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Of Courage, Promotion and Skirmishes: A Narrative by Captain Strife Vol. II

Chapter Text

The problem with roses, of course, are the unavoidable fact that they have thorns.

ShinRa paid no mind to the thorns named after a disaster, which was their first mistake.

ShinRa paid no mind to the thorn of an escaped Cetra, which was their second mistake.

ShinRa, for all of its faults, failed for a third time when they sent their strongest SOLDIER to war.

War wasn't meant for children; both Calamity and Chaos would be wrought upon them for it.

-Sephiroth's Birthday; September 16; 0700 hrs-

Sephiroth stretched luxuriously and then yelped as he rolled out of bed at the sight of the time.

"I'm late, I'm late, I'm late—" he muttered before Chichiue gently caught him by the shoulders and hugged him. "Good morning, Chichiue."

"Good morning, my son. You're not late because you applied to have your birthday off months in advance. Angeal and Genesis will be here during breakfast and we have an outside excursion planned with Captain Highwind's help later on." Chichiue reassured as Sephiroth melted into the warmth of his Chichiue's embrace. "There may or not be presents on the table already."

So much had changed and presents...

He hadn't understood last year when Mom and Chichiue had handed him boxes wrapped in shiny paper and bows. Sephiroth had seen other people recieve them but hadn't made the connection until he'd peeled off the paper carefully and saw the set of daggers he now wore everywhere.

"Thank you." He sleepily replied as he scrubbed at his left eye and then his right, pillowing his cheek briefly against his Chichiue's chest out of habit. "Mom at work?"

"She's in the kitchens but she's not supervising," Chichiue teased. "something about cake for a special someone."

Sephiroth leaned into the absentminded petting Chichiue was doing, the claws of the gauntlet a gentle scritch against his scalp. He didn't flinch at the sound of a camera snap because it came with the scent of snow-cinnamon-hearth.

"Morning, Mom." He shuffled in Chichiue's grip to see her but made no move to get free.

Cameras were another thing that had changed for him too. He'd hated them, once, because they meant Hojo was about to document an experiment that would hurt him. Now they were moments captured that he could relive with the photo, especially since his family was behind the camera instead.

Mom hugged him and Chichiue, pressing a kiss to his cheek. He'd grown again but only to the point where Mom had to reach up for kisses instead of down. "Good morning, honey."

That was how Cloud found them, Sephiroth practically purring from all of the affection he was enjoying. He felt arms wrap around his waist and smiled serenely.

"Morning Cloud."

«Morning, Seph!»

A knock had Sephiroth slipping from his parents' grip and going on tip-toes to peer out of the eye hole.

Captain Highwind was frowning at Squad Delta, his white pilot's scarf haphazardly thrown over his shoulder and his boots untied from the ShinRa security search. 'Geal was about to knock again when Sephiroth opened the door with an amused huff.

"Happy birthday Seph." Angeal wiggled a wrapped package in SOLDIER purple while Genesis revealed another in crimson.

"Happy Womb Emanicpation Day," Genesis followed as as they kicked off their boots at the door. Both gave him one-arm hugs before shuffling into the apartment. "Oh nice! Present pile already?"

General Urial handed over a black box and gave a very relaxed salute that Sephiroth returned. "I hope I haven't gotten the wrong thing."

"You haven't sir." Sephiroth reassured.

Lt. Colonel Cleary handed over a box in forest green and did the same salute, a half-smile on his lips as General Urial squeezed his hand in reassurance. "Ours is sort of joint, Strife-Valentine."

"Good to know, sir." He answered.

"I've got a lot because I mentioned I was seeing you the day of; delivery Lt. Colonel at your service." Tyris chuckled and didn't bother saluting. "Wolf and Henderson send their regards as they're out on mission together but they left their presents with me in case they weren't back in time. I've got one from Major Milo, one each from Troop Platoons 14, 23, 25 and one from a Sgt. Porteous. Lt.s Kunsel and Johnson joined forces for this one. Oh yeah, and mine. You sure are popular this year, Strife-Valentine."

"Thank you sir." He accepted the basketful of gifts and tucked the black and green boxes amongst the pile.

"Pvt. O'Conor sent you a box of Chocobo droppings, which is rude but-"

"My Mom has a friend who'd love them down in Sector Five, sir. I'll be sure to thank him for helping her with her flowers." Sephiroth chuckled in reply to the disgusted faces of his superiors. "He may hold a grudge but I don't; there isn't any need for one, sirs. He was justly punished for his past mistakes."

"You're a lot more forgiving than I would be at your age, Strife-Valentine."

"He's forgiven, sir, but I haven't forgotten."

Only part of the Valentine family motto was to atone and ask for forgiveness, after all.

The full motto was:

"All sins can be atoned for if you ask for forgiveness. You may ask for forgiveness, you may forgive one who has wronged you but do not forget their deeds. Forgetting means you have absolved them of your wrath."

The Strife motto was simple but equally as effective:

"Above all others, tell the truth to yourself most often. Respect those who have earned it. Have compassion for the weak, the infirm, the lonely; do not fear the strong, for it manifests in many ways in the truest of forms."

Squad Delta blinked at that and shrugged. "Fair enough."

After Squad Delta left, Captain Highwind kicked his boots off at the door and straightened his scarf before walking inside like he lived there. Sephiroth chuckled quietly, looking forward to watching his Chichiue dance around the blond, smitten pilot as they made Behemoth calf eyes when the other wasn't looking.

"Happy Birthday, kiddo," Highwind frowned and clucked his tongue. "Yer doin' it again, call me Cid."

"Sorry Cid." Chichiue and Sephiroth apologized in unison before they looked at one another and laughed.

Cid flushed pink and scrubbed at his nose, his teeth digging into the filter of the ever-present cigarette. Mom narrowed her eyes at the cigarette so Cid plucked it out of his mouth and tucked it away into the half-way crushed pack.

"Sorry, ma'am."

"Just don't smoke around my sons and we're good." Mom huffed. "Drop the ma'am, I'm not old enough for it. My name's Anika."

"Anika—Corel High, right?" Cid lit up and Chichiue choked on his morning tea.

Sephiroth giggled at his Chichiue's expression and pulled down the breakfast pan, the clank of it on the gas burners somehow summoning his little brother and his best friends.

"Cid?! I thought you did that-Oh." Mom's hands went up and she started gesturing the same as Cid.

"Yeah." Cid's tone could've dried out Gongaga. "They cancelled it right as Ah signed up. Something about th' engines an' the paneling and how expensive th' damn thing was so now Ah run a transport biz. Ain't so bad."

'Geal and Gen watched as Sephiroth pulled down flour, brown sugar and cold butter. He cut the butter into the flour, motioning where the other ingredients were as he continued to add what was handed to him.

By the time Mom and Cid looked up, Sephiroth was putting the first squares of travel bread into the oven and his helpers were lightly dusted with flour and sugar.

Chichiue was laying out the present pile so that Sephiroth wouldn't have to sort through it by scent but his amusement was clear as Mom shooed them out of the kitchen; a whirlwind of blue gingham fabric and blonde braid that had breakfast out in under thirty minutes.

"I'm sorry Seph." She took a wet papertowel and dabbed off the flour out of sheer habit.

"It's okay. Does that mean I can call him Uncle Cid now?" He teased as he tucked into his meal.

All three adults spluttered magnificently. Sephiroth took the opportunity to snap a picture with the camera before his eyes crinkled at the corners as he laughed so hard it hurt a little.

Cid recovered first as he pulled out Mom's chair and then Chichiue's. "Sure, kiddo," He winked as he straddled a chair backwards and dug into his own meal. "so long as Ah get t' call ya Seph."

"It's a deal." he agreed, still warm from all of the affection and the surprising amount of gifts from fellow SOLDIERS, the troops under his command and his family.

"You do have the day off, right?" Genesis asked after he swallowed his mouthful of food.

"I requested the day off months in advance. I thought I gave Heather on Floor 36 a heart attack when I requested leave papers. Inger in HR actually fainted... I had to catch her." Sephiroth confessed easily now that he was more awake.

"Ya don't normally-?" Cid asked before his expression soured briefly. "Right. You said you had t' catch her?"

"Mm-hmm. She apologized for fainting and then for making me hold her while she roused from the smelling salts," He murmured as he wrapped his hands around his mug of silver needle tea, Mom's other gift to him last year. "I hope I reassured her that the reaction was normal, given that it was my first time putting in proper leave."

All three of the adults in his life exchanged a look Sephiroth couldn't decipher. He finished his breakfast, about to go put his plate in the sink when Angeal gently pressed him back into his seat and took it for him. "'Geal?"

"Mideelian birthday tradition," Gen explained as he gathered up the rest of the dishes. "You're not supposed to do squat on your birthday other than open presents, have fun and enjoy your day."

The oven meeped and Sephiroth yelped. "My travel bread!"

With the saved travel bread cooling on racks, Sephiroth settled into his favorite spot in the living room. The reading nook was filled with soft things and it was where he retreated if his memories got to be a bit much.

Now, however, it was perfectly situated to take in what little sunlight Midgar allowed.

"You've got a lot of presents, honey. Do you want to open a few now?" Mom asked as she patted his knee on her way to the couch.

"Maybe some in the basket?" He allowed hesitantly, nervously twisting a cushion in his hands. Being the sole focus of attention still brought out a fight-or-fight response in him at times. Sephiroth inhaled slowly, each breath reminding him that it was just family and, if he wanted to, he could pull the curtains closed for some privacy.

"Here you go," Mom pressed a kiss to his cheek and sat next to him, her presence making him relax again.

"Urial and Cleary's, I think." He murmured as he peeled open Urial's first.

Official looking papers and a boxed Materia were behind a note from the General.

'I hope this isn't overstepping my bounds but I feel like he'd have a better time with you than being stuck at that farm. Just tap him with the Lure and you can call him whenever you have need of him.

-General Urial'

"Oh!" The papers were owner transfer from the farm to Sephiroth, naming the enormous black racing Chocobo Jax as his personal transport. "He got me a Chocobo."

"That's certainly an impressive gift." Mom offered as he tore into Cleary's joint gift.

The silver bridle was understated elegance and apparently had resizable reins for when Sephiroth hit his full growth spurt.

'Chocobo Bill agreed with us pretty quickly that Jax was your bird in all but name. A breeder stopped by right after we finished the paperwork and wanted to take Jax out for a ride. That warbird of yours sat like a rock for fifteen minutes before the breeder gave up. He'll still housed and under Bill's care for now.

I hope you enjoy your new bird, Strife-Valentine.

-Lt. Colonel Cleary'

Chapter Text

Sephiroth ran for the stables after the Tiny Bronco set down, the purple Chocobo Lure clutched in one hand with the bridle in the other. He slowed down in order to not startle the loose adult Chocobos and shuffled to a stop outside of Jax's stall.

"Hi," He crooned softly as he hung up the bridle and offered a handful of Mimett greens.

Jax warked and gently took the greens before swallowing them one by one. The enormous bird nosed at the Lure and kwehed at the light it gave off. Sephiroth tucked the Materia away and just petted Jax until the warbird was snuggling into his chest.

""I'm telling you that bird sat for, I swear to Odin, fifteen minutes straight after I got a saddle on him. There ain't no way some kid-"" Sephiroth heard the man inhale sharply at the way Jax was with him. ""As I live and breathe.""

Neither one of them bothered to look up as Sephiroth dug his fingers into the thick fluffy cheek feathers of his Chocobo. "You ready to go for a ride, Jax?"


"I thought so." He laughed.

Sephiroth rode Jax out of the stable and hugged his warbird when he saw the rest of his family mounted.

"So this must be the rider of the black," Sephiroth turned Jax to face the breeder and narrowed his eyes. "I know, I know, you own him fair 'n square. I just wanted to see if he'd be good breedstock but blacks are picky about who they like. If you ever feel like breeding him, let Bill know."

"Hnn." Sephiroth sat up and tapped his knees into Jax's side. The Chocobo let out a fierce screech, flared his crest and wings as far as they'd go and settled when Sephiroth patted his neck. "He's a warbird. I doubt you'd want stock like that in your riding birds."

The breeder paled considerably at Sephiroth's response. "Warbird?"

"He took on a Levikron on by himself a few months ago," Sephiroth grinned as Jax rubbed beaks with the deep blue Chocobo Chichiue was riding. "not to mention half a pack of Fangs."

"Sorry to bother you." The man almost tripped as he practically bolted for the farmhouse on the property.

Chichiue traded a look with him and both of them were giggling when Mom rode up with Cloud sitting in front of her.

"That Pvt. O'Conor... Does he still work here?" Chichiue asked serenely.

"Chichiue, please. He's shoveling dung. I think that's good enough." Sephiroth pointed out dryly.

"Very well, my son. I'll defer to your judgement." Chichiue sighed before he smiled.

Cid choked on his breath and Sephiroth almost laughed as Chichiue rescued the pilot from himself.

Angeal and Genesis rode up on light blues and the birds nuzzled companionably.

"I don't see how that breeder didn't ask what kind of bird he was or didn't know who you were. ShinRa's been crowing about you for months now in the newsletters and announcements." 'Geal murmured.

"Maybe he's out farther. Those things take time to reach the boonies, y'know." Gen countered. "Besides, Seph may only be on one of the posters. General Urial was just featured in the latest one along with Wolf and Henderson's. Seph's on par with the Firsts but he's not a First or even a Second, which are usually PR's first choices. No offense Seph."

"None taken. I know that being featured was mostly... Well." Sephiroth didn't even want to say the man's name but both of his friends knew exactly what he meant.

"Yeah. Maybe it's better to earn your spot than to be thrust into it, huh?" 'Geal ribbed gently.

"I think Chichiue and Mom have been preventing my promotions. I've seen the paperwork on General Thomas's desk three times in the last year and each time it comes back with a red stamp of denial." He murmured as they headed out into the Kalm wilderness.

"That would explain why you're senior Third. This is just my opinion but I think they're trying to give you time to grow up." Gen offered and Sephiroth mulled it over.

"I think so too. Henderson admitted that the negotiations are going sour again. It's only a matter of time before they break down, even with ShinRa's false promises." Sephiroth confessed softly. "I'm trying not to worry but..."

"You can't help it. You're their last resort when it comes to strength but you're still not grown up. I can see why you'd be worried." 'Geal soothed and then gently bumped Sephiroth companionably. "They won't fall apart today though. Enjoy your birthday, Seph."

"C'mon, I wanna see if your warbird has any kick to him!" Gen ribbed. "Let's race!"

"You're on!" Sephiroth leaned forward and squeezed Jax with his thighs, cackling as his warbird left Gen and 'Geal in the dust.

When he reined in Jax, he breathed in the crisp fall air outside of Midgar with relish. The wind caught his hair and whipped it like a Wutainese standard.

The thunder of a herd of Chocobos halted behind him and he turned to see his family and friends gathered in a little knot at the bottom of the tiny hill. Jax wheeled and trotted easily down to the group, warking proudly as he went.

"I forgot to mention that Jax used to be a racing Choco." He hummed as he turned Jax back towards the stables. Gen stuck his tongue out and 'Geal shook his head. "Is everyone alright? I'm sorry for rushing off like that."

"As Angeal mentioned earlier, Seph, enjoy your day as you see fit. If exercising your warbird is what you want, then that's what we'll join you in doing." Chichiue reassured.

"Didn't you have something planned?" He questioned.

"Only if you wanted to do it." Mom gently corrected. "We wanted to take you to Ifalna and Aerith and then have fun out here on the plains."

"That 'r the Ramuh festival in Junon," Cid supplied with a shrug. "They've got fireworks."

"Oh." Sephiroth's fingers wound the reins until they creaked and then untangled his fingers into order to think. "Can we take Ms. Ifalna and Aerith to the festival?"

"Ah might have t' take two trips but sure." Cid agreed. "Th' fireworks are magic this time of year."

"... I've never seen fireworks." He revealed, his face flushing in embarassment.

"Me either." Gen admitted.

"Make that three." 'Geal confessed as he rubbed at the back of his neck.

"Four; Cloud's never seen them either. Nothing to be ashamed of, honey." Mom added in as Cloud nodded in agreement.

"All the more reason to see them then," Chichiue input as he nudged his Chocobo into brushing his leg against Sephiroth's own. "Shall we return to the Bronco?"

Chapter Text

Sephiroth preened Jax with wide sweeps of his fingers, assisting his bird before they had to leave. A cleared throat had Sephiroth tilting his head to see Pvt. O'Conor with a feather comb in hand, the trooper uniform as neat as it can be in field conditions.

"Thank you for the droppings." He murmured politely as he accepted the comb, not surprised when O'Conor flinched at the reminder. "They're appreciated by someone who grows flowers in Midgar."

"I'm sorry. I sent that when I was still angry." O'Conor muttered sheepishly as he leaned on the shovel. "I can't believe it even made it through ShinRa security."

"It didn't; Lt. Colonel Tyris let it through after I told him it was for someone in Sector Five." He offered as he started on Jax's enormous tail feathers.

"Ha. How is Delta these days?" O'Conor handed him the finishing oil easily as he stuck his hand out of the loose stall.

"... They're good. Cleary and Urial finally got together." Sephiroth answered as he hung Jax's bridle up and closed the gate behind him.

"About damn time," the man agreed and then, "I'm sorry." Sephiroth looked at O'Conor and O'Conor looked back, his scent reflecting his genuine apology. "I shouldn't have done what I did. You were under my watch, my command and I abused it. I took my temper out on a child barely past ten. That's wrong on so many levels."

"Do you want forgiveness?" He blurted before he could take it back.

"No." O'Conor scrubbed at his face and sighed. "It wouldn't be right to ask and I've still got things I need to work through in therapy. I wanted to apologize to you while I had a small measure of your time."

That caught Sephiroth by surprise. "I forgive you. You may have sent me on humiliating missions and taken pleasure in sending me on errands just to send me but you never physically hurt me."

O'Conor's scent welled over with confusion and relief. "Thank you, sir. I've, uh, gotta get back to my duties..."


He left the barn, a thoughtful look on his face as he sat in Chichiue's lap.

«Are you alright?» Chichiue asked quietly in Nibel.

«O'Conor apologized to me. He didn't want my forgiveness but when I told him I'd already done so, he seemed... relieved.» Sephiroth responded softly. «He's been going to the therapy sessions that were a part of his punishment.»

«Ah. People change, my son, but not everyone does so equally. Was he sincere?» Chichiue murmured.


«If it was given honestly, then accept it and move forward.» Mom added as she patted his knee from the opposite bench in the Bronco's hold. «There's no reason to linger in the past but don't forget it. You've got plenty to look forward to, Seph.»

«I do, don't I?» Sephiroth hummed as he joined in the debate 'Geal and Gen had going about the differences between riding and war Chocobos. "Actually, Jax's feet are different..."

Cid set them down just outside of Midgar, Sephiroth hugging Cid briefly before he took off for Sector Five. The Chocobo droppings were in the church but neither Ms. Ifalna nor Aerith were tending to the flowers. He made his way to the Gainsborough house, Aerith running into his legs with a solid green sundress on and matching ribbon in her hair that he'd gotten for her on her birthday.

"Hi Seph."

"Hi Aerith. I like your dress."

"Thank you~" she chirruped before she handed up yellow lilies. "Those are for you; Mama said that they're charmed special so they won't die for a while."

"I'll be sure to thank her." Sephiroth promised as he hefted her onto his hip and tucked the flowers into his item pouch. "I take it you know that we're going somewhere together?"

"Mama didn't say but she said we had to be all pretty for it." Aerith nodded as she snuggled close. "Happy birthday, Seph."


Everyone made it to the Gainsborough house just as Ms. Ifalna limped out of the house in a green gingham dress with her cane as support. Mom pressed a kiss to Cloud's hair before setting him down and helping Ms. Ifalna, a faint blush on her cheeks as she wrapped an arm around Ms. Ifalna's waist.

Ms. Ifalna leaned in close and then pressed a quick kiss to Mom's cheek. Mom squeaked but only held onto Ms. Ifalna a little tighter.

"Does that mean I have three Moms now?" Sephiroth's tongue betrayed him before his mind caught up.

Ms. Ifalna only laughed and agreed with, "Possibly. If Anika wouldn't mind."

"I don't mind," Mom replied even as she shyly glanced at Ms. Ifalna, joy suffusing her scent and spiking it with vanilla. "Ifalna's a wonderful mom."

It was Ms. Ifalna's turn to flush bright pink but she smiled even wider when Uncle Cid and Chichiue only laughed in a teasing manner.

"Alright, alright, let's get this show on th' road already. Ah know th' festival starts at six so we gotta do two trips." Cid's practicality reared up as he looked at the group. "Ah think Anika, Ms. Ifalna and th' little ones go first. That way they c'n stake out a spot fer the rest of us."

"Agreed. The Tiny Bronco cannot hold all of us and I can watch over the boys for a while. We'll be in Six to pass the time." Chichiue answered.

"Ladies, please watch yer step an' follow me." Cid paced himself as they left the Gainsborough property.

Chapter Text

Sector Six was where Sephiroth discovered something he wasn't good at; arcade games.

Chichiue watched as Sephiroth failed time and again with the games, offering his cloak when Sephiroth got frustrated.

"Why are they so hard?" He complained as 'Geal and Gen laughed at a hammer game called Smash the Tonberry.

"You're thinking too much, Seph." Chichiue tapped at the side of his temple gently and hummed, "You can't strategize with these games; just follow your instincts."

"I don't understand, Chichiue."

"Don't think, just do." came the response.

"Oh." He blinked at that, picked up the hammer and waited. A flicker of movement caught his eye and his hand snapped out to smack the fake Tonberry with a horrible -SQUEEEAK!- coming from it at the hard hit. "I see."

Genesis was good at the driving games, Angeal at the fighting ones but Sephiroth found his stride, of all places, in air hockey.

The game between him and Chichiue was so intense that when it ended, they found the crowd dispersed by an amused Uncle Cid.

"Are ya ready? Your Mom 'n Ms. Ifalna are enjoying the festival with th' kiddos."

Chichiue took one look at Sephiroth and declared, "We need to match the ladies, I think, or at least put in some effort like Cid."

Sephiroth spotted wooden sticks in a stall after they were done shopping, somehow out of purple for once and in more colors.

The burgundy t-shirt was paired with his black jeans and a button-down over it in a color the salesman swore was a stone-washed blue. Chichiue had rolled the sleeves so that they stopped at Sephiroth's elbow; the treatment had been repeated for Angeal and Genesis.

"Excuse me, sir, what are these?" He asked politely.

"Oh hello young... customer! These are hair sticks, made for hair like yours." The salesman glanced down briefly at Sephiroth's chest before cheerfully explaining. "It's a bit fancier than your everyday hairtie though."

"Chichiue?" Sephiroth tugged on his Chichiue's cloak.

"Yes, my son? Ah. Two of your thicker ones, please, and one with the wing design." Chichiue brightened at the sight of the sticks.

«Does my hair make me look like a girl?» Sephiroth asked absently in Nibel after they left the stall.

«... The salesman, I suppose? Your Mom and I fixed that ridiculous policy about a week ago. It hasn't come up in the conversation but if you wanted...?» Chichiue offered, the hand resting on Sephiroth's shoulder giving it a gentle squeeze in reassurance.

Sephiroth shook his head and switched languages again as to not exclude his friends and Cid. "No, I don't think I want to cut it. I wouldn't know what to do with it and I've gotten used to the weight. Maybe a trim?"

"Ah know a guy in Sector Eight. He does SOLDIER hair too so he knows how to cut it." Cid replied. "He's pretty damn good."

"We'll make you an appointment when you're ready." Chichiue murmured. "Do you want to wear one? I'm afraid my styles are limited, as I haven't used them in years."

"Mm, I think so."

Chichiue carefully gathered his hair and clenched the winged hairstick between his teeth briefly as he worked. Sephiroth tilted his head side-to-side and then rolled his head out of habit but the stick stayed firmly where it was in his hair.

The entrance was beautiful, decorated as it was by rendered artistic versions of the Thunder Elemental.

Sephiroth's grip on his Chichiue's hand tightened when one of the priests for the Summon stood in their path to look him and Chichiue over. "Welcome... Beloved Sons of Bahamut and enjoy the Festival!" Angeal rolled his eyes at the pronouncement of, "Son of Leviathan," and laughed when Genesis got, "Beloved Son of Pheonix."

"What'd Mom get?" Sephiroth asked Cid.

"Beloved Daughter of the Knights," Mom answered with a laugh. "Cloud was a Son of Fenrir, Ifalna and Aerith Daughters of Alexander."

"Mom!" Sephiroth hugged her, his hand still in his Chichiue's before the noise of the Festival seemed to rush back upon them. He stiffened and looked down in worry, unsure. "Should... should I still...?"

"For as long as you like, sweetheart." Mom said as she hugged back with a familiar hum.

"Indeed. You know my feelings on the matter, my son." Chichiue maneuvered them off to the side of the crowds, using his height and his expression to clear the way.

Sephiroth glanced back at his best friends and they shrugged.

"No one's above a hug, Seph. If my Mom was here, you bet that I'd be doing what you just did." Angeal reassured before offering his own.

Sephiroth giggled when Genesis nearly tripped trying to get in on the hug. "What 'Geal said, Seph, and then some; besides, it's a Festival. There are reunions all over the place. You're not doing anything that other people would care about because they're doing it too."

"Right." He had to remember that; affection amongst friends and family was a given, not the exception.

Ms. Ifalna was watching Cloud and Aerith in the designated playground area, Cloud laughing as he spun with Aerith and... a familiar dark-haired friend.

"Oof!" Zack exclaimed even as all three of them fell down out of dizziness. "Seph's here!"

Sephiroth goes down under a pile of giggling kids, laughing himself as he scoops up all three of them for a brief hug.

"How's the knife-work, Zack?" He asked as he set all of them down and they huddled near his legs.

He ignored the sound of three separate cameras going off, two of them from Angeal and Chichiue's PHS cameras, the latter from Mom's Polaroid.

"Better! I got a Touch-Me yesterday allll by myself!" Zack's chest puffed out with pride before Sephiroth chuckled and poked it back to normal.

"Awesome," Sephiroth praised, palm up so that Zack could get a high-five. Zack hit well and grinned afterwards, tugging on Cloud's sleeve and holding his up so that Cloud could have a turn.

His little brother frowned in concentration and managed to smack it straight on. This, of course, prompted both boys to turn to Aerith and offer thier hands. She hummed as she hit on target and then ran back towards the playground.

Sephiroth wandered with 'Geal and Gen, watching the ribbon dancers and the people in costumes. He was holding 'Geal's hand, tugging his friends along to see the fans that mimicked storm clouds, the puppetry shows and the displays of devotion from the priests and priestesses of Ramuh.

The sky darkened imperceptibly until it was nearly sunset, Sephiroth now holding Gen's and Geal's hands while trailing behind.

"Time to go, honey! We're going to miss the fireworks—Oh! Hello, Sephiroth." Ms. Fran called from a bench down the way.

"Fran," Chichiue murmured and then she brightened.

"Sharpshooter!" Her smile was blinding and all Sephiroth could think was, oh so that's where Zack gets it from, "Alric's off with some hunter pals but we've got a spot for the fireworks."

"Would you mind sharing? It's Sephiroth's birthday and we've yet to pick a spot." Chichiue elaborated.

"Of course, of course. Alric'll be happy to see you. Happy birthday, Sephiroth. Have you had a good day so far?" Ms. Fran asked after answering Chichiue.

"I... It's been wonderful, Ms. Fran." Sephiroth admitted, "I've still got presents to open and I'm pretty sure Mom made my favorite cake."

"That's great. Time to gather the rascals and head on up then." She replied.

The first boom of the fireworks had Sephiroth gasping in awe, hands planted firmly on the ground as the colored explosion was joined by several others, glittering like otherworldly stars against the backdrop of the night sky.

"They're... They're beautiful." He whispered, not daring to break above the wash of awe he felt.

Sephiroth sought out his friend's hands and found them reaching just as he'd outstretched his hands.

Part of him desperately wanted to stay here, the warmth of his friends, the knowledge that his family was less than two feet away and the fact that they'd done this for him nearly overwhelmed Sephiroth.

The tears that spilled over and the trembling breath he released had 'Geal and Gen zeroing in on him.

"'m fine," he managed to get out. "Just... happy, I think."

"There is no hate, only joy," Genesis recited absently.

"For you are beloved by the goddess," Angeal picked it up where Gen left off.

Sephiroth snorted, "Y'know, somehow that's the first time LOVELESS has made sense."

Chapter Text

Most of his gifts and the cake were wonderful but Henderson and Wolf's... didn't make any sense until nearly a week after both superiors had been back from thier own mission.

"That? It's been passed down in my family for generations but no one's been wearing it and you'll probably fit it when you're old enough." Wolf shrugged when Sephiroth pulled the duster from his item pouch with a wordless question.

"You gave me a family heirloom, sir?!? I couldn't-"

"You can and you will, Strife-Valentine, because it's also a bit of a heads-up. SOLDIER Firsts get to wear whatever they want when they finally make it there. You need some pizazz to go with being the face of ShinRa in the future. There's only so long your parents can hold off on you being a Second, you know." Henderson countered with his usual practicality.

The reminder was sobering and he nodded as he put it away. "My standard Wutainese and palace dialect are coming along as well as can be managed in such a short period. Both of my tutors agree that I may need to pick up the pace, sir."

Henderson and Wolf traded a look that Sephiroth had never seen before; it was the scents (sour admiration and the sharp spearmint of regret) that accompanied it which gave him context.

"Kid, you don't—" Wolf started.

"Actually, sir, I do. I was made for this;" Sephiroth cut in, his chest aching. "the perfect SOLDIER, the perfect diplomat to represent ShinRa. I'm well aware that what I have now is a delicate balance."

In the past, he'd have let his superiors finish but he also knew that Hojo'd had only one thing in mind for Sephiroth—the perfect, unfeeling killing machine. The man, the myth, the monster had told him enough times that the message was engraved into him, physical or not.

The silence that hung in the SOLDIER Gym was broken by Angeal's cheery question of, "Anyone up for a rematch?!"

"... You're on, Hewley." He replied with a faint smile.

-Three Months Later-

Sephiroth stepped up his training again, using swear words he'd never say in front of his parents as he realized he'd slipped into complacency.

He trained harder, trained longer and challenged the other Third Squads in order to assess them. Correctively tapped elbows and knees and stances until they were a little closer to the standard Hojo had held him to, trying to impart his own knowledge without being overbearing.

Sephiroth dug into his duties, making sure to read the fine print on the negotiation contracts Chichiue could glean from his Turk position and hoped, perhaps against hope, that no one would notice his routine.

He kicked off his boots at the door, closing it to slide down the familiar wood with an exhausted sigh.

"My son." Chichiue didn't raise his voice but the clear disappointment made Sephiroth flinch. "Come here please." He stood, swayed and made his way over to the couch, collapsing against his Chichiue's left side out of sheer habit. "What do you think you're doing?"

"I'm trying to help." Sephiroth answered hoarsely, his voice cracking again. "My reaction time is three times slower than it should be, my multi-opponent approach is lacking and I need to be better. I need to be the best of the best because if I'm not the people I hold dear will get hurt."

Chichiue cradled his face and said quietly, "What you've been doing isn't the son I've come to know."

"The negotiations are worse this month," He responded grimly, "worse than they've been since my birthday."

"You shouldn't be reading those." came the stern reply as Chichue released his face.

"They're about Wutai. Why shouldn't I?" Sephiroth snapped back, anger welling up as he realized Chichiue couldn't see what he saw. "It'll break eventually. I just want to know when I'll be fulfilling my role as ShinRa's weapon—"

"You are not their weapon." Chichiue's voice sounded like the crack of lightning, sudden and thunderous. "You're a child, my child, and you cannot—" he cut himself off with a choked off sound of anger. "No parent should watch their child prepare for war and I am doing exactly that. I'm doing everything I can think of to keep you as far away from the front as possible."

"I was made for—"

"No." The single word was laced with rage but Sephiroth had the feeling it wasn't directed at him. "You were an expression of love shared between your Mother and I. You were not made for anything other than living, Sephiroth, and I'm scared for you."

"You're scared?" The strongest man Sephiroth knew and he was scared?

"Yes." Chichiue said quietly. "I don't want what happened to me to happen to you."

"...oh." Sephiroth deflated at that, hugging his Chichiue tightly.

"Killing is not something I ever want you to experience but I'm afraid that just this once, I cannot prevent it."

He pulled back after his talk with Chichiue, slowly going down to what his superiors called—with visible relief—acceptable standards.

The new Director of SOLDIER was none other than Mr. Deusericus, the wide-eyed look long gone. "1st Lt. Strife-Valentine, is it?"

"Yes, sir." Sephiroth stood at parade rest because the Dirctor had asked him to be a little less formal.

When the Director's white gloved hand skimmed over his enormous, heavily-redacted file, Sephiroth stiffened a minute amount. "Your superiors say that you're being too hard on yourself and that you're attempting, with some minor success, to whip the Thirds into shape. Your file says that you're being blocked from promotion until you're... fifteen. Fifteen?!"

"I'm thirteen, sir." He supplied in place of the unasked inquiry.

The Director's jaw worked and he asked flatly, "When did you enter ShinRa's service."

"When I was six, sir, courtesy of one Professor Hojo." Sephiroth answered back.

"... Well then. I would suggest coming up with a training regimen that you think will help your fellow Thirds and continue as is, Strife-Valentine." Director Deusericus sighed as he pinched the bridge of his nose.

Chapter Text

Chichiue somehow managed to get Sephiroth the time off he needed for his hair appointment, Uncle Cid in the lead as they made thier way through Sector Eight.

"Hey, Nate, ya in?"

"Cid! Today's a SOLDIER-Oh. You must be my new client." Slitted green locked with amused gold before the man winked at him. "Come on back, Mr....?"

"Strife-Valentine." He answered warily.

"Last name, huh? Fancy. Well, I'm Nathan but you can call me Nate. You can keep SOLDIER Second Battle company then while we figured out what to do with that glorious silver mane of yours." Nathan enthused and Sephiroth glanced back at his Chichiue. "Oh, doll, is this your first haircut?"

"... Not exactly." He gestured where the last cut had been as he sat down near SOLDIER Second Battle.

Battle's semi-spiky hair reminded him of Cloud's blond, only it was far longer than his little brother's. Battle cracked open a Mako-blue eye and snorted before he closed it again.

"Oh. Oh you cut it yourself. I see." Nate clucked his tongue but shrugged. "It's grown out well."

"Nate's a chatterbug but he gets it done," Battle murmured quietly, on a level only he and Chichiue could hear. "You'd be that Senior Third everyone keeps talking about then? The one that's got a sword taller than he is, the one that took down two Zoloms and even won our poor Base Com some help."

"I guess so," Sephiroth hummed, answering both. To Nathan, "My Chichue suggested a trim and some thinning."

"Hmm, he might not be far off," Nathan said as he eyed Sephiroth's hair critically.

Somehow, his head felt lighter after leaving the salon, both literally and figuratively; the time spent with SOLDIER Second Battle, who expected nothing of him and Chichiue, who'd been coaxed into his own trim, had done wonders for his mood.

Sitting at his cubicle, Sephiroth chewed on his pen as he tossed out ideas that were at Hojo's standards. He wanted them better, not bleeding, not overtaxing already torn muscle fibers. The tenuous balance between his body and theirs struck him here.

"Lt. Johnson, I need a favor." Sephiroth murmured, giving in as his knowledge of the subject wasn't good enough.

"What is it, 1st Lt. Strife-Valentine?" Johnson poked his head over the cubicle wall.

"Director Deusericus asked me for a decent training regimen for the Thirds. There is... a marked difference between myself and the average Third. As you stand somewhere in the center, I could use your opinion on what might work and what would not." He admitted reluctantly. The perfectionist in him wanted to take it back but the more practical side, the one that sounded an awful lot like Uncle Cid, squashed it.

"Huh. Sure, let me just scoot on over, sir."

"Strife-Valentine or my given name, please. This is a partnership and while you are technically my subordinate..." Sephiroth trailed off meaningfully.

Johnson grinned as he lifted his chair with a tiny grunt. "We're of almost equal rank and this is something we're both needed on, yeah?"

"Well said, Johnson."

"Thanks, Strife-Valentine. This have anything to do with your comment a while back? Something about weapons and ShinRa?" Johnson asked cautiously as he picked up the yellow pad and perused the notes Sephiroth had made in blocky shorthand from his month at BaseCom.

"It does, though I have been informed that I need to pull back or I will outstrip even the most ambitious of the SOLDIER Seconds. This is the compromise we reached." He said. "Well?"

"Okay, most of this is good but uh,"

"Out with it."

"... Not everyone can lift that much? We're staggered as far as Mako shots go so that we don't get poisoned. Some of us have more than others." Johnson pointed out.

"Ah." Sephiroth chewed on his pen some more, pausing when he heard the tell-tale crunch of plastic that meant he'd bitten through the end again but not close to the inkwell. He'd have had a mouthful of ink if he'd bitten down on that. He spat out the plastic, tossed the pen and dug into his desk for a new one amongst the near endless supply of them.

"Strife-Valentine, those are supposed to be damn near unbreakable."

"I break them on a weekly basis. It's a terrible habit I picked up from Major Henderson when he was still a Captain."

Johnson protested, peering into the garbage can full off shattered or bent pens and bits of paper. "No, I mean they fixed them to Henderson's specific habit and reinforced the ends. How are you still breaking them?"

Sephiroth gave a snort, lifted his lip and displayed the abnormally sharp canines he possessed. "My bite strength is not average amongst SOLDIERs. I temper it most of the time but when I'm thinking or not paying attention, things tend to shatter."

"Huh. You try R&D?" Johnson suggested.

"Useless." He replied with a scoff.

"... Urban Development?" came the hesitant offer.

"They did come up with the carbon fiber. Hmm. I'll have to check with them but I'd need an excuse." Sephiroth mulled it over.

"Break something vaguely important," Gen snarked as he leaned on the cubicle wall.

"I hate to admit it but yes, that seems to be the way to go. R&D is too busy building weapons so they'll make UD do it instead." Geal mentioned as he also leaned on the wall.

"VR Room is a good candidate," Urial responded as he walked past, "Wiring's been shitty since Rhapsodos burnt it and R&D's too busy to fix it but it's necessary for us to use so they have to fix it. You get the ear of Urban, we get a better VR Room. Win-win for everyone."

"Seconded," Wolf sounded off, walking in the other direction. "Also, it saves my poor pen stash so please, by all means."

Sephiroth's in the middle of sparring with his Chichiue when the VR Room finally broke, both of them able to use their strength when facing each other.

Neither noticed when Masamune carved into the ceiling nor when the Quicksilver's shot hit the wall but they noticed when it went pitch black.

"I think we may have done more than break the room." Chichiue's eyes glowed in the dark, crimson against the gloom.

"I think so too. The latch for the door should release right about," he paused and a pneumatic hiss signaled the door opening a faint amount. "now."

They stepped out into the brighter area and blinked before the Head of Weapons R&D marched down the hall, wrench in hand and hard boots stomping down the hall.

In an entirely unplanned move, both Sephiroth and Chichiue leveled their weapons at her out of sheer instinct.

Director Scarlet only smiled and gently eased Masamune's tip out of the way of her face with two fingers.

"Two of ShinRa's greatest assets and you're ruining our only VR Room?" She purred at Chichiue, ignoring Sephiroth entirely.

"It was already malfunctioning." Chichue corrected, his tone bland as he holstered the Quicksilver and Sephiroth sheathed Masamune. "We merely sought to gain the attention of the superior engineers and have it fixed properly."

Director Scarlet's nostrils flared at that. "And you? What do you have to say for yourself, SOLDIER?"

"The same; superior engineers and a better VR Room overall. If our destruction causes it... Well, out of chaos comes life, after all. Your department is hyper-focused and devoted to weaponry. Perhaps you can send Urban in your place? Give Director Tuetsi some actual work instead of busy work and maybe he'll stop bothering you." Sephiroth replied absently as he pulled a dagger and examined it for nicks and scratches out of habit. Director Scarlet was not someone you went around without a weapon of some sort on hand; even Hojo had kept his distance from her. "He fixed the wall I broke quite nicely."

She opened her mouth to object, closed it and rose a brow at him in consideration. "You word has merit, despite it's tone. Ask your Director and coordinate with Urban if you must. I do enjoy the knowledge that you know R&D to be the superior engineers and that we are, indeed, quite busy to be bothered by such matters as this. Carry on, I suppose."

Sephiroth and Chichiue glanced at one another as she left and then broke into giggles the second she was out of reach.

Director Deusericus and Director Tuetsi stood across from one another as Squad Delta and Squad Lima entered.

"Is there a reason I was called here?"

"Lt. Strife-Valentine, if you would explain." Director Deusericus waved his hand as he sat down at his desk.

"Since you fixed the problem with the wall so quickly, umm, we were wondering if you might take a look at the VR Room? Maybe build a few more?" Sephiroth blurted and then chewed on his lip as the Director of Urban Development blinked in with a waft of astonishment following the surprise. "And maybe work on the pens R&D suck at making?"

"We'd be offering a portion of SOLDIER's budget, if it helps any. We need more VR Rooms but trying to get R&D to do anything around here involves a lot more teeth-pulling than we'd like on a regular basis. We'd offer SOLDIERs to help it along, of course, since they can lift the heavier materials without too much strain on your regular workers." General Urial mentioned. "The SOLDIER Corps grows often and rotating Squads can only help while it's still fairly small."

"Why so much faith in the smallest department?" Director Tuetsi questioned after Urial had finished.

"Your work does it's own talking," Lt. Colonel Tyris snorted. "because that carbon fiber has yet to break on us, Strife-Valentine excluded."

"Ah." Director Tuetsi mulled it over and said, "I'll do it on one condition."

"Condition?" Director Deusericus asked.

"Well, I've got a project that need, ah, human interaction? It's-He's an AI. I was hoping Strife-Valentine would take care of it while I work on the rooms." came the hesitant reply. "It's quite harmless and comes in the form of a talking cat-"

"I'll take him." He decided, "Cloud could do with another friend."

"... Cloud?"

"My little brother." Sephiroth clarified.

"I suppose Cait Sith's not quite up to adults just yet; that would work out splendidly." Director Tuetsi smiled and so the deal was struck. "Do you mind taking Cait Sith home with you today?"

Chapter Text

"What manner o' man are ye droppin' me off with now?"

"He's a SOLDIER, so hold your tongue." The counter from Director Tuetsi meant that the AI questioned everything, orders included.

"Ach, why should-"

"Hello, Cait Sith." Sephiroth murmured. "You're technically with my little brother for most of the day."

"A wee bairn? Ye must be jokin'." The AI was indeed a black and white cat, though more like a plush one instead of the real thing, standing on two legs with a tiny red cape and gloved hands.

Cloud would love him.

«Cloud, this is Cait Sith. He'll be living with us for-»

"Yer a strong one, aye-eek!"

«You brought me a talking cat!» Cloud hummed, turning back and forth in place with Cait Sith in a bear hug. «Thankyouthankyouthankyou!»

Frankly, the sight of Cait Sith caught in Cloud's grip was an adorable one.

The snap of Mom's camera confirmed it.

«So, he'll be with us for how long?» she asked softly.

«Until the VR Rooms are done. Director Tuetsi wants to see what Cait Sith will do with an extended period away from him. He's a learning AI.» Sephiroth added as Cloud set Cait Sith down and took the AI's hand instead to lead him into the living room.

Their new housing was much larger and Mom said he'd had a choice between staying with Cloud or getting his own spot in the apartment.

Sephiroth had chosen his own room, taking the second to the left of the hallway. He displayed his feathers plus all of his knick-nacks from his friends, put up a poster of Fanta'si 7 and got to pick out his own sheets (a nice lavender) for his new bed. The leather duster hung on a dress mannequin donated by Ms. Ifalna and he had a rack for the weapons he wore.

He'd almost cried when he'd seen the end result and Mom had understood when he'd hugged a little too tightly as his words failed him.

A space to call his own, one that wasn't touched by Hojo or ShinRa but home in a way he couldn't explain.

He snapped out of his reviere to see Mom smiling at him fondly.

«Your Chichiue does that. Looks like it's a Valentine thing.»

«Mmm, just thinking about how this is a home... Our home.»

«Of course it is. Would you like to help with dinner? It's been a while since I've seen my other son.» Mom said even as she teased.

«I'd love nothing more.» Sephiroth agreed even as he stripped off his gloves and kicked out of his boots to pad into the kitchen.

They worked in tandem, Sephiroth hooking his chin over her shoulder to watch her dismantle the rotissere chicken that had been too small for ShinRa to use after chopping all of the accompanying vegetables.

«This is chicken fricasse. You use already cooked things and fresh to make a good meal. How's the rice going?"

Sephiroth cocked his head to listen to the bubbling rice and replied, «Another ten minutes.»

Mom only chuckled and nudged him to check it visually. He lifted up the lid and she gave an impressed hum. «Good ear. It's just about done.»

«Told you.» he said, groaning when his voice cracked again. «I hate puberty.»

«Mama, will I ever do that?» Cloud asked as he poked his head into the kitchen and Cait Sith followed.

«Of course you will, though you'll have to wait a few years.» Mom answered, ferrying the pot of chicken fricasse over to the table. Sephiroth followed with the pot of rice.

«But why?»

«It's... Hmm. It's a part of growing up. It'll happen to you and Zack, though not to Aerith.» Sephiroth offered. "'Geal and Gen still aren't done and I'm only just starting. It doesn't stop for a long time so don't be too quick to start.»

«So, it's just boys? Oh. Hey, can Cait eat?»

«Just boys. Dunno. Why don't you ask him in Common?» he answered the first question but parried the second to get Cloud thinking.

"Cait, do you eat?"

"No, laddie, I don't but thank ye for the offer. I eat electricity or the sun. I'll just plug myself into the wall socket."

"Huh." Cloud was frowning thoughtfully, chewing on his bottom lip as Sephiroth guided him to the table. "How do you eat the sun?"

"Well aren't you a curious laddie? I'd need some sun for that though."

"Midgar isn't exactly known for it's sun." Sephiroth hedged, "Maybe a day trip to Kalm?"

Cloud looked at Cait Sith and then at Sephiroth and asked quietly, «Is he gonna hurt Aerith if he knows where she is?»

«I don't think so but I don't want him knowing about either of them if I can help it. I'll see if I can't send a warning down with either Chichiue or the Captain.»

Cait Sith looked between them, looked at Mom and asked, "That's no' Common, is it?"

"No and we're not sharing that information with you." Mom told Cait Sith firmly. "That's between my sons and I, Cait Sith. It's personal. I'm sure Director Tuesti taught you the meaning of privacy."

"Aye, ma'am, he did."

When he invited Gen and 'Geal to his new room, Genesis immediately focused on the leather duster.

"What's this?"

"A gift from Wolf; something about being a First and making an impression."

"We should all get one," Genesis offered as he circled the duster.

'Geal started laughing, laughing all the harder at Gen's affronted expression. "My Mom said, and I quote, 'you're going to be built like a brick shithouse.' I won't fit a duster. I don't think there's enough leather on the Eastern Continent for me unless we skin a Zolom. Besides, I'm wielding the Buster; I need arm room."

"We'll cut off the sleeves." Genesis countered and then Sephiroth started laughing. "What?"

"So he's a hero from Fanta'si?"

Genesis chuckled at that, shrugging as he thought about it. "Too bad, I was looking forward to matching."

"I'd look more like a Turk enforcer than a hero." Angeal pointed out as he stood straight. "Best leave the leather and dusters to the two of you."