The Little Guy

. , . , .

Chapter Thirteen:

The party was a blur. After Cloud knocked back a few of Tifa's old favourites, everything had faded into a haze of colour, shadow, sweat, and the tang of alcohol. It was the only thing he could to do keep himself from running away. Stealing a bike and getting out of Midgar. Dyeing his hair and vanishing off the face of the Planet.

Damn Sephiroth. Cloud wouldn't be surprised if the bastard had had it all planned. Zack asking him for a duel had just sped things along. That, or Cloud's show of skill had tipped whatever scale Sephiroth had been sitting on.

And now he had to deal with Hojo. Fucking Hojo. It would take every ounce of self-control not to crush that abomination's windpipe during Cloud's first mako infusion. Cloud needed a plan. Desperately.

Maybe he could ask for a different scientist to do his injections… no, that would never fly. That would spike Hojo's interest, too. The fucker had always had a hard on for things he wasn't allowed to have.

Maybe he could get Sephiroth to go with him and keep an eye on him? Not let Hojo disappear him?

Fuck fuck fuck fuck-

"Cloudy, mah maaaan~" Zack interrupted Cloud's thoughts rudely, shoving another drink into the blond's hand. "Why so dooown? Yer in SOLDIER now, bud! Yer dream!" Zack hiccoughed and giggled. Giggled.

Cloud glared. He'd never been a happy drunk. "Fuck off, Zack."

The puppy pouted. "Aah, don' be so meeeean. Whasser problem?"

"If you need to know, I don't like mako. Or scientists. Especially Hojo." Cloud was happy to note that his words came out pretty clear. He was buzzed enough to take the edge off, but not nearly as sloshed as Zack, who was throwing back SOLDIER Sinkers like water.

Glancing around, he frowned at the lack of silver hair. "Where'd Sephiroth go?"

"Ah, 'e usually takes off early," Zack grumped, staring into his empty glass with a confused sadness.

Cloud slipped off his stool. "Then I'm not sticking around." He slipped into the crowd before Zack could squawk and drag him back.

The trip back to the dorms wasn't bad. He got felt up once by another drunk dude thinking he was a chick, and vindictively sprained his wrist for the trouble. Stumbling into his shared apartment with relief, he stared at the unfamiliar faces sitting around the kitchen table, drinks in hand.

"Cloud! You're back!" Jeff barked.

The blond grunted and wandered past the kitchen towards his room. He knew he should eat something, but he didn't feel like braving the kitchen to get some of the dinner he'd slow-cooked.

"Ah, sorry guys. He's not terribly social. Look like you've had a rough night, Cloud! Getting drunk with that friend of yours?"

Cloud grunted again and shut the bedroom door behind him. Zack hadn't let him change before dragging him off to the bar, so he was still dressed to the nines for battle. Well, as to the nines he could be without his old, better gear.

He needed to fix that. He should be getting better money working for Sephiroth. Especially if he was also now a SOLDIER Third-Class.

Stripping down, he set his alarm and flopped into bed. He had work tomorrow. He was lucky Sephiroth had let him get away with a recovery day.

. , . , .

"Cloud, I need those papers five minutes ago."

Five minutes frantic searching and photocopying later... Delivered.

"Cloud. Coffee."

Three minutes to make one extra strong cup of coffee… Delivered.

"Cloud. Those papers."

"I put them on your desk ten minutes ago while you were signing five pages a second. Some situational awareness, General!"

"...Noted."

"Uh, Cloud? I think the photocopier is smoking."

Cloud looked up from the stack of paperwork he was organizing to see that yes, Zack was lazing on their couch again, and yes, the photocopier that Cynthia had killed was indeed smoking.

Pulling out a materia, he iced it and went back to his work.

"HOLY FUCK!"

Sephiroth burst into the room to see Zack climbing the wall with surprise, Cloud glaring at the paperwork in front of him, and one of the photocopiers frozen.

He glared at Zack. "No materia indoors, Soldier." And promptly went back into his office.

Zack glared balefully at Cloud, who continued to work, ignoring him completely. "Thanks for that, Spike," he said sarcastically. Well, as sarcastically as the puppy could manage, so it sounded more sulky.

Cloud sighed. "Don't you have work you should be doing, Zack, as Sephiroth's second in command? Don't think I'm going to pick up your fuckin' slack because I'm already picking up Sephiroth's."

"I heard that, Strife."

"It's fuckin' true, General, and don't you give me sass!"

"...Noted."

Zack was staring at him with a gob-smacked expression. "You whipped Sephiroth?"

Cloud gave him his darkest 'get-your-stupid-lazy-ass-off-my-couch-and-go-do-some-fucking-work' glare, and Zack rocketed off the couch and headed to the elevator.

"Cloud. I'm out of staples."

Cloud groaned and grabbed his stapler from his desk. Opening the door to Sephiroth's office, he threw it at the SOLDIER's head without checking to see if it connected with a hand or a face.

They'd been busting ass finalizing that stupid, mother fucking project for the President, and Cloud was about ready to blow a blood vessel. He'd done all he could to help Sephiroth with things, and now it was up to the General to organize all the data into a cohesive summary report before getting it delivered to the President, who was a few floors below them. The fat tub of lard used to have this penthouse office to himself, but a few too many assassination attempts had had him rotating to the same floor as the Turks for safety. Now any poor bastard that got it in his head that the President would be an easy mark would face six feet of steel.

Meanwhile, Cloud had been catching up on some loose ends Cynthia had left to rot due to her terrible understanding of numbers. Technically, these things were Heidegger's job, but Lazard had ended up giving it to Cynthia in the hope that a few long standing questions about budget would be cleared up.

Considering they were due two weeks ago, it only emphasized her incompetence in Cloud's eyes. He was still being surprised by shit that he needed to get taken care of simply due to the fact that Cynthia left no useful records behind.

Cow.

Cloud frowned as he squinted at the numbers, never more appreciative of the fact that he'd run a business or two himself in the past/future/whatever. Something wasn't adding up right.

"Cloud. Please deliver the report to the President."

Argh! He'd almost had it figured out. Pushing back from the desk, he ignored the way his chair smacked into the wall and made his way to Sephiroth's office. The General had already moved on to something else, but had left his giant report in the Out box. "Please organize the data we collected into boxes and have them shipped to the archive for later reference," the silver-haired man ordered without looking up from his paperwork.

Cloud grunted in acknowledgement and grabbed the report, walking quickly back out the door. The faster he got this delivered, the faster he could get back to the numbers.

The ride down to the Turk floor was painfully boring, and the numbers kept circling around in Cloud's brain, distracting him so much he nearly walked into Rude upon getting out of the elevator.

The dark man raised an eyebrow. Cloud lifted the report. "Delivery to the President from General Sephiroth."

"I'll escort you myself, Mr. Strife."

Cloud's eyebrow twitched in irritation at the sound of Tseng's smooth, dulcet tones. If he ever got a chance, he'd be shoving Reno's night stick up that man's ass and turning it up to the max. The anger that burned inside him at the Turk's brazen need to know everything, to the point of kidnapping and interrogating him, was almost too much to restrain. Taking a few slow, deep breaths, he calmed down the bubbling in his chest until it was but a simmer. Never completely going away, but not at the point of boiling over anymore.

"Lead the way, dot-man," he muttered under his breath.

A sharp look cut his way, but Cloud merely raised an irritable eyebrow as the Turk stood there, watching him. "Do I look like I'm made of time? I got shit to do. Let's get a move on," Cloud grunted.

Tseng raised a delicate eyebrow. "My apologize, Mr. Strife." An amused, disdainful smile twisted his lips. "I'll be sure not to keep a Third Class SOLDIER waiting again in the future."

Cloud barely held himself back from another snide comment. The day Tseng got himself permanently removed from the list of annoyances that haunted him through multiple timelines would be the day pigs flew. It was bound never to happen solely because it would make Cloud happy.

"Follow me," the Turk called out as he walked down the hall towards the president's office. Or rather, the private, president-only elevator to the president's stuffy, gaudy, horrible office.

Cloud worked on auto-pilot during the whole procedure, doing his best not to remember the rolls of opulent flesh that hung out of President Shinra's suit. The man was lower than Don Corneo scum on the bottom of Cloud's shoe, as far as the former AVALANCHE leader was concerned.

One day, he would kill that man. Or watch. With popcorn.

Just as the short meeting was wrapping up, something struck Cloud. It was half an idea. Less than half an idea, actually. But watching Shinra wave his gold-ring-laden fingers around with that pomp and circumstance got the gears in his brain churning. Greed. Shinra, and therefore certain Shinra employees were known for their Greed. Hojo and his science projects. Scarlet and her weapons. Heidegger.

Heidegger. Head of Public Safety (aka the Military that kept the Public under control.) The big, greedy man in control of the Military while Sephiroth reigned over the elite SOLDIER.

He wouldn't say something was pinging his memory, but his intuition, his gut was screaming at him when he remembered the strange numbers his mind had been chewing over during the walk to deliver the President's report. He'd seen a number of inconsistencies in the purchase and distribution of supplies. Toilet paper didn't cost that much, no matter where you were buying it from.

He needed to get in front of his computer.

Rather than wait for Tseng to escort him to the elevator, Cloud grunted at the Turk that he could see himself out and took off at a jog. The other Turks in the office gave him funny looks, but he honestly didn't care.

He had something he needed to do.

. , . , .

Cloud couldn't believe it, but it was staring him right in the face. No doubt about it. He'd stayed until midnight to confirm his suspicions, and now that he had the evidence, he didn't know what to do with it. It wasn't his company. Did he really care that Heidegger was embezzling money? But then, that was money that could be going to fixing up the slums. Or that could be embezzled by someone else to their own selfish gains.

Fuck.

Cloud ran his hands through his hair with a frustrated groan. What to do, what to do…

Well, he certainly wasn't going to leave all this here for someone to find and/or burn. He'd just have to stay in the office until Sephiroth arrived the next morning.

With a groan of exhaustion, he wandered over to the kitchenette and dug in the back for the rations he'd stored in there after the last time they'd run themselves into the ground. It was hard to believe they'd only finished that report a few days ago. It hadn't taken Sephiroth very long to compile it into a report. Cloud hated to give him more data to compile into another report, but it was better to bring this to light than let it fester, right?

That's what he told himself, at least, as he munched on half a ration bar before passing out on the couch.

. , . , .

"-oud. Wake up, Cloud."

The blond opened blurry eyes to see Sephiroth standing over him, long silver tresses falling around his face in silken waves. The man's face startled him for a moment before his lizard brain registered the small smile and the sanity in clear, green eyes.

"-phiroth," his voice cracked. "I have something. Have something for you. Sorry. Didn't want to give you more work, but I have something."

The General's green eyes twinkled as he held out a cup of coffee. "It should be the way you like it," Sephiroth murmured as Cloud sat upright and took the sacred offering of caffeination. "I'm sure it can wait until you've woken up."

Cloud opened his mouth to say no, but stopped himself, and blinked. "I guess so." He took a big gulp of his coffee, ignoring how hot it was. He needed to wake up his brain.

The two sat in comfortable silence, Sephiroth in the chair with one leg uncharacteristically thrown over the arm. Maybe Cloud's befuddled state had something to do with it. Maybe not. Either way, it drew Cloud's unfortunate eye and mind to the long line of leg, the swell of muscles, and the bulging cloth at the apex of those fine specimens.

Goddamnit he needed to get laid. He just wanted to put his hands on the man. Touch him all over. Tie him down to that chair and hold him by the hair while those smooth limps wrapped around his cock and-

Cloud stared mournfully down at where his cup of coffee hid his blatant morning wood from Sephiroth's eyes. Shit. Show the show and drink the drink, or suffer more agonizing minutes of sleepy uselessness.

Fuck it. Sephiroth had seen him blow a man, what was a little morning stiffy?

Cloud threw back the rest of his coffee with a happy groan and put the cup down on the coffee table. That should help. Now he just needed to head to the bathroom to take care of a little-

A hand on his hip stopped him.

Cloud stopped and looked down at Sephiroth. The coffee was finally starting to kick in, but not enough for this to make sense. "What?" he demanded.

Green eyes flickered to the hard flesh that was little less than two feet away from Sephiroth's face. "I… want. I do want it."

Cloud stared uncomprehendingly. "Uh… the report? Can it wait until I've had a chance to take a piss?"

Sephiroth's fingers twitched where they remained attached to his hips. Slowly, hesitantly, he slid his fingers closer to Cloud's groin. "This. Please?"

Cloud's brain stalled a good three times before that finally registered, and when it did, his engine flooded under the sudden influx of gas. Holy shit did Sephiroth really want to… "You don't know what you're asking for."

The General's eyes narrowed. "You said you only top. I am willing to try the bottom. As for demanding, I am accustomed to following orders. You call yourself possessive? I do not share either. So yes, I want this. If at any point I do not like something, I will say so."

Cloud's lips parted and his eyes fell shut without his accord for a moment so he could gather his wits about him. "And if I said I wanted you on your knees, hands locked behind your back, doing your damnedest to please me as I fucked your mouth, what would you say?"

Sephiroth dropped to his knees, hands behind his back. His eyes had dilated, his lips falling open slightly with a panted breath as the apex of his pants pulled sharply at the flesh tucked inside.

Cloud reached a hand out and grabbed Sephiroth by the hair again. He waited a moment, making eye contact before slowly, deliberately pulling the man towards him. When Sephiroth immediately surrendered to his hand, he pulled harder until Sephiroth had crawled on his knees right up to Cloud's feet.

Keeping his grip of the silky soft strands, Cloud raised an eyebrow. "Go on."

Sephiroth raised his hands to Cloud's fly and the blond tutted. "What did I say?"

The man looked confused for a second before his brow pulled into a frown. His hands slowly, hesitantly, locked behind his back.

"Good. Continue."

Sephiroth's lips pressed together for a moment before he moved forward to take Cloud's front button into his teeth. With dexterity that belied what was undoubtedly inexperience, Sephiroth undid the button and zipper in short order before using his teeth to pull Cloud's pants down. His breath came in short pants now, the hot air brushing against Cloud's erection through the now bare fabric of his boxers.

Cloud hissed when teeth grazed his hip on the road to pulling down his boxers. His erection sprung free, white pre-come glistening at the tip. Cloud sank his hand into silvery hair and guided Sephiroth's mouth closer. He stopped his hand just shy of putting Sephiroth's mouth on him.

Without prompting, Sephiroth swallowed Cloud down, eliciting a hiss from the blond. Warm, velvety heat. Sephiroth must have done this before because there wasn't even the slightest scrape of teeth as the General worked him with tongue and lips. Slowly, the man became emboldened and sank deeper and deeper until lips touched the base of Cloud's cock.

The blond tightened his grip on silvery strands when he realized Sephiroth didn't have a gag reflux and slowly started fucking the man's mouth. When Sephiroth didn't seem uncomfortable with that, he increased the pace until he was pounding the General's mouth. Sephiroth moaned around him, and a quick glance down sideways revealed that leather pants had probably become uncomfortably tight. Adrenaline raced through Cloud's blood at the thrill of having General Sephiroth blow him off. The man that in a past life had run him through with a sword. The man Cloud had run through with a sword.

Now all Cloud could think about was swords of another nature sinking into hot flesh. Specifically, his dick pounding in and out of Sephiroth's ass.

Planet he wanted that.

Patience, he told himself as Sephiroth's mouth brought him closer and closer to the edge. Finally, with a groan, he spilled into the man's mouth. Sephiroth swallowed him down greedily, and Cloud hissed as he became too sensitive and had to pull eager lips off of him. Green eyes glowed up at him, pupils blown wide, lips glistening with saliva and Cloud's cum.

Cloud's control snapped.

"Turn around." When Sephiroth stared at him for a moment, dazed, Cloud's patience wore thin. "Now," he barked. "Stay on your knees, elbows on the seat of the chair." Impatiently, he pushed the coffee table out of the way with a foot as he tucked himself back into his pants and zipped them back up.

Sephiroth finally turned around, and Cloud had half a mind to punish him for the delay. He didn't want to scare the man off too soon, however, so he settled for roughly pulling leather pants down to Sephiroth's knees. Silken hair fell all over the black leather chair as Sephiroth turned his head to look.

Cloud gave him a devious smirk before pulling two white ass cheeks apart and licking a stripe from perineum up to Sephiroth's lower back. The man gasped. As Cloud licked and teased and nibbled at the clenching ring of muscle and flesh, he felt Sephiroth begin to tremble under his hands. Keeping his grip firm on the man's hips and ass, he teasingly pressed his tongue the tiniest bit inside and grinned when Sephiroth's head collapsed onto arms folded on the leather seat with a groan.

As soon as Cloud's hands wrapped around Sephiroth's cock, the SOLDIER went off with a loud moan. Cloud cupped his other hand to catch the mess, pressing his tongue in and out of the man's clenching hole teasingly through his climax. Just as he finished milking the last of it, he kissed Sephiroth's sweat-glistening cheek. "Stay here," he murmured, knowing Sephiroth would hear him as he went to the sink to rinse the mako-laced semen down the sink and to grab a clean cloth and wet it with warm water.

Gently, he wiped the man down, front and back, before throwing the cloth to the side. He carefully pulled leather pants back up, feeling Sephiroth's legs still trembling under his touch. With a quiet murmur, he got Sephiroth to crawl over to the couch and lay on it so Cloud could sit with a silken head in his lap. Sephiroth twisted with a grunt so he could lay on his side, head facing Cloud's stomach, arms and long legs all bent and curling in towards him.

Cloud swallowed down a sudden lump in his throat as he watched Sephiroth's breathing finally calm. He ran his fingers through long strands of silver hair, enjoying the texture against his skin. When glowing green eyes opened languidly to look up at him, he smiled slightly. "You performed beautifully," he murmured. "But when I give orders during sex, I expect them to be followed promptly and to the letter. Will that be a problem again?"

"No, sir," Sephiroth slurred contentedly for a moment before looking startled at himself.

Cloud chuckled. "Perfect," he said, running a hand up and down the man's back once before returning to those long silky strands. "Now, I believe I had something I needed to tell you before you… distracted me." He still had to take a piss, but he'd forgotten about it during all the activities. "Would you like to wait a bit longer and stay like this?"

Sephiroth groaned and rubbed his face against Cloud's thighs. "I have something I need to inform you of, as well," he muttered, hot breath puffing against Cloud's pants. "I should get up before I fall asleep."

"Alright. Well, I'm going to make that run to the bathroom while you get sorted, okay?" Cloud lifted Sephiroth's head and replaced his lap with one of the throw cushions on the couch so he could dash to the bathroom.

After he'd finished, he found Sephiroth sitting upright on the couch with a fresh cup of coffee in hand. Cloud picked up his cold cup and drained it dry before walking over to the coffee machine for more.

"So, I found-"

"I need to inform-"

They both stopped talking at the same time. Cloud snickered. "You go ahead," he said, pouring the coffee.

"I need to inform you of your first scheduled mako injection. It's been set for this afternoon. Usually the science division gives us more notice than that, but you are rather behind the current batch of fresh soldiers. I assume they want you caught up as soon as possible."

Cloud grimaced. "Can you be there for it?"

Sephiroth frowned. "They were planning to sedate you, given your unusual reaction to the mako."

All the hairs on the back of Cloud's neck shot up. "I'm… not really comfortable with that. Could we avoid that if Zack came with me to monitor me?"

Sephiroth's head tilted to the side in thought. "I suppose that is a possibility, provided the Lieutenant doesn't have any missions scheduled for today."

Cloud pulled out his PHS and called Zack. The SOLDIER First Class picked up on the second ring.

"Hey Cloud! What's up?"

"I need your help with something. It's important. Are you busy this afternoon?"

"This afternoon? Uh… well, there's some paperwork I've been meaning to do, but I can put that off a little while longer. What d'ya need my help with?"

"I have mako injections, and typically I get… weird. I need you there, otherwise they're going to sedate me. And I'm not comfortable with that." Cloud didn't know if Zack could hear the tension in his voice, but usually the SOLDIER was more intuitive than people gave him credit for.

"Sure thing Spiky! I'll save you from the evil Shinra scientists. What time do you need me there?"

Cloud looked at Sephiroth.

"13h00."

"One o'clock this afternoon. You'd better be there, okay?"

"You can count on me, Spiky!" -click-

"Well, that's that sorted out," Cloud muttered, slipping his PHS back into his pocket. He stirred the cream into his coffee and made his way back to the leather chair, noticing as he did so that Sephiroth had moved the coffee table back into place. He couldn't help but feel just a little smug at the knowledge that he'd blown Sephiroth's mind so thoroughly only minutes prior.

"What is it you needed to tell me, Cloud?" Sephiroth's smooth voice pulled Cloud out of his thoughts.

The blond blinked down into his coffee and took a sip to help organize his thoughts. "I found a bunch of inconsistencies in the books. It looks like Heidegger has been embezzling money from the company for years now. I don't know what he's been doing with it, since my hacking abilities leave a lot to be desired, but he's mostly been doing it through SOLDIER supplies. Some 'missing' supplies that were never actually purchased. Or certain supplies have been recorded as costing usually twice as much as they should. I checked with the records of the companies we've been buying from. Our own records are doctored, and theirs aren't. I haven't had time to account for everything, but it looks to add up to upwards of 2,000,000 Gil."

Sephiroth placed his coffee cup down on the table with a bang, hands clenching into fists in his lap. His hair fell across his face, shadowing it from the light.

Cloud felt adrenaline zip through his body like lightening. The killing intent seeping into the room had him on edge. He hadn't expected the General to get this angry. Yes, it was shitty that Heidegger was stealing from the company, but Sephiroth… seemed to be taking it personally.

"Stealing from the SOLDIER budget and leaving my SOLDIERS bereft of needed supplies…" the General muttered, fists clenching in his lap.

Cloud swallowed nervously. "I pulled some solid evidence together for you, Sephiroth. I just need you to do your, uh, report-composing thing to make sense of it all. I don't think killing him is the solution?"

Sephiroth was silent for a long moment before he took a deep, deep breath, and let it slowly out of his nose. He continued this breathing pattern for a few minutes before raising his head and unclenching his fists. "You're right, Cloud. I will leave the company to eviscerate him. Shinra does not tolerate theft."

They spent the next few hours working together to organize all the information Cloud had gathered into a coherent report. They ordered wutaian for brunch, and before Cloud knew it Sephiroth was sending him off for his first mako injection.

He'd completely forgotten about it.

He went straight to Zack's office one floor below and found the First Class SOLDIER folding paper cranes at his desk. Zack looked startled when Cloud just burst through the door, but soon the crane was forgotten in favour of giving the blond a giant hug.

"Spiky! You came to visit me!"

Cloud grimaced as his ribs creaked. "Did you forget your promise already?"

Zack blinked. "Oh wow, is it already that time? I was, uh, really distracted by work."

Cloud snorted. "Uh huh. Because paper cranes are such important work."

Zack used his SOLDIER speed to put the crane in his drawer. "I don't know what you're talking about, Spiky."

"Uh huh. Let's go before I lose my nerve, okay?" he started walking out of the office.

Zack quickly caught up. "What's this? Nervous, Cloudy-bear?"

Cloud gave him a dirty look. "Don't call me that."

"Whatever you say, Cloudy-bear," Zack sing-songed.

This was going to be painful. In more ways than one.

The trip down to the science department was shorter than he would have liked. Cloud clenched his fists as a white coat, not Hojo, led him over to a bed and strapped him down with SOLDIER enhanced restraints. Zack teasingly asked if Cloud would like to hold his hand, and Cloud grabbed it before the First Class could retract his offer.

Zack stopped teasing him when Cloud nearly broke his hand when the IV was inserted into his hand. They hadn't even brought out the mako yet, and he felt like he couldn't get enough breath into his chest.

"Cloud- Cloud. Look at me, okay? Just focus on my voice. Focus on my breath. Breathe with me." Cloud stared into glowing mako blue eyes and breathed with Zack. He felt dizzy for a moment before his chest loosened and he just kept his eyes on Zack. Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe-

Numb cold seeped through his arm. While Cloud hadn't even been paying attention, the white coat had injected a syringe of sedative into his arm. He'd been so close to panicking he had completely forgotten to-

"Cloud, calm down. I'm right here. I'm not going anywhere." A hand tightened around his own. "See? I'm right here."

"He should calm down in a few minutes, once the sedative has a chance to take effect. He might even sleep through the whole procedure," the white coat murmured to Zack as she prepared the mako injection. "Must have a fear of needles. I have a 'sedate' order in his medical files written by Hojo himself."

The beeping that Cloud hadn't even noticed in the background picked up, alarming the white coat and Zack both. Hojo. He was in a lab. He was in Hojo's lab again. But he couldn't move. He was tied down, and slow. He felt so… fuzzy.

"Cloud, you need to calm down, okay? Otherwise the pretty nurse might give you more of the happy drugs."

Zack? Zack was here? And he was helping the nurse? No, he was holding Cloud's hand. Cloud stared down at their hands, tightly gripping each other. Zack. He was here. "Are you okay, Zack?"

Blue eyes blinked at him. "I'm just fine, Cloud. I'd be better if you would breathe. Can you breathe for me? Nice and slow?"

"Where are we?"

Zack frowned. "We're in the Science Department of Shinra."

"We're not back in that basement?"

Zack frowned. "Uh… Cloud, you're safe. I'm here with you. You're safe here. Okay? Breathe for me, nice and slow."

"I can't give him any more sedative," the white coat murmured softly to Zack as Cloud tried to breathe. "If I do, I won't be able to see the warning signs of mako poisoning. It's not safe to give him any more."

Zack nodded but kept his eyes on Cloud. "Breathe in," he breathed slowly, "Breathe out," he breathed out slowly. Cloud synced his breath with Zack and felt himself slowly, slowly, calming down. Zack had never been here with him in the labs. They'd been treated separately, and Zack had never not been tied up. Zack wasn't a prisoner, so Cloud wasn't a prisoner, right? Except, why was he tied down?

"Will you help me escape, Zack?" Cloud asked quietly.

Zack smiled brightly. "Just as soon as you're finished here."

A prick in his left arm. Cloud went to look over, but Zack grabbed his chin and pulled his head back. "Look at me, Cloud." Fire raced through his veins, and Cloud gasped. "Breathe with me, okay Cloud?" They breathed together, eyes locked, and Cloud did his best not to look, just like Zack told him to. Zack was here. Zack was safe. Zack was alive. Cloud was safe.

Green fire…

Cloud was here with Zack.

Zack gripped his hand. "I've got you, Cloud."

Zack pulled him into a hug. "I've got you, Cloud. We'll get out of this, together."

"Breathe with me, Cloud. Focus on me." Zack's eyes shone the bluest of blues.

"You… will be… my living… legacy," Zack's blue eyes slowly slipped shut. The edges of Cloud's vision shone with green light as his grip tightened on the hilt of a sword. Cloud collapsed forward, crying. He couldn't remember why he was crying. He knew this… Zack. He would be Zack's… he would be…

The body disintegrated into green light under his hands and head. Cloud gasped as the sparks flowed through his chest and head. Memories and feelings filled head and chest to bursting, and green blanked out his vision for a moment.

He would be… Zack… He would be Zack.

"Stay with me, Cloud," a familiar voice murmured, gently tapping his cheek. Zack blinked open his eyes and met Zack's own face. His face. Zack's face? Zack. Zack was here.

Zack blinked those luminescent blue eyes at him. "Cloud? Are you in there?"

Zack, no… Cloud. Zack had called him Cloud. Cloud blinked green lights out of his eyes in order to focus more clearly on Zack's face. Zack was alive. Zack was touching his cheek. "Zack?" he choked.

The SOLDIER grinned brightly. "You're back with us, eh Cloudy? Had me worried for a while there. You drifted off."

Cloud stared. "I thought… I remembered… you died."

Zack looked startled for a second before he started laughing. "No no, Cloud. That was just a hallucination. Some SOLDIERS get them when they have mako treatments."

Cloud frowned. "SOLDIER? I'm… in SOLDIER?"

Zack grinned. "Yup! Cloud Strife, SOLDIER Third Class."

"Third…" That didn't sound right. He'd thought he was First, but Zack had just told him… Cloud must have been wrong. He was a Third.

"Well, now that he's out of the worst of it, you'll probably be able to take him home soon," a lady in a white coat said from Cloud's left. Cloud frowned at the sight of her, but she wasn't… Hojo. She wasn't Hojo, which was strange. He'd only ever gotten mako from Hojo… right?

He felt raw. Sensitive. He wasn't on a cold table like he remembered, but he pushed aside the sensation with familiarity. It wasn't as bad as he remembered, so it was easy to ignore the minor annoyance. His wrists and ankles hurt a bit, but even as he noticed the nurse was removing the restraints. The IV was long gone. He hadn't noticed it go. There was no sign of mako, either, as the nurse wheeled her cart of supplies away.

"You can take him home to rest as soon as he can stand and walk," she called over her shoulder. "Feel free to stay here for a few hours if he needs to. I don't have anyone else booked to use these beds, since the other Third Class SOLDIERS aren't scheduled for their second injection for another week, and the Second Class had theirs last week."

Cloud watched her go, still feeling a little slow from the sedative. He didn't remember much of the whole procedure. "Did I say anything embarrassing while I was out of it?" he asked.

Zack laughed. "Well for a while there you thought you were me. It was quite interesting to argue with myself."

Cloud palmed his face with a groan.

"But don't worry, Spiky. You didn't say anything too embarrassing… besides singing an ode to Sephiroth's ass, which apparently, is fucking amazing…"

Cloud covered his face with his other hand too. "Goddamnit. If you ever bring that up in public, I will kill you. With your own sword."

"C'mon, buddy. Let's see if you can stand," Zack said, distracting him.

Cloud slipped his feet over the edge of the bed, feeling progressively more himself as time went by. "What time is it?"

"Uh..." Zack flipped out his PHS to check the time. "17h00. Just about time for dinner. I'm starved!"

Cloud's own stomach grumbled. "We had some leftover wutaian in our office upstairs. Want to see if Sephiroth's eaten it yet?"

"Hell yeah! Let's go!"

Zack helped Cloud up to test his balance, but surprisingly the blond was okay to walk. He felt… great, actually. Like he could go run a marathon once his foggy head cleared up a bit. Cloud leaned on Zack for a few steps before testing his own balance and finding it good enough to make their way upstairs.

The elevator wait was killer. Cloud wanted to jump up and down, but at the same time he wanted to sleep, so he kept going from bouncing on the balls of his feet to leaning against the wall in exhaustion. He was looking forward to the day ending.

They found Sephiroth laying down on the leather couch, a cloth over his forehead and a chocolate bar sticking out of his mouth. Zack and Cloud traded concerned looks before heading over to the General.

"You alright, Seph? You look tired."

"Headache. Body aches. Got Heidegger fired and locked up in prison. Now I've got his paperwork to deal with, too, until they find someone to replace him. Asshole."

Cloud's eyebrows rose in surprise. It wasn't often that Sephiroth didn't speak in perfect grammar and swore. "Want me to make you some coffee?" he asked, already heading over to the coffee machine to get himself something to clear the last fog of the sedative.

Sephiroth groaned. "Please."

Cloud grabbed a fresh cloth from under the sink and ran the tap to get the water as cold as he could. While the tap ran, he mixed the grinds and put them in the filter for brewing. He started the machine before soaking the cloth, squeezing out the excess water, and walking it over to Sephiroth. He changed the cloth without a word, taking the used one back to the sink and hanging it off the faucet for later use.

When he looked at Zack, he found the First Class watching him with an odd look on his face. Cloud raised an eyebrow before digging in the fridge for the leftover wutaian and splitting it onto three different plates. Knowing Sephiroth, the man hadn't eaten since they ordered the food this morning.

He threw the first plate in the microwave and checked the coffee. It was almost done brewing. He got out two cups and looked to Zack. "You want any? Packs a punch."

Zack laughed. "Sure. I'll try some of this infamous Sephiroth Blend."

Cloud laughed and took the plate out once it dinged. He handed it to Zack. "Take that to Sephiroth."

Zack pouted. "What? He gets to eat first?"

"He's got a headache and hasn't eaten in six hours, so yes. He gets to eat first."

Zack grumbled but did as he was told. Cloud put the next plate in the microwave and pressed quickstart before grabbing the coffee pot and starting to pour out servings. He made Zack's slightly less sweet than Sephiroth's, but just as creamy.

He finished handing out the coffee just as the microwave dinged. He pulled out his plate and put the last one in. "That's your in there now, Zack. I need to sit down before I vomit."

Sephiroth peeked an eye open to look Cloud over. "You look fine."

Cloud picked up Sephiroth's legs so he could sit down. He put the legs back on his lap and rested his plate on top of them. Zack could sit in the chair. "I forgot to tell her not to sedate me, but it wasn't so bad with Zack there. He… made it bearable."

Sephiroth closed his eyes again, feeding himself a few nibbles of wutaian with his eyes closed. "Mmm. That's good."

Cloud sipped his coffee before putting it down on the arm of the couch. Zack grabbed his food from the microwave as it dinged and sat down in the leftover chair. He watched them with a weird look on his face.

"You still feel like you're going to throw up?" Zack asked curiously.

Cloud shook his head. "No, but I don't think I'm going to get up again for a while longer." He took another bite of wutaian.

"So…" Zack began awkwardly after he'd shovelled some food down. "You got Heidegger fired. Who's going to replace him?"

Sephiroth groaned. "Fucked if I know," he grunted. Zack's eyebrows skyrocketed upward. "With Genesis AWOL and Angeal dead, there isn't exactly a large pool of people to promote to head of Public Safety. Unless they decide to promote someone from the regular military again. I thought of Lazard for a moment, but I doubt they'd let a civilian lead the Public Safety department. Which is stupid. I think he's the most qualified at this point. He may not know the inner workings of the department, but he's been handling his job as union executive for SOLDIER very well. He looks at the bigger picture, organizes and assigns missions, forwards intelligence and manpower… He may not have the field experience, but he has the knowledge. He's definitely smarter than Heidegger."

Zack hummed thoughtfully. "But then, if Lazard took Heidegger's job, who would do his job."

Sephiroth's eyes peered at Zack from under long lashes. "Cloud could do it."

Zack spit his coffee out onto the table. "WHAT?"

"The job of the union executive is to oversee management of SOLDIER and make suggestions where necessary and plan missions according to Shinra's mandate and agenda in response to intelligence collected by the Turks. He'd be wasted doing Cynthia's job full time. Not only did he figure out what Heidegger was doing, he collected all the evidence necessary for me to present to the president and Turks to get him fired. The bookkeeping and organization necessary to accomplish that feat is exactly what Lazard does. It's wishful thinking on my part, however." Sephiroth sighed.

Zack gaped at Cloud. "Spiky… where the hell did you learn all that?"

Cloud shrugged. "Here and there. Mom taught me about managing a household and finances when I was growing up, since they didn't teach that in school. She went to university in Junon, I think, before she moved up to Nibelheim to retire. She wanted me to go to school, too, before I got it in my head to become a SOLDIER instead. She… wasn't too happy about that."

Cloud blinked. He… hadn't realized he remembered that. Had the mako messed with his memories again? Now that he thought back, he could remember more bits and pieces from before his time at Hojo's mercy. He'd also always been good at the bookkeeping parts of his Strife Delivery Service. At the time he'd thought it was because it wasn't that hard to run a business, but maybe he'd known how to all along? Usually when people lost their memories, they didn't lose their skills too. Bookkeeping was a skill he'd long ago mastered. Maybe now he just… knew why.

He was getting a headache just thinking about this.

Sephiroth jerked suddenly, spilling halfway onto the floor and throwing up all over the carpet. Zack jumped up with wide, alarmed eyes. Cloud moved his wutaian before it ended up all over the floor with Sephiroth's. The man had barely had two bites. What was wrong with him?

Zack moved the coffee table out of the way and kneeled on the floor next to Sephiroth. "Hey buddy, how are you feeling? You didn't get mako injections recently, did you?"

Sephiroth shook his head and groaned, leaning back and collapsing back onto the couch. He looked pale. Like, deathly pale. His green eyes were still glowing, too, brighter than normal. Cloud ran a comforting hand up and down the man's leg while Zack checked his forehead and hissed.

"He's burning up. He's never been sick like this before, except when he's had a really bad session with Hojo. Shit."

"No-ojo," Sephiroth slurred. "No… Hojo… please."

Zack's worried blue eyes met Cloud's. What the hell were they supposed to do now?

-Toki Mirage -

First off, it seems I was remiss in my last update in forgetting to mention that esama's "Sideways Strange" was actually the ORIGINAL inspiration for this story. So, double whammy there. Thanks to all of you who recommended it to me, but I have unfortunately already popped that cherry. (wipes a way a tear with a delicate sniff)

I'd also like to thank all you for sticking with me. I'm not exactly the most reliable writer out there. Got lots of life and work that keep getting in the way of things. Plus my original novel.

I hope y'all liked the update. Sorry if there's spelling mistakes or stupid errors.

Happy reading! :)