Alright, boring author's notes and stuff. Well, this was written on my summer break, so I had a lot more time to go more in-depth and explain the characters more. I hope more people are happy with this than they were with the original. Surprisingly, I liked editing much more that actually writing the first chapter.
Did you know? When I first started this fic, I was in the middle of my school lunchroom. Since I don't eat school food since it made both me and my sister really sick, I had time and a note book. I had all these ideas and I packed them in as much as I could in as little space as I could (I didn't have much paper...). Only the first few chapters are from the notebook, and then I realized that the story wanted to go a different way than I had originally wrote it.
Pairings: Eventual SephxZackxCloud, Eventual TsengxReno, Eventual SephxGenxAngxZackxCloud, Eventual TsengxRufusxReno
Warnings: Nothing for this chapter.
"Cloud Strife!" A voice cut through the buzz of the cadet barracks. The cadets were talking about their latest training routine. Cloud, a soft looking cadet, looked up curiously, moving his feet to the floor from his bed. He saw one of his training masters standing at the doorway and he fought the urge to cry.
On unsteady legs, he stood and managed to walk over. All around him, he heard murmurs about his fate. Most of the cadets that hadn't already been called were betting that he would just be kicked out, betting that no SOLDIER would want to take care of him.
Without a word, the training master turned and led Cloud to a senior professor's office on a higher level of the teaching wing. The training master opened the door and gestured for Cloud to go inside, giving him a small encouraging smile. Cloud nervously licked his lips, not even bothering to try to smile, and took a seat in the waiting room.
Though there had been no official announcement, he knew what was going on. It paid to listen to the rumors around Shinra.
Lazard had implemented a new training concept for the cadets in Cloud's year. Each cadet was to be turned over to the care of a seasoned, veteran SOLDIER. In an indeterminate amount of time, the cadets would all be assessed to judge how effective the program was. If all went well, then it would become the official procedure.
Cloud nervously scuffed the floor with his boots, burying the bottom half of his face in the collar of his uniform. He knew that no reasonable SOLDIER would want him. He was weak willed and had little to no upper body strength. With soft yellow spikes that never stayed where they should and soft blue eyes, he did not look like how a SOLDIER should.
It didn't seem to help that he had no confidence in himself. The teachers and the other cadets alike noticed this flaw and exploited it mercilessly.
The only person that didn't seem to hate the shy teen was, ironically, a SOLDIER First Class. He was the second strongest SOLDIER currently with Shinra. He was only surpassed by General Sephiroth.
Cloud's best friend, Zachary Fair, was Sephiroth's Second in Command. He had single handedly shattered every notion Cloud had about SOLDIERs. He had believed them to be a lot like gods. Untouchable and unachievable.
Then came Zack.
Zack was Cloud's hope. If this man (who cut up his paperwork and used it for confetti and that was prone to prank Shinra officials, then later run for his life through the halls) could be SOLDIER First Class, then perhaps Cloud could at least make it into SOLDIER.
Actually, Cloud entertained the idea of Zack being his SOLDIER mentor. But Zack had told him that when he asked Lazard to become a mentor, he was laughed at. Then the man kindly explained that Zack himself should have a mentor and they did not need him training another psychopathic, high on life SOLDIER to roam the halls, leaving destruction in his wake.
The sound of the hall door creaking open broke Cloud's silent musings.
Sephiroth, SOLDIER First Class, General of Shinra's army, walked through the door, directed by the same training master that had collected Cloud.
Cloud very nearly fainted. Sephiroth... THE Sephiroth was supposed to be HIS mentor? The gods were cruel, he decided right then. Not only was he going to get kicked out, he was going to be kicked out by the most famous man in the world.
Sephiroth, unaware of the silent emotionally pain the cadet was going through, glanced at the blonde. He, like Cloud, knew why he was called here. Several weeks ago, Lazard had come to him and asking if he would participate, claiming it would encourage more SOLDIERs to sign up to be mentors.
He wasn't going to at first, but when his Second in Command listlessly roamed his office sighing heartbrokenly for an entire day, he agreed. And when he told Zack that he would, he was assured that he didn't need to call the man, he was already on the list.
Sephiroth took the seat on the other side of the room, gazing curiously at the cadet he would be training until Lazard judged they had been given enough time to show results. He couldn't see much beyond the shockingly bright blond spikes and the standard cadet uniform.
Sephiroth was socially inept, but Zack had been teaching him more and more about the things know as emotions that he was supposedly not supposed to possess. From his limited experiences, he judged the boy to be upset and embarrassed. He was quite proud that he could discern this, but he had no notion of how to remedy it. He could only sit and watch the cadet squeeze more and more in on himself.
The sound of the door being thrown open brought the cadet's head up. It was turned to the door, but Sephiroth was able to get a look at his face as he, too, turned to the door.
"Hello-o!" Zachary Fair sang out, casually marching in. Cloud's mouth twitched in an almost smile.
Zack prided himself on knowing what Sephiroth was doing at all times. He felt it was his duty as the man's Second in Command. He also felt it was the only part of his job he did well. So that drove him to run frantically across the entire compound to the wrong office, only to discover the office he should be at was on the floor above the office he had started out in.
He made it.
Zack gave Cloud a thumbs up.
"I was right," Zack stated solemnly.
Cloud tilted his head in confusion.
Zack turned to the door, ignoring the cadet for now. "RENO! SPIKEY IS BEING PAIRED WITH SEPH!" he screamed, waving his hand frantically.
The red head strolled in as Cloud's strained nerves snapped.
Slamming both boots on the floor as hard as he could, he stood and snarled at them. "Zachary Fair, you have no room to talk about my hair! Look at yours!"
Zack looked up at the spike that fell across his face. He tugged on it absently. "Huh. I guess your right."
Cloud sighed and fell back into his seat, not noticing the curiously interested expression on Sephiroth's face.
Zack spun around, deciding to ignore Cloud's existence in favor of talking at Sephiroth with a speed not even a mako enhanced SOLDIER could keep up with.
"Sephiroth, you're a really scary guy, but try not to scare Cloudy too much. He's scared of everything as is. I think you might kill him of fright. You should go easy on the poor little spike head. I bet he even graduated from human shield status!" Zack rambled.
Sephiroth politely waited for Zack to finish, then asked just as politely: "Come again?"
"Oh! That guy is Cloud Strife. He's shy and has no self confidence. He has skill, even though he doesn't think so. Be nice to the guy?"
The silver haired man nodded thoughtfully. "Of course. He is a friend of yours?"
"Yeah. He's great once he gets comfortable with you."
While the SOLDIERs conversed, Reno wandered over and sat next to the ignored blonde. "Hello there, Semi Human Chocobo!" he said cheerfully.
Cloud turned his head to look at the man, face blank.
"I've been wondering something. Your human, but chocobo. So which of your parents was the chocobo? Oh! Look at this, you poor chocobo! Your feathers are all ruffled!" Reno exclaimed, drawing the attention of the SOLDIERs.
They watched as Cloud's frayed nerves snapped while Reno made a show of trying to straighten the mess spikes.
Cloud pushed himself over on the bench, allowing himself room to pull his leg up and propel the Turk off the bench with a booted foot.
Cloud stood and looked down on the man. "There isn't anything holy in the world that pertains to you, so STOP SAYING IT," Cloud growled.
Zack marched over. "Reno, shame on you! The chocobo's stole Cloud's look, not the other way around. And Cloud, you shouldn't stand up, your not very threatening."
Cloud looked up with a blank expression at the First Class. Zack nervously wondered if he was going to get kicked too. They stared at each other for a moment before the office door opened. All eyes went to the man standing in the doorway.
He was clearly getting along in his years, but he didn't seem to care. His face seemed stuck in a permanent scowl. Just seeing the look on the man's face made Cloud shrink in on himself with a wince.
"Will you keep quiet, Strife? It's bad enough that you are a bad student, but now you want to disturb everyone else? Quiet!" the man's voice was nasally and cutting and Zack hated it immediately.
The man turned to Sephiroth and gave him a nod. "I'm ready for you, General, please come in."
As Sephiroth breezed passed the man and in to the office, the teacher gave Cloud a scrutinizing, completely not innocent look that only Zack and Reno caught. Both men identified the foremost emotion in the man's eyes to be lust.
As the door closed, the man spoke to Sephiroth in a purposely loud voice. "I'm so sorry that you had to be stuck with him, sir."
Cloud sank back onto the bench, the blank expression back. Zack and Reno shared a hopeless look before sitting down on either side of him. They could tell the young man was ashamed.
Zack awkwardly patted Cloud's shoulder.
"That old prune is so uptight you could stick coal up his-"
"Zack, it's fine," Cloud said in a soft voice. "He's a good teacher."
The men both watched as the cadet gripped the bench beneath him and his knuckles turned white.
Zack, left with no option, hugged the blonde. "Awww! Don't worry, Spike! I'll make sure that Sephiroth is fair to you, unlike these stupid teachers. Who needs them? Really!"
Reno pushed his luck and kissed Cloud's hand. He was a recent friend and didn't know his limits with the cadet, but he sensed that he wouldn't be hit. Zack gave him a look that screamed: "CAREFUL." Cloud smiled sadly.
When the office door creaked open they withdrew their physical support, not wanting to give the man even more reason to scold Cloud. Nevertheless, he scowled at the young cadet.
"Come in here, boy," he barked at the blonde.
Cloud immediately shot to his feet. "Yes sir," he said a little breathlessly. The man turned and returned to his office while Cloud took a moment to compose himself and smooth his spikes.
Zack chuckled hopelessly and Reno smiled weakly. They both knew that the next few moments could make or break Cloud, and given Cloud's painfully shy and unconfident nature, the most likely scenario would be one that left the poor boy in tears.
Zack knew Sephiroth would be fair to the cadet, but he was intimidating and scary under the best of circumstances and to the most confident people. He could only hope that Cloud could hold on until Zack himself could begin smoothing things between the two.
Cloud's eyes held nothing but raw panic. He had a long, long history of teachers yelling at him and singling him out for their wrath. He was positive the cold General would be no different. Why should a great man like Sephiroth train someone with no talent and no strength?
Reno watched with rising frustration as Cloud slowly began to walk into the office. He couldn't see how anyone could dislike the sweet tempered blonde. If given the choice, Cloud would prefer to calmly talk things over than fight, but that didn't mean he couldn't. In the short amount of time the red head knew Cloud, he had never seen Cloud do anything wrong. The cadet worked harder than anyone else in his group and yet he was always the one to be screamed at by the training masters. It was amazing Cloud ever trusted anyone after the verbal abuse he endured before Zack met him.
But though they wanted to help him, Cloud had to go into the office with two people he greatly feared, all alone.
After entering and shutting the door behind him, the older man ordered him to sit, complaining loudly about how long it took Cloud to get in the office.
Cloud sat in an overly plush chair, noting in his mind that the entire office was so overly extravagant that it seemed funny that a lowly training master occupied it. Someone's overcompensating for something, Cloud thought wryly.
He tugged nervously at the collar of his uniform, once again hiding half his face in it. "You wanted to see me, sir?"
If possible, the scowl deepened. "Of course I did, Strife. You know why you're here." The man shuffled some papers around on his desk before carelessly throwing a folder at the shy cadet, who frantically grabbed at it, almost letting it fall.
"General Sephiroth, being a kind man with the patience of a saint, has agreed to be your SOLDIER mentor. I have already assured him that you will cause all manner of problems, but he has agreed to make the attempt. That folder contains your schedule."
Sephiroth noted the scared look on the cadet's face and was at a loss of what to do to ease the terror. He stood and gave the man a patient look. "If that is all...?"
The training master scrambled to his feet, but Sephiroth had already turned his back to the man. He nodded to Cloud. "Let us be off, then."
Cloud stood quickly, throwing a quick salute at his training master. He turned to Sephiroth uttering a soft, "Yes, sir."
Sephiroth made a mental note to socialize the boy more. He didn't want the poor cadet ending up socially retarded like himself.
Sephiroth nodded and opened the door, swiftly exiting. Cloud followed at a slower, clumsier pace.
"Speak up!" the training master said sharply.
Cloud chose that moment, halfway out the doorway, to loose his shyness and grow a smart mouth.
"You tell me to shut up, then you tell me to speak up, which is it?" he muttered.
Zack and Reno snorted as Sephiroth permitted himself an indulgent smile. Cloud was yanked back in the office by his training master, whose face was twisted with rage.
Zack's smile vanished. "Go after him, Seph!"
Sephiroth was already striding to the now closed door. It was against Shinra protocol for a training master to physically injure one of the cadets in their care. Even putting their hands on cadets was forbidden.
He had expected to find the man yelling at the cadet. The sight that met Sephiroth's eyes was worse than he thought.
Instead he found the man pushing the blonde down onto one of the plush couches, shoving his mouth to cover the startled cadet's own and beginning to lay his weight on top of the slim body. There was a dagger in the man's free hand, resting uncomfortably close to an artery in Cloud's neck.
Sephiroth was towering over them in an instant, listening for sounds that Zack pursued him. He heard rabid growling from the waiting room, letting him know the Turk was restraining the SOLDIER First Class.
"Let Zack go," he commanded. The training master, surprised, jumped, pushing the sharp edge into the pale, sensitive skin beneath it. Cloud closed his eyes in what Sephiroth imagined to be pain, and held very still, aware how close his life was coming to ending.
Sephiroth grabbed the man's hands in an iron grip, slowly pulling the blade from the skin, allowing blood to begin to slowly trickle from the wound. Once the weapon was free of the marred flesh, the man was thrown across the room and into a bookshelf. The noise seemed to startle Cloud into breathing again.
Sephiroth glanced at the cadet for a moment, taking in the wide, tearing up eyes and the startled little pants issuing from the boy's mouth. Realizing he was being watched, Cloud pulled his legs into his chest and lowered his eyes to the floor.
When Zack finally charged into the room, Sephiroth caught his eye before he could go to the training master.
"Fair, tend to your friend here," he ordered. Zack nodded and went to Cloud's side. With gentle fingers he pulled Cloud's hands away from the wound and examined it, uttering soft encouragements. Sephiroth observed the pair for a moment, noting how Cloud's eyes dried up and how he answered all the questions Zack was asking him about if this had happened before.
Turning his attention to the training master, Sephiroth strode over. The man was struggling to his feet. The general put an end to that with one booted foot resting on his back.
"Are you proud of yourself?" the General snarled down at the man beneath his foot. He increased the pressure. "Putting so much as one hand on a cadet is forbidden. What you were no doubt attempting is illegal. Now stop trying to resist arrest and wait quietly to be arrested."
In the waiting room, Reno had called for some lower ranking SOLDIERs to come and do just as Sephiroth had said they would. When they arrived, Reno directed them into the office and Sephiroth waved them over. He took his boot off the man when they safely had the handcuffs on him.
Then Sephiroth turned his attention to the cadet that was now in his care. He walked silently over to them, missing his Second in Commands question, but Cloud tried to flinch away and turn his head. Zack carefully kept the cadet's head still.
"Zack, I'm not lying, something like this hasn't happened before. I would have said something to you if it was happened any other time," Cloud said softly. His eyes closed partway and the General had to strain to hear the next words. "Before they only hit me..."
Sephiroth silently urged Zack to sit on the couch rather than on the floor in front of Cloud. Then he took the SOLDIER's spot.
"Cadet?" Sephiroth asked.
Cloud's blue eyes fluttered over to the General in slight surprise, then turned to the floor in shame.
"Cadet," Sephiroth said firmly. "Look at me. That's an order." When Cloud looked at him, he continued.
"Cadet, as long as your in my care, there will be no violence to you. None," he stressed. "If anyone of any rank attempts to exhibit violence towards you, you will tell me. I will take care of it. That's an order."
Zack finished bandaging the pale throat and he beamed at his friend. "See, Spike? Seph is really nice under all those social handicaps! He's a little slow on the uptake, but nice!"
Cloud looked at his friend with wide eyes, not believing that Zack would insult Sephiroth to his face. Zack smiled wider at the sight of Cloud's disbelieving eyes.
"Seph will be good, and if he isn't, I will be very not happy with him. But I'm sure he will. Especially now that you're his puppy!"