Title: Growing Pains

Fandom: Final Fantasy VII

Author: Nietzsche's Itch

Characters: Angeal, Cloud

Genre: Friendship

Rating: T

Status: Oneshot, Complete

Disclaimer: I do not own FFVII

Summary: Angeal chances to meet the cadet who has captured Zack's fascination

First impressions are interesting things. There can only be one, and the result is indelibly imprinted on the memories of those concerned, and influences the interaction that happens after.

They were doubly so when your first impression of a person was through someone else's perspective.

When Angeal had taken an interest in Zack, he had been accosted by various people asking why he would want to mentor the hyperactive teen. He was talented, certainly, but his easygoing and almost careless countenance repelled as many as it delighted.

Sephiroth had trusted his judgement, Genesis complained bitterly and Zack had grinned like a lunatic all the way through.

Angeal did not like to socialize especially. He was not by any means unsociable, he simply preferred the company of those he knew, and who did not seek him out just because he was a first class, and burdened with the stigma of celebrity as a result.

Zack was gloriously irreverent, calling him by his given name within a week, inviting him over to watch horror movies with him and always, always making him laugh and smile about the silliest things. He did not even need to do anything, his presence was so uplifting on its own merit.

Cloud was more like Angeal himself in temperament, and he wondered idly what attracted Zack to quiet men like them. It was the same for Sephiroth, while he was stiffly polite with his friends apprentice; he would bear his company willingly, more than could be said for anyone else outside of their group.

He did not meet Cloud Strife for some months after the fated acquaintance, work taking precedence over real life and the cadet in question having been accurately described as being painfully shy. It was serendipitous; a chance meeting in a hallway, a shared desire to locate their mutual friend, and Angeal discovered that beneath the veneer of awkward vulnerability lay an unassuming, sincere individual.

Then he understood what had captivated Zack so, like himself and Angeal, Cloud had a dream.

They never did find him, but spent a pleasant half hour traversing the building before Angeal broached the idea of a coffee while they waited for him to return. He fully expected the boy to decline his offer, and was pleased when he did not.

Coffee turned into dinner, Angeal delighted for the opportunity to practise his culinary skills on someone who did not inhale their food and gobble it down without tasting it. Cloud was complimentary, without being obsequious, and he wondered if the blonde might not wish to repeat the experience. He looked as if a little feeding up would do him some good; Zack had not been exaggerating about his being on the wrong side of thin.

By the time Zack breezed into his apartment late that evening, in high spirits after a date with his flower girl, his friends had moved on discussing his less endearing traits, and Cloud was consoled to know that he was not the only one Zack embarrassed publicly on a daily basis.

Zack was startled to find them together, and then delighted at the beginnings of a friendship that had struck up without him even introducing them. He considered amending this opinion when he realized that putting two such reserved and polite men in the same room was a recipe for frustration on his part, but soon disregarded the potential threat to his fun to fully appreciate the miracle of Cloud breaking out of shell and making a new friend.

Zack made jokes, Cloud blushed and stammered and Angeal watched over them both, two boys barely stepping into manhood, and with all the baggage that came with it.

They would all help to carry those burdens.