The first person he saw was Zack.
When he woke up he knew he was in the labs, just by smell alone, so he also knew that he had sustained some sort of injury. Bigger than the usual scratches as least.
But if Zack was here, then it was survivable.
Zack was holding his hand. Which was unusual. Zack was a hugger on his most isolated days. If he was restraining himself and only allowing himself to hold Sephiroth’s hand, that meant things were bad enough that Zack probably shouldn’t (or couldn’t) get closer.
But Zack looked at him and smiled. The sweet and gentle one. His face had no worry in it at all and just looked serene. Zack was rarely like this…so things were probably okay.
It was frustrating to try and figure things out like this…but he assumed he had a massive amount of pain killers in him right now. Otherwise he’d feel more.
Actually…he just felt tired.
“Is it okay for me to go back to sleep?” Sephiroth asked, his voice dry and cracked, but Zack seemed not to notice. He just nodded, brushing his thumb against Sephiroth’s knuckles. It felt nice.
Sephiroth also picked up that he wasn’t woken up for anything, which meant he was being allowed to sleep it off. That meant things were okay.
He saw Cloud next. Cloud was not touching him, but that honestly didn’t mean very much. He and Cloud had similar touching issues. Cloud needed time to warm up before he became physically affectionate. He was still in uniform, but his armor was very much off. That meant Cloud had been here long enough to at least start to relax.
Sephiroth realized Cloud was touching his hair, which was definitely a good sign. Cloud was the only one of them who had any talent at all for styling hair, or at least doing up Sephiroth’s hair. Usually with braids. “Warrior Braids” Cloud called them. It was a Mountain people thing. (Mountain People Thing being the usual excuse for any odd things Cloud did. Sephiroth generally liked all of them). Cloud had pictures of himself with them to prove it. The Warrior Braiding had just begun it seemed because there weren’t any to be seen around his head yet.
Cloud gave a short soft smile when he saw Sephiroth shift. Then looked back to his work.
“Is anyone else…” Sephiroth voice gave out. Still bone dry. Cloud brought a cup with a straw and set it on the tray in front of Seph.
“It’s just you,” Cloud said, “You just keep being asleep when Angeal and Genesis are here.” So he was getting visits from them all. That was very sweet and kind. He’d always wondered if he’d get fretted over the way he sometimes worried over them. The answer was a big yes.
“It’s the first I’ve seen you awake,” Cloud said, “Since it happened I mean.”
“What did happen?” Sephiroth asked.
“Explosion,” Cloud said, “You got banged up pretty bad.”
“How bad?” Sephiroth asked.
So it was bad.
“Anything permanent?” he asked.
“Life changing?” Sephiroth asked again. He hated making Cloud tell him, but…Cloud didn’t sugar coat things for him. And Cloud didn’t seem perturbed, still sedately braiding.
“Are you worried about it?” Sephiroth asked. Cloud looked at him. His way of saying he was going to be brutally honest.
“No.” Sephiroth nodded. It was going to be okay.
“I’m falling asleep again.”
“Okay,” Cloud said. He could almost pretend it was a usual Saturday. Cloud usually came to his place on Saturdays, inching his way closer until he could bury his hands in Seph’s hair and “do something about this mess.”
It was always nice to doze off with someone he loved playing with his hair, though he never said as much.
Angeal, Zack, and Genesis were there the last time he woke. Zack was holding his hand again. Things were still bad. He tried sitting up, despite all the bandages telling him to stay put. But he did see it.
One of his legs was noticeably shorter. As in missing below his knee.
“We were going to say something,” Genesis said after a moment of Sephiroth just staring.
“We had a plan,” Zack said, now holding his hand in both of his, “let you learn gently.”
“You’ve been asleep each time we tried,” Angeal said. Sephiroth believed them. He absolutely believed they didn’t intend for things to be this way.
But they were this way…and it hurt anyway.
“I want to be alone,” he said, sharply. He’d been told it was a fine thing to ask and usually they were okay with letting him be alone if he asked.
But this time they hesitated. Because losing a leg was very, very bad.
“Please,” he added, more calmly, “I need a moment alone.” Angeal and Genesis nodded, as if it were a completely normal request and it was any other day.
But it wasn’t.
Zack gave his hand one more squeeze before he left.
He immediately regretted asking them to leave. Anger just boiled out of him when the door shut behind them. He threw his cup and straw across the room. It cracked and spilled water all over the floor. He was yelling something, but couldn’t understand the words leaving his own mouth. He punched the wall until he left a noticeable dent. He laid back down panting, trying to ignore the pricking feeling behind his eyes.
But Angeal, Genesis, and Zack still came back in. Zack didn’t take his hand, instead crawling onto the cot next to him. After a few moments, Genesis shrugged off his jacket and joined in on the other side of Zack, dragging Sephiroth’s arm around his shoulder. Angeal took his hand behind Genesis’s back. Holding it in both hands and pressing soft kisses to it. Sephiroth tried to match his breathing to all of theirs and failed miserably.
None of them mentioned it.
He stared blankly at the physical therapy treatment Hojo was outlining to him. It kept happening while was supposed to be paying attention…but he didn’t really want to focus on getting muscle strength back or fitting a specially made prosthetic leg to him.
But one of the others was always close by, taking notes. Angeal, Genesis, or Zack. It took him a bit to notice Cloud didn’t join them.
“He’s organizing the apartment,” Zack said when Sephiroth asked.
“The apartment?” Sephiroth said.
“We’re all moving in together,” Zack said simply, “If that’s okay with you.” Sephiroth would have laughed. He suggested it almost a year ago and they all had reasons to stay in their own places. But now that he was handicapped…
“It’s not like that,” Zack said. Sephiroth didn’t quite believe him, but was grateful for the lie.
“We are planning a rotation to help you out until you get into the swing of things,” Zack said, “but all of us agreed it’s time anyway.”
Sephiroth didn’t respond.
The tech was impressive, Sephiroth wouldn’t lie about that. Urban Development was doing amazing things, even just prosthetic mech.
Seph just couldn’t find words that expressed that he wanted his own leg back more than the one Reeve Tuesti was designing for him. It wouldn’t be the same.
And it wasn’t even as if they were being insulting about it. All the engineers were excited to do this. He was told a few were volunteering for free. They were all here because they wanted to help people.
Sephiroth just…didn’t want this kind of help.
But how could he say no? He was a SOLDIER. SOLDIERs had to have two legs.
He couldn’t look as they measured the stump. It’s what he called it in his head. The Stump. He caught sight of a short braid. A Warrior Braid.
He took a deep breath and looked back.
It wasn’t that bad…or maybe he was getting used to it.
He did his best not to mention that Cloud was absent a lot. Cloud had been gone the most, trying to find a place to even fit all of them, and then trying to fit all of the most important things in. They told him that early on and he did his best not to mention it. He had always noticed it when one of them was missing and he knew it made them feel bad when he pointed it out.
But then Cloud said it was done in his very brusque way and he was being wheeled out to a new home.
Cloud succeeded spectacularly. That was Sephiroth’s first thought at seeing the new place. Sephiroth forgave him entirely for not being at the first appointments.
“Thought you’d say that,” Cloud said while they waited for Genesis and Zack to show up. Cloud said it’d be best if they all saw it all at once and could work out how they wanted to fix things up.
He did notice that it was all on one floor. Easy to get in on crutches. Or a wheelchair. Or a peg leg. He chose not to point that out.
Genesis was warming up for a long praise-filled speech for Cloud when Angeal scooped Sephiroth out of the chair and carried him inside. He didn’t say a word about it.
“You don’t have to do that,” Sephiroth said.
“Yes I do,” Angeal said, “It’s tradition.” Sephiroth was set gracefully down on a chair inside (one without wheels) and Angeal went back outside. He returned now with Cloud in tow.
“You know I put this place together,” Cloud said, “You don’t have to carry me over the threshold.”
“Tradition,” Angeal restated setting Cloud on the loveseat. He left them again.
“Tradition my ass,” they heard Genesis call.
“Fine,” Angeal said. Genesis was carried in over Angeal’s shoulder and dumped unceremoniously on the sofa.
“My turn!” they all heard Zack call, then the grunt of Angeal catching him. Zack was deposited neatly on his feet as all the seats were taken.
“Who carries Angeal in?” Sephiroth asked. They all laughed at the image of any of them carrying Angeal bridal style.
It felt normal, like usual.
Sephiroth wished this had happened sooner.
Genesis was wrapping The Stump. Sephiroth still didn’t like to touch it much yet. It still felt too alien. Like it wasn’t really part of his body.
“Hurt?” Genesis asked as he tied it off. Sephiroth shook his head. They were all getting good at wrapping it. It had to be wrapped unless he was washing it.
“Have you been doing your exercises on it?” Genesis asked. Sephiroth nodded again. Those were easy enough. Just pressing his leg against pillows or the bed. He could almost pretend it was a foot. He could tell that was getting easier.
It was just looking at it that wasn’t getting easier.
“Good,” Genesis said, “we’ll be sparring in the VR Room in no time.”
“You still want to spar with me?” Sephiroth said.
“Of course,” Genesis said, “I plan to beat you, fair and square someday. Right now you’re handicapped, but you’re hardly an invalid.” Sephiroth looked at him for a moment.
“Fine, you’re on,” Genesis said. He pushed his chair to the other side of the table. Then he held up his arm. Sephiroth arched an eyebrow.
“Arm Wrestle,” Genesis said, “You’re arms aren’t brittle as your attitude now are they?” Sephiroth’s eyes narrowed.
Both of them were still locked together, but noticeably more winded, when Angeal walked in with dinner.
“If you two idiots pull muscles again I am not fetching you ice packs.”
It felt pretty damn good, especially since he got the extra packet of nachos as a prize.
Zack came the most for his prosthetic fittings. Zack fully admitted he thought they were cool and wanted to see what Seph could do. He hated forcing a smile for Zack, but having Zack there also made it easier to talk to the tech’s without feeling bad.
“Hey guys,” Zack said gently, “I know you worked hard…but he really doesn’t like the skin tone ones. He’s too nice to tell you otherwise, but he doesn’t like them.” And then they taken away, a note jotted down for what designs to focus on.
“I don’t know about you, but I like the blue ones. They match my eyes.” It was a ploy to get Seph to look at him and away from The Stump, but it worked. Too damn well.
“I don’t know why I need so many,” Sephiroth said, “I thought…I’d just get one and be done.”
“Well…” Zack trailed off. Sephiroth looked at him again. He knew that face.
“You did some research,” Sephiroth prompted. Zack got sucked into rabbit holes that had to be explored. This face screamed he wanted to share his findings.
“You’re leg is going to change,” Zack said, “You’re gonna sweat under the wrappings and that can chafe so they can change that. Your muscle builds up differently so we have to change it. The technology gets better…so you change it.”
“So…this doesn’t get over with fast,” Sephiroth said, looking back to The Stump.
“It means…you are going to keep getting better for the rest of your life,” Zack said, “Things get better, get easier. It’s slow, but it’s steady.” Zack took his hand and kissed him softly on the cheek.
“And I’ll be here for all of it,” Zack promised.
Sephiroth let Zack talk him into enjoying the colors. It actually did get kind of fun.
Angeal looked back at him, arching one eyebrow to ask a silent question. Seph shook his head in reply. Angeal just turned turned back around, kept walking a few paces ahead of Sephiroth. Seph was still wobbly on the current leg, but it didn’t hurt or rub and felt pretty nice so far. It was a lot nicer to look at than The Stump.
He was just going slow and steady, like Zack said. Every step would get easier.
Angeal, for his part, seemed happy to lead the way, to wander along and let Seph follow. Sephiroth really preferred these kinds of walks to walking on the lab treadmill. It was at least more of an adventure.
“You really sure you want the purple one?” Angeal asked over his shoulder.
“They told me the color was called lavender,” Sephiroth said.
“It’s light purple,” Angeal said.
“I liked it,” Sephiroth said, “it reminded me of your flowers… the...um…the eye ones.”
“My irises?” Angeal said with a small shocked grin.
“I like them,” Sephiroth said, “Always did.”
“Good to know,” Angeal said, “You know the place Cloud found us has space for some plants outside, maybe you can help me garden some, make Gen less pissy about my pots all over the place.”
“I’d like that,” Sephiroth said. It was weird how the future was getting easier than the present. The present had all sorts of obstacles, like how he kept nearly tripping over himself.
At least all that time on the treadmill build his good leg back up. He wasn’t getting tired at all.
“Are we running today?” Angeal asked, “I can bully my way to the VR Room, pick a place to frolic.” Sephiroth smiled at the idea of skipping through a field of irises with Angeal.
“Not today,” Sephiroth said. He was too shaky…off balance.
It was gonna be awhile before he was running.
It was his turn for dinner. He was going to just call out for something, but Cloud came home early. Cloud talked him into doing halfsies.
“Then we can do it together again next time. I really just want soup,” Cloud said.
“Is it your mom’s recipe?” Sephiroth asked.
Her soup was the nectar of the gods.
Cloud was getting the broth up to a simmer as Sephiroth was chopping the vegetables. Seph eyed one of the stools on the other side of the counter. He glanced down at his leg. The fake one. They assured him the color was very optional and flexible. It was becoming a fun weekly thing to change. It was crimson now.
But he had to keep asking himself…was he shaky…was he off balance?
No, not really
But what if he was?
“You like the house?” Cloud asked, settling in to chop next to him.
“Mmm-hmm,” Sephiroth hummed his affirmative. It was very nice, exactly what he imagined…except for the missing leg.
And Cloud had decorated his “private quarters” (aka the room that was his and that no one else could enter without his permission) to perfection. That was Cloud’s main love language, doing things for you quietly and without asking, but secure in the knowledge it’s what you wanted.
“I only wish…” Sephiroth trailed off. It wasn’t fair to say.
“I wish I hadn’t had to lose a leg for it to happen,” he said with a shrug. Cloud bowed his head.
“It wasn’t you,” Cloud said, “it was me.”
“What do you mean?” Sephiroth asked.
“I was the last holdout.” Sephiroth blinked.
“All the others wanted in,” Cloud said, “you made the suggestion…then a few days later Genesis said he was in if the rest of us were. A few weeks later Angeal. Months ago Zack said okay…but I kept saying no.”
“Cloud?” Sephiroth asked, he hadn’t known.
“I don’t know why,” Cloud said, “maybe I was worried about what people would think…that they’d think that I’d cheated my way into SOLDIER with you guys…even though everyone knows all of you rode me harder than anyone else. Did your damndest to make me quit because you didn’t want a SOLDIER life for me.”
“You are persistent though,” Sephiroth said, “and wanting or not…we loved you anyway.”
“That took me long enough to figure out,” Cloud said with a small laugh, “but why couldn’t I just move in? Any reason I had…it was so stupid. I realized that the first night I sat by you after the explosion.”
“They let you stay with me?” Sephiroth said, he hadn’t heard this part either. What were those four holding out on him?
“I made them,” Cloud shrugged. Believable enough.
“How long?” Sephiroth asked.
“I stayed every night…except the day you woke up,” Cloud said, “I stayed so much…I pretty much rehearsed how to tell you, about your leg…and then when you were awake enough I was gone and you found out yourself.”
“I tend to rush in and ruin surprises,” Sephiroth said. Cloud snorted at that.
“But…I sat by your bed for over a week…so after that moving in together is nothin’” Cloud said, “I get a nifty cooking partner out of it.”
“Nifty?” Sephiroth said.
“Look am I gonna have to withhold soup to have a Mountain People Vocabulary Lecture?” Cloud said. Sephiroth smiled. He rested his head on top of Cloud’s and felt steady as a rock.
Genesis pulled him to his feet…foot…whatever.
“Nobody’s watching,” he said, “so dance with me.” Last week, yesterday, this morning…he might have said easier said than done. But Genesis was looking at him, not expectantly, not petulantly, but just self-assuredly. Sephiroth would dance with him because he asked. So Sephiroth was going to dance.
Badly. He never was good at dancing.
It was usually easier when Genesis took the lead, and Genesis seemed more than happy to tonight. He didn’t even need a song or a tempo. Genesis always just had a rhythm to follow. It was usually worth it to go along with his beat.
It was after the fourth time that Genesis twirled him that it struck him. And Sephiroth laughed.
“What?” Genesis asked.
“It’s just the first time…the first time I forgot one of my feet is carbon fiber,” Sephiroth said. He laughed some more. “I’m a pretty terrible dancer no matter what my feet are made of.” Genesis bravely fought off a smirk, but didn’t deny it.
“You’re my terrible dancer,” Genesis assured him, “no one else will take that away from me.” Sephiroth liked the kiss and kept laughing as Genesis twirled him off again.
They were all piled in the Master Bedroom. Seph had gotten in first, after putting his foot away. He didn’t really think of it much as a prosthetic now. It was his foot. His detachable one. It was black for right now.
Then Zack more or less jumped into rustle into a spot. Angeal and Genesis raced in next. Angeal won by tripping Genesis and stole the coveted middle spot. Cloud took Sephiroth’s other side leaving Genesis to take one of the ends.
Or on top of all of them. That was always an option for Genesis. Sephiroth read up on his phone as they all shimmied and shifted into position. Legs tangling up.
There was a new bit to it now…and Seph kind of liked it. They would feel out the empty space below his knee and then find where his leg began…then hook into it.
The Stump had been adopted. It was their stump now. He smiled and closed his phone as it got hugged by various sets of legs.
“You’re lagging Commander Hewley!” Sephiroth ran past him. He didn’t look at all like he had lost a leg, not at the speed he was going. He had some spring in his step today…and it wasn’t just the ball bearings in his leg.
“Someone has to bring up the rear,” Angeal said.
“And it’s not us,” Sephiroth said, he leaned over holding his arms out. Angeal gave a wicked grin and jumped up. Sephiroth caught him under his thighs as Angeal wrapped arms around his neck. Then he picked up the speed.
Cloud outright cackled as they lapped him, slowing even further so he could laugh harder. Zack made Seph promise to give him a turn. Genesis did the same.
Not all days were like today, but that was okay. Every day had things going a little bit better, walking a little smoother, running a little faster.
And he’d never be alone through any of them. Not if any one who loved him had a say in it.