Chapter Title: Intel
Rating: PG 13
The Mission: Prequel | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28 | 29
“… and to protect people, especially those closest to me.”
“Closest to you?” Lazard raised an eyebrow over steepled fingers.
Cloud nodded in affirmation to a question left undefined. “We all have those dearest to us,” he said, unaware of how his eyes grew glazed and distant. “The ones who support us and inspire us. Our motivation for everything else that needs to be done.”
Lazard ran his gaze down the open file hidden behind his viewscreen. “I understand your mother still lives in Nibelheim.”
Cloud shook back to reality. “Yes. My mother.”
“You are an only child, am I correct? Of a single parent?”
Cloud swallowed but didn’t choke. “Correct on both counts, Sir.”
“Your mother would be the one responsible for your strong drive, I imagine.”
The look in the young man’s eyes grew distant. Memories of home, perhaps. “She’s been influential, Sir.” Cloud fidgeted a little in his seat.
“Looking forward to bringing her to the city, are you?”
Cloud blinked. “My pay grade wouldn’t begin to cover that,” he began.
“If you got the increases commensurate with admission to the SOLDIER program,” Lazard said, “I’m sure expense would not be an issue.”
Cloud looked thoughtful in a way he never realized other people found extremely fetching. Lazard found his gaze drawn to the flow of light over the young man’s cheek. “Depends on what she wants, Sir. She always felt our Nibel roots more than I did.”
“Will you be fine without your main ‘inspiration’, as you put it?”
“You don’t need to be there to be there for someone,” Cloud said. “And I’ve found plenty of good support right here in the city.”
“Yeah, Uh, yes, sir.” There was a softening of the gaze, the hint of a smile and a half shade of blush that combined to make an expression Lazard considered himself very familiar with. Young Strife had found romance.
“That’s good,” was all Lazard said.
The silence lasted a little more than appropriate. “Is there anything else you’d like to know, Sir?” Cloud asked.
He was not cowed by rank, a good trait to have in an operation headed by some of the most impressive specimens on the Planet. Lazard hid a smile. “No, I think that will suffice. Good luck with the rest of your assessments, cadet.”
He stood and offered a hand. Cloud had a firm grip. He probably spent time with practice swords, or even broom handles, the way many of the hopefuls did. Cloud thanked him, quite polite and rather refined for a backwater boy. Mrs. Strife had done her job well.
Lazard took his seat again when the door slid closed, and scanned Cloud Strife’s file. There was a line in the psych evaluation section that claimed the boy did not bond well with others. Lazard snorted. “Boy’s attention is occupied elsewhere, is all,” he muttered, recalling the rose that had invaded the boy’s cheek. “I’m sure he’s bonding well enough.”
“Yeah,” Kunsel said from under the desk, back to giving the Director a foot massage. “Kid that pretty will get rolled six ways from Sunday.”
Lazard hummed in agreement. He required only two ways himself, most days, and for under-desk eavesdropping privileges Kunsel had promised to deliver both. Lazard collated the papers and straightened up the file. “He’s quite adequate in a number of ways,” he said, “and if he does have some sort of problem playing well with others, I’m sure the First Classes can bend him into shape.”
Genesis did in fact, with the aid of a harness and several yards of rope, bend Cloud into some sort of shape that very evening. “And that is how you do suspension,” he said to Zack.
“Uh huh,” Zack said, mesmerized by the sight. Rope marked a crisscross pattern of knots across Cloud’s naked skin, holding him high off the floor, arms bound behind him, back arched, thighs parted as if in invitation, blindfolded, gagged, in a slow sway.
“Now you want to check his peripheries every now and then, to make sure he’s…” Genesis wiped a hand across his brow. “Make sure he still has…” He paused again and dropped his weight down on the end of the bed, leaning over for air. “Blood flow.” His voice grew weak and wavy.
“Mmph.” Cloud protested against his gag.
“You want out, Cloud?” Zack asked. Cloud wasn’t signaling like they had agreed. Cloud jerked his head the best he could, directionless and blind.
The soft friction of fabric gliding against fabric interceded, and there was a thump as Genesis hit the floor. “Shit.” Zack pounced, hoisting the man up over his shoulders. “On the bed, Gen.” He dumped Genesis properly on the bed, boots and all, and put two fingers under the man’s ear. “He’s got a pulse,” he called out, and Cloud stopped fidgeting, though his breathing was still panicked and harsh.
Zack reached for the emergency cutter and went to work. “Rope’s cheap enough, right?” he said, busy at work getting Cloud down. “SOLDIER in need of backup, trooper.”
“Mmm,” Cloud said, and Zack finally had the sense to remove the gag. “Call Angeal,” Cloud said, “and medical. They’ll know what to do.”
“So it turns out the kidney pills were dropping my blood pressure,” Genesis said, his head in Angeal’s lap. Angeal was stroking his hair, rather like a cat, and Genesis was enjoying every minute of it.
“You gave the pets one hell of a scare,” Angeal said. His voice was still a little raw from the frantic shouting he had done over the phone. Genesis reached up with his eyes closed, navigating a trail for his fingers along Angeal’s stubbled jaw by memory and touch alone.
“How’s the pup?”
“Fine, I expect,” Angeal said, leaning in to the touch, loving the miniscule tension of his stubble being brushed the wrong way. “Sephiroth took him out for ice cream.”
Genesis opened his eyes and examined Angeal’s face for any trace of a lie. “That’s going to get some tongues wagging.”
Angeal shrugged. “Let them talk. It wouldn’t even be a lie anyhow.”
“I suppose,” Genesis rolled onto his side, nose pressing into Angeal’s rock hard abs. “Hadn’t planned to make things public just because I don’t have enough blood flow to my brain.” Angeal passed a hand down the side of Genesis’s face, the tips of his fingers lingering around the curve of an ear. Genesis batted at him. “Stop it, that tickles.”
Angeal indulged himself in Genesis’s squirming a full two seconds before he complied. His hand settled on Genesis’s shoulder as they stared together at the TV. It wasn’t on. “Cloud’s doing okay,” Angeal said, very conscious of his efforts to make it sound off-hand.
“Of course he is,” Genesis said. “Kid’s tougher than he looks.” Angeal grunted some sort of agreement with a couple dozen doubts still running through his mind. He would hold them for now. Genesis needed rest.
“I still think you shoulda let me beat him up,” Zack said.
“It would only cause trouble for the company,” Sephiroth said, pressing the button for the executive suite floor. “There are hospital bills to pay, and equipment costs, and ‘emotional damages’.” He sighed. “And no matter how much hush money you throw at it, the story still makes it out, to the tabloids at least.”
“So what are we supposed to do?” Zack said. “Just let them blind us with camera flashes at every turn? Write gossip columns about us?” He turned pale. “Oh Gaia. It’s going to be all over the net, isn’t it?”
“You’ll get used to it.” Sephiroth watched the numbers glow in turn. The bulb in 15 had been out forever and nobody had bothered to fix it. He ground his teeth until 16 lit up. “Genesis used to keep a scrapbook of the nonsense they wrote about us when we were new First Classes. He might show them to you if you ask, assuming he still has them.”
“Seriously?” Zack bounced on his heels. Sephiroth reminded himself that the shudder in the elevator was normal at Floor 29, and not at all due to the puppy’s antics. “What kind of stuff?”
Sephiroth glanced aside from his number-watching. He weighed his words. “Most of it was… sexual in nature.” And not entirely off the mark, considering what happened behind closed doors.
Zack only grinned. “Kinky stuff, huh? I’m going to ask Gen about those scrapbooks.” He cocked his head to the side. A thoughtful look crossed his face. “Hey, you think he’d like it if I got him one of those crafty packs?”
“You know, packs of pretty paper, and strings and beads and stuff. They’re all over the place, and if he’s into scrapbooking… Hey, he needs a get-well present, doesn’t he?”
Sephiroth snorted. “We already got him ice cream. Does he need glitter too?” A stricken look crossed his face. Zack saw the blurry ghost of it reflected in the elevator door.
Sephiroth turned, heaving a little for breath. “No glitter, Zack. Whatever you get him, no glitter.”
Genesis polished off the whole pint of caramel apple ice-cream that same night. To be fair, he did share with Zack and Cloud, feeding them both in turn from his spoon and enjoying the thought of it being a series of indirect kisses. He glanced at Angeal now and then, reminding him that there was still more in the container if he changed his mind. But Angeal only rolled his eyes and shared a sensible plate of celery, carrot sticks and ranch dressing with Sephiroth.
“You really should get some vitamins and fiber, Gen,” Angeal chided.
“Life’s too short for that shit,” Genesis said, giving Cloud another caramel-swirled ‘kiss’.
“Life will be short without it,” Sephiroth mumbled and turned up the volume on his space show.
Full of sugar, Zack, Cloud and Genesis promptly experienced a crash halfway through the episode. “Time for bed,” Genesis said through his yawn. Cloud was already dozing in his lap. “Come on,” Genesis nudged. “Up, up, you two. The sweet, soft pillows are calling our names.”
Zack rolled over and groaned. “I’m going, I’m going.” His eyes closed again. Genesis poked him right in the crack. “AH, what the fuck! Not in my butt, man!”
“That’s not what you said last night,” Sephiroth said, suddenly more interested in the drama in the living room than the one on the screen.
Zack groaned again. “I’m going to bed,” he said. “The rest of you can join me when you’re ready to behave like grown-ups.” He stumbled off into the dark.
Genesis chuckled and watched him go. “Guess I’ll have to carry Cloud in,” he said, fighting the endless battle to smooth the blond spikes.
“You’re not carrying anybody anywhere,” Sephiroth said, rising from his chair. “What if you faint again and drop him?”
“I did not faint,” Genesis said, “I passed out. There’s a difference.” But he let Sephiroth take Cloud from him. He sat back, alone in the dim room with only the crew of a pretend starship for company. “Pointy-eared bastard,” he tossed down the hall.
“My ears are not pointy,” Sephiroth sent back.
Genesis sank further into the couch. “If they were you wouldn’t mind,” he grumbled. He looked around for Angeal. The man had disappeared.
He reappeared with a crunching sound from a fresh green apple. “Who’s got pointy ears now?” he asked.
Genesis fidgeted the foot he had up on the coffee table. “Don’t you get tired of all that healthy living?”
Angeal took another bite of his apple. It was no Banora White, but it had a certain charm. “No other way to live, Gen.” He took a seat. “You really ought to eat properly if we’re going to get whatever this thing is under control. You need good nutrition to heal.”
“I suppose,” Genesis said, sliding further down the couch cushions. “What minerals does béchamel sauce have again?”
“Gen,” Angeal warned. Genesis made a half-hearted swat at Angeal’s thigh.
“I’m kidding,” Genesis said. “Goddess, ‘geal, you do worry like a mama bird, you know. Can’t even spot a joke anymore.”
“Of course I worry,” Angeal said. “Sometimes I wonder if you worry enough.”
“Worries will kill you faster than ice-cream, I’m pretty sure of it,” Genesis said, shifting onto his side so he could rub his forehead, catlike, on Angeal’s hip. “There’s a study or something. I could look it up.”
“Don’t stress yourself, now,” Angeal said, and he stroked Genesis until the man purred. “I would like you to eat better, though.”
“Not liver,” Genesis said.
“Okay, not liver. But spinach, at least.”
Genesis groaned. “Ugh, fine. But I demand more lamb chops to make up for this travesty.”
“Some lamb,” Angeal said, “with plenty vegetables on the side.”
Angeal sighed. “Sometimes.” Genesis gave him an evil eye. “Garlic butter and herbs?”
Genesis closed his eyes again. “I suppose.”
“What would you do without me to cook for you, eh?”
“Eat fine dining delivery until my uniform didn’t fit anymore,” Genesis said. “Isn’t it obvious?”
“Painfully.” Angeal sat back and chewed his apple. “I thought Seph was coming back to finish his show.”
Genesis shrugged into the cushions. “Maybe he got distracted in there. Want to change the channel?”
“Nah, episode’s almost done anyway."
“Yeah.” Genesis was quiet a while, but Angeal would have sworn he could have heard the man thinking. “Don’t tell him I told you so,” Genesis said eventually, “but I like the uniforms.”
“Yeah,” Genesis said. “I would rock that little red minidress, don’t you think?”
“With the boots?”
“Of course the boots.”
Angeal laughed and sat back, taking one more bite of his apple, chewing as the credits rolled. “Might as well hit the sack ourselves.”
“I guess,” Genesis said, forcing himself to sit up. He put on his most pleading face. “Carry me?”
“Nice try,” Angeal said.
“But I might faint again.”
“I thought you passed out.”
“Same difference,” Genesis said, waving Angeal off. He sat still for a moment, gathering himself. Angeal could see him sinking further into the seat.
“Here,” Angeal said, holding the rest of his apple to Genesis’s lips. “Let’s get you started on healthy eating.”
Genesis looked up at Angeal, for once completely honest and touched to his core. He leaned forward and took a bite. “Ooh, that’s tart.”
“Don’t talk with your mouth full.”
“Yes, Mother,” Genesis said. He stood and caught Angeal’s hand as they walked down the hallway to bed.