Learning and Teaching

Author's Note: I know there are a ton of these, but I was inspired to write one myself, and so here it is! Mentoring at SOLDIER!
The number of characters allowed to put on the summary made me lie a little. This isn't just a Cloud and Sephiroth fic. It is about Cloud and Sephiroth, but it'll also be about other people. I can't just play with them.
Characters who I know are going to be very important in this fic: Cloud, Sephiroth, Zack, Angeal, Genesis, Reno, Tseng.
If you like any of them, then I hope you'll like this fic!

Important Notes: This is a friendship fic and will stay that way. The only pairing that might come in here is ZackxAerith and that's because it's just so much fun to have people poke fun at him, and they're really cute. That won't be a centerpiece of this fic. If it's mentioned at all, it'll be in passing and in a cutsey manner. I'm scared of writing anything romantic, really. I am much more interested in inter-person relationships besides stuff like that, so there's going to be a lot of fun character interactions! Yay!
I had a blast writing this! I hope you guys like it!
Thanks for reading! ~Alma

Snow - A Prologue

Cloud stood still as he breathed in the crisp morning air, staring up at the sky. This was insane. It never snowed in Midgar. He had learned that almost as soon as he had come to the city. He would never have expected that the thing he would have missed most about Nibelheim would have been the snow; he had been entirely sick of the stuff after 14 years of nine month snow cover. However, after coming to the mega-metropolis that was Midgar, he had for the first time really appreciated the dancing little flakes from back home. There was something nearly dead, stuffy, about the city when nothing ever fell from the sky to wash the harsh metal surfaces and there was barely even ever wind to disturb the dust.

And yet, impossibly, there were tiny little white flakes dancing all around in the air, falling softly over an eerily quiet Midgar. It was snowing.

For a long moment Cloud was still, watching the flakes dance. As they got caught in his hair and one of them landed on his nose, he smiled slightly at the familiarity. It really was nice to see snow, like greeting an old friend, even though the feeling was made bittersweet by a strong wave of homesickness that sometimes came up when he was alone in the morning.

But this wasn't really all like Nibelhiem. There weren't enough flakes to form the impossible overlap of thousands of little dancing things; his view was too constricted by various structures around him. That, and even though the snow had made the air clearer than normal, there was still the slightly acrid scent of fuel and mako lingering around.

Shaking the snow off his head out of habit, Cloud pulled the collar of his cadet uniform up to ward off the wind that was swirling the snowflakes and stepped out of the safety of the overhang in front of the door. His boots sank quietly into the soft drifts. There was widespread shock at the snowstorm; he had heard it that morning over the radio. The city had been brought to a standstill. All cadet classes had been cancelled, since the SOLDIER instructors had to be on call in case the snow caused an emergency more serious than people complaining about holdup on roads.

Hearing all that, Cloud had expected at least five feet of snow outside. However, given the rarity of snow ever occurring at all in Midgar, he had still resolved to go out and see if he could do something in the snow. It would be a pity to let a day off involving snow simply pass by, especially in this city.

So now he was shocked and dangerously close to laughing at the fact that it could only possibly be two feet of snow piled up outside, probably less. True, he had perhaps grown up a mountain kid's life, and probably had seen more snow in his life than most people here, but still, only two feet? That was bordering on pitiful. Back home, all the kids in town would be out playing in this amount of snow.

Which was also what he had the urge to do. The snow was so perfect, softening the hard lines of the city and creating a fluffy, clean slate that beckoned him. He hadn't played in the snow since the winter before he had come here. It seemed such a long time ago. After a moment of indecision, Cloud shrugged. What could it hurt? This wasn't something he would get the opportunity to do any time soon. Most of the others probably didn't even know how, so they couldn't poke fun at him amusing himself out in the snow. They were all curled up shivering in their beds.

An hour later, he stepped back and observed his creation with a critical eye. The snowballs making up the snowman's form were modestly sized, so that the new resident of the yard stood up to about his chest height. Somewhat smaller than some he had made before, but the snowballs were for the most part uniform. This snow clung magnificently, making the act of creating the snowman very easy. However, this also meant that the small flakes clung to Cloud's hair, meaning that he had to shake his head every few minutes. Still, he didn't really mind. It'd been so long since he'd gotten snow stuck in his hair that it was almost enjoyable.

He hadn't had a respectable carrot to use, but he had managed to find one of the baby ones from the lunchroom. Finding sticks was impossible in this city; absolutely nothing grew here, but some broken wood from practice blades sufficed fine to create arms for his creation. Now the snowman grinned up at him, seeming completely out of place in Midgar, the city of progress and Shinra. However, out of place as it may have been, it also made Cloud very happy, an immature, childish glee that he enjoyed almost defiantly to the place he was.

Snow amplified sound even in the metal city, and so he heard boots crunching in the drifts earlier than he ordinarily would have. Cloud turned around at the same time the stranger caught sight of him, and they looked at each other for a moment.

Cloud's visitor looked a little older than he did, had black, spiky hair that was beginning to cover with snow, and was wearing, rather than the cadet uniform, a sleeveless turtleneck, heavy belt, and armor over his shoulders. He was also, as Cloud was, wearing heavy boots. There was a design on the front of his belt that all cadets knew very well.

The SOLDIER uniform.

However, the threatening aspect of the uniform was somewhat diminished by the fact that, even though he was wearing a sleeveless turtleneck out in the snow, the other man had a bright green scarf wrapped around his neck that clashed spectacularly with his purple shirt. It was also less intimidating because of the bright, smiling blue eyes that regarded Cloud over the scarf with an expression of pleased surprise, and the grin that the man was giving him.

After a moment of regarding him, the stranger cocked his head, knocking snow out of black spikes. "What've you go there?" He darted over gleefully, seeming unaffected by the snow on his bare arms.

"A snowman," Cloud murmured, somewhat taken aback by the other's enthusiasm.

"Yes! I thought that's what it was!" The stranger grinned from the snowman to Cloud, seeming filled with a sort of bouncing joy that made him move excitedly, . "I'll be it's the first one this city's had in years!" He flung his arms out excitedly, turning towards Cloud. "And I thought I was the only one here who knew what you were supposed to do with snow. Gods, thank you!"

Cloud smiled a little, taken by the other man's easy enthusiasm. He was still unsure what to make of him, though. He wore a SOLDIER 2nd uniform, which meant he was far higher than Cloud in the pecking order. But he didn't...act like a SOLDIER, not really.

After a moment, he said, tentatively, "...You're welcome."

The 2nd class laughed, mako-glowing eyes bright. "Seriously, you've restored my faith in the world!" A look of intense, happy pity flashed in his eyes as he gestured around. "Most of the people here just run away screaming at the sight of it! Poor guys have no idea what to do."

Then, almost as abruptly, the stranger was regarding the snowman closely with an appraising eye. Cloud paused, uneasy for a moment.

Then that grin came back and the 2nd looked over at him playfully. "That's a pretty good one, too." He cocked his head at the snowman again, a thoughtful look in his blue eyes.

"Ah! But it is missing one thing." With a flourish, the stranger drew a small object out of a pouch of his belt, rejected it, and reached in to get something eyes. Two more things and he pulled out a small object, brandishing it triumphantly at Cloud.

It was a small pin bearing the Shinra symbol.

Cloud cocked his head curiously at the suggestion.

"He can't be out here if he's not authorized," the 2nd explained, a playful light twinkling in blue eyes. Carefully, he crouched down and put the pin on the snowman's chest, making sure it'd stay. Then he stood back observing his handiwork.

A moment and he bounced over to look at Cloud. "See? Now he's an operative of Shinra, just like us, and no one can give him trouble!" Turning importantly to the snowman, the 2nd class threw a salute, trying hard to keep a straight face and failing. "Good day to you, Officer Snowman, sir!"

Cloud chuckled softly, unable to stifle the sound.

The 2nd class turned to him with that same smile and for a minute the two of them laughed together, the stranger much louder than Cloud.

But then the strange 2nd suddenly started. "Oh, speaking of operatives, I forgot!" He suddenly started looking around, then turned abruptly back to Cloud. "I've got to go save some poor infantrymen from the snow. Teach them how to use a shovel." He rolled his eyes pityingly and good naturedly, an amused smile on his face. "You want to come? I could use someone who knows which end of the shovel goes down, and I'm sure the others would really appreciate it."

Cloud blinked. But the offer appeared genuine, and it was very true that he knew how to use a snow shovel. He could probably be more useful here than almost anywhere else.

Not to mention it was a SOLDIER who had invited him. That wasn't something that happened to cadets every day.

"Sure," he said, nodding.

A wide smile spread out on the other's face. "Awesome!" He pumped his fist in the air, without even appearing to think about it, just a natural flow of energy. "Come on, then."

Cloud fell into step beside the 2nd Class, looking curiously at the strangely effusive person. He'd never met someone so easily friendly before, nor so energized by a snowstorm.

"Oh, I totally forgot." Sparkling blue eyes came back to him, and the man smiled. "I'm SOLDIER 2nd Class, Zack Fair." He grinned. "But you can call me Zack."

Cloud nodded after a moment, shaking the snow out of his hair as the walked. "Cloud Strife. I'm a cadet here."

Zack smiled. "Nice to meet you, Cloud. I thought I was the only country kid in this entire city! Where are you from?"

"Nibelheim," Cloud answered. Then, emboldened by Zack's friendliness, he was able to ask, "You?"

"Gongaga," Zack replied.

Cloud's smile widened as he murmured, "It...sounds country-ish."

Zack laughed. "Yeah, tell me about it. Comes in handy though, on the one in a million chance when we get snow in Midgar, doesn't it? Puts us a step ahead of all those poor city kids."

Cloud smiled, listening quietly as Zack launched into a long explanation of how pitifully hopeless Midgar people were when it came to weather, even those in Shinra. It was all good natured, though, as if in pity of them rather than making fun. Zack seemed to be in the habit of using his hands in wide gestures to explain his statements, gesticulating back and forth and shaking his head animatedly.

It only took a short time to locate the foundering infantry unit. They were armed with snow shovels on one of the roads in front of the Shinra building, and seemed completely at a loss. It was obvious to Cloud that these people had not been outside in cold weather before. Many of them were underdressed or bundled up in the wrong places, and none of them seemed to be taking to the change in weather very well.

Zack shook his head pityingly at the sight and then strode confidently forward. "Hey, guys! Don't worry! Me and Cloud here'll set you straight in no time and then you can all go back inside!"

There was a collective sigh or groan in relief, and Cloud followed Zack down towards the road. Zack, with a grin, proudly handed Cloud a shovel. "Thanks for doing this. Show them what you've got, Cloud." Then, turning to the infantrymen, he beamed. "Now, you listen to Cloud, because he's like me and knows what he's doing. We'll give you some pointers on how to do this without getting soaked or hurting yourselves, we'll finish, and then I'll send you guys back, understood?"

"Yes, sir," came the enthusiastic reply, and all of the infantrymen shifted their grips on the shovel handles.

Zack smiled. "Alright. Let's go, then."

Cloud shifted the shovel in his hands, absorbing the novel experience of having infantrymen looking at him eagerly for direction. It was sort of weird, being a cadet. But this was something he knew about. So he set about showing them the best way to shovel the snow without hitting each other or hurting their backs.

Every now and then Zack, from the other side of the group where he was heaving snow left and right with a wide grin on his face, about twice as fast as the others, would shoot an amused look at Cloud and give him a grin of encouragement. By the end of the job, Cloud found himself automatically smiling back.