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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 familiar white 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."

Chapter Text

Cloud and Cait Sith were attached at the hip, it seemed, in no time at all.

Mischievous to the max, Cait Sith managed to get Cloud into spots an eight-year-old should never be able to reach.

Silly things like fishing line trip wires with paint buckets, Saran Wrap doorway traps and other childish things that he laughed at when, not if, when someone else got caught in them.

Cloud didn't know the meaning of the word subtle when planning with Reno at the apartment.

Sticky note tags began to appear with the tags, C.S & R with a cat face underneath the initials.

While Aerith and Zack were Cloud's best friends, Reno was more... tricky. Cloud didn't want to share him, the same way he shared Aerith and Zack with Sephiroth.

A friend he'd made without help.

It reminded Sephiroth of himself when Angeal and Genesis had decided that he was part of their group.

He avoided the traps and let his friends know where they were; it didn't help that the Cadets and other Thirds were hit quite frequently.

When Gen and 'Geal joined in the planning, it went from goofy to tactical with a side of silliness. The motto was, after all, confuse, don't abuse.

Johnson wiped the teal paint off of his face and Sephiroth pointed up at the second bucket, which waited for the hapless soul caught by the paint.

"Step to the left three and jump forward and you should be safe from the powder."

Johnson followed his orders to the letter before he mourned his uniform. "This is my second uniform this month... How did you know about the second bucket?"

"I live with the perpetrators," He pointed out with amusement. "at least two of them."

"You mean littlest Strife? Really? That's... kinda impressive. Sir."

Sephiroth waved off the title, equipping the correct Materia to help poor Lt. Johnson.

"It would be more impressive if they managed to set both buckets off in sequence." Genesis pointed out as he snipped the fishing line and dodged the arc of baby powder with practiced ease.

Angeal pulled down the paint bucket with a jump and cradled it so that it didn't spill more paint, "Which, I believe, we taught them," even as Johnson laughed himself sick at the offended tone.

"To be fair, they're eight." He sighed as he washed Johnson off with a brief application of a combination spell.

"Did... Did you just cross-cast?! We're not supposed to know that until Second Class Materia Mastery Course!"

The reminder that not everyone had the same horrifying teaching experience he did reared it ugly head. Gone for two years and counting and the sins of Hojo piled higher still.

"Behemoths are immune once hit with an elemental attack." was all he said in response and Johnson's lips pressed thin. "You have to get... creative."

"I remember enough of ShinRa's past, sir. May I say good riddance to..."

"We call him dragon dung." Sephiroth supplied wryly.

"Pretty gods-damned appropriate, sir. Good riddance to that sorry sack of dragon dung. Thanks for cleaning my uniform."

"You're welcome."

Cait Sith stumbled, the tiny red shoes tripping on the carpet in their apartment.

This was the fourth time in under an hour.


"I'm fine," this was broken by a yawn, "laddie."

"It doesn't look like you are." He murmured.

"I jus' need to charge—"

"That's what you said last time we played, Cait." Cloud butted in with a pout at the AI.

"I'll make you a deal. If you can stay awake for five more minutes without charging, then you can stay. If you can't, I take you back to the Director to get you fixed."

Cait Sith protested but flagged mid-sentence, going limp before Cloud caught him.

Sephiroth knew it was time to give the little AI back to Director Tuesti. "I'll take him back."

"Thanks, Seph." Cloud sounded relieved, which promoted Sephiroth to offer a hug.

Cloud snuggled close and patted Cait Sith's fur one last time before he let go.

"Excuse me, sir, I was wondering if you had a moment?"

"Ah, just the SOLDIER I wanted to see! The new VR Rooms are finished and I was wondering if you might-Oh dear." Concern laced his tone at the way Sephiroth was holding the little plush toy.

"He's been shutting down frequently lately and it's been upsetting Cloud. I think it might be his power source, Director." Sephiroth sighed even as he sat Cait Sith down with care. "That is good news about the VR Rooms though."

"... You've grown fond of him as well."

"Cait's a little foul-mouthed outside of Cloud's hearing range, sir, but," He admitted with a faint smile, "not all bad."

"Noted, Strife-Valentine."

The VR Rooms were incredible with repeated testing though, since they're all based on the original, Sephiroth still knew all of their faults.

"The projection's off on the left and flickers if you pass it too fast." He pointed out as he listened to the room. "The engine coils need to be wound tighter. Ventilation's better but the fan rattle gives away that it's artificial." Director Tuesti was blinking at his critique. "... Would you like me to apologize, Director? My opinion was not prompted."

"Don't apologize, 1st Lt.," the Director's eyes had lit up. "because I was going to ask what else I could fix. My department is working on the pen issue, taking into account your strength."

"Really?" He twisted the handle of the larger dagger in his hand, careful to keep his strength tempered.

"You're proving quite the challenge. I haven't had this much fun in absolute ages because Scarlet demands the larger work." Director Tuesti admitted with his lips tugging up into a brief smile. "Let me fix those and have you run a simulation, if you wouldn't mind? If the room can handle you it should work fine for the rest of the SOLDIER Program."

"... Of course, Director." When he listened to the room, the creak of the mechanicals were faint enough that he could ignore them, the fan was nonexistent and the flickered pixels of the leftmost projector were gone. "It's ready, sir."

"Test Sequence Beta; Mode Strife-Valentine. Noncombatant; Director Tuesti. Pick your enemy, 1st Lt., and take care; it's now voice-activated."

"Understood, Director." Sephiroth mulled it over and said, "Sea Worm, Level 35, high Mako content." The creature that formed was massive, the rich blue-n-red color scheme a direct contrast to the cold tungsten of the room's walls. "Home range, Mideel shore."

The ocean glimmered now, the shush of waves almost real enough to believe.

"Encounter rate, 10-3, battle start!"

He summoned Masamune and tucked his dagger along his right forearm, launching forward with determination. Ducking under its first bite, he spiraled to the right and brough Masamune down with force. The realistic effects had the green blood spattering all over Director Tuesti.

"Sorry Director!" He tossed over his shoulder as more Sea Worms spawned in its place.

Sephiroth essentially romped through them, returning to the man's side covered in a fair amount of virtual viscera. "Battle end! It works great, sir!"

The Director scowled at him through a curtain of snot-colored Sea Worm slime, gross even if it was virtual, until brown eyes crinkled at the corners and he laughed. "I suppose that's what I get from a young man who knows what he's doing when it comes to monsters. The trial run is successful."

Chapter Text

It was the scent of lilies that told him it was a dream.

The brilliant yellow flowers in the center of Ms. Ifalna's lilies were new though.

Sephiroth meandered toward it, summoning Masamune with a thought as he prodded aside the taller flowers.

"Is that the first greeting I get from my son? A sword?" the chiding tone had him jumping back as the flowers rustled to reveal-Oh. OH.

He pushed Masamune back into the ether and stumbled over his own feet trying to hug his Mother.

"Hello, my little angel."

"Mama." He breathed out, looking up into eyes that looked almost like his green.

"I see you've got the Crescent green." she said as she cradled his face in her hands. "The silver..."

"Chichiue says its not our fault, the silver." He offered as she took his left hand in her right. "Something about things yet to come but he wasn't sure if he'd heard right."

"You're... more trusting than I'd hoped."

Sephiroth read the words she didn't say out loud; he trusted her even with knowing what she'd done to Chichiue.

"Well, I guess you can thank Mom and Chichiue. What are those?" He pointed to the flowers that were taller than them both.

"Sunflowers, little angel. They're... my favorite."

Sephiroth whirled when he sensed others in the field with them.

"Seph! You're in the flowers~" Aerith chirruped. "Mom, does that mean he can do what we do?"

Ms. Ifalna chuckled as she trailed behind Aerith. "Yes, it does... Lu?"

"Hey Ifa." Mama gave a hesitant wave even as her grip tightened on his hand.

Sephiroth looked between them, locking eyes briefly with Aerith before he blurted out, "Are we related?!"

"Ifa's my sister; of course you're related."


"Cool!" Aerith crowed, followed by a happy noise. "Does that mean he can come grow flowers too?"

"If he wants to then I suppose so." Ms. Ifalna hummed. "Sephiroth, come here please."

Sephiroth looked between his Mother and Ms. Ifalna. He released her hand and her face twisted, her color spun to ash in an instant.

Get back here. She snarled, lunging for him even as he bolted for Ms. Ifalna and Aerith.

"No! You're not my Mother!" He summoned Masamune again, this version glowing green as he took in the shape that pretended to be his Mother.

The ash spiraled up and made his Mother look like a puppet, strings of vile, twisted grey holding her in place for the blue creature that rose up behind her. "What is that?"

The fall of familiar white hair made him flinch from the sheer want to touch it. Whatever it was, it was dangerous in a way that no other monster could be—come too close and it was asking for death.

"J—." Ms. Ifalna said even as she took his right hand. Sephiroth didn't understand why the name sounded like it had been muffled underwater but didn't question it. Thier enemy screeched as the first strings struck the Barrier he'd called on in haste. "She's using my sister as a puppet to get her way. Your Mother is in the sunflowers, Seph, and using every scrap of talent she has to hold her back."

"Can we help?" He asked, shuddering at the thought of being pulled into the bubbling, twisted grey.

Ms. Ifalna looked at the shadow, freed her hand from his and Aerith's, and braced her feet into a staff stance. A staff appeared in her hands and in Aerith's—Masamune vibrated in his hand but stayed put.

"When I count to three, I need both of you to chant Greater Gospel with me. It might hurt her but it's better than doing nothing. Ready?"


"Ready, Mama."

"One, two—"

J— howled and lunged forward, his Mother dragged in the cording.

"Greater Gospel."

Sephiroth lashed out with Masamune, aiming for the bubbling strings as Aerith and Ifalna cast at the creature. The lines shuddered and snapped with the sound of steel cording as he cut in the dreamscape.

Time and again they cut and tugged until his Mother raised a shaking hand freed of the grey.

"No more, please, my little angel. J— cannot be removed in one sitting, try as you might." The pained smile she gave him hurt more than the manipulation of the creature. "For now, rest. You look tired."

"I will..." His Mother was pulled back into the sunflowers, the stalks tall and decidedly wretched in the lilies. "Mama."

"I had only hoped you were like us."

"'Hoped?'" he parroted, prying his hand away from his blade and finding it scorched.

"A foolish wish that Hojo hadn't hurt more Cetra." Ms. Ifalna sighed as the staves dispersed into green light. "There are many things, Sephiroth, that I regret. Coaxing your Mother into coming with my husband and I is the greatest of them. Hubris is something all of us suffer from, Seph."

"Excessive pride and hindsight are all we can hope to avoid," he murmured as he pushed Masamune away and hugged her. "It's... kind of nice to have more family."

"And here I thought the Himura gone from the Valentine line," she chuckled as she held him and Aerith close. "Cutting through the Chocobo dung is an art not many keep."

"Chichiue says it's the one thing he'd like to keep of my Oba-San." he hummed as he listened to the beat of her heart.

"Rightfully so," his Aunt murmured as she looked over their heads at the sunflowers, "little angel."

He shot up in bed, Masamune clutched against his chest as though it were a particularly sharp security blanket, a scream clenched behind his teeth.

A knock on his door had him wilting as he said hoarsely, "Come in." Chichiue's gauntlet gripped the edge of the door and pulled it open enough to let him in. "'sjust a nightmare."

"Some nightmare if you've cut into the drywall like that." came the drawled reply.

The deep scoring in the lavender-painted walls and deep blue windowsill had Sephiroth dropping his sheathed blade onto the bed and burying his face in his hands. "It wasn't a dream."

"What do you mean, 'wasn't a dream'?" Chichiue pressed sharply, a command that promoted him to blurt out—

"I saw Mother. Only, she wasn't Mother all the way and there was this thing and—" he sucked in a deep breath and whispered the rest. "I think I'm related to Aerith. It's fading but... It had hair like mine and I wanted to touch it so badly. Ms. Ifalna blocked it and then we did something, together, to help Mother fight it. The name's like water, like it's there but I can't hear it."

"A name, hmm? Does it start with a J?"

"You know...?" he questioned even as he made room for his Chichiue on the bed, banishing Masamune back to its rack in his room.

"I do and I think, in this instance, that names have power. Were you to hear this name in full before you're ready for it, you would fall to the creature's influence."

"... Whatever's in the J-shot... Is that it?" Sephiroth snuggled into his favorite spot, the warmth of it lulling him back into relaxing.

"I could find out if you'd like, my son."


Lt. Colonel Wolf took one look at him and motioned him out of formation. "Strife-Valentine, you look exhausted and not from a night filled with necking or whatever it is teenagers do these days."

"Bad dream, sir, but I ended up using Masamune in it. Housing has to fix my wall."

"Hmm. I haven't seen it on you before but... You might have MP exhaustion. You still feel tired?"

Sephiroth ran two or three scenarios where he admitted to the drag he felt or he went about his day and felt it even longer. He knew the sensation, had had it happened under Hojo's iron-fisted rule and he'd been expected to get over it.

"Strife-Valentine, if you're thinking about lying to me, you're swaying on your feet. Go to sick call like those idiots over there and feel better." Wolf ordered dryly, "Hewley, Rhapsodos, accompany Strife-Valentine. I send him alone and the poor bastard's not even gonna make it."

"Yes sir!"

Angeal jogged up and immediately put the back of his hand against Sephiroth's forehead. "You don't have a fever but I do think you need to go."

"Seph, even your hair is drooping. C'mon." Genesis coaxed and Sephiroth blinked at how gentle they were being.

"... Do I really look...?"

"Like Chocobo shit? Yes." Gen fired back, hovering on his left side while 'Geal escorted him on his right side.

"Good to know." He huffed as they sat in the sick bay chairs.

The receptionist did a double take at Lima Squad and then zeroed in on Sephiroth himself. "You're supposed to sign in."

Angeal picked up the paperwork and Sephiroth scrubbed at his face as he looked at the page. "Okay, you're in no condition to be looking at it so I'll fill it in, okay?"

Sephiroth pillowed his cheek on Angeal and nodded.

"Feeling sick, tired or exhausted?" Angeal questioned.

"Last one."

"Any bad dreams lately or stayed up too late?"

"Former." he sighed as Angeal wrote with his right hand.

"Have you had a Mako update in the last month?"

"... No. I'm probably due." Sephiroth grimaced at that.

"All done. Gen, hand it back please." 'Geal prodded quietly, "Why didn't your Chichiue catch this?"

"Didn't get a chance to tell him before formation. Negotiations with Wutai have gone sour; Lady Himura got sick again and her kids are squabbling over who leads it." He offered as the sick bay line moved slowly. "Haven't seen too much of him lately."

"Yeah, that sucks." Gen replied. "They've been harping on us to find a tutor but one who's loyal to ShinRa."

"I don't suppose I could offer my teachers? I've just about finished Imperial and I'm working on the nuances of regular Wutainese."

"How-? No, no, don't want to know how you managed to get a head-start on the rest of us poor souls."

"His name's Lt. Capala but you've met him before, 'Geal, and the other one is Chichiue."

"You mean the one that loves your mom half to death." Angeal replied before he levered Sephiroth off of his shoulder. "Your turn, Seph."

"Ugh, do I have to move?"

Angeal snickered and then teased as he helped Sephiroth up and to the exam room, "I think that's the first time you've sounded like an actual teenager."

"Blame the dragon dung."

"Chart says that you're overdue for a Mako boost, Lt. Strife."

"It's Strife-Valentine. I have one scheduled for next week."

Dr. Jakobs cheerfully barged into the room with a,"Good morning, Lt. Strife-Valentine! Ooo, you've got MP exhaustion."

"So they tell me."

"You'll need these elixirs, taken slowly throughout the day and then one before you go to bed. It shouldn't interfere with your boost. We'll talk more at your appointment." Dr. Jakobs shoved the nurse out of the room and let Angeal and Genesis stay. "You two, keep an eye out for this sort of thing. Take these and sip slowly but finish all of them. You're somehow in the negatives, which I didn't think was possible for a SOLDIER of your caliber, young man."

That would explain why he wanted to go back to sleep.

"You're also on forced-rest for the next three days."

"... Back to Base-Com?"

"Yup. Start drinking, please."

He sipped at his elixir until it was gone knowing that if he was in the negatives, somehow Aerith and Ifalna were too.

""I heard through your friends that you hit negative MP. Did you want me to check on our mutual friends?""

"If you could, Chichiue. I'm... worried."

""Of course, my son. Negotiations have stabilized for the moment. I'll be home in time for dinner.""

"Thank you."

""You're more than welcome, Sephiroth."

Chapter Text

Major Milo rose a brow when Sephiroth settled into a free chair at Base Com.

"I'm on forced rest and I have to drink a lot of elixirs. Doctor ordered me here, sir."

"At least you're coherent enough. Last guy they sent me, he needed to be on actual bed rest. What's the charge this time, kid?" Milo prodded as he handed over Sephiroth's mic set and the rubber-banded set of color-coded pens.

"MP exhaustion."

"What did you do?"

"No idea, sir, other than the fact that I destroyed a wall in my bedroom."

"A new Limit Break, maybe?"

"... It's possible but I haven't been in any monster scrapes lately."

"Leveling can be slow, like Hewley and Rhapsodos but whatever it was, it must've been powerful enough to drain you with continual usage. Got a color that comes to mind?" Milo pointed out.

"Green. It's like Mako but... different. Feels better."

"A healing Limit, huh? Is there anything you can't do, Strife-Valentine?"

Sephiroth looked at his boots and then chuckled. "Apparently I can't tie my own boot laces."

"... Explain."

"That's how Rhapsodos ties his laces, sir. He tied my shoes for me this morning while we were stuck waiting in sick call." The little bunny looped bows were not Sephiroth's style, nor were they the standard for tying boot laces.

"Sick call missed a burn on your hand too, Strife-Valentine. You can barely curl it in." Major Milo tapped his Materia braced to get the Cura to light up. "May I?" Sephiroth peeled off his left glove and hissed at the way the skin pulled against the leather. Somehow, Masamune's wrapping had imprinted itself on his hand. "Yup, that's a healing Limit alright."

"How so?"

"You burn yourself on those if you overdo it. It's not so bad, this one; must've been your first time. You've got a color. Do you mind me asking about the incantation?"

"Yes, sir, I do mind that." That was something between him, Aerith and Ms. Ifalna.

"Family Limit Break, huh? I get it."

That caught his attention even as his hand was able to curl inward. "There's... Is that a thing, sir?"

"With some people, it's a Summon, others, it's a Limit Break. Looks like yours is the latter, Strife-Valentine." Major Milo hummed. "Alright, you should be good to look at maps and drink about fifteen of those damn things. MP exhaustion should get you actual bed rest but-"

"SOLDIERs need to be prepared for everything." He teased.

Major Milo and the rest of Base Com snickered as he pulled his hair back and settled his mic set.

Sephiroth flagged about halfway through his day at Base Com.

"Go home, Strife-Valentine." Captain Ulric told him. "Go home before I call your scarily competent Mum up here to take you home."

"No need sir, Wolf sent us up here to collect him." Angeal replied. "Something about poor bastards and their inability to manage elevators or stairs while exhausted."

"With that attitude, 'Geal, you should just fireman carry me up the stairs so I can nap on your shoulder."

"His ridiculous shoulders, you mean. I can't believe he's grown again!" Genesis pouted even as he eased off Seph's mic set and turned it off with a deft flick of his fingers. "You doing okay?"


"You managed eight Elixirs," Angeal tilted his head to the side and Sephiroth saw the golden flash of Libra Scan before his best friend snorted. "and you need sleep. C'mon."

"How's my MP?"

"About halfway, Seph, now stop assessing whether or not you can go for another fifteen minutes to finish with your crew in the field." Angeal chided as he scooped Sephiroth out of his wheelie chair.

"I can walk, you–" Sephiroth squawked indignantly, swatting at Angeal's pauldrons like a grumpy Cuahl.

"You can but do you really want to?" Gen lightly tugged on his boot as Angeal carried him down the hall. "Walking down the hall or being carried by a strong, handsome-"

"Oh my Odin, Gen, shut up." Sephiroth rolled his eyes as Angeal shook him with silent laughter. "Not everyone's as into your boyfriend as you are." He slapped his hand over his mouth but all three of them froze at that, peering around the corner to find it empty. "I'm sorry."

"Everyone knows we're best friends already. It's not that far of a stretch." Angeal sighed as they continued forward. "However, ShinRa's policy on public displays of affection are limited and mention only those couples who are... conventional. I have no idea if they even have a company policy for people like Gen and I."

"It's not frowned on in Banora but then again, that's Banora, not here." Genesis grumbled.

"We'll," Sephiroth yawned, "find out. I don't want to lose..."


Sephiroth groaned as his pillow moved and he buried his face in it, huffing when he realized his pillow was a person.

"-m telling you, Gen, he's like a freaking Blugu. He get all comfy and then-"

"Cuddle monster from Hel."

"It was a nice nap though."

"Mm, that it was. I feel sorry for whoever he does end up dating. That hair is a mouthful."

"He braids it, normally, but we all sort of..."

"Puppy piled?" He offered into the silence.

Angeal laughed, his 'pillow' moved and he chuckled softly, lifting his head to check how they were laying. Genesis had an arm slung over him, Angeal had curled around him and he was definitely Bluguing his best friends; one leg tucked under Genesis and the other slung over Angeal's calves. He was holding 'Geal like he did Cloud, both arms wrapped around his best friend's back.

His PHS went off, Angeal snagging it with his fingertips and handing it over with a faint smile. "It's your Chichiue."

""Our mutual friends were a bit woozy but better off than you. We need to talk when I get back."" Sephiroth winced at the chiding tone, though it softened as Chichiue continued, ""We can use your down time to review the last of the Imperial hand signs. Bring your friends, I know it's public knowledge that they need to find tutors and there's no doubt that they're listening in.""

"Hi Mr. Valentine." Angeal greeted and Genesis blew a raspberry at his PHS. "You'll have to excuse Gen."

""Only because you asked, Angeal. I'll see you soon, my son.""

The click had Sephiroth pulling his arm out from underneath Angeal, rolling over in Angeal's arms and flicking Genesis in the forehead. "Chichiue's trying to get you a headstart before they bring in shitty instructors. Be nice." Though he'd chided Gen, the idiot was still smiling fondly. "What?"

"Think about what you did."

He'd-Oh. He'd done it because it felt natural but casually touching someone outside of family had never been a priority. "That's okay, right?"

"You're fine, Seph. It's just that it's new for you." 'Geal reassured.

"Learned from the best, now didn't I?!" He lunged for Genesis and cackled at the shriek —"A manly yelp, godsdammit, stop tickling-Ahahaha!"—that left his other best friend.

All three of them were laying on the bed, giggling if they so much as glanced at one another. The doorbell going off had all of them jumping off the bed and heading for the door, Sephiroth reaching it first and cracking it open to see his Chichiue on the other side.

"Hi," he panted, shoving at Genesis' face with his hand as Angeal waved from behind him. "Gen, that's my foot, get off."

"Move, you two, and let him in."

"Sorry," they chorused in sync and then Sephiroth backed away from the door first.

"I see you're feeling better," Chichiue murmured as he kicked off his boots and hung up his cape before he closed the door with his foot. He tapped the doorframe three times for the Materia in it to activate. "This doesn't leave the room. Sephiroth, Aerith and Ifalna invited you down to help them with the flowers. Angeal, Genesis, Sephiroth is related to them. No one else can know this and you'll understand when you accompany him to Sector Five."

"This is the same reason we don't talk about them in ShinRa?"

"... It is. Now, I brought workbooks in basic Wutainese for you two and a finisher for Seph, mostly because his conjunctions need work in regular Wutainese."

"Why?" Gen prodded as he leafed through the pages.

"I keep using Imperial verbs for them. Imperial's more formal and well..."

"Easier, huh? Mostly because that's how you talk normally." Angeal said as he dragged a table over and sat down next to Seph in the window nook. "Regular's for people who haven't had to be that formal. You'll get it eventually."

"I know that but..." Sephiroth sighed.

Gen nudged him from the other side. "How about you teach us? If anything, teaching it to us will get it right in your brain without having to force it."

"A strategy we hadn't considered yet, Seph. Go ahead, I think it'll do you some good." Chichiue mentioned. "I'll be here if you need back-up."

The first half hour, they were atrocious. Sephiroth wondered how anyone could teach, even with understanding the material.

He groaned, sat back and then a lightbulb went off; he needed to teach them like Kunsel and the junior Thirds.

It went much better after that, demonstrating with the characters and the way it was said.

When Angeal handed him an elixir, he blinked and then realized why he'd been out of sorts. Sephiroth sipped it slowly and continued teaching the material, feeling much better.

"Okay, okay, break time!" Genesis pleaded, raising both hands in surrender. "Dinner before you feed me more Wutainese."

"We have been at it for a while."


"Nah, we're just as bad. Besides, once you found your footing, it was kinda nice." Gen complimented and then stared down at the ink-covered workbook. "I actually understand most of this."

Sephiroth's chest filled with affection, a soft smile tugging at his lips as he sat back with his friends.

"That right there is reward enough."


"That smile of yours definitely made it worth the language headache." 'Geal responded, "I mean, don't get us wrong, you smile more frequently than you did than when we met but that smile... That one is when you're absolutely satisfied with the work you've done."

Sephiroth flushed and then leaned his weight back on his friends some more, grumbling out, "Well, don't get used to it or anything."

"Party pooper."

"He's trying to make sure your head isn't as big as your ego, le sot." Angeal huffed out, the Banoran word a shock after so much Wutainese and Common.

"Why I oughta—"

Sephiroth growled, trapped each of them in a headlock and said sweetly, "I'd appreciate it if I wasn't right in the middle of it. I think we're tired and need some food before we continue this."

Gen actually wilted in his hold. "Way to channel your Mom, dude."

"... No kidding."

He released them and shrugged. "I didn't want to be in the middle of your scrap, that's all."

"He's, believe it or not, channeling his Mother." Chichiue commented dryly. "She used to crack down on interns like that, only she smacked their heads together and told them to sort it out."

Sephiroth pushed the table aside at that, stretching until his back popped and his stomach growled.

"Definitely time for food."

The cafeteria was full, Mom in her element as dinner was served.

He watched her fondly as he ate, chuckling as he saw Cloud's spikes weave through the crowd and then settle next to him. «Have a good day, Cloud?»

"Mmhmm! We did wilderness training and I got the fire to start without Materia!"

"That sounds fun. Did you catch anything?" Gen asked around his mouthful of food.

"Some lizards 'n stuff. We did find a baby Chikabo but it's Mama found us right when we found it! That was scary but Lt. Kunsel stood in front of us. Are all wild Chocobos mean?"

"Well, some of them are but she was only mean because you guys were too close to her Chickabo." Sephiroth hummed as Cloud leaned on him but didn't get into his lap. His brother was getting too big to fit and he missed it a little.

"That's what Kunsel said too. I got called a Chikabo."

"By who?" Sephiroth inquired with a bit of a growl.

"They didn't mean it like that. Mama Chocobo kinda poked my hair with her beak." Cloud said, motioning to the ever fluffy mess of spikes. "She warked for a bit and then left with the Chickabo. Can Chikabos be different colors than their Mamas?"


"Oh, okay, 'cause the Chikabo was black and the Mama was green. Kinda like us, huh?"

"I guess so."

Chapter Text

The second day at Base-Com was much better, Sephiroth almost back to full MP with a full night's rest and more elixirs.

"Rumor has it that you've been practicing your Wutainese." Captain Ulric mentioned.

"Yes sir?" he replied hesitantly. His squadron was asleep, which allowed him to shove his mic to the side.

"Would you mind teaching the Thirds what you know? We've found an instructor for the Seconds and the Firsts have been teaching each other for well over a year now."

"Of course sir, but I don't think they'll listen to me." He admitted flat out. "I've been helping Hewley and Rhapsodos but that's because they're a part of my squad and won't down talk me. You're better off recruiting Lt. Capala, sir; he's the one who got me started."

"Lt. Capala is teaching the Seconds, Strife-Valentine. It's why Ulric was asking you." Major Milo pointed out as he he pushed his mic up to keep his squadron out of the conversation "At some point it's going to be mandatory. We might as well get a headstart, kid."

"Oh." Sephiroth mulled it over, his pen tapping sharply against his clipboard. He sighed when it shattered in his grip, wiping his hand with the wet wipes specifically for this purpose and plucked another pen out of his hair to chew on. "I... You'd have to rearrange the Materia classes, sir, if you want me to teach. I'll have to photocopy the blank workbooks and comb over them for mistakes," he paused, chewed some more on his pen, "and enlist Staff Sgt. Higurai for the basics."

"I thought you might want to run it over with your Dad." Captain Ulric murmured.

"I'm past Materia Mastery for Thirds, sir, and I've mastered both dialects. I was teaching Hewley and Rhapsodos yesterday to distract myself during recovery. I'd need some help but if you think they'll listen, I'm for it, sir." He told them as he kept an eye on his squardron's position. "It never hurts to be over-prepared."

"I suppose not, Strife-Valentine. I'll pass the information onto the other Firsts if you tell your Chichiue and let Staff Sgt. Higurai in on your plan."

"Affirmative, sir."

Sephiroth felt like a Levikron amongst Chocobos with the way the infantry parted ranks as he walked through the cubicles.

"Ah, sir, are you looking for someone?" Ah, good, Sgt. Porteous; someone he knew would help.

"I'm looking for Staff Sgt. Higurai, actually. Mission from higher ups for us both." he informed the man, acutely aware of the staring and whispers of the troopers.

""He can't possibly be a SOLDIER. He's a kid.""

""Sgt. Porteous says he's been here longer than him.""

""Master Sgt. Selkirk agrees. He's been here for years, dude, and been through some shit because of it.""

"Oh, he's out on a mission in the slums, sir."

"Which Sector?"

"The patrol should be getting back soon, sir. They're due in another twenty minutes."

"Then I'll wait." He settled into a chair and crossed his legs, settling into the meditation pose his Chichiue taught him in Cosmo Canyon. "Carry on, Sgt., and thank you for the information."

"... You're welcome, sir."

""That hair has got to get in the way of his fighting.""

""Where's that sword?""

""A sword?! He can't be older than my little cousin.""

""Carries this big ass sword while he's on duty. Must be off if its not on him right now.""

""He can hear all of you, you know. Stop gossiping."" Master Sgt. Selkirk ordered even as he heard her coming closer. "How's my favorite SOLDIER doing, sir?"

"I've been better but I've got MP exhaustion. Major Milo thinks it's another Limit Break."

"He's probably right, sir. You're overdue for another one." Brown eyes looked him over with care, her lips tightening as she took him in. "Don't like it if it's giving you exhaustion though."

"I don't think it's supposed to do that. It's a healing one." He mentioned, his knee pressed against her thigh. "Like yours, only..."

"A lot more, huh? How'd you like Cosmo?" She asked, her dark brown skin crinkling at the corners of her eyes.

"I met a Firewolf! His name's Nanaki, he's really little but he said that he's going to get a lot bigger. Nanaki bragged that his mane's going to be nicer than my hair, if you can believe that."

"A mane nicer than your hair's impossible koneko. Where's he get off on making that claim, sir?" Sgt. Selkirk teased and then he laughed.

"He doesn't but he said that he's going to get way older than me and still have nicer hair when he's three times the age I am right now. To be fair to him, he does have a well-maintained mane. You, umm, you wouldn't happen to know Staff Sgt. Higurai?" Sephiroth asked, knowing that he could lean on her.

"Hmmm. He's hard-working, a little heavy on the regs but a good fellow overall. Why, are you working with him?"

"I can't manage to teach all of the Thirds Wutainese by myself. They're bringing in Instructors soon but... I was asked if I minded teaching my fellow Thirds." He volunteered quietly.

"... Well shit."

"That's what I thought too," Sephiroth snorted. "I doubt the class will like me very much."

"They don't have to like you to learn, sir." Selkirk pointed out. "Do you think you could send some of the easy stuff down with Higurai for us Infantry pukes?"

"Of course."

"You were about to tell me better over-prepared, huh, koneko?"

"... Yeah. I've been... working on it." Sephiroth admitted reluctantly. "I fall back, sometimes. Scared my superiors a little."

Selkirk snorted at that, shaking her head, "What's your old man been telling you?"

"That it takes time and that the future cannot be planned, only anticipated; there are a great many things I cannot control and controlling myself like that is... limiting. My therapist says I'm backsliding but only when I get a reminder of, ah, Hojo."

"Pretty reasonable considering his stench lingers. The ghost of his deeds and his actions stay with people longer than they like," Selkirk tapped her chest and then her temple at that. "here and here."

Sephiroth leaned on her for a moment, giving comfort and receiving it when she pressed her cheek to his hair.

He paced in his room, a tight, measured thing as he ran over the basics of Wutainese again, reciting them in order.

«Seph?» The Nibel had him smiling and cutting his pacing short. «Oh, there you are honey. Was that Wutainese?»

«I've been asked to teach my fellow Thirds. I... I have no idea where to start. Some of them are older than me by a good five years—»

He sank into the arms that wrapped around him, Mom smelling of home and Cloud and everything good in his life.

Mom's fingers carded through his hair as she coaxed him onto his bed. «Mm, you know, there's this phrase I heard in Nibelheim from my husband.»

«Dilly-dally, shilly-shally.»

«You worry too much, Seph, far too much for someone your age. The world isn't on your shoulders just yet, so quit making every problem yours. » Mom's fingers tapped his forehead in a chiding manner. «Besides, the cafeteria is where the gossip gets filtered. General consensus is that you're too young to be teaching but if you know the language, they're not going to argue with an expert. Your friends puzzling over the books without you certainly helped the image.»

«What if... What if I mess it up?» he whispered, lookin at the glow-in-the-dark stars Cloud had helped him put up on the ceiling.

«Then you mess up.» came the reassuring answer. «You're not perfect, sweetheart; no one is and anyone who claims otherwise is very much a liar.»

«Thanks, Mom.» Sephiroth sat up and snuggled close. «You're letting Ms. Jones run the kitchen?»

Mom shrugged, «Her little one is old enough to tuck into a quiet space of the kitchen and she does want to get out of the office one of these days.»

«That's good for her, even if I'll miss the sticky notes.»

«Ah, her pitfall traps, downright unethical and badly worded ShinRa paperwork freers? I suppose you could ask her in her free time and yours, how she spots such things.»

«That requires that I have free time at all, Mom.» He snorted.

«Your Chichiue is avoiding SOLDIER HR because he promised you'd take some days off a while back.» Mom offered wryly.

«... Hmm. A day off sounds nice.»

Chapter Text

He was off-duty, off of work for a solid week and a half and... yet here he was teaching his fellow Thirds in a class of his own squad and one other. Thankfully it was Mike, which made up of at least two familiar faces with Cloud rounding it out to three.

"Johnson, Kunsel. Mind introducing me to the rest of your squad?"

"Ah, this is 1st Lt. Strife-Valentine but..."

"Since I'm off-duty, you may request my given name if you feel comfortable enough." Sephiroth filled in at Kunsel's hesitance, noticing when Johnson looked at his winged hairstick. "It's not always down, Johnson, only most of the time."

"Well, that's Ferra, that's Noctua and that's Vidar, sir." Kunsel finished with a thankful smile.

"'Geal, you've got the workbooks?" He prodded as they sat at one end of an old boardroom table.

"Right here."

"Lt. Hewley and Lt. Rhapsodos are also off-duty and will help you when you get stuck. They're a little further ahead than you but don't feel the need to catch up. Work at your own pace." He continued as he also handed Cloud a workbook, that one slightly easier. "We'll start with honorifics, which are ways to address people in Wutainese society, and work our way from there."

"Umm, sir?"

"... Yes, Lt. Vidar?"

"Who's the little guy?"

"My brother. He'll be completing his own homework and join in with Wutainese exercises that are age-appropriate for him." Sephiroth admitted easily. "He was interested in my lessons when I was being taught so I thought it might be prudent for him to join at least one class."

"Understood, sir." Vidar glanced at Cloud and then tapped Noctua, Noctua's hands moving as Vidar does the same.

"Sir, what if I don't want to be here?"

"ShinRa keeps it's teeth behind wording, so be careful about your next words, Lt. Ferra. If you do not attend my 'class' you will be forced to take the 'remedial' course with the Drill Sargeants and the Infantry squads; many of whom are much larger than the SOLDIER ones." He countered serenely, "You may also take the course with my instructor, Turk Sharpshooter."

"Why... now, sir?" Ferra pressed.

"... There are enough reports to suggest that if the current negotiator dies, Wutai will descend into chaos. Who do you think they'll send as peacekeepers?" Sephiroth pointed out. "Languages take time to learn, Lt. Ferra. We'll need every scrap of it we can wrest from the jaws of peace."

Mike Squad sat back at that, Angeal and Genesis's expressions grim enough to match his own.

«Hey, Seph, I can't get this addition right. Can you help me?» Cloud's tongue was sticking out of the side of his mouth, blond brows furrowed as he concentrated on the paper.

The mood in the room lightened considerably as he helped Cloud figure it out, ruffling his brother's mess of spikes and pressing a kiss to his hair as an afterthought.

Sephiroth rose up and made his way back to the end of the table where Mike and his own squad sat. He dared any of Mike to say something, a look that sailed over their heads as Ferra started to tuck away his PHS.

"What did you photograph?" He growled, the edge of the table creaking as he gripped it. Ferra turned the phone around, Sephiroth captured being affectionate with Cloud. "Delete it. Now."

"But Hewley-"

"Hewley is a squadmate and one of my friends. You do not qualify as either." Sephiroth informed him coldly.

Kunsel neatly flicked it out of Ferra's fingertips and deleted it. "My apologies, sir, some of Mike's not up to snuff. I take it lesson's now?"

"It is," he allowed, settling his temper and smoothing out his expression. "Honorifics, which we do not have in Common..."

After Mike left, Sephiroth slumped into a seat too large for his body and dragged his hands down his face.

"How bad was it?" He asked 'Geal and Gen, Cloud squished into the chair with him.

"Aside from the Ferra incident... Pretty good." Sephiroth peeked from behind his fingers. "Look, it's well-known that you're protective of Cloud and your own privacy. I think Ferra's part of that-what was it?-SOLDIER Admiration thing."

"He can damn well admire anyone else in the SOLDIER Corps." Sephiroth grumbled. "Cloud, don't tell Mom."

«Okay. Can you teach me that knife thingy? The one Kunsel said he liked.» That Sephiroth knew in his sleep but he was exhausted from teaching others. «Later, though, cause I gotta finish my workbook first.»

He pulled Cloud against his side, pillowing his chin in Cloud's hair. «Yeah. Sounds like fun.»

The week he was teaching Thirds, Sephiroth found patience that he hadn't realized he'd had within himself. Mispronounced words were gently corrected, basic kanji corrected with adjustments of the brushpen or wrist or finger positions and the types of bowing between social classes corrected with a tap or flick of his fingers.

In his downtime, he found himself drafting lessons and bouncing his ideas off of Nicky, who had the week off, both of them paid extra for the time they were putting in.

"How did you do it with me?" He asked plaintively over their evening tea in the cafeteria. "I must've misprounced so many words..."

"You, koneko, were a damn dream. You misprounced maybe one word in five and kanji script was perfect for your handwriting, which is halfway to calligraphy anyways. I'd actually stab someone for the chance to teach you over again. The Seconds are so bad, just thinking about them compared to your Thirds is giving me a headache."

"At least they listen to you, Nicky." Sephiroth groaned. "'You're not even an adult, how dare you correct my pronounciation.' Ugh."

"I'd trade you in a heartbeat."

"... Actually..."

Nicky caught on with a cackle. "We should switch it up, huh? Show them how the other side learns."

"I am 1st Lt. Strife-Valentine—"

"Where's Capala?"

Sephiroth stared down the new Captain, recently promoted out of the Thirds and clearly high off of his new-found power. "Ah yes, Captain Marina. He noted you would be a problem and that I was to treat you with the same respect you gave to me; which is to say, none at all. I am doing this in my spare time, Captain. I don't have to be here, you do."

The unspoken question came as he rose a brow at the man, Are you really going to fuck this up for your fellow Seconds?

The Captain's jaw worked as Sephiroth blithely continued. "You're adults. You're well aware of what is happening in Wutai. I don't need to spell it out for you the same way I spelled it out for my students. This is to ensure that there are the least amount of casualties amongst soldiers and civilians alike in the island nation of Wutai. Now, where did he leave off?"

Ulric sighed, raised his hand and offered, "Battle jargon and tactics... sir."

"Thank you Captain Ulric."

"Umm, sir, why are you teaching us?" A Major, this one also new to him.

Sephiroth grimaced at the thought of him lacking depth on his superiors other than those in direct contact with him; he'd have to fix that at some point. He'd not let his own personal standards slacken now. "I will be right next to you, Major. ShinRa uses all of its weapons, human and machine. I've no doubt you've heard the rumors that I'm the latter."

"... Yes, sir."

"Don't put too much stock into them, Major. I'm as human as all of you barring the enhancements." He snorted. "Wutainese battle tactics are unlike our own and you would do well to remember it..."

Sephiroth wandered amongst the Seconds, absently correcting pronounciation as he took in the much larger class. Thanks to his enhancements, he could correct on the spot and hear mistakes from one corner of the room to the next. Next came the kanji and that was when the SOLDIERs understood that he wasn't like Lt. Capala at all.

"Brushstroke the wrong way and you've gone from agreeing to accept supplies to accepting something... a little more risqué." He chuckled as he stroked the correct way on the board. "I take it you don't want that so please, for the love of Bahamut, write it correctly."

He noticed a hand, nodded to hear what his superior had to say. "Major Higsby, sir. If I may, how old are you?"

The new face then, hesitant to speak out after his biting remarks against Marina.

"Thirteen, Major." The room went silent at that. "Yes, I'm still going to be on the front lines with you and the Firsts, even with the intervention of my parents. It wouldn't do, you see, for ShinRa to 'forget' its 'strongest weapon' at home." He filled in with a wry chuckle. "Don't think about it for too long, SOLDIERs, the Firsts are doing what they can to help. I likely won't join in until I'm at least fifteen."

"I... I see, sir."

"Mm-hm. Let's see, now for the kanji for formation and troop movement, you write it like this." Sephiroth forged past the oppressive silence with a deliberate wrenching back to the correct topic.

The class went on, though Sephiroth felt the long looks at his smaller frame. He wasn't fragile, despite his looks, and he could tell them to talk to the Firsts or test his knowledge themselves. In the end, he let them come to terms with him on thier own.

"Class dismissed. Capala will see to your progress tomorrow when we compare notes." He said at the end of the day. Ulric cleared his throat, worry clear in his blue eyes as he stood next to Sephiroth. "May I help you, sir?"


"You can test me if you like, sir." He offered. "I know the Seconds are worried but I've been training with Henderson and my Chichiue. I'll be fine, Captain."

"Your... father?"

"He's a Turk." He explained with a chuckle. "I'm learning lots of things, sir."

"... He wouldn't happen to be that new one running around with a cape?" Ulric muttered.

"He is, sir."

"He didn't even pull out his gun when he asked me to practice with him."

Sephiroth did laugh at that, knowing his Chichiue like he did. "He does that, sir, to keep himself on his toes."

Ulric made a face and then sighed. "Well, I suppose you're in good hands then. I'll pass it along to my squad."

Chapter Text

With Sephiroth back on duty and in the uniform, the Seconds kept their distance. The burning sensation of having someone stare at him and then look away when he looked up was getting to be a bit much, however.

He'd had quite enough of that once, let alone twice.

Henderson deliberately sat next to him and his friends, raising a copper brow at him as he chewed. "Why do I have Seconds begging to assess you?"

Sephiroth rolled his eyes and swallowed his mouthful of pot roast. "They asked about my age. You can imagine how well that went down in a roomful of adults who aren't as informed about my situation as the Firsts or the Thirds are, sir."

"... That would definitely cause concern."

Sephiroth opened his mouth to reply when Angeal, Bahamut bless him, provided the perfect solution. "He could spar with you in an observation room, sir, or with his Chichiue."

Henderson blinked at that but agreed with aplomb, "That should settle some of thier fears."

"Please," he grumbled, "I'm tired of avoiding three floors of SOLDIER Second apartments."

Sephiroth adjusted his stomacher, surprised to find that it sat a little looser than normal and that he had to adjust the straps on the back. He rolled his shoulders out and then grumbled as the pauldrons sat tighter.

"Sir, can't believe I'm saying this but I need to change out," his voice squeaked, which was mortifying on its own, and then deepened as he finished. "my armor. Ugh!"

Henderson chuckled, helped him out of the armor and into the one Angeal had grown out of but now fit him perfectly. Two years did a lot to his body, the least of which was growing up. "I think that's the first time I've heard you speak with a different register and if you're anything like your Chichiue, it's going to crack quite a bit more."

"I'm aware, sir." He sighed as he scraped back his bangs. "... Means I trust you though."

Henderson smiled at that, brief and so quick that Sephiroth nearly missed it, the fondness remaining on his face. "That's good to know, Strife-Valentine."

The one thing he could trust was his own body. He and Chichiue trained so often that even if he had grown more, he was used to the extra length.

Sephiroth summoned Masamune and unsheathed her even as Henderson lit up Gungir's runes with a flashy display of magic. They touched backs, walked ten paces and saluted with their swords, shifting their stances minutely.

Henderson attacked without warning, a dent left in the ground.

Sephiroth feinted right before he shot up, spiraling mid-air to strike from above.

Henderson barely blocked, Masamune and Gungir ringing out against one another. He used Henderson's thighs as a kick-off point and pushed Masamune into the ether as he back-flipped to a safer spot.

Summoning her again in the space between an inhale and an exhale, he snapped out three of his throwing daggers from habit.

The battle dragged across the walls, the floor and—quite memorably—on top of the observation glass, Sephiroth using every available surface to attack his opponent.

He bounced, spiraled and used his momentum or Henderson's to press Masamune's advantage.

Masamune sang as she flew through the air, sparks flying as she hit Gungir.

It ended with a dagger beneath Henderson's chin, Masamune at the back of his superior's neck.

Gungir hovered underneath his left armpit, aimed straight for his heart, both of them breathing hard as the blade sizzled.

"Draw... sir?"

"Ifrit's balls... Strife... Valentine. Your old man's a killer trainer." Henderson panted as he deactivated Gungir's runes.

Sephiroth banished Masamune to the ether and inspected his dagger for blood, pulling away to collect the rest he'd thrown throughout the battle.

Last minute, he instinctively threw the daggers he had on hand, dropping to his knees and skidding to the right to avoid whatever was headed his way.

Henderson yelped as a dagger caught the outside of his thigh and one caught the Gravity headed his way, the blade shimmering as it caught the magic and pinned it to the ground.

"Chichiue... had them... Shielded." He offered wryly as Henderson had to stop casting the Gravity. Collecting the last of his daggers and sheathing them made him want to go again. "Rematch, sir?"

"You're certainly eager today, Strife-Valentine. Face off against your squadmates, tire them out," Henderson waved his hand at him, grimacing as he pulled his non-dominant hand away from the cut.

"May I, sir?" Sephiroth pushed Masamune away and extended his hand towards the wound.

"Hels, go for it. Color me curious about your new Limit," his superior murmured. "Milo blabbed, before you ask, Strife-Valentine." Henderson let him come closer, his hand hovering over the wound.

He closed his eyes and thought Greater Gospel. Cracking open an eye, he watched as green spilled from his hand and closed the cut as though it had never been. "Oh! It worked."

Henderson wiggled his leg and put weight on it. "Best my leg's felt in years. Good job, Strife-Valentine. Seriously, tire out your squadmates. Rhapsodos has been driving everyone up a wall with his worry about you."

"Understood, sir." Sephiroth gave a cheeky salute that had Henderson rolling his own eyes.

Genesis and Angeal entered after thier superior had left, 'Geal with a sword nearly as tall as he was and Gen with a new one as well.

"The Buster finally made it from Banora! Look at her, isn't she beautiful?" Angeal slung it off of his back, the distinct click of magnetics causing Sephiroth to look at his harness. "New from R&D and they actually work; I think Director Scarlet's pissed that Tuesti did a good job on the rooms."

"Give her a swing for me?" Sephiroth asked as Angeal hefted the blade.

A wide swing later and 'Geal was grinning. "She can handle Masamune, I think, better than all of the other ones here aside from personal weapons."

"What about you, Gen?"

"Colonel Jaega had it made for me, modeled a bit after Gungir. Look, look, it came with a Materia slot!" Gen was practically bubbling over with pride.

"Swing it!" The noise it made was pure music, the runes lighting up as Genesis ran his hand over the rich red blade. "Oh wow, that's incredible. They won't break against mine; now we can practice together!"

The feeling in his chest came close to the fluttering of butterflies, the feeling new to him.

"You okay?" Gen murmured as he deactivated the runes with a flick of his fingers.

He scrubbed at his heated cheeks. "Yeah, I'm fine. Practice rules?"

"Oh, didn't even think about that," Angeal clicked the Buster back into place, stretching his arms with a few cracks. "We better be careful now that we've all got real blades, huh?"

"Flats and the back edge only until we get used to practicing together, we stop if there's any blood and try to figure out what went wrong. Agreed?" Sephiroth asked easily, locking his hands behind his head without Masamune in his left.


"Sounds good."

All three of them came out of the observation room with bruises, a few shallow cuts and a better understand about thier weapons when they fought together.

"That was..." Sephiroth hummed, squished between his best friends.


"Painful. I had no idea you could use the Buster like that, 'Geal." Genesis finished in his other side.

"Me either but now we know where to step it up when we practice again. Seph, please pull your kicks, my thighs are burning." Angeal grunted as they made their way to the elevator.

"Sorry. I'm used to Chichue. I'll pull back-"

"Oh no you don't. Just—a little less until we catch up, okay?" Gen countered, ruffling his hair as they headed for Gen and 'Geal's apartment. "Shower first though. Ugh, we stink."

Sephiroth inhaled and then wrinkled his nose at the sweat they gave off. "We do stink. Wait, since when do I stink?"

"Puberty's worst bit, honestly; you start to stink. Asked 'Geal's Mama and she said its all hormone-based stuff mostly. You, uh, don't stink as bad though, weirdly enough."

"Maybe that plant-base I get for Angeal?" His relation to Aerith and Aunt Ifalna aside, it might've been an effect the Planet hasn't intended on.

"... Maybe."

"Eh, lucky bastard regardless." Gen teased as he ran his fingers through Angeal's sweat-soaked neck hairs. "Now you'll smell like us!"

Sephiroth ducked out of the way and laughed as Gen chased him, Angeal slowly limping along the corridor after the elevator doors opened on their floor. He doubled back and picked Angeal up entirely, the carry overdoing it but Sephiroth hated seeing his friends hurt. "Sorry, 'Geal. I'll heal it when we get to your place."

"Hey, it gives me a base-line to work with when it comes to you. It's not all bad." Angeal reassured. "It probably doesn't help that my stance is pretty solid for spring-boarding."

"No, it doesn't." He murmured, carrying 'Geal through the door.

Genesis had peeled his pants to his hip, making a face at a mostly-healed bruise in the side-hall mirror. "Okay, yeah, 'Geal was right."

Sephiroth gently kicked the door shut, triple-tapped the doorframe with the same foot and set Angeal down on the couch.

He murmured, "Greater Gospel," as he held his hand over the bruises.

Angeal gasped, gripping the couch as he felt the effects. "S-Seph, umm, is it supposed to be that warm?"

"Is it? I can't cast it on myself so I have no idea what it feels like." Sephiroth asked with concern. "Does it hurt?"

"No, just an initial warmth. I wasn't expecting it, I guess." Angeal questioned even as the Gospel did its work and healed him. "What do you mean you can't cast it on yourself?"

"Cura, Curaga... Even my own Limit Break doesn't work on me. Hojo—" He choked on the name but fought past it to explain, pulling off his right glove with a long, defeated sigh. "He cut me open to the bone, told me to heal myself and left a Cure Materia within five feet of me. I tried for three days and by that point, I was past MP exhaustion. Wolf found me, healed me and well..."

"Ever since, you've been traumatized." Genesis finished softly. "Shit, Seph, what part of your life wasn't an outright disaster?"

"Two years ago, some stranger in the kitchen said that she wanted me. Life's kinda been looking up since then." He shuffled so that he was pillowing his cheek on 'Geal's knee and continued slowly, breathing out one of his secrets to his friends. "I owe a lot to the Strifes, it turns out. My first caretaker, he was Cloud's Dad. Four years of games and fun and green eyes almost like mine, so Chichiue tells me. There's... video, somewhere."

Genesis gently but firmly lifted Sephiroth up and tucked him between them, the sweat mostly dried and leaving them scented stronger than usual. "Look, I'm the first to tell you I suck at this—that's totally 'Geal's gig and I'll gladly leave it to him most of the time but—You've got us. You've got your scarily competent parents and the most adorable little brother this side of the sea. You even have the loyalty of like, three trooper squads and most of your superiors. So, uh, it sucked Behemoth balls to get here but it's only up from here. Hopefully."

Sephiroth snorted as Angeal shook his head and said, "What Gen's trying to say is that we've got your back. We definitely won't judge you if you don't know stuff or that you've got some... intense issues to work through. Plus, we're not always going to be perfect. You'll have to tell us if you think we're..."

"Breaking our promise." Genesis blurted, flushing bright red after that. "What? It's just-"

"Pinkie promise?" Sephiroth offered, holding up both of his pinkies.

"How do you even know about those?" Gen grumbled as he latched his pinkie around Sephiroth's as Angeal mimicked him on the other side. "I promise to watch your back and try not to be a jerk."

"I promise to watch your back and to keep your faith."

"I promise to watch your back... and to tell you if you're breaking your promises."