Disclaimer: Final Fantasy VII is the property of Square-Enix. No profit is sought from this work
Grand Theft Gato
There was always a sudden lurch in his gut after a treatment. He was accustomed to biting it down. There was an art to covering his distress here, one he had perfected. He would keep his movements slow because that also kept them steady. He would breathe deeply and get oxygen to his head so he could march out the door and go somewhere safe to collapse. Then he would sit somewhere comfortable with a cup of tea and threaten bloody murder to anyone who disturbed him for the rest of the day.
"Am I free to go, Professor?" He had driven any tremor out of his voice a long time ago.
Hojo slammed a specimen crate down on the bench. "Do whatever you want, just get out of my hair," he said, shuffling back out to scream at his new interns.
"What hair you've got left," Sephiroth muttered after him, easing his coat back on. Damn the mako for always leaving him sore. Something stirred inside the crate. Sephiroth tried to make his eyes focus, adjusting his buckles by touch. His fingers weren't cooperating. Behind clear plastic, a grey blur uncurled and mewed. Sephiroth exhaled. "Hard day for everyone," he said and tried not to think of what Hojo had in mind for the poor thing.
The kitten stared at him before rearing up to claw at its plastic cage. Sephiroth shook his head. "I feel your pain, believe me," he said, "but at least yours will be over soon." Well, that was not entirely guaranteed. Hojo could stretch out the gap between life and death for days if it suited him. Sephiroth had been there often enough. The prick of a thousand tiny blades fluttered across his skin. He clenched his teeth hard to keep his insides from escaping. He shuddered as it passed, bracing himself against the bench and keeping one eye on the door.
It didn't matter, he tried to tell himself. It made no difference. There would be another after this, and another after that. There were always more. The kitten seemed to sense defeat in the air. It curled up into a ball again, looked up at Sephiroth and cried.
Sephiroth sighed. "The hell with it. Come here." He popped the lid off the crate and reached in to pick up a handful of cat. He looked around but he had nothing of his own to take out with him. He did not have a shirt and his coat was not secure enough to hide a squirming animal. He could have used the coat as a blanket to wrap the thing, but walking out topless would be a first for him. It would raise questions.
Hojo's screeching voice grew closer. Sephiroth had to act quickly. "Sorry about this," he said, yanking his combat pants open. "Try not to claw," he said, popping the kitten in.
It was a snug fit, but the pants were breathable. He felt the cat sliding into place, an uncomfortable, bulky warmth. Walking was going to be such fun. "Stay quiet now," he said with one last glance around for safety. Then he straightened up and in his best bowlegged manner, marched out the door.
There was only one place he could go. There would be help on the SOLDIER floor, people willing to stick their necks out for him even if it went somewhat against company policy. Just one quick elevator ride and he could-
"Hold that door!" A gangly arm stuck itself through the gap. Sephiroth bit down the frustration. This wasn't the time. When the door slid back, the redheaded Turk got on. Sephiroth had a mind to eat his own tongue. "Thanks!" Reno said, punching the button for the lobby. "So what are you up to, General?"
As if Reno didn't know. The Turks kept tabs on all the higher ranks. Still, there were appearances to maintain. "Just got out of the lab," Sephiroth said in a tone that did not invite conversation.
Not that Reno ever cared. "Ew, rough, huh? That Hojo creeps me out."
Sephiroth grunted, acutely aware of his open belt buckle and the fact that he was holding his pants up solely by the tension of his buttocks. The kitten seemed to be getting uncomfortable too, squirming around to find a cozier spot. He hoped it wasn't suffocating.
Reno rocked back and forth on his heels, humming something tuneless. All a ploy, Sephiroth was sure. Turks were sharp and they missed no detail. Neither did he, under normal circumstances, but he was post-treatment with an animal possibly about to expire in his pants. He missed the hitch in Reno's tune.
Reno cleared his throat. "You're really happy to be out of the lab, aren't you?"
Sephiroth frowned, slowly connecting the line from Reno's sideways stare. "Stop staring at the kitten." He wished he really had eaten his tongue.
Reno gave him an odd look. "That's… that's what you call it?"
"What else should I call it?" Sephiroth snapped. The door pinged for the SOLDIER floor. "If you'll excuse me, I need to find someone who can give me a hand with it."
"Uh, you do that, General." Reno mock-saluted and watched the man's odd walk off. "Huh. Mako really will do a body good."
"I need you to help me!" Sephiroth said, barging into the briefing room. Lazard paused mid-sentence, pen in hand pointing at a bridge on the screen.
"Later, Sephiroth. We're discussing demolition plans," Genesis said. Angeal muttered behind him, a reminder that this was Sephiroth's lab day.
"I'll be happy to assist you any way I can afterwards, General," Lazard said. "Perhaps you'd like to sit in on the briefing?"
"No," Sephiroth said and palmed his pants to get things to settle down in there. "I need you to help me now!"
Genesis sat up in his seat. "Sephiroth, we had this talk about appropriate private and public behavior, remember?"
"Will you just look?" Sephiroth said and started undoing his fly.
"Sephiroth," Angeal said, "I know you're loopy now but this is highly inappropriate and what is that?"
Something grey and fuzzy flopped out of Sephiroth's pants and hit the floor. Genesis let out an undignified shriek and curled his feet up in the chair, peeking between his fingers. "What's going on? What is it?"
Lazard set his pen down. "It, gentlemen, is a cat." Genesis took a better look and untangled the knot he had made of himself on the chair.
"Sorry about that," Sephiroth said, missing the appreciative glance Lazard gave him before he buttoned his fly. "It was starting to claw. I didn't think you'd be so scared by a kitten, Genesis."
"I didn't know it was a cat," Genesis said, looking askance.
Sephiroth scoffed. "What did you think it was?"
Genesis looked red enough to make new gloves out of his own face. "You don't want to know."
"Please, Sephiroth, sit." Lazard gestured to the empty chairs, using his other hand to make a note with his stylus, 'More vacation time for Genesis.' "Bring that kitten over here, if you can."
Angeal was already moving, picking the kitten up like its mother would have. He deposited it on the table in front of Lazard, who nodded at it and gave it his pen to attack. "Tabby," he said. "Where did you get it?"
Sephiroth sighed. "The lab." Lazard's brows lifted above his glasses. "I got him out before Hojo did anything to him," Sephiroth insisted.
"In your pants?" Lazard asked.
Sephiroth rubbed his forehead. "It's been done before, hasn't it?"
"Can't say that I keep up with such things," Lazard said. He was regretting giving the cat his pen to pounce on. It didn't look like he would get it back. He swiveled away. "But I suppose people might smuggle animals in their trousers from time to time."
"They do, actually," Angeal said. "Birds, exotic lizards..."
"Even lobsters, one time I heard of," Genesis said, "and let me tell you, that did not end well. You were lucky, Seph."
Sephiroth sighed. "But now what do I do with it?"
"What, you're not keeping it?" Angeal asked.
"I can't keep a pet anymore than you could," Sephiroth said. Angeal personally thought that depended on the kind of pet, but he kept that to himself. "Besides," Sephiroth was saying, "I don't think it likes me much."
Genesis scoffed. "That's because you keep shoving his face in your crotch."
Sephiroth shrugged. "You never complained." Angeal coughed.
"The question is," Lazard said, "did you want to find a home for him, or just get him out of the labs."
Sephiroth fought for an answer through his post-mako haze. He studied the kitten that now prowled around the table, stopping to inspect one of the viewscreens. Why today of all days? "I suppose a home would be the responsible thing to do." He slumped in his seat. "I don't know where to find one, and Hojo will be looking for him, I think." The kitten prowled over to bat at Sephiroth's bangs.
"I might be able to help with that," Angeal said. "I know a guy."
"Know a guy who what, Angeal? Eats cats? Drowns them? Skins them to make fur coats?" Genesis crossed his arms and his legs and his ankles, doing everything he could to make his body match his mood. Lazard underlined his previous note.
"Somebody who might be able to take a cat in," Angeal said. The Goddess had known what she was doing, granting him the patience of the ages when she sent him to be Genesis's friend. "Even if he can't keep the little guy, I'm sure he'll do right by him in the long run."
"Great," Sephiroth said. He yanked his hair out from under the kitten's feet, not caring how it yowled. "I'll leave it to you, then."
"Leave what?" Genesis said. "We're shipping out in half an hour."
Angeal was forced to agree. "I'll make a call, Seph, but you have to wrap this one up on your own." Sephiroth glared down at the little cat. It probably would have been simpler, and kinder, to snap the thing's neck and be done with it. Hojo would have been just as mad either way.
Genesis watched him and scowled. "Don't."
"You know what I mean." Genesis kicked him in the ankle. "I know how you think, Mr. Military. You are not doing that to this poor cat, not while I'm around."
"I'll wait till you leave, then," Sephiroth said and winced when Genesis kicked him again. Damn those heels. He leaned over and rubbed his shin. "I wasn't really going to." From the look he was getting, it did not help.
"He'll be over soon, then," Angeal said over his phone. "Thanks, I owe you one." He snapped the phone shut.
"That wasn't a Turk, was it?" Genesis said. "Not a good idea to owe them anything."
"Not a Turk, Gen," Angeal said, reaching out to rub some tension from Genesis's shoulders.
Lazard busied himself with his notes, keeping his eyes elsewhere. "All worked out, gentlemen?"
Angeal nodded. "Seph, you'll have to take the cat to the sixty-fourth floor and drop it off in the bathroom. I explained about the lab so we figured that's the best place to make a discreet exchange."
"Exchange?" This was taking it mighty far for a scruffy tabby cat. "What is this, international espionage?"
"Interdepartmental, I would think." Lazard tugged at a coat sleeve. "You realize, General, you've gotten us involved with direct action against the Science Department, however mild it may be. If word gets out, there will be consequences."
"For a cat?" Sephiroth weighed it up in his head. "A couple demerits for the chance to make Hojo have a stroke? I'll deal."
"Yes, well, we all admire your amazing self-sacrifice," Genesis said.
"Here are the details," Angeal cut in, handing Sephiroth a bright orange sticky note. "Don't lose them."
"My, Angeal," Genesis said, "couldn't you find anything more conspicuous?"
"Do you need a nap?" Angeal said. "Is that it?"
"Quit mothering me."
Lazard steepled his fingers and stared at his monitor. "Take the kitten, General. I still have work here."
"And if you have to hide it, shove it in your sleeve next time, will you?" Genesis spun in his chair. "Gaia knows your armpit isn't much of an improvement but any little bit counts."
Lazard underlined his little note about Genesis four more times as Sephiroth marched out the door.
Sephiroth did not have too much experience with kittens but the one he was holding was uncomfortably clingy. "Those are new gloves. Stop clawing them."
"Get everybody who was in for a treatment today," he heard somebody saying around the corner. "The professor wants to know where his specimen is."
"Crap!" Sephiroth ducked into the shadows. "Looks like it's hiding time again, cat." He undid his coat buckle and tried to stick the cat into his sleeve. "Come on, get in there. It's a combat coat. It's roomy."
The cat yowled instead, clinging to the straps across Sephiroth's chest. "You want to go back to the lab?" Sephiroth yanked the kitten away, gaining a scratch on his nipple. "Hey!"
"Did you hear something?" Footsteps came down the hall.
"Dammit, cat, do you want to have your spleen exposed to daylight?" Sephiroth turned to face the wall, hiding the struggle from immediate view. "Fine, have it your way."
The feet behind him stumbled and stopped. "Uh, General, Sir."
Sephiroth graced the young man with a haughty eyebrow. "What do you want?"
"Dr. Hojo wants to know if you saw a specimen of his?"
"Other than myself, you mean?" A sneer was a sneer and Sephiroth could sneer with the best of them, even with a cat nestling against his nest eggs.
The lab tech squirmed under the lights. "Right. Sorry to bother you, Sir."
Sephiroth watched till the way was clear, then lurched for the elevator. The sooner he got rid of the beast, the better. He had an uncomfortable half-minute wait while the elevator found its way up. The cat had slung itself across the inside of his pants and now lay with its whiskers brushing against the very ticklish spot on one thigh and its tail worming towards parts unknown. "Cut it out," Sephiroth whispered, jiggling in place. He bolted inside as soon as the doors opened.
"Sir!" A lone army trooper snapped to attention. Sephiroth growled, only half from discomfort. The trooper got the picture, retreating to the far side of the elevator as Sephiroth slammed the button for Floor Sixty-Four. So far so good.
But the slight lurch as the elevator got moving again disturbed the cat in his resting spot. Sephiroth tried to cover the sound with a cough but it was too late.
"Sir?" The trooper cocked his helmeted head. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," Sephiroth said. The cat continued to mewl. "I'm perfectly fine. There's nothing wrong whatsoever. What makes you think you have any right to question your superiors, anyway?"
The trooper gulped. "Your pants are meowing, Sir."
Sephiroth was blessed at that moment with a true understanding of the phrase 'want to curl up and die'. He would have given it his best shot if the cat had not decided to demonstrate exactly why that would be a bad idea. "Good god!" He slammed a fist against the glass close to the trooper's head.
"Sir?" The trooper cringed, trying to edge away sideways. Sephiroth reached down for his belt.
"I'm sorry about this, trooper," he said, undoing the buckle, "but I need to do this. Tell no one, you understand?" The trooper went pale as Sephiroth began to undo his fly. "Nobody finds out."
"Sir, there are rules about this," the trooper said, shrinking away.
"Damn the rules!" Sephiroth bellowed and dropped his pants.
"Sorry if I scared you there," Sephiroth said. He busied himself straightening his uniform and studying his faint reflection in the glass. He couldn't look the poor kid in the eye yet.
"I really wasn't expecting it, Sir," the trooper said. "But he's pretty cute."
"Yes, well…" Sephiroth glanced sideways. The trooper had removed his helmet and was sitting on the floor, happily playing with the kitten. "Just don't mention that whole business, please."
"I know, Sir. It was a misunderstanding, that's all." The trooper blushed under his bright yellow hair. The bobbing spikes caught the kitten's attention. "Aww, you're so sweet." The boy picked the kitten up and began to nuzzle it. Sephiroth winced.
"Yes, Sir?" The boy had uncommonly blue eyes, wide and pretty.
"Maybe you should get a crate for it, Sir, or at least a box to carry it around in." The boy was petting the kitten in earnest now, using long, even strokes right down to the tip of its tail. The little cat arched into the touch.
"I've only got him for the day," Sephiroth said. "Someone else is taking him."
"If you don't mind a suggestion, Sir, you could try tucking him under your arm instead." The trooper's lips had a smile and his eyes had a spark. "It's probably safer."
Sephiroth exhaled. "I tried that. He doesn't want to go." He lifted an arm and tried to be discreet. The trooper had the sense to pretend he wasn't watching the General give himself the sniff test. Satisfied that his deodorant was still in effect, Sephiroth straightened his coat again and reached for the kitten. "You better give him here. I'm almost at my stop."
"Yes, Sir." The boy looked sad to let go of the cat. "You be good, you hear?" he told it. "Don't give the General any trouble." The kitten mewed at the boy and gave him one last kitten kiss.
Sephiroth gagged. "Don't let animals nose you like that," he said, tucking the kitten into his coat. "They rub their faces all over their anatomy."
"That one had his face all over yours, Sir." The trooper jammed his helmet back on just as the door sounded. Sephiroth stumbled out with the image of that smirk burning in his brain.
He collected himself just in time to skirt past the crowds, arms around himself to keep the cat in place. SOLDIERs did not habitually make use of the executive gym. They had their own training room, their own equipment, their own showers. Plus too much fine, fit SOLDIER traffic in an executive workout session lowered company morale. Sephiroth ducked past the secretarial pool yoga class and hit the men's room.
He paused inside to retrieve Angeal's note. "Third stall from the left," he mumbled. Thankfully it was free. He went in and sat down to wait. The kitten crawled out onto his lap and began to prowl across the gap from one knee to the next. "Hm," Sephiroth said. "Filthy little bastard. Where do you get off rubbing yourself all over a boy that young?"
Somebody stumbled at the urinals. Sephiroth frowned. He hadn't even noticed the sound of the door opening. He petted the kitten into silence and went over Angeal's note. It had all the makings of a proper drop. He hoped the cat appreciated the effort.
Someone entered the stall to his right. Still, it could have been anybody. Sephiroth kept his ears open for the right words. He saw shiny shoes under the divider. Their owner cleared his throat.
"I'm all out of toilet paper," a voice said. "Could you pass me some, please?"
That was right, according to the note. But there was more. "I only have the scratchy kind here," Sephiroth said, sizing up the cat. That sounded about right too.
"I like the scratchy kind," the voice said. That did it.
"So long," Sephiroth whispered and shoved the cat into the stall next door. It was only afterward that he felt the ache in his chest. He listened closely but there was hardly a sound from next door. "He'll be alright, won't he?" he asked.
"He'll be fine," said the voice. "I have two others at home."
Sephiroth felt something ease inside him. Damn the mako, he really was pushing it too hard post-treatment. He got up to go. "Tuesti?" he asked, finally placing the voice.
"Shh! Plausible deniability, remember?"
"I remember." Sephiroth scanned the restroom before sliding out of his stall. "I was never here." He slunk back to the elevator in the shadows, wearing a contented smile.
A passing gaggle of troopers caught Reno's eye while he waited in the lobby. Shinra sure was recruiting them young these days.
"Dude, I heard you rode in the elevator with General Sephiroth!" One of them slung his arm around the shortest of the bunch. "Spill!"
"Spill what? Nothing happened." But the little blond was holding his helmet over his crotch in a tell-tale fashion. Reno's eyes narrowed.
"That doesn't matter," another one said. "What was he like? Did he say anything?"
The blond's eyes got a misty look. "He let me pet his kitten."
Reno sputtered. "Aw, hell, no!"
Things were finally looking up. His lab appointment was done, the kitten was in safe keeping, and Genesis was not around to wretch and moan and wreck up a perfectly good afternoon. Sephiroth fixed himself a cup of tea, nestled into his chair and settled down to work out the rest of his post-treatment discomfort with some suitably bland reports.
The door slammed open and Reno barged in, mag rod sparking and eyes ablaze. "You stinking child molester!"
Sephiroth's tea spilled all over his reports. "Now what?"