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

Author Notes: Song lyrics from Lacuna Coil's "A Dead Man Walking." Damn gorgeous song.

Warning: Refer to prologue

Rating: Eventually NC-17

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


Chapter V

By tir-synni


"What the fuck were you doing there in only a shirt, kid? Without a weapon or hell, even materia? That's pretty fucking strange even for you, Spike."

Ooh, boy, Cloud had been hoping they would avoid *that* particular question. Cloud cringed mentally, avoiding Cid's amused eyes. Cid snickered quietly as Cloud proudly pulled his bloodied, rain-soaked shirt lower over his legs. However, in the crowded, official Neo-ShinRa helicopter, there was little room to move. Reno, beautiful, wonderful Reno, had quickly snatched up the seat to his right before Tifa could reach. Val, as intelligent as always, sat gracefully on his other side, using the edge of his cloak to discretely cover Cloud's legs. Cid leaned over Vincent's legs to laugh at his younger comrade.

Tossing his slowly spiking blond hair over his shoulder, Cloud avoided Cid's amused smile and the odd glint in Reno's eyes by staring out the window. The monsters had ripped Midgar up pretty well before they had found his location. He clenched his fists unconsciously. So much destruction just to find him.

Disturbed, Cloud looked back inside the helicopter. The Turks and AVALANCHE, crowded in what would otherwise be a roomy helicopter, stared expectantly at him. Well, not everyone. Nanaki's strong, long body pressed between Rude's thick legs and Vincent's slender ones to nudge against Cloud. Vincent... the compassionate look in Vincent's intense eyes frightened Cloud more than Cid's question. Cloud looked back at Cid's waiting face. Well, Cloud could not blame them for wondering. Hell, he still didn't have pants on.

"They were attacking the people on my floor," Cloud answered finally. "I was asleep when it happened. When I went to grab my weapon, one burst in and stopped me. They never gave me time to grab anything, clothes and weapons included."

Neither Cloud nor the Turks missed the troubled look AVALANCHE exchanged. Cloud suddenly had the feeling that, no matter how bad things were now, they were going to get worse.

"You think they were coming for you, Cloud?" Vincent questioned quietly.

Yep. A lot worse.

"I suppose so," Cloud answered hesitantly. What did they know that he did not? "They chased me for too long for me to assume otherwise. Or maybe it was the fact that I was the only one with a weapon nearby, the only one that could be a threat. These were intelligent creatures, with Mako in their bloodstream. They would be able to clearly distinguish a threat."

Barret let out a breath in a loud *swoosh,* and Cloud felt his blood chill at his words. "Yeah, that had to be it. You were a threat, they wanted to take ou' the threat. That's it."

They were getting closer to ShinRa tower, Cloud noticed distantly. Mainly, he noticed the relieved expressions of most of AVALANCHE. All but Nanaki and Vincent. Something was happening--

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

The memory of Jenova's words hit Cloud with all the force of a red dragon. His beautiful blue eyes widened for a moment, then narrowed. "What the fuck is going on?" His Mako eyes pierced AVALANCHE one by one. Only Vincent met his gaze. "Don't tell me it's nothing. You guys know something about the monsters that attacked me. You guys were almost immediately on the scene, and what's more, you were together. I don't think you just happened to be gathering together for a picnic."

Tifa flinched back from Cloud's harsh tone, but the young man did not give a damn. He cornered Barret with his eyes, using his will to intensify the Mako glow. The large black man cringed.

"Reeve knows all the facts," Barret explained hurriedly. "He can tell it to you."

"All of us," Reno added, and everyone turned to look at him. Cloud noticed Reno had scooted a little closer to him. He reminded the blond of a protective mother cat. When had the Turk started giving a damn about him? Last time they had met, they had been trying to kill each other! "We have the right to know, too."

Elena nodded quickly. "Because we're probably going to be dragged right in the middle of it. As Turks, we have the right to demand the name of who it is we're fighting and the rest of the details." For the first time, she seemed to notice Reno and Rude shaking their heads. "What? What?!? What did I say this time? I didn't say much, now did I?"

To Cloud, it seemed like Elena was ready to stick her tongue out at the other two Turks. If the situation wasn't so grim, he might have smiled.

"Approaching Neo-ShinRa Tower now," the pilot announced.

Cloud braced himself. Damn, but he had a feeling this wouldn't be good.


"Cloud, it's good to see you again," Reeve greeted him warmly, extending his hand over his messy desk to the mercenary. He raised an eyebrow at Cloud's shirt and bare legs. "Though I will have to admit, I expected you in... more *formal* attire."

Cloud managed a small grin for him as he shook his hand. "You're telling me. I was caught at a bad time, what can I say?"

The rest of AVALANCHE waited impatiently behind Cloud as the two said their hellos. The Turks were waiting out in the lobby for a private briefing. For the moment, it was simply an AVALANCHE thing.

Having spent two years surrounded by other cadets, then SOLDIERS, then five years in a tube, Cloud's lack of modesty (except around Tifa) had helped keep things interesting during Meteor. Now it allowed Cloud to sit unashamedly in front of his former teammate and now the president of the strongest company in the world. "Perhaps now someone can tell me what the hell is going on? Do you know something about the creatures that had attacked me, Reeve?"

Reeve blinked. "Attacked you?" he murmured. His sharp brown eyes strayed to Cloud's gloves. Cloud saw the motion and tightened his lips. Unfortunately, considering his skimpy attire, he knew his gloves probably stuck out sharply. The gloves themselves would surely ring out warning signs to anyone with good eyes and mind. However, he wasn't too eager to take them off again.

"Yes, attacked me. Start talking."

Reeve swallowed heavily. It seemed like he was about to stall, but Cloud's glare put a stop to that. With a sigh, Reeve unfolded the same story he had told the others, telling about Sephiroth, Jenova, and Hojo's other experiments. Cloud's icy face did not change as he heard what he had already known for several years. Inside, however, was a different story.

'Paranoia/In which I think that I'm not confident/Blood into my hands I can't deny/A buzz into my ears that makes me mad/But I don't look back/While I'm waiting to die/I don't look back/In a weird lullaby/I'll carry'

The words to the song ran swiftly through his mind, even as his eyes stared blankly at Reeve's face. 'Remember, my love,' his mother had told him so many times, 'music doesn't lie. When all else fails, sing, and you won't hear anyone else's lies, either.'

Cloud could feel his friends' eyes on him. The music seemed to stutter. Surely, they had to know by now. He knew Val and Nanaki probably knew. The alien beast Jenova burned within him, just like she had been inside his beloved. Would they be disgusted with him now? Even as he thought, the next lyric rang over and over in his mind.

'And the hope in my heart is dry.'

Cloud never looked away from Reeve's questioning face. 'They don't know everything, yet. They only know certain pieces of the puzzle. Hojo would have hated it to be so simple. They don't know the full truths of Jenova, Sephiroth... Nothing. Surely Vincent knows there's more, but he'll never ask. That'll unbury his own secrets. I know he'll respect my privacy and won't challenge me.'

"What do you know of the person who has Jenova cells in them?" Cloud questioned calmly, reclining in his chair. He wished he had a smoke. He had to meet up with Reno later to get some off of him. The smoke, the fire... He needed.

Reeve shook his head regretfully. "Unfortunately, not much. It was simply mentioned in old files concerning Jenova that few people survived after being injected with her cells. One of the surviving subjects died, as did Sephiroth, leaving only one person left. However, the subject was only given a label by Hojo. We don't know for *certain* who the surviving subject was...."

Cloud nodded to Reeve's unspoken question. "Yes, I am the other one with Jenova cells in them," he admitted. "It happened while I was in SOLDIER, towards the end. The old president gave Hojo free reign with his experiments, so Hojo was never punished for his actions. President ShinRa believed that these experiments would help get him to the Promised Land." He shrugged negligently. "He was wrong."

Nanaki growled low in his throat behind him. Senses heightened with emotions carefully hidden and the Mako flowing through his veins, Cloud could hear every patter of Nanaki's paws as the creature walked over the carpet to get to him.

"I knew Hojo was a monster, but to do this...." Nanaki bared his teeth angrily before nudging Cloud's bare leg with his head. Cloud's eyes softened, and he scratched behind Nanaki's ears.

"I got out of there as soon as I could," Cloud assured him. There, not a single lie said. Omitted truths do not a lie make.

"But the damage is done," Vincent spoke up quietly, moving to stand beside Cloud. He rested his flesh hand on Cloud's shoulder. His crimson eyes did not look at the youth's face; they were studying his gloves.

'Yep, Val knows.'

"These monsters were not assigned to hurt Cloud," the vampire addressed the others of AVALANCHE. "That would be detrimental to Jenova's plan. If she wishes to make him into another Sephiroth, she would need him in one piece and brought to her."

Cloud cringed inwardly. Into another Sephiroth. That used to be his dream, until he fell in love with the older man. After that, he was content to be himself. Now, he was fighting for the right to be himself. He loved the way life worked. There was some twisted irony there, he knew it. Zack would be able to find it in a sec. Seph... had enough twisted ironies in his life to worry about one more.

"You keep talkin' 'bout her like she's a thinkin' thing!" Barret shouted. "She's just a... a--"

"Thinking thing," Nanaki assured him, "and we must treat her as such. She's the mastermind behind the Meteor plot. We must remember that. She sought to destroy the world once, using Sephiroth as her puppet. If she captures the one strong enough to kill Sephiroth--"

Another hidden cringe.

"--then she would have extreme power. Cloud was the only one who was able to beat Sephiroth. Who would be strong enough to beat Cloud?"

It was Cloud's turn to blink. 'Damn, I knew there was a point I kept skimming over.'

A chill raced up Cloud's spine. Oh, by Holy.... For a moment, the young man was positive he was going to be sick. No. Sephiroth's blood stained his hands. That was a fact that would haunt him for the rest of his days. His beloved had died at the end of his sword. If Jenova had her way. . . Shaken, Cloud glanced up to study his friends' faces. Vincent, Cid, Nanaki, Yuffie, Barret, Reeve, even Tifa. He would rather die than hurt them, too.

Reeve must have noticed his sudden pallor, for he stood up and walked over to Cloud. "You've had a hard night," he said softly. "I have a room where you can get some rest. Don't worry. Everything will be all right."

Cloud wanted so badly to believe him, but if that was true, why weren't Sephiroth and Zack and Aeris and his mother still alive? Was it all right for them to have died the way they did?

Vincent squeezed his shoulder. For some reason, Cloud had the feeling Vincent of all people knew how he felt. "I'll show you your room," Val said softly. "It is one Cid and I often use while residing here."

Cloud closed his eyes. "Thank you."

His eyes shot open again as Yuffie flung herself against him. "Don't worry, Cloud-san!" she said against his shoulder. "We beat Jenova once, we'll do it again!"

Barely able to breathe, Cloud hugged her. 'But we did it by killing Jenova's battery, Yuffie. I wouldn't mind dying, but I don't think that's what you guys have in mind.' Aloud, he said nothing.

"I'll walk with you, Cloud," Tifa chirped behind Yuffie.

Yuffie hugged Cloud one last time. "Don't worry about her," she breathed. "I'll take care of that."

Cloud smiled. He was surprised how easily it came. "Good luck, Yuffers," he murmured.

Snickering lightly, Yuffie leaped to her feet. She scampered quickly to Tifa's side and whispered in her ear. The gentle concern on Tifa's face as she looked at Cloud transformed into horror at whatever Yuffie said. One strong hand hastily rose to her eyes, and she glanced at Yuffie. The thief nodded solemnly, and Tifa swallowed.

"Um... I'll meet up with you later, Cloud," Tifa said quickly. "I better get a quick shower!"

Sickly amused, Cloud watched the brunette dart out of the office. Was it his imagination, or did Reno yelp when Tifa ran out? Who knew.

"Girl stuff," Yuffie said simply, intelligent eyes sparkling. "I'll see you boys later. Some of us do need to sleep!"

Looking at each other in confusion, the boys only watched as Yuffie happily sashayed out of the room. Nanaki snickered.

"I believe that is my cue, as well. Good night, my friends." He looked at the clock and sighed. 7:00 am. "Good morning, anyway."

Grumbling, Barret nonetheless enclosed Cloud in a quick hug. "We'll find a way," he murmured. "You can't... we can't...." Not looking Cloud in the eye, Barret stomped out of the room.

Cloud sighed and nodded towards Reeve. "See ya in a couple hours," he drawled. He turned to Cid and Vincent, who stood ready to escort him to his room. "Let's mosey!"

Even as exhausted as he was, Reeve had to laugh at Cid's indignant howl. "Mosey? What puss fuckin' moseys anywhere!"

Rolling his crimson eyes knowingly at Reeve, Vincent followed the two people he loved most out of the room. Cloud flashed him a grin that didn't meet his eyes as he joined them.

"So, they do change the sheets on a regular basis, right?" he teased. "After all, if this is your guys' room...."

Cid sputtered indignantly, but Vincent only rested a hand on Cloud's shoulder. Cloud's grin faded. "The room is quite beautiful," Val said softly, "with plenty of room and an elegant balcony. Seeing Jenova's creatures has awoken me quite well."

Cloud quirked his lips. "Sounds like a good place and time to update me on everything I've missed the past two years."

He heard Reno's voice rising behind him and Reeve's doors close again. Apparently, the Turks had hidden until Tifa had left. Oh, well. He would be able to see Reno later.


"You are kidding me, Reeve!" Reno burst out as the president finished his tale for the third time. "The kid... no, he can't be turning into another Sephiroth! No way!"

Rude walked up behind his lover and rested a gentle hand on his shoulder. Instantly, the hotheaded redhead calmed down, but his lovely eyes still flashed. Reeve swallowed. His own team would probably end up killing him before Jenova's monsters could.

"If Cloud gets too close to Jenova, the Jenova cells in him will revive totally, and Jenova will be able to possess him," Reeve sighed, gulping down some coffee. Only the caffeine kept him going. His whole body shook with exhaustion.

"But if it is Strife that is keeping Jenova alive, how will we be able to defeat her?" Rude questioned quietly. "As long as Strife lives, Jenova will always be a threat."

Reeve sighed wearily and leaned back in his chair. After AVALANCHE had left his office, the Turks had entered and demanded--well, Reno had, anyway--a briefing concerning the monsters. Reno had taken the news the worst. Apparently, the redhead had become rather protective of the young man. It was only Rude's silent presence that kept Reno from lunging across Reeve's desk. Elena had, strangely, stayed quiet throughout the conversation. He noticed she kept looking at him worriedly. Maybe this story had frightened the female Turk.

Growling low in his throat, Reno gently shrugged off Rude's caring hand and started pacing back and forth. His slender legs ate up the distance to the right, then to the left, then to the right again. "There has to be a way to kill the Jenova cells inside him without killing Cloud. If we do that, we can kill Jenova, right?"

Reeve shrugged tiredly and bowed his head. His dark hair fell, hiding his pale face. "I don't know," he murmured. He ran a hand over his face. "I honestly don't know."

A small hand touched his shoulder, and Reeve jumped. Startled, he turned around to meet Elena's concerned gaze. "Hey, it's all right. Why don't you get some sleep? You look tired."

Reeve waved an expansive hand at the paperwork on his desk. "I would love to, but I have too much work to do yet. I have these papers on Jenova and Hojo to review, I have to work on those new power source plants, yet, and--"

"--And if you don't get some sleep, you won't even be able to read the writing on the paper," Elena scolded. "Don't worry, I've been taking care of the paperwork for the Turks for the past two years now."

'Since Tseng died,' Reeve thought, but he didn't say it aloud.

"I'll look through your papers and see if I can find the information we need," Elena continued. "Also, Reno and Rude can patrol the area and see if they can find some more info on the monsters. Go. Leave it to us Turks."

Reeve leaned back in his chair, and for the first time, he actually looked at Elena. The young woman had grown up since Tseng's death. No longer was she some junior Turk. Working alongside Reno and Rude had helped mature the blonde. Her bright eyes shone with intelligence, and she held herself proudly.

'How long has she been like this?' Reeve wondered. 'How come I didn't see it before?'

"Shoo!" Elena made a show of grabbing Reeve's shoulders and pulling him. "If I can drag Rude and Reno to bed, I can drag you, too."

Reeve laughed but relented. "You do this to them, too?" he teased. He got up with a lazy stretch. How many steps would it take from here to his bedroom... ?

Elena nodded. "All the time. Don't worry, I'll wake you up if I find something important. Now shoo!"

Reeve smiled warmly at her. "Well, 'night then, Elena."

Elena grinned at him and shooed him for the third time towards the door. " 'night."

Reno and Rude watched this unfold before them with wide eyes. "Did I miss something?" Reno murmured to his large lover.

Rude only shrugged.

After watching Reeve go, Elena whirled on the two other Turks. "Shoo!" she repeated. "I can take care of this paperwork. Out!"

Reno hesitated before following the youngest Turk's order. His dark eyes strayed towards the papers on the desk. The words "experiment," "subject," and "Hojo" burned behind his lids. Lips tightening, he turned to his broad lover. "We still have that stash in our room?" he breathed, keeping his face turned away from Elena's stern visage.

Rude only paused a moment before nodding.

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