I'm so excited for this fic (: but anyway... so this is going to be eventual-and i mean eventual-cloud/seph. it might sound a little weird after this first chapter, but it will make more sense as the story progresses. I've always loved the idea of a scientist cloud, especially after professor strife.


"Ah—ow!" He spat. "Watch where you're pointing that fucking thing."

He gently rubbed the crook of his elbow where a syringe had once inhabited it. He hated being prodded all the time, but Hojo never let up.

"We done?" He asked, as the scientist shuffled about and mulled around the computer screen.

He careened over to see the screen, where his readings were starting to digest into the system. His mako level was high, charted religiously every day to make sure the readings were as high as the president wanted. Of course, since this project was so new and advanced for its time no one really knew what the correct amount should be.

"You hear me, you fucking bastard?" Cloud called down the pristine floors of the lab, attempting to bait Hojo into doing something other then staring menacingly at his compute screen. "I'm going to eat your spine when I'm done with this."

Cloud Strife wasn't having a very good day.

Not that he ever really did, but standing around with a syringe the menacing size of his arm did nothing to start his day off on the right side. Then again, working with the world renowned pain-in-the-ass Shinra scientist professor Hojo was like getting bitch slapped the moment he woke up and opened his eyes. Why was Cloud working for Hojo? Well, it was very simple. There was no one else who would. Though perhaps the more apt word would be could.

But let's backtrack.

Before Cloud took this job as a quasi-science assistant, he had been one of the many children staring wide-eyed as a wraith-like clout of smoke carried over the mountain-pass—the only pass at all—that lead out of the small town of Nibelheim. The village was so backwater, and so nondescript that the current mayor of the town, and the town's inhabitants in general, hadn't even been aware that ShinRa was building a reactor in the mountains until they were literally steam rolling over the hills. Cloud, like his childish counterparts, was enamored by the tall army troopers from the big city across the sea, and was curious enough to follow them around quite a lot. More so then any of the other kids, in fact. (This may be due to their innate dislikeness of the small blonde, which was returned in fervor by the blonde himself).

But, while it was in the job description for them, Cloud hadn't realized that by dogging along behind them all the time he'd be risking his life, too. Mako pools were common at the sight of a drill, and as the reactor was still in the process of being built there were many to behold around the outskirts of town. As the ShinRa mansion went up, and the drills went down, the pools gradually became larger and more sinister.

Cloud had been one—and maybe the only—lucky kid to have fallen into one of them and lived to tell the tale.

Or perhaps he hadn't lived, because instead of dogging around army troops he was dogging around a constantly irate, morbid scientist who found him a fascinating study (even though usually the man just called him a failure and sneered).

He hopped off of the steel table, putting his shirt back on.

Hojo gave him a flat, skewered look above his glasses. "You're done, for now. Are you eating properly? You're levels are flagging."

"No—I'm turning anorexic. Haven't you noticed?" For the effect, and kind of because he wanted to, the blonde flexed his arms. He would never get used to the muscles that now inhabited what used to be stick-chicken arms. One good thing about this crazy life of his—he was buff.

Hojo was not amused. "You can take you and your smart-aleck mouth over to subject ten and start it for treatment."

Cloud made a noise of exasperation, before grabbing one of the mako needles and heading over.

He gave the writhing monster an insufferable look, before sticking it into the mutilated arm with more force then necessary. It was kind of inhumane, really, not that Cloud was ever much of an animal/people/….beast rights devotee. But he still had emotions, and more importantly, he was well aware of the wretched feeling of your spleen orbiting around your pelvis in conjunction with the rest of your organs until they, slowly but surely, completely integrated into a new sub-natural design. So once the claws and the teeth stopped gritting and attempting to hack off his appendages, he gave it a slow, empathetic pat on its angry brow.

But the thing had gotten a few clean blows at his chest, where his clothes were starting to bleed red. They'd be healed in a matter of seconds, but the fact remained that the poison hurt like hell.

"Are you done yet boy?" Came the nasally, snarling voice from behind him.

Hojo's hunched form was careening down his glasses to get a better look at the readings from the machine, while Cloud was doing his best impression of scathing behemoth, which wasn't going right at all.

"No thanks to you." He retorted snidely. "The thing's sedated, I hooked it up to the cells like you asked."

The scientist did nothing, just stood awkwardly, looking more gargoyle than human.

"Am I done now?" The blond scrunched his nose.

Again, no answer.

Did he mention he hated this job?

"Interesting…" The man was mumbling to himself as he mulled about the computers. "Very interesting…"

That was never a good sign.

After some amount of time, the professor turned around to move back to the main computers outside of the lab, on the other side of the tinted one-way viewing glass, and waved him off. Around him, a variety of very meek looking assistants, all which came up to Cloud's bicep, fluttered around various machines. "Yes, leave. Do what you want. I have no use for your whining, intolerable presence."

While insulting, Cloud had never heard such wondrous words in his life.

"Oh, boy, report back here at five sharp."

"In the morning?" The blonde balked.

Hojo looked a mixture of severely irritated and disappointed. "Yes, you moronic fool. In the morning. The lab is moving."

"To where?"

"None of your concern." And then a pause. "Pack your bags."

"What?" He gaped. "I'm coming with you?"

There was a snappish, angry turtle overlapping with his image of the angered professor, and he felt that the man was probably disappointed that his fist human experimentation turned out to be such a grand failure, full of mouth and angry words and backbone. Maybe he was expecting a meek replica of all the other fools in his presence?

"Of course you are, imbecile." There was more muttering, and Cloud had the distinct feeling that Hojo was lamenting about what a failure he was. "I'll not have my project running amuck as you know doubt would so keenly desire. The last thing I need is for the President to find what he believes to be his greatest asset mingling in the slums."

Cloud took this to say; "I am in need of your biological treatments as well as the answers you're cells may hold. But I'm rephrasing it differently because I can't stand you and wish you were really a failure, even though you're probably my greatest work yet."

He may have tweaked that to give more props to himself, though.

Hojo had created him in an attempt to give the President what he wanted—a super soldier able to cut down any opposition. With the crude information they had on mako/human hybridization Hojo had taken it upon himself to delve head-first into the project by using his first and only available human specimen, a young boy who had fallen into a mako pool near his most recent lab, which he had conned out of the President's funds with promises of a super soldier that would grant him whatever he wanted—world domination, energy monopolization, a nice muscled man to hold. Whatever. Cloud supposed that the statement was inaccurate, as Hojo never really dove into anything without proper research. Regardless, his results were not what he wanted.

Cloud was gangly, leanly muscled, and without the substantial mass that Hojo had been expecting. He was also relatively short, not the seven foot something that the scientist had been counting on. He was, however, adept at fighting and was particularly good with mastering materia, and had above-human strength, speed, and abilities. This was exactly what the President was looking for, much to Hojo's dismay. He immediately wheedled the President into shoving a good chunk of the money into research and development, claiming that he could create a more perfect soldier.

The president agreed.

Cloud couldn't really care, anyway.

Cloud stepped outside and Midgar was covered in its perpetual thick, heavy wheezing cough of smog, that made Cloud choke when he finally stumbled out of the sterilized oxygenated lab. The upper plate was composed of new developing houses and districts, posh and luxurious and entirely against Cloud's taste. Lower Midgar was nothing but shadows and a distant cacophony of voices.

Cloud was wondering where he was supposed to go, now that he was officially off duty for the rest of the evening.

He didn't have anywhere besides ShinRa.

President Shinra had immediately became enamored with the idea of SOLDIER, his plans for the world and technology coming into fruition with the remarkable ability to infuse the planet into humans. Upon meeting Cloud, the shaking roots of his dreams had become realized, and Cloud was unofficially a part of this new upstart of the company. Of course, the army had been going on for a long time, but mako induced procedures to upgrade the human body was very recent technology, and Cloud was the first of his kind.

That's probably why he put Hojo in such high regard. The guy wasn't anything special. Fucked up, and seriously meticulous about his work, but not like Professor Gast, who was credited with most of the research and the more imaginative aspects of the project. He was the one who warped the properties of mako to further develop it into a form compatible to humans, Hojo was simply the one to get fed up with all the thesis and hypothesis and what-if's to finally just stick a needle into a kid's arm.

Eventually. Cloud found nothing he wanted to do, and returned to his room in the Shinra building.

.

.

.

"I'm not a scientist, or anything." A pause. "I didn't really think this thing had anything to do with me."

The boy was saying with a growing flush dusting his cheeks, as the professor only laughed merrily. "Nonsense my boy! Didn't Professor Hojo tell you anything?"

"No." Came the sullen, irritable reply.

Gast cocked his head curiously. "Ah, well, the project has been moved to the Mansion in Nibleheim—

"To the mansion?"

"And, I'd suppose that this entire project is thanks to you." The scientist wore such a sincere face that the blond—a project himself, and one entirely took for granted by his maker, Hojo—looked taken aback, as if he hadn't quite realized what these little research excursions truly meant to actual scientists, ones unlike the one he was most familiar with. This was like, the holy grail of science, apparently, even though, like most things and generally life itself, Hojo seemed apathetic and sneering about it all.

"Me?" Was the dubious, but entirely hopeful reply.

Gast nodded. "Yes. Without you, the President would have never considered funding this project. He's quite enamored with you, as I'm sure you're aware."

"Oh, don't worry. I know." Cloud's response was blatantly scathing, and his thoughts on the President of the great company were quite obvious.

The two continued to walk down to the many loading trucks at the back of the science department, and Vincent let them be. There wasn't anything he'd have to report, and, to be completely forthcoming, it wasn't even his Mission to bother with human interactions between President Shinra's greatest asset and his most trusted scientist. The Turk was simply there to see the project to fruition, to keep things running smoothly while the President took care of more important things.

Veld had seen him off that morning, the man wore such a staunch, rigid stance that Vincent supposed that he may be seeing him off to his death.

Instead, Shinra's department head of administrative research only bid him off with a fair warning, mainly about the scientists.

He'd said something along the lines that they were the most ruthless of all Shinra employees (something he, naively, thought to be an overstatement, as none of the bone-thin scientists looked capable of committing atrocities Vincent could) and that even though Vincent happened to be employed in this particular company, he should be very careful to do only what is necessary, and not get in the way. That was fair warning, as even though it was highly implausible and hardly ever happened, Turks disappeared sometimes too.

Not one to dive headfirst into missions without a proper accumulation of backup research, Vincent had spent the latter part of the week researching Project Jenova.

From Gast Faermis' recent designs, he interpreted the being to be one of the Ancient humans who had once walked the Earth, with such an adept ability to use continuous communication with the Planet, and a natural hold on Materia. That, coupled with the inhuman abilities that his current finalized project, Cloud, already demonstrated, Vincent could see entirely why the President was so keen on seeing this project through, the cost inconsequential.

While Jenova herself was questionable, the very essence of the Project was even more hazy.

From what Vincent understood, a test subject—not unlike Cloud—would be used as the basis of all the test performances, no doubt going to live a short, brutal life in the confines of the lab. Being a particularly heartless grade of the Turks, Vincent didn't care much about that.

Vincent shook his head, and stepped into the front of the truck, resuming his position as driver.

Next to him, he found, was the exact muse of his thoughts.

"Hey, Vincent Valentine right?" The blonde asked as he propped his feet onto the leather of his seat.

The Turk nodded wordlessly.

"I've heard about you." The boy—man?— began again, shrewdly. "You're pretty infamous in some circles."

As he revved the engine, he gave the blonde a sidelong glance.

There was nothing interesting about him, perhaps the vapid coruscate of unnatural delphinium in his eyes, pulsing vibrantly and dulling the rest of the world with its shine. His hair was entirely unaffected by gravity, and so was his smile.

"I could say the same for you."

At this Cloud shrugged.

"The move won't be completed until next month." Vincent began anew when the conversation reached its crumbled ending, and while he could stand awkward silences, he wasn't keen on being in one now. "So until then, I'm meant to keep an eye on you."

"Me?" The blonde looked indefinitely surprised. "I thought you were just, heading the guards and stuff."

"Turks do much more then that." The darker haired of the two smiled ruthlessly, letting his comment sink in without further explanation. The blonde would eventually realize that watching and waiting were the worst things to possibly allow a Turk to do, especially when trying to be secretive.

Instead, the guy shrugged.

"Have fun with that. You'll find I'm a bit of a boring guy."

Vincent smiled wryly. To be fair, he was a bit of a boring guy too. A quiet boring guy, at that. "I'm sure there's more then that."

But was there? Cloud, aside from his rather hippie-like name, seemed to be a normal, boring guy. Not the billion dollar science experiment he was. His eyes glowed like nothing Vincent had seen before—like the Planet breathed life into him, and it watered out of his stratosphere blue eyes, so bright and puissant that Vincent had a hard time looking away. He knew, instinctively, what coursed through the blonde's veins. An utterly incomprehensible amount of mako streamed through his system daily, boosting him until he was so much more powerful then anything Vincent had probably ever seen.

Of course, he looked like a lanky, muscled teen for now.

"You look pretty interesting, though." Cloud tented his fingers behind his head. Vincent could see a metal bracelet on his wrist—a science department barcode on the inside of it. Proof he was an experiment.

"You're the first person to tell me that." Quipped the Turk wryly. Sure, people called him ruthless, a man of few words, and a mysterious, vague sort of guy, but never interesting.

"Maybe you need to get out more." Replied the blonde cheekily.

The ride to the sea was short lived. Vincent, pulled the semi into the dock one-handedly, a variety of other large trucks pulling in with him. Some were driven by other Turks, meant to forsee that nothing got in the way of the lab's move, while most were by the ShinRa grunts. Either way, it was an inordinate amount of technology they were moving, and required quite a bit of man power to do so. Cloud looked amused as he watched Hojo make some other assistant cry in the middle of the docks.

"Unbelievable—" The wiry, hunched scientist was seething. "What kind of imbecilic fool could have possibly—

Vincent assumed the situation at hand had something to with the enormous hunk of metal that was slowly sinking into the gray colored ocean. Around it, a couple grunts were attempting to use a crane to fish it out, while scientists in their white garb looked on depressingly. Vincent supposed it was something important.

Cloud and he exited the truck, a small army of grunts coming to unload the equipment in their truck onto the frighteningly wide barge ship that was hulled into the harbor. The sky looked a watery gray, matching the stormy ocean, and Vincent wondered if today was the best day for the voyage. If one wrecked machine was enough to make Hojo pop a gasket, what would he do if it all sunk into the ocean? Hojo, at this height, looked even less terrifying then he had in the truck, and Vincent wondered for a moment how this man could possibly have such a horrid reputation. They he saw the assistant reduced to tears, and developed a bit of the mental picture.

"Fired, fired!" The man was continuing to rant, almost going red in the face."If I ever see your sniveling face anywhere here again I will personally—

"Now, Professor Hojo, there's really no need for that."

A woman—and not just the typical, wan looking scientists who mulled about the lower floors of the ShinRa building, but a beautiful, comely looking beauty—pulled the still sobbing assistant back, away from Hojo's arm reach. Not that the scientist would ever resort to physical violence, anyway. He was much too thin for one, and he seemed to have no problem making someone feel worthless and shitty without he use of his fists, anyway.

"I've already saved the encrypted data onto a USB drive," Said the woman, clearly aware of Hojo's scathing look. "And the President asked me to bring along another SLK processor, anyway."

She turned to the noisy crew, who seemed to have fished out the bulking machine properly.

"And look, it seems pretty salvageable."

Hojo shriveled his nose at her. "Keep your nose out of my affairs, woman—

"That's the spirit, Lucrecia!" Gast made his way over, completely unaware of the withering looks the two were giving each other, looking the most pleased out of the three of them. "Nothing like some good old optimism. Those things are built like tanks, anyway. I'm sure its fine."

Lucrecia gave him a small, half-smile, which could have just been the contours of her lips but Vincent wanted to think it was that mysterious, vague quirking smile that would have suited her face just perfectly—she already seemed to have mastered it.

Hojo looked miffed, but scuttled away like a small black beetle, most likely to argue with some other poor, self conscious intern.

Cloud looked like he saw this all the time.

The brunette woman caught the blonde's spikes out of the corner of her eye, head snapping to attention as if she'd just saw a celebrity walking down across the street from her. Considering how much these scientist types adored the ground Cloud walked on (aside from Hojo… who seemed to be the exception to everything emotionally-related) it probably meant the same to Lucrecia, who began to walk over to the blonde. Walk may not be an apt description, as her hips seemed to sway hypnotically, and everything about her seemed to be smooth and soft and ungodly alluring.

"And you must be Cloud," She began with a bit of reverence. "Professor Hojo talks about you frequently."

"I doubt it's anything good." Cloud laughed. He seemed to take this whole, 'scientific failure' thing in stride. "He never seems to have a good word to say about me."

"Nonsense!" Lucrecia shook her head, smile growing considerably. "That's just the way he is. I doubt he'd ever compliment anything."

"You have a point." Cloud conceded.

"And how is everything going?" She tilted her head, long strands of brown hair flowing down her shoulder. "I hear you're accompanying us to help out."

"I don't know how much help I'll be." The blonde shrugged. "I guess you guys could like, pick my brain or something. I can't think of any other way I could help."

Lucrecia looked like she might agree, but instead she just pursed her lips. "I'm sure that's not true."

Before Cloud could respond, the woman was called by Professor Gast to help inspect the damage done to the now partially dry SLK processor. Vincent watched her, before shaking his head. It was one thing to appraise her beauty—it was a rare thing in her field, at any rate—but it was something altogether to feel any sort of attachment. And if there's one thing Turks don't do, it's getting attached. Hojo stood on the docks, looking like a shriveled, rodent-like creature dressed in an overly large lab coat.

"Would you look at that," Cloud whistled, looking astounded. "There's actually a woman scientist. A pretty one, at that. I thought they were all social recluses who like to play around with dead bodies…." He gave a side glance to Hojo.

Vincent said nothing; a silent presence beside the blonde. Although inwardly, his thoughts were about the same.

After the dock fiasco, things seemed to regain smoothness during the course of the trip.

It wasn't a very long ride to the Costa del Sol harbor, but Vincent spent the majority of the six hours in solitude, finalizing reports and looking over files. The compartment he was in, which was filled with a lot of file cabinets sprawled over everyavailable surface, also housed a certain blonde, who sat across from him. Their table had one window, which overlooked an angered, vast sea. Cloud was watching it as if he'd never seen the ocean before. But Vincent knew that wasn't true, as the boys documents stated he was from Nibelheim, and he must have crossed the ocean to Midgar at some point.

Either way, Vincent couldn't be bothered, as he had more reports to file and documents to look over then anyone ever gave him credit for. Those who knew Turks—and not just their subheader as scouts or bodyguards, but knew knew them—would think that the most they ever had to think about was the fastest way to dispose of a body that ShinRa didn't want laying around. No one ever thought of the massive amount of paperwork that a Turk had to surf through daily. Not to mention, a would-be-leader of the Turks who's officially in charge of the science department's latest reckless charge into the forefront of the Jenova project.

Cloud had one leg propped on his seat, hands wrapped around it and looking almost depressingly into the watery ocean.

Eventually, Vincent got fed up with the blonde's mournful face, and looked up, intent on telling him to either move away or find a hobby.

Instead, the blonde sighed. "What does the ocean feel like?"

Vincent blinked. "Well…" He thought on it. "I'd suppose it'd feel like being submerged in a mako tank."

Cloud shriveled his nose. "It burns?"

"No." The Turk shook his head. "It's like floating. Mostly its cold."

"You're not very descriptive." The blonde smiled at him.

"That's not in my job description." The Turk agreed. "However, I've never been very fond of the ocean either way. There are thousands of miles full of monsters and predators below you—it's too much of a vulnerable situation."

Cloud thought this the typical answer he'd expect out of a Turk, so he only grinned wider.

"But couldn't that be anywhere?" He argued. "There could be monsters in the ground, you know."

"But there's hardly anything I could do about that." The Turk pointed out, subconsciously pushing the paperwork down the table, as if the back of his mind knew that he'd rather have an intriguing conversation over signing documents and had made the choice for him. "I can at least make the choice not to go into the water."

"You've got a point." Cloud conceded.

"And you," The Turk eyed him coolly. "Are arguing for the sake of arguing."

The blonde shrugged. "It's healthy for you, when you live around scientists who prefer you to go along with them. I'd rather question them any day—even if I'm wrong."

Vincent thought this was exactly what science was supposed to be about—questioning for the sake of questioning and curiosity in its most naïve form. Not all this making super soldiers for world monopolization, for strength and for power. Somewhere along the lines of time science became not a way to find answers, but a way to achieve goals. He knew this had almost everything to do with ShinRa, as the massive corporation would much rather stick its nose into the deepest recesses of the planet for its own personal gain, not to discover things once lost. Hojo was pretty much the poster child of how science went to hell—whether the man ever had good intentions or not is certainly questionable. However, he most certainly didn't now. Whatever the man wanted to achieve, and whatever that is could be anyone's guess, it wasn't just information for the sake of it.

The Turk thought Gast to be a good notion of what scientists should be like. From what he'd read in his files—and he'd done quite extensive background searches—the man didn't seem to have any ill intentions at heart. Considering he worked for ShinRa, anyway. Cloud was much like that too. Although Cloud's records required the highest level of security to access and it was only because Vincent was so close to Veld that he would have ever even gotten to glimpse the experiment's face. Everyone knew that President ShinRa's experimental super soldier resided somewhere in his enormous tower of steel, but everything else was fair game.

Perhaps chained to the wall in some far flung basement of the ShinRa tower? Or maybe on the Science Department floor, behind the stainless steel doors which opened with a foreboding hiss each time one swiped their access card. Even knowing Cloud's name required some amount of security. Turks were aware of it, but as for everyone else, Vincent had no idea. It took a lot of digging to realize that Cloud was actually a scientist as well, or so said his header as a ShinRa Class-A Scientist in Experimental Biotechnology. Although the fact that this was ShinRa meant that could mean anything.

And judging from the boy, he'd be a Gast type as well, who sought answers merely to know them.

"I hadn't expected you to be a scientist…" Vincent trailed off thoughtfully, gauging the boy's reaction.

If he had one, it slipped past the Turk's keen eyes. "I didn't know you were a Turk." He answered, drily.

"That's how it's supposed to be." Said Vincent flatly. "You, however, don't look as if you'd care much for molecular devices, scientific research or the Jenova Project."

"I don't." Cloud nodded. "Did you think Miss Lucrecia would be either, though? No one really looks a 'scientific-y' type, aside from Hojo, I guess." At this, the blonde made a face, as if talking of Hojo was as talking of foot fungus.

"I—

Vincent stopped.

Speaking of Lucrecia, all the data and information he had heard of the lab's move to the ShinRa mansion hadn't held any information on her. In fact, she wasn't even registered to come onto the trip. Vincent had tried to perform a background check on her after they'd met at the docks, but his access number had been denied. Strange, as he had never had this issue before, even when researching the Jenova Project, and stranger, that a Turk wouldn't even be allowed the information. Vincent didn't dwell on it, however, as he had been told there'd be another scientist heading the project, just not who it was, so perhaps the company had made a last minute replacement.

"Exactly." Cloud raised his brows in triumph, taking Vincent's silence as a conceded point on the man's part.

"I'm not really a scientist." Added the blonde with a sigh, scratching his cheek. "I'm more of a, research project who's aware of it. Does that make sense?"

Vincent merely shook his head. "It's a bit of a contradiction."

"Well I've never heard of anyone else stuck in my situation." The blonde grumbled, before smiling. "So, what's it like in the Turks?"

Vincent opened his mouth, 'Awful' already on the tip of his tongue, before he stopped. "It's a lot of work." Vincent decided upon. "Not all of it what you think of when you hear of the Turks."

"Like paperwork?" Said Cloud wryly, eyes drifting to the see of paper that dwelled around Vincent.

He nodded. "Among other things." He added elusively. Cloud looked like he was going to comment on that, but Vincent, preferring he wouldn't, intercepted the conversation. "And what is the science department like?"

Vincent wouldn't call himself new to the Turks, but he'd never had a rotation in the sixty-seventh floor before, something which a lot of the new ones, and veterans, seemed to have. Vincent had always been assigned more prominent missions—the protection of the President, reconnaissance, stealth missions and ones that relied on his key strengths, shooting, sniping, and watching while keeping his mouth shut. So, as a result he'd never seen the infamous ShinRa labs, nor had he ever met the aggravating Doctor Hojo.

"Awful." Vincent found his choice in wording ironic. "It stinks and there's always some painful experiment going on that's loud and gets on everyone's nerves. Hojo's always got six or seven going on and then he'll suddenly find another one and I have to clean up all the ones he doesn't want anymore. He's fickle and everyone's scared of him because he yells a lot and frightens them."

"This doesn't bother you?" Vincent looked incredulous.

"Should it?" Asked Cloud dubiously. "I'm one of them."

.

.

.

The ShinRa mansion hadn't changed since the last Cloud saw of it.

He didn't want to look at the small mountain town of Nibelheim—too many dark memories, and too many he didn't want to remember anyway. His mother, wherever she may be, if she was even still alive, was one of the reasons he was currently hiding out in the back of the mansion, where the array of shipments were pulling up in trucks. He didn't want to see her. In fact, he wished he didn't even remember her. His mother, who may not have intentionally sold his soul to the devil, but did so nonetheless.

His mother, who had been approached by Hojo, who manipulated her into agreeing to his seedy plans for her son. Said he was amazing, that he'd be something great in ShinRa. So the man said, anyway. For all Cloud knew, considering it was Hojo, the man may have just gotten a Turk to bring her out back and shoot her down his scopes, and grabbed Cloud—who at that time was nothing more then a comatose young boy suffering from one of the most severest cases of mako poisoning ever recorded—to whisk him away into the depth of the ShinRa building.

Maybe she really hadn't abandoned him. Maybe she fought Hojo tooth and nail, attempting to get him back.

It hardly mattered anymore.

The final upper floors of the mansion had finally been built, and it stood tall and desolate about three stories up.

Of course, the upper floors were all just a hoax. The real 'mansion' was underneath the ground, where the laboratories were held. Regardless, the mansion became almost a mythical legend for the townspeople, who attempted to find its secrets. Most were disappointed, as it looked pretty much like a normal house from the outside and was heavily locked.

"It's really quite peaceful out here, isn't it?" Cloud whirled around, to see Lucrecia standing behind him, hands behind her back and a beatific smile lighting up her face.

"Quite." Cloud agreed, sort of. He personally thought there was nothing nice about Nibelheim. Not the wild flowers, which ruptured the ground and took to the soil like colorful weeds, or the sharp relief of the mountains against a crystal colored sky. He remembered looking up at them, and wondering why he couldn't be up there—why he was still stuck on the ground.

"You don't seem to like it very much." Lucrecia surmised, correctly, a lilt in her lips and a finger to the corner. "You're from here, right?"

"I'd rather not be though." He answered stiffly, turning back to the mansion.

The whole back was loaded with ten or so trucks, construction crew hustling equipment in and out from the ramp that opened up from the ground like a giant metal jaw, straight to the bottom floors. Hojo was crowing at them antagonistically as they did so. Working in the labs was hell, busting his ass off being Hojo's assistant, while still getting treatments himself. He dreaded every mako shower—every checkup.

But wasn't it better?

Better then being the kid bullied in the circle of taller, stronger ones, girls giggling to the side as he stumbled into the dirt. How he loathed this place. Maybe he should be thanking his mother, that dreaded, pathetic woman who just let him go. If it wasn't for her weak will and limp love for her frail son, he'd never be who he was now.

The strongest man in the world.

That counted for something, right?

"—Cloud? Cloud?"

He blinked, focusing back on Lucrecia. "Sorry." He answered dazedly, shaking his head. "Were you asking something?"

"You've been doing that a lot." Lucrecia noticed. "I was asking if you were going to choose your room. There's quite a few on the upper floors. I'm figuring I'd like to take one as well—I'd rather not be stuck in the basement quarters, you know?"

"I agree with you there." Cloud muttered. His first few years in ShinRa were spent in a closet-sized room, hooked up to so many machines their beeping lulled him to sleep.

Lucrecia lead him around like a four year old in a candy shop, expertly making her way around the movers that were lifting the heavy equipment into the basement. Cloud thought she was much too young to be hanging around doing all this boring, depressing work. Then he looked at himself, possibly ten years younger then her.

Yeah, he was no different.


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