There. Happy now, you damn plot-beasties? -_-;;;
Title: Contagion (EDIT: This fic now has a title! Whee!)
Beta: none, very rough draft
Fandom: FF7 AU (Feral-verse)
Pairing/Characters: OT4 (Aeris/Cloud/Zack/Sephiroth); Cid/Vincent
Warnings: hints of future (and past) foursomes, m/m, xeno-sex
Disclaimer: Final Fantasy VII and all related prequels and sequels belong to Square-Enix.
Summary: A new, dangerous type of predator begins to prowl the Planet as a dark secret about the true Cetra reawakens.
A/N 1: If you're impatient for more details on the setup and plot of the Feral-verse, check out the discussion of this particular OT4-plotbunny.
A/N 2: This particular batch of OT4 plot-critters was mainly fed and inspired by:
-- icedark_elf, especially her fics "Confused" and "Ravens";
-- forgottenlover and her fic "Plans of the Dead", which gave me the perfect jumping-off point;
-- mimi_sardinia for her great ideas about Cetra viruses;
-- Princess Artemis and her fics "Venus Gospel" and "The Thief of Hell" regarding Cid;
-- ciceqi's "Anthroverse" and "Mascotverse" stories;
and many others.
With the defeat of the Sephiroth Clones -- Kadaj, Yazoo, Loz -- and the miraculous Geostigma-curing rain, life in Edge and all over the Planet gradually began to return to normal.
Meanwhile, in the Lifestream, a young man with spiky dark hair and glowing violet eyes was smiling indulgently at a pretty young woman with long brown hair, who was busily weaving together a long daisy chain of flowers.
"Okay, Aeris darlin', I admit that you were entirely right about Cloud needing a good verbal kick in that cute ass to jolt him out of mope-mode," Zack said, then glanced over at the silver-haired man sitting nearby in the flower-covered meadow. "But I still think nailing him to a wall with Masamune was a bit much, Seph."
"It didn't do him any permanent harm," Sephiroth replied reasonably. "And dodging all that flying rubble made it somewhat difficult to have a meaningful conversation with him."
"I still say he's going to be royally pissed off with all of us," Zack muttered, flopping down on the flowers besides Sephiroth. "Especially when he finds out that we've been hiding Seph's presence from him."
As Aeris sighed, Zack added, "I know, I know. He still doesn't remember what the four of us really meant to each other...."
"There's no reason to tell him about me," Sephiroth quietly interrupted. "Considering all the pain and suffering I've put him through, it's best if he doesn't...."
"Bullshit," Zack said flatly. He rolled his head, nudging Sephiroth's leg, then wiggled around so his head was resting in the other man's lap. Sephiroth snorted, but otherwise did not object.
Once comfortably positioned, Zack continued, "Cloud might not consciously remember how he really felt about all of us, but that doesn't mean those feelings have gone poof. They're still inside him, just buried deep. That's why he hurts so much, damn it! So it's not a matter of -if- he remembers, but when. And yes, about you, Seph."
Abandoning work on her daisy chain, Aeris draped her arms around Sephiroth and hugged him close. "He's right. You both deserve so much more than be mere strangers and mortal enemies."
"Meaning that while we might not say anything about you to Cloud, we're not going to lie if he asks." Zack stuck out his tongue at Sephiroth, then grinned up at Aeris, who was leaning over Sephiroth's shoulder. "Ain't that right?"
Instead of agreeing, she said, "Actually, I was thinking...."
Zack and Sephiroth exchanged wary looks. "Yes...?" they said in the same cautious tone.
"I was thinking about dropping Cloud a few discreet hints about us. Not right away!" she added hastily. "I mean, with everything that's happened recently, he definitely needs some breathing space and time to recover. But you know how stubborn he can be, sooooo...."
"Exactly what sort of hints are we talking about here?" Sephiroth said, still looking wary.
"Yeah, what sort of hints, babe? Because if Cloud starts having steamy porno-dreams involving past playful orgies with you, me, and Seph, he's liable to think he's gone and had yet another nervous breakdown."
Aeris huffed and planted her fists on her hips. "I said 'discreet', didn't I? D-I-S-C-R-E-E-T. Discreet, got it?"
"Okay, so what, you're planning on planting images of Seph being all snugglebunny-ish in his head...," Zack said, his lips widening into a wicked grin.
"I do NOT -- and never have -- behaved in a 'snugglebunny-ish' manner," Sephiroth said, bristling like a cat who'd just had his tail pulled.
"Ooooh... yeah?" Zack and Aeris chorused, a blatantly skeptical lilt to both their voices.
"You fondle," Zack said in clinical tones.
"You pet," Aeris chimed in.
"In other words, you exhibit blatant and unquestionable snugglebunny-ish tendencies," Zack said smugly.
Sephiroth's response was to abruptly stand up, dumping Zack's head off his leg and shrugging Aeris off his shoulder, then stalking off. Several paces away, he stopped, folded his arms, and blatantly ignored the other two.
"Denial will get you nowhere," Aeris sing-songed as she skipped after Sephiroth. "Right, Zack...?" she called back playfully.
"....Zack!?" Aeris's tone abruptly changed from teasing to urgent concern.
Sephiroth instantly whirled around to see Zack sitting up, clutching at his head, his whole body shuddering. He and Aeris both reached Zack's side at the same time.
"Zack, what's wrong!?" she blurted, frantically reaching for him.
But as soon as Aeris touched him, Zack recoiled and cried out, as if the slightest contact was unbearably painful. He did the same thing, violently flinching away, when Sephiroth tried to hold and support his shivering body. With an unexpected burst of strength, Zack twisted and lunged away from his two lovers before collapsing onto his hands and knees.
Sephiroth and Aeris could only watch helplessly as Zack clawed wildly at the ground, tearing and shredding handfuls of flowers in his desperate struggle to crawl -away- from them.
It came from nowhere, the incredible tidal wave of raw emotions and overwhelming instincts that smashed its way into his skull. But it didn't hurt, and the absence of pain was almost worse than its presence. He could cope with pain. He'd had plenty of experience in Nib....
A horrifying sense of familiarity clicked in his battered brain.
He had felt this before, if only for a fleeting instant, and it had been his single most frightening experience in Nibelheim, because that briefest touch had come so close to driving him over the edge....
But this time, it wasn't stopping. Instead of fading away, it kept coming, kept building in power and strength, a never-ending flood of irresistible sensations, drives, hungers, and needs that permeated into and filled every corner of his mind.
And even when there was no room left, no more space for it to go, it still kept pouring into him....
He was dimly aware as parts of his mind began to shift and give way under the inescapable pressure.
Pain would've been easier. Being broken would've been easier. Anything except this... changing.
It didn't matter than he didn't have a physical body any more. His very -essence- was being remade into something different... something he -knew- was much more powerful and much more dangerous than any mere SOLDIER created by Shinra could ever be....
....and it HUNGERED.
He... wanted... needed... what... was... HIS....
Even as he continued to transform, to lose himself, a part of him desperately screamed denial.
There was something horribly wrong with him. He was unsafe, tainted, contaminated... he had to... had to warn... them....
As one, Aeris and Sephiroth exchanged fiercely determined looks and reached for Zack. But he twisted away at the last moment and staggered to his feet.
"DON'T. TOUCH. ME," he gasped hoarsely, without looking directly at them.
"Zack, what's wrong?" Sephiroth said, keep his voice low and soothing. "Tell us so we can help you."
But it seemed that even Sephiroth's voice was causing Zack pain, because he cringed and whimpered.
Sephiroth had never, -ever- heard Zack whimper in distress before.
"...inside... me... making... be... becoming... changing... Ni... Nibel...."
Sephiroth opened his mouth, desperate to ask questions, but he didn't dare. He gave Aeris a pleading look.
"Did Hojo do something to you?" Aeris said softly, trying her luck. However, Zack seemed to find her voice just as painful as Sephiroth's because he hunched and clamped his hands over his ears.
They could plainly see Zack's lungs heaving, his whole body -- immaterial as it was in the Lifestream -- straining against some unknown force in a desperate struggle for every single disjointed word.
When Aeris involuntarily moved closer, unable to stand their lover suffering like this, Zack flicked a quick glance at her. As soon as he caught sight of her, his eyes widened in something close to terror. Shuddering violently, Zack staggered back a few more steps even as he screwed his eyes shut.
But in that brief instant, Sephiroth saw something that chilled him to the core.
The pupils of Zack's violet eyes were slitted, just like his. No, damn it! Of all people, not Zack! Not him!
Unable to remain silent, Sephiroth said, "Is it Jenova...?"
Even with his hands clamped hard over his ears, Zack obviously heard Sephiroth's question because he shook his head wildly.
"....not... other... in... inside... tell... warn... Cloud...!"
Sephiroth. Aeris. The very sight and sound of them was somehow feeding the -thing- growing inside him, the -thing- he was becoming. He could even smell and taste them, even though they all lacked physical bodies within the Lifestream....
....and then there was Cloud.
His entire being ached to be with all three of them, to become one with them...
....to own/be owned....
....to make them his/become theirs....
His mind consumed with increasingly uncontrollable thoughts and desires, all too aware that he was losing his fight for sanity, he focused desperately on the one thing that had kept him going against seemingly insurmountable odds...
....the one principle that he had chosen to live his life by....
....the thing which defined him, and hopefully always would....
....protect... he had to... protect...them....
But as soon as that barely coherent thought formed in his head, he realized that he had somehow made a catastrophic mistake as someone -- or someTHING -- suddenly grabbed hold of not just his mind but his very soul, ripped them out, then crammed them back in place, but the wrong way around....
....no. That wasn't true, not at all.
There was nothing the least bit wrong about the way he felt... now.
Without warning, Zack stiffened, flung his head back, and screamed.
Shock, disbelief, horror, denial, fear... at first, they were all there in that cry. But somewhere in mid-scream, something profound changed -- not only in the scream, but within Zack himself.
By its end, Zack's scream had transformed into a howl of satisfaction, joy, and elation.
And although Sephiroth's mind shied away from the implications, he still lunged forward in one last desperate attempt to reach out, to hold onto Zack in any way he could. But just before his fingers could close on the other man's arm, Zack, with slitted glowing violet eyes gleaming, lowered his head, gave his lovers that so-familiar playful wild grin....
... and vanished.
Sephiroth stared blankly at his empty hand, even as Aeris, her own eyes wide and full of tears, searched frantically for any trace of their lover in the Lifestream.
Finally, she looked at Sephiroth and slowly shook her head.
Somewhere out in the wilderness, something... hatched. A large slit appeared in the large dark leathery cocoon. Gradually, as the slit widened and tore, the form of a naked well-built human male emerged. A few scraps of half-rotted charcoal cloth and corroded metal fell from its body as it slowly stretched skyward, reaching toward the luminous full moon with sharp-clawed fingers.
For a moment, moonlight gleamed on the flawless bare skin covering the sleek, muscled body. Then, in the blink of an eye, its long, spiky dark hair rippled and flowed over that pale beautiful body, transforming naked skin into a luxuriant fur pelt. Bones, joints, and muscles shifted until it now crouched on all fours. From its furred shoulders, two great wings, covered in opalescent black feathers, erupted, even as its brushy tail lashed from side to side in eager anticipation of the hunt to come.
The beast lifted its muzzle to the sky, spread its wings wide, and unleashed a fierce, wild howl that echoed throughout the surrounding forests, warning all that for the first time in eons, a true Cetra stalked the Planet.
Inside his office, Reeve scanned the newest health reports before tossing them aside for the moment. Although Geostigma was no longer a threat, a new epidemic had appeared, almost as if it had been waiting for the opportunity. Fortunately, the new disease was not nearly as dangerous as Geostigma. While in a few rare cases it could be fatal, in most people it merely manifested as a particularly nasty gastrointestinal viral infection, with medium to high fevers typically lasting 72 hours. And while only moderately contagious, it was a rather durable sort of virus.
They needed to keep an eye on this new disease, of course, just in case the virus mutated into something nastier, but at the moment, the various health and medical services seemed to have an adequate handle of the situation.
A knock on the door interrupted his musings and he looked up to see one of his assistants holding a folder.
"Sir? I think you better look at these right away," she said, looking worried.
Reeve beckoned the woman into his office.
"For the past week, we've been receiving reports of a strange wolf-like beast roaming around Mideel. At first it just prowled around at night, but in the last three or four days, it started killing people."
"I can see that's a problem, but isn't it normal to simply forward these reports to SOLDIER so they can handle it?" Reeve said.
"Well, they did send out a team to investigate, but the creature's been exceptionally elusive. However, that's not why I'm here. You see, when they saw the bodies of the victims, the team immediately forwarded these pictures to your attention, sir," she said, holding out a folder.
The first thing about the photos that caught Reeve's attention was the relative neatness of the kills. They were clean, unnaturally so for an animal or monster. He looked up at his assistant and said, "Are you sure that this is the work of a beast?"
"That's what all the eyewitness reports say. But take look at the last several photos."
As soon as he saw those pictures, Reeve felt his stomach sink and realized that they probably had a very nasty situation on their hands. Without taking his eyes off the photos, he pulled out his PHS.
"Tifa? I need to talk to Cloud. Now."
In Rocket Town, Shera knocked briskly on the door to Cid Highwind's house. She got no answer. When she knocked a second time, she thought she heard a faint voice mutter something about 'being open'.
The front door was indeed unlocked. Pushing it open, she stuck her head inside the house and called out tentatively, "Cid? Are you there?"
"Who the fuck were you expect...." The words were interrupted by a loud, retching sound which came from the bathroom.
"Cid? Are you okay?"
"Are you friggin' deaf, woman? Do I -sound- okay to you?" Cid's voice growled weakly from behind the closed bathroom door.
Cautiously nudging the door open, she peeked inside the bathroom to see a scruffy, weary-looking Cid seated on the toilet wearing only his scruffy old blue bathrobe. He was also clutching a trashcan in his lap.
Shera dodged the wet towel flung her way and hurriedly shut the door.
"Hell, can't a man have any privacy, even when he has the runs and puking up his fucking guts? Go away, damn it!"
"Cid, just how long have you been sick like this?" she demanded through the door, now thoroughly worried. There was a virus going around and it sounded like Cid had caught a particularly nasty version of it.
".... a few days."
"You mean to tell me that you've been constantly vomiting and suffering diarrhea for several -days-?"
"Cid, maybe you should need to see a doctor...."
"I am NOT going to see some fuckin' quack who wants to poke me full of needles!"
Shera took a deep breath. "All right. But at least let me help you get back into bed."
Now she was really worried. The fact that Cid had not put up more than a token protest told her that he had to be feeling pretty damn miserable. A few minutes later, the toilet flushed and Cid shuffled out of the bathroom.
"Cid, you look terrible!"
He merely glared at her, then plodded toward his bedroom. She reached for his arm, but he flinched away from her outstretched hand. Knowing that skin sensitivity was a common sign of fever, she waited impatiently until he crawled into his bed before she put her hand on his forehead to check his temperature. Although he squirmed and swatted at her, she persisted.
"Forget the doctor. You need to go to a hospital. You're burning up!"
He uttered an incoherent growl and burrowed further down into the bedcovers.
"Have you eaten anything recently?"
"I mean food-wise, Cid."
"....can't keep anything down... nothing smells or tastes right...."
Shera pursed her lips, then left for the kitchen. But on her way, she stopped in the bathroom to check out the trashcan. Wrinkling her nose at the smell, she peered inside. She saw traces of dark, reddish brown stains, which unfortunately confirmed her worst fears. Cid looked like he was bleeding internally and vomiting up not just food, but blood. While it didn't look too severe at the moment, any internal bleeding was a bad sign and called for medical attention.
As she entered the kitchen, she caught sight of Cid's phone sitting on a side table. Shera gazed at it for a moment, then picked it up and started thumbing through the directory. She finally located the number she wanted.
"Shera? Where's Cid?"
"He's sick and as usual, he's being all macho and stubborn about it."
"I think he caught that virus that's been going around. He's been throwing up and feverish for the last several days."
Shera hesitated, then said, "I think he really needs to go to the hospital. I found traces of blood in his vomit. He's probably badly dehydrated, too."
"I'll be there in... about two hours. Or is that going to be a problem?"
"No, I don't think there's an immediate emergency -- yet, at least. But the sooner Cid sees a doctor, the better. In the meantime, I'll keep an eye on him and see if I can get him to drink some fluids or something."
Putting down the phone, Shera brewed up some tea, copiously laced with lemon and sugar, then brought it into Cid's bedroom.
"Here. Sit up and drink this while I fluff up your pillows," she said briskly.
Making only a protesting noise, Cid levered himself up, wrapped both hands around the mug, and took a cautious sip. When it appeared that it was going to stay down, Cid began to drink more vigorously.
As Shera fluffed the pilot's pillows, she failed to observe a few small gleaming, nearly transparent objects fall off the pillows onto the floor. But if she had, she probably would've guessed that they were some sort of fish or reptile scale.
And she would've been mostly right. They were indeed scales, but not of any mundane creature.