Author's Note:

My preambles are never interesting. But please do review. Slighter lighter in nature compared to my previous fic. Please excuse the fluctuations in writing style. I'm down with a bout of terribly annoying fever and flu, and have yet to find out how to work the "leave of absence" option on my entirely French company website.

Disclaimer:

Characters do not belong to me, but to the folks who do, legally, own them. I'm just here expressing my complete and utter adoration for their glory.

Chapter One: Hello

It was Sunday.

He hated Sundays with a passion. They were those horrid days when being alone stung more than any other day. There were no training sessions and all the stores were closed.

He tapped impatiently at the buttons of the old game console in his hand, whizzing through the credits of the game he just finished. He spent a good week of sleepless nights getting to the end only to have the main character perish in a blaze of bullets.

What a waste of time.

He shoved the battered console into the drawer by his bunk with a dejected sigh, glancing about the empty barracks. He preferred the quiet of a Sunday afternoon to the crude jokes and slightly-too-loud laughs from the twenty or so other cadets that shared the cramped living space.

He hoisted himself off the thin mattress, slipping into his chunky combat boots and slinging his coat on. Then set off out of the room and into the thick blanket of snow outside. Days like these should be frozen solid then picked at slowly with a toothpick.

The crisp crunch of white below and fresh icy cool air filling his lungs did wonders to clear up the stagnant weariness built up in his head. The parade square was empty with most of the camp taking the day off. The cadet barracks were the furthest from the square, mostly to cause the maximum amount of panic when surprise drill sessions were called for in the wee hours of the night. He glanced back at his trail of tracks that snaked its way through the ankle-high snow, just screaming boredom with its lazy loops and arcs.

He sighed briskly and his stomach rumbled in hearty response. The mess hall was closed for the day, leaving him with the option to forego food for the day or trudge out into town a good hour's walk away. He decided with the former.

"You know, Cadets should be out on Christmas."

He froze in his step, spinning around and snapping to attention, hand springing to a salute. The tall man laughed and waved a hand to disperse the formality. His eyes scanned over his superior, immediately recognizing the jet black SOLDIER First Class uniform that stood out in stark contrast with the blindingly white snow. The other man stood coat-less in the snow, as if the subtle confidence in his eyes alone was keeping him warm, though the bright mako green glow in his eyes said different.

"At ease," he chuckled, folding his arms across his chest. "What are you doing here alone anyway?"

Cloud scuffed his boot on the ground uncomfortably, fumbling for an excuse aside from that he didn't have friends or family to spend the day with. He was not in the mood for any more prods at his ego.

A hand was shoved in front of him. "I'm Zack."

He looked hesitantly at the proffered hand with the caution one would reserve for large venomous reptiles. After several awkward moments, the hand persisted, prompting him to shake it with his own, if anything to get rid of it as soon as humanly possible.

"Cloud."

"That's quite a name," Zack smiled at the apprehensive cadet who was still teetering uncomfortably on the line between rigid formality and a decent conversation. "Watcha doing for Christmas then?"

"Nothing."

The raven haired man frowned slightly at the curt answer. "No one should have to spend today alone!" He announced suddenly, catching Cloud off-guard and stumbling three steps back at the outburst. "Want to come over to my apartment and watch some crappy films and drink cheap beer?"

Cloud blinked slowly, unaccustomed to the sudden show of friendship. The words eventually found him, slipping out through his barely parted lips in low mumbles. "Actually, I was going to the mess hall and-"

"The mess hall is closed today." the SOLDIER interjected abruptly. "You are coming with me to watch B-grade films and drink lousy beer. That's an order, cadet."

Zack wasn't joking.

The movie was terrible. From the gaping, mind-numbing plot holes to the copious amount of fake blood that seemed to explode from each zombie that crawled its way onto the screen. Cloud could have almost sworn he saw the microphone loom into view several times as well. The beer was no better, the words "raw sewage" floating into his mind with each mouthful that swished down his throat.

The credits had begun to snake their way up the screen when Zack excused himself to order whatever take out was still open on Christmas night. He plodded his way over to the telephone absurdly located in the other room, leaving Cloud free to snoop about the large apartment.

The young blonde watched cautiously from his uncomfortably upright position on the couch as Zack disappeared into another room, then letting out a tired sigh and letting himself sag into the ridiculously comfortable couch.

First class SOLDIER apartments were a far cry from the dingy barracks of the cadets. From the large sofas in the sprawling living room, to the brightly lit kitchen filled with... Cans of beer, chips and many stalks of celery. Cloud surveyed the expanse of the kitchen, briefly sticking his head into the nearly bare refrigerator with a dejected sigh at its lack of substantial contents.

"I got us pizza from some dubious sources," Zack said, entering the room with a slight frown at the cordless phone in his hand. Cloud blinked at him, softly shutting the freezer door, hoping the SOLDIER wouldn't notice. Zack grinned at the blonde cadet fidgeting warily in his kitchen. 4 hours of zombie films and a carton of Shinra issued beer was barely enough to get the young man to relax. His thoughts about how best to befriend him was taken over by brief musings about why he even bothered to begin with.

Perhaps because he knew what it was like to be alone.

He shook off the unwelcome memories creeping into the corners of his mind. Memories were best left at that.

--

The mess hall was filled with the sound of clinking utensils and clamors of a thousand conversations, none of which Cloud was a part of. He rolled his eyes at the raucous laughter that erupted next to him, diverting his undivided attention to the tasteless, watery stew in front of him. The scrumptious, cheese covered pizza from the night before already felt like a very distant memory that only edged further away with each dismal mouthful of blandness. A tired groan left his lips as he flung the spoon down, nudging the tray of unfinished food away from him. Mess hall food had a way of making you feel like giving up on digesting.

"You're not going to last very long in training if you don't eat that."

Cloud's eyes shot up as Zack flopped onto the bench opposite him, prompting the sudden movement of cadets in the immediate vicinity leaping to their feet in a hurried salute. The 1st Class SOLDIER seemed to completely not notice the tense group of young soldiers around him, instead taking to rooting around in his bag. The blonde watched him cautiously, painfully aware of the dozens of curious eyes turned their way, wishing silently that their Zack or he would melt into the ground.

The taller man remerged from the depths of his bag several moments later with a small box. The bright orange wrapped clung to it in desperation, adhered forcibly to the package with half a roll of tape and an impossible amount of tangled ribbon. He slid the box across the table to an ever more apprehensive Cloud, a large grin smudged across his face. Cloud peered at the box, not entirely sure what to do with it, or how to even begin opening it for that matter.

"Merry Christmas!" Zack announced gleefully, edging the younger man to rip open the gift. The blonde peeled open the dozens of wrapping layers slowly, eventually leading to a smooth leather box. His fingers slid deftly over the surface, flipping it open.

"A key?"

Cloud looked up at the ecstatic man across from him who was already rising from the bench amid the crowd which had already begun to gather around the table. Zack flashed him a bright smile.

"Locker 4532. 5pm. Be there."

And he melted into the sea of voices and uniforms.

TBC