Actions

Work Header

Chatoyant

Chapter Text

The world is ending.

Cloud always dreamed the world would end in fire. As usual, he is wrong.

From horizon to horizon, there is nothing but sand. The sky, once so blue, is gray and darkening at the edges as the atmosphere slowly disintegrates.

A steady wind breathes across the endless desert from a distant star. Even the oceans have dried.

There is nothing left.

Nothing but Cloud and a crack in the ground that squirms with sputtering lifestream. He’s sitting on a rock, watching the tendrils of blue-green light die out for the third time. Every time it disappears, something inside him stops, and in those brief moments, he forgets how to exist.

It’s lovely and horrible, like flying and drowning simultaneously. It’s what he’s wanted for centuries--freedom, rest--but now he is uncertain. A dying lifestream means a dying world. His friends, his family, his legacy...all are already beyond his reach.

He waits patiently for the end, hoping. If the lifestream isn’t keeping him alive, then he doesn’t want to contemplate what life will be like for him without it...on a dead rock without air or people or anything. Just him and the Jenova cells buzzing beneath his skin and endless stretches of sand.

He’s never understood Jenova so well--her hatred, her loneliness, her insanity.

The lifestream stirs again, glowing bright, and Cloud stares absently as it rises up and dumps a familiar shape onto the sand.

Cloud’s not even surprised to see him.

“Hello, Sephiroth.”

It’s poetic really. He and Sephiroth have always been bound. Why shouldn’t they share true death?

Sephiroth draws himself to his feet, same as ever. Despite a dying world, he only has eyes for Cloud. He summons Masamune with a flourish and holds the blade to Cloud’s throat.

“You have sand on your knees,” Cloud says.

Sephiroth blinks, his catlike eyes a stark contrast to the world around him. He glances over Cloud’s shoulder and withdraws the sword. It disappears. With a very human expression, Sephiroth turns slowly to take in the desert landscape, turning his back to Cloud for a brief moment.

If the world wasn't dying, Cloud would be insulted.

“Happy now?” Cloud can’t help but ask, some long dormant arrogance rising from his throat and gripping his tongue. “You got your wish. It’s all gone.”

Sephiroth says nothing. He seems distracted by the wind as it pushes his long hair into his eyes. Even now, Cloud can't help but admire him.

“Can you really use the planet as a vessel?” Cloud continues, leaning back on his hands and staring straight up at the dull sky. “I’d like to see that. Now's your chance. I won't stop you.”

Sephiroth finally speaks. “This is…” He turns back to Cloud, features sharp and bleached under the harsh sunlight. “What happened?”

At Cloud’s feet, the lifestream shudders pathetically. “The planet never could outpace humanity’s destruction. After Shinra, after you , after the stigma...it just couldn't be saved.” Cloud sighs and shakes his head. “Must’ve been a few hundred years ago now. People went first. They started dying younger--forties, thirties, twenties...then they were just gone, and it was just me. The monsters went next, then the plants, the water...wind and sand took the cities and towns.”

Sephiroth comes to settle on the rock at Cloud’s side. Cloud shifts to give him room, then scoots back to lightly press his thigh against Sephiroth’s. It has been so long since he touched another person.

Sephiroth stares at the space where their legs touch, more confused than Cloud has ever seen him, and Cloud can’t help but laugh a little. For a moment, he remembers being young and aching for this man’s attention. Now, he knows exactly how agonizing Sephiroth's singular focus can be, yet still some part of him longs for it.

Cloud leans forward and settles his elbows on his thighs, chin tucked atop his own hands while he watches the lifestream fade.

“I wish,” he says wistfully, “that I knew what it was like to be truly happy. I think in all the years I’ve been alive, I never had that.” He turns his head towards Sephiroth and adds sincerely, “I wish you could have felt the same. Maybe then things would've turned out different.”

Sephiroth leans forward, too close, but Cloud doesn’t find he minds so much.

“You want me to be happy?” Sephiroth asks, his brow furrowed.

“Yes," Cloud says on a breath and smiles as kindly as he can at his greatest enemy.


Sephiroth is enraptured by this Cloud with eyes so old it almost hurts to look at them. Right now, they are the bluest thing in all the world, Sephiroth’s newfound sky.

When the lifestream spat him out, he was ready to let anger consume him. Now, he is calm and confused and pleasantly surprised.

“I want you to be happy,” Cloud says plainly, smiling in a way that no one has ever smiled at Sephiroth before. The lifestream curls tightly into itself at their feet, and the sand rushes in to fill in the gaps. Sephiroth knows, somehow, that he is just as tied to the dying light as Cloud is.

Mother, Jenova, is long gone. He thinks of Cloud’s wish and resents her for the first time. She’d never wanted him to be happy. She’d just wanted him to win.

And now it doesn’t matter, because Sephiroth, and perhaps the only person who has ever truly affected him, is soon to perish.

I want you to be happy.

Sephiroth looks again to where their bodies touch and is enchanted by a sudden, wild idea. He looks to the lifestream, mind awhirl.

“We will be happy,” Sephiroth tells Cloud eventually, but there is no answer. He looks over in time to see Cloud slump forward over his own knees. As Cloud begins to fall, Sephiroth catches him, hefting him up against his side.

He isn’t breathing or smiling anymore.

Cloud is dead.

Sephiroth is consumed by an unnameable feeling, but he doesn't have time to recognize it as loss. The lifestream’s glow is nearly out. It buzzes at him, pleading, and he glares.

“You knew this would happen,” he accuses, gripping Cloud’s body tighter to his side. “I'll heed your wish. I’ll save you. I’ll save us all, but I won’t let you take Cloud from me.”

The lifestream reaches towards Sephiroth and Cloud, tendrils of light outstretched like trembling fingers. Sephiroth hisses as Cloud’s body loses its form, spiraling into a thousand tiny strands of blue.

“No!” Sephiroth gasps, reaching out with his mind and body to draw the lights together. They compress into a tiny glowing orb against his palms.

The lifestream makes a sound that punctures his soul. He feels death in his bones, and he says again, “No.” He tucks Cloud into his pocket, and opens his arms and mind for that side of himself that he’s kept carefully locked away--the skeletal remains of warmth and compassion he'd once felt for his only friends in the world. Until they'd betrayed him, as everyone had betrayed him eventually.

“I am Jenova’s son,” he whispers into the rising wind.

But you are mine, too. The planet declares, the words wisping through his mind in an unmistakably feminine voice.

"Perhaps then, we can compromise."

He embraces the lifestream as it dies, and gives his will—his unbreakable, otherworldly mental strength—to its light, and for the first time feels how very much it has the capacity to love him.

“We will save this world together,” he whispers, as above, the sky finally breaks.

Chapter Text

Sephiroth watches the cadet’s shoulder shake and hates himself for doing nothing, but he can’t. Not just yet. He’s been here for all of a week, and he has to make things better before he lets himself be consumed by the warm, writhing feeling in his gut.

He turns away from the cadet training room and glides down Shinra’s oppressively gray hallways. This place reminds him too much of that desert, and the desert reminds him too much of the man he no longer wants dead--a man who has not yet come to fruition.

The planet pulses between Sephiroth’s ears, a constant hum he can’t shake. He can practically taste the metallic burn of the lifestream at the back of his throat. It curls within his limbs alongside the Jenova cells, coexisting in violent harmony. He likes and loathes the feeling in equal measure. It’s uncomfortable but empowering.

Cloud’s light dangles from a cord around his neck. He wears it proudly, possessively. Genesis had arrogantly called it an ugly trinket, and Sephiroth reacted by breaking his arm.

Speaking of Genesis, Sephiroth rarely talks to his one-time friends. Silence hovers around him more strongly than it had back then. He finds himself less inclined to talk than ever. Casual banter is beyond him. His voice, this day and age, sounds only when needed. He is in adjustment, displaced, trying to remember how to be something other than a silent, burning mind in the lifeblood of a dying world.

But just a day ago, in his first Shinra meeting since his jaunt through time, he’d put his voice to good use.

“In three months,” he said to the Department Heads and a handful of others, “one of Midgar’s reactors will fail.”

His words capsized the calm. They wanted details, answers. The planet coiled around him from within, warm and approving. He would give them none .

“You have three months to find an alternative resource for power,” Sephiroth added inexplicably. The room was still in uproar when he left, but Genesis and Angeal chased him down.

“What the hell, Sephiroth!” Genesis yelled, heedless of lingering bystanders. “Where did that come from? Did you get some intel or something?”

“No,” Sephiroth said, and turned his back on Genesis pointedly.

“Seph.” Angeal grabbed his shoulder, and Sephiroth barely restrained the urge to shake him off. “Please, you’ve been acting strange lately. We’re worried about you.”

Jenova cells buzzed a reminder beneath Sephiroth’s skin. “Angeal, you and Genesis should go see Hollander. Tell him to check you both for degradation. When the time comes, I will give him my cells so he can save you.”

He left then and avoids speaking to them in the meantime.

The days pass slowly, and he spends hours in his office, reading through paperwork he knows he used to sign without a second glance. Most of it ends up on the floor, signature bars naked. Disorganization once annoyed him; now he finds he doesn't mind it so much. He appreciates inducing chaos into Shrina's corporate workings.

With a sigh, he pushes a pile of paperwork from the science department off his desk, smirking briefly when the pages scatter, then boots up his computer and opens Shinra’s digital archives to bring up Cloud’s flagged file. The profile picture makes Cloud look even younger than he actually is, but Sephiroth has a printed copy taped to the cork board next to his desk.

Name: Cloud Strife

Department: Military (Training)

Age: 16

Hair color: blonde

Eye color: blue

Home: Nibelheim

(Family) Mother: Agatha Strife

There’s an initial assessment in following written by an overeager Soldier 3rd that seems to list every flaw the young Cloud possesses, and Sephiroth reads it angrily. It is not the first time he has done so.

I want you to be happy.

The words echo in his head on endless repeat as he skims the poor assessment of Cloud's character.

Be happy. Sky-blue eyes, glowing with kindness. Be happy. Cloud’s name, a delicious morsel on his tongue. Be happy. The give of flesh to Sephiroth's blade. Be happy. Blood smeared around a determined grimace. There's nothing I don't cherish.

Sephiroth closes his eyes as the memory assails him and the question strikes him now as it had then, though he hadn't let it show: does that include me?

Cloud had smiled just for Sephiroth as the world crumbled around them.

I want you to be happy.

Unbidden, the planet breaks his reverie.

You can’t be happy, if you’re alone, she says with a thousand voices melded into one. You must remember how to be human. The planet gives his Jenova cells an abrupt nudge, and Sephiroth hisses as he is overwhelmed.

Emotion, old and dusty, floods him. Sephiroth remembers a thousand things he’d forgotten: the delights of Angeal’s cooking, Genesis’ unbridled laughter, Zack’s infectious smile...Cloud’s peculiar accent.

His heart compresses with a pang of yearning.

Speech doesn’t seem so inadequate anymore. Suddenly, he needs to talk to them. His limbs ache for movement, so he stands up and goes in search of their voices.

 


 

Sephiroth gives Genesis a book of poetry. It is not an epic. It is not Loveless. Genesis accepts the tome with a roll of his eyes, clearly unaware of the truce it represents.

I forgive you, Sephiroth does not say, but relents privately.

“Is this a hint?” Genesis asks, mirth in his tone.

“If I have to hear you recite that awful play one more time, I’m going to find away to deafen myself,” Sephiroth threatens. They lean against the side of a building out back of Shinra’s main structure, where cadets run drills in a wide, muddy yard. Sephiroth’s gaze occasionally seeks out a head of spiked, blonde hair, though Genesis has yet to notice.

“Goddess, Seph,” Genesis moans as he flips open the book and skims the contents of a random page. “This is drivel! Did you even read it before you picked it up?”

“It was in the ‘popular new releases’ section of the bookstore,” Sephiroth admits with a small shrug. Doing something so mundane as buying a book at a bookstore had been a surreal experience, especially as the shop was in the heart of a non-decrepit Midgar.

“Poetry is more than just rhyming,” Genesis explains, though his eyes eat up the words on the page. “I suppose it will do for amusement value though. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” Sephiroth says, cringing as, across the field, young Cloud falls flat on his face. Sephiroth knows they’re one and the same, his Cloud and this little one, but he has trouble putting them together in his mind. The foundation exists in that small body for the fascinating man he would become, but time was a working factor.

Cloud picks himself up and wipes the mud from his face. Though he looks absolutely miserable, he stumbles back into the training routine with the other, much larger boys. In that small act of resiliency, Sephiroth sees the future and feels a blooming heat beneath his skin.

I want you to be happy.

“Got an eye on one of the new recruits?” Genesis ventures. The book is now tucked casually under his arm. “You know, Angeal has embraced the mentorship program, but I can’t imagine having a trainee under my wing.”

Sephiroth hums. “I’d sooner tell a cadet to head for the hills than assign one to you.”

Genesis flashes him a knowing grin. “Perhaps I should let you. Might be fun to torture one of the little bastards.”

Cloud falls again and Genesis snickers. “Maybe that one? Poor kid looks like he needs a bit of shaping up.”

Sephiroth considers it for a moment. “That’s not a bad idea. He’s small, like you were. You’ll account for that in training, but you won’t infantilize him in the process. This could be good for both of you.”

Genesis’ head whips around, his eyes wide. “Goddess, Seph, I was just joking!”

“I’ll work on the paperwork tomorrow,” Sephiroth says, nodding, then lights up as another thought occurs to him. “You and Angeal can introduce Cloud to Zack.”

“That sounds like a terri—wait. ” Genesis gives Sephiroth a searching look. “Why do you know that kid’s name?”

Sephiroth smiles, shark-like. “Perhaps I planned this all along.”

Genesis swears up a storm as Sephiroth treads away, laughing quietly to himself.

 


 

More than a month has passed and Sephiroth has avoided three meetings with Shinra’s upper management. He spends more time watching Cloud from the shadows. When Genesis pitched an absolute fit about his admittedly hefty workload, Sephiroth backed off on assigning him a pupil.

Sephiroth thinks, sometimes, that he himself might be better off for it anyway. The idea of sharing Cloud makes him burn in a bad way. He fusses absently with the tiny orb at his throat as he watches young Cloud fall in a three-step sparring match for the fifth time. It’s an easy exercise. The cadets are taught the basic offensive and defensive steps, then are set up with an opponent who will perform the opposite maneuver to their own.

Cloud, Sephiroth knows, has never been good at following directions. Traditional teaching methods don't work well for him. He learns better set apart from the rest.

Sephiroth aches to just walk over and advise. Instead, he withdraws his PHS from his pocket and dials the Soldier Third who is training Cloud’s group. Across the way, Sephiroth sees the soldier eyeballing his phone, face paling and eyebrows shooting up onto his forehead as he reads the caller ID.

He answers. “H-hello?”

“Soldier, this is General Sephiroth.” Sephiroth explains what he wants done without pause. The soldier complies with a sharp affirmative and hangs up.

Sephiroth watches, pleased, as the Soldier stops the training exercise and approaches Cloud, who pales considerably under the attention and hunches his shoulders. Sephiroth grits his teeth, thinking of the Cloud who glowered as they flew through the air, blades screaming for each other’s blood.

“They are one and the same,” Sephiroth whispers to himself, appeased when Cloud's jawline hardens as his superior speaks to him.

Whatever the Soldier says instills some new confidence in Cloud. He lines up with the others and falls into a peculiar crouch, a completely different pose to the required kata, something more wild and coiled, a young wolf ready to spring. The Soldier shouts for them to begin, and Cloud ducks the three blows before launching his balled fist into his opponent’s stomach. The other boy goes down, the breath knocked out of him, and the entire class gawks.

Sephiroth grins when Cloud blushes bright red and rubs his neck. He’s embarrassed, but embarrassment can’t smother the grin lighting his face.

I want you to be happy, Sephiroth thinks as something flutters within him.

 


 

Two months pass and Sephiroth finally attends one of the meetings again. Everyone is nervous to see him present. One, because his unexplained threat for the reactor still lingers on the horizon. Two, because Professor Hojo is missing.

In all his desires, Sephiroth had nearly forgotten about his would-be father, until a summons found its way onto his desk one morning, and Sephiroth’s dormant temper was rekindled.

It is the first time since coming back that he has wanted to burn everything to the ground. Instead, he spends four hours locked in his office, seething and gripping Cloud’s light for dear life. His secretary finally develops the courage to knock on his door.

He is curled against his desk, sitting on a pile of discarded paperwork when he tells her to come in. She takes in the scene with wide eyes.

“Um, are you alright, General?”

“Samantha,” Sephiroth says tiredly, “what is it?”

“Well, you haven’t been answering the two-way, and um...I was concerned that something was wrong. Should I leave you alone?”

There is real worry in her gaze, and Sephiroth is starkly reminded why he can’t be this: a madman who wants to set fire to the world. He sighs and shakes his head, thinking of endless sand, a gray sky, and a dying lifestream.

I want you to be happy.

He stands slowly, and his joints protest the movement. He’s been on the floor so long that even enhanced healing can’t quite hide the strain. He is ashamed of himself, especially when the lifestream buzzes within him, noticed again at last. He placates it with a private apology, then turns back to Samantha.

“Where is Hojo this time of day?”

Samantha finds out, and Sephiroth sweeps off to locate his creator.

There is an industrial paper shredder on the twenty-seventh floor of Shinra headquarters. That is not where Sephiroth finds Hojo, but by the time he steps into Shinra's managerial meeting, the doctor and and the shredder have become well acquainted.

The Turks interrupt one of Heidegger's droning speeches to report the find. The security footage, they say, is fried for the entire building, and no one quite knows how that happened.

“On a brighter note,” Sephiroth says after the Turks deliver this grim news, “there is one month left until a reactor will fail.”

No one quite knows what to do with that statement. The silence that follows is heavy, but Sephiroth smiles in the same way he once smiled at Nibelheim.

With a burning sort of madness.

Chapter Text

A full day before the three-month deadline, Sephiroth goes to the reactor. Shinra hasn’t added the extra security yet. Sephiroth fries the cameras with burst of electricity. He’s never needed materia for magic.

The planet surges with him, humming louder than usual as he slips past the only two security guards on duty. He finds the well of mako and cringes at the chemical stench. He doesn’t know what he’s supposed to do now, but the planet guides him.

Her power consumes him, and the world grows bright. Sephiroth’s flesh feels like its boiling off his bones. He can see nothing until the light recedes, drawing back into his core. The mako well beneath the grate is no longer liquid. It is crystal blue for a moment or so, then it turns pure black.

The machines surrounding the mako pit groan alarmingly in protest, and Sephiroth takes his leave.

 


 

The following morning, Shinra’s management is in a panic. An entire sector is without power, and thousands of people are complaining. The reactor is reportedly useless, irreparable. The systems for processing mako burned up when liquid turned to crystal. Three months, and no one has bothered to realize a backup resource. Sephiroth is offended by the company’s arrogance, but not surprised.

There is a man who claims to be charge of the Urban Development Department. His name is Reeve Tuetsi. When the desperate arguing wanes, he interjects almost meekly.

“I might have a few ideas.”

It will take three weeks, even on rush, to put his ideas into play, but they’re good ones. Sephiroth compliments the man on the way out.

“Nice work,” he says genuinely.

Reeve looks ready to shit himself, but he manages a muttered, “thank you.” He looks around the room and lowers his voice. “For breaking the reactor as well.”

Sephiroth doesn’t reply with words. He smirks though, as good an admittance as any, and leaves the room.

 


 

Angeal is a fantastic cook, but he likes his meat practically raw. Sephiroth can’t fathom consuming anything with pink still in the middle.

“Your taste is awful,” Angeal accuses, laying a steak on Sephiroth’s plate. The slab is nearly charred black, but somehow, it’s tender. Sephiroth eats half of it before he’s appeased enough to resume conversation.

“It’s good,” he says, as Angeal stands opposite the kitchen-island. Angeal’s steak bleeds around its contours. He leans against the counter to eat it.

“That looks gross,” Sephiroth adds.

Angeal grins and cuts off a piece, crams it into his mouth, and chews obscenely.

Sephiroth can’t smother a grimace.

“So I heard,” Angeal says around his own amusement, “that you have your eye on a cadet.”

Sephiroth puts his fork down. He still has half a steak left, but he needs his wits about him for this. Angeal is perceptive. He has a knack for reading people that Genesis lacks. He manipulates with empathy. It’s impressive as it is disconcerting.

“I may have.”

Angeal tilts his head. “You tried to pair him up with Genesis.”

It sounds almost like a question. Sephiroth sighs and pushes his bangs out of his face. “I changed my mind.”

“Why do you care about this kid?”

Sephiroth fidgets under Angeal’s prying gaze; his eyes are kind and patient, but their anticipaton stings.

“Why’d you decide to mentor Zack?” Sephiroth counters.

Angeal is always happy to talk about his student. “Zack is dedicated, motivated, and he cares about people. He’s also, despite his erratic nature, an extremely skilled fighter. He’s a natural.”

“Cloud will one day rival me,” Sephiroth says quickly, staring at his plate. He’s thinking of sand again. “The program barely tolerates him. He’s small and weak, but I see it more clearly than anything else. Cloud Strife will grow to be a force of nature.” Sephiroth taps a finger against the orb at his throat. “And I will see it happen.”

“I looked into him, after Genesis told me,” Angeal says, cutting his steak into smaller pieces. “I’m not sure what you see in him, but I honestly don’t. I feel bad for him actually. You should read the assessments—”

“—I have,” Sephiroth interrupts, letting the ire slice into his voice. “They don’t know a goddamn thing .”

Angeal’s eyebrows are high. “You’re defensive of him.”

Sephiroth refuses to meet his eyes. “You don’t see it,” he breathes, shaking his head in exasperation. “No one does. It’s irksome.”

“Did you kill Hojo?”

The sudden change of subject makes Sephiroth grit his teeth. “And if I did?”

Angeal’s tone is solemn. “Did you break the reactor?”

Sephiroth glowers and resumes eating his steak. Angeal sighs, taking the non-response at face value. It’s as good as an answer.

“You know, you’ve been different lately,” he admits. “Genesis and I talked about it. We’re not sure what’s changed, but we’re not going to judge you.” He reaches across the bar to put a hand on Sephiroth’s forearm. “You were right about the degradation, and you helped us fix it. I don’t know how you knew, but…” Angeal pats his arm fondly. “I see this change in you. Your gaze is sharper. You care more. Sephiroth, we are your friends. You can tell us things. We’ll help you.”

Rage bubbles faintly beneath Sephiroth’s skin. His stomach coils with an old hurt. “If Genesis had found out on his own, and there was no cure, he would rip the world apart to save himself. He would leave, and you would follow him, but I wouldn’t.”

“Oddly specific scenario,” Angeal says, his head tilted at a curious angle, “and you sound so certain.”

Sephiroth meets his gaze evenly. “I am certain. I’ve seen it happen.”

Angeal puts his fork down. His lips are pressed into a grim line. He knows that Sephiroth has never felt any inclination to lie.

“Tell me.”

So Sephiroth does.

 


 

Sephiroth knows he has to go to Nibelheim. He takes Angeal and Zack. This Zack, still a puppy, doesn’t know him at all.

It shouldn’t bother him, but Sephiroth remembers how much of Cloud’s memories were Zack’s, and how very much Cloud loved and missed his old friend. Sephiroth is torn between simmering jealousy and a need to establish himself in Zack’s favor so that later, when Cloud remembers, he will be pleased.

Sephiroth banters with Zack in a familiar way that has Angeal frowning. Angeal’s been quiet since Sephiroth told him things: not everything, but enough . He watches Sephiroth for bouts of inevitable insanity. Sephiroth barely resists the urge to tug at the man’s Jenova cells, but he restrains himself. It’s a useful trick for another day.

“So there’s this flower girl in the slums, right?” Zack prattles over the whirling blades of the helicopter. “She’s pretty and sweet, and I cannot wait to go see her again.”

“A flower girl?” Sephiroth asks absently. It niggles something in his brain, and then hits him hard. Not a flower girl, the flower girl. Sephiroth had run Masamune through her back, and Cloud’s agony had rippled through his mind.

The flower girl. The Ancient. Aerith.

His lip curls as he remembers her, all innocence and cheer. She held Zack’s heart until he died, and then she’d inadvertently captured Cloud’s. She hadn’t been the only one. There’d been another woman in his favor, too: Tifa.

Sephiroth digs his fingers into his thighs, suddenly wanting to break something. Zack is still talking, heedless, but Angeal’s face is tight as he watches Sephiroth nearly tear through the leathers of his gloves and pants with his own fingernails, in a rage so fine and sharp it could slice mountains.

“Sephiroth,” Angeal warns, cutting Zack off. Zack pauses and tosses a concerned gaze between them. He gets an eyeful of Sephiroth’s face and pales considerably.

“You alright, General?” Zack asks.

Sephiroth takes a deep breath. He knows his eyes alone are probably terrifying: pupils narrowed almost to nothing, irises glowing starkly green. It takes all he has not to just sprout a wing and leap from the helicopter. Pummeling the landscape or a dragon might make him feel better.

“I’m fine,” he growls, and Zack’s jaw snaps shut so hard that Sephiroth hears it over the helo’s engine.

“What’s set you off?” Angeal asks cautiously.

“Remembering,” is all he says, and Angeal recoils. Zack is hunched in the seat next to him, looking sheepish.

“Sorry, if it’s something I said,” he apologizes.

Sephiroth tries and fails to let go of the anger, wonders why it’s so hard this time around.

Then it dawns on him.

Nibelheim. Mother. She's getting closer. Her rage feeds his own; her thoughts are all consuming. But he must remain separate. Sephiroth’s head aches fiercely. His Jenova cells are practically vibrating. The planet is an idle shadow beneath their fervor.

“Nibelheim in sight,” says the Turk flying the helicopter. His voice crackles over the headset. “Where should I drop you off?”

“No need,” Sephiroth says. He stands up and removes the headpiece, securing it in a seat pocket before flinging open the exit. The engine roars as the snowy landscape comes into view.

Sephiroth turns his head slightly to Angeal and Zack. They’re already on their feet, ready to follow his lead.

Sephiroth nods once and turns back.

He jumps.

 


 

They bypass the town and do a quick sweep of the mansion and what is hidden beneath. Zack and Angeal rifle through the fake library with furrowed brows, while Sephiroth follows his instincts to a dark room down the hall.

He doesn’t recall much about Vincent Valentine, but when the Turk sees Sephiroth, he is startled out of his coffin.

“I’m going to burn it all,” Sephiroth tells him. “You might want to relocate.”

“Sephiroth,” Vincent acknowledges, uncanny red eyes glowing in the dark. The planet coos at the darkness surrounding him. The name Chaos comes to mind, and Sephiroth discards it. He has no desire to trifle with a WEAPON, nor an ex-Turk.

Father, the planet suggests, blood.

“Are you related to me in some way?” Sephiroth asks, his interest sparking.

Vincent won’t meet his eyes again. “Possibly.”

“Hojo is dead,” Sephiroth offers. “And I am...different from what I could’ve been.”

Vincent furrows his brows. “Do you know about your mother?”

“Which one?” Sephiroth asks with slight amusement. “Jenova? Or the planet? Or the other one?”

“The other one,” Vincent says quickly. He seems surprised. “You know about Jenova.”

“She’s as much a part of me as the others,” Sephiroth replies, “and she’s giving me a headache.” He rubs his temples and sighs. “I care for her; I cannot deny it, but I won’t let her influence me. Not again.”

“Again?”

Sephiroth shakes his head, dismissing the question. “Will you tell me about the other one?”

It takes him a moment to answer. “Yes.”

Sephiroth nods. “Thank you. Will you also come back to Shinra with me?”

Vincent’s face pinches. “I’d rather not.”

“It’s not going to be the same. I’m changing things. I won’t let the Turks claim you. In return, perhaps you can help me destroy the reactors.”

Vincent is clearly intrigued. “I...why would you do that?”

“Shinra is killing our world. She has a few centuries left at best.” Sephiroth stares him down. “I’ve seen it.”

“I believe you.”

Sephiroth turns and trails back down the hallway. Vincent follows his steps.

 


 

The mansion burns. Sephiroth stays to watch, to make sure the fire doesn’t spread to the town this time.

Zack and Angeal are still wary of Vincent. The ex-Turk stands at Sephiroth’s side, watching the flames.

“Is this what she envisioned that scared her away?” Vincent whispers to himself. “Is this all ?”

“No,” Sephiroth says. “My birth mother had every reason to be ashamed of me, and I every reason to despise her.”

Vincent gives him a strange look. “You misunderstand. That is not why Lucrecia left. She wasn’t ashamed of you; she was ashamed of herself. Guilty for letting Hojo use her child as an experiment. As...as was I.” Vincent stares miserably at the flames. “I’m so sorry, Sephiroth.”

“You tried to stop it,” Sephiroth reminds him. “And I’m not ashamed of what I am any longer. Don’t apologize.”

Zack and Angeal talk quietly to each other. They are eavesdropping, but it’s clear they don’t understand.

Sephiroth looks up the mountain to where the reactor peeks through the trees. His head hurts , and he’s tired of it.

Vincent sees. “You can go now, if you wish. We’ll stay to make sure the fire doesn’t spread. With all the snow, I doubt it will be a problem anyway. Will you be alright dealing with her on your own?”

The planet thrums a comforting note through Sephiroth’s body. “I’m not alone.” He turns to Zack and Angeal. “Stay here and keep an eye on the fire. I’ll be back in an hour or so.”

Before they can protest, he is gone. He shoots up the side of the mountain easily. Gravity rarely concerns him. He is muscle and will and the land is as much a part of him as the air.

The reactor, when he reaches it, is unguarded. Sephiroth pries open the rusty doors and goes inside. He doesn’t give the monster-filled tanks a second glance, ascends the stairs with determination.

Jenova’s voice is a familiar press upon his mind, but it is not comforting. It hurts just as fiercely as it had the first time. Then, however, he hadn’t cared. She’d loved him when no one else had, or so he’d hoped. She knew him. They were the same.

Sephiroth approaches her grotesque form with destructive intent. He rips off her outer casing, and she screams into his mind. He pulls her free and holds her wretched body over the edge of the mako pit.

“I am sorry,” he says and means it. He drops her, and she screams all the way to the bottom, a devastating sound that only he can hear. When her body disappears into the mako, sizzling, the planet hums behind his eyes.

That’s when Sephiroth realizes that he can still hear her. He inhales sharply. Something within him shifts. Jenova cells fuse with lifestream, and it hurts, but the burn blossoming within his flesh feels liberating.

He’s never considered coexistence, but somehow, the planet has made him whole.

You showed me, the planet reminds him, and Sephiroth realizes that yes, he had. He’d thrown his will into the planet, and they worked together to right what was broken. Jenova, though still insane, an entity unto herself, is quiet now. She is appeased. She is part of something bigger than herself. She is happy .

Sephiroth is both envious and relieved.

 


 

It is still dark when they go into town. A light snow falls on their heads as Sephiroth asks a local man for directions to particular residence.

Angeal, Zack, and Vincent watch quietly as Sephiroth finds the home and knocks on an unfamiliar door.

They do not understand. They can’t. Sephiroth has not even explained this part to Angeal.

His heart beats fast when a short woman opens the door. Her hair is the same color as Cloud’s, but it’s not half as wild. Her tired eyes are the same soft blue. She is clearly shocked by Sephiroth’s presence. Fear darts across her features for a beat, and Sephiroth can’t stand it.

“Cloud is fine,” he says first, and she breathes out in a dramatically long whoosh that makes Sephiroth smile a little.

“Gaia, you gave me a fright!” She cocks a hip and puts a hand there, then purses her lips expectantly. “It is approximately 2 am. What can I do ya for, General Sephiroth?”

“I…” he trails off and ducks his eyes. “It’s not going to make much sense, but I have something I need to tell you. It doesn’t mean Cloud is in danger, so please don't worry. I just need to say it.”

She glances past him to where Sephiroth’s miffed companions linger, listening.

“Well, alright,” she says, “though I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Her accent is nearly as atrocious as Cloud’s, and her fearlessness unprecedented. Sephiroth is utterly charmed.

“I'm sorry,” he eventually says, and the remorse comes naturally. He sounds sincere. He hadn’t had to try. The guilt, the shame...it was there all along.

“You’re right. That doesn’t make sense,” she tells him with a firm nod. “But I forgive you anyway, for whatever you seem to think you need to apologize for. You boys need a place to stay for the night?”

Sephiroth frowns a little at the quick change of subject. “I...we have a chopper.”

“It’s three hours out,” Zack chirps, “and it’s cold . Reno won’t be back until morning, Seph!”

“A blizzard’s moving in tonight,” Cloud’s mother says. “I can practically smell it. The inn’s pricey. I’ve got some leftovers I need to get rid of, my couch is a fold-out, and I have a guest bed. Well, it’s my son’s bed really, but he’s off at Shinra, of course.” She shrugs.

“That’s kind of you,” Angeal says,“but we really wouldn’t want to impose.”

“It’s no trouble,” she says dismissively. “We’re friendly folks out here, and I don’t mind company.” She swings the door wide. “Come on in. Please? The snow’s picking up.”

Zack brushes past Sephiroth and into the house. He offers Cloud’s mother a wide grin. “Are those leftovers homemade?” he asks excitedly.

She laughs. “Of course they are, hon! Where are you from? I know a country boy when I see one.”

“Gongaga, ma’am.”

“My name is Agatha,” she tells him with a nod. “Gongaga’s not a bad place.” She looks to the others, focusing longer on Sephiroth than the rest. “You coming in?”

Agatha’s cooking is on par with Angeal’s. They share a 3am dinner at her dining table, and her teasing nature is enough to bring even Vincent out of his shell. They take quick showers. Angeal and Zack share the fold-out. Zack will complain for hours later of how horribly lumpy the thing is. Vincent settles in the worn armchair, falls asleep sitting up, and Sephiroth is left to crawl into Cloud’s bed. He's stunned to realize that it smells of Cloud. Sephiroth burrows in and sleeps better than he ever has.

Angeal wakes him gently several hours later. Muffled sunlight falls through the curtains, as he redresses into his uniform.

He feels light, not happy, but content.

Agatha makes them breakfast, and Sephiroth draws her aside in the process. “I can’t explain why just yet, but please don’t tell Cloud we came here.”

She looks disappointed, but agrees anyway. She even pats his cheek. “You are a sweet man. Strange too though. No wonder my boy thinks the world of you. Though it’s funny, he hasn’t mentioned meeting you in any of his letters.”

Sephiroth’s throat is dry. “He hasn’t met me...not really. Perhaps in passing.”

She is more confused than before. “Then why?”

“It’s very complicated,” he admits. “I promise that it’s nothing untoward. I simply know Cloud. One day I hope he’ll come to know me.”

She looks very concerned. “In what way? How old are you Sephiroth?”

He tells her. The age difference between them is not vast, but it is enough to make a mother worry. She waves a spatula in his face. “If I find out you’ve mistreated my boy…”

“I won’t,” he promises, fussing with the orb once more.

“That’s pretty,” Agatha says, and she taps the little light with a finger. It flares a bit at her touch, likely in recognition. Sephiroth is not offended when she startles back, eyes wide.

“See something?”

“H-heard something more like,” she says.

Sephiroth is stunned. The little orb has never spoken to him . “What did he say?”

“‘It’s alright, Mama ,’” she tells him. “But that was Cloud!”

“Not yet,” he says a little wistfully, “but one day.”

Agatha seems to collect herself. “You are a complicated man, aren’t you?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

She turns away from him, back to her cooking. “Come back and visit sometime, ok?”

“I will.”

 


 

It feels strangely good to be back at Shinra. Sephiroth hops out of the chopper before it settles and glides off with one particular goal in mind.

Vincent trails him, forgotten for the moment. He draws attention as he follows Sephiroth around the building. Sephiroth only remembers him once they’ve reached the elevator.

“Sorry,” he says when Vincent gives him a halfhearted glare.

“You’re preoccupied,” Vincent says, then tucks his chin against his chest. “I think some people recognized me.”

“You’re famous among the Turks,” Sephiroth recalls, “but you look very different to your picture.”

Vincent snorts. “I am different. Where are we going?”

“I need to see Cloud,” Sephiroth says. “He’s important to me.”

“Agatha’s son?”

Sephiroth nods as the elevator chimes for their departure. Vincent continues to shadow him as they seek out one of the training rooms. Cloud’s squadron is up for sword drills today, Sephiroth knows.

He passes the plexiglass wall that separates the room from the hallway and stops, frowning.

“What’s wrong?” Vincent asks.

“He’s not here,” Sephiroth hisses, and wastes no time. He storms into the room and confronts the squadron leader.

“Where is Cadet Strife?” Sephiroth doesn’t even think to hide his concern.

The squadron leader is pale. “I... Cloud Strife?”

Sephiroth’s heart shudders . Something is wrong.

“Sorry, sir,” the squadron leader quickly corrects himself. “Cadet Strife is in the medical ward. He’s been there since yesterday.”

“What happened?” Vincent cuts in, startling the leader and the eavesdropping cadets. He puts a restraining hand on Sephiroth’s shoulder. Sephiroth leans into the touch just slightly. It’s grounding. He hasn’t lost his temper quite yet, but it’s there, bubbling just against the surface.

“There was an incident. He was attacked.”

Chapter Text

Cloud has three cracked ribs, a broken arm, a sprained ankle, and a spattering of bruises. He lies on a medical cot, drugged to sleep, breathing deeply.

Sephiroth is livid.

He demands a report from the medical staff, and in moments he is given a name, a time, and a place. Sephiroth does the math, and a story pieces itself together in his head. It’s not one he likes.

He signs a waiver to have Cloud healed with materia, then does additional paperwork, transferring medical responsibility into his own name. Infantry doesn’t get free healthcare, and he’d sooner chop his own arm off than let Cloud’s mother get that bill in the mail.

Vincent looms over Cloud as Sephiroth finishes up the paperwork.

“He looks a lot like Agatha,” Vincent says.

Sephiroth passes the papers to a nurse for filing. “We should go. I need to get to the bottom of this.”

They take the elevator to Shinra’s lobby and head to the outdoor training grounds. The timing works out. A familiar Soldier Third leads Cloud’s squadmates through the usual hand-to-hand routine. The field is damp from morning dew, but the boys follow the routine without slipping in the grass. The air is ripe with sweat.

Sephiroth doesn’t hesitate. He barely raises his voice to sound a command, and the squadron lines up at parade rest, rather than attention. Sephiroth doesn’t want to give them the option to talk without prompting. The Soldier Third lingers on the far end, standing at ease as his rank allows.

Sephiroth prowls in his direction. “What’s your name, Soldier?” he demands. The man focuses on Vincent at Sephiroth’s shoulder.

Soldier,” he growls in warning and has the pleasure of seeing the hairs rise on the man’s arms as his gaze darts back to Sephiroth's. “Your name.”

The man is sheet-white, standing at full attention now. “C-Carter, sir! Mason!”

“Mason Carter, Soldier Third Class,” Sephiroth purrs the name and smirks, a familiar chill curling up his spine. For once, he doesn't burn in anger. Sephiroth is beyond fire. He is ice. It is the sort of feeling he reserves for battle. The planet, now at one with Jenova, crackles to life within him, rising to meet this cold rage.

Vincent seems to sense the change. He shifts in Sephiroth’s purview, unsettled.

Sephiroth turns to the squadron. “How many boys did it take to bring down a little cloud?” he poses the question to the world at large, and sees more than one person stiffen. No one in this lifetime has heard him talk this way , voice lilting dark with promise. Fear is potent in the air. Its stench is a smell he knows well.

Vincent stays put as Sephiroth peruses the line of cadets, smirk still in place. He goes to the end and addresses them one-by-one as he works his way back.

“There’s a cut beneath your eyebrow,” he tells the first cadet in line. “Take one step back.”

The cadet draws himself to attention, and takes one step out of ranks. He pallor is nearly green when he locks himself back into parade rest.

Sephiroth goes to the next and hums at his guileless expression. “You think you’ve done no wrong, cadet? Attention. Answer.”

The boy snaps his heels together. “Sir, I did not participate in any illicit activities, sir!”

“Who reported the incident?” Sephiroth leans forward to whisper in his ear. “How long did you stand there and watch?”

Immediately, the cadet’s demeanor changes. He starts to shake.

Sephiroth raises his chin. “Take one step back.”

The cadet follows suit, and so it goes. When Sephiroth has addressed every boy in singular, they have moved the entire rank a single pace backwards. Lastly, Sephiroth faces their leader, the Soldier Third.

“You have one chance to explain yourself,” Sephiroth says icily. For this one, he does not smile.

The Soldier fumbles. “I...the...Cadet Strife followed the advice I gave him that day, the same day you called me. You ordered me to instruct him to break the standard routine and fight on instinct, so I told him. After that, they couldn’t beat him...not alone, no one could.”

The Soldier swallowed. “Strife used to be the worst on the squad. When that changed, he grew...arrogant. It was annoying, but there was nothing in regulation I could do about it. I noticed a lack of confidence in the rest of the boys. They were angry; they were embarrassed. Strife said the wrong thing to a few of them yesterday--he's arrogant, sir--and a brawl broke out. I...I stopped it.”

Sephiroth tilts his head. “At what point did you stop it?”

The Soldier shudders and hesitates. “I thought if Strife took a beating, he’d learn a bit of humility and that it would the restore the squad’s confidence. I-I didn’t…” He looks down. “I was too late to stop them from breaking his arm, sir.”

Sephiroth starts to speak again, but Vincent beats him to it. He sounds nearly as furious as Sephiroth. “You let an entire squad attack one cadet?”

Despite terror and sense, the soldier frowns. “Who the hell are you?”

“My father,” Sephiroth says offhandedly. Vincent goes utterly still, but he doesn’t argue. There’s no proof that they’re related, and frankly, Sephiroth doesn’t care. He likes Vincent. He likes the idea of family other than Hojo and his trio of crazy maternal figures.

The soldier looks like he wants to be distracted by the thought though, and Sephiroth hisses for his attention. “Carter, how long have you been in SOLDIER?”

“A year, sir,” Mason whispers back, eyes wide. “Please, sir. I’ve worked hard for my rank. Whatever punishment you have for me, I-I’ll take it to make up for this! I gave up everything to be in SOLDIER!”

Sephiroth considers it. “Fine. Disarm yourself and spar with me.”

Carter is startled. “Pardon, sir?”

“There are three knives and two mid-range materia on your person. Put them aside and come over here where your precious squad can see.” Sephiroth demonstrates by walking a short distance away, turning back and crossing his arms impatiently. “I don’t have all day.”

The Soldier stumbles through the process of disarming himself. He sheds his outer coat and drops the items Sephiroth named into a pile on the ground. Sweating, the man takes up the space several paces from Sephiroth’s position and raises trembling arms into a ready stance. He’s breathing so sporadically that Sephiroth guesses he’s on the verge of a panic attack.

“In simulation,” Sephiroth begins, arms lax at his sides, “a Soldier Third must be able to fight at least one hundred infantry soldiers in simulation waves of five, that’s twenty men at a time, spaced apart by two-minute intervals. Let’s talk numbers, Mason.” Sephiroth begins to circle, slowly, lazily, his guard completely down.

“Twenty-three to one would be like you fighting twenty-three hundred simulated infantrymen.” Sephiroth pauses, and the soldier’s eyes are glued to him. “In simulation, they have yet to find my limit,” Sephiroth shares. “The late Dr. Hojo certainly tried , but simulation is too predictable. Easy. He pitted me against mako enhanced monsters in a laboratory setting instead. Last I checked, my limit is three Nibel dragons, two king behemoths, a midgar zolom, and a Bahamut summon.”

Someone, one of the cadets, makes a small noise of shock at this information.

Sephiroth finally falls into a fighting stance. “Twenty-three to one is nothing to a Soldier, and I suppose you thought an entire squadron is nothing to one arrogant boy,” he says, “so what is one First Class to a Third really?”

Sephiroth moves .

 


 

Genesis hears the screams from the thirteenth floor. Having just walked into his apartment, he throws opens the nearest window to get a look at the outdoor training grounds, and his heart drops.

He spots a dark blur of movement that he recognizes from spars and blood-worn warfronts, and he hears the unmistakable snap of bone. Down below, Sephiroth, for whatever reason, is well and truly pissed. So pissed, in fact, that he doesn’t care who sees or hears what the hell he’s doing.

Genesis doesn’t hesitate. He jumps out the window, breaking a concrete sidewalk when he lands. When his body uncoils from impact, he sprints across the grounds to get between Sephiroth and whatever fool has uncaged that wild, furious thing that Genesis sometimes sees lurking in his friend’s eyes.

He has to physically pry Sephiroth from the other man, and Genesis knows, to some degree, that he only succeeds because Sephiroth lets him.

“What the hell is going on!” Genesis demands. Sephiroth takes a few steps back. He is nearly panting, though Genesis knows the loss of control is not from physical exhaustion. Sephiroth is downright twitchy, and his eyes are war-bright.

Sephiroth is smiling and there is fresh blood spattered across part of his face. Genesis gets a chill just seeing it, but a sudden wail of agony has him turning in place. He gawks at Sephiroth’s opponent splayed across the ground.

The man is a low tier Soldier that Genesis vaguely recognizes. He lies flat on his back, sobbing. His left arm is twisted at an odd angle with bone and blood out of place. The Soldier’s breathing is has a particular wheezy quality suggestive of a punctured lung.

There are boys, Genesis notes, watching. Three of the squadron are passed out on the ground. One vomits the contents of his stomach into the mud. The rest are lost between parade rest and barely standing. They are in various stages of shock with their eyes locked onto the soldier Third.

“Goddess, Sephiroth, what did you do ?” Genesis says and turns to face him, but Sephiroth is nowhere in sight.

Fuck,” Genesis says and whips out his PHS to call for help.

 


 

Sephiroth is on top of the Shinra building with Vincent. Genesis had been so preoccupied with the downed soldier Third, that he hadn’t even noticed the ex-Turk. Sephiroth sits beside him on the lip of the roof, watching Midgar below and trembling with adrenaline. He hasn’t felt this way in a long time.

Once it takes hold, bloodlust is hard to shake.

“You called me your father,” Vincent offers, aiming to distract. He doesn’t seem afraid, and Sephiroth is quietly grateful.

“The planet sings in my ears. She claims you are my blood,” Sephiroth says around a shaky breath. He grips Cloud’s light with one hand for comfort. It burns hot against his hand.

Cloud’s voice fills his head for the space of a moment. “Monster.

Sephiroth’s not sure if he imagined it or not. It is an insult to be sure, but that’s nothing new. He takes comfort in it anyway.

“I...hope I can do better for you than Hojo,” Vincent says quietly.

“You already have.”

It’s half an hour before Genesis finds them on the roof. His eyes breeze over Vincent, before settling on Sephiroth.

“That man had more broken bones than I’ve had in my entire Shinra career,” Genesis says, voice hot with accusation. “What happened?”

“He let an entire squad attack Cloud. When we returned from Nibelheim, Cloud was in the hospital.”

Genesis scoffs and stalks over to join them near the edge of the roof. He crosses his arms. “I recognize what you were trying to do to that man. Those are the worst sort of injuries to heal, and they cause residual pain for years after. Even a Third’s healing ability won’t completely outpace that pain.” Genesis puts a hand on Sephiroth’s shoulder. “You’re eventually going to have to tell me why this cadet is so important to you.”

Sephiroth hums an acknowledgement. “I was wondering if you’d reconsider what we discussed before...about mentoring Cloud?”

Genesis grimaces. “Still on about that?”

“He needs looking after,” Sephiroth admits, “and I can’t do it myself, much as I want to.”

“But you want him protected or at least able to defend himself,” Genesis guesses. “Seph, I don’t know. I have a lot on my plate.”

“I’ll do what I can to remove some of those responsibilities,” Sephiroth says.

Genesis is quiet for a while. “Angeal has invited Zack’s girlfriend to our apartment this weekend. I’m not particularly keen on meeting her, but you know how stubborn Angeal can be.”

“I’ll be there,” Sephiroth says.

Genesis sighs dramatically. “My friend , the fates are cruel.” He leans around Sephiroth to narrow his eyes at Vincent. “What is this one’s story?”

“He is the shattered soul ,” Sephiroth replies. “This is Vincent Valentine, an ex-Turk who went missing decades ago. He was unfortunate enough to become one of Hojo’s experiments. He...knew my mother. He is, quite possibly, my biological father.”

Vincent meets Genesis’s gaze with a weighty stare.

Genesis grins, his annoyance at having to clean up Sephiroth’s mess disappearing beneath surprise. “Well, well, well ! You have been busy!” He moves over to shake Vincent’s good hand, the one that isn’t an enormous, golden claw. “I hate Turks,” Genesis declares brightly.

“Good thing I’m not one anymore,” Vincent says darkly.

“Goddess, your voice is practically gravel!” Genesis is clearly delighted. “What are you doing this weekend?”

 


 

The flower girl’s name is Aerith Gainsborough, and Sephiroth knows he shouldn’t hate her so much, but he does anyway.

Zack is utterly smitten. He clings to her and she accepts the attention with a serene smile. It reminds Sephiroth of Cloud’s more somber affection and makes him wonder how close they were the first time around. Cloud mourned her so passionately .

But there is nothing malicious about Aerith for him to latch onto.

Sephiroth has often thought of himself as inhuman, but she is so far opposite on the spectrum that he can’t stand being near her. The planet sings for the Ancient in an entirely different than it does for him. He's never dealt well with jealousy.

Aerith gives Sephiroth an odd look occasionally as if she can see all the things inside him: the planet, Jenova, the madness, the hate.

He is silent during dinner.

Vincent and Genesis have taken an unexpected liking to each other, and Angeal takes a shine to Aerith. Zack is happy to lead their conversation. The others chatter and Sephiroth is left to observe. He doesn’t mind so much, but Cloud’s light burns hot at his throat, as it often does when he’s on the verge of a meltdown.

He finishes his dinner before the others and excuses himself to the living room to get away from them. To get away from her.

He does not expect her to follow. Her light footsteps precede a tap to the shoulder. “Excuse me.”

Sephiroth turns, trying not to glare, but he knows he is not entirely successful. He has to remind himself that he is not allowed to kill her again, even as his palm aches for Masamune’s grip. It lingers on the edges of his mind, just a thought out of reach.

“I’m sorry,” Aerith says, her green eyes shining with sincerity. “It’s just that you don’t seem to like me, but the planet seems to like you. I don’t want to be at odds with one of Zack’s friends. Is there anything I can do?”

He’s not entirely sure what she’s asking.

She ducks her head when he doesn’t answer and her bangs cover her eyes. “I’m not sure what I’ve done to upset you.”

“It’s nothing,” Sephiroth says as softly as he can manage. “You just remind me of someone I dislike. I apologize if I’ve upset you. I’m not trying to.”

“I-I understand,” Aerith says. She glances up to meet his eyes again and smiles. “I hope we can be...if not friends, then at least on amicable terms?”

He nods sharply. “Of course.”

“I appreciate it,” she says, sounding less certain of herself. Zack moves in behind her and puts his arms around her waist.

“Everything ok?” he asks as he tucks his head on her shoulder. Zack’s eyes lock onto Sephiroth in warning and in question. He looks...protective. It's annoying.

“It’s all good here,” Aerith reassures him. “We were just getting better acquainted.” She winks at Sephiroth, and he represses a grimace.

“It’s fine, Zack,” he says as the others come in from the kitchen.

The tension in the room is plain. Vincent moves to Sephiroth’s elbow.

“I need to get away from her,” Sephiroth whispers to him.

“How about a movie?” Angeal says to the room at large. As the others settle in on the sofa, Sephiroth and Vincent slip out the door.

They wander down to the slums where Sephiroth summons Masamune and slaughters every monster he can find. Vincent tails him, the only shadow Sephiroth isn’t keen to murder.

“Chaos doesn't like her either,” Vincent admits when they are hours into the night.

“But you do,” Sephiroth growls.

Vincent shrugs, and Sephiroth goes back to killing.

Chapter Text

They call it an intervention, and Sephiroth rolls his eyes at Tseng for the third time as he harps on about security measures and rules and taking advantage. Genesis and Angeal linger in the corners of Sephiroth’s office. One is amused, the other concerned.

“You need to stop ignoring the rules,” Tseng says after a solid fifteen minutes of delivering the most polite reprimand Sephiroth has ever been the subject of. “Being Shinra’s top-ranking officer does not make you immune to punishment.”

“What am I even being accused of?” Sephiroth asks, crossing his arms as he leans back in his chair. “It is my prerogative to punish the soldiers as I see fit.”

“Any extreme punishments should be approved by Lazard before implementation. Maiming is not an acceptable punishment, General.” Tseng clears his throat. “I didn’t want to be the one to bring this to you, but the president has decided you should take a reprieve from being the OIC.”

Sephiroth rolls his eyes again. “Interesting that neither the president, nor Lazard came to tell me this on their own. Instead they send a Turk? I don’t need a vacation, Tseng.”

“Not a vacation. They want you to do some field work, some high-level missions maybe. Blow off some pent-up aggression. In the meantime, Commander Hewley and Commander Rhapsodos will take up your paperwork responsibilities.”

Genesis snarls. “The hell I will!”

Angeal isn’t very enthusiastic either. “I assume our schedules will be adjusted so that we can manage his workload?”

“Of course,” Tseng says with a sharp nod.

“I’m already taking on a trainee,” Genesis complains. “Now you want me to do paperwork?” He glares at Sephiroth accusingly.

“It’s temporary,” Tseng reminds. “Sephiroth will take over all of the missions that you and Angeal normally do in the field. You will cover paperwork and any high priority decisions that come up. We can arrange it so that you both have time to work with your trainees.”

“How long is this supposed to last?” Angeal asks.

“Two weeks at a minimum.”

Sephiroth grunts. “I suppose killing monsters is preferable to paperwork.” Half of which I don't even do anymore. He tosses a smirk at Genesis. “Don’t let all that power go to your head.”

Genesis curses and turns to pout at the window.

Tseng looks pensive. “I was actually told to question you about several other incidents as well.”

“So that’s why you dragged these two along,” Sephiroth says with a mocking smirk. He sets his elbows on his desk and props his chin on his hands. “Afraid, Tseng?”

“I’m not an idiot,” Tseng replies. "They're collateral."

Sephiroth waits.

“How did you know about the reactor?” Tseng finally asks. “Who killed Professor Hojo?”

Sephiroth leans back in his seat and raises a brow. “Someone told me, and I don’t know.”

“Who told you?” Genesis snaps. He’s clearly still annoyed.

“You wouldn’t believe me, so what’s the point in telling?”

Tseng places his hands on Sephiroth’s desk and leans into his space. “Try me.”

Sephiroth hums. “The voice in my head. Well,” he pauses, "one of them."

Tseng frowns. “...I’m not sure what to make of that.”

Sephiroth shrugs. “It’s the truth. Would you like to know what she’s saying now.”

Genesis is staring at him, horrified. “She?”

“Yes,” Tseng says at the same time.

Sephiroth leans forward again, and Tseng moves away, eyes flickering with fear.

“The next reactor will fail in two weeks,” Sephiroth purrs. “Then another will fail, then another. Until all of Shinra’s precious assets are gone .”

Tseng grimaces. “Who is destroying them?”

Sephiroth tilts his head. “Who has reason to hate the reactors? Who suffers the most because of them?”

Genesis catches on quickly. “You think the planet is doing this? Have you lost your mind?”

Sephiroth chuckles. "Naturally."

Tseng seems shocked. “You think the planet is talking to you?”

Sephiroth stands when they collectively gawk at him. It’s fine. He’s used to people thinking he’s insane.

“I don’t feel like watching the world end,” he says. “Shinra needs to take this seriously. I’ll make sure that they do.”

“It’s you…I didn't want to believe it.” Tseng has backed himself against the wall. “You killed Hojo. You destroyed the reactor.”

“Of course I did,” Sephiroth says, strolling over to stand next to Genesis by the window. He undoes the latch and pushes the glass panel aside. Wind whips through the room. Genesis takes a step away from it, but Sephiroth inhales the fresh air appreciatively.

“I’ll be back in two weeks,” he says.

“You’re not really going to jump from this height,” Genesis says, miffed. “Sephiroth, we’re on the sixtieth floor!”

“Who says I’m jumping?” Sephiroth rolls his shoulders and uncoils the muscles that hold his wing in. It springs forth, breaking through skin, and splattering blood across the space behind him. His friends and Tseng are dead silent for a breath.

Goddess!” Genesis eventually says. “Sephiroth what has Hojo done to you?”

“Nothing he hasn’t paid for. Tseng, I’ll accept missions through my PHS.”  Sephiroth turns partially so he can see the Turk’s face. “And when they inevitably decide that I should be removed from this company, tell Shinra I welcome them to try."

He leaps from the window. He doesn’t look back.

Chapter Text

It’s clear from the start that little Cloud Strife has no goddamn idea what’s going on. He looks completely dazed when Genesis walks into the training room.

Genesis is exhausted. He hates paperwork with a fiery passion. He’s floored that both he and Angeal are struggling to keep up with Sephiroth’s typical workload. And he’s worried, because while Sephiroth is out completing missions around the continent, he hasn’t contacted anyone directly. He only turns in status reports for his missions via PHS. Otherwise, he doesn’t answer any calls. Probably because Shinra’s management has lost their goddamn minds over his actions lately.

Cloud Strife fidgets by the bleachers. He’s dressed in the usual trooper uniform, and his pallor is still a bit off from his injuries. Materia only does so much, and overexposure to Cures tends to leave one nauseous for a while.

Genesis stalks over to Cloud, who visibly shrinks as he draws closer.

“Attention, cadet,” Genesis growls, and Cloud snaps to follow the command. He trembles as Genesis circles him.

“Goddess, you’re tiny,” Genesis says when he faces Cloud again. He crosses his arms and sighs. “At ease, cadet. Do you know why you’re here?”

Cloud slumps and stares at the floor. He looks about as tired as Genesis, and the Soldier First feels bad for him.

“No, sir.”

“Here. Sit down,” Genesis gestures towards the bleachers. They sit side-by-side. “Having issues with the others at this point, I imagine?”

Cloud nods and, much to Genesis’s surprise, starts to rant. “I just...don’t understand what happened! I mean, no one here likes me. They never have. It was the same back home. Mostly. But I’m used to that. My squad attacked me, and I was terrified. I woke up in medical, and they told me that General Sephiroth authorized them to heal me for free .” He gives Genesis a wide-eyed look. “Why would he do that? Now everyone knows, and they keep saying the most horrible things.” Cloud’s face actually goes a bit pink. “Suggestive things.”

Genesis sighs and rubs his forehead. “I have no idea what he’s thinking, kid.”

“So...why am I here?”

Genesis straightens and looks him in the eyes. “Right. You’ve been selected for the SOLDIER mentor program. Congratulations.”

Cloud’s jaw drops. “ What ? Really? I thought you were kicking me out!”

Genesis stares. “Why would we do that?”

Cloud throws his hands in the air. “Because of the rumors! And the medical bills, and Sephiro—sorry, the General beating the absolute shit out of my squad leader!”

Genesis wants to laugh. Everything he’d heard about Cloud painted him as something of a wallflower. “You’re much more passionate than I anticipated,” he says.

Cloud blushes and ducks his head. “Sorr-I mean, apologies, sir.”

Genesis grins. The prospect of training Cloud suddenly seems far more fun. “In this session, you won’t be required to do anything physical,” he explains. “However, next time, I expect you to show up and do the standard stretches before I arrive. Understood?”

Cloud is gawking again. “You’re my mentor?” He looks liable to hyperventilate at any moment.

Genesis puts a hand on his shoulder and squeezes, then says flatly. “Calm the fuck down. You’re giving me anxiety.” And Genesis hasn’t had to deal with that in years. He doesn’t want to again.

Cloud nearly topples off the bleachers. “I, uh, Gaia, how did I get on your radar?”

Genesis, who has found himself inordinately fond of Cloud in such a short time, doesn’t want to bring Sephiroth into this part of the equation. So he lies. “Your academic grades are shit. Your physical exams are shit . You’re small and you’re skinny and you are, reportedly, kind of arrogant for someone who is pretty shit at everything. But, ” Genesis tacks on as Cloud starts to shrink, “being different doesn’t make you useless. It just means you need to be taught differently, and I like a challenge.” Genesis looks away when he says the next part. “You are, admittedly, much like a younger version of myself.”

Cloud makes a sound somewhere between a gasp and a gargle, and Genesis can’t help but laugh. “In any case,” he says afterwards, “before anything else, I’d like to get to know you better. So...tell me about yourself, Cloud.”

Genesis is positively delighted when Cloud’s ridiculous accent consumes his words. “M-my name is Cloud Fenris Strife. I’m sixteen. I’m from Nibelheim.” He fidgets under Genesis’s gaze. “My Ma’s name is Agatha. Don’t know who my dad is. My favorite color is black?”

Genesis smiles gently and says in return, “I am Genesis Virgil Rhapsodos. I’m twenty-seven, and I’m from Banora. My family is irrelevant. My favorite color is red.”

Cloud cracks a grin. “Never would’ve guessed.”

Genesis chuckles and nods. “Good. Now stop treating me like an officer. If I am to be your mentor, then I’d prefer we treat each other as friends. Unless, of course, we are in the midst of training. In which case, you are to look at me as either teacher or opponent.”

Cloud nods sharply. “Right,” he says, then pauses. “What about when we’re outside of the training room. If I cross you in the halls?”

“Unless we are in a situation where you absolutely must be formal, such as in the presence of the president or at a company event, I have a name, and I'd prefer you use it.”

Cloud smiles. “O-ok.”

Genesis frowns. “And we must teach you some confidence.”

Cloud’s smile falters, and Genesis sighs gustily.

“We have so much work to do.”

 


 

In the following week, Genesis grows ridiculously attached to Cloud. He was expecting a challenge; he wasn’t expecting Cloud to excel. He’s still shy, still quick to withdraw into himself, but he’s also as fierce as a Nibel wolf and twice as feisty.

They meet every day for three hours. In their third session, Genesis is walking Cloud through a very specified hand-to-hand maneuver when he not-so-gently nudges Cloud’s leg a few inches over. “Stop being dense, chocobo, and widen your stance! I’ve told you three times now.”

Cloud unexpectedly snarls and drops. Genesis is too shocked and too trusting of Cloud’s introverted nature to see it coming, but Cloud sweeps his legs out from under him. When Genesis is gaping at the ceiling, trying to figure out how the hell he ended up on the floor, Cloud leans over him. He looks pissed.

“My name is Cloud , Genesis, not chocobo! Got it?”

Genesis suddenly understands Sephiroth’s ridiculous obsession with Cloud Strife. He sits up, disbelief still dancing across his features, and says, “Did you just fucking spin-kick me?”

Cloud, rather than backing off as Genesis expects, put his hands on his hips and glares. “You bet your ass I did, Genesis."

The manic grin spreads across Genesis’s face before he can stop it. He lurches to his feet and darts over to Cloud, who finally shows his customary uncertainty by shrinking like a violet, expecting retribution. Instead, Genesis grips both sides of his face and laughs.

“You are a wonder, you feisty little wolf!” Genesis says gleefully. “Angeal is so proud of his stupid puppy. Just wait until I introduce him to you!”

Cloud is blushing. “Um...puppy?”

Genesis nods. “Do you mind being called a wolf? I'd hate to get dropped again."

Cloud shrugs. “Guess not. As long as you’re not saying my hair looks like a bird’s ass, it’s fine.”

Genesis curls an arm around his shoulders. “I cannot wait until we move on to sword training. Of course, you have to build up some more muscle first, and that could be a while, but you’re going to be nasty with a sword!”

Cloud smiles uncertainly. “What about magic? I have a feeling I’m not going to be all that great with a sword. I suck so bad at running katas in the basic class.”

“That class is a joke, little wolf,” Genesis reassures. “When the time comes, I will show you all the reasons why.”

Cloud smiles fully. “T-thank you.”

Genesis smiles back. “My pleasure, Cloud.”

 


 

Sephiroth is due back any day now, and Angeal insists on meeting up for a double training session. Genesis arrives early to the reserved training room, where Zack breaks off from doing squats against the far wall to run over and greet him.

“Hey, Genesis!”

Angeal follows at a much more sedate pace with his sword stuck to his back. Two other, slightly smaller swords lay on the bleachers in wait. Genesis vaguely wonders why Angeal even bothers to carry his own sword around, seeing as he never uses it.

“Where’s your wolf?” Angeal asks with a friendly, yet competitive tone.

Zack bounces in place. “Yeah, man! I can’t wait to meet him! I’ve seen him around though. The little chocobo, right?”

Genesis smirks as the door opens behind him, and a disgruntled cadet emerges from the locker room. He glares daggers at Zack as he fills the space to Genesis’s right.

“Don’t call me chocobo,” he practically snarls, and Genesis beams at Angeal, who raises a brow in offense at the cadet’s disagreeable tone.

Zack hunches. “Sorry,” he says bashfully, then sticks out a gloved hand for Cloud to shake. Cloud takes it hesitantly, and Genesis watches, torn between amusement and annoyance, as Zack nearly jerks Clouds arm out of socket, shaking his hand with far too much enthusiasm.

Cloud eventually snatches his hand away and grips his shoulder. He doesn’t look impressed by Zack’s antics.

“I’m Zack Fair,” Zack says, still trying too hard to be friendly.

“Cloud Strife. You’re a Third?” Cloud asks, eying Zack’s outfit with obvious concern. He turns slightly to Angeal, then seems to realize he’s forgotten to greet him. He holds out his hand again, and Angeal takes it much more gently. “Apologies, sir,” Cloud says, face going pink, “I’m Cadet Strife of D Squadron. I didn’t mean to be rude. I just really hate that nickname.”

“No worries, Cloud. You can call me Angeal.” Angeal seems soothed by the apology. An amiable smile returns to his face. “I’ve been looking forward to meeting you. Genesis wouldn't shut up.”

“Hey,” Genesis finds himself blushing, so he glares at Angeal. “Shush, you.”

Angeal chuckles. “Shall we begin? Zack and I were about to spar. Genesis said you might like to watch?”

Cloud nods eagerly, his eyes bright, and Genesis is pleased. Cloud may not think he’s very good with the sword just yet, but there’s no doubt he loves it.

Minutes later, Genesis and Cloud are seated on the bleachers, watching sparks fly as Zack and Angeal playfight, their swords clashing together with violent clangs as they soar through the air, defying gravity in the way that only SOLDIERs can.

“Genesis,” Cloud says eventually, eyes still glued to the fight, “I want one of those swords.”

Genesis frowns. “I thought you wanted to try the katana? Besides, Angeal isn’t even using the Buster Sword, which is far more impressive.”

“A Buster Sword then,” Cloud says, “or something like it.” He finally turns pleading eyes on Genesis. “Please?”

Genesis stares into those big baby blues and wilts. “Yeah, alright. We’ll work towards that I suppose.”

Cloud’s grin could put sunshine to shame. He elbows Genesis in the side. “Thank you.”

“Hey, Spike!”

Cloud turns on instinct to the sound of Zack’s voice. “I hear you’re a damn good brawler.”

Cloud goes beet red. He catches Angeal’s eye over Zack’s shoulder. Clearly, their spar has ended.

“I-I’m decent?”

“I heard you put Genesis on the floor!” Zack says delightedly.

Genesis spares a glare for Angeal before interjecting. “He’s fast and he fights dirty. Zack is terrible though,” he adds for Cloud’s benefit. “He may have Soldier strength, but he’s damn near useless without some sort of bludgeoning instrument.”

Zack protests loudly, albeit good-naturedly at Genesis, who gives Cloud an encouraging look.

“Go on, little wolf. Tear him up.”

Cloud looks dazed as Zack leads him out into the center of the gym. Angeal settles next to Genesis. He leans the two practice swords along the bench.

“Cloud seems...unpredictable,” Angeal says quietly. “And a little rude. I can see the arrogance his instructors spoke of.”

Genesis lifts his chin. “It’s a defense mechanism. He’s small and he knows it. He has a lot of self-doubt. He has to defend himself somehow, Angeal.”

Angeal chuckles as Zack and Cloud square off. “He really is a lot like you.”

“I know,” Genesis says, “but he is also something else.”

Cloud shocks them all by making the first move. He darts across the room and immediately puts Zack on the defensive. Though he hardly lands a blow, Zack is visibly distressed and more than a bit surprised. He clearly wasn’t expecting Cloud to be as good as he is.

“You haven’t been training him a week,” Angeal says, awed

“Maybe Seph had a better reason for liking this kid than we thought?” Genesis offers. “Though how he saw it, I’ll never know.”

“I know,” Angeal says, shoulders slouching. “And it’s crazy.”

Genesis turns just long enough to read the concern on Angeal’s face. “He told you what's been going on with him?”

“He’s obsessed,” Angeal shares. “That’s all I can say without betraying his trust. You know how he is. Remember that time you ate his lunch and told him it wasn’t you, then he found out later it was you?”

Genesis rolls his eyes. “He didn’t talk to me for three days, the drama queen.”

“He’ll tell you eventually. Just...ignore most of it. He really has gone a bit off the deep end. We’ll have to keep him from tearing himself or anyone else apart.”

Genesis sighs. “He’s such a high maintenance friend.”

“Like you aren’t?”

Genesis and Angeal share a grin, then a jarring sound from the fight catches their attention. Zack is on stomach, one arm drawn up high behind his back, and Cloud has him in a choke-hold.

“Give up,” Cloud growls, digging a knee into Zack’s back.

"Woof," Angeal says, amused.

Genesis snickers.

Zack manages a plea for mercy, and Cloud lets him go. Zack barely manages not to slam his face against the floor in the process.

“That’s my wolf!” Genesis howls.

Angeal makes a noise of complete and utter disdain. “Oh, Zack."

Genesis is laughing so hard he doesn’t see Cloud reach down and help a flushing Zack to his feet.

“Sorry, Zack,” Cloud says worriedly.

“Don’t be sorry,” Zack says, tossing an arm around Cloud’s shoulders. “Holy shit, that was awesome! I can’t believe you actually managed to take me down. How’d you manage that?”

Cloud looks at his own feet. “Weird advice from my old squad leader,” he says as Genesis and Angeal wander over, both looking curious at his last remark.

“And what advice was that?” Genesis wants to know.

“Don’t think, ” Cloud says. “Fight with your instincts. There are no unbreakable patterns in battle. Fight like you’re fighting death itself.”

Angeal’s brow is scrunched. “I’ve heard that somewhere before.”

Cloud shrugs, and Zack blabbers at him enthusiastically. Genesis pulls Angeal to one side. When Angeal gives him a questioning look, Genesis lowers his voice to speak. “ Sephiroth. When we first met, we fought him and I lost, he told me that. Always fight like you’re fighting death, and don’t think. ” Genesis shakes his head with a fond smile. “Goddess, I couldn’t stand him back then.”

Angeal nods, realization dawning. “You’re right. That has to be it. But why would he tell Cloud?”

Genesis growls. “I have no idea what it is he wants with Cloud, but I won’t let him come to any harm. I’ll make him regret giving Cloud to me to mentor.”

Angeal smirks. “You’re enjoying this.”

Far too much,” Genesis admits. “I apologize, Angeal. I finally see the appeal of this mentoring business. However,” he shoots an exasperated look at Zack, “I prefer my wolf to your puppy.”

Angeal laughs, and Genesis joins him.

Chapter Text

When Sephiroth first returns to Shinra, he has a goal in mind.

Between missions, he’s already shut down all of the reactors outside of Midgar. He’s tired and cranky. Honestly, all he wants is to see Cloud. The planet is a pressure on his mind as he sweeps through Shinra, disregarding the looks of fear and ire aimed in his direction.

It’s a Thursday, and he knows Cloud should be about halfway through a standard Shinra history class. He has to go to a security station to access cameras to that particular room. However, when he nudges a security guard to one side, and flips through the monitors to find Cloud, he is disappointed.

Cloud isn’t in class. He doesn’t seem to be anywhere.

Sephiroth is on the verge of breaking something. What has he missed?

He goes to medical first, just to be sure that his orders weren’t disregarded concerning Cloud’s recovery. But the nurses confirm that Cloud was released from their care several days after Sephiroth’s departure.

Unless Cloud quit Shinra in the time he was gone, Sephiroth can only assume he has reason to be in one other place.

He goes to Genesis’s office and flings open the door without knocking. Cloud is sprawled across the sofa by the window, holding a copy of Loveless and frowning at its contents.

Genesis sits as his desk, barely visible behind three large stacks of paperwork. He peeks over one to glare at Sephiroth. “Hey, Seph. Welcome back,” he says, voice dripping with sarcasm.

Cloud finally seems to realize that they have company. He lurches from the couch into the attention position and gives a sharp salute.

“General Sephiroth, sir!

Sephiroth’s attention is stuck on the book Cloud has somehow not dropped in the process. He shoots an accusing look at Genesis.

“Loveless?”

Genesis’s smirk is slow and knowing. “He knows better than to drop it. That’s my personal copy.”

In other words, his fear of upsetting me surmounts his fear of upsetting you .

Sephiroth’s hackles rise.

“Sit down, Cadet,” he growls at Cloud.

Cloud drops the salute and settles on the couch, pales as death. The book in his lap remains closed.

Genesis sighs and stands up. He crosses his arms as Sephiroth closes the door and stands across the desk. They glare each other down.

“Don’t be an ass to my student, Seph,” Genesis growled. This was your idea. “I’ve grown rather fond of my little wolf, and I got stuck doing your job while you were off gallivanting around the continent. You have no excuse.”

Sephiroth trembles with the desire to tear something apart. “Cadet Strife,” he says with barely concealed rage. “Please leave the room.” Before I resort to violence.

“Yes, sir.”

“Same time tomorrow, Cloud,” Genesis says when he opens the door.

Cloud turns and smiles warmly at him. “Sure thing, Gen.”

He leaves, and Sephiroth has trouble breathing evenly.

Genesis, utterly pleased with himself, slides his chair next to the desk so he can kick his feet up on a table when he sits back down.

Sephiroth settles on the couch in Cloud’s vacated seat. He’s still seething.

“I see you wasted no time in corrupting my cadet,” he says with venom.

Genesis rolls his eyes. “You wanted me to mentor him, so that’s what I’m doing.”

“You changed his schedule.”

Genesis looks alarmed. “You memorized his schedule? Oh Seph, you didn’t go looking for him?”

Sephiroth glowers at the far wall.

“You’re such a child sometimes,” Genesis says around a sigh. “Look, I didn’t expect to like mentoring him. Hell, I didn’t expect to like Cloud at all, but he’s sweet, he’s sassy, and he’s a nasty little bastard when the mood hits him just right. With a bit of work, he has the potential to be amazing. I admit I should’ve believed you from the start about him. What I want to know is how you knew? And what is going on with you lately? You left without explaining anything!”

Sephiroth surprises him by taking off his necklace and passing it over. Genesis accepts the trinket with a frown.

Hello, Genesis.

“Holy shit!” Genesis fumbles with the necklace as the voice fills his head. It’s hostile and amused and familiar . “Wait, wait, wait!” He narrows his eyes at the orb suspiciously. “Was that Cloud?

Sephiroth nods solemnly.

“I...I don’t understand,” Genesis says, eyes wide. “He sounds...different somehow?”

“Older,” Sephiroth says, holding out his hand expectantly.

Genesis passes the trinket back. “How? I mean, is that the Cloud I know?”

“Sort of yes, sort of not.” Sephiroth puts the necklace back on. “It’s complicated, but to put it simply, I’ve done a bit of time traveling. There is a point in the original timeline where Cloud and I were quite familiar with each other. That Cloud’s mind and memories are in here now. The present Cloud is his younger self.” Sephiroth scowls. “But this Cloud rarely speak to me. Always so keen to talk to everyone else.” He taps the orb pointedly.

Genesis stares. “Time travel. That’s your answer.”

Sephiroth shrugs. “It’s the truth. I’ve told Angeal as well.”

“I think,” Genesis says, “that I need a longer explanation.”

“Shinra is an environmental nightmare. It may not seem like it now, but eventually, if things do not change, we will destroy the planet we live on. In less than three centuries, everything will die. I have seen the result. There was nothing but sand and Cloud and a disappearing sky. When I found him, he was waiting to die. I decided I wouldn’t let him.”

“Angeal wasn’t joking when he said you’d gone off the deep end,” Genesis says around a groan, “but it’s hard to deny that Cloud spoke to me just now. Were you…” Genesis straightens and forces the words out, “lovers?

Sephiroth sneers. “No.”

Genesis’s face scrunches up in confusion. “Then why the hell are you so goddamn obsessed with him?”

“I…” Sephiroth stares at the floor for a moment to gather his thoughts. “He killed me...several times, in fact.” He closes his eyes. “It was beautiful. No one fights like my Cloud.”

Genesis shivers. He’s never heard that particular tone of voice from Sephiroth before. “You were enemies?”

“In all but those last moments,” Sephiroth admits, opening his eyes again. His pupils are narrowed tight. “Lovers...I hadn’t considered that.”

Genesis laughs uncomfortably. “What the hell are you expecting from him then?”

Sephiroth meets his eyes and tilts his head. “I want someone worth fighting again. I don’t want to kill him, but I want to spill his blood. I want him to spill mine. I want that feeling of uncertainty. Will I triumph, or will he cast me back into the lifestream?” Sephiroth shudders and Genesis is vaguely revolted.

He stands up and glowers at his friend. “You lay one hand on that kid and I’ll fight you to the death. I don’t care if you’re my friend. Cloud deserves better than that .”

Sephiroth smiles venomously. It’s a look that Genesis has never seen on him before. Not really. Not to such an extent.

“Cloud is mine, Genesis,” Sephiroth purrs. “I won’t let anyone take him from me. Eventually, he will remember, or he’ll grow up. Eventually, when I walk into a room, I’ll be the only thing he sees.”

“Not if I can help it,” Genesis snarls.

Sephiroth stands, graceful as a cat. “It’s inevitable.”

“You’ve made a shitty impression on him so far. Practically scared him out of the room.”

Sephiroth looks mournfully at the door, and Genesis blinks back surprise, thinking is it really that easy?

“I’m his hero at the moment,” Genesis brags. “I’m his friend . And what are you but the General he’s forced to obey? You’re nothing to Cloud but a pipe dream. Unless you strive to be something more than an obsessive, violent lunatic who just wants to control everything, he’s not going to care about you.”

Sephiroth looks uncertain. “I have no reason to know him now.”

“Don’t you?” Genesis tries. “Seph, you are my friend, and whatever crazy shit is going through your head needs to stop.”

Sephiroth looks utterly conflicted. His eyes seems to lose some of their intensity. “It’s hard being so many things at once, Genesis.”

Genesis moves over to lay a hand on Sephiroth’s arm and squeezes too hard. “If you want Cloud’s attention, you’re going to have to stop being such a crazy asshole. You’re scaring me. You’re scaring everyone. You want to change things, let us help you, but don’t become a monster. I know Hojo fucked you up, but you don’t have to be what he wanted.”

Sephiroth’s mouth parts. “Am I? Hojo’s monster?”

“Sure seems that way,” Genesis says with a nod. “You wanna fix Shinra? We can do that. First though, I think we need to fix whatever is wrong with your head.”

Sephiroth jerks out of his grasp. “There’s nothing wrong with me.”

Listen to him, Sephiroth.

Sephiroth’s eyes widen when older Cloud’s voice filters through his thoughts.

“Seph, let us help you,” Genesis implores. “Please?”

Sephiroth concedes by bowing his head.

“If I must.”

Chapter Text

Cloud Strife—sixteen and smallish—knows that he is underestimated. People see his sweet face, big blue eyes, and childish stature, and they assume innocence. They assume that he not a threat.

It used to bother him back home in Nibelheim.

That was before Shinra, before his childhood hero inexplicably horrified Cloud’s squad of attackers by nearly killing a Soldier Third. That was before Genesis Rhapsodos, a Soldier nearly as revered as Sephiroth himself, took Cloud under his wing. That was before Angeal Hewley patted Cloud on the shoulder and told him in no uncertain terms that he actually had the potential to be a Soldier. That was before Zack Fair decided Cloud Strife was his new best friend and showered Cloud in affection and praise.

That was all just before .

Nowadays, Cloud takes his presumed naivety in stride and molds it to his own advantage.

He notices things. People don’t seem to notice that he notices.

For example, he notices that Genesis does not seem to like him at first. He notices, on that first day, that Genesis wants to be somewhere else. He notices that his new mentor fosters a lie to keep Cloud from asking too many questions.

Being different doesn’t make you useless. It just means you need to be taught differently, and I like a challenge.

Harsh, wise, kind words, but a lie all the same.

Cloud notices later when Genesis changes his mind about mentoring Cloud, and that is what truly encourages the cadet to keep his head up. The lie becomes less of a lie, half of a truth, and Cloud is enormously pleased that he’s earned Genesis’ honest respect.

Shortly later, Cloud notices that Angeal Hewley is wary of him. He notices when Angeal and Genesis whisper on the outskirts of Cloud’s sparring match with Zack. He hears Sephiroth’s name and tries not to wonder why .

Cloud notices that these people talk around him. He notices that even Zack has a tendency to talk down to him. You’ll see one day. You’ll learn that later. Don’t worry about it, Spike!

Annoying but bearable.

But there is more.

Cloud notices long before any of this that he is being watched. It first happens on a training day, when his snippy squad leader whispers some unexpected advice in Cloud’s ear. He does what he’s told—forget the rules; follow your instincts—and, for once, exceeds.

Later, he’s slipped similar advice in other classes, and he wonders why the instructors are making exceptions for him. In the coming weeks, Cloud realizes who’s letting him break the rules.

Flashes of silver hair seem to follow him everywhere, and once in a great while, Cloud sees a pair of cat-eyes glowing from the shadows. He pretends not to. He realizes with quiet amusement and delight that Sephiroth believes Cloud doesn’t know he’s being watched.

It’s harder not to react when Sephiroth’s attention wanes, and Cloud notices a new man following him, this one a far better stalker than Sephiroth. Cloud spots him standing casually down the hall or across the room or at the back of the field. He is striking in a strange red cloak and a golden claw, his features sharp and serious enough that he seems a darker version of Sephiroth himself.

Rumors fly, and Cloud hears that they call him Vincent. That he is an impossibility, an enigma. An ex-Turk who claims to be Sephiroth’s father, though he looks no older than the man himself.

I see you, Cloud wants to say.

He says nothing.

Cloud shouldn’t notice these things.

Most wouldn’t, but Cloud is an enigma himself. At six, he was lost in the forest of Nibelheim for two months, taken in a by a local wolf-pack. His mother, resilient and stubborn, never gave up looking for him. She found him tearing into the flesh of a stray cat just outside of town one night. Horrified and tired, she brought him home and washed him up.

In later years, Cloud’s mother grew accustomed to his random disappearances, because Cloud couldn't help but wander off every once in a while to the wilderness, where he fit.

Monsters like him more than people, and he likes them in turn. Beasts don’t need constant reassurance. They are simple and precise and direct and they taught Cloud many important things, including how to know when you’re being scouted by something bigger and more dangerous than yourself.

The first time Cloud ever saw Sephiroth, he knew without a doubt that the man was an apex predator.

But Cloud Strife loathed being prey.

 


 

It’s honestly an accident.

Cloud, running late for a training session with Genesis, rounds one of Shinra’s many tight corners and smacks into someone. He jerks back, rubbing his nose and saying, without realizing who he’s run into:

“Damn, you’re built like a brick wall!”

The person makes a small, deep sound of amusement, and Cloud glances up to meet a familiar pair of eyes and a smirking mouth.

He panics.

“Ah, sorry , sir! I mean-!” He stiffens, straightens. “My apologies, sir!”

“It’s fine,” Sephiroth says, then points to something dangling from one of Cloud’s hands. “You seem to have removed something of mine.”

Cloud blinks in confusion, then holds up his right hand. A glowing blue marble dangles from a leather cord that is wound around his fingers. It looks like mini-materia.

“Oh, um. How did I…?” Cloud wraps his fingers around the marble and jolts as a spike of unexpected electricity shoots up his spine.

Wolves, eh? I don’t remember that.

The thought startles him. Cloud isn’t entirely sure where it comes from. With a baffled look, he hands the necklace to Sephiroth. The man ties it back into place and nods once.

“Thank you,” he says. “Aren’t you Genesis’ trainee?”

Cloud nearly rolls his eyes. “Yessir.”

“Well, it’s nice to meet you…?”

“Cadet Strife,” Cloud says. “We met in Genesis’ office?”

Sephiroth, Cloud notes, is awful at lying.

The General nods as if he hasn’t just made a blunder. “Of course.”

A small moment of uncomfortable silence passes. Cloud finally gives in. “Is that some kind of materia?” he asks, gesturing to the glowing marble curiously.

“Something to that effect,” Sephiroth replies. “It’s mostly useless. Sort of a...failed summon?”

“Is that why it’s so small?”

Sephiroth seems unabashedly amused at this. “Yes.”

“Where’d you get it?” Cloud asks, hoping to avoid awkwardness. In truth, his heart is pounding. He’s light-headed and trembling. Gaia help him if Genesis ever finds out how much of a fanboy he is for Sephiroth, even if the man has been stalking him for the past month or so.

“It’s a long story,” Sephiroth says, seeming to withdraw from the conversation a bit. He looks down the nearest hallway. “Pardon me, Cl—cadet. I have business to attend to.”

“Ah, bye?” Cloud watches, baffled, as Sephiroth sweeps around him and glides down the hall.

Cloud hears the man hiss, “you did that on purpose ,” to seemingly no one. Then, he is out of sight.

“Well, that was weird,” Cloud says to the emptiness of the hall. He shakes himself out of a starstruck stupor and darts down the hallway to meet Genesis. He’s so late at this point that he knows his mentor is going to be pissed.

Genesis stands in the middle of the training room when Cloud gets there, tapping his foot and glaring at Cloud as he stumbles in.

“Sorry!” Cloud tries, panting to catch his breath. “I was on the way, and I ran into Sephiroth.”

Genesis’ anger vanishes in an instant. Uneasiness fills the gap. “What did he want?”

Cloud shrugs. “I mean I literally ran into him? It was embarrassing.”

Genesis seems to deflate, though there is a pinch to his brow that suggests he’s still concerned. “I see. Well, go change so we can get started.”

Cloud rushes to the locker rooms to change for training, thinking again about the fact that no one seems to think he’s smart enough to realize that something is going on with Sephiroth—something to do with Cloud himself. When he comes back out, Genesis asks:

“Did Sephiroth say anything to you?”

Cloud shrugs again. “Nothing important.”

“Good.”

Cloud thinks long and hard about apex predators. Nibel wolves hunt for food and sport and unity; Nibel dragons, the biggest predators back home, hunt for those things as well, but most of all…they hunted for mates.

Cloud dreams of fighting at Sephiroth’s side, but more taboo and ridiculous, he fantasizes of something a bit more carnal.

Dreams and fantasies were well and good, and Cloud enjoys them.

But lately, all he seems to dream of is sand.

Chapter Text

Sephiroth studies his appearance in the mirror, questioning his unusual visage, so unlike that of normal people. Before Jenova, he had wondered things like who he was, where he came from, and what his purpose might be. It occurred to him too late to ask what he actually wanted out of life back then.

Now he knows very well what he wants, but uncertainty lingers in the back of his mind, a new and uncharted emotional territory.

What do people see in me? He wonders, brows drawn low, the resulting shadow lending his features a sinister quality. Are people simply attracted to monsters? To power? To uniqueness?

Physical attraction is not something he comprehends. Sex is foreign to him, as the conditions of his birth rendered him both sterile and impotent. Even if he were capable of copulation, he can’t imagine craving physical contact the way most people do.

He understands the endgame of entanglement is procreation and pleasure, but that is exactly the problem. Post-Hojo Cloud was likely rendered asexual as well, but young Cloud is probably sexually active—which is a challenge he will have to surmount eventually.

This wouldn’t be an issue if Genesis hadn’t asked that damning question. He had said lovers, the ultimate name for a strong bond between two people, and Sephiroth realized then and there that he would stand for no less.

But would any version of Cloud want him?

People call Sephiroth’s hair silver, and while it’s shockingly easy to maintain, there are slight discolorations in the “silver” pigment that look like the gray sand one might in the flatlands. Like dirt. His eyes are ridiculous, the irises a bit too large and a strange combination of blues and greens that remind him far too much of the chemicals he grew up ingesting at Hojo’s behest.

He’s muscular, but lithe, never having grown out of the feminine grace that seemed to naturally cling to his person. Would Cloud care that his skin leaned more gray than it should? That his eyes always looked a bit bruised? That his bone structure was too sharp? That his lips (the least favorite of his features) were set in such a ridiculous bow as if in a permanent pucker? Were these qualities Cloud would find attractive? More importantly, what would Sephiroth do if he did ? When he couldn’t reciprocate sexually?

“Your mother used to do this.”

Sephiroth turns away from the mirror to see Vincent lingering by the door with a blank expression, watching him.

Sephiroth glances back to the mirror. “I look inhuman.”

“To some extent, you are,” Vincent says, idling over, his pointy boots clunking on the carpet. He puts a hand on Sephiroth’s shoulder and meets the eyes of his reflection. “You are not the only one though, and it’s not your fault. Why are you doubting yourself?”

“Why did my mother?” Sephiroth studies Vincent’s facial structure, seeing similarities that soothe him somewhat.

“There was a masculinity to her face she was never quite pleased with. One day I will take you to see her. You may have inherited Jenova’s coloring, but I believe you look far more like Lucrecia than any of your other parents.”

“Odd to have so many.” Sephiroth hesitantly pats Vincent’s hand on his shoulder. “That’s not quite what concerns me at the moment.”

“This is about Cloud?” Vincent asks, removing his hand, his eyes darting unmistakably to the small orb dangling from Sephiroth’s neck. “He’s currently under Genesis’ tutelage.”

Sephiroth withdraws from the mirror and follows Vincent into the living room. They sit side by side on the couch, a decent amount of space between them.

“I have no need nor desire for sex,” Sephiroth states flatly, not stopping to wonder at the awkwardness of the subject. “I suspect if I want to win Cloud’s favor, my impotence may eventually become an issue.”

Vincent is unfazed. “If the time comes, and he rejects you based on that notion alone, then he does not deserve you.”

Sephiroth stares at the far wall. “That is unacceptable.”

Vincent surprises him by letting out a long sigh. “You’re stubborn as she was.”

Sephiroth cuts his eyes sharply at the man he’s come to think of as his true father. “I don’t appreciate the constant comparisons.”

“I apologize,” Vincent says with a small nod. “I loved her. It is difficult for me not to.”

“Occasionally, it’s fine,” Sephiroth allows, “but I am my own person. I have earned that. I have accepted it.” He pauses. “Still, I am curious. Do you think my mother would ever choose to wake from her slumber and meet me? Now that I am not...what she saw.”

“You are though, are you not?”

Sephiroth quirks a brow. “Yes, but I’m trying to be less destructive this go round.”

“Hn, we will see.” After a long pause, Vincent stands and paces slowly from one end of the room to the other; it’s a nervous habit. “Have you tried to use the small materia—Cloud’s materia, as you say—like a summon?”

Sephiroth runs a hand through his hair and purses his lips, beginning to wonder if it was a mistake to tell his father the truth about traveling through time. For a quiet man, he seems to possess many harrowing questions.

“My Cloud is difficult,” Sephiroth says. “I suspect he can be summoned, but no matter what I try, he will barely speak to me.”

“He sounded more amiable the way you described him as the lifestream died.”

Sephiroth closes his eyes, remembering.

I want you to be happy.

“He smiled at me,” Sephiroth says softly, “like no one ever has.”

“You yearned for him before that though.”

Sephiroth snorts. “I demanded his undivided attention. He was my perfect enemy. I wanted him as my foil, and he delivered.”

“Why do you think he doesn’t speak to you now?” Vincent asks.

Sephiroth shrugs. “I can’t begin to say I understand him. If I did, he would be less interesting.”

Vincent sits back down, closer this time. “Reeve has installed alternate power for half the city. Another reactor should fall soon.”

Sephiroth makes a sound of acknowledgement just as Vincent’s PHS chimes from his pocket. He withdraws the device with an annoyed expression, and Sephiroth watches with faint amusement as Vincent struggles to turn the alarm off for far longer than necessary. When he finally succeeds, he stands form the couch again.

“Cloud’s training is done. I have to go.” He heads for the door.

“Father,” Sephiroth utters, and smiles to himself when Vincent’s noisy steps come to a stunned halt. “Thank you.”

 


 

 

Cloud isn’t used to be accosted, not quite like this. Sephiroth and the red-clad not-Turk are still a mystery that he hasn’t quite sussed out, but Artel Bek is a male Soldier Second who claims a sudden undying affection for Cloud that he has no idea how to handle.

“Just one date, Strife. Please?”

Sir, ” Cloud says as they walk on one of the paths to the training grounds, “this is really inappropriate.”

Cloud’s new squadron leader pouts, and he’s hard pressed not to find it adorable. The man is gorgeous after all—not quite as fine-featured as the most famous Firsts, but he’s doe-eyed and curly-haired and has impressively muscular arms are hard not to ogle.

There are a few problems here though. One, Cloud really doesn’t need accusations of fraternization. Two, Artel is roughly five years older than him. Three, Cloud’s not really interested in forming a relationship the guy.

Artel throws an arm over Cloud’s shoulders, and he staggers under the weight. “How about this then? You know The Kitch has a big party every Saturday night? Everyone goes there. The ranks intermingle. We could, uh, you know, meet up and talk? No one will question it.”

Talk, Cloud knows, is likely code for fuck. He addresses Artel’s beaming grin with consternation. On the one the hand, Cloud is utterly inexperienced; on the other, he goes warm at just the thought of sex, unable to stave off the blush rising to his cheeks.

“Fine,” he says raggedly, shrugging off the guy’s arm and ignoring the gleeful sound he makes at the admission, “but you should know I’m not...experienced.”

“Not a problem,” Artel says, swooping in to press a quick kiss to Cloud’s temple.

“Not here ,” Cloud growls, jerking away from him. “Hands to yourself until Saturday.”

I’m gonna get laid, Cloud’s brain screams. How fucking weird is that?

They arrive on the training grounds and part inconspicuously. Cloud spends most of the session staring at Artel’s ass and, for once, completely misses the fact that one of his stalkers is close by.

 


 

 

“Shit,” Vincent growls from his perch on a nearby rooftop when he observes the Soldier Second flirting with Cloud.

Shit, ” he says again when said Soldier easily wins the kid over with a blatant offer of sex. He recalls Sephiroth’s worries with trepidation. His son—and that was a concept he was still adjusting to—was right to worry. The object of his affections was definitely interested in sex.

“Shit,” he says again, flipping out his PHS and fumbling a quick text to Genesis Rhapsodos. He gets an immediate phone call in reply.

Who’s trying to violate my ferocious little wolf! ” Genesis yells into the phone.

Vincent winces at the volume. “A Soldier Second. Artel Bek?”

Whoa, wait. Fraternization is a serious issue in the army. What have you witnessed, Vince my dear? ” There’s a low-timbered inquiry behind a wall of static and Vincent guesses it’s Genesis romantic partner. “Oh my Goddess , Ang! It’s just Vincent. Get your jealous ass back in the kitchen!

Vincent smirks, but remembers quickly the real problem is far beyond fraternization. “Genesis, has Sephiroth not informed you of his intentions towards Cloud?”

Intentions?

“So no then.” Vincent sighs and tugs at a strand of his own hair as he contemplates. “Sephiroth has romantic inclinations towards Cloud.”

Fuck! ” Genesis gasps. “ Are you serious? He’s like sixteen! Oh Goddess, I am gonna kill that bastard if he lays a hand on my wolf!

Vincent's brow furrows. “Artel or Sephiroth?”

Both,” Genesis growls. “ Oh Gaia, you said Seph has a crush on little Cloud. But Seph is such a dramatic, possessive—”

“—so you see the problem.”

Aside from the fraternization? Hell, yes, I see a problem. Sephiroth will rip that Second limb from limb if he lays a hand on Cloud, the jealous moron. You know he once punched a guy through a building, because the asshole said something shitty to me and Ang for holding hands in public? I mean it was cute and sweet, but the idiot had to be hospitalized.

“What do you recommend I do?”

Don’t tell Sephiroth a thing. I’ll talk to Artel. Hell, I might set Angeal loose on the fool. He’s the one who’s super uptight about honor and whatnot. Someone should also talk to Cloud.

“Me?”

Don’t see why not. He’s noticed you sneaking around.

Vincent watches a bird perch next to him on the ledge. “He has?”

Vincent, honey, I know you used to be a Turk, but you strut about in broad daylight in a red fucking cloak. You know I wear red because I like to stand out, right? Just talk to the kid. Put his mind at ease. You’ll probably like him. He’s got an odd sense of humor.”

“Hm, guess I will. When his training ends, I’ll talk to him.”

Excellent. Talk later. A shirtless Angeal beckons with sandwiches and I can hardly refuse him.

Vincent hangs up before the call can get any more ridiculous. He tucks the phone away and waits for the Soldier Second to whistle for the squadron’s break. When the whistle sounds, he glides from the rooftop, landing on the sidewalk below and approaching the scattered group of boys on silent feet. He feels Cloud’s eyes on him as he passes, but he confronts the Soldier Second first.

“After training, you are summoned to an urgent meeting with Commander Rhapsodos. He should be in his office by three,” Vincent declares. Though no such plan is actually in place, and there’s a damn good chance Artel might walk in on something unseemly, he knows Genesis’ habits well enough that the office is where he will most likely end up.

“Sure thing, uh, Vincent, right?”

Vincent gives him a dry look. “I also need a word with Cadet Strife.”

“Sorry, I can’t allow that,” the Soldier says, hands on his hips. “You’re not actually a Shinra employee, right ?”

“Irrelevant,” Vincent says. “If you have an issue with it, you can take it up with General Sephiroth.”

Artel’s face drains of color. “Ah, I suppose if you have Sephiroth’s permission, I’ll allow it.”

Vincent nods and  prowls over to Cloud, directly meeting the young man’s gaze. “I need a word, Strife.”

“You’re Genesis’ friend, right?” Cloud says, falling into step with Vincent as he walks towards an empty sidewalk. Once they’re out of hearing distance of the squadron, he stops and turns to meet Cloud’s curious gaze.

“You’ve been watching me,” Cloud says bluntly.

Vincent shrugs. “You are not to pursue sexual endeavors while in training. As a cadet, it is your responsibility to focus solely on your training so that you may advance into SOLDIER.”

Cloud pinkens, then crosses his arms. “Alright, I get that you’re an eavesdropping asshole now and that fraternization is against Shinra policy, but seriously? Why do you and the General care about my personal life? Why are you stalking me?”

“I’m not allowed to say.”

Cloud is not appeased. “Well mind your own business. As my squad-leader said, you’re not part of Shinra and unless Sephiroth himself shows up with some kind of complaint, I’m going to do what I want at my own discretion.”

Vincent really doesn’t want to resort to Turk tactics, but desperate measures and all that. “If you have sex with that Soldier Second, or anyone for that matter, it’s very likely they’re going to end up dead.”

Cloud’s defiance melts into a look of absolute horror. “E-excuse me? What? Why ?”

“A particularly... unstable individual with an unprecedented amount of power has taken interest in you. When jealous, he’s prone to extreme violence.”

Cloud’s face goes white as his namesake. “Sephiroth likes me?”

Anxiety hooks it claws into Vincent’s guts. “I don’t believe I specified a name.”

“Well, it’s either you or him! You’re the ones who have been stalking me!” Cloud blanches, then slaps his hands over his face and looks positively mortified. “Oh Gaia, is this real?”

Vincent wavers between sheer panic and the need for supplication. The latter wins out. “You have to keep this to yourself.”

Cloud makes a disgruntled sound and meets Vincent’s gaze. “He’d really kill someone for touching me? I don’t even know him! Damn it, I just want—” Cloud’s face reddens again as he gestures wildly “—you know . Sex.” 

Vincent ducks his chin and tries not to sound too pitying. “As I said, he’s unstable and quite selfish and most definitely overprotective once he’s taken an interest in someone.”

“Try possessive ,” Cloud grunts, dropping his hands to his sides. “Planet, the General Sephiroth wants to fuck me.”

“Actually no,” Vincent corrects, something angry and protective rising up in him when Cloud gives him a questioning look, “Sephiroth is asexual. He has no interest in sex.”

“Really?” Cloud’s eyes saucer. “Um, I-I’m not sure what to say. I’m, uh, well, I like sex, and wow ! This is a weird conversation to have with someone rumor claims is Sephiroth’s father.”

“I am his father,” Vincent says with a small nod, “but the situation is complicated. What’s important here is that you keep to yourself for the safety of others. I understand that the situation is unfair to you—’

“—unfair? Well, yeah, it’s unfair!” Cloud looks panicky again, but also utterly curious. “But...why does he like me ?”

Vincent shifts uncomfortably. “It’s not my place to say.”

“So the stalking is...why?”

“For your protection. He was very upset when he learned you were attacked while he was away.”

Cloud looks conflicted.

“I’m sorry. I can’t tell you more than that,” Vincent offers.

Cloud nods. “I won’t, uh, have sex with anyone for a while, but...can I t-talk to him?”

“You can not tell him that you know of his affections.” Vincent clenches and unclenches his claw anxiously. “Please. One day, I promise things will be made clear to you.”

I hope anyway, Vincent thinks.

Cloud nods. “Ok, but stop hovering. If you have to watch me, just come over and say hi or something so it seems less weird.”

“Agreed.”

 


 

 

Genesis has just booted up his computer when there’s a knock at his office door.

“Come in,” he calls a bit grumpily. He really hates when someone interrupts his work. The faster he can get paperwork done, the better. But he casts impatience aside when a curly head pokes through his door.

“Aaaah, Commander Rhapsodos? That Vincent guy said I should come talk to you?”

Genesis smiles like a cat. “Yes, of course. Come in, Artel. Take a seat.”

The Second sits stiffly on the chair on the opposite side of the desk as Genesis appraises him narrowly, then lets a long pause draw out. Let him stew, Genesis thinks, torn between anger and amusement.

“Is there something wrong, sir?” Artel asks, his shoulders slightly updrawn. He’s a subpar Soldier, good at teaching, but average at combat, magic, and academia. He’s cute and not, by Zack’s account, a bad person, but he’ll hop into bed with anyone and is always happy to brag about it after.

Genesis is no stranger to hypersexuality, is quite keen on it himself, but there’s a line, and Cloud is it.

“Do you have a death wish, Artel?” Genesis asks flatly.

What? No, sir!” The Second looks positively flabbergasted. “Why on the planet would think that?”

“You’re pursuing my cadet,” Genesis says sharply, “which is not only against Shinra policy, but also rather pisses me off. Do you know how old Cloud is?”

Artel stiffens. “I—sixteen, sir.”

“Sixteen, yes.” Genesis tries very hard not think about how Sephiroth is also quite a bit older than Cloud. “You’re four years older than him.” Just like Sephiroth. “And trying to compromise his career.”

“I’m not—” Artel takes a deep breath to collect himself. “Look sir, I know you know it’s not uncommon for Soldiers to have, erm, sexual relationships with cadets. There’s fraternization across the departments, and no one ever bats an eye. I genuinely like Cloud, and he seems to like me. No one’s ever cared about this stuff before!”

“Before, my star pupil was not the subject of your interest,” Genesis snarls.

Artel shoots to his feet and looms over the desk. “I know what this is about. That bastard in red has his eye on Cloud, doesn’t he? He’s your friend too, right? Or maybe it’s Sephiroth who likes him, hm?”

Genesis doesn’t bat an eye. “Either way, if you continue pursuing my cadet, you will either be kicked out of Shinra or” he pauses for impact “ killed .”

Artel balks. “Did you just threaten me? Is this how Shinra treats its Soldiers, now?”

Genesis stands slowly, gracefully, and glowers at the Second. “I’m trying to keep you alive, Soldier.”

Artel doesn’t back off. He gets up in Genesis’ face. “If Cloud wants me to fuck him, I’ll fuck him. That’s his decision, not yours.

Fury flaring, Genesis is gearing up for a truly wicked retort when his office doors is suddenly opened, creaking all the way until it gently bumps the doorstop by the wall.

Genesis and Artel turn in unison to see none other than Sephiroth looming in the doorway, his expression far too calm as his eyes lock on the Soldier Second.

Genesis leans back just in time.

In a breath, his desk—computer, desktop amenities, and all—slam into Artel so hard that he and the entire office ensemble go crashing through the window and fall 60 stories before inevitably crashing below, which is so far down that even Genesis can barely hear the impact.

What, ” Sephiroth snarls darkly, standing in the space where Genesis’ desk once resided, “is going on?”

Genesis cradles the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger. “Apparently, Vincent and I are abysmal at damage control. I really should’ve let Angeal do talk to the guy. That was my desk. ” He looks up angrily. “If I could get away with it, I’d be fighting you in the streets right now, Seph. What the fuck is wrong with you, you possessive, insane bastard ?”

Sephiroth lifts his chin and says nothing.

“Come on. Let’s go to the training room. I need to kick your ass for a while and you need to blow off some steam.”

Exasperated, Genesis heads for the door and Sephiroth follows.

 


 

 

It’s just after seven when Cloud curls up in one of Shinra’s sad little library chairs with a book.

Most of the contents of the library are military related. What little fiction therein is war and combat based; it’s mind-polluting and brainwashing material to be certain. But Cloud finds a book that sparks his interest in the social section and decides it’ll do as well as any for the report he has to write for one of his classes.

There are maybe three other people in the library, including one on check out and shelving duty, when Sephiroth wanders in, as he’s ought to do on Wednesday nights, being an avid reader himself. The cadet on duty offers a greeting and a salute. While Cloud’s certainly alerted by the man’s presence, he’s also donning civvies in his liberty hours, which means he doesn’t have to formally greet the General.

After about fifteen minutes though, he’s given up on tracking the man’s movements, too engulfed in the contents of his book to mind. When Sephiroth’s voice comes out of nowhere with a question, he nearly jumps out of his skin.

“‘ An Introduction to Asexuality’?

Cloud flinches and lowers the book to find Sephiroth looming over him, his brow furrowed.

“Uh, yessir?” Cloud mumbles, his face coloring. He likes me, his brain keeps shouting over and over. Why the hell does he like me? I’m nobody!

Sephiroth looks away thoughtfully, then purses his lips. “Vincent or Genesis? Which one told you?”

Cloud swallows heavily. “V-Vincent, sir,” he whispers, eyes lowered in humiliation, though he glares when he catches the cadet-on-duty blatantly eavesdropping from the desk by the door.

Sephiroth then does something rather bizarre. He sighs deeply and removes the small glowering orb from around his neck and hands it to Cloud, who flinches at the strange heat that shoots through his hand upon contact with the tiny glowing object.

“Keep it close,” Sephiroth says. “You’re better off with it than me.”

Cloud nods and clutches the trinket to his chest, not knowing what to say.

Before Sephiroth leaves the library, he offers a suggestion. “Whatever advice Vincent gave you is probably best to heed.”

“He called you unstable,” Cloud says without thinking, but to his surprise, Sephiroth smirks.

“He was correct. I am unstable, possessive, and…” He regards Cloud with a look that exists somewhere between sinister and curious. “...determined, despite any disparity on my part.”

Cloud shudders, but understands his meaning. He straightens a little and gives Sephiroth a sharp look.

Different isn’t a deal breaker,” he says bravely, heart pounding a mile a minute as all the blood rushes to his face.

Sephiroth looks briefly confused. “You have needs, and I don’t share.”

Cloud grimaces, then nods once. “There are...I can…” His face is on fire. “I can take care of myself on that front.”

Sephiroth stares him down. Cloud can’t decide if the look is distrusting or what, but it weighs heavily upon him, a negative judgement he knows he hasn’t earned.

“We’ll see,” Sephiroth says finally and departs.