Disclaimer: If I was the creator of ff7, Tifa would have died a nasty, horrible death before the end of the first disk.
Author Notes: Song belongs to Matchbox 20, 'Could I Be You,' which was pointed out to me as the perfect song for Cloud-kun. :D
Warning: Refer to prologue
Rating: Eventually NC-17
Beta: The ever beautiful unoccupied Malfoy, Malfoy-hima. :D
"I knew Barret would end up with Elmyra," Cloud stated smugly, cradling a hot cup of tea in his hands. Vincent noticed the younger man had yet to remove his gloves but kept his silence as he took a sip of his own tea.
Cid snorted, pouring himself another cup of tea from the stand. The sun shone brightly through the balcony, lighting directly on the stand holding the tea maker. Since Cid so often claimed the room, he had insisted on a tea maker. Shera, dear Shera, regularly sent them Cid's favorite tea. Cloud had laughed when Vincent told him, the former Turk explaining that "Cid insists nothing tastes quite like Shera's tea."
"They don't *do* anything," Cid retorted, gulping swiftly. Vincent cringed and looked back at his own cup. His lover rarely sipped. "Barret's too much of a gentleman. He should be proposin' to her any day now."
Cloud smiled wistfully, sipping his own tea. Extra honey. "I would like to see that."
Vincent closed his eyes. Cid just blinked at the two of them sitting on his old bed, not understanding. "Why not? The ass is a little annoyed with you, but he's not that pissed."
Still smiling that odd, wistful smile, Cloud shifted on the bed. The floral sheets barely moved at his slight weight. Vincent frowned as the blond rubbed his head again.
"What's wrong, Cloud?" he asked softly.
Cloud shook his head sharply. "Nothing. How's Marlene?"
Vincent hid his own smile behind his teacup as Cid glowed. "Great! That little lady is one tough trooper. Has her dada totally wrapped around her little finger! Ha! I always knew–"
Vincent continued watching Cloud out of the corner of his eye. Again, the younger man rubbed between his eyes, those blue orbs growing a little distant. Vincent didn't like that one bit. Never straying from the tea maker, Cid proudly bragged about his "niece," never noticing what was happening before him.
Yuffie met Nanaki outside Reeve's office. "Same idea as me?" she guessed.
Nanaki nodded solemnly. "Reeve will be no help to anyone if he exhausts himself. We can all continue this afternoon. I fear we all shall need the rest."
Nodding thoughtfully, Yuffie listened outside the door. She heard nothing. "Well, I'm pretty sure the Turks have left. Hey, Nanaki-san, why don't you take care of Reeve-san? I'm going to check on Cloud-san. He didn't look so good earlier."
The fiery lion nodded, his good eye switching between the large double doors and the hallway. "I believe Cid and Vincent are with him now. However, he would probably appreciate seeing you. I shall see you later."
Yuffie smiled brightly at Nanaki. "After you put Reeve-san to bed, you go to bed too, 'kay?"
The warrior nodded. "You, as well."
After one quick nod, Yuffie jogged down the hallway. Nanaki pushed the doors open with his paw. "Elena?" he inquired, surprised.
Reeve's large desk dwarfed the blond Turk. Nearly hidden by a pile of papers, Elena blinked at Nanaki. "I put Reeve to bed already," she chuckled. She waved at the papers. "I promised to help him with these. Wanna join in?"
Only hesitating a moment, Nanaki nodded and started walking towards the desk. Abruptly, he paused, and Elena's grin faded. "Nanaki?"
The fiery lion frowned, slightly baring his teeth. "What is that?"
Elena frowned and turned around. The windows, as opulent in this president's office as they had been in the last one, gleamed with the morning sun. Beyond the mist, quite an ordinary sight due to the near-constant rain, she saw nothing. "Nanaki... ?"
The fiery lion said nothing, simply frowning thoughtfully.
Reno and Rude walked slowly towards their room. Despite the prize that awaited them, their feet dragged over the rich carpet of Neo-ShinRa. Heavy thoughts clouded their minds.
"I hated the fight the first time," Reno murmured, barely loud enough for Rude to hear him. "Watching Meteor fall, not knowing what the fuck we were fighting for.... All of that shit meant nothing when the world was ending."
Rude bumped him gently, his eyes hidden by his sunglasses. He said nothing, only letting Reno vent.
"All that happened because Hojo found that bitch, Jenova. *Jenova* called Meteor, not the General."
Reno paused in the middle of the hallway, and Rude stood beside him. In less than an hour, that same hallway would be swarming with confused interns and employees, just like yesterday. Not a single one knew what was coming.
"I'm not going to watch Meteor fall again," Reno said evenly. "I'm not going through that shit again. And I'm not going to watch that kid go psycho like Sephiroth, either. During the Wutai war, I saw SOLDIERS fall to Wutain bullets. Cloud may be one tough sonuvabitch, but I bet a bullet to the head would kill him just the same."
Not waiting for a response, Reno turned on his heel and started back down the hallway. After a moment, Rude followed.
The teacup fell from Cloud's limp fingertips. Cid stopped filling his cup to stare at Cloud's pale face. Vincent tensed at Cloud's side. "Cloud... ?"
Cloud's slender chest heaved. "My mother... my mother was a music teacher in Midgar... before she moved back to Nibelhelm... before IT happened... she was the one who knew... who knew...."
Vincent tossed aside his own teacup and gripped Cloud's shoulders. "What was It?" he asked intensely. "What did she know?"
Cloud wheezed, clutching his head in his hands. To Cid's shock, though Vincent had guessed where Cloud's line of thought had been leading, Cloud began to sing softly, his voice oddly disjointed but still pleasing. "Something is wrong with the sum of us..." His blue eyes glazed over, throwing his full focus into the song. "That I can't seem to erase...." Cloud shook his head sharply, his fingers tightening in his hair. "How can I be the only one without a smile on my face...."
"He hears Jenova," Vincent breathed, his gaze sharp on Cloud's pained face. "He's trying to drown her out."
Cid flailed his arms wildly. "What the fuck are we supposed to do about it?"
Vincent watched Cloud's white lips move. 'Well now, you're just laughing out loud at just the thought of being alive and I was wondering,' Cloud paused with an audible gasp, 'could I just be you tonight?'
"Get the others," Vincent said tersely, stepping forward to Cloud's side. The young man never noticed him. His short nails scraped his face. Blood raised to Cloud's cheeks, only to vanish instantly. Vincent's eyes widened. "Now!"
Cloud's small song choked off, and he stared desperately at the pair. "It's always worked before... I don't know... she sounds–" Vincent dived forward, catching Cloud before he hit the floor. Despite his lover's order, Cid only stood there, watching in horror as Vincent hastily checked for a pulse.
Cid yelped at Vincent hastily scooped Cloud up and laid him on the bed. Death Penalty shone dully in the sunlight as he whipped it out. "He's asleep," Vincent breathed, his eyes burning as he glanced around the small room. "Jenova must be–"
The window shattering cut him off.
Reno and Rude paused, standing in the middle of the hallway. One skittish intern, the first they had seen, listened intently for a moment before yelping and running down the hallway. The Turks watched him run.
"Well," Reno said drolly, "that confirms it: That was definitely Highwind yelling. Wonder what pissed–"
Another sound silenced him. The Turks glanced at each other before sprinting down a side hall.
One frightened intern almost knocked Yuffie off her feet. Indignant, she glared at the young man sprinting away. "Hey, you jerk!" she hollered, then froze. Even after two years she recognized the sound.
Elena and Nanaki frowned intensely at the papers scattered over the desk. "This is some pretty interesting junk," the blonde murmured, flipping through the papers on Jenova. "I just wish Hojo had actually written out some of this stuff, instead of using shorthand."
Nanaki sighed, pawing another paper. "Hojo never expected anyone else to read these notes. He was–What's this?"
Elena gave the paper in her hand one last scowl before checking out Nanaki's sheet. Holding the paper closer to her face, Elena carefully read its contents. "This is one of the papers concerning the test subjects... shit! There was that many?" She glanced at some numbers at the bottom of the paper. According to them, none of the subjects mentioned survived the tests. Yet, for some reason, Cloud and Sephiroth survived. Was it just because they were stronger than the others, or–
A piercing gunshot interrupted her. She hadn't heard that certain gun for two years, but the trained Turk still recognized it.
"That's Death Penalty," Nanaki breathed. He whirled around and stared in horror at the window. Elena spun around in her chair.
"Oh, by Holy," she whispered.
The Death Penalty never paused in its rapid fire, and the closer Reno and Rude ran to the guest room door, the more clearly they heard Cid's furious roars. They reached the door with weapons bared, in time to hear an odd shriek and Cid cry out.
Two legs, one slender, the other thick, kicked at the door in perfect unison, and Reno darted through the doorway. He had a flashback to when he had arrived at Cloud's apartment earlier, black lizards swarming through the hallways and down the street. Now the color had changed. Crimson, reptilian faces glared and snarled, large wings fluttering frantically as they struggled through the shattered balcony. Many bled but even more struggled through the small opening. Valentine was crouched on the only bed in the room, holding an unconscious Cloud against him with his clawed hand. His flesh hand held Death Penalty, bullets flying nonstop, pushing the creatures back even as they fought forward. Cid stood several feet to Reno's right, a bloodied Venus Gospel in his hands. Crimson stained the stubble on his left cheek, a stain from the gash on his cheekbone.
It was utter chaos.
"Fuckin' hell," Reno cursed, throwing himself into the fray. However tough their leather skin, the demons did not stand a chance against Reno's electro-rod. "Valentine, don't fuckin' hit me!"
Rude growled lowly, his bullets following Reno's wake. Every monster Reno wounded, Rude's swift aim finished off. One monster flew past the others, only to be taken down by Vincent. The one that immediately followed ducked under the shield of bullets and dived towards the dark-haired gunman.
"Oh no, you don't!" Cid roared. He lunged forward, spearing one of its wings to the wall. Vincent finished it off. Glancing quickly at where his lover still held his unconscious leader, Cid threw himself back into the fray. The Venus Gospel flashed beside the glow of Reno's electro-rod. As Vincent's bullets followed Cid's bloodied path, Rude's followed Reno's. The lovers worked in their respective pairs, working fluidly. Wherever one began the assault, the other always finished it.
Two creatures shoved the gathering corpses forward, momentarily blocking Vincent's aim. Reno glanced wildly at Valentine before turning to Rude. The tall man never noticed, his hands moving swiftly to reload. He never noticed the wild tail of the leading creature until it snapped him in the jaw. The creature's companion tackled Cid, and they both dropped.
"Rude!" Reno shrieked, pulling out his materia. "Eat this, you bastards! Bolt 3!"
"Ice 3!" Vincent snarled, Chaos in his eyes. A wintry chill blasted the thunderstorm blazing in the room. The monsters screamed and, as a wave, collapsed in frozen, blackened chips.
"Ultima!" Reno shouted, aiming his hands towards the window. A brilliant haze of green threw three more monsters back.
"Fire 3!" Rude joined in, his voice a hoarse rasp from the floor.
"Leviathan... Summon!" Yuffie screamed from behind them, and water roared in a harsh stream through the balcony. As the two Turks and the two members of AVALANCHE watched, the mighty summon of Wutai wiped out the rest of the creatures heading for the window. Then it vanished, and Yuffie jogged into the room.
Reno wrapped an arm around Rude's back and pulled him to his feet before anything else could happen. He allowed himself the luxury of a quick hug before pulling away. Fortunately, the others were too busy to notice his momentary lapse.
"The last fuckers are getting away!" Cid shouted, pointing out the window. Half a dozen of the winged monsters were darting from the Neo-ShinRa building, their crimson wings pushing them swiftly away. Cid growled and raised a red materia.
"Cid, don't!" Vincent snapped. Immediately, Cid halted. "From this distance, you cannot accurately control the summon. You may take out several buildings and not even touch the creatures!"
The gruff pilot growled but put away the materia. Carelessly, he wiped the blood from his cheek. "Is the kid all right?" Cid asked, jogging to Vincent's side.
Unnaturally glowing eyes remained shut in an equally unnatural sleep. Sagging lifelessly against Vincent's side, Cloud Strife slept unaware of the fight that had erupted around him. The vampire frowned and raised a hand to finger his neck. He found a pulse in the slender column, slow but steady.
"Jenova enchanted him," Vincent announced as Yuffie and the Turks made their way to the bed. "I can't wake him up from this sleep."
Reno's fine, scarred features were screwed up in a frown. Squeezing Rude's hand, he kneeled by the bed beside the unconscious blonde. "Jenova might've knocked him out, to make capturing him easier," he offered, studying Cloud's slack face. His rosy lips were parted, revealing white, even teeth. His beautiful blue eyes refused to open.
Yuffie plopped on the bed next to Vincent. "But if she can do that, what else can she do to him?" she wondered, touching Cloud's cheek.
Cid shook his head. "I don't even want to know."
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