The Morning After the Life Before - Pt. V
Author: The Magic Rat
Pairings: Numerous. Some even make sense.
Warnings: Clones, hospital antics, angst.
Word Count: 8313
Website – Ex Libris: www.winter-wood.net/ex-libris/…
Live Journal: delaese.livejournal.com/profil…
If you are new to the Rabid Tiger story arc, you can find the entire thing either on my website here:
Or the Rabid Tiger Gallery on Deviant Art here:
Just start at ‘Porcupine Love’ and go from there.
Disclaimer: All Final Fantasy Seven characters, places and situations are the property of Square Soft/Square Enix and are used without permission and without intent of plagiarism or profit. Metalocalypse, the members of Dethklok, and lyrics to Dethklok songs belong to Brendon Small, Cartoon Network and Turner Music. Copyright for all stories and original characters such as Badger the Roadie is with the author, and may not be published, copied, distributed or archived without the author's prior written consent.
Summary: Cloud is cloning around, Loz takes a class and gets more than he bargained for, and Professor Ryu has a problem, and Baby has a baby.
Author’s notes: PLEASE NOTE – THE FIC ‘THE WOES OF BOS’ WAS CHAPTER FOUR OF THIS PARTICULAR SERIES. magicrat.deviantart.com/art/FF…
Part of the conversation Loz has with his lady friends was one which SparklinBurgndy and I roleplayed.
Once Rufus and his clone were standing side by side, it was easier to tell them apart. They were identical, yet…not. The clone, who went by his middle name of Aaron, slouched and smoked and was thinner than Rufus, and he didn’t have a baby purple chocobo napping in his arms, either. He also bore a tattoo on his throat; a small one of a snake splitting itself in two. It was clear things had not been easy for Aaron, but there was no denying he was a Shinra. Given a little time and care, he would be indistinguishable from Rufus.
“I don’t understand any of this,” said Cloud, lying in his hospital bed, his head still bandaged. The room was rather crowded, with a very unlikely group of people – Rufus, Reno, Reeve, Tseng, Lazard, and poor little Professor Ryu, looking very much as if he would like to hide. Aaron drew on his cigarette.
“This all happened quite a long time ago. It was primarily Hojo’s project, but the old president funded and supported it. He called the project ‘Contingency’, and the idea was that, in the event anything happened to himself or any of his key players, they could be replaced instantly. He even cloned his own son, after it became clear that Rufus had his own opinion on how things should go.”
“I have to say I find that bit of news particularly unnerving,” said Reeve. “I am very attached to my own version of Rufus, and the idea that he could die and just… be replaced by some stranger wearing his face…”
Rufus slipped a comforting arm around Reeve, who turned towards him, shivering. Aaron resumed speaking.
“The clones are very similar to our originals, but we’re not perfect copies. We have flaws.”
“Is Zack a clone?” asked Cloud quietly.
“They all are,” said Aaron with equal softness. “That is why there are gaps and strange inconsistencies in their memories. But Sephiroth, Zack, Angeal and Genesis do not know they are clones, and I for one see no reason to tell them. No doubt each is aware of something very odd; a large gap in their memories, things that don’t quite add up, but they do not understand the full ramifications of those oddities. And there are those willing to keep their secrets. In their case, Hojo followed Ryu’s instructions to the letter, and they are virtually indistinguishable from the original.”
Cloud looked to Tseng. “I really wondered how you just magically tracked Zack down as fast as you did.”
“That clone had been in existence for a couple years,” said Tseng. “He had been awakened not long after the original Zack was murdered outside Midgar. He is
in many ways the original Zack Fair. He has all his memories, likes, dislikes, emotions…”
“The same,” said Aaron. “In fact Sephiroth was cloned so well they even managed to replicate his mental illness, which was quite a surprise for all those present when they woke him up. He came out wings raised and ready to fight.” Aaron looked around at the small group. “I think it would be best if as few people knew about this as possible. There is no reason to further complicate their lives. Especially with children being involved.”
“I just can’t get over the arrogance of the man,” said Reeve. “Did he replicate me?”
“No,” said Aaron. “He replicated himself, Heidegger, Scarlet, and Palmer. He also duplicated Rufus, and… Cloud.”
“Me?!” said Cloud. “Why me?!”
“Yes, gods, why?” said Rufus, grinning. Cloud flipped him off.
“The same reason he replicated the Four,” said Aaron. “You have strength, Cloud, of a sort you cannot imagine, of a sort you were never taught to use. The two years you spent locked in a mako saturation chamber did a lot more than just give you a case of claustrophobia. You were created to be an anti-Sephiroth weapon. Fortunately we never had to use you, as the Zack clone proved to be a very effective anti-Sephiroth weapon in his own way. In short – you are a very expensive piece of Shinra technology, Mr. Strife.”
“Hooray for me,” grumbled Cloud. “What about Reno?”
“Reno is what he is – a Turk. Since he was an illegitimate child, the old president had no desire to have him hanging around.” Aaron smiled. “He is one of a kind.”
Reno was lying beside Cloud on the bed, his nanite-repaired hip almost fully healed. “Well this much awesome should never be doubled. But the idea of being the filling in a Cloud sandwich sounds appealing, yo.”
Cloud wasn’t certain, but he thought he saw Aaron flinch, as if something Reno said hurt him.
“So my father is alive, so to speak,” said Rufus. “And he wants Aeris in order to continue going after the Neo-Midgar project. And he wanted you to take my place and hand the company back over to him so he can fund this white elephant.”
“That is the plan,” said Aaron. “And that is why I am here. But I am too much like you – I see the evil lurking.”
“So what do we do?” asked Rufus.
“I told them that I had not had a chance to kill you yet. That gives me a few days. My suggestion would be you move on the institute as quickly as possible. Otherwise we will have to come up with a Plan ‘B’.”
“And what do we do if one of us meets ourself coming around the corner?” asked Cloud.
Aaron smiled weakly. “Then I think some explanations will be due.”
There was something about the blue eyes, and the way they looked at him, that made Cloud uncomfortable. It wasn’t a nasty look, or a cold look, but there was something very… odd… about it, and the way he kept gazing at him. As if he knew him. But then… he did, didn’t he? There was another Cloud, and Aaron knew him.
“Well,” said Cloud, “if you just tell me where the place is, I’m sure we can make a big enough mess to put an end to this. Again. But what will you do?”
Aaron shook his head. “I don’t know. I’m sure I will think of something.”
Again that look. What was that expression in his eyes? Pain yes, but…. there was something desperate about it, too. Cloud tried to put it out of his mind.
“I suppose this is all my fault,” said Ryu quietly.
“You shouldn’t blame yourself,” said Lazard, once more magnificent in his glasses, ascot and gloves. “You had no idea what they were going to do with your research, with you. And the cloning process that you designed works perfectly; Zack, Angeal Genesis, Sephiroth… we are all alive thanks to you.”
“Then what happened to Genesis?” asked Cloud. “The degenerative disorder is present in the clone, too.”
“Hard to say,” said Lazard. “Some flaw in the original experiment perhaps, or in Genesis’ DNA.”
“A flaw in his DNA exacerbated by the genetic mutations to which he was exposed,” said Ryu. “It is a part of who he is, so it is present in the clone as well.” He sighed quietly, shaking his head. “But I feel I should have known what they wanted my research for. That I should have suspected…” He checked his watch as it beeped twice. “Ah, time to go look in on the esteemed Mr. Fair. Gentlemen if you will excuse me…”
He departed, a thin little man with hunched shoulders, hands behind his back, messy ponytail hanging down…
“Why do you supposed Ryu is adorable and Hojo is repulsive?” asked Rufus. “I mean they are in essence the same man.”
“That’s because Hojo is ambulatory toxic waste, and Ryu is soft and somewhat caterpillar-like,” said Reeve.
“Caterpillar?” inquired Rufus.
“Ever watch him walk?” asked Reeve. “He looks like a little black and white caterpillar hunching along.”
“Have a bed of raspberry leaves shipped to the professor.”
Tseng just rolled his eyes. He looked like eight miles of bad road, and despite his professional demeanour, Cloud could not imagine what must be going through the senior Turk’s mind at this moment. If it was Reno held hostage rather than Aeris, Cloud wasn’t sure he would handle it as well.
“I’ll round up the others and we’ll get to work on this,” Cloud said. “And try to do it without letting any secrets slip.”
“You’re not going anywhere with your skull in pieces, yo,” said Reno.
“No, I know. But I can still muster the troops,” said Cloud.
Aaron abruptly stood up, blue eyes hopeful, desperate. “Cloud… before I leave could we talk?”
Uh-oh. Every time someone asked him that, it was never good.
“Sure,” he said.
Rufus set Perkle on the floor, and together with Tseng left the room, escorting Reeve who looked ready to have some sort of nervous breakdown. Quite likely he was in knots over the idea of ending up in bed with a man that wasn’t his husband. Reeve was an odd sort; he was either bulletproof or made of glass, depending on the day. Reno and Lazard went with them, leaving Cloud alone with Aaron.
“So what did you want to ask?”
Aaron drew near Cloud’s bedside, his lean frame trembling, the blue eyes gazing at him, full of pain and hope.
“You look so much like him…”
Uh-oh. Yeah not good, it never was. No one ever pulled him aside and said “I have ten million gil and a cure for your husband’s condition.”
“Him?” asked Cloud warily.
“Your clone. I’m sorry, I know you don’t know me, it’s just that I miss him.”
Yup. Never anything good.
“So you and he were… lovers,” said Cloud.
“Yes,” said Aaron.
Hilarious. Somewhere in another life happening concurrently with his own, he was nailing Rufus Shinra. Aaron was standing close - very
close. It was unnerving but also thrilling in a way. He had never in his life looked at Rufus as a potential lover. Nuisance, enemy, busybody, pain in the ass, yes, but never had he looked into those blue eyes like this. And the intensity with which Aaron was gazing back at him was a little frightening.
“I know you’re not him,” said Aaron. “It’s just… hard to see you and know… he’s gone.”
“Did he die?” asked Cloud.
“No,” said Aaron, taking out a pack of cigarettes and opening it with a shaking hand. He drew out a thin cylinder of tobacco wrapped in gold paper and put it between his lips. “No he did not die, he left me. And he won’t answer my calls or tell me why. I just want to know why! I don’t want to force him to be with me if he doesn’t want me anymore, but I have a right to know why! He literally used the old line about going out for a quart of milk. I even asked him why he would need to go out for milk, the institute took care of all that! I knew
what he was going to do and I couldn’t stop him and he wouldn’t pause for two minutes and just tell me why!
The last word was almost a scream. Cloud was uncertain what to do, simply reaching out to take his arm and try to comfort him. He was unprepared for Aaron to collapse against him and throw his arms around his neck, crying heavily.
“I just want to know why…”
Cloud held him, uncomfortable and unclear as to how he should handle the situation. He wasn’t sure what Aaron wanted of him, other than to try to give some insight into why the version of Cloud that he loved had left him. And Cloud wasn’t sure why. He and Reno had endured some rocky nights apart, but even when their relationship was circling the drain there had never been talk of breaking up, only of trying to find the problem. He could no more leave Reno than he could grow a second head.
“Aaron,” said Cloud softly, “I don’t know what you want me to do…”
Aaron raised his head and looked into Cloud’s eyes. “Just find him and ask. Please. That’s all. I don’t want you to drag him back and force him to be here with me if that’s not what he wants, but after all we have been through, I need to know why.”
“All right,” said Cloud. “After we take out the institute, and I heal, I will find him for you.”
Aaron kissed him, partly out of gratitude, partly because Cloud just looked so much like his missing lover. Cloud pushed back against his shoulders, trying to gently deflect him, but it wasn’t easy…
Then Aaron was yanked aside, and Cloud’s vision was filled by a large fist emblazoned with an outsized and elaborate signet ring. The fist hit him with force enough to make his vision briefly go black, and moments later Cloud was looking up at Rufus Shinra the Original.
“You son of a bitch, if I ever catch you kissing my clone behind my brother’s back again I’ll kill you!”
“I was not kissing him,” said Cloud, his voice muffled by his hands as he held his bleeding nose. For an unmodified human, he sure hit hard.
“He wasn’t,” said Aaron, trying to hold Rufus back. “He wasn’t kissing me – I was kissing him.”
“His lips were just involved in this as yours!”
Cloud drew his hands away from his face and looked at the blood staining them. He then glared at Rufus.
“Oh that’s just great – morality lessons from Rufus ‘If-It-Breathes-I-Fucked-It’ Shinra.”
Cloud would later remind himself he should have known better than to bait Rufus in the first place, especially in regards to anything having to do with Reno, as Aaron did his level best to hold Rufus back. It was not easy – Rufus had been raised and trained by Turks his entire life, and he was perfectly capable of inflicting pain. Moments later, Reno himself came limping into the room. He wasn’t actually supposed to be out of bed, but what did the doctors know?
“What’s going on?”
“I caught this bastard kissing another man!” Rufus was fully prepared to climb over Aaron to get to Cloud. Reno looked to Cloud.
Cloud, dazed and in pain with blood running down his face, held his nose as Aaron explained the situation to Reno. Moments later Cloud felt Reno put his arms around him.
“My big brave hero.”
Cloud smiled weakly. “Why don’t we get Rufus placated before he breaks free and kills me?”
“DON’T THINK I WON’T YOU IMBECILIC TURD!”
Dark bounded into the room, hearing her master raving like a lunatic. She looked from him, to Cloud, and, because she was a fairly astute animal, decided Cloud must have done something. She promptly sank her teeth into his leg, although there was no true malice in the gesture; she just knew it would get her cookies.
“Next he’ll be releasing the chocobo,” grumbled Cloud. He watched as Perkle shot into the room, weeking as fast as his little feet would move, upset by all the shouting. Only Rufus Shinra could walk into a hospital with a guard hound, a chocobo, and a clone who chain-smoked and get away with it. Cloud looked to Reno, blood running down his face, Dark hanging onto his leg, growling, while Rufus raved. Reno sighed.
“I can’t take you anywhere. Dark – stop that.”
She did, then promptly rubbed her head against Cloud, purring. He rolled his eyes and patted her.
“Let’s just get your brother calmed down.”
It was the last Renaissance Fair of the year, and the biggest – the Harvest Fair. Five days of fun and festivities, food, dance, classes in forgotten arts, and, of course, jousting. Loz was far from being ready to joust, but he could ride just well enough to bring Gunner to the fair and take advantage of the lessons being offered by one of the best jousters. His name was Eldwyn of Blackpeak, at least that was what he called himself when he was teaching jousting. He had a large yellow chocobo named Warlock, and he was one of the biggest chocobos Loz had ever seen, resplendent in his black and green jousting gear. But when Loz rode up on Gunner, he was immediately the center of attention. Loz sat on his gigantic black chocobo, Gunner draped in the appropriate harness for the time, Loz in his apprentice outfit, and took his place in the class. Standing just behind Gunner was Poof, happily jingling the bells on her brightly coloured halter. A little investigation had revealed that the little oddball was no mere oddball – she was in fact Gunner’s mother. And after all her long years in the military, she had no desire to let her only surviving child out of her sight. Unable to convince her to stay at home, Loz and Phoenix made her a harlequin outfit, which she was enjoying immensely. Poof had been wasted as a warbird – she was far better suited to life as a jester’s dancing bird.
“How long did it take you to train her?” asked a young woman mounted on a green chocobo.
Loz watched Poof turn circles in reverse, trying to catch the bells on her own feet.
“She… sorta does all that stuff on her own. She’s… special.”
Eldwyn approached his students astride Warlock, clad in green and black armor, slowly riding past each in turn. When he got to Loz and Gunner, he drew his bird to a halt.
“Very impressive bird you have, young master.”
Loz grinned. “Thanks. This is Gunner. He’s a retired cavalry and artillery bird.”
Gunner and Warlock stared each other down, each trying to raise his crest higher than the other, the chocobo version of “OH YEAH?!” Gunner won by default. Eldwyn gave his bird a reassuring scratch.
artillery? That’s quite a war record.”
“Yeah he started off as cavalry, but during a battle a lot of machines were destroyed. He was so big he could pull some of the guns himself. See?” Loz proudly pointed out some of the marks on Gunner’s beak. “He won the Order of the Empress, for great heroism of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger. Only four chocobos were ever given one!”
Eldwyn raised an eyebrow. Loz was stunned to find all that stuff Angeal had been telling him had stuck.
“Most impressive animal. May I ride him? I would love a chance to try a bird who has actually seen combat.”
Loz looked surprised, but nodded. “Yeah! Yeah of course…”
Loz slid down off Gunner’s back, and handed the reins to Eldwyn, suddenly feeling shy and off-balance as their hands briefly touched when Eldwyn gave him the reins to his own bird. Loz held Warlock’s reins, and watched as Eldwyn got on Gunner. Poof watched all this with a certain amount of concern, but Loz drew her close and patted her.
“It’s okay, Poof. Eldwyn just wants to see what Gunner can do. He’s not going anywhere.”
Eldwyn noticed the interaction, and looked to the small dusty yellow female.
“And who is this?” he asked.
“This is Poof,” said Loz. “She’s his mommy.”
Many of the women, and several of the men, melted audibly. Loz found himself grinning loopily. He had hoped his first day at the fair would go well; he hadn’t anticipated this much attention. Eldwyn reached out to pat her.
“Pleased to make your acquaintance, my lady. I promise to bring your boy back unharmed.”
Eldwyn rode Gunner to the center of the ring. Loz found himself flanked on three sides by very nicely assembled young women, all smiling at him. Who knew chocobos were so useful? As Loz made new friends, Poof craned her neck to watch her son in action. However Loz too was soon distracted from his admirers when Eldwyn began putting Gunner through his paces. When Eldwyn hoisted his lance and pulled down his visor, Loz felt concern in his heart for his bird. Gunner watched Eldwyn pick up the great weapon, then snapped his attention forward, focusing on the target ahead. When Eldwyn nudged him, Gunner charged, aiming straight for the straw dummy ahead.
“Hey he already knows this stuff!” exclaimed Loz as Gunner tore down the field. The lance hit the dummy dead on, but Gunner knew things the other birds didn’t; as they passed the dummy, Gunner swung his head and struck it a violent blow with his beak, annihilating what Eldwyn had left. The viewers cheered as Eldwyn slowed Gunner, then turned him to return to Loz. When Gunner stopped before him, Loz gazed at his ‘birdie’ with a new respect. Gunner was not just an animal trained to demonstrate an ancient art. He was the real deal.
“A most impressive bird, good sir!” said Eldwyn as he dismounted.
“Thanks,” said Loz. “I guess we’ll have to teach him not to lash out like that, huh?”
“No not at all, we will just get him fitted for a padded beak guard. He’s a very special boy.” Eldwyn looked to Poof. “You must be very proud of your son, my lady.”
Poof blew out her feathers and pulled her head down into them, turning herself into a dandelion with very big feet. Most people laughed. Eldwyn just stared.
“She’s… shy,” said Loz lamely.
Zack was lying in bed, his tiny son in a tank nearby. Lying beside him on the bed was the love of his life, the only person he had ever really fallen in love with. Zack smiled as he traced the tip of one finger over the perfect bow of Sephiroth’s lips. Sephiroth nipped the finger lightly.
“You’re supposed to be asleep,” he said. “How do you feel?”
“Weak,” said Zack. “Really weak. How are you?”
Sephiroth managed a smile. “Weak. But I’ll be okay.”
Zack kissed him. “Wish we could make love.”
“We will, when you’re better. You are going to get well, aren’t you?”
Zack snuggled closer. “Sure. I’ll be fine. I’ll be home soon, and then we can see what Angeal and Genesis have done to the place. Did you know Genesis is having triplets?”
“No but I’m not surprised; he always did have to compete with me.”
“He’s no competition for you, Baby.” Zack relished the silky feel of the huge black wing enveloping him. “No one is.”
“Are you sure you’re all right?”
“Just weak and sleepy,” said Zack softly, stroking the soft feathers. “I missed you.”
“I missed you too.” Sephiroth nuzzled him, kissing him softly. “Get better, I want you home.”
“I want me home too,” said Zack. He smiled. “Andy was in here earlier. Asked me if it was still as exciting to be with you as the first time. And I had to admit… every time I look at you, all I can think is ‘Wow. He’s with me
’. The most beautiful man in the world…”
They kissed. They heard the door open, but Sephiroth simply drew his wing up higher for privacy. The nurse sighed.
“Mr. Fair, hiding behind that flapper will do you no good. I know exactly what you’re doing.”
Zack touched Sephiroth’s face. “No you don’t.”
“Yes I do, you’re elevating your heart rate. You are not supposed to be getting excited, Mr. Fair.” She grabbed the edge of the huge wing and hoisted it over her head to glower at the pair. “And your husband still has not had his throat seen to!”
Sephiroth pulled the wing down. “I’m busy.”
“It’s up to you. Either come with me and get it cared for, or wear a lace collar of dirt and pebbles the rest of your life.”
“She does have a point,” said Zack. “And it’s such a beautiful throat. I’ll be here when you’re done.”
Sephiroth kissed him again. “I intend to spend the night here if Ryu will let me.”
“He better not try to stop you.”
Sephiroth kissed him again, then got up and departed with the nurse. Zack closed his eyes, feeling his weakened body sink deeper into the bed. No one had to tell him; he knew he was never going home.
Professor Ryu came in and began speaking to him, but he seemed very far away and unimportant. Zack was slipping away. Even now he could see the bright colours of the lifestream, could feel the warmth of it rising around him. He had been there before. He just wished he didn’t have to go alone…
“Professor?” he said sleepily, from a million miles away. “It’s okay. I know you tried…”
Zack slipped beneath the waves of the lifestream, and the machines began making a sad, monotonous whine that Ryu knew too well. Ryu felt his clipboard slip from his hands, and he stared at the body in the bed. Oh gods. Oh dear gods of Gaia. Was Zack…?
He ran to the body and examined it. Dead. Zack Fair was dead. Oh dear gods what the hell was he going to do?!
Sephiroth was across the hall getting his neck injury cleaned, he would be back here in half an hour…
Ryu fled the room, almost crashing into Dr. Gaywell. Saying nothing he hauled her into the area he had just run from and over to Zack’s body. She stared in horror.
“When did that happen?” she asked.
“Just a moment ago. I was just coming in to check him over and…”
“Across the hall.”
Ryu was nearly in tears as Dr. Gaywell just stared. Poor Zack. Poor, poor Zack. He had tried so hard to keep his family safe, and it had broken his heart…
“You created the clones, didn’t you?” she asked.
“Yes but I would need equipment, assistants, and more than the thirty minutes it is going to take Sephiroth to have his injuries cleaned!”
“But you can do it. You can make a new body and raise him.”
“With time, yes!”
“How much time?” she asked.
“To make the clone perfect – six weeks.”
“Right.” She hastily unhooked Zack from the machinery, then looked to Ryu. “Open the door.”
“What are you going to do?” he asked, pulling the door open.
“We are going to bring him down to the quarantine room, tell everyone he picked up some sort of infection and we have to keep him isolated. He’s far too fragile to be exposed to anyone. You need the original body, don’t you?”
“To make the clone perfect, yes.”
“All right. Take him to the quarantine floor, I will call ahead and let them know you are bringing him down and ONLY you and I will know of this. NO ONE must know Zack Fair is dead, especially not his husband. Now move. We do not
want to be caught at this.”
Ryu scurried out of the room, pushing the large gurney on which Zack lay. Dr. Gaywell returned to the room he had recently occupied. She needed a distraction – a BIG distraction. A brand new baby would do it. She ran to Eri’s tank and read the information on it.
“Please be ready please be ready please be ready…” she whispered to herself. She reached the due date and heaved a sigh of relief. Oh good, Eri was ready to leave the tank and go home. “Come on little guy, you are about to be used in a shameful manner to keep your father from destroying the planet.”
Eri was carefully removed from his tank, dried, diapered, bundled into a small blanket and carried to the room where a nurse was finishing bandaging Sephiroth’s neck. Dr. Gaywell glued a smile onto her face and peeked into the room.
“I have good news and bad news,” she said, desperately hoping she sounded chipper and not terrified. As Sephiroth turned his head to look at her with those eerie, feline eyes, she seriously thought she may wet herself in fear.
“Bad news,” she said, “Zack has managed to pick up a virus. I heard a rattle in his chest when I listened, and that means he had to go into isolation. I know it’s not what you wanted to hear, but we have to do our best to ensure he’s okay.” Then she mentally added to herself; “and to ensure you don’t destroy us all in your grief.
He stared at her, eyes shaded by those long lashes. Bloody hell that was a beautiful man. For a moment she feared he was not fooled, but then he cocked his head to one side.
“What’s the good news?”
“You get a consolation prize to take home.”
His eyes brightened when he saw Eri, and he took the tiny bundle in his arms. He seemed happy to finally get to hold his son, but Gaywell could tell his mind was still on Zack.
“Can I say goodbye to him?”
“I’m sorry,” she said. “We can’t risk it. He’s already sick, he’s so frail, we have to ensure he’s safe…”
He nodded. Of course Sephiroth had been told all this before when Zack was first admitted and they began to truly understand how delicate he was. They had the situation under control now, but six weeks was a long time. She wondered how long they would be able to stall Sephiroth. The man wasn’t an idiot and she doubted he would tolerate more than a few days without contact. Oh gods they were all doomed.
She left Sephiroth to get to know his new baby, and hurried to the isolation ward. She ran into the room, and stopped dead as she saw Ryu, screens blocking the windows to the room, surrounded by machines and tables laden with equipment and trays and beakers, and up to his elbows in Zack Fair’s guts.
“Professor what are you doing?”
“I can fix him,” said Ryu. “I don’t have to clone him – I can use the repair procedure.”
“Repair…?” she asked.
He proceeded to tell her what he was doing, but even with her degrees and years of specialized medicine, she didn’t understand what he was talking about. Unlike Hojo – Ryu truly was a genius, with a near mystical understanding of the human body.
“We couldn’t do this before because it might have killed him,” said Ryu. “But since he’s already dead, it can only help, and if it works he will be awake in three days, still fragile but much better. If it fails we’ve lost nothing; we can still have him back in six weeks.”
She watched as he pulled out Zack’s liver.
“Professor, you know that I respect your intelligence, and readily acknowledge the fact that this is a field which you yourself created…”
“But why are you taking the esteemed Mr. Fair apart?”
He spent the next four hours explaining to her. She didn’t understand a damned thing he said.
Loz was enjoying his first day at the fair a lot.
After his lessons, he took Gunner to a pavilion just big enough for himself and Poof, removed his harness, and gave him water and feed. Poof was too busy having fun to let Loz catch her, so she simply scooted around, getting into mischief, and making herself part of the festivities. Gunner was tired; it had been a while since he had practiced tactics on the field, and while he wasn’t exactly old, he wasn’t really young anymore, either. A nap on the grass in the shade suited him just fine. It was hard to believe Poof was the elder of the two. As Loz was making certain Gunner had everything his needed, three women were approaching him; none other than the trio who had been smiling at him during jousting lessons. As he turned to face them, the foremost of the trio curtseyed.
“Noble sir, might I have use of your potent seed, provided you have any spare?” She fluttered her eyelashes.
Zack Fair would have caught the innuendo immediately. Alas, Loz was not Zack.
“Sure! I brought some spare! I didn’t know how much I’d need.”
The young woman stared at the small sack of chocobo feed he dropped into her hands. “Um…. Not quite what I meant, but thanks.”
“At least you got birdseed,” said her companion. “I asked him if he would be so kind as to examine my chimney and he said he didn't have time, then loaned me a flashlight.”
“Has anyone just considered… you know… asking him for a shag?” asked the third.
“We could try that,” said the first, nodding. “The direct approach. It might work. Hey handsome!”
“You were, of course, referring to me,” said a voice.
Eldwyn walked over to the area where Loz had made his camp. Loz simply stood and looked confused, not used to being the center of attention. He stayed by Gunner’s side, stroking the large bird’s feathers as Gunner napped. Eldwyn was a large man; one who could have easily been a knight in the days of yore. His long dark hair was streaked with silver, and he wore a short beard over his strong jaw. His eyes were the colour of dark chocolate, and he was both taller and broader than Loz. He was lean and muscled, and anyone who saw the two would no doubt assume it was Eldwyn who was the more powerful of the pair.
“Not every maid at the fair fancies you, Sir Eldwyn,” said one of the women.
“Nonsense, how could they not?” he said, grinning.
Eldwyn approached Loz, casting a glance at Gunner. “He’s tired?”
“It’s been a while since he had to do anything like practice his moves,” said Loz.
Gunner rattled his quills, as if trying to make the point that he wanted to take a nap, and all these nattering humans were a bother. The small group walked away from the large chocobo, leaving him in peace.
“So is this your first fair?” asked Eldwyn as the five strolled together.
“No,” said Loz, “I was at the smaller one north of here about a month ago. That was where I learned that I wanna try jousting. Then a friend gave me Gunner, and when I heard there were gonna be lessons…”
“Well why don’t you come to my tent, and we will discuss the matter further,” said Eldwyn smoothly, managing to get himself between the three young ladies and guiding Loz away from them.
Loz shrugged. “Okay,” he said happily.
He walked away with Eldwyn, failing to notice the glares his friend was receiving. Phoenix walked up to the trio of women, watching Loz walk away with Eldwyn.
“And where are they off to?” he asked. While Loz had been having fun and making friends, Phoenix had been sparring with some of the knights and making himself unpopular as he defeated them all.
“Off to Sir Eldwyn’s tent to talk about birds and jousting,” said a tall red head in a green gown. She shifted the sack of bird seed to a stump and left it.
“And to no doubt have his chimney cleaned,” said the second; a blonde clad in a dress of grey and red.
“Aye,” said the third sadly. “Eldwyn gets all the cute ones.”
Phoenix blinked at them with strange golden-red eyes. “Well I’m available.”
The women looked at him. He looked back.
“I don’t like dating men prettier than me,” said the red-head.
“Probably just as well,” said Phoenix. “I think my period is starting anyway.”
Sephiroth knelt to let his oldest child run to him and throw her arms around his neck. Miki held him fiercely as he slipped an arm around her and picked her up effortlessly.
“I missed you!” she said.
“I missed you too.”
“What’s in the blanket?”
“Your new brother.”
Miki made a face. “Yuck. Another stinky boy.”
Sephiroth arched one eyebrow delicately. “Miki I should point out to you that your mom is a boy too.”
“Yeah but that’s not your fault. How is Daddy?”
“He managed to catch pneumonia in the hospital.”
Miki’s face showed the level of disbelief only a kid can manage.
“How did he do that?!”
“He’s special. And talented. And why does our yard smell of carrots and chocobos?”
“Uncle Angeal was bad and I helped.”
He stepped into the living room and looked around at the billowing rolls of pink, Ralph trapped in the middle of it, grunting irritably. Sephiroth slowly surveyed the chaos. He literally had no idea where the floor was, or indeed the furnishings. The place was four feet deep in pink, with Genesis in the middle, already starting to show his three daughters.
“You’re home! Hold this. No I don’t supposed you can, can you? How is Zack?”
Sephiroth set Miki down. “Genesis… I understand you are ‘nesting’, but really…” He looked around. “Where’s Angeal?”
A hand poked up through the waves of pink and waved. Sephiroth assumed he was on the sofa. He couldn’t really tell; he couldn’t see Angeal or the sofa.
“Angeal… my daughter informs me that you were bad.”
“Yes,” he admitted from beneath a heap of pink cotton. “Zack gave me permission to breed Edgington.”
“So you got another chocobo?”
“I got five.”
“So she could have a selection I suppose. Genesis… I…” He paused, mid-sentence, and stared at something. He reached down with his free hand and picked up a bolt of pink silk. It was decorated with lines of very fine handwriting. He sighed loudly when he read the phrases printed on the silk.
“Where did you find ‘Loveless’ fabric?!”
“On line. I bought all seven bolts!” Genesis made a very un-Genesis squeal of delight.
“I have a headache,” said Sephiroth. “Genesis… I know Angeal has resorted to dealing with you by hiding and hoping at some point you turn sane, but as your commanding officer I am ordering you to clean this mess up.”
“Oh goody, it’s been so long since I ignored a direct order. What’s that you are holding – the latest member of Clan Fair?”
“It is. And he’s adorable.”
“He’s a boy,” said Miki boredly. “I’m up to my ears in boys! I only have ONE sister! It’s not fair! Even my mom is a boy! My aunt is a boy! All this testosterone is having an adverse effect on my childhood!”
“Well your cousins will be girls,” said Genesis.
“I’ll believe it when I see it. Mommy will Daddy be home soon?”
“As soon as he’s better,” said Sephiroth. “Help Genesis get his pink under control and we’ll order pizza.”
Sephiroth carefully waded through to sea of pink to the nursery, where thus far he had raised Miki, Akira, Faelan and Sephira. Now he would raise Eri here, and… perhaps… one day… others. When Zack was well, and home, and safe with him once more. Sephiroth carefully set the very small baby in the crib, smiling at the silly explosion of fluff on his butt as the seven tiny tails jutted in all directions.
“Zack Fair, only you could bear a seven-tailed kitsune. In five or six years, we will see what you bring forth next.”
It was not only Zack who looked at Sephiroth and was amazed by the beauty of the man who loved him – all these years later, the feeling was very much mutual.
Phoenix wasn’t bright. It sometimes took him a while to make connections. But ever since Loz had left with Eldwyn, something had been nibbling at him. Something… something….
Then as he was trying to convince Poof that it was getting late and it was definitely time for the jingle bells to come off – he drew a gasp of horror as his little pea brain finally made the connection. He looked around, and spotted someone dressed as a knight. This fellow had to know Sir Eldwyn.
“Good sir! Might you direct me to the tent of Sir Eldwyn of Blackpeak?”
The man indicated a green and black pennant rising in the distance. Phoenix wasted no time running towards it. People watched as the tiny golden-red figure raced to the tent, and shook the canvas.
“Loz! Loz get out here now, we have to talk!”
Loz stepped out of the tent and looked at Phoenix. He was wearing only a pair of loose pants, and they were not his own. Phoenix’s heightened senses could detect to odour of sex wafting off Loz like too much perfume.
“Who got on top?” hissed Phoenix.
“Well… he did.”
“Did you use protection?”
Loz just stared, as if something was beginning to sink in that hadn’t before.
“What do you think you are doing?!” hissed Phoenix. “You and I can’t DO things like that, especially YOU!”
Loz knew exactly what Phoenix meant. With Phoenix, there were organs and a set reproductive cycle, meaning there were simply times of the month when Phoenix wasn’t capable of conceiving.
Loz had learned to like those days a lot.
However Loz was like Sephiroth – ONCE was enough for him. And he had done it more than once.
“I forgot!” said Loz, green eyes enormous.
“How could you forget?!”
“I don’t know, I just did! When you and me were together I always got on top, and I’ve only dated girls after you! I forgot!”
“Loz… Sephiroth is going to freak if you’re…”
“Yeah, yeah, Yazoo too. Oh man, especially Yazoo. Phoenix what do I do?”
“Well maybe you’re not. I mean… how many times did he…?”
“FOUR?! Well congratulations, Loz, you’re a single parent.”
“Phoenix don’t tell anybody, okay? Please? Just for now, don’t… tell anyone. I really like this guy, I don’t want him to think I’m crazy.”
“Loz we are not like other people. We are a small group of seriously altered human beings. The sooner he knows that the better. Because eventually he’s going to find out. If you really like him you will start letting him in on some of the weirdness now. I’ll put Gunner and Poof to bed. If you need me, I’ll be in our tent.”
Loz nodded, and watched Phoenix go in a swirl of red and gold fabric. But he did not only watch Phoenix; he watched the reactions of the people around him responding to his beauty, his grace…
How would they react if they really knew what he was? How would they react if they knew he was the child of two SOLDIER First Class, capable of giving birth and raising the dead? Would they still think he was pretty? It was so damned hard being what they were. It was so hard to make friends, to keep friends, to just be a part of everyday normal things. More than anything, Loz just wanted friends, a family, and a place to belong…
Loz turned his head to look at Eldwyn, who had emerged from the tent to see what was going on.
“I heard voices,” he said. “Is everything all right?”
Loz sighed. Dammit he hated growing up, it was bullshit.
“Yeah, Phoenix was just… reminding me of something.”
Eldwyn looked concerned. Frankly Loz couldn’t figure out why. They hadn’t even known each other a full afternoon. He wasn’t even really sure how they ended up…. Oh yeah, scratch that, he knew exactly how he had ended up in bed with Eldwyn. Because he had been out to fuck anything and anyone that would have him. So he had just screwed up not only his own life, but Eldwyn’s too. Loz tried very hard to channel Zack’s calm wisdom.
“I’m sorry,” said Loz. “It’s just… family drama.”
“Can I help? I mean we don’t really know each other…”
Loz sighed quietly, and guided Eldwyn back into the tent. He poured each of them some more mead, and handed Eldwyn a cup.
“I know I told you Phoenix was my ex-boyfriend, and… he is. But he’s also my friend. In some really messed-up ways he’s family too.”
Eldwyn accepted his cup and seated himself on the bed. “I sense a story.”
“Yeah a big one. Do you know Sephiroth?”
“Not personally but I’ve heard of him.”
“Well he’s my big brother.”
Several emotions seemed to cross Eldwyn’s face. “And he’s coming to kill me for getting you horizontal?”
Loz snorted. “No. But what I mean is… this is so damned hard. What I mean is I’m not a whole human being. I’m a remnant. I’m a genetically-engineered and raised piece of him. And… sometimes it’s not easy being a freak.”
“I see,” said Eldwyn carefully, as if wondering how long Loz had been without his medication. Loz just shook his head and began looking for his clothes.
“I knew it. You think I’m crazy. It’s fine; everyone does. They either think I’m nuts or a liar.”
“I am not calling you either. I just do not understand what it is you are trying to tell me.”
Loz shrugged. “Okay, I’m trying to tell you that I really like you and I’m scared you might not like me because I’m a freak.”
“Is that what Phoenix was telling you? That you’re a freak?”
“Sorta, but not in a mean way. He was reminding me that people like me and him have to be careful, because it isn’t our world. He’s doing what he always does, what the family does – do what we can to keep each other safe.”
“Loz,” said Eldwyn gently, “I sense a very long tale coming. Why don’t you just start with the pertinent bits and we can go forward from there?”
No way Loz was telling him he was pregnant. He stopped looking for his clothes and sat down heavily on the floor, holding his cup, taking a long drink.
“I guess it’s not all that complicated,” said Loz. “It just seems like it. But… all it comes down to right now is… I like you. And there is a lot of really bizarre stuff in my family and I’m worried you will be scared off before we get a chance to really make friends. That’s all. And it’s really early to be introducing any drama but in my family the drama-llamas breed by the dozen. We’re a tight family and we watch out for each other. Phoenix was just scared I had done something dumb.”
“And if we do make friends, how will they feel about me?” asked Eldwyn.
“I think they’d like you a lot. They’d just be amazed you’re such an improvement on some of my other friends. You’re smart, and you like a lot of the same things Auntie Gen does. My other friends and I do things like get drunk and light farts on fire. But I like them. They know what I am and they treat me like just another guy.”
“And what are you, Loz?”
“I told you. I’m a remnant. I’m a physical piece of someone else.”
“Well technically every human being on the planet is a piece of someone else, that’s how babies are made.”
“Yeah don’t remind me,” mumbled Loz. “Look…. I’m… just making mountains out of molehills. It’s hard to tell what people will react to, and I’m not the best guy for explaining things.”
“Loz,” said Eldwyn, “you’re young, and things seem bigger and more overwhelming when you’re young. I understand you’re different. I can tell by your eyes. But why don’t we just take things slow and see how we like each other in the morning?”
“Okay,” said Loz, smiling. “I like that idea.”
The tent flap rustled and Phoenix poked his head in. “Loz have you seen my tampons? My period started with a vengeance and I can’t find them.”
Loz felt himself die ten thousand times over, and he slowly raised his hand to hide his face. No matter what he had done to mortify Phoenix in their past relationship, Phoenix had just paid him back in spades.
“In the First Aid kit,” said Loz, feeling himself turn vibrant red.
Phoenix left. Loz remained behind his hand. Eldwyn just looked very confused. After a few moments, he cleared his throat.
“I… ah… was under the assumption your friend… was a boy.”
“He is,” said Loz.
“Oh. Well. He’s… certainly comfortable with himself.”
“Wait until you meet his mom,” mumbled Loz.