Title: Friends

Characters: Cloud Strife, Zack Fair, Sephiroth, Genesis Rhapsodos, Angeal Hewley, Kunsel, Vincent Valentine implied, Yuffie Kisaragi implied

Warning: AU, based on Sinnatious' The Fifth Act

Pairings: None for now ;P

Rating: PG-13

Word Count: 2,521 according to Word 2007

Beta-reader: Wintersheart1766 (a lot love and hugs to her! ^.^ )

Author's Note: Yes, I've got the permission from Sinnatious to write a fanfic out of her/his fanfic. I have manners, mind you. Anyway, to Sinnatious: hope you don't mind I'm pimping your fanfic here ^.^

Disclaimer: All characters depicted in sexual situations in this post/fanfiction/fanart (including material in the comments) are fictional and are intended to be and considered to be by the author of said material of the legal age of consent in the United States or any other countries, regardless of what age these characters may be in the material they are derived from.

It was few months after the whole Nibelheim fiasco that life settled into a quiet routine lull that had Zack complaining of being bored. To Cloud though, it was as if Shinra was confining them to their quarters whilst they attempted to wash away all evidences of the previous month's atrocities from any and all of the companys vast network system; an effort to avoid any costly backlash to the company name.

Yet, as was the advantage of being a First class SOLDIER, one was actually free to roam anywhere, so long they followed procedure and logged their location and mission parameters onto the PHS system. This little convenience, when coupled with the terms of Cloud's SOLDIER contract, which stated in no uncertain terms the he had the ultimate right to refuse any mission for any reason at any time, made complaint from any of Shinra's executive factions with regards to his signing off to Modeoheim an impossibility.

These facts did nothing however, with regards to the TURKS and a certain Ex TURK, who since his resurrection, seemed to have unceremoniously coronated himself as Cloud's unofficial guard dog or something of that nature anyway. The journey to Modeoheim, without Fenrir or the Highwind or any other means of transportation aside from his own two feet, was a long and arduous one. He thought briefly of borrowing one of the Turk's helicopters, but decided against it since little miss 'Treasure Princess' would be far less likely to cooperate with him if he showed up with the Shinra logo blazing all around him; Gaia knew the teenage girl was still a hellion even when she was cooperating. In the end Cloud ,as always, resigned himself to his fate and continued his journey on foot.

If Cloud thought that hoofing it all the way from Midgar to Modeoheim was difficult, he shuddered to think of what spending the entire journey from the Northern to the Western Continent, where Wutai was located, with Yuffie, whom he had recently had extracted from the Northern crater, would entail. Yet, miraculously he succeeded in restraining the little princess and kept her from escaping until he was able to return her to her homeland and place her into the custody of one of her guardians. Cloud shook his head in wonder as he recognized the guardian as the very same individual whom Yuffie had outsmarted and escaped from during the war. He sure hoped that for everyone's sake they had taught these guy's a little something extra with regards to foiling the ninja's escape attempts or she was going to end up being a full time job.

During his seemingly endless journey his PHS rang incessantly, due either to calls from the perpetually peeved Genesis wanting to check up on him or the usually friendly calls from Zack who occasionally dragged Kunsel into the mix, who in turn, on occasion, would drag his timid 'nephew' along as well. Adding to the constant ringing was Sephiroth's very 'Sephiroth like' oh-so-routine-and-on-the-dot check up calls with a lesser but still healthy dose of Angeal's mildly inquisitive social calls. Cloud supposed he had better head back to Midgar before his PHS had to be surgically removed from his ear.

It was the lack of the noise and companionship, save for his silent and for all intents and purposes, invisible guardian, that had his thoughts wandering to certain things which had happened so fast, he was afforded no time in which to brood over them properly as he was quite well known to do. Cloud really needed to 'catch on his brooding time', as Tifa would often say to their friends by way of explanation whenever he was missing from the group gathering or his place at the dinner table was once again vacant during dinner with Tifa and Denzel at the Seventh Heaven.

It was because of this quiet time that when his thoughts shifted again. He found himself mulling over Angeal's condition and that lead to contemplation about his lack of weapon at the present time. His thoughts continued to meander through his head stopping by the Genesis and the holes he had noticed with regards to his sword play. Zack's swordplay had been improving steadily as he came to be more familiar with his beloved Buster Sword. Thought's then drifted to the newly promoted first class SOLDIER Kunsel and his current lack of signature weapon. To sum it all, Cloud was concerned.

Cloud's concern stemmed from the conviction that it was necessary for all the elite members of Soldier first class to be both impeccably trained and properly equipped with any and all necessary weapons; after all, in the event that either Sephiroth or himself ever succumbed to insanity and threatened the planet once again; the task of stopping them would be resting solely in their hands and he wanted to make sure they had everything they could possibly need to accomplish their task. If in fact, he were the one to go bonkers, Sephiroth would have no problem because he had all the tools he needed already, his legendary sword and even more legendary swordplay, but it was still no guarantee of victory when facing him in a true death match; especially an insane him. Sephiroth could definitely do enough damage on his own to weaken him, whereby the group could then finish the job.

Cloud frowned when another thought passed through his already crowded mind and he decided his next stop would not be Midgar after all.

"Where is he?"

Genesis was all piss and vinegar as he sat seething in his seat on the bleachers of the sparse training room. It was Friday evening and most soldiers were already retiring to their places of residence, getting a head start on their well deserved weekend of rest.

"It has been four days since the last call and he has not even been seen at the gate!"

"Genesis, you do know he is capable of taking care of himself, don't you?"

"It's not that I doubt his skill, Angeal. I am simply concerned he might resort to accidently killing himself somewhere along the road."

"He is still alive."

Genesis huffed in a manner which made obvious the fact that Sephiroth's 'connection' with Cloud ruffled his feathers. But what really irked him was Sephiroth acting as if he felt nothing about Cloud's absence; after all Genesis knew him better after the Nibelheim event and could clearly see that beneath his calm, cold mask, his green eyes were filled with anxiety towards the still wayward SOLDIER whom he regarded as a friend.

The door to the training room whooshed open and the inseparable duo of Zack and Kunsel, waltzed in. It would seem that after what the Science Department had put him through up to and including falsely reporting his death, Kunsel was immediately promoted to SOLDIER First Class.

"Hiya! I've got good news, you stalkers of Cloud!"

Zack was literally bouncing along while his companion followed him at a more sedate pace, though the smile he wore was almost on par with the Puppy's. Now that Kunsel was a first class SOLDIER he had begun limiting the use of his beloved helmet to missions only, consequently revealing his darker shade of blue eyes which shone with a SOLDIERS tell tale mako glow and the short light brown spikes on top of his head. A sight that was so unfamiliar that even Zack had to gape for a few seconds when Kunsel had shown up without it the first time.

Angeal only raised his eyebrow at the new nickname, but Genesis bristled at it.

"For your information, we are not stalking him." He huffed with dramatic indignation.

Sephiroth, did not seem to pay any mind to it at all, but plowed directly to the point, "What is this news you say you have?"

"I just heard from Aeris that Cloud's already back in Midgar!" Zack sang out as he bounced merrily on his feet.

"I checked and his status was changed to stand-by sometime within the last two hours."

Genesis instantly flipped open his slim PHS; a technological wonder, courtesy of Cloud's future world and Tuesti's engineering aplomb, he pressed the appropriate buttons and checked the log for SOLDIER's status. Cloud's status had indeed changed from 'off to Wutai' to 'stand-by'.

Sephiroth, meanwhile, was frowning slightly in concentration, using his S-cells he shared with the blond to locate his position and confirm the new information.

"Well, good to know that he'll be here in time for our regular gathering then." Angeal looked pleased.

"Wait– what gathering, Angeal? You never told me about any regular gathering!"

Angeal chuckled at his pupil's whining.

"It started with the three of us way before you became First Class Zack. It's a quiet time for us to sit and chat."

"But how come you've never invited me after I was made First Class?" Zack looked as if he might burst into tears at the slight.

Kunsel laughed lightly beside him and thumped him on his back. "You'd just find some way to ruin their quiet time, Zack." He emphasized the word quiet deliberately much as Angeal did moments before.

"Waah! No fair! I wanna come! I can be quiet too ya know!"

"Not for more than Five minutes at a stretch from what I have observed" Genesis retorted.

"Genesis, you wound me" Zack declared with as much melodrama as he could muster.

"Hah! As if I could ever hurt you, your skin is thicker than the hide of a behemoth!"

"What? You're a meanie!" Zack pouted.

Angeal and Kunsel could only laugh at the banter.

"Cloud is coming."

The simple straight forward sentence uttered by the General caught all the room's occupant's attention like a gunshot and almost immediately the door to the training room, once again, whooshed open and there he was.

If Cloud was surprised that he had a welcoming committee waiting for him in the training room where he had sensed Sephiroth was so he could report for duty, his expression did nothing to give it away. His face did not change save for a momentary widening of his clear blue eyes. The, he supposed, 'pleasant' surprise shone most blatantly when his gaze landed on his still very much alive best friend, Zack; a fact that sometimes still slipped from his mind since said mind was so very accustomed to picturing his friend bloody, riddled with bullet holes and very much dead on that cliff. This tendency to still draw up pictures from his past, also infringed on Aeris, whom he had visited earlier, and the images of her which jumped into his head when he had cause to think of her; not pleasant.

"Hi, Cloud! Nice trip?" Zack bounced toward him happily before suddenly pouncing on him; drawing the blonde in for one of his signature bear hugs, of which Cloud generously accepted. Upon being released from Zack's clutches, Kunsel was next to give him a brief hug.

"Hey Cloud, it's nice to have you around again!"

Cloud blushed slightly at the words as he then felt the weight of Angeal's hand as he dropped it onto his right shoulder where he wore no pauldron.

"Welcome back, Cloud."

This time, Cloud winced inwardly as he was anticipating the possibility of a hug from the much bigger SOLDIER, Angeal laughed when he felt the slight flinch from the smaller man, no doubt realizing what was going through Cloud's mind.

"Relax Strife, I'm not planning to hug you."

Suddenly blur of red leather appeared as Genesis grabbed his shoulders and spun him around scrutinizing every inch of him. Once satisfied that the blonde was in one piece, Genesis let go of him and frowned.

"What were you thinking? For the love of Minerva, you walked to Modeoheim and then walked to Wutai! Determination and stubborness are just a step away from idiocy. Or you just like to torture yourself? Inquiring minds want to know."

Cloud shrugged, "It was a nice walk." Angeal rolled his eyes, at the simple declaration while Zack and Kunsel laughed aloud. Genesis just looked like his usual annoyed self.

"The princess was unharmed, I take it?"

Cloud glanced to the last occupant of the room, nodded once to his question and muttered,


"Good. Does this mean you have reclaimed her as your friend like she had been in the past?"

Cloud was rather startled by the silver-haired General's inquiry, but his mind quickly caught up with his motor skills again and he wordlessly nodded his reply. Then something flickered briefly in those brilliant green eyes, catching Cloud's attention; was that jealousy he saw there just underneath a look of relief? It was hard to be sure once the perfectly chiseled face of his former lifetime enemy settled back to the slight frown that it often wore.

Cloud suddenly felt unbelievably awkward; so he gruffly added the qualifier, "More like her babysitter, actually" to his previous response.

Surprisingly, the frown lessened and green eyes were free of all things negative upon hearing those few extra words.

"Hey, speaking of having a babysitter, you do you know Vincent's tailing you, right?"

Cloud turned to look at Zack and nodded, "How could I not?" deadpanned Cloud, 'His red cape is practically a flag."

The room's occupants all chuckled at this observation.

"It must mean that he cares about you" chided Angeal lightly.

Cloud stayed silent, feeling awkward once again.

"So this means you now have some of the friends from your previous existence in your life once again" mused Genesis as he raised his eyebrow in speculation and lay his hand elegantly across his chest patting lightly over his heart.

Cloud looked at him as the unspoken worry of the man suddenly dawned on him. Genesis was worried that Cloud would abandon them all in favor of the friends he once had from the life he once knew and truth be told that very same question lingered on the General's mind as well.

The thought of leaving Shinra to go off with his 'newfound' friend Yuffie or going into solitary hiding out with Vincent was actually at times really tempting, but then again, he could not help but feel that the idea of abandoning Zack and Aeris, when his wish of both of them being very much alive had finally been granted and he was able to see them smiling at him on a daily basis, was ill advised. Cloud was also fond of Kunsel to a degree not afforded most people, perhaps it stemmed from the materia sessions and sword training he had given the man, after all it had placed them in each other's presence for many, many hours and they had, as a result, gotten to know one another.

As for the other three First Class SOLDIERs, he was, understandably, in possession of some very mixed feelings. While he no longer considered Sephiroth to be his mortal enemy, he was still a bit wary of him and sometimes his presence could still induce certain tic-like movements he remembered having from his weaker days. In short, he would have to admit that he was far too intrigued by the thought of being able to so closely observe a Sephiroth who was sane and to possibly see him from a more positive perspective; not in the idol awed, star struck way of when he was a boy, but as equals, to use him as an excuse to leave. Genesis had certainly helped a lot with respect to correcting things in this timeline and he did not appear to be anywhere near as bad as the memories he once claimed as his own, but were in fact the property of Zack made him seem. In fact if pressed, Cloud would have to admit that he had come to not only tolerate the temperamental, overly dramatic and strangely protective commander but respect and even admire the man as well; even if he did still question the man's obsession with Loveless.

Lastly, there was Angeal, for whom the degradation had become even worse than what he had recalled from yet another round of borrowed memories courtesy of his Zack Fair. Yes, there was still a past issue yet to be confronted about abducting him to be Hollander's guinea pig, which allowed the significantly more horrific experience of being one of Hojo's specimens for the second time. But Cloud had no problem understanding why he did what he did even if he sometimes felt ought to hold grudge toward him. But somehow he could not. Moreover, how could he disregard any person that a man of Zack Fair's moral caliber held in such high esteem. He was a comforting and stable presence compared to the other two of the three original First Class SOLDIERs and with Genesis's tendency to over dramatize and Sephiroth in possession of a sense of indifference that could freeze a lake. Hence, Cloud was willing to accept and forgive this man in spite of his transgression in an honest effort to restart their relationship without any baggage. Another positive aspect of Angeal came from his very Zack and Aeris like ability to understand him past the point where most just throw up their hands in defeat, instead of showing the kind of intuition and tenacity which led him to be the first one, even before Cloud, too discover his unconscious suicidal intention; or was it repressed?

With such a painfully long period of complete silence, during which all those in attendance, at varying places within its time frame, had given up entirely on the idea of an answer from the enigmatic blond, it was funny to see them all jump like nervous cats when Cloud unexpectedly sighed before stating quite clearly, "I have my friends here too."

The statement was not spoken awkwardly, though Cloud had been nervous as hell when he said it and consequently his spontaneous remark had the undesired effect of making the whole room fall into another awkward silence. Cloud barley managed to suppress the intense desire to fidget under the blatantly shocked expressions directed unwaveringly right at him. Then Zack let out a warning squeal, allowing a quick thinking Cloud to gracefully dodge the oncoming pounce from the bouncing ball of Zack rushing towards him. Turning quickly Cloud attempted to hide the crimson which had crept onto his cheeks and possibly find some manner of strategic retreat.

But before he could even try to exit the room, Angeal, who had recovered first, called out to him with a warm smile on his face, "Don't forget Strife, tonight, the usual place?"

Cloud only half turned, feeling, more than seeing, that his cheeks were still aflame with color, and nodded once before exiting the room.

Outside, he allowed himself to release the sigh he had been holding in for so long and chided himself for behaving like some teenager girl. An amused smile formed on his lips anyway as he recalled the group's reaction to his words. As he walked away he felt refreshed with the realization that he did indeed have friends here… and there. It was one of the nicest feelings he had ever felt.

Mean while, back in the training room

"Holy Mother of Gaia, he admitted that we're his friends!"

Zack, suddenly overcome by the euphoria of this thought, squealed in abject glee and pounced on the nearest person he could find, Sephiroth.

In the face of such sudden an assault, especially with his mind otherwise occupied with the conundrum that was Cloud; Sephiroth had no time to react and was currently getting a big taste of the infamous bear hug that Cloud had received courtesy of one extremely happy Zack Fair.

Angeal chuckled and Genesis wore a pleased looked upon his face that quite closely resembled smug.

Kunsel had quickly come to Sephiroth's aid, although he was grinning almost stupidly throughout the entire rescue.

"We really are his friends!" Zack exclaimed once again as he proceeded to bounce along after his other best friend who had just pried him from off of the general; no small achievement that's for certain and they were all rather proud of their newest member and his obvious skills. Come to think of it, they were all feeling a bit proud of themselves too; having been claimed as friends by the edgy blond who kept himself at a distance for so long. For this too would rightly be considered, no small achievement.

The ever stoic face of Sephiroth spoke volumes in this regard, for even he had an impossible time trying to keep the smile which kept creeping onto his face, from off his lips as he gave thought to his own hard won success of reaching his goal to befriend the difficult blond.


Author's note:

1. It won't make any sense if you do not read Sinnatious' The Fifth Act, so go read it first. It was an awesome piece!

2. I re-uploaded the beta-ed version. I notice that most reviewers do complain a lot about my English grammar and structure. Gotta apologize that my English is already rusty and dust-piling-up already. So well... it's a good thing I get a beta reader now. Anyway, be sure to hug and thank my beta up there for fixing things up.

3. Oh...there is a confusion regarding the holes in this story. Frankly, this story was supposed to be a drabble-length like 100-500 words but I did not recall how quickly they reproduced. More likely because my muse ran rampant -.-; Anyway, just be patient for the little plot there to be revealed eventually.

4. And one of other things, this story may be based a lot on Sinnatious' The Fifth Act but it was completed. I do not really making this a sequel but I just write stories in that story's time line. Mostly so I can experiment away. Hence, if there will be anything that are irrelevant to the original fanfic, I just can say, "It is to be expected." Sinnatious told me that he/she don't mind so I think, I am free to experiment away and twist the plot here and there to my own preference. Thus, lastly speaking, likewise what Sinnatious had said too, if you are unsatisfied or disagreed, well, you are free to develop your own plot.

5. Actually, I have to warn the readers that I cannot easily copy-cat Sinnatious' style and even most of the characters will be OOC even compared to the original fanfic. So for all my readers, do bear it with me, reviews and flames which commenting on this matter will be deleted. Well, I am my own self, not Sinnatious hence, it'll carry more of my writing style. But! I'm trying hard to produce one that, at the very least, resemble Sinnatious' Fifth Act.

6. Reviews are very much welcomed ^.^