Written 18 September 2007
Not sure I got across what I was going for, but it made me smile while writing if nothing else.
Unbetaed. Warning for fluff.
The minimum age to join the ShinRa military was sixteen. Not because the company was worried about the moral implications of giving children murder weapons, but for the simple fact that as an adolescent, even a few years could make quite a difference in mentality and physical development. Appearing to be against what could be called ‘child labor’ was also good for PR.
This hadn’t stopped Cloud. Fueled by fourteen years of prejudice and watching his mother go through life as a ghost, he had taken all the money he’d scrounged himself, hitchhiked to the eastern coast, and bought the cheapest ticket he could on the next ship bound for Midgar. It was like being dumped into the shocking iciness of a Nibel river; overwhelming, hardly believable, breath-taking—and for a boy raised in an isolated mountain village, the city was a bizarre and nightmarish carnival of morbid fascination.
Cloud was undeniably a pretty boy, but he wasn’t stupid. The villagers had never been kind, and the few stories he’d heard from his mother said that cities were even worse. So when the occasional filthy look was sent his way, or just-as-filthy persons stepped too near, he put the rusty knife stolen from his mother’s cupboard to good use.
The recruit officers weren’t stupid either. They knew the boy wasn’t sixteen—was barely into puberty, from the looks of him. But what he lacked in maturity he made up for in pure mulish stubbornness, haunting the recruitment offices for over a week before the officers gave in with the belief that he’d probably drop out within a month anyway.
He didn’t. His body was pushed to the extremes, young muscles not quite capable of keeping up with the older cadets. Hands more accustomed to the small hunting knives typical of outlying villages fit awkwardly around his rifle. But Cloud clung to his dream with the tenacity of a limpet, unwilling or simply unable to let go.
Disappointment was a bitterness that he was very familiar with, but failing the SOLDIER tests almost broke him.
The moment he’d turned sixteen, Zack waved goodbye to his overly concerned parents and never looked back. He made his way to Midgar, charmed the officers, and entered SOLDIER with the knowledge that he was going to be someone. Not a jungle boy from a town smaller than his fingernail on a map, or the son expected to grow up and enter the family business; he was going to be a hero.
His easy confidence and natural talent quickly made him popular, near the top of his class, and for a while he felt like he was living his dream in a city that was fantasy-turned-reality. He had friends, and a mentor, and sometimes he even got missions alongside General Sephiroth himself.
The Wutai War was a reality check that was more like a grenade to the head. Zack saw what happened to so-called warriors, saw men torn into pieces and others die in terror, without any of the courage so lauded by ShinRa rhetoric. Afterwards, when they called Sephiroth a hero, Zack kept to himself the things he’d really seen (how the General fought like a machine, all efficient cruelty and without any idea of remorse).
Zack wanted nothing more than to be the stuff of legend, but if it meant that he couldn’t laugh or joke or be human, for the Planet’s sake—well, he’d just have to redefine what it meant to be a hero. Even if it meant getting Sephiroth’s trademark look of exasperation.
Hojo would have been quite angry to know that for all the ways he’d controlled and conditioned Sephiroth as he grew up, the man still had his moments of whimsy.
Most people wouldn’t have called these moments ‘whimsical,’ perhaps, but Sephiroth had always been discouraged from questioning his station in life, or imagining something different than what he had. Weapons had no need to do so, after all. Even so, usually in the hours between and dawn when even ShinRa slept and the world held still, he wondered what it would be like to be anyone other than himself.
What would it be like to have family? Not ones like Hojo, who poked and measured and reduced Sephiroth to a series of chemical equations. But ones who woke him up to the smell of pancakes, or eggs, with love shared as easily as air.
What would it be like to have a home? Not the Spartan quarters provided for him by the military, but a real home, where coffee rings were left on counters and shoes scattered by the door, where laundry got mixed up until no one knew what belonged to whom but no one really cared anyway.
What would it be like…to just be normal? Not a hero or a soldier or anything other than just himself, just Sephiroth, who woke up every morning with a rat’s nest for hair and who loved tea, who had a fondness for Wutaian music.
Sephiroth once asked Zack and Cloud, in one of those very rare moments. It’d been two or three in the morning, when the sky was still dark and it was okay for him to loosen that ironclad self-control. Zack was sprawled over the bed, entirely unashamed of his nakedness, while Cloud had wrapped his smaller body in a sheet and curled into Sephiroth’s side. Both looked at the general with utter confusion, and it took Sephiroth a moment to realize that with all things considered, they had no more an idea of what ‘normal’ was than he did.
“Well, for one, you wouldn’t be getting such awesome sex from two of ShinRa’s most handsome men ever,” Zack grinned, tilting his head back into the mattress slightly so he could look up at his General.
On his other side, Sephiroth could feel the warmth from Cloud’s cheek increase as he blushed. Quietly, the cadet said, “I…don’t know about normal, I think. But there’s no use wanting the impossible.”
Zack reached an arm over Sephiroth’s sheet-covered legs so he could lightly smack Cloud. “Oi, don’t be so pessimistic, kiddo. Where would we be without dreams, huh?”
Cloud pressed himself farther into Sephiroth’s side, as though trying to prove to himself that all this was indeed real. “It’s one thing to have a dream, and another to want something that’ll never happen anyway,” he murmured.
“Cloud,” Zack said quite seriously, turning onto his side and propping his head up on one hand, “you can still be a SOLDIER. You know that. Just be patient.”
One of Sephiroth’s hands was absently tracing patterns on Cloud’s leg. The other had been taken captive by Zack, who was amusing himself by playing with the general’s long fingers. Cloud looked away for a moment, shaking his head slightly, then said almost inaudibly, “I know. I mean…I mean. All the villagers, they were…normal. I think. I tried too, but it didn’t work, it just made things worse. So why—why do things on other people’s terms?”
Sephiroth was silent. He often was, usually because he didn’t care to lower himself enough to communicate on the same level of incompetence that most of ShinRa took as the status quo. With Cloud and Zack, however, it was because he was trying to figure out the paradoxes these two presented him with.
“I had a normal family,” Zack said suddenly. The other two looked at him, startled by what was usually an untouched subject; not because it was painful, but simply because there wasn’t really anything interesting to say about it. “Mom, Dad, family dog named Mr. Snuggles. I loved them, still do of course, but it was boring. I swear if I had to skin one more Touch Me to sell at market I was going to go insane.”
Cloud had never quite dared to believe Zack’s stories about Touch Me frogs, and he wore a strange expression that made a fleeting smile cross Sephiroth’s face. It was times like these that the general was reminded just how young Cloud really was; it was easy to forget, otherwise, with the way the blond’s eyes were often narrowed with distrust at the world. Not like Zack, who’d seen Sephiroth at his most violent in Wutai and could still stand to tease him, touch him, completely trusting the powerful general not to hurt him.
“…’Mr. Snuggles’?” Sephiroth had never had a pet of his own, but he didn’t think this was a common name.
Zack grinned again and shrugged a shoulder. “Named him that just to hear my old man say ‘snuggles.’ He looked like he was eating a lemon every time, and man, it was awesome.”
Cloud smothered a laugh against Sephiroth’s ribs. Zack flopped back down against the pillows, giving Sephiroth’s fingers one last affectionate squeeze. “Nah, you’d be bored with a normal life, buddy.”
Would he, though? If he could trade a lifetime of Hojo and labs with just skinning Touch Me frogs for a family market, in return having a family—Planet, even a dog instead of a seven-foot weapon of war…
A small hand, calloused from weapons and growing up in the harsh mountains, rested on Sephiroth’s bare forearm hesitantly. It’d taken a few months, but Cloud was slowly growing bolder, more confident, when the three of them were like this.
“My mum…she came from the city. I don’t know which one, she didn’t like talking about it much.” Cloud bit his lip briefly, not quite daring to look up, and shifted under the sheet wrapped around him. “She used to sit by the window all the time, just watching, with this really sad smile. Everyone thought she was…touched in the head, or something. And I thought that if I made her proud, she might…breathe again. Some of the villagers, they said I should just learn how to hunt or tend the inn or whatever, keep my head out of the clouds. Be a man.”
It was more than he tended to say all at once and much more personal. He obviously realized this as an embarrassed flush stole over his cheeks, visible even in the darkness of Sephiroth’s bedroom, but he pushed himself on gamely with the same stubbornness as ever.
“But if I’d listened to them, I would’ve never…I wouldn’t be here.”
He glanced at Zack and Sephiroth from under his spiky hair, then turned his eyes away again quickly. Sephiroth caught the cadet’s hand before it could leave his forearm.
“And I wouldn’t…want to give this up for anyone, or anything,” he finished in a whisper.
Sephiroth blinked slowly. Zack was often too blunt with his and everyone else's emotions, not allowing the general to hide himself, and that pain could make him coldly defensive. But Cloud softened that bluntness, made it less dangerous, more reasonable.
The mattress lurched as Zack suddenly threw himself across Sephiroth’s legs. The blond squawked in surprise and probably would have fallen off the bed if lanky arms hadn’t wrapped themselves around him like an octopus. The general just sighed and stoically bore the weight over his thighs.
“You,” Zack said emphatically, voice slightly muffled by unruly hair, “are the most loveable thing ever.”
“Za~ack!” Cloud groaned, flailing in his sheet. He turned his eyes to Sephiroth, pleading for help, but Sephiroth just gave him the small smile that turned up a corner of his lips.
A brief tussle ensued. Sephiroth watched them, knowing it wasn’t jealousy he was feeling, at least not at their closeness. It was...something less dark, but just as painful. He was well aware that his knowledge of social interactions was textbook at best—that is, he’d been taught that psychological theory could be applied to every human, that surface differences ultimately didn’t mean much, and he’d never really cared before. But now, he was seeing two people wrestle with no deeper purpose than simply Zack trying to pull the sheet off a mortified Cloud.
“Zack, stop being such a pervert!”
“Kiddo, you’re naked in bed with two superior officers. There isn’t much more perverted than that—at least, that we’ve done so far.” Cue suggestive eyebrow wiggling.
It was…wistfulness. A wish to understand how Zack could be so childish and yet so talented an officer. How Cloud could put so much responsibility and pressure on himself, and still manage that rare sunny smile that’d never yet failed to pull an answering one from Sephiroth. Zack’s seemingly endless well of loyal camaraderie and affection, Cloud’s ability to understand the words left unspoken.
Arms were suddenly wrapping around his shoulders. Sephiroth found himself holding a very naked Cloud, who ignored said nakedness in favor of sticking his tongue out at a cackling, sheet-wielding Zack. Without thinking (Hojo would be absolutely horrified to see his divine creation acting so human) he pulled Cloud close enough to squish the air from the boy’s lungs. Cloud made an ‘oomph’ sound, and then a ‘hmmm’ sound when he was kissed breathless.
(Once upon a time Sephiroth would never have dreamed of such impetuousness, but that was before Zack’s life and Cloud’s love forced themselves under his skin.)
Somewhere nearby, Zack’s evil laughter had calmed to a very real smile as he twined one hand into Sephiroth’s hair, the other resting on the low curve of Cloud’s spine. Hojo was the only person Sephiroth had ever had physical contact with outside combat, and he didn’t think he could ever get tired of Zack’s solid weight against his side and Cloud’s slighter one pressed against his chest. They weren’t perfect people, or even particularly normal ones, but perhaps that was exactly what Sephiroth needed to remind himself that he didn’t have to be either.
Wee, off to dance class now. X3