Zack hummed to himself mindlessly, flipping through the racks of magazines at the checkout counter. Angeal gave him a tired look. Zack stopped and quieted. Angeal was always tired these days. He didn't blame him. All of his SOLDIER boys were.
"What's for dinner?" Zack asked, reaching up to play with Angeal's hair.
"Probably just stew. You know I can't cook anything more than that."
"I miss Cloud," Zack mumbled. "His cooking was always the best."
"I know, Zack," Angeal said gently, handing some of the plastic bags to his lover. They exited the store silently, Zack still depressed over the lack of Cloud in his life. Seeing his preoccupation, Angeal reclaimed the bags.
"I'm sorry, 'Geal, it's just... I really miss him..."
Neither of them heard the pounding feet on the pavement, but they did hear the familiar laugh as a blonde threw himself on Zack's back and latched on comfortably.
"Zack! Don't talk like I'm dead, I'm just busy!" Cloud laughed, tossing his head back and settling into his new spot. Zack held his legs in place, beaming up at him. "What would you do if I got sent on a mission one day?"
"Go with you, Mr. SOLDIER-select," Zack teased. "After all, you aren't SOLDIER yet!"
Those assessments were a month gone by now and it still felt surreal to Cloud. He and Seth fought their way out of a jungle much like the ones at Gongaga and they won out against the opposing pair. Luckily, Cloud came out with nothing more than a few cuts and bruises. Only one of which needed stitches. Seth, unluckily, was clipped by a stray Fire cast and rushed away as soon as they proved victorious.
After that, Cloud discovered that a lot of work went into being selected by SOLDIER. He wasn't a proper SOLDIER yet as he had to take half a dozen combat courses and the like. Not to mention there was a limited number of spots a year and the free spots had been taken by the cadets that took the SOLDIER exams. Cloud was just waiting for next year so he could be a fully fledged SOLDIER Third Class.
"Oh, forget you," Cloud complained. "I'm close enough. This is just legality, I know it. Anyway, what's up Angeal?"
"Hello, Cloud," Angeal greeted, humor evident in his voice. Cloud smiled back, wrapping his arms tighter around Zack's neck as they began walking again. "Aren't you supposed to be off... being busy?"
Angeal, in all honesty, had no idea what Cloud did most days.
Cloud sighed and came dangerously to the pout that could drive a full battalion of SOLDIERs to the battlefield. Well, four very prestigious SOLDIERs to a fight. Same thing. "I was gonna be busy, but Reno cancelled on me. Had to train up the newbies."
"Oh, what were you gonna do?" Zack asked, looking up at him again.
"Learn to pilot a helicopter!" Cloud cheered. "Reno said we could take it to Kalm."
Zack and Angeal traded looks at that, preferring not to remind Cloud of his debilitating motion sickness. Zack trusted Reno and Angeal trusted Zack's judgment enough to trust Reno as well.
"Oh, I want to go visit the hospital later today. Seth's getting out," Cloud blurted out. "Doctor's say his burns are as healed as they're gonna get. He didn't get SOLDIER-selected, did he?"
Cloud asked because he knew the two had memorized every name on the roster. After all, they had been the one's to put it together.
"You haven't heard?" Zack asked, for once keeping his eyes on the street. "He got snatched up by the Turks. Reno probably was gonna train him today."
"What?" Cloud exclaimed. "No fair! I wanna see him first!"
"Tough luck," Angeal said kindly. "Turks got first dibs on the cadets."
"Except you," Zack added. "They know better than to poach you."
Cloud continued to grumble as the two SOLDIERs shared amused looks. He pretended not to see. "That's no fair," he whined. "That means he'll learn to pilot the helicopter before I do!"
"Cloud, I hate to burst your bubble, but you probably couldn't anyway," Angeal tried to tell him tactfully. "Your motion sickness-"
"I could do it!" Cloud huffed. "Don't underestimate me!"
"Okay Cloud," Zack soothed. "We won't."
Walking in with Cloud was always a treat ever since he became such a hot commodity. All attention flashed to him in seconds and Sephiroth and Genesis didn't disappoint. They each greeted their younger lovers and, to the amusement of Cloud and Zack, greeted Angeal in much the same way.
As Genesis and Angeal kissed, Zack and Cloud wolf whistled from their safe place in Sephiroth's arms. They were promptly shushed as if they were misbehaving school children.
"This is nice," Sephiroth hummed, arms still encircling the two young men. "It's rare these days that we get an evening to ourselves. To whom do we owe this pleasure?"
"Reno," Cloud sighed. "He ditched out on me. I was gonna pilot the helicopters."
"I'm sure you would have been excellent at it," Sephiroth said gracefully, not missing a beat. "Will you be gracing us with your cooking?"
"Of course! I can't let you starve after all," Cloud laughed. He slipped out of Sephiroth's hold and took the groceries from Angeal to the kitchen. Zack perked up immediately and followed, Genesis hot on his heels.
Angeal and Sephiroth gave eachother a fondly amused glance before following.
"So they were talking about taking me to Junon for more formal training," Cloud casually said as he placed plates in front of his lovers.
"Why would you need to go to Junon?" Angeal asked after a pause.
"All SOLDIERs start out at Junon. Didn't you, Zack?"
"Yeah," Zack confirmed. "Once you pass the test at either Midgar or Junon, you complete your SOLDIER training and stuff at Junon. Once you're a SOLDIER you're given the chance to pick where you're stationed."
"So Cloud will be gone for a year?" Sephiroth demanded.
"I dunno, maybe," Zack shrugged. "I only had to do it for a few months. That's where I met Angeal, remember?"
"Yes. That's why you were at Junon?" Angeal asked, shaking his head. "I always wondered why you were there. None of us had to do it."
"More importantly," Genesis butted in, "When is Cloud leaving and when is he coming back?"
"I'm not sure. Some of the basic stuff I can do here. The... medical stuff can be done here, in any case. I probably wouldn't be gone too long," Cloud thought aloud.
All of them made a face at the mention of any 'medical stuff' being done to Cloud.
They were startled out of their thoughts by the ringing of a doorbell. Angeal stood.
"I'll get it."
He left the kitchen only to return shortly with the blonde heir to the company. He nodded to them and they all acknowledged him in some way.
"Rufus, to what do we owe this pleasure?" Sephiroth greeted.
"I'm sorry for coming so late, but my business is urgent and I've been entirely too busy," Rufus excused himself, taking the seat that Cloud offered. "I'm glad to see you all here though. It was my understanding you all don't have much time for eachother lately."
"Yeah," Zack sighed. "Tonight's Cloud's first night off. Exciting."
"I see. I'm sorry for intruding then," he apologized. "But I really could not have put this off. I will get right to it.
"We're all living in a rather precarious time. This company is divided. My father has grown weak in his power. He bows his head to those such as Hojo and Heidegger. Some people think I should take the title of President early."
The table was silent, all thinking. Sephiroth was the first to speak, "And this concerns us... why?"
"Each person will need to decide where to stand. There will be neutral parties, of course, but they will only be those that can't see the schism. I've already talked to Tseng and he's agreed to back me."
"What changes would you make if we helped you to the throne?" Zack demanded. "We won't blindly follow."
"Hojo needs to go. The SOLDIER program will continue. Whether or not it continues with those entering blind to the consequences isn't set in stone. Are there any terms that would ensure your cooperation?"
"Have you talked to Vincent?" Cloud asked. The others looked at him warily, still unsure what to think about Cloud's kidnapping by the strange man. "You should talk to him."
"I will," Rufus told the blonde. "It's not wise to ignore an anomaly like him. My father wants to throw him in the nearest dungeon and be done with it."
"Rufus, there are a lot of people suffering because of Shinra," Angeal said grimly. "The people under the plate, the oppressed people of Wutai, even the Planet is being drained. You can't be the saint you'll need to be when all that is happening."
"What do you propose I do?" Rufus asked, face not betraying any emotion.
"Probably look into changing the family business," Genesis said carelessly. "I'll support you for now, but we'll talk."
"Same for the rest of us," Zack agreed. "We'll talk."
Rufus inclined his head. "Thank you. There is one more favor I need to ask of you. I'll need an... agent of sorts. I can't go places without causing a fuss and I need Tseng here. He isn't sure of any loyalties within his group other than Reno and... Well, Reno and I have a rather difficult past."
"You're asking us to do what exactly...?" Sephiroth asked. "All of us would cause a fuss too."
"No. Not all of us," Cloud said. "Just all of you. You're asking me, aren't you? I'm a fresh face. People only know me when I said I was trained by Sephiroth. We weren't here for most of the training period so no one got a chance to get a good look."
"Will you do it?"
Ignoring the biting remarks being thrown at the Vice President, Cloud smiled. "Of course. I didn't have much to do other than training anyway."
It's over! The sequel will be called either "The Next Cadet" or "Can't Go Home"! Drop me a review and vote for your favorite title! And here's the most likely summary of the new story:
"My name is Cloud. Agent for the Vice President. I lost my standing with my Generals, so I turned to the Turks. I'm homeless and crazy. I've been replaced. I'm going to kill an alien with a man that never ages. Also, I'm going to usurp the President."