A Different Final Fantasy VII

By Light-Eco-Sage

Rated: Mature for language, violence, romance (ZackxAerith and CloudxTifa), but mostly safety, cause I don't know how far the romance will go yet… LOL! May be rated for sexuality later on…

Summary: If I were in charge of Final Fantasy VII's storyline (which I'm not), friendship would be stronger than mommy-issues. Pre-Nibelheim through FFVII.

Disclaimer: Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy VII are owned by the amazing people at SquareEnix, who remain one of the best game-makers in the world. Hearts to everyone who made Final Fantasy VII what it is!

LES: All of Pre-Nibelheim will be a mixture of what was revealed in the original Final Fantasy VII, and what was revealed in Crisis Core. But mostly Crisis Core, because Zack's experience in Nibelheim is much more detailed than Cloud's story. Also will be adding a few made-up details, which I hope aren't too… non-canon. Go a little easy in the reviews: this is my first full-sized Final Fantasy VII story.

Chapter I: Nibelheim

The small transport bounced down the road, which was okay for everyone in the Shinra truck, except one.

Cloud, the young infantryman, was leaning against the inside of the truck. He had his helmet off in case he got violently sick; which could happen at any moment judging by how loudly he was groaning.

A young man sat across the way, watching the groaning man with some amusement in his sky-blue eyes. He was a handsome young man with black spiky hair and a thin cross-shaped scar on his left cheek. Zack Fair, who was slightly older than Cloud, was already a member of the elite SOLDIER First-Class. He laughed at his friend. "Hey, Cloud, when you get sick, just make sure you do it out the window." He said.

Cloud glanced around at Zack with a weak smile. And then he visibly retched, glanced at the other SOLDIER First-Class in the truck, and returned to clutching the wall for support.

The other SOLDIER sighed. "What's wrong with him?" The SOLDIER was, in fact, the Great Hero Sephiroth. Sephiroth was probably the most well-known SOLDIER. He was a War-Hero from the Wutai war, and had literally become the face of Shinra. And a face it was… he had waist-length silver hair that seemed to defy all hair-related physics. He had green eyes that seemed to glow. In fact, they were glowing… glowing with Mako energy. It was a trademark of SOLDIER operatives. Zack's eyes also glowed, but blue.

"Ah, go easy on him, Seph." Zack laughed. "He's just embarrassed he's got motion sickness in front of the Great Hero, Sephiroth!"

"Hmph!" Sephiroth snorted. "Great Hero, indeed. A great hero who couldn't even save his friends."

"Seph…" Zack sighed. "Genesis and Angeal made their choice."

"Yes… you're right, Zack." Sephiroth sighed once again. "There was nothing… anyone could have done."

The group fell silent, except for Cloud's groans of discomfort. Zack began to drum his fingers on his knee.

Sephiroth smirked a little at seeing this. "The Return of Zack the Puppy."

"Hey! Don't call me that, or I'll call you Sephy!" Zack shot back.

Sephiroth gave Zack a playful look. The look might have been playful in nature, but it still sent the message 'call me that again, and you'll die.' "Infantryman, can you listen to me?" He asked Cloud, who now looked a little green.

Cloud wordlessly nodded, afraid to open his mouth under any circumstances.

"Very good, then. As you know, our assignment is to investigate the Mako Reactor on Mt. Nibel. A malfunction, most likely a Mako leak, has caused monsters in the area to rampage. We are to investigate the Reactor, fix the problem, and destroy the extra monsters in the area." Sephiroth glanced at Zack. "Zack, you take it from here. I'll go see how far to Nibelheim." With that, Sephiroth moved to the front of the truck with the driver.

Zack sighed. "So, here's how we'll break it down. You." He pointed at the still-helmeted infantryman. "You'll guard the entrance of the village while we go up to the Reactor." The infantryman saluted. "Cloud…" He glanced at his friend. "Since you're a local, you'll come with us to the Mako Reactor."

Cloud shook his head. "I don't know the way that well." He groaned.

"No worries. Seph hired us a guide to the Reactor. Girl by the name of Tifa." Zack said.

Cloud looked around suddenly. "Tifa?!" He gasped, shocked.

"Yeah. You know her?" Zack asked.

Cloud blushed slightly. "Yeah. A little bit."

"Oh!" Zack gasped. He couldn't resist this opening to tease the young blonde. "Childhood crush, huh?"

"No! It's not like…" Cloud trailed off, turning dangerously green.

"The window!" Zack spat, recognizing the coming sickness. Cloud quickly opened up a window and vomited along the side of the room. "So… a little anxious to see your Tifa?" Cloud didn't answer Zack's question, since he was a little busy empting his stomach on the side of the road. "Hey, don't answer. It's nothing to be ashamed of. I've got a girl myself back in Midgar waiting for me…"

Zack's rant was cut short by Sephiroth reentering and reclaiming his seat. "An hour until Nibelheim. At least then we'll be free from witnessing the unpleasant sight of your friend's motion sickness."

"Okay…" Zack laughed, trying to turn the attention away from Cloud for his friend's sake. "Is everyone clear on their orders?"

"Yes, sir!" The helmeted infantryman said swiftly. Cloud managed a weak thumbs up.

"Don't worry, Cloud. Once we get to Nibelheim, I'm sure your mommy will be about to make you all better." Zack laughed. Even Sephiroth smirked in amusement at Zack's comment.

Cloud slid to the floor with his head on his knees to help with his nausea. "Shut up, Zack." He managed to say.

Zack did shut up about Cloud seeing his mother, but he was a little envious of the blonde. He may have joked about Cloud seeing his mother in Nibelheim, but Zack secretly would have loved to get assigned to the Reactor in Gongaga. Had it really been five years since he last saw his own parents?

He had been so eager to leave home and join the ranks of Shinra's SOLDIER that he didn't realize how much he would honestly miss his parents.

Oh well… maybe after we get done in Nibelheim, I could ask Sephiroth if I could make a quick detour to Gongaga. Zack thought to himself. Content with this thought, Zack settled back with his eyes closed to enjoy the rest of the ride.

An hour later, the Shinra truck stopped on the outskirts of Nibelheim. As the truck stopped, the back door opened and Cloud was the first one out. He rushed to some bushes and lost the rest of his breakfast.

Zack was close behind. "Man, Cloud, you are going to be one happy camper when they come up with a cure for motion sickness."

The second Shinra trooper and Sephiroth came out next. "We wait until he's done." Sephiroth said. "It's bad for Shinra's image to enter Nibelheim like this."

After several seconds, Cloud straightened up. "I'm better." He said. "I'm just glad to be out of that truck."

"Good. We can't let ourselves become distracted from the mission." Sephiroth paused. "Cloud, right? You're from Nibelheim?"

"Yes, sir." Cloud answered.

"So, how does it feel… coming home after all these years?" Sephiroth asked, but Cloud didn't answer. "You see, I wouldn't know. I don't remember my hometown."

"What about your parents?" Zack asked. "You have to remember them."

Sephiroth sighed. "My mother's name was Jenova. She died shortly after she gave birth to me. And my father… well, my father…" He didn't finish his sentence, but laughed in an embarrassed sort of way. "Why am I even talking about this?"

With that, they took off towards the town of Nibelheim. Sephiroth out in front, followed by Cloud and the other infantryman, with Zack bringing up the rear.

Nibelheim came into view. Like most villages outside of Midgar, Nibelheim was very small with perhaps only a few hundred residents. Mako Reactors were always built around cities with few residents. This was because if something went wrong, casualties would be at a minimum.

A young girl stood at the entrance of Nibelheim. She had her back turned to them, revealing long black hair and an outfit that made it seem like she had walked out of an old western movie.

Cloud stopped in his tracks, and then turned around and put his helmet on. Once his face was hidden, he resumed his walk towards Nibelheim. Zack caught up with him. "I'm sensing some issues here." Cloud didn't answer.

Sephiroth moved towards the girl. "Are you Tifa Lockhart, our guide?" He asked.

The girl looked around and smiled brightly. "Yes, I am. General Sephiroth, right?" Sephiroth nodded. "Welcome to Nibelheim."

Zack studied her up and down. If she was, as he suspected, Cloud's childhood crush, he certainly knew how to pick em. Tifa had deep brown eyes 

that were at once playful and reserved. She was built like a fighter, the type of girl who would kick a guy in the crotch if he got too forward for her liking. And, to top it off, she had a great rack!

Zack quickly stopped the thought. Old habits die hard. Number one: he already had a girl. Number two: he didn't need to go stealing girls from his friends. Self-proclaimed womanizer or not, he would not stoop so low.

Zack glanced at Cloud, but it was impossible to tell what he was thinking because of the Shinra army mask. But his body language spoke of an inner conflict.

Zack abruptly returned his attention to the conversation at hand when Sephiroth mentioned his name as an introduction.

"… and this is my fellow SOLDIER First-Class, Zack Fair." Sephiroth said, gesturing in Zack's direction.

"Nice to meet you, Tifa." Zack moved forward and shook her hand.

She stared at him, curious. "First-Class, huh?" She asked, turning her attention back to Sephiroth. "Are we in trouble here? What with Shinra sending two First-Class SOLDIERs?"

"It's just a precaution." Sephiroth said. "The Reactor on Mt. Nibel is the most productive Mako Reactor outside of Midgar."

"Well… if you're looking to go to the Reactor, you hired the right person." Tifa said proudly. "No one knows the mountain better than me!"

"Good. But we won't have to leave until tomorrow." Sephiroth said, beginning to head toward the inn. "Oh." He turned back to the group. "If you wish, you have permission to… mingle with the locals."

So… Sephiroth senses the issues too. Zack thought to himself. Cloud, never-the-less, gave a quick salute to the general with is infantryman companion.

Zack began to follow Sephiroth. "There's no need for all of us to keep watch at once. You." He pointed to the other infantryman. "First watch."

"Yes, sir." The infantryman saluted.

"Uh…" Tifa began, approaching him. "Zack, right?"

"Yes. Do you want something?" Zack looked around at her.

"Um… are there a lot of people in SOLDIER First-Class?" She asked.

"No. First-Class is a small, elite group." Zack said.

"Oh… do you know someone in SOLDIER named…" Tifa trailed off awkwardly. "Never mind… it's not important." With that, she walked away.

Zack stared at her retreating back, confused. "That was weird." He breathed to himself. He noticed as Cloud entered the inn, and he quickly followed him.

The inn-keeper looked up from his desk. "Shinra, right? Shinra's completely booked out the inn; use any room you'd like."

Zack thanked the inn-keeper and moved up the stairs to the second floor where the rooms where.

He ran into Sephiroth on the landing. The SOLDIER general stood at the window, staring out at the landscape. "Seph, what's up?" Zack asked, moving over to him.

Sephiroth sighed. "It's just… this landscape… I know I've seen it before." He trailed off, and then moved on to a different subject. "That infantryman, Cloud, already took room four. Take your pick from the rest."

"What about you?" Zack asked.

"I'll sleep later." Sephiroth said. "I'll take the second watch."

Zack nodded. He motioned that he was claiming room two. Sephiroth nodded, and then turned back to the window.

But, instead of going into room two, he went into room four. Cloud had his helmet off now, and was sitting on the bed, staring forlornly out the window. "So, Cloud…" Zack began and Cloud looked up. "What's with you and Tifa? I've never seen you so shy… not even around Sephiroth."

Cloud sighed. "I can't face her."

"What's wrong? Acted a little too forward last time you saw her?"

Cloud shook his head. "Nothing like that. Tifa's family is the richest in Nibelheim. And… after my father died… my mother and I just had enough to live on. She didn't pay me much attention as children, but still… she fascinated me. The only real conversation that I ever had with her happened before I left for Midgar." Cloud trailed off.

"Yeah?" Zack urged him to continue.

"I guess it was a last-ditch effort to get her to notice me." Cloud said. "I told her about my plans to go to Midgar. I told her that I was going to join SOLDIER and become a hero, just like Sephiroth. Then she made me promise…" Cloud paused again. "I promised her that if I made First-Class, and she ever got in trouble, I would save her."

Zack laughed. "Nothing like the old damsel-in-distress act for winning fair lady's heart."

"But… I'm not in SOLDIER, and I'm definitely not First-Class." Cloud sighed. "I'm a lowly infantryman." He gestured towards his uniform, a mark of his very low rank in the Shinra army. "I can't face her like this."

"Hey, cheer up, Chocobo Head." Zack laughed when Cloud glared at him. "You don't need to be in SOLDIER to impress the ladies!"

"Easy for you to say, Zack." Cloud snorted. "You are SOLDIER First-Class."

"And my girl probably wouldn't give a damn if I were in SOLDIER or not." Zack said.

Cloud smirked. "You talk about this girl a lot, but I've yet to hear anything about her."

Zack grinned back. "Okay, cause I'm not ashamed of my feelings. Her name's Aerith and she's a flower girl down in the slums."

"A flower girl?" Cloud repeated, trying to repress a snort of laughter.

"Laugh all you want, buddy. If you saw her, you'd be singing a different tune." Zack said.

"That beautiful?" Cloud asked.

"That beautiful." Zack confirmed. "She's on the modest side. Normally… that would be a bit of a turn-off, but Aerith… she's worth working for."

Cloud laughed. "I didn't know you were quite so poetic!"

Zack grinned and playfully shoved Cloud's shoulder. "Better get some shut-eye. You're getting the third watch, if you don't mind, Lover-boy."

"Lover-boy!" Cloud protested indignantly. That was even worse than 'Chocobo Head'! At least that one was a little true! Zack ignored Cloud's protest and walked out.

LES: I don't know how often I can stress that I don't like Yaoi. That means that there will be no ZackxCloud, ZackxSephiroth, or CloudxSephiroth. Why? Cause I'm a fan of manly friendships. Just guys having fun. That's the best. You hear me?! Man-friendship only! If you absolutely hate the notion of these characters NOT loving each other, this is your chance to click off this story and not read it. You have been warned.