A/n: I'm trying something new. AU drabble series where Cloud is the SOLDIER 2nd and Zack is his cute little cadet student. Enjoy!

Beta'd by Tomoyo-chan!


Obsession

On the upper level viewing terrace of the training gym, Cloud Strife intently observed the SOLDIER-hopefuls grouped throughout in various forms of exercises. He wasn't a very tall figure, nor was he immediately obvious but for his golden, gravity-defying spikes, but anyone looking directly would see him for what he was: a SOLDIER—and a damned good one too.

But today, he wasn't here to offer silent tips by example or wordlessly correct tipsy-looking attack stances; no, today he was here to observe a particular cadet amongst the group. His eyes lingered on the animated form currently darting around the lumbering form of one of the bigger cadets, the lively blue eyes almost dancing as the swift form prodded his slower opponent into attacking with good-natured insults.

"Cloud," An exasperated voice murmured from behind him, "you've been coming down here every other Friday since you saw that kid; what is about him that's got you so fascinated?"

Blank blue eyes turned to regard the man who had addressed him. "Angeal, Sir." he acknowledged quietly, subtly refusing to answer the question.

So that was it then. Cloud was in one of his broody moods. Sighing, Angeal reached out to ruffle the soft spikes before him, greatly pleased when the teen didn't tense or pull away—it had taken quite some time for him to accept even the familiar touch of his mentor. Granted, Angeal didn't know Cloud's exact feelings on the matter, but that didn't stop the young man's shining blue eyes and wary stances from pleading for a friendly gesture now and then.

The Commander sighed as he lightly laid a hand in the soft spikes before him, his large, calloused fingers gently combing through his student's hair. It was odd, how close they'd gotten since Angeal had stumbled across a stubborn cadet with more mouth than muscle needed to protect that mouth. At first, he'd thought that quiet Cloud, with his taciturn nature and cold determination was like a blond clone of Sephiroth. But after two years of getting to know his student, Angeal now knew that Cloud's attitude was more out of shyness and self-preservation than Sephiroth's general confusion about human emotion.

A small commotion grabbed their attention, and Angeal turned assessing eyes to the sight of the dark haired cadet that Cloud seemed intent on studying making a spectacle of himself as he spun his training sword in wide, flashy spins while humming a silly little tune to himself. A discreet glance to the side revealed that Cloud too was watching the boy, his sky blue eyes soft and a small amused smile on his face. Given how rare it was for Cloud's smile to be genuine and not a smirk or polite grimace, Angeal was noticeably surprised.

The 2nd class soldier knew that his mentor was watching him, and quite closely at that, but he had no reason to fear reprimand from the 1st class. He knew that Angeal considered him level-headed and capable but the older man wished that Cloud was more open and acted his age more often. The blond SOLDIER didn't really see the point in acting his age, seeing as how it would only make him seem weak with all the things they saw in their line of work, but he supposed Angeal really was an old-fashioned soul with the idea that boys should be boys and all that.

"You know you could always volunteer to mentor him," Angeal's voice was thoughtful, almost cautious.

Cloud turned startled eyes onto the older male before darting his gaze back to the young cadet, who was now enthusiastically engaging in a bout of rapid fire squat thrusts with a few of his peers.

Him? Be a mentor? He almost snorted at the thought, but was surprised that it wasn't so much as he didn't want to do it...it was just... would Zack even want someone as cold and by-the-book as Cloud to be his teacher? The boy himself gave off a distinct aura of warmth and affection, often times showing that he was still young and had obviously not yet seen some of the horrors of the war they were currently fighting.

A large hand rested on his shoulder and gave it a brief pat. Cloud blinked at Angeal in surprise having almost forgotten that he was even there. "Sir?" he asked uncertainly.

"Just think about it," was Angeal's response before he turned and walked away, leaving Cloud to his thoughts.

Blue eyes stared down at the training mats taking in laughing blue eyes, sun-bronzed skin and considered the idea.


Student

"Hiiiiyah!" Zack cried, clumsily slashing at Cloud with his sword.

The soldier grimaced at the move; Zack was normally a lot better with his aim and precision, but this time he was off on both his stance and force. Cloud merely parried with a light flick of his wrist and easily sent the boy sliding backwards. Like he'd predicted, Zack wasn't concentrating nearly as hard as he should have been and the blow led to his student flailing wildly for balance on one foot before abruptly toppling onto his back.

For a moment, Cloud stared down at his protege, his blue eyes unreadable. Zack was drenched in sweat as he tried to catch his breath. What was slightly alarming were the numerous cuts and bruising the kid was sporting that Cloud hadn't quite noticed before.

Finally, Zack shook himself and stumbled to his feet before once more brandishing his sword. The look in his eyes was one of stubborn determination that Cloud had long since grown used to.

"I'm ready, sir," Zack gasped, tightly gripping his sword as he adjusted his stance.

The unwavering stare on Cloud's face never changed even as the soldier simply sheathed his own sword and said, "Training's over for today." He turned to walk away, ignoring the groan his student gave from behind him.

"But-!"

"We're done here, Zack," Cloud said simply. His flat tone brooked no arguments, and Zack deflated as he slouched in defeat.

"I can still keep going," he grumbled lowly, glaring at Cloud's retreating form. Cloud of course, having SOLDIER enhanced hearing caught the comment and stopped to look at his student over his shoulder.

For a moment he considered making it an order, but decided that an even better alternative would sink a good lesson in even better.

"Alright," he said.

Zack gaped at his mentor. Had Cloud actually just listened to him. No way! There had to be more to this than what he was seeing. He narrowed his eyes in suspicion. "What's the catch?" he wondered.

Cloud fully turned and folded his arms, the muscles on his arms clearly visible as he did so. "You get three attempts. If you can get me to use my arms to defend myself, we'll continue. If not, then we're heading to the med bay to get you checked up."

"The med bay?! Ugh, Cloud that's so not fair! I'd rather just go back to my room!" he cried.

"Too late," Cloud grunted, feeling a bit sadistic. "You have to make me use my arms to defend myself against you. And since I'm feeling generous, you can use your sword too."

Zack eyed the older boy skeptically. Surely it wouldn't be that simple. Maybe Cloud was overestimating himself. That didn't seem likely though; Cloud wasn't considered one of the top SOLDIERs in his class and a candidate for 1st class for nothing.

Well, he'd already laid out the terms. There was no going back now. Zack was no coward and a good challenge was never something he turned down. The cadet cracked his neck and readied himself for a charge before grinning, "Alright, I accept."

Wordlessly, Cloud shifted himself into a wider stance and smirked. "Come."

...


Pride

"Cloud," Zack murmured against his neck, voice sleepy with exhaustion, but speculative. "Didja ever wonder…what things would be like if I were the SOLDIER?"

Surprised, the older boy paused in his steps as he contemplated the question.

Hmm. What would life be like if Cloud had been a young, impressionable cadet, and Zack the big, strong SOLDIER cocky enough to show up a male chocobo?

Would Cloud even be a SOLDIER at all if he had never met Angeal? He most definitely wouldn't have had the chance to train Zack, but would the two of them still have met in another lifetime?

"I don't know," Cloud decided after a moment. The serious expression on his face soon melted into one of light teasing, however. "I'm pretty sure you would have driven Angeal insane with all that energy you've got," he joked, once more hefting Zack's exhausted form higher on his back.

"Hey, I'm not that bad," Zack protested weakly as he allowed himself to be carried to the medical bay.

"You keep telling yourself that, kid," Cloud grunted.