Disclaimer: Still can't program a computer worth a shit, nonetheless make an intricate plot to go with said programming.

Author Notes: Um... Indirect quote from "Very Secret Diaries of the Fellowship," by Cassandra Claire.

Warning: Refer to prologue

Rating: Eventually NC-17

Beta: As always, the unoccupied Malfoy >>_>> at malfoyhima@yahoo.com


Chapter IV

By tir-synni


Cloud was falling. Not only was he falling but he was falling pretty damn fast.

He threw his head back and stared at the frustrated faces of the demons. Through his wildly flying blond hair, he could see them clawing at the air. If they were shrieking, as hinted at by their snapping jaws, the wind in his ears drowned out the sound.

Cloud tore his attention away from them and looked down. His apartment was on the sixth floor. If he was a normal human, the fall would kill him. As it was, he wasn't planning on hitting the ground straight off anyway.

A gloved hand snatched at a metal rod sticking out of the wall. It gave, the Loveless banner at its edge fluttering wildly. Cloud's stomach went topsy-turvy as the rod snapped him back into the air. Cloud kicked his legs up. They flew over his head, and he pulled them into his chest. Cloud gripped the bare skin tightly and closed his eyes. His senses shrieked at him, and Cloud's eyes snapped open. His legs extended, and he landed on the roof of a small building. Perfect flip and landing. When his heart stopped pounding so quickly, he would pat himself on the back.

"Guess that trick works for more than just getting away from crowded elevators," Cloud quipped. His bare feet did not get the joke.

A roar cut short Cloud's twisted mirth, and he whirled around. Behind him, another large demon crawled its way onto the roof. The black creature bared knife-like fangs at him, and Cloud swallowed hard. He made to move backwards, but another hiss stopped him. He darted a look behind him. His big blue eyes met a pair of icy red ones. Another set of claws scratched at the roof, and another. To his left, a muscular onyx beast was stalking him. Cloud growled.

"First Hojo and Jenova, then Tifa, and now these freaks," Cloud grunted, growing tense. "What's with me and attracting the monsters from beyond?"

Spotting an opening, Cloud began to run. The creatures followed, smearing the blood left by his torn feet.


"Hey, you two!" Elena yelled. "We have a job!"

Reno and Rude both leaped to their feet. Reno knocked down his chair. Rude knocked down the table they had been playing cards on, plus the whiskey bottles they had been drinking. They had been doing their damnedest to get a buzz, and they had been failing miserably. Damned Mako.

"What's going on?" Reno perked up. Rude looked up hopefully, too. Much as he loved Reno, the lovely redhead was horrible to be around when he was bored, and lately he had been bored out of his mind. Thus he had been using Elena and Rude for entertainment, and Rude was getting tired of pulling grenades out of the young woman's tense hands. Perhaps this venture would give Elena another target besides the capricious redhead.

"Monsters, attacking downtown," Elena informed them excitedly. "Some new breed. The closest match they can find is Chaos, Valentine's other form. They're not as strong, but they're still wiping people out. Reeve's secretary said he offered to pay us a bundle to help get it under control." She paused, remembering something. "Oh, yeah. Almost all of AVALANCHE will meet us there--Hey! Wait for me!"

While Elena chattered, Reno and Rude already scooped up their weapons and materia and headed out the door. "Even Cloud?" Reno tossed over his shoulder. Rude glared at him, an admirable task when you're at a dead run. He did not like the way Reno looked at the blue-eyed ex-SOLDIER. Reno was his, dammit!

With a spurt of speed, Elena caught up to them. "Nope! He's been missing for the last two years! Lockhart's been the only one to look for him."

Reno smiled maniacally. "Maybe this will flush him out of hiding."

Rude growled.


"Holy shit!" Cloud cursed, diving to one side. A long claw scraped his bare thigh, and Cloud almost lost his balance before landing in a neat roll. Another reached for him, but Cloud was too fast. He dived between one demon's legs, his lithe, slender body easily slipping through the gap, then tore into a run.

"They don't want to kill me," Cloud gasped, strong legs sprinting over the rooftop. With one push, he leaped to the ground. Bending his knees softened the landing, and leaving two bloodied traces behind, Cloud resumed running. Several loud roars thundered behind him. Damn, was that the sound of wings? "They just want to capture me. Otherwise, they'd be a lot meaner. But why does a bunch of monsters go around trying to capture people? It doesn't make any sense!"

Another demon sought to cut off the blond. Instantly, Cloud made to backtrack, but a second was behind him. Their ruby eyes dug into his, and for the first time, Cloud noticed the Mako glow. "Oh, fuck."

{Just give in, my child. Go with them and help bring around a new millennium.}

Cloud flinched and darted another look around. Nonononono....By Holy, this couldn't be happening.

"Jenova," he whispered. "I will not be your puppet again. I would rather die."

Cloud shifted to one side, his large shirt scraping against the gash in his thigh. The youth hissed, and the demon in front of him responded with a roar. It lunged towards him, and Cloud hastily ducked and dived. He heard the thud as it slammed into its partner.

"Bully for you," Cloud breathed, taking off again. He had to circle around and try to get to his apartment again. If he was going to get charged at by some of Jenova's toys, then dammit, he was charging back armed!

From the corner of his eye, Cloud saw another demon diving at him. He jumped away, but he was too late. A large claw snatched his ankle and pulled.

"SHIT!" Cloud shrieked before he hit the cement. The wound on his thigh collided hard with the ground, and he gasped. The demon took advantage of his momentary paralysis and yanked hard on his ankle. Pain ricocheted up his leg as the claws dug into his flesh. Frantically, Cloud tried to kick away, but the demon was too strong. Cloud screamed.

"Kid, down!" a strangely familiar voice shouted. Cloud dived to the cement, not a moment too soon. The odd-sounding implosion of an Ultima resounded above him. The demon screamed, and then the pressure on his leg vanished. Shivering, Cloud glanced up to see his rescuer.

"Reno!" Cloud yelped.

Those deep brown eyes blinked. "Cloud Strife?!"


To say Reno was surprised at seeing Cloud in the middle of the mess was an understatement. To say he was surprised at seeing the ex-SOLDIER half naked with his long spikes in wild waves down his shoulders was definitely earning the title Understatement of the Year.

"Kid?" Reno gasped, kneeling beside the youth. Cloud gazed at him from behind loose bangs in equal astonishment. "What the hell are you doing here?"

Cloud grimaced at the stupid question. "You mean lying without any pants on in the middle of Midgar's streets or with a monster attacking me?"

Reno shrugged. "Either/or. Rude and Elena are taking care of the rest of the creeps, and AVALANCHE is going to be here soon. The punks always were slow. Can you stand?"

A returned shrug was his only response. Then Cloud carefully eased himself into a sitting position and glanced at his leg. His right leg was sliced up badly and stained crimson with blood. Cloud made a face. Reno grimaced in sympathy.

"Least you don't have to worry about bloodstains," Reno offered, steadying the bloody blond with his arm. "They're a bitch to get out of fabric, even worse than innards." Cloud leaned heavily against him, and Reno took the opportunity to look him over. "Fuck, maybe you should dress like this more often, anyway."

Cloud helped define Killer Glare for him.

Reno decided to change the subject. "How the hell did you get your hair down, anyway?" the redhead asked. He wrapped his arm around Cloud's waist and carefully pulled him to his feet. "I mean, I thought the spikes were a permanent thing."

Another one of those ever-popular Killer Glares. Cloud was actually well-versed in the art of Glaring. Plenty of practice.

"I was just curious!" Reno defended himself. "Geez!"

Cloud growled but nonetheless leaned on Reno. The Turk felt the young man shaking violently. It was one of the few times in Reno's memory that he was relieved to see a cute blond wounded. He was not particularly in the mood to test Cloud's Mako-enhanced strength, Turk or no.

Reno stared at those lithe, muscular legs for a moment longer before sighing. Rude would kill him anyway. "Come on," Reno grumbled. "Let's get back to where Rude and Elena are waiting. AVALANCHE should probably be here soon."

Was it just Reno's imagination, or did Cloud go pale? After a moment's thought, Reno nodded firmly to himself, oblivious to Cloud's questioning look. Had to be the brunette... what was her name again? The obsessive stalker? Right! Lockhart! Well, it was the bitch's own fault. She came from the same town. She should have snatched him up then. He nodded to himself again. Yep. If it wasn't for Rude–


Cloud eyed his redheaded companion warily. He was beginning to wish the monsters were back. Awoken before sunrise, chased almost naked out of his own apartment with no weapons, saved by a *Turk*, and *Reno* at that, and now he was being led to his doo–Um, to Tifa and the others. He sighed and rested his head against Reno's shoulder. At least Reno reminded him of Zack, in a bit more homicidal way. He wondered absently if he could convince Reno to run off with him rather than meet with AVALANCHE. A moment's consideration made him hide a wince against Reno's shoulder. Nah. Rude would kill him if he tried anything.

Cloud felt Reno start in surprise before relaxing again. The supporting arm around his waist tightened a little. "Don't worry, I'm sure Elena could discretely take care of Tifa," he reassured him. "She's never liked the bitch anyway. You'll be on your own when she first sees ya, though."

If he wasn't so tired, Cloud would have laughed. Reno had no idea why Cloud was so upset; he thought it was because of Tifa's infamous stalking. Cloud shuddered inwardly as he imagined Tifa's reaction to his lack of clothing. Only the Mako in the young ex-SOLDIER's blood kept him from freezing, his shirt and underwear flimsy and soaked with the dying rain. 'At least Jenova won't let me fall ill,' Cloud thought ironically.

Reno tucked a strand of hair behind Cloud's ear. The heat from the other man's fingers almost burned Cloud. "Look, when we get settled, I got some good stuff to calm your nerves," he offered. "It'll affect even your SOLDIER system."

Finally, Cloud raised his head. "Like what?"

"Black mushrooms from near Icicle Inn. Rare as hell, but damn, they pack a punch!"

Cloud smirked. "If you're offering, I'm accepting. I need a good smoke... or my sword. One of the two."

For the first time, Cloud realized how they must appear to the people staring out of their apartments. He and Reno were walking down an empty, torn-up street, with him half-naked and leaning into Reno. Cloud's eyes lit up with dark humor. He hoped they were enjoying the view.

Apparently, Reno was thinking along the same lines. "Too bad your shirt wasn't ripped off in the fight, kid," he quipped. "Then these peeping Toms would really be falling out of their windows."

Cloud flashed a look at a young man leaning out of a two-story house window. "They might fall out anyway."

Reno laughed softly, then steadied his grip on a faltering Cloud. "Or fall forward. Look up ahead."

The young man stiffened against Reno, and he knew the well-trained Turk had to feel the difference. However, Cloud could not help himself. Up ahead, he could see a helicopter landing near his apartment, with Rude and Elena waving it down. Inside that helicopter, his Mako-sharp eyes could clearly see the distinctive forms of AVALANCHE.

"How does Costa del Sol sound, Reno?" Cloud breathed.

Reno chuckled. "Time to face the music, SOLDIER."

"CLOUD!" Tifa's shrill, painfully familiar voice resounded, and both Cloud and Reno cringed. She sounded worse than a dying cat.

The long-haired fighter jumped from the helicopter before it even touched the ground, and she ran full-sprint to where Reno was easing Cloud to a shitty-looking bench. The Turk and the ex-SOLDIER exchanged pained looks.

"After this is over, kiddo," Reno breathed, "we'll head out to Costa del Sol. You're going to need it." Then he was gone with a speed only a Turk could manage.

'Smart man,' Cloud thought wryly, looking at Tifa. 'If I could run, I'd be right behind him.'

Cloud knew Tifa liked him. She had liked him ever since they had met up again in Midgar. However, before then, he had been too unworthy for her to even look at him, nonetheless like. Cloud had never forgotten that. When he had no friends, when he had been the village outcast, Tifa had utterly ignored him. When all he had wanted was a friend, Tifa had looked down her nose at him. She was the mayor's daughter, while he was the son of a rumored whore. Then, when he had returned as a first class SOLDIER, Tifa had totally changed her mind about him. Cloud might have forgiven her, considered her actions a sign of her youth and thought maybe the destruction of Nibelhelm had helped her grow up, but she tried to get down his pants too often. That was not the action of someone who had grown up.

"Cloud!" Tifa shrieked, almost throwing herself at him. "Oh, by Holy, what happened to you? Are you all right? Where have you been these last two years... ?

Damn. He had not even seen her for a full minute yet, and he was already getting a migraine.

"Fuck, Tifa, leave the kid alone. Get the hell away from him so everyone else can say hello."

The hovering Tifa pouted, and after flashing Cloud another view of her full breasts, she bounced off. Cloud managed a small smile for Cid. He was actually happy to see the gruff pilot, though it was bittersweet.

'Damn, Cid, I did not want any of you in the middle of this....'

Cid plopped down on the bench beside Cloud and gingerly wrapped an arm around his shoulders. "Fuck, kid, nice clothes. Ran out or something?"

Cloud glanced down and winced. Yep, everyone was going to get a chance to see him in his underwear today. And check the time. The day had just started. Nope, there was no chance it could get worse from here.

Aw, fuck.

"He is hurt, Cid. Did you bring a Cure materia?"

Another small, but genuine smile was flashed at Vincent. The blond had to smile inwardly, himself. Cloud had missed most of the members of AVALANCHE. Seeing them again was a painful joy... except for Tifa. That was just painful.

"Hi, Val," Cloud greeted. "It's nothing, just a scratch." 

Vincent kneeled down beside Cloud's wounded leg. The bloody gashes were clear to view, all the way up his leg to his thigh. Now that Cloud could actually look at them, they were kinda bloody looking. Yum. Wasn't this about the time everyone got up to eat breakfast?

"I got a Cure materia!"

"Big surprise there," Cid commented under his breath as Yuffie ran up. "It's probably mine."

Vincent looked like he wanted to admonish Cid, but he kept him mouth shut. Cloud betted it was Cid's, too. Heh. He had missed Yuffie. He wondered how the Lady of Wutai had been growing up these past two years. He wondered if her father had had a breakdown yet.

Cloud stared down at Yuffie's head as she cast Cure on him. Those monsters... he would bet anything they were sent by Jenova. Which would mean that she was reviving and wanted her puppet back. Jenova... the creature that had the ability to control him, to turn him into the same killing machine that–

No. Don't go there.

But he knew grave danger loomed. Not just from Jenova's creatures but from himself. Cloud had dreaded it for so long. Endangering his friends, the few people who had given a shit about him for who he was. No.



Cloud wearily smiled up at the last two members of the group. "Nanaki, Barret. Long time no see."

Nanaki made a soft purring sound and rubbed his head against Cloud's hand. Obligingly, Cloud stroked between his ears. "We have missed you, Cloud."

Cloud scratched behind one ear. "I've missed you guys, too," he confessed.

"Then why haven't you fuckin' visited, Spike?" Barret demanded, even as he pulled Cloud up for a massive bear hug. Cloud heard Yuffie yelp as she concentrated on doing her Cure spell on the moving limb, but he was too busy getting his breath back to care.

"Because I like my lungs in working order," Cloud shot back when he finally was able to breathe.

Cid laughed and hugged Cloud, too, just not as roughly as Barret did. Cloud was grateful. "Shit, kid, it's good having you back."

Cloud sucked in a deep breath at those words, even as he hugged Cid back. 'You might not be saying that when you realize why I went into hiding, Cid,' Cloud thought miserably.

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