again.
"It's kind of sad, don't you think?" Riley remarked, gesturing down the hall where he had just seen Sephiroth disappear carrying Cloud all bundled up.
"What's sad?" Hoffman asked. He didn't look up from the new sword that he'd been polishing obsessively since he got it.
Kunsel glanced over at them, looking stern. "If you're on about Cloud, Hurst, you can shut it. I think we all learned just how vital he is to our team."
"No, sir," Riley said. "Well, yes, I am talking about Cloud, but not like that. I like the kid, and I appreciate what he's done for Sephiroth."
"So what's sad?" Kunsel asked, closing his magazine with his finger marking his spot.
"It's just that he seems so scared ever since he came back to work. That's not like him at all. He's never out of Sephiroth's sight these days. And when Sephiroth's on a mission, he's clinging to Zack."
"Yeah, you're right," Hoffman piped up. "He used to come to the break room on his own all the time and hang out for a while. He'd give me the dirtiest looks when I'd tease him, and I swear I learned some new curses from him. Now he just hides behind Sephiroth and never looks anyone in the eye."
"He got kidnapped and held captive for thirteen days. Zack says that Cloud's not really talking about what happened to him, but I can't imagine it was fun. He's just a kid, and he was put through a hell of a lot that he was never prepared for. Cut him some slack."
"I know," Riley said, holding his hands up in surrender. Pissing off Kunsel was the last thing he'd had in mind when he brought it up. "I don't blame him at all. I just feel bad that he doesn't even feel safe here on the SOLDIER floor. I wish there was something we could do to help him get his confidence back."
"Like what?" Hoffman asked.
"Like, I dunno, teach him to fight or something. He was only in the cadet program a couple months before he met Sephiroth, wasn't he? He'd have barely learned any skills by then; the first few months are all about scaring off anyone who doesn't really want to be there and getting their basic fitness level up."
"That's not a bad idea." Kunsel tossed his magazine down and got up to stretch. "You should do it." He cracked his back loudly and wandered off towards the elevators.
"I think that means he's not going to help you," Hoffman stage-whispered.
"Apparently not. Well, I guess I could talk to Zack about it. Want to come with?"
"Nah, I'll let you put your neck on the line for this. Let me know how it goes, though."
Riley sighed and shook his head sadly. Zack was a nice guy, and Riley was willing to bet that he'd be willing to hear out a suggestion or two.
Zack finally stopped tossing his ball against the wall—probably much to the relief of whoever was in the neighbouring office—and nodded. "Yeah, that would be a good plan. I think Spiky could do with some self-defence training. So you want me to act as your go-between or something? I'll ask him if he's interested and introduce him to you?"
"Oh, um, yeah..."
"You were thinking I'd train him?" Zack grinned and tossed the ball at him.
Riley caught it just on the tips of his fingers. Damn, Firsts were fast. "Sort of..."
"If you really don't want to, I will, 'cause I think it's a really smart idea. And Kunsel said he'd be willing, as well. Even if he can just fight an attacker off long enough to call for help, that's going to help him out a lot. But I'd like you to get involved; you obviously care enough to think of it in the first place, so why not go a bit further? He's pretty isolated in his day-to-day life, as I'm sure you know. He could use another friend; let him know that there's someone else in SOLDIER who'll give him more than a passing thought. That alone might help him get some of his old confidence back."
Riley nodded, thinking it over. "Yeah, you're right, sir. I hadn't really thought about that, but I guess the only people he really interacts with are you and Sephiroth, huh?"
"Pretty much," Zack said. "I know you guys have stopped bullying him as much, but he's not comfortable around SOLDIERs. He knows the rumours."
"Yeah... are they really not—"
"It's really none of your business, so don't bug him about it."
"I wasn't going to, I swear. I was just curious, I guess. So, about that olive branch..."
"I'll talk to him about it tomorrow; Lazard said they went home early today. Mail me a copy of your schedule, and I'll see what works for him."
"You've got it, sir. Thanks a lot."
"No, man, thank you. I'm glad someone else out there cares about him."
Things were a bit better today. Cloud had finally managed to tell Sephiroth that he was afraid of being alone. Sephiroth had just nodded and said okay, he wouldn't leave him alone in that case. Much to Cloud's embarrassment, he had even taken him into the shower with him after he had been given his bath. Cloud had just stood there awkwardly, not knowing what to do or where to look. But it was infinitely better than twenty minutes alone in the bedroom.
Lazard had smiled at him kindly and asked if he was feeling better when they arrived in the morning, but Cloud knew that Zack would be in later on to grill him, and he didn't want that. Admitting it to Sephiroth had been bad enough. Sephiroth at least understood what it was like to feel terrified and alone. He didn't think Zack ever got scared.
He curled up closed and pulled Sephiroth's hair over him, hoping he could just sleep until it was time to go home. He hadn't slept very well last night, despite Sephiroth's efforts to make him feel safe.
"Hey, kiddo, wake up."
Cloud stirred tiredly.
"He's sleeping, Zack. He needs to rest," came Sephiroth's protest.
"Not all day, he doesn't. C'mon, sleepyhead. Wakey wakey. I need to talk to you." Zack shook his shoulder until Sephiroth knocked his hand away.
"You said naps were okay."
Naps are okay. Sleeping the whole day away, every day, is not."
"I'm awake, Zack," Cloud said grumpily. "What do you want?"
"I want to talk to you. C'mon, let's go down to my office."
Cloud shook his head as Sephiroth tightened his hold on him.
"No," Sephiroth said, "he wants to stay with me. I protect him."
Zack sighed. "Cloud, I know what happened was awful and that you're scared. There's nothing wrong with being scared. But you can't stay glued to Sephiroth forever. He and I aren't always going to have missions at different times. What are you planning on doing then?"
"I don't know!" Cloud snapped. Of course he knew that Sephiroth couldn't stay by his side forever, but Zack didn't understand. Sephiroth made him feel safe, and that was what he needed right now.
"Director Lazard asked me to tell you that if you need anything, or want to talk to someone about what happened, he can help. He said he could get you in to see someone who's got nothing to do with Shin-Ra, if you want. He'll give Sephiroth the time off so you can go together."
Cloud shook his head. "I don't—I just want—" To forget it ever happened. Talking to someone about it wouldn't help with that.
"Are you sleeping all right?" Zack asked.
"I'm fine," Cloud insisted.
"Sephiroth, does he sleep well at night?"
Sephiroth hummed fretfully and adjusted Cloud's position on his lap. "He—has nightmares a lot."
Sephiroth was terrible at lying, and Cloud cracked a small smile at the very quiet apology that was whispered in his ear.
"Cloud, I'm not going to force this if you don't want it, but you're not going to magically get over it."
"Lazard said he wasn't damaged," Sephiroth said in a tone that seemed to be asking for confirmation.
Zack looked long and hard at both of them. "No, he's not damaged per se, but he's not good either. Getting stolen was a very scary thing for Cloud and it... well, it wasn't good for him. It'll take some time before he can get back to normal."
"I can look after him until then."
"I'm sure you can and that you'd do a fine job of it, but unfortunately, the more you look after him, the longer it's going to take for Cloud to get better."
Cloud frowned and crossed his arms in front of his chest. "You're just confusing things."
"No, I'm not, Cloud, and you know it. Look, if you don't want to talk to someone, I have another suggestion. Yesterday one of the other SOLDIERs, Hurst—do you know him?"
He shook his head. He didn't really know any of the SOLDIERs by name, though he recognized a fair number.
"He's a Third Class; first name's Riley. He wondered if you would be interested in some self-defence lessons. He offered to work with you, maybe an hour a day, a few times a week. What do you think?"
A S—SOLDIER?" Cloud stammered, shocked.
"Yeah. He noticed that you haven't been yourself since you came back to the office and thought it might help give you a bit of a confidence boost. I know you think you're not that strong, but that's just 'cause you're comparing yourself to SOLDIER. I think you'd do well with a bit of training."
"Cloud's not meant for fighting," Sephiroth said.
"No, he's not," Zack agreed quickly, "but if someone tries to steal him again, or damage him, it would be much better if he knew how to fight back so he can get away and call for help. Don't you think? You can be with him and protect him most of the time, but not always."
Sephiroth nodded slowly and Cloud felt a small glimmer of hope. He wouldn't do it if Sephiroth said 'no', but the idea of self-defence lessons was tempting. If this Riley person could teach him enough that he could protect himself, he wouldn't be scared; he was sure. He wouldn't be a coward anymore.
"I don't want Cloud to be damaged."
"Of course not. Hurst would be very careful to not damage him."
"I'd like to try," Cloud spoke up. "If it's all right with you, I'd really like to try."
"It's all right with me," Sephiroth said. "It makes me sad when you're afraid."
Zack smiled and thumped Cloud on the shoulder. "I'll let him know, then. I think he's got some time to spare this afternoon."
Cloud let go of Sephiroth's hand just outside the training room door. He didn't want this guy getting a bad impression of him right off the bat. There'd be time enough for that once Riley saw him fight. The door slid open, and Cloud saw two men, both way bigger and more muscled than he was, wearing Third Class uniforms. They had the company issued swords strapped to their backs, and they were stacking wooden crates on top of each other, forming walls. They paused at the sound of the door opening and set down the crate they had just picked up.
"Hi, Cloud," the smaller man with dark brown hair said. They both stood at attention and saluted at Sephiroth. "Good evening, sir."
"You don't have to do that," Sephiroth said, looking away. "I'm just dropping Cloud off."
Both men smiled and appeared to relax at that. "SOLDIER Third Class, Riley Hurst," the first man said, "and this is my friend, Leon. He's going to be helping us out."
"Nice to meet you." Cloud was feeling oddly shy and stared awkwardly at his feet.
"Leon Hoffman. Third Class." He held out a big calloused hand for Cloud to shake.
"Tha—thanks for doing this for me," Cloud stammered.
"Hey, no problem. You're part of the team, right?"
"You aren't allowed to damage him," Sephiroth said suddenly, his voice meaning business. "Clouds aren't meant for fighting, so you have to be careful."
"We will, sir. We won't hurt him, I swear," Riley said.
"And don't... don't make fun of him." Cloud felt his face nearly catch fire at that. "It makes him sad when the SOLDIERs tease him."
Leon shuffled nervously and looked away. Cloud recognized him as one of the guys who would always bother him in the break room before. No one had said a single disparaging word towards him since he got back, though.
"On my honour as a SOLDIER, sir. We just want to see him back to his old self."
Sephiroth nodded, then leaned down to hug Cloud. "Zack said you would be an hour?" He looked up at Riley for confirmation and got a nod. "I'll come pick him up then. Don't leave him alone."
"Yes, sir. We'll stay with him until you come back."
With that, Sephiroth kissed him goodbye and turned to go. Cloud could barely bring himself to lift his head and look at the other two. Sephiroth's shows of affection had never bothered him before, but this was embarrassing.
"So, me and Leon were thinking that unless you start seriously training and working out, you're not ever going to be much of a straight-up fighter. But that's not really what you want, is it?"
Cloud cautiously raised his head, looking for the laughter that they were surely holding back. It... didn't seem to be there. He shook his head. "No. I can't put that much time into it. Sephiroth needs me around."
"That's what I thought. And most of the time, you've got Sephiroth or Zack or another SOLDIER around to protect you if anything happens, right?"
"So what we want to teach you is how to lay a lot of hurt on someone quickly, and then how to get away. We're going to teach you to fight dirty. Sound good?"
"No sense in playing nice with the kind of people who would attack you," Leon added.
Cloud nodded slowly. That was all he wanted: to be able to get away and get to Sephiroth or someone else who would help him. He wasn't meant for fighting.
Sephiroth smelled blood. He came to a dead stop for a second and listened carefully. He could hear laughter, but not Cloud's, and he could smell blood. Had they damaged Cloud and now they were laughing at him? He ran as fast as he could move and slammed himself into the door of the training room as it was sliding open.
"Cloud!" He spotted him across the room and ran over, scooping him up and checking to see where he was damaged.
"What's wrong, Sephiroth?" Cloud squirmed. "You should put me down; I'm all sweaty and gross."
"You're not damaged?"
"No, I'm fine. Why did you think I was damaged?"
"I smelled blood, and they were laughing at you."
"Oh, well, there's blood, but—"
"It's all mine, no need to worry." A funny sounding voice spoke behind them.
"And the only thing damaged is Leon's pride," Riley hooted with laughter from atop a crate. "Seriously, what did you expect when you told him to punch you in the face as hard as he could?"
"Well, I didn't expect he'd punch me in the nose!" Leon was holding a blood-stained towel up to his nose, but seemed to be laughing as well.
"We just finished telling him to always go for vulnerable spots. Did you think he hadn't been paying attention?"
"I'm really, really sorry," Cloud said. "Really, I am. Want me to go get some ice? I should go get some ice. Sephiroth, I'll be right back. I have to get ice."
"You don't need to get ice, kid, I'm fine. Mako's great for stuff like chocobo punches. I think. The bleeding's mostly stopped already." Leon held out the bloody towel and looked at it hopefully.
"Third Class levels of mako should heal that," Sephiroth said quietly.
"Awesome! I mean, thank you, sir."
"He did really well, sir," Riley said. "We worked on breaking holds and where to hit someone to make it hurt. I know he's not meant for fighting, but he's not weak."
"Good." Sephiroth stroked Cloud's hair, beaming at the praise they were giving him. "Did it help?" he asked.
"I think so. I mean, it was just an hour and we just went over some very basic things," Cloud said.
"You're not fixed yet."
"No..." Cloud looked away. He seemed like he was ashamed for some reason.
"Okay. Everybody says it will take time before you're better. As long as it helps, you should keep training."
Cloud laughed and leaned his head against his chest. "Thanks, Sephiroth. I think it'll help a lot. And I had fun."
"Fun is good, too. Do you still want to go for a walk with me even though you got your daily exercise?"
"Of course. I wouldn't skip that."
"So we'll see you tomorrow, then?" Riley asked. "Same time?"
Cloud smiled widely. "Yeah, that'd be great. Thanks. And I really am sorry, Leon. I didn't mean to."
"Just think of what it means, Cloud," Riley said with a big grin. "You inflicted enough pain on a Third Class that you would have been able to make a run for it if you had needed to."
This time, Cloud laughed. "So I did! Now if only everyone would crouch down and hold still while I punch them."