Living Without Worry
Title: Living Without Worry (Brightest Blue Eyes Arc 3)
Fandom: Final Fantasy VII
Disclaimer: No implied ownership, no financial gain, only fanwork.
Characters/Pairings: Sephiroth/Cloud, multiple OCs, Full Cast
Rating: MA overall
Summary: And suddenly, there is plot.
"What did you call me?" the man asked, bending down to grab the roll that had stopped at his feet.
Pretty caught herself. Obviously something very strange was happening and Vincent had always tried to teach her that it was safer to play an idiot and hopefully glean useful information.
"You... You look like an angel," Pretty stammered as she knelt to chase the other roll which had fallen under a set of shelves. "I need to get back to my room. I'm not supposed to be out. You aren't a doctor here, are you? You won't tell..."
"I'm not a doctor," came as response before a strong hand reached down to help Pretty to her feet. A little spark of dizziness shot through her, but catching familiar eyes with her own, she felt suddenly safe.
"A patient, too?" she asked, taking her toilet paper and hugging it almost protectively.
"Yes," he said. "Though I don't have Mako poisoning like you do."
"How do you..."
"Well, the normal patients here all are being treated for severe cases of Mako poisoning," he explained, rummaging around on another shelf as he spoke. "And you seem to be a normal patient."
"Oh," Pretty said. "But you won't tell Dr. Ysole that I snuck out, right?"
"I won't." More rummaging and then finally he pulled a small silver pouch from the bottom of a box.
"Coffee," he explained before Pretty could ask. "I'm purely nocturnal for some reason. So I'm just getting up for the day and no one bothered to bring me any..."
"You have a coffee maker in your room? I just have a TV," Pretty said. "And it isn't very interactive."
The man laughed and Pretty shivered at how identical even that was.
"I'm allowed to leave my room," he said. "So why don't I come visit you and talk in the evenings?"
"You'd do that?" Pretty asked. Despite Vincent promising to be around, he'd vanished fairly quickly, again.
"Of course. Miss, um..."
"Pretty," Pretty said, shifting so she could hold out her hand.
"Pretty," he repeated, shaking her hand carefully. "I suppose that makes it a little easier to admit that the only thing I've ever been called is Sixteen."
"Sixteen," Pretty replied before smiling. "I like that. You're a number and I'm an adjective."
Sixteen chuckled before turning to the door.
"How about I come visit tomorrow night?" he asked as he held the door open. "As long as you don't get caught on your way back to your room."
"Okay!" Pretty replied as she tried to wave. Her feet were still too noisy on the tile floor, but even lacking stealth, she didn't get the feeling that anyone had even noticed she was gone.
Back in her room, she collapsed onto the bed, dropping her ill-gotten toilet paper to the floor and hoping it didn't unroll. Tired, she reached over and reconnected her IV, wondering if it really was providing her with all the energy she hoped that she had on her own.
And Sixteen. A man who was a number who looked just like the man she'd lived with for the last eight years of her life. She wracked her brain trying to find any possible reason for there to be more than one. But she'd never paid particularly close attention to all the stories that Cloud and Sephiroth had told about the past. Not about family or anything, at least. Sixteen seemed to have the same eerie agelessness to him, though, a trait of anything filled with too much Mako.
She swallowed hard.
"How was dinner?" Sephiroth asked, reaching to grab another towel to fold. Cloud watched him add another perfectly square towel to the top of a perfect pile of perfectly folded towels before replying.
"Dinner was fine," Cloud replied softly. The memory of Sephiroth perfectly folding things had always stuck in his mind, lingering from his teenage years when he couldn't do hospital corners on his bed and Zack could never manage to keep his uniform shirts from looking wrinkled.
"Dinner was fine," Cloud repeated. "Everything after was where things started to get a little weird."
"Define 'weird'," Sephiroth requested, grabbing another towel. Cloud hadn't noticed until that moment, but they were being sorted by color, too.
"I'm not sure how to," Cloud admitted, finally grabbing an old metal folding chair and sitting down. "But if you want me to try, I'd suggest sitting down too."
"Cloud..." Not so much questioning as demanding. Cloud swallowed hard. He didn't even know where to begin.
"I asked a rather drunk Elena just what ShinRa normally had the Turks chasing," Cloud began, waiting for Sephiroth to do anything other than keep folding those damned towels. "And..."
"And?" Finally, Sephiroth moved to get a chair of his own.
"Normally they round up the last remaining of Hojo's creations. Clones," Cloud said, looking immediately downward. "And Vincent helps them."
Green eyes narrowed in the dim basement. Cloud couldn't find words as he heard the sound of a metal chair being kicked back hard enough to hit the wall. And footsteps, on the stairs.
He felt frozen in place, unable to move even when he heard the telltale slam of the back screen door.
With a heavy sigh, Cloud pushed the chair back and stood. He didn't think Sephiroth was really a threat, per se, so much as...
He paused, hand on the railing to the narrow flight of stairs that made their way up to the kitchen.
Most of Hojo's theories and experiments hadn't exactly permeated his conscious. But... he was chasing the real Sephiroth, wasn't he?
Vincent... Vincent knew so much more than he was letting on. Vincent, still, Vincent would have said something - would have questioned or implied. But Vincent had only watched and commented that yes, he knew about Sephiroth's wings.
That had to be enough proof, didn't it?
Running up the stairs, Cloud could only hope... A glance down the hallway told him that Masamune was safely resting in its holders on the wall. Turning, he headed through the kitchen, letting the screen door slam behind him as he raced off the porch and into the slow drizzle of the evening.
Stopping midway across the lawn and nearly sliding on the wet grass, Cloud realized he wasn't entirely sure just where Sephiroth had headed. The cabin Rude and Reno were sharing appeared peacefully quiet, as did Elena's. There were no other guests. And not a light shone anywhere on the property other than the bluish fluorescent one mounted high on the other side of the barn.
Not that Sephiroth really needed light for any reason.
Without really thinking much more about it, Cloud started towards the path to the pools. Rarely did either of them wander back to the far pool anymore, even though it had cleared to a nearly crystalline purity save for where the bottom dropped out into stunning darkness.
He hated how they always seemed to descend into awkwardness, the past so tainting the present it was like neither could escape chains that should have been thrown off and left to rust.
White. Ahead of him there was white.
"Angel..." Cloud's voice stuck in his throat.
"Emotion," Sephiroth replied, turning around and smiling the sort of smile that made Cloud's blood run cold. "Just... emotion."
Cloud tried to take a step forward. He felt infinitely constrained in his wet dress clothing. The rain wasn't as noticeable beneath the cover of the woods, but it was still soaking him with a warm dampness that threatened to chill his body anyway.
"I... I'm real, aren't I?"
They'd had the same thought.
"Yes," Cloud said firmly. "You're real. You're you."
"Why are you so sure?" Sephiroth asked, the green of his eyes almost too bright in the nearly-black.
"Because I know you," Cloud replied. "Every inch of you. You know that I... I would... You controlled me - reached right into me and moved me. I know you like you know me."
"You're the one who wanted me to keep trusting Vincent." Cloud hoped that was enough of a conversation stopper. He didn't know what else to say. His last few statements felt as though they'd been pulled straight from some strange coiled knot in his stomach that he didn't even know was still there.
"I'd expect you to trust Vincent," Sephiroth said softly. "He still looks at you with the eyes of a lover."
Cloud winced, not so much at Sephiroth mentioning that part of his relationship with Vincent but that if it was true, he hadn't even noticed. But he did want to trust Vincent. Vincent had never once done anything questionable - obviously Vincent had his reasons for keeping such a bombshell under wraps, but...
Of course, Cloud wasn't exactly sure how he'd choose to break the news, given the option. How or when...
"I'm not jealous," Sephiroth replied, glancing further down the path before motioning for Cloud to follow him. "I just don't think it was right of him to let you - us - find this out on our own..."
"What's done is done," Cloud said, finally remembering how to walk properly and needing to sprint a couple steps to catch up to Sephiroth. Part of him wanted to reach out and touch the almost fluffy whiteness of those wings, wondering why they'd appeared again so soon.
But even though he knew exactly what it was like to question himself and his origins and just who and what he was, Cloud couldn't even begin to stretch himself to imagine what it was like for Sephiroth.
"You called me..."
"I know what I called you," Cloud said quickly, reaching for Sephiroth's hand instead of the tempting white of feathers. "You're Sephiroth and you're Angel. Same person..."
"I was tempted to take another name when I came here," Cloud admitted, revealing thoughts that had struck him while on Cid's ship on the way back after lengthy delays had kept him in Junon. "I'd still be me."
They were almost to the back pool. The sound of raindrops against water was audible in the otherwise silent night, torturous save that they had their voices to ward against whatever came.
"I can't imagine you with another name."
"I know." Cloud peered at the water, feeling warmth radiating from it. At night it was just blackness, sinking nothing until he got closer and could see the stone work some ancient crafter had lovingly set to perfection.
"So how was dinner?" Sephiroth asked a moment later as Cloud was pulling his shirt off.
"Rae will likely never forgive me," Cloud said, smiling. "Reno pissed in the bushes on his way back. And Elena is a very friendly drunk."
"Rae will forgive you eventually," Sephiroth replied, stripping quickly and efficiently, dumping what remained of his clothing onto one of the table-like stones beside the rack Cloud was throwing his own already soaked pants onto.
"I can hope." He was in the water before Sephiroth was, surprised at how warm and inviting it was. No wonder Sephiroth had come this way. He was going to melt and become part of the pool, lingering in fluidity forever, not worrying about...
Sephiroth's wings dissolved the second they came in crashing contact with the water, almost sparkling in the darkness as white became thin air.
"Not surprised," Sephiroth commented, settling beside Cloud. "But you..."
"Like them, yes," Cloud said. "Hate them and am a little scared, too, yes..."
Silence ruled for a few minutes as both men relaxed in the heat of the pool.
"How many?" Sephiroth asked, reaching over to grab Cloud's hand beneath the water.
"How many clones was Elena talking about... if they've been hunting down..."
"I'm not sure," Cloud admitted, wondering if his own eyes were as bright and emotive as Sephiroth's. "Elena said... Some died - some... were killed."
"Where are they? I'm assuming they're being held... together," Sephiroth let his voice fade, mouthing something Cloud didn't catch.
"Midgar." Cloud knew that much. "I... I can go."
"Think about it," Sephiroth said. "What... what would you do? Burst in and then what? Explain that... I don't even know what you'd explain because I don't know what you'd do."
"Elena mentioned a hospital," Cloud said, trying to remember the rest of the slurred details the blonde woman had all too willingly poured out. "I... Maybe some of them are sick."
"Do we owe them anything?" Sephiroth asked, his tone turning to deadly seriousness. "Even if you were to find them, be there two or twenty, what... They didn't ask to exist but they do - I didn't... I don't know what we could do, what they'd be capable of. If they're as sick as you were..."
Cloud didn't say anything. He didn't want to think about it. He'd been a personal failure but the tests hadn't stopped. His torment... He'd been so sick and broken... Already between them they had one sick person to care for, even if she wasn't with them. Would more - especially volatile ones who...
There were too many questions. Cloud sighed.
"We'll cook ourselves if we stay in here," Cloud said, wondering how wrinkled his fingers already were.
The universe was out to get him. He was sure of it. But Sephiroth probably was thinking the exact same thing.
"And before the rain gets any worse," Sephiroth added. "I can only imagine Pretty coming home in tip-top fighting shape only to find the pair of us with pneumonia."
"She'll probably find us the way she always does," Cloud said, hoping that they'd dropped the serious conversations for at least the rest of the night.
"Naked in a hallway?"
"Yeah," Cloud replied. "That sounds good."
"Being naked in a hallway?"
"Yes, being naked in a hallway," Cloud agreed, punctuating his sentence by standing, creating waves across the pool that lapped at the far edge for a moment. Sephiroth smiled.
"We can do that," he said, climbing out of the pool with more grace than Cloud could ever manage.
"Just not the downstairs hallway unless we're far from that table," Cloud mumbled, feeling dirt stick to his feet as he reached for his pants. The rain felt cold after the warmth of the pool, but Cloud was trying not to pay too much attention to it. "Don't need materia falling on my head again..."
"I apologized for that."
The path somehow never became more than damp even when it rained, keeping it from being muddy even as they nearly ran towards the house. It felt good to move his body - Cloud hadn't even realized how much he missed exercising on the lawn in the mornings, either swinging a sword with Pretty or just playing games in the fog with anyone willing to join.
The yard was still dark. Cloud could only wonder what time it was - he knew it had to be late but it didn't feel much past evening. But he'd been out all evening.
The screen door slammed behind him, leaving Cloud just a split second to close and lock the real door before Sephiroth had him pressed against it, kissing him fiercely.
Wishing she had a window in her room, Pretty managed to find a way to snake enough cord to the floor so that she didn't have to undo her IV while doing push-ups. Not that she'd done more than a dozen before sitting on the floor, wheezing and hoping that neither doctor was going to appear to catch her.
She was fairly sure it was morning, thanks to the help of the television. At least they'd called it Morning News and her body told her it was early.
Before she'd managed to slip back into bed, there was a knock at her door. And a pause. The doctors just always came right in and she wasn't expecting Sixteen to come around until evening, if he even came at all.
Making her way slowly to the door, Pretty wished she had some sort of way to see out. Though really, no one too scary could have made it past the Nurse Station during the day.
As she opened the door, she realized that all her guesses were wrong. On the other side of a cardboard box she dared not take, Pretty recognized Reeve, the man who'd basically carried her in when she'd first arrived.
She'd only seen him once since, and she'd been so out of it she hadn't made for very good company, which made his appearance a bit of a shock.
"Come in!" she exclaimed, stepping back and letting him bring the box in. He didn't seem to be straining any under the weight, but Pretty knew boxes like that were heavy, at least for normal people.
"Miss Pretty," Reeve said, setting the box down and holding his hand out. "It's nice to see you up. I was just about to put the box down and open the door myself."
"IV," Pretty replied, making sure to hold out the hand not filled with tubes, which made for an awkward shake. "What's the box?"
"Something for you to do," Reeve said, moving to sit in the chair in the corner of the room. "As part of the recovery, ShinRa has released most confidential files, including those on killed or missing soldiers and employees. Without knowing exactly what happened to you before you ended up in Mideel, it's hard to tell how you would have been classified - Missing in Action or Presumed Dead or even just AWOL..."
"I might be in there?" Pretty asked, pointing at the box. Tears bit at her eyes without her really understanding why. "I mean... my name... my... past?"
"Yes," Reeve said. "Maybe. Most of the active records were burned, but these were in an outlying warehouse. I just brought one box today, though. I thought I'd see how you're feeling."
"Better than last time. I did know you were here... I just..."
"Good enough for lunch?" Reeve asked. "There's a cafeteria a couple of floors down."
Pretty blushed. As much as she wanted to dig into that box, she was a little scared too. And now Reeve was asking her to lunch.
"You're being very nice for someone who doesn't know me," Pretty said, wondering if she would need to wear something besides the scrubs Dr. Ysole had given her if they did go eat. She didn't mind looking like a doctor, though, because it was better than the drafty hospital gowns.
"Surely you know that your brother is quite the hero," Reeve said, smiling. It took Pretty a second to realize that he was talking about Cloud instead of the man she generally thought of as 'brother'. "And since he relocated so unexpectedly to Mideel, a few of us have been curious. Let's just say that my curiosity would like to take you to lunch."
"Okay," Pretty said, hoping she wouldn't slip up. "As long as Dr. Lothaire and Dr. Ysole know where I am."
"I passed Perrin on the way in," Reeve replied, referring to Dr. Lothaire by his first name in a much-too-friendly manner. "I'm sure he won't mind."
"Okay..." Pretty took one last look at the box before disconnecting her IV and finding her slippers. Reeve was there to take her hand a moment later.
"And you wanted embarrassing stories about Cloud, too, didn't you?" Reeve asked, opening the door for her.
"I do," Pretty admitted. The nurses in the hallway frowned at her, but she resisted the urge to stick out her tongue at them.
They were both quiet until the elevator. As Reeve hit the button beside a small plaque marked 'Cafeteria', Pretty had another thought spring to mind.
"Do you come here often?" she asked, double-checking that the ties on her clothing were all tight. She already knew from traveling the other continent that no matter the weather, proper attire was proper attire...
"I mean, do you ever see anyone else? I just... don't see people other than the doctors. But I know they're there," Pretty began, hoping to not sound too obvious. "Vincent said that most of them are really sick in their own ways, but..."
"Are you worried about the incident last night?" Reeve asked as the elevator slid to a slow stop at their floor.
Pretty froze before she figured out that Reeve was talking about the lock-down, not her midnight wandering.
"Yes," she said, not entirely sure that she wasn't lying.
"Vincent cares quite a bit about your well-being," Reeve said as he led Pretty to the cafeteria line. Despite the selections looking fairly bland, they smelled amazing and Pretty wished she wasn't currently restricted from eating most anything with any hint of flavor.
She also wasn't sure what to make of Reeve's statement until he continued.
"But considering the amount of time he spends there with you, that much you must know."
Pretty shivered, trying not to let her voice falter as she asked one of the cafeteria ladies for some steamed green beans.
She didn't doubt that Vincent spent a decent amount of time at the facility. She... just couldn't figure out how everything tied together.
Drink Lemonade! Tip Your Waitress!