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Cloud hadn't really realised it before, but touch in Terra Online felt pretty much the same as it felt in the real world. The man felt heavy against his chest, solid beneath his arms, warm. Running his hand though Vincent's hair felt like actually running it through actual hair. Vincent even had tangles in his hair.

Humming, Cloud combed through the gunner's – his pet's – messy, dark hair, easing the tangles open. What a weird thing to make possible in a video game – it would've had to be coded in, right? Everything else was, after all. And how weird that he was doing it here, in Terra Online when in the real world the only hair he had ever touched was either his own or his mother's.

Vincent wasn't shaking anymore though, so it was probably working. Actually, Vincent was kind of limp. Frowning, Cloud tilted his head to the side, to see Vincent's face and… the guy was asleep. Well. Of course. Except how the hell was the guy sleeping in a virtual reality that you could only access in your sleep? Or was it different for Vincent, who never logged out?

"I’ve got a feeling I'm going to be asking a lot of questions like that in the future, with you," Cloud murmured and shifted back a little, easing Vincent down to the ground. With the gunner's head in his lap, Cloud sighed and looked around himself. The Wastes remained… rather waste like. Now that he wasn't in danger of losing his life, and with RedXIII on the way, Cloud let himself relax and fully take in the environment.

It wasn't a bad looking place, actually. All dry rock and ravines and odd rock formations. A canyon, he supposed – though he had never been to CosmoCanyon in real life so he couldn't tell how accurate the place was. Did canyons really have just random layered rock formations here and there, for no apparent reason? Maybe he'd ask RedXIII – coming from CosmoCanyon, he'd know.

Checking his command menu for the time, Cloud pursed his lips thoughtfully. It had only been ten or so minutes since Red's message, and if all he'd be doing was sitting down here, waiting… might as well finally take a moment to have a look at the commands.

 

[Character]
[Inventory]
[Job]
[Quests]
[Achievements]
[Guild]
[Friends]
[Settings]
[Help]

He didn't have any achievements, except for the Rabbit of Caerbannog thing, he had no quests since he hadn't bothered taking them after Albrook, and his guild menu was empty too, aside from a leaf for active Guilds that let anyone join them. In his friends list there was only RedXIII and Treasure Princess – he hadn't remembered to befriend Bigshot and Mena, if they even wanted to be…

Frowning a little, Cloud opened the settings. There were the usual things – setting the time and location and so on. But then there were the social commands – most of which he had turned off. No chat, no PMs from strangers, no relationship status, no challenges, no combat arena…

He didn't even know what most of them were. Cautiously Cloud enabled the chat, and watched how another command popped into the game commands. It opened a window where people were… apparently talking with each other, without limitations.

 

<Dressmei> want to get quick gold? pm me for 100gold!
<Jackside> Selling Mythril Paladin Gear, PM for info!
<rippah!> anyone doing the GL in GFM?
<Beyte> lfg drh lv. 45!
<Groate> who the hell killed the dragon of aisenfield?! I wanted that fucking achievement!
<Dressmei> want to get quick gold? pm me for 100gold!
<Feranc> In your face Groate, the achievement is mine!

Cloud watched the chat for a moment before shaking his head and closing it. He eyed the no PMs from strangers thing for a moment before enabling the PMs – and then regretting it a split second later.

 

[You have 5274 new Private Messages!] The message window announced happily, popping up right in front of his face and displaying the first twenty or so.

[Debonah] Fuckers like you piss me off.
[Murdez] Join our guild!
[Roselette] I hope someone kills you
[Hanad] Just die already
[Slayer] That fucking bounty is mine.
[Deathray] How the hell are you still alive?
[Lilith] Ppl like u ruin the gaim.

Cloud scrolled down the list of messages from people he didn't know and sighed. Of course – he should've figured that something like this would happen. As it was, he was lucky that his PMs were only enabled for friends, before, and he'd been spared from all the hate mail. And that was mostly what it all was – hate mail. Lots and lots of hate mail, some of it from people he had killed, a lot of it from people who hadn't even met him. With a few guild invites from guilds mostly consisting of player killers peppered in between.

 

[Delete all private messages]
[Are you sure? You will lose all items that have been attached to the messages!]
[Yes / No]

Cloud deleted the lot of them. If there were items involved, he didn't want them. As it was it was disheartening enough to know that he had been getting messages like that – he didn't want to know what sort of bullshit items people would've tried to send him. Ticking time bombs probably.

"This game really doesn't like me, huh?" he murmured. All the years of wanting a VRDC so he could escape the bullshit of reality and the game treated him worse. Of course it did. Though Terra Online was still more interesting than real life and damn patrolling was, at least people didn't go specifically out their way to send him hate mail in the real world.

Closing the command menu, Cloud looked down at the gunner sleeping more or less in his lap. He didn't really have any right to complain though. What was a little hate mail, really, when compared to Vincent's situation? It was nothing. And hell, at least he had a couple of friends in Terra Online. In the real world? He had a squad that was content to pretend he wasn't even there. And his town had been almost in a hurry to kick him out – probably would've, if he hadn't left.

"Rainstorm?" A familiar voice called and RedXIII landed on the rock formation, white wings spread out to soften the landing. "Are you alright?"

"Just peachy. Aside from the, you know, being lost in the Wastes thing," Cloud said, looking up and smiled. "Hi, Red. Wanna lecture me about stumbling into unknown zones and getting into trouble?"

"I think, judging by the number of behemoths you've attracted to this place, you've probably learned your lesson," the beast said dryly and tucked his wings in before coming closer. "This is…?" he looked down at Vincent.

"Vincent," Cloud said. "The pet. It's a… actually it's not really that long a story, but it's a kinda weird story."

"It's you. Everything with you is a kinda weird story," Red said, sounding amused. "Spill it."

Cloud did, telling him what he and Cait Sith had figured out, and why Vincent was now his pet. Red nodded along, a serious look on his furry face, looking at Vincent. "The Wastes Demon, huh?"

"That something special?" Cloud asked, while opening the pet window. There was The Demon of the Wastes below Vincent's name.

"I've never seen him myself, before now, but he's one of the strongest bosses in the game – and the hardest to find," Red said. "I've only second hand information from the general chat, of course, but people say he never stays in one place and unless you manage to engage him first he'll run away, or something… I guess it makes sense."

"You don't seem surprised that he's a person, under all of it," Cloud said, frowning.

"I'm not, really. There are a lot of weird things with Terra Online – some of them are bugs, or old programs. And I've gone through quite a few glitches, in my time of playing. This is a new level of strange, but… no, I wouldn't put it past Terra Online. Nor would I put it past ShinRa, which after all created Terra Online."

Cloud nodded, looking down at the still sleeping Vincent.

"Is he logged off now?" Red asked

"I don't think so. Cait Sith said that he never does, and the only time he's off the game is when he's been killed," Cloud shook his head. "I think… actually, I have no idea."

"Hmmm," Red hummed. "Do you think you could wake him up? We should get out of here – you're still relatively close to the MRR portal and people know you're here."

"How?" Cloud asked, frowning.

"Chat," the beast shrugged. "Somebody saw you."

"Oh. Right – I dropped in on a party when I came here. I guess we can't go back to Mushroom Rock, huh?" Cloud murmured, while gently shaking Vincent by the shoulder.

"Probably best we don't."

Vincent woke up with a start and a split second later had jumped away from Cloud and almost into the air. While he looked around wildly and nervously, Cloud stood up and held his hands up in surrender. "Vincent, calm down – it's okay. Do you remember me?" he asked, carefully approaching the gunner. "It’s okay, it's okay. No one's gonna hurt you."

The Demon of the Wastes eyed him before grimacing and relaxing a little. "Rainstorm," he murmured and then turned his gaze to Red, his eyes narrowing.

"This is my friend Red. I told you about him," Cloud said. "He's not going to hurt you either."

"Indeed I'm not," Red said and bowed his head a little. "I'm RedXIII. You have my sympathies for your situation, Vincent."

"You told him?" Vincent demanded, turning to Cloud.

Cloud shrugged.

"I won't tell anyone else, if that is what you're worried about," Red said and turned to Cloud. "We really should leave this place. The portal to the Great Forest of Moore is… well it's not exactly nearby, but I think it would be safest if we head there. It's a good place to hide in. It's a LV. 25-30 zone, so it shouldn't be too difficult for you to handle."

"Hm. I guess. Though unlike you I can't fly, so how are we going to get there? Especially if it's far away," Cloud asked. "Everything here's over level forty – I'm not exactly a match for anything here."

"We'll just have to be careful, I suppose," Red said. "You've made a couple of levels, though."

"Yeah, well, Vincent can one-shot everything here – and I get the exp," Cloud said. "Which is why I kind of want a way out of here that doesn't involve him fighting. That's not how I want to make levels."

Vincent looked between them with a frown. "I could carry you," the gunman then offered, motioning behind himself, at his wings.

Cloud turned to him. "Can you?" he asked, glancing at Red. "Is that possible – pets carrying their owners?"

"With some pets, yes," Red said thoughtfully, examining Vincent. "I've never had one, but dragon pets and some of the other larger, flying type monsters, they serve as mounts as well as pets. I suppose you will have to try."

"Well… I guess," Cloud said and then frowned. "How would this –"

He couldn't finish, because Vincent let out a smothered noise and just snatched him up and into his arms – in a freaking bridal carry. Cloud only managed to let out a single sound of annoyance, before the gunner had already spread out his massive bat wings and leapt up and into the air, easily carrying him up.

"How about some warning?!" Cloud snapped, even while winding an arm around the man's shoulders for support. "Also can't you carry me in some other way? Because this, this is just humiliating."

"No," Vincent answered. "And don't call me a pet."

"Just for that, I'm so going to call you pet. All the freaking time. Everywhere."

 He could hear Red's laughter as the beast leapt up to follow them. Cloud flipped him the finger over Vincent's shoulder, before looking at the gunner himself. Vincent had a frown of concentration on his face and was studiously avoiding looking at his face. Cloud couldn't help but notice that Vincent's hands, as covered as they were in leather and metal, were both on his bare skin – and he had a feeling Vincent had noticed that too.

"You okay?" Cloud asked quietly. "Am I heavy?"

"It's fine. You're… fine," Vincent answered and there was a hint of red on his cheeks. Cloud smiled a little at that. Vincent probably hadn't had much human contact that hadn't ended in pain, he figured. It would probably take him while to get used to it.

It was kind of cute. Horribly tragic and kind of heart breaking, but still cute. And it didn't hurt that Vincent was freaking gorgeous. Though Cloud really shouldn't have thought that way, but the fact stood. He was.

"I'm going to take care of you," Cloud promised, squeezing the arm around Vincent's shoulder and leaning in a bit, until his forehead touched the bandana around Vincent's head. "Players won't be killing you from here on out. Hell, they'll be too busy trying to kill me to even bother with you. So don't worry. We're going to be just fine."

"Hn," Vincent answered, looking a little embarrassed even as he nodded.

"Oi, you two!" Red called from behind them. "You do know you're going the wrong way, right?!"