DISCLAIMER: B-b-but... why can't I have it?
NOTE: Really, really sorry I'm so late. Not feeling well lately... ah well, here it is!
Getting Tseng to the helicopter had not been an easy task. In the end, they'd had Angeal carry him - much to the Turk's displeasure. Reno was delegated to the job of piloting once Genesis had determined their next location and Cloud and Zack had moved all of Rayleigh's equipment back on board. They would head to Mideel, in order to pick up Bahamut, and then return to ShinRa.
The hot springs town of Mideel was far southeast of Nibelheim, on the same continent as the remains of Banora, and surrounded by tropical forest. And though it was reminiscent of home for the two Banorans, it didn't quite meet Genesis' approval.
To be fair, though, he had rather high standards.
"Joseph!" The Commander swept out of the helicopter, blue eyes narrowed slightly. "What were you thinking?"
The man approaching them looked about as worried about Genesis' temper as Cloud was of Sephiroth's. Apparently, they knew each other well. "What were you thinking, dropping off that beast of yours on me and not showing up for seven months! Where the hell have you been?"
"In Modeoheim." He narrowed his eyes to glowing slits. "Dying." He took advantage of his cousin's visible shock to breeze past. "Where's Bahamut? Baha!"
"Dying?" Joseph spun around, storming toward Angeal. "What is he going on about, Angeal?"
"He was... very ill, Joe. We almost lost him." The Buster Sword's wielder murmured as the brunette Banoran approached, green eyes wide.
"What the hell? And you didn't call me - why?" Joe didn't even notice when Zack poked his head out, Cloud behind him, wondering at the commotion. "I'm all the family he has left, doesn't that count for anything?"
"JOSEPH!"Genesis turned back swiftly from calling his beloved feline, expression darkened with disapproval. "Don't talk to Angeal like that. He did everything he could for me."
Perhaps they would have bickered more, if it wasn't for the sudden appearance of a Very. Large. Feline. White, with silvery accents, and bright gold eyes. "Baha!"
"He has a... what is that?" Cloud murmured breathlessly, stepping out as he eyed the massive feline, stretching up on its hind legs to nuzzle under the Crimson Commander's chin.
"Snow Cat, a breed of wild cat native to the Icicle area." Sephiroth supplied, smiling wryly.
"Isn't he beautiful?" Genesis all but purred to his 'cat,' gloved hands sifting through its thick fur. "Such a handsome creature, my Bahamut. I've missed you..."
Bahamut, reminded of his human's time away, proved his intelligent and feline nature by abruptly shunning him. Turning away and going as far as to smack his hand with his tail, the feline stalked past Genesis and looked at Angeal. Gold eyes flickered to Joe, then moved to where the remaining SOLDIERs stood.
When they locked onto Cloud, he made a low murmuring sound and began to prowl forward. Cloud's eyes widened, and he backed away instinctively. That, it seemed, decided something for Bahamut, who leapt from where he had been sitting by Angeal and Joe, pouncing onto Cloud and pinning him to the chopper.
"Cloud!" Zack yelped. "Angeal, get the demon-cat off Cloud!"
Angeal rolled his eyes. "Gen, call your cat off."
"He likes him!" Genesis was delighted. "I knew he would. He has good taste."
"He's tasting my hair!" Cloud squirmed, then went still as a low rumble of disapproval was uttered by the 'demon-cat.' "Nice Bahamut..."
"Baha, down." Genesis frowned at his feline, arching a brow at the almost annoyed look from him. "Don't you give me your Angeal-face!"
"Angeal face?" Angeal gave him an unamused look.
"Yes, like that, only more... annoyed." Genesis tsked, turning his attention back to Bahamut, slowly walking towards where he had the young third pinned. "Baha! Get off him, you're squishing my student! Bahamut!"
Apparently, Bahamut knew that his full-name was to be taken seriously. Chuffing, he gave one final lick to the much-abused spikes, before crawling up into the helicopter and wrapping around Cloud's shoulders, chin on his forehead.
"Can I move now?"
Standing between the Directors of Administrative Research and of SOLDIER, Rufus watched with mild curiosity as the helicopter landed. Supposedly, according to Veld, not only had SOLDIER Fair brought back Commanders Hewley and Rhapsodos, but they were healed.
Pale blue eyes narrowed a fraction as he considered what he had learned from both Veld and Lazard; apparently, the reason Rhapsodos had defected was because Hollander had done something wrong when he'd been messing with his genetics. As a fetus. Was it any wonder, that the man had started to question his humanity? That he hadn't torn ShinRa to the ground in rage was a miracle; though not very familiar with him, the young Vice President knew enough about Rhapsodos to be aware of his temper.
He was also well aware of the closeness between the three 'legendary' Firsts, and was frankly rather surprised Sephiroth hadn't defected as well, just to be with them. Granted, now he had Fair as a comrade, maybe even a friend... but you couldn't just replace any First with another. Surprisingly, the group was as unique as the Turks, something he'd never quite appreciated until he started getting to know some of them.
As the wind began to kick up, helicopter coming to rest on the helipad, the Shinra heir uncrossed his arms and wondered who he would be faced with.
The silver tip of a sharp odachi emerged, and despite hearing a soft groan from Lazard, Rufus approved. Message received, loud and clear, General. Before he could comment, however, Sephiroth had turned slightly, making sure the next person, no people, got - "Tseng?"
"Sir." The Turk was using the taller First as a crutch, leaning heavily against him, right leg professionally splinted.
Rufus frowned, inclining his head in acknowledgement, eyes flickering away from the injured man as he heard Genesis... cajoling someone to emerge with him, before stepping into view with an exasperated gesture. "Cats."
Cats? Oh Planet. He'd thought himself finally rid of the beast... but no, there he was - a brilliant white Snow Cat, gold eyes flicking back over its shoulder to -
What. The. Hell.
The boy was in his early teens, with a far-too-innocent set of wide blue eyes, and spiky hair. Blond spiky hair, of a very similar shade to his own. Surreptitiously glancing at Lazard, he noticed that his half brother looked a bit surprised. Perhaps a bit resigned, as well; they must have been seeing the same thing, then. But, while Lazard wouldn't do anything - of this he was sure - he planned on having one of the Turks do a full report on the boy.
Fair was next, Hewley's prodigy looking considerably better than he'd expected, if the reports of what went on in Modeoheim were true.He was followed by a slender woman in a labcoat - Professor Rayleigh, he assumed - who Reno helped down as he ducked around the settled craft.
The sound of at least a dozen guns being brought into position made him cringe. Just when he thought his father couldn't possibly outdo his own arrogance and foolishness, something like this happened. Did they not see the odachi?
Sephiroth angled his blade to catch the light, walking forward until he was a little ahead of his group. And only an idiot couldn't see, they were his, in his mind. He was ready to defend, to a deadly level. About to try and make some sort of peace, and hopefully smooth over his father's tactical blunder, Rufus turned to chastise the infantry.
The sudden, cracking report of a handgun was followed by an abrupt SNAP, and startled cursing. Raising his eyes to the second source of sound, Rufus found himself gawking in disturbed silence at the Captain, who held the butt of his rifle like a foreign object, its barrel skittering across the helipad, in pieces. "Captain?"
"... suggest you put your guns down." Sephiroth smiled wryly, amused.
Veld's eyes flickered over the group, incredulous. "Who...?"
"It's been a long time." The deep timbre of the voice almost gave Rufus chills, so similar to the ominous monotone the General was fond of, but darker. "... Veld."
That Veld knew this person was reason enough for the Vice President to relax some, and go back to his address of the murmuring troops. "Stand down, damn it, and be glad all you got was a warning shot."
"But, sir, your father -"
"You are here to escort them, and not separate them, I hope?" Rufus asked archly, looking them over. The Captain nodded. "Good. There's not enough of you, to... oh for the love of-! Nation. Come back."
Dark Nation, his usually faithful Guard Hound, trotted over to examine the boy Rhapsodos' cat was so fiercely protecting. Lovely... this is all just wonderful. "Dark Nation!"
"I think she likes him." Rhapsodos observed cheekily.
Reminding himself that snapping at the Commander was counterproductive, the executive let Dark Nation have her way for now and refocused. "I will escort them myself. It's about time Father and I had a little chat, anyway."
"Do you think, honestly, you can do better than three Turks?" He demanded. "Because I do not."
"Captain Kardos, please." The boy spoke up, looking earnestly at the Trooper's Captain. "You don't want a fight on your hands... trust me."
"Field promotion." The boy - Strife - clarified.
"To SOLDIER." Rhapsodos seemed oddly smug about it.
"Wonderful." Rufus muttered, striding over and standing in front of the troops. "You will MOVE."
Thankfully, they did.
He'd hate to get blood on his jacket.
Once the troops had filtered back down the hall and out of the way, Cloud heard the soft 'chink' of Vincent's metal-bound boots as he hopped out of the helicopter. A slight widening of the Turk 'Veld's' eyes, indicated that he recognized him, despite the fact that he surely had changed in all the time he'd been in that coffin. Longer hair, at least.
The blond, who must be Rufus, if the president was his father, made an impatient gesture. "Come along. Mustn't keep Father waiting."
No one moved, until Sephiroth had looked at Genesis and Zack, the eldest and youngest of the Firsts moving to flank their party at some silent command. He himself was flanked by the two animals, the Snow Cat and Guard Hound not seeming inclined to leave his side, and making angry noises as they passed by the Troops. Neither of their masters attempted to quiet them, Rufus merely walking faster to get them past the group and to the elevators.
For a moment, the Vice President seemed a bit uneasy, even looking a bit apologetic as he looked to Sephiroth. "We won't all fit in one."
"Hm." Pale green eyes flit over the group, and he shrugged. "Angeal, Zack, Vincent - escort the Directors, Tseng and Rayleigh. Genesis, Cloud, Reno and I will escort the Vice President."
"Very well." The Vice President didn't seem inclined to argue, though he hung back a moment, getting a good look at the groups before he finally joined them. As the elevator began moving, he caught the General's eye. "Veld told me."
Cloud watched with interest as Sephiroth made a noncommittal hum. It was Genesis who spoke. "And your thoughts?"
Rufus smiled faintly. "I came to welcome you back, didn't I?"
That seemed enough for them for the moment. Silence reigned until the elevator chime sounded, Sephiroth commenting softly as he took point again. "Welcome to the party."
The two groups merged once again, Rufus stepping up to Sephiroth's side with a significant glance at Masamune. "You might put that away."
"I might." Sephiroth mused.
They walked into the President's office, with Sephiroth still bearing Masamune. Angeal, Genesis and Zack stood behind him at attention, Reno supporting Tseng beside Veld and Lazard. Cloud took a page out of Vincent's book, and hung back a little, not wanting anything more than to watch, for now.
The man behind the desk, presumably the President himself, was an interesting figure. Blond hair was receding, with blue eyes framed by lines from squinting or frowning; Cloud guessed him to be at least fifty and probably older, though he could simply have aged from the stresses of running the company. He wasn't particularly attractive, but he had a feeling he'd been good looking once, before putting on so much weight and gaining all the stress lines on his face.
The President stayed behind his desk, flanked by four Turks and eight SOLDIERs, Infantry lining the walls, all standing at attention. He seemed to measure his words as he looked them over. "Well, well. What an interesting group we have here today. I'm curious as to why you have such an ensemble, General. I appreciate you escorting Hewley and Rhapsodos - you're far more competent than any number of Troops - but I can't imagine why you felt it necessary to bring my Directors, let alone my son."
"I have a vested interest in the workings of the Company." Rufus pointed out dryly.
"I see." Shinra Sr. chuckled, smiling almost indulgently before returning his gaze to Sephiroth. "Well, in any case, it's fortunate you're here. I worried about how we were going to manage this."
A silver brow raised, then lowered into a hateful stare as a thin man in a white labcoat came forward from behind the Turks. "Professor."
Cloud's eyes widened at the low, menacing tone. This, he knew instinctively, had to be Hojo. He knew no one else who had earned such open hate from the General.
"Well, well, well." Hojo's smile was more of a sneer, looking over Genesis and Angeal for a long moment before flicking back to Sephiroth. "I hear you went to Nibelheim...did you enjoy yourself?"
He had been advancing steadily, and stopped a little in front of the President's desk. Sephiroth raised a brow at him, saying nothing until there was a faint movement from the side. Cloud glanced in that direction, instinctively, and noted one of the Troopers had a strange sort of pistol. It took a moment to realize what it was, but he recognized the shape. A tranquilizer gun? Seriously?
Green eyes slid back to the professor, narrowed a bit, then to the president. "What is this?"
"Surely, you've realized how unstable Hollander's... subjects... are?" Hojo asked. "I've been charged with the task of re-evaluating if they're still fit for SOLDIER."
"I've fully evaluated both Genesis Rhapsodos and Angeal Hewley." Professor Rayleigh spoke in their defense, apparently sharing Sephiroth's distaste. "They are recovered, both from injuries suffered and the degradation, doing far better than they ever did under Hollander."
"Yes, well, Ms. Rayleigh, I think you'll have to agree, as the Head of the Science Department, Professor Hojo is more qualified to do a thorough examination." The President replied, smiling faintly. "He keeps the SOLDIER Department running, dear."
"I believe that duty is Director Lazard's." Sephiroth noted quietly. "Or perhaps mine, in wartime. Either way, he is insignificant in this matter. I have deemed them ready to return. I strongly suggest you agree."
The President arched a brow, leaning forward. "General, in case you have forgotten, when it comes to matters of my Company, I have the last word. And I want Hojo to evaluate them."
Cloud cringed, seeing the General gripping his blade tightly enough that the leather of his glove creaked. This would not end well.
"I will not - cannot -allow that." Sephiroth informed him quietly.
The President sighed, as if under a great burden. "Have you not noticed your surroundings, Sephiroth? Even you would not manage to subdue these forces, without being -"
"What part of 'I do not care' do you not understand?" Sephiroth finally snapped, green eyes flashing dangerously. "You are threatening my men with that... madman, and I will not stand for it."
Apparently, the President did not appreciate the General's tone. "You forget your place."
"No, sir, I think I've finally realized it." He flicked Masamune, eyeing the SOLDIERs behind the President. "You have overstepped your boundaries, and I have had quite enough."
"What are you trying to say, Sephiroth?" He demanded. "Do you dare stand against me, with these... traitors?We've made you what you are. We can destroy you."
"Father, by the Goddess, will you shut up!" Rufus finally exploded. "Do you think, for one moment, you will be protected by this... hodgepodge of warriors?"
"Quiet, boy." Shinra Sr. snapped, making a gesture to the Infantry. "I'm sorry you don't see things my way, Sephiroth."
"Tranqs!" Zack yelped, pointing.
Several shots were fired, only to be deflected in various directions by Rapier, Genesis snarling. "Stop it, you fools. You're not on the winning side."
Abruptly, Cloud felt a stinging in his arm, and hissed. Looking down, he felt a sudden wave of dizziness, vision blurring as he swayed. "Damn..."
The last thing he heard was his name, shouted frantically, and a furious roar.