Beta: None, due to utter havoc (moving) and technology fail (imploded hard drive)
Media Creator: Unknown
Word Count: ~10,000+
Characters/Pairing(s): Light Sephiroth/Cloud
Rating: PG-13 for language (maybe)
Summary: Disciplinary duty takes a turn for the surreal when General Sephiroth uses Cadet Strife for his personal errand boy. However, when Cloud starts to notice something wrong with the General, he takes it upon himself to do more than just scrub the ceilings.
Team repair crews claimed to build camaraderie between cadets, but in reality all they did was give Cloud a spectacular chance to piss off Hai Nylin, the biggest guy in his squad. If a behemoth had a wildly inappropriate drunken tryst with the wrong end of a tank, it would be Nylin. Nylin was every sergeant's wet dream; not too smart, not too pretty, but he liked to hit, hit, hit, and he never stopped. Cloud, on the other hand, was not.
That's why, when Cloud bumped the box of washer weight's off the ladder and served Nylin as a victim of gravity, he was the one packed off to disciplinary duty – ladder in tow – while Nylin was given a hearty whack on the back and a band-aid. Cloud was the one who's face met the plaster four times; Nylin just had a wee bump on his noggin!
But, this was the military an Cloud learned somewhere around minute two no one gave a damn what he thought.
It was better than Nibelheim because he wasn't singled out, no more than the other less exceptional cadets; but it was worse, too. At least back home, Tifa was there to take him seriously. In Midgar, everyone just thought he as the little blond kid too stupid to wash out.
Rubbing forehead, Cloud winced at the bright pain of the tender scratch. Things always seemed to hurt worst when there was no blood.
Things could be worse; last time the sergeants broke up a brawl, both cadets were sent to the waste management facility for a week. Nothing took the fight out of you like raw sewage. Cloud was sent up to the executive offices to scrub floors – tedious and embarrassing, but altogether harmless once you got over the chemical rash on your hands.
It was late afternoon and morning tutorials were finished, Cloud figured, so if he really buckled down, he could be back to the barracks before nine. That gave him an hour to study for his logistics exam before lights out. No studying by flashlight for him, tonight!
With a quiet hum, Cloud dragged the five foot A-frame through the service corridor and called for the rickety utility elevator. There were bets down for when the thing would finally rust through it's moldings and plummet some unfortunate soul to the basement level in a ball of twisted metal and blood, but Cloud figured it would either get him or it would and he wasn't wasting time on the stairs.
Hour of study time and a full night's sleep.
The doors opened and Cloud wasn't dead, so he figured he might as well get to it. He was careful not to scrape the ladder on the floor; it was only four-thirty, the offices were still filled. There were ways to be brought to superiors' attention, and there were ways. Cloud didn't want to be remembered as 'that clumsy blond twerp' when he attempted the SOLDIER trials. In his experience, anonymity was always better than infamy. That way, no one remembered when you had to try twice.
The custodian closet was locked and Cloud fumbled with the key the sergeant gave him. He had to return it before curfew, he reminded himself firmly, awkwardly pushing the door open with with his butt. Despite his creative finagling, the ladder's foot caught on the door frame and started to slip. Cloud fumbled for it, but a passer-by reached out to to steady the listing side. Embarrassed, Cloud pulled the ladder inside and slapped the light on, turning back to thank his helped and dropped the ladder with an ear-splitting crash.
“S-Sir!” Cloud stuttered, caught between cleaning up his mess – the ladder cleared out two wire shelving units and scattered a piled of buckets – and striking a salute. In the end, he did a rather wooden marionette of both. Finally, he just stuck a forlorn salute and ignored his hot cheeks.
Speaking of ways to not leave an impression.
The General, however, just tipped his head accordingly and uttered a smooth, “Cadet,” before gliding off to do whatever living legends did when they weren't out being legendary.
Cloud relaxed with a pathetically infatuated sigh. The General was even more beautiful in person.
Realizing what he'd thought, Cloud panicked.
No, he insisted fervently, not beautiful! Rugged, manly, and entirely without beauty!
Cloud began to chant to himself, 'General Sephiroth is a glorious bastion of pure power.' Just because none of the interviews Shin-Ra released about the General said he could read minds didn't mean he couldn't.
Three hours in, Cloud wished he wasn't so dedicated to proving everyone wrong about his apparently feebleness because his hands hurt. His skin was red and scaly and the big knuckled on his first two fingers were beginning to bleed. Trust him to be painfully allergic to household cleaners.
Hissing as he dunked his hand in the soapy bucket again, Cloud wrung out his mangled sponge and wished pathetically for a mop. The Executive Meeting Room – someone was very careful to have that emblazoned on the door in bright gold letters – was overtly ostentatious and Cloud occasionally had the urge to steal all the seat cushions and mail them back home to his mother, but he figured any room that held the president had cameras all over and Cloud wasn't slick enough to slip past those. If he were, he'd be looking into the Turks, not SOLDIER.
Speaking of Turks, a stoic pair of blues tromped across his clean floors in muddy black shoes and disappeared inside the meeting, leaving Cloud with twice the mess to clean up. Matters only got worse when he tried to clean it up and the whole goopy mess turn a malicious purple and turned into a staining slick on the tile.
Hel's Belles! Cloud chucked the sponge across the hall and snorted spitefully as it splat against the far wall, trailing disgusting devil gunk in it's wake. Obviously, this was proof Turks ritually drowned babies in the reactors for kicks because nothing truly human would associate with dirt from the netherworld.
Plum-Colored Loam, Destroyer of Souls.
The door opened abruptly and Cloud looked blankly into the General's inquisitive eyebrow. (It was not a pretty eyebrow, either. Bastion of Power) The General scanned the ransacked hall and left without a word.
So much for second impressions, then.
Cloud stood up and trudged over to the sponge – Judas sponge, betraying him in his time of need – and scooped it up. This day couldn't get any worse.
This day couldn't get any worse, Cloud freaked, dumping his bucket sloppily and shoving bottles back on the shelves in utter disarray. Somewhere between the SOLDIER fashion show and the General's strip tease – Really, really hoping he couldn't do that mind reading thing – someone slammed the door to the supply closet and Cloud fell over. His cracked head and sore elbow would be nothing if he missed his bed check; if the sergeants didn't kill him, his bunk mates would. If Cloud were the pondering type, he'd wonder over the puerile fetishism the sergeants had for making everyone suffer for one man's sin. The night the sleep-deprived cadets finally snapped and descended upon their unwitting victim, tearing him limb from limb, the sergeants would probably jizz in their pants.
However, tonight would not be that night, (Please, please don't be that night) because Cloud had a plan. It was, admittedly, a very simply plan, but the best plans were always simple, Cloud promised himself. It was all in the execution. Him against the world. A single man on a mission against the raging bureaucracy and it's unseen villains in the shadows.
Cloud wasn't all that sure what all that meant, but he'd heard it in a movie trailer last month and it sure sounded good.
Quietly, Cloud emptied his dirty bucket because he wasn't raised in a barn and if he mother ever heard he left a chore half done she'd storm her way to Midgar by the force of her convictions and he'd worked too hard to be hauled home by the ear now. He finished rinsing it off and noticed a bottle of standard issue lotion sitting on the sink.
That was new.
Cloud blinked. It was new. The lid hadn't even been popped, yet. Nervously, he looked about for hidden cameras or pranksters he hadn't noticed lurking in the corners, but the closet was empty except for him and the dangerous lotion. He unscrewed it and inspected the aluminum seal carefully. It was still intact, too. There were no holes in the body or along the seams. Cloud tried to be a man about the fact a brand new bottle of lotion magically appeared in the closet while he was sleeping and it – and his virtue! - was uncompromised. It was unheard of. There was always an ulterior motive.
He knew what most people used lotion for in the military and it didn't involve lily-soft hands.
Still, there were no rules saying he had to suffer in silence when he had a solution right in front of him. It would totally ruin his super secret escape plan if he left bloody hand prints everywhere because he was too butch to use the damn lotion. Three squirts later and he was well on his way to heaven.
He was ready.
Cloud took a deep breath and steadied himself, running through his super secret checklist (Every super secret plan needed one).
Leave closet; hiding out until morning was plan B.
Take elevator. If anyone enters during the super secret mission, Cloud would bludgeon them unconscious with sheer force of conviction and if he wasn't lucky enough to inherit those, he'd probably cry.
Enter the barracks. Pick the door watched by the cadet least likely to be a big fat snitch.
Got to sleep.
Fail exam tomorrow.
Cloud nodded, that sounded about right.
It all went brilliantly until the elevator opened up on the ground floor and Cloud walked straight into the arms of his maniacally happy sergeants. All three of them.
“Do you have any idea how often we get a call from General Sephiroth himself saying we've got a lamb lost in the hall closet?” Sgt. Eliss chirped happily, popping up on his heels with a grin Cloud had never seen before.
He didn't think it was a good idea.
“Oh, it's a right never, it is!” Sgt. Comb laughed. “And we all had to be here to see which one of our little ducklings lost his way.”
“Cadet Strife,” Sgt. Kawaki boomed ominously, large arms flexing dramatically. “I think you need to come with us.”
So that's who left the lotion.
As far as being fucked out the fortieth floor window, Cloud had to say, things were going rather smoothly. He'd heard nightmares about being caught derelict after hours, but he hadn't really expected to be handed yet another bucket with a sponge and left on the same executive floor. Ninety days of disciplinary duty was a small price to pay.
At least, Cloud thought it was. Maybe Fieldmen losing half his toes was just a myth? It wasn't like the guy took off his boots to prove it or anything. Disciplinary duty meant Cloud had no spare time, but that was a minor sacrifice. From now on, lunch, dinner, and evening rest was to be spent on rations (which were just as terrible as the cafeteria without the bullies, so hey, win!) and scrubbing. He was a little worried what he'd do during exams, but that meant he couldn't sleep during class anymore.
That's right, Strife! Perk up, man up, and drink the sludge cafeteria calls coffee! Bright eyes straight ahead, no slacking!
With a determined nod, Cloud took a deep breath and picked up his bucket.
Of course, thing were a little different from normal, Cloud admitted. He wasn't sure how he felt about having to scrub the ceilings. As far as pointless endeavors went, it was pretty high on the 'Why am I doing this?'.Still, ten toes. Time to be grateful.
The ladder was a bit on the rickety side, but Cloud wasn't going to let a clumsy tumble break his spine and get him kicked out, so he stripped off his jacket and propped it under the short foot with an assured nod. Perfect, just like home. Growing up, his ladder had been perfectly stable because Claudette Strife was That Sort of Woman, but it didn't make the grass outside any more even and a quick rock or two always stabilized the whole mess. Cloud was pleased to know something from home was coming in handy. Those wasteful city boys could kiss his ass.
The janitor's closet was surprisingly reorganized and Cloud eyed the blinking security camera in the corner balefully. Sure, he didn't have any proof that the sergeants spent their breaks in the monitor room picking out stray cadets to torment, but it was possible. Either that or they read minds and Cloud was paranoid enough about that. He really didn't need to worry about brainless apes raised to flex muscles and yell at the weak willed canon fodder being able to hear every sarcastic comeback he never said.
… Though it would explain a lot if they could.
Cloud pointedly did not continue that line of thought because it was scary and disturbing on too many levels and decided he just had a shit poker face. That was ok. He wasn't any good at gambling in the first place. His bunk mates still called him 'Golden G-string' because they thought it was funny and because that really was the only thing he'd won during his fatefully foolish attempt at drunken Crazy 8's. Worst part was, he couldn't even remember the rules sober anymore.
Humming the snappy pop song he heard on the radio that morning, Cloud rejoiced at the restocked rows of industrial strength cleaner and spared the ammonia a vindictive kick while he filled his bucket. Today was a new spin on an old chore; at least it would be a different experience.
Fifteen minutes later, Cloud hated his life, his sergeant, and whoever the hell invented ceiling panels. His toes weren't worth three months of this! Cloud spluttered and spite as his sponge dripped more sloppy solution in his mouth. There weren't even safety goggles! He could go blind doing this!
With a growl, Cloud chucked the sponge against the wall and reveled in the satisfying splat.
Cloud jumped, the ladder teetered, and the world tumbled to the ground for the second time in two days. Cloud landed first and his ass wasn't giving him any thanks, but his hard head was only ringing instead of dribbling out his shattered skull. Yelping as the ladder landed on his raised arms, Cloud struggled to his feet and gaped, “I, wha, I.”
“Fetch me a coffee,” General Sephiroth said cooly, ignoring the mess.
Cloud stared cock-eyed, “Bwa?”
“Black. One cream,” The General held up a finger to demonstrate, as if Cloud's ability to count was questionable. Then, he spun on his heel and walked off.
Between the ridiculous squeal of 'The General takes cream in his coffee! OH! I KNOW HOW SEPHIROTH TAKES HIS COFFEE! He asked me! He knows I exist!' and 'Oh, shit. Mind reading!', Cloud was angry.
Steaming, he stormed his way down the stairs, ignoring the fancy cappuccino machine in the Executive Lounge. If General Sephiroth wanted Cloud to fetch his coffee, Cloud would fetch him the most memorable cup of coffee he'd ever had. The Cadet Cafeteria was famous for it's slovenly upkeep and debatable edible cuisine, but above all, it was known for the deep viscous sludge stewing in metal carafes deceptively labeled 'Coffee'. Cloud grabbed a styrofoam cup, spat in the bottom, and smear the spittle all along the sides before upending the burnt dregs of the morning's coffee into the cup. Then, he fished around the trash for two half empty cream package. One was dubiously green. Cloud smirked and dumped it in the top. Then, he stirred it with a little red straw, marched to the elevator, and strode to the General's office.
It was about the time he knocked that Cloud realized he was about to serve General Sephiroth a trashcan coffee and paled. Then, the door swung open and the man himself took the pathetic cup and gulped the swill in one go.
Cloud swallowed hard. In for a penny, in for a pound, he decided and set his jaw stubbornly.
The General's brow furrowed and Cloud pointedly didn't start hyperventilating, but that was probably because he wasn't breathing. Everything would be fine as long as he turned blue and died before Sephiroth broke both his arms and shoved him in the air ducts. Cloud could be his stressball; need to let off a little steam, shake the vents and listen to the cadet scream.
This was such a bad idea.
“Cadet,” Sephiroth spoke thoughtfully and Cloud restrained the urge to prostrate himself on the floor and gibber fervent apologies, “Were you aware the executive offices have their own coffee?”
“Yes sir,” Cloud admitted meekly.
The General hummed, eying the empty glass speculatively. “This is terrible.”
Cloud coughed and flushed.
“There was obviously more than one cream,” he said critically. Then, Sephiroth dismissed him and closed the door.
Cloud stared. What?
Then, the world started spinning again and he ran down the hall. There was no sense tempting fate. Sephiroth let him live this time. If he hovered outside his door thinking gratefully guilty thoughts, the General might just return and run him through.
Cloud spit in General Sephiroth's coffee and lived! That was... legendary. Too bad he'd never tell anyone, ever, on fear of fiery eternal torment. It would make his life so much easier to be one of the cool guys. Petting his bangs down, Cloud sighed. Who was he kidding? No one would believe him anyway.
He gathered his upturned bucket and slid across the wet linoleum to the ladder, propping it back up against the wall. The sponge was still stuck to the wall where he threw it earlier. Cloud winced at the ugly stain it left on the wall paper. Maybe no one would notice?
Deciding he'd had enough abuse for one day, Cloud stopped thinking – because it was getting him absolutely no where - and hunkered down to clean up his mess. He might be murdered in his sleep tonight, but at least he wouldn't feel it.
Nothing good came from morning drills with a sore ass and everybody watching. Lewd jokes aside, Cloud hadn't realized how hard it was to do anything when his tailbone ached like he'd tumbled off the plate instead of six feet. Luckily, class had been painful but peaceful and now Cloud could stay sedentary for the next three hours scrubbing away. Who cared about blindness when he couldn't even sit down?
He was almost jovial by the time he filled his bucket.
Today was going to be quiet and easy. Cloud had paid particular attention in 'Wilderness Survival' today – fondly called 'What Not To Eat' – and knew the ramification of eating any part of a poison frog. He didn't know why anyone would eat a poison frog, but if they did, he would be able to firmly tell them in no uncertain terms that unless they got their stomach seen to, it's very flesh would curdle, separate, and spill poisonous burning bile throughout their major organs.
Of course, they hadn't learned how to fix that yet, but Cloud was very optimistic it might be addressed in First Aid.
Bucket, cleaner, ladder, sponge; Cloud was good to go. Lifting the bucket up to the top of the A-frame carefully, he balanced it at the peak and grinned.
This time, Cloud didn't fall, but it was probably because of the panic. Sephiroth decided to eat his liver for the bad coffee and he was going to die here in the middle of the long empty hallway with no witnesses and only the ugly sponge stain to mark his passage. Who would tell his mother? What would they say? 'He died in the line of duty.'? Were they allowed to lie?
Cloud really hoped they lied.
“Cadet,” The General snapped again, and Cloud slunk down the ladder into a salute. Sephiroth didn't look particularly murderous, but he never struck Cloud as the sort of cold-blooded killer who make angry faces before decapitating his victims. It was all part of the icy cool that made him famous. Well, kept him famous. Conquering a nation before he finished puberty made him famous. Cloud was still firmly in puberty's grasp and he couldn't even bench two hundred pounds.
“I need paperclips.”
“I'll find a supply closet, sir,” Cloud replied shakily.
“No,” Sephiroth said firmly. “I need standard SOLDIER issue paperclips.”
SOLDIER had their own paper clips? Seriously?
“Uh,” Cloud held his salute, “Yes sir?”
The General stepped in and loomed over him, “I will know if you bring me inferior supplies, Cadet.”
“O-Of course, sir,” Cloud squeaked, wondering where SOLDIER kept their paperclips because he was not going to ask. Maybe the nice secretaries on the third level knew. They always answered his questions about requisition forms, what were a few office supplies?
The General turned – always with that same impressive snap; what, did they design his jacket just to make impressive exits? - and left Cloud gibbering over himself again. So much for an idle day, Cloud thought morosely, off to fetch and carry.
It was only after he spoke to the fifth secretary that Cloud realized he may have been sent on a rather spectacular goose chase. According to Melinda, who was friends with Angie from accounting, who shared a cubical with Irene, who's sister was something of a femme fatale that dated her way through the third class SOLDIERs and was moving up the ranks one boyfriend at a time, said SOLDIERs didn't have offices, much less a need for specialized supplies. Usually they stole it from the secretaries, like everyone else.
Still, Cloud argued, what if they were wrong? If Cloud came back with the wrong paperclips, his life would be over. Maybe it was a trap! An impossible mission, given to him to prove the pointlessness of his existence. An eleventh hour assignment to reflect on the errors of his ways with no hope for salvation. Or, Sephiroth just wanted really fancy paperclips.
Cloud liked that idea. It meant he still had something to live for.
If I were an elite form-filing SOLDIER, Cloud reasoned, hiding out in the men's bathroom; I'd keep my elite form-filing office supplies with my forms. So I could file them.
Genius. Now where the fuck was that?
The SOLDER levels were locked down for special clearance only, but he might be able to argue his way into a closet if he threw around the General's name. Problem was, he didn't know what floor he needed, much less which closet. He couldn't imagine any of the SOLDIERs being particularly helpful either, particularly if this stuff was as coveted as it sounded.
Maybe he was thinking about this all wrong. Someone somewhere had to be attached to SOLDIER and have an office, even if it were just the registrar. If he could find the desk monkeys assigned to the division, Cloud could wheedle his way into their offices with a well placed 'Please' and 'Thank you'. He could just ask them for paperclips. No sneaking, no breaking and entering, and no death for failing his mission. Things were looking up.
Too bad the strictly SOLDIER affiliated office he could be referred to belonged to Director Lazard Deusericus, head of SOLDIER deployment, only second to the General himself, who was not in the building. If Jean from reception could be trusted, Anita – the pretty red head interning on the fourth floor – said that his masseuse followed him to Junon for some summit meeting with minor officers and all of the risk analysts were furious because they had to cancel their appointments or risk the barbaric hands of Olaf, her substitute. It was quite the scandal.
So, Cloud was once again faced with the prospects of felony for a handful of paperclips and this time it was under the watchful eyes of three very big, very bored, Third Classes. Cloud had asked one with the flattened nose if he could duck in for a moment and grab some office supplies for the general and the man had just laughed and laughed and told him in no uncertain terms if Cloud touched the doorknob, he'd snap his neck like a toothpick. Cloud very much believed him.
That's why he was bribing Olaf – who really was a nice man, once you got past the face and his 'good ol' days' stories about hiding bodies in dumpsters - to break the door in during their lunch break. Cloud hadn't told him why he was breaking the door in – Well, he had, but it was an atrocious lie about being locked out and leaving his keys inside - and it wasn't because he didn't think Olaf wouldn't do it. Olaf was just a man of means who probably knew exactly how much it was worth for him to break into an, admittedly, top secret office and Cloud just didn't have that for of money. As it was, he was going to have to make his mom a real shiny card for Yule to compensate for the lack of presents. Maybe he could just send Tifa a piece of chocolate. The other guys swore by it.
With a pathetically fake grin and wave, Cloud sent Olaf on his way and started rooting through the Director's desk. The drawers were all locked and he wasn't stupid enough to try and pry them open. There were probably cameras everywhere and a silent alarm and Cloud's life expectancy was at a pathetic 0% today and he really, under no circumstances, wanted to be here when nose-less returned.
Then he found it. The holy grail of paperclips. Director Deusericus was obviously a brilliant man, because he had a nifty little magnetic case on his desk for the sole purpose of holding paperclips and it was full! Cloud snatched it off the desk and bolted, turning the corner into the elevators just as angry yells echoed from the broken office. If he was going to die, it would be with honor, Cloud decided giddily, shaking the retrieved paperclips. Their clanging was the most beautiful sound he'd ever heard; The sound of success.
This time, the walk to the General's office was a vindication and when the man opened the door, Cloud held the paperclips out proudly, “SOLDIER issue paperclips, sir, as you requested.”
Sephiroth pulled a single paperclip out of the holder, leaving the rest on Cloud's outstretched hand. The General never would have lost a card game, Cloud realized, watching the man's face for any sign of approval.
“These came off the Director's desk,” Sephiroth stated damningly.
Cloud took a deep breath, “Yes sir.”
Then, just like the day before, instead of sending him off to be court marshaled, the General took the paperclips and nodded, “Very good. You're dismissed.”
It didn't matter how big his sword was, General Sephiroth was certifiable.
The third time General Sephiroth called for him, Cloud was ready. Or, at least, he was less unprepared than he had been before. There were no embarrassing noises or panicked eyes searching for the exit. Instead, he fell into a quick salute and begged, Please, no more paperclips.
“Cadet,” He called, just like before, with that inscrutable look on his face. The man was so serene, there had to be a crystalline lake somewhere ready to pull out his hair in a fit of jealous. Enigmatic, that was the word. Completely above and beyond hard to read.
“Yes sir!” Cloud barked, snapping to attention. Even his heels clicked together because today? Cloud was doing good.
“I need a bottle of Icicle Summer Brandy.”
“Uh, sir?” Cloud said timidly, speaking out for the first time. This was beyond coffee and paperclips. This was knowingly illegal. At least, maybe. Cloud was hoping not-so-much on the knowingly.
“Speak up, Cadet.”
“I, uh,” Cloud choked embarrassingly and rushed, “I'm under aged, sir!”
General Sephiroth raised an eyebrow and promptly turned Cloud into a bug, “I don't expect you to drink it, Cadet.”
And la-ti-fucking-da, twist and walk, he was gone and Cloud was left trying to find a bottle of Icicle Summer Brandy. Did Icicle even have summer?
Cloud didn't even know where to start with this one. Sure, he'd been drunk before. He knew where to find generally disgusting, but reasonably effective alcohol; he sincerely doubted Icicle Brandy of any variety was cheap enough only cadets and hobos would buy it. Maybe the General had a tab somewhere? He thought about it for a moment. Then he went looking for the secretaries.
Melinda was an angel. A gossipy bubble gum popping angel, but there was no way Cloud would have heard that the janitor on fourteenth said the janitor on seventh saw the janitor on forty-fifth delivering a box to one of the Turk apartments on fiftieth last week and Barney's girlfriend Jiho said none of the Turks have been drunk since it arrived which meant there was no way all the alcohol was gone already on his own.
It wasn't guaranteed to be what he wanted, but at least it was a start. Besides, Turks were known for the clean kill and Cloud was quickly becoming desensitized to the idea of impending doom. It hadn't happened yet. Likely, Cloud would come out of all this without a scratch only to die in a freak accident involving a pitchfork, a radiator, and a melted collaborator file.
Besides, he managed to out-smart three SOLDIERs, how hard were a bunch of suits?.
“What are you doing here?” A deep voice caught him off guard, looming behind him. Sunglasses, as Cloud's mind immediately dubbed him, was obviously the badassed brother of Noseless and was so much better at shameless intimidation. He could crush Cloud with his angry eyebrow furrows.
Sunglasses sighed and crossed his arms, “Reno didn't call another hooker, did he?”
“I-I, not,” Cloud strangled out, because this could go so badly if it involved any sexualized context of his – still spectacularly bruised – ass. He didn't want to see Sunglasses without pants!
“Of course he did,” Sunglasses huffed, but he didn't move to molest Cloud.(Thankfully. Oh, to all that was holy, he was grateful.) Instead, he pulled off a secret panel next to the door and pressed in a seemingly random series of number and opened the door. Sunglasses gave Cloud one last look and advised, “Steal whatever you want.”
Well, with an invitation like that, Cloud wasn't about to say no. He really hoped he wasn't going to be paying this favor back on his knees. That would be... awkward.
Closing the door softly, Cloud crept through the apartment, but no one jumped out at him with his johnny waving, so he relaxed and headed for the kitchen. Sure enough, the fridge was full of beer. Cloud grinned victoriously; even if he couldn't find any brandy, Cloud could still wander back to the General with something intoxicating.
Of course, that led to thoughts of why the General would need to get drunk – Could he get drunk? Stress? Recent break-up? Cloud frowned. Maybe the General wasn't drinking at all. It could be a gift. Oh, Cloud snapped his fingers, maybe General Sephiroth liked to cook! His mum sometimes used wine in the Yule sauce. Unlikely, but far more plausible than rampant alcoholism.
Sifting through the small kitchen, Cloud was blown away by the sheer volume of booze in one place. Finally, shoved in the small cabinets over the dirty stove, Cloud found the brandy stash. IT was too high for him to reach from the floor, but the counters – entirely unsanitary – were sturdy and Cloud hopped up without hesitation.
“Gotcha, ya bastard!” Someone yelled from the doorway and Cloud grabbed the nearest thing he could – a space jar that might have been oregano – and hurled it at the door. A streak of red ducked behind the wall and Cloud panicked. Speed reading the labels, he grabbed bottle after bottle of brandy and chucked them across the room at the first sight of red. It was hair, he thought, and anyone with hair that dangerous could probably kill him with their pinky.
How the hell had he forgotten Turks were dangerous assassins?
Then, to his amazement, Cloud realized the last bottle in the cabinet was an unopened bottle of Icicle Summer Brandy. Oh shit, his brain processed belatedly, the last bottle in the cabinet, but it was already too late. The Turk gave a bellowing war cry and barreled into the kitchen. In a last ditch effort, Cloud snatched the brandy and curled in on himself, falling off the counter just and the Turk slammed into him.
Cloud cracked his head on the floor and his knee hurt like that one time when Tifa bit him before buying her a doll for her birthday, but his butt landed on something soft and cushy so it wasn't all bad. He waited for the click of a gun or the sharp pain of a brutal stabbing, but the room was silent. Cloud cracked open an eyes and looked around.
Shifting incredulously, Cloud realized somehow he'd managed to land on the Turk. His knee hurt because it was planted firmly in the redhead's mouth and ow! He eased it out of his mouth with a wince and pulled up his pants. Double ow! He was going to have the man's dental record scared into his knee forever!
Of course, it didn't look like the Turk's teeth would ever be quite the same again.
Guiltily, Cloud slunk out of the apartment, slowly picking pieces of glass out of his skin as he dragged himself back to the General's office.
Tiredly, Cloud started fitting the pieces together and developed a theory. Obviously, this was his penance for breaking curfew. The reason the sergeants were so kind was being the General had seen him that night and the man was a mad genius in the art of torture. Never again would Cloud look on Fieldmen's missing toes with pity; the man was a lucky bastard.
Cloud pounded on the door and glared mutinously when Sephiroth answered. He popped a salute and spat, “Your brandy, sir.”
Sephiroth claimed the bottle and inspected the label with a long hum, “This bottle is fifteen years old, Cadet.”
Cloud ground his teeth and didn't say a word.
“A good year,” Sephiroth smiled with a nod, “well done.”
Cloud stared numbly, vaguely recognizing the need to acknowledge orders and leave. He was dragging himself away when the General added, “And Strife? Go get yourself cleaned up. That's an order.”
“Yes sir,” Cloud nodded, shocked.
Life took a turn for the charmingly domestic after that. Cloud found himself receiving urgent orders to deliver the General's coffee at four a.m. every morning, (announced gleefully by the loudest of his sergeant in the middle of the barracks. Cloud was not making friends.) and fetching forms and office supplies in the afternoon. It was brilliantly evil, but oddly enough, Cloud was coming to enjoy himself.
It wasn't all bad, really. He did get a steady supply of pudding cups in reward for his hard work. Sephiroth, as Cloud was coming to comfortably think of him, rarely said things plainly, but it only took one lecture on the impact of malnourishment in the military for Cloud to catch his drift and eat whatever extras he left behind of his meals. Hence, pudding cups. Cloud was rather certain there was no nutritional value in them at all, but buttercup pudding was his favorite and he could easily justify it with 'But the General said!'.
The ceiling slowly took a new shine and Cloud proudly noted there was a difference between the scrubbed portion. It was faint, but years of dust and grim in the air had turned white ceiling panels slightly gray. Cloud had a feeling if he ever found himself in trouble again, his work would be moved to the walls and call it a clean sweep.
His hands suffered from the work, but sometime during the second week, Cloud found a bottle of medicinal skin repair cream propped idly on the utility sink and used it to rub down his hands every night.
He wasn't late for curfew again.
Things, in short, were going splendid. That's why he was alarmed when he realized Sephiroth hadn't called him into his office for nearly a week. The General hadn't been sent away; Cloud still had standing orders to deliver his coffee every morning, but Sephiroth wasn't there. He didn't call for his meals or have Cloud run papers to the secretaries. Admittedly, the secretary thing is what caught Cloud's attention. Melinda was supposed to keep him informed about the baby scandal down in public relations. She said that Connie heard that Sheryl was suing her husband, Dolino, the head supervisor, because her cousin Robby saw his room mate's stepsister sleeping with Dolino's secretary who was pregnant with his love child, but Lir in the mail room said it wasn't Dolino's baby at all and that his partner was sleeping with Sheryl while they staged the affair to get more money in the divorce. Cloud wanted to know who was winning.
When Cloud finally saw Sephiroth return to his office with bruised eyes and a stiff gait, he decided to stage and intervention. For a whole afternoon, he left the General alone and let him to call Cloud in on his own, but he didn't. Cloud spent that evening pondering while he scrubbed the ceiling, outlining his master plan.
First: Double the morning coffee and bring a steady supply of oranges. Or, was it apples? Both. Sephiroth a was a large man, he could use the food. If he argued, Cloud would just repeat his malnutrition speech. Those recall skills had to be good for something. Wait, didn't caffeine cause blood pressure problems? This was no time to be sloppy. Not more coffee. Warm milk and a cup of tea.
Second: Regular meals. Cloud couldn't hover behind his desk all day, but he did have his meals available; sort of. No one actually checked on him anymore. They all assumed Sephiroth would nail him to the ceiling if he went missing, which was an admittedly stupid expectation, considering he was the General of the entire Shin-ra Army; surely he had better things to do than stalk a cadet? Meals should be filled with veggies and lean meats, according to Cloud's health manual, and carbs were reserved for active lifestyles. Did Sephiroth have an active lifestyle? Cloud always saw him in the office, but sometimes he really wasn't there (versus the cowardly hiding he'd taken to). Best over-feed him; being fat hadn't killed Heidegger yet.
By this point, Cloud was hunkered in his bunk with a flashlight, reading through the health standards for SOLIDER, outlining the suggested practices for good health.
Third and Lastly: Sanitation. Cloud had never seen the General wash his hands before or after a meal, or used tissue when he sneezed – Not that Cloud ever saw him sneeze, but there weren't any tissues in his office, so it wasn't an unreasonable assumption, and Cloud was starting t o wonder if he even showed, what with the gross lack in hygiene he was demonstrating in the other areas of his life! Okay, no, he showered. No one's hair was that shiny without daily TLC, but it was still a valid point. Cloud mainly gave up the idea because he had no way to overseeing whether the General bathed regularly or not other than the sniff test and that was a little intrusive, even for him.
Four a.m. rolled around and Cloud was ready. The sergeant didn't hadn't even opened his mouth by the time Cloud was out the door. Tea was a hard commodity to come by this early, but Cloud – as always – just asked Melinda and she had on good authority that the scientist kept a constant flow of all liquid stimulants going in their break room. She didn't tell him how she knew that, but he let her have her secrets just this once. If he were being honest, Cloud wouldn't risk tattling on the scientists, either. They could give you Gongagan Septicemia without leaving any evidence, at least, that's what Melinda said happened to a SOLIDER second that broke up with the Assistant lead Doctor on the medical staff. It was really best just to keep your nose clean around those needle-types.
However, for Sephiroth, Cloud was willing to steal their tea. It would be his most dangerous mission yet, but for all the danger attached, it much easier than he anticipated. None of the doors were locked and the tired white coats sleeping on the table barely so much as twitched when he walked in. Cloud was in and out in less that thirty seconds and he was off the floor in less that two minutes. He was rather impressed with himself. Of course, he couldn't let himself get sloppy. Cloud would be running this gauntlet ever morning for the foreseeable future until Sephiroth was well enough to fend for himself again.
Knowing how those brilliant types let themselves go, Cloud might be doing this forever. The idea didn't bother him as much as he thought it would.
Next, was the food. The kitchen crew were almost as scary as the scientist, but they had one noticeable difference. As long as he didn't actually touch anything in the kitchens with his grubby unworthy hands, all Cloud had to do was ask and they'd pile him with food. By four-thirty, Cloud had a full continental breakfast prepared and on it's steaming way to the desk of one General Sephiroth – and wasn't it odd he had no last name, but that really wasn't the important. Though, Melinda said that the historical committee that met in the office lounge every Thursday thought that Sephiroth's missing surname was largely impacted by the social ramifications of Wutain culture during the Fu-wen Dynasty of the third century post-epoch. Cloud wasn't sure what that meant, but it sounded like a load of crap
If Cloud had been uncertain about his plan – which he wasn't because something needed to be done – finding Sephiroth sleeping on his desk at a quarter til cemented his resolve. Someone needed serious mothering. Cloud crept back out of the office and eased the door shut. He waited a few seconds before knocking loudly, “Sir, Breakfast!”
There wasn't a sound from the desk, but Sephiroth called back without hesitation, “Enter, Cadet Strife.”
Cloud walked in with a bright smile, ignoring the mushroom tone to his skin and set out the food on Sephiroth's immaculate desk. “I have your honey tea, a mug of warm milk – Toma, not Blugu, three eggs, a side of toast, and a piece of sausage fresh off the griddle.”
“Blugus produce milk?” Sephiroth asked blearily, which was much like Cloud's version of mildly confused, but he quickly shook his head and noted, “Where is my coffee?”
“It's against orders, sir,” Cloud said solemnly.
Mine, Cloud didn't say, instead pressing, “Due to the current health concerns involving coffee's high caffeine concentration and low nutritional value, I have been ordered to restrict your caffeine intake to minor teas.”
“On whose orders, cadet?” The general asked coolly, looming towards him across the desk. Cloud held his ground and set his jaw.
“That's classified, Sir,” Cloud insisted, crossing his fingers.
“My supervised diet is classified?”
Don't turn red, Cloud begged himself, “Yes sir.”
He leaned back in his set and relaxed, “I'll have you know, Cadet Strife, that nothing in my medical file is classified above my knowledge.”
And, oddly enough, Cloud had the urge to call his hero a dirty, dirty liar. It was something about the tilt of his head and the cast of his eyes toward the window that just caught Cloud as... wrong. Deceiving. However, it didn't matter if Cloud believed it or not. The General was the one who needed convincing, “First time for everything, sir?” Cloud offered cheerfully and set out his breakfast without another word.
But, even with all his effort, the Sephiroth didn't get better. Bruises appeared under his eyes and his pale skin turned waxy. When Cloud not-so-subtly sent him to bed at 6 O'Clock, he didn't argue or pin Cloud to the wall with a disapproving glare. Things were becoming desperate.
Cloud didn't start his crusade with the intentions of being a big fat thief, but it was fast going that way. He'd already 'borrowed' a Restore from the Trooper stores and left it on Sephiroth's desk – he wasn't there when he found it, so Cloud wasn't much sure how that went – but it was time for desperate measures.
Cloud was willing to risk Gongagan Septicemia to save Sephiroh, and by gum, he'd better be grateful for it when Cloud died a horrifyingly boil-filled death. Coffee was one thing; it was a precious natural resource, but Shin-ra's stores were endless and no one noticed a cup here or there, but medical supplies? They'd be less offended if he drowned babies in the bathroom sinks. That, at least, wouldn't interfere with their work.
Cloud spent days of recon learning the doctors' schedules the third examination room on the left was always empty between four thirty and seven fifteen when that one hairy doctor tumbled into it with his toothless assistant – Cloud wasn't sure what they saw in each other, but he wasn't about to interrupt an ask . It was precisely four fifty-three right now and Cloud wanted to be in and out before his stop watch beeped at five.
He waited for the halls to clear and dashed inside, easing the door shut the last inch so it didn't slam. No one was supposed to be here. Quiet as a mouse. Come on, Cloud, this was the moment of truth. All the training you've gone through was for this moment. Oh, not helping. Less intense, then. It's not like he hadn't stuck his nose in places it didn't belong before! It was probably just as illegal to break into, well, everywhere he'd broken into already. So, what was another feather in his cap? The scientists were so oblivious, Cloud could run through the room naked and no one would notice.
At least, he hoped.
It was three minutes later, while he was digging through the closet, that the handle began to turn and Cloud did the only thing he could think of. He hid under the exam table. There was a long sheet hanging over the edge, he told himself later, so it wasn't a completely ridiculous idea, but the moment he saw Sephiorth's shiny boots cross the floor, he knew his life was over. The man had hearing like a mutant cat. If Cloud so much as breathed – oh, Hell, STOP BREATHING! - or twitched, or scratched, he would know.
Luckily, the Doctor had an ear splitting nasal drone and he started in on 'the lab results' about the time Cloud started to turn an unhealthy blue color. “The tests are promising, but it's hardly indicitive of solid empirical evidence. You've changed your eating habits again, I see. You realize this sort of behavior nullifies my lab results? Of course you do.” The Doctor sneered and Cloud was shocked clean out of his boots. No one spoke to Sephiroth that way. Cloud hadn't heard a voice that disgusted since he knocked over the baker's table back in Nibelheim.
“The tests are interfering with my work,” Sephiroth stated simply, but the lack of command behind the words made it obvious he knew they wouldn't be taken with any real consideration.
The doctor snorted, “Yes, yes, your work. Filing papers; as if I spent the last thirty years working on a glorified typewriter. Now, this injection will stabilize in half the time if things go according to my findings – and they will, or I will have you imported to the labs for extended observations. I'll hear no complaints, you're hardly in high demand.”
Cloud ground his teeth and listed all the reasons why kicking the creepy little bastard in the shins right now would be a bad idea. None of them were very convincing except 'Sephiroth wouldn't want me here'. Cloud was always a sucker when it came to guilt.
“There. Now, I have experiments to look in on. I will be back shortly,” The door couldn't close fast enough for Cloud and he let out a heavy sigh before he remembered he still wasn't alone. Of course, Sephiroth would know he was here, now. Hiding wasn't really and option.
Cringing in shame, Cloud crawled out and pulled to his feet, apologizing, “I'm sorry, Dir! I didn't mean to listen in, I was just looking for, um, something and – and, Sir?” Cloud stopped. Sephiroth was prone on the examination table, still as death and barely breathing. “Sir,” Cloud tried again, timidly shaking his shoulder.
“Don't worry,. Sir,” Cloud said suddenly, “I'll get you out of here.”
Brilliant is as brilliant does and that, Cloud was swiftly learning, did not include him. Sephiroth was a very large man with long legs and long arms and long hair, and when he was less than capable of coordinating all of them together, he was very floppy. Cloud heaved Sephiroth's slumping weight across his shoulders and hoped the man's leaning walk would hold up until they reached his rooms. Cloud pulled their sides together tightly when the General started to list towards the floor.
“Come on,” Cloud pleaded, “You can do it! We're out of the labs it's just uh,” How many floors was it to Sephiroth's quarters? Cloud didn't know. “Um,” he asked hopefully, “Sir, what floor do you live on?”
Sephiroth didn't respond, but Cloud knew he wouldn't. The man was staring off into nothing at his best and rarely was Cloud lucky enough to keep him that conscious.
“Shoot, “Cloud cursed, pulling them into a side door. He propped Sephiroth against the wall and held him up, taking a breather. Where do go, where to go, he pondered furiously. Maybe Cloud could stash him in the barracks? No one stayed there unless they had to. Surely the other boys were out practicing, er, something. Something smart.
“Hey, sir!' Cloud whispered brightly, pulling Sephiroth's right arm back over his shoulders. “Have you ever been to the cadet barracks? I bet you haven't. Well, it is your lucky day! I bet you're real eager to see what we put up with. The beds are tiny and the mattresses stink and our laundry is only down twice a week. There's twelve beds a room and that's twenty-four boys a room and we sweat every day. Can you imagine the smell? It's ok, you won't have to. Soon you'll know.”
Cloud rambled about his living arrangements as he crept through the quiet side halls, waiting in corners until he could pull Sephiroth into the elevators and hoping no one was waiting on the next floor. He gracelessly hauled him down the two flights of stairs to avoid the lobby elevator – He remembered getting caught once; he wasn't doing that again.
The courtyard was one giant line-of-sight risk, but it wasn't curfew, so no one cared who dragged their drunk buddies back to their rooms. However, the hair... Worried his lip before stripping off his jacket and draping it over the General's head. “Sorry,” he whispered, “it's the only think I could think of.”
Oh, shit! “Sword!” He squeaked, wondering how he hadn't tripped over the seven-foot nightmare. Except, oh, very nice. Convenient. Cloud pat Sephiroth on the chest appreciatively, “I'm really grateful you decided to leave your sword wherever you leave it when you're not wearing it. If anyone asks, I can say you're just that real tall kid from group three, the one with costume fetish. It's not like they can see your face!” He pointed out triumphantly. “Ya know, this might work.”
Grasping every ounce of confidence he had, Cloud opened door and hauled Sephiroth across the green, acting every bit the exasperated friend after a wild time. It was a little unusual for this early in the evening, but it wasn't weird enough for anyone to worry about. He got dumped, Cloud decided, and left it at that.
Luckily, none of his excuses were put to the test and they made it to the barracks without delay. Relief coursed through him. Home free, just another sixteen meters. When they reached the door, Cloud leaned Sephiroth back gently, pleased to see his eyes were staying open and he was balancing more or less well enough to stay upright. Cloud stepped back and held his hand out cautiously, waiting a moment to see if he'd spontaneously slid to the floor, but the General really standing better.
Grinning, Cloud opened the door the door and completely lost his shit. The room was packed. There were pizzas piled on every available surface and at least two other bunks were wedged into their admittedly larger than average room, which was still nowhere big enough no one would notice him stashing General Sephiroth in his bed. Not to mention, the tall kid from troop three was playing the air guitar by the window and Cloud didn't have a plan B.
“Strife!” Someone called, “Thought you were busting your ass upstairs!”
“Uh,” Cloud panicked, “I don't feel very good. Igottago!” He rushed and slammed the door.
Voices came from down the hall and Cloud hyperventilated as they grew closer. Out of options, Cloud snatched Sephiroth by the lapel of his jacket and hauled him through the bathroom door, pushing him into the only stall. He slammed the door and locked it, panting against the cool metal.
So, that didn't go so hot, Cloud concluded. He leaned against the door and watched Sephiroth sit on the toilet and gaze sightlessly at the corner of the stall. Cloud ran a hand through his hair and tried to rationalize. There had to be some place Cloud could put the General until he felt more like himself. He couldn't risk the medical department because Hojo was doubtlessly feral over the interrupting in his evil plans.
Well, Cloud thought they were evil; Hojo just didn't seem very nice. He probably kicked puppies.
Before Cloud could figure out an answer to his problem, the bathroom door opened and he abruptly remembered all the 'four feet in the bathroom' jokes he'd heard and promptly scaled the toilet. There wasn't quite enough room for him to stand on the narrow silver pump so he set his other foot on the paper dispenser and hoped it held. It wasn't like he was a big guy or anything. Cloud hunched down so his hair didn't pop above the walls and realized Sephiroth hair – long, floppy, evil hair – was touching the floor. Cursing internally, Cloud squeezed his eyes shut and chanted 'Don't fall, don't fall,' over and over in his head, carefully gather the soft silver strand around one hand and wrapping the mess around his arm until not a piece dangled in sight.
He held his breath and waited.
“Hey, Strife! Come on, mna! Some of us've got to shit!” Burgundy called, pounding on the door.
“I -” Cloud squeaked embarrassingly, “I've got the runs!”
“Are you shitting me!” Burgundy bellowed and Cloud tried to forget he was fully capable of making Cloud's life a living hell. Burgundy was six feet of mean.
Sephiroth suddenly groaned and Cloud's hand shot out and pulled his head back against his thigh, hand clasp tightly over his mouth. “Oh, Hel!” Cloud yelled, “It burns! I can't stop!” He winced at his stupid dialogue, but Burgundy was gagging and making rude comments on his way out the door, so Cloud called it a win. He was going to get so much shit for this later.
Then, to his horror, a leather clad hand reached up and removed his hand from the General's mouth. “Cadet,” Sephiroth growled, “Would you care to explain what, exactly, is going on?”
“Not really, sir,” Cloud babbled before he could stop himself.
“Strife,” He warned, leaning heavily into Cloud's leg.
“Uh,” Cloud blinked, resisting the urge to pet his hair soothingly like his mother used had when Cloud was ill, “It was a rescue mission, sir,” he blushed, “Only it's gone a bit pear-shaped.”
“Mm,” he agreed.
“Are you, um,” Cloud shrugged, “I think it would help if I knew where your rooms were, sir. I tried to take you there earlier, but, well, I got a bit lost.”
Sephiroth sighed and nodded into Cloud's leg, “If you'd be so kind as to help me stand, Cadet?”
“Er, Yessir,” Cloud clamored quickly back to the floor and eased Sephiroth to his feet. The General was supporting his own weight, but it was obvious his balance was still shot.
Cracking the door open, Cloud scanned the bathroom and found it empty. “All clear,” he whispered, edging them out.
He repeated the process back across the courtyard, covering the General's head with his jacket sheepishly. Luckily, Sephiroth seemed more amused than offended and Cloud counted it as a good sign he wasn't going to be shot when this was all over.
Once the reached the elevator, Sephiroth slide his access card through the reader and it was all over. Cloud blinked.
“That was easy,” he said.
Sephiroth chuckled lightly, leaning heavily to the left. Cloud slipped under his arm again to catch him. Sephiroth cracked an eye, “I must ask, Cadet, why you didn't take me to my office after you failed to find your way to my room.”
Cloud stared at him, “Your office?”
Sephiroth raised an eyebrow expectantly.
“I,” Cloud stuttered,mortified, “I just didn't think of it, sir.”
“Mm.” Sephiroth hummed leaving Cloud wondering what he thought of the whole mess.
It was just safer to shut up and hope, Cloud decided, watching the number tick by. Finally, the door opened and they lurched forward down the hall. There were only three suits on this floor and the first was Sephiroth's, much to Cloud's relief. Another swipe of Sephiroth's access card and they were in.
“Bed?” Cloud asked, taking in the minimalist furniture and clean white walls. If his ego wasn't so bruised, Cloud would have found the black, white, and silver motif amusing. As it was, when Sephiroth nodded towards the far door, Cloud hurried him over. He wanted this nightmare to be over.
The bedroom matched what Cloud saw of the living area, except the bedding was dark blue. He helped Sephiroth find the mattress and moved to the door.
“A moment,” Sephiroth called, waving him back over. He unbuckled his jacket sloppily, “Your assistance, please?”
Cloud cleared his throat nervously and pointedly didn't think about the fact he was undressing Sephiroth, instead being as clinical as he could. He folded the jacket at the foot of the bed.
“My boots,” Sephiroth sighed after he nearly tumbled off the bed reaching for his right foot. Cloud nodded silently and pulled them off easily, followed by the tight leather pants. Cloud set the boots on the floor and folded the pants on top of Sephiroth's jacket.
“Anything else, … Sir?” Cloud trailed off. Sephiroth was asleep, collapsed on his side on top of the comforter. Cloud blushed and looked around the room for a moment, as if he was afraid they'd suddenly garnered an audience, but it was still just the pair of them. He did notice masamune on the wall and grinned.
There was no sense waking Sephiroth just to pull the covers over him, so Cloud reached across the bed and folded the blankets over him like Cloud remembered as a child. When he and Tifa went camping in the winter, they took tarps with them and wrapped their sleeping bags up like burritos. It made Cloud laugh a little. He picked up the folded clothes and moved them to the side table so he could pull the rest of the blanket over and cover the long pale feet.
“Ya know,” Cloud whispered softly so not to wake him, “You're not all that scary this way.”
“I didn't realize I was frightening otherwise,” Sephiroth muttered sleepily, cracking one green eye opening.
Cloud choked, “I,”
“Shh,” Sephiroth chuckled. “Get some sleep, Cadet. You deserve it.”
Cloud huffed, but he smiled quietly, “You too, sir.”