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A Change of Fate

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Cloud slowly started to stir once again as he blinked his eyes a few times. Light danced in front of his eyes, but it was not as bright as it had been earlier. It was much darker, though not quite nighttime yet, and the rain was pouring down heavily. Cloud sat there against the rocks where Zack had laid him down and just stared blankly ahead for a few seconds, until a thought entered into his mind.

“Z-Zack…” he mumbled, finally remembering that Zack had left to go fight.

Cloud knew that he had to go and try to see Zack, or maybe see if he could help. He struggled to rise up off of the ground, his legs wobbling as he grasped to the side of a rock for support. Slowly, he started making his way out into the open, dragging his feet inch by inch as most of his strength was gone.

After what seemed like forever, Cloud finally saw something on the ground in the distance. He squinted his eyes to try to get a better look. There he saw what looked like a person and he noticed the gleam of a large sword lying on the ground next to them. Cloud’s eyes widened as his heart skipped a beat. He started to rush forward, forgetting that he was nearly too weak to even walk. Somehow, he was able to run for a short distance, before he crashed to the ground as his legs gave out.

“Zack! I’m coming,” Cloud cried out in desperation, a strong sense of worry in his shaky voice. He continued to crawl along the ground towards the figure that he assumed was Zack. Eventually, he was close enough to realize that it was indeed Zack. Zack was just laying there though, with his arms spread out to the side and his chest slowly rising and falling. Cloud’s heart skipped another beat as he gazed upon his best friend who was lying in a puddle, tints of red staining the water.

The blood drained from Cloud’s face as he pulled himself up next to Zack. Though the rain was trying to wash it away, there was dirt and blood spattered all over Zack. From his face and arms, to his outfit. It was hard to tell, but it was clear that his shirt was soaked with blood. There was one large amount of blood dripping down the left side of his face. What worried Cloud even more was the fact that Zack’s shirt and armor pieces were riddled with bullet holes.

Cloud knew that some kind of fight had taken place just before. He knew something had happened. But everything was still hazy. Cloud closed his eyes for the moment as he tried to recall what had happened. He remembered being in a truck and then Zack resting him in a safe spot. There was so many people with guns and other weapons in the distance, and Zack was standing before them, ready to attack. Cloud frowned as he realized that Zack must have had to fight them all off on his own.

“Z-Zack…” Cloud spoke as his voice broke. It was a horrible site to see his friend in. Seeing him stare up and space out at the stormy sky above… it didn’t feel right to see Zack look like that. His head started to ache, but he tried to ignore it. What mattered to him right now was Zack.

Zack seemed to have heard Cloud’s voice calling out his name. He attempted to will his body to move as he gritted his teeth and squinched his eyes in pain. However, his efforts to raise himself up were in vain. It was too much for him. He was far too exhausted now to even move as rested his head back down onto the sopping wet ground beneath him. His face scrunched up in disappointed for a moment and then it was quickly followed by annoyance.

Then, he moved his eyes to see Cloud and a small grin started to form on his face. Somehow even in his current state, Zack still found a way to smile. He managed to slightly tilt his head forward towards Cloud, so that he could see his friend’s face as he then opened his mouth.

“For the… both of us… ,” he said in a calm voice through exasperated breaths as his chest rose and fell heavily, as he tried to get all of the breath he could manage. He then just stared directly at Cloud, the small grin still across his face after he had stopped speaking.

Cloud stared back for a moment. He couldn’t quite understand what Zack meant by that. “Both of us?” he asked aloud, trying to figure out what it meant.

Zack opened his mouth to speak once more. “That’s right… you’re gonna…” he paused, his breathing heavy as he tried to find the strength to form the words he needed next.

Cloud tilted his head to the side. He was feeling more wary than before now as he heard Zack speak. Zack looked all too peaceful as he spoke. But it still left Cloud with questions. “What? G-Gonna what?”

Finally able to gather some strength, Zack took in a deep breath as he raised his left arm slowly up to Cloud until he had it positioned on the back of his head. He then brought Cloud’s head down to rest gently on his chest area that was littered with bullet wounds and blood as he finished his sentence.

“Live,” Zack said briefly as he began to breathe slowly to try to conserve as much stamina as he could.

He kept his hand behind Cloud’s head in an effort to mimic some sort of hug. “You’ll be… my living legacy.” Zack finished speaking with a tired breath as the strength he had mustered started to fail him as his hand slipped from Cloud’s head and dropped heavily to the water-splayed ground with a heavy thud and splash. He winced slightly in pain before his face settled back to a more calm look that he was somehow able to have, despite the situation.

Cloud on the other hand sat up a little. Blood now stained on his face and a few bits of hair. He slowly took in deep breaths as he tried to comprehend Zack’s words. Thoughts started to swarm Cloud’s mind as he tried to make sense of everything.

“Live? I’ll… live? Being… Zack’s legacy?” Cloud thought to himself. It all sounded like it was obvious, but he was having trouble putting it together in his head. His head still was aching and it was hard focus, but he had to try. He wanted to understand.

Cloud looked down at Zack again and saw the blood was still dripping from his head.

And then it clicked.

He understood what Zack meant now.

Cloud’s eyes widened and his breathing increased. He started to shake his head back and forth. “N-No… Z-Zack…” Cloud tried to speak more, but all that came out were whimpers.

Zack continued to smile up at Cloud, even though he could tell there was pain on his face. He inhaled deeply to gather the wind to try to talk some more. “Cloud… it’s all right. I know… this is not easy. But… you have to… live.”

He stopped as he had exasperated most of the air that he had gathered as he kept staring at Cloud with a calming expression. A thought ran through Zack’s mind that this must be how Angeal felt when Zack was in Cloud’s position. He wanted to chuckle, but he knew he couldn’t manage that with his wounds, so he just smiled at the thought of it.

Cloud continued to look worried and upset. His best friend was dying right in front of him and there wasn’t anything he could do. He had no potions or magic he could use. He could only sit there and be useless.

Cloud still didn’t understand how Zack could look so peaceful and calm though. He was dying! Why didn’t he seem to care more? “Y-You can’t!” Cloud said, raising his voice slightly. “You can’t d-die!”

The tears that streamed down Cloud’s face went unnoticed as the blended with the rain. Cloud knew they were there though. His hands trembled slightly as he tried to think of something he could do. There had to be something. He didn’t want to sit there and let Zack die… but he couldn’t think straight. The only thing he knew though was that he didn’t want Zack to die.

Zack just looked at Cloud more. He knew how Cloud felt, and he wanted to stay there for him. “Well… it’s not like… I have much choice... “ he spoke as he sighed heavily, stopping to try to take in as many breaths as he could, as he could feel them growing shorter.

Cloud’s vision started to go blurry as the tears now were filling his eyes. He couldn’t help but shake his head again. None of this felt fair! Cloud didn’t get it. Why did Zack have to die? Why did this have to happen to Zack?

Hazy memories came back to Cloud. Memories of Zack right by his side and helping him along. Cloud couldn’t remember why Zack was helping him, but he knew that Zack was there for him. Zack had done so much to be a strong helpful person yet he was to die painful after a horrible battle? It all felt so wrong to Cloud.

Sobs escaped from Cloud as he gently rested his head near Zack’s shoulder, not caring about the blood that would stain his face. All he wanted was to be right by his best friend.

“Please don’t die Zack. Y-Your my friend,” Cloud managed to said in between his sobs. “It’s not fair.”

Zack tried to raise his head slightly towards where Cloud’s head was laying. “I know… I know,” he uttered, trying to sound as calm as he could to somewhat comfort Cloud.

He knew he was dying, but he still tried to be there for Cloud, up until the last moment. “Hey… you’re strong. I know… you can do it. So… here,” Zack cut himself off as he started to move his right arm that was positioned under where Cloud’s head laid.

Cloud shifted until he was sitting up right again. He looked to Zack’s right arm and saw that he still was holding the buster sword.

Zack continued to move his arm in an upward motion, dragging the buster sword along the wet ground. It grinded and scratched against the rocks as he spoke.

“My honor, my dreams…” he spoke with confidence as the sword finally stopped in front of Cloud. He then raised the sword up higher towards Cloud, making an attempt to shove it closer to his body. “They’re yours now.”

Zack looked upon Cloud with that calm smile that he had worn most all of the time. Zack just continued to look at Cloud. As Cloud grabbed hold of the sword, Zack released his grip on it, and pushed it toward Cloud as best he could as his hand then plopped to the ground and made a splash on the soaked rocks.

He wanted to speak more. He wanted to do more. However, his breathing had slowed, and he found those last words hard to push out. He wasn’t sure if he could manage to speak again, let alone move.

Despite everything, Zack was glad for one more thing. The rain. It was a good way to hide all of his tears that covered his face. He wasn’t happy that he was dying, and he knew that Cloud was not happy. But he tried to be strong, because that’s what a hero would do. And he needed to be that for Cloud right now. So, he continued to smile and to look upon his face until he was no longer able to do so.

Cloud gripped the handle of the sword tightly as he watched Zack’s face relax. Slowly Zack’s eyes began to close. His breaths were becoming shorter and fainter with each passing second. It wouldn’t be much longer now. Everything was fading away slowly.

Cloud started to hyperventilate as he stared at Zack. Just sitting there and watching only made him start to panic more. “No. No… no. No nonono…” Cloud muttered to himself now.

He didn’t want this. He didn’t want to be left alone. He didn’t want his best friend to die. He didn’t want any of this.

Suddenly a wave of memories flew threw Cloud’s mind. Many memories of being with Zack and being friends. Everything flowed through him all at once. It was all too overwhelming.

“Aaaaaaaaagggggggh!!” Cloud screamed out as loud as he could.

Cloud never once let go of the sword though. He kept it held tight in his hands. Frustration now was slowly seeping into him though, mixing with his sadness. All the pain in his head didn’t make things any better, but he still couldn't stop thinking one thing.

“It’s not fair!” he cried out. “Zack!” Cloud let out a large sob. “Why!?”

Cloud took in a deep breath as he stared up at the mournful sky. “Don’t let him die! Please!” He screamed as loud as he could. He didn’t know if it would do anything, but he felt he had to try. “I’ll… I’ll do anything to save him!”

As Cloud took in a deep breath, the air around him suddenly felt strange. The sound of the rain stopped and froze right before him. Cloud blinked a few times to make sure he was seeing things right. With one hand Cloud reached out at the rain droplets before him. His hand just passed right through them and they remained frozen where they were.

“You wish to save him?” a voiced asked. Cloud was unable to tell where the voice was coming from. It sounded like it was all around him. And he had no idea how to describe the voice. It sounded echoey with no distinguishable tone or anything. Though it almost sounded like it could have been many voices, but it was too hard to tell.

“Wh-Who are you? What are you talking about?” he asked curiously, trying to figure out what he was actually hearing, or if his mind was playing tricks on him again. He had no idea of this was the Lifestream...or perhaps something else.

“That is not of importance child. What is important is that you wish to save your friend, correct?” the voice asked.

Cloud was confused by who or what this voice was exactly, and why they were asking questions. However, he knew one thing for sure. If there was a way to save Zack, then he would take it, not matter the risk.

“Yes! I do want to save Zack. Please. If you have a way…any way at all, I will do it. Just tell me.”

“There is a way. But it is risky…” the voice said, trailing off at the end, as if waiting to see what Cloud would say in response.

Cloud did not need a moment to think about it. “Fine. I’ll do it. Whatever the risks, I’m ready to take them. I have nothing left anyways. What do I have to lose?” he asked, posing the question to not only they mysterious voice, but also to himself.

“The cost that this choice comes with is large. But if you are willing to do what it takes, then you have nothing to fear.”

The choice was clear what he needed to do. It seemed like a dream, that he would be given a chance like this to save the only person he cared about. He knew there was nothing much to fear after what he had just been through, and he could not imagine living life without Zack. However, Cloud was still curious.

“So… what is it that I have to do anyways? What is involved in me accepting this? I’m willing to do anything, but I’m curious as to just what I am getting myself involved in,” Cloud said coldly with a pinch of emotion in his voice, as he seemingly tried to control himself.

“In order to save your friend, you will be sent to the past. You will be giving a chance to save your friend by changing the past,” the voice explained. “But… you will not have immediate access to any of your memories of the future… or of your past prior to the time you are sent back to.”

Cloud tried to process what he had just heard, though his mind was racing with so many different thoughts at the moment. Though, he did think of something. “So… when I accept this and go back, I won’t remember any of this?”

“That is correct. Do you still choose to go through with this?”

“Of course. Just curious. I’ll do whatever it takes to save Zack.” Cloud said confidently, not wavering in his desire to see Zack again. His eyes shifted down to Zack, who still laid there with a peaceful smile. Despite Zack looking peaceful, it still did not feel right. Cloud didn’t want to go on with Zack being dead. He needed his best friend. So, now that he had come to a decision, he took in a deep breath and answered the voice. “I’m ready.”

“Very well,” the voice responded simply.

The world started to spin and blur around Cloud. No longer could he see what was in front of him. A burning sensation started in his head, causing a severe burst of pain. Cloud fell to the ground as he gripped his head tightly. He had no idea what was happening, but he didn’t even had a moment to try and think on it. In the next moment everything went black.

 

Chapter Text

A young child laid on the ground, peacefully resting. He wore a basic white t-shirt and blue shorts with black sandals. The next moment he stirred and opened his eyes. He sat up and looked around. The area around him was not familiar to him… but as he thought about it… he couldn’t think what was suppose to be familiar.

The boy closed his eyes and thought deeply. After a moment he opened his eyes and frowned with a worrisome expression. He couldn’t seemed to remember anything about himself except for his name and age. He knew his name was Cloud and that he was 5-years-old, but that was it. He couldn’t remember anything else.

Cloud pushed himself up onto his feet and looked around. He noticed that the area seemed to be surrounded by many trees and bushes. The green leaves could be seen almost everywhere around, only to be offset by the earthen color of some rock small rock formations. As he looked up, he saw the sky was bright blue as the sun beamed down upon him, the heat from it warming his small body.

After skygazing for a few seconds, he then took to looking around a bit more and started walking forward towards some sort of hilly area. He had no idea where he was or where he would go. Everything was just a blur. He continued his trek forward until he made it to the edge of the hill. Once there he saw something that looked promising.

There was a town below him. It appeared to be more of a small village, and it was surrounded by an ocean on one side. There were boats and docks out on the water, which glistened in the warm summer sunlight. At least, Cloud assumed it was summer because of how warm and humid the air felt. He stared for a few moments longer to take in the surroundings before taking off in a sprint towards the village. He hoped there would be some people there that could help him.


Cloud had walked through many parts of the village, but since he did not know where he was, he had become quite lost. Every turn led him someplace else and he sometimes forgot which way he came. Soon he was in a area surrounded by a lot of trees. He frown as he looked around once more. There didn’t seem to be anyone currently in this area of the village. Not only that, but now the sun was slowly starting to set. Within a few hours it would be dark outside.

Now he really didn’t know what to do. He was only 5-years-old and he was in a place he didn’t know. He had no idea where to go, and he had not found anyone that was willing to help him yet.

Never before had he felt so afraid. He was scared and all alone now. Feeling overwhelmed, he ran behind the nearest tree and slumped down next to it. A second later tears started to form in his eyes and slowly ran down his cheeks.

He continued to sit and cry there for a few minutes until he heard a voice from out of nowhere that startled him.

“Hey there. What’s the matter? What you doing all the way out here?”

Cloud looked up to see a boy, only a few years older than him, standing just to the side. The boy was fair-skinned with deep blue eyes to offset that. His hair was spiky and jet black, jutting out in a few directions. He wore quite the innocent grin, as his demeanor appeared to be quite benevolent and excitable with how he had just spoken.

Upon looking further, he noticed the boy was wearing some light tan pants which were torn in a few places. He sported a solid black shirt, which matched his hair perfectly. His feet were uncovered as he did not wear any type of shoes.

Cloud thought from his outfit that this might be a poorer village. But that didn’t matter to him. Someone had finally found him, and was trying to talk to him. Maybe he wouldn’t have to be alone now.

“I don’t know where I am. I came from a forest but I don’t know where to go now,” Cloud replied as he sniffled. His eyes were red and his throat was sore from his crying from earlier.

The black-haired boy walked closer to Cloud and reached out his hand toward him. “Why don’t you come with me then? I know things here pretty good. Oh, and I’m Zack. Zack Fair,” he finished with a smile beaming across his face as his eyes closed for a moment.

With no hesitation at all Cloud reached out and took Zack’s hand and was pulled up to his feet. Even though he had just met Zack, there was something about him that made Cloud feel better. Maybe it was just the way he smiled, but Cloud could tell that Zack was a nice person.

“I’m Cloud. Cloud…” Cloud trailed off, realizing he couldn’t remember his last name, or even if he had one to begin with. He frowned again as he let out a sigh. “I guess I’m just Cloud…”

Zack slightly chuckled. “Okay, just Cloud, let’s go and make a tour around the town. Maybe we can get to know each other and become friends,” Zack stated as he turned around and started to walk away. “Come on and follow me.”

Cloud pouted slightly at Zack’s joke, but ended up smiling a little bit after. He quickly ran to catch up with Zack as he started to show him around the village. Cloud made sure to stay close to him as he didn’t want to lose sight of his new friend.

“So what is this place called? You live here right?” Cloud asked as he walked next to Zack.

Zack turned to face Cloud as they walked together. “This place is called Gongaga. I was born here. My parents have a small house close to the outskirts of the village. I can bring you over once I show you around. But first, you should see the docks with all the boats and stuff. It’s really cool,” He said, excited at the prospect of getting to show his new friend around the place.

“Docks and boats?” Cloud asked curiously. “You live near the water? You go swimming a lot?”

“Well kinda. The ocean is down to the south here. We get lots of ships all the time that come and leave, so I only get to swim when there’s nothing like that going on. There’s some things people can only get from places like this. So that’s how we make money. I sometimes get to help when I go. Maybe you can today too,” Zack rambled as the boys continued their walk down to the south part of the village.

“By the way, what kinda things do you like to do?” Zack then asked curiously of Cloud as he bounced up and down as he walked.

Cloud slowed down to a stop and stared at the ground. He tried to remember. He wanted to remember something… anything… but not a single thing came to mind. “I don’t know… I can’t remember. Why? Why can’t I remember?”

Tears started to form in Cloud’s eyes again as he just stood there. He pressed his hands to his face as he started to cry again.

Zack heard some slight sobbing and turned to see Cloud with his face in his hands. He turned to face the blond-haired boy and placed his hands on his shoulders. “Hey Cloud, it’s okay if you don’t know. We’ll just find out things you like by doing different things okay? Just stick with me and you’ll learn a lot of things,” he cheerfully spoke as he continued to face Cloud as he decided he would not move until he knew that Cloud was okay.

Cloud lowered his hands and looked at Zack. He saw Zack smiling a big cheerful grin again. Once again it made Cloud feel better for some reason. Something he couldn’t explain, but he went with it.

Cloud smiled back at Zack. “Thanks Zack.”

“Of course. Now we’re almost there, so let’s find you some new things to be able to enjoy.”

They finally arrived at the docks a few minutes later, and Zack began to show Cloud everything about it. Cloud was able to talk to some of the people that worked at the dock on a daily basis. Zack had heard all of the stories and information before, but it was nice to see the look on someone’s face when they were learning something about it all.

Soon after leaving the docks, Zack dragged Cloud along to explore all of the rest of the village. This did not take long since it is a small village they were in. Most of the village from what Cloud had seen was comprised of small houses that all looked similar in structure, though some of the larger buildings he had seen were apparently stores, as Zack had explained. There was not many places to go and have fun, but they did have the outside. After a couple of hours, and some minor detours of horseplaying, the two boys were done exploring most of the village.

However, there was one place that Zack wanted to lead Cloud that, in hindsight, was rather interesting. Lying close to the center of the town was a large Mako Reactor. That was what Zack had called it after hearing some people talk about it. The kids were not supposed to go inside the fenced area, but they could at least walk up to it and look. Cloud was amazed as he had not seen anything that large in his short life; at least, not anything that he remembered. While he looked at it, Cloud had a sharp pain in his head that lasted for a brief moment, though it did cause him to drop to one knee in slight pain.

“Hey what’s wrong? Do you have a headache or something? Maybe you need to eat or something. Come on, we’ll go on and start going to my house okay?” Zack said with a concerned but reassuring look.

Cloud nodded in agreement after he was able to open his eyes as Zack helped him to his feet. The boys began their walk towards the outskirts of the village. After a short distance of walking, they had arrived near the place where Zack lived.

“Well here it is. This is my house. Whatcha think?” Zack asked curiously of the blond as they walked up to the door.

Cloud looked up at the house before him. It seemed like an oddly shaped house, just like most of the others he had seen when wandering the village. The house seemed cylindrical in shape and had no corners to be seen as he began to look around the outside of it. The walls were an earthy brown color, with a slightly red tint to them, and the material felt rough to the touch. He assumed that it must be layered bricks, which he could remember made for a sturdy structure.

The house had one large, wooden door that was positioned at the front of it, and it seemed that it would open from the outside in based on how it was mounted in the door frame. As he continued to walk around the outside of it, he noticed two larger copper pipes coming from the back of the house, knowing that they must be used for some utility service, but he was unsure of what that purpose would be.

After making his way back to the front where Zack was, he peered upward at the house. The roof arched up and ended in a point, and it appeared to be made of shingles, or possibly concrete. The design pattern of the roof left him curious as to what it could be, but that lasted for only a moment as he took in the royal blue color of the roof itself. It almost matched the color of the sky, but it looked more of the color of his newly found friend Zack’s eyes. Attached to the angular roof was a smokestack, which was most likely for excreting excess heat from the house.

Cloud continued to gawk at the house for a few seconds more until Zack approached him from the side and placed his hand on his shoulder.

“Hey, are you ready to go inside now? I’m sure you’re hungry by now. I know I am. My mom should have food ready… I hope,” Zack said, scratching the back of his head nervously as he chuckled slightly in Cloud’s direction.

Cloud shifted his eyes towards Zack and wore a puzzled and curious look for a moment. “Umm, are you sure it’s okay for me to be here? You barely know me… I mean, I barely know me. What if your mom doesn’t want me there?” he asked with a sincerely worried tone.

“Nah, don’t worry about it. She’ll be fine. You’re my friend after all. I’ll tell her it’s okay,” Zack said confidently as he grabbed Cloud’s hand and pulled him along towards the door. He knocked on the door as he then yelled “Mom it’s me!”

The two boys waited for a few seconds until the door opened, and on the other side was an older woman who looked almost like Zack, except with a few more lines and features on her face.
Her hair was jet black as well, and was raised up into a bun. Her deep blue eyes were the same as Zack’s. She wore a dark purple skirt that covered all the way to her ankles, and her blouse was a simple red shirt. She was a medium sized woman, and somewhat shorter compared to others that were around town.

She glanced down at Zack, and then she turned her attention to Cloud who was standing behind him.

“Well, I see you brought someone with you. A friend of yours?”

“Yea, he’s my new friend. We just met today. I was hoping it would be okay if I brought him,” Zack said as he looked up at his mother with puppy eyes.

His mother sighed slightly, but then smiled. “That’s fine dear. You two just come inside now.”

Zack led Cloud inside of the cylindrical house and they stood in front of the table in the center of the room. Cloud peered around just to see what everything was like. From where he was sitting, he could see that there was a kitchen area right in front of where the table was, which would allow for food to be served quickly at least. Slightly to the side of that was a fireplace, just as expected since there was a chimney on the roof after all.

After he was done with that room, he glanced over to his right and saw there were 3 doors in the back part of the house, which most likely led to rooms for everyone. Other than a few pictures hanging on the wall and the occasional flowers spread through the place, that seemed to be it. It wasn’t a very large house, but there was just enough room for everything.

“So, what do you think Cloud? Pretty cozy place huh?” Zack asked with a slight grin.

Cloud wandered around the room a bit, taking everything in. “Yeah, it’s nice. Bigger than I thought.”

As Cloud stood there with Zack, Zack’s mother entered back into the room through one of the doors Cloud had seen earlier. “All right Zack, why don’t you and your friend go ahead and sit at the table. Food will be ready soon, and then your father and I can talk to you about all of this,” she said with a calm voice.

The two boys took a seat at the small, round table and just waited. Cloud wanted to try to talk more, but he had no idea what to say as he was still overwhelmed by what all had transpired in that day. Zack, however, started to speak but then he overheard the door finally opening from behind him. He looked over to see his father standing in the doorway.

“Papa!” Zack screamed with excitement as he jumped up from the table and went to hug his dad. His father was a slender build and was quite tall. He wore black dress pants with a white button-up long sleeve. His hair matched his outfit, as it appeared to be salt and pepper as parts of his hair had began to fade from black to white. He also had a small goatee that sported the same color hair.

After looking the father over, Cloud sighed slightly as he felt a pain in his heart, but he did not know why. It felt as though he was missing something, but was unsure of what it could be. Suddenly, Zack had come back over to the table with his father in tow.

“So, who might you be young man?” he questioned Cloud, and just like Zack’s mother, the father’s voice was also calm and clear.

Cloud felt more at ease for a moment as he decided to answer. “Cloud. I’m… not really sure of anything-”

“Yea, dad, he can’t remember much of who he was. I found him out in the wooded area all alone and he said he had nowhere to go so I thought I could bring him here,” Zack rambled as he interrupted Cloud before he could finish.

Both Zack’s mother and father stopped what they were doing and turned their attention to their son. Both of their eyes wide with concern.

“What was that?” Zack’s mother asked, as if she had not heard her son the first time.

“Cloud can’t remember anything. So I wanted to help him out,” Zack replied.

A heavy sigh was heard from Zack’s mother. Cloud looked over at her to see that her brows were now furrowed. From the look on her face, Cloud shunk back in his sit slightly. He now felt slightly afraid what could happen next. He didn’t want to be left alone outside again, especially since soon enough it would be nighttime.

Zack’s father and mother exchanged a quick glance before the man spoke up. “Okay, lets all sit down at the table and talk about it over dinner then. Don’t want the food to get cold, and we’re not going to deny Cloud here any food since he’s already here. But we do need to figure things out.”

Zack sat back down at the table as his father walked over to the other side and took a seat as well. The mother brought the food over to the table and sat it down, and then went back and gathered some plates and delivered them as well before taking her own seat. Now that all of them were seated, they fixed their plates and started to eat.

After a few minutes of silence, Zack’s mother finally spoke up. “So, Cloud...where is it that you’re from?”

Cloud stopped eating momentarily and tried to think hard on that question. “Umm…I-I’m really not sure,” he replied nervously, slightly bothered that he could not even remember that.

Zack’s mother had a worried look on her face, but she continued on with more. “Well what about your family? Do you have any?”

Again, Cloud had the same answer. “I don’t know…” He trailed off quietly as he stared down at his plate.

Zack’s father then spoke up. “Okay, surely you have to remember something. That way we can help you get back to where you belong. Try to think hard, is there anything else you can remember?”

Cloud started to get more nervous at all of the questions that were being asked as he started to fidget in his chair. “I...umm...I’m Cloud. And I’m five years old. I...just don’t know anything else.”

Zack’s mother turned to her husband. “This is just so weird. How can he not know anything? Just what’s going on?”

“Mom, Dad, I said he doesn’t remember much. Besides...I think you’re freaking him out,” Zack said concerningly as he placed a hand on Cloud’s shoulder.

Cloud was sniffling now, and he had begun to worry. He didn’t want to be put back out with no place to go. He didn’t want to be abandoned. He didn’t want to be alone. Why couldn’t they understand like Zack did? He was unsure of what to do as tears started to well in his eyes.

“I talked with him a lot today. He said he had nowhere to go. He had no home. He doesn’t know anyone. I didn’t want him to be alone. He looked sad. So I wanted to be his friend and make him better. Cause that’s what a hero does,” he said, the last line coming out with a prideful tone.

His parents exchanged looks once more as they tried to think about what they should do.

“I’m sorry if we startled you with so much,” Zack’s mother spoke to Cloud as she looked directly at him. “Since you’re already here, why don’t you spend the night with us. I’m sure Zack would enjoy the sleepover anyways.”

Zack beamed with excitement. “Yay! Thanks Mom. I always wanted a sleepover with a friend. Does that mean we get to keep Cloud?”

“Keep him? You mean like, adopt him?” his mother asked curiously. “I mean, we still don’t know much-“

“Oh please please please. I always wanted a brother. He has no place to go so I think it’s okay. Come on,” Zack pleaded with his mother with sincerity.

“That’s enough Zack,” the father said calmly, but sternly. “This is an important manner that we need to think about on how to proceed.”

Zack didn’t listen however. “But I’ll look out for him and watch over him. You don’t have to worry. You can leave it to me.”

His father finally just shrugged, making his mother wander what he was going to say.

“Okay son. Look, we will think about it. Don’t get too excited, but he can stay here for a bit if needed for now. Why don’t you two go on to your room and get cleaned up and go to bed,” the father suggested as he motioned for Zack to get up.

Zack sprouted up from the chair and grabbed Cloud by the arm. “Come on let’s go to my room for now. It will be okay.” He leaned in closer to Cloud’s ear. “Don’t tell my parents, but we won’t really go to bed. We can play some if you want,” Zack whispered quietly, hoping to cheer Cloud up some.

Cloud looked at him through reddened eyes and managed to stifle a small smile. “Okay then. Thanks.” He then followed Zack as they left his mother and father to themselves in the kitchen while the two of them went to enjoy their time together.

Zack was excited and happier than he could ever remember being. He might get to have the brother he always wanted, and he was going to make every moment count. He was sure his father and mother would come around, so he wasn’t worried.

Cloud slowly started to calm down as he too was happy. He didn’t have to be by himself as there was someone who cared about him. It was someone he could call friend. And for some reason, he felt a strange warmth in his heart from being around Zack. Even though he couldn’t explain it, he just had a feeling that it was important.

Chapter Text

Zack’s parents watched him run out of the room with Cloud following right behind him. As soon as they left the room and the door closed, Zack’s mother let out a long sigh. The boy had only finished half of their dinner, but she was not about to get them to come back and finish.

Leaning back in her chair she sighed as she stared up at the ceiling. She let out a small chuckle. “Well at least Zack seems happy.”

Zack’s father stood up and walked around to the kitchen area with the dishes from the table. “Yeah that’s true. I’m still rather curious about that boy, but he seems mostly normal. Besides apparently having amnesia of some sort,” he said calmly as he had set all the dishes down in the kitchen.

“That’s what it looks like. But what could have happened to his parents? David… They couldn’t… have just left him out there, could they?”

“I’m not sure Emily. I would hope they didn’t do that. Even so, he’s here now with us, so if he was abandoned, we can’t let that happen to him here.”

“I do agree on that. I guess I just have so many questions. But yeah… I would hate for him to have to go back out there all by himself. He is just a little boy. I do want to help him,” Emily said as she placed her hand over her heart. “Seeing him get so upset over not remembering… I feel so bad for him.”

David walked over to his wife and placed his hands on hers. “Yeah, he does seem like he needs some help. It’s possible something tragic happened and he could just be blocking everything out. I don’t think we should question him too much for now. Maybe let’s just see how these next few days go huh?” he asked her with an endearing expression etched on his face.

Emily looked up at her husband and gave a nod. “All right, that sounds fine. I know Zack will be ecstatic to hear that of course.” She laughed a little. “It is nice to see Zack so excited. He will make a good brother.”

“Yeah he is always so joyous with most anything. But I am glad you agree then. This has been a bit unexpected. Maybe we should prepare for bed early so we can rest on all of this,” David said as he started to walk towards the bigger door in the back of the house.

“Yeah, but first let us check on the two boys and make sure that they are actually sleeping,” Emily said with a chuckle. Though Zack thought he was whispering quietly enough before leaving the table, his mother could easily hear what he had said to Cloud. Not only that, but they had caught him before, so she was prepared for it.

The two of them cleaned up the rest of the dishes before heading out of the room. They walked out of the room and down the small hallway before stopping at a door. Slowly Emily opened it and they peered inside.

The light in the room was off, only a slight bit of moonlight shined through the window opposite of the door. The entire room was not illuminated, but it was just enough light on the center of the room where the bed was. Zack’s parents had expected to find the boys awake and playing a game of some kind. However, what they actually saw was a scene they did not anticipate.

Both of the boys were laying on Zack’s bed, presumably fast asleep. Both of them were on their sides, but they were snuggled close to each other. Cloud was curled up next to Zack with his head resting against his chest and his knees brought in towards his own ches. Zack, on the other hand, had one arm around Cloud and the other stretched out above him in a relaxed manner. The way the two of them looked next to each other, one would think they had known each other for a long time, but they had only just met less than a few hours ago. But, it seemed as though they were quite comfortable around one another.

Both of Zack’s parents smiled sweetly at the sight before them. “Just look at them. They both look so peaceful and at ease like that. Maybe we don’t have anything to be worried about,” Emily said with a quiet and sweet voice.

David nodded in agreement. “Maybe you’re right. Let’s leave them be. We’ll see how things go over the next week.” He then motioned towards the door as he and his wife exited the room and closed the door gently behind them.

Almost a week had passed since Cloud had showed up in Gongaga, but it felt like hardly any time at all. The young bright-eyed blond never caused any trouble for Zack’s parents or anyone else in the village. The entire week that he had been there, he stuck close by Zack’s side. Everywhere Zack went, Cloud would follow, and everything Zack did, Cloud would try to copy.

Emily and David watched the two playing around in front of the house. It looked like they were enjoying a game of tag with Cloud chasing cheerfully after Zack. Both of the boys were smiling and laughing as they ran around chasing one another.

Emily laughed as a thought came to her. “It’s almost like Cloud is a baby chocobo who thinks Zack is his mother. It’s rather adorable watching him follow Zack all the time.”

A loud laughter rang out from David. “Oh you’re kind of right about that. Maybe since he can’t remember anything, he’s mimicking Zack since he doesn’t know what else to do. At least they are having a good time though. I don’t remember seeing Zack this happy before,” David trailed off before another thought entered into his mind. He placed a hand on his salt and pepper goatee. “It’s almost like they’ve known each other for much longer,” he finished with curious tone in his voice.

Zack and Cloud both heard the laugh and stopped for a moment to check it out. “Hey dad, what’s so funny?” Zack inquired, wanting to know what his parents were talking about.

Both the parents laughed softly. Then it was his mother that spoke up. “Oh it’s nothing sweetie. We’re just talking about things. You two keep having fun.”

Zack just nodded in agreement, even though he was rather curious, as he and Cloud proceeded to keep playing. “Come on Cloud, you gotta be faster than that if you wanna catch me,” he said to the blond-haired kid, who had a more determined look on his face now as he started to run hard after Zack.

“You know, maybe we should just let him stay dear. I mean, we’ve asked everyone in town and nobody has ever seen or heard of him before. So he’s not from around here at least,” David stated who took a more serious tone as he finished his statement.

“But where could he have come from then? If he did come from another village far away what should we do? We’ve shown him a list of all places in Gaia and he doesn’t seem to know any of them. It would take far too long to take him to different places in hopes he would remember anything.” Emily then let out a long sigh before running a hand slowly through her hair.

“You’re right. We don’t really have the time or resources to just go everywhere to check. It will probably take time for him to remember. Besides, I think we have both made up our mind anyways,” he said as he looked over at his wife and smiled.

Emily smiled back for a moment. “Can we really manage raising two little boys though? Our home is small and we don’t have all that much.”

“You heard Zack before, he’s the one who will take care of Cloud. We have nothing to worry about,” David said with a laugh.

“Heh, well you are right about that,” Emily replied before looking up at the clear blue sky. She placed her hands over her chest and smiled. “Maybe… Maybe this was fate.”

David just nodded and then turned his attention to the two boys. “Zack! Cloud! You two come over here. We need you for a moment,” he yelled out for them.

Zack and Cloud turned their attention towards the house and then looked at each other, silently wondering what Zack’s parents wanted. Then, they began to run towards the house and after a few seconds, they had arrived.

“What is it dad? Is there something that you and mom need?” Zack asked.

“Yeah, is there something we need to do?” Cloud asked, almost copying what Zack had said.

“No, it’s not something you need to do,” Emily replied with a smile. “We just have some important news.”

“What? What is it?” Zack asked, bouncing on his feet in excitement.

Zack’s parents looked at one another before back at the young children. Then his mother continued. “We’ve decided to let Cloud stay with us.”

Zack’s eyes widened as a smile stretched across his small face. “Really?! Mom! Dad! That’s great to hear!”

Cloud stood there with wide eyes as well, as tears started to form in his eyes. He wouldn’t have to be alone anymore. He could actually stay with them. The thought of this made him happier than anything. “I-I… thank...you.” His words came out muffled and spaced as he tried to fight back a range of emotions.

Suddenly, Zack embraced Cloud and squeezed him tightly. “Cloud! We can actually be brothers now. I’m so happy you can stay. We are gonna have the best time together,” he said cheerfully.

Cloud returned the hug as he raised his hands threw them around Zack’s neck, not wanting to let go of his friend, and now brother, for a even a second at this very moment.

Cloud smiled happily as he continued to hug Zack. Something about all of this made him feel even happier. Since he had first met Zack a week ago, there was something about him that Cloud couldn’t quite place his finger on. He knew Zack was nice and friendly, but Cloud had a feeling there was something else. He hadn’t though on it much… but maybe Zack was a little familiar to him. It didn’t make a whole lot of sense to Cloud, seeing as Zack never had met him until a week ago, but he didn’t think too hard on that at the moment. Right now, all that mattered was that he now had a family and an older brother.

Their parents smiled sweetly at the sight, taking in the fact that they now had two sons. Then their father cleared his voice. “But it isn’t just going to be that simple. If Cloud really is going to be apart of our family, we will have to fill out paperwork and other things like that.”

“It’s nothing you boys have to worry too much about. We just need to fill out papers saying Cloud is apart of out family now and get some other things set up,” their mother added.

“This is great though!” Zack beamed. “I have a little brother!”

Zack then tried to lift Cloud off the ground a little and spin around. Both boys started to laugh and giggle at one another as the world spun around them. It only took a few seconds before Zack lost his balance and the two toppled down to the ground. But both of them just continued laughing at one another. Never before had either of them looked or felt so happy. It was a sight that truly warmed the hearts of their parents.

“Come on you two. Why don’t we all go inside now and get ready to eat. We can spend this time together… as family.”

Zack and Cloud beamed at hearing their father say those words. They dashed to the door quickly and followed their parents inside as the door closed on the house that was full of nothing but happiness for the remainder of that evening.

Chapter Text

Several days had passed and things were starting to feel more and more natural. Zack’s, and now Cloud’s, parents had spend the week hard on filling out the necessary paperwork and now it was finished. Not just for adopting Cloud, but also creating a information file on him, seeing as he just seemed to have come out of nowhere. It was a bit hard to make and fill out forms to create a background for Cloud, but his new parents didn’t give up.

Ever since they agreed for Cloud to be apart of their family, they felt even happier than they were before. They both felt that the young, bright-eyed blond was a perfect addition for their family. He had the same energy as Zack did, which did of course make managing them a bit hard at times, though it still felt worth it. And now that all the paperwork had been completed, they could finally relax a bit more. Though that meant that there was a surprise for the boys now to tell them later that night.


Zack and Cloud were playing with action figures as their mother prepared dinner. Both of them were engaging in conversation about what the story was that they had created for their action figures. Emily couldn’t help but smile as she saw them playing. It truly did warm her heart to see Zack so happy. Not to say he wasn’t happy before, as he always was energetic and optimistic. But now he was a hundred times more happy because he had a little brother to look out for.

Soon though the door opened and David walked through. Both Cloud and Zack stopped what they were doing and ran towards him. Both of them tried to tackle him over before he was halfway through the door.

He laughed as he grabbed the boys and held one in each arm. “Aha. How are my boys doing today?”

“We’re having lots of fun dad! Me and Cloud are playing action figures. It’s great!” Zack said, excitement in every ounce of his voice and face.

“Yeah! We’ve been having fun! We were also playing outside earlier. Playing tag and hide and go seek,” Cloud also said as he gave a big smile.

“That’s great to here,” David said as he ruffled both of the boy’s heads. “Now how about you two get ready for dinner. I smell something good for tonight.”

“It’s baked salmon!” Cloud exclaimed. “It smells so good!”

“And it has all the other stuff to make it taste good like lemons and stuff,” Zack added.

“Oh is it?” their father asked, as if he didn’t actually know what was being made. “Well I can’t wait to have some. How about you boys clean up your toys and then sit at the table?”

“Okay!” both Cloud and Zack chimed together in union.

They ran back to where their action figures were and quickly cleaned them up. David smiled happily as he watched them bounce around with such energy. After he hung up his coat he made his way over to his wife and gave her a kiss.

“Have they been like that all day?”

“Oh you wouldn’t believe it. I thought for sure Cloud would wanna take a nap today, but he never once seemed to be tired. I’m sure the two of them will crash right after dinner thought,” Emily replied.

“Well let’s hope they stay awake long enough to hear our surprise,” David said as he started picking up the plates to put on the dinner table.

Within a few minutes the boys were called to the table and the food was set. Both children thanked their parents many times before digging in to the delicious meal. It wasn’t too often that Emily cooked an extravagant dinner like this, so Cloud and Zack made sure they ate as much as they could. They savored every bite of the rare, wonderful meal.

Once dinner was finished Emily picked up the dishes and brought them to the sink. As she did it she spoke to the boys. “Now don’t you two go running off just yet. There is a special surprise.”

The boys gasped.

“A surprise? Is it something yummy to eat?” Cloud asked.

“What is it mom? I wanna know. Did you get something for us?” Zack asked immediately after.

She giggled. “Well it’s hard to explain, but close your eyes and you’ll see.”

Both Cloud and Zack nodded as they closed their eyes. They waited a moment before they heard their mother sit back down. “Okay, you can look now.”

Cloud and Zack opened their eyes to see that there was now something on the table. It was a basic looking folder and it was placed in front of Cloud. Both of the boys looked at each other in confusion before looking to their parents.

“Just a folder?” Cloud asked.

“Go ahead and open it Cloud. See what is inside,” David said, prompting Cloud.

“Okay.” Cloud slowly reached forward and held the folder in his hands. He opened it up to see that there were many papers clipped inside of it. But all he needed to see was the top sheet. There were just a few certain words that caught his eye.

First Name: Cloud

Last Name: Fair

There was other words and stuff on the rest of the sheet. Things about Cloud’s birthday and various other information that just sounded complicated to him. But it was the first two lines that kept him staring with wide eyes.

“This… This is…” Cloud tried to said, but the words were getting caught in his throat. His fingers gently touching his name on the page.

“That right Cloud,” Emily said with a kind smile. “The final bits of paper work were finished and filed today. You are officially apart of our family.”

“Though you already were officially apart of our family in our hearts since we met you,” David added. “Now it’s just stated in the papers.”

Cloud opened his mouth to try to say something. He wanted to thank Emily and David. They took him in when he had no one and accepted him into their family. He tried to tell them how he felt, but everything felt so overwhelming for him. He thought he was overjoyed when they first said they would let him into his family, but now… seeing the papers with his name on there… it was the most happy he had felt yet.

Cloud placed the folder back on the table as he started to feel tears streaming down his face. He was just too overwhelmed with happy feelings to do or say anything else. He placed his hands up to his face as he tried to wipe away the tears, but they just kept coming.

“Really?! That’s great!” Zack exclaimed as he hugged Cloud tightly. “I thought it might happen, but to see if for real is awesome! I officially have a brother now!” Zack said with excitement as tears started to well in his eyes.

David and Emily came around to their two sons and embraced them both in a hug. Tears started to form in the parents’ eyes now as they witnessed the reaction of their sons to this information, which made it all the more real for them.They all stood there now as one happy family.


Almost another week had passed already since Cloud had been officially named a part of the family. Besides that big announcement, nothing else had really changed in the household since Cloud had become a part of it, despite the fact that the blond-haired boy was much more ecstatic now that he had a real family. Cloud still followed after Zack almost in nearly every way, no matter what Zack was doing or where he was going.

The sun had set already on another day, and the boys were slightly exhausted after a long day of activities, but their energy levels were still quite elevated. Their father had taken them down to the docks to see the ocean and have some time in the nice, warm air. There, they were able to see some interesting fish and even had gotten a chance to swim.

Cloud had just come out of the bathroom, and he made his way over to his bed and plopped down face first on it as the springs resonated with a loud noise upon his impact. Zack was in his own bed just beside Cloud as he was sprawled out across it, seemingly quite relaxed.

"Hey Cloud," Zack asked as he stared up at the ceiling. "Do you ever wonder where you must have come from?"

Cloud stirred in his bed slightly and raised up from his position until he faced Zack. "What do you mean?"

"Well I was just curious. Cause you couldn't have just shown up in the forest one day. Everyone comes from somewhere.”

"I don't know...but you mean that even though I can't remember, there is still somewhere I may have come from?"

"Yeah. Something like that at least. I was just wonderin' is all. You don't need to think about it if you don't wanna."

“I still don’t know. I guess you’re right. I don’t really think about it cause I don’t know. Sorry,” Cloud finished, a hint of worry that he might have let Zack down with his unknowingness.

“No, it’s okay. Well we’re brothers now, so whatever was before doesn’t matter. That seems fair to me,” Zack said, his voice rising at the end as a grin spread across his face.

Cloud looked at him for a moment before he started smiling and the two boys burst out in laugher. “Funny joke there Zack. But okay, I guess you’re right. That is fair,” Cloud emphasized the last word as he continued to look at Zack and slightly chuckle.

After both boys had finally ceased their giggling spree, Zack spoke up.

“Well I guess we should go to sleep now. I’m tired for now. Night Cloud,” he said as he turned off the lights in the room and then dove under the covers of his bed in an attempt to sleep.

Cloud replied, “Night Zack. See ya in the morning.” He then crawled under his covers and shortly after closed his eyes and drifted into a deep sleep.

There were kids out playing in the dirt-covered street, which looked familiar but he could not place where he was. The buildings on either side were large and more square, and seemed a different style than what he was used to seeing. He looked up at the sky that was a bright blue color without a single cloud in view as the warm light soaked into his skin. He then could see a nice mountain view in the distance as well just as a breeze blew downward, seemingly from the direction of them. It seemed so peaceful.

Suddenly, a voice was heard out of nowhere. “Hey chocobo butt!”

It sounded like a voice of a child as the pitch was slightly elevated, but there was a hint of disdain in the voice as well. Just then, he saw a group of three boys walking towards him as the one in the front spoke. “Yea you, you know who I’m talking about. We still haven’t finished with you for getting Tifa hurt.”

The voice was the same one that he had heard earlier, but now he had a face to attach it to. He started to wonder for a moment who Tifa was as he looked away for a brief moment. The name sounded familiar for some odd reason, but Cloud couldn’t put his finger on it.

When he turned back, a slight smirk formed across the kid’s face. “Come on guys, let’s get him,” he yelled out as he pointed towards the apparently spiky-headed kid.

There were three boys running towards him and he had no idea what to do; therefore, he turned around and he took off running through the streets. As he ran, he looked to each side of the street at the adults standing outside in hopes that they would realize what was going on and help him. However, each one he passed, there seemed to be that same look of disdain on their faces as they looked upon him. Why would nobody help him? And why were the kids chasing him? What had he done to upset the three boys?

Whatever the cause may be, he felt like that he needed to continue running. His small legs started to burn with pain as he had been on them for what seemed like a long time by now, but he was certain it had only been a few minutes. He rounded a corner and stifled a glance behind him to see that the boys were almost caught up to him. After running a bit farther, he winced in pain and fell as his legs finally had given out on him. He kept his eyes closed, not wanting to think about what might be going to happen to him.

“Cloud! Cloud! Are you all right honey? They didn’t hurt you did they?” he heard a warm and tender voice say that seemed to be moving closer to him.

He opened his eyes finally and looked behind him to see if the boys were still there, and he saw that they had stopped and were backing away, with a sour look on their faces.

“We’ll get you next time. You can’t hide behind ----- forever,” the one that had spoken before said with a sneer before they all three turned the corner and went back from where they came from.

Though, one of the words the kid had spoken he didn’t quite hear, and he reached his hand out towards the direction of the boys in hopes they might repeat what they said, but they were already gone. As he continued to look in that direction, a hand was placed on his head softly as that same voice spoke again.

“What’s wrong Cloud? Come on, let’s get you inside. Sometimes I wish we never would have moved here to Nibelheim.”

Suddenly, he felt a jarring pain in his head as he started to feel like he knew that name. Is it where he was from? He didn’t really know at that moment. The only thing he knew is that his head was hurting and it would not stop. But he also thought that voice sounded familiar too. Through winced eyes due to pain, he turned his head around to try to see the person the hand on his head belonged to. He had to see who it was. He felt like he needed to see who was speaking so kindly to him. Whomever it was felt extremely important to him. But as he peered upward, everything started to go hazy and black.

Cloud jolted awake in bed and let out a loud groan as he huffed loudly. His head was still throbbing but it was slowly fading away. Placing a hand up to his face he saw that his cheeks were wet. Everything was a slight bit hazy, but he could still recall the dream that he just had. He had no idea what it was about now that he was awake, but he wondered if maybe it was where he came from.

He shuddered slightly at the thought of it, as some snippets of the dream danced freshly in his mind. Worried, he crawled slowly out from under his covers, out of the bed, and walked over to Zack, who was sleeping soundly beside him. Cloud began to tug on Zack’s shirt slowly in an attempt to wake up his brother.

“Hey. Zack… Can you wake up please?” he said softly, trying to keep his emotions in check.

Zack did not budge at all, chest rising and falling slowly as he continued to sleep. Cloud tried again.

“Zack. Zack. I need you right now,” he spoke in an elevated voice as he tried to get Zack’s attention without being too loud to wake their parents. He started to shake his brother’s shoulder slowly back and forth until Zack seemed to start to stir.

“Eh...yeah...what is it…” he said, sleepily, as he was still obviously not quite awake.

“I need you to be here Zack. Please…” Cloud’s voice wavered as he finished.

Zack started to rub his eyes and finally opened them to see what was happening. “Cloud? What is it? Are you okay?”

“I had a dream...and I don’t know what it means. I don’t wanna have to go away from here,” Cloud responded, a hint of worry filling his small voice.

“Sit down beside me here,” Zack said as he sat up in bed and swung his legs over the side of it so that the other end of the bed was clear for Cloud to take a seat. “Why would you think that?”

Cloud sat down slowly beside Zack and turned toward him, eyes red from tears welling up. “I...I think it may be where I was from, but…” he was cut off by Zack.

“You mean you might have remembered where you’re from!? Well that’s good right?” Zack burst out with a joyous sound, trying to not yawn through everything.

“Well, I don’t know. It was weird. I kind of feel like I know it... but I didn’t know it too. And if that is true I’ll have to go away and I love being here. I’ll have to go back ‘cause I remember, right? And my head hurts. And…”

“Stop!” Zack exclaimed as quietly as he could, stopping Cloud where he was with his ramblings and wrapping his arm around his head. “You don’t have to worry about that. That’s not going to happen,” Zack said quickly wrapping his other arm around his brother and embracing him in a hug.

Cloud relaxed into his brothers arms slightly. “But...wouldn’t mom and dad want to make sure?”

“Well, they don’t have to know now do they?” Zack asked with a little bit of a smile. “We can just keep this between us.”

“Really? So I don’t have to worry about it then?” Cloud asked with a shaky voice.

“Of course not. Zack’s here for you. We’re brothers now. I’m not gonna let someone take you away,” Zack said as he squeezed Cloud tighter in their hug. “And mom and dad love you, they aren’t just going to make you go back to your original home. You’re a Fair now and that’s how it will stay.”

Cloud then hooked his arms around his brother’s back as well and hugged him harder as well. “Thanks, Zack. You’re the bestest brother I coulda asked for,” he said with a calmer tone in his small voice.

“I should be the one saying that to you, Cloud. I’m glad we found you and that you’re a part of the family now,” Zack stated with sincerity as he continued to hold Cloud.

The two boys stayed like that for a good few minutes, sitting on the bed and holding each other tightly with neither one wanting to let go in that moment. Cloud needed someone to help, and Zack was there, just as he had promised that he would be.

“Well, why don’t we go back to bed okay?” Zack questioned to his younger brother, insinuating that he wanted to get some rest, and he hoped that rest would help Cloud to relax as well.

“Can I just sleep with you tonight Zack? So you don’t feel so far away?”

“Of course you can. Come on. I’m sure it’ll be just fine.”

“Okay then. I believe you. Night then.”

“Night to you buddy.”

After bidding each other goodnight, each of them became comfortable quite quickly as Cloud made sure to stay next to Zack. Zack had placed his arm over him, so that his little brother would know that he was right there beside him. Cloud was at ease after that as he quickly faded into sleep, with Zack not too far behind.

Chapter Text

A little over a year had passed since Cloud had become apart of the Fair family, but it felt like hardly any time at all. Though not much had changed besides both of the boys growing a little. Cloud of course though still followed Zack around everywhere, always wanting to stick close to him whenever he could. The two were practically inseparable. Everyone in the village always said how they were the cutest and sweetest brothers around.

Though the hardest parts of any day was going to school. At first it was pretty hard for Cloud, to watch Zack go off to school each day and then wait for him to come home. But he easily got use to it and the days went on as normally after that. But now Cloud was now 6-years-old, which meant he was old enough to attend school. The only downside that he saw was that for most of the school day, he didn’t get to see Zack.

Since Zack was two years older than him, that meant he was also two grade levels above him. There were only two to three kids per grade level, out of nearly twenty kids total. However, despite the small numbers, the classes were still split accordingly to accomodate for the variations in learning from kids of differing ages.

The school was compact in its setting, though it was held inside a larger building near the center of the town. Upon reaching the structure, anyone could tell that it was unlike any of the other buildings in the village. Instead of the normal single cylindrical wall all of the houses possessed, this building had four walls, which were actually made from the same material as the other houses and sported the same color. The roof angled upward and ended in a single point, and instead of a blue color, the roof area was solid white, which was most likely to distinguish it from the rest of the buildings.

The end of the school day was drawing near though. It would only be a far more minutes before the children were released for the day to go home and have fun. Cloud sat in his seat quietly as the teacher was wrapping up the lesson. His legs swung back and forth in the chair he sat in as his feet couldn’t reach the floor yet.

Every few seconds Cloud would glance up at the clock in the room, watching the second hand slowly tick by. Cloud tried his best to still listen to the teacher though. He didn’t want to be scolded again for not paying attention in class. Cloud sigh as he looked back at the teacher in the front of the room. She was just explaining the last few points of the day’s lesson when the bell finally rang.

As soon as the teacher said goodbye to the class Cloud grabbed his bag and headed out of the door. He ran outside and stood in front of the school as he watched the other kids exit out soon after him. Within less than a minute Zack came out of the door and ran right up to Cloud.

Before Zack could do or say anything though Cloud threw his arms around him. “Hi Zack! I missed you.”

Zack laughed as he returned the hug. “You say that everyday.”

Cloud smiled as he looked up at Zack. “I know. But I do really miss seeing you when we’re in class.”

“Haha. We’ve been over this every day since you started. We have to have classes like that. When I started my second year of school last year, I didn’t like being away from you either. I still don’t, but it’s not too bad once you get used to it. Look at me. I did it,” Zack said proudly, pointing at himself and giving a grin.

Cloud continued to hold his smile as he let go of Zack. “Okay Zack! I’ll try to be more like you! I can do it!”

Zack grinned back at Cloud as he patted his head. “Yeah! You’re my brother after all. Just do what I do and you’ll be okay. You can be strong.”

They each stood there for a moment before they decided that they should start to head home. Luckily, it wasn’t too far away for them. The boys were resolved with Cloud trying to better himself as they happily walked side by side on the path to their house. The house was not too far from the school, but on the way, there was a path that forked to the right that led up to the Mako reactor they had visited when Cloud first arrived.

As Zack and Cloud passed near that turn, something on that road caught Cloud’s eye as he turned away from Zack to look. Zack stopped walking and looked down the path. His eyes light up with surprise and wonder. It wasn’t too often that there was people actively walking around it. The longer Zack stared and looked though, he saw that the people there were far from just ordinary village folk.

“Hey Cloud,” Zack said in a more hushed tone, “Let’s go check those guys out. I’ve never seen anything like them in the village before.”

Cloud looked for a second as he wondered if it was okay to go. “But, shouldn’t we be getting home Zack?”

“Well yeah, but it’s just a quick detour. We’ll be back before it’s nighttime. Come on,” he insisted as he held Cloud’s hand tighter. “I’ll be here so you don’t have to worry.”

Cloud pondered it for another moment, but he figured that if Zack was going to be with him, then it would be okay. After all, Zack did just tell him a short while ago to follow him and do what he does. Cloud then nodded and allowed Zack to string him along as they started to move slowly and carefully towards the mysterious people. Upon getting closer, the boys were finally able to see what the people looked like.

There appeared to be a varying amount of appearances among the people that were approaching the Mako reactor, and their uniforms resembled that of soldiers. Zack counted about eight people in total, though they were of varying colors and slightly different designs.

Four of the soldiers were wearing navy blue sleeved tunics combined with the same color of baggy pants. Stretching from the top of the shoulders to the waist area was what appeared to be brown shoulder holsters that then attached to similar colored belt that wrapped around the tunic. They also wore brown gloves, which appeared to be made of leather as did the other brown accessories. Metal spaulders adorned their shoulders and metal knee guards were positioned around the knees, and just below that they wore brown boots that were laced around the pants. Looking back up, their faces were mostly hidden by a metal helmet that wrapped around the head and had two red dots in a triangular pattern on it. They seemed quite impressive.

The others uniforms seemed similar, but had different, more simplistic designs. They each wore the same baggy pants, but the tunic for these appeared to be a sleeveless, skin-tight sweater almost with a collar around the neck. Two of the uniforms were navy blue, and the other two were a burgundy red color. They also were sporting the same brown shoulder holsters, but what they attached to was a larger brown belt that sat just above the waist of the pants. Below that belt was the actual belts for the pants, which appeared to be black in color. They wore the same metal spaulders, but they had no knee guards. The brown boots were larger as the pants were tucked into them on those people. They also wore metal helmets, though they were different in appearance and were an odd shape.

Zack and Cloud stood in awe as they watched the soldiers get to work. Zack wanted to get closer to them, however, so he tried to slowly move as to not make too much noise, or they would be found out. After a few minutes of sneaking, Cloud ended up not paying attention as he accidentally kicked up some rocks, causing a small sound to be heard. They both froze as they saw a couple of the soldiers turn toward the noise and land their eyes squarely on them. It was the smallest of sounds, yet somehow these guys had heard them.

“Hey! What are you two doing here? You children should not be playing near the reactor,” one of the men stated sharply.

Cloud scooted back and hid behind Zack, clinging tightly to his shirt. Zack looked down at Cloud and placed a hand on top of his head. He tried his best to calm his brother down with a smile.

“Hey Cloud, don’t be scared too much,” Zack said reassuringly. “I’m sure they won’t hurt us. But I am curious though about all this. Do you wanna just stay here or something?” he asked of his brother as he looked down at him and waited for a response.

“I’ll stay with you Zack,” Cloud replied quietly.

Zack nodded at Cloud as he looked back up at the soldier that had yelled after them and he started to move a bit closer. “I know but I saw you strange guys and all. I’ve never seen you around the village before. Who are you anyways?” he said in a loud voice towards the group of men.

The few men near them looked at one another and then at the children. “You mean you haven’t heard of Shinra and SOLDIER?”

Zack tilted his head to the side. “Well I figured you guys were soldiers of some kind. And I’ve heard Shinra too. But what do you mean by SOLDIER?” he asked more curious than before.

One of the men in the blue with the red, triangular-dotted helmet spoke up. “SOLDIER is the elite fighting force for Shinra. We handle all the big jobs, even things like this,” he stated with a small smirk coming to his face as he tried to look impressive.

Before Zack had a chance to speak, another man in the burgundy outfit with the oddly-shaped helmet spoke up from behind the other man. “What are you talking about? You’re not even SOLDIER. You’re just a simple infantryman. Stop trying to impress these kids and get back to work,” he spoke in sharp tone, making his superiority over the others apparent.

Zack wanted to snicker slightly at the comment that was made but decided against it. He was intrigued by what was said though. “Wow that sounds really cool. So you guys help people and all then?”

“That’s none of your business. Now you two kids get of here and let us do our job,” the rude one from before said.

Zack felt Cloud’s grip tighten on his shirt. “Zack… Can we go now? I don’t wanna be here anymore…”

Zack glanced down at Cloud, who looked to be starting to shake slightly. He wondered if it was the soldier’s words that had scared him, or if it was something else entirely. “What is it Cloud? Was it something about the soldiers? You can tell me,” Zack suggested sincerely to his brother.

Cloud became lost in his thoughts for what seemed like a eternity as what seemed to be pieces of memories started to enter his mind. The words “SOLDIER” and “Shinra” seemed so familiar, but he did not ever remember hearing of them before since Zack didn’t even know. Also, there was something about the way that the one called an infantryman appeared, but Cloud could not quite think clearly on the matter. When he did, his head began to hurt again.

Cloud managed though to shake his head back and forth. “No. I just wanna go. My head hurts…”

Zack looked mildly worried at what Cloud had just told him. He took his eyes off of Cloud to glance up at the soldiers, including the one in front that had just yelled at them, and then he darted his eyes back down to Cloud. After a couple of times doing this, Zack finally settled on what they needed to do.

“Okay Cloud. We’ll go toward the house. Come on,” Zack said lightly as he took Cloud by the hand once more and turned around, not looking back at the soldiers again as the two boys strolled back towards the initial fork in the road in order to make their way home.

As they walked back Cloud gripped his head with one hand and held Zack’s with the other. The pain still wasn’t going away. Cloud tried to rub his forehead, hoping that would help, but it had no affect. Cloud closed his eyes and something flashed through his mind.

“SOLDIER is like a den of monsters. Don’t go inside.”

The words echoed deeply in his head. That voice… it was familiar to Cloud. He knew that voice… it sounded so familiar but he couldn’t place his finger on it. Though as he thought over the words he shuddered slightly and clung to Zack’s side. Whomever said it to him did not seem very happy about SOLDIER.

“I don’t like those guys…” Cloud muttered quietly.

Zack spoke up as he was pondering Cloud’s response. “Why not? They didn’t seem too bad, except for that one rude guy. They seemed like they were trying to help...in a way.”

“They’re scary though… their faces were covered by those weird helmets,” Cloud replied.

Zack raised his head in thought for a moment. He liked hearing about SOLDIER and what they seemed to do, but he did not like that it scared Cloud. He thought carefully over his next words. “Maybe you can try to just ignore them for now. We don’t have to see them again, okay?”

“But… but…” Cloud started to say. He wanted to tell Zack what he remembered. What the voice he had heard had said. But when he tried to remember the exact words, it wasn’t coming to mind anymore. Cloud frowned as whatever it was he had remembered was gone just as fast. Though there was only one part of it that still seemed to linger. “What if… What if they are monsters though? We can’t see their faces and… and…”

Zack thought of something upon hearing the way Cloud sounded and what had just happened to him. He stopped walking as they reached the fork in the road. He turned back towards Cloud to be able to look at him directly. “Was it something that you remembered? Like last time? You know you can tell me,” Zack said with reassurance before he continued. But...I don’t think they’re monsters. They didn’t look like monsters at least. You can trust me on anything.”

“I… I don’t know. I thought I did. Something someone said, but I can’t remember now,” Cloud said as he let out a sigh. He then looked up at Zack though. “Thank you Zack. I’ll try to believe you, maybe I just imagined it.” Cloud then wrapped his arms around Zack and gave him a hug.

Zack returned the hug to his brother. “You’re welcome. I’m sure you’ll remember it though. Let’s just head home now. I hope mom is not worried too much,” he said as he scratched his head slightly.

Just as they started walking Cloud pulled on Zack’s shirt. “Hey Zack. Can you give me a piggyback ride back home?”

Zack stared at Cloud for a moment before a smile came to his face. “Of course! Come on, hop on then,” he said to Cloud as he slightly bent down enough for Cloud to climb onto his back. Cloud giggled happily as he climbed on and held on tightly as Zack stood back up and they started on their way home.

Chapter Text

A couple days had passed and yet Zack still was thinking about the SOLDIERS he had seen. He still had so many questions he wanted to ask. He wanted to learn more about them. He never had felt so curious before about something.

After thinking about this for a little while longer as he relax in bed, Zack decided he was going to go out into the village and see if he could find those SOLDIERS again. It was the weekend thankfully and so he had no school for the day. He had no idea if they would still be there, but he needed his curiosity sated. However, he knew that if he left that Cloud would most likely want to go with him wherever he went, which was no problem to Zack. But, he wanted to make sure that Cloud would actually want to go if he knew the reason for his outing.

Zack finally managed to get up out of his bed with a leap to the ground. He then walked over to the still sleeping Cloud. A couple hours ago they had eaten their lunch, then afterwards Cloud decided he wanted take a nap. Zack originally had thought of also napping, but his thoughts kept him awake the entire time. He reached out his hand to try to shake Cloud awake, but then a better idea crossed his mind. He grinned sheepishly as he then allowed himself to free-fall across Cloud sideways. “Wake up spiky head!” he yelled playfully at his little brother.

Cloud let out a gasp as his eyes shot wide open. He began to flail underneath his big brother. “Zaaaack! Get off meeee!” he shouted as he started to laugh.

Zack laughed in response to Cloud. “Well first you gotta make me,” he teased as he continued to flop around like a fish out of water.

Cloud tried to push Zack off him, but his little 6-year-old body, was’t quiet strong enough to move an 8-year-old. The only thing he could do was shift around in the bed to get a little more free from Zack’s hold on him. Though he still was laughing he managed to say a little. “I can’t! Move already!”


Zack continued to laugh a little and finally decided to relinquish his hold on Cloud. He rolled over and toppled off of his younger brother and allowed him to get up. “Okay you’re free now. But at least you’re awake,” he joked as he chuckled a bit more.

“Yeah cause you woke me up!” Cloud exclaimed, though his smile never fell. “Is there something you want? Got fun ideas for today?”

“Hmm...well I thought about going into the village actually. But…” Zack stopped, trying to think of how to ask Cloud what he was curious about.

“But what?” Cloud said as he sat up more properly on the bed. “What do you wanna do?”

Zack hesitated, as he did not know how Cloud would react. “Well, I wanted to go out and see if we could find those SOLDIERS again. I was just...curious is all. Figured you’d wanna follow with me.”

Cloud shook his head. “No. I don’t wanna see the SOLDIERS again. Why do you wanna go see them?”

“I don’t know, I just wanna know more about them is all. I can’t help it. Are you sure you wouldn’t wanna go?” he asked, trying to see what Cloud might say.

“No I really don’t wanna go there again. But you really wanna know… are you just going to go? Without… me?” Cloud asked quietly as he frowned slightly.

Zack was unsure of what to say to Cloud at that moment. It was true that he didn’t want to leave Cloud alone, but he also wanted to go out and see to his own goals. Then a thought crossed his mind. “Hey, remember the school thing I told you? Even if we’re in different classes, we will see each other at the end of the day. Well, I wouldn’t even be gone that long here, so think of it like that then,” he said with assurance in his small voice.

“Oh…” Cloud said as he seemed to relax slightly. “And then we can play when you get back?”

“Of course we can. We’ll do whatever you want when I get back, how’s that?” he asked curtly as he ruffled Cloud’s hair.

Cloud smiled at his brother. Sure he didn’t want him to go and see the SOLDIERS again, but he knew Zack would come back at least. Though he still felt a bit uneasy of SOLDIERS… well at least the word. That word he didn’t really like at all, as well as the other word Shinra. Neither of them made Cloud feel well. He knew it had to mean something… but he couldn’t figure out what it was. He hoped though that eventually he would know.

“Yeah! That sounds fun! We can go swimming today!” Cloud said as the thought just came to his mind.

Zack chuckled at Cloud’s enthusiasm. “All right that sounds cool. I’ll be back before you know it then. Don’t have too much fun without me,” he smiled as he turned and walked out of the bedroom and ran out of the house, briefly telling his mother he was going out.

He ran excitedly down the path from their house that led to the center of town. After a few minutes, he had finally arrived; however, he was short of breath as he had ran too hard. He stopped momentarily to catch his breath and then proceeded to slowly walk down the fork in the road, which was to his left now that he was coming from his house.

At first, as he moved closer down the path, he did not see anybody up ahead. But then upon inching ever closer to where the reactor area was, which was marked off by fences, he started to hear voices. Zack figured that it must be the SOLDIERS and they were inside the reactor area now. He knew he probably could not go inside of the area without getting caught, so he decided against that idea fairly quickly. He then deduced that the best option was to get as close to the fence as he could to be able to see them and listen to them.

Zack crouched down with his knees bent and edged forward, making sure to be careful with each step as he remembered these SOLDIERS apparently have sensitive hearing. He positioned himself right at the fence enough to where he could peer through it just enough to see inside. Sure enough, he was right as he saw the SOLDIERS standing around inside the area, seemingly talking with each other about something. Zack of course, wanted to know what they were discussing, in hopes of finding out more information about their mysterious group.

“...so far. Also, why do we have to stay here with this reactor? We’ve been here for days and nothing strange is happening,” one of the infantryman had complained, seemingly frustrated with something going on that Zack did not really understand.

One of the other SOLDIERS in blue with the different helmet spoke up. “Because we’re the lower ranking people here so we have to do jobs like this. It kind of sucks, but just deal with it. It’s something to do. Right commander?”

The one that must have been the commander, who wore the red-colored outfit, nodded. “Yeah yeah. We get the lame jobs and the 1st class get to do all the more intense and fun jobs.”

The other person dressed in red then spoke up. “That may be true, but at least we’re not risking our lives to get killed like they are. So I’d say be thankful.”

“But, those 1st class are pretty impressive,” one commented.

“That is true. Especially about that newest 1st class. What was his name again?” the commander asked.

One of the other infantryman cut in. “Oh, you must mean Sephiroth. Yea, he’s the newest member of the 1st class SOLDIERS,” he paused before continuing on. “He’s always taking on all of the hard jobs, and never has failed a mission. Some say that he’s superhuman, especially the way he carries around that long sword of his effortlessly. Not to mention he is much taller than anyone else as he stands at six foot one”. He’s even being regarded as the greatest hero now.”

Greatest hero? Those words caught Zack’s attention more than anything else that he had heard thus far. So it was true that SOLDIERS actually did help people after all, which is what he had originally thought. It didn’t seem like that much to reveal, so Zack assumed that the soldier from the other day must have been cranky. He pushed the thought out of his mind as another came to the forefront.

All Zack ever wanted to do was help people, and he loved to do it as it made him happy. Now, it seemed SOLDIER might could help him to do just that. He wanted to find out more about this Sephiroth person, but he figured if he was famous then he should hear about him everywhere.

His thoughts were interrupted as one of the commanders stifled a slight chuckle, apparently at the soldier who had last spoken. “What, are you in his fanclub or something?” he asked sarcastically with a smirk.

The infantryman was taken aback momentarily before he recomposed himself. “Well, as a matter of fact I am. I’m a member of his official fan club.”

“I still can’t believe 1st Class get to have fan clubs. I would love to have something like that,” one of the men replied. “But seriously you are in his fan club?!”

“Yep I am. I was a part of it before I joined the military. I am a loyal Sephiroth fan. He’s actually one of the reasons I wanted to join, when I heard of his heroism,” the man replied proudly.

One of the guys in red, the not-rude one, spoke up again. “Yeah, word is around Shinra that on his latest mission, he took on an entire army by himself and won without a single scratch being put on him. Even for a 2nd class like me, that’s far out of my league if it’s true,” he said bluntly.

“Is he really that powerful?”

“From what I’ve heard yeah. I mean, if he can take on an army, then what can’t he do? I’m just glad he’s on our side,” the 2nd class responded yet again.

“Truly the most amazing hero of our time,” another SOLDIER said in awe.

Zack was nearly bouncing with excitement upon hearing of the tales of this man they called Sephiroth. He started thinking of what he could do one day if he was to become a SOLDIER. The ideas and thoughts racing through his small mind made him forget that he was actually trying to hide as he ended up bumping his head against the fence. “Ow,” he said, and then clasped his mouth with his hands, realizing what he had done.

All of the men in the area turned their attention over to where Zack was hiding. They looked at one another before one of the men took a few steps closer to the fence and looked around. He looked for a few seconds until his eyes fell upon where Zack was sitting.

“Hey kid! What are… wait you are the kid from a few days ago! What are you doing back here?”

Zack froze for a moment, not knowing whether he should run or not. However, considering that these same guys had told them not to come back before, he didn’t want to get in trouble with them, nor his parents for sneaking around. They were still behind the fence for now, so Zack decided to run. He stood up on his feet and turned around and he jetted off, jogging as fast as his legs would carry him to try to outrun the SOLDIERS.

After a few minutes of non-stop running, Zack started to tire out but was afraid of stopping. He stifled a glance behind him and to his surprise, saw that the SOLDIERS were not in pursuit. Instead, they were standing at the top near the reactor and watching him, most likely to make sure he did not come back. He sighed thankfully as he then stopped his sprint and proceeded to walk the rest of the way home, though the excitement in him was boiling.

When Zack got home he opened the front door and was immediately greeted by Cloud. He nearly tackled him over as Zack wrapped his arms around him. “Zack! You’re back!” he shouted cheerfully.

“I told you I’d be back Cloud,” Zack huffed slightly as he saw Cloud. “But boy do I have some things to tell you. It’s really cool!” Zack emphasized with his voice, hoping Cloud would want to hear him out.

Cloud’s eyes lit up with wonder. “Oooh? What is it? Tell me Zack! I wanna know! What is really cool?”

Zack grinned. “Oh you really wanna know? Well, why don’t we go somewhere else then and talk about it. Wasn’t there something you wanted to do when I got back anyways?” Zack asked his spiky-headed brother.

“Oh yeah! I wanted to go swimming! Come on come on! You can tell me about the cool thing as we swim!” Cloud shouted before running back towards their bedroom to get changed into something for swimming.

“Well okay then, that sounds fun. Let’s get ready to go then,” Zack said joyfully as he ran into the house and back to his room to get his swimming gear as well. After a few minutes, he was changed, as well as Cloud, and they started to march their way out of the house.

“Hey mom! Cloud and I want to go swimming. We can right?” Zack asked of his mother, who appeared to be in her bedroom since she was not in the open area of the rest of the house.

“That’s fine. Just be safe okay? Don’t swim out too far,” his mother told him.

“Yay! Thanks mom!” Zack said before grabbing towels and then he and Cloud ran out the front door.

The two of them chased each other all the way down until they reached the shore. They walked away from the docks area and headed down to a area where they was plenty of room to play on the sand and swim in the water.

Immediately Cloud ran into the water and started to splash around. Zack laughed as he ran into the water right after him and started to have a small splash fight. The boys giggled and laughed as they moved around for a bit in the water. Soon enough though they stopped for a moment to catch their breaths.

“So what is the cool thing?! You said you had something really cool,” Cloud said.

Zack wiped the water some more from his eyes as he sat down in the edge of the water and motioned for Cloud to sit by him. “Okay so I went to see the SOLDIERS again right? And I heard what they were saying. They do help people,” Zack stated promptly with an excitable look upon his face. He paused briefly before continuing. “I heard a story about this one guy who is an actual hero. He does all the big stuff for them too!” he exclaimed.

Cloud blinked a few times as Zack started to ramble at him. He listened carefully though to each and every word that was said though. “Wow really? A real hero? But I thought you were a hero Zack. You being the best big brother, that makes you a hero right?”

Zack was stunned for a moment. He didn’t expect to hear Cloud say that about him, though he didn’t mind it. But it really made him consider how much Cloud looked up to him. “Hmm...well I guess if you want to call me that. I’m your hero then!” Zack said in a loud and playful voice. “But...you’re the best little brother, so that makes you a hero too then,” Zack said cheekily as he smiled at Cloud.

Cloud giggled happily at the comment. He wrapped his arms around Zack and hugged him tightly. “Thanks Zack.” He then let go and looked back up at him. “So who was the hero? The one you heard about?”

Zack thought about it for a moment. “Hmm, what was the name again. Sepa...no that’s not right. Sepha-...Sephir-...umm, oh I got it! It’s Sephiroth,” he said slowly, making sure that he said it right. “I think that was his name. It sounds really cool though don’t you think?” he asked of Cloud.

Cloud slowly tilted his head to the side. “Sephi… Sepher…Sepharoth?” Cloud tried his best to pronounce the name, but it was such a strange and long word, it proved to be a bit challenging.

Though a sudden chill ran through Cloud. He suddenly felt uneasy. He wrapped his arms around his legs and he shuddered slightly. Why was he feeling this way? He couldn’t understand… why did he feel… so scared now?

“I don’t know… maybe?” Cloud managed to say though, trying to push away the uneasy feeling inside of him.

“Is there something wrong Cloud?” Zack asked, an expression of worry coming to his face. “You don’t look happy all of a sudden.”

Cloud shook his head. “No… I don’t know. Just something I guess. Maybe something I can’t remember…”

“Well maybe it’s not anything bad...but hey, maybe we can both still be heroes though right? I don’t wanna do it on my own without you, Cloud,” Zack continued. “Besides, I heard that big heroes get their own fan club too.”

“You wanna be a hero for the SOLDIER guys? Both of us?” Cloud asked. The uneasy feeling faded away and curiosity and excitement replaced it. “Fan club? What’s that?”

“Yeah we can both go be heroes! We’ll do it together,” Zack said with a determined look before addressing the other issue. “And umm...well it’s kinda where people like you and want to tell others of your hero things. If that makes sense,” Zack said, trying to explain the best way he knew how. “It’s like a group of people who talk about how cool you are.”

“Ooh okay! I get it now. So we can really be heroes together? How would we do it though?”

“Hmm...let me think.” That was a question that Zack had not expected to hear.

He had no idea what they were supposed to do to be able to join Shinra to try and become SOLDIERS. He had no information about how to join or even where to go. After thinking it over for a bit, he thought about the men he had ran into twice already. He might would be able to obtain some information from them. However, then the thought occurred that they probably would be none too happy to see him coming around.

He slumped down as he tried to think of another way. He figured it might take some time to figure that out, but he was determined to not give up. Maybe there would be another group to come to the village that he could ask? Or, maybe he should try to get close to those other soldiers again, regardless of what they would say? These were questions that ran a race in his mind. Zack knew there would be time, so he would wait until there was an opportunity.

“Hey Zack? Are you thinking or something? Or fallin’ asleep?” Cloud asked curiously, seeing that Zack had his eyes closed and head down.

Zack was snapped out of his deep thoughts as he opened his eyes and looked up. “Oh I was only thinking. I’m not sure how we can do it. But I know we will figure it out! After all, after finding out about Sephiroth, I have a dream: to be a hero.”

“Me too!” Cloud said excitedly in reply to his brother, as he wanted to do what Zack did. Not only that, but the idea of becoming a hero really spoke to Cloud. He liked the sound of it and it made him feel excited. And plus he liked the sound of Zack saying his dream was to become a hero. To Cloud that sounded like the coolest dream ever!

“Yep!” Zack smiled at Cloud. “Now, where were we? Oh yea,” he said as he stood up from the ground, gathered a handful of water, and splashed Cloud heavily with it.

“Hey I wasn’t ready. I’m gonna get you!” Cloud yelled as he laughed and arose from the ground as well as he started to chase Zack around.

The two boys continued to play in the water at the ocean for quite some time. Before they knew it they were starting to feel a bit hungry. They had no idea what time it was, but they knew it must have been close to dinner time. They also noticed that the sun was already lowering further into the horizon.

The two boys got out of the water and started to dry off. Zack smiled as he placed a towel over Cloud’s head. He started to rub the towel quickly in order to dry and fluff up Cloud’s hair. “Gotta love the fact your hair is real spiky.”

Cloud laughed slightly. “Hey, your hair is spiky too. I think it’s even bigger than mine,” he argued, trying to compare the size of their hair. He grabbed his own towel and threw it over Zack’s head and tried to rub his in return. But of course he couldn’t quite reach Zack’s head cause of how much taller he was to Cloud.

“Nah no way. Your hair is the spiker one,” Zack said with a laugh. “And I bet it will get to be even more spiky looking as you get older.”

Cloud was about to make a comeback at Zack when a thought came back to him. He remembered faint words from somewhere. “Chocobo butt!” The words echoed in his head. It was a bit hazy, but Cloud remembered he had heard them in the dream about where he had come from. That dream had happened well over a year ago, but there was certain parts that just seemed to stick in the back of his mind.

Cloud frowned slightly as he looked up at Zack. “Is it okay though that my hair is spiky?”

Zack looked confused for a second at Cloud’s comment. “What do you mean? Of course it’s okay. What made you think that suddenly?” he asked curiously.

Cloud wanted to try to explain. He had to try to explain the dream to Zack before, but it just felt so hard for him. But he took in a deep breath and spoke anyways. “So it doesn’t look like a chocobo butt?”

That thought had never occured to Zack. Though, when he looked closely, Cloud’s hair did kind of resemble exactly what he said. Zack wanted to chuckle at it, but he kept his thoughts on that silent as it seemed as though Cloud seemed to not like that name. He did not want to make Cloud seem uncomfortable.

He calmed himself before responding. “Well...it’s not really like that. Don’t believe that. Your hair is fine the way it is,” Zack said with a reassuring smile. “Besides, have you ever even seen a chocobo?” he asked with a slight raise in his pitch.

Cloud looked to the side as he pondered over the thought. Then he looked back at Zack. “Nope.”

“Then why are you so worried? How about…” Zack paused as he thought for a moment. “How about if we ever see a chocobo we can see if it’s true or not?”

Cloud’s eyes widened. “We could see a chocobo?!”

“Of course we could! I mean, I don’t think there’s any here in the village. Maybe someone will bring one?” Zack questioned out loud.

“Oh yeah! I hope someone will! I wanna see a chocobo now!” Cloud exclaimed happily.

Zack smiled. “Good, I’m glad you agree. Now, let’s get back to the house for dinner yeah? I’m starving. Say, I’ll race ya,” Zack said cheekily as he smirked at Cloud.

“Another race? Okay! I’ll start!” Cloud started before he took off running, not waiting to see what Zack would say.

“Hey no fair, I wasn’t ready!” Zack exclaimed as he picked up the rest of his things and took off after Cloud to try to catch up as the two of them ran back towards the house as the last light of the sun faded in the distance.

Chapter Text

Weeks had passed since Zack and Cloud agreed on the dream to become heroes. Since then Zack had started looking into as much as he could about SOLDIER and Shinra. He first started by asking the other kids at school to see if they would know anything, but that proved to not be super helpful. When he tried to ask his teacher, she only could give him history books on the Shinra company, but not about SOLDIER.

Zack finally decided that the best option was to ask the SOLDIERS directly and try to get his answers. Though when he had originally checked the next day after figuring out his dream, they had already left. At first, he was slightly bummed that they were not there. However, Zack thought to check each day though to see if they would return at some point.

Many days passed, and those days then turned into weeks. Eventually, to his relief, a few soldiers did show back up one day to check on the reactor. He had no idea if it was the same ones from before, but at this point, that fact did not matter. Zack stayed determined and had decided to go up to get his answers from them, and he wasn’t going to let them send him away.


“Cloud! Cloud!” Zack shouted as he ran into the house. He bounced up and down with excitement as he looked for his brother.

Cloud ran out of his room and over to Zack. “What is it?”

“I finally found out!” Zack exclaimed and then quickly looked around the house. “Is mom in the house?”

Cloud shook her head. “No she went to go talk to some friends.”

“Ah good,” Zack said as he started walking towards their room. “Come on.”

“Why does it matter if mom is home? What about dad?”

“Cause I don’t want them to know about this yet,” Zack said as he entered the bedroom.

“Know what?” Cloud asked as he followed behind.

As soon as Zack and Cloud were in the room Zack closed the door before he answered. “About how you and I are going to become heroes.”

“You found out?!” Cloud gasped in surprise.

Zack nodded. “Yup I did.”

“Tell me! Tell me!” Cloud shouted as he jumped up and down around Zack.

“Heh heh,” Zack laughed as he watched Cloud’s enthusiasm. “Okay. What I learned is this. In order to join SOLDIER you need to be thirteen years old. That is the youngest they allow you to join. Then there are all these test things you have to go through. Then if you do well you get to be in SOLDIER.”

“Wow sounds easy,” Cloud commented.

“Well I don’t know about easy, but we gotta do it. Though, apparently the main place is in some place called Midgar. I read about it in a history book, that is where Shinra is at,” Zack stated.

“Oh, so you’re saying when we want to, we’d have to go away from here?” Cloud asked, with a hint of sadness in his voice upon thinking of that. “Is Midgar far away?”

“Yeah it seems like it. But it could work out. Don’t worry too much about that for now though. We can become heroes though,” Zack mentioned, still with a smile on his face.

Cloud thought for a moment. “Hmm...okay then. If you’re gonna do it Zack, then I’ll follow you.”

“That’s what I like to hear,” Zack said as he stood up from the bed. “But, we are gonna need to be strong. So we gotta do exercises,” he promptly spoke as he bent his knees and started to do an up and down motion, with his knees bending and then straightening back up repeatedly.

“Umm, what are you doing Zack?” Cloud questioned curiously. He giggled a slight bit. “It’s silly looking.”

Zack stopped momentarily. “Oh this? It’s an exercise called squats. Seems to be the best for you from what I’ve heard, so how about it?”

Cloud thought about it, and then got up off of his bed and stood beside Zack. He then bent his lowered himself down and bent his knees and then brought them back up and straightened them without bending the rest of his body. “Like this right?”

“Yeah that’s it. We’ll get stronger together!” Zack exclaimed as he grinned at Cloud as the two of them started to do squats repeatedly in their room.


 

Cloud tossed and turned in bed. At first he had trouble falling asleep, but now that he had fallen asleep, something was plaguing his mind.

He was sitting somewhere… it seemed he was near some rocks. Everything felt hazy though and he could barely see in front of himself. Though he swore someone was kneeling down in front of him. Whomever they were… they were saying something. What were they saying? Who were they?

Cloud ended up seeing the person start to walk away. Something in him though told him that he couldn’t let that person walk away. Cloud slowly reached his hand out and opened his mouth. “Don’t leave. Don’t go. Please come back,” he wanted to say, but the words never actually got out of his mouth. Why did the person leave? Where were they going? Why did they leave him?

Everything seemed to flash and now he could hear loud sounds. Sounds of gunfire and people shouting. There was so much gunfire… so many shouts and screams. Cloud tried to cover his ears, but he could still hear it all.

He then felt something gently hit his head. He tilted his up to see the sky. He could clearly see everything now and he saw that the sky had grown dark. Rain drops were starting to fall down and hitting Cloud’s cheeks.

The rain started to come down more and more, and Cloud could feel it soaking all of his clothes. Though he then realized something else. The sounds had stopped. There was no more shouting to screaming or anything. It was quiet except for the rain.

With all his strength Cloud pushed himself to his feet. He had to figure out what was going on. He staggered around the rock to see a horrifying sight before him.

Dead bodies.

Dead bodies of men laid everywhere around him. They all looked blurred and out of focus though. He couldn't identify any of them… until his eyes fell upon one body. Only one body was not blurred like the rest. And Cloud could feel his heart pounding against his chest.

He ran over to the body to find out who it was.

As as soon as he got close enough he froze dead in his tracks.

Though the person he was looking at was clearing an adult… there was no way he could forget a face like that.

It was Zack.

And he was in a pool of blood. He laid there unmoving… still and lifeless. Cloud gripped his head as he dropped to his knees. He let out a scream as his voice cracked.

“Zack! Noooooo! Zaaaack!”

Cloud repeated kept screaming and sobbing. He was staring at Zack… and Zack was dead.

His dearly beloved brother was dead.

Cloud didn’t even notice as he felt someone shaking his shoulder. He just kept screaming and sobbing.


“Cloud! Wake up!” Zack shouted in a hushed voice. He had woken up to Cloud screaming in his sleep. He was screaming and calling for his brother. Zack had no idea what Cloud could have been dreaming, but he figure it must have been something awful.

“Zack! Z-Zack,” Cloud continued to sob in his sleep.

“Come on Cloud. Please wake up,” Zack said as he kept shaking his little brother.

Finally it seemed Cloud was started to wake up as his eyes opened. But he just let out another scream followed by a sob. Zack frowned slightly, hoping that Cloud wasn’t being too loud. It was late at night and he didn’t want their parents to wake up.

Tears were streaming down Cloud’s face as he was hyperventilating. “Zack…”

Zack placed both his hands on Cloud’s shoulders. “I’m right here Cloud. You don’t have to worry. Your big brother Zack is right here.”

Cloud slowly blinked a few times as he looked directly at Zack. “Z-Zack?”

“Yeah,” Zack nodded. “It’s me.”

Cloud’s face crumbled as he sobbed once again. Leaning forward and grabbed on to Zack’s shirt tightly. He kept crying and didn’t seem to show signs of stopped. Zack wrapped his arms around Cloud and held him as tight as he could. He started to stroke his head with one head.

“Hey Cloud… It’s okay. I’m here for you.”

“B-But…” Cloud started to say, though his voice was already sore from crying so much.

“It was a bad dream wasn’t it? You wanna talk about it?” Zack asked softly.

“I… I was somewhere. T-There was a lot f-fighting…” Cloud started, but had to catch his breath as he tried to relax.

“Fighting? And what was it, like a memory or something maybe? I’ll listen,” he said calmly to Cloud as he still held Cloud’s head.

Cloud sniffled. “I don’t k-know… I d-didn’t see it… I hear it. B-But I saw… “ Cloud shuddered as the images were still fresh in head head. “Saw a lot of dead people… everywhere. A-And it was rainy.”

There was a bit of a pause before Cloud tried to continue. The next words he had to say were the hardest. “A-And… y-you…. You were…” he trailed off unable to finish his sentence.

Zack was taken aback by what Cloud had mentioned. He saw dead people? Just what was it that Cloud had dreamed? He wondered about these things, but he was not going to pressure Cloud too much, but it seemed that Cloud needed to talk about what happened anyways. Despite his deep desire to protect Cloud, he was still quite interested as to what was about to be said about him.

He allowed his curiosity to get the better of him. “I was what, Cloud?”

Cloud took in a deep breath. He wanted to look up and tell Zack, but he was too afraid to look at Zack’s face. He just kept his head pressed against his chest instead. He tried as much as he could to get the words out of him. He needed to get it off his chest. “I s-saw… b-blood… and … You were… d-dead…”

Zack’s heart skipped a beat as his eyes widened with genuine shock. He was dead? Suddenly, Zack started to wonder what could have made Cloud dream of something like that. Surely it’s not something that he would expect to happen, so it must have been some kind of nightmare. Even so, it still gave Zack a slightly uneasy feeling to hear that.

He took his hands and squeezed Cloud tighter against him, the boy’s face burying further into his chest. “It was just a nightmare Cloud. I don’t know what caused it, but it’s okay. I’m not dead, see? I’m right here,” he said as he tried his best to reassure Cloud, and also to reassure himself.

“B-But… it felt so real… and you were d-dead… and and…” Cloud tried to go on, but the tears started to fall down his face again. He let out another sob before he ended up muttered something quietly. “You shouldn’t j-join SOLDIER…”

Zack pulled Cloud’s face away from his chest momentarily. “Where did that come from all of a sudden? Wait... gunshots... dead bodies... I see now. You’re afraid that I’m not gonna be able to make it as a SOLDIER aren’t you?” Zack questioned with a more direct tone.

Cloud nodded slightly. “You could die… SOLDIERS… they fight… and stuff… I don’t want you to die Zack!”

“Hey, I told you before didn’t I? You don’t have to worry about that. Remember, my dream is to be a hero. And you know what? Heroes don’t die. I’ll always be here, Cloud,” Zack said, a warmth to his voice more so than before in an effort to help calm Cloud more.

Cloud slowly looked up at Zack. His eyes were red from crying. “R-Really?” he sniffled a little. “You promise?”

“Of course Cloud. We will be there for each other. Didn’t you say I’m your hero after all? I’ve gotta live up to my name,” he said confidently as he patted Cloud on the head again.

Cloud nodded gently at Zack’s words, not saying much of anything else in response as he fell back into Zack’s arms once again. His breaths slowly started to calm down and finally relax.

“Besides, it was just a nightmare. Remember what mom says about nightmares?” Zack asked.

“That they aren’t real and we shouldn’t let them scare us,” Cloud replied.

“That’s right. So just remember, it was only a nightmare. It wasn’t real. Everything is fine,” Zack replied as he continued to speak in a comforting tone.

“Was just a nightmare…” Cloud muttered before he yawned.

Zack looked upon his little brother with soft eyes. “Okay then, why don’t we get you in the bed then. Seems like that you could use some rest now. And don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere. I’ll be right by your side okay?” he asked, making sure that Cloud would be okay and understand.

“You won’t leave me tonight?” Cloud asked quietly.

“No I won’t. I’ll sleep here beside you okay? If that will make you feel better,” Zack asked softly to him.

Cloud wrapped his arms around Zack, finally giving him a hug. Slowly he nodded. “Yeah. Thank you Zack.”

The two of them finally laid down in Cloud’s bed after the long talk. Zack had positioned himself on his back, while Cloud turned on his side and snuggled up next to his big brother and draped his arm over Zack’s abdomen. Zack turned his head to look at his little brother only to see that he had already dozed off as soon as his head touched the pillow. Zack chuckled slightly at that fact as he moved his head back to where he was staring up at the ceiling. He knew that he would not go to sleep yet, but that did not matter as long as he could be there for Cloud when he needed help the most.

Zack did start to wonder what exactly made Cloud have that dream. He knew some things from what Cloud had said before about having some flashes of events that had happened. Or, maybe those events were going to happen. There was no clue to whether or not the “dreams” were connected to the past, present, or future. The only thing that was certain, was that Cloud was hurting from them happening, and Zack was none too happy about that.

He wanted to believe that once they were older, these visions or dreams would go away. It was possible that it was just Cloud’s mind imagining the worst possible scenario every time a decision was made and that he was overthinking it. But for some reason, Zack felt inclined to believe that there was something else going on, that of which he had no idea. The more he thought about the endless possibilities, the more his head started to hurt.

Zack exhaled softly as he tried to relax himself more. He threw his arm around where Cloud’s head was laying and thought that it would be best if he could doze off to sleep as well, so that all of this would be over by the morning. Even though he was not tired and thought he would not be able to sleep, he closed his eyes. Soon thereafter, all of the noises around him started to fade as he fluttered his eyes open a couple of times before finally closing them for the night. The last thought going through his mind was that they would figure everything out later.

Chapter Text

Cloud and Zack were running through Gongaga. They both were trying to run as fast as they could, but they also tried to make sure they wouldn’t get too far ahead of each other. They did manage to keep a good pace between each other though as they ran down the dirt roads of their home.

It had been two years now since the boys started to train together. Zack was now 10-years-old and Cloud had just recently turned 8-years old. They had both grown taller and leaner, but surprisingly Cloud was almost starting to catch up to Zack in height. They were only a couple of inches apart, and Cloud kept trying to boast he would be the taller, though Zack of course claimed he was going to be the taller one, since he was the older brother.

The two continued to race down the street until Cloud slowed down and he came to a stop. He bent over as he took in deep breaths. His breathing finally started to slow down now that he had stopped, though he could tell that he was starting to grow more exhausted.

Zack looked back quickly and noticed that Cloud had halted a few feet behind him. He turned around and walked over to his brother. “Hey, you gonna keep up? No time to be tired now,” Zack said as he started doing his squats in front of Cloud, almost as if to taunt him.

Cloud let out a laugh. “Hey come Zack, can’t we take a short break? We’ve been running and exercising all morning since breakfast.”

“Hmm...I guess you’re right. Sorry, I forget that you can’t quite keep up with me yet. You wanna just stroll around town and get some water then?” Zack offered to him.

“I can keep up with you though!” Cloud protested childishly. “But we just gotta stop and take a break sometimes. So yeah, let’s get some water.”

“You sure about that?” Zack said as he nudged Cloud on the shoulder. “Looks like you’ve still got a ways to go. Besides, you’re still a little bit on the short side,” he cackled as held up his hand over Cloud’s head to represent the distance.

Cloud scrunched up his nose as he sent a glare at Zack. “I’m gonna grow more! You’ll see! Mom says that I am growing really well!”

Zack chuckled at Cloud being flustered. “I think what she meant is that it’s your hair that’s growing well. If you count that, then you might be as tall as me, Spiky.” Zack them held up one of the sections of Cloud’s hair, to show how long it had gotten. Though his hair was mostly cut in layers, some of his spikes reached a little past his chin.

“Well if your hair wasn’t so spiky on the top maybe I would be as tall as you!” Cloud taunted back as he tried to mess up Zack’s hair.

“Hey who said you could mess with my hair,” Zack said playfully as he started to ruffle Cloud’s more. Soon, the two boys now had spikes going in all directions. They glanced at each others’ hair and started to laugh as they tried to see who’s was more spiky this time before Zack spoke up once again.

“Okay, time to go get some water and take a break then,” he motioned to Cloud to follow him as he started to walk away.

“All right,” Cloud said as he followed right behind Zack.

The two entered into the main part of town and started walking towards one of the shops. They sooned arrived at one of the shops and bought two water bottles with the small amount of gil they carried around with them. As soon as they stepped outside of the store they opened the bottles and began to drink the cold refreshing water.

Minutes later after they had finished up their drinks, Cloud noticed something and started to tug on Zack’s sleeve. “Zack! Look!”

Zack turned to look where Cloud was pointing too. There several feet away by one of the stores was a man near a large feathered creature. Both the boys smiled as they looked at one another.

“A chocobo!” they shouted together in union. Neither of them had actually seen one in person yet. They only had looked at pictures of chocobos from the books at school.

“Can we go see Zack?” Cloud asked.

Zack’s face lit up, as he had wanted to see one some day. He also knew that Cloud did as well, so this was perfect. “Of course Cloud, let’s go!” he said as he and Cloud took off in the direction of the chocobo and the man that was beside it. In no time, they had made it over to where both of them were, and Zack and Cloud stood there with wide eyes and awe on their faces.

The bird was much taller than they had expected. It must have been at least a few feet taller than the two boys were. Though now that they were up close they could really see how fluffy it was. It turned its head and with its long neck it looked down at Zack and Cloud.

“Wark,” the chocobo squawked at them.

Cloud and Zack giggled with delight. Cloud smiled largely as he jumped up and down. “It’s a real chocobo.”

“Well of course it is,” a voice said. “You guys never see a chocobo before?”

Cloud and Zack looked to their right to see the man that they assumed owned the chocobo. He was tall and lean, and was decked out in full black clothes from head to toe, though his arms showed through the sleeveless vest he had.

Upon looking at his face, the man looked to be younger than their parents, but he was quite a bit older than they were. Maybe he was in his mid to late teen years. His skin was fairer than anyone else around the area, which meant that he must be from another place. His short blond hair arched sideways in an upward spike to the right, and his freckled face was soft with a warm expression across it. His calm blue eyes also gave off a friendly feel.

The more Zack looked, however, he couldn’t help but notice something familiar about the man’s face, but he couldn’t quite come up with anything. He shrugged it off after a moment, as he felt that it did not matter all that much. Though, he felt that he did need to respond to what the man had asked. “Umm...no we haven’t ever seen one. It looks so cool. My brother has been wanting to see one for a while now,” he responded.

“Ah, well little guy, wanna step a bit closer and pet her? Don’t worry my chocobo is very friendly,” the young man said as he squatted down to Cloud’s level.

Cloud stared at the man for a minute. He seemed to be having the same thoughts as Zack. Instead of answering the question the man had asked, Cloud ended up asking his own. “What’s your name?”

“Oh! I’m Prompto! Nice to meet you,” he said with a big grin. “How about you guys?”

“I’m Zack!” he bolted out with enthusiasm as a grin came to his face.

“And I’m Cloud,” he replied, stepping forward slightly more as he said it.

“Nice to meet you guys,” Prompto replied. “So you two have never actually seen a chocobo before? Seriously?” he asked sounding like he was in complete disbelief.

Cloud shook his head. “Nope. We’ve seen them in picture books though. They are a lot fluffier than I thought.”

“Wark!” the chocobo squawked, sounding as if it was delighted by the statement.

“Well just wait ‘till you feel how soft they are,” Prompto said as he looked at his chocobo. He held out a hand and the chocobo brushed its head against the palm of his hand. “Now all you gotta do is gently place your hand on her head and pet her.”

“Okay,” Cloud replied as he slowly reached his hand out and placed it on the top of the chocobo’s head. Cloud’s eyes lit up with wonder. “Wow! So soft!”

“Wark,” the chocobo cooed calmly n response which caused Cloud to laughed a little.

Prompto laughed before he looked over at Zack. “You also wanna pet her?”

“Oh yeah!” he answered with excitement as he slowly walked up to the chocobo. He reached out his hand just as Cloud had done earlier and gently positioned it on the head of the chocobo. “Hey, it is really soft. This is cool!”

“Wark wark.” The sound came once again from the chocobo, who seemed pleased with the attention that it was getting from the two boys.

Zack continued to pet the chocobo’s head, but as he looked down, he noticed something that seemed familiar. He stopped rubbing it’s head and glanced over to Cloud quickly. He exchanged looks with both the chocobo and Cloud, going back and forth between them for a few seconds. Finally, his eyes landed back on Cloud, and he looked at his brother for a moment before snickering started to come from his mouth as a grin started to form.

Cloud looked at Zack, slightly confused. “What’s so funny Zack?”

Zack tried to stifle his oncoming laugher so that he could explain to Cloud. “It’s just...the chocobo’s head...and your’s...they look just the same!” he managed to finish as he began to laugh heartily at this revelation.

“What?” Cloud gasped as he looked more carefully. He stared at the chocobo as it tilted its head to the side, looking right back at him. Then Cloud looked back at Zack. He pouted a little, but there was a bit of laughter in his voice. “Heeey! Zack!”

Zack just continued to laugh. “But it’s true. Better to be a chocobo head then a chocobo butt though!”

Prompto glanced up towards Zack momentarily after hearing what he had said and a small grin came to his face as he started to chuckle as well.

“Very funny Zack,” Cloud spoke as he continued to laugh chuckle slightly at the comment. He wasn’t too bothered by that name anymore as he had gotten older. Besides, he knew Zack was only kidding.

As they kept laughing, Cloud then noticed something as well. The chocobo had started to move and turned away from them to face Prompto as it apparently wanted more attention. Cloud looked at the two of them there together, and he started to move backward to get a better view of it all. After a few seconds, he began laughing even harder than before as he pointed in their direction. “Chocobo butt!”

Prompto shot a look in Cloud’s direction upon hearing that and saw that Cloud was pointing right at him. He thought for a moment, but then he knew what he meant. He decided to just let the boys have their fun for the moment.

Zack chuckled slightly still as he turned back to Cloud with a bewildered look on his face. “Huh? What are you talking about?”

“Come back here Zack and look,” Cloud said as he motioned for his brother while trying to stay calm.

Zack inched backwards until he was beside Cloud again. “Okay, now what is it?”

“Look...it’s that. His...his hair...it’s a chocobo butt,” Cloud managed to say before he burst out in laughter again.

Zack glanced over to the pair of them. He looked at the chocobo that was still turned around, and then he glanced up at Prompto, who happened to be looking in his direction. “What is it Zack?”

Suddenly, Zack’s face twisted as it did earlier as he tried to contain his enjoyment at the situation, but he had to let it go. “It’s true! Your hair does look like a chocobo butt!”

The boys continued to laugh together, not having a care of anything else happening in that moment. What surprised them though was that Prompto started to laugh along with them. Both young boys turned to look at the older blond.

“Why are you laughing?” Cloud asked.

“You two wouldn’t be the first ones to say that about my hair. But I really don’t think it looks like one,” Prompto said as he ran his fingers through his hair.

“Oh really? So you’re not surprised or mad since you heard it before?” Zack asked through failed attempts to stop his giggling.

“Well you guys were just stating what you thought, not trying to mock me or anything. I get it though. Don’t worry guys, you’re fine,” Prompto replied with a smile. He then looked at Cloud. “It’s nice to know though I am not the only one with hair the looks like a chocobo.”

Cloud smiled back at him. “Same here!”

A moment went by before Prompto spoke up again. “Hey if you guys want to. I could give you guys a ride on my chocobo. I’m sure that would be exciting for you two. I’ve been looking for something fun to do anyways since I came here. Whaddya say?”

Cloud and Zack both looked at Prompto with wide eyes as their faces lit up with joy.

“Oh we could?! That would be so cool!” Cloud shouted out loud as he jumped up and down.

“Yeah! If you wanna do it, then that sounds really fun!” Zack exclaimed with more excitement than before. Then he thought about something. “Well, we might have to ask our parents first though. If that’s okay.”

“Yeah that’s fine. I’ll still be here for a while,” Prompto said before going to pet the head of his chocobo again.

“Come on Zack! Let’s go ask!” Cloud shouted as he started to pull Zack as hard as he could, trying to get him to move.

“Right! Let’s hurry so we can get back,” Zack agreed as he rushed off towards their house with Cloud in tow. “You know...this is still some good exercise, huh Cloud?”

“Yeah I know!” Cloud shouted as he tried his best to keep up with Zack.

The two of them raced all the way back into the house where they found their mother in side. They immediately swapped around her, asking her as quickly as they could if they could ride the chocobo. It took a few minutes before she was able to calm the boys down.

“So you said this man came here on a chocobo?” she asked them.

“Yeah! And it’s big and fluff!” Cloud exclaimed. “Like really really big!”

“Yea and it’s head looks just like Cloud’s hair too,” Zack chuckled. “We wanted to ride it. Can we please mom?” Zack pleaded with his mother.

Their mother laughed. “Well if you are sure it is okay with the man, then it is okay with me. Just be safe, okay? I’m going to start lunch soon though, so don’t stay out too much longer.”

“Thanks mom!” Cloud shouted before giving his mother a hug.

“You’re the best mom!” Zack said with glee as he also gave a hug to his mother.

The two boys then ran off from the house and made their way back to the spot where they had last seen Prompto and the chocobo. The two were still in the same spot, just casually waiting. Prompto though was sitting on the ground, but he was petting his chocobo on the head as he squawked happily.

“Hey we’re back Prompto! My mom said we could go!” Zack yelled as he ran up to the young man and his bird.

Prompto stood back up on his feet. “Cool! So who wants to ride first?”

“I wanna go first!” Cloud shouted first.

“Awww but I wanted to go first too,” Zack said in response.

“Hey don’t worry guys. If you really want, you guys can ride together,” Prompto suggested.

“Wow really?” Cloud asked.

“Yeah, we’ll take it nice and slow though,” Prompto said before looking at his chocobo. He made a signal with his hand and the chocobo laid down on the ground. “I’ll help you guys get seated.”

Prompto then helped Cloud up first onto the large chocobo saddle. Then he helped Zack up onto it. “Now Cloud you hold on tightly to the ropes,” Prompto instructed. “And Zack you hold on to your brother tightly okay?”

The boys nodded and Prompto turned to look at his chocobo again. He signaled and the chocobo stood back up. Cloud started to giggle with amazement. “Wow! Look how high we are off the ground!”

Zack looked down as he dangled his feet loosely. “Yeah, you’re right, this is pretty high. Make sure to hold on well Cloud,” Zack said to his kid brother.

Cloud clutched the ropes tightly as the chocobo started to move forward at the behest of Prompto guiding it. Zack grasped the back of his little brother to make sure he held on as well since the bird was walking now. The boys were already enjoying their ride that had just begun.

“Can’t chocobos run really fast?” Cloud asked Prompto.

“Yeah, but we aren’t going to go that fast.”

“Awww but why not?” Cloud asked as he frowned.

“Cause you guys aren’t ready for the full speed of a chocobo. Maybe when you guys are older you’ll get to see how fast they can go though,” Prompto replied.

Cloud and Zack just nodded in response as they understood what he was saying. They stayed on the chocobo as Prompto walked out in front of it and led it around the main path through the town. Every trot from the chocobo made the boys slightly bounce as they enjoyed every second of the ride. They rode for several minutes to the edge of the main road, and once they had reached it, Prompto instructed the chocobo to turn around and head back the other way.

Once the bird was turned around, Prompto spoke up. “Okay, why don’t you boys switch now so that Zack can ride in front this time.”

“Yeah, I wanna control it now,” Zack said in a joyous tone.

“Okay, that sounds good. Now I get to hold on to Zack,” Cloud giggled in response.

After the boys had switched around, Zack clutched the ropes of the chocobo tightly as Cloud held onto him as well. After Prompto made sure both were secure, they were off back to the main part of town. Several minutes passed of riding and in no time they had arrived back at the town center. It almost seemed like no time had passed at all, but they had so much fun they paid no attention. Now that they were back, Prompto helped them both to dismount the chocobo. Zack and Cloud each then patted the birds head as it squawked in appreciation.

“Thank you Prompto!” Cloud replied.

“Thanks Prompto! This was some great fun today,” Zack responded shortly thereafter.

“You’re welcome guys, hope you had fun,” Prompto said with a smile.

The young boys waved and said goodbye before turning to run home. Both boys still ecstatic about the event that just had happened. The smiles never left their faces for the rest of the day as they kept talking all about the chocobo and how exciting it was.

Chapter Text

Time passed once again, but Cloud and Zack never stopped their training. They kept at it every day that they could. The years passed and they could start to see the results. They felt stronger and could run faster than they could from when they were little.

Three more years had passed for them, and they made sure to never give up once. It had been five years in total now since the two brothers decided to start their dreams of becoming heroes. Five long years, but to them it felt like hardly anytime at all had passed. It never seemed like a chore to train or exercise because they always had fun doing it together.

Zack yawned as he woke early one morning. He stretched and looked out the window to see the sun had just barely started to rise. With a smile Zack jumped off his bed and walked over to his 11-year-old brother’s bed and saw that he was still fast asleep.

“Hey Cloud,” Zack whispered, as he didn’t want to be too loud and possibly wake up his parents. “Wake up.”

Cloud groaned and turned onto his side. He slowly opened one one. “What…..” he asked only sounding half awake.

“Get up already. Today’s the day,” Zack replied.

“I wanna sleep…. Too early…” Cloud muttered.

“Don’t you want to see me off though? Today’s the day I leave to go to Midgar. To join SOLDIER, remember?”

Suddenly Cloud seemed more awake. He rubbed his eyes as he sat up. “Oh yeah. Is that… really today?”

Zack nodded. “Yup. There is a ship that is leaving for Midgar this morning, so I gotta get on it if I wanna get to Midgar as soon as I can.”

“All right. Let’s get going,” Cloud said as he got out of bed.

Once the two of them were dressed, they quietly snuck out of the house and headed towards the docks area of Gongaga. Zack carried a large bag with him that was filled with clothes and other things he thought he would need. They continued their walk down to the docks as they tried to wake up more, but it was still rather early for them.

When they arrived Zack walked towards the dock that had the ship that would leave for Midgar. It was just a cargo ship, but he had talked to the driver about hitching a ride as long as he paid him, and the driver was cool with it.

Zack exhaled as he looked out at the sea, the sun still just barely over the horizon line. “I can’t believe it. I’m getting closer to my dream now.”

“Are you sure… you really have to leave now?” Cloud asked quietly from behind Zack.

Zack turned around to see Cloud looking at him with big, sad, eyes. He placed down his bag and walked over to Cloud. “You know I have to. I’m thirteen now which means I am old enough to try out and join SOLDIER.”

“But that means I won’t get to see you for two years…” Cloud said with a heavy sigh.

“Yeah but that also means in two years you’ll be able to come and join me at Shinra,” Zack replied optimistically.

“That’s still a long time…” Cloud said. He paused for a moment before he lowered his head and continued. “Are you sure though you don’t wanna tell mom and dad? They should know where you are going.”

“I know, but I want to surprise them with what I am doing. But hey, if they get on you about it, it’s okay to tell them,” Zack said as he placed his hands on Cloud’s shoulders.

Only a few moments passed and Zack heard sniffling coming from Cloud. “Hey Cloud… you okay?”

Cloud raised his head, to reveal tears in his eyes. “I don’t want you to go… I don’t want you to leave me…”

Zack pulled Cloud close to him and wrapped his arms around his head. “It’s okay Cloud. I don’t want to leave you either, but this is my dream. I want to help people.”

“But… But you said…” Cloud started to say. “You said you would always watch out for me. That you would always be there for me, but now you are leaving...”

“Yes, I know that I said that Cloud, and I have been here for you…” Zack trailed off and let out a long sigh before he continued. “But, when we decided on this dream, I realized that we might not always be together. Even though I want us to be, right now we just have to be apart for a bit. I know I promised Mom and Dad that I would be the one to watch over you. But I feel like that you are good enough to be able to watch yourself now,” he said calmly as he placed his hands on Cloud’s shoulders.

Cloud lowered his head and rested his forehead against Zack’s chest. He didn’t reply right way, but soon enough he did end up saying something. “Y-You really think so? You think I can be on my own?”

“I do. You’ve come a long way since I first met you. You’re growing up already. Not quite there yet with me, but you will be soon enough. Like I said, I don’t want to leave you. But this is just something I need to do,” he proclaimed with sincerity as he looked Cloud directly in the eyes.

Cloud didn’t say anything back as he sniffled slightly. He didn’t look back up at Zack either. He did listen to each thing Zack had to say though.

“Come on, I know you’re strong. You can do this,” he said, trying to reassure Cloud of his own strength.

Cloud nodded as he rested his head against Zack’s shoulder. “Yeah… thanks Zack. I just… I’m going to really miss you.”

“I’ll miss you too buddy. I’ve gotta get going soon though,” Zack said with a calm demeanor.

“Are you sure you have to leave now though? Can’t you wait two years until I am old enough?” Cloud asked.

“Well I could wait, but I want to become a member of SOLDIER as quickly as I can. Besides, if I’m already in by the time you get there, then you’ll have to work hard to keep up with me,” Zack replied as he chuckled mildy.

Cloud ended up smiling a little. “I bet I’ll catch up with you in no time!”

Zack smiled back at him. “We’ll have to see about that then. I’ll be working hard too. Just don’t forget the goal here,” he reminded Cloud as he ruffled his hair.

“I know I know. I’ll keep training and exercising each day. So then I can join you in SOLDIER and we can become heroes!” Cloud said, seeming far more cheerful than he was a moment ago.

“That’s right,” Zack said as he continued to smile. “Take care of mom and dad while I’m gone, okay? I’ll try to write as much as I can.”

Cloud nodded. “Right. I got it.”

The driver of the boat came over a moment later to tell Zack that he would be leaving, so now would be the time to board. Zack wrapped his arms around his brother one last time, hold him tightly. “Bye Cloud. See you in two years.”

Cloud returned the hug. He tried his best to fight off the tears that were coming back, but he felt them fall down his face anyways. “Bye Zack. I love you big brother.”

“And I love you back little brother,” Zack said with a slight chuckle.

Zack then let go of Cloud and picked up his bag again. He walked towards the ship and started to board it. Halfway up the ramp he turned to look at Cloud one last time. He have a bittersweet smile as he waved. He knew it was his dream to head out to Shinra and become a SOLDIER, but it did pain him a little to be leaving his little brother. He almost couldn’t believe that it only had been about six years since Cloud had become apart of his family. But Zack knew he wouldn’t want it any other way.

Cloud waved back to Zack and then he finally made the way up the rest of the ramp and onto the ship. Cloud held his breath as long as he could until he could no longer see Zack. He exhaled as he watched the door to the ship close up. He watched as the ship pulled away from the dock and started out on the open waters. Cloud did not move from his spot until he could no longer see the ship.


 

Cloud was back at home and in his room, staring up at the ceiling blankly. He huffed loudly and threw a glance over to Zack’s bed, which was now empty and would be for the remainder of Cloud’s time there. He kept his eyes focused there for a few minutes and then turned back to staring at the ceiling. He wondered if he would ever get used to Zack not being there with him. He couldn’t remember a time when Zack was not by his side.

The more that he became lost in thought, the more that he felt his emotions starting to rush back quickly. Soon, he felt his eyes were wet as tears starting to run down his cheeks. He turned to the side so that his pillow could soak up all of his emotions.

He knew why Zack left, and it’s the same reason that he wanted to. He just wished that they could have gone at the same time. Zack had told him to train to keep up so that he would be ready in two years. He had agreed, but the truth is that he knew that he could not change Zack’s mind; therefore, he did not bother trying. He hoped that he would be able to cope with being alone, but he was still not sure. There was plenty of time to think about it all though.

Cloud tried to stop thinking as he lay there, even though the tears kept coming. He closed his eyes tightly and thought that maybe if he went to sleep that he could just forget about it all. Soon, he felt drowsiness overtaking his being as the world around him faded out. The last thought on his mind, however, was how much he already missed his brother.


 

“Cloud. Hey, wake up.”

Who was that calling him? He could not make it out at the moment. He wanted to just be left alone and be able to sleep for a while. If he had just a little while longer, then he would be okay.

The voice he heard continued to grow louder and more clear. “Cloud. Cloud! It’s mid-afternoon. Why are you still sleeping?”

He slowly opened his eyes and wondered where he was. It felt like his head was cushioned, as was the rest of his body as he seemed to be sprawled out. He was in his bed. Sleep must have overtaken him some time ago, though he had recollection of wanting to doze. Slowly, Cloud sat upright in the bed and blinked a few times as the haziness disappeared from his eyes. He glanced around the room slowly to take in everything and his eyes fell upon the bed beside him.

Thoughts came back to Cloud that Zack had left that morning and was no longer there as he felt a slight twinge in his gut. The facts were that Zack was gone and he, Cloud, was going to have to carry on alone. He wanted to focus more on that, but he then felt a tug at his shoulder and turned to see his mother staring right at him.

“Cloud, dear. Are you okay?”

It was her voice that was heard earlier and had awoken him from his slumber. Upon hearing her ask that in such a caring manner and realizing the situation that he was in with Zack no being there, Cloud began to tear up again. He fell forward into his mother’s arms

“I...I guess I’m okay,” he said quietly, sniffling slightly after speaking.

His mother was unconvinced. “Are you sure? You don’t sound okay, nor do you look it. By the way, did Zack leave to go into town early this morning? I haven’t seen him all day.”

Cloud slumped his head lower upon hearing her questions. He knew Zack had told him that he could tell their parents why he had left, but he was unsure if he should immediately say anything. Though, he also felt like that he could not keep it all to himself and needed to lean on someone. After playing with the notion and remaining silent for a few minutes, which made his mother worry even more, his voice finally broke through.

“Zack did leave, yeah,” he answered quietly.

“Okay so did he say when he’s coming back? I was planning to fix a big meal tonight.”

“He...he’s not going to come back.”

“What do you mean he’s not coming back? Of course he is.”

“Mom...he left. I saw him leave but I…” he trailed off, unable to tell her what really happened.

“Well did he say where he was going Cloud?”

“Yeah...h-he’s going to join SOLDIER so he can help everyone…” he spoke quietly once again.

His mother leaned back with a look of bewilderment on her face. “Did I hear that right? He’s...going to join the army?”

Cloud assumed that she would break down over hearing this, and as much as he wanted to be there for his mother, this situation was hard for him as well. He decided to let her sort through her emotions at that moment, just as he was still sifting through his own.

“Well...it’s not entirely unexpected,” she began slowly. “Zack always has had these ideals, even more so though since he met those soldiers that time. I remember he kept going on about them. But,” she paused for a moment to think, “I didn’t think it would be this soon.”

Cloud was surprised to hear these words from his mother. Had she known the whole time? Or was it just her intuition that was driving her on this revelation. “You...you knew he wanted to?”

“Oh yes. Your father and I had seen it for a while. It’s a good way to help people of course. And to make money. I remember he told us one time before how he was going to support us one day. But he could have at least said goodbye first…” she trailed off as she lowered her head in thought.

Cloud continued to sit on his bed as his mother stood in front of him, both lost in their own thoughts. Suddenly, his mother reached out and embraced him in a hug. “It’s going to be okay though Cloud. I’m sure he’ll come back to us one day. We will get through this, okay?”

Her calmness and reassuring manner surprised Cloud once again, but he accepted it because at that moment, it was what was needed. Though, he allowed a thought to enter his mind, wondering if his mother was just being strong for him. But it felt genuine what she was saying. He did feel a bit better, knowing that she was not upset and that he was still there with them.

“Okay mom,” he simply said. Though, he did have more on his mind than just those words. Soon, his mind wandered to the thought of him leaving two years down the road. When he thought about it, he wasn’t sure what he would do or how his mother and father might take the news. He attempted to push the worries to the back of his mind, however, so that he could try to move on with things. He knew that life would not be as easy without Zack there with him, but he wanted to try his best for the future.

Chapter Text

Three weeks had passed now since Zack’s departure from Gongaga to join SOLDIER. Since then, Cloud had been trying to grow accustomed to him not being there anymore. Though, it had taken the full three weeks for him to work through most of his emotions surrounding Zack’s absence. Even then, he still became saddened when thinking about it sometimes. But he tried to emulate what Zack had told him, and to look out for himself.

The times that were spent at school had been one of the harder things to become accustomed to. Even though he was 11-years-old now, being able to meet up with Zack afterwards was one thing that kept Cloud motivated through the day. Now, that feeling was no longer present when he was one and heading home.

Additionally, not having someone to play with or to share experiences with any longer was a damper on most days, but Cloud relied more on his parents for those times when he felt lost about it. Cloud knew that he was technically by himself once again, though he did try to remedy that by attempting to befriend others. However, that proved to be harder than expected as he just did not feel the connection there. He then secluded into his own world, waiting for something to happen that might change his experience.

Later on that evening, something did happen though. Cloud sat in his room on his bed as he thought to himself and stayed silent. Suddenly, there was a knock on his door as Cloud glanced up at the door to see it open and his mother standing there.

“Cloud dear, there is a letter for you here. It was just delivered a few minutes ago,” his mother said, gripping what looked to be an envelope in her hand.

Upon hearing this, Cloud’s eyes widened and a small smile spread across his face as he hopped up from the bed and ran up to his mother. He hoped that the message would be from Zack, who had told him that he would write as soon as he arrived in Midgar and was settled. That was the only thought going through his mind as he slowly bounced from heel to toe in front of his mother.

“Is it...is it from Zack?” he questioned curiously, a tone of excitement in his voice.

His mother chuckled. “Oh I don’t know actually. It just has your name here, no return address. But this is certainly a change of mood from how you’ve been since he left. Maybe it is. You’ll have to open it to see.”

She handed him the envelope and Cloud carefully stared at it. He glanced at it for a moment before it carefully opened the top and pulled out the letter inside. Cloud immediately started to read it as a smile formed across his face.

Hey Cloud, how have you been? It’s your big brother Zack writing to you all the way from Midgar! Yes I really made it all the way here! And you won’t believe how big this place is! It’s sooo big! Way bigger than Gongaga that’s for sure.

There’s so many more people and buildings and so many new things I’ve never seen before. It was a lot to take in, but I am really excited! Seeing the Shinra building was also one of the coolest things so far. As of right now I haven’t signed up to join SOLDIER yet. I’m just trying to get settled in first.

At the time that I am writing this letter I am just at a small motel that is rather cheap. But hopefully next time you hear from me I will be in SOLDIER! I can hardly wait! I’m so close to my dream, I can almost feel it. I can’t wait for you to get here and see what I mean though about everything!

Speaking of you, I hope you are doing well. You haven’t forgotten to do your morning squats have you? If not, you better get on them! And I hope you are at least paying attention in school. I know it’s probably boring there without me, but hey I know you can do it!

I miss you Cloud. It is kind of lonely being here on my own, I miss having you to talk to. But I keep thinking of you, mom, and dad to keep me strong. And writing this letter really helps. I really hope it doesn’t take too long to get to you. Sorry if it does. But I’ll try to send as many as I can, I just don’t know how much I will be able to do once I get into SOLDIER.

Tell mom and dad I say hi and that I miss them.

Love you little bro.

From your big bro,

Zack.

Cloud’s smile never faded throughout reading the letter in its entirety. His mother had already left the room as she felt Cloud would just want some time alone to read the letter. He read it through twice before wiping away a few tears from his eyes. The words that he had just seen from Zack gave him a spark, which is something that he had desperately needed for weeks. He remembered the promise that the two of them had of becoming heroes together, and also the promise he made to Zack to take care of himself. Cloud felt a surge of emotions all at once.

“Wow, it sounds amazing over there,” Cloud said quietly to himself. “I really wanna be there to be with you again. At least I have you to tell me all about it for now”

Cloud walked over to his bed and folded the the letter and stuck it into the drawer next to his bed, so that he could reach it when he needed it. “I guess I have to be strong like he wanted me to be. That way I can show him I can do it.”

Cloud started to feel much happier than he had been before. He started to stretch his arms as he walked outside of his room and headed towards the front door. He turned around as he grabbed onto the door handle. “I’m going outside! I’ll be back before dinner.”

“Okay Cloud, be safe,” he heard his mother reply.

Cloud then exited the house and stretched a bit more. He took in some deep breaths as he did a few squats. Hearing from Zack after three weeks reminded him that he had not done any exercise or training. He had almost nearly forgotten about it.

“I can’t fall behind. I made a promise to Zack and I gotta keep that promise,” Cloud thought to himself.

As soon as he finished up doing his squats, he stretched once more before breaking into a run. The cool evening air rush past his face as he tried to matian a decent speed. Cloud reminded himself that he had to keep going. He had to keep doing what he promised. Not only because he promised Zack he would, but also because he wanted to get stronger. Zack always wanted to protect him, but Cloud wanted to be able to do the same. And that was his goal.


 

In almost no time at all, another year had passed, and Cloud was 12-years-old now. He had continued increasing the amount of training that he would do each day until he was able to sustain himself with various exercises when he had the time. He was more determined now than ever to be able to make SOLDIER, as he did not want to journey all the way there only to not be in proper condition for it.

The thought of that had reminded him of something, but he could not remember exactly what it was; but then, he had pushed it out of his mind. There were some hard times when Cloud would start to lose himself, or become worried about various things, including letting Zack down and missing him as well.

However, in those times, he found solace in the letters that Zack had written him over the year time. He found renewed strength and a reminder of the goal that the two of them had set all those years ago. He only had to make it one more year until he could finally see his brother again. It seemed as though it was a long time away, but Cloud hoped the time would pass quickly.


Cloud breathed heavily as he tossed and forth. In his dreams he was running and running. He had no idea where he was, but he knew one thing; he was running somewhere and it was important he kept going. The world around him was blurred and out of focus, making it hard to tell where he even was. But he didn't let that get to him, he just kept going.

After continually running Cloud started to have thoughts about his situation. "Why am I running? What's... the point of all of this? I don't get it."

Slowly Cloud started to come to a stop and stood still as he caught his breath. Strangely enough though he was stopped the world around him started to spin and his headache. Cloud dropped to his knees as he groaned.

"You're really giving up that easily?" a voice asked him.

As Cloud was staring down at the ground, he noticed that a shadow was now cast over him. He tilted his head up and his eyes widened as he saw who stood before him. "Z-Zack?"

He stuttered with his words, not knowing what to think to say upon seeing his big brother there, since he did not expect to see him for a while longer. His mind was racing with thoughts that he could not form any of them into cohesive sentences. However, he was snapped out of his thoughts fairly quickly as his ears tingled again with words flowing into them.

"I thought you promised not to give up," Zack asked, a cold tone within his voice.

Could shuddered. Something didn't feel right about the way Zack was speaking. Something felt off. He knew Zack, and he knew Zack could never sound that cold. Why would his brother speak that way to him? He needed to know. "What are you talking about?" Cloud finally managed to ask through a worried breath, trying his best to not sound scared.

"You've given up. I guess you don't care about our dream,” Zack sternly spoke with not even an ounce of kindness or understanding in his voice.

A knot twisted in Cloud's stomach. Why was Zack saying that? Why was he speaking in that tone of a voice? It didn't seem right for him to say something that cold or heartless. What was wrong? Had Cloud done something to upset him? He couldn't figure it out. Cloud tried to process all of these questions and wanted to say them all out loud, but he could not muster the fortitude to so. He felt dejected.

"B-But Zack. I was only-"

"No. You've given up Cloud. You don't want to be hero or anything else. You just would rather be weak."

Those unfamiliar words from Zack penetrated Cloud’s very being as he dropped his gaze from his brother. Tears filled his eyes as he slowly shook his head. None of this felt right at all, and he did not want to believe any of it. "Zack, he... he would never say this to me. This isn't Zack."

"Just forget it Cloud. You know you'll never make it to SOLDIER now," Zack said harshly, unrelenting in the pressure he was forcing upon Cloud with his words.

Cloud, with tear-filled eyes, immediately looked up at Zack only to find him glaring harshly down upon him. The look of disgust and disappointment filled his eyes as they were narrowed to a point. Cloud wanted to look away, but he kept staring right back at Zack, unable to break from the gaze that Zack had him trapped in. He wanted to know, he wanted to understand why his brother was so upset at him. It didn't make any sense.

"I haven't given up though! I've been training! I really have! I... I will make it to SOLDIER. You'll see! And then we can be together again. We can be heroes together,” Cloud exclaimed with a heavy voice, almost yelling as he tried to break through to Zack.

Zack sighed heavily as he rolled his eyes. He then gave a scoff that was filled with disgust. "Yeah right. Just stop trying Cloud. You know there is no point.”

Zack then turned around and started to walk away, seemingly without another word. But after only a short distance of movement, he spoke up one final time. “You deserve to be alone,” he uttered as he continued his march away from the blond-haired boy on the ground.

Cloud's breathing started to increase as he heard those words. Did he hear those words correctly? He was sure Zack did not mean that, he couldn’t have. As he sat there contemplating the validity of Zack’s actions, he witnessed Zack growing farther and farther from him. He tried to get up, but it almost felt like his body was frozen where he was.

"Zack! Come back!" Cloud screamed as he tried to get himself to stand back up. He pushed with all his strength, but he could not get his body to move not even one inch. "Don't go!"

Zack just kept walking though, never slowing down or looking back. He kept on moving forward as his silhouette started to become more faint as Zack was fading from sight. Cloud shook his head back and forth rapidly as tears streamed down it. "Zack please! I c-can... I a-am getting stronger. I'm going to m-make it to SOLDIER. Don't.... don't leave me...alone..."

Those last words diminished into a whisper-like sound as Cloud closed his eyes briefly and tried to hope Zack would return. But when he opened his eyes again, there was no sign of Zack anywhere. Cloud was all alone now in darkness. There was nothing else anywhere. He was all alone, just as Zack had told him he would be.

Cloud started to cry as he just sat there, still unable to move. "Zack..." he whined. "I'm sorry... Please come back..."


 

Cloud started to blink a few times as his eyes were adjusting around him. It only took him a few minutes to realize that he was laying in his bed in his room. Though now he understood what had just happened. He had just had a nightmare. But it wasn't like some of the nightmares he had in the past. This was not one that brought forth familiar feelings or anything else. It didn't feel like some distant thing that he thought he should remember.

It was a nightmare. A true nightmare. All of Cloud's fears and doubts rolled into one, horrifyingly realistic dream sequence. Cloud curled up with his knees close to his chin and turned onto his side as he looked across the room to Zack's empty bed. Cloud sniffled as he wiped away the tears that were still falling from his eyes. At that moment, he really missed his brother, who would help him get over these problems. He truly did feel alone at that moment.

"It was just a nightmare..." Cloud muttered aloud to himself. "Zack would never say that to me. He... he would never leave me. He wouldn’t… do that.”

Cloud exhaled as he tried to push away the words Zack had said to him in the nightmare. Though they still lingered deeply in his mind now. He then glanced to his dresser, and once his eyes were firmly there, he remembered. He was not alone, as Zack was right there with him. He only waited a moment before he opened the drawer and pulled out a few letters from Zack. He brought them close to his chest and sighed as he started to read through them.

After a few minutes of reading, Cloud started to feel slightly better. He wiped away the last tear from his eye as he folded the letters back up and placed them back into the drawer. The words he had just read were Zack’s true words, not whatever it was he had heard in the dream. He allowed his fears and doubts to take him over, but he had to fight against it. Not only for his sake, but for Zack’s sake as well, who was trusting in Cloud to become strong like him.

He laid there silently for a while longer as he closed his eyes and tried to clear his mind as he felt his eyes getting heavy. “I’ll show you... Zack, I’ll make you proud,” he muttered as sleep took him once again.

Chapter Text

The next day had come around as Cloud finally got up from his bed, though he felt exhausted, both mentally and physically, upon waking. He recalled the dream that he had the previous night quite vividly, but unlike before, it did not bother him this time. He had found renewed vigor and his mind was not clouded by fear and doubt. Even though it had taken him some time to move past his problems, the goal was now clear once again: become a hero with his brother Zack.

Cloud took in several deep breaths before he started doing some morning exercises. Most of the exercise routines he did in the morning consisted of squats though. As he did them he kept reminded himself of his goal. He knew he had to keep going and that he had to keep training. He had a little less than a year now before he would leave for Midgar, and he needed to get in all he training he could.

After he finished his small morning training, he went out of his room and to the kitchen. His mother and father were already up and eating their breakfast at the table. Cloud looked and saw another plate with food on the table. He quietly took his seat at the table and began to eat his own food.

“Good morning Cloud, are you going to have another day of training?” his mother asked him.

Cloud glanced up from his plate with a mouthful of food, but he swallowed it first with a large gulp before speaking. “Yeah...that’s what I want to do. I have to be strong like Zack is so that I can impress him,” he said gently with a determined look on his face.

“Well it’s good to see that you are feeling full of positive energy today,” his mother said with a smile.

“Though I am sure Zack is already impressed with what you can do. Those five years you guys spent training together, Zack knows you’ve been trying your best,” his father added.

Cloud smiled back at his father and mother. “Yeah, I hope so. I don’t know if I can be as good as him, but I’m going to try. I’ll probably take a jog through town as well since it’s a nice day out too.”

“Before you do that though, finish your breakfast first,” his mother replied before going back to eating her own food.

Cloud just nodded and started to shovel the food into his mouth so that he could get started as soon as possible. Within less than a minute all of his food was gone, the only thing left an empty plate. “Okay I’m done now. Thanks for the food. I’m gonna be off now.”

“Well hold on there,” his mother interjected. “I need you to pick up some things for me since you’re going around town,” she declared as she handed him a large grocery list.

Cloud frown slightly as he looked to the grocery list. “But… do I have to? I just wanna do my training for today.”

“Don’t argue with your mother. Besides, just think of it as adding to your training since you’ll be carrying heavy groceries back,” his father said as he stifled a chuckle.

Cloud sighed slightly, but then picked back up and smiled at his parents. “Okay! I’ll do that then!”

He took the grocery list and then was handed a small bag of Gil with enough to cover what he needed to buy. He then ran out the front door and started to head towards the town.

Cloud slowly made his way down the path into town from their house, making sure to keep a good jogging pace as he traveled. On the way, he thought about how long he would stay out of the house. He knew that his mother probably didn’t need the groceries right away, so he thought to save those until last after he had done his training.

As he made his way, he came to the fork in the road and stopped for a moment. His attention turned toward the mako reactor that was there. It was one of the first places Zack had shown him upon him coming into Gongaga, and the place where they encountered the SOLDIERS. Both instances resulted in him having some sort of head pain, which was accompanied by strange visions. But, it was also where their dream had started when Zack had discovered more about the soldiers.

The memories and thoughts danced in Cloud’s head as he stood there and stared. He felt like he was trying to remember something about the very spot upon which he was standing, almost like he had been there in that exact position before. However, he could not wrap his head around the thoughts and decided to press on.

He then moved his legs forward and started walking before breaking into a slow jog once again. Luckily, town was not that far away and he was there in about ten minutes. But he was not planning to stop yet. He wanted to make rounds around the entirety of the town just to test himself, so he kept his pace steady.

After a little while of running he stopped to do some stretches and other various exercises. He never really paid much attention to the time when he was doing all of this. He knew though once he got into the groove of things, time seemed to slip away faster and faster. After a while he decided that would go back to running, though he did stop to catch his breath first. He knew he wanted to keep up a steady pace, but also knew to not push himself too much.

Soon enough though he started his running again. Cloud moved past several buildings and stores, noting that those would be the ones he would have to go to for the groceries most likely. He rounded the corner to the right and started to head up the other small road when he heard someone’s voice.

“Hey, it’s the young chocobo head,” the voice said with a cheerful laugh.

Cloud froze for a moment before he turned around to face where the voice had come from. A second later he saw a familiar sight. It was a yellow chocobo again and with it a face he had not seen in a while. “Hey chocobo butt!” Cloud said childishly as he waved at the young man and ran forward to him.

It almost looked liked Prompto frowned slightly, but then he ended up laughing again. “Yeah yeah I know. Everyone still says my hair looks like that.” He then ruffled his short blond hair that still stuck out in every direction, as if trying to mess it up a little. “No matter if I grow it out or cut it short, it always spikes out.”

Cloud chuckled at the attempt of the friendly chocobo owner trying to momentarily change his look. “Well apparently mine’s never going to change either but it’s okay. I guess that means we’re both one of a kind right?”

Prompto looked upon Cloud’s face, noticing that he was much older now as it had been four years since they had last seen one another. Cloud had matured a bit as well as grown a bit taller, but that wasn’t what caught his attention. There was something that felt a bit familiar about Cloud’s bright blue eyes. He had thought about it once before during the first time he had met Cloud, but he just shrugged it off back then. But now looking at Cloud again, he started to think about it once more.

There wasn’t many people he knew, besides himself and Cloud who naturally had viverant blue eyes. He thought of Cloud’s older brother, and from what he could remember, Zack’s eyes were blue, but not as bright as Cloud’s were. The more he thought on it, the more confused he felt, so he decided to brush off all of the thoughts on the subject.

“Yeah...one of a kind. That’s one way to put it,” he replied, his mind darting between thoughts as he tried to gather them for a moment. “Oh! So you’re out here by yourself today then?”

Cloud knew what Prompto had meant upon asking that question, as he thought the man might wonder where Zack was. The question did not faze Cloud though as it would have before as he was able to remain calm. “Well, yeah I am. Zack is actually… away right now.”

“Oh really? Where did your brother run off to if I may ask?”

Cloud hesitated for a moment as he looked up. “He, uh, left last year to join Shinra since he was old enough.”

“Wait really? He left to go work for Shinra? Went to Midgar on his own and everything?” Prompto asked, clearly surprised by Cloud’s reply.

Cloud sighed heavily. “Yeah he did. I knew it was coming of course. It was the plan, but it was still a big thing to have to do.” He paused as collected more of his thoughts. “We… actually promised we would do it together. But, I just have to wait until next year when I’m old enough to go,” Cloud said with an indifferent tone in his voice, attempting to withhold much emotion from his face.

“Wow, I never expected that you guys would want to work for Shinra. What job are you guys wanting to be there?” Prompto asked, now becoming more curious about the young child’s plan.

Cloud rubbed his head a bit, but then perked up. “Well, we wanna become like the hero Sephiroth and be heroes. Well, Zack does for sure. And I want to follow him. So SOLDIER is the goal, which is why I am out here training.”

“I gotta say that I am impressed. I never would have suspected that you and Zack would want to be in SOLDIER. But if you are determined enough I am sure you can make it,” Prompto replied, giving an encouraging smile. “Though, don’t you miss him?”

Cloud once again drew in breath and released a heavy sigh. “I do. Everyday. It used to get me down, but when he started writing to me, the stories he would tell were nice and made me excited to get there with him. So having the letters is kinda like having him encouraging me each day as I read them. So in a way, I guess it’s missing him that drives me to want to be with him again.”

“Well that is good that you have that drive. I wish I could have the determination to get things done like that, haha,” Prompto replied as he laugh sheepishly. “Oh! Would you want to say hello to my chocobo again?”

Cloud looked behind Prompto to see that it was drinking water from a water trough next to one of the stores.

“Sure thing! It’s been a while since I’ve seen her. I wonder if she remembers me,” Cloud pondered as he drew closer to the chocobo.

The chocobo looked up and took a few steps closer to Cloud. Now that Cloud was a older, and a bit taller, the chocobo did not seem as large as he remembered. Though it was still rather tall and impressive. Cloud held out his hand towards the head of the chocobo and a moment later she leaned her head down and pressed it against Cloud’s hand.

“Wark!” the chocobo exclaimed happily.

Prompto laughed. “Looks like she does remember you. And hey if I am still here after you finish your training, maybe you can have another ride. Now that you are older, you could ride her and go a bit faster.”

“Oh really!?” Cloud exclaimed. “That would be great. I mean, I could do it right now if you wanted to.”

“Well it’s really up to you in the end. I got nothing else to do right now anyways,” Prompto replied with a shrug.

Cloud never hesitated. “Well what are we waiting for then. Let’s go then,” he said excitedly as he waited for Prompto to ready the chocobo for him.

Prompto chuckled slightly and motioned for the chocobo to come over to his side. The chocobo listened immediately and strode over to her keeper, who then motioned for Cloud to come to him. “Okay now go ahead and hop in. You remember how to ride right?”

Cloud jumped shortly up onto the chocobo’s back, making himself comfortable as he then grabbed the harness tightly. “Oh yeah, I remember,” he quickly said before he kicked off and the chocobo started to move its scrawny legs forward.

He figured he would take the same route that he had taken before, but this time, he was going to make sure he could see what the chocobo could do. He pulled back on the reigns, which forced the yellow bird to increase its speed in retaliation as they were soon off racing with the wind wiping across Cloud’s face.

“Wooooo!” he yelled loudly, never expecting that a chocobo could actually travel that fast.

The chocobo turned the corner and sped up the road quickly. Cloud struggled at first to maintain a proper grip as he did not want to fall off or hurt the chocobo, but he acclimated after a few seconds of adjusting. The only thing going through the boy’s mind at the time was how much fun he was having with the chocobo. He only wished that Zack could be there to see it and experience it as well. Maybe there would be chocobos in Midgar.

A few more corners were rounded in almost no time when suddenly, he saw he was heading back towards Prompto and he let loose on the rope to allow the bird to slow its pace. After only a few seconds, it and Cloud came to a complete stop and he then hopped off the bird’s back.

He then went up to its face and rested his hand on its head and petted it. “Thanks for the ride buddy.”

“Wark!” it squawked in appreciation for the attention that was being given it.

“How was that then? You looked like you were going pretty fast there,” Prompto said.

Cloud turned his attention from the chocobo, which he stopped petting finally, over to Prompto. “That was even more fun than the last time for sure. I can’t believe they go so fast.”

“Oh yeah you bet you can go fast on a chocobo. There are some chocobos even faster though. If you ever get the chance you should go to the Golden Saucer to see the races there,” Prompto replied before petting his chocobo on the head. “It’s a lot of fun.”

“Ooh really? That sounds like lots of fun. Maybe when I have some free time after I get to Midgar, then I can do that then,” Cloud smiled warmly. He then remembered what he had to do. “Oh umm, I’m supposed to pick up some groceries for my mom actually and take them back after while so I might need to try to get started.”

“Ah well I won’t keep you from doing that. Don’t want you getting in trouble with your mother,” Prompto replied.

“Yeah I guess so…” he trailed off before thinking of something. “Hey, you said you’re not doing anything right? Wanna come eat with us this afternoon?”

“Huh?” Prompto asked as he gave Cloud a confused look. “Why would you ask something like that?

“Well it’s the least I could do for you letting me ride the chocobo and all. Plus it’d be nice to have a friend over for once again,” he replied, anticipation building in his voice.

Prompto couldn’t help but laugh. He then pondered for a moment before he gave his answer. “Well if you think it would be all right. I guess I could.”

Cloud smiled wide at the man. “Okay sounds good. I just need to pick up some of the food for her and then I can show you the way out to my house then,” he said with a joyous tone as he turned and started to walk towards where some of the food stores were located.

Prompto chuckled as he watched the young blond head off to the stores. He decided to wait a few minutes until Cloud returned. Before he knew it Cloud was back, and he was carrying several large bags which he figured was filled with food.

“Do you need any help carrying any of that?” Prompto asked.

Cloud struggled for only a moment until he was able to hold the bags tightly. “No, don’t worry about it. This is… my way of training too. I need to be able to do this,” he uttered through a strained breath, his arms visibly shaking from the weight, but he stayed steady.

“If you say so. You’re rather determined about all of that aren’t you?”

“Yeah, I’ve gotta make sure I’m strong. Well… let’s go. Follow me,” Cloud stated with grin as he started to walk slowly towards the path that led to his house, making sure Prompto was following him as well.

Prompto nodded back as he started to follow behind while also having his chocobo come along as well. He followed right behind Cloud as he was lead to the outskirts of Gongaga. There he was lead towards a small house. Cloud ran up to the door and put one of the bags down before knocking on it.

“Mom I’m home!” Cloud yelled as he was near the door, excited to introduce his friend to them.

Chapter Text

Cloud heard the soft sound of footsteps grow louder until he heard them at the door as he heard the doorknob click. Then, the door opened slowly and before him stood his mother.

“Welcome back,” she said as she looked at him and then to the ground. “I see that you got the groceries and-” she paused as she noticed something else, or rather someone else’s feet, behind Cloud. “Did you bring a friend with you or something?” she asked curiously.

“Yeah! This is my friend Prompto! He is the one who let me and Zack ride the chocobo those years ago,” Cloud replied before his mother looked back up from the groceries.

Prompto stepped forward from behind Cloud, and greeted the mother. “Hello ma’am. Nice to meet ya,” he replied casually.

The mother wore a look of shock on her face briefly; not because of what he had said, but because of his appearance. She studied him carefully, noticing his short, spiky blond hair and bright blue eyes. His skin also seemed fairer than anybody else around the area too. She paid no attention to the rest of his person as she stared at his face more.

She thought in the back of her mind that Cloud and Prompto looked similar in that way, though she couldn’t quite figure out why she had that though. She wondered slightly if the two of them could have come from the same area, not that it mattered much now as Cloud was her son. However, curiosity made itself ever present in her mind nonetheless.

Prompto seemed to notice that she seemed fixated on something. “Umm, do I have something on my face? Wait! Don’t tell me you think my hair is...ugh,” he said with a sigh as he assumed why she was staring at him.

Cloud laughed slightly at that assumption, which seemed to pull his mother out of her thoughts.

She recomposed herself and responded as quickly as she could. “Oh, uh, no no that’s not it. I was just thinking that you… looked like someone is all,” she trailed off slightly, bowing her head before continuing  “But please, come in. Make yourself at home.”

“Thank you,” Prompto replied.

Cloud picked up the bags again and then headed into the house. Prompto followed right behind and looked around at the small house. His eyes soon came to the table where an adult man was sitting, looking through some papers. Prompto figured that it was Cloud’s father, but then from that he was struck with an odd thought. Cloud didn’t look like either of his parents. When he had first met the boys he thought that maybe one looked like one parent and vice versa. But now he saw that Cloud didn’t resemble either of them. He brushed off the thoughts again though as he knew it was none of his business.

The father looked up from his papers to see Prompto standing there, though he remained sitting for the time being. “Well hello there young man. You must be Prompto. I’m David, Cloud’s father. I overheard the conversation out there. I hope that our son hasn’t been too bothersome or distracted to you has he?” he asked, almost in a joking manner with the look he wore on his face.

“Daaaaaaddddd,” Cloud sighed loudly with his words as he got farther into the house.

“Ha ha, oh no , it's fine. I was just enjoying my time here today and I saw Cloud. I remembered him from the last time I saw him and thought I would say hello,” Prompto replied.

The father smiled. “Well that’s good that he made a friend. Make yourself at home here like Emily said. It’s not much, but we’re happy to have you,” he said politely.

“Thank you very much,” Prompto said as he went to take a seat at the table.

After Prompto took a seat, he and Cloud’s father talked about a good many things. Cloud eventually joined them for a moment, only to be paraded off by his mother to help with cooking the food. Prompto watched haughtily as Cloud dashed in the kitchen while helping his mother. He then turned back around as he and David continued to talk about various things.

Cloud wanted to join in, but he knew that he had to help his mother for the time being. After quite some time had passed, the food was finally prepared as Cloud then scurried off to the table and plopped down beside Prompto. Soon after he was there, his mother brought the food over and sat it down on the table in front of everyone, along with some plates. She then took her place at the table as everyone then gathered their food and began their meal.

“So Prompto, where are you from?” David asked after a little while.

Prompto was surprised by the sudden question, but he was glad to answer. “Oh, I’m actually from Midgar. Grew up there actually my whole life. It’s a nice place with a lot to explore,” he answered, trying to make sure to cover the basics of the question. “But every once and a while I like to take a little vacation and do some traveling.”

“Midgar?!” Cloud nearly shouted with wide, excited eyes. He nearly jumped up from his seat as he stared at Prompto. “That’s where Zack is. You haven’t seen him though?”

“Cloud, inside voice please,” his mother said with a calm but strict tone.

“Oh… Sorry,” Cloud said sheepishly as he sat back down.

Prompto nearly wanted to laugh at Cloud’s excitement, but he held it in. “Well I haven’t run across him at all, no. I didn’t even know that’s where he was until earlier today, otherwise I might would have looked for him.”

Cloud sighed slightly at that response. He didn’t really know why though, since he knew Zack was okay from the letters that he had been writing. The only thing Cloud could think of is that he wanted to know Zack was being seen and that he could hear about it.

“Well that’s okay. From what we can tell he seems to be doing okay so far. It’s nice to know that you are in the same area though,” the father said with a calm and understanding tone.

“Do you think maybe you could look for Zack when you go back?” Cloud asked, still feeling a bit hopeful.

“Cloud you don’t just ask someone something like that,” his mother said in her strict tone again.

“Oh, I don’t mind,” Prompto replied promptly. “Besides, it would be nice to see him again too.”

“Well you’re free to do whatever you want. But thank you,” the father replied in a courteous manner.

“Yeah thanks Prompto! You’re awesome!” Cloud exclaimed as he almost bounced out of his chair again.

After that, they all continued to talk about some different things as the table was cleaned off. Prompto entertained them with various stories from his travels around different parts of Gaia. Cloud was enthralled by these stories especially, as it spurred his desire to want to travel even more. The parents were listening intently as they had never ventured beyond their small village. More time passed through the evening as the sun had moved over to one side of the sky, and it was now mid-afternoon.

“Well, I guess that I better try and head back then,” Prompto stated as scooted his chair backwards and stood up.

“Aw you gotta go already?” Cloud asked.

“Yea I suppose so. Before it gets too late and all so that I can get back to where I am staying. It’s been quite fun here though. I’m glad you guys had me over,” he replied as he gave a toothy grin.

“You sure you can’t stay a bit longer?” Cloud asked as he gave a wide-eyed pleading look at Prompto.

Cloud’s father gave him a quick glance with narrowed eyes. “Now son, if he needs to go then let him go, okay?” he spoke with a stern but calm voice.

“It’s okay Cloud, we might run into each other again,” Prompto said as he smiled at Cloud. “Especially when you head to Midgar one day.”

The room fell silent for a moment as Cloud’s heart skipped a beat. He had not told his parents that he intended to follow in Zack’s footsteps and go to join SOLDIER with him. He was unsure how they would really take that news. He knew they had expected Zack to leave one day, but he was quite sure they probably did not expect him to leave. He waited for the response of someone else as he did not want to speak up at the moment.

Prompto looked back and forth at Cloud and then the parents. He could feel a slight tension in the air so he cleared his throat. “Ah sorry if I said anything bad or something. I was just saying that maybe-”

“You don’t have to apologize Prompto,” Cloud’s mother said. “It’s all right. We just haven’t… talked about that certain subject yet with Cloud.”

Cloud looked over to his mother, a nervous and perplexed look in his eyes. “You… you knew? I mean, I was going to tell you but I-...” he trailed off, not really having a good excuse as to why he had neglected to tell them so far.

“Yes we knew Cloud. We were not born yesterday. We had a feeling with you training with Zack that you might choose to take the same path as him. And it seems that you have,” his father said calmly, not wavering from his cool demeanor.

“You.. You’re not mad then? Not mad that I wanna leave next year and go to Midgar?” Cloud asked.

“Of course not sweetie. We’re not mad at all,” his mother replied as she placed a hand on top of his head. “It’s just hard to know that both our sons wanna grow up so fast.”

His father finally stood up and walked over to cloud and placed a hand on his shoulder. “There’s just some things we need to talk about of course. That can come later. Right now,” he said as he motioned to Prompto, “we need to see this young man off.”

Prompto finally mustered up the ability to speak again. “Oh yeah, that’s what I was going to do. So, err, I suppose then this is goodbye for now then,” he proclaimed as he moved towards the door now and began to open it.

“Bye Prompto!” Cloud said as he ran up to Prompto and embraced him in a hug. “It was nice to see you again.”

Prompto was a little startled by the sudden hug, but then he smiled and bent over slightly to return it. “Same here Cloud.”

“Can I say goodbye to your chocobo before you go?” Cloud asked as soon as he stopped hugging Prompto.

“Of course!” Prompto replied as he stood back up straight.

The two headed outside where Prompto’s chocobo had been waiting. Cloud petted her and said goodbye. Then Prompto mounted up onto his chocobo and prepare to head out.

Cloud’s parents came to the door and stood behind their son as they looked upon Prompto and his chocobo. “Safe travels young man. If you see Zack, tell him we said hello,” David spoke with a last request. Emily nodded in agreement with her husband as they all stood there together.

“All right, will do. Goodbye for now,” he waved as he turned around and started to trot away.

Cloud waved back at him with his arm raised high. “Bye chocobo butt!”

Prompto laughed. “And goodbye to you chocobo head!”

“Cloud?!” his mother exclaimed with a shocked expression. “Don’t be so rude.”

“Oh but it’s not rude. It’s a joke that we have between us. Cause my hair is like the head of a chocobo, and his is like the butt of one,” Cloud stated, chuckling at the thought of it again.

Cloud’s parents looked at each other for a moment with a confused look. They then looked at each of the two blonds carefully.

“You know Emily, he’s kinda right,” the father said as he stared off after the chocobo.

“Huh, what do you mean David?” she asked as she stared in the same direction as him. That’s when she noticed it and let out a slight chuckle. “I guess that Prompto’s hair does look like a chocobo butt after all,” she admitted more loudly than she thought, now understanding what the young man had thought she meant much earlier in the day.

After hearing Cloud’s explanation and seeing the sight for themselves, they could in fact understand where he was coming from about it. They did find it rather amusing that Cloud happened to come across another blond who hair spiky hair in a similar fashion to his own.

“Aw great...” Prompto could be here sighing heavily and a bit over dramatically. “Now everyone thinks that.”

Prompto’s words could not be heard by the others though as he had gotten farther away from them. Slowly, the family of three witnessed his silhouette fade below the slight hill. They stood outside for a few more moments as they stared up into the bright blue sky, watching the clouds slowly drift onward.

“So you guys are really okay with me leaving in a year?” Cloud asked.

After Prompto had left, the family had gone back inside to discuss the subject of Cloud’s plan. Cloud was still a bit uncertain about how they were going to take it, but he was relieved that they said they were not mad at him.

“Well, I wouldn’t say okay exactly. At least, not at first. We understand why you want to go, and it took some time to accept that fact. We had thought that you might leave if Zack ever did, and eventually we knew we would have to talk. So, here we are,” his mother said with a calm and concise voice.

Cloud tilted his head to the side slightly. “Talk about what though? About me leaving or something?”

“Well sort of. I assume you are pretty set on leaving already. Even though we don’t want to see you go, it’s your dream. And as your parents, we both want to support you in that. Just want to let you know that we’re here for you,” his father interjected with some reassuring words.

“Yeah, and we just want to talk about a few things now that it is on everyone’s mind,” his mother added quickly to the end.

“It is my dream of course. Zack and I made our dream together and everything. But… what else is on your mind then?” Cloud questioned, not really understanding what his parents were trying to get at.

His mother spoke up again. “We do worry about you when you will go off. Like, where will you stay? What do you plan to do while you’re there? We just want to make sure you’re prepared if you’re determined to go.”

“Oh! Well Zack has told me all the places he stayed while he made his way to Midgar. So I thought I would go there as well. Then when I actually get there, I was going to stay with Zack. He has his own apartment now. He just told me in his most recent letter. Sorry I didn’t get a chance to tell you guys that yet.”

“Ah yeah we did not know about that at all that he had written us more recently. It’s okay, we can read the letter now that we know at least. So Zack was helping to make things easier for you when you get there then from the sounds of it. Sounds just like him to be so responsible about things,” his father finally spoke again.

“Well dear, I guess that Zack really is going to still take care of Cloud after all,” his mother added, feeling relieved at knowing what Zack was doing as well.

Cloud smiled cheerfully. “Of course he is! He is my older brother and that’s what older brothers do.”

Both of his parents smiled warmly at him. “We just wanted to make sure of a couple of things while it was on our minds. But there is still time until then, so we’ll get there when that time comes, okay?” his mother finally said.

Cloud nodded. “Okay! Got it!”

He knew that soon, he would be able to be with Zack. He was relieved that his parents were so understanding and supportive of his decision to go, and he felt more at ease than he had in quite some time. It seemed as though most of his worries lately had been lifted from his shoulders. All that was left now was to enjoy his time here and wait until time to go.

Chapter Text

Light adorned the sky once again at the break of dawn, as the warm rays of sun fluttered in the windows of the Fair’s house. Cloud turned over to see faint glimmers of light dancing in front of his eyes as he then blinked a few times to adjust to the absence of the darkness that was his closed eyelids. After a few minutes, he finally sat up in his bed and stared blankly at the wall for a while. It seemed like any other day that he had been through, but his mind eventually capitalized on what the day was as he started to take in everything in the house.

It had been another year now. He had turned thirteen a few weeks ago, and today was when he would be setting out on his journey. He could finally join Shinra and be with Zack. A flurry of emotion swung around inside of his head, as he was overjoyed at the prospect of going, but also saddened by knowing all that he would be leaving behind. He inhaled sharply and let out an exasperated sigh.

He knew this was the last day that he would be inside of this house where he grew up. He paced constantly around his room, making sure to notice everything he could and appreciate all that he had at that moment. He stopped by his desk drawer and pulled out the large stack of letters from Zack. He carefully looked through them and started to wonder if he should take them along with him or not.

“Hmmm,” Cloud hummed thoughtful as he thought it over. “Maybe I should leave them. So that way mom and dad can still read them when they want.”

After careful consideration, Cloud removed one letter from the stack and placed the others back in his drawer for safekeeping. “I’ll at least have this one with me,” he uttered with a small smile.

The letter he was holding now was a more recent one Zack had sent, which included his address and all of the information Cloud needed to know upon arriving in Midgar. Zack had also included some personal notes in there to him as well, so Cloud figured he would be able to read it to keep him company on his trip over there. He folded it up nicely and stuck it in a pocket on his clothes.

He had already packed most everything that he needed for his journey, though most of his materials were staying in the house, as he knew he could not carry it all with him. As he glanced around his room one final time before walking out, this experience still seemed surreal to him. He was going off to join Shinra, and hopefully make SOLDIER.

For a brief moment upon thinking, Cloud had a strange feeling of that thought as he felt a slight tug in his heart. Was it fear? Apprehension? He tried to push those thoughts down below and not lose sight of the goal again.

WIth a heavy breath, he exited his room and closed the door behind him. He walked down into the next room where he saw his parents sitting at the kitchen table, waiting for him. They looked at him once he had entered and gave him a smile, though Cloud knew they were probably a bit sad on the inside. He was leaving like Zack had, but this time at least they knew when he was leaving as opposed to Zack.

“Well I guess it’s your big day then. Why don’t you sit down with us for a while before you go,” his mother suggested as she spoke as calmly as she could.

“Okay,” Cloud said as he walked over to the table. He set his stuff down to the side and then took his seat.

“How are you feeling Cloud?” his father asked him,

“I’m feeling…” Cloud started as he thought over everything. “I’m a bit nervous I guess. But also I’m excited as well.”

“Well I guess that is expected. I think we feel the same way honestly about all of this,” his mother replied quickly before dipping her head and trying to control herself.

“Now now dear, it will be all right. I’m sure we will see them again of course,” he said as he then directed his attention at Cloud. “We will still hear from you both right?”

Cloud nodded. “Of course! I’ll make sure to write my own letters whenever I can.”

“Yeah, please do. We would for sure want to hear from you. Are you sure you have everything ready to go? I just want to make sure,” his mother added with a hint of worry in her tone.

“Yes I got everything,” Cloud said, though his voice started to shake slightly.

He knew within a few minutes he would be leaving. He would be leaving his home that he had lived in now for only eight years. The home that he had been accepted into and raised in. He would be leaving it all behind now. He knew once he went to Midgar he wouldn’t be back in Gongaga for a while, so he wouldn’t be able to see his parents. Cloud eyes started to water as he started to think over it all.

His parents both could see the uncertainty in his eyes as they welled up. His mother could not hold back her emotions any longer as tears began to form in her eyes as well. She leaned over to her son and placed her arm around him as the two of them had started to cry.

Cloud’s father arose from his seat and walked around to his wife and son and hugged them both. He was emotional about the situation as well, but he did his best to keep himself in check as he was trying to remain strong for the both of them. “At least we are able to spend this time together right now. Let’s just cherish what we have for the moment,” he uttered firmly.

Cloud wrapped one arm around each parent as they all stayed close to one another. The tears were starting to stream down his face more than before. “Mom… Dad… I love you. I’m going to miss you.”

“And we are going to miss you too Cloud. Our sweet little boy, how much you have grown,” his mother whispered sweetly.

“Yeah, you’re becoming a young man now. I’m proud of you son that you want to do something like this,” his father asserted.

Cloud sniffed as he tried to talk clearly. “Thanks Dad. Mom. I’ll be sure to make you guys proud,” he said as he slowly raised up from the group hug. “And, when I come back, I’ll be a proper SOLDIER too, just like Zack,” he proclaimed, showing his confident attitude.

His mother wiped some wetness from her eyes and cracked a small smile. “I’m sure you will dear,” she consoled him.

Cloud looked at the time and saw that the ship he was supposed to board would be leaving soon. He then stood up and grabbed his bags once more. “Well… it’s about time I have to head out. Don’t wanna miss my ride,” he said as light-heartedly as he could manage.

Cloud’s mother stood up from her seat and she embraced her blond-headed boy once more. “I know, I know. I really am gonna miss having you here. Just keep us updated okay?”

“Yeah, and make sure to watch over Zack so he doesn’t get into trouble,” his father said with a slight chuckle.

Cloud and his mother stifled a small laugh as well as the three of them enjoyed their last moments together. “Yeah okay, I’ll do that,” Cloud agreed as his mother finally released him. “Are you sure you don’t wanna see me off at the docks?”

“Oh I would want to, but I feel it would only be harder to watch you go,” Cloud’s mother replied.

“We know you’ll get down there in time, but I think your mother and I will just see you off here,” his father added.

“Okay,” Cloud said as he wiped the last of his tears away. He turned and faced the door and took in a deep breath. “Bye,” he said as strongly as he could before he grabbed the handle of the door and stepped outside.

The summer sun beat down on him as soon as he was out of the house. Cloud wanted to take a moment to relax and enjoy the weather, but he knew that was not the time for it. Without waiting too long he started off towards the docks, down to where the ship was waiting. Once he got down there he stared out at the waters before him.

“I’m almost there Zack. I’ll be with you again soon,” Cloud thought to himself before he boarded the ship.

Once Cloud was on the ship he took a seat down in the bed chambers area below deck. The ship started to pull out from the docks and began its slow journey out into the vast ocean. Cloud laid back in his bed and looked out the small round window to see Gongaga getting farther away. His heart felt heavy as he watched the place he called home slowly sink into the distance.

He tried to put that aside though. He reminded himself that he would probably get the chance to come back and visit one day. “Both of us will come back to visit. Both me and Zack. We’ll come home again mom and dad. Don’t you guys worry.”

The journey seemed much longer than Cloud had expected, but he was supposed to be getting closer to Midgar now. At least, that is what the ship captain had informed everyone that was on board. He almost could not believe it when he heard the news. The dream that he had held for the past two years to see his brother again in Midgar was finally becoming a reality.

Almost 3 weeks had passed since he had left from his small town of Gongaga. For the first few days, Cloud reminisced heavily about his hometown and his parents, sometimes even tearing up when thinking about them. Eventually though, he was able to move past those emotions, partially due to having Zack’s letter and reading it constantly. He was reminded of the strength that he was supposed to show, and a renewed feeling would wash over him each time.

He did feel lonely as he was by himself on the long journey. Well, at least it was that way in a sense. There were others aboard the ship as well, but Cloud did not know them; and therefore, did not converse with them. He found plenty of time to nap because of this, allowing time to pass by more quickly by sleeping it all away.

The entire trip was made on boat from port to port, and every so often, there would be stops to either pick up more people or to pick up more supplies. At each stop, Cloud would look at the name of the location where they were to see if it matched some of the places that Zack was telling him about. Sure enough, the ship would dock in the same locations as did with Zack, so Cloud was able to disembark for a short time and view these other places.

Sightseeing ended up being the best part of the journey for him, as every place he saw was much larger than the small town in which he grew up. He made mental notes of everything that he had seen in an effort to tell Zack of what he had experienced on the journey over.

After reminiscing about his travels, Cloud decided to close his eyes briefly as the warm summer sun felt especially nice on his skin. He just knew that he would be in Midgar soon.

HONK

Cloud’s eyes bolted open as he raised up quickly from his sleeping position. It seemed he had dozed off instead of just merely resting. However, he understood what that noise meant. The ship’s siren would make that sound each time it was coming into port at a new location.

“We’re coming into Midgar now, so everyone who needs to stop here get ready!” a raspy voice yelled across the ship.

Cloud’s eyes widened as a smile graced his sunlit face. He stood up and ran towards the front of the ship and his mouth dropped. “This is really Midgar? No way…” he trailed off, staring in disbelief.

The city was much larger than he ever had anticipated from the looks of it, and there looked to be heavy machinery everywhere he looked. Wherever they were coming in at looked like the lower part of the city. When he looked up, he could see more of the city above the area he was at, like parts of it were stacked on top of each other. He could not hide his sheer excitement as he just continued to take in everything that he could see at the moment. He could not wait to explore the city and see what all it had to offer. However, he decided he would most likely do that after finding Zack.

Cloud grabbed his bags and then exited the ship as soon as it docked. Once he was on solid ground, he started to look all around him. He still could not believe the size of the city that he was now walking through. Cloud recalled Zack’s letters from when he first arrived in Midgar. He always kept talking about how large the city was. Cloud didn’t quite get it at first, but now he understood how Zack must have felt.

He strolled for a bit, taking in the sight which continued to amaze him, but he slowly came to a stop. He pulled out the letter from his pocket and read over the directions Zack had given him. He read over it once more before heading the way that the instructions said to go.

He wandered around a bit as he tried to stay on track as best he could. Only a few times did he have to ask a local which way he was supposed to go, as a few of Zack’s directions were a bit unclear. Soon enough though he came to an apartment complex that had many people in what appeared to be Shinra uniforms entering and exiting constantly. Cloud assumed this was apparently where many of the Shinra workers lived at.

Stepping inside he looked around the lobby. Everything was still so impressive to him. The front lobby of this apartment was at least twice as big as his entire house. He stood in awe, his eyes darting in all directions to take in everything. After staring for a bit longer, he went to the elevator and took it up to the floor that Zack said he was on. He carefully made his way down the hallway until he reached the door with the number that matched what was in Zack’s letter.

Cloud stared up at the door for the longest time. He didn’t move a single muscle though. Here was Zack’s apartment. He was finally here. Finally, he could see his brother again after two long years. But… even though he was excited to see Zack again… he was feeling nervous. A pit formed in his stomach, almost as if a knot seemed to be churning in circles. His hands started to become clammy and his heart rate accelerated as his anxiety levels were heightened.

“What if… What if Zack has changed?” Cloud thought to himself as he let doubt sink into his mind. “What if he doesn't care about me anymore… or is too caught up in being in SOLDIER to remember I was coming today? Maybe he went and made new friends. What if… he’s forgotten all about me?”

Cloud shook his head side to side and slapped his cheeks as he tried to calm himself back down. “Think, Cloud,” he said to himself as he tried to process his thoughts. “Zack must still care, since he sent those letters. At least a bit. I’ve gotta try anyways. This is what I came all this way for. Okay. I’ve got this.” He spoke those words himself silently as his heart beat began to finally slow back down after a few minutes.

He slowly started to raise his hand up to the door. As he did so, time seemed to almost slow down in the process, even though Cloud knew in his mind that was not true. The moment he had been waiting for was finally here, and his hand deliberately moved closer to the door. It was the door that separated him and his brother, but not for one more moment as his hand finally reached it.

Cloud made his hand to knock on the door three times, spaced out in succession. His nervousness increased after doing so as he realized that he could not reverse his action. Soon though, he heard faint footsteps that grew louder with each passing step. Then, he looked down to see a shadow had formed under the crack of the door. The doorknob began to turn, almost as if in slow motion as he inhaled sharply to brace himself. Then, the door finally opened.

Chapter Text

As the door opened, Cloud’s face started to light up with joy. Before him stood his big brother, whom he had not seen in about two years. Upon first glance, Cloud noticed Zack had grown even taller than he was before as he was now having to look slightly more upward at his brother. He also seemed to have built up a bit more muscle now, as it had been two years of course. He assumed Zack had not been back at his house very long as he still wore what appeared to be the same outfit that some of the soldiers back in Gongaga wore all those years ago.

He tried to process more thoughts, but he knew he could figure the specifics out another time. After those few seconds of gawking, he began to get slightly choked up as he wanted to speak. But before he could attempt to say anything Zack grabbed him and pulled him close. Cloud was now tightly pressed against Zack’s chest as he felt Zack’s arms wrap around him.

A happy sob was heard from Zack as he rested his head next to Cloud’s. “Cloud!”

“Z-Zack. I’ve missed you a lot. It’s so good to see you again,” he uttered slowly.

“I’ve missed you too buddy,” Zack replied as he continued his tight hold on his younger brother, not wanting to let go. “I can’t believe it’s been two years already.”

Cloud sniffled slightly. “Yeah, I know. It seemed really slow at first. I thought I would never get to see you again. But then, time seemed to move by in no time. I’m just glad to be here now,” he trailed off as he buried his head back into Zack’s shoulder.

“I know it must have been hard for you, but I knew you would pull through. You made it Cloud. I’m just so happy,” Zack said as he moved one of his hands to behind Cloud’s head. He started to rub it slowly in a comforting motion. “I’m so happy right now, I don’t even… I don’t even know what to say.”

There was a pause before Zack did managed to find more words to say. “Come on, let’s step inside. I wanna get a good look at you since it’s been two years.” Zack then finally let go of Cloud and stepped back into the apartment.

Cloud stared for a few seconds and then he followed suit and walked through the doorway. He then turned and closed the door behind him before doing anything else. He just had started to look around the apartment with awe at the sheer size of it all when Zack spoke up.

“I can see you have done some growing,” Zack said as he smiled. He then stood right up next to Cloud, showing that he was now a few inches taller, opposed to when they were a bit closer in height when the last saw each other. “But you aren’t as tall as me yet.”

“Well I didn’t ask you to grow any taller,” Cloud replied childishly.

Zack smiled back as he ran a hand through his hair. “What can I say, maybe moving to Midgar helped my growth spurt.”

Cloud chuckled softly. “Well, maybe. But don’t you worry, I’ll be there with you before you know it. Besides, you hair is more spiky than mine now for sure,” he asserted as he started to play with his own hair, feeling the parts that pointed out as a way to reassure himself he remembered correctly.

“Heh, I guess you're right about that. But,” Zack paused for a moment as he smirked slightly. “has mom been feeding you enough? You're still growing like a twig."

“Hey, I’ve been eating. I’m just still small. Maybe I’ll get bigger,” he looked down as he was flustered slightly. He then snapped his head back up at Zack as he thought of something. “But look I have been training at least and have some good muscles now,” he claimed as he showed off his slender physique, trying his best to flex.

“Yeah some good muscles of a thirteen-year-old,” Zack said as he laughed. “But hey, don’t worry. We can do some training sometime together and I can see how much stronger you’ve gotten.”

“It’s been so long since we’ve been able to train together. That would be great! When could we do it do you think?” Cloud pondered to Zack.

“I don’t know yet, how about you get settled here first and then we can think about training. The trials to try out for SOLDIER are in less than a week, so we have some time.”

Cloud pondered that for a moment and then finally conceded. “Okay then, that sounds like a good idea. I need to get used to this place anyways.”

“Yeah, check it out for yourself. It’s really nice here too,” he said as he stood up and held out his hands on either side. “So, tell me what you think then,” he said with a smile across his face.

Cloud grinned at his brother’s enthusiasm as he began to search the apartment with his eyes. He could tell that they were standing in the living area of the house from where the door was. It seemed to be quite large, much larger than the entire area they had for area in their old home. Then he looked to either side of him to see what else was there.

To his right looked to be another door, but it seemed to lead to the outside and onto a platform that overlooked other parts of the city. To his left there was an entire kitchen area, which he found hard to believe since it seemed to be just as large as the living are space he was still currently standing in. This was much larger than what he had anticipated, but he was enthused by it all.

After taking everything that he could see, he turned to Zack after having been looking around for the past few minutes. “This place is so big! I can’t believe you scored a nice place like this. It’s more than we had back home for sure. But it seems like a lot to manage too,” he stated clearly as he still admired the work.

“Yeah it might be a bit to manage, but it won’t be as bad now with two people here,” he admitted. “Oh that’s right. You still haven’t seen it all yet since we’ve been catching up. There’s more back here,” he said as he started walking towards the back after motioning Cloud to follow.

Cloud picked up his bags from the floor and walked close behind Zack as they moved towards the back of the building and down a short, narrow hallway. He could see one small room directly in front of him once he was closer to it, and to either side of that room was a door on each side.

“This is where the bathroom is, just so ya know,” Zack said, pointing to the small room in front of them. Then he turned to Cloud. “The other two rooms are the bedrooms. One is mine and one is yours. The one here to the left is yours, so go ahead and check it out.”

“All right then that sounds good. You know Zack, this is the second time now that I’ve moved in with you. I just suddenly thought about it,” Cloud admitted as he chuckled.

Zack rubbed the back of his head while grinning. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. It is kinda funny. But hey, at least we’re together.”

Cloud nodded as he reached out his hand slowly and grabbed hold of the doorknob and turned it to open the door. Once the door opened, Cloud could hardly contain his excitement.

Inside he could see a large room in front of him with an absorbent amount of free space. This room seemed more than twice as large as the one that he and Zack had shared back home. The best part was that he had this room all to himself.

There was a full size bed that was placed up against the wall, which was to the left of where he was standing. On the opposite wall appeared to be a chest of drawers, which would be handy for keeping up with his belongings. In the back of the room opposite of the door was a small door, which cloud assumed to be the closet area. Other than that, the rest of the room was a blank slate

“Wow, this is so nice! I can’t believe I have a very own room to myself,” he stated aloud as he took it all in.

“You got your own room for two years back home, so it shouldn’t be much different,” Zack said as he stood besides Cloud. He then ruffled Cloud’s hair slightly. “But at least I am right across the hall.”

“Hey, two can play at that game,” he squirmed and then reached his hand up to ruffle Zack’s hair as well. The two brothers started laughing at each other’s childish antics before finally stopping.

Cloud then continued on. “Oh yeah, I guess you’re right about that. Staying here I mean. It’s just so much bigger than I expected. This place is so cool,” he admitted.

He then walked over near the bed and leapt into the air before crashing down on the soft bed, back first. It was far softer then the one he had back home, and much lager too. He then relaxed his body and began to stare aimlessly at the ceiling. A second later though, the bed suddenly bounced hard once again as he saw, from the corner of his eye, Zack land right next to him. The two shared a glance with each other before Zack then reached out his arms and began to tickle Cloud on his sides.

“Hey, stop,” Cloud tried protested as laughed. “I’m very ticklish there you know.” He tried to should shout for Zack to stop, but he only ended up laughing more. He flailed his arms as another attempt to stop Zack also proved to be useless as Zack still was older and far stronger.

Zack then turned over more to face his little brother so that it would be harder for Cloud to get up. He gave a hearty chuckle. “Come on, think of this as...training. You gotta get past me,”

Cloud tried his best to get Zack to cease his antics but was unable to move him away. Soon enough Cloud realized that there were tears in his eyes. But he knew they were not tears of sadness, but tears of joy as he was having fun with his big brother again. From what he could see through blurry eyes, Zack had a big grin on his face as well, indicating that he too was having a blast.

Finally, after a few minutes of struggling, Zack relinquished his hold on Cloud and allowed the blond boy to rest. Now that he had been released from the grip of his brother, he finally had a chance to calm down and relax. He slowly inhaled and exhaled slowly while he started up at the ceiling.

“Gosh, I’m so...glad you stopped. It was… fun though. But, I guess… you’re still too much… for me,” Cloud admitted through exasperated words.

Zack chuckled. “Yeah, I guess you still have a bit to go buddy.” He turned away and fell onto his back once again. He then started to stare at the ceiling, along with Cloud doing the same thing. The two of them kept their positions like that for quite some time.

They relaxed peacefully for a few minutes as they calmed down some more. Finally Zack sat back up and stretched. “So what do you wanna do now? We still got the whole evening to do whatever we want. Do you wanna see around Midgar or the Shinra headquarters? Or maybe just relax since you’ve had a long trip?”

Cloud weighed his options for a moment, but the decision was a rather easy one. “I would rather just stay here and relax. Besides,” he started as he sat up in the bed and looked over to Zack. “We have a lot more to catch up on too since it’s been so long.”

“You got a point there. How about you get things settled here and I start to make some dinner,” Zack said as he walked over to the door.

“Wait you know how to cook now?” Cloud asked with a small laugh. “I didn’t think you could do something like that.”

“Hey!” Zack said as he turned around. “I’ve learned a lot since coming to Midgar. Had to manage and take care of myself this whole time.”

“Well that is cool. Maybe you can show me how to cook too. I can help you if you want me to,” Cloud suggested with anticipation written all over his face.

“Of course you can help! You’ve always were better at helping mom prepare dinner than I was,” Zack commented.

Cloud sharply smiled at Zack as he stood up and walked over to him. “Oh thanks a bunch big bro! It’s something that we can do together too while we try to catch up. I’ve got so much to talk about with you.”

“Yeah I know! It’s still a bit crazy to think it has really been two years now,” Zack commented as they walked down the short hallway towards the kitchen area. “So tell me all about it. Anything crazy or fun happen while I’ve been away?”

Cloud immediately started to tell Zack about almost everything that came to mind. From the long, boring days at school, which he had to endure by himself for quite some time until he had finally grown familiar to it. Nothing of interest seemingly happened during any of his time there though. Then, there hard training he pushed himself through. At least, when he was able to overcome his sadness and fears in order to proceed with that task.

Cloud proceeded to describe in detail the events that had happened to him while trying to train. He started talking as Zack listened while they prepared things in the kitchen. Cloud went from the start of Zack leaving, up until the very last day before he finally left to come to Midgar. Time seemed to escape the room as it meant nothing to either of them at that time as Cloud continued with his rambling. Soon though, Cloud eventually stopped to take a breather as he was mostly finished with his story.

Zack then saw the opportunity to interject. “I was going to ask when you were gonna run out of breath,” Zack laughed with a small grin. “Well, at least we can continue talking over dinner now.”

A few hours had passed them by as now they could finally sit down to eat the food they had prepared for themselves. Only as they were just finished up their food, did a certain thought come to Cloud’s mind. One question he was surprised he had forgotten to ask about.

“Oh! Zack! You gotta tell me, how is it being in SOLDIER now?”

Zack looked up from his plate that was now empty and swallowed the remainder of his food hard. “Oh yeah, I do need to tell you about that. Hmm, let’s see,” he said as he raised his head at an angle to think. “Well I am a 3rd class SOLDIER right now, which I know is at the bottom. That’s where you have to start. But I’m working my way up and should be 2nd class soon. I hope. It’s...quite a lot of hard work too. But nothing I can’t handle of course,” Zack grinned as he radiated his proud nature.

“Wow really? You think you’ll be 2nd class soon? You must really be working hard then. But that’s so cool!” Cloud replied with a wide grin. “I bet I can make it up to 2nd Class too real fast once I join.”

“Yeah, I’m sure that you can do it too Cloud. But you’ll have to work extra hard if you wanna catch up with me,” Zack replied with a snarky and playful tone.

“I know I can catch up! Just you watch,” Cloud said as he bounced up and down slightly in his seat.

“Well I guess we’ll just have to see then huh. First though, you gotta get registered at Shinra before the trials to try out. And we can do that training we talked about. Then you can be on your way to becoming a SOLDIER as well. How’s that sound?” Zack proposed.

“That sounds great,” Cloud said as he got up from his chair. He ran over to the other side of the table and threw his arms around Zack. “This is going to be fun!”

Zack braced for Cloud’s sudden impact as he returned the hug to his brother. “Yeah it will be. Just like old times. But I suppose maybe we should get some sleep in order to get started early then tomorrow,” he said to Cloud as he began to yawn slightly.

Cloud nodded. “Okay. I can’t wait,” He then paused for a moment as he just relaxed within his brother’s arms. “I’m just still so happy to see you again Zack. This is probably one of the best days of my life.”

Zack returned his words with a warm smile. “Yeah, I’m glad to see you too buddy,” he uttered softly as the two embraced for a few moments. Then, Zack pulled away from the hug slowly and started to get up from his chair. “Well, I don’t know about you Cloud, but I’m hitting the hay. I’m sure you’re getting tired. I mean, you did have a long trip.”

Cloud gave another nod before he ended up yawning himself. The two brothers cleaned up their dishes before heading down the hall to the bedrooms. Once Cloud was ready and dressed for bed he plopped down on the soft mattress. He couldn’t stop smiling as he thought his cheeks were going to start hurting. It still almost felt surreal that he was finally here in Midgar. And that he was with Zack again. While he knew it would be a long road ahead for him with trying out for SOLDIER, he was just mostly happen to be by his brother's side once again.

Chapter Text

The following morning, Cloud woke up as early as he could in order to be prepared for the day. Though, as he started to rouse and move about, he noticed Zack seemed to have been up for quite some time; therefore, maybe it wasn’t as early as he had thought. He knew he had gotten some good rest though, which is something he had desperately needed after that long boat ride.

He decided to get dressed and get ready, though he was slowly moving to do it. Maybe some exercise would help to get his muscles to start moving and to finish waking him up. He started to do his squats again as Zack had instructed him too before, not wanting to let a day go by without doing them. As he was doing them, he heard a noise at the door.

“Ah, I see you have been remembering your squats like I told you. Good good,” Zack spoke gently to him as he leaned against the door frame.

“Yeah I’m doing them. You taught me how to do them for our training so I wouldn’t forget of course,” Cloud replied.

“Well, as soon as you’re done with that then we can head out if you want. On the way to where we need to go, I can give you a tour of the city,” Zack suggested to him.

“Oh yeah! We gotta do that,” Cloud said as stood up from his squat. “But wait… where are we going if it isn’t just a tour of the city?”

“Oh...well, I figured I’d take you to the Shinra headquarters at least so you can see things for yourself. And try to go ahead and get registered too,” Zack informed him.

“I gotta be registered first before I try out?” Cloud asked curiously. “Ah… well I guess that makes sense. But I wanna see Midgar! Let’s go!”

Zack then motioned for Cloud to come with him as he started to walk towards the door that would lead out. Cloud followed Zack out of their apartment as they walked quite some ways until then stepping back out into the bustling city of Midgar. Cloud was quite excited to be able to tour the city, which is something that he had wanted to do when he first arrived; however, he prioritized locating Zack first as he felt that was the more important task. Everything seemed to work out in that regard since Zack was now providing him with a walk around the city, which did alleviate Cloud’s innate fear of becoming lost in such a large and unfamiliar area.

“Okay so where do you want to go first?” Zack asked curiously with his back to Cloud.”

Cloud snapped his attention to the back of his brother as he heard his question, though he was slightly perplexed at it. “Umm, well I don’t know. Wherever you lead us is good with me.”

Zack turned to face his little brother as he started to scratch the back of his head. “Oh yeah, sorry, that’s right. You had not gone through the city yet. Well, that’s okay. That’s what a big brother is for. To show you the way. We’ll just make our way wherever we can,” Zack replied with a assureds tone before he turned back around and walked forward. “Try to keep up!”

Cloud quickly began to march forward to make sure that he kept up with Zack, as he did not want to get lost. As the two of them walked, Cloud kept staring up at his surroundings, moving his head from side to side in order to be able to see everything that he could.

Zack glanced behind him quickly and noticed this, cracking a smile. “Yeah, there’s a lot of stuff up here. This big area we are in now is all what is called the Upper Plate. Most of the living spaces for people like us are up here.”

“Oh wow, really? That sounds cool. So everyone lives in this ‘Upper Plate’ area then?” Cloud raised a question, curiosity present in his voice.

“Well, not everyone. This is the main area. There are other places that have plates over different sectors of the city. Below those are the different sectors slums. It’s home to more of the poorer people and other small businesses that apparently don’t fit with the look here…” Zack trailed off with a slightly worried tone. “I-I’ve never had occasion to visit the slums whilst here, so I’ll show you what I know,” Zack stated to Cloud.

The two of them continued to move forward as Cloud’s questions were quelled by the vastness of Midgar, and by what he had just heard about the other area. He began to get more intrigued by what was below them, or rather who was below them. He stayed silent for some time before finally deciding to speak up again.

“So… why don’t we go and visit the area there some time? Just see what else this place has to offer.”

Zack turned and glanced at his quickly before moving his head back around. “Yeah, of course we can. Who knows, maybe we might even be able to help some ya know?” he replied heartily.

There was a slight pause before the next utterance. “Okay now, because I almost forgot to tell you, the Shinra headquarters, as you might expect. You should be able to see it shortly, since it’s such a large building. Just keep your eyes peeled,” Zack told his little brother, figuring that his curiosity and enthusiasm would pick up after hearing that.

Cloud nodded slowly and continued to follow behind Zack as the two marched on silently for some time. Cloud couldn’t help but to wonder about everything he said. He still could not believe how big Midgar was compared to Gongaga. It almost felt a slight bit intimidating by the vastness, but he saw that Zack walked around the place easily and seemed to know it all pretty well.

“Here we are in Sector 0 is where we are now, which is the central location for everything else to spring from in Midgar. So what do you think?” Zack asked as he turned to Cloud, who was just staring in awe.

They had approached a large building that towered above everything else in the area. Cloud assumed that it must be the Shinra headquarters, and once again, Cloud could not believe the size of the building he was seeing. He craned his neck back almost as far as it would go so that he could see the entire scope of the place.

The massive building was an odd shape, with a strong metallic color coating it just like all of the other scenery in the area. At the bottom, there seemed to pipes jutting out that most likely was the source of energy that was used around here. Cloud assumed it was mako energy since the design looked similar to that of the mako reactor back home, but he was not certain of that.

Upon looking around more, he saw that the base of the building narrowed up to a point and then more building could be seen. A large metal container of sorts seemed to be sandwiched between the middle of the building and the top, which grew even narrower than before. Though, it was only that small from their viewpoint of course, as the actual size of the building was much larger. Though, one other thing that Cloud noticed was that the base area was also surrounded with several other tower-like structures, though not as tall as the main building.

After taking in this enormous sight, Cloud felt slightly intimidated to be there, almost like he did not belong. He was entrapped in his thoughts but a sudden force upon his shoulder released him from his mind. He looked down to see that Zack was standing beside him, with his hand rested on the blond’s shoulder.

“You know, if you keep craning your neck like that it might get stuck,” Zack chortled. “I know it’s a lot to take in, but I’m sure you can handle it. Now come on, we’re gonna be going inside now. Gotta get you familiar with the place after all since it’s where we will spend most of our time.”

Cloud understood what Zack was saying finally. “Right, I get it. Well I guess then let’s go,” Cloud replied back as he allowed Zack to lead the way into the over sized headquarters building.

The two made their way up to the front doors, which then slid open for them to enter. Upon stepping through, the inside was just as large as Cloud had anticipated after seeing the outside. The first thing that he noticed was in the very center of the floor directly in front of the doors was a large desk, which most likely was where everyone checked in at; or so he assumed there was a lady standing on the other side of it. On either side of the desk was a stairway that seemingly led to an upper area of the ground floor. Then, on either wall was two elevators, and next to them were doorways labeled ‘Exhibit Hall.’

As Cloud was taking everything in once again, Zack finally spoke up. “All right Cloud, so this is the registration desk, and the information help desk, whatever you wanna call it. We’ll get you signed up here. Then we’ll use those elevators to go to the other floor for training,” he said.

Cloud nodded, and after a slight pause, Zack then leaned in towards Cloud. “Between you and I, you’re not really supposed to be able to go to any other floors, but I’ll use my charm on the receptionist here. Besides, she knows me,” Zack gave a wink before he marched Cloud up to the desk.

The receptionist, who was working on a computer, stopped what she was typing and looked up to see Zack. A smile filled her face. “Ah Zack! It’s nice to see you. Is there something you are here for today?”

Zack leaned up against the counter and angled his face towards the lady. “Yeah, I’m here to register my brother here for the SOLDIER trials like I did a couple years ago,” he said as he then looked her over more. “Can I say you are looking very nice today,” he said as he grinned at her with an innocent look.

“Thank you Zack,” The receptionist giggled as she looked at Zack a bit longer. Then her eyes shifted to behind Zack and noticed Cloud. “Aw why didn’t you tell me your brother was so cute!”

“Oh, well I guess it never came up,” Zack said as he slowly scratched the back of his head. “Well he wants to be a SOLDIER like me of course. But also…” he leaned in closer to her. “I kinda promised him we could train some. I know he’s not in Shinra yet, but could you let us in to the training floor? For me?”

The receptionist slowly looked to both her sides before leaning in a bit closer to Zack. “I know I really shouldn’t, but fine, just this once. But if you get caught, that’s on you.”

“All right!” Zack said, but then quickly clasped his mouth as he realized he had spoken a little too loudly. “Thanks a bunch. I owe you one,” he said to her as he winked.

Then turning to Cloud, he spoke. “Okay we can get you signed up now.”

Cloud walked up to the front of the desk as the receptionist began to type away at her computer. She asked Cloud several questions about himself and other things and soon enough she had finished typing everything out. She wrote on a small sheet of paper and then handed it to Cloud.

“You’re all set. You are now ready to come to SOLDIER trial tryouts in a few days. Just make sure to bring that sheet with you when you come.”

“Thank you,” Cloud replied quietly as he looked over the piece of paper. It was a sheet that had his name of it and stated the day and time of the tryouts for SOLDIER. He carefully folded it and placed it into his pocket.

“I don’t believe there is anyone near the elevators right now, so this would be the best time to make your move,” the receptionist replied quietly to Zack.

“Right! Thanks again for your help. I’ll see you around,” he said to her before turning around. “Let’s go Cloud,” Zack said as he then ran off towards the elevator area, motioning for Cloud to follow.

The two of them entered into the elevator and Zack pressed the button labeled 49, which was the floor specifically for SOLDIER. The elevator started moving upwards as they waited patiently for it to reach the destination. Zack knew they would have to be careful once they were there and try to avoid personnel. A few more seconds passed and they finally stopped as the elevator dinged; then, the doors slowly slid open.

At first glance, Zack did not see anyone around at the moment, so he thought to move directly behind the wall in front of them just to be safe. He turned to Cloud. “Okay, watch me and then follow me.”

He then darted from the elevator behind the wall that he had just thought to go to. Cloud nodded silently as he followed right behind Zack. The two of them quickly sped down the hallway as they passed by several doors and more hallways leading to other areas. It wasn’t long before Zack stopped and peered down one hallway, before motioning Cloud to follow more and they continued sneaking around.

The two reached the end of the hallway finally and Zack stopped, causing Cloud to halt right behind him. The training room was just to the right of where they were. Zack peered around the corner and saw there was another SOLDIER heading towards where they were, and from the looks of it, he was a 2nd class. Something had to be done so that Cloud would not be found out.

“Okay Cloud, I’m gonna go distract that guy and get him to go the other way with me, and I want you to run into that room there,” he pointed at the training room. “Just push the button on the door and it will open and let’s hope there is nobody inside. There shouldn’t be at this time at least.”

“Got it,” Cloud said as he stayed clear of the sight of the SOLDIER, but prepared himself to run when it was time.

Zack walked out and then seemed to strike up a conversation with the 2nd class SOLDIER. He put his hand around his shoulder as Zack was able to get him to turn back towards the other way and they started to walk off in the other direction away from the door.

Cloud breathed in deeply before running to the door that Zack had told him to go to. He pushed the button and quickly went inside as soon as the door was opened wide enough for him to sneak through. Once he was on the other side, he looked around the large room he was now in.

The room was seemingly just a large square room with multiple panelings lining the walls. It was mostly empty from what Cloud could see. Though, on the wall to the right he noticed that there was a timer situated there. As he continued to glance around, he noticed that directly to the left of the door he had entered sat a large machine. He assumed this might control the training sessions, though he had no idea how it all worked. He was thankful that nobody appeared to be in the room though as he decided to just wait for Zack to come to him.

After standing and waiting for what seemed like ages, he heard the door finally open and took a look over to it. He saw Zack was standing in the doorway and slowly entered it as it closed behind him automatically. He also appeared to be holding an extra sword as well, as he walked over to Cloud with it.

“Here, you’ll need this to train. Standard issue Shinra sword, just like mine,” he stated as he extended it out to Cloud and waited for him to respond.

Cloud slowly took the sword and looked over it with wide eyes. “We’ve never actually trained with weapons before.”

“Yeah, I know. You haven’t at least. I’ve used these for a while now...To be honest with you, I’m not supposed to use this room either, but I always sneak in here to train when I can,” Zack admitted to Cloud as he chuckled. “But I haven’t been caught yet. So, are you ready to get started then?”

Cloud laughed, happy to see that Zack truly had not changed from when they were young. Always trying his best, even if he was being a bit sneaky about it. “Yeah! Show me what to do!”

Zack grinned. “All right, let me just turn on the simulation then and we will go,” he said as he walked over to the large machine that was in the corner.

Cloud watched with curious eyes as Zack set up the machine. Soon the room lit up all around them. Another grin spread across his face as he was ready to spend time with Zack once again as well as train with him and prepare to be in SOLDIER.

Zack then walked back over and stood in front of Cloud and raised his sword to him.

Cloud moved forward slightly and then raised his sword in a similar battle stance.

The two boys locked eyes for a brief moment and exchanged a smile before they rushed towards one another, the impending clash of their swords signifying the beginning of their training together.

 

Chapter Text

Zack and Cloud clashed swords as Zack gave the best instructions he could to Cloud. He knew it was Cloud’s first time using a weapon, but he knew Cloud would be able to pull it off. Though surprisingly Cloud was starting to pick up on things much faster than Zack anticipated.

The two repeatedly collided time after time in their training, as Cloud continued to improve slightly every few minutes that passed. Much to Zack’s surprise, he actually began having to try much harder to parry Cloud’s strikes since they became harder with each blow. They then became locked in a struggle for a short time, metal grinding upon metal.

“Wow, you’re actually not bad for your first time using a weapon. I guess I shouldn’t expect any less from my brother,” Zack admitted with a slight huff.

“Yeah… I did say I had been training. Don’t underestimate me,” Cloud remarked towards Zack. Though, in his mind, he actually didn’t think he would be that good. It felt like his body just knew how to fight even if his mind did not. But, he just pushed it to the back of his mind as the two continued their training.

After quite a bit more battling, they each eventually stopped their movements and were breathing heavily, indicating their exhaustion. They both were hunched over and tried to inhale and exhale at a normal pace. Cloud caught his breath finally and stifled a glance at the timer to see how long it had been.

“Over two hours?! Wow, it really didn’t seem like that long to be honest,” he said with a shocked tone in his voice.

Zack looked up at Cloud. “Well...I guess time flies when having fun.” Though, Zack began to wonder if this could really be considered ‘fun’ with how tired he was. But he did have to admit to himself it was rather enjoyable being able to spend time training with his brother again. But now, it was time for the two of them to head back.

“How are we going to get back though? What if someone is outside?” Cloud asked, remembering how Zack said they weren’t really supposed to be there.

“Well, I guess we'll just have to be extra sneaky. Like I said, I’ve never been caught before. I don’t think they’ve wised up to how often I come down here. Here, I’ll go first,” Zack insisted as he leaned up from his bent over position and started walking towards Cloud, who was closer to the exit door.

The two of them stood in front of the door until Zack slowly opened it. He peered out of it and looked back and forth, pleading that there wasn’t anyone around at the moment. Thankfully he didn’t see anyone in sight. So he stepped out from the room and gestured for Cloud to follow.

The two of them slinked back down the hallway that they had originally came. As soon as they got near the elevators, Zack did one last look around before darting for them and pressing the button. Zack tapped his foot impatiently before the doors opened just a few seconds later, and the two boys ran inside and hit the button to go back down to the main floor.

“We made it!” Cloud cheered happily.

“Shh, we’re not out yet. Just a little bit longer though,” Zack replied in a hushed voice.

The elevator hummed softly as it traveled downward slowly towards the main floor. The two of them anxiously awaited the moment when those doors would open to the main area so that they could be free of any issues. Soon enough, the ride stopped and there was a ding, indicating they had reached their destination. Zack thought to himself that even if there was someone there, he could just explain it away that he was showing his brother the place, as nobody would have to know they were on the training room floor. But, that would only be if they somehow were seen.

The doors opened gently and Zack motioned for Cloud to remain behind him as he peered out of the doors, making sure there was nobody around. He glanced to each side, his eyes landing on the receptionist at the front desk that had helped them earlier in the day. She then saw him and raised her hand with a thumbs up, indicating that there was nobody around.

Zack turned back to Cloud. “Okay it looks like we are clear now. See? I told you we would be fine,” he boasted

Cloud issued a sigh of relief. “Yeah it seems like it. That’s good to know. We don’t have to do this every time we wanna train though right?”

Zack walked out of the elevator and motioned for Cloud to follow him as he waved at the woman at the desk as a way of acknowledging her quickly. Cloud quickly followed behind, and as they moved towards the exit of the building, Zack began to talk again.

“Well, to answer your question, it’s harder with two of us, so probably just train on our own most of the time. Once you make SOLDIER though, we can use that whenever we want. Just wanted to give you a taste though,” he replied.

“Oh okay then. Well that’s okay. I guess that means I will have to make sure to do my best so that can happen. It won’t be too long at least,” Cloud replied as the two of them started to walk back to their place.

“Yeah, you’ll be SOLDIER in no time little bro. I know you will do it. All we gotta do is wait till then,” Zack said in response. The two of them walked home the rest of the way and chatted for quite some time about various topics. The day for Cloud to join SOLDIER would soon come.


 

Cloud had never felt so nervous in his entire life. His palms were sticky and sweaty and he could hardly stay still. Though in the next moment they felt cold and they started to tremble. He just couldn’t keep himself in a calm and pose manner.

It was the day of the trials to try out for SOLDIER, and Cloud could not stop his brain from thinking a mile per minute. He was feeling so many things at once he was afraid he wasn’t going to be able to think straight.

He knew he had to try and calm down his mind. He had to not freak out or stress out. This was this chance. His chance to prove that he could do it. That he could make it to SOLDIER. He was going to do it as he knew he had to. He had to keep his side of the promise to Zack so that he could continue to be with him and make him proud.

Cloud closed his eyes as he remembered to take in deep breaths. He slowly inhaled and exhaled as he tried to get his heart rate to slow down. He had to be relaxed about this. He couldn’t let his anxiety get the best of him today. He knew that he had to go in there and prove his worth to everyone. He then remembered Zack’s words to him, about him being strong and capable; then, he started to finally calm down a bit more.

More time passed of waiting, as Cloud wondered how much longer that it had to be. However, his ears soon received that answer as he heard his name called loudly. He hopped up to his feet quickly and prepared himself by immediately doing some warm up squats. It was finally his time now, and he was ready. At least, he hoped that he was ready. Then, he started to walk forward into the testing area where he could finally show how much he had learned.


Cloud stood in front of the officials as they looked over the files and paperwork that they had. Cloud tried to stand still, but could help bouncing back and forth slightly between feet.

All of the officials suddenly turned to look at him. Their eyes serious and cold looking. Cloud tensed up as he waited for them to speak.

“We’re sorry. You did not qualify,” one of them stated.

Cloud froze up. “What?”

“You did not make it into SOLDIER,” another responded.

Cloud felt the blood drain from his face as his mouth hung open. Did he just hear them right? Were they saying what he thought they said? That couldn’t be right… he didn’t understand. “H-How?”

“You are not strong enough for SOLDIER.”

“B-But… But…” Cloud started to say, but he was at a loss for words.

It didn’t make any sense to Cloud.

It didn’t feel right.

Why didn’t he make it? He had thought he had passed everything and done everything right. He had gone through every test and trial and proved that he could do them. But he wasn’t strong enough for SOLDIER? He had tried his hardest and everything else, yet it wasn’t enough?

The world started to blur around Cloud as he staggered back. He started to feel sick as everything weighed down on him. “How could I have not made it. No… I had to have… Why…”

He was about to ask the officials if they had made a mistake, but they still had more to say it seemed. “You were too weak to be in SOLDIER, but we can take you as an Infantryman.”

Cloud shook his head. “No…”

This wasn’t what he wanted.

This wasn’t what he expected.

This wasn’t how he wanted it to go. Without caring to respond to the group Cloud turned around and took off running. He at first had no idea where was going to go as he soon ran out of the Shinra building, but his feet just seemed to be leading him somewhere. He couldn’t see where though as his eyes were blurred heavily with tears.

“It’s not fair…” Cloud thought to himself as he ran.

He soon found himself running back to the apartment. He ran inside, and slammed the door behind him. He didn’t stop running until he reached his room. Once there he lost all strength in his legs and collapsed to the floor.

Cloud let out a loud sob as he crumpled up on the floor, bringing his knees to his chest. “Why!?!” He tried to shout from within his cries, but most of it was just getting stuck in his throat. His hands started to tremble so he wrapped his arms around his legs tighter. He could still feel them shaking though. Soon his entire body felt like it was shaking and he couldn’t ease himself to make it stop.

“Why… couldn’t I make it? It’s not fair… not fair….”

He was a failure. That was the only reason he could think of. He had failed to be strong like he promised. He couldn’t be what everyone wanted him to be and he was just worthless now. Cloud shuddered as these thoughts crawled into his mind.

“What’s… Zack going to think? He’s… He’s going to be disappointed in me. I failed him… I failed my brother.”

Zack… Cloud started to worry now what Zack was going to think. He was of course supposed to have met Zack right after he got his results, but in his freak out, he had forgotten all about that. “Is Zack still waiting for me? Is he wondering where I am… Maybe they told him… they probably told him about what a complete failure I am. He’s just going to come home and not even talk to me. Why should he? I broke our promise… our dream… it’s all gone now. I’ve ruined it. It wouldn’t surprise me now if he ended up hating me…”

Cloud curled up tighter as he cried harder. The tears kept coming more and more, and his heart started to ache terribly. All of his fears and thoughts poured out from the deepest parts of his mind. “I just wanted to prove I could do it… but I just couldn’t… I’m just too weak…I’m just a big failure.”

He was just so unsure what to do now. His entire world came crashing down in that one revelation earlier. Everything that he had worked towards these past few years now meant nothing. Now he would rarely get to see Zack or spend time with him probably, especially if he moved up to 1st Class. “Why...did this have to happen?”

After that, Cloud’s mind blanked as he laid there and sobbed on the floor. He had thought so much that nothing would come to him anymore. He started to feel more heavy as his vision blurred even more, mostly from the tears. The world around him seemed to vanish as he escaped into darkness and closed his eyes as sleep fell upon him.

Chapter Text

Cloud started to stir slightly as he moved his body, though as he turned, he could feel that he was a bit sore. He really did not want to get up though as he felt very tired. His eyes fluttered a few times as he finally managed to open them. His vision was mildly blurred as he tried to raise up from his curled up position. After blinking a few more times, he finally was able to look around to see that he was in his bed. However, he did not remember getting there. As he tried to figure out why he was laying there, it all came back to him.

He remembered curling up on the floor last night after running home. He had cried himself to sleep on the cold, hard floor as well. And it was because he had failed to make it into SOLDIER. 

Cloud shuddered as the thoughts raced in his mind again, and suddenly the reason for his vision being blurry returned as he could feel tears welling in his eyes again. He just sat on the bed hunched over with his head in his hands. He did not have the strength to move himself further after remembering it all. 

Then Cloud suddenly heard another voice, which seemed like it was getting closer to him. “Hey Cloud! You up yet? Probably need to get ready soon.” 

It was Zack. His brother that he had let down because of his own weakness. His voice didn’t sound as upbeat as usual. Did that mean that his brother already knew about what happened and was upset with him? Would he be looked down on because of his failure? Would their relationship be forever changed by this?

All of these were the thoughts that entered into his mind suddenly as footsteps grew closer. Cloud closed his eyes as he did not want to look at his brother. He was too ashamed. Out of the small cracks in his fingers, he saw a shadow come over him. Then he felt a hand land softly on the top of his head.

“Hey, what are you doing just sitting here? You know you fell asleep on the floor last night. I tried to wake you, but you were out, so I just put you back in the bed. Hopefully you’re not too sore this morning,” he said in a positive manner.

Cloud unclasped his hands from his tear-stained eyes and looked up at Zack, who was smiling down at him. Did this mean Zack did not know what had happened? Surely Zack would not be satisfied with what had happened. If he didn’t know, that meant Cloud would have to tell him. He wasn’t ready for it though, as he was nervous and scared of what would happen. But, he would rather have Zack find out from him first before anyone else. 

“Z-Zack...I’m...I’m sorry…,” he trailed off as he sniffled slightly.

Zack’s face contorted into a look of surprise. “What do you mean Cloud? What’s wrong? You’ve been crying? It’s okay, you know you can tell me.”

Those words hit Cloud hard. He knew that his brother always was understanding, but he was worried that this matter would be different. He tried to find the courage to say what he needed to say. He then inhaled sharply.

“I… I failed you. Our dream. Of being SOLDIER… I ruined it.”

“Cloud, what makes you say that? You haven’t done anything wrong. Look, come here,” Zack said as he tried to reach out to Cloud.

“No but I did!” Cloud yelled suddenly. He couldn’t hold it back anymore. “I failed. I tried for SOLDIER and I didn’t make it. I didn’t wanna tell you cause I thought you would be disappointed in me. That you would hate me cause I’m a failure. I just wanted to make you proud. To make myself proud. And now… now, I don’t know what to do…” he admitted as he collapsed into more drivels.

Zack was still standing there with a look of shock on his face for a brief moment. But then, he sat down next to Cloud and quickly embraced his brother in a tight hug. “Hey, calm down buddy. It’s gonna be all right. You have not failed at all. I don’t know why you think that. After all, today is the day of the SOLDIER tests anyways.”

Cloud tried to make sense of what he just heard. “W-what did you just say? The last part…”

“I said that your SOLDIER test is today. That’s why I came to check on you early. I don’t want you to be late,” Zack said again to Cloud.

“I’m so confused. But, I’ve already done the tests. And, I didn’t pass. How can they be again?”

Zack leaned back from Cloud and thought for a moment. He raised his hands and wiped the tears from Cloud’s eyes as he thought about it. Then he figured it out. “I see what happened. You must have had one of those nightmares again huh? It’s been a long time since those have affected you though. But I can assure you that you have not failed or anything like that.”                                                     

“A nightmare? Are… are you sure? But, it happened. I could feel it. It was all so real…” Cloud trailed off, trying his best to keep his composure while still not believing what he was hearing.

“Well, since the trials have not actually happened, then that is all I can assume. I can promise that all that is happening right now is real. The other only felt real.”

Cloud stared for a moment before responding. “I know you wouldn’t lie to me. So I guess it must be the truth. It’s just… hard to believe.”

“Yeah, there you go. Try to see it with reason okay? But, you need to get it together. Otherwise, you’ll miss your tests,” Zack ended sternly, trying to kick Cloud into gear.

“Okay. I don’t want that...then it all would really be real. Everything that would have happened there would be true. I… I don’t want that.”

Zack knew he had to try harder as he gripped Cloud’s shoulders and got close to his face. “Look Cloud. Here’s something you need to know. Even if something happens that you don’t pass, don’t fret. I am not going to be upset. Our parents won’t be upset. Nobody is going to blame you. Cause you’re my brother. I’ll love you no matter what happens.”

Those words made an impact with Cloud as he could hear the sincerity in Zack’s voice. He buried his head in his brother’s shoulder and began to sob again. Not because he was sad, but a feeling of relief washed over him upon hearing all of that. Though, in the back of his mind, something bothered him about how real the dream was. But he pushed those thoughts away for now as he focused on the moment. 

“Thanks Zack. You’re the best.”

“Well of course I am. 

Cloud chuckled softly. “Thank you… for saying all of that. You really won’t be upset if I don’t make SOLDIER though? What about our dreams?”

Zack smiled softly as he ruffled Cloud’s hair. “As long as you are here with me, I’ll be happy. It just makes me happy to know that you are by my side.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. You know how lonely I was these past two years without you to talk to? Seeing you again really brightened things up for me. So regardless of what happened today, I know you’ll at least stay around.”

Cloud wanted to respond again, but he was so overwhelmed from Zack’s kind hearted words that he just didn’t know what else to say. He smiled at his brother softly as he felt more at ease now over the situation. Maybe he had overreacted to the dream. Maybe he had also been overthinking things. But, it was okay now because he now knew that it was not him at fault and Zack was not mad with him.

Zack then suddenly eased himself back up into a standing position and stretched slightly. Then, he motioned his hand to Cloud. “Well, come on. We’ve gotta get you going.”

Cloud looked up and then slowly began his exit from the bed as Zack walked out of the room. Cloud stretched for a good bit to relax his body more and to work out the stress he had built up before getting ready. It didn’t take long and Cloud was ready to go finally as Zack was waiting for him patiently at the door. 

“Hey good you’re ready now. We still got time at least so let’s go,” Zack said casually.

“Right. I hope I’m ready to do this now,” Cloud replied with a halfhearted look on his face.

Zack then slapped the back of his shoulders. “It’s fine. You’ll do okay. Just don’t stress.”

“I’ll try to keep that in mind then. Thanks,” Cloud uttered to him. The two of them then started to make their way to the Shinra headquarters after a long morning. The time would soon come for the tests to begin. For real this time.

And this time, Cloud was going to make sure he would pass. 


 

Cloud gripped Zack’s arm tightly as they entered into Shinra Headquarters. He didn’t speak after they had left, and he still wasn’t sure if he could even say anything. He was far too nervous to even think about speaking. 

“Hey Cloud, you think you could loosen up your grip? I think any tighter and my arm may fall off,” Zack said with a small chuckle. 

“Huh?” Cloud asked as he looked to Zack. He quickly loosened his grip and dropped his hand to his side. “Sorry.” 

“It’s okay, your nervous after all. So I understand, but come on, you gotta get ready,” Zack said as he gave Cloud a playful shove. “You gotta remember to stay focused. These tests and trials are not easy. But I know you will be able to handle them.”

Cloud nodded. He wanted to believe that. He wanted to think he could handle the tests to be in SOLDIER. Not only did he want to think he could, he knew he had to believe that he could. He wasn’t going to let his nightmare bother him, even though it was still lingering vividly in his mind. 

“So all you have to do is head in that direction and show them your paper and the people running this thing will help with the rest,” Zack explained as he pointed in the direction for Cloud to go. “I’ll have to wait back out in the lobby though.”

“I really wish you could be there for me though,” Cloud muttered. 

He then felt Zack’s hand on his head. Before saying a word, Zack started to ruffle up Cloud’s hair. “Well it’s something that you have to do on your own. SOLDIERs will sometimes be sent on missions alone, or without anyone they know. So, you need to be prepared to handle that. Come on, you got this buddy.”

Cloud inhaled deeply before nodding. “All right. I think… I think I got this then.”

“Good. Now, you best get going. I’ll be out here when you come to tell me you’ve made it,” he said with a confident smile. 

Cloud nodded once again before smiling back at his brother. He then turned around and started to head off to the area he was supposed to go. As he walked, he could feel the uneasiness in his stomach increase. He was still afraid. He was afraid that he would screw up and fail. 

Cloud shook his head. “No. I’m not going to fail. I won’t. I’m stronger than I think I am, so I can do this.”

Cloud finally made it to the area where he handed in his sheet. The worker took it and filed some information into a computer before placing the paper on a stack with many other papers identical to his. The worker then wrote his name down on a tag and handed it out to him. 

“Wear this so the officials will know who is who,” they said. 

Cloud nodded as he took the tag and pinned it to his shirt. He turned to his right and walked a little further until he reached the doors that lead into the training room for new recruits. He took in once last deep breath before he stepped inside. 

Once he did he glanced around the room and his head started to ache. He winced his eyes in pain, and it was a familiar pain that he had felt many times before. He tried to gather himself to take a look around since he needed to familiarize himself with his surroundings. Though, when he finally looked, he knew something felt kind of strange.

“I-I know this place. I’ve been here before. I think? Or maybe I just saw...” he trailed off silently to himself. “Was it in my dream?”

He stood there for a moment and questioned himself and the situation he had found himself a part of. After darting his eyes around each side of the room, he knew he had been in that very room at some point before. He assumed it must have been from his dream he had the night before, as everything around him just seemed too familiar. Even the people watching seemed similar in a way as well. 

Was this all just a big coincidence? Or was there some meaning behind all of the recollection he was experiencing? These questions plagued his mind as his head finally started to ease its pain. Cloud shook his head slightly, trying to distance himself from those thoughts he was having. He knew that nothing good would come of thinking in a negatively. And he didn’t have time to ponder the mysteries of his mind either. His test would soon begin. 


 

Cloud started going through the physical tests, passing each one with ease. Though as he went along through it all, he still had those lingering thoughts from before. All of this was eerily familiar. Every step he took, every jump he made. Every word said to him by the trials instructors. 

It was all too familiar for comfort. 

Cloud tried not to let it distract him too much from the tests, as he still needed his full concentration on what he was doing. He kept on going though until he finished the section of trials for one section. After that he was given a small break to relax and prepare himself for the next section of trials and tests. 

As Cloud sat off to the side and watched others go through the trials he had just done, he started to think again on the thing that was bothering him most. Every single part of this was familiar. It was the weirdest déjà vu he had ever had. Yet he couldn’t just pass it off as a mind trick. He had dreamed this the night before and it felt extremely real. And now here he was again, but this time in the waking world.

“What does it mean?... It can’t mean… that my nightmare… is true…” Cloud shuddered at that thought. “No. It can’t be that. I won’t let it become real. I will prove my nightmare wrong!” 

With a brand new surge of confidence Cloud stood back up and walked over to the next area. A fierce determination filled his eyes as he was ready to conquer anything that was thrown at him. He would do better that he did in his dreams. He would show these people what he was truly made of and that he did belong in SOLDIER. He wasn’t going to give up.


 

As Cloud ran through a series of tests he was given, several of the officials watched him carefully. One of them watched Cloud for a few minutes before looking at their files they had on their desk. 

“That blond kid over there really has some talent doesn’t he? What was his name again?” one of them asked as they tried to find the right file among the many. They also started to look on their computer to see if the information had been updated yet. 

“Hmm, let's see,” the other one said as they “Last name Fair… Cloud Fair.”

“Fair? Didn’t we have a recruit by that name before?” 

“Yes, I think it was about two years ago. There was a…” the worker quickly pulled up some information on their computer. “Here we go. Two years ago a Zack Fair from Gongaga tried out for SOLDIER and passed with flying colors. Looks like Cloud is his younger brother.” 

“Well no wonder he is showing such promise. If he is really like his older brother, we will for sure have at least one good recruit.”


 

Cloud continued his struggle in the tests, performing as well as he possibly could with every obstacle that was placed him his way. After some more time had passed, the physical tests were finally finished. He breathed a sigh of relief at being done and proceeded to take a short break again. Soon enough though, he was called over for the other half of the tests. 

The mental testing is what came next. Though, as much as Cloud had been thinking about his dream that he had, he could not recall having experienced this at all. Maybe he just couldn’t remember that part? But, he had recalled every other part of it perfectly. So what would make this part different? As Cloud mulled over the possibilities, he then shuddered as a stray thought entered his mind.

“W-what if this is why I failed in the dream? I remember all the physical tests, but nothing about mental ones. What if my mind isn’t strong enough? Would it all have been for nothing? No...I can’t let that be the case. I’ve gotta make sure I pass.”

He tried to quit thinking about the what-if scenarios and attempted to focus on the task in front of him. However, he was still slightly worried in the back of his mind. Eventually after all of his thinking, they were ready to begin the mental tests on him. He knew he had to focus hard and relax now. He took in a deep breath as they began the arduous process.


 

The testing took quite a bit longer than Cloud had expected it would, and he was relieved when it was finally over. He was tired of staying still for so long and needed to stretch now as he then began to do squats. He noticed that the people who tested him had walked away and appeared to be in deep deliberation at this point. His mind started to ramble through everything that could possibly happen.

However, there were really only two outcomes. He would either make SOLDIER or he would not. After a few minutes had passed, he ceased his exercising and then strode over to a chair and took a seat. As he sat there, his mind was still racing and his body reacted similarly as he began to tap his foot impatiently on the floor. Anxiety was filling every fiber of his being. Sweat began to bead around his brow and his hands were quite wet already. But he knew all he could do now was wait. 

After much waiting, Cloud was finally directed to stand in front of the testers. He made his way over there and stood firmly at attention as he awaited their decision. He could not help but to bounce back and forth on his feet, swaying slightly with each move. 

All of the officials suddenly turned to look at him. Their eyes serious and cold looking. Cloud gulped. Everything that was happening right now seemed eerily familiar. The way they looked at him. Even the way Cloud was swaying felt similar. Cloud tensed up as he waited for them to speak, nervously wondering what would happen. 

Finally, the primary director spoke up. “Well… Welcome to SOLDIER kid.”

Chapter Text

“Well… Welcome to SOLDIER kid.”

Cloud stared as he couldn’t find the words to say or even the thoughts to think. He stood there dumbfounded as he tried to take in what he had just heard. He found himself to slowly be nodding, but he still could not form any words or proper thoughts.

“Now don’t get too excited yet, there still is a lot ahead for you. The next steps for you will be tough. Over the next few months you will start your official SOLDIER training. Part of that includes exposure to raw Mako every few days. This is how SOLDIERs build up their incredible strength and abilities. Tomorrow you will return here for fitting for your outfit, understand?”

Cloud tried his best to snap out of his thoughts. He looked up at the director and quickly nodded. He straightened up as he gave a salute. “Yes sir!”

“Good, then you may leave. I would have you stay to fill out paperwork for an apartment for you to stay at, but according to the files, you have an older brother in SOLDIER already. May I assume that you are going to be staying with him?”

Cloud nodded. “Yeah, is that all right?”

“That is fine, we just need to know so we can add that information to the system. You may leave now. Congratulations on making SOLDIER again.”

Cloud nodded again before he headed out of the training room.. Though once he stepped out there, the thoughts came rushing back to his head again. “I made… I actually made it…”

Cloud laughed as a smile formed on his face. A warm feeling surged inside of him as he picked up pace. He had to go and find Zack! He had to tell Zack! Both of them were in SOLDIER now! Their dream to be together had come true finally!

His mind kept rolling with thoughts as he strolled to the area in which Zack was supposed to be waiting. He wanted to break into a sprint, but he wanted to remain somewhat calm and composed in front of others; moreover, he did not exactly see Zack in that moment, so he knew he would need to look for him.

As Cloud approached the spot where he had last seen his brother, there was nothing currently occupying that space besides thin air. He thought of going to look around to see if he could locate Zack when he felt a slight tap on his shoulder. When he turned around, he saw the familiar face of his older brother, who was wearing a cheeky grin.

Cloud’s face lit up as he started to slowly grin. He then quickly threw his arms around the neck of Zack. “I did it! I was able to make it in! I’m a SOLDIER like you now!” he exclaimed, not allowing any sense of embarrassment hold him back. After all, he was only thirteen-years old. He had a right to be excited.

Zack laughed cheerfully as he wrapped his arms around Cloud and swung him around. Neither of them cared that they were in the lobby as they both laughed happily and loudly. They knew that there were other workers and that they were most likely now turning to look at them. But they still didn’t care. All that mattered in the moment was that they were happy for what had been said.

“See? What did I tell you? I knew you could do it! I’m so proud of you buddy!”

Cloud laughed as he was swung around a couple of more times as he watched Zack laugh along with him. Then, Zack finally stopped and planted him back down on the ground. The moment still seemed surreal as Cloud just stood there for a bit to take it all in.

“This isn’t a dream after all. This is actually happening. I didn’t fail. I am a SOLDIER,” Cloud assured himself as he glanced upward briefly.

Zack reached out and ruffled Cloud’s hair. He chuckled a little. “You’re right about that. We’re finally here together and SOLDIERs. After all these years, it’s finally happened. We gotta celebrate!”

“Celebrate? That sounds really nice. What do you have in mind?” Cloud asked curiously.

“Hmmm,” Zack hummed as he pondered all the different possibilities. “Well obviously we gotta go out and buy a cake. Can’t celebrate without a good cake.”

Cloud beamed. “Oh, you think we can do that? Let’s go right now then!”

“Sure, sure, we can go right now. Come on, I know just the place,” Zack said as he draped his arm around Cloud’s neck as he led his little brother off.

The two of them exited the building and walked down the path from the headquarters until they were in the area to get to other parts of the city. Cloud had no idea where they were going, but he was thankful that he had Zack leading him as his mind was focused on what had just happened.

After a few more minutes of walking, they finally stood in the presence of a storefront. Once they had stopped, Zack let go of Cloud and finally spoke again. “And here we are.”

Cloud averted his eyes to the building in front of them. From the looks of it, one would not guess that it was a store since the architecture was the same as factory buildings. The only thing that Cloud could see on the front of it was ‘Bakery’. Thoughts swirled in his mind about what type of delicacies would be located inside.

“I wonder if the food here will be just as good as what we had in Gongaga,” he thought aloud so that Zack could hear him.

Zack almost stared at him in disbelief. “Are you kidding?! The food here is waaaaaay better. Oh you’ve never had anything like it. In fact, I’ve had to exercise even more than usual because I can’t really stop eating these wonderful sweets,” he admitted as he chuckled slightly.

Cloud started to laugh along with him for a few seconds before settling down. “Well, let’s go then. I’m hungry from all the tests and moving my body.”

Cloud and Zack strode into the shop and then made sure the door closed behind them. Zack walked in front, and as they started closer to the counter, the person tending the place noticed them.

“Oh it’s my favorite customer! How’s it going today Zack? Bring a friend along? Just sit anywhere you like.”

Zack led Cloud over to a small table, one of the few that was in the building, as he tried to converse with the older man.

“Yeah, this is my brother actually. He just made SOLDIER, so I brought him here to celebrate. What do you have for some good cakes today?” Zack replied.

“Oh that’s wonderful news! Just you wait, I’ll go get something special for you then,” the man boasted as he walked towards the back of the store, supposedly to find a cake.

The two boys had some small talk amongst themselves for a few minutes before the slightly round man made his appearance once again. Though this time, he was carrying a cake. Cloud’s eyes widened as it was sat down in front of them. It was a massive cake.

“Wow! This is the best looking cake I’ve ever seen!” Cloud exclaimed as he gawked.

It looked to be at least three layers to the cake, which was way more than Cloud thought he or Zack could manage to eat. It was covered all around in what looked to be chocolate, as it had a rich brown color to it. Around the edge of each layer seemed to be yellow icing, and the top of the cake sported even more of the same. There was also some more yellow color on the top of the cake, and as he looked up, he noticed there was a chocobo designed up there in intricate detail.

“Well, this is a new cake that I was trying. It’s called the Chocobo special. Don’t worry, it doesn’t actually have chocobo in it. But I tried to capture the beauty of one in this cake. As you can see, it’s mostly chocolate, but on the inside there is some coconut flavoring along with a rich, buttery filling in the bread. You’ll be the first to try it so I’m intrigued as to how it is,” the man, who seemed to be the shop owner, said to them.

“Awesome!” Cloud said as he bouncing up and down excitedly.

The owner of the shop then took two small plates and put a thin slice onto each. He grabbed a plastic fork for each plate before handing them to the boys. “Here you guys go. Let me know what you think.”

Zack and Cloud looked at each other with wide, joy filled eyes. Both of they more than excited to try out this new cake. They both scooped up a piece of the cake with a fork and immedilet ate it. Their eyes then lit up seconds later with big grins going across their faces.

“Wow! You’ve really outdone yourself this time!” Zack said before going to eat another bite.

“It’s so good!” Cloud said before humming happy, enjoying the rich taste of the cake.

“Thanks boys. And since you guys enjoy my creation, I’ll let you take home a portion of it,” the owner replied.

“Oh you don’t have to do that,” Zack said.

“Nah, it’s fine. You said your brother made SOLDIER today, so it’s on the house.”

“Well thank you. This cake definitely will not go to waste. I was actually going to buy a couple of more so that we could have some stuff at home,” Zack answered

The man glad Zack up to the counter, and Cloud followed along behind them. Once they were there, Cloud noticed that there was an array of cakes that lined the counter behind the glass. All of them looked so good. Zack picked out a few different flavors of cakes to take a piece of each home with them.

“Those are some good choices there,“ the man responded as he boxed the cakes up for Zack.

The man then told Zack how much it would cost, and Zach pulled out his gil and then paid for it all. “Thanks for all of this!“

Cloud finally started to pay attention again as he looked back up. “Yeah thanks for the awesome cake.”

“Don’t mention it. You boys take it easy. Try not to work too hard,” the shopkeeper sad as he bid them farewell.

The two boys said goodbye to the owner as they left the shop. As they walked back towards the apartments, Cloud kept glancing at the bag Zack was carrying that contained all the sweets. Zack seemed to notice and switched to holding it in his other hand.

“Now don’t get any ideas. This is dessert for tonight. Can’t have you spoiling your appetite,” Zack said as he chuckled.

“Yeah, but it looks so good!” Cloud pouted. “What are we going to have for dinner though?”

“Hmm that’s a good question. It has to be something special at least, to go into the celebration.”

Cloud started to think about what they could eat. There was so many options they could do, but one thought came to Cloud’s mind. “What about baked salmon? Like mom would make us for special occasions.”

“That sounds like a great idea! Only… I don’t know how to cook it. I never really took the time to learn from mom,” Zack replied sheepishly as he rubbed his neck.

“Oh… well, I know I helped mom a few times. But I’m not sure if I could fix it either,” Cloud answered with a sigh, and he went into thought about what they could eat. Then a different thought came to mind on what foods would be good for celebration. “What about something like pizza?”

“Yes!” Zack shouted cheerfully. “That’s another great idea. And I know the perfect place to go! There is an amazing pizza joint around here. They have this crazy deep dish, stuffed crust thing and it’s so good!”

“Okay then! Well lead the way,” Cloud insisted to Zack so that his raven-haired brother would guide them.

The two of them began their trek to somewhere to grab some dinner now. They bounced happily as they walked. On the way, Zack remembered something the shopkeeper had said. It was something he was going to mention to Cloud but had forgotten until just then.

“Hey Cloud. Since you did make SOLDIER, I thought it was only right to get you something. You know, to commemorate the moment. I just… don’t really know what to get if I’m being honest. What do you think?” he asked curiously, wondering what Cloud would actually say.

Cloud started to hum as he thought it over. He tried to think of things that would be cool to have. Something he would want. There was a lot of small little things he thought of, but he wanted something to make an impact. Something that he could get that would be a symbol of him making it to SOLDIER.

After a bit more deliberation, Cloud stopped where he was, which caused Zack to stop as well.

“Well… there is one idea. I’ve thought about this before, but never brought it up. I thought it could be cool to get a piercing. Like, an earring of sorts.”

“Really?” Zack asked, clearly surprised. “I didn’t think you would be into that stuff.”

“Well nothing big or crazy. Just something small, but cool looking,” Cloud replied back. He didn’t know why exactly, but the sound of having an earring just seemed… right… or something. It was another one of those feelings he had that he didn’t know how to explain. But he didn’t bother to bring that up as he felt it didn’t matter.

“Well, if that’s what my brother wants, then that’s what we’ll do. Maybe we can find something around here for that. We can do it right now. Sound good?” Zack wondered.

“Thanks Zack,” Cloud said as he smiled.


It was later in the evening now and the two of them were sitting back in the apartment. About half an hour ago Zack ordered a pizza from the place he had talked about, and now they were just waiting for it to arrive.

Cloud gently ran his fingers over his left ear. It was still a bit red and sore, but Cloud could now feel the earring that was in the lobe. It was a small little round silver sphere. There had been so many choices to choose from, but Cloud wasn’t sure what would be best, so he went with simple.

“Does it really look cool?” he asked as he tilted his head to the side for Zack to look at it again.

Zack stared at him and then leaned closer to look at the earring. “Yeah, I like it at least. It kinda suits your look too,” Zack said to him as he silently thought that maybe he should get one at some point as well.

“Thanks. And double thanks for buying it for me.”

“You’re welcome again buddy. You deserve it,” Zack said as he smiled at his little brother. “Now, if only that pizza would hurry up and get here. I’m hungry for some real food.”

There was a knock on the door suddenly and Zack jumped up to open it. After paying the man at the door, Zack brought in the pizza box and placed it on the table. The pizza they had ordered was a large deep dish style with cheesy stuffed crust, and it was topped with even more cheese.

Cloud gawked at the size of the pizza. “Wow, when you said it was a real deep dish pizza, you weren’t kidding.”

“Oh yeah! Now it looks good of course, but it tastes amazing! Now come on let’s dig in!” Zack said as he started cutting slices for them.


They were now finishing up the delicious pizza as they were each taking their last bite, licking their fingers slowly as they did so. Once they had done that Zack brought out a few of the deserts to the table. After Cloud carefully examined each sweet he finally chose the one he wanted to eat for the night and bite right into it. He sighed happily as the chocolate was rich and thick.

Shortly after eating it Cloud leaned back in his chair. He felt he was just as stuffed as the crust from the pizza, and just like the crust, he felt he would pop at any moment if he were poked. Zack on the other hand, was sitting there normally, showing no signs of wavering after eating so much.

“Just, how do you eat so much Zack,” Cloud asked as he then burped loudly, which relieved some of the pressure that he was feeling.

Zack just grinned. “Well, I told you I started doing extra training right? After eating like this for a while, you get used to it. You’ll just have to work harder to work it off,” the older brother chuckled.

Cloud didn’t say anything more as he just wanted to relax for a moment. As he did that, Zack got up and walked to the counter to place the dishes next to the sink . After that was done, Zack had returned and sat back down in his seat. Cloud on the other hand though stood up and walked up to the couch and laid down.

Zack threw a quick glance to Cloud, and saw that he was holding his stomach. “Well, seems that we’ll be doing some extra work tomorrow. Gotta work all of that off,” he said with a small laugh.

“Yeah, okay. Not now though,” Cloud uttered with an exasperated tone.

“True true, we can just relax for now. But first thing in the morning we are going to exercise like crazy!”

“Hmmhmm…” Cloud hummed in response as he closed his eyes, ready to just rest.

Zack started to groan slightly as well as he began to stretch. The light from the window was starting to dissipate, indicating that the sun was setting on the day. He finally got up and started to walk towards the back of the apartment.

“Hey Cloud. Maybe we should get in bed. We are waking up early after all tomorrow. I’m going that way at least. You should as well,” Zack said gently as he then started to yawn and stood at his door.

Cloud raised up from laying on the couch, slowly as he was still reeling from all of the food he had eaten. “Yeah, I hear you. That sounds like a good idea. It’s been quite a day after all.”

After thinking back on the day, it was surely a rollercoaster of emotions throughout. The best part though was that he had made SOLDIER. He still could not believe it, but it had just happened, so it was still new and fresh on his mind. He smiled slightly as he thought of that and he walked towards his room now. The two brothers then bid each other a good night as their doors closed behind them.

Chapter Text

After the first few days, Cloud had been subjected to various tests in order to infuse his body with mako. This procedure was meant to strengthen both the body and the mind. Cloud had been slightly worried about it at first of how it would affect him. Something about it made him feel a little nervous. But Zack was able to reassure him that things would be okay.

The first few times were the hardest ones, as Cloud was not used to having anything done to his body like that. There were a couple of times where he thought he might lose his mind; however, he endured. The process went on each day for about two weeks, and each day Cloud felt himself becoming much stronger than he already had been.

Before he even knew it, two months had passed since he had joined SOLDIER and endured those tests. It was so strange to think that so much had happened so quickly. It seemed as though it had happened in no time at all. But now at least, things were going smoothly for the blond-haired teen, as well as for his raven-haired brother. They had both fallen into a routine of training together at the start of each week.

Cloud was slowly improving himself over each mission he had done and through each training session. He constantly thought about the progress he had made since becoming a SOLDIER, and he was mostly happy for it. The work was hard for sure, but it is what he signed up for so he had no complaints. After all, he was able to be there with his brother, so he was no longer alone. Even though they were not sent on every mission together, they still had plenty of moments to hangout and have fun.

Zack was just as happy, for he had his brother there with him now. He was relieved that he was no longer by himself and was glad to have a suitable training partner. There was some other good SOLDIERS, but none of them were quite like his brother. However, thoughts entered his mind occasionally of just how skilled Cloud had become, and he wondered just how long it would be before Cloud would catch up to him. There was even the occasional thought that Cloud might even surpass him one day.

At the end of the day, Zack and Cloud had finished their training that they did each week. The two of them breathed heavily as they picked up their water bottles and headed out of the training room. Zack ran a hand through his hair as he slowly stretched his sore muscles.

“Another good workout today, right Cloud?”

“Yeah, it was great. I think I’m getting the hang of having this extra strength,” Cloud boasted as he ruffled his hair to shake the sweat out.

“Like I said, you get used to it rather quickly. I think you even picked it up faster than me when I first started,” Zack chuckled cheerfully.

“Really? Well, I did tell you that I would train hard to catch up to you. Now who’s the one that needs to keep up?” Cloud joked as he started to chuckle.

“Heh heh, I’m trying my best here, but I guess you’re right. You are probably getting stronger than me. But…” Zack paused for a moment as he smiled. He looked to Cloud and chuckled, but did not say a word more.

Cloud cocked his head at Zack. “But what? Come on, what were you gonna say? Don’t just laugh. I wanna know now.”

“Oh of course you wanna know. But it’s a secret,” Zack said as he stopped walking and leaned in close to Cloud. “I’ve heard some of the higher ups talking. I think I may be promoted to 2nd Class soon.”

Cloud’s eyes widened. “Whaaaaat?! Zack that is amazing news! That is so great that you might be able to get to jump up like that!” he yelled excitedly.

“Shhh,” Zack hushed him while trying not to laugh. “Not so loud. Like I said, I just heard them talking. Not sure when it will happen yet, if it even is going to happen.”

“Sorry, sorry, I was just so excited to hear it,” Cloud said with a more whispered tone. “Still, I hope that it happens. I guess that means I still have my work cut out for me.”

“You betcha! If you wanna keep up, you’ll really need to impress the higher ups, like I have,” Zack replied as he smiled. He really hoped that he would be promoted soon to 2nd Class. He had been working towards moving up for over two years.

“Well that sounds like a challenge to me. I guess I’ll have to prove I can do it and become 2nd faster than you did,” Cloud remarked as he slyly grinned at his brother.

“Oh yeah? Let’s see you try,” Zack replied before ruffling Cloud’s hair.

“I bet I can do it! After all I think they were really impressive with me when I tried out for SOLDIER.”

“That’s because you’re my younger brother, of course they would be impressive. The Fair brothers are always working to be the best,” Zack chuckled, a joyous look spread across his face.

“Yeah! We can do it, I know we can,” Cloud said as the two of them finally began to walk again.

“I still gotta say though, I really am impressed with how much you have improved. It’s good though as you are the best person to train with,” Zack said as they entered into the elevator to head down.

Cloud nodded, though he started to think of other things. Thoughts about Zack being promoted started to be more clear to him now. “But Zack… if you are promoted to 2nd Class before me, won’t that mean that we won’t get to see each other as much?”

“It’s possible,” Zack said as he pondered the thought as well. He never had given it a lot of thought yet. “3rd and 2nd Class though still do a lot of the smaller jobs for Shinra though, so there is still a good chance we will go on missions together. You know that there have been a few 2nd Class that have joined our missions from time to time.”

“Yeah… but that means there is still a chance we won’t get to see each other as much,” Cloud whispered softly.

“Hey, you said you were going to catch up to me, so what’s with his downer attitude? Even if we don’t get to see each other much during the day, we still see each other at home.”

Cloud stared down at the floor of the elevator. He took in each piece of information and thought it over carefully. Finally though he sighed with relief and looked up to Zack. “You’re right. I guess I was just worrying a little too much. I’ll still make sure to get to 2nd Class right after you though!”

“Ha ha! I can’t wait to see that then!” Zack laughed in return.

The two boys soon headed out of the elevator as it reached the main floor. They exited out of the Shinra Headquarters and went back to their apartment to shower and relax after a hard day of training.


A couple of months later Cloud woke up in his bed and let out a long yawn. Even though he had gotten used to waking up early in the morning, he still always felt tired for the first ten minutes or so. He rubbed his eyes quite a bit as he was now sitting up.

As he began to close his eyes briefly, he heard another pair of footsteps coming closer to where he was. Soon, the noise stopped as the person that Cloud assumed the footsteps belonged to spoke up.

“Hey, good that you’re up now at least. I was about to come in here and wake you, ya sleepyhead,” Zack said with a slight chuckle in his voice.

Cloud then tried to look up at where the voice had emanated from to find his brother. After blinking a bit more sleepiness from his eyes, he was finally able to gaze upon Zack. Or, so he thought. Was it really Zack he was looking at? It was his brother’s face, but something was different now.

“Umm, Zack?”

He sported the usual Shinra SOLDIER outfit just like he had always been wearing. At least, in the basic design of it. However, the uniform he had on now was a dark, magenta-like color, which was just like some of the higher class SOLDIERs would wear. Of course, there was no helmet since Zack abhorred wearing those. Cloud’s mind was slowly trying to process what he was seeing as his eyes then widened as he realized what it was.

“Yeah, what is it little brother? Is something maybe, different? The look on your face tells me you might have figured it out,” Zack teased.

Cloud quickly hopped up from his bed and walked around to where Zack was standing. “You, you actually finally got it done! But, when did it happen?”

“Well you were already asleep last night, but I got a call late saying that they wanted me in real early this morning. That it was time to officially promote me. So, here I am.”

“That’s amazing! But...why didn’t you tell me? I would have liked to come with you,” Cloud trailed off with a hurt tone in his voice, conflicting with his excitement over his brother’s good news.

“Hey now, don’t look all sullen. I didn’t wanna wake you cause you were sleeping like a log. So I figured I’d surprise you when you did get up at least.”

After thinking about things for a moment, Cloud was okay with what he had heard as a smile crossed his face. “It’s okay. It is for sure a surprise though. It’s so awesome you’re a 2nd now though!” He then reached his arms out and wrapped his brother in a hug.

Zack returned the gesture as he placed his arms around Cloud’s back and embraced him. The two stood there in silence for a moment until Cloud broke it. “So, what are we gonna do about it then?”

Zack pulled back from the hug and looked at Cloud as he cocked his head. “What do you mean?”

“Well, when I made SOLDIER a while back, we celebrated and you treated me to all sorts of things. Now that you promoted, we should do that again. But this time, I’ll treat you.”

“Oh you mean that! You don’t have to do that of course. But… it’s not like I can really turn my little bro down. Sure, we can do that then.”

“All right!”

“But not right now. Remember...we have work very soon. And you’re still not ready,” Zack reminded Cloud as he pointed at his person.

Cloud looked down. “Oh, yeah that’s right. Well we have to do it this evening then. How does that sound?”

“Hmmm… you’re on!” Zack replied with excitement. “But I’ll let you get ready then for now. I’ll be waiting at the door for you.”

“Okay that’s fine. I’ll be there shortly,” Cloud replied as his brother walked out of the room and closed the door behind him.

Cloud proceeded to get himself dressed and ready as quickly as he could, since he knew that he was probably running behind now. He didn’t want to make Zack late on his first day of promotion. After a few minutes, Cloud exited his room and approached Zack as the two of them left to head to the Shinra building.

The day went on as normal after that, aside from Zack now being in 2nd Class. It was a bit odd at first as Zack now had a different area to go to when checking it, but Cloud knew it wouldn’t be long before he would make it to 2nd class. That was his hope anyways. But what Cloud wanted to do most was to have the work day be over. He wanted to get out and have fun for the night. It had been a long while now since they had gone out just to have fun, and they actually had a good reason to do so now.

He still thought over what he wanted to do for Zack. There were so many places they could go to or things they could do. Midgar was full of all kinds of possibilities, so he used a good portion of the day trying to think of some nice idea for his brother.

The day drudged on slowly though, but soon enough, it was finally over. At least, for Cloud it was. He had gone to wait by the door for his brother where they said they would meet after things were over, but Zack was not there yet.

“Hmm… I wonder where he could be. Don’t tell me he ended up having to do extra work,” Cloud sighed as he thought of the potential setback.

Time seemed to move even more slowly now than before while Cloud was waiting yet again. After standing for quite some time, he decided to take a seat on the floor. He closed his eyes and bowed his head in order to relax himself for a time.

After what felt like an hour already, Cloud opened his eyes and glanced up towards the clock to see if he was correct. But, he was not. “What? Thirty minutes? Awwww man. Time is so slow right now… Maybe I should just head back to the apartment for now instead.”

Just as Cloud was raising himself up, he heard a loud ding that was then followed by a mixture of voices from the right side of the receptionist desk. He darted his eyes over and then saw in the midst of several other SOLDIERs that Zack was there. He was talking to some of the other members until his eyes settled on Cloud as he started to make his way towards his brother.

“Hey spike. Sorry I kept you waiting for a little while. New position means me having more duties and having to learn a bit more. Since it was my first day, we kinda had to go through a lot.”

“Oh I see. Well, it’s okay. You’re here now at least. The day was just so slow for me though. I’m sure you ended up doing some exciting things then?” Cloud inquired.

“Yeah there was some interesting things that happened. Here, let’s start heading out and I’ll tell you about it on the way,” he agreed as they started to head out of the doors. “We are still going out right?”

“Of course! I told you that I would treat you and I meant it. Besides, I’ve had all day to think of things to do for you and I think I finally got it,” Cloud responded quickly with an elated voice.

“Oh good. Well, I guess we both have things to talk about on the way then. Let’s see where we are gonna go first,” Zack said as the two walked towards the city.

The two of them started to walk around the city while telling each other about their day. Cloud’s was mostly the same, though that day just happened to be slower than usual. But for Zack, he had a whole new set of stories to tell. With now being in 2nd Class, he had a whole new agenda for most days, and it excited Cloud to hear about all of it. It made him more and more ready to catch up to Zack as soon as he could.

Once they were done with their chatting, they finally stopped to figure out what to have for dinner. It took a bit of debate, but eventually the two of them decided on dinner for that evening. Unlike the last time where they had pizza, they thought to do something different this time.

“You know in all my time here, I’ve never been to this place for some reason,” Zack admitted as he and Cloud walked to their destination.

“That’s crazy. This place has the best steaks in the world. I was gonna tell you about it before, but I kept forgetting. I went here one day when you were having to stay over for a while cause I got hungry. Just remember… my treat,” Cloud smiled at his brother.

The two of them entered the restaurant and sat at a table. Shortly after, they took their orders and waited for their food to come. The continued their conversations from before once the waiter had went off to send the orders to the kitchen. There was still so much Zack could tell about 2nd Class, and his excitement for it. Cloud could really see how much this all meant for Zack. Stepping closer and closer to the dream they had made as children. It was nice to see Zack so happy about something.


After they finished their food they left the restaurant and stretched. The food had been delicious and filling, and they had finished it all. Now the only thing that was left on Cloud’s mind was one thing; getting a gift for Zack for his accomplishment. Though, he still thought it would be best to ask Zack about it first.

“So Zack, I have an idea for your gift, but I wanna make sure you’re okay with it,” Cloud said as they started to walk.

“Oh really? I could say don’t worry about it, but I know you won’t give up,” Zack chuckled. “So, what’s on your mind then?”

“Hmm… I was thinking… Just for the fun of it… if you wanted to get an earring. Like mine,” Cloud said as he pointed to his earring. “So we can be matching that way. Something like that.”

Zack raised his finger to his chin to think it over. “You know, that’s not a bad idea actually. To be honest with you, after seeing you with yours, I kinda wanted one too. It looked cool. It’ll be a good way for us to be connected too,” Zack replied with an agreeing grin.

Cloud smiled back in return, happy that Zack was good with his idea. He pumped his fists into the air as he let out a small laugh. “Okay! Let’s go then! And remember I am buying it for you! For your reward of making it to 2nd Class!”

“Okay okay, I’ve got it. I’ll let you get it then. You’re just as hard-headed as I am. Well, you remember where it is right? If so then lead the way,” Zack replied to his excited brother.

“Of course I remember! Come on, let’s go!” Cloud shouted with enthusiasm as he grabbed onto Zack’s hand and pulled him along. Zack laughed as the two of them heading down the streets of Midgar.

Chapter Text

Zack and Cloud were on their way to the Shinra headquarters and walking side by side. There were some jokes made, but then the former started to grab at his ear again as he had been recently. “Normally things like this don’t bother me, but this just feels… different.”

“Well I think it looks nice on you. Besides, you’re the one who wanted one too,” Cloud reminded his older brother as he looked at the silver, square-like adornment on Zack’s ear. 

“Yeah, I know I know. I just didn’t think there would be this much irritation. It’s been weeks now. I thought it would have stopped,” Zack replied. 

“Well, just give it a bit longer. Mine took over a week before I was finally used to it, remember?”

Zack tilted his head up in the air while making a slight humming sound as the two continued to walk. “I suppose that is true. It just seems like it’s been longer than that. Still though, I appreciate the gift. It means a lot to me.”

“Of course! You’re welcome Zack. It was about time I was able to do something nice for you. And now we match,” Cloud heartily said as he pointed to his ear, which sported the same piece as Zack now had. 

After a little bit more walking and talking, the two of them reached the Shinra headquarters and entered. Upon entering, Zack and Cloud surveyed everything as they proceeded to the elevator. In a few seconds, they had reached the SOLDIER floor and exited from the elevator. 

After exiting the elevator and turning down the hallway, Zack and Cloud were heading over to the training room. There seemed to still be some time before work would start since they had arrived early. But, on their way over there, a voice called out to them, stopping them from continuing. 

“Hey Zack!”

Both Cloud and Zack turned around to see another 2nd Class SOLDIER walking towards them, giving a wave. Zack smiled as he waved back. 

“Kunsel!” Zack replied back, obviously recognizing the man by his voice, as he wore the SOLDIER helmet. 

Cloud looked back and forth between the two. He wasn’t sure what to make of the other SOLDIER. He had never seen him before, nor had he heard of Zack talk about someone by that name, so he kept quiet and watched as a conversation started up. 

“It’s good I ran into you Zack!” Kunsel exclaimed. “The Director has been waiting for you.”

“Oh really? What does the Director want with me?” Zack inquired.

“No idea, all I know is that it is probably something good,” Kunsel replied. “So come on, let’s head over there. I need to check in with the Director anyways.”

Zack stared for a second at the man. “Well, all right. I guess I need to go and do that.” He then turned to Cloud directly after. “Looks like I’ve got some business to attend to. We’ll have to do training another time. You can find something to do for a bit right?”

“But…” Cloud started, not liking the idea of having to go all by himself. So far ever since he joined SOLDIER, he would always train in the morning with Zack on this day. “Can’t I go with you?” 

“Sorry Cloud,” Zack replied. “This is just some business for me. I’ll catch you later though, all right?” 

Cloud wanted to protest some more, but saw the serious look on Zack’s face. He didn’t want to argue with Zack, not one bit. So he sighed quietly and nodded. “Okay…”

“Hey don’t look so down, you know you’ll see me later,” Zack said as he ruffled Cloud’s hair. 

Cloud smiled back, but he didn’t feel the energy in his smile at the moment. “I know.”

“Come on then Zack,” Kunsel said before he started to walk. 

“Yeah, let’s go.” Zack followed in suit though he turned around and waved back to Cloud. 

Cloud watched as his brother walked off with some other person, who it seemed was a friend of Zack’s. Cloud let out another sigh as he watched them until they turned down the hallway, where he could no longer see them. They were going back towards the elevator area, so Cloud figured that he should stay where he was.

“What should I do now,” Cloud thought aloud to himself. 

He knew that he couldn’t go to the training room right now without Zack, unless he wanted to chance getting caught. Access to the SOLDIER floor was for any of their members, but the training room was reserved for 2nd Class and higher. He and Zack had done that several times before when they were both only 3rds, but after thinking it over for a moment, he decided that he didn’t want to take the risk. 

Having no idea what to do at the moment, Cloud walked back from the training room area and took a seat in the sitting area. He thought that he would just wait on his brother to get back from where he was though was unsure how long that Zack would be gone. For the time, Cloud closed his eyes and tried to relax and just wait, either for work to begin or for Zack to return. 

Cloud did not have to wait long though as he heard footsteps nearing the room. He looked up and saw that another 2nd Class SOLDIER had rushed in to where he was. “Cloud Fair?” the SOLDIER asked. 

Cloud looked up and nodded. “Yeah?” 

“You are needed for a mission today. Report to the front hall to go and receive it,” the SOLDIER replied before running off elsewhere, most likely to find other SOLDIERS that needed to hear the message. 

Cloud sighed a little as he stood up and started to walk. He really would have rather waited for Zack to come back, but he saw that it was not going to be the case. It was still hard adjusting to not going on as many missions with Zack, but he knew he had to push through it. Even if it did leave him feeling a bit lonely, he had to keep going. 


The mission had not been terribly hard, but it did drag on throughout the day. Cloud just wanted it to be over after a while. Eventually it did get to be the point where the mission was over and he could finally head back to Shinra and check in. Once he was back, he took off to the elevator and pulled something out of his pocket. Though most floors after the 59th were off limits to most employees, all SOLDIERS had a keycard to take them to the 64th floor. While the SOLDIER training room was on the 49th floor, a work out gym was on the other.

Some of the days after his missions with Zack, they would go to that floor instead of sneaking into the training room. They had to stay in shape somehow and not get caught and this was the way they were supposed to do it. 

As the elevator rode up the floors, Cloud started to wonder if Zack would be up there. Or if he was actually on the 49th floor, training in the training rooms. Zack could use them whenever he wanted now and not have to fear about getting caught. It almost made Cloud feel a little jealous, but he resolved quickly and reminded himself that he was going to get to 2nd Class. He knew though for the time being that Zack could very well just bring him to the training room now, because he had the access, but that meant he had to find him. Cloud wasn’t sure if he wanted to go looking all over to Zack at the moment. If Zack was still doing that important business, then he didn’t want to bother him. 

With a small sigh he exited out of the elevator and headed to the gym section of the floor. There was already some other SOLDIERS training there, but he didn’t really pay any attention to them. He walked over to the bench press and set the weights that he needed for his work out. Just as he was about to start his workout he heard a voice come from nearby. 

“Hey, you are the younger Fair brother right?” 

Cloud looked up to see a 2nd Class SOLDIER over at the next bench press. Their helmet was off, so Cloud could see that it was a guy only a couple of years older than him, He had medium colored skin and short messy brown hair with as dark brown eyes. 

Cloud sat up and nodded. “Yeah, what about it?”

“Just was wondering, I’ve gone on a few missions with your brother before. Zack’s a cool guy,” the SOLDIER replied. “He always seems to be full of energy.” 

Cloud couldn’t help but laugh as he thought about it. “That’s Zack for you.” Though he did smile at thinking about how positive Zack always was on missions, he still hadn’t seen him all day. 

“It must be nice, having an older brother at the same job as you,” the SOLDIER continued. 

“Yeah, it is nice.,” Cloud replied back with a sigh in his voice. He only really talked to others when they were working on missions and needed to communicate with one another. Seldom did he ever just strike up a conversation with someone else. 

“Man, I wish that my older brother could work with me here, that would probably be so cool. But nah, he didn’t wanna be in SOLDIER. Still is proud of me though,” the SOLDIER continued as he flashed a friendly smile.. “I’m Marcus by the way.”

Cloud looked at Marcus for a brief second. He wasn’t sure about other people usually, but this guy seemed to be okay. “Nice to meet you then.”

“Same to you. Cloud, right?” Marcus asked. 

“Yeah, that’s right. Sorry, I’m… not used to, uh, being around others,” he admitted shyly.

“That’s okay. I understand, you’re still young. I was pretty quiet and on my own for my first few years here, but you’ll adjust.”

“Yeah, maybe so. Uh, thanks for the encouragement there,” Cloud said as he looked away.

“Well it’s nice to meet you Cloud, I just finished up my workout a little bit ago though. So I’ll catch you later,” Marcus said as he took up and picked up his helmet which was to the side of the machine. He waved before he headed off towards the showers area. 

Cloud waved in return as a sign of being polite as the man vanished after walking a short way away. He was finally to himself again. Nervousness had crept through him during that situation, and even though he knew he was supposed to try to make friends, he still was not sure about it. He never wanted to truly be alone, but he felt more at ease when he was by himself usually.

Finally, he could do what he had been planning since coming there. He laid back on the bench and stretched out his arms a few times. Then he reached up and gripped the handle of the weights firmly before lifting them up with his arms as he began his workout to clear his mind.


After working up quite a sweat, Cloud finished up with his workout. Two hours had passed once he was able to look at the time, though he was only planning to be there for one. However, time had escaped him as he was able to focus on doing just those exercises and nothing else. Now that he was finished, he then stood up, collected his belongings, and headed towards the shower area to freshen up. 

After taking a long shower, he cleaned up and then headed towards the elevator and got in. He decided to make a brief stop at floor 49 just to see if Zack might be there. When the elevator dinged, he departed from it and started to look around, but he did not see anything at first. 

He decided to walk a bit around to floor, closer to the training rooms to see if maybe Zack was there. As he got closer, he did see that the training room was active. Out of curiosity, and hoping it was Zack, he moved closer to try to get a better look. He could tell that there was at least two people in the room, fighting against one another.

Cloud waited around the corner and then saw that the training room lights suddenly went down. Whoever it was must have finally finished. He didn’t know if it was someone he knew or not, so he stayed back to survey for the moment. After a little while, the door opened to the room and he saw Zack walk out of it, and he looked exhausted. He went to step out from behind his cover to go forward, but then he saw someone else come out from the room. 

It was another man, but it was not the same one that he had met earlier in the day. This man was quite tall as he stood a good few inches above Zack, who was already a taller person himself. He had the same raven-like black hair that extended down to just above his broad shoulders. His outfit was similar to how all SOLDIER uniforms were, but the only difference was that his was solid black. He realized that it was a 1st class, as only they were allowed to wear those colors. Cloud started to wonder why Zack was with a 1st Class SOLDIER, but it quickly passed as his eyes landed on something more impressive. 

The massive sword on the tall man’s back looked intimidating… and for some reason, familiar.

He stared at it for a long time in awe, admiring the craftsmanship from a distance. Though as he did that, he felt something running down his cheek. He reached his hand up and felt wetness. Was he crying?  Suddenly, there was pain. Cloud’s head started to hurt slightly, just as had happened a few times before. 

“Ahhh,” he groaned in response, then tried to quiet down since he did not want to be found. 

He eased his way backwards back down the hallway so that he would not be seen, and he hoped that he was not heard. He clung to the wall with one hand to push himself along as the other hand was gripped against the side of his head. Why was his head throbbing again?

Eventually he was able to make his way to the elevator and pressed to go to the ground floor. He thought he might could just rest there for the time being as he was not risking walking home in his current condition.

After getting to the main floor, he glanced around quickly through his blurry eyes to see if anyone was around. There were no signs of a presence in the area, so he hobbled over towards the nearest wall and slumped down against it. He crossed his legs and buried his head in his hands and pressed hard, hoping that an opposite pressure would relieve his pain. 

“Why did this happen after I looked at the sword? It’s a really nice weapon, but there was something about it...almost like I’ve seen it before. But that doesn’t make sense, I know I haven’t. Just the look of it, the shine of it… felt so close. Yet it was so far away too…”

Another searing pulse of pain pierced through his thoughts. The only thing on his mind then was relieving his stress. He closed his eyes and started to breathe in slowly, doing whatever he could to calm himself down. Though the lingering image of the massive sword would not leave his head. The more he thought on it thought, the more the pain increased in his head. And soon he could feel the slightly aching in his heart. 

“I don’t understand… Why am I like this? Why do I have these pains when I hear or see certain things…”  Cloud thought to himself as he thought back to all the other times something like this had happened. 

He continued to breathe though. He tried to bring forth calm and relaxing thoughts to better help himself. Whatever was happening would pass. Just like all the other times, he knew he would be over it eventually… or he at least hoped so.

Soon enough, the feeling passed just as he figured it would. It was exactly like all the other times… which still only confused him. He started to wonder if he would ever understand why he had moments like that. It was something so strange, but he never knew how to explain it. Did it really mean anything, or was it just something weird about him? Cloud let out a sigh as he tried to keep calm about the situation. There was no need to try to over worry himself anymore. 

With the pain gone, he stood back up to see how he felt. He waited a moment and sighed with relief that he was all right now. Though he still had to wait for Zack… Zack… training with that 1st Class SOLDIER. Cloud frowned slightly as he tried to make sense of it. 

“Why would he be training with a 1st Class? I don’t know… and now I don’t know how long it will be until he is back. Might as well just go home for now…” Cloud thought to himself as he exited the building. 

He walked quietly all the way back to the apartment, all while trying not to let downer thoughts cloud his mind. He knew Zack probably had some reason to be in the training rooms with a 1st Class. There always had to be some logical reason… but it still left Cloud feeling a bit sad. With another sigh, Cloud finally made it back into the apartment and immediately went straight to his room, took off his SOLDIER armor and flopped onto the bed.

Chapter Text

Cloud laid there for quite some time after having been able to calm down more. Though he had been relaxing and feeling better than before, there was still the faintest pain still in his head. He wished he could have fallen asleep, but his mind was still racing as well. The day had been a long one with many mixed feelings intertwined, so Cloud thought he would try to just sleep it all off. He closed his eyes and rolled over.

Not very long passed until he heard a door squeak open and then slam shut. It was the apartment door.

“Yo Cloud! Oh man I have some stuff to tell you! I hope you’re not asleep yet,” Zack yelled with excitement oozing from his voice.

Cloud thought about moving, but he still didn’t have the energy to get up. He stayed on the bed as he let out a sigh, figuring Zack would come into his room anyways. And just as he thought he could hear the footsteps grow closer and Zack appeared, standing right in the doorway.

“Ah! So you are half asleep. Heh, did today’s mission really tired you out that much?”

Cloud let out another sigh as he shook his head slowly. “No…. it isn’t that. Wasn’t too tired… just… something happened. After I worked out in the gym…” he trailed off with the last bit, trying to find the right words.

He knew Zack had been there for him before when he had moments like these, but he had thought he was over them. But then it started to come back to him once he came to Midgar and prepared to join SOLDIER. It was only two times now, but it still bothered him slightly. He didn’t want to seem like a child for having such moments, but he knew Zack would listen. He would listen as well as do what he could to help Cloud feel better.

Zack walked over to the bed and sat down on the edge of it. “Huh, what do you mean Cloud? What happened today? You know you can tell me,” Zack said softly. He wanted to tell Cloud all about the day’s events that had happened to him, but he sensed that there was something more important going on with Cloud. So he pushed his thoughts to the back of his mind for the time.

Cloud sat back up and breathed in a couple of times until he felt that his head was clear enough to speak. “I had another one of those headaches… you know the ones where I think I remember something… but it just hurts my head?”

“Why didn’t you come and try to find me Cloud? Instead of dealing with it on your own. Are you okay right now? What made you have the pains again?” Zack paused before continuing. “Eh, sorry, not trying to overload you with questions. I guess it worries me those things are happening again.”

Cloud wanted to tell Zack that he had saw him training with that 1st class, but he didn’t want to sound like he was spying. Though he didn’t want to lie, he just felt it was better than explaining the rest of it. “I didn’t know where you were… so I just headed home. I’m fine now… the pain is gone. I…” He hesitated for a moment as he tried to think of what to say, as again he was going to have to lie a little. “I’m not sure. Maybe it was someone I saw or something… I can’t remember.”

Zack cocked his head slightly to the side. “Someone you saw? Like, did you know them or something? Sorry for not being there for you when it all happened. Today was a busy day for me to be honest. A lot of training and mission briefing and many things. I guess I didn’t realize that there would be so much work being a 2nd class now. But I’m here now though.”

“I said I don’t remember,” Cloud restated, still not wanting to explain that he did see Zack earlier. “It’s okay though… I understand. Being a 2nd class is really that tough then?” Cloud thought he might as well ask Zack about his day, to try and lighten to mood.

After looking at Cloud for a few more moments, Zack then brought a large smile back to his face. “Well, there are some big responsibilities for me now to have to take care of. It is an adjustment but I will manage. Good thing you have me here though to show you the ropes of it and let you know about it all,” he chuckled softly.

He waited for Cloud to say something back to him, but the blond-haired brother of his just laid there. It seemed as though he just wanted to listen to what Zack had to say and not have to talk much. Zack decided he would just continue, as he almost couldn’t contain his excitement anymore.

“Okay then. So you know what I told you before. But the best thing that happened is that apparently because of me proving myself, I’ve been assigned a special mentor!”

“Oh really?” Cloud asked as he tried to sit up in the bed. He wanted to pay more attention to what Zack was saying. He was interested, but he was still dazed a bit from before. “How’d that… happen?”

“Well you remember meeting Kunsel earlier today? Or rather seeing him. Well that ended up being what he approached me about. I went to the Director’s office shortly after of course and he had a long talk with me about what I would be doing here now. And then he told me… one of the 1sts had taken a liking to me and wanted to mentor me. Isn’t that great?!”

Even though Cloud was still hazy, that last part surprised him. His day had still not been the best, but he couldn’t help but feel happy for Zack. “Wh-Wow! That is really cool to hear. So that’s what happened to you today then. Who was it?”

“Well the guy is really cool. His name is Angeal and he is pretty powerful. He also has this huge sword too, though he told me he never uses it…” Zack trailed off.

“Oh so that was who the man was that I saw then. I think it makes sense now,” Cloud thought to himself as he tried to understand the situation. He still did not want to let Zack know he had seen him. But he was still curious about what had happened that day. He was about to speak when Zack continued on.

“Though if I’m being honest, I was hoping it would be Sephiroth. Oh wouldn’t that be the best? To train under the number one hero in the world. I’m not trying to complain or anything. I guess that just means that I will have to strive to become a hero too,” Zack stated with confidence in his voice.

“Yeah, being with Sephiroth would be cool. So you ended up being with this Angeal person all day then?”

“From the time I left you, I was with him all day. I may be excited, but boy am I tired. He knows how to put you through some training… there’s gonna be a lot more of that it seems as though each day,” Zack sighed as he rubbed his head. “Sorry I wasn’t back around before now.”

“It’s okay, you are back now at least. But… does that means… you’ll be around him more often then? ‘Cause he is your mentor now?” Cloud still was happy for Zack, but thinking of the idea of seeing Zack less often worried him.

“Yeah I will have to be with him some more. Though, it’s not like he’s going to baby me. I still have to do things on my own. But with me being more busy, we might not see each other as much as usual until we get home. It’ll be that way once you’re there too ya know. It’ll be all right though,” Zack stated as he tried to give Cloud a reassuring smile.

Cloud sighed internally. He knew Zack was trying to make him feel better, but he still couldn’t stop clinging to his worries. He didn’t like the thought of finally seeing his brother after two years, then to hardly see him at all only a few months later. He had spent those two years training as hard as he could so he could be with Zack again. If they were busy doing their own things throughout the day, then it didn’t feel right to him. He wanted to try and stay happy though. He knew though would be various bumps in the road to their dreams, but it was still hard for him to deal with it.

“Maybe… when we both get to 1st class… maybe then it could be different.” Cloud thought to himself.

A few moments past and he realized he still had not replied back to Zack. He took in a deep breath before he looked his brother in the eyes. He decided that he would be best to not try and worry Zack anymore. It was a big day for Zack anyways. “Okay. I think I get it now. Sorry for worrying.”

Zack chuckled. “No no it’s okay. We’re both tired and probably need to get some sleep so we can keep going. I know I’m beat. I need some rest at least. Unless, you need me to stay here longer,” he said as he yawned slightly.

Cloud shifted slightly on the bed before leaning against Zack. “Maybe you could stay a bit longer. I did miss you today… but I know you had important things to do.”

“All right then, that’s understandable. You also had a rough evening as well. It’s the least I can do,” Zack said as he turned towards Cloud and wrapped an arm around his neck squeezed him tightly.

Cloud smiled as he wrapped an arm back around Zack. He felt far more relaxed and better than before. “Thanks Zack. You always know how to cheer me up.”

“Well I try my best ya know.” Zack smiled as the two sat there for a good bit. He had not really done much but just be in Cloud’s presence and talk to him for a few minutes, but it seemed as though that was just what his brother needed. He knew Cloud must have felt a little bit lonely today as well. He wished that he could promise Cloud that wouldn’t happen much, but work was always unpredictable. He would do the best that he could in the coming times.

“I’m glad to hear you’re feeling better,” Zack continued. “Not too much longer being up or I might pass out on you,” he laughed at the thought of that happening.

“You better get up then! I don’t want you crushing me,” Cloud replied with a laugh.

“Hey I’m not that heavy,” Zack laughed in return. “But at least I’m not as short as you.”

Cloud sent a glare back to Zack, but he couldn’t hold it and he started to laugh again. “You’re only like… two inches taller! I can still grow!” He then snickered as looked at Zack, looking at his spiky hair that somehow managed to spike upwards and stay there. “But my hair doesn’t spike out like a bush at least.”

This time it was Zack that sent a glare towards Cloud, not expecting his brother to remark like that. “You really think it’s that spiky?” he asked as he started to feel of his hair. Zack was in thought for a moment but then a sly grin came to his face. “Ya know...those are strong words coming from the chocobo head here,” he remarked as he fluffing Cloud’s hair.

“I don’t mind if you say that. Chocobos are far more fun than a bush,” Cloud taunted as he stuck out his tongue.

“Hmm… well I guess you’ve got me there. I must be tired if I can’t come back from that.” Zack then relinquished his hold from Cloud and slowly stood up from the bed. “Tomorrow will be here soon. Let’s rest all right?”

Cloud nodded and said goodnight to his brother. After Zack left the room Cloud finally finished taking off the rest of his SOLDIER uniform. Once he had swapped into his pajamas he flopped back down on the bed and rolled onto his back. He stared up at the ceiling until his eyes started to feel heavy. Before he even knew it his eyes closed and he drifted off into sleep.

Chapter Text

Days had gone by and turned into a week, and then that week became several weeks until already a month had passed. It had been that long since Zack had started to work under his new mentor Angeal… and it was also when Cloud started to see less of his brother.

Cloud would see Zack when they were at home, but other than that, their time together was scarce. However, with the passing weeks, even their time together at home had grown shorter. Zack was usually working with most of the upper classes while also having to work longer hours with his increased responsibilities. Therefore, Cloud would usually end up going home by himself.

Occasionally, he would see Zack at work, but they would not get much of a chance to interact as the latter was consistently around some of the other SOLDIERs as time passed. Cloud would want to grab his brother’s attention, but then he would shy away because of other people being around. Because of this, Zack had even started going home later as well, which Cloud assumed was not always because of work.

Many nights had passed just like that, and Cloud would stay awake at home and hoped that Zack would be there before he decided to sleep. However, it was wishful thinking as he would always grow tired and pass out before he ever saw his brother. He did wonder when things would go back to normal though.

It was not that night, however, as Cloud started to experience the same things once again.

Cloud had not even waited by the door at the Shinra Headquarters this time as he decided to just head on home. He had a feeling that Zack was somewhere else, and besides that, he was actually tired from the day. Normally, Cloud could walk home in about fifteen minutes, give or take a few. But today, as well as the past few days, he drug his feet, quite literally, in an effort to get home.

His mind wandered briefly as he walked sluggishly towards on the path towards their small apartment. “I guess it’s gonna be another boring day...nothing to do. I don’t even care to go home. But there’s nothing else to do. Maybe I’ll just sleep when I’m there so I don’t have to think of any of this...I don’t know…”

He had finally reached the destination in no time at all as he reached up to unlock the door, and after he did, lugged himself inside and closed the door again. He dropped his belongings on the floor and made way towards his room, hoping the bed would be a bit of relief. “This really sucks…” he groaned as he fell onto the bed face first, his last words being muffled by the sound of soft sheets against his sullen face.

As much as he tried to hold it back, the tears came rushing down his face. It didn't happen every night, but some just felt worse than others. He didn’t care to wipe them away either. He just let them fall off his face and onto the bed sheets beneath him.

The range of emotions inside of him stirred as he tried to do sometimes at least to relax himself. But nothing seemed to be working. He wanted all of it to just stop. He wanted to just be able to go through his day normally… but what he had gotten use to as a normal day… was no longer that.

Everything had changed since Zack moved up to 2nd class.

Now he hardly got to see Zack. They didn’t get to have their morning training sessions anymore, so Cloud was always left to just working out in the gym by himself. He missed being able to train with Zack like that. And on top of that, the overall part of not seeing Zack was the key part of the sadness in him.

Then there was when he did see Zack during work. How he saw him walking around or talking with other 2nd class SOLDIERS. Not even noticing that Cloud was in the area. Cloud hated that. He hated seeing Zack so cheerfully chatting with others. He hated it… he felt jealous towards the others. Zack was always talking to them now… and not him. Though maybe the sadness also lingered into his mind from that as well.

He just wished that he could have more time with his brother again.

He wished things could go back to how they were. Back when they were always together. But he knew it wouldn’t happen. Cloud figured he wouldn’t get a lot of time to be around Zack even when he finally made it to 2nd class.

Slowly Cloud closed his eyes, and a chill was sent over his body. He started to think back to when he was a child. He had been wandering through Gongaga all alone. He couldn’t remember anything and had no idea where to go. He had felt lonely, lost, and scared.

But that was when Zack had found him. Zack came to him and told him that they would be friends. Zack… was his first friend. His… only friend now that Cloud really thought about it. But it still mattered to him. Zack was the one who saved him from being all alone. Zack was the first one to show him a kind smile and friendliness.

But now it almost felt like it was all slipping away. The friendliness and kindness Zack had shown him… without Zack being there now… it felt like it was gone.

“You just… g-gonna forget about me?” Cloud muttered aloud. He knew he was alone, but speaking aloud was better than just thoughts in his head.

The emotions deep within Cloud started to push up to the surface. Everything had been boiling up, but he tried to keep it pressed down. But now it was just at the point where he couldn’t do it anymore. He couldn’t hold them back any longer as he let out a sob.

He didn’t care anymore about holding back his feelings. He just had to let it out. He cried harder as he gripped the sheets tightly. His vision blurring and throat starting to become sore from his loud and many sobs. He became lost within his own thoughts and feeling again as he couldn’t stake of the thoughts about Zack not being there for him. He wanted to be by Zack’s side again. He wanted to stay close and be around his big, caring, brother. But now it felt like his brother didn’t even notice him anymore.

Cloud curled up, bringing his knees to his chest. He continued to let out his sobs as he let in the cold and lonely lingering thoughts into his mind.


 

Zack was exhausted once again after the day’s events and could not wait to get home. He had started to grow accustomed to the enhanced workload of a 2nd class SOLDIER, but tiredness would creep in from time to time still. But today, he actually had gotten off earlier than expected. Once he had finally left the Shinra building, a sigh of relief came from his mouth.

“Man, I sure am glad to be done today,” he uttered as he trotted towards home. “I guess Cloud already made it home. Since I’m off done already, he shouldn’t be asleep maybe. I’d like to spend some time with him, even if for a bit.”

At that though, Zack decided to speed up his pace in an effort to reach his destination more quickly. It was only a few minutes walk, but he still wanted to just get home and relax. It would not be too long until he was there at least.


 

Roughly an hour had passed now into the night as Cloud had laid in the same position, not moving for any reason. Sobs still emitted from his dry mouth and his eyes had started to hurt from the overflow of emotions. In frustration, he bawled his fists up and began to beat against the bed repeatedly, his strikes growing harder each time.

He screamed out. “It’s not fair! It’s not fair! I always get left alone! I hate it! I hate this feeling!”

After pausing for a brief moment, he was back at it again. “AHHHHHHHHH!” The frustration was apparent in his voice as it cracked under the strain. It echoed through the apartment building loudly, so surely others could probably hear him. But at that moment, Cloud could care less.

Just as he had stopped his obscene yelling, a door slammed shut. It was soon accompanied by a familiar voice. “Cloud?! Was that you? What’s wrong? I’m coming!”

It was Zack’s voice that penetrated through Cloud’s thoughts. His brother was home earlier than normal today. It took him by surprise, but he still continued to sob. Soon, he could hear footsteps beating against the wooden floor quickly as his door was flung open. But he didn’t move a bit.

Zack sighed outwardly as he grabbed his head. “Oh no, not again.” The worry obvious in his voice.

He rushed forward and got to the bed on which Cloud was laying as he tried to see what was happening. Had it been another nightmare? Surely that could not be the case with it being this early. He reached towards his brother and turned him over, and it was then he saw the dampness of the sheets. Cloud had been crying again.

Zack placed his arms under Cloud’s back and slightly elevated him to rest on his arms. It was true that he was sore and a bit tired, but he had to put his brother first right now. Though, there was a part of him that wished Cloud would try to get better and grow up already. Maybe it sounded a bit selfish, but it was a small lingering thought in the back of his mind.

But, then again, he had no idea what was actually wrong. So he needed to find out. “Hey hey hey. What is it now? What can I do to help? Just tell me…”

“Oh… so now you care,” Cloud muttered quietly, his throat still sore and dry.

“Huh, what do you mean by that buddy? Of course I care. I always care for you. Where is that coming from?” Zack questioned with a puzzled look on his face.

“Then where have you been? You haven’t been here for me. Y-You’re… just forgetting all about me,” Cloud said, sniffling slightly.

Zack stared at Cloud as he cocked his head to the side. He was trying to understand what Cloud was saying. “Cloud I’m not forgetting about you. I’ve always been here. You know that,” Zack said softly.

Suddenly though, something clicked for him. “Wait… are you talking about how busy I’ve been lately? I’m sorry if that’s had you worried Cloud. I’m here right now at least…” he trailed off as he tried to find more words to say that would help his brother.

“But you are forgetting about me!” Cloud yelled suddenly. A spur of anger starting within him. “I see you… I see you all the time talking and hanging out with those other SOLDIERs.”

Zack gasped. He tried to formulate his words as best he could. He couldn’t believe that Cloud would accuse him. “I’m not forgetting about you Cloud!” he said with a slightly elevated voice. “I know I’m with others some more now, but can’t I have other friends? If you saw me why didn’t you say anything if you were spying? You know you’re always welcome,” he ended with a huff.

Cloud tensed up and unlocked himself from Zack’s arms. “No. It’s not the same. You’re making new friends… an-and leaving me behind. Leaving me… to be all alone again.” The anger slipped away and was replaced with deep, sad, teary eyes only moments later. “And I don’t wanna be alone a-again.”

“I’m around most of those people daily for work, so it would be weird if we never got to know each other, so I am making friends. That’s what people do. I told you before. I’m not trying to leave you behind. It’s just… I didn’t know work was going to be like it is. Com’on Cloud…” Zack said trying to reason with Cloud.

“B-But…” Cloud started as he whimpered. He rubbed his arms, looking as if he was cold and that he was trying to warm himself. “I… I feel alone. Without you around much… I’m alone all over again…”

Zack was about to say something, but he held his tongue. He knows that Cloud needs to learn how to do things on his own, but that would come later. He just wanted his brother to be all right for now. “Look, c’mere Cloud,” Zack said as he held his arm out to wrap around his brother and pat him on the back. “You’re not going to be alone. I’ll help you with that okay? It will take some time but we can do it.”

“But how? I am trying… trying to get through each day without you around. It’s hard though. Still lonely…”

“Well, that’s what we have to work through. I’m here right now, so I wanna help,” Zack said with a reassuring tone. “I know that you find it hard without me around, but I can’t always be around you know?”

Cloud frowned as he averted his gaze away from Zack. “Yeah… I know… But I just don’t know what to do sometimes.”

“I know, I know. The first thing is to remember what I told you all those years ago. The year that I left. Because I knew that you would be lonely.” Zack coughed as his tone switched to a more direct approach. “Tell me...you survived two years without me there back home. So, how did you manage to do that. We can figure it out.

“I… I don’t really know. I just focused on training and wanting to see you again. The thoughts of being with you again was what kept me going,” Cloud started. “I know you said you believed I could be on my own… I just don’t know how I did it.”

“That might be what you have to try again if it helps. Just think of being able to see me again while you are working or doing something else. Besides, you’re older now so it should be easier I would think,” Zack trailed off as he thought.

Cloud had not responded to him yet, and suddenly a thought came to Zack’s mind. “Hey Cloud...did you ever have any friends while I was gone? Or have you any here now? I’m just wondering.”

Cloud hesitated for a minute, thinking over if he really wanted to tell Zack the truth. Part of him worried that Zack would be upset or disappointed in him. But he took in a deep breath and decided to just tell him. “No… I didn’t. I tried a few times… but I couldn’t ever get to talking to others. And no, not here either.”

Zack hummed. “Let’s see…it’s not a bad thing that you didn’t make any. It’s not always easy. But, I think it would be a good idea to try though. Cause I may not always be around. I want to be around you, but it sometimes doesn’t work. So, is there anyone that you have met here since you’ve joined SOLDIER? Surely there must be someone.”

“Hmmm… I guess there is one person. A guy talked to me briefly in the gym some time ago. I think his name was… Marcus?” Cloud said, trying to recall the talk he had over a month ago.

“Oh so you have met someone! That’s good to hear,” Zack remarked excitedly. “Maybe you could try to find him again or something? At least being around others will give you something to do as well. Maybe that can be what helps you get through the day huh?”

“Maybe… It’s a bit hard for me… with making friends. With you being my brother it was easy to play and talk with you. Others, who I don’t know… not so much. I’m not sure if I could…” Cloud paused for a moment before he looked right back at Zack. “But I know you would tell me to try right? I mean if you can easily make friends… I guess I could too.”

“That’s the spirit there! I know you’ve had a harder time than I do. You’re not me after all,” Zack chuckled. “But as long as you try, that’s what matters. I know that you can do it. For both of us… You know, if I’m honest with you, doing the stuff with the others just isn’t the same as spending time with you. I wish we had more time together too.”

A small shiver when up Cloud’s spine as he heard Zack say ‘For the both of us…’ He couldn’t quite understand why, but he chose not to dwell on it. Now was not the time for something like that. He looked to his brother and smiled a little. He knew his brother wanted him to be strong, so he knew he had to try. “All right then. I shall try my best again! And yeah… I wish we had more time together. Maybe… when we are both in 1st class? Would that be possible?”

Zack raised his hand to his chin and thought for a moment. “Well… I’m not quite sure. I assume 1st class work will be even harder. Maybe in 2nd class, but it’s just too hard to call. We’ll see when we get there though. Just don’t give up and remember what I’ve told you now all right?”

Cloud nodded as he thought over everything Zack again. He felt silly now to have thought that Zack wasn’t there for him. It felt even foolish to even think that would ever forget about him. A few tears trickled down Cloud’s face as he leaned forward and rested his forehead against Zack’s shoulder.

“I’m sorry Zack. I’m sorry I yell at you before… I j-just was overwhelmed. I didn’t mean it.”

“It’s all right. You don’t need to worry yourself over it. I’m sorry for not being able to be around more now. I’ll try to be as much as I can. Something like this won’t come between us.” He placed a hand behind Cloud’s head as he allowed his brother to just stay there for a bit.

“Thank you Zack,” Cloud said, speaking quietly. He slowly placed his arms around Zack and held him tight. Finally his entire mind and body relaxing and calming down. “Thank you for always being the best big brother. You always know what to do and say.”

“I try my best. I’m glad that you’re at least feeling better now. Why don’t we do what we can tonight while we have time. Spend it together. We can do anything,” Zack suggested with a small smile.

Cloud smiled back as the two held an embrace for a little while longer. Cloud finally felt much better than he had before. He now had a new mindset, determined to do better. Even though he knew Zack still couldn’t be there for him all the time, he was going to try to not let it get in his way. He was going to do what he could to improve.

Chapter Text

In the days that passed into the next week, Cloud had focused on doing just as Zack had said and strived to be better. After that night, the two of them had not been able to spend much time together after that as Zack was busy once again. Sometimes, Cloud would begin to get himself down about it, but then he would stop and think about the message his brother had spoken to him. It gave him encouragement when he thought of it, just like the letters Zack would send when he was far away those few years ago. 

However the process wasn’t that easy. Cloud still found himself occasionally moping in the same ways as before; however, he had not gotten to a point of breaking down either. So slowly he was making some progress. 

Cloud was on his way to the SOLDIER floor for a possible mission briefing about which he was called. It had been the first one he had been on in about a week, so he was glad to finally be able to do something. “I wonder what will be the job today,” he spoke aloud as the elevator rang with a familiar ding to which he had grown accustomed. 

He stepped out and started walking down the hallway and around the corner. Just then a voice from behind him caught his attention.

“Hey! Err, Cloud, hey.”

The blond-haired teen stopped and pivoted his body around to see where the voice had come from. The source of the voice was a familiar one that he had not heard in quite some time. “Oh, hey. It’s, umm...Marcus right?”

“Haha, yeah that’s me. It’s been a little while since I’ve seen you. What’s going on today?”

Cloud hesitated for a moment, as he was not used to casual conversation with just anyone. He knew that he had to try though. “Oh, uh, nothing much. I’m a… going to get briefed on my next mission right now…” he trailed off as he fell silent again.

Marcus seemed to be satisfied with that, or at least Cloud thought that he would have been if he was able to see his facial reaction under the metal helmet. “Wow, really? I was heading that way too. I wonder if we might be on the same mission. We can go together then,” he said as he walked towards Cloud and motioned for him to follow next to him.

Cloud quietly obliged and started to walk towards the SOLDIER room where they would be briefed. It did not take too long for the two of them to arrive there, but there seemed to be nobody else there at the time. It appeared as though they had arrived early. 

“Well I guess we just have to wait now until anyone else gets here. At least for someone to give us our orders,” Marcus remarked as he decided to take a seat on one of the benches in the room.

“Yeah… I guess so,” Cloud muttered out, but he didn’t move from the spot he stood. While he knew he was trying to be more friendly with others, he still had his personal space. Sitting down next to someone he barely knew was a little too much out of his comfort zone. 

“So, it’s been a while hasn’t it? A lot has gone on since we last saw one another,” Marcus replied with a laugh. 

“There’s been some things at least… not a whole lot,” Cloud commented, still not entirely sure how long he could last making conversation. 

“I mean mainly for your brother Zack. He is getting mentored by one of the most popular 1st class guys! One of the top three 1sts to be specific, Angeal, with the amazing and impressive buster sword,” Marcus exclaimed, starting to slightly rambling about the subject. 

“Ah that… Yeah that was a pretty big thing to happen.”

“Aren’t you jealous though? Marcus asked. “With your brother getting to be trained by an awesome 1st class?” 

Cloud shifted slightly, his eyes glancing away from Marcus. Even though he was working on getting better, there were still those slight moments that got to him. But slowly he breathed in and managed to look back at Marcus, ready to give his answer. “A bit. I mean…” he exhaled slowly. “Okay yeah… I am really jealous.” 

He didn’t know why, but he never could properly explain his jealousy to Zack. Probably because he didn’t want to let Zack know that he was very jealous that he was getting to do such cool things. But just talking to Marcus about it, somehow it felt easier. Maybe making a friend wouldn’t be so hard after all. 

“Oh I bet! But have you ever gotten to meet him? Angeal I mean. I know Zack goes on a lot of missions with him, but I just wonder if there was every day that you got to say hi to him or something,” Marcus asked, happy that Cloud was talking a small bit more than before. 

Cloud sighed and shook his head. “No… sadly not. Don’t know why he would wanna meet just a random 3rd anyways.”

“But you aren’t random Cloud, you’re Zack’s younger brother! Surely that must count as something. Just… ah! If I was Zack’s younger brother I would totally ask him to see if I could meet Angeal, or even get an autograph or something.”

Now that Cloud was more invested in the conversation, he started to pick up on how excited Marcus sounded. Deciding to keep the conversation going, Cloud decided to ask a certain question. “Why are you so curious? Are you… a fan of Angeal? Like apart of his fan club?”

Marcus smiled as he put his arms behind his head. “You got that right. Out of all the most popular 1st class that actually have fan clubs, Angeal is the coolest in my opinion.”

“Aren’t there only three 1st class that have fan clubs?” Cloud asked, wanting to be more clear on the subject. 

“True, but still. Genesis is cool with that coat he wears, but anytime anyone sees him he always ends up finding someway to read from that favorite book of his. Some of the others that have been around him more say it can get a bit annoying after some time. And then there is Sephiroth,” Marcus started to say, but he ended up trailing off. 

Cloud felt the smallest chill at the mention of the name. He knew full well who that man was; the best of all SOLDIERS. But also the most cold and mysterious. Cloud had yet to actually see him in person, but there was some vague and faint feeling he couldn’t shake off.

“What about him?” Cloud finally asked. 

“I don’t really know what to think of him. He is always so distant from everyone and is rather intimidating. Like all the time apparently. I wouldn’t wanna be stuck in an elevator with him, that’s for sure.”

Cloud wasn’t really sure what to make of that comment as he lowered his head. He had never met Sephiroth before, but he knew of the stories. He remembered all the way back to when he first heard about him in Gongaga from Zack, who heard the SOLDIERs mention him. He then thought about hearing his name even now. No matter when, the name seemed to resonate with Cloud as it made him feel a certain way. 

“It’s so strange...sometimes I feel as though the name is so familiar to me. But I know that’s not true. I don’t even know the man. This doesn’t really make sense. Maybe I’m just anxious because of hearing the stories? I just don’t know…”

“Cloud…” a faint voice said. “Cloud, hey Cloud.” The voice continued to grow louder. “Cloud!”

The blond-haired boy suddenly jolted his head back up to find the source of the voice. “Yeah, who, what?” he asked as his eyes finally landed on Marcus. “Oh, it’s you.”

“Well yeah it’s me, I’m still here. What’s going on? You all right? You kinda just spaced out there from the looks of it.”

“Yeah, I was just… thinking about some things is all.” He almost didn’t want to say anything to the man, but he felt that he could trust Marcus for the most part. “It’s just… Sephiroth. Hearing his name, I just… tense up. I’m not sure why though. It’s… weird.”

“Hmm,” Marcus hummed as he placed his hand up to his mouth. “Maybe you’re just nervous. Or anxious. I mean, even I get like that sometimes. Like I said, he seems like a very intimidating person anyways. I’m sure he’s a good guy… but still…”

“Yeah,” Cloud uttered quietly. “I know what you mean. Thanks.” 

Cloud felt a bit more composed now after having talked with Marcus some. He felt more and more that he could trust that man, even though he had been quite skeptical at first. Maybe he really could make a friend. 

“Oh for what? You mean just talking or something? Yeah don’t mention it. You’re pretty cool Cloud. Just like your brother. Maybe we can hang out more,” Marcus remarked with a seemingly upbeat tone. Though, he quieted down as his head turned. “Well I guess we are done for now. Looks like the other people seem to be here. That’s a 2nd class uniform for sure.”

The other SOLDIERs moved into the room as Cloud and Marcus stood up to meet them. Soon after, they were finally able to begin the briefing for their mission, which it seemed as though Marcus and Cloud would get to be together. Cloud was relieved that he was going to have someone that he felt that he could trust with him. After a few minutes of discussion, all of the SOLDIERs moved out, ready to partake in their mission for that day. They soon reached the loading point as they all boarded the helicopter and departed into the clear, blue morning.


 

“Well that wasn’t too bad was it? They talked like it was gonna be some mission of grandeur, but all we did was guard some rich guy,” Marcus said as he and Cloud were heading down the elevator to the SOLDIER area. 

“Yeah that’s true, but it’s still our duty as a SOLDIER to do it. I guess at least it wasn’t too bad though,” Cloud replied swiftly to his newfound friend.

The entire troop had arrived back to Shinra headquarters about 30 minutes ago. The mission had been a rousing success, though most of the 3rd class SOLDIERs only were on guard duty the entire time, while the couple of 2nds did most of the work. Of course, everyone understood that seeing as how that was the chain of command. 

However, with not much to do, things had been quite boring while out. Fortunately, Marcus and Cloud somehow ended up assigned to the same post at the same time, which gave them plenty of time to converse more. Now, Cloud was happy as he seemed to have made his first friend, save for Zack.

The two of them continued on their walk and then Marcus had a thought. “Hey, since there wasn’t much to do today, you wanna go to the gym? It’d be nice to have a training buddy there at least for once.”

Cloud stopped in his tracks and just stood there with his head bowed in thought of what he had just heard. He had not had anyone to really train with in quite some time actually, since Zack was always so busy now. He did miss those times that he shared with his brother. 

Conflict arose within Cloud as he tried to figure out if he wanted to do that. Train with someone else? But what if Zack was able to be free and then he was busy? He tossed those options back and forth in his mind, as he stood there. But finally after a few minutes of debating amongst himself, he finally decided. 

“Um...I guess that we could try that if you want,” Cloud said after first hesitating. “It’s worth a shot.”

Marcus grinned at him. “Good good. Well, how about we get started with something then,” he spoke as the two then continued marching towards the gym and entered into it. 

Cloud had not been in there since the last time that he had seen Marcus there, as he usually did not frequent the gym without Zack. He looked around after walking in, his eyes darting to find something good to do. However, he soon had an idea to get himself warmed up as he strode to a center area of the room with not much else around him. Then, he began doing squats repeatedly. 

Marcus looked at him curiously. “So, what’s the deal with doing squats all of a sudden Cloud?”

Without stopping or altering his pattern, Cloud was able to respond through breaths. “Well...Zack taught me...how to do these...so now I do them...before doing anything else.”

Marcus eyed him curiously after hearing what he had just said. Part of him wanted to try the squats to see if they would help. After mulling it over, he decided to just give it a go as he moved next to Cloud and started repeating the same motions as his new blond-haired friend. Cloud chuckled mildly and the two of them kept up with their exercise. 

About ten minutes passed of them performing those repetitions until Marcus finally stopped. “Well I think that’s enough of a warm up for me. I have to say that I do feel a bit more loose after that,” he admitted while shaking his legs out.

Cloud then halted his work as well. “Yeah, see I told you that it would help… So, uh, what should we try now? It’s not like I come in here all that often. Most of my training has been manual things.”

“Well I can tell you my routine if you want to follow me in it,” Marcus began. “So usually start with cardio by doing the treadmill. Then after getting done with that, the next best thing is the bench press. And finally, I finish it off with jogging just to shake things off. Wanna try?”

“Uh, sure thing. We can do that. Let’s go then,” Cloud responded, ready to see what would happen now as the two of them started to move towards the area to begin their training. 


 

Cloud had just exited the Shinra Headquarters after cleaning himself up some. The workout had been quite long, but he had enjoyed having someone to hang out with for a little while. He and Marcus had finished up earlier and the two of them parted ways as Cloud decided to head home, while his friend stayed behind at the workplace. 

Just as Cloud made it out of the doors he heard a familiar voice calling. “Hey Cloud! Wait up.”

As Cloud looked behind him, he saw his brother walking briskly towards him with a hand waving in the air. “Oh, Zack! I didn’t expect you to be here. This is a nice surprise.”

“Well I mean, do you see how late it is? I should be asking you that question. You usually head home earlier. So, whatcha been here for?” Zack asked curiously as he threw his arm around Cloud’s neck as the two walked side by side from there on. 

“Oh yeah… it is kinda late. Well, I guess you could say I made a friend today. Or, re-met someone I already knew? A guy I had seen before, we ended up talking some today and were on the same mission. We even trained afterwards. We kinda got to know each other some. It… was nice to have someone there,” Cloud said as he cracked a small smile as he faced forward. 

Zack saw the smile creep onto his brother’s face, and it spread over to his own as he grinned as well. “Really? That’s great Cloud! See?! I told you you could do it.” Zack was proud that his brother seemed to be making some progress, and had apparently made a friend. He sincerely hoped that Cloud would continue to improve as time went on, but things seemed to be on the right track now. 

“Yeah you really did. Thanks for the help Zack. It’s still… a bit weird stepping out of my comfort zone. I mean, I still like being around you a lot. But I'm doing my best to learn,” Cloud responded, his words taking Zack from his deep thoughts and back to focus on his brother beside him. 

“You’ll get there buddy. Just remember this: Embrace your dreams,” Zack replied.

“Huh? What’s that mean? Cloud wondered.

“Well, it’s something Angeal just started saying to me. And it makes sense. It means what it says. That’s all I know,” Zack scratched his head as he hoped Cloud would be satisfied with that half-baked response. 

“Well okay then! I’ll try to remember that...embrace my dreams...why does sound, so familiar…” Cloud asked as he drifted off into his own thoughts as his head lowered slightly.

Zack noticed his dip. “Hey did you say something?”

“Huh, who me? No no. I was just...thinking out loud. Sorry about that,” Cloud responded, trying to brush off the feeling he just had. He then tried to change things up. “Uh, anyways. Hey wanna hang out for a while just the two of us? It’s been a while since the last time. I mean, since we’re here together.”

Zack chuckled as he wrapped his arm tighter around his brother’s neck. “Well now, I was about to ask you the same question,” he replied as the brothers continued on their way home, or wherever else they felt like going that evening now that they were together again. 

Chapter Text

After a few more weeks, the third month had finally arrived, which meant that spring time was fast approaching. During that time, events had continued on like normal and work continued to stay stead for Cloud and his brother as it had been for that entire year so far. Not much had changed yet either, except for some facets of Cloud’s everyday life. 

He and Marcus were best of friends now. They each relying on each other more now when on missions together. Of course, Zack was still Cloud’s best friend and brother, and nothing could take that away. But Cloud finally had someone else in his life that seemed special to him. It was someone that he could count on, someone that he could hang out with, and someone that he could confide in.

As he laid there in bed after waking, all of those thoughts raced through his mind. He no longer felt stressed or worried or anxious about things. For once again, Cloud felt at ease. He was happy that he finally managed to get outside of his comfort zone. Now with another friend, it did truly make the days easier. Though while he had two friends, he still wasn’t sure if he could do it again. 

“Marcus was the one who started talking to me originally. That’s how we ended up talking more. I’m still not sure… that I could go out of my way to really start talking with others. Not yet at least…” Cloud thought to himself as he started getting ready for the work day. “I know Zack would want me to. He does it all the time. Maybe I should ask him sometime how he can be so friendly right off the bat with others.”

Cloud wished that he could have gone to Zack at that moment to ask him. However, he knew there was no time to do that since Zack had already left for work earlier than him that morning, and he doubted that he would see him that day either. Cloud had been told there was an important assignment he was to meet up for today anyways. He could feel it was going to be a long, busy day. 

He headed out of the apartment as soon as he finished getting everything he needed and walked towards Shinra Headquarters. He looked around every hall way through on his way to get informed on his mission. He hoped that he would see Zack or Marcus, but so far he didn’t see either of them. 

Cloud sighed slightly as he walked into the elevator and rode up to the proper floor. When the elevator stopped and the doors opened, Cloud strolled out and continued walking quietly to the area he always went for his mission briefings.  

As he entered, he noticed that he was not the first one there this time, but there were several other people already there. In fact, it seems as though everyone had been waiting on him. At first glance, he saw that among those in the room were quite a few 2nd class SOLDIERs numbering about four. But the other people in the room were not SOLDIER at all. They all wore a suit that was highlighted by the black coat and pants, along with black shoes. The shirts they wore behind the coat were white, the only thing different about their attire. With a quick headcount, Cloud thought he saw about five of those people… the Turks. 

“Good it looks like we are all present now,” one of the Turks said. He appeared to be a tall and broad man with dark complected skin. He was also bald and to Cloud’s surprise, was wearing glasses indoors. His presence made him seem like he was the head of this outfit. 

He started to wonder what the Turks were doing here, or rather what he was doing going on a mission with the Turks. Not only that, but there seemed to be no other 3rd class SOLDIERs in the room at the time, as well as no infantrymen. Cloud felt out of place, but he was not going to admit it. He was trying to be stronger so he tried to keep his emotions in check.

As he scanned over all of the other people, he took note of all of them that he could see, save for the SOLDIERs whose faces were mostly covered by helmets of course. But then, his eyes landed on one of the Turks, and his composure that he had been keeping the entire time almost faded away as easily as a hot knife through butter. 

He began to just stare at her, his gaze never dropping, though she was not paying attention to him as her attention was off to the side. She was a shorter girl than all of the rest. Or maybe she was a woman. Cloud was unsure since he had never met her before. 

His eyes then started at the bottom as he made his way upwards, noticing how she stood with her weight on one leg in the back. She had her arms folded and placed across her chest, which usually indicated being partially closed off. As he made his way to her face, he noticed that she looked almost around his age, at least in his eyes. She had medium length red-orange hair that curled slightly, stopping just above her slender shoulders. Then, he met her soft, amber eyes eyes and continued to just stare, dropping every care he had at the moment as he paid no attention to anything around him. 

“So, are you going to just continue to stare or what?” the girl said bluntly towards Cloud, which shook him from the trance he had found himself in.

He had not even realized he was gawking the entire time, and had no idea how long had passed. As he surveyed the room once again, he noticed most of the eyes in the room were now on him because of that comment. “Well, so much for keeping myself in check,” he thought to himself, slightly reddening at his cheeks from embarrassment. 

He lowered his head slightly, averting his eyes from the girl. “A-Ah… Sorry. I didn’t m-mean…I just… ” Cloud trailed off, biting his tongue. He for some reason, couldn’t get his words together. He thought it would be best to just stop talking than continue stumbling like a fool. 

“You better watch out Cissnei,” the man with the glasses spoke again, but this time with a more humorous tone. “Might be love at first sight from that one over there.” His finger was pointed at Cloud’s direction, who was still standing in the doorframe, never fully entering the room. 

There were some slight chuckles from the others in the room, but there was no amusement to be found on the face of the girl known as Cissnei. “Whatever Rude. Just don’t lose focus on what we’re here for,” she replied with an indifferent tone. 

Cloud felt his entire body tense up. He was not too keen on being the center of attention, but now he was, and it only further fueled his embarrassment. He shifted slightly as he shuffled into the room, now keeping his head down and away from all the eyes that could have still been on him. He didn’t even understand it, why had he just stopped and stared at her? Sure he had never met her before… but he just ended up staring. Even though he never had intended to ever say anything to her, he wondered how if this messed up her first impression of him. 

Eventually, everyone calmed down after the short show as the bald-headed man cleared his throat. They all looked towards him, even Cloud as he slightly raised his head so his eyes could meet the man. 

“All right, it’s time to get some things going now. The name’s Rude. I guess you could say I’m leading this escapade here,” he spoke with authority. 

“Yeah, sure you are. And I’ve gotta keep you in check,” Cissnei replied snarkily.

Rude eyed her for a moment. “I know you may have grown up with Shinra, but you’re still not above me right now. Just listen to what I say for once,” he said, almost as if he was trying to reason with her. 

Cloud noticed this exchange as the two eyed each other for a moment, neither one wanting to budge. Cissnei was clearly much younger than the man called Rude, but she was stern and seemed to be very disciplined as well. Cloud kept quiet though as the man known as Rude went on to explain the mission. Though every once and a while he would take a quick side glance over towards Cissnei. He knew that he should keep staring at her, but he found himself a slight bit curious about her. But everytime he looked at her, he would turn away quickly if he thought Cissnei was noticing his staring. 

After some time and sorting through all of the details, Rude had fully laid out the mission ahead for all of them. “Just to make sure we’re clear. We’re going to Junon. We’re spending a few days there to investigate some missing persons from Shinra. There is foul play believed. Everyone got it?”

They all nodded, including Cloud. This was going to be the first time that Cloud would be away for more than a few days on one singular mission. He had not expected it to be that long of a process, though it sounded quite important. He also would not be around Zack or his new friend Marcus at all. He didn’t think he would even have the chance to tell Zack bye. Even though it was only going to be a few days, he still worried about being away. However, he knew there was nothing he could do about it as it was his job, so he just remained quiet as he had been. That was, until Rude spoke.

“Cloud. I suppose you’ve noticed you’re the only lower class on this mission. So the deal is the higher ups have noticed your potential and this mission is going to be a slight test for you as well as a job. So, stay sharp and focused. Don’t let me down.”

“Uh, o-okay then. Yes I will do my best,” he stammered in reply, still not quite recovered from the ordeal earlier. 

Now that the fine details had been planned out, they all headed out to their mission at hand. Cloud was last, following behind all the others on the way out. But, in front of him was Cissnei, who now that she could not see him would not realize that his eyes were boring a hole through her as he still could not look away. He wanted to figure her out more, but he also knew he had to keep himself focused on the mission now that he knew he was being tested. He tried to clear his head as they boarded the chopper to take off. 


 

Cloud was tired and exhausted after four long days as he stepped back into the Shinra headquarters. He and the others had not too long since gotten back from their long mission. He didn’t even want to think about what had happened while they were in Junon. After a few more steps, he let out a long-winded sigh. “Geez, that was quite rough. I guess Zack wasn’t kidding when he said those missions can be quite a lot of work.”

He had thought he was alone to himself to speak until a soft, higher-pitched voice broke through to his ears. “Yeah, it’s tough. You sure you’re cut out for it?”

Cloud turned to his side to see Cissnei standing there, having just walked out of the door she was leaning against. She had no expression on her face as she just stared at him. Cloud stumbled to stand straight as he tried to hold some sort of calm posture. “A-Ah… Yeah I can do it. J-Just gotta get use to it.” He tried to speak to her with keeping eye contact, but halfway through his sentence he lost it and averted his eyes to the side. 

Cissnei kept a sharp glance fixated on Cloud so much that Cloud could feel it without him even needing to look. “Yeah, sure. It will be like that sometimes. To be honest though, you didn’t do too bad out there. Don’t doubt yourself too much,” she said as she continued to just keep her eyes on him as if demanding he look back at her. 

Cloud nodded slowly, though he did not return his gaze back to her. “I try not to… Th-Thanks though.” After a moment he took in a long deep breath and tried to look up at her. He tensed slightly from her serious gaze, but he wanted to try and look at her and he spoke again. “A-And sorry for before… The first day… F-For staring…” 

“What? Oh, that. Don’t worry about it. Surely you can handle a bit of teasing. I guess you were… nervous or something,” she trailed off as she paused and looked away. 

She then began to walk and moved right next to Cloud, placing a warm hand on his shoulder. “You’re a good SOLDIER. Maybe I’ll see you around sometime.” With those words, Cissnei started to walk away from Cloud.

Cloud tried to gather his words to form a sentence but almost choked up. He could only stare as he watched her head off to some other area of the building. He gripped his hands slightly as he finally remembered to let out a breath. He didn’t even realize that he had been holding one in. Once his finally was breathing normally again he ran a hand through his hair and sighed. He didn’t understand why he felt so shy around her compared to just his usually shy. But he figured that the best thing to do was to ask Zack. Maybe he would know. Just another question to add to the list.

Chapter Text

“Hey Zack!” Cloud yelled as he walked into the door of their apartment. He quickly looked around, assuming that his brother was already home.

Once Cloud took a moment to catch his breath, he noticed there was a nice aroma in the area of the apartment. He looked over to the kitchen area and saw that Zack was cooking in the kitchen. His older brother looked up from the meal he was preparing, which looked liked simple grilled cheese with various spices and additions.

Zack smiled cheerfully as he looked over to Cloud. He quickly picked up the pan he was grilling the sandwich in and placed it off to the side onto a hot pad. Once it was set down he ran over to Cloud and threw his arms around him. “Cloud! Good to have you home!”

Cloud returned the embrace that his brother was offering, squeezing him just as tight as he was being squeezed himself. He stood there in the warm presence of Zack for a few seconds as he internally was beaming with excitement at finally being back. He of course was quite ecstatic, but he attempted to keep his emotions better in check than displaying them outwardly. Though, maybe that was due in part to the issues he had encountered lately with others and having been embarrassed.

He soon became aware once again where he was and came out of his thoughts. “Yeah, it’s really good to be back too Zack. I’ve missed you quite a bit,” he replied honestly.

“Same here buddy,” Zack said. “But hey, you went on a big mission didn’t you? I was excited to hear that you went off on that, since it can only mean good things! You gotta tell me all about it!”

Cloud stifled a chuckle at Zack’s excitement. “Well someone is kinda curious. Yeah I can tell you about it. But first, I really want some food. I’m tired and hungry. Also… maybe try to not squeeze me so hard. I’m a bit sore as well,” he admitted with a small grunt.

Zack let go and took a step back. He chuckled sheepishly as he rubbed the back of his neck. “Sorry about that, guess I was just too excited to see you back. But yes! Food! Take a seat, you can have the sandwich I just made. That way you don’t have to wait much longer.”

“Oh really? Well thanks for that,” Cloud replied hastily. He threw down everything he had and then sped to the kitchen to grab the sandwich that had just been made. He then made his way over to the table and sat down to eat. Though, before even a minute had passed, Cloud had already sucked up the food like a vacuum cleaner, leaving nothing but a few small crumbs.

Zack half turned around, as he was still grilling up the next sandwich, and he laughed. “Whoa whoa, did they not feed you on your missions? Ha ha, you must be far more exhausted than you look.”

Cloud turned his head to Zack, his cheek still puffed out from chewing some food. “I werljadlfa fasdf haidmm…” He took a few more seconds to quickly chew the rest of the food and then tried again. “Sorry, I was just hungry. I kinda still am. I mean, we were fed well, but I just have a large appetite for some reason today. You’re fixing more right?” he asked with a hopeful look on his face.

“Well by seeing that you just scoffed down that one, I guess I gotta give you this next one,” Zack replied with a laugh. “I wonder if I am ever going to sit down though and eat my own.”

“Oh, sorry about that. You should get yours so that you can eat as well. I think I can wait on it then.” Cloud’s reply sounded a bit disappointed, as he really did want more food. But he didn’t want to deprive Zack of eating as well.

“You could also grab something else from the fridge you know,” Zack said as he went back to focusing on grilling his sandwich.

Those words hit Cloud as he then remembered what Zack said was true. “Oh yeah… I guess I kinda forgot. I can get something there and just fix it then.”

Cloud walked over to the fridge and peered inside before pulling out what looked to be some nice looking meatballs with spaghetti. He quickly unwrapped it and tossed it in their microwave for a couple of minutes. As it dinged, he opened the door for the heat to hit him square in the face, but overpowering the heat was the smell of the food. As Cloud seasoned his food then to eat, Zack was just finishing up the cooking that he was doing as well.

“Hey it looks like you’re done just in time so that we can eat together. We can talk about the mission stuff over food if you want,” Cloud suggested as he threw a look Zack’s direction as he headed into the dining area to sit at the table with his food.

“Yeah, good timing for that,” Zack said as he placed his sandwich on a plate and headed over to the table and sat down.

They started to eat quietly at first, but after part way into his sandwich Zack looked over at Cloud. “So how was the mission? Not to hard for you I hope.”

Cloud stopped eating for a moment as he began to try to speak. “Well it was...different to say the least. I wasn’t used to going with the Turks on a mission. But they told me it was also to help test me or something. But I do have to say Zack… I understand about the workload of a 2nd class now. It seemed very hard sometimes.”

Zack raised an eyebrow in curiosity. “You worked with the Turks on this mission? I didn’t expect that, but that sounds interesting. But if they were testing you, that means you might get to move up to 2nd class soon! And heh, I did tell you it was a lot of work. But I know you can do it, you know to keep pushing through.”

“Yeah, the Turks were a bit more uptight than I thought but somehow it worked out. I’m sure you know about them already. But I tried my best though. I might need a bit of time before I’m ready for 2nd,” he joked as he let out a nervous laugh. “I mean… they said I did a good job at least. Well, one of them did.”

His mind drifted off at that last thought as the person who had told him that was Cissnei. He remembered the embarrassing things that had happened with her as he felt his cheeks warm. He knew that was something that he needed to speak to Zack about though. However, he thought he would allow themselves to finish what they had started first as he kept his thoughts to himself for the time being, trying not to show any signs of being flustered.

“Hmm?” Zack hummed as he took notice of the redness starting to show on Cloud’s cheeks. There was that and the now more spaced out look in Cloud’s eyes. “Something the matter? Did one of the Turks say something to you besides doing a good job?”

Cloud’s face seemed to grow a bit more flushed as quickly looked up at Zack, but then darted his eyes away as he dropped his head. He started to remember the entire encounter he had first had and what he had done that made him so embarrassed. He almost didn’t want to say anything, but he knew he could trust Zack with the information. After all, he did want some advice on how to handle things with that situation. “Ummm… well yeah maybe,” he replied with a shaky voice.

Zack perked up. “Oh really? Well now you have my attention. Something has you bothered and I want to know now,” he chuckled softly.

Taking a deep breath of air, Cloud then breathed out and tried to start. “Well, yeah it was this girl-”

Now Zack laughed a bit louder, a grin swept across his face. “Oooh a girl! Now this expression of yours makes sense. You gotta a little crush on someone?”

“W-What? N-No that’s not what it is...I don’t think. I, uhh…” Cloud’s words left him as he stammered over them quickly, trying to refute what Zack had said.

“You can’t try to hide it now Cloud, it’s written all over your face,” Zack said as he continued to hold that cheeky grin over his face. He leaned forward and rested his arms on the table. “So come on then, tell me about her.”

Cloud tried to gather his thoughts, though he was slightly embarrassed again. “H-hey! Come on Zack… you were supposed to help, not make fun of me…” Cloud pouted as his cheeks puffed up and he scowled slightly. “I-I just don’t know.”

“Heh sorry, but I can’t help it. Seeing you get flustered over the thought of a girl is amusing. But I am serious, tell me who she is. You’ve gotten me really curious now.”

After dropping the sullen look from his face, Cloud relaxed a little bit more and tried to gather is thoughts. “Well, okay...just maybe try to help some. Cause, I’m not good with that stuff.”

“Oh of course I’ll help. I’m just waiting on you now as I’m all ears,” Zack replied as he awaited to hear the story.

Cloud began to tell him what had happened, all starting with him first entering into the SOLDIER briefing room just a few days prior. As he told of those events and what had occurred with Cissnei, Zack couldn’t help but snort mildly.

“What?” Cloud questioned as he stopped.

“It’s nothing, but it’s kinda what I thought. The way you were staring at her, you’re obviously in love,” Zack stated as he smirked at his brother.

Cloud’s face contorted and turned red again. “Hold on what?! But I’m only thirteen! I can’t be in love. Right?”

Laughter echoed from Zack’s mouth once more. “Well, it can happen anytime Cloud. It just depends on the situation. Just from what you’re saying it sounds like that. Sorry for interrupting you again. Let me let you finish it all before I say anything else.”

Cloud eyed his brother curiously, narrowing his eyes before then looking away. He then continued to tell his story, telling of the rest of the briefing as well as the various things that happened on the mission. Even when he had just gotten back that same day earlier was within his tale. Finally an hour had passed and they had both finished their food once Cloud finally stopped speaking.

“Well that’s pretty much it as far as what happened,” Cloud ended as he waited for his brother’s response.

“Hmm, well I’m glad to hear the details of the mission as it sounds like you handled yourself well. If you keep performing like that I’m sure you’ll be second very soon. I am proud of you,” Zack smiled gently at his brother.

“Really?!” Cloud started. “That would be so cool to do. Though, the work is pretty hard...But then that means we might get to do more missions together.”

“Haha, yep pretty much. So you gotta keep working at it and get there. Remember your goal there.”

Cloud nodded happily at Zack’s response and was about to say something until Zack continued. “But for now...why don’t we talk about the other thing that you went through,” he replied snarkily.

The blond almost sighed and internally facepalmed, knowing what was coming now. Though he did ask Zack for help and he knew his brother would do that. However, the teasing sometimes could get out of hand but he tried to bear it. “Yeah, I guess we should…”

Zack decided to speak up. “Well, you know what I mentioned before. You may have thought I was joking, but I was serious. After hearing everything that happened, it sounds like that you kinda have a thing for this...what was her name again?...”

“Cissnei.”

“Yeah, Cissnei, that’s right. I mean, heck she might even have a soft spot for you judging on what you said happened earlier this evening. It’s not much to go on but it’s just a thought.”

The two brothers sat in silence for a moment until Cloud finally worked up the courage to move on. “Well, I guess that could be true. I mean, I have all these emotions swirling around in me right now, and it was even more so when around her. But…” he paused as he held his tongue.

“But what?” Zack inquired, wondering why Cloud had stopped.

“Well, it’s just...she's a Turk, and I'm just a SOLDIER…” he paused briefly before continuing. “How could that even work...not saying it’s what you said it is...just a ‘what-if’ thing, ya know?”

Zack cocked his head. “What is this? Romeo and Juliet? Why should it matter what your jobs are?"

Cloud was surprised by that response at first, but the more that he considered it, the more that he realized that what he asked didn’t really make sense. “Well, I was just thinking because of the amount of work… ah, I guess you’re right. I don’t know…” he replied, lost for more words.

Zack got up from his seat and walked over to Cloud, and began to ruffle his hair. “Don’t get so worried over this. You’re in love, so don’t be so afraid.”

“Well I mean, maybe? I’ve just never felt like this before… it’s weird. Have you ever felt that then? What I’m feeling?” Cloud inquired, curious to know if his brother could relate to him and help.

Zack stopped ruffling Cloud’s hair as he brought a hand to his chin. He hummed for a moment before speaking. “I’m not sure actually. Sure I have flirted with some girls around Midgar before… but I don’t think I ever got embarrassed or anything around them.”

“Ah, okay then.” Cloud sounded mildly disappointed in that response, as he hoped he could get a for sure answer from Zack. He felt better having talked about things, but he was still feeling slightly uneasy too. “I guess I’ll have to figure it out then. Maybe.”

Zack smiled and went right back to ruffling up Cloud’s hair a little. “I know you’ll figure it out. But if you ever wanna talk more on it, I’m right here for you. I’ll try my best to give what advice I know about talking to girls.”

“Yeah, all right then. That sounds good. But, could you stop ruffling my hair?” Cloud asked, hoping that Zack would listen to him.

“But it’s sooo soft!” Zack exclaimed childishly. “And you haven’t been here for days. I’ve missed out on a lot of hair ruffles!”

Cloud then slowly stood up as Zack still had his hand on his head. “Oh yeah? Then I’ll just do it back to you spiky head,” he jested as he began to ruffle Zack’s hair.

The two of them played and laughed for a few moments until they finally simmered down. “Well still, thanks for the help Zack. It’s nice being back home again after a bit.”

Zack smiled as he gave a hug to Cloud. “Of course. Now I’ll clean up the dishes, I figure you probably wanna hit the sack after those longs days. So go ahead and get the rest you need.”

Cloud agreed and decided to go to his room for the night after they cleaned things up. After getting there, he closed the door behind him. It was true that he was mildly tired, but he just didn’t feel that he was sleepy. He wanted to spend time with Zack, of course, but for now, he felt as though he needed some time to himself.

He layed back on the bed and stared endlessly at the ceiling as many thoughts danced inside of his head. Most of those thoughts ended up focusing on one thing in particular; Cissnei. Cloud still wondered why he couldn’t get her out of his head. Maybe what Zack said was true? About love? It’s something Cloud still was new at trying to understand. He hoped that maybe things would start to become more clear at a later time.

Chapter Text

The days went on like normal now that Cloud had returned back home. As normal as it could get for a SOLDIER at least. He still went on missions nearly each and every day, but he managed to push through each and every one of them.

Every once and a while he would spot Cissnei. Now that he knew her, he started to notice her more about headquarters. It was strange, but when he saw her he wanted to wave and say hello, but he always ended up being too shy to do so. But then he had a small resolve. He still wasn’t completely sure of his feelings, as he still could not fully understand them, but he found he wanted to do this. He found a new goal to work on, he wasn’t exactly sure how it would work, but he had it set in his mind; he wanted to try to impress Cissnei.

Over the next month, Cloud was tasked with two more missions which involved the Turks. He was again told that it would be used to test him in the field some more, though normally the one mission was enough, especially since Cloud had performed so well before. However, Cloud didn’t let that though creep into his mind too much and dismissed it as just an odd happening.

On each of those missions, Cissnei accompanied the rest of the troupe as one of the Turk members. Cloud noticed her even more on some occasions, taking note of how she seemed to watch over everyone else more, besides the higher ups there with them; however, there were times that she was bossy with even them. Cloud had tried to not watch too much, but if he were honest with himself, there was something about the way she presented herself that made him feel a certain way, even though he didn’t really know how to explain that.

However, Cloud still completed what he was tasked with on each mission and he did so while trying the hardest he could, which gained him the recognition of those that were present, including the girl that was on his mind. In fact he had performed harder on the last mission with the Turks after having talked with Cissnei after the second mission. He learned she was very mission oriented and valued work and progress above most other things. Which made him want to keep working on his goal even more.

Now, Cloud was walking back to the elevator to go down and exit the Shinra building after just getting back from his latest mission. He entered the doors and pressed the button for it to go down and started blankly as the doors closed, his mind getting lost on thoughts of Cissnei and his progress as SOLDIER. Just as the doors were about to close, a hand reached through and stopped them. When the door finally slid back open, Cloud could see who the hands belonged to.

“C-Cissnei?”

“Hey. Mind if I come? I seem to be going your way,” she stated directly as she entered and stood right beside Cloud after pressing the button for the floor she was going to.

Cloud felt his shoulders tense up, now that he was looking right into her eyes. He opened his mouth to say something else, but nothing more came. So, not wanting to look too foolish, he closed his mouth and nodded quickly.

Cissnei seemed to notice. “What’s wrong? Cat got your tongue? Or are you so tired you forgot how to talk?” she inquired as she stepped into the elevator with a snarky disposition as a slight grin could be seen on her face.

“I... Um…” Cloud tried to say, hoping he could at least manage something. “N-No… Maybe I am tired though…”

“It’s fine if you can’t say much. You can just listen then,” she started. “You did well again today of course, though you performed much better than normal. It’s a good thing since these missions are vital. Most 3rd class would never be able to manage things like this, but you can. So I do wonder… was there something keeping you going then?” she posed, leaning in closer to him with her hands on her hips.

“What’s keeping me going?” Cloud asked aloud. He almost wanted to tell her, but though it would seem too weird or embassring. Why would he just tell her out of the blue that he wanted to impress her? Surely she would think he was weird if he said that. So he thought for a moment and decided to give the other answer that he had, which was still true.

“I want to catch up to my brother. We’ve always had a friendly competition between each other, so I wanna show him I can be as strong as him,” Cloud replied.

She eyed him for a moment, almost as if questioning his answer. But, she seemed to find no fault. “Well that sounds fair. You mean Zack right? I’ve seen him a few times here and there. Never met him. Hard worker, and always so positive. At least from what I can tell,” she trailed off as she stared at Cloud a bit more. “Looks like you still got a bit to go though for that.”

“Yeah, I know I have a little while to go. But I am not giving up. Zack and I made a promise to each other that we would make it to SOLDIER all the way up to 1st class together. It’s been our dream since we were kids.” Now that Cloud was speaking about Zack and his dreams, he felt more comfortable talking over all. He didn’t mind that Cissnei was standing right next to him at the moment.

“Well now, there’s that confidence that you should have. You should be like that more often you know,” she stated as she looked at him with a slight smile. Then, she turned her head away slowly after realizing she was staring. “For the job of course. You have to be tough in this.”

Cloud stared a moment longer before he took looked away. He could feel his cheeks starting to reddened from her compliment. “Th-Thanks. But you work really hard too!” While Cloud was a bit flustered from her words, he wanted to try and return to favor back to her. Again though he hoped he didn’t sound to foolish or too weird, but he already said it and it was too late to take it back.

“Hmph. Well, it’s my job to work hard. That’s what us Turks do…” she said as she still stared at the ground. Then, she looked back up at Cloud briefly. “But, thanks. I’ll keep that in mind. It’s my stop now so I’ll be going. See ya around.”

She began to walk forward in anticipation of the door opening to the elevator as it had dinged and slowed down to a stop. As she did, though, the door stayed shit, never once budging. She stood there in front of it and waited for a few more seconds but nothing happened. “Gah, what’s wrong with this thing,” she huffed heavily, indicating her slight annoyance.

Cloud was perplexed at not knowing why the elevator had suddenly decided to not open. It had always worked before, but something apparently had happened. His mind was still thinking of what Cissnei had just said to him as well as he shook slightly from nervousness. What should he do?

He decided to walk forward so he could look. “I-I wonder why it stopped. That’s, um… strange.”

She turned to face him. “Yeah it is, and I have things I need to try to do. This really sucks…” she said, running her hand down her suit.

Cloud stood and thought for a moment about some kind of solution but couldn’t think of anything. Though, he was just going to talk instead, but as he went on to say something, he saw Cissnei perk up as she pulled something out of her pants pocket.

“Ah, yeah, I almost forgot I have a phone. I’ll just call Rude or Reno to come open the door. I’m sure they have nothing better to do right now.”

Cloud could see her punching some numbers into the phone and attempt to make a call. After a few tries though, she sighed and put the phone down. “Seems there’s no signal inside of here. Of course. Big metal box.”

“Oh I see. Well that makes sense I guess,” he commented calmly, forgetting where he was at the moment as he was lost in thought.

She looked over at him and shot him a glance. “Well. Cloud. You have any ideas?”

“W-who, wh-... oh me. Yeah, uhh...let me see…”

Cloud wasn’t really sure what to do at the moment. His skills didn’t really involve heavy problem solving, at least not something like an elevator shaft. He ran his hand along the door, wondering exactly what he was going to do. For a second he tried to get his fingers between the two panels of the door, but they were stuck tight together.

He looked to the side at the buttons panel. His eyes then fell on a red button at the very bottom of the section. “Isn’t that button for emergencies? Like this?”

“Oh yeah! Press it so we can get someone notified right away,” Cissnei said as she sighed with relief.

Cloud pressed the button and a loud buzzing sound was heard. The speakers on the wall of the elevator then filled with static and garbled sounds that were too hard to understand. The sound then cut out and the lights went out on the panel, with the light above them flickering slightly.

“Th-that can’t be good,” Cloud stammered slightly.

Not only was he worried what was wrong, but if they were stuck in the elevator, it meant he would be around Cissnei more. He wasn’t sure hold long he could try to be serious and calm without getting all tensed up and shy around her. He could already feel his heart pounding, but he wasn’t sure if it was cause he was shy in her presence or if it was because they were trapped in an elevator. Maybe it was both. Cloud didn’t know, after all he was only thirteen.

Though, he could use this chance to impress her even more if he could figure out something. He became excited at the thought, just as her words broke his train of thought.
“Yeah, it sounds like the elevator is shot if even that didn’t work,” she stated as she slammed her fist on the door. “I don’t need to be stuck here right now. But, I suppose there’s nothing we can do for now. Unless we think of something. Might as well just wait right?”

“I don’t know what else we could do. I mean I could… ummm… use my sword maybe?” Cloud said as he motioned to the standard SOLDIER sword that was attached to his back.

Cissnei thought for a moment before she answered. “Well, if you want to try that. Though I don’t think that it will really work. I mean, just what are you going to do with that? What if… you froze the door so it’s easier to break? Do you have materia to use?”

“W-Well, I don’t think I have any ice materia on me at the moment… ah, so maybe that won’t work…” Cloud sighed as he dropped his head, trying to think of a way he could help. He had to find some way that he could do something. He didn’t want to seem helpless.

The two stood there for a few moments as the thought over their situation. Cissnei hummed thoughtfully as she started to pace back and forth within the small confident space. She then looked up at the ceiling, and stopped in place.

“One of those panels up there should open up, you know an access hatch to outside the elevator. It may not get us anyways, but we could see if we are stuck between floors or not,” Cissnei explained.

Cloud nodded quickly. “That sounds like a good idea. But how we are going to get up there to open it?”

Cissnei moved toward him and put a hand on his shoulder, which caused him to tense up slightly. “Relax Cloud. The easiest way is I need you to bend down and I’ll just climb on your shoulders, and then I can reach it. See if I can see anything,” she stated to him calmly.

Cloud stared with wide eyes at Cissnei. Had he just heard her right? Even though he had gone on a few missions that she complained, he still barely knew he. And now she was going to get rather close to him, even though it was all for a reason to try and get out of the elevator. He could feel his heart racing again as he continued to stare at her, not knowing what to say back to her.

“Well, are you just gonna stare again or are you going to help me up there? Don’t tell me you’re embarrassed or something. Hmm… maybe you’re not the SOLDIER I thought you were…” she trailed off, slightly hinting at something in her words.

Cloud felt his shoulders after her words. He really wasn’t too sure about having her climb up on his shoulders, but he didn’t want to make her disappointed either. His goal was to try and impress her, and now it seemed she was upset with him. He figured he had to do something though, even though she was right about him being embarrassed, he didn’t want to admit that.

With a deep breath he shook his head. “N-No, it’s all right. I just didn’t… expect you to suggest that right away.”

“Alright then we’ll give me a boost up there then. Just bend down and I’ll climb on okay,” She said as she waited for him to do so.

Cloud took in another slow breath before he nodded. He bend down and got into a position so Cissnei could easily climb up onto his shoulders. He kept trying to keep a slow and steady breath though, trying to remain as calm as he could.

After he was down, Cissnei began to climb up onto his shoulders. “All right now hold still.” She planted one foot into his right shoulder and felt her weight start to come down upon him. She then grabbed onto his shoulders with her hands and steadied herself before she was able to get her other foot on the other shoulder of cloud and quickly raised herself up. She still stayed perched down, her hands also still clenching his shoulders.

“Okay, I’m up here now so just be careful and try to raise up,” she ordered.

Cloud tried to say ‘okay’ but once again he found himself at a loss for words. The only thing he could do was to keep nodding and do what he was supposed to. He slowly started to stand up, as he could feel Cissnei trying to keep balance herself on his shoulders.

“S-Should I hold onto your legs or something? For more support when you stand up?” Cloud asked quietly.

“Yeah, just to make sure that I don’t fall. Make sure you hold on tight. I can reach the hatch as long as you do that,” she replied.

“Okay,” Cloud answered as he finally got to standing up straight.

Now that Cloud stood up straight, Cissnei could slowly start to stand up in the attempt to reach the hatch. Cloud made sure to hold onto her legs, hoping it was enough to support and keep her more steady.

After she was completely upright, she reached her arm up to grab hold of the latch of the access panel and loosened it. She figured that one good push off should be able to get her into the area above. As she bent her knees to ready herself, Cloud started to shift slightly, which made her wobble a bit.

“Hey, I told you to stay still. I almost had it,” she scolded him.

“I’m trying, but you moved a bit. Let me try to straighten myself,” Cloud insisted.

He went to move his foot to get a better standing, and as he did, Cissnei’s weight again shifted on his shoulders. He quickly lost grip of her legs and forgot about holding onto her as he instinctively tried to use his hands as a balancer to not fall. She started to shake even more now that her legs were unguarded. Cloud then looked up to see her, and she was starting to fall forwards slightly.

It felt like everything happened in slow motion as he tried to maneuver himself to catch her. She made a slight yelping sound when she began to waver, her arms flailing side to side. Cloud reached his arms up, not caring at the moment about his nervousness as he just wanted to help. He seemed to catch her at her hips, but then he too lost his balance when he ended up grabbing just a bit too low. There was a loud thud next as the two of them hit the ground together.

Cloud ached from the fall as he started to blink a few times to recompose himself. When he finally was able to focus, he could feel the blood rush to his face, imagining he was as red as a beet. Cissnei was face to face with him, on top of him since she had fallen.

Cloud tried to speak but he couldn’t as something was imeding his words. He then saw fully what was going on as Cissnei’s lips were paired with his. So many thoughts started coursing through his mind at that moment, trying to figure out what he was going to do. Then, Cissnei slowly started to open her eyes.

Chapter Text

Thoughts rushed through Cloud’s mind so fast that he couldn’t focus on just one. Cissnei started to slowly open her eyes after the fall. Cloud wanted to pull away but he couldn’t as her weight was firmly on top of him. After all, he wasn’t the biggest person in the world. Even though she was small in stature, she was a bit heavier than she looked. Though Cloud at least knew well enough to keep that thought to himself. 

As he was rambling inside his own mind, Cissnei had finally blinked a few times. Then, her eyes widened as she too realized what was going on. She used her hands and pushed herself up and away from Cloud’s lips and then the rest of his body as she sat up on her knees, though she was hovering over him partially. Her face started to turn a subtle red color as she was processing the event that had just occurred. 

Her eyes clenched tight and she gritted her teeth as her fists curled up as well. Cloud could see the tension rising throughout her body, which made him nervous. But now that his mouth was free, he could finally speak. “I-I’m uhh… I-I d-didn’t mean...for that…” he stuttered, still in shock over the fact that he had technically just kissed a girl, and it was Cissnei no less.

“Save it.” Her voice was elevated and her words were short. “You know… I could punch you right now. But, that would not solve anything. I told you to stay still, you know,” she scolded him as her eyes met his briefly before the two of them quickly glanced away from each other, no doubt still embarrassed over that involuntary kiss.

Cloud tried to gather words again the best that he could. “Y-Yeah, I know...S-Sorry about that. I was, tr-trying,” he stammered still. 

She sighed loudly. “It’s fine,” she stated as she grew more quiet. If she was honest with herself, that was the first time something like that happened; a kiss. Things like that were something she didn’t consider very often, so the conflict arose in her quickly. She didn’t really know what to say for the moment as she sat in silence and turned away from Cloud. 

He could tell that she must have been thinking about something, and as much as he wanted to say something to her, he couldn’t find the words to say. Even if he did, he couldn’t help but stuttered nervously now. He stared after her back, wondering if he had upset with what had happened. A pit formed in his stomach as he was unsure of what he should do.

Silence filled the elevator for quite a few minutes, though it was eerie. But it didn’t last long though as Cissnei started to turn back towards Cloud, though her eyes were facing down. “Well, there’s no point in fretting over it. But since you couldn’t seem to hold me still up there, I suppose we are stuck here for now.”

He felt that he had let her down with not being able to do such a simple task. “DId I try too hard to impress her? I just wanted to be able to get her attention is all. Well I guess I have it now. It’s just, I don’t know. Why do I feel like this though? It’s usually just around her. I mean, I know what Zack told me before. And with what just happened…” 

His mind raced through so many thoughts still that he could not formulate any coherent response. Of course Cissnei seemed to notice this and tried to ease his mind. “Hey look. If you’re worried about all this, just don’t okay? I said that it’s fine. We’re here for now so just make the most of it. No reason to be bored while we’re trapped,” she stated in a calm manner, her voice sounding normal like it was before.

Her words seemed to help Cloud as he started to calm down slightly, though he was still rather tense. But he tried to relax himself slowly to be able to think of his words, breathing in and out carefully. “Well, okay then. That’s a good point though,” he paused, trying to think of what he could say. 

Truthfully, he had wanted to ask her some things for a while now, and it seemed like a good chance, seeing as how they could not go anywhere anyways. Even after working with her a few times, he still barely knew anything about her. He wanted to change that. “So… uh, how long have you been working here? Like, with Shinra,” he asked carefully, hoping to try to start something at least.

Finally, she looked back up at him and met his face, causing him to almost look away. She almost seemed as though she wouldn’t answer, but then she breathed in to begin. “Hmm… it’s been a while… I mean, Shinra is all I’ve ever known. They are the ones that took me in and raised me. But in the line of duty, maybe just a couple of years now,” she answered directly, sounding heartfelt about what she was saying. 

A bewildered look encompassed Cloud’s face as he sat there trying to understand what he had heard. “W-wait. You mean you’ve always been with Shinra? You’ve always been part of the Turks? That’s just… I don’t know what to say,” he answered as he softened his voice, trying to understand the depth of her revelation.

“Well yeah, it’s not as bad as you think. I mean, I guess. It’s all I’ve ever known so I wouldn’t know if it were or not. Either way, that’s why I’m a member of the Turks so young. I was raised for this job, this purpose,” she paused and held her tongue before continuing. 

Cloud felt the same way in that he wanted to trust her. Of course, he had another reason as well because of his apparent feelings. “Wow, I-I can’t imagine being raised just to be like a soldier… really a Turk. Though… I can understand having to be raised by someone else too.”

She eyed him for a moment. “Like I said, it’s all I have known so it’s just who I am. Though, you’re a soldier yourself. So in a sense, you grew up to want to be one right? But… what you said... You mean... were orphaned as well?” She was unsure why she was telling Cloud all of this, or even asking him these questions. But, it just happened.

Cloud nodded, placing his hands on his arms. A slight chill ran through him as he thought back to his childhood… the brief time he remembered before meeting Zack. He sighed before taking a deep breath. Overall it was still a sensitive subject for him, and he had never talked about it to anyone before but Zack and his parents, but he thought he might as well try. Now knowing Cissnei had something in common with him, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to tell her. 

 “Y-Yeah… I don’t remember much though. I was on my own and I was lost for a while… but then Zack found me. He brought me to his home and his family was kind and took me in.”

Cissnei’s eyes widened slightly. “On your own? If I can ask… how old were you?”

Cloud breathed in deeply again before answering. “Five years old…” 

“And you were just left all by yourself?” Cissnei asked, sounding like she almost didn’t believe him. Though at the same time there was a clear line of shock and surprise across her face. “Abandoned out in the world… by your parents? They didn’t leave you at an orphanage?”

“I… I don’t really r-remember… It was so long ago anyways. I don’t actually remember anything from before I was five… so I don’t know if I was abandoned out in the world or an orphanage. Or even if I ran away or anything else…” 

Cloud shivered again as he rubbed his arms gently. The chills flowed back through his body again as he talked about the subject matter. But it did feel good to talk about it aloud. For some reason, he started to relax the more he went on about it, despite the odd chills. 

“You know, I usually don’t talk to many people, but I guess I just feel like I can trust you or something,” he admitted to her. 

“Yeah well, I don’t either really. It’s not something… I usually talk about. I guess knowing someone that has gone through a similar situation… it’s nice,” she replied.

The two of them remained silent for a few minutes after that, trying to discern what could be next as they were still stuck in there. Though, they each felt a bit more comfortable after some talking as well. Cloud especially did, finding more confidence in himself in letting loose to someone.

“Same here. To be honest, there’s always this nagging feeling in my head when certain things happen. Like I’m supposed to remember something. But then I can’t. It’s hard to explain…” 

“It’s like you have repressed memories then? Maybe something from your childhood that you just subconsciously blocked,” she had begun before almost grinning. “Well, I guess it’s kinda the same then.”

Cloud looked at her as he turned his head to the side. “Huh? What do you mean?”

“Well, about not remembering. I don’t remember much of my early years before the orphanage. I never gave it much thought before since it did not matter. But, I didn’t expect to find someone that…”

“...Shared a similar story right?” 

“Yeah, exactly that,” she replied directly as the two looked at each other again.

Just then, the two of them heard something from the other side of the door. It sounded as though there was someone beating on the door. Had someone finally found them? Not too much time has passed, but it would be nice to finally be out of the elevator. 

Cissnei stood up quickly upon hearing this. “Hey, if you’re trying to get it open, we are in here!”

Cloud then joined her in standing, but chose to remain quiet instead. 

The two of them looked on as the doors started to pry open slowly. The small crack revealed the fact that there was a wall halfway down the elevator with the beginning of the floor halfway up. The elevator had gotten stuck in between floors it seemed, which would explain why that none of the buttons worked at first. 

Cloud turned his attention over to Cissnei. “You know...I-I’m almost glad this happened. I don’t have many friends so… it’s nice to have another now.”

She looked over to him and gave him a small smile. “Well it wasn’t pleasant being trapped in an elevator… but, yeah, I suppose the company was nice.” Her mind darted to what had happened just earlier with her falling and she almost looked a bit flustered again. 

Cloud noticed this though. “Uh...what’s wrong?”

“Oh… nothing. But yeah, friend does sound nice too.”

She extended a hand to him, showing a sign of her trust. He brought his hand up and placed it in hers, giving a firm handshake. The two exchanged a glance as the door was finally pried open completely as they broke off from one another. 

“Hmph, took you long enough,” Cissnei responded to the SOLDIER that had opened the door. 

Then, the man known as Rude appeared in the small area that led to the floor they were stuck between. “Hey, don’t be too ungrateful. We could have just left you in there.” Cloud then noticed as Rude’s gaze landed on him.  “Oh hey, it’s the rookie. Well how about that.”

Cloud was almost surprised to see Rude there. “H-Hey there. Uh, any idea what happened to it?”

The SOLDIER, who appeared to be part of maintenance upon further inspection, responded. “It seems like the gears in the elevator malfunctioned and caused it to stall. At least that’s my guess without looking at it first. At least nothing else happened though.”

Relief was made apparent through Cloud’s face, as he was pleased they would finally be able to get out. He then saw Cissnei step forward more and extend her hand out. “Well, help me up there then so that we can get out of this cage,” she spoke towards Rude as the man extended his hand and then yanked her up with almost little effort and she crawled out the rest of the way.

He turned his attention back to Cloud. “Come on spike,” he said as he reached his hand down. Cloud went towards him and then reached his hand out to grab Rude’s. Again, without much effort, the man pulled him straight up towards the floor as he too then crawled out. 

After standing back up and regaining his composure, he took a glance over to Cissnei who had thrown him a brief look before turning her attention to someone else that was standing by. The man had short, fire-red hair and wore a suit exactly like the other Turks, which meant that he had to be one as well. He was just about as tall as Rude, though he was a bit more lanky. He could overhear a conversation between the two briefly. 

“Haha we were wondering where you must have gone. Seems you were slacking off here with the SOLDIER,” he chuckled as he paused before seeming to get closer to Cissnei’s ear. 

Cloud could no longer hear what was being said between them, but whatever he said to her must have startled her as she pulled back. “What?!” she exclaimed as she proceeded to belt the man in the chest with force. Cloud could see that her cheeks were slightly flushed, and his mind started to wander as to what might have been said to her. 

The red-haired man started to chuckled some more before speaking again, this time loud enough for Cloud to hear. “Relax, relax, I was only joking. Anyways, I guess we need to fill you in on everything now since you missed the briefing.”

Cloud looked away from them and turned his attention to Rude, who had also been staring after the others. “So, uh, who is that other guy there? He looks like one of you guys.”

Rude looked down. “Oh him? That’s Reno. That’s right, you haven't seen him yet. He was away doing some other work but recently returned.” There was a moment of pause as he looked back in that direction as did Cloud for that matter. 

After noticing this, Rude continued on. “Those two go way back. They were friends before ever becoming agents. Don’t worry, Reno just likes to tease. He looks out for her like a big brother.”

Cloud had heard everything but did not have much to say. “Oh, okay then.” He was thinking about them admittedly, but hearing they were like siblings made him more at ease. He could also understand having an older brother figure that would watch over someone. As his mind ran through all of it, he noticed he was still looking at them. 

Then, his eyes caught Reno’s as the man was looking at him intently. He grew a bit nervous as Reno narrowed his gaze at him for a brief moment. Cloud found himself unable to look away, but he didn’t have to as the red-haired man finally turned away from him after a few seconds. Cloud exhaled softly as he thought to himself. “What was that about?”

“Well, now that this is all resolved we best get back to it,” Rude started, drawing Cloud from the depths of his own thoughts. “Keep yourself focused. I’m sure you’ll be needing to do so from now on.”

“Uh, right. Thanks,” he replied as Rude started to walk towards Reno and Cissnei. 

Cloud wanted to walk over to Cissnei as well, but he decided against it as he was a bit too nervous at the time. He watched as the three of them walked off, leaving him standing there with the other SOLDIER that had come with them. As he stared after them, Cissnei, who was behind the two men, arched her head to shoot a glance at him for a moment and gave him a small smile. 

Surprised, at the gesture, Cloud tried his best to offer a smile back towards her. She then turned her head back to the front as the trio disappeared behind a wall as the turned down a hallway. 

“Well, I guess I can head out now,” he said to himself as he started walking the other way in the direction that the stairs were since that elevator was now out of order. He saw the other SOLDIER continue looking at the elevator as though he was inspecting it, but Cloud said nothing to him as he began to get lost in his own thoughts. 

Chapter Text

Cloud headed down the stairs, trying to keep his thoughts clear and straight. He was sure that the events that transpired in the elevator would not leave his mind anytime soon. He could feel that his heart was still racing. It was almost unbelievable, yet it had happened. He had in fact gotten stuck in an elevator with Cissnei and somehow… someway accidentally kissed her. 

Cloud’s face heated up as he pressed his hands to his cheeks. “Why… Why did that have to happen? I’m too young for this… I should find Zack… He’ll listen to me about this… though he’ll probably tease me first.” He let out a long sigh as he ran his hands over his face. “I just can’t understand this feeling…” 

Once Cloud reached the end of the staircase he exited out into the main floor. He took in a deep breath, trying to continue keeping himself calm, but still inside his thoughts were raging. He was like a bottle of emotions that was ready to burst at any given moment. He closed his eyes and tried to calm his rapid heartbeat and better prepare himself before heading home. 

“Heya, Cloud!” a voice came out of nowhere as a hand found itself on Cloud’s shoulder. 

“Ahhhh!” Cloud screamed suddenly at the unexpected sound and touch.

He then turned completely around to see who it was that had snuck behind him there. Once he was finally able to focus his eyes, he saw a familiar face. “Oh, uh… it’s just you Marcus.”

Marcus cocked his head at Cloud. “Just me? Well of course. I was still here and happened to see you so I figured I’d say hi. It’s been a while since we’ve spoken. What’s up?” he asked simply, hoping to engage his friend in some conversation. 

“Ah not too much then. Just got out of being stuck in an elevator.” 

“Really? Well, I guess that explains why it wasn’t working earlier then when I tried it. What exactly happened that you got stuck?”

Cloud started to think for a moment as he wanted to explain things to Marcus, but at the same time he also didn’t. “Hmm, well… I was there and was riding it and then the button was pressed to stop it, but then it stopped working. And then we were stuck.”

Marcus narrowed his eyes slightly. “We?”

“Uh, um… it was nobody important. Just some… person.” Cloud scratched the back of his head, trying to feign any doubts from his nervous voice.

“Hmm… well, your red face says otherwise buddy. Something happened didn’t it? Come on, you can tell me.”

Marcus was trying to pry for information that Cloud had not wanted to say anything about. He had slipped up and accidentally said ‘we’. He felt so bad because he was trying to not keep secrets but he just couldn’t bring himself to tell Marcus. Even though they were friends, he still didn’t trust him as much as Zack. He had to find some way to get away for now. 

“Erm, well… oh would you look at the time now. It is getting later and I was supposed to be home already. Look, I gotta run. Uh, Zack’s waiting on me okay,” Cloud replied hurriedly.

He then turned around and started to walk away briskly before breaking into a run. As he made it a good ways away, he heard Marcus yell after him. “Tell me about it soon then!” 

He hoped that he could tell it to him, if he could build up the courage. He really just wanted to put it out of his mind for now and try to focus, but he was finding that hard to do. He had to try to tell it to Zack first though. Would he even be able to do that? 


 

Zack and Cloud were sitting on their couch in the evening just relaxing as the two of them had managed to be off around the same time somehow. It was nice for a change to be able to spend some time with his brother again, even if just for a bit. 

“Hey, Cloud. Is something wrong? I’ve been meaning to ask, but you just have been more quiet than usual the past two days. Not only that, but you seem nervous. What’s wrong?”

Well, it happened just as Cloud had feared. He indeed had not been able to tell Zack yet, and everytime he tried, he would clam up and just get so nervous about it. He hated feeling like that because he was not able to fully enjoy the company of his brother. Even though they were together physically, they had not really been doing much. Cloud knew he would get nowhere by diverting the topic any longer, but he just didn’t know what to do.

“Gaia to Cloud… hello! You in there?” Zack asked as he waved a hand in front of Cloud’s face.

“Oh, right. Yeah, I’m here. Sorry, I was just thinking about something.”

“Yeah, I can tell. You’ve been just here, but not really here. Look,” he said as he placed his hands on Cloud’s shoulders and turned to him. “You can tell me anything you know. I’m your big brother.”

“I know, I know, it’s just… it’s confusing…” Cloud trailed off and lowered his head.

Zack continued to look at him intently as he suddenly realized something. “Wait… this isn’t what we talked about before right? About that girl? Hmm?”

Cloud said nothing to his brother and continued to look down.

Zack, however, took his brother’s silence as confirmation. “It is! I knew something was up. I should have guessed this sooner. Come on, tell me about it. I’ll help.”

A long sigh echoed from Cloud. He knew he wanted to tell Zack, and now that his brother knew, there was no reason to hide it anymore. “Yeah… o-okay you win. I’ll tell you. I-I wanted to anyways, but was just… nervous.”

“Well you don’t have to be. I’ve got your back of course,” Zack said, ruffling Cloud’s hair. 

Cloud casually tried to brush off Zack’s hand as he let out a short laugh. “Yeah I know. Thanks Zack. But something… happened the other day with her, and I just don’t know what to think about it.”

“How about you tell me already, so that way I can start finding a way to help,” Zack replied cheerfully. 

Cloud nodded and leaned closer to Zack. Even though he knew it was just them in the apartment, he still felt shy about the entire matter, and whispering it seemed like the only way he could even tell Zack. After he finished explaining he sat back down to see Zack trying to hold back his laughter. 

“Oh my god, Cloud. You actually kissed her?” Zack asked in between a few laughs. 

“I said she fell on me after we toppled to the floor. Don’t laugh at this! It isn’t funny Zack,” Cloud replied with a pout. 

“I mean, heh, it kind of is. Just how that all happened. Maybe it was fate that it happened,” Zack teased as he grinned. 

Cloud began to pout even more before glaring at Zack. “Cut it out! You said you were going to help me, not tease me!”

“But I am the big brother, I am suppose to tease you, then help you,” Zack laughed, but as he saw Cloud continued to glare at him, he calmed himself down. “All right, I get it. Sorry for laughing at it. But that is what you are so confused and nervous about? Like what you should be feeling or how you feel about it?”

Cloud hummed as he nodded. “What do I do about it? Like I’ve never kissed a girl… or technically been kissed by one.”

“Well I wanna try and help you here, but I can’t tell you how to feel or what to think about it. Those are your own feelings and you gotta try to figure it out for yourself. But you shouldn’t be so afraid. You’re growing up and these feelings will come to you more as you get older.”

“But I’ve kissed a girl… and I don’t know how to describe it…” Cloud let out a brief sigh before looking to Zack. “Zack, what was it like when you first kissed a girl?” 

Zack looked surprised for a moment as he straightened up. “Huh? Me? Uh… well… let’s see… I…” 

As Zack continued to fumble over his words, Cloud narrowed his eyes in suspicion. “Wait a minute. Zack… Have you not kissed a girl yet?” 

“What? N-No… I mean I… It’s just not…There are girls I’ve flirted with a-and… ” Zack continued to stumble over his words as well as started to fidget slightly, only making Cloud more suspicious of him. 

“Ah! You haven’t even kissed a girl yet?! You Zack? You always say you are flirting with girls, yet you haven’t had a first kiss yet?” Cloud nearly shouted, but he managed to keep his voice low enough. He knew that that walls were thin apartment walls and he didn’t want others to hear their conversation easily. 

“Hey! I’ll get there one day… I’ve talked and flirted with plenty of girls… but I haven’t gotten up to kissing a girl yet.”

Cloud snorted with laughter. “So I’ve seriously had my first kiss before you? Now that is something that is really funny.” 

“Now come on Cloud, you don’t get to tease me,” Zack muttered as he was the one that was pouting. 

“Yeah I can! Who says the little brother can’t tease the older brother? I kissed a girl before you!”

Zack recovered quickly from his pouting and smirked at Cloud. “Oh so now you are boasting about kissing a girl now.” 

Cloud’s face reddened slightly as he vigorously shook his head. “No! It was an accidental kiss, not like a real one. It… It doesn’t count.”

“Are you going to make up your mind on it then? Did you kiss a girl before me or not? Cause if it doesn’t count, then I could still beat you there,” Zack replied as he leaned closer to Cloud and chuckled. 

Cloud groaned as he buried his face into his hands. “Whatever. I don’t want to think about it anymore… but I at least don’t feel as nervous about it. Thanks.”

Zack wrapped an arm around Cloud and pulled him into a side hug. “You’re welcome buddy.” 


 

The next day had dawned, and the brothers were once again getting ready to head out to Shinra. After a few minutes, everything was ready for the day. Zack turned to Cloud as the two started out of their apartment. “Now Cloud, don’t forget what today is you here?”

Cloud glanced over towards his brother. “Um, y-yeah, I remember what it is. For sure…”

“You don’t remember do you?!” Zack asked with a surprised tone. 

“W-What? No… I mean… I-”

“I’m kidding, I’m kidding. I’m not that worked up about it. With everything on your mind last night and recently, I’m sure you just forgot.”

“Yeah… that’s probably it. So, what is it then?”

Zack hummed for a moment before answering. “Let’s just say that a certain someone is turning sixteen today,” he pointed at himself and smiled as the two continued on.

“Oh I’m so sorry! I should not have forgotten that. That’s right though, I do remember now. That’s awesome though!” Cloud exclaimed as he nudged Zack in the arm. “Now we will have to celebrate this evening then.”

“Well, that’s what I was counting on. I mean, not that I was expecting… But, it would be nice.” Zack’s hints were pretty direct, but it was a big day for him after all.

None of that bothered Cloud though as he wanted to make sure he would be there for his brother no matter what. “Sure thing. That sounds like a good plan.”

On the way to the building, they continued their chat, discussing plans for the possible get together later in the evening. Nothing major was brought up between the two other than that, which pleased Cloud, as he did worry Zack might try to tease him more about his incident. The most important discussion ended up being food though. Fortunately, neither of them were too picky, so the decisions had been made fairly easily in less than fifteen minutes, and just before they arrived to work. 

Upon entering the building, Zack told Cloud to go in and he would join him in due time. As he walked through the doors, something startled him. “Cloud Fair,” a voice spoke; a familiar voice, and upon looking, he noticed it belonged to an upper class SOLDIER. 

“Kunsel!” Zack exclaimed from behind as he moved past Cloud towards the man.

“Hey, Zack. I didn’t see you come in so I thought it might just be your brother.”

“Ah, you should know we always come together. So, what’s up?” Zack curiously asked.

“Well, I was told to come and wait for Cloud when he arrived here. And now here we are.”

Cloud looked at his brother, giving him a look of ‘what-is-this-about’. Zack shrugged. “If it’s Kunsel, you have nothing to worry about. You remember him right?”

Upon hearing this, Cloud turned back to face Kunsel. He did remember the man, as he was one of Zack’s best friends. Though, even with that fact, he was still curious as to the sudden callout.

“Hey there,” Cloud started. “So, what is it that you need?”

“The Director wants to see you immediately, and I was waiting here on his orders. Now, come with me please,” he spoke quickly.

“Well hold on,” Cloud protested. “Zaaaack. What about what we were talking about?”

Zack waved him on. “It’s fine, it sounds like you have something important now. Go take care of that. I’ll be waiting here in the evening by the door so come find me there. Just don’t forget.”

He sighed. “Yeah, all right then.”

Zack smiled. “Well, see ya Spike. And hopefully catch you around later Kunsel.”

“Ah yeah, I’ll be done by then, I hope,” Kunsel replied.

Cloud only nodded and waved to his brother a goodbye as he turned back to the other man and nodded at him. He motioned for Cloud to follow him as they began to move towards the elevator, which seemed strange to Cloud.

“Umm, isn’t the elevator busted? Why are we taking it?”

“The repairs on it were completed last night so it is working just fine again. I’m very glad about that too. Taking the stairs was proving to be a hassle,” he sighed with relief as he pressed the button to call for the transport. 

Cloud only nodded as the two of them entered into the elevator and started their ascension.

Admittedly, the thought that first crossed Cloud’s mind is that he was getting in trouble for what happened in the elevator the other day with Cissnei. What if she wasn’t okay with him and she had went to someone about it? Or, maybe Reno found out and told someone? Although, he also considered that maybe they were upset that he messed up the elevator. Even though it wasn’t his fault it had been done, he was still present. 

His mind raced so quickly with differing thoughts that he lost track of the time they had been in the shaft until he heard a ding. They had finally arrived at the Director’s floor and departed the elevator. 

He had never actually met the Director before as he had only been just a 3rd class SOLDIER. Sometimes, there were exceptions but there was no reason he had to have met the man yet. But today, there was the unexpected opportunity to meet the man responsible for all SOLDIER activities. He was quickly taken from his inner monologue at the behest of another voice.

“All right Cloud we’re here. Come on, let’s go in.”

He nodded at Kunsel’s suggestion. “Oh, uh, yeah, right.” 

As the two entered, Cloud noticed that the room inside was quite spacious, with windows lining the back wall, which offered a glimpse of the city below. Directly in front of him below a couple of steps into the room sat a large, half-cylindrical desk in the center. Behind said desk, he could see a man sitting behind it. 

After standing there at the beginning of the room, the Director finally acknowledged them and motioned for them to come into the room. Kunsel directed Cloud to proceed towards the Director as he then fell back and exited the room. Cloud looked for a moment, then did as instructed and was soon standing before the Director in front of his desk. 

“Well, good to finally meet you, Cloud. I’m Director Lazard. I’ve been hearing some things about you, even more so lately,” he began.

“O-Oh? You have?” Cloud asked while half holding in his breath. Now that he was in the same room as the Director he felt a whole other level of nervousness. He tried to keep his hands still at his side, but he could feel them started to clam up. 

“Yes yes. You’ve been quite impressive on your missions as of late, most especially the three you were assigned with the Turks. Now, I’m sure you’re aware that 3rd class SOLDIERs don’t partake in missions such as those. So, why were you the exception?” he questioned, as if wanting Cloud to come up with the correct answer. He adjusted his glasses as he stared right at Cloud.

“Uh… I don’t know… um sir,” Cloud said quickly. He could hardly keep his breathing steady, so how could he even keep his thoughts straight? He had no idea still what this was all about, but he still tried to keep thinking of ways to calm down, even if it wasn’t really working. “I just w-work really hard, that’s a-all.”

The Director pointed his hand at Cloud. “Exactly. You work hard, and you’ve proven your skill exceeds that of most others. So I wanted to test you. Of course, there was always the off chance you could have died, but you didn’t and here you are.”

He then arose from his chair and stretched momentarily before striding around the large desk. Upon coming to a stop in front of Cloud, he looked down at the young boy. “Now, you must be wondering why you’re here right now then. I can tell you are nervous, but don’t be.”

Cloud took in a slow breath as he nodded to the Director. He opened his mouth to respond back, but he found that he couldn’t say anything more. Even though the Director was acting calm and nice to him, he was still far too nervous to say anything else. He slowly managed to look up at the Director and stared at him in the eyes, waiting for what he would say next. 

“Well, you need to get over that. You’re one of my SOLDIERs, so that nervousness and shyness isn’t going to cut it,” he said sternly as he then narrowed his eyes at Cloud. “Or...could it be that something else is on your mind? Maybe something happened recently and you’re more nervous than usual.”

“Um, uh...w-what do you mean...uh, sir?”

Fear escaped through Cloud’s face as he was frozen there, thinking of what the Director might mean. The only thing that crossed his mind of recent happenings was the events in the elevator. However, the only  person that he had mentioned it to was Zack. He knew Zack would not tell, nor did he have the time between last night and today. How could the Director possibly know? 

Then, a sudden, other fearful thought crept into his mind. “Oh no...what if Cissnei told about it. Crap that would be really embarrassing. I thought I wasn’t gonna have to worry about this. But now...I don’t know.”

The Director just curtly smiled and leaned in to Cloud’s ear so only he could ear. “I’m sure you’re thinking about what happened in the elevator right? Don’t worry, nobody told me. But there are cameras in there, so when someone complained about it being out of order, I checked it out for myself. Nobody else knows, so don’t let it get to you. I mean, unless you want others to know.”

“No!” he shouted, forgetting who he was speaking to. He then realized his outburst and tried to backpedal. “Um, sorry, Director. I-I just...please don’t say anything!” he begged as he bowed his upper body towards the man as a gesture. 

“I said it’s fine. Besides, that is not why you were called today. But I wanted to address it because you are going to need to be more focused now. You will be taking on a lot more responsibility from this day. Accept what has already happened, and then you can move on,” Lazard stated to him.

Cloud honestly had not expected life advice from the Director of SOLDIER, but he was relieved. The fact that he was not in trouble and that someone else was trying to look out for him was comforting to know. “R-Right then. But, uh, what do you mean by more responsibility.”

The Director straightened his glasses and went back to standing directly in front of Cloud. “Well, if you’re sure you’re ready then let’s get to it,” he paused before continuing. “From this day forward, you are a 2nd class SOLDIER. Be sure to make us proud of what you do.”

Chapter Text

Cloud’s mouth dropped open after hearing the words from the Director. He though just making it to SOLDIER was a big enough shock, but now this was the next step. Even though he had heard it right there in front of him, it was still almost hard to believe. Just like when he had come to Midgar, and then also made it to SOLDIER, it all felt so surreal.  

2nd class… he actually made it to 2nd class. He was now a 2nd class SOLDIER, just like Zack was. Cloud felt a mix of emotions surging inside him, ranging from shock to wanting to feel overjoyed with happiness. But he was at least able to remember that he was still in the room with the Director. There was no way that he could verbally express his excitement right in front of him, unless he wanted to look childish. Cloud took in a slow deep breath though as he managed to keep his emotions in check as he finally thought to reply to him.  

“Thank you sir. Thank you very much.”

The Director looked pleased. “Good, it sounds like you’re understanding.”

Cloud looked on and then spoke without even thinking. “So what do I do now?”

“Well, since you are now 2nd class, there are more assignments that you can go on. And for today, there is one that I will be sending you on. It’s similar to your other missions recently, so you should be familiar with the people you will be going with and the tasks expected of you,” he spoke with authority.

Thoughts entered his mind of the Turks that he had gone with before, as those were most likely the ones that the Director was talking about. Before his mind could drift any further, he tried to refocus himself as he knew that he would have to try to prove himself. After all, this was the opportunity that he had been waiting for. He was nervous still, but slightly happy to soon commence his work as a 2nd class. 

“So, uh, when do I have my first mission then?” he asked, wanting to be able to get a plan in his head.

“Right now." 

Had he just heard the Director right? He was going to have to leave on a mission at that very moment. It was true he wanted to start his work to see what it was like, but he had hoped to have a breather before he started. Suddenly, his mind flooded with thoughts of Zack’s birthday and their planned celebration later; though, now he was wondering if he would be able to make it at all. 

He almost began to protest, but he figured the best thing was to keep those thoughts to himself. He didn’t want to look lazy as well. Though, he probably could not defy those orders even if he wanted to. He thought back to the first day that Zack had become a 2nd class. Zack had not mentioned going on a mission on his first day, but he did mention there was a lot of stuff that he had to do. Though the more Cloud thought about it, he started to figure that it was maybe different for each person who reached 2nd class. 

Sighing internally, Cloud breathed deeply and responded. “Okay, sir. I will get ready to leave then.”

Lazard smiled. “Good. Then our business is concluded. I’ve had your new outfit made already as well as your new cell phone, so go collect it over there and then you’ll be on your way,” he concluded as he pointed towards the back wall of the room.

After going to collect his outfit as well as cell phone, he exited through the sliding door. Once Cloud was on the other side of it, he exhaled sharply as he was holding in much of his breath. He had been so nervous but since it was the Director, he did his best to be on good behavior. He still couldn’t believe what had happened though. 2nd class… he finally had made it.

“So how did it go in there Cloud?”

“Ah! Uh, who, what… “ he exclaimed with a startled expression as he fumbled his belongings in his hands. After finding the source of the voice, he saw that it was Kunsel, who apparently was still waiting outside of the door. “Oh, uh, sorry Kunsel. You kinda surprised me.”

“Sorry about that. I was just curious to see what happened in there,” he said as he caught a glance at what Cloud was picking up, and then it clicked. “Oh I see now! You finally made 2nd class. Congrats!”

“Yeah, I’m, uh, still kinda shocked I guess. But, I’m so glad too… it’s the dream Zack and I have had since we were growing up. Thanks.”

“Don’t mention it. Speaking of Zack, I bet he will be a bit jealous since you made it to 2nd class faster than he did,” Kunsel teased as he gave Cloud a nude.

“Oh yeah, you’re right!” Cloud explained. He couldn’t believe he hadn’t thought about that. “I’m still only thirteen, and he made it when he was fifteen. Wow, I can’t wait to see his expression when I tell him the news.”

“You got that right,” Kunsel replied with a small chuckle. “You know, I think you may be the youngest kid to ever get to 2nd class, not counting Sephiroth who… as they say, made it to 1st class at only twelve years old.” 

“Wait seriously?” 

“Yeah, I don’t know if I fully believe the story, but seeing what Sephiroth can do, it sounds plausible.” 

“I still haven’t even seen the guy before,” Cloud said before the two of then started walking. Even though he had never seen the greatest of all SOLDIERS before… there was still something that sounded familiar about him… but those were thoughts for another time. 

“Most 3rd class usually wouldn’t. You may have a better chance of seeing now that you are a 2nd,” Kunsel explained as they headed down the hallway. 

“Have you seen him before?” Cloud asked, a slight bit curious now. 

Kunsel shook his head. “Nope, haven't yet, but I have at least seen Genesis and Angeal before. I guess Sephiroth is just harder to spot. Though he is rather cold and standoffish from what everyone says.”

Cloud nodded as they headed into the elevator. He tried to think of more things he could say on the subject as they started down the elevator to the SOLDIER floor. But at the time being he was drawing a blank. As strange as it was that Sephiroth seemed to bring a faint sense… of something… he couldn’t think how he would ever explain that to anyone. After a little bit of thought, he decided to change the subject to something else. 

“So I guess this is all that I get then so far huh?”

Kunsel nodded. “Yup that’s right! And then a special training mission for the day to get you a good start of what it’s like to be a 2nd class. You’ve already probably heard from Zack though that it is rather tough at times.”

“Yeah… he’s told me before about it. I wasn’t sure if it was really that hard, but I guess I’ll find out,” Cloud stated as the elevator then dinged for him.

“Well, best get going man,” Kunsel suggested.

Cloud nodded and stepped from the elevator onto the SOLDIER floor and watched as the doors closed behind him, taking Kunsel with them. After stepping out, Cloud made his way through the SOLDIER floor and into a rest area so that he could change properly. It took him only a few minutes to switch into the new uniform, but then it was done. He walked over to the closet mirror and peered at himself. 

As expected he looked the exact same all expect now the SOLDIER uniform he wore was a different color. It was now a red color compared to before.  Cloud wasn’t sure that the color was the most flattering, but it still meant a lot to him. It was a symbol that he had made it into 2nd class. A way of showing he had worked hard to climb the ladder to get to where he was now. It was still a bit of a shock to him, but he knew that it was real. 

Now the other thing he started to think about was his new cell phone. He took it out of his pocket and looked at it carefully. It was a basic flip phone, but every 2nd class as well as 1st class had one. Even Zack had one, but Cloud had not thought much about that fact before. It never really mattered to him since he himself did not have his own cell phone, but now he finally had one.  

“Hopefully I get to see Zack later today after all. He’d have a surprise for sure, and on his birthday no less. Though… “ he paused and remembered. “I don’t know how long this mission is going to take either though.”

He knew that he should not be worrying like that. He clasped his hands together on each of his cheeks a few times, trying to adjust his mind to better focus. Once he was finally ready, he left the room. Though, he was unsure of where he actually needed to go, but he figured that he would be close to the same places where the missions were held before. 

After stepping around the corner, he then found his way to the landing area that he had been to several times before. The Turks were there already, and it almost seemed as though they were waiting on him. Or rather, Rude was waiting.

“There you are, Mr. 2nd Class. Now come on and let’s get going,” he motioned for Cloud to advance. 

“O-Oh yeah, of course. Any idea how long this will take?”

“Come on, you should know that answer by now. Just whenever we get done,” he replied casually. “What, you got some place to be?”

Cloud wanted to say yes, but he knew he probably shouldn’t. “Uh, no no. I just was wondering is all… “

“All right then. Load out then Cloud.”

He made his way onto the helicopter, along with Rude following behind him. Once on board, he saw a few familiar faces, and one of them made him blush almost instantly. Despite the news of the promotion, seeing Cissnei still would make him flustered as he remembered the events that had transpired, though things were not as awkward as they were before. He did, however, notice that she was eyeing him heavily.

After looking him up and down, she finally spoke. “Now, let’s focus on the work.”

He was surprised at the response. Trying to not show that he was too flustered, he regained his composure slightly. “Yeah. I’m ready.”


 

It was late into the evening when Cloud finally made it back to headquarters. It was far later than he had expected it to be, but thankfully it was still early evening time. The first thing he did though was head off to the showers to clean up and relax. While he wasn't completely exhausted from the mission, it did end up using a lot of his energy.  

Cloud took out his new phone and checked the time. It was currently half past eight in the evening. He had hoped that Zack would still be waiting by the door, even though it was pretty late. He entered into the elevator and punched the button to the main floor. After a few seconds, he heard a ding and the door opened as he then ran out and looked around quickly. 

The lobby seemed to be quite empty at the time, save for the person at the front desk. “I guess Zack probably already went home… I can’t really blame him. I did the same thing,” he spoke to himself as he took another look around in each direction. Upon his second glance to the left towards the entrance, he thought he saw something moving from somewhere from behind a wall. He walked a bit closer and was finally able to see who it was.

“Hey! Zack!”

The black, spiky-haired man turned around. “Oh, Cloud, you’re still here. I was just about to come out here and wait,” he said as he approached his brother. “I had waited for a little bit, and then decided to just go train since I figured you might have gotten caught up somewh-...”

His voice trailed off as he looked at Cloud more intently. He started moving his eyes up and down his brother’s body, as it looked as though he was looking for something.

“So Zack...  You notice anything then?” Cloud slyly smiled towards his brother. His nervousness that he did have seemed to disappear upon being with his brother. 

Zack finally was able to look him in the face again, eyes widening at his sudden realization. “Cloud! You did it! You’re a 2nd class now! I knew something was different but I was not sure what, but wow. So that’s where you were. 

“Yeah, sorry about being delayed so much. I know we had pl-...”

Zack cut him off. “No no, don’t worry about it. This is a pleasant surprise. And on my birthday too. This is great! I’m proud of you Cloud,” he exclaimed excitedly as he gripped his brother in a large bearhug, squeezing him tightly. 

“Uh, t-that’s good to... hear Zack. But... would you not squeeze... so tight.”

“Oh, sorry sorry. I guess I got carried away there,” Zack admitted as he relinquished his hold on Cloud, allowing him to be able to breathe properly again. 

After standing in place for a few seconds, Cloud decided to try to get something started. “So um, are you ready to go?”

Zack eyed him curiously. “Where are we gonna go?”

“Well, to celebrate of course! It’s your birthday after all.”

“Yeah, and let’s not forget about your promotion too. We have two things to be thankful for,” Zack smiled infectiously as Cloud was able to return it. 

“Yeah, you’re right I guess. I mean, I can’t really think of too much right now. What about the usual?” he questioned.

After mulling it over for a few seconds based on the look across his face, Zack finally seemed to agree. “Yeah, that sounds good!” He then wrapped his arm around Cloud and strung his younger brother along. “Let’s get going then.”

At least there was not many people in the lobby at that point, but at that moment, Cloud found that he would not have cared anyway. Everything else had left his mind, with the promotion being fresh and taking over most of his thoughts, along with trying to do something for Zack. He was content with just spending the time they had right now. Everything else could wait. 


 

It had been a week since Cloud was now 2nd class, and each day he had seen one mission after another as his workload continued to increase. He barely had any time to himself now, but he at least was able to stay busy and not thinking about certain things. 

His mind would drift to thoughts of Cissnei every now and again. He had wandering thoughts now about her and what she would think now that he was 2nd class. She had briefly talk to him before before, but there wasn't anything else but that. She never actually gave him a proper congrats on the subject and he would wonder if she ever would. But in the ned he would end up too busy to dwell on them for long, which was all for the better in his opinion. 

It was mid afternoon and he was on break when he was greeted by a familiar face again. “Oh, hey Kunsel. What’s up?”

“Well, I actually came because the Director wanted to see you again. No idea for what, but it’s true,” he stated directly, taking his time with his words. 

Cloud almost sighed. He didn’t really want to see the Director at the moment as he was finally enjoying some down time from the workload he’s been under. Though, after mulling it over for a second, he realized this was what he asked for anyways. 

“Well, okay then. I guess since I know where it is I’ll head up there. Thanks.”

With that, Cloud walked off towards the elevator once again. Within a few minutes, he was at the Director’s floor. He stepped out and entered into the office. “Uh, you wanted to see me, sir?”

“Ah Cloud. Yes yes, I have some news for you,” Lazard started. “Just give me a moment.”

The Director then picked up his phone and started a conversation that Cloud was not even paying attention to. After a minute or two, it finally ended. The man then strode around and sat down at his desk in front of where Cloud was standing. 

“All right, I could dance around the topic but I’ll get right to it. Your strength and determination you’ve shown since becoming SOLDIER is remarkable. There’s been some bumps here and there but overall it’s been good. So good, in fact, that it’s caught the attention of one of our 1st class SOLDIERS.” He paused for a moment to catch his breath. 

Cloud stared wide-eyed. “R-Really? I mean…I appreciate the-“

“I’m not quite done yet,” the Director stated sharply. 

“R-Right, sorry.” 

“Anyways, because of this, he requested to have you. So as of now, just like your brother who also showed promise, you will be mentored personally by a 1st class SOLDIER.” 

Did Cloud just hear him correctly? He would be mentored by a 1st class? He almost couldn’t believe what he had heard. His mind was a mix of surprise and excitement all at the same time, so much that he could not really figure out a proper response. But he did want to know something at least. 

“W-Wow. For real?! Well, um, who is it then?”

Just then Cloud heard the door open behind him. 

“Ah, right on time as always,” Lazard spoke confidently with a grin. 

Cloud slowly craned his head around to see who it was that had entered into their presence. Though upon looking, his whole body froze up as he stared at the tall, silver-haired man who now was staring at him with cold, serious eyes.

Chapter Text

“You of course know of our number one 1st class SOLDIER, Sephiroth,” Lazard said to Cloud as the tall man walked into the room. 

Cloud could not take his eyes off Sephiroth, nor could he even find any words to say. He couldn’t even move from his spot that he stood. He had always heard about Sephiroth all the time, but he had never seen him once before. Not at least… until now. Being in the same room as the famous man brought a different atmosphere. It felt almost colder than before as he saw Sephiroth eyed him carefully. 

Once again Cloud felt that slight tugging at the back of his head. Now seeing Sephiroth in person, there was clearly something about him that his mind wanted to tell him. Yet nothing came to him, and he continued to stare there like a statue.  He could almost feel the blood draining from his face as he kept staring, almost unblinking, at Sephiroth. 

Thankfully Lazard clearing his throat was enough to snap Cloud back into reality. “Cloud… Are you all right there?” 

“Y-Yeah,” Cloud said as she quickly shook his head, trying to gather his thoughts. “I just didn’t expect it… I mean I didn’t know that…”

“You did not expect that out of all the 1st class, for it to be me, correct?” Sephiroth asked in a matter of fact tone. 

“Oh uh… n-no. Erm… No sir I mean,” Cloud replied quickly.

Sephiroth rolled his eyes a little. “You do not have to be formal with me. There is no need to refer to me as ‘sir’.”

“Oh okay,” Cloud replied meekly gulping slightly, hoping he had not upset Sephiroth. At least now he knew what everyone was talking about. Just his mere calm and collected presence was extremely intimidating. 

“Now that you two have met, I can let Sephiroth take it into his own hands,” Lazard said as he gestured to the 1st class. “Though you still will go on some missions, most of your days will be spent training under Sephiroth. He has the say in what most your days will be like, understood?” 

Cloud opened his mouth to reply but, combined with his heart pounding and feeling the cold gaze from Sephiroth, he found he had no voice to speak. So he closed his mouth, stood up straight, and nodded at Lazard. He then slowly directed his gaze back to Sephiroth. He could feel his body becoming tense, but he tried to take in deep breaths to calm himself down. He knew Sephiroth was intimidating, as he had heard the stories of the man being very unapproachable, but also Shinra’s greatest SOLDIER. But that wasn’t the main thing that bothered Cloud. For some reason there was this strange feeling Cloud couldn’t explain to himself. He couldn’t understand why, but he felt rather apprehensive next to Sephiroth without even having seen him in person before.

“If there is nothing more that you need from us, then we shall go,” Sephiroth said as he turned to head out the door. 

Cloud stood there though, watching Sephiroth exit the room, but before the man could he stopped. He turned around and glanced over to Cloud. “Are you going to follow or not?”

“Uh, yeah, sure thing,” Cloud replied hesitantly as he then proceeded to follow behind the legendary man. He really was unsure what was going to happen now, but that uneasy feeling just would not go away. What could be causing it? 

The two of them walked quietly down the hall. Cloud trailed behind Sephiroth as he lead the way. Cloud kept wanting to glance at Sephiroth, but each time he did he ducked his head back down. He knew it was foolish to do so. He was only looking at the back of Sephiroth and it wasn’t like Sephiroth could see that. He didn’t have eyes on the back of his head after all. But there was still that uncertainty and nervousness in his gut. That strange feeling he couldn’t shake off. He tried to breathe deeply though. As much as he felt unnerved by Sephiroth, he had to try and overcome it. That was what he knew he had to do. He was working hard to improve himself so he couldn’t let it all fall away cause he was supposedly afraid of Sephiroth. 

“Now that you are under my tutelage, I feel that we should start by testing your strengths. I’ve seen the records of how you perform, but I wish to see it personally.”

Cloud was suddenly snapped out of his thoughts as he turned his head up towards Sephiroth. He breathed in one good time to try to gather his words. 

“Okay then, we can do that. Training is something I usually enjoy anyways, so I am ready to try to prove myself.” His voice sounded confident, though he knew that some of it was forced; however, in his mind, the same nervousness lingered. Was he truly ready for this training? He had done it before but this was with Sephiroth. He was worried that he would disappoint but tried to not show that. 

“I applaud your determination, but do not become overconfident. Now that I will be the one instructing your training, do not expect any of it to be easy. It will not be as simple as you’ve done before, I can assure you that,” Sephiroth stated in a cold and dry tone, not once glancing back at Cloud as they neared the elevators. 

Once they were in the elevator, the ride down was awkward with Sephiroth as the two of them were eclipsed in silence the entire time. Cloud thought to himself as they were on the way down. “I really hope the elevator doesn’t mess up like it did that one time… “ He then thought back quite a few months back. “Marcus was right, it ended up being awkward being stuck in an elevator with this man.” 

Thankfully the elevator came to a stop and opened up on the correct floor. Cloud breathed a heavy sigh of relief once he was out of there. Even though it was less than a minute, he had never felt more awkward in all of his life. He swore that he was going to get claustrophobic if he had stayed there any longer with Sephiroth looming above him. 

As they both exited from the small metal box, Cloud did wonder what kind of training they were going to be doing. There was only one way to find out too. “So, uh… what are we going to be doing for the training? Exactly.”

“You will be set up in one of the higher level simulations of my choice, so I may see how well you can handle it,” Sephiroth replied simply, saying not a word more. 

The two of them then reached one of the simulation training rooms. They entered inside and Cloud glanced around. He had been in the training rooms before, but never had actually done a true simulation training session. He had always just trained with Zack so they only set it up as an environmental simulation. They did not have the authority to set up actual training simulations anyways. 

But now he stood there waiting to see what would happen. As he did Sephiroth came up to him and handed him a pair of large, strange goggles. The simulation goggles. That way all he would be seeing would be the simulation that Sephiroth would set up. 

That was another thing Cloud began to wonder about. Just how tough was it going to be? He had been in here doing simulations a couple of times before, like when Zack would sneak him in. But neither of them would ever get overworked while training. This, however, felt different than those times though. After mulling things over in his head, Cloud figured he was going to be in for a rough ride. 

Right after he was able to get the simulation goggles on with the headpiece, he decided it would be best to take out his sword too. Cloud was still slightly anxious about the simulation still, but he readied himself the best that he could. “So, when are we going to begin?” 

“In one moment. Please prepare yourself in whatever way you know how. The simulation will begin and I will evaluate you as you proceed.”

Cloud really didn’t know what he would do to prepare himself, but the only thing he knew he needed to do was to try to calm himself more. He closed his eyes and slowly breathed in and out, making sure to attempt to clear his mind. As he was relaxing, that familiar cold voice broke through his concentration.

Sephiroth smiled almost coldly. “Okay, you’ve had the time. Now, prepare yourself. Let’s see if you’re really SOLDIER material.”


 

The simulation started up and Cloud found himself to be in a town. He seemed to be in what he could only assume would be the center of the town. There was a large fountain that was in front of him, and then in either nautical direction was a road that led straight down, with wooden houses and buildings of different shapes and sizes lining the sides. In the distance, there appeared to be some taller, metal-looking buildings that decorated the horizon; so, it must have been some sort of more modern city, almost like Midgar, but just a bit different. 

It surely wasn’t any town he really knew, but he knew that was part of the simulation. To be honest, he had no idea what he was supposed to be doing now that he was there, but his assumption was that he would receive some kind of orders on what to do just like he always had. So he decided he should wait until that happened. 

“You will be encountering some monsters with in this simulation. Deal with them however you can, and take as much time as you need.” 

“Wait I’m just on my own here? What about telling what I am up against?” Cloud asked, only feeling half surprised by Sephiroth’s comment. 

“That is the purpose of this. Without help I wish to see how well you fair against a challenge such as this. So now proceed forward until you encounter your first obstacle.” 

Cloud did not respond as he felt like that there would be no need. He had a feeling that Sephiroth was not going to allow him to back down anyways. With that now in his mind, he began to proceed through the simulated town, keeping his eyes and ears sharp for anything that could try and get the jump on him. 

He decided to walk down the road that going towards the massive skyline of buildings, thinking that would most likely be where he would end up needing to be. As he traveled down the singular pathway, he started to think. 

“I wonder if Zack had to go through anything like this with his mentor? Or maybe this is just how Sephiroth does things. I mean, after all he is the general and the most famous and powerful SOLDIER… so what did he see in me then that wasn’t seen in Zack? Zack is much better suited for these things than I. I don’t know… Everytime I think of that silver-haired man, I just get this feeling. Like I already know how he is, or what to expect. Like I know I’ve never met him before, but it’s like I-”

His thoughts were cut off abruptly as he heard a crashing sound and began to look around. Then, something large collided with his side, knocking him into one of the buildings for a moment. 

“You’re too distracted. Get your head out of the clouds and focus. You’re on a mission, not a leisure expedition.”

Sephiroth’s cold voice echoed those words as Cloud wondered where it had come from, but he soon found that there was a listening device on his person through which the man was communicating with him. Which meant of course, that Sephiroth would be able to hear everything that was going on at least. But, the question Cloud wondered briefly was how did he know that he was distracted? 

He had no time to answer that question or even ponder it for any longer as a large, wolf-like beast was staring at him, having crashed through one of the buildings. It must have been what knocked him away earlier. The creature allowed him time to raise himself back up to his feet as it bared its fangs at him. As soon as Cloud was up, he placed his sword in an attack position out in front of him and the creature charged. 

After a few minutes of fighting though, Cloud had defeated the beast, suffering no injuries, save for the bit of bruising that happened from earlier. “Well, at least that wasn’t too bad.”

“Don’t relax now,” Sephiroth cut in over the radio. “You still have much more to go. The further you go, they will get tougher. There is a ranking system by which I measure their strength. There are classes: S, A, B, C. There are lower ones, but they are not included in this simulation. What you just fought was only a C rank, so be prepared for more trouble later. Don’t disappoint me,” his cold voice finished, a hint of definiteness in his voice. 

“O-Okay,” Cloud replied before he moved forward, ready to see what other challenges awaited.

Chapter Text

Cloud tried to not let his thoughts waver in his mind too much. He knew he had to focus much more than before. This was already proving to be something much different than he ever did in training or any mission he had gone on. He walked around the vacant town, looking for any other monsters or anything else that could show up to attack him. But over all at the current moment it was far too quiet, which led Cloud to believe that the monsters were hiding. They were hiding… and waiting to strike. 

Cloud’s intuition on that proved to be correct as the closer he got to the taller buildings, the more frequent the danger beasts became. He progressed through the area, fighting one after another, albeit not without difficulty. Slowly, Cloud started to tire out as the sweat began to pour course from his body as he ended up having a few scuffs and scratches from those tussles. 

At one point, after putting down a couple of them, he made a run towards where the path ended and opened up into the city-like area. There was another one that was chasing him and just when he had gotten to the end, he side-stepped quickly out of the way. The monster could not stop because the momentum carried from its large body propelled it forward, causing it to slam into the wall hard. Seeing an opportunity, Cloud raised his sword and plunged it into the beast’s neck and watched as it faded away into data. 

“W-Wow… that was harder… than I thought it would be. This is only a training mission… but it’s harder than any real mission I’ve been on,” he admitted to himself as he hunched over and clutched his knees, taking a moment to catch his breath.

Cloud waited for a moment after that. He wanted to see if Sephiroth had anything to say to him after his latest victory. But there was only silence. No words came from the general. Cloud wondered how much he would have to do in order to get Sephiroth to say something. He wanted to try and impress Sephiroth, he knew he had to do that much, but he had no idea how high the bar was set for that. 

However, he had no time to think about that as he noticed a huge shadow beginning to come over the area in which he was standing. He looked up to see there was another monster that was flying in as it landed directly in front of him. It looked almost just like the other monsters did before, the only difference being a slight difference in color. Cloud was tired, but he knew he had to try to fight it, as he still did want to impress. 

“A-All right… come on.”

Cloud charged at the beast just as he had the other ones, his sword held high in the air as he brought it down towards its head. He swung as hard as he could as he felt the sword collide; but, the collision was with something hard instead. He looked up to see that he indeed had hit the monster, but his strike had done nothing. For a moment, Cloud caught a glimpse of its deep, yellow eyes that stared at him before an unseen hand swiped at him, sending him flying into the wall behind him and breaking it down in the process. 

Cloud nursed his head as it was tingling with pain. “Ow… what was that? I was able to do that with the others. I know I am tired but still… what gives?”

“Tsk.” A simple sound was heard from the radio signal.

“Sephiroth? Was that you? What is it?” Cloud asked, but he received no response in return.

He figured he would just have to fight. There did not seem to be a way to get away at the moment. Slowly, the blond stood up and faced the beast again. However this time, the creature charged him instead. Cloud raised his sword to block its onslaught as he saw a sharpened claw swinging at his body. As the claw made contact with his sword, the latter snapped clean in half as Cloud was slightly punctured by the claws and sent crashing to the ground.

“Ahhhh!” The pain from the hit was evident as there felt to be some obvious bruising. The vestment that he wore was punctured, but it had not gone all the way through to his skin. Cloud wanted to stay and fight because he wanted to impress. He did not want to show that he was weak. But, there seemed to be no other choice. 

Cloud became scared, but he was able to rise up once again. With no weapon to fight with, he turned and started to run more into the larger city as he passed by several tall structures on the way. He hoped the monster would just be gone, but his luck was not that great as he heard it rumbling behind him, crashing into the buildings as it progressed. Up ahead, Cloud noticed a path that veered to the right and quickly decided to cut that corner. He had no idea where it led, but it had to be better than just keeping a straight path. 

When he did that, the creature skidded as it tried to turn, but the sudden change of direction from its prey halted its progress as Cloud was able to gain some ground. Cloud ran for a bit more until there was a turn right, which put him facing the way that he came but on a path parallel to the one he was just on. “Maybe if I can just get back to the way that I came in then I can find some place to end all this.” Eventually, the path turned once more and placed him back on the original track as he kept going back the other way. 

He thought that he may have actually outran the beast until he barely saw something from the corner of his eye. The building beside him started to crumble as the same monster emerged from it. Cloud somehow managed to roll out of the way, skidding on the ground as he threw himself to the side. He looked up at the monster who started to bear down on him once again. He knew this was only a simulation, but it was so real. He could feel pain, and everything else he could feel as well. He was unsure if he would actually make it out of there safely. 

“What do I do? I-I don’t know… I need… help,” Cloud muttered before saying the last part more loudly. 

As the beast raised its arm up for another attack, Cloud felt he could not move. Was it fear? Exhaustion? Whatever it was held Cloud still as he could do nothing but watch. As the large clawed hand fell down, Cloud felt the wind whip by him quickly. He looked up to see a faint silver trail that followed it out of the corner of his eye. Slowly, he turned his attention back to the monster in front of him to see that there was now a familiar man standing in between him and the monster, brandishing a long sword against the said beast. 

“S-Sephiroth?!” Cloud half asked with a surprised look on his face, not having expected to see the general come to his aid. 

The silver-haired man only offered him a cold glance quickly out of the corner of his eye. He turned back to the monster quickly and somehow shoved it back. And then in a movement that Cloud could really not see all that well, it was over. The monster was cut in half as it began to fade to data just like the others had before. The creature that had given him so much trouble. The one that had hurt him, broken his sword, and chased him down. Sephiroth defeated it in a single blow. Cloud looked on in awe and wonder. So this is the power of Sephiroth?

He was soon snapped out of his starstruck phase as his new mentor spoke. “That monster was not supposed to be here. Not yet at least. That was a higher level monster, a rank A. You were still suppose to go up against C ranks and then some B ranks before any A rank would even show. I suppose it could have been because I was here as well… But, you never would have stood a chance at your current level.”

“Y-Yeah, I found that out. Was, that the noise I heard earlier over this then?” he asked as he pointed towards the radio on his belt. 

“Yes, because I knew what was happening so I rushed over. But I wanted to see what you would do while I was on the way here,” he spoke as he turned to face Cloud, an indifferent expression on his face. “However, I see all you did was run.”

Cloud felt a pit form in his stomach. He could tell that the man before him was displeased. “B-But I… my weapon… I didn’t know what to do…”

“I can see that now.” Sephiroth then pulled out what appeared to be his cellphone and moved his fingers along the screen. 

Suddenly, the world around them began to fade away as Cloud could see the training room coming back into focus. He could still feel the pain in his chest and across other parts of his body, indicating that what he felt was indeed the real deal. He took off his helmet that was able to generate all of his virtual surroundings. The only thing around him now was Sephiroth. 

“You did about as well as I thought you would. You still have much more training to do. It won’t be like this everyday, but I wanted to test you. Now I know your limits, Cloud.”

Sephiroth extended a hand to Cloud surprisingly, to which Cloud gladly accepted. He then was pulled back up to his feet and straightened himself out. “T-Thanks.”

“Cloud,” the taller man began as he looked away. “Most other SOLDIERS would have tried to stay and fight believing it to be their duty. That is what you should do. But… a good SOLDIER also knows when they are outmatched. It’s up to you to make those calls, which you did today. I will not tell you whether it was right or wrong, but only that you did what you thought was best in your situation.”

He could not make sense of the man’s words really, as it almost seemed like some sort of riddle. Maybe it was just the way that Sephiroth handled those types of situations. “Um, okay then. I will… try to remember that then.”

“Go. We’re done today. Get cleaned up and whatever else you need to do. We will continue work tomorrow,” Sephiroth said coldly as he walked out of the room. Just as the sliding door was about to close, he glanced back at Cloud with his bright blue eyes as he narrowed his eyebrows and gave a smirk. “I’ll be waiting, Cloud.”

Once Cloud was completely alone, he finally let himself feel the weight of the pain that he was going through. But suddenly, he felt a jarring pain in his head, similar to the ones that he had felt before. He almost collapsed under the strain, but he tried to hold himself up; however, the physical pain was also taking a toll on him. “Gosh, why now?”

He stood there hunched over, trying to see if the pain would cease at all, but he knew better. After a few minutes of waiting, he figured he should have tried to leave and try to catch Sephiroth, but the man was probably already long gone from the area. Cloud decided it would be best to try to leave and find someone, or better yet, see about getting to the sick bay in the headquarters.

Cloud stumbled his way to the sliding door of the training room and exited it slowly, making sure to hang close to the wall for support. With his current condition, the hallway seemed much longer than it used to be. He just wanted to make it to the elevator or to some room where somebody was.

Thankfully he could hear footsteps of someone approaching. He wasn’t too sure which direction though as his head was starting to hurt more. Not only that, but each step he took made his body feel heavier and heavier. Soon he was leaning up against the wall, trying to support or at least relax a little. 

The footsteps came closer and then they stopped. “Cloud, is that you?”

The voice sounded familiar as Cloud glanced up to see a familiar face. “C-Cissnei?”

He saw that Cissnei now stood in front of him, several folders in her hands. Though an expression of worry spread across her face the longer she stared at Cloud. “Yeah, are you okay? You’re looking a bit pale.”

Pain continued to intensify throughout his body. He tried to form the words to respond to her. “I… h-head… p-pa-. '' He was unable to finish as he began to fade and slumped to the ground. His vision began to blur, so he blinked a few times to attempt to regain it but to no avail. Soon, darkness encroached over his eyes and everything faded to black, with Cissnei calling out his name being the last thing he heard. 

Chapter Text

"Cloud? Cloud…"

A soft voice seemed to echo in his ear. Someone was calling out his name? But who was it?

"Cloud!"

He snapped his eyes open at the sudden raising of the voice. His eyes darted around the room looking for the source of the voice in question when he finally laid eyes on the short, black-suited redhead to which the voice belonged. "Uh… Cissnei? That you?"

"Took you long enough. What happened with you?" she replied with what almost seemed like concern.

Cloud stared ahead blankly as he looked at her, trying to figure out exactly what she was talking about. He started to become more aware of his surroundings, until he finally realized he was not in the training room anymore.

Upon looking, everything that surrounded him with white, including the walls, the floors, even the ceiling. He noticed that he was in a bed, which also consisted of sheets that were white. He could probably guess where he was at, but he still felt the need to ask anyways.

"Where am I exactly?"

"The infirmary, where else?" Cissnei asked with a" slight huff, as if it was foolish for Cloud to even ask the question.

"Really? But how did I even get here? The last thing I remember is… I think I had seen you maybe. After that just nothing," Cloud spoke slowly while trying to recall his lost time.

"Just how out of it are you? You passed out and I had you brought here. You haven't missed a whole lot. You've only been out for a hour or so," Cissnei replied.

"Oh, okay then. I'm starting, to feel better now that I am up… I just had a severe head pain earlier after training. I guess it was too much maybe," he trailed off in thought as he finally sat up in the bed.

"What could have caused me to have that pain this time? I mean, I thought most of that was over with. It's been so long since it happened. Maybe I was just stressed from all the training from earlier. I mean, Sephiroth did kinda put me through it. Am I forgetting something maybe? It almost felt like that, but I'm not really sure what."

"Training with Sephiroth more than what you expected it to be?" Cissnei asked, the slight hint of sarcasm in her voice.

Cloud's thought bubble popped quickly as he pivoted his head to face the redhead. "Uh, um… well, it was tough. Tougher than even the real missions I've done… but, for some reason it's not that. It's… after it was over and I started to have the head pain… it almost felt like I was forgetting something. Or, like something I couldn't remember. But I don't know what it could be," he admitted, letting his inner thoughts break through to the outside, which is something that did not happen very often.

"Another case of possible suppressed memories?" Cissnei asked before humming to herself slightly. "You seem to be quite the curious case Cloud."

"I guess." Cloud really did not know what to make of the situation or what was causing the lapses he was having. As much as he wanted to figure it out, he also wanted to just forget about all of those things and just do something worthwhile for the moment. Though, Cissnei's latter response to him almost made him become flustered as he could tell there was a playful tone in her voice. He tried to look past it though and not show it.

He turned to Cissnei. "So, you've been with me the whole time then?"

Cissnei looked at him before giving a slow nod. "I was the one who brought you here. And…" She turned her head away from Cloud, sighing slightly. "I wanted to make sure that you were going to be okay."

Cloud could feel his cheeks start to get warm, and knew they were probably red. He didn't know if it was that he was still disoriented, or if it was from being tired, but he wasn't freaking out at the moment about her comment. He simply looked at her before trying to get her attention. "Cissnei."

She turned her head towards the blond spiky teen and met his eyes that were staring directly at her. "Hmm?"

A smile came across Cloud's face. "Thank you. It's... nice to know there is someone else that cares."

Cissnei continued to look at him, her eyes widened slightly. A moment passed before Cloud noticed the faint redness showing up on her cheeks. She once again looked away from him, now trying to hide her face. "No problem…"

The two of them sat there for a bit in silence, Cissnei looking away from him as he just continued to stare at her. He then figured he might have been looking too long and did not want a repeat of one of their first meetings, so he averted his eyes. Though there was something that he wanted to ask.

"Hey, um… would you, uh… I don't quite know how to phrase this…" Cloud trailed off, stammering through his words.

"Huh?" Cissnei turned her head to look back at Cloud, now looking a little confused by the start of his sentence. "What is it? Is there something else you wanted to ask?"

Now Cloud began to be the one that blushed as he tried to think out his next words carefully. "W-Well… you've always been helpful to me here. And, uh, you're a pretty cool person too…" he paused as he breathed in heavily. "So, I wa-"

He wasn't able to finish his line as the door to the infirmary suddenly burst open. "Cloud?! Are you in here?" the familiar voice of his brother shouted. "Where are you?"

In that moment, Cloud snapped his attention to the direction of the sound, waiting on Zack to come barging in any second. He also noticed that Cissnei had moved moderately backwards away from the direction of the sound. Cloud wanted to continue what he was trying to say to Cissnei, but he knew there would be no time. He usually always enjoyed seeing his brother, but that was one moment that he wished Zack would have waited.

In the next few seconds, the curtain in front of Cloud's area flung open, revealing Zack standing there. "Oh there you are. I heard you were in here and just had to find you. Are you okay? What happened? They only told me that you were here, not what happened."

"I'm fine Zack… it wasn't much. Just a bit too exhausted from training that I had today," Cloud replied.

Zack looked curiously as he cocked his head. "Are you sure? I mean, you've been exhausted before, but not enough that you ended up in here."

"It seems that he had some sort of head pain," Cissnei spoke up suddenly, while still averting her eyes away from Cloud, and now from Zack.

Zack turned to face the direction of the voice and landed his eyes on Cissnei. "Oh, sorry, I didn't notice you there. You are?"

Cissnei crossed her arms as she looked to Zack, giving him a deadpan expression. "Cissnei."

He continued to eye her for a few moments, looking her up and down. He then looked over at Cloud, who seemed to have a slight flustered look about him. A small grin etched across his face as he thought. "Well now Cloud, it seems you've got yourself a looker," he said as he pointed his thumb over towards Cissnei.

Both her and Cloud's faces turned red as the embarrassment started to course through their bodies. Cloud, though he was composed and calm earlier, pulled the covers up more, almost wanting to hide his face from prying eyes.

Cissnei on the other hand had a shocked look on her face at what had just been heard. The shock then turned into some annoyance and then into something else. She eyed Zack with that same deadpan look and stood up swiftly, garnering the attention of the older brother.

Seeing the movement from the corner of his eye, Zack glanced up at Cissnei to see why she had stood up. However, he did not have to wait that long for an answer as a small hand collided with his face as the girl laid one into him. Zack could feel the sting in his face that was now burning hot. "Ow!"

"Don't say things like that. You know, I'm only 14 so that's a little… embarrassing," she trailed off with some tinge of redness still in her face. "But..." Her expression became more serious suddenly as she and Zack locked eyes. "I'll still kick your ass."

Zack held up his hands in front of his face defensively. "Woah woah, no need to get feisty now. I was just teasing."

She narrowed her eyes and just glared at him accusingly.

Afterwards, she sighed mildly and stood up. "I guess I won't get anywhere else then… I'm going to go."

Cloud finally dropped the covers and began to move again, making a motion as if trying to call her back. "But, wait. Why do you, uh, have to go now?"

She turned her head around to lay her eyes on him. "Well, your big brother is here now so I'm not really needed. I… just wanted to make sure you were okay," she rambled off, turning her head slightly in the process to avert her eyes. "Besides, there is work that I need to do anyways."

Cloud wanted to speak, but found himself incapable for a good response as the young girl moved ever closer to the door. Once she was there, she moved her head back around for the shortest of moments. "I'll see you, Cloud."

"O-Okay! Thanks for everything Cissnei!" He hoped that his words reached her as she disappeared through the door.

Cloud looked on after her, staring in that direction and not moving. He wished that she could have stayed longer. He wanted some more time with her, as he was enjoying what was going on earlier. Internally he sighed, hoping that he would get the chance some time to tell her what he had wanted to just a bit ago. He was snapped from his thoughts, however, by a tap on the shoulder.

He turned to see Zack looking at him with a curious look on his face. "So… that's Cissnei then. You scored a good one Cloud," he replied with a loud chuckle.

"Zaaaack…" Cloud whined slightly. "Did you have to go and do that? I think you could have scared her off…"

"What really? She doesn't seem like the type that scares easily. More like the type that can scare others. I thought she really was going to kick my ass for a moment there…" he replied, scratching the back of his head.

"She is a bit tough…" Cloud said as he thought about every encounter he had every had with her. "But I think that is just how she acts around others most the time. Not everyone though… but she seems to have a nicer side. She does seem to care about me a bit… which I guess is a good thing."

"Yeah it is! That means she must like you too," Zack chuckled.

Cloud began to blush slightly again. "Um, yeah, maybe." At least, that is what he hoped.

"Aw come on don't doubt yourself too much. Who knows what could happen."

Cloud did not answer though, and instead stared off into the distance. He already had told Zack before about Cissnei, so he expected it sometimes. But this time was different. He wondered what could have happened had Zack only not showed up then… if only he had a few more minutes earlier.

"We're still only 13 and 14… it still feels a bit young…" Cloud finally muttered out.

"Who knows then, just follow your heart and see where it leads you," Zack said as he smiled.

Cloud couldn't help but give a smile in return. "Thanks Zack…"

"Now," Zack said as he stepped closer to the bed Cloud was laying on. He leaned in a bit as he gave a very serious expression. "Who overworked you? Like they pushed you to exhaustion to where you collapsed. That's just not right. It wasn't your friend Marcus, was it?"

Cloud shook his head. He knew that he should just tell Zack that he was training with Sephiroth now. Zack would no doubt flip out upon hearing that. Sephiroth was always the one in the papers, the one all the children read about and looked up to. He was the number one 1st class SOLDIER of all of Shinra. He was of course one of the inspirations to Zack and Cloud when they were children, and now Cloud was Sephiroth's student. But before Cloud could follow with his answer Zack spoke again.

"Who was it then? 'Cause I don't like to hear that they were working my brother so hard that he passes out. I feel I should talk to them and teach them a lesson," Zack said as he placed his fist in the palm of the other hand.

"Um…" Cloud finally said. "I don't think that would be a good idea."

"Why not?" Zack asked, starting to look confused.

"Sephiroth was the one who trained me," Cloud answered simple as he awaited his brother's reaction.

Zack's eyes grew quite wide upon hearing what Cloud had said. In fact, he thought that he might have misheard his brother. "Wait what?! Did… did I hear you right? Maybe I didn't," he said, rubbing his ears slightly as if to adjust them.

Cloud tried to suppress his laughter as he answered again. "I said Sephiroth trained me. He actually wanted to, and now is my mentor."

Zack's mouth hung agape at what he just discovered. Apparently he had not misheard Cloud after all. But he was in shock at it that he was almost speechless.

"WHAT?!"

Chapter Text

Zack was still standing with mouth wide open for a few more minutes after what Cloud had said.

"So I did hear you right! You're serious?! Sephiroth?!" Zack shockingly inquired.

Cloud nodded calmly, though it was becoming harder to contain his laughter at his brother. "Yes, that's right. I didn't expect it either… it was really a shock to see him walk into the room when Lazard told me."

"So you're saying that Sephiroth actually picked you though?"

"Yeah apparently so. I wasn't sure why but I was so nervous."

"I mean it's Sephiroth! The number one hero of SOLDIER. He's why we joined remember? Man…" Zack trailed off suddenly, seeming to be lost deep in thought.

Cloud noticed this and it piqued his interest. "What's wrong Zack?"

"Oh… it's just…" he started and placed his hand on his hips. "I won't lie. I'm very jealous of you right now."

No longer able to contain himself, Cloud let out a hearty chuckle, despite his hurting. "I knew it!"

"Well obviously!" Zack replied, raising his voice slightly. It wasn't in a angered way, but more of a way of complaining in a slight childish tone. "It's Sephiroth! Like you actually get to be trained by the most powerful SOLDIER in all of Shinra. Like that is so cool!"

"I guess it is," Cloud replied. He knew it was cool, but there was still that slight uncertainty that made him worry inside. Sephiroth made him feel more on edge than he thought he should be. And it almost felt like it was for no reason at all. But Cloud knew it had to be more than just that.

"You guess? Come on Cloud you know it's far more exciting than that!" Zack exclaimed. "Sephiroth is the strongest and the best of all 1st class SOLDIERs ever! Not only that, but the way he always stays so serious yet can look so cool is amazing."

"Oh is he the best now? That wasn't what you told me the other day," a new voice said, cutting into the conversation. There was a heavy sarcasm in the voice before the person gave a chuckle.

"Ah!" Zack shouted as he froze up for a second. Quickly he pivoted on his heels to see the source of the voice standing behind him. "Angeal!?"

The raven-haired man was standing right behind Zack, arms crossed and fingers from one hand tapping on the opposite arm. He had a mixed look of amusement and annoyance etched across his face. Though, he remained silent even after that interaction.

Zack tried to explain himself. "Um, well I didn't know you were there Angeal. I-I mean, I was just telling Cloud about Sephiroth. I didn't mean it. I mean, you're one of the best too of course…" he trailed off as words failed him.

"Hmm… making excuses now are we?" Angeal accused of his protege. "I suppose coming to see Cloud is your other excuse for running off before our training could start?"

"W-Well, when they told me that Cloud that was brought to the infirmary so I was worried. Come on, you know I never skip on training."

"That's true there. Though, I think from now on, it seems like I'm gonna have to step up my training. Especially if you want something akin to being trained by Sephiroth," Angeal replied with a smirk and snarky attitude.

Zack was now going to have to eat his words. He enjoyed training to be the best. However, even he enjoyed the off time he would get usually. But now, that was probably not going to happen.

"Wait, huh. I didn't mean... Well, you know… um…"

A loud laugh rang behind Zack, as he looked behind and saw that Cloud was grinning from ear to ear. "Hey, what's so funny?" Zack asked, almost sulling up as he knew what it probably was.

Once Cloud was finally able to slow down his laughter, he spoke. "Y-You are. Your reaction."

"Stop it though! It's not that funny!" Zack replied as he pouted.

"Aw is the little puppy getting worked up over simple things now?" Angeal added in with another laugh.

Zack hung his head, as he could not think of a proper reply to it all. He took a seat in a nearby chair and then continued with his head slumped over, looking at the ground. He had nothing to say to Angeal at that time, and he wished his mentor would just leave him be. However, that was not going to happen.

Angeal strode over to Zack's side and placed a hand on his shoulder. "And it looks like you're acting like a puppy too with his tail between his legs. Come on, apparently you need some work to build yourself back up."

A long sigh came from Zack. "Yeah, yeah… I hear you," he replied with an exhausted tone and proceeded to just sit there, but with raising his head up to at least look at Cloud. "Just give me a few minutes."

After staring at his protege for a moment, Angeal complied and started to leave the room. "Do what you need to do. But just know that I won't be taking it easy on you even after this got it?"

Zack gave Angeal a thumbs up without turning around, letting his mentor know that he understood, even if he didn't like it. He then shook his head quickly, trying to brush off what had just happened the best he could. "All right. Well, I guess I will have to go soon Cloud. But I'll be here for a few minutes now still. So, you think you'll be going home soon?"

"Um… well, I'm not really sure. I feel better at least. So I would think," the spiky-haired boy replied unknowingly.

"I can understand that, but I hope it's not too long. I just hope this is not going to be some regular occurrence with Sephiroth…" Zack trailed off, thinking about that possibility. Though, the brief thought entered his mind that he might be glad that he was not under Sephiroth because of that. However, it still did not make his jealousy leave him.

Cloud was in agreement with Zack, hoping that he would not have to go through training or other trials that rough frequently. Though, maybe it was possible he could get adjusted to that training. It was Sephiroth, so he probably had no choice.

"I still can't believe though that Sephiroth is your tutor. It kinda seems unreal…" Zack suddenly spoke, snapping Cloud from his thoughts and back to reality. "As much as I might still be jealous, I am proud of you though."

"Huh? Really?" Cloud asked curiously, wondering what Zack meant by those words.

"Well of course! Come on, don't tell me you forgot about the dream that we shared when we were kids. You remember what happened right?"

Cloud had to think for a moment. Zack had told him about Sephiroth, and then his brother had found some information on how to join SOLDIER. Even though Cloud was apprehensive at first for a reason he still cannot fathom, he saw it as a way to stick close to his brother, so they each decided to do it, even though it would be quite difficult.

As his mind processed all of those memories, Cloud spoke back up. "Yeah, I remember it Zack. Though, it almost seems like a lifetime ago now."

Zack chuckled mildly as he leaned his head back towards the ceiling. "Oh yeah, you're right about that. I remember you being a scaredy cat before entering SOLDIER."

Cloud shifted and began to protest. "S-Scaredy cat? I was not! I just… was unsure that it was the best thing. I mean, we were only kids."

"Ha! Yeah yeah, I know. But it was my dream. And then it became yours too."

"Well of course. I wanted to follow you, Zack. It just wasn't an easy road for sure…"

Zack took notice with how Cloud trailed his words off and put a hand on his brother's shoulder and looked at him. "Yeah, but hey, we got here didn't we Cloud? We're both here, and training personally under two of the best 1st Class SOLDIERS ever. I'd say we've made it."

Cloud stared back at Zack for a couple of seconds and then returned the smile. "Yeah, you're right. We did."

The two of them laughed about the situation then, Cloud having seemed to have gotten better than when Zack had first visited him. They each kept each other's company for a small moment before Zack then stood up and bid his brother farewell. After that, Zack began walking towards the door, where he figured that Angeal was waiting just right outside.

Angeal had been standing and waiting for Zack, as he couldn't help but overhear their conversation. His head was tilted to the side, slightly hanging out in the doorway of the room, but not enough to where anyone in there could notice. His attention was dragged to his other side as a cold but calm voice was directed at him.

"Do you like eavesdropping on your student Angeal?"

"I wouldn't call it that. More of just curious about their views between one another."

"Hmm, whatever you say."

Turning his head finally, Angeal saw the face of none other than Sephiroth, one of his oldest friends. "Well, what would you be doing here then? Surely you're not checking up on yours. Or have you developed a softer spot recently?"

The silver-haired man chuckled. "Hmph, you know I'm not one for sentiments such as that."

Angeal smirked slyly. "Well then, why did you come?"

"It is not the notion of a soft spot as you joke of. My only concern is why Cloud has ended up here after his training today. I did not completely push his limits, only a moderate bit."

"From what the nurses say… the Turk who brought him here had said before she left, that Cloud was experiencing head pains as well as exhaustion. That was how the Turk found him before he had collapsed."

"Hmph. Perhaps the training today was too much for him. It is possible I over judged his abilities."

"I wouldn't judge too harshly Seph. He is only thirteen after all."

"And yet that thirteen-year-old was able to make it into SOLDIER almost a year ago ago and now is in 2nd class. He made his way up the rankings faster than his older brother did," Sephiroth replied before crossing his arms.

"But that doesn't mean he isn't a kid. I will give that he has a lot of strength for someone his age, but you can probably thank Zack for that. He's told me of how he use to train with Cloud when they were kids. But he is still young and probably has never been pushed so hard until now."

"And the point you are making is...?" Sephiroth asked, though he already knew what Angeal's answer would be.

"Cut the kid some slack. He'll adjust in time. After all with being Zack's younger brother he probably will spring back on to his feet in no time, ready to go again," Angeal commented, thinking about Zack's enthusiasm in everything.

"I suppose you are right. Though you mentioned of him having head pains... I doubt it was caused by the training. It's not too often that the situation causes headaches or worse."

"Maybe. But who knows. If you think it should be looked into more, go ahead. He is your student after all," Angeal said before smirking. "Just will go to show that you do care a little at least."

Sephiroth rolled his eyes and then remained silent, having nothing more to say.

Just as they had finished, Zack strode through the doorway casually. "Heya Angeal, I guess I'm ready to go now. And-"

His words trailed off as he had finally opened his eyes again. He had surely expected Angeal to be there as he said he would; but also, he had noticed a part of Angeal's body sticking out from the doorway. But the person that was standing right next to him, he was unprepared for. "Uh… hi, Sephiroth?"

A smirk crossed the latter's face. "Is that a question, or what? Try to speak clearly."

Zack coughed as he tried to gather his thoughts. "Oh, no… I just didn't expect to, uh, see you. So, why are you here then?"

"He decided to come and check up on his student like a good, caring person would," Angeal replied snarkily, much to the behest of Sephiroth, who shot his friend a death glare.

"Hmpf."

That was the only thing Sephiroth muttered as he began to walk away slowly. He then threw his hand up in a gesture of waving. "Good to see you, Zack. Keep Angeal in line for me."

With a sigh, Angeal shook his head, not bothering to even respond. After Sephiroth rounded the corner, he turned his attention to his pupil. "Ready?"

Zack had been distracted watching Sephiroth walk away, having wanted to be able to say more to him, but could not find the courage to do so. He was slightly curious of how he and Angeal had acted towards one another. But he then turned to the man he had just thought of, having just heard his voice. "H-Huh? Oh, yeah."

The two of them then started walking out of the infirmary area, with him taking one more glance back at the room where Cloud was and said bye in his mind.

He turned back to face front as he and Angeal walked forward. "Say, what was all that about?"

Angeal placed his hand on Zack's head. "Oh that? Don't worry about it. We were just catching up. Now come on. We've got some extended training to do. Gotta keep up with Sephiroth right?"

Zack internally groaned, knowing he had brought that on himself. He knew it would be a long afternoon.

Chapter Text

Cloud had been home only a day now after having been fully rested in the infirmary a few days earlier. After Cissnei told the nurses that Cloud had experienced head pains, they thought to try and look into it more. He had been evaluated at length after that for those few different issues he had been having, including of course his odd head pains that encompassed his supposed memory issues. However, despite many attempts, the doctors were unable to deduce anything about the cause or even the effects of those such issues, only citing them as an "odd occurrence", much to Cloud's dismay.

Though, he had been given a one day reprieve at home, which would end after the current day. He had stopped worrying about the what-ifs for the time being, and focused on finally trying to get things back to normal. Zack had left already for work once Cloud had awoken from his sleep, so Cloud shifted in his bed to his side, not wanting to wake as the overwhelming urge to sleep more had taken him over.

Once on his side he blinked a few times before trying to close his eyes. However, his eyes bolted back open as he thought he had seen something unfamiliar in the corner of the room. When able to focus a bit more, he screamed.

"Woah! W-What are you doing here?!"

The person sitting in the corner opened her jade green eyes directly at him. "Well… I just, uh, wanted to make sure you were okay. Zack told me it was fine. Plus, he was worried and wanted someone to be here with you while he was gone. So he requested that I come check up on you if I had the time."

"Um… okay," Cloud replied, still unsure as to why Cissnei was there. "But, why you?"

"What do you mean 'why me?' I just told you that Zack asked that I come to watch over you. Is there something wrong with my being here?" she accusingly asked him with a sharp tone in her voice.

"Uh, no no, it's not like that. I just, uh… I didn't expect it is all…"

"Didn't expect me to be sitting here in your room? Yeah I guess I can understand that. Sorry if I startled you before."

"Uh it's okay. But you don't really need to be here now. I'm fine and everything," Cloud replied, still a bit nervous to have Cissnei just sitting in his room.

"Zack asked me though, so I really should stick to the task given to me. Besides I have nothing else to do anyway right now. And…" Cissnei glanced away from Cloud before she could finish. "I thought we could talk some more. We never did get to finish the other day."

Cloud suddenly remembered their conversation and how it was quickly interrupted by Zack. At the thought of what he was going to say, his cheeks reddened. "O-Oh yeah. That stuff…"

"If you don't want to talk about it now you don't have to. Though… I am unsure when we may get another chance alone like this, without Zack coming to interrupt us."

Cloud thought for a moment over it. He knew she was right, Zack was at work now and wouldn't be back to later most likely. And with Cloud having the day to rest at home, it was the perfect time.

"You're right… but… I, um.. I still don't know how to phrase it..."

"Take your time then," Cissnei replied as she leaned back in the chair. Her lips then curled up in a small smile. "I can wait."

Cloud found himself smiling back at her, feeling a warmth surge in his chest. Even though he knew he was going to struggle to tell her, he had to get it off his chest.

"Okay Cissnei. What I wanted to tell you before was… was that…" Cloud breathed in deeply as he tried to finally get his words out. "I wanted to tell you that… that I think I like you. I mean like actually like you."

Cissnei's eyes widened as she hear Cloud's words. "You think you like me?" Her voice was quiet as she asked, not knowing fully how to respond.

"A-Yes. Sorry if it sounds weird… but ever since I met you… I've always felt a bit nervous when around you. Never felt like that before around anyone. I don't know actually if it means anything… if it's love or not… or whatever… but I wanted to let you know."

"Ah I see…" Cissnei replied quietly as she looked away again.

Cloud bit his lip. He started to worry if he had said to much. Had he upset her by telling her his feelings? Did she not feel the same way towards him? Or did she already have someone that she liked? These questions surfaced in Cloud's head as an uncomfortable silence entered the room. Neither of them spoke or did anything. They couldn't even look at one another now, making Cloud all the more worried he had messed it up.

But finally Cissnei let out a long exhale. "It's very nice… I mean you're a nice guy Cloud. But I think we're both too young to be thinking about that stuff…"

"Yeah.. figured… but I needed to tell you. So now you know…" Cloud said with a defeated sigh. He hadn't expected it to go that way at all.

"Maybe someday though."

Cissnei's simple words dared his attention back to her. "Huh? What do you mean?"

"What I mean is, maybe when we are older. You know… the more proper age for this stuff…" Cissnei said as she shifted her body position slightly. "Besides I'm sure Reno would come after you if he learned what you just told me. Don't worry though, I won't tell him." Cissnei smiled before giving a small chuckle.

Cloud was startled at first at her mention of Reno, but then had a sort of relief come to him. "Oh, okay… yeah, I guess that makes sense then for the reason…" Of course that was what she had meant. Cloud had suddenly gotten lost in all of the what-ifs and other possibilities that were swirling around in his head after hearing her utter those other words beforehand. As much as he wanted to push for more information, he felt that maybe he should leave things as they were.

However, now there was a deafening silence that encompassed the room they were both sitting in. Neither of them were exchanging looks, and were instead each looking off in other directions. The tension could almost be felt between them. The air they breathed felt thicker and far heavier than before.

Finally though, the silence was broken. "Okay, it seems that you are up at least now. So I guess I'm not really needed anymore," Cissnei said softly, standing up from her chair and straightening her black suit.

"Hmm okay…" Cloud started to say, ready to say goodbye. He was still unsure what to do now, still worried he had ruined any chance he could have had. He could have ruined it all because he spoke too early about his feelings. But he felt maybe he would try one last thing. One last hope to see how things could go.

"Do you think you could stay? I.. I mean if you want to. If you wanna… um well talk maybe? I know what you said before… but we could maybe get to know each other better? Just so we can at least… be friends?"

He knew his words were coming with a risk. If he wasn't careful he would only end up as friends with Cissnei and nothing more… or worse she would end up ignoring him. But he hoped that if she didn't think he sounded weird… then they could become friends. From that held the hope that one day they could get closer. But that was a long way away to tell. Friendship was the only reasonable option right now. He had to chance it.

The words made Cissnei hum in response as she tapped her finger on her chin lightly, trying to decide. "Well… okay then. I suppose I can stay for a bit then. I guess I did say that we should do that huh?" she asked in a rhetorical manner.

After pausing for a couple of seconds, she continued. "Though, I'm dressed for work so you know I will have to leave at some point later. Speaking of, don't you think you should get dressed?"

"Ah!" Cloud exclaimed as he suddenly remembered that he was still sitting in his bed. He was only in boxers and a t-shirt, and he knew for sure that was no way to be presentable to a lady. "Okay! Just give me a few minutes and I'll meet you in the kitchen!"

Cissnei then strode over to his bedroom doorway and exited out of his room, closing the door gently behind her. Though, Cloud could have sworn he heard her snickering to herself as she did that. 'There's still so much I don't know about her. Or girls in general. This is just strange. It's like a puzzle, but the pieces keep changing.'

Cloud quickly shook his head and tried to regain a calm composure. He finally raised up out of bed and threw his legs off the side, his feet landing squarely on the hard floor. Since he was not venturing out of the apartment today, he thought a normal t-shirt and sweatpants might be fine; so, he retrieved those garments from his drawer and was going to put them on.

However, he had a guest. And that guest was Cissnei. He had to do something decent.

He threw the sweatpants to the side and decided to just dress as though he could be going someplace. The t-shirt would still be fine, but he ended up throwing on some regular jeans he had lying around, as well as slipping into his spare pair of boots. Finally, he opened the door and was able to step out of his room and into the kitchen area; or rather, the living area, considering it was all close together anyways.

Cissnei was simply sitting on the couch waiting for him patiently. One hand was laid to her side whilst the other was holding one of their cups. In fact, it was the cup that Cloud always used. He was about to say something on it when she threw a glance his way, having heard his door open.

"Ah, there you are," she said, raising the cup and taking another sip or whatever she was drinking.

"Yeah, it just, uh, took me a minute… But hold on, how'd you find that?" Cloud pointed towards the cup.

"I was thirsty and it was the first thing I saw lying around so I used it. Oh! This is your cup isn't it? Well, I hope you don't mind."

"N-Not at all. I was just wondering… I think I'm gonna get something as well. I'm a bit parched as well."

Cloud eyed Cissnei to see if she would say anything else at the moment, but she just turned back forward and proceeded to drink from the cup. He took that as a cue to leave the area and walked over to the counter, grabbing a cup from the cabinet and filling it with some tap water. Once that was done, Cloud strolled back towards the living area in which Cissnei was. He hesitated at first when looking for a place to sit, but decided to sit down on the sofa with her finally.

After he had sat down, she turned her legs and then her whole body towards him. "So, now that you are here, what was it that you wanted to talk about?"

Cloud had not even had time to really think about that yet. He just wanted to talk to her honestly, but about what, he had no idea at the time. The main thing that he wanted was just to spend all the time that he could with her. It seemed to be one thing that made him happier than most other things.

"I'm not entirely sure. Maybe about our likes and interests? We talked a bit about our pasts, but we still don't know much about one another."

"We could do that then. You already know I was pretty much raised by Shrina, so my work is very important to me, but… I do enjoy the time I get to relax," Cissnei said, starting off the conversation.

Cloud was slightly surprised to hear that last part. "Oh, you do? I actually wasn't entirely sure."

She dropped her glass from her face and shifted even more towards cloud now. "Really?" she asked, wearing a slightly surprised look. "What, do you think I'm all work all the time? Sure, I enjoy the Turks and am dedicated, but I'm still a teenager and like some time off. I'm not a slave to them."

"Oh, I mean, I, uh, never said you were. I just… I guess I assumed the Turks were all business," Cloud trailed off and looked downward a bit.

Cissnei has always seemed to be so into her work that cloud never really gave it a decent though. There was the occasional slack that would happen as he had seen, but most of that had still been while at work. If he were honest, this prospect made her seem much more approachable now.

A small chuckle came from the girl, which made Cloud glance back up at her. "You know, you talk about me being all business, but it seems like you're the one that needs to lighten up a bit," she hinted, poking his arm gently.

Blushing slightly, Cloud tried to reply. "W-What do you mean?"

"I mean that you need to relax. You're always stammering some too. Look, I can tell that it's probably because you like me. I mean, you did tell me earlier. But we both know that now, and now that it's out of the way, you should feel more at ease, right?" she asked, wondering what his response would be.

Maybe she was right? Was he really being too uptight about all this? Now that he thought about it in depth some more, he did notice that he was usually jittery around her. It's true that it was mainly because he liked her. But that brought another thought to his mind. What if it was bothering her with how he was acting?

Worry set into his being as he started to almost overthink things, but then he looked back over at her to see that she was just giving him a gentle glance. "If she was annoyed with me, she probably wouldn't be this close to me, or even try to help me I suppose…" he thought quickly, logic beginning to shine through to himself.

He knew that he would have to do better though. Not only had Zack mentioned something similar to him many times before, but now he was hearing it from the person that he seemed to have fallen for. As a matter of fact, Sephiroth had also made mention of Cloud trying to be more composed and calm about things, much like the silver-haired man always was.

Then, his mind began to click. Sephiroth. He could go to him. He was now Cloud's mentor after all. He could be able to teach Cloud how to be more calm and collected. That would work out for many reasons, in both his training for Shinra and also for his interactions with Cissnei. A small smile came to Cloud's face without him even realizing it as he began to see that he might have a chance at trying to better himself.

"Cloud!" a stern female voice rang in his ears.

Shifting slightly, Cloud found he has ducked his head in thought once again. "Oh uh, what?

"I said, that you should feel more at ease now right? After having… you know, said what you did earlier."

"I'm not as tense as before. Um… I just don't know. I'm trying though. It just might take me a bit okay?"

"At least you answered me," she began. "Not rushing you. Just trying to help."

Cloud eyed her for a few more moments, not really noticing that he was staring again; which in hindsight, is how all of this started with her. He almost chuckled. "Okay. Thanks, Cissnei."

Chapter Text

The rest of the day went by rather smoothly for Cloud. He talked more with Cissnei and along the way became more relaxed. By the time Cissnei was called off to go to work, he no longer felt flustered talking with her. He hoped from then on he would be able to keep it that way. He didn't want to embarrass himself anymore than he had.

That night when he waited for Zack to come, he wanted to surprise him. Tonight, Cloud decided to prepare dinner for his older brother. He knew he would have enough time anyways. And on top of that, he kept feeling better and better. He had almost forgotten the whole reason he was stuck at home was because of his head pain. That seemed so far away now and trivial. What mattered now was continuing to be better.

Soon, it had become darker outside, the night sky being illuminated by the bright moonlight that shone through the window. Cloud had finished up dinner not too long ago, but it seemed as though Zack was going to be later tonight. However, unlike before, that fact did not worry Cloud. He had gotten quite hungry though after cooking, so he was going to fix his food already instead of continuing to wait around. But just as he did, he heard the front door open, followed by the familiar voice of his brother.

"Yooo, I'm home finally. Gosh, it's been a long day. Hopefully you've been all right Cloud."

Cloud wanted to go to his brother, but he decided instead to go ahead and finish the plate that he had started working on, opting to give that one to Zack when he finally came into the kitchen. He knew he would go to check his room first, which passed right by the kitchen, so all Cloud had to do was wait. But soon, he heard Zack growing closer as he heard something else from him.

"Wow! Something smells really good. Did someone bring over some food? Cloud?" Zack's voice asked curiously, drawing closer now.

Cloud had just finished filling the first plate up when out of the corner of his eye, he noticed a pair of black combat boots standing in the doorway as he had been staring downward. He already knew that it was Zack standing there, but before he could utter a word, Zack beat him to it.

"C-Cloud?! What are you doing out of bed? Are you doing better already?"

Turning to look at his brother, Cloud responded, with a slightly upbeat tone. "Yeah, I am actually. I'm glad that you had Cissnei to be here today. She really helped me feel a bit better."

Zack narrowed his eyes and cocked his head slightly. "Oh she did now?" he said slyly with a grin.

"Hey, don't go thinking like that! Or do you not want this food I've made for you?" Cloud threatened, pulling the food back.

Throwing up his hands in defense, Zack started. "No no, I'm just teasing. Don't take it so hard," he said before then looking proud. "I knew that she might be able to help though. See, that's what an older brother does is look out for you."

"Yeah, I suppose so. Well anyways, you want this?"

"Oh right! The food. I didn't know that you could cook this well Cloud. And surely didn't expect it with you having been hurt. Honestly after today I needed this. Thanks," Zack spoke to him before taking the food and then finding his way to the table.

"Yeah I wanted to surprise you a bit. So I hope that you like it at least," Cloud added as he then fixed his own plate and headed over to sit beside Zack at the table.

The two of them proceeded to eat their food. Zack scarfed his down quickly after the first taste, and then had thanked Cloud again for the meal. Cloud even thanked himself, surprised at how tasty the food was he had produced. Afterwards, the two finally started to catch up on things that had been happening, each of them filling the other in on the goings ons in their lives.

From Zack's stories of his missions, to Cloud's tellings of things with he and Cissnei, there had been nothing short to converse on. But the topic always ended up revolving back to work somehow.

"So, think you'll be back at work soon?"

"I believe so. I am feeling much better. Besides, I've got to try to catch up to you still. And get used to the training that Sephiroth is ready to put time through."

"Yeah… about that training. Angeal has been putting me through the ringer ever since I said I admired Sephiroth. Ugh… me and my big mouth…"

A loud chuckle emanated from Cloud, not being able to stifle his laughter at that revelation.

"Hey, what's so funny?" Zack protested.

"Oh nothing. Just you. Sounds like you're saying you can't cut the training that I am gonna be going through is all," Cloud jested at his brother, hoping to get under his skin a bit with that comment.

Apparently, it did ruffle Zack's feathers as he stood up out of his seat abruptly, trying to defend his words.

"So you're saying you think that I'm not cut out for that work then, huh?"

"Kinda sounds like it."

"Well then, looks like I'm just gonna have to show you better then."

"I guess you will." Though, internally Cloud was not so sure about Sephiroth's training himself. But he didn't want to say that out loud, as he was enjoying seeing his brother being a bit flustered. It did make him think of what was to come though. He just hoped that he could be ready for it.


Cloud huffed loudly as he swung his sword another time, slicing through a low level monster that had appeared in front of him. That made the fourth one that he had seen in only a few minutes. They seemed to be spawning more rapidly than the last time that he was there, but he tried to be better prepared to take them on. It was his first time back in the training room, since he had collapsed the last time. This time he was better, and not as nervous and unsure as before.

He had recovered from his issues and was back at work only a day after he and Cissnei had talked. Zack had been happy to see that Cloud was doing better, and encouraged him to get back in the field. Though, the two of them now were entangled in a friendly competition to see who could perform better in their training missions, neither one wanting to be outdone by the other. Besides, he wanted to try to impress Sephiroth too.

"Don't get distracted, Cloud," echoed a cold voice over the mic.

"Oh yeah, right. Sorry about that," Cloud replied, knowing that he was getting lost in his head again.

He didn't want what happened last time to occur again. He had told himself that he had to be better and focus more. As he readied his sword towards the next enemy that was barrelling towards him, the thought crossed his mind of how long he would be able to keep up this time. Once the monster was well within his range, Cloud swung his sword once at the monster, cutting it down swiftly.

"That's the fifth one now already. Though it's only been about fifteen minutes too. If it keeps up like this, I should be okay I think. I guess Sephiroth upped the rate of the enemy spawns maybe? But now, nothing seems to be happening."

Cloud searched around with his eyes for a little bit in each direction, but could not detect anything in the area. He hung his sword by his side, still clutched in his hand, and began to walk forward towards the next possible area. At least, he thought he was going in the right direction at least. It was the opposite side of where he entered, so he logically assumed it was correct. There was only one way to find out though, and he most likely would in just a few minutes.

He progressed to the next area and began fighting monsters once again, though this time, they seemed to be slightly stronger than before. Just like the first time he was there, the difficulty appeared to be increasing the farther he advanced. But he kept his focus better and stayed strong, fending off each attack and fighting as though his life depended on it.

The fighting was not the only thing that the training involved. It was the primary focus, but there were hidden meanings in the training that were made to sharpen Cloud's mind, as told to him by Sephiroth. These included: accurate enemy analysis, ability analysis of the enemy with appropriate countermeasures, overcoming other noises and distractions to enhance his focus, etc. There were bound to be others, but those were the things that Cloud had noticed in the current session just based on what he had been told by his mentor. Cloud only hoped that Sephiroth would be impressed with his handling of this training scenario this time.

The battles waged on as Cloud was fighting against his tenth enemy now, which was tougher than the others had been by far. In fact, it reminded him of that one strong creature he had to run from before, but the current one was nowhere near as powerful. Having to put some of the skills to use he had learned in that short time, Cloud attempted to get the upper hand on the beast, only to be swatted away a few times. He considered trying to run away again, starting to believe that he could not beat the creature. However, just as that thought entered his mind, he thought back to the promise he had made to himself. There was not much time to dwell, so he would have to ponder it another time.

He barely evaded a falling hand from the monster that had just attempted to make a chocobo-headed pancake out of him.

"I thought I said not to get distracted. Focus, Cloud."

There was no mistaking that cold voice of Sephiroth once again. Though, Cloud didn't have time to offer up a response, choosing just instead to internally nod in return. The creature lunged at him again, forcing Cloud into a series of dodge rolls to avoid injury. Cloud tried to think of a way to be able to gain the upperhand on this monster as he finally stopped rolling. He then began to trot around the creature's body, looking for anything that could give him the upperhand. Upon reaching the rear around the creature, Cloud noticed something.

There was what appeared to be an area on the lower back of the creature that seemed to be open and unprotected by the hard skin that was layered around the rest of its body. This was just the opening that Cloud needed to be able to hopefully win. However, first he had to dodge some more attempted strikes from the beast before being able to finally propel himself behind it without it being able to react in time. He wrenched his sword back, and then plunged it hard into the soft, skin-like area, causing a massive shriek to be heard for quite a few seconds.

Cloud hopped back as the monster started to writhe in pain, flailing its limbs wildly in every direction. The movements started to become slower and slower over the next little bit until it collapsed under its own weight. Then, just like all the others, it dematerialized into nothing but fragments of data.

"Whew, well that's a relief," Cloud admitted openly, glad that battle was over.

He exerted himself more than usual, and that fight took almost everything that he had to give. The fatigue had begun to set in earnest, with exasperating breaths emanating from the blond's mouth.

"That was impressive, Cloud," Sephiroth said, his voice coming from behind.

Cloud turned around and saw the tall man standing before him. "Uh thank you!" He made sure to reply quickly, not wanting to stare and stall too long.

"You are still exhausted from this, correct?" Sephiroth said, taking in how worn and tired Cloud looked.

Cloud nodded slowly, hoping this wasn't going to lead to Sephiroth being disappointed. "Just a little… Nothing I can't handle. I'll get used to it in no time."

Sephiroth looked at his protege with a narrowed vision, before then pulling out a flip phone and tapping a few buttons. After that happened, the world around them started to crumble into pieces of data, slowly dissolving until they were standing back in the actual training room.

Cloud removed his helmet and headset slowly, shaking his head to allow his hair to stand back in place as the spikes went in whatever direction they pleased. "So that's it then today?" he questioned, knowing the answer already because of what had happened.

"Yes, it is as I said. I can tell you are tired and I did tell you before during your first training session that a good SOLDIER needs to know when to just stop, right?" Sephiroth quizzed him.

Cloud gave another nod, still breathing in and out heavily. "Yeah that's what you said the other day. I remember."

"Good, at least your exhaustion from the other day did not black out the events from your mind. You still have a long way to go, but today was good progress. And with that, I suppose…" Sephiroth trailed off. He put his hand to his chin as he fell into a thoughtful look. "I suppose there should be some reward in that."

This made Cloud confused. He had not expected Sephiroth… to reward him? That sounded strange coming from the cold and serious 1st Class SOLDIER. What kind of reward would Sephiroth even give? These questions clouded Cloud's mind as he tried to think. But no matter what he thought, he could not find a proper answer to Sephiroth's statement. He figured the only way to find out would be to ask him.

"Uh what do you mean by that, Sephiroth?"

"I have heard that rewarding a student after they do a good job is a preferable way to prompt them to do better. Sweet things or chocolate especially make good motivators from what I've heard," Sephiroth said, not directly answering Cloud's question. He then went on before Cloud even had a chance to think over the new things that had been said. "Now Cloud, tell me… what is your opinion on ice cream?"

Cloud was still staring at him dumbfounded and perplexed. Why was Sephiroth asking him about sweet delicacies? This definitely did not fit in the mold that he had thought of the strongest 1st Class SOLDIER. Maybe there was more to Sephiroth than meets the eye.

He then noticed how much he was staring, and when he focused back to the silver-haired man in front of him, Cloud noticed that he was now the one being stared at. Sephiroth was still waiting for a response. "Um, right. Uh… It's good stuff. I don't get to have it often, but it's nice."

"I see. Very well then," Sephiroth said as he turned around. "We shall go get some ice cream as a reward for quick recovery and your efforts today."

Cloud could only stand there and stare. He was still completely caught off guard by all of it.

"Umm, okay then. That, uh, sounds good."

Sephiroth led the way out of the training room as Cloud followed right behind him. Cloud thought that he had seen every place to get ice cream in Midgar before, so he wondered silently to himself where exactly Sephiroth would go to eat his. He knew he would find out shortly though.


Chapter Text

The two of them continued walking in silence to the elevator, down to the main floor, and then out of the Shinra building until they were on the way into the city of Midgar. People stared at them as they passed, most likely gawking at being able to see Sephiroth. Cloud almost wondered if there were some that might even be jealous of him being able to be that close to 1st Class SOLDIER as much as he was now.

"So one thing before we get to the location," Sephiroth started, snapping Cloud out of his thoughts. "This is a place that you can't tell anyone else about, got it?"

"Huh? Oh uh… okay. Sure, I won't tell anyone," Cloud replied honestly. In the truth of it, he still had no idea what was happening. The pure concept of Sephiroth taking him to get ice cream was already far too strange. He didn't think anyone would believe him.

"I mean it, Cloud. Nobody can know of this. Swear to me on your honor as SOLDIER," Sephiroth turned to Cloud, stopping their progress as he eyed his student intently. His cold eyes and voice pierced the thin veil between him and Cloud, making Cloud almost uneasy with how serious he sounded… and about ice cream no less.

Cloud almost froze up from the stare. But he managed to keep his cool. He held up a hand, with his palm flat. It looked as if he was giving an oath, which to him really did feel like it. A oath… swearing he wouldn't tell where Sephiroth went to get ice cream.

"I promise I won't tell anyone," he gave his answer short and simple. He could only hope it was enough to convince Sephiroth.

The stare from Sephiroth still lingered there, but Cloud's questions were soon answered as the man finally turned back to face front and walked on. "Okay then. Let us continue. It is not too much farther now."

Cloud followed right behind him without saying another word. He didn't know anymore if he was speechless because he was scared, or because he was confused. Maybe it was a bit of both.

After only a few minutes, Sephiroth stopped right in front of a shop that was right on the edge of town. Cloud had not been paying any attention to where they were going, but now that he looked around, the place was not one that had actually been to before. The place seemed a bit more extravagant than what he had seen in other places, with fancy shops and bountiful colors lighting the evening atmosphere. Cloud wondered how he could have missed such an obvious part of the city. Though Midgar was huge after all, so having time to see everything after working all the time was a bit difficult.

"So uh, where are we exactly? I've never been this way before," Cloud echoed his own thoughts.

"You will see soon enough. But enough questions for now. Come on," Sephiroth instructed before opened the door to the shop and stepped inside.

Cloud wanted to ask him more specifically why they were at the current place. It looked like a regular restaurant, albeit nicer than the ones that he had been to before. But still, his thoughts lingered on that fact as they both set foot inside the establishment. "This is just odd. I mean, what, is there some random ice cream shop behind here maybe? After seeing Sephiroth like this, I wouldn't be surprised… almost… " He chuckled at the thought in his mind, pushing it aside as just mere conjecture.

Sephiroth walked through the restaurant, all the way up to the bar section. The bartender came over and gave a smile and a nod to Sephiroth. It almost looked like he had expected to see the general.

Cloud stood to the side as he saw Sephiroth whisper something. He couldn't hear what it was though. But what happened next surprised Cloud even more. The bartender nodded and reached for something under the counter. He then placed a key in Sephiroth's hand.

Without a word Sephiroth looked to Cloud and moved his head in a motion that indicated he was to follow. Cloud stayed quiet as he continued to ponder the situation he was in. He followed behind Sephiroth as they passed the bar section and started to head into a worker's only area.

But before Cloud could ask why they were there Sephiroth placed the key he had into a door that was next to them. He turned the lock and opened the door, revealing a staircase leading down.

"We're almost there," Sephiroth stated as he waited for Cloud to walk through.

Cloud wasn't sure how much more he could take. It was getting more bizarre by the minute. "Maybe I'm just dreaming… this can't be happening. Sephiroth taking me into a secret location for ice cream… it sounds crazy."

Cloud still processed proves enough. He walked down the stairs and heard the door close behind him. He jumped as he whipped his head around. Thankfully Sephiroth was behind him, he had only closed and locked the door. The one second fear that this all some trap faded as soon as it came.

"This isn't like a horror film… nothing bad is going to happen to me going down here. At least I hope…" Cloud's thoughts started to waver, feeling more uncertain than before.

"Just keep walking. Down at the bottom of the stairs there's a door that you can go through. Feel free to look around once you're there. I know you will be curious," Sephiroth stated from behind Cloud, almost making the blond jump slightly.

"Yeah, okay then," Cloud responded quietly.

When Cloud reached the bottom of the stairs, there was in fact a door. This one, unlike the one at the top of the stairs, was not locked. He pushed it open and peered inside. He almost couldn't believe what he was seeing. As soon as he stepped through the door, he gasped, now taking in the full sight.

Where he stood was in fact an ice cream parlor. But it was designed to look old fashioned in every way. The first thing that stood out was the checkered black and white floor that lined the entire area and stretched on directly in front of him from the door. The entire area from a quick glance looked no more than about 13 tiles deep, making it just big enough for a handful of people to gather.

On the left side of Cloud, there was a long counter that extended all the way to the back wall. It occupied almost half of the entire room on the left side of the doorway, only leaving a small space for the door to open and close. Everything was behind glass cases on that side, and as Cloud walked down, he noticed that there were many different kinds of ice cream. He didn't get a chance to take in all of it at the moment as his mind was still in a flurry over what he was seeing.

A narrow counter ran along the edge of the display cases there, positioned just below them for easy access. As he walked towards it, he ran his hand across the surface, detecting that it was as smooth as could be and slightly cold to the touch as well. He didn't know quite what it was, but thought that he could ask Sephiroth. Three turquoise blue stools were lined up along the counter as well, giving the indication that would be where patrons would sit, if there were any.

His head pivoted quickly to the other side to see what was there. It was mostly empty, save for a couple of similarly colored chairs that were scattered through the area just outside of the range of the door. A small table sat in the center of the other side, the top sporting a plain white color, which did fit in with the rest of the decor.

Cloud glanced upward to get a better look at the ceiling, which was just an ordinary white color, just like the table. The lights that illuminated the area were small hanging fixtures, dropping down just enough from the ceiling to cause a shadow to be cast from them. There were three on each side of the room, spaced out equally in order to offer adequate lighting.

"So, what do you think?" a calm and serious voice spoke, startling Cloud.

The blond turned to see Sephiroth leaning against the doorway, a small smirk on his face. "I-It's pretty nice here. I mean… I'm still trying to take it all in. There's a place like this… under Midgar. It's just, everything seems so old-fashioned. The looks, the atmosphere, even the prices would be old by today's Gil standards…"

"That is why I enjoy this place; for its atmosphere. Quaint and quiet. And only a few ever get to see this, which is such a shame. But on the other hand, I would prefer it not to be overrun with children screaming and shouting," Sephiroth replied.

Cloud turned more towards him now, intrigued by what he had heard. "You mean that nobody really knows about this place? I mean, I guess with how we got in there's something going on… Is that why it's a secret?"

Sephiroth let out a short sigh. "I would think by this point, that much would be obvious to you. But you are correct, hardly anyone knows of this place. Only me and a select few others. Now you are one of those few. Consider it a great honor," Sephiroth stated before he walked towards the bar area.

"Oh, okay then. Well that is nice to know. It's still just amazing that this place exists," he said again more softly as he still continued to gawk.

"Indeed it is," Sephrith replied simply, not saying a word more. He only sat down at one of the bar stools and began to sit quietly.

Cloud decided that it would probably be best to join him, so he ended up sitting on the farthest stool, just one away from Sephiroth. While Cloud knew he could trust the man, he still was a bit uneasy around Sephiroth sometimes. After he had taken his seat, the two of them waited in silence. There was nothing else around; just the two of them were there. This struck Cloud as odd, and he could no longer keep quiet about it.

"So, umm… how exactly are we supposed to get ice cream or anything here? There isn't anyone else here."

Suddenly a small figure popped up directly in Cloud's face. "I'm here, kupo!"

Cloud nearly fell off the stool, far too startled to even see what had shouted in his face. All that he was trying to focus on, was not falling off.

"Woah! W-What in the world is that thing?!" he exclaimed after he balanced himself, shock evident on his face and surprise in his tone. It was a little beige creature that had a large head and small body. On its face it had a big red nose as well as a red pom pom sticking out of it's head. It also had little purple wings on it's back, which where fluttering to keep it in the air.

"Thing? No need to be rude, kupo," the creature responded, its small hands going to what Cloud would assume to be where its waist would be.

"Yes, very rude. Cloud, learn some manners," Sephiroth spoke sternly, and then pointed towards the creature. "This is a Moogle. This one runs the shop here."

"I'm Mog, kupo."

"Oh, umm… okay. Hi, Mog," Cloud finally answered, still trying to process things. Could this day get any stranger?

There was something that crossed his mind quickly though. "So, are these th- , Moogles in other places too then?"

"Of course. They mostly serve as patrons or shopkeepers in various small locations around not only Midgar, but other places as well," Sephiroth answered calmly.

Cloud almost wanted to question, but he knew that Sephiroth would most likely not lead him astray. So he just accepted it. "Oh, okay then. Well that's um, good to know."

Sephiroth raised an eyebrow to Cloud. "Did they not teach you about the creatures of this world back in your hometown? Most everyone knows about Moogles."

A nervousness came over Cloud. "Well, um… I don't remember learning about them at least. Maybe I wasn't worried about them. I kinda got focused on chocobos for the most part," he explained, trying to laugh it off as no big deal. "Maybe I'll ask Zack if he learned about them in school later…"

Mog flew up closer to Cloud's face. "Oh I get it! It's 'cause your hair looks like a fluffy chocobo, kupo!"

"W-What? Well, I mean… I guess so…" Cloud muttered, almost sulking at the comment. Zack had made the comment before, but that was just between he and Zack. Well him… and their friend Prompto, which reminded Cloud that he had to tell Zack. He had nearly forgotten about him after all this time. But over all he didn't expect anyone else to tease him about his hair.

Sephiroth smiled curtly, almost letting out a chuckle of his own at the comment. "You know, he's right. I never made that connection before."

"Aw man, not you too…" Cloud muttered quietly.

"Oh so that's not the first time you've heard that then?" Sephiroth astutely inquired.

"Yeah… but I thought we were here to get ice cream, not talk about hair," Cloud said quickly, hoping to divert away from people joking about his rather spiky hair.

"Yes I suppose you're right," Sephiroth admitted. "Well, go ahead and pick what you want. Mind you, all of the ice cream here is special. It's all made with sea salt, which is hard to come by. That is the other reason I keep this place a secret."

"Wow, really? That sounds really cool. I never knew there could be ice cream like that. So… um… which is your favorite flavor then?" Cloud asked, almost not believing that he was actually asking Sephiroth for his favorite ice cream flavor.

"Well, it's the same thing I always get," he spoke to Cloud. "Just your basic Sea Salt Ice Cream."

Then he turned to Mog. "The usual again today."

"Okay, kupo!" Mog exclaimed before looking at Cloud. "And you?"

Now that the Moogle's attention was on him, Cloud finally began to look through the different ice cream flavors, overwhelmed by the amount of choices. Having never had sea salt anything before, Cloud considered just having the regular flavor like his mentor. But after looking for a bit more, his eyes settled on a caramel-like flavor of the ice cream. He favored caramel anyways so it seemed like the best choice.

"I think I'll have the sea-salt cara-" he started to say, but before he could finish, Sephiroth spoke up instead.

"I believe you should try what I am having, before deciding on anything else."

Cloud blinked in confusion. This day was in fact getting stranger. Each passing minute something happened or was said that upper the weirdness. Now Sephiroth was telling him what ice cream to have? That Cloud should try whatever flavor that Sephiroth was going to get? Cloud didn't say anything back, as he only stared at Sephiroth with the perplexed looked glued to his face.

Sephiroth took note of Cloud's quietness and looked back at Mog. "That shall be it then. Bring two of my usual. One for me, and one for my student; Cloud."

"Okay! You got it, kupo!" Mog chimed cheerfully, before darting off to the back to prepare the sweet.

Sephiroth turned back to the front, crossing his legs and then proceeding to remain quiet. Cloud found the sudden silence to be almost eerie, save for Mog in the back making various sounds, almost like humming some sort of tune.

Cloud was still trying to process what had just happened when he heard the humming of Mog getting closer. The small Moogle appeared with two ice creams, one in each hand.

"Here you go, kupo." Mog said as he handled one to Sephiroth and the other to Cloud.

The ice cream was a light blue color with a few small shimmers on it, which Cloud assumed was the sea salt. They were shaped like a rectangle with a stick coming out of the bottom. The top of it was curved at both sides too. He turned it a few times in his hand, inspecting every part of it intently. It looked delicious.

"Are you hoping to stare at it to death, or are you going to try it before it starts melting?" Sephiroth asked in a teasing manner as he stuck the ice cream in his mouth.

Cloud looked at the man who was now eating on ice cream, and then glanced back to the piece in his own hand. Sephiroth had treated him to the ice cream after all. He even had showed Cloud this secret place, even if it was a bit odd to think about. Cloud almost lost his train of thought again as he was thinking to himself about the recent odd happenings, but he pushed those out of his mind for the moment.

He was wanting to try the sea salt ice cream quite a lot now, especially after he saw how much that Sephiroth was liking it. He moved the ice cream closer to his mouth, so close that he could literally smell the aroma of the sea salt. Finally, his lips parted and the seemingly delightful light blue ice cream came in contact with his mouth. As Cloud allowed his lips to close around it, he felt a stunning sensation. He felt a shiver through his body and his eyes lit up brightly, as he finally was able to taste the treat he had been awarded.

Chapter Text

Cloud's eyes stayed lit up and grew wider with each passing second. He didn't want his mouth to move away from the object inserted between his now cool lips. The taste was a mixture of things that he had never experienced before. His mind rushed, thinking of how the parts of the ice cream contrasted with each other, yet somehow was able to formulate an immaculate taste.

He had to say something about it, so he convinced himself to briefly remove the treat from his mouth. "Wow! It's really salty… and sweet. All at the same time. I don't know how, but it works," Cloud stated in a euphoric manner.

Sephiroth too then removed his piece from his mouth. "As I thought. You do like it. And yes, that is why I like it so much. It's a stark contrast of flavor that mixes together for a taste unlike any other," he proudly asserted before going back to work on the ice cream.

Cloud followed and began to eat his ice cream, the silence once again falling between the student and mentor. The moogle had left them to go perform some unknown task in the back. The two of them sat there, not saying another word to each other for quite some time. For Cloud, he did not know what to speak of in the moment. For Sephiroth, he just didn't care to say much else.

After some more time had passed, Cloud finished up his ice cream finally. He had wanted to eat it faster, but he tried to savor every single bite of it.

"Gosh that was the best ice cream I've ever had!" Cloud exclaimed with delight.

He turned his gaze towards Mog, who was waltzing around behind the counter area. "Uh, thank you for the food, Mog."

The small creature shifted towards him. "You're welcome, kupo!"

Sephiroth, meanwhile, had finished his off several minutes earlier and had been walking around, seemingly lost in thought. Upon seeing Cloud having finished his dessert, he finally stopped and began to walk towards the blond.

"Good, you're done now. Get ready and we'll take our leave," he said bluntly.

"Wait, that was all?" Cloud asked, feeling a bit spursed they were leaving only shortly after arriving.

"We came for ice cream, and that is what we did, correct? We will head back now and you can go home and rest for the remainder of the day," Sephiroth stated before handing money over to the Moogle.

"Oh, okay. You're right, I guess I kind of forgot that it's getting later in the day," Cloud said as he got off the seat.

"Now Cloud, if you wish to return here, you can. I will allow you to do that, especially if you keep up on your training. But if you do come back here, you need to know the password."

"The password? You mean what you whispered to that guy in the restaurant?" Cloud asked.

"Yes. He is the only one that you can tell the password, it will not mean anything to anyone else. You understand?"

Cloud gave a nod. Even though this was probably the weirdest day of his entire life, he was curious to come back again. The ice cream had been far more delicious then he ever thought it could be.

"Good. Now the password comes from a piece of literature. A piece that one of my comrades loves dearly. I myself do not find the subject matter of the story all too intriguing, but somehow one of the lines from it became what the password was. I may find it slightly deplorable, but I believe there could have been worse choices for a password."

Cloud stared and listened intently. He at first wondered who on Gaia Sephiroth could have been talking about. He hadn't expected Sephiroth to have comrades. But then he remembered the other top 1st Class; Angeal and Genesis. They probably were the comrades with Sephiroth. He also remembered having a conversation with Marcus about the three top 1st Class and that Genesis loved reading a certain book. Cloud guessed that it could very well be the same book. He decided to stay quiet and way as Sephiroth continued his talk.

"The password origins from a verse from the book LOVELESS. Perhaps you've heard of it?"

Cloud shook his head.

"Either way, what you must memorize perfectly in order to get into here is a line from this book." Sephiroth paused for a moment, as if letting the excitement and tension of the moment rise higher. "The line is… 'Infinite in mystery is the gift of the Goddess'..."

Cloud blinked a few times before speaking up. "That's it? Just the one line?"

"Yes that is correct. Now one more thing I almost forgot to mention. If you come here on your own and see others down here, do not be alarmed. My comrades also have access to this place, and from time to time come here for the same reason as me."

"You mean the other top 1st Class? Like Angeal? Does that mean I could even see Zack here? Since, you know, he is Angeal's student?"

"Only if Angeal gives him the knowledge of knowing about this place. I would not ask Zack though, if he doesn't know that means Angeal doesn't want him to know yet."

Cloud sighed a little, but did not question Sephiroth's words. He knew Sephiroth was very serious about this secret place, and if Zack didn't know, he would be extremely jealous again. He hated the thought of keeping something so cool, and almost magical, from his brother, but he didn't want to make Sephiroth disappointed. Cloud could only hope that Zack already knew, or Angeal would tell him sooner than later.

"Okay, I get it," Cloud finally said, letting Sephiroth know that he was listening.

Then without the utterance of another word, Sephiroth then turned on a dime and began to stride towards the door to leave. Cloud hurriedly followed, since he did not want to stay down there by himself, even though the prospect of having ice cream for a while was a nice thought. As Cloud was about to go through the door, he heard Mog from behind him.

"Come again, kupo!" The small moogle was waving to them as they left.

Cloud threw his hand up briefly to wave to the small, curious creature. Then the door closed and he turned his attention back in front where Sephiroth was walking.

They backtracked the way they had come in until they were back in the normal restaurant place. Cloud wanted to look at what Sephiroth was going to close and lock the place up, but decided that he should just avert his eyes. He walked around for a few seconds before turning back to see Sephiroth was done with what he was doing and handed the man back the key.

"All right, you can go on home. Anything else we will continue tomorrow. But Cloud," Sephiroth said as he turned to his student once more. "Remember, nobody is to know about this."

"Oh, yeah I understand. Don't worry I won't tell," he spoke quickly at the reminder.

Sephiroth nodded. Cloud took that as a sign to head out, so he exited the front of the restaurant and then proceeded to head on his way home. On the way, his mind was filled with thoughts and questions about the events that had taken place. He still couldn't believe it. He wished he could tell Zack. He thought maybe Zack could keep it secret as well. But for some reason, he felt as though Sephiroth would know if he told.


Cloud had just gotten back from his mission and headed down towards the SOLDIER room where he could lounge for a bit. He hoped to get at least a brief rest. He knew that the remainder of his day would be another training course with Sephiroth. He almost sighed, but kept his composure in tact.

Sephiroth. It had been three days since that peculiar encounter with the secret ice cream stowaway. Cloud had mostly pushed it out of his mind. The next day after, he had thought it was just a dream, but found that was untrue when he had awoken with the taste of sea salt still lingering in his mouth.

Not only that, but he was trying so hard to resist telling Zack about it. He thought about going there alone, but was trying to get more comfortable around others, Sephiroth being the primary subject. He knew he would have to deal with that man later on, so he tried to ease his mind some.

Just as he entered into the area, he saw none other than Marcus standing over in the corner, along with a 2nd Class SOLDIER that Cloud had never seen before. At least he was sure he hadn't, but the more he thought about it, he was sure he had seen the guy once or twice in the gym or around the building. He just didn't know the guy's name. He currently had his helmet off like Marcus had, showing the guy's rather short black hair and brown eyes. It seemed as though they were trying to keep their topic, whatever it was, to themselves. Cloud figured he should just keep to himself. However, just as he was about to sit, a voice, which he knew was Marcus, called to him.

"Hey Cloud! Long time no see. Come on over here and join in," his friend suggested, waving his hand to signal Cloud over.

Cloud gave a smile and walked over to where Marcus and the other guy were standing. Just as he got over there, Marcus clapped a hand onto Cloud's shoulder, giving him a huge grin.

"Man, it's been a little while since we've seen each other hasn't it?" Marcus started off.

"Yeah, it has. It's good to see you again," Cloud replied, nodding his head.

"And I've heard that you are now being mentored by Sephiroth!" Marcus exclaimed. "Is that really true?"

Cloud nodded again. "Yeah it is. It's still a bit strange, but I think I am getting use to it."

"Gotta say, I thought you would say it would be scary or something. Like Sephiroth… you know… cold and intimidating. It just seems so odd he would want to mentor somebody," Marcus said.

"Yeah," the other guy agreed. "Never thought the general himself would want to actually take the time to train a younger SOLDIER, or even any SOLDIER at all. But I guess that means there is more than meets the eye with him. I'm William by the way, but I prefer to be called Wei."

Cloud waved to Wei and gave a friendly smile. "Nice to meet you. I think we may have been on a mission or two together."

"I think you're right, plus you're Zack's younger brother. It's hard not to at least know of the Fair brothers," Wei replied with a short laugh.

Cloud scratched the back of his head, trying to brush off the words that Wei had spoken. He knew that he and Zack had gained some popularity since they came to Shinra, but it still surprised him when someone pointed it out. Or maybe it was a slight bit of embarrassment. Cloud wasn't fully sure which it was. "Yeah, I guess," he trailed off.

Then he continued after a brief pause. "One thing is for sure though… he's just as battle hardened as you heard. No. More so than that even."

Wei and Marcus winced at the same time. Both felt sorry for Cloud in that regard, but were also equally glad they were not in his position. It was something neither hoped they would have to experience.

"I figured that much. Remember what I told you before Cloud? Wouldn't wanna be trapped alone with that guy," Marcus spoke, thinking back to the conversation that they had before.

"Well to be fair," Cloud began. "He's not always a hard case all the time. He can be caring… in his own way. His tastes in things is definitely not something I expected," Cloud replied quickly without even thinking of what he was insinuating.

"Oh! That reminds me of what we were about to discuss, Marcus," Wei began abruptly. "It's perfect since Cloud is here too, since he knows Sephiroth better. There's a bit of an 'interesting' thing that I heard he does."

Marcus turned to the man. "Oh you're right, you did say that you had heard something about him." He then looked over at Cloud and smiled. "Guess you'll get to hear it now too."

Cloud felt himself become curious. He smiled back. "Yeah, I am wondering now what this news could be."

He had already seen how Sephiroth could show a bit more compassion than most stories made about him. Not only that, but now there was the ice cream place that the silver haired man kept secret and his love for it. At this point, Cloud didn't see how anything else about the man could be more off than that.

"Okay," Wei started, grabbing each of them and pulling them in closer. "Now, this is just a rumor I've heard, but supposedly it came straight from a member of his fan club." He now spoke in a quiet way, his voice almost down to a whisper.

The other two just stared at him, waiting for him to continue. He blinked for a moment until he realized they weren't going to say anything back. He cleared his throat, preparing himself for what he was about to tell them.

"Ahem. Anyways, you notice how Sephiroth's hair is always so smooth and seemingly perfect? Despite how long it is, there never seems to be any discrepancies in it. Right Cloud?"

Marcus and Wei suddenly eyed him hard. Cloud stared back as he tried to think of a proper answer. "Umm… I guess? I didn't really pay attention to his hair that closely to be honest. I've only been his student for a few days now."

"Ah," the other two men said in unison. A little disappointed that Cloud hadn't actually noticed anything before.

"Well I'll continue," Wei said. "Word has it that he uses an entire bottle of custom made shampoo and conditioner made by Shinra for one wash. An entire bottle! So each time he washes his hair he needs another full bottle of the stuff! And supposedly it's always a different scent as people have said they can smell it when they pass him. It's the craziest thing right? So what do you guys think?"

Cloud and Marcus both looked at Wei after he finished with an astonished look adorning their faces. Marcus was the first to speak up though.

"Wait for real?! That's something I never would have expected. I mean, it doesn't seem like a big deal so I wonder why nobody knows?"

"I mean, it's Sephiroth ya know. He's serious about everything. I guess it shows that he is dedicated to everything he does," Wei replied quickly.

"That's a good point. It's still kinda hard to believe that's such a secret though," Marcus retorted and then turned to Cloud. "So, what say you Cloud?"

Cloud had been wrong. This was for sure something that was more off than he mentally conceived. He continued to stand there for a few seconds in silence, taking it all in. So now Sephiroth was very sensitive of his hair? What would be next? Cloud couldn't even fathom what other secrets Sephiroth must have held. He placed the palm of his hand over his face and sighed slightly, almost not believing what was being said. Now he really had heard it all.

"So… he cares that much about his hair?"

"Well, sure, don't we all? I mean, look at you. How does your hair spike like that all the time?" Marcus asked questioningly.

"It's always like that. Always has been. Nothing that I do changes it. But just, to hear Sephiroth is like that to such an extent… I don't even know what to think anymore…" he trailed off with a calm yet unbelieving voice.

Wei spoke up. "What? You don't think it's true? The source of information is from a valid member of fan club. I should know since I'm a mem-" He stopped abruptly, covering his mouth.

Marcus and Cloud eyed him suspiciously. "You're a member of Sephiroth's fan club?" Marcus asked, surprised at what he had almost heard, but was able to assume.

"I guess that makes sense why you seem so excited when talking about him just now," Cloud replied with a small laugh.

"Yeah yeah, I'm a member okay? The man is scary, but… I admire him a lot," Wei retorted in a defensive manner.

"Why were you so surprised though, Marcus?" Cloud asked. "Didn't you tell me you were in Angeal's fanclub?"

Marcus straightened up, staring like he had been caught red handed. He then rubbed the back of his neck and grin sheepishly. "True. Heh, I forgot I told you about that."

"Oh so we are in opposite fan clubs," Wei laughed. "Cloud, if you say you are in the Genesis fanclub, then that will really be funny."

Cloud shook his head. "I'm not in any fanclub."

"Ah, there goes that. But hey, you're close to Sephiroth all the time, right? If you don't believe it, then you can find out for us all then. If you're his student, I'm sure that he shares things with you… maybe. Come on, will you do it?"

"Yeah, that's a good idea Cloud. You're close to him. Plus I think we all wanna know. I'm sure you're curious too right?" Marcus chimed in.

It was true that Cloud was curious. Far more curious than a few minutes ago. Though, he had no idea how Sephiroth would feel about his asking something like that. On the off chance that it was true, the man was still terrifying at times. This was the same man that was so serious over ice cream, so there was no telling how he would be with talking about his hair. But, Cloud knew these guys would not give up. He looked back and forth between them before sighing heavily.

"Fine… I'll try to ask him, I guess. In a way, I think I can understand being fascinated by him. My brother and I were as well when we were younger," Cloud finally answered.

The two men grinned happily, Wei being the more excited of the two. "All right! That's great to hear. Hopefully you can find out soon."

"Yeah, just let us know man," Marcus added in, clearly excited but trying to contain it.

"Sure thing," Cloud replied calmly. "I just hope he's not gonna kill me over it…" he muttered to himself under a hushed breath while he thought of how to bring up the subject.

Chapter Text

The next few days flew by in no time at all. Cloud was patiently waiting for his brother outside of the Shinra building, as they were going to hang out for the first time in a while. Both had been quite busy as of late, so this was a welcome opportunity for the both of them. Zack would be there soon so Cloud hoped he would not be waiting much longer. However, the more time that passed, the more his thoughts shifted to something else.

As Cloud stood there waiting, he started thinking about what had happened a couple of days prior. "I still haven't asked Sephiroth that yet. I know I told them I would do it but it just seems… odd. I mean, how do you ask a grown man about his hair? Why did I agree to do it… If I don't, they'll probably not like me then… and I don't want that."

His mind swarmed with worry over the situation and contemplation on what to do. "Oh, maybe I could ask Cissnei. She's a girl so maybe she might know how to go about something like that? That would give me a reason to see her again too, and sooner than we talked about." He grinned widely, knowing he could take care of two things at once.

After thinking about it for a few more seconds, the smile slowly started to fade as he realized something. Cissnei was not going to be back for a couple of more days because she was away on a mission with some of the other Turks. Disappointment boiled up inside of him at his recalling that fact. He then hung his head and closed his eyes, trying to think of what he could do now.

"You're not falling asleep on me are you?"

The voice startled Cloud as he looked up to see his brother standing right beside him. "Oh hey Zack. And uh, no, I'm not. Just was thinking…"

"Hmm…" Zack hummed thoughtfully as he leaned in close to Cloud's face. "And what would you be thinking about then? Could it be… Cissnei?"

"Wh-What?!" Cloud shouted. He immediately covered his mouth, wondering if any people passing by had heard him. "Why would you say that?"

"Because," Zack leaned in further, a large grin spreading across his face. "Who else do you space out thinking about? Besides… you're blushing."

Cloud sneered at him and looked away. "N-Not funny!"

Zack wrapped an arm around Cloud and pulled him in close. With his other hand he ruffled Cloud's hair. "I've told you before, yeah it is funny! You cannot escape the torment of the teasing older brother!"

"Yeah yeah, you just wait when I grow taller than you, then we'll see how funny it is," Cloud let out a huff as he spoke.

"Oh? Is that a challenge?" Zack asked he loomed over Cloud. As the year had progressed, their heights were now several inches apart. But even with that, Zack stood on the balls of his feet to look like he was even taller than he already was to Cloud.

Cloud raised himself up as well to try to match Zack's eye level as much as he could. "You could call it that," he said with a wry smile before he started to chuckle at both of their antics.

"Hey, who knows," Zach laughed. "Maybe by your 14th birthday you will finally grow out of your 'beanpole' phase."

The two of them continued to laugh at each other, enjoying the reprieve they had at the time. It wasn't often they were able to spend so much time together anymore, but they took the time they had and made good use of it. The laughter rang out for some time as they made their trek back to the apartment. Once there, the two of them immediately plopped down to relax.

"It's nice that we can get times like this, especially with our work being so busy," Zack stated as he raised his head upward, seemingly in thought.

Cloud looked over at him. "Yeah, it's nice I agree," Cloud began.

After a few seconds, he continued. "Zack. There's actually something I wanted to talk to you about, or ask you about… if you don't mind."

"Oh? Well, you know you can ask me anything," Zack told him as he sat up in his seat. Before Cloud could even speak, Zack continued. "Wait… is this maybe about Cissnei again, huh?" he asked, teasing his little brother with a joking tone in his voice.

"No no no. Come on Zack, stop it!" Cloud pleaded loudly, signs of exasperation etched on his face.

"Yeah, I know I know. Okay, what is it really Cloud?" Zack leaned a bit closer to Cloud.

Cloud had a feeling that once he told Zack this, that his older brother was most likely going to laugh. Or maybe he wouldn't believe him at first. Honestly though, he would not be able to blame him if he did, considering the validity of the question is all based on what Cloud had witnessed thus far from Sephiroth. He breathed in sharply and tried to prepare his words.

"So, I uh, heard a rumor about Sephiroth. I wanted to ask him myself, but I'm not really sure how to go about it. The rumor is… rather strange."

Zack raised an eyebrow. Clearly this was not what he was expecting to hear. "A rumor? About Sephiroth? The Sephiroth?"

"Yes him. Now are you going to listen or just ask the obvious questions?" Cloud replied as he crossed his arms.

"Sorry, go on then."

"The rumor is… is that Sephiroth apparently uses a full bottle of shampoo and conditioner each day to wash his hair. And that it has some special scent."

Zack looked at Cloud, taking in the information. After he let Cloud finished he took another moment to figure out what he wanted to say. "Isn't that like, something someone from his fanclub would say?"

"That's actually where I heard this. This guy Wei, who I have gone on a few missions with before, was telling me some days ago. He's in Sephiroth's fanclub so he knows these things," Cloud said. "Both Marcus and he wanted me to find out since I'm Sephiroth's student."

Zack leaned back on the couch. He looked like he was in deep thought, closing his eyes and crossing his arms. He hummed quietly before opening his eyes. He chuckled, cracking a smile. "That does sound like quite the strange rumor. Sephiroth using fancy shampoo to wash his hair… Ha! That sounds hilarious to think about!"

"Shhh," Cloud hushed Zack. "Not so loud. I don't want others hearing this."

"Why? You said it came from a member of his fanclub. If it's from there, a lot of people know this rumor," Zack said.

"Oh… that's true I guess. But still… how do I go about asking Sephiroth?" Cloud asked.

"Wait, you're serious? You're really going to go up to him and ask 'Hey Sephiroth, your hair is really great. Can you tell me what you use to wash it?'"

Cloud couldn't help but snicker back. Something about how Zack acted when he said it made it feel more silly than it already sounded. "Not like that at least. But if I were to ask him, you have any idea how I would do it?"

"Nope," Zack answered honestly. "Last time I saw the guy I froze up. I was so nervous in his presence. I wouldn't even have any idea how to ask him about his hair."

"Ah… oh well. It's a pretty weird thing to ask anyways. I probably shouldn't try to ask him," Cloud said as he slumped his shoulders. "But Marcus and Wei really wanted me to ask him…"

"Hey," Zack started, placing a hand on Cloud's shoulder. "If they are your friends, they'll understand if you don't wanna ask him."

"Yeah, you're probably right. Maybe I was just overthinking all of this," Cloud replied.

Zack nodded. "Now come on, how about we play a game or something. We gotta have fun with our free time together, not gossip about Sephiroth's hair care."


Cloud had just finished up with the training simulation for the day. Sephiroth had wanted him to just practice some techniques for the day, not only with his sword, but finally with some materia. There were no monsters he had fought this time, so things were normal. Well, as normal as they could get in comparison. The materia practice had gone well as Cloud was just learning how to use them. He hoped that he would get to do more of that later.

"That was quite impressive Cloud. Your affinity with materia is much higher than most, which is good. We will practice on that again at some point," Sephiroth stated as Cloud started to walk toward him.

"Okay then that sounds good. I would like that," Cloud replied.

He stared up at Sephiroth, and then threw a glance towards his smooth hair. As soon as he detected his eyes on him though, Cloud averted his gaze. He still had not asked Sephiroth yet. He mulled over the decision in his mind, almost too embarrassed to ask. He still could not decide what to do. Originally he had thought he would not ask at all, but ever so often the thought of asking came to his mind again.

"Cloud. I wasn't going to say anything, but over the past few days, you've been randomly staring at me. I get that you were a fan, but is there something else?"

Cloud blinked. "Wait what? You think… I am one of your fans?"

"Well it's the logical conclusion that I came to based on your reaction. Is it not true?" Sephiroth asked calmly.

"Uh… I don't know exactly. I'm not like in the fanclub… but when I was young, Zack and I always looked up to you. But I'm sure you know many kids do when they are young," Cloud said. He lowered his head, not making eye contact with Sephiroth. He almost felt embarrassed, but he was trying his best to not show any of that.

"I see," Sephiroth began. "I've heard many say they aspire to be like me. I don't really care though nonetheless. But if it's not about just me, then it's something else…"

"Something else?" Cloud ended up asking without thinking. It wasn't that he was trying to play dumb, it was only a little bit of his natural curiousity to ask.

Sephiroth had been thinking for a few seconds before finally speaking up again. "I see now. Cloud, this is about the silly rumors for my hair right?" he spoke with an air of confidence.

"What? H-How did you know it was about that?" Cloud asked, clearly surprised by Sephiroth blunt ask about it. It was clear Sephiroth knew about the fanclub and how others perceived him, but Cloud did not expect Sephiroth to out right state one of the rumors.

"Well to be fair, it was just a hunch on my end considering that I have heard some whispers about those rumors. I honestly do not understand how I take care of my hair could be such an interesting topic to anyone. Besides…" he began as he smirked. "You just confirmed to me what your burning question was about anyways."

Cloud rubbed a hand against his face. He started to feel more embarrassed than he did before. Now Sephiroth had called him out on what he was thinking. And it was such a silly subject to be thinking about. Had he really just gotten into a conversation with Sephiroth about his hair? Cloud originally would have doubted that ever could happen, but now he was always trying to expect unexpected things.

"Ah… It's not really about that." He paused for a moment. He saw no point in trying to lie. "Okay… it was actually what I was thinking. Sorry if it is weird…"

"You do not have to worry. There are always many rumors about me or another 1st class. While I still do not see why it is so fascinating to some to learn about my hair, I do not see it as weird. Curiosity is a natural human instinct, and there are those who do not know how to control it and let it get the best of them."

Cloud looked at Sephiroth, partly relieved he was not cross or annoyed by his thoughts on the rumor. But there was still a bit of wavering concern if he was disappointed or not. "Is it bad that I am curious then? Cause I couldn't help, but to keep wondering about it?"

"You are better than others. Those who are far too curious for their own good would snoop around to find the answer, or even possibly confront me to ask. You were good in keeping it contained until I confronted you about the subject."

Cloud breathed out a long sigh of relief. He was happy that Sephiroth was not upset at him, though it still never did answer the question. Though… if they were on the subject… Cloud wondered if it would be okay to bring it up. Sephiroth only thought it was odd that people wanted to know about his hair. He did not seem offended by it from the sound of it.

Cloud cleared his throat. "Yeah… so since we were already talking about it. Uh, I really wanted to know. Those rumors. Are they actually, you know, true?"

He stumbled with his words, not really knowing how to ask. A sign of relief uttered from his mouth, and a feeling of anxiousness welled up in the pit of his stomach as he had no idea what Sephiroth might say.

Sephiroth stared at him. He did not answer immediately, which only built up the tension even more. His eyes slowly narrowed, though a faint chuckle could be heard. "Do not try and press your luck, Cloud. Just because I initiated the conversation on this subject, does not mean you will get your answers. Your courage to ask though is commendable though."

"Oh, um, okay then. Sorry for trying to pry," Cloud spoke quickly and apologetically.

He honestly hoped that he would be able to garner some answers from the man, but it seemed there were some secrets that he kept closer guard on than others. He would just tell the others that he was not able to find out anything, though he was sure they would be disappointed. If he were honest, he was also a bit let down after having gone through all of the trouble to try to ask. He decided to leave the training room for the day as Sephiroth remained there in the same spot.

Chapter Text

"Hey so were you able to ask him yet?"

"Yeah, what did he say Cloud? I've gotta say, I'm really dying to know."

Cloud stared at his two friends nervously, knowing what they were expecting. He knew that when he finally went back to them about the situation, they would want to know what happened. Wei was more curious that Marcus was, though the latter still wanted to know anyways. Marcus and Wei were standing quite close to him, wide looks on their eyes that were just waiting for an answer. However, Cloud had nothing to give them.

"Well, you see," Cloud started, pausing to collect his thoughts. "To be frank with you, he didn't tell me anything."

The look of excitement slowly waned from his friends' faces and contorted into confusion.

"Wait, what!? You mean you didn't find out anything?" Wei protested, flailing his hands up.

"Hey, I never said that I would. I said that I would ask him. It's up to him if he wanted to tell me anything or not," Cloud retorted back to him.

"You didn't think of trying to press the issue? Sorry, we're just really curious," Marcus added in, making his opinion known.

Cloud looked between the both of them before narrowing his eyes. "Would you really want to try to pressure Sephiroth into telling you something he already refused?"

Marcus and Wei shared a look of nervousness with each other briefly. "Okay, that's a good point," Wei spoke up while Marcus nodded in agreement.

None of them in the room would want to get on Sephiroth's bad side or annoy him in any way. Nobody in their right mind would want to do that. The three of them knew that and could silently agree that discretion was the better part of valor when dealing with that man. Silence befell the trio for a few short moments, but it was eventually broken.

"Well it was worth a shot at least," Marcus admitted.

"Yeah, that's true. Maybe I'll find out some day about it," Wei added.

Cloud looked at the two of them. "Yeah…"

"Well," Cloud then continued. "The day's pretty much over now for me, so I'm gonna head out I suppose."

The two friends had bid him farewell for the day, stating that they still had some things they had to do at headquarters. Before Cloud left, however, they all made plans for a meetup a couple of days later since they had not had the time to do much lately. With that having been done, they went their separate ways for the time being.


Cloud had just woken up from a long nap. Nearly two weeks had passed and it was August finally. But more than that, it was the day of his birthday. With all of the events that had happened since he first arrived at Shinra, his birthday was the last thing he had thought about.

But now that it was on his mind, many thoughts begin to swirl inside of his young head. He couldn't believe he had already been a year since he had left his home in an effort to follow his brother and their dream. So much had happened in that brief time span, but Cloud had been able to grow stronger both mentally and physically and was better because of it.

The life of being SOLDIER was sometimes more than Cloud expected, but he was more resolved to face it head on. Even though there were trials, there were many good parts to where he was too. So many new friendships had been started, of which he was glad. He even had his first crush too.

"Cissnei… it's been awhile since I've seen her honestly. I guess she's been busy…" As he continued to get lost on that fact, he thought maybe he should try to message her. In one of their previous meetings, he had been able to obtain her contact information; however, she had been strict on not having things sent to her constantly unless it was urgent.

"Well it is my birthday after all. I'm sure that's important enough to be able to message her about." Cloud then proceeded to grab his flip phone from the nightstand and opened her contact. He thought long and hard about what he was going to say. He had never done something like this before, but after a few minutes he began to type away.

'Hey, it's Cloud. I know you said not to message here very much, but I haven't heard from you in a while and wanted to check up on you. So I hope you don't mind. It's my birthday today too. I wanted to tell you. If you're around maybe come by? I won't make this too long, but I'll just wait to hear from you. Bye.'

Cloud looked over the message one last time before hitting the send button. He earnestly hoped that he would hear something back, but he doubted it considering that she only really used it for business matters. Realistically, that's all that he was supposed to use it for as well. But one little occasion of a personal message shouldn't be a big deal.

He threw his feet off the bed and finally stood up on the hardwood floor. He honestly wished that he would not have to get ready for anything, as he wanted to take some time to relax. But it's not like he could just not show up to work. With a loud sigh, Cloud moved to his closet and grabbed his Shinra uniform. After a little while, he had gotten ready and then prepared to head out. Zack had already left earlier in the morning he assumed, so he made the trek there by himself.


The day pressed on slowly, or at least it seemed that way to Cloud as all he wanted to do was just leave and enjoy his special day. Though, he did know that being a SOLDIER meant there had to be some sacrifices, but he hoped that would not be one of them. He figured that he and Zack would be able to go out and celebrate tonight

Finally, it was time for some more training though with Sephiroth. Cloud went up to the simulation room and found Sephiroth like he usually did. He stood there looking over the computer, programming things in and checking other stats.

Cloud announced his arrival to his mentor and they began right away with a series of tests and small level simulation missions. It was just like they had been doing, and Cloud had been majorly improving on them. He could get farther though the mini missions and could last longer before his strength would give out.

But today something was different. He was only half way through a set of training when it ended. Cloud blinked in confusion when he saw the flashing words in ihs headset telling him the mission was finished.

Taking off the headset he turned to look at Sephiroth. He now stood only a few feet away from Cloud, his arms crossed with his usual serious expression over his face.

"Did I do something wrong?" Cloud asked.

Sephiroth shook his head. "Not at all. You were doing rather well today."

"Then why did you stop the simulation?" Cloud asked, trying to figure out what the reason could be.

"It is because I chose to for your benefit," Sephiroth answered.

It was clear he was going to be vague as usual about what he was talking about. It would take Cloud a bit of pressing to figure it out.

"My benefit? What for?"

"It's your birthday, so I thought it would be considerate to let you off early for today."

"W-Wait really?" Cloud stuttered, surprised at what he was hearing.

Sephiroth of all people was actually telling him that? Sure, the man had some quirks that made him seem not as imposing. However, Cloud never really pictured him as someone who would grow lax on training or forego any mission for someone else, even with it being a celebratory occasion. Maybe there was still more to the silver-haired man than he yet knew.

"How did you know that it was my birthday?"

"I am your mentor," Sephiroth replied. A deadpan expression crossed his face. "I have seen your files. So I would not think that it is weird that I know that information."

"O-Oh."

Cloud lowered his head. He felt a small bit foolish for overthinking the situation. "Of course it made sense that Sephiroth would know that. But I guess him stating it to me is still the weird part…"

"Do you wish to leave early, correct?" Sephiroth asked, snapping Cloud from starting into a series of thoughts.

"Huh, oh yeah. I would like that."

"Then you can stop spacing out and leave. Go home. Take a break. Things will resume tomorrow," Sephiroth spoke curtly as if demanding Cloud's leave. "I can attend to other business. Have a good rest of your day."

Questions still rattled in Cloud's mind over the sudden change of pace, but now was not the time to ask them. "O-Okay then. Uh, thank you."

Cloud walked briskly towards Sephiroth and passed him, making his way towards the door. He could have sworn that he saw a slight smirk cross the face of Sephiroth, but he was not going to turn around to ask. He had wanted to have the day be easy, and this was his chance. So, he thought it best not to ruin the opportunity, especially if Sephiroth changed his mind.

He made his way through the hall and to the elevator, taking it down to the SOLDIER floor. Once he was there, he went to gather his belongings and leave for the day. Nobody else seemed to be around though, which made sense considering that it was just past the middle part of the day. Therefore, he was able to mindlessly wander out of the building with little thought going towards anything externally.

"I did want to be off early but what am I supposed to do now? It's not like there's anyone around to do anything with at the moment. I guess I'll just go home for the moment at least. Or maybe I could tour the town some during the day since I don't normally do that? But… I would prefer if someone was with me. It's still weird to go out on my own sometimes…"

He still had not decided what to do by the time he made it back home. He marched up the stairs and opened the door, taking a look 4around the apartment first before entering. There was no sign of Zack, which was expected. Cloud put his things down and just flopped down on the couch without a care in the world. He considered napping but he would prefer to not waste the good time he had doing nothing.

Though the more that he laid there, the heavier that his eyes became. "No, not sleep now. I can find something to do. But… I don't wanna get up either…" His blue eyes flickered a few times as he blinked off and on. Other thoughts began to soar through his mind. "Maybe a nap wouldn't be so bad after all…"


A loud knock at the door startled Cloud as he bolted awake and sat up from the couch swiftly. His head pivoted around, trying to find his bearings as he searched for the door. He then roused up I'm shuffle his feet over to the door and opened it without first checking to see who it might be. But luckily, there was no need to worry as the face that was on the other side of the door was a familiar one.

"Hello, Cloud."

"Cissnei?" he asked curiously.

The short and slender redhead had an empty yet relaxed look on her face, until she then curled her lips into an attempt of a small smile. She was currently still wearing her black Turk suit as per the usual, Cloud having never seen her don any other attire.

"Weren't you gone or something?"

"I was but just got back from a long mission. Now I have some time off," she explained, waltzing in and taking a seat on the couch before crossing her legs.

Cloud closed the door and then walked back over to her and sat down on the other end of the couch. Before he could say anything though, Cissnei started.

"Also, I thought I told you not to send personal messages on my phone, Cloud."

He was taken aback for a moment. "Uh, yeah, sorry. I know, it's just I… well…"

"Don't worry about it now," Cissnei began, placing a hand on his shoulder. "It's not a problem. Besides, I didn't forget anyways what today was."

Cloud breathed easily upon hearing that. However, he had thought of something else. "Hey Cissnei, how did you even know that I would be here?"

"Heh, I saw you leaving the building as I was just getting back. I couldn't get away at the time so I figured I would stop by afterwards. So here I am," she explained solidly.

She paused for a moment before she continued. "So now let me ask you. What are you even doing off anyways? It's not normal usually."

Cloud stuttered for a moment, wondering if she would believe what he was about to tell her. "Well, Sephiroth kinda just told me to go early… because it was my birthday."

Cissnei raised her eyebrow at him. "Really? That seems… strange. Especially from what I know about the man."

"Yeah, that's what I thought. But he seemed adamant about it though."

"Weird," Cissnei replied as silence fell between the two. She soon recovered it though. "So, you want to get out some, and do something? Just like a walk maybe?"

Cloud felt the corner of his lips curl up. He didn't even have to think twice about the situation. He hadn't forgotten what Cissnei had told him, about them being too young to be thinking about love. But even with that, he still wanted to spend time with her. He knew that he had to wait on the feelings that wanted to show themselves, but he also wanted to respect what Cissnei had said.

He would wait until they were older. Then maybe… just maybe he could think about those feelings again. But for now at least he was happy to have her company as a friend. And he was glad Cissnei seemed to think the same thoughts as him for that matter. He knew that she must care for him as he did for her; otherwise, she wouldn't have bothered to see him or suggest going for a walk.

Cloud finally nodded. "I think we could do that. Where would we walk?"

A hum filled the air as Cissnei tilted her head up in thought. "Well, anywhere really is fine. I've got plenty of time anyways.'

"Okay, then let's go for a walk and see where we end up," Cloud suggested as he stood up. He held out a hand to Cissnei as an offer to help her up.

She instead stood up under her own power, making a slight notion towards Cloud's extended hand. The short smile she gave indicated she was fond of the gesture, but her actions showed that it was not needed.

Upon seeing this, Cloud gently lowered his hand. He could feel his hands becoming clammy. Nervous that he had made the wrong choice in trying to be polite. Now he was glad that she hadn't taken his hand at all. He wouldn't want to embarrass himself more by having her grab a sweaty hand.

Quickly he spoke up again, trying to divert any further thoughts on the subject. "Oh, uh right. I almost forgot. Let me get ready real quick."

Cissnei just nodded at his and crossed her arms as she stood waiting. Cloud hurriedly dashed to his room and closed the door. The first thing he did once he was alone in his room was breath. He had almost forgotten to breathe normally back there in those last few moments. He wished he could know what was the right thing to do. But he figured that he could always try and ask Zack later for advice.

But right now he had to push those thoughts aside. Right now he had to pick out a quick outfit for himself. He wanted to try to make himself look approachable, but he didn't want to go too far with his outfit. He also didn't have that much to choose from anyways, so after some deliberating, he found a nice pair of jeans mixed with a black chocobo shirt. He grabbed a black jacket off of a hook in his room and threw it on before darting out the door.

"All right, let's go," he said with some pep as he was now back at Cissnei, who was standing close to the door.

"Sounds good," she said simply as she allowed Cloud to lead the way.

They exited the apartment complex and then started to walk around Midgar aimlessly. Cloud had no idea where they were going, but he was glad that he was able to do something with his time off. And who better to spend it with than Cissnei. His birthday was really turning out to be quite good after all.

Chapter Text

After a few hours being out, Cloud and Cissnei were about ready to head back. Most of the time had been spent just traversing through the city, the two of them talking to each other in stride as they went.

Their conversation was lively and entertaining for both of them. Some subjects talked about were simple things about work. But others were various thoughts on the sights and there were even some jokes told by Cloud. He found himself glad that his jokes worked when he saw Cissnei smiling, trying to contain her laughter.

"I don't think I've really seen you laugh before," Cloud commented as they walked.

Cissnei slowed her pace and stared at Cloud. It was clear from the look on her face that she was surprised by Cloud's words. She blinked slowly, trying to think of what she was going to say back. Never before could she recall anyone ever saying that to her, or even something like that.

"Oh um… thank you?"

Cloud suddenly feared that he had said the wrong thing. He waved his hands in front of his face. "Ah! Um… I didn't mean it like that! I didn't mean it was like really weird or something to see you laugh. I just can't remember if I had seen you laughing before. You know… just making a statement. I didn't mean to be rude! You're laugh is really nice by the way!"

By the time Cloud finished his mini rushed rant, his cheeks were bright red. Cissnei started to snicker at first, but it quickly morphed into a full laugh. There was no hiding this one or even trying to contain it.

Cloud rolled in his lip as his cheeks puffed up, his embarrassment growing as she continued to laugh. The longer he looked at her though, the more relaxed that he started to become. He noticed her wide smile adorning her laughing face, and it just looked so natural to him. Slowly, he started to want to chuckle as well, and before long, he too was in hysterical laughter. He had no idea if he was laughing at himself, or with Cissnei, but it was nearly uncontrollable.

She noticed this and nearly stopped as she glanced at Cloud, but then continued laughing again anyways. Finally though, the noise had started to dissipate, Cissnei stopping first. She marched up to Cloud and clasped a hand on his shoulder, which caused the boy to stutter as he ceased his laughter finally. She was about to say something to him when suddenly, her phone began to ring.

She opened the phone and answered it. "Hello."

After a few seconds, she placed the phone on mute as she directed her attention to Cloud. "I've gotta take this real quick," she spoke quickly.

"Uh, okay then," Cloud replied, not really knowing what to say.

Cissnei just nodded and began to walk off a little bit away out of earshot of Cloud, around the corner of a building. Cloud stood still as he waited. But he let the thoughts of what just happened flow over his mind.

"Cissnei was laughing… probably at me. She probably thought I was being too embarrassed or something. But she didn't seem annoyed by it either… Maybe it's actually a good thing she laughed."

Cloud sighed as he leaned against the wall of the building he stood near. "Ah… I wish I could understand girls…"

Before Cloud could get too comfortable, Cissnei came back and smiled at him. "Sorry about that. But it was an important call."

"Oh okay. So back to our walk then?"

"If it's all right, how about we head back to your apartment? It's getting a little late anyways and I should be heading back to headquarters eventually."

Cloud almost looked disappointed, but as he looked around, he could tell that the sun had started to dwindle lower on the horizon. "Yeah, okay, we can do that I suppose. Though, I thought you said that you were off for a couple days now?" he inquired as they started to walk back.

Cissnei followed besides him. "Ah yeah… I thought so too. But… you know… the call and everything. Just need to help out with a small thing."

"Yeah, I understand. I, um… just am glad you're here now," he said nervously. He had to accept it, even though he did want more time for himself and Cissnei.

'Maybe Zack will be back by the time we return. It's probably getting close to that time. If so, then we might be able to do something I hope.'

His thoughts only lingered on that hope for a moment as Cissnei grabbed his attention. "So, any plans for your birthday this evening then?"

Cloud shrugged. "I don't know. Probably hangout with Zack like I did for his birthday. Maybe we will go and eat at some cool restaurant or something."

She smiled at Cloud, almost smirking. "Hmm, I guess you'll just have to see what happens then."

"Yeah I guess so," Cloud murmured as he noticed the smile coming from Cissnei. He couldn't help but smile back to her. He knew that they were still young, but he knew one thing; he really liked the way Cissnei smiled at him.

After just a few more minutes, they had finally arrived back to the apartment complex where Cloud assumed that Cissnei would be leaving. But surprisingly, she followed him up the stairs. He almost started to ask her why since she said she had to head back, but elected not to so at that time. They finally reached the door of the apartment and Cloud fiddled with his keys to try to get the door unlocked. Cloud's mind couldn't hold him back anymore, as he wanted to make sure they parted well. Though, he was still almost sad about it.

"I guess you'll have to go now…" Cloud directed the downtrodden words to the girl behind him with a side glance.

Cissnei spoke up. "Well, I can stick around for a few minutes. I didn't mean I had to leave immediately. Why don't you just go ahead and open the door and I'll be right behind you."

Upon hearing that, Cloud seemed to be relieved. "All right then. Sounds good"

"SURPRISE!"

A chorus of voices greeted Cloud once he swung the door open. He tensed up and turned to see who had made the noise. And what he saw made him forget he was sad seconds ago.

Standing dead center in the room room was Zack. But it wasn't only Zack. Marcus, Wei, and even Kunsel were there too!

Little streamers lined the wall behind them and a small banner was pinned up that read, 'Happy Birthday.'

Cloud stared, trying to process what he was seeing. He finally remembered to look to his side and saw Cissnei was smiling at him again.

He opened his mouth to ask a series of questions that were coming in, but all he could manage was one word.

"Huh?"

Zack laughed. "Look at that. I think we completely shocked him."

"Come on man, don't just stand there gawking," Marcus added.

Cloud still didn't move. What he saw before him was still such a surprise. It was a surprise party… for him. And it wasn't just his brother that was there to wish him a happy birthday. His friends were there too, which wasn't what Cloud was expecting at all.

Cloud looked at the group and then to Cissnei. There was still something that he was trying to connect together. "Wait, Cissnei, did you know about this?"

Cissnei continued to hold her smile while she nodded. "Yes. I knew about the whole idea. When Zack told me, I was happy to help out."

"So wanting to go out for a walk…"

"It was a way to get you out of the house so Zack could set everything up," Cissnei casually responded.

"Oh… I see," Cloud replied quietly.

"Does that mean it was all fake? She was just hanging out with me to keep me from being here? Just a lie to get me to come with her?"

Cloud started to frown. He wasn't sure what to really think. He had thought Cissnei really wanted to go hangout with him, but he now felt uncertain. If she was only hanging out with him to keep him away from the house, did she really want to spend time with him in the first place?

"I still enjoyed our time together," Cissnei added, as if she had read Cloud's inner thoughts.

Cloud's fears and worries faded and he found himself slowly forming a smile again. Before he could say anything, Zack walked over and pulled Cloud into the apartment.

"I think that's enough standing around for now. We gotta get this party started!"

Cloud was pulled into the room, with Cissnei following behind him. Right away he saw more than just streamers and a banner. There was a nice looking cake set up on the kitchen counter. At the table there was a hot pizza open and ready to be eaten. And off by the couch Cloud could see that there was a small stack of presents.

"You really planned all of this?" Cloud asked his brother.

"Of course I did. You doubt my party planning abilities? I had this idea for weeks now!" Zack exclaimed, clearly happy about how it turned out.

"Wow, that's awesome. Thanks Zack," Cloud said before looking to the other three SOLIDERs in the room. "So you guys knew about this?"

Wei nodded first. "Yup, Zack found us one day and asked if we wanted to come and help make up the party. Though I think some party of any size should be more for a 16th birthday."

"I told you guys already," Zack started to say. "Cloud and I grew up in Gongaga, we didn't really get big party, or even a small one with friends. So I wanted to try it with Cloud and have a first party with friends and everything! Plus, this marks his first year here in Midgar too!"

"Hey, I say a party is a party, no matter the number of people. As long as there is good cake, I'm good," Marcus said with a laugh.

"Yeah, cake is the best. But I like being around familiar faces too," Kunsel added in.

Cloud was still overwhelmed with the situation and dumbfounded on what to say next. He wanted to join in on the conversation at least. He focused on what everyone was talking about though: the cake. It was the best looking cake that he had ever seen. It was chocolate with some white icing decorating the sides and the top of it. It was a two layer cake as well, with the number '14' on the top in candles.

After staring at it, he finally looked back up to everyone. "This cake… really looks amazing. Thanks you guys," he added as he shared a look with everyone.

"You're welcome Cloud," Marcus replied. "So does this mean we can start eating?"

"Yeah, before the pizza gets cold," Wei added.

"Come on Cloud, why don't we gather around then. I'm hungry myself," Cissnei added in as she tried to budge Cloud to move.

"All right, all right, let's do that then. I was getting there as well, after the training earlier today and then all that walking… I haven't eaten since earlier," Cloud admitted to himself and everyone else.

He finally went to take a seat at the table around the pizza as everyone else joined him there. Cissnei sat down to the left of him, and picked up her own plate with a slice of pizza. Cloud smiled to her once again.

"I'm glad you get to stay for the party. I'm guessing you don't actually have a thing to do for work?"

Cissnei shook her head. "Nope, it was just a small lie so you wouldn't know what the real call was about."

"Ah, I get it now," Cloud replied before taking a bit of his pizza.

The remainder of the dinner was fun and amusing. Cloud never had so many friends in once place before, but he enjoyed every moment. He thought back to Gongaga when he was younger and how he never made any other friends. Zack on the other hand made friends, but it was rare for them to come over and play. But Cloud would be around and join them at least when Zack did go to play. And even with that, there never was any large group of friends that Zack or Cloud actively hung out with.

It was a new experience for Cloud. Not only to have multiple friends, but to have them all together celebrating his birthday. He smiled happily as he continued to eat his food and talk amongst everyone, wanting to savor every moment.

"You know what I was thinking before I came here today?" Wei asked after he finished another slice. "I thought, with this being Cloud's birthday, that Sephiroth was going to show up."

Everyone stopped eating and turned to look at him. Each person, even Cloud, looked at him with different levels of confusion. Wei looked back to them, keeping a serious expression, though he seemed baffled why everyone was looking at him in the way they were.

"What? None of you thought about it? Cloud is Sephiroth's student. So I thought that Sephiroth would want to come to the party."

"I don't know…" Marcus said, being the first of the others to speak up. "Sephiroth doesn't really seem like a party guy, even if it is a small gathering."

Cloud looked around, as he noticed that a couple of them were staring at him. After all, he did know Sephiroth the best out of them all. He cleared his throat.

"Well, I mean… he does sorta like stuff like that… sometimes. I mean, you should this ic-"

Cloud stopped abruptly and clasped his hands against his mouth.

"Huh? What were you going to say?" Kunsel asked.

"Nothing!" Cloud shouted a little too quickly.

"Doesn't sound like it was nothing. Sounds like you had something to say about Sephiroth," Marcus said.

"Yeah. You got something interesting to say about Sephiroth?" Wei added in. "If you said he sort of likes that stuff, that means you know something."

Cloud shook his head. "I said it was nothing. Just wasn't thinking. Never mind about it."

"Aw come on Cloud," Zack pouted. "You can tell us. If you got a fun tidbit on Sephiroth, you just gotta tell us!"

"Not if I want Sephiroth to come after me," Cloud replied. Internally he was screaming. He was only making it worse for himself. "Can we just forget about it and move on? To the cake? I'd really like some cake now!"

Suddenly Cissnei laughed, drawing the attention of everyone. When she noticed that they were looking at her, she regained her composer. "Sorry. It's just so funny when Cloud gets overly flustered. I think it's cute."

Cloud stared with wide-eyes. Had he heard her right? Did she really just say that? He turned to look around the table and then he felt his face heat up. All the guys were staring at Cloud, all with a similar smug look.

Cloud let out an exasperated sound of frustration. He jumped up from the table and held his head in his hands. "Ahh! Don't any of you guys start up about that! Can we please just get to the cake? Please?"

Zack laughed. "Ah ha, all right we can do that. You don't have to get so worked up about it. Though it was pretty amusing."

Cloud sighed with relief as he dropped back into his chair. In the corner of his eye he saw Cissnei was still looking at him. When he glanced over to her, she winked quickly. Cloud was surprised yet again.

"Did she help me divert the conversation? I guess I gotta thank her for that later... but at least we can move on to the cake."

Chapter Text

Cake had been eaten, and everyone agreed that it was a good choice. But now that time had passed and had come the most exciting part of the day for Cloud; the presents.

Since he had lived in a small family, major gifts were not common for neither him or Zack. Both of them had a few toys, but nothing else from that. Most of the time when they got a present from their parents it was something their mother had sewn or a small knick knack. But even then it was only small or simple things.

But now it was different. Now before him, he had five different presents. Though they were not huge boxes, they were far bigger than what Cloud had expected. He almost couldn't believe anyone other than his parents and Zack would buy him a gift. It seemed so strange, but then he recalled Sephiroth. His mentor had taken him out for an ice cream reward. Technically that was the first gift anyone had given to him that wasn't family. But it had been so strange that Cloud didn't think to really question it.

Aside from that, Cloud went back to looking at the gifts before him. He held up one of the boxes and examined it. It was medium sized, rectangular box with blue striped wrapping paper. Cloud picked up the note that was attached to the top of it and read who it was from. He then made eye contact with Kunsel who smiled at him.

"Hey, any friend of Zack is a friend of mine. Especially if it is his little brother. To be fair I had to get some advice from Zack on what to get, but I hope you like it."

Cloud nodded before he went to tear the wrapping paper off. When he opened the box and pulled back the tissue paper he let out a loud gasp. Reaching into the box he pulled out two large chocobo figures. One was golden yellow and the other black, and they were soft to the touch. Upon seeing them, Cloud knew exactly what they were. Two nicely made chocobo plushies.

"Wow! These… These are. I mean I haven't seen these toys since I was a kid," Cloud commented, almost at a loss for words.

"Yeah, Zack told me how much you two loved to collect those as children. So I thought I'd go nostalgic and buy something along that route," Kunsel answered.

"It's really great. I had always wanted these again. I appreciate it a lot," Cloud spoke quickly with a smile.

Just as soon as he laid those down, he reached for the gift that was right next to it. It was a square-shaped box with black and white wrapping on it, simple and clean.

"I'm not the best at gifts, but hopefully it's good," Cissnei spoke up, indicating that one was from her.

Cloud couldn't wait to see what it was then as he tore into it quickly. Under the wrapping paper was a hard box, which looked quite fancy, and sported a flip-open lid. Cloud pulled it back and looked at what was contained inside.

Cissnei had said she wasn't good at gifts, but he hadn't expected this. Once he saw that everyone was staring at him, waiting to see what it was, he carefully picked up a silver wristwatch. His eyes widened as his fingers traced over the band of it, which felt cool to the touch and slightly sparkled as the light hit the metal. The design was simple, yet unique, with square-like parts lining the outside of the band and slightly larger links connecting each outer band. The face of the watch was a smooth and hard glass, with 3 miniature clock faces inside arranged in a triangular pattern. The thing Cloud noticed when he started looking at it closer was that in the background was a chocobo. Upon seeing that, he turned the watch over and noticed on the back that there was a chocobo engraved there as well. His eyes lit up even more.

"Wow this is really awesome! I like the design of it a lot Cissnei. This means so much. I'll start wearing this everyday," Cloud replied happily as he beamed at her with a smile.

She couldn't help but smile back, seeing the look on his face. "It's something I thought you would like. Plus, it matches the style of your hair." A faint snicker emanated from her mouth.

Upon hearing that comment, the room lit up in laughter. Cloud was slightly embarrassed at first, a bit upset they were teasing about his hair again. But soon enough, he was also laughing along with them without a care. After he placed the box down, he immediately put the watch around his wrist and snapped the band on. He looked it over on his person for a moment before looking back at Cissnei.

"Thanks, Cissnei. I appreciate it."

"Of course," she replied lightheartedly.

After some more brief chatter, Cloud moved on to grab for the next gift. As he did, he noticed that there were only two left. However there were three people there left that had not given Cloud anything yet. A look of confusion swirled on his face as he thought about what might be the reasoning behind that. He almost spoke up and said something, but he felt that it may be rude to ask.

Marcus could see the look on Cloud's face though as he spoke up. "I think I know what you're thinking. The amount of gifts there is right though."

"Oh it is?"

"Yeah, go ahead and pick up the envelope and open it. What happened was, I was trying to think of something, but couldn't really come up with anything creative. So, I decided to ask Wei here," he admitted as he pointed to his friend beside him.

"I asked him what he was getting and he told me that he was thinking of taking you to buy you a tattoo. And I was like 'Wait hold on. I don't think that's really a suitable gift for a 14th year old's birthday.' So I convinced him not to go through with that."

"I thought it would be cool," Wei replied. "After all, I have one."

"You do?" Cloud asked.

Wei nodded. "Got a dragon head tattoo on my back. It's pretty cool."

"Ooh, that's neat. But I don't think I'd want a tattoo," Cloud replied as he lowered his head slightly. He only hoped saying that, didn't upset or offend Wei too much.

"It's fine. It was only a thought I had."

"Anyways," Marcus continued. "I was talking more with Wei what would be a good gift, and then we both had the same idea. So… we chipped in together and got this gift."

Cloud looked down at the envelope before tearing it carefully open. Inside were two pieces of reactular paper. He took them out and read what they said to himself first.

His eyes widened. "Wow! Two vacation tickets to Costa del Sol?!"

Marcus smiled. "Yup, thought it would be nice to go someplace cool next time you get time off from work."

"It really is awesome! I… I never would have expected something like this. Thanks guys. You are truly great friends," Cloud beamed, his voice slightly shaky from the surprise.

"No problem Cloud, you're a cool friend too," Marcus said with a smile. "So who do you think the second ticket will be for?"

Cloud hummed thoughtfully, but he didn't really have to deliberate too long on the matter. "Hm, I think I would bring Zack of course. We've never had a vacation so it would be nice," he said aloud as he looked towards his brother.

"Of course that's what you answered. Should have expected that," Wei replied with a laugh.

"Hope you guys can get some time off to have fun," Marcus added.

Cloud nodded in approval as he looked towards Zack again. His brother just gave a smile before speaking up. "I guess you know who the last gift is from then. Go on an open it Cloud," he insisted.

"All right then."

The first thing that stood out most about Zack's present was the wrapping paper. It was covered in a blue background with cartoony chocobos, cactuars, and moogles all over package was in a rectangle shape and was slightly bulged up a bit on the top. Cloud wondered why it was like that, but assumed that Zack had packed it tightly full of something. After admiring the paper, and chuckling at it, he started to rip into it as his patience was wearing out.

Once he got it open, the first thing that he noticed was there was a shirt in there. He took it out and held it up to see what it was. It was a black t-shirt simple enough, but on the front there was a specific design of a yellow chocobo on the front with a text bubble that read 'Wark!'.

"Okay this is really cool. I like the shirt Zack. You really planned this around chocobos didn't you?"

Zack laughed. "Well it is your favorite thing right?"

Cloud knew that his brother was right. "Yeah, I guess so."

After he put down the shirt, he noticed something else that was inside of the box, situated under some other wrapping paper. He dug it out and was surprised by what he saw. It was actually a hat, but it wasn't any regular hat. The hat was white with a curved bill on the front, and on the top of it was something like an antenna. It was a spring with a red, furry ball on top. It almost looked like-

"A moogle antenna? It almost looks like Mog…" Cloud said.

"Mog? Who's that?" Zack asked curiously.

Cloud thought that he had said that to himself. He felt a bead of sweat drop down the side of his face. "Umm, it's nobody. Just a, um… a moogle character I saw in a shop or something…"

"Haha! You're right that it is a moogle antenna. I thought it would be fun."

Cloud was relieved Zack nor anyone else pressed the issue of who Mog was. Though, he did have something else on his mind.

"I do like it, but uh… do you want me to wear this everywhere?"

"I mean, if you want to. You should try it on to see how it looks though," Zack said as he grabbed the hat from Cloud. He then leaned over his brother and shoved it on his head, trying to get it down over Cloud's naturally spiky hair. Once the hat was nicely sitting on Cloud's head, Zack stepped back. "Maybe you need a haircut, your hair is too spiky,"

"I think you're the one who needs the haircut," Cloud retorted before laughing. He couldn't see what he looked like with the hat on, but he could see from the expressions of everyone else, it must have been silly looking.

Before long everyone broke out into laughter. None of them could really explain it, but there was something about all of this that brought amusement. Maybe it was how silly Cloud looked, or how childishly Cloud and Zack taunted each other. Cloud wasn't sure, but he was glad to spend time with his friends.

"You know," Marcus said once the laughter died down. "I didn't expect this party to be chocobo themed. If I had known that, I would have thought of a different gift."

"At this rate, Cloud could even get a chocobo tattoo one day if he wanted," Wei laughed jokingly.

"I don't know about that," Cloud said. "But maybe a chocobo earring?"

Wei shrugged. "Whatever suits you."

Cloud started to laugh at the comment, enticing everyone else in the room to join in with him. The apartment continued to be filled with more laughs, jokes, and fun times on into the night as everyone took the time to enjoy themselves. It wasn't something that would happen often, but Cloud was happy that it did happen this once. It was something he would never forget.

Chapter Text

Cloud kept thinking back to everything that happened at his first actual birthday party. It was such a good time, and the memories made there were still fresh in his mind even though it was now a few weeks later. Though he wished he could have stayed in his thoughts more, he knew he had to focus on the task at hand.

Currently he was getting ready to leave for a mission. He thought he was going to have another training day with Sephiroth, but when he got to the training room, Sephiroth informed him it wouldn't happen today. Instead he was going to get sent out on a mission to somewhere. It wasn't anything too major, but Sephiroth had said he would analyze how Cloud did afterwards and give him a strong evaluation the following day of his return.

When Cloud got his mission report, he read it over quickly. It really wasn't anything too major, but there had been some reports of some major monstrous creatures outside of Midgar. He was going to be dispatched with a small team to take them out, and that would be it. They were told to meet in the break room on the SOLDIER floor, so that's where Cloud was currently.

"I wonder who will be going with me on this. It would be nice if it's someone familiar," he thought to himself as he sat there.

He didn't have to wait too long to find out though as he caught something out of the corner of his eye. Cloud craned his head to the side to see a couple of faces he had seen before.

"Marcus? Wei? What are you guys doing here? Are you gonna be on the mission too?"

"Yeah, looks like it," Marcus replied before holding his hand out for Cloud to hi-five. Cloud smiled and gave one to Marcus and then followed over to hi-five Wei. Seeing that his two friends would be coming with him, completely lightened his mood for the day.

"I'm surprised they chose you for this mission, Cloud," Wei said once the greetings were over and they all sat down.

Cloud raised his eyebrow to his friend. "Hey, what do you mean by that?"

"It's nothing bad, but you are a student of Sephiroth. I didn't think someone who gets trained by Sephiroth regurually would be sent out on a small mission like this," Wei answered.

"Maybe they did it so Cloud does all the work and we can take it easy," Marcus replied with a laugh, nudging Cloud in the side slightly.

"Very funny Marcus," Cloud said jokingly. "I still get sent out on missions like this from time to time. I'm still a 2nd Class like you guys. So, I guess it isn't unexpected." He didn't tell them that Sephiroth was actually testing him. He knew that was his task, and didn't want to distract them with such information.

"Fair enough," Wei answered.

"Now I guess we wait," Marcus added on as the three took a seat.

Silence befell them, and Cloud started to think what the mission would be like. He was happy that he would be able to go with people that he knew at least, which he hoped would make the mission seem much easier. But he knew that taking things easy was not really an option he had, since Sephiroth was going to be evaluating him anyways. If he had to admit it to himself, he was nervous about it, not wanting to let Sephiroth down, or anyone else. Cloud had a hope that things would be fine.


The three boys stuck close together once they made it to the spot where the monster had been reported. There were a couple of other SOLIDERs as well as a few infantrymen, but it wasn't a large group. Cloud only counted about ten people in total, which in his opinion was more than enough to take care of the mission.

They had been dispatched to a desert-like area, but it wasn't completely devoid of life. In a way, it almost seemed like it had a bit of a tropical layout as well. There was plenty of sand in places, and even mountains that represented a typical desert biome. But then in some spots there were trees lining patches of land every so often. The best part was that it was only slightly warm, but not scorching hot. It was quite an interesting layout to all of them.

"So where is the monster?" one of the other SOLDIERS asked towards the one in charge.

"We don't have an exact pinpoint on it, but it is in the area. May also be multiples, so be on the lookout as we scout out the area," the leader responded. "But we may need to split up into teams to cover more ground in a shorter span of time."

Cloud waited patiently as he was put into a group for if the possibility was needed. Thankfully the one in charge either knew that Cloud was friends with Wei and Marcus, or it was sheer coincidence. Either way it made things easier when trying to coordinate how to search. Though there were two infantrymen who followed them, but they stayed a bit behind, out of the way of the 2nd class SOLDIERs before them.

The groups walked for some time together as the leader had set the aim for a formation of mountains that was up ahead, probably about a mile out. Once they were all finally there, it seemed to split into two ways. There was a path to the left that branched out perpendicular to the wall-like area, and a path to the right that winded crookedly up through the large mountain.

The SOLDIER in charge then spoke up. "All right, we will split up from here into our aforementioned groups. We will take this path here to the left. The other group will go to the right up the mountain here," he said briskly. He then turned a glance towards the other group. "And Cloud. I know you're one of the youngest here, but since you're training under Sephiroth, I'm gonna put you as lead there."

Cloud was a little shaken by that sudden announcement. "Uh… me? But, I've never even done something like that before…"

"Well, now is a good chance for you to step up. Now, best get to it so we can get this done quickly," the leader responded as he turned and headed off in his group's direction.

Cloud reached out his hand towards him, as if he was going to say something, but silence befell him. He could not think of what to say, or rather he didn't want to complain too much. His mind fluttered with 'what-ifs' and 'buts' while he could feel the eyes of all of the others on him. He couldn't think of how to break the silence, but fortunately, he didn't have to.

"Come on Cloud, let's get going," Marcus said before placing a hand onto Cloud's shoulder. "Lead the way."

"You sure I really should? I mean I never lead anyone before. I'm not sure what I am supposed to do."

"It shouldn't be that hard," Marcus replied. "You just walk in front of us and keep a lookout for anything that looks suspicious."

"Yeah, I guess so," Cloud thought aloud. He looked at everyone and then at the path ahead. Be breathed in and held his breath for a split second. "All right everyone. We'll just keep moving up this mountain path to, uh, find the monster. I'll lead the way then."

Cloud then set off in front of everyone up the winding path as the others followed close behind. They formed up in two man units horizontally, with Marcus and Wei each on a row with an infantryman to try to keep balance. Cloud made sure to look back to be aware of how everyone was positioned. A lot went through his mind as he walked forward though.

"I've trained with Sephiroth a lot, and I have gone on various missions. I've seen others in charge, and how they give orders, and how the formations work usually. But to do it myself… this is just weird. Maybe Sephiroth planned it like this? Since he said he would evaluate my performance. I wouldn't be surprised honestly. But this is all nerve wracking… I didn't think I was ready for something like this, but I guess I will have to try…"

It wasn't long before they heard sounds from somewhere up ahead. Cloud held up a hand, signaling the others to stop. They all came to a quick halt and waited. Whatever it was, it was close by and growling in a deep tone.

"I think that may be it, whatever and wherever it is," Wei whispered as he walked up closer to Cloud.

Cloud had no idea if he was right or not, but there was no mistake that something was there, lurking in the background. He had dealt with monsters before in the training missions with Sephroth, so he was akin to what some of them were like. He hoped that it would be one like he had been familiar with before. If so, they should have no problem since he had been able to defeat them on his own there. But then, that was a training simulation as well. The reality though, might not prove to be the same.

"You guys have probably done these types of things as well. Any idea on the sound?" Cloud asked to the group.

"Nope, can't figure it out," Wei responded. "Haven't heard anything quite like that."

"Sounds a bit raspy though," one of the infantrymen stated.

Before the group could discuss it any further, from the side of the path, small creatures emerged. There were at least five of them, and they stayed clumped together. They were small in relative terms of a monster, but to the guys, they looked to come up to their waists.

The creatures in question ranged from an ashen grey to a milky white. Their heads were small and angular, but they had sharp teeth protruding from the side, which matched their pointy horns that angled out of each side of their head. Their claws also had sharp fangs that dug into the ground on which they stood. They stood on all fours, but were angled down slightly as their back legs were longer than their front. Most notable were the bright red glowing eyes that were staring down at the group.

"Wow, I uh, didn't expect us to find them so quickly," Cloud stated with surprise.

But then, it was like his brain kicked into another gear. He remembered the training that he had with Sephiroth while fighting the monsters, and then readied his sword in front of him. The others behind him saw his confidence soar, so they followed suit and prepared themselves as well, Marcus and Wei drawing their swords while the two infantrymen raised their assault rifles and aimed them at the beasts.

Surprisingly, they were not hard to take out. Each man took to one creature, but the creatures did not put up much of a fight. It seems all the intimidation was in their appearance, and not anything else. In just a few short minutes, the fighting was finished, and none of them had hardly broken a sweat.

"Well, that wasn't really that bad at all. Was that really all they wanted us to take out?" Wei asked,

"I guess so, there doesn't seem to be anything else in the area," Marcus said as he looked around the land.

"So, that means we head back, right?" Cloud asked. Even though he was in charge, he was still a bit uncertain of how he was supposed to go about it.

"Yeah, let's go let the other team know what we found," Marcus replied.

Cloud figured that was the best laid plan so he turned to lead them back the way they came. They all started to head down the mountain area after they took formation again, though the infantrymen were trailing behind just slightly. After not hardly walking a few more feet, another roar was heard from behind the group. It was much louder than before, and this one sounded much more menacing. The sound startled all of them to the point where they had to hold their ears, a wincing pain searing through their heads.

Suddenly, a small rumble could be felt on the ground beneath them, as the dust started to unsettle and some of the rocks shifted slightly beneath their feet. However, the loud roaring eventually ceased. Cloud then craned his head to try to see if there was anything behind them. As he did, he noticed a large shadow looming over them and looked up to see a much larger silhouette that matched it.

The monster was right behind the two men that had fallen behind. "Watch out!" Cloud shouted, not able to think of anything else to say.

However, his words came too late as the large beast swiped down with it's massive claws towards the men before it. They each screamed in terror, not even having time to fire their rifles. The hand of the monster collided swiftly with the man on the left, smacking his side hard enough that it looked like it may have shattered some ribs. The force launched the man into his companion to the side of him before the impact propelled the both of them into the rocks beside them.

They landed with a thud on the ground. Their bodies lay their unmoving. Marcus and Wei immediately rushed over to them as Cloud stood there almost mesmerized. He couldn't figure out where to focus his attention, on the monster or on his injured men. Cloud grabbed his sword out in quick response though, not wanting to allow anyone else to get hurt. He had been careless and oblivious, and he allowed someone to get hurt on his watch. "Oh what will Sephiroth say to me when he hears about this…"

"No. I can't think about that right now. Their lives are in danger with them not being able to fight right now. I have to do something. I just. I don't know. I have to protect them. I've fought things like this before in the simulation. I can do this." Cloud tried to figure everything out as he lost himself briefly.

"Cloud!"

He finally heard Marcus's voice to the left of him. He took a glance over to his friend to see what he needed. "Y-Yeah?!"

"The both of them are still breathing, just knocked out. Looks like only some minor injuries if anything."

"Oh! Th-That's good then!" Cloud shouted before finally looking to the monster that stood before them.

It was at least twice as big as the ones they had just fought, but it looked just the same. But this one was much bigger and seemed way more dangerous. Though, one difference was the skin of this one was almost a solid black color with a few grey striped across its back. Because of its large size, the teeth and the claws were even more largely intimidating and infinitely sharper. Much more menacing red eyes glared at the remaining men who stood before it.

"Uh guys…" Wei said. "I think I figured it out. Those little monsters… they must have been babies."

Cloud's eyes widened. "You… You mean…?"

"Yup," Wei answered. "We just killed some babies and now here comes their big angry mother. And I think she wants us to pay for… you know… killing her kids."

That thought had never occurred to Cloud before now, and when he considered it, he almost felt bad. Knowing they had just done something like that, even just to an animal the deemed a monster. What if that had happened to him? Or one of the people here with him? He figured the reaction would surely be the same. He felt a tinge of guilt for a bit.

But, he had to shake that off. The monster had hurt actual people and Cloud didn't want it to happen again. He had no choice to make in the matter. It was either them, or the monster. He was ready to face the monster, when he saw that it had already lunged forward, right towards Marcus and Wei.

The two of them prepared to defend against the monster, holding up their swords. But the monster jumped up into the air and landed right down onto of the two. They cried out as the claws of the monster pinned them down against the ground. It growled deeply as it lowered its head closer to Marcus and Wei, breathing in their faces sharply

Cloud could feel his heart pounding against his chest. The monster not only hurt innocent infantrymen, but now had hurt his friends. And most would likely hurt them even more if he didn't do anything soon.

"Hey!" Cloud shouted as loud as he could. He ran closer to the monster and held up his sword. "Get off them NOW!"

The monster raised its head and locked eyes with Cloud. Normally Cloud would have been terrified to have a monster with red menacing eyes stare him down. But right now he felt none of that. He only felt anger towards the monster. It had hurt his friends and he wasn't going to let that slide.

The monster almost seemed intrigued by Cloud as it picked up its feet and started to walk closer to Cloud. Once it did Marcus and Wei rolled out of the way, groaning slightly in pain. Cloud breathed a sigh of relief to see them able to stand back up. But now was not the time to go and check on them. The monster had to come first.

"Marcus. Wei. Take those two and get them away from here to safety. I'll take this monster myself," Cloud told them with no hesitation in his voice.

The two SOLDIERS looked quite surprised, not only at Cloud's suggestion but of what had happened to them as well. It took a few moments, but Marcus was finally able to recuperate himself.

"But… uh Cloud! That monster is strong. You can't fight that on your own. We have to help you," he insisted.

Finally, Wei came around as well. "Yeah, he's right."

"No, you have to go. Please! Those two men… they can't do anything. If the monster goes after them while we're fighting, they can't defend themselves. I… I can handle this. At least hold him off."

Cloud's voice had become a bit more shaky. He was somewhat fearful, though who wouldn't be in a situation like that. But more of the unsteadiness came from his own worries about everyone and himself. He tried to hide it, and to be more brave as he had been learning to do from his brother and Sephiroth. However, it wasn't easy.

Marcus and Wei looked at each other briefly, and then back to Cloud, who was diverting his attention between the monster and them. Marcus breathed heavily and then slumped his shoulders as he exhaled sharply. "Yeah, I guess you're right about that. It's… honestly the right call."

Wei nodded silently as he tried to stand up, clutching the side where the monster's fangs had been. He had not been punctured, but he was pretty sure that he had some bruising from the impact. Marcus was in about the same shape, clutching his side as well. However, the two of them managed to bring each infantryman up with them, hoisting them onto their backs.

Cloud, meanwhile, was still locked in a struggle with the monster, its sharp fangs trying to bear down slowly towards him. He was so close now that Cloud could smell the raunchy smell emitting from the beast's mouth. It almost made him vomit, but he tried to keep steadfast. He looked out of the corner of his eyes to see his two friends had made it to their feet finally.

"Cloud, we'll be back right after we take these guys down the path, all right?" Wei promised as he yelled out loud enough for Cloud to hear.

"Sounds good. Come back if you can. I'll be here," Cloud replied quickly.

"Yeah, just stay as safe as you can. We'll be back soon," Marcus interjected. And with that final exchange, the two men hurried as quickly as they could back down the winding path on the mountain.

After a few seconds, Cloud could no longer see them. It was just him, and the mother beast in front of him. Cloud was getting tired of being locked in this struggle though, but he seemed unable to break free. He couldn't exactly overpower it, but maybe he could outsmart it. He could hold his own for now as the monster kept trying all it could to break through his sword. Though, Cloud knew he couldn't keep that up forever. There had to be a way to get free.

Chapter Text

Locked in the battle with the beast, Cloud still tried to figure a way out. Suddenly, he had an idea, which would have sounded crazy to anyone else. He let go of his sword and ducked quickly forward. The momentum of the monster pushing against him caused it to lunge forward into the dirt, though barely missing Cloud's head. Cloud had just enough time to grab his sword and ready himself again before the monster recovered himself and turned swiftly to face its blond-haired foe.

A yell of frustration emanated from the beast, causing Cloud to wince in pain as the loudness was almost deafening. His eyes stayed fixated on his opponent though as it barreled forward and swiped again, but all it connected with was thin air as Cloud sidestepped out of the way into a roll. Now he was just out of view of the creature, partially being to its side.

He saw the opportunity to strike as he leap from his kneeling position and charged forward towards the side of the monster. Cloud angled his sword down to the right and brought it up sharply against the outer hide of the creature, eliciting a reaction from the beast. After hitting it that first time, Cloud turned his sword up and to the left and carried it downward next before repeating a similar striking pattern a few times.

After those few hits, the monster yelled in frustration and tried a counterattack. It whipped its large, spiky tail around and landed right where Cloud would have been had he not been able to dodge roll under the behemoth. Coming out on the other side, the blond prepared his sword and swiped upward and then performed a few cross slashes as well, eventually cutting through the thick skin.

The creature reacted in stride with a slight movement from its hips that caught Cloud off guard as he was in mid-swing. It connected with Cloud and knocked him backwards onto the hard, sandy ground, dust rising from his landing spot. He nursed his side as he rubbed it with his hands and tried to regain his bearings so he could stand back up.

As he looked back in the direction of the monster, it was much closer than he had expected as it bared its large mouth down upon where he was. Cloud was somehow able to roll out of the way slightly before the land where he had been suddenly became nothing more than monster food. When Cloud rolled, he didn't notice that he was close to an embankment of the mountain and happened to roll slightly off of it and tumbled down onto a level below. The drop jarred him as he landed on his back, pain searing through his back and sides from the impact.

"Ow!"

The yelp was all that he could let out, sounds of pain and frustration in the cry. Cloud was trying to regain his composure when he felt the tremors on the ground, which he assumed was the monster. Sure enough, it had found him and tried to swipe down at him. Luckily, he had his sword ready and swung it hard against the giant claw of the beast, slicing through its palm cleanly with blood splattering slightly on the ground and even on his uniform.

The beast let out a bellow of what Cloud could only assume would have been pain. Cloud hesitated for a moment, allowing himself to breathe as he tried to process what was happening. "Okay, I need to try to do something to beat this thing but I'm not really sure what. I've beaten other monsters before, but they were just practice runs. This one is bigger than any I've fought before…"

Finally, he put his mind back to focus and took advantage of the creature's lapse in moving. He sprinted forward and lunged with his sword directly at the side of the creature, piercing its thick armored skin finally with enough force. The monster gaped in pain and stumbled backwards a bit as saliva poured from its mouth. It looked slightly dazed for a moment as if trying to cope with the additional pain.

Unfortunately, the tip of Cloud's blade had been sheared off, most likely from the toughness of the monster's skin. He just hoped that it would not impede his ability to fight it off. As the monster stood their dazed, Cloud took a few seconds to catch his breath and wipe sweat from his brow. His stamina was draining the longer he fought since he was not used to something like this, so he knew that if he did not try to finish it soon that he would be in trouble.

Soon though, the monster started to stumble away, seeming to be limping on the foot that Cloud had cut open. Each step of that foot left a bloody print with it, as well as the blood dripping from the wound in the side. It was the perfect opportunity to strike.

Cloud readied himself and charged towards the beast at an angle away from it. Once he finally caught up to it, he darted towards it sharply. Once he was close enough, he slid on his knees through the sandy ground and raised his sword upward. It connected with the large neck of the monster as he slid across, making a jagged slice in its neck. His sword sheared off halfway through, the tough hide being too much for the simple steel to endure. More blood spilled out from that wound as the monster attempted to yell, but it could no longer do so.

Before Cloud had a chance to get up, the beast started to flail its arms wildly. The arm closest to Cloud connected with him before he had a chance to do anything, knocking him to the ground and stunning him for a bit. He could feel that his shoulder was going to be bruised from the hit. He turned his head back to the monster to see it stumble a few steps and then collapse to the ground finally.

It was over.


Cloud made his way back at the fastest he could go. His legs were burning, and he was sure covered in cuts and bruises, making the walk a little more painful with each step. But he kept pushing on, not letting himself give in to the pain.

Eventually he made it to where the others had regrouped. Upon coming into their sights, he saw Marucs and Wei running towards him, with potions in their hands. When they got close enough, Cloud thought that he could be all right if he let himself relax a little. All his muscles and joints were screaming for him to stop and rest anyways. Just as he was about to drop to the ground, Marcus and Wei caught him and held him up.

"Whoa, Cloud! You okay there?" Marcus asked before holding up a potion for Cloud to drink.

"What happened? Where's the mother monster?" Wei asked.

Cloud tried to speak, but his exhaustion was still far stronger than that. He only gave a slight nod as he continued to drink the potion. Half way through, Wei raised his weapon and cast a cure spell over Cloud, which did help heal up most the other wounds that he as feeling.

"Thanks," Cloud managed to muster out after the healing started to take effect.

They all stood there and allowed him to catch his breath, waiting patiently. "The monster is dead. Took a bit, but I did it."

They were all surprised at hearing that Cloud had been able to fend off the monster on his own. They stood there with mouths agape, looking at the blood-covered blond. Before too long, Wei and Marcus turned their surprise into a smile.

"Wow way to go Cloud! That's amazing. You really saved our butts back there though," Marcus replied in elation.

"Yeah, that's for sure," Wei added in, the tone of his voice indicative of his gratitude.

Cloud just stared at them and nodded. Then, his attention shifted to the two infantrymen that were still out cold. "Um… are those two okay?"

"Well th-" Wei started, but was cut off as the captain of their troupe outstretched his arm in front of the 2nd Class, causing him to stop talking.

"To answer your question. They will be okay at some point. But that should never have happened in the first place. You failed at your job as team leader in protecting those under you," the captain announced sternly as he eyed Cloud, seriousness hinted in his eyes.

"What?" Cloud questions.

He had just defeated a monster and he was met with hostility and disappointment from the captain? It was a bit surprising to hear… he wasn;t exactly sure what he was expecting from the captain, but he was not expecting for him to be upset.

"You heard me. But we are going to give you your proper reprimand back at HQ," the captain huffed before turning to the other men. He looked to some of the other Infantrymen. "You two go and gather information on the monster that was defeated. The others, gather up the injured and we head back… now!"

Cloud flinched as he watched the captain walk off. Some of the other SOLDIERS picked up the unconscious Infantrymen and started to carry them off. Cloud almost couldn't move. It felt like ice was starting to in case him. He couldn't bring himself to take a step forward.

He had failed. He had done something wrong. What was Sephiroth going to think? Cloud couldn't help but worry about what would be coming once they were back at Shinra Headquarters.

Suddenly he felt the hands on his shoulder giving him a quick shake. He focused himself back into reality to see Marcus and Wei still standing next to him. They both were giving him the same consoling look. They may not have known what to say, but they wanted to let Cloud know that they were going to stay by his side.

The three of them soon walked again, picking up speed to catch up with the others. The walk back was long and quiet. It felt even longer than Cloud had remembered, but maybe that was because he couldn't stop thinking about what the captain had said. It still worried him deeply, and he knew that the captain said there would be more…. And he was afraid of what that was going to be.

It was just as quiet as they rode up the elevators up to the SOLDIER floor. But as soon as they were all there, the captain glared at Cloud. "Now, 2nd Class SOLDIER; Cloud Fair. You know what you did, correct?"

Cloud looked around, but all of the other SOLDIER has gone off somewhere. But thankfully he could see Marcus and Wei off in the corner. They were still sticking around it seemed, and it brought only a little relief to the major tension Cloud had.

"Y-Yes," Cloud answered. "I took care of the monster, and I-"

"And you let your entire team get injured. I may not have been there, but I saw the injuries on the infantrymen and the other two SOLIDERs."

"But!" Cloud tried to quickly interject. "We didn't know that-"

"A good SOLDIER is always prepared," the captain responded strictly. "Or have you failed to remember that? I would think one who is trained by Sephiroth would remember such a simple task."

Cloud felt his entire body tense up. The ice felt like it was completely encasing him now, and he had no way to break through it. He lowered his head and let the captain continue on. He saw no point and trying to prove himself. The captain was probably right anyways.

"I shouldn't have trusted a 14-year-old to manage his own team on a mission like this, regardless of who your mentor is. You were irresponsible, and cocky enough to think you could take it on your own, now look at the results. You've got two incapacitated infantrymen and two injured SOLIDERs. Not to mention your own injuries. I expected too much from you. You are still just a reckless child."

Cloud tried his best to hold it in, but a small whimper escaped from his throat.

"I will have to report this failure to Sephiroth, and I am sure he will deal with you accordingly."

"There will be no need to report anything," a cold voice said.

Cloud's head shot up to see Sephiroth walking towards them, a stern and cold look etched all over his face. The ice was now starting to tighten around Cloud. He almost felt like he couldn't breathe. Sephiroth was here now.

"How much did he hear? Does he know everything?" Cloud thought to himself, without once taking his eyes off his mentor.

"Sephiroth," the captain greeted. "It is good timing that you are here. I was just finishing with your student and-"

"And who gives you the right to chastise my student?"

The captain gulped slightly. "Ah well, it was because of what happened out on his mission. He completely failed at-"

"I would not say what he did was a failure," Sephiroth replied.

"But he let his team get injured and-"

"And I advise you should stop talking before you get on my nerves," Sephiroth said, sending a near-death glare to the captain.

Once he saw that the captain wasn't going to speak up again, he looked to Cloud. "I know what happened on the mission, but I would not call what Cloud did a failure. In my personal opinion, he handled it just right and handled it how he saw fit."

Sephiroth then looked back to the captain. "You expected Cloud and his team to be prepared for an attack that they had no idea would be coming?"

Sephiroth paused for a moment, keeping his steady, cold gaze. "A good SOLDIER should always be prepared, that is correct, but you cannot prepare for everything. Preemptive attacks are something that we cannot predict and recover easily from."

This time Sephiroth waited to see what the captain had to say, but it seemed he knew his place currently and was staying quiet.

"You also expected that Cloud would lead his team to a battle and return unharmed. You can't have a group of men go to battle and expect them to return without a scratch. We may be SOLIDERs, but we are not inhuman. Injures are part of the job when we go out to war."

"I know Sephiroth, but he allowed enough time to pass to let it get out of hand," the captain said, slightly surprised that Sephiroth had not cut him off this time.

"And what? You assumed that he would do exactly as I do? He may be my student, but he still has a lot to learn. You've already acknowledged that Cloud is still 14, but you are putting him down far too much. He did stop the monster, didn't he?"

Sephroth turned his attention back to Cloud. "I saw what happened, though you hesitated from the initial shock of the attack, you did go fight the monster after making sure your team was safe and out of the way, right?"

Cloud nodded quickly, knowing that he shouldn't hesitate answering to Sephiroth. "Yeah, that's right. None of us expected a mother monster to show up, and the size was a bit more than I thought. But then… after it tried to hurt my friends, I wanted to make it pay for that. I wanted to do it alone and make sure that no one else got hurt."

Sephrith's cold and serious glare changed slightly. It was hard to tell, but it almost looked like he had the slightest smile. "And taking charge of the situation to make sure that no one else gets hurt is what I believe the right call was."

"And what would you have done in that situation had you suddenly encountered the monster?" Sephiroth questioned the man.

"Well, I uh, I think there was-"

"You don't really know do you? Would you have run away like a coward? Leading it back to all the others thus endangering more people? Or would you have stayed to fight with the small group you had, keeping damage and casualties to a minimum? Maybe we should put you up against something like that to find out," Sephiroth replied with an ominous smirk.

The man looked stunned, not really knowing what to say. "I uh, suppose that the latter would be the most tactical option... sir."

"Exactly. So before you criticize someone again, consider your situation and remember your proper training. And furthermore, you do not get to reprimand my student, that is my job to do so."

Cloud felt a nervous knot tightness in his stomach. "Does this mean he is going to reprimand me afterwards? He probably is still upset with me that I didn't react soon enough…"

The captain nodded slowly. "Yes, I understand."

"You can leave now, but if I hear any more of you scolding Cloud, then I will see to it that your ranking is removed," Sephiroth stated coldly.

With another quick nod from the captain, he took off. Now that he was out of the way, Sephiroth put all his focus and attention towards Cloud. "Now, Cloud. Follow me so we may discuss the results of your endeavor today."

Cloud found himself only able to nod as he followed behind Sephiroth. He could only imagine what the man was going to say to him, and he wasn't sure if it was good or bad.

Chapter Text

Cloud tailed behind Sephiroth without making a sound. He even tried to keep his footsteps as light as possible. He had no idea what was going to happen. Sephiroth was hard to read, so knowing whether he wants to praise Cloud more or actually scold him was all he could wonder. He only hoped that if it was scolding, that it would not be too harsh.

He almost had let himself break under the pressure of the captain yelling at him. He had shown a crack of weakness… and he knew Sephiroth wouldn't like that. He was supposed to be strong and not let his emotions get the best of him in cases like that. So now he could only assume that Sephiroth was going to tell him off for that.

Finally they had made it to a room on the SOLDIER floor that was sometimes used for small conferences. Sephiroth opened the door and walked inside without even a glance to see if Cloud was still behind him. But Cloud figured Sephiroth knew he was still there, so he continued to follow behind into the room.

Once they were both inside the room, Cloud instinctively closed the door behind him, figuring that is what Sephiroth would have him do anyways. Sephiroth then turned to Cloud slowly, giving him a deadpan look. Cloud was sure that he was about to get scolded even more.

"Cloud."

The simple utterance of his name from Sephiroth sent a chill down his spine as he worried about what could happen. The way he said it, the tone, the accent, the volume level… all of it made Cloud freeze. His heart rate increased as did his breathing. He began to fret even more that he was in severe trouble. He closed his eyes and waited for the bad news as he tried to calm himself.

"First of all, you have nothing to be ashamed of. What you did was the right call," Sephiroth uttered slowly.

Those were not the words that he expected to hear from Sephiroth. He opened his eyes towards his silver-haired mentor to see a relaxed expression coming from him. Or at least he assumed it was. Just hearing that was enough to help relax cloud's mind.

"Wait, so...y-you don't think I messed up? I thought for sure that I must have…" Cloud admitted with a defeated and nervous attitude.

"No you performed admirably. I told you that I would keep track of that mission. In fact, I knew what was going on the whole time unbeknownst to anyone else. I was curious how you would perform on your first leading role," he added in.

Cloud was surprised. He had not expected to hear such praise from Sephiroth. He almost didn't know what to say but he tried to speak.

"Wait you were there? But… the captain. He-"

"His words are meaningless as you heard earlier. What matters is my assessment. So listen well. You are the only one who needs to hear this."

With that, Cloud took that as a cue to try to pay more attention and shake off the cobwebs in his head. He didn't know what else to say as he stood there silently before Sephiroth continued.

"It's a SOLDIER's job to assess the situation and figure out the best way to handle it. Sometimes people get hurt, but you handled yourself properly, didn't freak out, and prioritized the safety of your men above your own."

Cloud was listening intently as Sephiroth paused. When cloud did not respond, he continued even more.

"I told you that I wanted to test you, and you passed. Your abilities have improved but you still have a long way to go."

After Sephiroth had finished with his words, he began to walk around slightly and looked away from Cloud. Seeing the movement in front of his eyes stirred him from the daze he was in.

"Oh, uh, thank you! I did try my best on it. I thought I had messed up but it's good that you think I did well enough," Cloud spoke quickly before words failed him.

Sephiroth then turned back to face him. "However that is the main issue. What you just did. You're unsure of yourself and doubt your abilities. You show your emotions too much as well when confronted. You must learn to be more transparent."

Cloud stood frozen again. There was the criticism that he had been expecting.

"Don't show your emotions too much when you are placed in a serious situation. That goes for your friends and your enemies. Control yourself. As your mentor, it's my job to help you with that, so I will. For now you can leave knowing that you have done a fine job today," Sephiroth concluded.

Every last bit of tension finally let go from Cloud. He knew that Sephiroth was going to give him criticism, but he had not expected the praise. He knew that Sephiroth had given him praise beforehand during training in the simulations, but it never felt quite like this.

On the first real big mission he had done, Cloud had made Sephiroth proud. That's what it seemed like anyways. Cloud ended up smiling, feeling happy that he had made Sephiroth proud of him.

And without even realizing it he reached forward to give Sephiroth a hug. "Thanks, Sephiroth."

It didn't even process in his mind what he was doing. He just went with what his first thought was, which was to thank Sephiroth with a hug. It's something that he would generally do to someone that had helped him out. It was just instinct.

As he stood there with his arms around his mentors waist, it finally clicked in his head what he was doing. He started to clam up, especially when he noticed that Sephiroth had not really budged much at all. "Uh, I uh… I wasn't thinking…"

"It's all right. I told you already to be more confident in what you say and do. This was just… unexpected. I'm not one that exhibits feelings or actions such as this. I do not understand such things like compassion, but," he let out a long and heavy sigh. "Good job for not letting me down."

Sephiroth patted Cloud on the back twice before gently moving back away from his student. Cloud was still slightly shaken, but tried to fight it off like Sephiroth had said. "Thanks again, then."

"You're free to go then. Go on home for the day after that mission. You need a break anyways to recover," Sephiroth ordered.

Cloud only nodded and then turned to quickly exit the room. But before he could, he heard Sephiroth clear his voice. Cloud stopped himself and turned back around to see what else Sephiroth had to say.

"Though perhaps there should be a reward for your efforts today."

Cloud blinked. He almost was confused, but then he remembered what Sephiroth could possibly mean. "Wait, you mean go and.. Uh I mean. Go to… that place?"

Sephiroth nodded. "Yes, if you wanted to. You do deserve it after all."

Cloud quickly nodded. "Okay. That sounds nice after a tough mission anyways.

The two of them then exited the room and began their way out of Shinra headquarters. As they walked, Cloud started to let thoughts crossback into his mind. The reaction that he had gotten from Sephiroth was not one that he expected at all. The words of gratification may not have been standard, but Cloud slightly smiled at knowing that for Sephiroth it was probably something that fit him.

Soon enough they were out on the streets of Midgar. They were heading the way towards the secret location, but on the way Cloud let his eyes wander around to the people and places around him. Upon spacing out his eyes soon drifted enough to the many people walking around, until he noticed something.

He blinked a few times and nearly came to a stop. There was something that he had seen amongst the crowds that seemed familiar. He stood on his tiptoes to get a slightly better view and that's when he saw a familiar, spiky blond hairstyle that resembled a chocobo butt.

Cloud was about to break into a run towards the crowd to see if it was who he thought it was when he heard Sephiroth speak up.

"What are you doing? Did you not want to come with me for a treat?"

Cloud faced his mentor quickly. "Well, uh, it's not that. I do want to come. It's just…" he trailed off and turned back around. He tried following the path that he saw the person walking but they were gone. He couldn't find that familiar hair anymore.

"If something is on your mind, I implore you to speak up," Sephiroth suggested.

A sigh escaped from Cloud and he slumped his shoulders. "No it's fine. I… thought I saw someone that I knew. But I lost track of them."

"I see. Well, if they are here in Midgar, I am sure that you will see them some other time. Come on and let's go," Sephiroth added and then continued walking towards the center of town.

"Yes sir," Cloud mumbled as he started to follow Sephiroth again.

"I wonder if that was who I thought it was? I really wanted to find out. I haven't seen him in forever. With all the SOLDIER stuff going on, I nearly forgot that he was here in Midgar. I'll have to remind Zack about it maybe and we can go together."

He was pulled from his head by Sephiroth's voice having gotten louder. "Cloud!"

"Oh, yeah?"

"You're walking in the wrong direction."

He then noticed that he had been moving slowly away from Sephiroth. "Oh, sorry." He then strode back over behind the man as the two of them continued to walk forward.

"And Cloud…" Sephiroth continued. "What did I tell you the first day we met?"

"Huh?" Cloud asked, not understanding why Sephiroth had asked such a question.

Sephiroth sighed. "It seems your head has gotten too far into the fog. I told you before not to call me 'sir', or do you not recall?"

"Oh!" Cloud exclaimed. "Sorry about that! I didn't even realize that I said it. I guess you're right…" he ended up laughing sheepishly. "I must have gotten too lost in my thoughts back there. I'll make sure not to let it happen again."

"That would be preferable," Sephiroth replied.

Cloud did not say anything back to Sephiroth though as he could think of nothing. So they remained in silence until they got to the place they needed to be.

Sephiroth went through the same process they had done the first time and led him and Cloud down to the area where the ice cream was. After ordering the same thing as before, they each sat in silence and ate their ice cream. It was just as good as Cloud remembered from the last time. Once it was over, they headed back up and left the building.

Just as they were walking away from the pub area, a familiar voice ring out that Cloud immediately knew.

"Cloud! Oh there you are! I've been looking for you for a while now."

It was Zack. He ran up to Cloud and looked him over for a moment.

"I heard about the mission from some others, and I wanted to check on you. But everywhere I looked you weren't there. You weren't replying to my texts either, but I knew you were back so I wasn't too worried. But I'm glad to have found you."

Zack spoke so quickly but fortunately cloud was used to it. "I'm alright I think. Probably just need some rest. And sorry for not replying! I guess with everything that happened it just slipped my mind! But um…" Cloud ended suddenly as he pointed to his side.

Upon looking, Zack finally saw Sephiroth standing there. "Oh! How could I have missed you. Sephiroth! The great hero. It's good to meet you again."

Sephiroth almost gave a wry smile. "Likewise Zack. You needn't worry about your brother though. He's been doing quite well."

Cloud was surprised at hearing Sephiroth putting in a good word about him to someone else, but it made him happy to hear it. More especially that it was Zack who was hearing it. And from that he could see the surprise, and gleeful look on Zack's face. It was clear that he never expected to hear Sephiroth be so openly nice and friendly, but also he was complimenting Cloud!

"Wow! That's great to hear!" Zack beamed happily. "Glad to hear my little bro isn't causing you any trouble."

"Far from any trouble, he is a good and well behaved student, opposed to how you may be sometimes."

"Huuuh?! What do you mean by that? Has Angeal been saying things about me to you?" Zack asked quickly, a small childish pout forming on his face.

Sephiroth smirked. "Nothing of the sorts. He only told me that 'the puppy' has quite a lot of energy."

"What? 'The puppy'? He's calling me that?" Zack asked, his eyes widening slightly. The pout still seemed to be mixed into his face along with some confusion.

"If you cannot see the reason why, then that is not my problem," Sephiroth reported rather bluntly, though the smirk stayed.

Cloud couldn't help but snicker. He could clearly understand why Angeal had called Zack a 'puppy'. It was clear by Zack's amount of energy and attention span, which could be fairly short at times. Plus there was all the times that Zack got awfully excited about something. Cloud was sure if Zack had a tail, it would be wagging a mile a minute.

"Hey, come on Cloud, you don't believe that do you?" Zack asked, catching on to Cloud's amused face.

Cloud laughed. "Sorry Zack, but I think I get it. And it's funny."

"It is not," Zack mumbled shortly and looked down as his brother continued to laugh.

Sephiroth stood silent as he admired the banter between the two brothers. At seeing them embroiled in their childish antics, he decided to take his leave. As he turned around to go, the laughter had stopped.

"Oh you're leaving already?" Cloud called from behind.

"Yes, I will be off now. Have fun with, whatever you're doing," he stated as he turned around and started to walk away.

Before he was able to get much farther, Zack decided to speak up then. "There was actually something I was meaning to ask but it slipped my mind until now. Uh, you know what part of town this is right? What were you doing with bringing Cloud here?" Zack questioned the First Class SOLDIER.

Sephiroth looked at him curtly. "That, is business between Cloud and I. It is nothing you need to concern yourself with."

Suspicions arose in Zack, but he knew that he best not press his luck. It was Sephiroth after all, the person that he admired. He had some assuredity that Sephiroth would do nothing to put Cloud in danger. But he couldn't help it, being the older brother. He tried to look out for Cloud.

Cloud could feel the strict tone from that reply as Sephiroth shot him a glance. He knew that it meant that he better not say anything to even Zack about it. He gulped, but slowly nodded knowingly.

"Well, if there's nothing else then I leave you to it," Sephiroth said once again as he finally was able to depart.

"All right then. Come on Cloud, let's go home now since it's getting later," Zack said as Cloud followed behind him in the opposite direction towards the area their apartment was.

"I wonder if Cloud would tell me if I asked him. Surely he would trust me, his brother. It's just a bit odd though. Maybe it's mission related? I'm curious as to what it is though. I guess only time will tell," Zack thought to himself silently as the brothers made their way home.

Chapter Text

"So Cloud are you sure you're alright?"

Zack had to ask again seeing that Cloud kept spacing out on their walk back to the apartment. Finally, Cloud did seem to hear him as he turned and blinked a few times.

"Huh? Oh yeah, sorry. I guess today's mission was still far more tiring than I expected."

"Yeah I heard. But how crazy was it really? How big was the monster? And you really killed it all on your own?" Zack started to ask his rapid fire questions, growing more excited and curious.

"It really was something crazy. You should have seen the size of it!" Cloud said before going on to explain more about the mission. He tried to give as much detail as he could for each thing that went down, like first being placed in charge of the group, and then all the way to having to face the surprised mother monster. Though he did leave out the parts of him worrying over fighting and then what the captain had said. He didn't need his brother going after the captain since Sephiroth already did.

By the time he finished his story, they were back in the apartment. Zack was wide with eyes far more excited than they had been at the start. It was clear that the story had been more than what he expected but he enjoyed every moment of it.

However, before he started on that, he wanted to make sure Cloud was okay.

"Okay first things first. Let's get you in bed to rest. You need it after the day you've had. I'm just glad you're not really hurt," Zack said with conviction.

"Well, I think I'm okay. You don't have to go out of your way. I mean, I felt well enough to go out for the special ice cr-"

Cloud stopped suddenly and closed his mouth immediately. His brain was a bit slower processing currently and he had not thought clearly about what he was saying before he did it. "Oh crap I slipped up. Maybe Zack won't notice. I can't even let him know about the secret."

"Huh, what were you going to say? Ice what? Special?"

Zack had heard him clearly. It wasn't enough to panic Cloud, but he did start wondering what he should do though to try to avert the situation. After a moment of thought, he felt that complying with what Zack wanted beforehand would be the best way, even though he felt fine.

"Oh it's, um, it's nothing. Ya know, I actually think I might need to lay down some after all," Cloud said nervously, the feeling written on his face as well.

"It almost sounded like you were gonna say ice cream. Something special about it?" Zack trailed off. "Well, that can come later. You can rest up for now at least. You need it."

Cloud was relieved to hear that Zack had postponed his curiosity about the situation from earlier. But now he wondered how long it would be before his brother mentioned it again. Maybe he would just forget, but knowing Zack, that most likely would not happen.

He laid back on the couch after removing his work attire and slipping on a simple shirt and shorts before he would shower later. After he was comfortable, then Zack continued with his thoughts from before.

"Okay, so I had no idea that it would have been something like that. Your mission I mean. That was good to hear. Seems as though you really are learning well," he praised his brother with a grin.

"I tried my best. Thanks. You seem so excited about it though. You never been on missions like that?" Cloud asked with a chuckle.

"Oh no no, it's not that. I've been on plenty of course. But this was your first big mission, and leading no less. I'm just excited for you."

It made Cloud happy to know that Zack was proud of him. Not only that, but Sephiroth felt the same way. Even though he was still slightly physically hurting, it seemed like a non-issue with the other things that had happened that day.

"I appreciate it. Yeah, even Sephiroth said something about my doing well too. Can you believe it!?"

"Yeah! That is so amazing! I'm still completely jealous of you, but man hearing Sephiroth say that about you, my little brother, ah! It's awesome to have him say that!"

"You seem overly excited for some reason," Cloud chuckled, not being able to help but be infected by Zack's enthusiasm.

"Sorry, sorry. Sometimes I get pumped and can't control myself," Zack admitted as he raised up from the couch. "I have to try to channel that energy then."

After he said that, he began doing squats. Cloud almost facepalmed, but started to grin at his brother. Zack would do squats almost all the time, and never stopped making sure that he was in shape. Cloud had gotten used to it by now. He even tried doing them regularly as his brother did, but he never really had the desire for it.

A few more minutes passed until Zack finally decided to stop exercising. Cloud was continuing to rest, feeling much better after he had finally gotten comfortable. As he laid there, his stomach started to rumble a bit, which must have caught the attention of Zack, who drew closer to Cloud.

"Oh what was that now? Well, after such a long day I guess you're hungry right?" Zack asked towards Cloud.

"Uh, yeah I guess I am kinda." Cloud's reply was a drowsy one, his tiredness becoming more prevalent.

"Good! I am too. What do you want and I'll go and take care of it," Zack suggested.

"I don't know. Surprise me with something," Cloud replied.

"You got it!" Zack said before heading into the kitchen.


After Cloud had eaten he had gained back some energy, but it was still late into the night. So regardless he was still tired. He flopped back onto the couch before thanking Zack for the meal.

Zack smiled and sat down beside him. "You're welcome. But now I got another question for you if you aren't too tired."

"What is it?"

"What were you saying before about ice cream?"

Cloud bit his tongue. He had hoped Zack would have gotten that small bit of information by now. And now he couldn't think of a good enough explanation to get by it. He knew saying he wanted to go to bed would be to sudden and still leave Zack far too curious.

"Uh, ice cream? When did I mention that?" Cloud said nervously as he averted his eyes from Zack.

"Earlier before dinner. You said something about special ice cream. Or started to at least," Zack replied. "So tell me, what that was all about?"

"I mean, it's not really anything too special really. It's just ice cream. It's not that important is it Zack?" Cloud asked

"But then why did you say 'special' before? You seemed to make it like it was something big if you could go to it after a hard mission," Zack said continuing to press on the matter.

Cloud bit his lip. He grew more nervous about it all. He remembered what Sephiroth had told him before about being more confident in things, but this was different. Sephiroth had told him never to speak of this secret, yet Cloud was careless and started to let it slip. He wasn't really sure what to do or how to answer.

"Me and my big mouth…" Cloud allowed a heavy sigh to escape from his lips. He was too tired to have to deal with it all, and wanted it to be over. "But I can't just tell him though. I swore to Sephiroth that I would not tell anyone. I know Zack's my brother and I can trust him, but it's Sephiroth… I don't wanna make him mad… But I'm not sure how long I can hold out with Zack," he thought long and hard as his mind battled with itself.

"I'm not really supposed to say anything about it okay?" Cloud said, hoping that Zack would understand and move on from it.

Zack leaned in a bit closer, raising an eyebrow. "You're… not suppose to say anything about it? What does that mean? Come on Cloud, you know you can tell me whatever it is."

Cloud groaned, having fully expected Zack to press on it. "It's just that nobody else is supposed to know about that secret ice cream place… wait! No. Cloud what are you doing!?" he yelled at himself in frustration, knowing that he had just told what he said he couldn't.

"Wait what? Secret ice cream place?" Zack asked, sounding really confused now. "You went to a secret ice cream place… wait a minute… with Sephiroth!?"

Cloud had been caught. What was Sephiroth going to think now when he found out? Maybe he wouldn't find out. Cloud would hope that Zack would not say anything to anyone. He wasn't really sure what to do at the moment other than damage control.

"Yes…" Cloud said silently as he hung his head. "I wasn't supposed to say anything, but you kept pressing, and you're my brother, and I'm tired and wasn't paying attention to what I was saying. Just… please Zack. Don't tell anyone that you know," Cloud slowly said as he tried to gather his thoughts better. "Or even anyone you do know."

"Aw… but now I am really curious. Why is Sephiroth taking you out for ice cream. I mean it is Sephiroth of all people," Zack said. "Can you at least tell me that one last thing?"

"Fine. I'll tell you that much. But!" Cloud started as he sat up from the couch, looking Zack dead in the face. "You have to promise to not say a word to anyone."

Zack held up his hands. "All right, I get it. Whatever this is all about must be really something then. I won't tell anyone, okay?"

"Alright then I believe you. Just wanted to make sure. So the thing is, it's a special ice cream. Sea Salt. You can't get it anywhere else. Only at this one secret place that he knows of and his friends. He likes it a lot and rewarded me one day, trusting me with the information. He told me he just doesn't want people to find out. I'm not sure why though," Cloud explained, hoping that would be enough to sate Zacks' curiosity.

Zack had to purse his lips together to keep himself from laughing. "Sephiroth… likes ice cream? Serious? That is so funny to hear!"

"I mean, don't most people like ice cream? Though, I guess it is strange to hear that about him."

"It's the fact he makes it all secretive, and on top of that has a secret location to go for ice cream where no one will find him! I think that is rather amusing for sure. I'm trying to imagine Sephiroth eating ice cream and actually enjoying it, but it's just so silly," Zack said before laughing.

Cloud couldn't help but chuckle at those facts. "Yea I guess that's true. I never really thought about it before."

"And you said Sephiroth goes to his place as well as his friends." Zack's eyes then widened. "That means Angeal knows! Aww… why hasn't he told me about this supposedly great ice cream place, yet?" Zack slumped back on the couch, pouting heavily. "I'd like to have ice cream…"

"I know I know. But please don't mention anything even to him about it. They would know that I have said something. I don't wanna imagine what Sephiroth would put me through…" Cloud said as he looked nervous.

"Yeah yeah, I won't okay. But I'm still sad… I would like to go for ice cream sometime. Maybe I gotta work harder! Yeah, that's probably it! If i can impress Angeal enough surely he will reward me with ice cream!"

"Well, you could always try that," Cloud said with a laugh. "I mean, I kinda did the same thing and I didn't even know about the ice cream."

"Then I'll make sure to do that!" Zack said jumping to his feet.

Without a second word he went right back into doing squats again. Cloud ended up laughing at his brother's new motivation and energy for the ice cream. He decided that it was time for him to head to sleep, so he left his brother to do as many squats as he pleased.

Chapter Text

When Cloud woke up the next morning, he realized that he had forgotten to mention something last night. He sat straight up in his bed, rubbing his eyes while he tried to process everything. He knew last night he wanted to tell Zack about who he thought he saw yesterday, but with spilling about the ice cream it had completely slipped his mind.

"Ah… I could tell him before we leave for work, or even on our way," Cloud thought as he went to get ready for the day.

He got dressed as fast as he could before heading out of his room and into the kitchen area to grab some food. Zack was already up and it looked like he had eaten by the sign of the new dishes sitting in the sink. Luckily, Zack was still sitting there at the table and was just about to stand up as he saw Cloud enter.

"Well you're up earlier than normal," he chimed in towards Cloud.

"Oh, yeah I actually had forgotten something. That I was gonna ask you," Cloud added.

"Well let's hear it then. You can tell me as we walk to work, but eat your food first. I'll let you do that while I go do my morning exercises in the meantime."

Zack walked off to the side out of Cloud's way. Cloud then shuffled around the kitchen and grabbed a bagel quickly and begin to munch on it. While he ate, he tried to think of the best ways to try to tell Zack about Prompto. He was sure that his brother would remember him still, but he did not know how he would react. He only knew that he wanted to figure out where he was at now that he was reminded that he was in Midgar.

After Cloud ate, the two of them headed out and started to walk to work. Though now Cloud was ready to explain what he needed to say.

"So, about what I needed to tell you," Cloud started.

"Oh yeah, you were going to say something. So what's up?"

"Well, when Sephiroth and I were out the other evening, I thought that I saw someone that I knew. That we both knew. Do you remember Prompto? The guy who gave us a ride on his chocobo several years ago back home?" Cloud asked, knowing that Zack most likely remembered but he wanted to make sure anyways.

Zack stopped in his tracks. "What?! Prompto really? Oh man I totally forgot that you said in a letter that he was in Midgar, and I've been here this long!"

"Yeah, I guess with work we kind of forgot about that. But I think I did really see him yesterday!"

"Well I think next time we get some free time, we should go looking for him. I think it would be cool to see him again after all this time."

"That's for sure. It would be nice to catch up with him. I just hope that there's time though," Cloud lamented.

"Ah don't worry, we'll figure it out," Zack assured him with a toothy grin.

After that the two of them reached Shinra headquarters. They said goodbye to one another before heading off their own ways once they reached the training floor. Cloud wandered down the area until he found Sephiroth waiting by one of the simulation rooms.

"Good morning, Cloud. Are you ready for the full rundown of your mission from yesterday?"

He almost spoke, but found that he was still finding his words. He cleared his throat and remembered what Sephiroth had said about him being more confident. "Yes, I am. I'm ready to go over it all now."

"Good. Then follow me in here. It will just be you and me," the silver-haired man said as he turned on a dime and walked into the training room.

"The training room? We're starting with that already?"

"Not immediately, but it is a secure place to talk at least," Sephiroth replied as Cloud followed him in and the door closed behind them.

"Oh, okay. That makes sense. So is it just telling me how I did or will there be training after that?"

"We shall see when it comes to that point. But for right now we are going to go over your mission and break it down for the best results."

Cloud nodded and prepared himself to listen to what Sephiroth had to say. It was what he expected and just what Sephiroth said it would be. He showed Cloud some notes that had been made, covering each thing that Cloud did. Most of it was on the battles that he had gone through. Sephiroth did have a few pointers on how Cloud could have fought the monsters better, but other than that he had done fairly well. Cloud was actually surprised by how much he had done properly throughout the fight, but he started to figure that Sephiroth's training really paid off.

"Now that we have your prior mission out of the way, we can begin the simulation. And because of your progress shown from your mission, todays simulation is going to be two levels harder than what you had last."

"Awww really?" Cloud complained aloud.

"Would you prefer it be four levels?" Sephiroth threatened with a smirk.

Cloud waved his arms in deferrance. "Uh, no no, that's fine. I guess I'm just not used to something like that yet. If you think I'm ready then I guess I'll try it."

"Well that is for you to prove to me if you are ready. And I would like to hope that you are," Sephiroth replied as he walked over to the computer to program in what was needed for the simulation. "Prepare yourself Cloud, and we shall see if you can be as good as you were yesterday. Or perhaps it was all but a fluke."

Cloud stiffened up. Was Sephiroth… trying to provoke him? Or make him doubt himself? "No… he wouldn't try to make me feel that way. He is just wanting to make sure that I didn't get lucky yesterday. I guess that means I really gotta be ready for what he gives me."

Cloud picked up the headset and placed it on his head as he waited for Sephiroth to set up the environment. "I know I can do this. It was no fluke yesterday, it couldn't have been. I've grown stronger than I ever expected, so I am not going to let myself think it was a fluke!"

"We are ready to begin, let us see how well you do now," Sephiroth said over the speakers.

Cloud readied himself, preparing for anything to start off. He was going to go into this with determination and not fear or worry. He was going to be like how he was yesterday and handle the situation as he saw fit, but this time he wasn't going to let any fear hold him up. Or at least he was going to try as hard as he could to do that.


The training continued for the next couple days, each day with Cloud going through most of the same routines. Originally, it was harder than he had anticipated and he was not sure if he would be able to do it. But the thought of letting himself down, as well as Sephiroth, kept him going beyond his normal limits. Cloud knew that if he kept training at that rate, he would become much stronger in no time at all.

The current simulation battle had him testing in the battle between Shinra and Wutai, which is the war that had been ongoing for some time now. Because of that, this mission was going to be different, as it was something that was far more dangerous than the other instances that he had been dispatched on.

It wasn't that he would most definitely be sent out there to the war, but it seemed Sephiroth wanted to use it as a test if the need ended up happening. And having a simulation of a real war was rather frightening to Cloud. He had only been on simulations where he was alone and fighting monsters. He had fought other people before, but never had it been so dark and dire. Never before had he actually had to kill another. He had injured and knocked out enemies before but never killed.

Through the current training regiment, he fought several soldiers, apparently from Wutai based on the different clothes. Though, Cloud did notice something else as he was going that seemed rather strange.

"Why are there Shinra troops here too?" He wondered aloud.

"What reason do you think that could be Cloud? Think about it, and give me your answer," Sephiroth said, speaking to him through the headset.

"Hmm…" Cloud hummed as he rolled out of the way of an attack. "They are Shinra… yet they are attacking on the same side as the Wutai soldiers… did they defect over to their side?"

"That could be one possibility. But there is still another. What is the best way for an enemy to infiltrate the other side's base? A way that won't make them look suspicious."

"Oh! They are Wutai soldiers disguise as Shinra troops?"

"Correct. So regardless of their clothes, pay attention to who they are fighting. You must take them out either way," Sephiroth replied.

"Right. I'm on it then," Cloud replied with a more confident tone now that he was aware of the situation.

This would be what he would face out on the actual battlefield. Even though Cloud was unsure if he was prepared in full for it, he also knew that it was something that had to be done. Each day had been a different experience, so it always required him to think. "Hopefully this will make me better though," he thought silently as he proceeded with the task at hand.


When the simulation was over Cloud, sighed several times and took off his headset. This by far was the hardest of all the ones he had done, and it really had worn him out. He flopped to the floor, for his legs were far too tired to support him anymore.

"You won't be able to do that on the battlefield Cloud. Your enemies will give you no time to rest," Sephiroth stated as he looked down at his protege.

"But the simulation was over, I finished it," Cloud said, trying to catch his breath.

"It was over because I finished it. You would not have continued much farther unfortunately."

Cloud lowered his head, frowning slightly. He started to wonder if that meant he didn't do as good as Sephiroth had hoped for. "I'm sorry… I'll try harder next time."

"Good. I would expect no less of you for that," Sephiroth replied. "Your training has concluded for the day since you are unable to continue at the time."

"Okay," Cloud nodded before pushing himself to stand up. He was definitely going to need a nice long rest after this. Despite it only being a simulation, it always felt just as real, and it really did use a lot of his energy today. "I'll get going then."

"Not just yet. There is another matter that we need to talk about. While I do expect well of you during training, apparently I was wrong to expect that same level for your trustworthiness as well," Sephiroth said coldly.

Cloud tensed up, his heart started to pound against his chest. The coldness of Sephiroth's tone was making the room a whole lot colder, which only made Cloud more nervous about whatever it could be. "H-Huh? What do you mean?"

The white-haired man began to pace around the room slowly. "This is something that I recently found out. But, do you recall a certain something that I wanted you to keep to yourself?"

Cloud tried to think what Sephiroth meant. He thought back to each training day and everything Sephiroth had taught him so far. But he could not recall anything that was like that. He kept trying to think about it though, knowing it would be foolish to have to ask Sephiroth, especially since he seemed disappointed.

But then it hit him. Cloud gasped as he finally realized what the one secret was. It was nothing to do with his training or anything like that. It was far from that in all of its entirety. Cloud could feel his stomach twisting into knots as he tried to confirm his thought on the subject. "You mean… the ice cream?"

"It seems that you do remember that at least. But now, what did I tell you about it?"

"Uh, to keep it a secret and tell nobody."

"Yes. But you did anyways. To your brother no less. Though, the only damage that caused was having to hear Angeal complain about it, but I'm still disappointed."

Cloud almost wondered how that Sephiroth had found it out, but what he had just said made it all click in place. "Zack did say something about that Angeal never does anything for him. Maybe… maybe he bugged him about it. Then Angeal told Sephiroth? Oh man, I was hoping he wouldn't find out…"

He almost didn't know what to say, but he didn't want Sephiroth to be too upset. "Well I wouldn't have said anything if Zack had not constantly kept wanting to know what we were both doing in town that night."

"Hmm, well you're right that Zack can be quite… eccentric about things," Sephiroth began, giving Cloud the hope that he would understand. "But… nonetheless, you made me a promise."

The small hope Cloud had slipped away, now replaced by a feeling of unknowing.

"To be honest with you though, the ice cream is not my concern here. It may be something that I don't want others to know about, but it's just that," Sephiroth commented again.

"Wait, it's not?" Cloud curiously asked, confused by the words his mentor spoke.

"Correct. Let me ask though. If the information I gave you was something more important, such as intel related to this job… would you just willingly give it over, even if someone annoyed you?"

Cloud had a feeling of guilt now. He had never thought of that possibility with knowing the ice cream secret. He always assumed it was just some weird quirk about Sephiroth. But what his mentor was saying to him did make sense. Had he failed Sephiroth? Had he failed himself? Would he be demoted? So many questions swirled in his head without an answer as he tried to figure out what to say to the question he had just been asked.

A hand clasped on his shoulder. "I'm sure you're overthinking this again, but an answer would be preferable," Sephiroth stated as he made eye contact with Cloud.

Cloud never noticed before the way that Sephiroth's eyes were. The deep, aqua color of his eyes were not even the highlight. That honor was taken by the slit that was in the place of normal pupils in the center, almost making him look like he had snake eyes. They nearly pierced his soul the way they were staring at him and he gulped.

"Well… I would not want to give over information like that. No. You're right…" he muttered as he trailed off his words.

"I'm glad you understand that, and I would hope you learn from this. I do not wish to hear you making the same mistake again. And that doesn't mean you are off the hook, I still am disappointed that you revealed that secret."

"I'm sorry…"

"Well, I think it's time to leave now. That's all for today. As one last note, just be thankful that it was only your brother that found out this instance. But do not let it happen again. Go," Sephiroth stated as he stood straight up and turned away.

Cloud took the opportunity to stand up quickly and exit, not wanting to stick around for another lecture. He had already messed up twice now recently. He did not want to do anything like that again. As he made his way out, a feeling of slight contempt formed in his gut. "I TOLD Zack not to tell anyone…" He was determined to let his brother know just how he felt about it all too once he was back home.

Chapter Text

"I told you not to tell anyone Zack!"

"Hey hey Cloud. Don't yell at me. What's the matter?"

The two of them were back in the apartment. The day had ended the and boys had finished up their dinner. Cloud had to wait as patiently as he could before he felt the moment was right to confront Zacl about it. "You said you wouldn't mention it to Angeal! You know… the thing I told you not to mention to anyone."

"What are you… Oh! You mean the ice cre-"

Cloud covered Zack's mouth. "Shh! I said not to talk about it. And you did it anyways. Now Sephiroth is really mad at me because I wasn't supposed to tell."

"Why didn't you say-" Zack tried to say as he pried Cloud's hand off his mouths.

"I did! But you weren't listening," Cloud retorted.

Zack sighed, lowering his eyes. "I'm sorry Cloud, I guess I got carried away with being too curious. I hope Sephiroth wasn't too upset at you."

Cloud stared at Zack with a deadpan expression. "Too upset? Maybe you should experience it for yourself. It's not just about the ice cream. It's about me being trusted as well. And now he can't trust me because of all this. I'm just ...UGHH!"

"I don't know what else to say Cloud. I really did just want to find out about what was going on. But… I was also looking out for you. I didn't want anyone talking you into anything you didn't feel comfortable doing…" Zack trailed off, feeling a tinge of guilt over the situation.

"I'm really worried now I've messed things up. What… what if Sephiroth doesn't want me as his student anymore cause he can't trust me? What if I've failed and that's it? What am I going to do…?"

Zack rose up from his seat and went around to Cloud. He grabbed his brother by the shoulders and turned him towards himself. "Cloud, I still am so sorry about causing you so much trouble. But do not give up on yourself. I know that you're better than a couple mistakes. You know it too."

Cloud looked at Zack. He knew his brother was doing what he could, and it did help him feel a little better. But there was still one major thing on his mind. "But what about Sephiroth?"

"Hmm…" Zack thought aloud. "I'm not as familiar with him as you are. Maybe he'll come around though?"

"Maybe," Cloud said shortly before just staring off.

Zack wanted to press on, to tell Cloud about some other topics as well. But he figured it was not the best time. He thought that the best option was to leave Cloud alone for a bit. "Well, uh, I'm gonna go and take a rest or something. If you need me you know where I am."

With that, Cloud was left alone in the kitchen, after Zack had kindly cleaned up everything before he had left off. Cloud only sat there, just starting off into space inside his mind, thinking about everything that had happened.

"Was it right to get mad at Zack like that? I'm still not sure what I'm gonna do. Maybe he's right though. I just have to keep going and work hard to prove myself. I mean, it's not like anyone else will ever know about the issue, but still… it's so frustrating…"

He went back and forth inside of his own head for quite some time, before deciding that Zack's plan was not a bad idea for himself as well. He walked over to his room and closed the door before getting himself ready for bed. He hoped some extended rest would make things easier. At least he wouldn't have to think about all of the issues whilst sleeping.


The next day had come and Cloud prepared himself for work like usual. After he had gotten out of bed and dressed himself, he figured he would go get some food. As he began to walk out of the door, he thought about what had happened before with Zack. He flinched at the thoughts that entered his mind. "Ah… I hope that he's not mad at me. I know he said he was sorry… but what if he still feels a bit annoyed that I yelled at him so much?"

As he marched into the kitchen, he saw that Zack was sitting at the table quietly eating. His brother was already prepared for the day and seemed to be engrossed in what he was eating.

"Uh, good morning Zack."

Cloud received no answer. Zack didn't even bother to turn his head towards his brother. Cloud gulped. Maybe Zack just didn't hear him? He wasn't sure but it made him slightly nervous.

He decided to go ahead and get some food and then hopefully try again. Once he had done that and sit down at the table, he looked at his brother directly. "So did you hear me?"

A small grunt came from Zack, nothing definite in the way it was made. Something was clawing at him to make him feel eased by this. It didn't feel right… Zack wouldn't give him the cold shoulder. He never did that before.

"Hey… Zack, you tired or something?"

Zack still did not turn to face Cloud, warranting only more concern. The feeling became worse in him, now turning from clawing to knot-tying uneasiness.

There was silence between the two the rest of the morning while they ate. Cloud didn't know what he could do to get Zack's attention and he didn't want to annoy his brother any more than he thought he already had. Soon, Zack was done and he got up and left for work, leaving cloud there alone.

Once the door closed, a sigh escaped from Cloud's mouth. He couldn't even process many thoughts based on what happened. He only slumped his shoulders and then got up to leave, not having the desire to finish his meal.

"I'm not sure what's wrong… maybe it won't last long. I'll just hope work keeps me busy. Keeps my mind off things. At least I hope…"

1 hour later…

After Cloud had gotten to work, he went right to where he needed to meet up with Sephiroth. He waited patiently for the man to come in, his nervousness rising. He knew he wasn't supposed to be nervous, but he was still worried. Finally, the man came through the door.

"Cloud, it's time to start the training. We will be going for an extended session today. I hope you're ready," the man said in his usual cold tone.

"Right, okay then," Cloud replied.

He followed Sephiroth until they were at the training room once again and they entered. No conversation was held between the two of them, which wasn't unusual, but cloud had hoped for something brief at the least.

Once they were in, Cloud moved to grab the virtual headset and prepared himself for the coming simulation. Sephiroth stood at the machines and readied the program for him.

"All right. Time to begin," Sephiroth stated as everything faded and Cloud soon found himself in a familiar setting outside of the city.

He went through everything as he usually did, fighting off monsters and the occasional people that would show up, which were Wutai origin. As he went along though, things began to change. The enemies began to hit harder and seemed tougher to take down. Cloud continued to exert himself more and more, taking some hits along the way.

"This is tougher than I have ever had to face. I don't know how much more of this I can take," he thought to himself.

One encounter after another, cuts became adorned across Cloud's body as he couldn't avoid the hits. Soon enough, his stamina was completely drained as he laid on the ground nearly helpless. The mission was not over yet though, and as he tried to get back to his feet to face the adversary that remain, a black coat whisked in front of him quickly, followed by a long, white mane of hair.

"S-Sephiroth?" he questioned.

It was unlike his mentor to intervene in a mission unless he knew that Cloud could not handle it. Had he increased the difficulty because of what happened with him revealing the secret? Cloud wondered if that's why he was failing. Many thoughts raced through his mind at that moment, but were cut away by the quick single slash from Sephiroth.

No more enemies remained and it was just him and his mentor now. Sephiroth turned around to face cloud and stared down at him with his cold blue eyes, the snake-like irises piercing his being again. After staring for a moment, Cloud regained his composure.

"Uh, thanks Sephi-"

"I did not come to help you. I should not have to do that. You have failed this mission as well. I'm quite disappointed in you," the cold voice said.

Cloud didn't know quite what to say as he gawked in silence.

"Your repeated failures have gotten on my nerves. I am a patient man but my patience has run out. You showed promise, but apparently it was just a flicker, nothing more. You don't deserve to be in SOLDIER."

"B-But I-"

"And," Sephiroth cut him off. " you won't be after this point. Your mind nor your body capable of handling this. This is the end of the road for you."

Cloud stared in shock. He was unable to move, unable to speak, as he looked at his mentor. He wanted to refute what had been said, but part of him believed what he had just heard as well. But he didn't have time to think much more as Sephiroth inches closer to him.

"W-What are y-you-" he stuttered.

The elongated sword rose backwards in preparation. But faster than he could think it came hustling towards Cloud as he saw nothing but darkness.


"AHHHHH!"

Cloud quickly sat up out of bed. He could feel the sweat perforating from his body and the cold, near numbness in his hands. Slowly, he raised them and wrapped them around himself, trying to stop any shaking that they were trying to do.

He continued to breath deeply as he focused on where he was. It only took a few moments to see the familiar walls that were his room. The tension started to loosen a little but he still kept a firm grip on himself. But slowly one hand moved to his chest and he felt around, as if checking if something were to be there.

"I'm in my room. Everything's okay… I'm not… Sephiroth didn't… It was a dream. That's all it is."

The door unclicked a moment later and Zack swung it open. "Cloud!? You okay? I heard you scream."

Cloud turned his head and sighed with relief at the sight of his brother. "And Zack still cares, He'd never stay mad at me like I dreamt. I guess… I must have been really worried about all of it."

"I'm fine," Cloud finally answered. "Just a rather… vivid nightmare. But I'm okay now."

Zack immediately sat down on the bed next to Cloud and pulled him onto a hug. "I'm sorry, if you don't want to talk about it that's okay, but I am going to take a guess and say it had something to do with what happened earlier?"

Cloud nodded as the rest of his worries and tensions melted away in his brother's arms. To be able to feel the warmth of his brother's body felt nice and comforting as he closed his eyes. Cloud opted to stay there for a good few minutes, just taking in the fact that nothing had changed and that he was all right.

They stayed like that for a few minutes before Zack pulled back. "All right. Well you seem to be handling it okay now at least. I'm gonna go grab some food and then head out so make sure you're right behind me. And hey, you know despite it being a nightmare, it was fairly good timing. It woke you up just before you would normally wake up."

Cloud couldn't help but laugh, it was just like his brother to make a joke to turn a situation around. Zack then stood up from the bed and walked towards the door. As he exited the door, Cloud breathed a sigh of relief. He was glad that things were normal. Well, as normal as they could get considering everything that was going on.

"Ha, okay then. Thanks," Cloud said, though Zack was already out of earshot.

Following suit, Cloud then stood up and did the exact same thing, after getting himself ready of course. After a few minutes of preparation, he was finally done and went to get some breakfast before heading to work. Zack apparently had decided to wait on him this morning, which was unusual. But Cloud was happy for it. A small smile came to his face at noticing the gesture.

Shortly, Cloud had finished and was ready to go. He spoke a few more words with Zack while they were on the way to headquarters. Cloud also had a lot of time to think to himself. "Well, at least things were not as they seemed. I just was worried over nothing. I need to stop that… hopefully it will get better. No, not hopefully, they will get better. I am going to make sure of it."

One thought though he spoke aloud without even realizing it. "I wonder if things will be all right today with work…"

"Don't worry about it Cloud," Zack assured him as he heard what was said. "I'm sure it'll all be fine. Remember, just don't worry so much."

He knew that Sephiroth had spoken similar words to him before, which he wanted to try to take to heart. But there was just something about hearing it from Zack that made those words have more impact. He wanted to listen the best he could, hoping that things would work out. And he was planning to keep on trying until he got it right.

Chapter Text

September had finally come, along with it some slightly cooler weather. Many training sessions since had helped Cloud to start building up trust again. They were much harder than what he had done before of course, but it was nothing like the bad dream he had about them. Which, he was thankful for that fact. And even though he wanted to show his tiredness, he tried to remain strong the best he could.

Sephiroth was not much harder on him, but he did seem more distant than usual. His demeanor closely matched the change in the weather as well. He would not stay around very long after training, or he would not care too much to chat as he used to. It was something that was just off.

As they parted ways after some brief discussions and future training assignment, Cloud realized that it was actually before noon. It was much earlier today than normal, but Cloud kept quiet rather than questioning it.

Sephiroth was short on his words anyways. "That's all for now. I have some business to attend to," Sephiroth stated as he walked away.

Though Cloud couldn't help but think about it all as he left. "I wonder if he is upset at me? He just hasn't seemed like himself. Or could it be something else? I want to ask him again, but he wouldn't tell me. Citing my trust issues again. Though I'm doing missions again, just with others as I used to. Maybe I will just have to wait."

Now that his training was over he was free to walk around for the reset of the day to do as he pleased. Shortly after he had left the training room, he went down to where the SOLDIER quarters were, where he saw Kunsel.

"Hey Kunsel," Cloud greeted him as he entered the area.

"Oh, hey Cloud, done with training already?"

"Yeah, it was over earlier than I thought, but I guess Sephiroth has something to do today," Cloud commented.

"Maybe it has to do with the desertion."

Cloud cocked his head slightly. "Desertion?"

"You haven't heard or noticed why there is a lack of 2nd and 3rd class SOLIDERs around? It's a mass desertion," Kunsel answered.

Cloud blinked, trying to think it over. "Oh… I guess I haven't noticed with all the training I've been going through. But now that you mention it, it has been pretty quiet around here."

"Yeah, what I've heard is that it was one of the 1sts that took all those other SOLIDERs with him. Don't know why though."

"One of the 1sts?!" Cloud thought in his head. Somehow, someway things started to click together. "Is that why Sephiroth has been so cold lately? He knows something about this? Maybe I should go ask him… if I can still find him."

He turned to leave, but then remembered Kunsel was still there. "Thanks for letting me know Kunsel, but I gotta get going to do something."

"Sure thing, see ya Cloud," Kunsel said as he waved goodbye.

Cloud ran down the halls, keeping his eye out for wherever his silver haired mentor could be. While he was running around, he started to think more about the desertion. A bit of concern filling up inside of him. "A 1st took a bunch of 2nd and 3rd class with him? Could that mean Marcus or Wei went with him? I hope not… maybe I should text them to see if they are all right."

But before Cloud could pull out his phone he came to a quick halt. If he hadn't stopped he would have collided right into Sephiroth. Apparently his mentor had heard the steps and the slightly skidding noise that came from Cloud as he halted, because Sephiroth turned around quickly to face him.

"Cloud, was there something that you needed? I remember telling you moments ago that I have something to do," he responded coldly.

Cloud almost wanted to think for a minute about what he was going to say, and he did briefly. He wasn't nervous like before though, which was a strange feeling to him. Maybe it was because of the information that he found out had his adrenaline pumping. Maybe it was his worry over his friends. Or maybe it was something else. He wasn't sure, but he tried to just roll with what came to his mind.

"I know I know. It's about the desertion isn't it?" Cloud said promptly without stammering.

"And how would you know something like that?" Sephiroth asked, raising one eyebrow.

"Kunsel said something about it. But that's what you got to attend to right? Something about the desertion?"

"And what would it matter to you if it did?"

His tone came across cold, but Cloud tried to push that slight fear and worry aside. "Is that why that I've been doing mostly training missions then?"

"Yes, that does play a large role in the reason for that. I had my own reasons as well, but you're mostly correct," Sephiroth answered.

He knew it. Cloud had been wondering why there was so many training missions lately, even though he figured that he was good enough to not constantly do them. It had been weeks, maybe months since he had a real mission to go on. There must be something that only the higher ups know, but maybe if he was around Sephiroth, he would be able to learn more. Plus, maybe this was his chance to go on a mission. To prove himself.

Cloud thought all of these things to himself, without uttering another word. Of course, it drew the ire of his mentor as Sephiroth promptly interrupted his thoughts.

"Though, I feel as though there might be something else on your mind as well," Sephiroth stated bluntly.

Cloud shook his head in surprise as he registered everything he had heard. "Well, there are my two friends that are 2nds. And… I guess I worry about them."

"Hmm…" Sephiroth started as he looked down at Cloud. He examined his student intensely, looking for the truth in his eyes. "That may be, but I already know what you're thinking. The answer is no."

"But I… I didn't even say anything."

"You didn't have to. It was written all over your face."

Cloud flinched slightly, but this time he was not backing down. "I want to go though. Not only for my friends, but I haven't been on a mission in months. Something like this… it would give me a chance to prove myself maybe too."

"I don't believe that you are ready to go on a mission such as this yet. Besides… have you forgotten so quickly about before?" Sephiroth answered coldly still

"No I haven't forgotten. That's why I want to help. To make it up. To show that you can trust me," Cloud debated. He knew it would be hard to get Sephiroth to agree, but Cloud wasn't ready to give up.

"I still am not convinced I can trust you with a task like this," Sephiroth replied. "I believe it would be best if you waited here for my return."

Cloud huffed heavily. He straightened himself up as he decided to directly stare at Sephiroth. "You want me to prove that you can trust me and stuff… but… how can I prove my trust and myself to you if you don't give me a chance to do it!?"

The sudden outburst caused Sephiroth to raise an eyebrow as if surprised by Cloud's reaction. It was something that was unusual for Cloud to do since he was usually not as confident in what he said or did. But this was something new. Cloud had a look of determination in his eyes that seemed to have not been present before.

A small smirk came to Sephiroth's face. He was surprised by Cloud, but also intrigued.

Cloud, on the other hand, saw the look he was being given and was slightly confused by it. But before he had a chance to comment, Sephiroth spoke up.

"Well then… that is the look that I like to see. If you think you're up for the task, then you may come."

"Wait really?" Cloud asked, surprised that Sephiroth agreed since he expected him to not. "I'm glad and all. But why?"

Sephiroth cleared his throat and spoke up. "Despite your recent trust problems, you would be with me the entire time so I have no worries there. But, that resolve you just showed me is what I have been looking for. I want you to keep that look. It suits you."

Cloud blinked several times. Did Sephiroth just compliment him… again? Twice now in recent times Sephiroth said clear and positive words to Cloud, and it was still the strangest thing to hear. But now he seemed happy with Cloud's choice of words and actions in the current moment. And rather than questioning it, Cloud was going to take the moment as it was and go with it.

"Thank you Sephiroth. So now, the task or mission that you are going on. How serious is it?"

"Walk with me as we head to leave then," Sephiroth said.

They made the journey out of the building so that they would be in private for the most part. "You've heard about the basis of the desertion. I haven't really been given an official mission but I usually do what I want."

"So wait, we're not actually going on Shinra's behalf then?"

"Technically no, but there are some matters I wanted to attend to. Something i have to see to personally…"

The way that Sephiroth had said that last bit made Cloud wonder. What could he mean? It almost sounded as though there was something that Sephiroth was not telling him. Normally, Cloud would not pry into matters more than what he was told. However, he seemed to not be able to stop himself.

Cloud cocked his head. "Well what was it then?"

"That is the wrong question. The better one is who was it," Sephiroth corrected him without missing a beat as he continued to stride forward.

That statement made Cloud even more curious about what could be happening. He allowed himself a few seconds to think and attempt to formulate an answer on his own. But that proved to be more than he could do as he came up with nothing. "I'm uh… not really sure. So, who is it then?"

"Genesis," Sephiroth uttered with that same, despondent tone as before

Cloud stopped abruptly. Genesis!? Had he heard Sephiroth correctly. That Genesis!? He was the 1st class that Kunsel had mentioned?

He had still never met the man, but he did know a good few things about him. He did know for one thing that he was one of Sephiroth's friends with the other being Angeal. But even with knowing that the concept of Sephiroth having friends was a strange thought to think about. Did he laugh and joke with his friends? Or have serious conversations about work? How often did the three of them go for ice cream together?

Those thoughts circulated in Cloud's head after Sephiroth had spoken. He didn't realize it, but he was now far more curious on the subject than he ever thought before. But now he was curious and he was rather tempted to know. The only issue was, there was no possible way that he could just go and ask Sephiroth about Genesis. Or he didn't think there was. Maybe one little try wouldn't hurt.

"So Genesis… he lead a bunch of 2nd and 3rds to desert? I guess you don't know why though, right?"

"Apparently they were loyal to him. And that's what the mission is about is to find out," Sephiroth said deadpanned, his tone still monotonous all the way through.

Cloud could tell that something was on Sephiroth's mind as the man would not really even look at him. He kept his focus in front the whole time. He wanted to know what it could be, but he figured that he shouldn't really ask. Maybe he should just stop asking questions so it's not too much.

Almost as if reading his mind, Sephiroth spoke up while Cloud was thinking. "That's all that I will speak on the matter. Let's just get to it."

Cloud heeded his mentor's words and ceased his questions. He hoped that they would be able to find some answers soon, but he figured that it would not be that easy. "Something tells me that this is going to be something that will take a while. Like it's the start of something. I just can't shake this feeling…"

"Can you at least tell me where we are going to go?"

Sephiroth didn't look at Cloud. He kept this attention forward as they continued along the way. But eventually a deep exhale could be heard from the man, showing that he must have been debating telling Cloud or not. "Wutai."

Chapter Text

The journey was somewhat lengthy, even though they had traveled via helicopter. But finally, Sephiroth and Cloud had arrived in Wutai. Upon first glance, it looked much different than the bustling city of Midgar that Cloud was used to. It reminded Cloud of his hometown, though only slightly because there was still quite a few differences in the landscape.

"So this is Wutai…" Cloud trailed off as he disembarked from the helicopter.

"Indeed. Just a small landmass to the far west. It's nothing very impressive," Sephiroth told him.

Cloud took it all in with what he could see. The looks of the infrastructure resembled that of older times. He cited various ancient looking structures, not on their age but just in how they appeared. Despite the fact that he wanted to explore this land that he had never been to, he knew that he was going to stay with Sephiroth and do as he would say. And besides, they were still at war with Wutai, a leisure exploration wouldn't be right.

"Now what?" Cloud decided ask, seeing that Sephiroth was staying quiet and surveying the land. "I mean where do we go from here."

"I'm just here to do some investigating. Remember you're with me so make sure to keep up," Sephiroth said quickly as he walked off in the direction of what looked like a forest.

"Oh okay then. I'm right behind you," he uttered back, following without question as he was still trying to figure out what to make of the place.

The two of them stayed to the shadows, trekking across the new and unfamiliar land. Well at least unfamiliar to Cloud in the technical sense. He knew that Sephiroth had already been here before and then he recalled some of the simulations actually took place in Wutai. Though now really being there was a whole other story. This was real, and if something happened like in the simulations… Cloud would have to be ready to fight.

They shuffled through some of the area, Cloud making sure to keep an eye out all around him as he had no idea what could happen. Sephiroth meanwhile was calm as ever as he continued to march forward unabashed by anything. Cloud assumed he was ready for anything and knowing the lay of the land was an advantage as well. He was just glad after seeing the vastness of this foreign land that Sephiroth had decided to keep him by his side. "If he wasn't leading there's a good chance I might could get lost."

There was still no words coming from Sephiroth. He kept quiet and stood tall as he walked. Cloud eventually had the courage to walk up beside Sephiroth rather than trailing behind, but there was still that cold and distant look in the man's eye. Something that Cloud couldn't quite understand. It was different than his normal cold and serious demeanor, but yet was still cold… but somehow it just felt different. Maybe it was about the mission they were on because of Genesis. Cloud wasn't entirely sure thought. Since he couldn't seem to find the right words to explain how he was seeing Sephiroth, he decided to keep a mental note of it for later.

Eventually there was some sound up ahead of them and Sephiroth came to a dead stop. Cloud noticed this and did the same, though unlike Sephiroth, he began to look around for the source of the sound.

"I would venture we're being tailed, maybe even hunted. Keep your guard up," Sephiroth commanded as he just continued to remain strikingly calm.

Cloud silently wished that he would be able to have that air of calmness about him one day. Just as he allowed his mind to wander for a moment, he felt something whiz by his head. Snapping back to the present, he glanced toward where he had felt it to see a sharp piece of metal imbedded in the ground about 5 feet away from him.

"A shuriken?" Cloud questioned. He tried to remember the simulations he had gone through as he unsheathed his sword.

Before too long, more weapons came searing towards the student and mentor. Cloud moved his sword various directions, blocking the small barrage that was coming towards him. Metal clanged against metal as each sharp object found its new home in the dirt.

Just as Cloud was busy deflecting, he saw a few figures come from the shadows behind the trees and charge quickly at Sephiroth. Before he even had time to react to inform Sephiroth, he heard a quick slicing sound. The two that had been trying to attack them now lay on the ground motionless. It was almost as if Sephiroth had not moved, but Cloud knew he had to.

The onslaught of weapons then stopped, allowing Cloud a bit of a breather and time to think. "I know that I have seen him sort of fight before. But that was just too fast. Wow…"

Cloud straightened up once he saw that the enemies around them were cleared out. Though Sephiroth was quick to speak after that. "There are more coming. They would not just send a few men without reinforcements."

"You think so?" Cloud asked quietly. He couldn't take his eyes off the unmoving bodies.

He had fought people in the simulation before. He had attacked many enemies… but now this was real. This was a real dead body that was bleeding out before him. It was hard to stop staring at it, but Cloud couldn't help himself.

Suddenly Sephiroth's hand on his shoulder jolted him from his frozen position. "This is not the time to take in the body count. I know the sight is rather unpleasant, but they are the enemy. It has to be done."

"Yeah, I know. It's not just that though. It's their uniforms. Why… why are those SOLDIERs? They attacked us?"

Sephiroth stared at Cloud before turning his attention back to the men surrounding them. "Concern yourself with that for later. Focus on the now. If you want the answer, then remember your training and think."

Cloud hesitantly agreed, though he knew that Sephiroth was right. He did want to prove himself after all, and this was a good chance to do it. But he was curious what was meant by the last thing that was said. Remember his training? But how could that help against people that looked like SOLDIERs? He tried to think but didn't have as much time as he wanted.

He brandished his sword high and started after the many men that were attacking them now. Several clangs of metal was heard, as well as the sound of skin and armor being pierced and sliced. Cloud made sure not to kill the men though, leaving marks along their bodies that were non-life threatening. He did not understand what was going on so he wanted to get to the bottom of it.

After the men were defeated and sprawled across the ground, Cloud tucked his sword back into its sheath. Once Cloud took a closer look though, he noticed a difference in the uniforms. Most of the men were wearing mainly 3rd class uniforms, which were quite noticeable. However, the others, which there were far less of, were all sporting mainly 2nd class uniforms of the maroon color. He was about to say something about it when his eyes widened at what happened next.

Sephiroth approached each person and stabbed them completely through. The ones that were still moving writhed in pain and then went limp. Others that were already unconscious most likely never felt a thing. A mix of confusion and shock formed in the pit of Cloud's stomach.

"W-What was that for?!"

"I told you. Remember your training if you want the answers. Remember the simulations. What did I say when you asked why there were SOLDIERs attacking you then?" Sephiroth hoped to remind Cloud as he moved towards one of the 3rd class men.

He approached the man and removed his helmet. Upon seeing the mans' face, Cloud gasped in shock. But then he finally remembered what Sephiroth had been trying to tell him all this time. He hated himself for not realizing it sooner. He was so focused on what was on the surface that he didn't think any deeper.

"I see. So… they were Wutai troops. In disguise."

"Yes. This is what you were training for."

"So all of that you put me though… it really was based on real things. I guess I just didn't expect to deal with it so soon."

"You insisted on coming here. So I expect you to apply everything you've learned so far," Sephiroth stated coldly.

Cloud noticed that Sephiroth had moved towards one of the men that was in the 2nd class uniform and stopped briefly. He went to remove the man's helmet, and once he did, he dropped it.

"What is it?" Cloud asked curiously as he moved closer.

Once he got closer, he could tell that the man's face was not like the other Wutai troops. In fact, he seemed like someone that Cloud had seen before.

"Genesis. You've gone this far I see," Sephiroth muttered nearly silent. Had Cloud not been right next to him he would never have heard.

"Wait… Genesis? But how does that make any sense? Why would he be wearing a 2nd class uniform?" Cloud asked, not able to stop himself from saying his questions out loud.

Sephiroth looked as though he did not want to attempt to explain, but he did anyways. "Remember the 1st class that disappeared with a bunch of SOLDIERs? That was Genesis. Apparently… this is what he's done to them."

He trailed off and looked away as Cloud stood with his mouth agape. "But… what is this?"

Sephiroth didn't answer him however and started to walk away in another direction, deeper into the forest. Cloud then started to follow behind him after that but was soon stopped as Sephiroth turned to face him.

"I am going to find out something. Alone. Stay around here and do what you can," he spoke swiftly.

Before Cloud could even ask or double check with Sephiroth, he was already gone. Now it was just Cloud, and the dead bodies around him. He stared down at them for only a second and already started to feel sick. Shuffling back he moved away until he was out of sight from them. He knew though that eventually the bodies would be gone and called into the Lifestream, but until they he didn't want to have to look any further on what had just happened.

Cloud leaned up against a tree and breathed out slowly, trying to clear his mind. "It's a war… people are supposed to die. But still… I don't like the sight of the dead bodies… it makes me feel uneasy. Sephiroth though… he doesn't seem phased by it at all. Maybe that is because he has done this for so long? That would make some sense I guess."

He walked around some, trying to shake off the uneasy feeling that had given him. But there was something else bothering him as well.

"Sephiroth really seemed suddenly caught up in something. Just the mention of Genesis, and he left. I wonder what it's all about?

Cloud tried to pace some more, but noticed that things began to look different. Cloud halted all thoughts and looked around. He wasn't too far from the village itself apparently, but he had no idea where exactly he was from where Sephiroth had left. There was a giant archway in front of him though with some stone steps leading up to the top. He tried to figure out if he should go back or just proceed.

As he stood there deciding, the sound of leaves rustling distracted him. Now that he thought more about it, he figured more men could come up trying to attack. Cloud readied himself for whatever was about to come. Though whether it was Wutai men in disguise or the strange Genesis-looking SOLIDERs from before, he knew he could fend them off.

But what he saw jump out of the bushes was the last thing he expected.

What he saw there was a little girl, maybe only a few years younger than him. She was a tad shorter than him and was paler even than he was. She had short, black hair that was parted to the right side with bangs dangling on her forehead above the white headband she wore. Her eyes were a deep brown like the ground below them and she was grinning cheekily. She sported a turquoise tunic with yellow outlines that was wrapped around her body, with a yellow sash around the waist that tied it all together. The remainder of her outfit was some simple short white shorts with a pair of yellow and white shoes.

"Um, what is a little kid doing in this warzone?" Cloud directed his question to her.

"Kid?" the girl scoffed. "I'm no kid, I'm Wutai's greatest warrior! And I am here to save everyone!"

Cloud stared at her, heavily perplexed. He couldn't tell if this child was serious or if she was just being an energetic child. Either way Cloud took a couple steps back, trying to think what the best solution would be. He already knew that he did not want to fight, or worse harm, a child. But if the child fought him… would he just try and defend himself and not attack? Cloud pondered it a bit more as the child ran up to him.

"I'll take you out like I did with all the other bad guys!" the girl shouted. She made a fist and looked like she was ready to throw a punch. And for a moment Cloud thought she did, but she stopped a few inches short of his stomach. "Pow! What! Bam! You're going down bad guy!"

The girl continued to punch the air in front of Cloud, but she still looked serious with each strike. But still never did any of them come even remotely close to him. And that made Cloud all the more confused.

"Um… you're just punching the air," Cloud stated.

The girl shook her head at him as a huff came from her mouth.

"I am not! I'm the best ninja there is. I'm just hitting you so fast you can't see it! Haha!"

She continued to punch the air, and even did a few kicks at him in the air as well. Mostly, her eyes were closed as she did it, not noticing that cloud was just standing there and staring blankly at her. Eventually, she stopped and stared up at Cloud, almost looking expectantly at him.

He wanted to laugh at her antics, and it was interesting to him to see such playfulness at the time. "What is it?" he nearly said with a chuckle.

"You're supposed to fall over and pretend that I defeated you!" the girl exclaimed. "The other spiky haired bad guy did it!"

"The other spiky haired bad guy?" Cloud thought to himself. "Who could she be talking about…"

"There was another man that was around here? What color of hair?"

"Yeah, but not here. It was up there in another place," she said as she pointed towards the stairs. "His hair was black. It was spiky like yours too- Wait! Why am I telling you. You're the enemy!"

"O-Oh, I guess you're right," Cloud said before he rubbed the back of his neck. But he at least started to get an idea of whom she was referring too. But before he could really think on it he would have to get away from the little girl, he wasn't sure what else could happen if she stayed around him any longer. Or worse what could happen if Sephiroth returned and saw him conversing with a little Wutai girl.

"Now, I'll have to get rid of you for telling you that! Haha!" She brought her energy back up like before, and once again punching the air at Cloud again.

This time, he played along. Each punch he feigned dodging some of the 'attacks' for a few seconds. But then he allowed some of them to hit him. He started to act like that it was hurting him as well, using his hands to pretend as though he was being hit. Soon enough, he fell to his knees and groaned a few times before collapsing to the ground. He closed his eyes to make it seem as though he was knocked out and waited to see what the little girl would do.

He could hear her laughing cheerfully. "You are now defeated and I have saved Wutai!"

Cloud then heard her footsteps heading off into the distance. When he opened his eyes he saw that she was running off, back towards the village itself. Now that she was out of sight Cloud stood back up and let out a sigh, thankful that it had all gone smoothly.

He stood there and thought to himself though because of what she had said. "So Zack is here as well? I guess that he was sent here to help out too. I wonder if I will encounter him out here at some point? What could he be up to…?"

Chapter Text

After some walking and trying to find his way, Cloud had stumbled into a sort of opening in another part of the forest. He knew that Sephiroth would probably be upset that he did not stay put as he asked, but Cloud was only trying to find his way out there. But surprisingly enough, he had not encountered any other opposition since he disappeared from Yuffie's sight. He was wandering aimlessly for a good while, but he hoped at some point he could figure out where he was.

Eventually, he did hear some of the leaves rustling behind him. He turned almost on a dime and drew his sword, ready to face whatever had startled him. Upon facing the sound of the noise, Cloud waited to see what would happen. But then, a small rabbit popped out, staring up at Cloud before then turning around and darting off in the other direction.

"Oh, just an animal. Can't be too careful though," Cloud mumbled to himself.

He continued to wander around the area again, still trying not to move too far from his original spot. He did find himself a little curious to explore the lands of Wutai, but also at the same time he knew that it was rather dangerous, even with the training he had been going through. The last thing he wanted to do was to risk himself getting hurt and having Sephiroth returning with disapproval.

Cloud eventually stopped walking and leaned against a tree. He sighed, trying to clear out his mind from having too many thoughts at once over the situation. After a few minutes he heard footsteps approaching. He stiffened up and looked in the direction the sound was coming from. He slowly began to reach back for his sword in case it was enemy or something else.

This time it was not a rabbit or a little girl that showed up, but instead Sephiroth himself. Cloud lowered his arm and went to stand up straight, showing his alertness to seeing his mentor again.

"I see you have wandered slightly from the original point where I instructed you to stay," Sephiroth said.

Cloud lowered his head. "I'm sorry… I only was walking around so I wouldn't have to keep staring at the… you know… bodies…"

"You do know that it wouldn't be long until they are pulling into the Lifestream, and then they are no more."

"I know… but it was still unsettling to look at. First time really seeing dead… humans in front of me," Cloud answered quietly, still not raising his head.

He heard Sephiroth sigh. "That is understandable. Your mind is still young and not even the simulations can prepare you for the real thing and how the senses will react."

Cloud raised his head, feeling a little surprised. He thought that Sephiroth was going to scold him for going someplace else… not be understanding for his choices. "Um… so did you do what you needed to do?"

"For now, yes. But we must keep going, there is more to be done. Follow me, and quickly," Sephiroth said as he began heading back into the forest.

"Wait!" Cloud said as he ran to catch up with Sephiroth. "Where are we going now?"

"To find your brother… and hopefully with him we will also find Angeal. And with that the other answers I seek."

Cloud frowned slightly at Sephiroth's vagueness, but then again he knew to expect that from the man. He followed quietly along the pathway until out of nowhere Sephiroth picked up speed and ran ahead. Cloud was about to shout for him when he looked into the distance. He could see flames and fire up ahead and something large standing there. No doubt a Ifrit summon if the fire was anything to go by.

By the time Cloud ran up to the clearing, which only took a few seconds, the Ifrit summon was dead and the fire was gone. Standing just to the side was Zack, who looked completely dumbstruck all while Sephiroth walked over to a few dead men dressed a bit strangely. It looked like they were wearing SOLDIER outfits but at the sametime it looked not quite the same.

"Huh? Cloud!"

Suddenly Cloud was pulled into a large hug by Zack.

"Hey I didn't expect to see you here little buddy, though I guess when I heard that Sephiroth was here I should have guessed you would come along too."

"Hm yeah," Cloud replied before giving a hug back to his brother.

The two of them then turned their attention to Sephiroth who took off one of the helmets of the men. Underneath was a man with short red hair just like he had seen before. "Genesis…" Sephiroth mumbled.

Sephiroth then took off the helmet of the other SOLDIER. The person also looked just like Genesis… more 2nd class men that looked like the 1st class. It was still confusing to Cloud how something like this was possible, but he stayed quiet and watched.

Zack gasped. "They're identical!"

Sephiroth did not stop staring at the bodies before him. As always there was a calm and serious look over his face, but this time it looked even deeper than usual. "A Genesis copy."

"Copy? A human copy?" Zack asked, backing up slightly.

Cloud didn't say anything else, but he continued to stare at the two Genesis… copies. It was such a weird thing to even think about. Copies of another person. Cloud shuddered but did not move from his spot.

Sephiroth finally turned to look over at Zack though. "Where's Angeal?"

"I thought he was fighting around here…" Zack said as he started to walk around the open forest area.

"Humph, so he's gone too," Sephiroth grumbled.

"Huh?" Cloud asked, but before he could truly ask anything more, Zack spoke instead.

"What? Wait, what does that mean?"

Sephiroth stood up, his face looking far more cold than before. "It means Angeal has betrayed us as well."

He kept his cold and serious composure even after saying his words. Though Cloud could have sworn he saw something else there. It was only for a second but he was sure he spotted a different emotion mixed into Sephiroth's face. It was probably too quick to tell, but he could have sworn he saw a little… sadness.

"No way!" Zack shouted, pulling Cloud away from his thoughts. "I know what kind of guy Angeal is! And he'd never do that!"

Sephiroth turned to look at Zack, giving him a long stare, but he chose to say nothing more.

Zack shook his head. He tried to keep a serious composure for himself, but Cloud knew Zack wasn't very good at that. He frowned heavily, still glaring at Sephiroth. "Angeal wouldn't betray us! Never!"

Sephiroth only stared for a minute more before walking off briskly.

Cloud looked back and forth between the two of them, not exactly sure what he should do if anything. "Um… Zack. I… I probably should go. You know… with Sephiroth cause I came here with him."

"Yeah… makes sense…" Zack said crossing his arms. "Go head… but Sephiroth is wrong… I know he is…"

"I guess… but isn't he friends with Angeal and Genesis? Wouldn't he know them both pretty well?"

"Yeah but… whatever. I know he is wrong. I just know it. I'll see you back at HQ, okay? I don't want you to get into trouble for making Sephiroth wait. I'll clean up here."

"Okay, see you there," Cloud said before running to catch up with Sephiroth.

Zack stared long after Cloud, though his gaze was mainly focused on the back of the long, white-haired man. He was slightly torn inside.

Sephiroth was the man he idolized and looked up to. Sephiroth was the reason that he wanted to become a SOLDIER along with Cloud in the first place. His mind wandered to that day many years past back in their hometown.

However, Angeal was his mentor now. He was the man that looked out for Zack, who taught him everything he knew. He was even the one that thought Zack was good enough for 1st class alongside him. The thought of that recent memory made him wonder about all of that which had happened.

"Angeal wouldn't betray us. I just know he wouldn't. Sephiroth was acting strange about it too, but why?" he thought aloud to himself, only himself to give answers if there were any.

But those answers never came. Some stray doubts began to flood his mind but he shook his head and tried to push them aside.

"Arghhh! I just don't know. I've gotta figure this out. Angeal… I'll find you. And prove Sephiroth wrong. On my honor."


Cloud was still trailing behind Sephiroth as they made their way back in the direction they had come from. Neither of them had spoken a word since leaving Zack. Slowly the silence was digging into Cloud's mind and he knew he wouldn't be able to stand it for much longer.

Breathing out, Cloud clenched his hands, trying to get his thoughts away from what he knew he shouldn't ask. Yet… he still wanted to ask. He still wanted to know, but he still knew asking Sephiroth wouldn't give him any proper way of answers.

"Sephiroth… just, what was all that about?"

The man continued to walk forward without giving Cloud a glance or even a notion that he was listening. However, he did respond.

"Whatever are you referring to?" he questioned his protege sharply.

"Just… you don't think Angeal… he wouldn't do what you said. Right?" Cloud asked finally, stammering over his words and waiting in sharp anticipation for what was next.

"Hmph. I don't think that this any of your concern."

"But I came here on the mission with you. I'm here to help."

Sephiroth stopped in his tracks. He looked back at Cloud with a slight head-turn. "You know nothing about this. I would suggest you stop persisting any further."

Cloud's body tensed up and froze as he gulped quite loudly. The look in Sephiroth's eyes was enough to send shivers down his spine, and the tone in his voice reeked of seriousness. Sephiroth was obviously perturbed by the development of this situation, but Cloud was not going to pursue it any further.

"Y-Yeah… okay…" he said nearly silently.

With that utterance, Sephiroth turned his head slowly back towards the front and kept walking. Cloud followed behind eventually, making some more distance between the two of them as they continued. "I wish I knew something to do. I wonder if things will really be okay?"


What Cloud hoped would be resolved soon, showed no time of happening like that. An entire month moved by and there was not a word from Angeal or Genesis. From them being gone for so long, Cloud could see how it was affecting the others. Mainly he could see how it affected two people; Zack and Sephiroth.

But it was rather odd to see though. The two were complete opposites when it came to the matter.

Sephiroth refused and denied any conversation on the matter. He seemed colder and more distant than ever before and Cloud wasn't sure what he could do. Or more realistically, he wondered if there was anything he could do in the first place. There had been less training days, giving Cloud a bit more time to sit around and relax. But that still left him greatly concerned how Sephiroth was taking the situation.

Zack on the other hand couldn't sit still. He was pacing back and forth while he and Cloud were SOLDIER room.

"Man what is up with Angeal? How long is he gonna slack off like this?"

"Maybe he's just… busy with something."

"But it's been over a month."

"Yeah, I know. I just… wish there was something I could do."

"Don't worry about it Cloud. It's not your problem. I just wish I knew what was going on," he trailed off.

When Cloud was around him, Cloud noticed that he would constantly pace like he was doing then, most likely mulling over the situation in his own mind. He tried to not show how worried he was and attempted to keep things locked away. But they were brothers. Cloud saw what others didn't. He saw how Zack was when they would be at home.

That is, what little time Zack was home nowadays.

Ever since Angeal's disappearance, Zack had been more busy with more work piled on him. The desertion had left Shinra in shambles in their SOLDIER department. Both he and Zack had been doing more work, but primarily Zack. Sephiroth would sometimes not even show up anymore, and without him there sometimes, there were no other 1sts. It had become quite the precarious situation now.

Even as Cloud was thinking to himself, he saw that Zack was doing squats in the corner of his eye. Though it was a regular thing for Zack to do, he had been focusing on exercising far more now that Angeal was gone. It was as if to make up for all the training he was missing out on.

Suddenly Zack stopped when his cell phone began to ring. "That would be me. Who is this?"

Cloud now paid more attention to Zack, wondering who he was talking to.

"Hey! Wait!" Zack shouted.

He then sighed and put his phone in his pocket. "Who was that?"

"What happened?" Cloud asked as he stood up.

"I don't know. Someone called me telling me to get you and head to the briefing room. The Director wants to see us for something."

"Both of us?"

"Yup, so let's get over there. Maybe he had word on Angeal!"

The two of them began a light job over to the briefing room. Once there Zack entered and walked right up to the Director who was sitting at his desk. "Any word on Angeal?"

The Director shook his head. "He hasn't contacted his family either."

Zack sighed. "So, what's this all about?"

"A new assignment," the Director replied. "I want you and your brother to go to the hometown our missing SOLDIER 1st class, Genesis."

"Huh?" Zack asked.

"According to the parents, they've had no contact with Genesis whatsoever. But, they can't be trusted," the Director replied as he rested elbows on his desk, with his hand placed on his laced fingers.

"But, why would that be?" Cloud asked, finally speaking up.

The Director sighed heavily. "They're his family. I had already dispatched some stuff, but we've lost contact. I want you two to go and investigate."

"Wait, just the two of us?" Zack asked next.

The Director shook his head, before looking to the side. "No. He will go with you."

The two of them heard the door open and turned around to see who it was. A tall man at about Zack's height entered into the room. He had long, silky smooth black hair that was tied back from the top and sides, while the rest ran down to the middle of his back. Below his hairline was a small red dot, and a serious look was etched on his face, eyebrows angled towards his deep brown eyes. The man dressed in a sharp black suit, with only the undershirt being white as a black tie courses down the middle of the torso.

Cloud looked quite surprised, but noticed that it was the same look as Cissnei had. He had seen the other members but not their leader yet. Meanwhile Zack just stared unconvinced and waited for the man to speak.

"Tseng, of the Turks."

"This job is looking really gloomy…" Zack trailed off with a hint of sarcasm in his voice.

"You've met him before?" Cloud asked suddenly.

"Nah, heard of him, but never met him before. But if the Turks are involved, then I wonder…"

Tseng spoke up and interrupted the conversation between the brothers before it could go on any further. "Just let me know when you're ready to go."

Zack was about to respond when his cell phone suddenly started to ring.

"Oh, uh, excuse me," he said briefly and turned around to answer the call.

"Hello?"

Cloud and Tseng found themselves staring at each other for a few seconds, while Zack was talking. Cloud couldn't think of anything to say, but he didn't have to start thankfully.

"So you're Cloud. I've heard a decent bit about you."

"Oh um, you have ?" Cloud answered confused.

"Not yet. I'll read it later. I'm kinda in a meeting right now,"

Tseng then continued. "Yes, from one of my operatives. Cissnei. I'm sure you two are familiar."

Cloud's face slightly flushed upon thinking of her. "Yeah, um, uh, we kinda know each other. What of it?" He felt himself turning more red, thinking of how much Tseng really knew about he and Cissnei.

"Well… if I you keep it short, I guess. Haven't got much time."

"Nothing at all. Just making an observation."

Zack walked back up to them now. "Sorry about that."

"Something you need to take care of?" Tseng asked curiously.

"It can wait. I'll do it later."

"So you're ready to go then?"

Zack glanced over at Cloud, who nodded in return. He turned back to Tseng now. "A routine job, right? No sweat!"

"Originally, Sephiroth was assigned to this mission. That means it's a top-priority matter. Be alert, or you'll fail."

Cloud's eyes grew larger upon hearing that. "I didn't know about that…"

Zack cocked his head for a second. "And Sephiroth?"

"Refusing to go, apparently."

"Oh, what is that? They spoil him too much?" Zack asked sarcastically, stifling a slight chuckle in the moment.

"Why don't you say that to his face?"

"Well with the way he's been acting lately…" he started but then cut himself off. A stray thought wandered through his mind. "You know, on second thought… Uh, no thanks!" he answered, putting his hands together almost in a pleading fashion to not mention it.

Cloud tried his hardest to refrain from laughing. What came out instead was a quiet snort, but it was enough to alert Zack who looked at him, still with that pleading look. He walked over to Cloud and pulled him close.

"Just don't say anything to him about that Cloud, 'kay?" Zack whispered to his brother.

"Ah, yeah, right," Cloud said, still trying not to smile, though his thoughts quickly dipped back to what he had just learned.

Cloud was still lost in thought over many things now. He knew Sephiroth had become more reclusive lately, but he had never known his mentor to ignore a mission. He wanted to find out what was going on, and sooner rather than later. But before he could get too deep in thought, a hand came down on his shoulder. He looked up to see Zack standing besides him still, managing a small smile towards him.

Tseng spoke once more once he saw the two young men looked ready. "Okay, now let's go."