Author's Note: First completed fic ever. Completed not meaning this is a completed story. Completed meaning this is the first fic I've actually managed to finish. Eh heh.
…I'd really appreciate critique…but not too hard, yes? Or, well…give me advanced critique and such, but don't be harsh about it? –shuts up before she says any more–

Disclaimer: I don't own Cloud or Zack. Sephiroth does. Yeah, I suppose Square-Enix does too. That kinda doesn't work as well without the -strike- feature.

---

In the Arms of a Friend

The blonde was cold. He became ever more aware of this fact when a brisk wind pressed against him, forcing a shiver from inside the ragged Shinra jacket. But at least it offered some form of protection against the bitterly cold weather. He desperately wished that it would instead guard him from the thoughts that swirled about his mind. Nothing could hide him from those thoughts.

For an all-too-brief moment, Cloud Strife took solace in the chill winter surroundings. Delicate snowflakes caught on his lashes, and a thin layer covered his hair, those impossible golden spikes that were his greatest defining feature. He was sitting in a pure, white landscape. It was so quiet, and so peaceful, but…

He was alone. Alone to face what he kept trying to fight.

/Maybe…/

He had wanted to write of success to his mother. Maybe…even Tifa. He wasn't extremely close with anyone. No, that was quite an understatement. He never belonged in Nibelheim. Still, Tifa was the only one to ever show him friendship when he was a boy. They hadn't been in touch though, since the time they met under the well. When he'd called her out and told her of his decision to join SOLDIER. When she'd hesitated but forced him to make a promise. That promise. And what had he accomplished?

/if I had made it…/

His vision began to fog. Why did he have to be so weak? Unable to be noticed, unable to be accepted, unable to amount to anything… if he had made it, everything would have changed. Everything would have been different.

Wouldn't it?

But Cloud knew. He was lying to himself again. It didn't matter. It didn't matter at all, damnit. There would never come a time when people would openly praise him. He would always be the pathetic little boy from Nibelheim. A choked sob escaped him, and in defeat, he buried his head in his arms, letting his tears saturate the worn fabric of his jacket.

/into SOLDIER./

Only the best made it into SOLDIER. Joining Shinra's elite guard was the goal of so many young men. There was also the not-so-tiny fact thatthe force was led by Sephiroth. Sephiroth, the great General of Shinra, whom Cloud beheld in adoration and wonder. He had heard so many stories about the legendary man. Tales of his leadership during the war of Wutai and of his already inhuman strength, only to be intensified by Mako treatment. Yet despite the obvious rift between them, Cloud had let himself believe, that if he had made it into SOLDIER, he stood a chance at matching his idol.

Mentally, Cloud hit himself. And found that his forehead was throbbing much more painfully than he had expected.

"It's freezing out here, Spike! What do you think you're doing?"

Cloud hadn't even heard anyone approaching, yet Zack was standing right in front of him, wearing little more than the usual sleeveless shirt and pants. The blonde didn't know how long he'd been outside, though it must have been a while, if Zack had come to search for him. It was evident that the older man had spent a while looking; his breaths were short, hasty inhalations.

"I'm sitting," Cloud mumbled.

He refused to lift his head and face Zack. Doing so would likely result in meeting the SOLDIER's eyes. They were unnaturally deep violet eyes, and couple with the blue tinge of Mako, Cloud was utterly bare beneath them. Already, he could feel the intense gaze fixed on his head.

/Maybe, if I ignore him…he'll leave me alone today./

"Well, that's quite obvious," A hint of exasperation lined Zack's voice. "You know what I meant."

Zack plopped down at Cloud's side and roughly brushed off the snowflakes that blanketed the blonde's hair. It was light, powdery snow, and Zack had no trouble fluffing the golden spikes back to their usual gravity-defying state. He heard Zack chuckle "thoughtfully".

/Then again, maybe that's too much to hope for./

"Chocobos don't belong in the snow, you know that?"

Normally, such a comment would have been enough to irritate Cloud, but he gave no sign that he had heard anything. He really wasn't in any mood to humour the SOLDIER and hoped the message was quite clear. Sighing, the older man relented and sat in silence with the smaller form beside him. Cloud was actually able to enjoy a few minutes of peace before Zack opened his mouth again.

"Are you cold?"

The least responsive action Cloud could think of was to shake his head.

"Really?"

He cursed the Planet when a particularly frigid wind blew by, causing Cloud to shiver despite himself.

"I think you're freezing," Zack declared smugly.

"I'm fine." His cheeks had begun to warm from humiliation, so he wasn't exactly lying.

"Or perhaps you're so numb you can't tell the difference?"

"Lay off."

"Cold, at least."

"Zack."

"It's a wonder you're not frozen solid."

"Please."

"Covered in snow and everything, too."

"You don't know when to stop, do you!"

Cloud jerked his head up to glare furiously at the other man. The remnants of his tears were still visible, he was sure, but he didn't care; all he wanted was to be left alone and Zack wouldn't grant him even that. He heard harsh words spill from his mouth.

"Why can't you just go away? You always show up when I'd rather be by myself! You appear when I—I don't need your pity! You act like you know everything but you don't!"

He knew he should stop before he said any more, before he pushed Zack further away. Even so, he had already said too much. So many bitter words that his friend didn't deserve. In for a gil, in for a thousand. But…why wasn't Zack doing anything? Why wasn't he arguing? Why wasn't Zack yelling back, shouting at him? Why couldn't Zack punch him, instead of watching with that unnerving stare?

"You don't know, damnit! …you don't know what it's like…at all…"

In the next instant, Cloud found himself wrapped in the SOLDIER's strong embrace. He struggled blindly for a few moments before finally collapsing against the other. It was useless to fight, really. The elder's physique and determination both exceeded his own. And as Zack began to soothingly rub his back, Cloud found he had no desire to fight either.

"You're right," Zack said quietly. "I don't know what's going through your mind right now. But that doesn't mean you can't tell me, does it?"

"It's…not… I didn't mean to…"

Zack took the rest of his faltering words with a kiss. Much to his own surprise, Cloud found himself returning it, moving his own lips against Zack's. Just as he vaguely wondered how much time had passed, Zack pulled away.

"Best way to calm someone down."

Cloud nodded numbly and bit back the new flood of tears that threatened to take over any moment. He fought them will all he had left; there was no way he would humiliate himself like this. He moved his hands to rub away the emerging drops, but Zack caught his wrists in a firm, yet gentle, grip.

"You can cry, Cloud."

The statement startled the blonde almost more than the kiss. Uncertainly, he peered at the SOLDIER to find Zack watching him with kind, perceptive eyes.

"Don't…isolate yourself," the SOLDIER continued. "I'll always be here, if you ever need to talk."

He smiled that bright smile of his and brushed a few golden strands away from the boy's face.

"I'm so sorry…" Cloud whispered.

"Shh…"

"No, I—I shouldn't have said all those things…"

"Don't worry about it."

Zack pulled him close, weaving his fingers through the blonde's soft hair. It was almost too much for Cloud. All those accusations, Zack was simply going to ignore them? He didn't deserve this comfort at all, yet the SOLDIER was offering so kindly… It was as though a large burden had been lifted, allowing his tears to fall, and he clung to Zack, burying his face in the other's chest. And with each sob that arose from his trembling body, Zack simply held him tighter.

They sat together for a while, a single form in the winter snow, until the boy's breathing had slowed to a calmer state. Cloud settled further into the embrace, resting his head against Zack's shoulder. Truly, it was so warm… He stifled a yawn as drowsiness gradually overtook him, pressing heavily against his eyelids. When sleep finally took its course, he thought he felt soft lips brush his forehead.

/Thank you./

---

SDAGTDFS. I should stick to art. Too bad I can't draw either. DX

Is "lay off" outdated? Either way, I refuse to make Cloud say "fuck". No, I can't write kissy scenes. Heck, it was supposed to be less angsty and more fluffy too. And yes, I like my commas.Though if you see any actual wrong comma use, please tell me (:

…Working on a Zack POV since it was hard trying not to incorporate his thoughts into this piece XD. And then I was thinking of adding Seph…and going all the way to Nibel…and maybe even past that. But! I suck at keeping projects alive. Who knows.

Story Word Count: 1433