Pairings: SephirothxCloud, AngealxZack, RudexReno TsengxGenesis
Warnings: Yaoi, Shonen Ai, Lemons, Time Traveling, Smut of varying degrees, Memory loss, Angst, Hojo and Dark themes.
Summary: Cloud Strife is sent back to his cadet days with his veteran abilities, but no memory of his future. What does this mean for him? For the entire Planet? Can you forge happiness from misery? SephxCloud. AngealxZack. RudexReno. TsengxGenesis.
Author's Note: Thank you so much for all of the lovely reviews! Beta'ed by x-YaoiWolf-x.
Sephiroth wanted nothing more than to locate Cadet Strife, but he had a feeling that his advances would only push Cloud away when the General wanted nothing more than to draw him ever closer. His mind and body were singing with wonder and need. A need that he had never experienced before. The General was in new territory now, but he loved to both learn and be challenged. Even if he only had professional encounters with both women and men, none of them had ignited such desire and need within him as just a single lip lock with that young cadet. He wanted the boy. The silver haired man just knew he was special; just like him.
He curtailed this need with logic. Sephiroth needed to know what he was dealing with and it seemed that Zack might have some information.
He entered the elevator and pressed the floor for the 1st Class lodgings after sliding his key card through. His feline eyes had a faraway look in them as his mind stayed riveted on that cadet. The boy had responded so favorably to him, as if pulled by instinct. Like they had a connection.
Was the man that warned him in the dream tied at all to the reality of Cloud Strife? The boy had seemed hesitant in his presence, young and pliant in his arms. It didn't matter though. Whether the innocent or the warrior, Cloud Strife would be his. The need to take the boy into his arms and never let him go was strong. Did Angeal feel anything like this for his puppy? Was it normal to feel this way?
No, he decided. No, it wasn't. But normal didn't often occur in his life. He had been raised in the labs, was different, faster, stronger than his peers. He knew he desired Cadet Strife, knew he wanted to keep him. The mystery surrounding the teen was just as strong as the pull from earlier. Sephiroth wanted to know everything about him.
The elevator opened to allow him access to the floor that housed his, Angeal's, and Genesis' apartments, He knocked on Angeal's door, which was answered immediately by the owner of the living space. Glowing hazel eyes appraised him briefly before the large SOLDIER moved aside to let him in. The door was immediately locked multiple times behind him and Sephiroth immediately noticed the tense atmosphere of the room. Zack was fidgeting on the couch, mako eyes darting from Angeal to Genesis to his General. The boy was nervous but calmed a little when Angeal took a seat beside him, slinging a muscled arm around his pup.
Genesis smoothly took a seat and Sephiroth took the only remaining one, emerald eyes on Zack. He wanted to order answers from the boy, but had an inkling that they would be talking about Cloud anyways. It was too much of a coincidence that Cloud mention Zack and then he be called here. He also wouldn't do Angeal the injustice of scaring his young lover.
"Well...? What is this impromptu meeting about Angeal?" The red haired man questioned after silence had taken the air for a long moment. Zack sat up straighter, a determined look in his eyes as he gathered his courage.
"I have a friend that is in dire need of protection that only you three can provide. Something unusual happened to him and he's afraid that he'll disappear into the Science Department if his secret gets out. He's... His name is Cloud. Cloud Strife. He's a cadet here in the SOLDIER program," Zack explained, blue eyes searching Genesis and Sephiroth's faces.
The silver haired General felt a wild anger surge through him, a protectiveness that he was sure he wasn't capable of, but he kept his face smooth and placid. The thought of Hojo touching his cadet in anyway incited such blistering hatred for the man, but... Why would Cloud fear Hojo?
"What is the situation?" Sephiroth asked, voice calm. Zack frowned.
"It 's a little complicated..." He trailed off a bit when Angeal made a soft incredulous sound in the back of this throat. "Okay... maybe the most complicated thing I have ever encountered, alright? It's confusing, and Cloud is still trying to puzzle it out, but he said that he woke up enhanced not too long ago, no reason, nothing to cause it. It just happened."
"Becoming enhanced is a complicated process that only the scientists are privy to. One does not simply 'wake up' enhanced," The grey eyed man stated, though there was curiosity and a small amount of confusion in his gaze. Sephiroth tilted his head, intrigued.
"Enhanced to what extent?" He questioned and Genesis shot his General and friend a shocked look. Sephiroth could tell he had surprised the other man with not trying to immediately debunk what Zack had told them as he had done. The spiky haired youth looked suddenly hopeful, locking gazes with Sephiroth. He was one of the few that dared or felt comfortable enough with him to be so bold.
"The shine in his eyes easily rivals yours, Sir. He has to be on a 1st Class SOLDIER level of enhancement, if not more," The youth told them.
The vision of the warrior with spiky blond hair staring into his eyes with blazing mako irises caused an excited flip in Sephiroth's stomach. A soft sound from Zack drew the silver haired man's attention immediately back.
"And that isn't all, Sir. There are other discrepancies in his behavior and skill level. But hear me out, please. I believe Cloud's story and I trust him. He isn't a threat. He's just terribly confused and needs someone to stand by him. Please try to believe me when I tell you this, okay?" Zack implored, eyes earnest. Angeal's grip on the boy tightened while Sephiroth and Genesis leaned forward a bit more.
Zack Fair's instincts concerning a person's trustworthiness or their nature, even if they tried to hide it, were very keen. He had never been wrong before and that was worth some merit.
"Continue, Fair," Sephiroth prompted, feline eyes intent. Zack nodded, falling into a more professional assessment of Cloud's abilities out of habit when in the General's presence.
"Thus far, Cloud has displayed an uncanny knack for swordplay and Materia, but claims no prior knowledge of either. He also revealed an unprecedented knowledge of equipment, sensing that the sword that I gave him before our spar was unbalanced and likely to break if he used his full strength. He bested me in two strikes. He is fast, nimble, and comfortable with a sword. Though his body did seem to move in an odd way, like he was used to a different... not weapon, just sword. When he used a Materia, he didn't merely cast, he charged it until completely Mastered," Zack stopped, searching them for any signs of disbelief. Surprisingly, only Genesis seemed doubtful, but Sephiroth was good at hiding his emotions, so the 2nd Class wasn't sure how he was feeling.
"He has to be lying about something, Zack. There is no way he could know those skills without prior and careful training," Genesis said after a length of silence. Zack shook his head frantically, his hands waving animatedly in the air.
"No! Please, you have to listen to me. Cloud is telling the truth. Everything about him screams it. He needs this, please..." Zack trailed off, looking hopelessly at Angeal. Angeal's eyes softened at his puppy.
"Have you, or Cloud, thought of anything that might explain this... situation?" The taller man asked. Zack hesitated before he nodded meekly.
"Cloud has a theory that it might be something that the Planet did," He revealed, hoping with a small wince that it didn't seem as pathetic as it sounded. They had all been with ShinRa so long that the teen didn't know if they even entertained the notion of the study of the Planet. Genesis suddenly looked interested while Sephiroth merely frowned.
"The Planet?" Sephiroth asked quietly. The auburn haired SOLDIER leaned forward.
"You didn't take that mission to Cosmo Canyon with us, Sephiroth, because ShinRa didn't deem it necessary to send you in. They merely wanted us to talk to the Elders and leader of the Canyon to find out their studies on the Planet to see how it coincided with the terrorist group, AVALANCHE. Their views could damage ShinRa's image if it became too far spread. So the civilians and Elders were restricted to only teaching their views within Cosmo Canyon. Not that it stops terrorists within the city from trying to spread it," Genesis said at length.
Sephiroth steepled his fingers and leaned forward. This knowledge he did not know. And usually things that Shinra tried to keep from him were things that he wanted to learn most. If only as an act of defiance on his part.
"What is this study exactly?" He questioned, interested. There had to be some merit to it if his cadet had thought it to be the cause to his current problem. Cloud Strife was becoming more and more appealing to Sephiroth. Angeal smiled at his friend, knowing that the silver haired man loved to learn new information. After all, knowledge was power.
"It's not a popular view because it would hinder our current technology and way of life, but the Elders at Cosmo teach that everything on the Planet shares a spiritual energy. When that person, bird, tree, organism dies, it releases its spiritual energy and returns to the Planet. To the Lifestream, where everything gathers. That energy then travels the Planet until it is born again as something else. A constant cycle of life, death, and rebirth," Angeal explained, remembering the projection he had seen on Elder Bugenhagen's apparatus.
Genesis smiled slightly. "It is actually quite beautiful when you think about it, but there is that catch that ShinRa wants buried. When all spiritual energy, or mako, the Lifestream, all words work for it, disappears from the Planet, this cycle is disrupted and the Planet cannot survive. It would lay barren and die before crumbling to ashes."
"The reactors..." Zack spoke up, realization in his voice. Sephiroth nodded. Of course ShinRa would oppose this belief. Mako provided an easy life for everyone, gave the cities and towns their electricity, and it lined the pockets of officials within ShinRa. Greed would overpower every emotion along with the lust for power. Zack shot up from the couch, alarm on his face.
"You mean they injected us with dead people?!" He exclaimed. Angeal sighed, pinching his nose.
"No, pup. Not necessarily. The Lifestream consists of the life of everything that has passed and has yet to be reborn again. It is pure life. We have been granted the life of those people and things that have lived over and over again," The older man said softly. Zack turned glowing blue eyes on his lover, recognizing that gentle expression when the larger man tended to his plants.
"You... you believe it, don't you? The things they teach at Cosmo Canyon," Zack said wonderingly, eyes bright with emotion. Why would Angeal stay at ShinRa if he believed in those things? Sephiroth leaned forward, intent gaze going from one friend to the other. Genesis reached within his coat and touched the copy of Loveless within its fold, expression conflicted.
"Even if the morrow is barren of promises, nothing shall forestall my return. To become the dew that quenches the land. To spare the sands, the seas, the skies. I offer thee this silent sacrifice..." Genesis murmured. Sephiroth blinked. The verse sounded like it should be from Loveless, but those passages were not included.
"Genesis...?" Sephiroth asked in a quiet tone. The red haired man's lips quirked slightly, but sadly.
"My rendition of how Act Five should have been, if it was me. A beautiful, tragic ending for the aspiring hero, who turned out to be a monster in the end. I came up with it shortly after my visit to Cosmo Canyon. Their views touched me because they felt right. Plus, I have a bitterness towards ShinRa. Towards Hollander and secrets surely kept from me. To be utterly honest, I was... thinking of desertion should my wound never heal. I would seek the truth on my own without anyone pulling the strings," The Commander spoke softly.
Everyone in the room had frozen at the word 'desertion.' A SOLDIER did not simply desert the army. They were always hunted down and pronounced 'AWOL' or 'killed in action'. ShinRa didn't want any dishonorable discharges to stain their perfect visage. Genesis sighed, grey eyes trailing to Zack.
"We are getting off topic. How would the study of the Planet play into what has happened to Cloud Strife?" He questioned. Zack's expression fell.
"He didn't say. He just said that he felt that the Planet had caused it," The teen paused, "and I don't mean to contradict myself, but I feel that he hasn't completely opened up to me yet."
"You trust him, yet you think he is keeping secrets? Wouldn't that mean that he is not trustworthy?" Angeal asked, wondering if his lover wasn't being unreasonable in his approach to the youth. Zack shook his head.
"It's not like that. He just... gets quiet at odd moments in the conversation. He gets this look on his face like he's listening to something I can't hear. I can't explain it very well, but he feels not just powerful, but vulnerable. I want to protect him. Will you help him?" Zack looked around the room imploringly.
"You do realize that we can't watch him at all hours, right pup? Especially with a war on the horizon. There is no way-" Angeal was cut off by a curt statement.
"I will watch him," Sephiroth declared.
Everyone's neon eyes riveted to their General.
"H- How?" Zack asked hesitantly. The silver haired man tilted his head, long silver bangs obscuring his feline-like eyes.
"Oftentimes a good strategy for those wishing to hide is to do so in plain sight. There is a mentorship program still instated for those SOLDIERs who want to mentor, as put into place by Lazard. If a cadet shows potential or appears to be falling behind, that mentor can take the cadet under their wing. As you are well aware, Angeal," Sephiroth said lightly, raising his face to regard his friend. He and his lover appeared floored. The General never took anyone...
"You wish to mentor Cadet Strife? Wouldn't that be counterproductive? Hojo would most definitely hear of it." And take interest, were the unspoken words hanging into the air. Sephiroth smiled slightly, bemusement in his eyes.
"All the more reason to do it. If Cloud has avoided detection this long, his acting must be more than adequate. Mentors and students are together nearly twenty four-seven. They live together, work as assistants if need be, train, and share meals. If the boy were snatched, I would be the first to notice. You have expressed desires to desert, Genesis. Would you actually do it with provocation?" The silver haired General asked.
"And you, Angeal?"
The older man paused, hesitant hazel eyes trailing to Zack's young face. The younger SOLDIER squeezed his hand reassuringly, wanting to know.
"If something threatened Zack, I would desert," He answered honestly. Sephiroth spread his hands, looking between all of them.
"ShinRa needs us to command their armies. If Cloud were put in danger, even after every precaution was taken, we could hold our positions as ransom. One cadet is not worth the crumbling of their entire military structure," Sephiroth reasoned. Genesis looked at Sephiroth interestedly.
"That is the second time you have called him by his first name. What does the cadet mean to you to take such risks? Shinra might not bite," The red head asked. Zack appeared interested, but Angeal felt he knew. However, he would not bring up the dream Sephiroth had shared with him if the other man didn't bring it up himself. The emerald eyed General paused.
"I cannot say, but I feel like he is worth the risk. Someone to rival me in strength is a feat that I want to experience for myself," He said, easily glossing over the real reason he wanted to get close to Cloud Strife. He couldn't understand it himself just yet, but Sephiroth wanted to know. Genesis snorted at the explanation.
"Vain as ever, Sephiroth. Is strength all that you can think of?" The auburn haired man chided, a little disdainfully. The General's mysterious small smile was all he got in answer. Zack paused.
"What if ShinRa really doesn't want to give Cloud up? Hojo has a lot of sway in the company, doesn't he?" He asked worryingly. Angeal slung one arm around him and smiled.
"We will deal with that obstacle if it arises, puppy. Do not fret," He told his smaller lover with a reassuring smile. Zack perked up.
"So, we're really doing this?!" He asked excitedly, eyes jerking to Sephiroth. The man nodded and the youth cheered, taking out his PHS to call Cloud before noticing the time with a grimace.
"Uh, wow. We won't get any sleep tonight, will we?" Zack asked sheepishly. Genesis shrugged.
"We have all gone without sleep for long durations before. We should spend this time planning how to approach this without garnering too much attention," Genesis said lightly.
Each man leaned forward, and they began, formulating a plan through the rest of the night.
Two days later found Cloud in the mess hall, silently staring at his empty tray. Outwardly, he only appeared to be deep in thought, and that was half of the problem. The other was that he hadn't had a wink of sleep in over a week since he had snuck into the lab. He was still eating, but it was more of an automatic thing.
The blonde's initial worry had been over his Commanders. He hadn't heard a thing, good or bad about Angeal and Genesis. It made him worry that something might have gone wrong with his plan to save them, but surely there would have been an announcement if something bad had happened to them? Then his mind would spin to perhaps ShinRa covering it up and he would fall into an endless cycle of worry in his mind.
And then his mind would travel to the encounter between the him and the General. He flushed, still unsure of what had come over him. Older Cloud had been right. That... call? It had been so much more powerful when the man himself was present. It had been irresistible, something that had gripped Cloud to the core. His mind and body had reacted on instinct. But he had been telling the truth when he had answered Sephiroth. His 'attention' had not been unwanted.
Cloud pulled his PHS out and pressed a few buttons, lingering on Zack's number. Could he call the other without a particular reason? He wanted to know if Angeal and Genesis were okay, but he didn't want to seem suspicious. It rang suddenly, causing the small blond to jump, and Zack's name scrolled across the display. Cloud quickly pressed the accept button.
"Zack?" He answered uncertainly. Had something really happened?
"Spiky! Long time, no speak. Can you do me a favor?" Came the cheerful voice of his friend and the blond felt relief wash over him. Surely if something had happened to their Commanders, he would be less happy?
"Of course," Cloud answered, wondering what this was about.
"Can you meet me in the main lobby?" Zack asked brightly. Cloud stood and disposed of his tray, careful to move slowly as if he were exhausted from the day.
"I'm on my way," He told the other as soon as he was clear of the mess hall. He could practically feel the other grinning on the end of the line. What had Zack so happy?
"Awesome! See you soon, Spiky!" The line clicked and Cloud hung up his PHS and pocketed it.
The long walk to the main building was marked only by his own steps, which he silently counted and measured. Not too fast, but not too slow. Had Zack talked to Sephiroth? Angeal and Genesis as well? Did they think of something to help him? He could feel Older Cloud and Other Zack in the back of his mind observing the situation. They hadn't said much, even after Cloud had kissed Sephiroth. In a way, he felt cast out into open air, freefalling with one hand reaching out for someone to capture him. He didn't know if this feeling was good or bad.
Cloud entered the lobby and immediately spotted Zack standing near the elevators with duffle bags by his feet. The 2nd Class smiled and waved him over, his enhanced senses picking up on Cloud's unique signature despite the helmet. The blond walked over and blinked, noticing the name on the duffle bags. Why did Zack have his belongings?
"Come on, cadet. Pick these up and follow me."
Noticing the change in protocol, Cloud snapped into a ridged salute.
"Sir!" He cried before bending over and picking up the two duffle bags. Following Zack into the elevator, Cloud noticed that they were going to the SOLDIER floor. His friend began to speak to him in quiet tones.
"I spoke to them all about you, Spiky. We are going to a meeting with Lazard. The Director has no idea that you're different so just act as you have been and it'll be okay," Zack said softly. Cloud moved his eyes to the dark haired teen.
"The helmet...?" He asked.
"Keep it on, it won't be questioned. Protocol after all. No worries," He returned.
They landed on the correct floor and the doors opened to admit them. They crossed the hallway and the glass doors slid open for them. A blond man with a warm expression greeted them and they both saluted.
"At ease, men. Zack, have you told him why he's here yet?" Lazard asked with a patient look. Zack grinned freely.
"I wanted you to be the one to tell him, Sir," The 2nd answered. The Director brightened and held out a hand to Cloud, who took it hesitantly. His hand was being shaken as the other looked at him brightly. What was happening?
"Cadet Strife, I am pleased to inform you that a SOLDIER has selected you for the mentorship program."
Cloud froze, his lips parting. Wasn't this exactly what he had wanted to avoid? Attention like this wouldn't be favorable at all. He would be found out for sure. Cloud clamped down on the panic that wanted to rise and he forced a smile.
"May I ask who...?" Cloud questioned, trailing off. Lazard's eyes sparkled.
"General Sephiroth has selected you. Considering your below average potential on the SOLDIER track, it is very good that he chose you. You will have a much bigger chance of success under his tutelage."
Cloud's mind had stopped at the name. General Sephiroth was going to mentor him? He forcibly yanked his thoughts away from their encounter and to what else Lazard had said. The man had looked at his records and he hadn't changed anything in his classes to avoid detection. They thought he was weak. Likely to fail. This was... good, right?
"The General? I am honored, Sir," Cloud said breathlessly. Dear Gaia, how was he going to handle this? Lazard nodded and picked up a small packet for the smaller blond to take. Keycards, Cloud noted, for an upper floor.
"You will be residing with Sephiroth from now on until he deems otherwise, cadet. He is in charge of your days, your schedule, and your duties. You are to report to him before all others. Work hard, cadet, and before you know it you will have your first infusion," Lazard nodded at the dazed cadet. He supposed he would feel the same if in that position.
"Sir!" Cloud cried with a salute and Lazard chuckled. The blond watched the other man behind his visor.
"Dismissed. The General cleared his evening for you so you can find him on that floor. Zack?" Lazard asked. The 2nd Class grinned and nodded.
"I will show him the way, no problem," He told the other man before motioning to Cloud to follow him. Cloud picked up his luggage, now understanding why he needed it, and followed Zack. When they were in the elevator once more, the other waited a few floors before he spoke. "Angeal and Genesis are waiting for us there, too."
A wash of relief went through Cloud, but he was still a bundle of confused nerves. Zack made a quiet noise, as if sensing this.
"Don't worry, Cloud. Sephiroth will take care of you. It'll be explained when we get there, so hold tight, okay?" The other youth told him. The blond nodded wordlessly. He didn't know which worried him more now. Living with Sephiroth or being caught by Hojo. They both sounded terrifying for very different reasons. Breathe, he told himself sternly.
The elevator door opened with a soft noise and they both stepped out. Cloud's glowing eyes took in the corridor underneath the helmet as he followed Zack. It looked like private quarters and with a soft breath, he realized there were only three doors. Zack heard this and smiled a bit nervously.
"I live up here with Angeal and you know he's my mentor, but I haven't told you yet..." Zack trailed off and Cloud glanced at him, curiously.
"What is it?" He asked, trying desperately to ignore the slight warmth spreading throughout his limbs. They were getting closer to Sephiroth. Cloud could feel him there...
"He and I are together. You know, together together. He's my lover. You don't think that's bad, do you Cloud?"
The nervous laughter made sense now. Cloud stopped and turned towards Zack, whose bright blue eyes were half pleading with him.
"Zack," He murmured, "nothing could make me think ill of you." He got a sunny smile for his trouble and he was pulled into a hug.
"So, you aren't, you know, disgusted that I'm gay?" Zack asked, as if to make absolutely sure that he understood his smaller friend. Cloud began to fidget, feeling Sephiroth so keenly, the call humming very gently through his body.
"I couldn't... I'm having a bit of... I mean... I'm not sure..." he trailed off and Zack's eyes lit up with understanding.
"Oh! Well, you can talk to me if you need to, Cloud. If you're confused and need a shoulder," He smiled gently and the blond nodded before they began walking again. The call wasn't as strong as before, but it was persistent, and the cadet swallowed and steeled himself as they stopped in front of the door he could feel Sephiroth behind.
Zack swiped Cloud's keycard through to make sure it worked and sure enough, a green light signaled they did. Zack pushed open the door, and Cloud followed closely, the door clicking shut behind them.
The room was very militarian, everything a darker color where the walls were a pale grey. There was nothing very personal in the living room besides Masamune, which sat on a rack on the wall. Cloud noticed none of this, his eyes locked with smoldering catslit emerald greens.
Zack cleared his throat, the tension in the air felt by both he and the two Commanders, who were shooting questioning looks at the man who looked deceptively relaxed. Cloud, however, stood tense; fighting the urge to cross the distance separating them.
"Welcome, Cloud," The blond shuddered at the way that baritone voice purred his name, "we have been waiting to meet you."
"Some more eagerly than others, apparently," Genesis murmured, but Cloud heard him and his body began to jerk into a salute when Zack placed a hand on his shoulder. Cloud yanked his eyes from Sephiroth to look at his friend questioningly. Zack smiled.
"No need for formalities, Spike. They know you aren't just a cadet. We're here to protect you so just be yourself," Zack said easily. Cloud nodded and took a step into the room, towards the three seated there. He reached up and loosened the helmet before his blond spikes bounced free of the confinement, blue eyes blazing neon in the dimmer light of the apartment.
Sephiroth's eyes darkened, intent on him and only him, and Cloud swallowed, forcing himself to look at all three of them in turn.
"Thank you for extending help. It took me a little but I figured out why you chose this particular plan over others," Cloud said lightly, having come to the conclusion on his way up, even past his nerves.
"Oh?" The General said, interested. Angeal and Genesis leaned forward; the atmosphere in the room was electrifying. Cloud nodded.
"It's a battle tactic. You wanted to make the first move, a reckless one at first glance, but by placing me in plain sight, one of two things could happen. One being that I would be noticed, but Hojo would be put in a position where he cannot act without repercussions. The latter is more unlikely to be the case, but still a possible scenario. This being that I will be taken at face value and not questioned," Cloud clarified in a soft tenor voice. Sephiroth's lips quirked.
"Very good, Cloud. That is exactly what I have done," He said lightly. The General stood and took a step forward and much to the surprise of the other SOLDIERs in the room, Cloud met him halfway, the smaller teen tilting his head back to keep their eyes locked.
"But in order for my continued cooperation, I need to know a few things," Sephiroth told him. They were nearly touching. Cloud nodded his agreement.
"What do you need to know?" He asked and he blinked when one of the General's hands took his chin into his grip, now keeping their gazes together by touch.
"Why did you come to me in a dream, Cloud?"
To be Continued…
Author's Notes: The pressure is on! Will Cloud tell Sephiroth what he needs to know? Please review!
Beta's Note: I know. Really. And I can confirm without much doubt, that she does it on purpose! She is evil. But, I can be patient, and if I can be patient, so can you... Hopefully.