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: A moment of decision, Rae brings lunch, and the first of many confrontations.
The Turks were finally gone.
Cloud smiled as he flopped back on the bed most recently occupied by Elena, not even thinking much of her lingering scent on the sheets. Even though there was only a day until nice, sane and normal guests arrived, Cloud reveled in the quiet.
He'd just tightened the screws on the bathroom medicine cabinet door, one of those things he never personally thought to check but Elena had mentioned it on her way out. And he wasn't like Yuki, able to keep a thousand-task list in his head and get them all done in a day. No, he had to do things while he was thinking about them or he'd forget. Especially little trivial fix-it chores.
"Cloud?" Sephiroth's voice called into the cottage. "Mail's in."
"Anything from Pretty?" Cloud asked, getting to his feet and grabbing the screwdriver he'd dropped on the floor.
"No," Sephiroth replied. "I'm sure she just hasn't realized how long it's been."
"What if something's wrong?"
"Vincent would tell us," Sephiroth said flatly. "I know that and you know that. We all have our own motivations... But even if he hasn't been entirely truthful with us, it has absolutely nothing to do with Pretty."
A tense bit of silence settled over them both, lingering as Cloud started picking up the stray towels that Elena had left draped over a pair of wooden chairs to dry.
"You're curious, aren't you?" Sephiroth asked, finally, sitting down on a twice-recovered easy chair and kicking his feet up onto the crate that served as a coffee table.
"About... the clones."
"I am," Cloud admitted, suddenly feeling a swell of emotion springing up from within him. "Even if you don't think you owe them anything, I... Those experiments were done on me, too!"
"But if they're sick - if they actually need the care..." Cloud couldn't find the words to express everything he wanted to say. He didn't really understand it himself, if only because of a nagging fear that neither of them really were who they thought they were.
"I told myself that... I'd never try to... They aren't my puppets. You aren't my puppet," Sephiroth said before looking up at the ceiling. "But..."
"They deserve their own lives," Sephiroth concluded as he shifted his gaze to Cloud, his eyes a clear green with an intensity that made Cloud shiver a little inside.
"Yes, Sir..." he managed, swallowing hard.
"Do you always eat this much?" Twenty asked as Pretty finished off her third plate of pancakes.
"These are good!" Pretty exclaimed as best she could for having her mouth full. "The ones I make at home are from a box but these are fresh, I can tell!"
"Don't push your recovery," Dr. Ysole reminded her, reaching a hand out towards Pretty's plate.
"Just a couple more..." Pretty begged in response. She frowned when she was denied.
They were all sitting in the cafeteria again, in a back corner by themselves. Reeve had wandered off after his phone rang, leaving just the three of them to enjoy a full breakfast.
"You're really Cloud's sister?" Twenty asked for what had to be the fourth or fifth time. Each time he asked, he smiled as though he was remembering something from a distant, happy past.
"Well, not so much his as..." Pretty stopped herself and winced for a moment before trying to think of a better way to phrase it. "I mean, I live with both Cloud and the owner of the place where we all work."
"And what do you do?" Twenty questioned with a smile on his face.
"Well, we have a nice little resort with cottages and there are hot springs and chocobos to ride..." Pretty explained. "I cook and clean and fold and clean and lead tours and clean and when beasts are spotted near the village, I go help cut them into little tiny pieces."
Dr. Ysole brought a hand to her mouth, apparently not quite expecting that from her patient.
Twenty just laughed and nodded. "You've been well-trained. It was almost like you've fought me before, though."
"You think?" Pretty commented carefully. "I think you were just not being very creative with your moves. Next time, I'd love to show you a few things!"
"Well, if the doctors approve..."
"I'd hardly try to stop two young people with such unique chemistry," Dr. Ysole said softly. "But I don't want any disruptions to your progress and I want things in this facility to stay quiet. Mr. Valentine was a bit worried about letting Pretty meet with any of the other patients, but..."
No sooner were the words out of her mouth than Vincent walked into the other end of the cafeteria, at the end by where the food was being served.
Before it clicked into her mind that it might not be the smartest thing to do, Pretty had already called out to him.
In an instant, Pretty was on her feet, halfway through the room before he even realized who she'd been sitting with. And Pretty could see his expression change from one of soft amusement to one bordering very closely on sheer horror.
"Pretty..." he said, reaching out to push some of her stray hair off her face. "You're up."
"Yeah," she replied, realizing he still had a hand on her head and was keeping her from turning.
"Who's this?" a voice asked from behind Vincent. Two men stepped around him, one on either side so that they could see Pretty and she could see them.
"A patient," Vincent replied coolly. "And a friend."
"You know Vincent?" Twenty had snuck up behind Pretty to rest a hand on her shoulder and grinning.
"He brought me here," Pretty said, suddenly sure that something bad was about to happen.
"Mr. Valentine, this young woman is simply astounding," Dr. Ysole interrupted as she joined the group. "Reeve was more than impressed with her fighting abilities and she claims to be at just a fraction of her full-recovered skill."
"You let her..." Vincent shook his head. "She's in no condition to be fighting."
"I believe her condition is my field of expertise," Dr. Ysole snapped. "Despite your medical background, Mr. Valentine, I am the doctor."
"I know what you are," Vincent replied equally sharply. "I'm just expressing my concern for the woman I brought here and expected to be kept safe."
"She nearly beat the stuffing out of me," Twenty said. "And I'm no pushover."
"She what?" one of the other men asked.
Finally Vincent dropped his hand and Pretty felt safe to turn her head to look at them. Gasping, she couldn't help but reach a hand up to touch the thin pair of glasses that shielded green cat's eyes.
"You look a bit like Sixteen," Pretty said with a smile. This clone had shorter hair, though, and a slightly different chin. He seemed shorter, too, but just a bit.
"Pretty?" Vincent questioned.
"Really," Twenty continued. "She broke a practice sword. With Mako poisoning."
"I want to fight her," the second of the clones said. "I want a new challenge. It'll be good."
"This is Twentyfour," Twenty said, drawing Pretty to the other clone. "And the near-sighted one is Seventeen."
"Hiya!" Pretty said, trying to bow before remembering that Twenty was still leaning on her. They both stumbled a step, leaving Pretty clinging to Vincent and Twenty on the floor, laughing.
"If you'll excuse me," Dr. Ysole said softly, glancing at her watch, "I really must make my rounds."
"Thanks again, Doc!" Twenty said as he tried to get to his feet in time to grab the door for her. "I'll see you later."
"Twenty, why don't you go with your brothers?" Vincent suggested as he set Pretty back on her feet. "I'd like to speak with Pretty in private."
Nodding, the three clones moved off, leaving just Pretty and Vincent alone.
"I'd suggest you sit," Vincent said. "And I'm also fairly sure you aren't incredibly happy with me right now."
"I'm sure you have your reasons," Pretty said. "But..."
"I had instructed Perrin and Ysole not to let you speak with any of the other patients," Vincent said. "I chose to risk everything because I didn't want you to die. However, I... There was no way I could explain just why I didn't want you seeing anyone."
"But... why?" Pretty asked. "They're people. They aren't... I mean... Angel..."
"Pretty, I can't tell them about Angel," Vincent explained. "I can only hope that Cloud and Angel were smart enough to avoid the Turks that accidentally ended up in Mideel. They're the ones who hunted down all the clones... with assistance from the last surviving research scientists from the project who continue to monitor the health of their creations."
"Dr. Ysole... Dr. Lothaire..." Pretty could feel tears threatening to burst from her eyes. The wonderful doctors who took such good care of her - they were the bad guys? "No..."
"I've spent the last couple of years lying to everyone," Vincent said. "Bearing everything myself. I want Angel and Cloud to be safe. I want these men who never asked to be created to be safe. I want you safe."
"Well it's biting you in the ass," Pretty surmised.
"Indeed it is," Vincent agreed. "So I suppose the only thing I can do now is introduce you to the other five."
"You'd do that?" Pretty asked, reaching across the table to grab both of Vincent's hands in hers. The metal didn't bother her at all anymore. She was used to being touched by it, after all. She was used to its constant chill against her skin. "Oh... But..."
"We'll discuss your return to Mideel another time," Vincent said softly. "For now, why don't you just worry about a full recovery."
A tentative knock at the back screen door distracted Cloud momentarily from attempting to get bloodstains out of one of his more favored pairs of pants.
And since he had just taken them off after two hours of intense, painful sparring during which he'd perfected the sword-leap and also managed to crack his head against the porch roof (neither of which had anything to do with the blood), in order to get the blood out, he was standing at the kitchen sink completely naked. Other than a couple of perfectly wrapped bandages which did have something to do with the blood.
"Rae!" Cloud exclaimed, grabbing at the screen door once he realized her hands were being occupied by a large bag. "And I'm naked."
"Indeed you are," Rae confirmed, peering over the top of the bag. "I heard your guests left so I brought lunch. But get some pants and your boyfriend first. I'm not going to sit down to a meal with someone naked."
"Yes, Ma'am," Cloud replied, letting her into the kitchen before heading down the hallway to the stairs himself.
"Angel," he called a moment later. "Rae's here with food!"
When he didn't get a response, he peeked into the office to see if Sephiroth was on the phone. The office was empty though, save for the sparkling dust particles that had to have migrated from the attic.
Just as he turned to head up the stairs, a pair of pants landed on his head.
"Rae's here with food and you answered the door naked," Sephiroth said as he descended the stairs. "I heard you. I just figured it made more sense to cover your ass than..."
"You're just in a sadistic mood today," Cloud grumbled as he stepped into the clean pair of pants.
"As if you didn't enjoy every second."
"I liked those pants. I mean, yes I've lost decent pants because some beast decided to make them air-conditioned, but you..."
"Actually, the blood came right out," Rae called from the kitchen. "Cold water and a little cleaner is your friend."
"I suppose we see if Rae has forgiven you for a restaurant full of Turks," Sephiroth commented. "If we get food poisoning, that'll mean..."
"I can hear you!"
Cloud never actually forgot why he liked Rae so much. But sometimes a little reminder went a long way.
"I think," Cloud said as he double-stepped past Sephiroth and into the kitchen, "that you were supposed to hear him."
"So now that ten thousand strange things have happened," Rae continued as though everything was perfectly normal. Cloud's pants were out on the porch rail already and she had half of the bag of food unpacked onto the table. "Please tell me what is going on. I don't care how weird or long or whatever the story is. I have time and not only will I believe you, I'll keep it quiet. But I can only assume it goes back much, much farther than six years ago. Or eight years ago. Or even ten..."
"Once upon a time," Sephiroth began, reaching to open the cupboard to get plates, "the world stopped making sense."
"You do have your memory back, then," Rae concluded with a smirk. "I'd thought so. I remember one day you were just sort of wandering around with this look... Like you'd solved the mysteries of the universe or something. Happy, but really sad, too. That's how I felt."
"It's not that simple, Rae," Cloud said, helping her with the last of the containers within the bag. She'd brought them a feast of sandwiches and sides, likely all handmade personally that morning.
"I can only imagine," Rae replied with a chuckle. "But this is Mideel. We don't care that you all defected from ShinRa and have wings and whatever. That's the first thing I learned when I ended up here - no matter who you are... or were... everyone is more than willing to let you start over."
"For which I'm grateful," Sephiroth admitted as they all sat down to eat.
"You aren't going to tell me any thing else, are you?" Rae asked cautiously. "What about Vincent?"
"ShinRa did some inhumane science experiments," Sephiroth replied. "He, Cloud and I are all survivors of that time."
"You..." Rae stammered. "And Pretty?"
"There was a special program being planned once the further effects of Mako on women had been verified," Sephiroth said. "Based solely on her fighting capabilities when she first washed up, if she somehow wasn't a ShinRa guard, she was at least trained to take care of herself. But nothing beyond that, to the best of my knowledge."
"Caught between a rock and a hard spot," Cloud said. "We aren't entirely sure what he thinks he's doing, other than he... Pretty is safe with him. I think that's about the only thing we know for sure."
"I brought you lunch and you aren't making me feel any better."
"Oh, you mean that Cloud answering the door naked didn't help?"
"I'm sitting right here," Cloud mumbled, wondering why he always had to be the receiving end of things.
"You will let me know when you hear something, though..."
"Yes," Sephiroth promised. "I'm just fairly sure that she's lost track of time. Remember the last time we let her go anywhere..."
"Too well, unfortunately," Rae finished with a sigh.
Cloud frowned. He never had actually gleaned the story about everything Pretty had done before stumbling into Nibelheim that night six years before. And looking at the combined faces that Sephiroth and Rae were making, it couldn't have been entirely good.
Drink Lemonade! Tip Your Waitress!