The Little Guy

. , . , .

Chapter Twelve:

Cloud was dragged miserably out from under the fog of sleep by a bursting bladder and a distinct freezing in his lower extremities. Prying his eyes open, he looked down at himself and found that all the covers on the bed had apparently been kicked off of him.

Navigating himself into the hall, he stumbled into the bathroom and quickly relieved himself. He frowned down at his boxers as he pulled them back up. Usually he slept in pants or nothing at all. That was odd.

Too tired to care, he washed his hands quickly and stumbled back down the hall, not noticing the fact that the bathroom was on the wrong side.

Shuffling back into the bedroom, he shut the door behind him and flopped onto the bed with a grunt, reaching for the blankets. He had to tug at them quite insistently before the cocoon of cushions opened and suddenly swallowed him whole. He eeped in surprise as he found himself pulled into a pair of strong arms, and a leg threw itself over his knees.

Suddenly much more awake that he'd been a moment before, he tried to remember the who he'd apparently slept with the previous night. Had he gotten shit-faced or something?

Foggy memory of a too long night filled with paperwork returned to his tired brain, and he froze as he realized exactly who was currently wrapping around him.

He absently fingered a lock of long, silky hair and flinched when the body pressed up against his back shifted, and warm breath ghosted along the back of his neck, tickling his hair and scalp. He couldn't help but close his eyes and pant softly at the pleasant sensation.

His neck was far too sensitive for his own good.

He had no idea Sephiroth was such a cuddler. With the way he'd probably grown up and his job, Cloud would have thought he'd sleep on his back like the dead.

But then, he'd never thought Sephiroth could be a chocolate and coffee addict either. He wondered if Hojo knew about that, and if it would piss him off if he did know. Cloud's lips curled in amusement at the image of Hojo raging against Sephiroth for not being perfectly free of vices, and the General drawing his sword to threaten him with one hand, the other protectively holding a chocolate cake out of reach.

"Mmm…"

Cloud tensed slightly. Was Sephiroth waking up? But no, the General just rubbed his face against the back of Cloud's head before relaxing again and puffing warm breath against the shell of the blond's ear.

Unfortunately, with his shifting, Cloud was now distinctly aware of a hard bit of flesh pressing against the back of his thighs, just barely brushing against his balls through the fabric of his boxers

It was official. He was in hell.

"Right hand maaan~ Right hand maaan~"

Cloud frowned. That wasn't his PHS.

"When you need things done, ask your right hand man~"

Sephiroth reached over him and snatched the annoying device off the bedside table with a grumble, flipping it open and grunting, "Zack, what the fuck?" into the receiver. Cloud froze solid as Sephiroth's body rubbed against his own with every movement.

"Seph! Shit, are you still asleep? I thought I told you I was coming in this afternoon. Have you been overworking yourself again?"

Cloud could hear every word since Sephiroth had flopped himself over his body, one hand cradling the phone and the other keeping him blearily balanced and upright.

"What?" Sleepy, glowing green eyes blinked blearily. "Oh, yes."

"You okay, Seph? Usually you aren't this slow."

"I may have… pushed the limit," he said slowly, eyes slowly trailing over to Cloud, who he was currently smothering with blankets and his hot body. What, even if he had destroyed the planet it didn't change the fact that he was hot enough to melt glaciers. The green eyes glazed over in incomprehension as they met his own.

"Well, as long as you didn't fall into bed with a hooker!" Zack cracked up laughing.

Sephiroth and Cloud stared at each other. "I did not."

"Oh, good. Lazard told me you were taking a sick day. It's too bad, 'cause I brought pizza. Have you seen Cloud, by chance? I came to drop off my report, and he wasn't here either."

Sephiroth continued to stare at Cloud. "Sick leave. Worked late."

"Seph! You need to take it easy on that little guy. He's not enhanced like us. Be careful with my Spike, okay?" Sephiroth opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out. "Well, I'll see you tomorrow then. Sorry for waking you!" -Click-

Sephiroth stared at his PHS for a moment before flicking it shut and dropping it on the nightstand with a groan. He collapsed on top of Cloud with a grunt, eyes closed and silvery hair spilling about him.

Cloud did not 'eep' in surprise. He grunted in complaint and shoved at Sephiroth ineffectually. "Can't breath," he wheezed under the 300 pounds of muscle and mako enhancement.

Sephiroth shifted about until he was lying half on top of Cloud, and half off, his head pillowed on the blond's chest and his right arm and leg wrapping around the smaller man like a squid. He settled there with a sigh, gently rubbing his cheek on Cloud's chest a few times until he found the most comfortable spot.

And then he went and fell asleep.

Cloud stared down at Sephiroth, disbelieving, as the General of the Shinra Army passed out on top of him. This was the man who, as Zack had once told Cloud, stayed awake for seven days straight in Wutai because he couldn't trust the rest of his SOLDIERs to keep them alive through the night during the worst of the war. This was the man who was so paranoid, he kept stock piles of chocolate hidden in his office in case the company's vending machines ran out. The wannabe destroyer of worlds…

All the usual wrinkles of stress and annoyance had smoothed from his expression like melting butter. The little frown between his eyebrows had completely disappeared, leaving his face looking youthful, relaxed… innocent.

Cloud swallowed and raised the hand not smushed under Sephiroth's weight to a smooth, pale cheek. He didn't touch, just hovered for a moment, wanting to so badly sink his hand into this man's hair and his teeth into his neck until he went lax and surrendered his entire being. Cloud wanted to own him…

And it scared him. He'd never felt such an intense desire to utterly possess someone… and he'd never suspected he could feel it for Sephiroth. Logically, he knew he couldn't control this man. Couldn't make those strong knees bend and that stubborn neck bow under the weight of Cloud's hand, but he wanted it, more than he had with any of his past flings.

He wanted to massage away all that tension until Sephiroth was an oiled masterpiece under his hand, sighing and leaning into every touch. Wanted to listen to the little sounds he'd make, the little hitches in breath, as he wrapped his tongue around the man's shaft. Wanted to watch him come undone under his hand. Wanted to put him back together afterwards with gentles caresses, murmured words, and sweet kisses along that delicious line of throat.

Suppressing a quiet groan, he pulled his hand away from the tempting visage of his once worst-enemy and forced it to remind silent at his side.

Hopefully thinking of Barret in drag would help him get rid of his… little problem.

. , . , .

Sephiroth woke completely rested, warm, and bonelessly relaxed. He'd never been this comfortable in his own bed. In fact, he rather hated sleeping in it. It was hard, big, and always empty.

The breathing of another reached his ears, and he froze, immediately clawing his way out of the warm cocoon of sleep to face the imminent threat.

Green eyes snapped towards the source of the sound, and silver brows frowned in confusion at the sight of blond hair and the familiar face of his secretary in the relaxed state of sleep. A quick assessment of his surroundings had him almost balking in shock, completely mortified to find himself laying on top of the smaller man, his head on a warm, firm chest and their legs intertwined. He could feel a hardness against the tightening muscles of his abdomen, and his own answering hardness against a smooth, warm leg.

What should he do? He'd never been in this situation before. The occasional men he'd slept with he had asked to leave after their coupling. He couldn't sleep with another body so close that he couldn't trust. At least, not this deeply. He shouldn't have been able to fall asleep with another person in his bed at all, no matter how tired he'd been.

He wracked his memory for the answer to the dilemma. Cloud hadn't been coherent enough to get home, or even tell Sephiroth the address, so the General had decided it would be just easier to bring the small man back his own home.

What had possessed him to remove Cloud's clothing, besides his boxers, and climb into bed with him stark naked?

Sephiroth closed his eyes and relaxed a bit when his secretary's breathing pattern remained steady. It must have been the new coffee. He still wasn't accustomed to managing the appropriate dosage. It was the only explanation for his… lack of professionalism.

The coffee didn't explain why he didn't want to move, however.

Sephiroth let out an annoyed sigh and settled his cheek back on Cloud's chest. He was too comfortable to move. He'd never been too comfortable to move before. Hojo had always said that the body was merely a vessel for the consciousness, and that all those physical things he craved during his childhood, like touch, sweets, a comfortable bed – they were all unnecessary.

Sephiroth opened his eyes sleepily and stared at the little of Cloud's chest he could see from this vantage point. He'd slept with some attractive men before, and his bodily response in the morning was not uncommon, but it usually faded after he awoke without him having to attend to it.

Which begged the question of why it had yet to fade.

The memory of pinning Cloud to one of Hojo's medical tables surfaced in his mind with a strength that left him breathless. That kiss had pulled him asunder like nothing he had ever experienced. A fire had kindled inside him in that moment, and now he found the coals fanned and ready for more wood.

He… wanted Cloud.

He was reluctant to admit it, even to himself. It was highly unprofessional for the General to be attracted to his secretary of all people, but no matter how much he tried to push the thought aside, the warmth and comfort he'd woken to find himself cocooned in wouldn't let him. He'd never experienced this kind of weakness before, and he had no idea how to proceed.

Cloud shifted beneath him, and Sephiroth tensed in anticipation. Should he move? Should he pretend nothing had happened? Should he-

A hand sank into his hair, and Sephiroth froze for a second before melting as nails gently scratched along his scalp. The hand was gentle and warm as it alternated between scratching and combing motions. Sephiroth let his eyes fall shut and hummed in pleasure. No one had ever touched his hair like this. Genesis used to pull on it when it grew out during the Wutai war and he hadn't bothered to cut it. Since his defection, however, no one else had dared.

Genesis's tugging had never felt this good.

The hand froze suddenly, as did the gentle rise and fall of his pillow, and Sephiroth groaned in disappointment, pushing into that hand. When it continued its ministrations, he let out a small sigh and rubbed a cheek against warm skin.

Cloud was awake.

Sephiroth's eyes flew open, and he looked up in surprise. Cloud stared down at him, blue eyes heavy with sleep and… something else. Heat. The same look he'd had when Sephiroth had caught him servicing that Turk in the closet.

Green eyes flickered down to trace the line of that mouth. It must be quite talented to finish the Turk so quickly. He wondered what it would feel like on his own flesh.

The hand in his hair paused for a moment before moving to the back of his head and gripping. The tug made Sephiroth take a small, shocked breath, the sensation delicious. He stared into Cloud's heated eyes and watched as they drew closer. Green eyes flickered back to that mouth as a pink tongue tantalizingly moistened chapped lips. Within moments, he found them inches from his own, forcing him to look up into burning blue eyes asking questions he didn't understand.

Just as he opened his mouth to speak, though he knew not what he would say, Cloud closed the final distance between them with a tug of silver hair. Sephiroth sucked in another small breath of surprise before he found his head tilted and warm lips on his own. It wasn't anything like the hot, demanding, consuming kiss that they had shared in Hojo's lab. It was soft, gentle, and Sephiroth found himself wanting more, so he pushed and tried to deepen the kiss, only for Cloud to yank sharply on his hair and make a warning sound deep in his chest.

Sephiroth's mouth fell lax as the hand tugging his hair tightened almost to the point of discomfort, and it surprised him how much he liked it.

The world suddenly swung on its axis, and Sephiroth grunted in surprise as he found himself expertly flipped and pinned to the mattress, a hot mouth beginning to deepen against his own with tongue and teeth. A lithe knee spread his legs to press against the hardness growing there, and Sephiroth gasped at the heat that raced up his spine and spread to each tingling fingertip.

A mouth latched on to the side of his neck, just under his ear, and Sephiroth let out low moan, fire sizzling through his veins like no sex he'd ever had before. As Cloud kissed, bit, and licked his way up and down Sephiroth's neck, the General found his hips rocking upwards into the smaller man's leg, desperate for more contact until finally the rough friction coupled with a possessive bite of teeth on his taut neck sent him over the edge with a moan and a powerful, gut-wrenching pull of pleasure.

Gasping quietly into the soft blond locks tickling his nose, Sephiroth blinked hazily up at the ceiling. Soon, the insistent mouth left his raw neck and reached his lips, slowing from frenzy to a lazy massage of lip and tongue until Sephiroth felt warm, loose, and relaxed.

Cloud pulled away, sitting back on his haunches to rake his eyes appreciatively down the spent General's form. "Gorgeous," he murmured to himself, so softly Sephiroth only just caught it with his advanced hearing.

Slowly coming back to his senses, he reached for the blonde's own flesh to reciprocate, but instead he found his hand caught in a gentle but firm grip. "That's not necessary."

Sephiroth stared up at him blearily, completely befuddled. "You don't want me to…?" Wasn't it considered impolite to not take care of one's partner during sex?

Cloud laughed, his lighter voice like a the purr of a cat with the way it caressed Sephiroth's ears. "Oh, it's not a matter of want," he murmured, leaning close to claim Sephiroth's lips in another kiss. "I just don't want you to do it from some sense of owing me something. I'm happy to take care of you. And when you want this from me, you can have it."

Sephiroth continued to stare in bewilderment as the blond gave his silver strands a tug with an affectionate smile before he rolled off the bed and padded towards the bathroom.

What had just happened?

. , . , .

Cloud put his hands on the edge of the counter and stared hard into the mirror. His image swam before his eyes for a moment before settling into familiar clarity. He was still a scrawny-assed, unenhanced, former-janitor, presently-secretary, and seriously-pissed-at-the-Turks-right-now Cloud Strife.

So what the fuck had that been just now?

Staring into dull blue eyes in the mirror, he tried to suppress the shaking in his arms. He'd just… with Sephiroth. And he'd loved it because oh god, the man was so responsive. It was like no one had ever touched him that way before, that roughly, and Cloud just wanted to tie him up and bite him until he came from fingers alone in his-

Cloud sank his teeth into his lip and bit, hard, trying to get himself to focus.

He'd just had sex with Sephiroth. Sort of.

What the hell did he do now?

Was Sephiroth interested in something more long term? Did he just want a fling? Had it been merely a spur of the moment thing? Was he going to cut off Cloud's balls now?

Cloud took a slow, deep, quiet breath and held it. It was hard to forget the debauched look of the man, spilled across his stomach and the sheets and even Cloud himself. With a slightly shaking hand, he wiped the come off his leg and stomach with a curious fascination.

It held a faint green tinge to it. Mako. Cloud quickly washed the rest of it off with a damp towel. The last two times he'd been dosed with mako in this time, he'd blacked out. He didn't need that happening again from a little semen.

A knock sounded on the door. Cloud jumped and swallowed before forcing himself to calm down. His hand reached towards the door and opened it before his brain had a moment to catch up, and Cloud stared up at the tall, beautiful form of the being who had featured in most of his adult-life nightmares.

The almost hesitant look aimed at him sparked all Cloud's natural instincts. "Yes?" he asked, leaning against the counter and keeping his eyes on Sephiroth's difficult-to-read expressions. He was glad in this moment that he'd had so many of Vincent's moods to read. The past experience certainly made this easier, if not simple.

Sephiroth's eyes trailed down his form with a muted heat and clinical efficiency. "I apologize, I forgot to mention that my semen carries a high concentration of mako. It is dangerous for the unenhanced, as I'm sure you're now aware. We should use a condom next time."

Cloud felt his heart nearly stop in his chest at the last words. Sephiroth wanted there to be a next time? It hadn't just been the morning wood? He frowned and stared up into those intense green eyes, but the General's expression for once gave nothing away.

Cloud stepped forward and grabbed Sephiroth by a handful of silver hair. He pulled down.

Sephiroth's hand wrapped around his own, halting him.

Cloud immediately released the hair and slipped his hand free. He slid through the doorway and into the bedroom. "Bathroom's all yours," he muttered, looking for his clothes and seeing them piled in the corner by the dresser. The suit was rumpled beyond saving. He'd have to take it to the dry cleaner's, but it would be enough to get him home in the meantime.

After he'd finished dressing, he turned around to see Sephiroth standing there, a blank expression on his face.

Feeling he owed the man some sort of explanation, he ran a hand through his hair with a small sigh. "Look, Sephiroth. I'm not sure you know what really having sex with me would mean. You're a dominant personality, and I'm a top. Hell, I'm a Dom, if you know what that means. We'd clash in bed. I find anal intercourse uncomfortable, so eventually I would be the one screwing you into the mattress, and not the other way around. Something tells me you haven't had any experience on the bottom, hm?" When the green eyes flickered away for a moment, he had his answer. "I'm also damned possessive and demanding, in and out of bed. I'm not sure you want to deal with that in a… relationship, or if we made an 'arrangement' of sorts." Sephiroth was staring at Cloud again with that blank expression. It made it difficult to gauge how far to take this conversation.

"Are you going to fire me, now?" he asked, trying to joke around. It came out a bit stiff.

"No," Sephiroth said immediately, still staring at Cloud like he was some strange, exotic animal. Like he didn't quite know what to do with him. And to be honest, Cloud was feeling the same way.

"Uh, good, then. I'll just… get out of your hair. Enjoy the rest of your day off," he said quickly, making his way towards the door. Sephiroth didn't stop him. He swallowed the sudden knot in his throat and forced himself out the front door.

He could really use a run.

. , . , .

Sephiroth watched Cloud leave, and he couldn't do anything to stop it. Didn't know what to do. Didn't know what he wanted, or what Cloud was offering. He knew he'd liked what they'd done only moments earlier. He'd fucked countless men, but it had just been to take care of the burn. They'd prep themselves, and he'd fuck them. Sometimes they'd give him a blow job. But with Cloud… it had just been different. The hair tugging and the biting had just… done him in. He didn't know why, but he'd liked it, and now it seemed so far away and unattainable, walking out the door with Cloud as he stood motionless. Watching. Unsure.

For a long time, he just stood there. Tried to come to grips with things. Tried to think of what he could have said to make Cloud stay.

The whole situation was completely foreign to him. What did one do to ensure a second encounter? Whenever he'd had sex, he'd never brought them to his home, and he'd never seen them a second time. He hadn't seen a reason for it. They'd come to him with heat in their eyes, fiddling nervously with hair, and he'd just… done it. They'd rolled over for him. There had been no words, no question, just the sex, and then he'd left. Every time.

Sephiroth wandered into the bathroom and turned the water on to scalding hot. Climbing into the shower, he sat on the stone floor and watched the rivulets spin down into the drain.

For the first time in a long while, he didn't know what to do.

. , . , .

Cloud closed the door behind him with a sigh. Thankfully, no one was home. He was supposed to be on dinner duty yesterday, but with Sephiroth putting him to work on that project of his…

If Cloud ever had to read another damned monster report, it would be a hundred years too soon.

Padding quietly to his bedroom, he stripped off his suit and put it on its rightful hanger to be taken to the dry cleaner's later that afternoon. Dressing quickly in his most comfortable track pants and sleeveless shirt, he tried not to think about the very interesting night- er, morning, he'd had. He needed to go for a run. If he just worked himself into the ground, he knew he'd be able to forget how that hard body had felt under-

Cloud chewed on his lip and wandered into the kitchen. Food. Yes. That was something he could take care of.

Opening the fridge, he took a quick perusal of his ingredients. Someone really needed to do the shopping. He pulled out any vegetables and meat that could be salvaged, and threw the rest in the trash. It didn't take him long to chop it all up and dump it in the slow-cooker. Hopefully the guys would take it for the apology it was. Throwing in some spice and seasoning, he set it on medium so it would be ready by dinner.

With that finished, he went into his room and picked up all the things he'd need for a nice, long-

Ding…. Ding…. Dingdingdingdingding-

Cloud groaned and just barely resisted the urge to smack his head against the wall and put himself out of his misery.

"I know you're in there, Cloud! Open up!"

Dumping his duffel bag next to the couch, he stalked up to the door and swung it open. "What?" he snapped.

Zack seemed to droop. "I didn't wake you, did I? It's already four in the afternoon."

Cloud pinched the bridge of his nose to ward off the incoming headache. "No, you didn't wake me. Come in." He wandered into the kitchen and pulled out a bottle of water. What he really wanted was a Tifa Special, but he didn't have enough booze to make one of those.

"I heard you had the day off. I thought we could hang out!"

Cloud finished swallowing. "Not today, Zack. I need to go for a run and work out."

Zack just grinned. "Perfect! I've been meaning to work off some extra energy. Come on, I'll take you to the SOLDIER gyms after a run around the track. We've got the best facilities. We could even spar! Seph said you've been practicing sword forms. I can give you some pointers!"

Cloud opened his mouth to protest, but it was already too late. Zack had grabbed his bag and his arm and was dragging him out the door with a happy bounce.

No one could save him now.

. , . , .

Cloud finished his stretches with one last exhalation before bouncing to his feet. As nervous as he should have been, he was really itching for a fight. It had been far too long since he'd had the chance to spar with someone, and he needed to get used to dealing with the limitations of his body in its current state.

Seeing that Zack was warming up with the Buster, Cloud sent him a caustic look. "If you intend to spar me with that behemoth, you can think again, Zack Fair! You're not destroying my weapons with that thing in a spar!" He knew exactly how strong and heavy that blade was – he'd used it himself. It would make his crappy short swords shatter in a few blows, and he wasn't willing to risk the untested blade he'd restored on it.

Zack scratched the back of his head sheepishly as he watched Cloud put on his harnesses and some leather armour he'd picked up on a shopping trip. It wasn't nearly enough to stop a blade or keep him from bruising, but it would protect his skin when he had to roll, or if he got tossed across the ground.

It was times likes these he missed his enhancements.

Although, if Sephiroth got his way it looked like he'd be signing up for the SOLDIER program again in less than four months. If this was the Planet manoeuvring him into saving the world all over again, he was not impressed.

"I'll use a training sword. How about that?"

Cloud nodded and drew his twin blades from his harness with the shick of steel slid from its sheath. Moving into an open area, he closed his eyes and took a centring breath. Slipping into a free form stance, he started gliding through the motions. All his extra training had been paying off. He couldn't move nearly as fast as he used to, but he wasn't constantly fighting the muscle memory for a larger, more powerful body anymore either. He'd even been able to engage in pretend, free-style spars with a ghost opponent, his mind playing out old battles against old opponents.

Slipping one of the twin blades back into its sheath, he pulled out the nameless steel blade he'd restored and tried a few of the more complicated manoeuvres he could manage in this body. Pleased with the smooth, limber movements of his body, he ended the kata with a swift, killing blow.

Hands clapped. Cloud turned his attention to the observing SOLDIER and frowned at the unfamiliar face.

"Hey, nice job, kid. You training with Zack for the SOLDIER program?"

In a manner of speaking. Cloud didn't say anything, merely sheathed his blades and turned to watch Zack finishing his warm ups.

The SOLDIER didn't seem to catch on. "So, how long have you been training for?"

Cloud glanced at him, annoyed. "A lifetime," he finally said, when it looked like the guy wasn't going to go away.

The guy laughed. "Zack keeps you pretty tied up, then?"

Cloud froze and turned his full attention on the SOLDIER. No, he hadn't heard that wrong. There was an undercurrent of interest in the man's voice, posture, and glowing mako eyes. Not only that, but he kept looking back and forth between Zack and Cloud.

"No, he doesn't." Those glowing eyes snapped to him, raking up and down his form with now obvious interest. "I'm afraid I'm the kind of guy who likes tying the knots. Zack couldn't sit still long enough if he tried."

The man looked so taken aback and surprised that Cloud smirked and advanced on him slightly, pleased when the SOLDIER took a step back. "I'd suggest you try to find another victim to tie up."

Before the SOLDIER could do more than gape, Zack skipped over with a wide grin. "C'mon, Spiky! Time to get this show on the road!"

Cloud nodded and drew one of his twin blades while walking out onto the matts. "Restrain that SOLDIER strength of yours, will you? Or your buying me damascus steel with your next paycheque." Zack laughed. "And if you break any of my limbs, I'm never helping you out again." Here the Puppy gaped, dismayed, and Cloud took full advantage of the opening to rush Zack.

The SOLDIER blinked and stepped around Cloud's wide attack. His movement hid the grin that spread across Cloud's face as he dropped his blade, grabbed Zack's arm, lowered his centre of weight, and threw the SOLDIER onto the ground with a thud.

Zack grunted and stared up at the ceiling, dazed. "What the-"

Cloud picked up his dropped blade and drew his nameless steel sword. "Better grab your training sword, Zack," he said, jerking his head towards where the sword had spun off with his throw.

With SOLDIER speed, Zack got up, grabbed the sword, and stood across from him, ready to battle.

Cloud tilted his head. "Cheater," he murmured, slipping into a defensive position and waiting for Zack to make the first move.

The overgrown puppy grinned and charged Cloud straight on.

The blond let loose a small puff of air, not even a sigh, before turning his body into the attack and deflecting the sword, and Zack, off to the left. A conveniently placed foot caught Zack's own and sent the SOLDIER flying again with a trip.

"Oh come on, Zack. Take this seriously," Cloud demanded, scowling in disappointment. He knew Zack was better than this. With his SOLDIER strength and speed he would have easily creamed Cloud, but even without it his reflexes should be better than this. He was going easy on Cloud, and the past-future-whatever-hero of the world didn't appreciate it.

Zack got to his feet with a sheepish scratch of his head before turning very strikingly serious. Cloud met his assessing gaze with a level-headed stubbornness and confidence that only came from years of experience fighting many different kinds of warriors.

It helped that he knew Zack's style in and out, of course, and he'd had decades to build upon it with his multi-sword style.

Zack's next attack was precise and cautious, and Cloud deflected it off to the side with a flick of his wrist and the employment of some more aikido technique. He'd never imagined the style could be so useful to him, as it used the attacker's energy, strength, and speed against them. As a warrior accustomed to changing his style with every blade and enemy, it came naturally to him to incorporate it into this battle.

Cloud continued to dance around Zack, drawing him into his rhythm. The surprise and annoyance that slowly grew on the SOLDIER's face was worth being dragged out here today, and Cloud grinned with enjoyment as the battle progressed and he continued to run circles around his old friend. He was so enjoying himself, high on adrenaline and finally starting to feel like himself again, that he almost missed the whistle of a fourth blade passing through the air.

Reacting on instinct, Cloud flipped his nameless blade behind him to catch the sword at his back without bothering to look. Capitulating on the shocked look on Zack's face, he slipped inside the larger man's guard and slammed him in the stomach with the butt of his twin sword. Zack wheezed, completely unsuspecting of the attack, and backed away a few steps. Cloud used the force exerted on the sword in his left hand to propel himself off to the side, neatly avoiding the fall of the swing and taking a moment to assess the new enemy.

Silver hair gave it away before the black leather jacket, and Cloud's eyebrows rose in surprise at the sight of the man and his ridiculously long sword. He should have been crushed under that attack. The General must have moderated his strength.

"May I step in, Zack?"

The other First Class wheezed some more and waved an arm, already walking over to the benches by the wall to catch his breath. Regardless of the physical strength of a SOLDIER, if you didn't tighten your abdominal muscles in anticipation of that kind of blow, your organs still took all the force of the hit.

Sephiroth held his sword at the ready, and Cloud was already calculating the advantages and disadvantages of ten different styles of combat with each of his blades. Making a split second decision, he sheathed his larger sword again and drew the second twin blade. The silver haired General raised an eyebrow but didn't comment.

Cloud barely had time to react when Sephiroth finally moved. Most SOLDIERs would have sprinted to the side to try to catch Sephiroth off guard. Cloud knew better than that. Trained from decades of combat, he stood his ground, put his right foot forward, and reversed his grip on his right hand blade so it rested against his forearm. Sephiroth was left handed, after all, and predictably his six foot monster came down at Cloud with deadly precision.

The blond shifted his centre of gravity and stepped forward to the left. With such a large reach, Sephiroth wouldn't be accustomed to close quarters combat, and Cloud fully intended to take advantage. At the same time he stepped, his right arm was already at the ready.

When the attack hit, it was almost a blur to his eyes. The blade hit, ground against Cloud's sword even though he'd deflected at an angle. The kinetic energy made the sword slide to the right, and Cloud's extra push was just enough to throw Sephiroth's balance. He stepped right into the halo of the man's hair and slid the back of his blade along Sephiroth's neck. He ignored the hand that encircled his throat, and they both froze and locked gazes.

Cloud felt as though a switch had been hit. All the adrenaline funnelling through his blood stream abruptly turned into a burning pit of desire, and it was only sheer strength of will that kept him from dropping that sword and wrapping his hand in that hair and yanking Sephiroth down for a searing kiss.

Damn.

"Holy shit, Cloud."

The blond jumped, and Sephiroth's grip around his neck tightening was the only sign that he had been just as lost in Cloud as the blond had been in him. In unison, the two of them turned to the right to look at Zack, who was staring at them along with every other SOLDIER in the room. Cloud felt a brief surge of panic before he pushed it away. Why did he have to hide? What grand secret was there? What did it matter? Sephiroth would have him in the SOLDIER program and the Turks would have him become one of them. It wasn't like he'd had a better plan than becoming a delivery boy again.

So what did it matter if they'd seen?

"You never told me you were so kickass with a sword! If I'd known, I'd had you double wielding the first time you tried out for SOLDIER. Maybe you would have passed."

A scattering of murmurs crested among the group, and Cloud wanted to smack Zack over the had with the side of Nameless to knock some subtlety into him.

Oh, who was he kidding. Zack wouldn't know subtlety if it dyed his underwear pink, braided his hair, and dumped him in a brothel below plate. Even if Sephiroth had obviously been holding back his strength in this duel, he was sure Zack would crow of his technique to anyone who would listen.

The grip on his neck was tightening, so Cloud slowly removed the blade from Sephiroth's neck, making sure to telegraph his every move. The General pulled away just as slowly, almost caressing his neck with leather gloves smoothed from years of use. In almost choreographed unison, they sheathed their blades and turned towards the SOLDIERs.

"Please welcome our newest member, Third Class SOLDIER Cloud Strife. As you can see, there was a mistake during his testing that I am now rectifying. He will be serving as my assistant and secretary, both in Shinra and in the field, so I expect you all to show him the proper respect. Understood?"

"YES, SIR!" the group thundered, staring at their General with loyalty, pride, and a bit of jealousy shining in every one of their mako eyes. Zack was grinning so broadly it looked as though his face might crack in half.

Cloud stared at the General with a mixture of shock and suppressed terror.

Hojo. He was going to be SOLDIER… which meant Hojo. He couldn't escape the fucker, no matter what he did. He was going to have to make it absolutely mandatory that Zack be there with him for every moment of his enhancement, else he feared he might turn into a WEAPON of mass destruction on a psychotic rampage.

A huge hand clapped Cloud on the shoulder and nearly brought him to his knees from the sheer force of it. The blond turned his head to see Zack smiling down at him proudly, nearly bouncing on the balls of his feet.

"Celebratory drinks down at Marly's!" he called out, and a huge woop went up among the SOLDIERs. Zack could gather up a party for just about any occasion. "You're coming too, Sephiroth!" Cloud glanced at the silver-haired man to not only not see the expected look of annoyance, but to see him staring at Cloud with an indecipherable expression.

Now that he wasn't fighting for his life, Cloud finally noticed the blown pupils of those unique blue-green eyes. That was not just hisimagination.

-Toki Mirage-

You all can thank esama for melting my brain with Ultima and pulling this update out of me with the Ultimate Power of Sephiroth Kneeling. (hearts in eyes) If you haven't read that story, you need to do so. RIGHT. NOW. Kneel before the Ultima!

Also, I have a new poll on my profile, concerning more works from yours truly. If you have a few seconds, please check it out. :)