Once More, With Feeling... – Chapter 58: The Pain of Adolescents.

Summary: Sephiroth teaches Cloud that no matter your age, there's always something new to learn.

Author: Illusor Meaneld

Rated T: for Descriptive violence and injuries, No Adult Situations, No Cussing.

Disclaimer: I did not create, and do not own the characters from Final Fantasy 7. They are owned by Square-Enix, and I am simply borrowing them for my own (and hopefully your) enjoyment.

Today was the first day of the weekend. Tomorrow, Genesis had planned a party, but for the moment, Cloud was squinting at a cat food container, trying to pretend his mako induced migraine and Lucy's Screaming weren't making him feel especially homicidal. He honestly couldn't remember if he was always affected this way, or if Aerith's concoction had changed the symptoms somehow. His memories of Mako exposure from before were both hazy, and unusually extreme cases. Suffice it to say his temper was not the best at the moment. His roommate was not helping the issue, the redheaded teenager was talking a mile a minute, both enthused and anxious about Cloud's progression in the SOLDIER Preparation program. The blond thought he had more than sufficient experience handling both teenagers and discomfort with aplomb, but it was grating his last nerve and he felt like he was going to boil violently out of his skin at any moment. He strangled his temper, and almost felt like he was choking himself with the effort at restraint. He'd barely tracked what Reno was saying beyond the general gist, so he held up a hand abruptly halting the flow of words, and took a second to swallow the first several comments that battered at his gritted teeth.

"I'm sorry Reno, but can we … take a raincheck?" he huffed, wincing at the throbbing of his head. "I'm not-" civil, he'd almost said, "… feeling well." He cringed again as Lucy's cries rose in pitch, and he hastily finished fixing her food as he continued. "I think I'm going to lay down for a while. Mako, it…" turns me into a monster… well, perhaps an unfortunate metaphor for his bear-like attitude. "puts one a bit under the weather." He decided to end, though the effort at holding his tongue and not biting Reno's head off did not bode well for future exposures. Aerith had said her potion would help… had he misunderstood her instructions? Maybe he'd better ask later.

"Sure thing, Cloud." Reno said with a sympathetic smile, patting him on the shoulder companionably. Even that small gesture sent the room spinning and the blond closed his eyes against the pain. "Oh… er… sorry 'bout that, I'll uh… I'll jus' get goin' yeah?" Cloud nodded gingerly in acknowledgement, almost instantly regretted the gesture as his head felt almost sloshy in response, and once his kitten was fed, he hastily retreated to his bedroom. He closed the shutters as tight as possible, and shut off the light, sliding carefully on top of the covers and facing away from the door for good measure. Maybe he could sleep it off…

Reno stared at the closed door for several long moments, blinking in shock. Cloud was really off… He'd never cut the young Turk short like that. The redhead frowned, he'd been briefed on some of the potentially dangerous side effects to watch out for, which were not currently present that he could tell. He'd also spent more than his fair share of time in the slums, where he'd seen the adverse affects of a gamut of drugs, but he still worried. Cloud had said he'd never made SOLDIER in his own time, that he reacted badly to Mako, … and while Reno knew he'd also said he had taken precautions, what if something else bad was happening? That even a time-traveler couldn't predict? Like the incident in Junon… Huffing in irritation, the redhead flexed his hands and flicked his fingers to release the stress building up. He didn't know enough to tell if Cloud's sudden illness was bad news, but he'd seen enough slum rats actually die of mako that he wasn't going to leave it to chance. Cloud was his partner! Didn't matter how old he was, it was Reno's job to look out for him. That decision made, he strode from the apartment with intent, closing the door as quietly as he could manage behind him. Wouldn't do to disturb his friend unnecessarily, but he had a phone call to make.

The General wondered if he should have anticipated an interruption to his weekend. Logically, he could follow the trends of behavior in hindsight, which led to him following Tseng across Midgar to some of the Turk apartments, his auburn-haired Lieutenant at his heels. But that same Logic eschewed the set of circumstances that would have allowed him to predict this particular happenstance. Regardless, it was not the worst disruption he'd ever been required to tolerate. His potential irritation was mitigated heavily by the amusement over Genesis response, it had taken the General only a short while to determine that the muttered and unintelligible Loveless quotes were his friend's attempt to disguise his own sullen irritation, or perhaps sulking was more accurate. His fellow First had never much appreciated asking for help, and with their heated rivalry it was apparently particularly galling to ask help from Sephiroth. The Silver General knew better than to bring attention to his awareness of this however, as nothing would throw Genesis into a snit faster than the knowledge someone else had noticed his discomposure. So with the advantage of long practice, he ignored the incognizable strings of poetry as they strode purposefully after the dark suited Turk.

As they drew closer to their destination, Sephiroth was amused to note he had personally never been to the Time-Traveler's abode. Though Genesis followed the route with confidence. An attitude that should be expected from a 'mentor', and was terrifically entertaining, as he would never have pictured his friend in such a role, either as mentor, or mentee as both were surely the case between him and the 'Cadet' Strife. He focused his attention away from his internal musings as they arrived, and Tseng knocked softly on the door. The apartment was rather nondescript, a bit typical as far as Sephiroth understood for mid-range Shinra employees, it made sense that the Turks were housed here, particularly those in training. All of this was catalogued by the General as they waited for the door to open, which did not take long, as the young red-headed Turk was rather expeditious, no doubt he'd been waiting nearby. His nervousness was palpable, both visually and odoriferously.

"What took ya so long!" He hissed in an agitated whisper. "Cloud could be dyin' yo!" The youth ushered them all into the living room with haste.

"Statistically unlikely." Sephiroth murmured equally quietly. "Life threatening side-effects from the minute exposure to Mako as per the tests, typically occur within the first hour if at all." Blue eyes glared with surprising daring into the general's own, and Reno all but growled,

"What'see doin' here? I Didn' ask for SOLDIER help."

"You asked for help on a SOLDIER matter," Tseng smoothly interjected, "I considered the input of an expert to be of paramount importance?" The teenager paused, and sighed at the apparent sense of these words,

"Why Sephiroth though? I thought ya might just grab Angeal or Genesis if ya had'ta grab a First, I mean, not to say he pro'lly doesn't know his stuff, but… isn' that a bit of overkill?" It took extra effort to restrain his smile at this point, but he wasn't the 'General' for nothing, and he kept his face impassive as Genesis began quoting his play with a little more virulence than before.

"I did not ask for specifics," Tseng explained with a raised eyebrow at his subordinate's attitude, "When his assistance was offered, I did not decline. There are very few outside of the Professor himself, who have more expertise on this matter." Which was an impressively diplomatic way of saying that Sephiroth knew significantly more than Genesis on the subject. His position as General required it, and while Genesis should have been equally informed, his friend had always enjoyed flagrantly disregarding authority and their expectations of him. Sometimes to his detriment, not that he would admit as much.

"Ah, okay, I guess that's fair." The younger Turk admitted with a sigh. "Lemme get Cloud, I don' wanna wake him, but I wanna make sure he's okay."

"Actually," Sephiroth held up a forestalling hand, "If you'll permit, I've had a particular theory I've been meaning to test, that should cause our compatriot no harm."

"What?" Reno stared at him askance "Ya got some layman's terms for this theory?"

"Quite some time ago, before we knew the truth of Cloud's mysterious origins, I established that he could feel my attention upon him. To such an extent that I practiced only watching him peripherally." Genesis perked up, having not been present for the original tests, his curiosity was as unquenchable as a cat's. "I would very much like to know if intentionally focusing on him will rouse him from a distance. Such knowledge could have great potential strategic value in the future."

"Uh… I don' think ya know what 'layman' means yo." Was the boy's bemused answer.

"He wants to test if Cloud can sense his presence," Tseng translated patiently, with only a touch of long-suffering.

"So ya think Cloud is psychic or somethin'?"

"Or something." Genesis said with a grin, finally returning his travel-copy of Loveless to his inner coat pocket. The Auburn-haired Lieutenant had always been particularly fond of the theories concerning the sixth sense exceptionally skilled sword masters were professed to attain.

"That sounds pretty cool. Uh, go ahead I guess." Reno shrugged, before gazing anxiously at the door behind which Cloud must reside.

Dubious permission attained, Sephiroth turned to fully face the door in question, he pushed down the bubbling curiosity, and focused, he condensed his attention with single minded intensity, consuming his thoughts with everything that was Cloud to him. He stilled, intent as a hunter stalking its prey. He could smell Cloud, the sweat and pain of him saturating his senses, he could hear the boy's heartbeat as it thumped with the quickness of youth even in slumber. He could feel the boy's presence almost like a buzz on his skin, the awareness of one with power. That awareness spread until he could almost see the room layout in his head, Cloud's position on the bed, over the covers, his light pseudo-fetal curl with one hand tucked up by his face. The General felt a thrill unlike anything he'd experienced before when he heard/felt the boy wake with a gasp, his pulse rising in alarm as he jolted out of sleep. The almost impossibly quiet whisper of fabric as Cloud rolled out of bed and padded with cat-like wariness to his door. The youth's best efforts couldn't keep the door silent, but he thrust it open and simultaneously braced himself, blue eyes locking almost instantly on Sephiroth's green ones.

"Hello Cloud," The silver haired First murmured lowly. Two startled blinks and the youth started cursing under his breath with the fluency of a Sailor. The General couldn't forestall a rather wolf-like grin. Even Genesis' expression looked rather feral in his delight.

"Holy Crap! Ya really are psychic!" Reno exclaimed in stunned amazement. His raised voice immediately caused the blond to flinch, squinting at his roommate in irritation. "Ah… Sorry." Came the hasty and sheepish apology in the face of that pained glare.

"What's with the party?" The Time-traveler growled, his usual aplomb absent in the face of his discomfort.

"Reno was concerned by your symptoms." Sephiroth said in a carefully measured voice, "May I presume you are experiencing a migraine?"

"Yeah." Cloud said with a sigh, walking further into the room and sitting at one of the counter stools.

"Any other symptoms you'd report?"

"I've been … having issues with my temper, I've had migraines before and never been so snappish. It's like I'm upset before I can think of why I should be." He shook his head gently, "Just generally agitated, I also ache all over... Particularly in my legs for some reason." With that admission he frowned at his arm, at what Sephiroth surmised would have been his injection sites. Sure enough his keen enhanced eyesight picked out the row of lightly reddened bumps on his skin.

"Interesting," The General mused, taking a moment to draw closer, he scanned the blond from head to toe, taking note of the boy's drawn features, the slight flexing and twitching of his hands, and with a subtle inhale, the particulars of his scent.

"Migraines are a common symptom of Mako exposure, particularly in low doses." Sephiroth explained calmly, pulling a small satchel from a pocket in his coat. "I myself frequently experienced them, and acquired a very helpful aide for the ailment." He pulled a small box of tea packets from the bag and placed it on the counter next to the time-traveler. "More commonly, lethargy or general mental confusion accompany sensitivity issues." He gazed at the Time-Traveler again, a small smirk tugging at his lips. "If I were to guess, based on your age, physiology and other characteristics, I would say your temperament and extremity discomfort both stem from hormones and adolescent development. I suspect you may also be starting a growth spurt."

The 'young' man stared at him blankly for several moments, during which the General's grin only widened. "Surely you remember purberty?"

Cloud frowned, distracted from his pain, "Not much? My memories of my teenage years are pretty fragmented."

It was the General's turn to frown, "Can you elaborate? Your memory has generally seemed impeccable, bordering on supernatural concerning events in your original timeline."

The blond sighed, "I gained eidetic memory from some of the … treatments I received at Hojo's hands, but that was long after multiple Mako poisonings that all but wiped out my past and sense of self. I had some serious dissonance during my young adult years, and everything through my teens is just tatters and flashes."

"Treatments." Genesis repeated, raising his eyebrow at the verbiage. The disdain in his tone gave Sephiroth pause, and a quick review of the conversation advised the General that something more was amiss in Cloud's past. Not that he couldn't extrapolate with discomforting ease.

"Wait, um… isn't Cloud like a hundred or something? Do Time-Travelers get puberty?"

"Cloud is only a centenarian mentally. Physically he's fourteen, puberty is a physiological development." Genesis explained with a light sneer and a roll of his eyes at the Young Turk. Watching Cloud wince at the interchange, Sephiroth opted to pull out a tea packet from his proffered box.

"Do you have a kettle, Cloud?" He asked, his voice pitched low enough not to exacerbate the young man's pain. With another slow blink the Time-Traveler gingerly shook himself more alert, and turned on his stool bracing to rise, no doubt to fetch the requested item. The General placed a quick hand on the slender shoulder, gently pressing him back down. "I'll take care of it, stay seated. Where can I find a kettle?" He prodded again. A quick gesture and description and Shinra's most elite warrior was setting up water to boil in a Turk apartment kitchenette. He chuckled under his breath as he imagined the expressions he might garner should others witness him engaged in such a menial task.

"Alrigh' I guess that makes sense." Reno admitted finally, "But how can the General tell? I mean, growth spurt, puberty s'all kinda specific yo." Genesis raised an eyebrow in his fellow First's direction.

"Mako can enhance more than simply strength and stamina." Sephiroth expounded, "In my case, I have a particularly keen sense of smell,"

"What? Smell? Ya can smell puberty?"

"In truth, I can pick out smells like fear and adrenaline." Genesis offered, "But I've never bothered to learn how to identify puberty of all things."

"You spend less time with the SOLDIERs."

"Can ya smell growth spurts too?" Reno looked absolutely bewildered, and a little weirded out. Much to Sephiroth's amusement.

"No. That I identified from observation, and description of symptoms combined with the presence of hormones."

"Why d'ya know so much about this stuff?" the redheaded Turk continued, oblivious to his roommate's expression of patient misery at the conversation.

"I read." Sephiroth said with a chuckle.

"So why doesn't Genesis know?"

"He reads…" Sephiroth started to answer habitually, part of his attention diverted to the now bubbling teapot, but just managed to stop himself before he finished that sentence.

"Excuse me?" Genesis interjected with a hiss, "I read what?" but he had not stopped fast enough apparently. Despite his obvious pain, Cloud perked up curiously at the outrage in Genesis' voice.

"Different … things." Sephiroth tried hesitantly to be diplomatic.

"I read more than Loveless!" came the snapped reply. "I am not some untutored troglodyte!"

"I know that, and I didn't say you were." The General patiently tried to deescalate.

"You implied it!"

"I know you read many things Genesis." The Silver-haired First continued patiently, "I just enjoy… different … literature."

"Is that so?" His Lieutenant sneered, "And what books is my education so lacking oh great erudite?" the sarcasm was almost thick enough to cut.

"Medical Journals." He finally answered curtly, rolling his eyes lightly. "I find many scientific texts to be interesting." The ire suddenly drained from his friend, and a grimace of distaste twisted his features.

"Those aren't books." Genesis scoffed in disgust.

"I didn't say they were." Sephiroth riposted patiently, hiding his smirk.

"You know… that explains so much." Cloud broke in suddenly, his tone contemplative. The two SOLDIER Firsts stared at him for a moment, and the blond smiled. "I never understood how Sephiroth could stand to read Hojo's notes for hours on end… now it all makes sense."

The Silver-haired First curled his lip before he could stop himself. "Not if I can help it. You'd practically have to be drunk to make sense of his ravings." The slender blond snorted a laugh, then groaned in pain, clutching at his head. And at that unspoken segue, Sephiroth placed the teacup he had just finished filling before the boy, packet already steeping. "Let that steep for a few minutes, but breathing the steam sometimes helps a little." He advised.

Cloud smiled up at him in gratitude. "Thanks." He pulled the mug forward and cradled it under his face, inhaling gently. The General watched him for a moment, before frowning.

"I know you have a migraine, but you've been unusually quiet, Cloud." He prompted gently, the blond brow furrowed in response.

"It's just… I mean, of all the world ending scenarios I'd planned for… Puberty? Seriously?" the frown deepened and he scoffed in self-depreciation. "I don't know why I never even thought about the connotations of a younger body, I've seen plenty of teenagers grow up through that stage, so I should know! But, … just… ugh!" He threw up his hands in disgust. "Puberty! Of all the ridiculous nonsense!" he snorted, and crossed his arms. Which, amusingly, painted him as an almost perfect stereotype of the dramatic teenager. Sephiroth felt his lips twitching despite himself. The Time-Traveler's blue eyes squinted at him suspiciously, then that gaze drifted down to his own posture, and he cursed quietly. "This is going to be a train-wreck." He grumbled.

"I am confident you can weather this, now that it has been brought to your attention." Tseng interjected.

"Yeah, what he said!" Reno enthused. "Ya saved the world right? This'll be a piece 'a cake!"

The blond snorted again, this time in humor, and glanced at the Auburn-haired Lieutenant. Realizing his friend had been unexpectedly quiet, Sephiroth followed his gaze. the mans lips were quirked at the tips, and his eyes glittered with distinctive and alarming mischief, All signs that sent a quiet shiver of unease through the silver haired General.

"Will you finally be advancing past your Lilliputian stature?" Genesis teased, "Not much longer such a delicate figurine perhaps?"

"That is generally what growth spurt means." Cloud returned dryly, sipping on his tea.

"How tall're ya gonna get?" Reno interjected rambunctiously, ignorant of the flicker of irritation in the Lieutenants glowing gaze as his next jab was forestalled.

"We end up the same height actually." The pain relieving tea already soothing his temper.

"Aw C'mon! How tall's that?" the redhead cajoled, and with a darted glance at Genesis, Cloud sighed.


The auburn-haired lieutenant burst out laughing. Even as Reno slumped dejectedly. "I'm almost that tall now! That means I'll never catch up to Zack!"

Cloud snorted, though he winced right after, "He's going to be taller even than Sephiroth and Genesis." The later of whose laughter choked off at that declaration. The General simply raised an eyebrow at the Time-Traveler, then slowly shifted to smirk pointedly at Genesis, enjoying the other man's spluttering. Before Genesis could regain his metaphorical footing, the silver-haired First turned back to his ailing charge.

"The tea should be relatively fast acting," He instructed calmly, noting with approval the lessened tension in the smaller figure. "And though it might be tempting to consume an additional cup right away, I would recommend no less than thirty minutes between doses. And a full six hours before you try to brew an additional batch. I realize that means your beverage will be unpalatably chilled should you require more, but the side effects of overconsumption are highly unpleasant."

Cloud blinked a little and nodded, though his brow furrowed. "Is the dosage correct for someone of my current stature?" He inquired.

"It should be, if the weight on your files is accurate."

"Thank you." The blond smiled,

"You are very welcome, Cloud." Sephiroth dipped his head in acknowledgement. "There are instructions in the box." He gestured to the container holding the tea satchets. "I've also added my personal contact information, let me know if you have any issues or further symptoms."

"I will keep you apprised." The small blond said with a wry smile.

"I appreciate it."

"I think that's my line, thanks again." The time-traveler insisted.

"Obviously bein' a beanpole didn' do ya any favors! Since Cloud could more'n kick yer butt in the future." Reno's slowly raising voice interrupted the General's conversation. He turned again to see that the two red-heads had been arguing quietly to themselves.

"Our current information details little to nothing of my eventual fate, so I doubt height could be considered a valid argument there." Genesis sneered back.

Cloud snorted softly, "Yeah, can't say size really made a difference, at least one of my friends had comparable mass to Angeal, and he survived just fine. Vincent is about Sephiroth's height…" the blond trailed off meaningfully.

Reno looked mildly betrayed, "But we're both short!"

"Average height." Cloud responded easily. "Five foot seven is generally considered average height for a man."

The Turk huffed, and Genesis laughed, "Well regardless, you'll always be portable sized." The shorter red-head's scandalized look of outrage caused even the stoic General's lip to twitch. But any further commentary was quickly forestalled by Tseng.

"I think we have taken up enough of Cloud's time this morning." He intoned officiously. "We have business to take care of Reno." The youth in question sighed in resignation. "Rest well, Cloud."

"Yeah, feel better Cloud!" the younger Turk advised with a salute. The four of them expeditiously offered their various valedictions and moved to depart. Once outside the apartment, the Turks and Lieutenant Rhapsodos quickly separated and proceeded to their own destinations. Sephiroth paused only a moment to consider the afternoon's unusual path. Things had become remarkably more engaging with the appearance of their time-traveler.

Vincent had always been good at multitasking, his mind running on separate lines from his hands, it was part of what made him such an effective sniper. At the moment he was cataloguing his supplies as he packed them, and at the same time thinking about his new situation.

Four firearms; his trusty pistol, which Hojo had left him with just to drive home the futility of his plight, Then a sniper rifle, a small machine gun, and a rather unique looking triple barreled heavy caliber pistol, all of which Cloud had produced from somewhere… along with plenty of ammunition. The gunman was admittedly at a loss to discern how any fourteen year old, even a time-traveler, could get ahold of so many weapons, let alone so very quickly! But there were a lot of things about the changed world that disturbed his equilibrium.

There was a small but significant stash of Materia, a Turk worthy collection of potions, and surprisingly sensible travel gear: A small but sturdy tent and bedroll, rope, and a selection of tools for hunting and cooking his own meals. Most of these implements he had used before on long stakeout missions. Some items were upgrades of equipment he'd used in the past. The cooking stove was impressively compact! But still others, like a few of the selected Materia, were not something he remembered encountering before. Thankfully there was an included set of detailed instructions on the use and care of everything. His hands moved along his supplies as he sorted them, but his thoughts drifted. That Lieutenant, Genesis, had shown him a photograph on his cellular device of all the First Class SOLDIERs. There were only three, which Vincent had initially been surprised to learn, until further conversation revealed that only Lucrecia's child had been one of Hojo's projects. That better matched what he would have expected from the narcissistic psychopath.

He paused his mental inventory, He'd had her smile, that little smirking quirk at the corners of her lips when she'd won a debate or successfully completed an experiment. Sephiroth had that same smug little smirk that tweaked just the edges of his mouth, the tilt of his eyes, and that long impossibly smooth hair. He could see so much of Lucrecia in her son. Vincent felt his own lips quirk. Their coloration was all different, but the structure… He snorted silently at his own drifting thoughts, and returned to his equipment. He wouldn't get a chance to meet the man nearly as soon as he'd like, but he very much looked forward to making the acquaintance of the famous General Sephiroth.

((Author's Note:

Merry Christmas! Here's an update to go with your Holiday Wishes!

Whuff… this chapter was tricky on writing. There's actually a lot of important tidbits in here, and trying to get those in place while keeping the characters IN character, was a bit more grueling than expected. Nevertheless I'm mostly pleased with how this came out! And for those of you who might be skeptical, all of these seemingly pointless interactions are VERY CAREFULLY planned out. Some for longer than others, whether it be a humorous scene I've been dying to get to, or a key piece of foreshadowing, or just believable character development to build on later. I've got a pile of details I'm always trying to sort into a cohesive order. ^^; … I'm sure the other authors in here know what I mean.

Hope you guys continue to enjoy!

-Jianre M. A.K.A … Illusor Meaneld.))