It was supposed to be a routine reactor inspection, or at least that was the instructions Cloud'd been given when they'd been sent there. Honestly, he'd thought their group had been a little overpowered for a simple inspection. What kind of trouble would they possibly run into that would require the infamous General Sephiroth, the elite Soldier Zack, and a couple ShinRa guards?

Then people started talking about an alien called Jenova that was somehow supposed to be Sephiroth's mother and some kind of research that Professor Hojo was involved in. In the chaos that followed, while Zack was calming Sephiroth down, he'd followed Hojo into the basement of the mansion that sat on the edge of the village. It was creepy. He'd never dared to go near it as a child, and it was just as foreboding now that he was an adult.

Following Hojo had been a mistake. He realized that as soon as his foot hit the pavement floor, but he couldn't disobey a superior. Then there was a vial that glowed green. That was Mako, the stuff Soldiers are made of.

His memories scattered like leaves on a windy day. He remembered screaming and a cage and then fire. Zack and Sephiroth. Suits. No, his mind corrected, Turks. Helicopter. White linen. White lights. Bright white lights.

When he closed his eyes it felt like he was floating. A strange voice echoed inside his skull. Later he'd learn that it was the voice of the planet, first one voice, then many, and then...


He woke up.

Spikey black hair, a worried smile, and strange half-armor. "Zack."

Relief crept into the man's smile. "Welcome back, sleeping beauty."

Cloud blushed. He'd never quite gotten used to Zack's effusive compliments. In the background, he could hear machines beeping. Wires ran from his arm into the machines next to his bed. Why was he in the hospital ward?

"What happened?" Surely Zack must know. Zack had been there, at Nibelheim.

Zack shrugged. "Hojo went a little ape-shit. He thought Sephiroth's mother was an alien. As you could guess, Lucrezia didn't take that part well when she found out. He injected you with mako while Sephiroth and I were taking a look at that Jenova thing, and then Sephiroth got a little bit pissed off when we found you in the basement with Hojo. Remember that mansion at the edge of town? Yeah, it's not there anymore." Zack looked a touch too pleased with himself at that and Cloud had to wonder just what those two had done. "Never let Sephiroth play with matches." Zack paused for a moment. "Oh, and your mom says hi."

The machines whined loudly as Cloud bolted upright. "What! My mom? You talked to my mother?" When... How had she...

"Oh, yeah," Zack started to get that sheepish look where he knew he'd done something he wasn't supposed to. "See, you were unconscious and we were carrying you and she recognized you, so of course we had to go back and let her know how you were doing and then-"

Something clicked in Cloud's mind. "Wait, 'we'?"

"Yeah. Me and Sephiroth."

Perhaps waking up hadn't been such a good idea. "You and Sephiroth went back to Nibelheim and visited my mother?"

Zack's cheeks were tinged faintly pink. "Yes."

"You talked to my mother?"

"We had tea. You know, I think she kind of likes Seph more, or at least it seemed that way, but that could just be because he's a general. Oh, your mom was quite please to know her son had found not one but two handsome officers to look after him."

Perhaps he was hallucinating again, but the walls seemed to be shifting from white to red. Or maybe that was just his vision. The nurses were starting to cluck over the strange noises the machines were making. He was torn between being furious or going into a full-blown panic attack, which left him stuck halfway, fingers clenched in the bed sheets while he started to hyperventilate.

"You... told... my mother... that we're... dating?" Anger seemed the safer option right now. Rage helped calm his breathing. "My mother, who I haven't seen in years and still thinks I have a crush on the girl next door? My mother, who had no clue that I was interested in boys?"

Zack scratched the back of his neck and carefully inched his chair backwards. "I might have, inadvertently. At least she approves. Apparently she'd already guessed you were queer."

All of a sudden there were nurses between him and Zack, though that didn't stop him from trying to strangle Zack with the cords attached to his arm. One of the nurses injected him with something clear. He twitched as the needle pierced his skin and froze. At least it wasn't green. Hojo wasn't here. The red haze on his vision quickly faded.

He let himself be pushed back into the pillows while the nurses clucked around him and chastised Zack. Cloud kept his eyes open. When he closed his eyes, he felt trapped, like he was back in that half-remembered cage with Hojo's strange experiments. The white lights weren't much better, but at least they didn't remind him of Hojo.

He waited until the nurses were gone before speaking. "I know I've never bested you before, but next time we're in the practice ring, I swear I'm gonna kick your ass."

Zack just laughed. "If you ask nicely, I may even let you. Though considering you're a Soldier now, you might actually stand a chance in a fair fight."

His body didn't seem to want to let him sit up. "What?" Even his voice was sluggish. What was in that syringe the nurse had given him? "When did that happen? How long have I been out?"

"To answer the last question first, two months. Sephiroth got the higher-ups to agree to promote you to Soldier if you woke up."

Two months. 'If'. Maybe he could forgive Zack for telling his mother.

Zack's chair scraped on the floor as he moved back to Cloud's bedside.

His eyes felt heavy. Zack's fingers weaved between Cloud's own. He closed his eyes, intending just to rest for a moment before he got up to kick Zack's ass.

"You're telling me everything you said to my mom."

He never heard the response.