interlude – (meaning this is filler, not thriller.)
IN WHICH: Cloud discovers he cannot be rid of his worst fear, Sephiroth is curiously interested, Zack is understood, Angeal and Genesis intervene, and Cid is a pizza-man.
Usually, when one announces an "interlude", it means a break from the action of the story… such as a cliffy right when the hero is hanging over a tonberry-infested gorge, or the heroine is about to wed the homicidal ogre that wishes to kill everyone with shortcakes. As none of the current characters are about to be devoured by cute evil berries, or betrothed to a monster with a passion for killer pastries, it almost appears as there is no need for an "interlude" of any sort. But since this is the very middle of the story, it seems necessary that there be an unnecessary piece to serve as filler. This is also to give the reader the chance to either do something more productive with their time-or, to fill up on snacks. The latter seems more important.
A pause to allow you to find your gummy bears.
And now, to the filler.
Shinra Military Academy
Two Days Earlier
Before Cloud's current unhappy predicament, there was Sephiroth.
Sephiroth and Zack, to be exact.
Zack, you see, had the unfortunate problem of being a tick. He found a warm and fuzzy victim to sink his teeth into, and hung on for dear life, sucking the life straight out of them. Sephiroth was not fuzzy, and most of the times, wasn't warm either. If Zack tried to sink his teeth in, he would no doubt chip a molar or two. Or three. Or four. Or possibly lose a tooth. This didn't stop him from happily trying, though-and Sephiroth put up with him anyway, which was a wonder.
Zack had no social grace. When dinner parties rolled around, he happened upon the stage in a drunken stupor, managing to insult half of the benefactors before someone hauled him off. Inaugurations, promotions and the sort were even worst-the Turks were ordered to shoot…
(Tranquilizers, of course…)
…if Zack even took a musical sounding first breath. Zack's Offensive Karaoke, though popular with the Third Classes, wasn't met well by anyone else.
Zack was not eloquent. When asked to give a speech, it usually ended in someone's wife bursting into tears and the husband bursting someone's nose.
Zack was confusing. When left alone with an assassin, he would befriend the man in five seconds flat. When left alone with Genesis, he would end up jumping, screaming and on fire, out of a window.
Zack Fair was possibly the worst disaster to ever hit Shinra Military.
He was also, surprisingly, General Sephiroth's best friend.
In the military-especially as head of the military-Sephiroth had seen many people. He had been tossed with brave men, stupid men, and just plain freaky men in airplanes, bomb shelters, and public gas-station restrooms (including, by very close coincidence, the very one Cloud visited near the beginning of this ridiculous story). During this period of time, he'd been faced with a grave truth.
People were interesting, all right. But not interesting.
If you understood what he meant by that.
No one caught his attention for long periods of time. Their versions of "quirks" were old, practiced…boring. Someone had to be either really interesting-or really crazy-to be worthy of General Sephiroth. His mind was like an elderly secretary, popping gum and carefully sorting out potential Facebook friends... as disturbing as that sounded.
Angeal and Genesis, the troublesome duo. Interesting. Updated to Friend Status. The lieutenant that wiped his nose on his sleeve. Boring; spam him. The sergeant who flicked his sword at the end of every match…interesting. Zack Fair, Angeal's trying mentee. Interesting. Updated to Friend Status.
First cadet who had dared to run away from General Sephiroth, who was also quite good at doing what Sephiroth supposed was a traditional folk dance. (Of course, he wasn't doing a traditional folk dance; he was dancing in possible fear and the sudden bodily reaction that accompanies such fear. But of course, Sephiroth didn't think of that.) Cutesy, in a wide-eyed, "I'm going to wet my pants" sort of way. Interesting. Updated to Snooping Status.
If you were curious, this is exactly what went through Sephiroth's mind roughly five seconds after Cloud had run screeching out the door.
After the strange combat class (and someone had been dispatched to find Cloud) Sephiroth and Zack stood near the weapons rack, together. Zack had ordered one of his lackeys to get him espresso, and was currently happily sloshing it around the cup. While Sephiroth knew this couldn't bode well, it could also be quite entertaining.
"Is it supposed to feel this awesome to teach your own class?" Zack exclaimed, bringing the cup up to his face and then back down again. "I can intimidate them, and scare them witless, and I'll still be in charge. And they'll have to do whatever I say!"
Coffee cup up, coffee cup down. Sephiroth watched with a neutral expression, his eyes narrowing every time Zack almost took a sip.
"Zack," he interjected politely, once the cup had gone up again, "Where did you get the coffee from?"
Zack blinked, peering into the still virginal cup. "Eh, I scared one of the students into getting it for me." He beamed. "I've never had coffee before!"
Hm. The danger of the situation having no effect, Sephiroth surveyed the room boredly, listening with one ear. Most of the cadets were still there, puttering around and finding excuses to look at the General.
All except for one. Sephiroth frowned, turning back to Zack, who was once again bringing the cup up.
"So," Sephiroth began casually, "Cloud Strife, you called him?"
Zack reeled back.
"Oh sweet GAIA, Seph! He's so adorable, and I love him, and he's adorable, and Angeal said I could make him my mentee if I wanted to, and so now he's my mentee, but he seriously doesn't know it yet! And he's adorable. And I like him, and I want to help him out because he's…" Zack thought. "Adorable."
Not much information there. Sephiroth tried a different tactic.
"What do you know about him?"
Zack thought. His mouth opened.
"Besides him being adorable," Sephiroth amended.
The mouth snapped shut. "He's from Nibelheim," Zack began carefully, "And he didn't want to come. His mother sent him, and she wants him through the whole program. He runs away screaming a lot, but I think it's a disease of the nervous system, so he'll probably outgrow it."
Zack didn't usually use words like "disease of the nervous system". This didn't slip past Sephiroth's radar.
"Anything else?" Sephiroth pressed.
Zack stared at him, and then cracked a crooked smile. "Why do YOU wanna know?" he asked.
Sephiroth stared at him.
"I'm onto you!" Zack crowed, jabbing a finger at him. "I'm ontoya-ou!" He leaned in. "You…are…"
Sephiroth narrowed his eyes back, ready to refute whatever Zack could possibly accuse him of.
"Having backwards hero worship!" Zack threw his hands in the air.
Well, if he was going to…wait, what?
"See," Zack explained patiently-in the kind of voice that Angeal would use to tell him to close the cookie jar- "Cloud has hero worship for you, obviously-he was actually running away from you, it was so cute…so when you touched each other, you got hero worship backwards." He grinned. "So now you like him."
Zack had a way of confusing you while at the same time going straight to the point. Sephiroth let a corner of his mouth tilt up at the thought.
"I KNEW IT I KNEW IT," Zack shrieked, pointing a trembling finger at him, "IT IS TRUE."
The quirk vanished. "What?"
"YOU'RE HAVING HERO WORSHIP BACKWARDS…I'm having Cloud over pretty soon," Zack said, fanning himself as he had a drastic mood swing. "You come over too. You can talk; and he can actually shake your hand!"
Sephiroth considered this.
"I'm telling you," Zack said, the coffee cup rising decisively. "It's hero worship. You'll look in his eyes and know it."
Sephiroth considered. Looking into Cloud Strife's eyes. Looking into Cloud Strife's wide, very very blue eyes…
Sephiroth inclined his head, smirking. "Invitation accepted."
Zack grinned at him. And then he threw back the cup of coffee and downed it in one gulp.
Sephiroth clapped him on the shoulder in a comradely way, turned around, and got the heck out of there.
Two days later, Zack casually mentioned that Cloud had been persuaded (the word "persuaded" here being used in an ominous way, such as how crime bosses "persuade" grocery store owners to pay up) to come over and spend the night. Sephiroth could stop by, if he liked.
The elderly mind secretary smirked and marked something in her day planner. Sephiroth smirked and strolled off down the hall.
That night, Sephiroth was ushered in to Zack's little apartment. The cadet came skipping up like a little schoolgirl of his own free volition…
…where he stopped dead.
Zack had said that if Sephiroth looked into Cloud's eyes, he would see blatant hero worship. There were a lot of things swirling around in Cloud Strife's eyes, for sure-including some identifiable emotion that took Sephiroth a moment to discern.
Zack was right. The kid was having bad hero worship syndrome.
"Bingo," Sephiroth said, "You were right, Zack."
And that was when Cloud's eyes rolled back in his head as he crumpled to the carpet.
On Catching a Fainting Person
If it must be known, catching a fainting person isn't as simple as it seems in the movies. In the movies, see, the person almost always falls backwards, conveniently onto either a couch, or their luckily plump mother, lover, or significant other. In real-life, however, the person often crumples straight down, like a cake after your dog won't stop jumping in front of the oven. If you try to catch them under their arms, they flop around bonelessly and are hard to drag to…wherever you want them to go.
The usual best thing to do, if you see someone fainting, is to quickly reposition them so that they are over a couch, or their luckily plump mother, lover, or significant other; or, to quickly run around behind them and push them upright; or, if they are smaller than you and generally easy to handle, to catch them as a prince would catch a swooning princess.
This is exactly what Sephiroth did.
End of On Catching a Fainting Person.
Cloud had been in the bathroom for about twenty minutes straight now, which either meant that he had a bit of problem with his stomach, or that he was avoiding General Sephiroth, who was still out there sitting on the couch.
The answer was blatantly obvious.
But Zack Fair never got the blatantly obvious.
"Cloud? Clooooooud? Are you all right? Is your tummy okay? I've got some medicine in the bathroom cabinet!" Zack rapped again on the door. "Are you okay, Cloud?"
"Yes, sir!" came Cloud's uneven squeak from behind the door. "I'm just…safer…in here!"
Zack frowned. "It's safe out here, too!"
"No!" Cloud shrieked. "I'm staying in here!"
Zack grinned, turning to Sephiroth, and pointed at the door, mouthing Poor kid.
Sephiroth cocked an eyebrow. He didn't buy this. There were only so many times that the same person could run to the bathroom in a panic around you before you figured out what was going on-unless you were Zack, of course. There was also the interesting fact that the cadet had seemed to have a panic attack when he'd woken up and found Sephiroth checking him. Then, he'd run to the bathroom, and stayed there.
The only thing that Sephiroth was still wondering about was why. Why did Cloud keep shrieking and running away every time Sephiroth got close to him? Why, exactly, if all that Sephiroth had really detected from him was intense hero worship? And why, if he had intense hero worship, did he faint dead away after just seeing Sephiroth? Usually, one would wait long enough for an autograph before they had a heart attack.
And what exactly was he doing in the bathroom for that long?
Sephiroth frowned, leaning back into Zack's squashy couch. Cloud Strife was confusing.
In a way that would've scared children, the frown morphed into a smirk.
Confusing was good. It had been a LONG time since someone had confused General Sephiroth.
And that certainly was interesting.
Meanwhile, Zack, who didn't know the meaning of personal space, had coaxed Cloud out of the bathroom.
"What's wrong?" Zack asked, ruffling back Cloud's hair. "Wanna talk about it?"
"I wanna go back in the bathroom!" Cloud squealed, trying to escape and reach the door. How had Zack gotten inside the bathroom, anyway? That was definitely scary.
But not as scary as who was sitting in the living room.
"I think being in the bathroom when your hero is in the living room," Zack said decisively, dragging Cloud behind him, "Is just plain stupid."
Cloud froze, turning and looking at him. He worked his jaw up and down confusedly. "My…hero?"
Zack grinned. "You didn't think I wouldn't notice, did you?" He laughed, smacking Cloud hard on the back. With a shriek, Cloud toppled forward, but was dragged upwards once again. "Don't worry, I've been there before. All you have to do is TALK…IT…OUT!" Saying so, he tossed Cloud onto the couch next to Sephiroth. "NOW!" Zack said happily, looking at the two of them, "Who wants apple juice?" And then he bounced away before either of them could answer.
Cloud scrambled into the chair opposite Sephiroth, plastering himself against the back and staring at the General with wide eyes. Sephiroth stared right back, trying to figure out if he could get away with sniffing himself. That didn't make sense, though,
There was silence as Zack began to sing in the kitchen, loud and off-key.
"So, cadet…where are you from?"
Cloud stared at Sephiroth in horror. He spoke. He SPOKE. What was he supposed to DO in a world where your worst fears sat across from you on couches and SPOKE?
(Forgetting, of course, that Sephiroth had given the cadet combat class a speech only a day or two before. But Cloud didn't think about things like that.)
On his own part, Sephiroth was quickly running through the information he had received to ask Cloud about-of course, that wouldn't make him uncomfortable in any way, of course. Cloud was as tense as a spring; menial talk usually calmed a person down.
Cloud opened his mouth and squeaked. It was an absolutely stupid thing to do. Sephiroth frowned, inching forward on the couch.
"Speak up, boy. This is the military; it's no place for the cat to get your tongue."
Cloud put his feet on the ground, dragging the chair backwards until it hit the wall, putting a good distance between himself and the General.
According to all of Cloud's extensive research (meaning, all his frightful nights spend trembling under the covers with "A Guide to the Evils of the World"), when something unbelievably evil wanted to know where you lived, it was NO good. It meant that somehow, they would end up in your hometown, kill all of your family members and smash all your possessions, and then lie in wait. Then when you came to mourn your family and petit fours, it would…
(Unfortunately, Cloud didn't know what "it would" do, for that was where the page had been torn in half, the other half being covered with a red splotch. This discovery had caused Cloud to shriek and throw the book across the room, certain that the last person to seek this book's advice had met an untimely and gruesome end. In truth, the book had been discovered by a group of bored seniors, who, having nothing better to do, carefully ripped the page in half, inadvertently spilled one's tomato sandwich on the other half, and then left the book shut on the sales table in the hurry of getting away from the library security guard.)
Never being able to know what would happen, Cloud's overactive imagination had quickly supplied a number of frightening situations. Such as, the monster taking him as a personal doll, dressing him up as a pink princess, and forcing him to eat biscuits without milk until he choked to death. OR, pinching his cheeks and hugging him like Aunt Martha, because Gaia knew nothing was quite as terrifying as Aunt Martha. OR…
Things could be inserted as necessary, as Cloud had. The point was, General Sephiroth was asking after his hometown, which could not be good. It was up to Cloud, the goodhearted yet misguided hero, to save everyone with words that would awe the monster across from him into never bothering him again.
So Cloud, scrabbling in his seat, wide eyed, opened his mouth and squeaked, "I-I…I'll N-NEVER tell you what I know! I won't end up dressed like a pink princess, and-and-and everyone knows that biscuits will KILL you if you don't eat them with milk!"
Somewhere near the end, Cloud had collapsed into shrill gasps, grabbing a pillow and clutching it against his chest in defense. His eyes peered out over the top, waiting for Sephiroth's response.
Sephiroth's response was for one silver eyebrow to rise slowly. "Well," he began, "You don't need to be ashamed of where you come from. Nibelheim is a very nice town to come from. And they are changing the SOLDIER uniforms, but not to pink."
Cloud's eyes had grown huge over the pillow. He knew where he lived.
Sephiroth KNEW where he lived.
Cloud's lower lip began to tremble, his eyes growing impossibly bigger as they began to tear. All he'd wanted to do was sleep that night with Birdie plugged in, preferably in a child-safe environment. Was that too much to ask for?
Sephiroth's own eyes widened. Apparently, home and uniform colors were tough topics for the cadet. He hadn't meant to bring it up, otherwise; since Zack knew, he thought it was common knowledge. Sephiroth got to his feet with the sincere intentions of apologizing, and offering any comfort he could.
Luckily, before any potentially damaging comforts could be given, the doorbell rang.
"Pizza's here!" Zack called from the kitchen. Coming out with two small cups of apple juice-which made one wonder what it was he was doing in there for the extension of Sephiroth and Cloud's "conversation"-he handed one to each, heading for the door. Somehow, Cloud managed to latch onto his shirt, and be whisked along with him to the door. In the face of two evils-a curiously interested General and a hyperactive scarily happy SOLDIER-Cloud definitely chose the latter.
Zack absentmindedly pet Cloud on the head, fumbling with the door lock before finally getting the door open.
To which he frowned.
Cid spit out a toothpick on the carpet, holding out the pizza box. "Pizza delivery."
Zack took the box and handed it to Cloud. "I didn't know you delivered pizza!"
"What are YOU talkin' about?" Cid said. "I own the pizza store. Highwind's Pizza Parlor. Never been a bus driver in my life."
(Which was very odd, considering that Zack hadn't even come to accusing him of being a bus driver yet.)
"Huh," Zack said, frowning. "I could've sworn…Nah." He waved his hand dismissively. "Wanna come in and eat pizza with us?"
"Yes," Cid said, and stepped inside the house, briefly looking down at Cloud.
Cloud had developed quite a hero worship for Cid after the bus incident. After all, he was the only one that even bothered to chase away the bullies on the bus. He'd felt sorry for Cloud's bonbons. (At least, Cloud thought he did.) And he'd been completely fearless of Zack's frightening appearance, Zack's frightening speech, and Zack's frightening driving. This made him the bravest person in Cloud's entire life-except for Mrs. Strife, of course, who stomped on spiders with her bare shoes. Okay, so maybe Cid was a little lower on the list-but he was still there.
So Cloud looked up at Cid with wide, awed eyes, and Cid looked down at Cloud with something bridging on softness, fondness, or complete disturbed disinterest.
"Hello, sir," Cloud said happily, "Do you remember me?"
Cid considered this. "No, I don't," he decided gruffly, and continued stalking into the room.
Cloud sagged, and followed with a downhearted drag of his feet. However Cid's saying that he didn't remember him, however, he made certain to pull Cloud down next to him on the fluffy armchair, after nodding amicably at Sephiroth.
Sephiroth's eyes narrowed. Cloud was looking up at Cid with a new emotion in his eyes-something that wasn't the same wide-eyed hero worship. It was something slightly different.
If he was right, he was sure that Cloud was completely terrified of Cid Highwind.
There was no other explanation for it. Cloud's feet were bouncing on the carpet. His eyes were riveted on Cid's face. He was biting his thumb, flicking his eyes nervously around the room.
What else could it be, but fear? And Cid currently was squished on the chair next to the cadet; there was no way for him to get up.
"Strife," General Sephiroth said, keeping his voice as light as possible, "Are you uncomfortable? Because you can sit here, if you'd like." So saying, he patted the side of the couch that he wasn't sitting on.
Cloud shook his head rapidly. He was JUST fine there, hiding behind his human shield/newfound hero/pizza delivery man. It almost felt as if General Sephiroth wasn't there, if he closed his eyes and squished himself inwards a little bit.
The poor boy shut his eyes and trembled with the effort of squeezing in on himself. Sephiroth's eyes narrowed into little green slits. Cid shifted uncomfortably as far away as he could from Cloud, most probably wishing that he had just left instead of coming inside and being glared at from across the room.
Or, he could've been thinking about the football game that was going to be on that night. No one could actually know what Cid was thinking.
Fortunately, Zack came back.
Unfortunately, wielding a pizza knife.
"Let's sing the pizza song, everyone!" he said cheerily, swinging the knife wildly in front of him like a conductor's baton.
Cloud retreated behind Cid with a sound wave audible to bats. Cid picked up the cushion, setting it neatly over his vital organs. Sephiroth casually leaned back, ready to drop to the floor at a moment's notice.
The song finished with a limited number of causalities, and the pizza was taken to. Cloud stuffed it in his mouth as if it was his last meal, bid a hasty goodnight to Zack and Cid but, pointedly, no one else, and zoomed off to the bedrooms. Zack excused himself, hurrying after him. Cid and Sephiroth were left with one slice of pizza, an untouched cup of apple juice, and General Sephiroth's glower, guaranteed to make people feel one hundred percent more uncomfortable.
Sephiroth's scowl was apparently interpreted by Cid as displeasure at the food.
"You know," Cid said thoughtfully, "This really did need more cheese on it. That's why I came in-you can better please the customers if you know what's wrong with your food." He scowled himself. "Not like they need to be pleased, or anything."
"I'm onto you," Sephiroth suddenly hissed.
Cid looked over at him, unimpressed. "Oh yeah? About what?"
"All that you were just doing," Sephiroth said, getting to his feet and standing dangerously over Cid's chair.
Cid just stared at him. Eventually, though, he cracked a grin that made Sephiroth pause.
"Well, I have to say; even though you're the General of an army, you can't do anything about it. If I choose to switch jobs in the middle of another one, it's my own choice. And no uppity army officer is going to tell me otherwise, either." So saying, Cid got up, blatantly ignoring Sephiroth, and pulled a cap out of his pocket. Sephiroth briefly saw a flash of "Highwind's Extermination Services" before it was clamped down over Cid's greasy hair.
"I was never here," Cid said simply, before walking to the door and letting himself out.
Meanwhile, Zack had redirected Cloud into his appointed guest room, and was busily throwing things out over the bed.
"You know, it's not BAD to have hero worship for someone," he lectured, laying out a pajama top.
"I-" Cloud began.
"It can actually be quite cool," Zack continued obliviously, stretching out a pair of briefs with a snort before Cloud snatched them away.
"But I'm not-"
"I have hero worship for Angeal, but we can still get along like great friends!"
"Sir, I don't have hero worship for G-Geneh…Gene-" Cloud couldn't quite get the last part out.
Zack flicked his nose with a grin. "You're too cute, but I can tell hero worship when I see it." He pulled out a pair of boxers and waltzed around the room with them. "You look him in the eyes, and he looks in yours, and then you ask him for his autograph…" Zack sighed dreamily. "It's every cadet's dream, you shouldn't be embarrassed." Flicking the boxers across the room, Zack tossed the pajamas at Cloud, and began to stuff everything back into the duffel. "Now go say good night to General Sephiroth."
Cloud wanted badly to object, his mouth opening and closing pitifully, but Zack shot a look that left no bargaining. With a sag, and grabbing a pillow to hold in front of him, Cloud pressed himself against the wall and shuffled towards the sitting room.
Sephiroth was staring at the floor when the Cloud-pillow shuffled into the room. Cloud peered cautiously over the top to find the General staring at him with an indiscernible look. Cloud gulped.
"G-G-Goodnight, sir," Cloud said, immediately shuffling backwards.
"You're going to bed?" Sephiroth asked, getting to his feet.
Cloud stiffened. His mind screamed at him that telling the General exactly that he was going to bed, and having the man know where he slept, was not a good thing to do.
"Yeah, he's heading to bed!" Zack piped up from behind Cloud, snatching the pillow. "Aren't you, Cloud?"
Cloud tried to get the pillow back, and when he couldn't, pressed up behind Zack. "Yes," he said miserably.
"Then I hope you have a very good rest," Sephiroth said smoothly. He stretched with a yawn, and Cloud couldn't help but notice that he had very white, straight, sharp teeth.
Cloud was not going to be sleeping tonight.
"See you in the morning!" Zack said cheerfully.
Birdie had been plugged up. His flashlight had been turned on. He was currently suffocating himself under the covers, curled up in a little ball and waiting for any sounds.
Cloud should've been asleep by now. What was wrong?
What was wrong was that when looked at from out of the pillows, Birdie's usual soft yellow glow turned deceptively silver. Cloud figured that this was because Sephiroth's evil influence had seeped throughout Shinra, touching and tainting even the most innocent of household items. (In truth, this was because, with all of Cloud's rolling around of the past few days, he'd flicked up the power adjustment switch. Birdie was no longer dim, but instead annoying bright. But Cloud didn't know this.)
What was wrong was that his flashlight wasn't working. Cloud figured that this was because Sephiroth's mysteriously evil smirk had infected the flashlight into permanent fear. (In truth, this was because the flashlight, unlike Birdie, was not as lucky with all of the jostling it had had to go through. But Cloud didn't know this.)
What was wrong was that Cloud could hardly breathe at all through his blanket cave, like he could at home. Frantically-breathing-Cloud figured that this was because Sephiroth's evil spirit had permeated the room, and was currently pinning the blanket down in a fit of silent, evil laughter. (In truth, this was because a), Cloud's blanket at home was thinner than Zack's comforters, and b), Cloud was all wrapped up in the blankets like a cocoon.)
What was WRONG was that Sephiroth knew where he was sleeping. He knew that he was supposed to be sleeping. He could easily sneak up and…and…do very scary, evil things with his sword. Or something. Something evil, Cloud was sure.
What was wrong was that Cloud was completely miserable. (In truth, this was because Cloud was a little fraidy-cat with a passion for sweets that had somehow ended up at a military school WITH his greatest fear. Cloud did know this.)
Usually at home, Cloud would use this opportunity to open his room door, peek both ways, and then race down the hall to his mother's room, where he would then leap upon the bed, cold feet and all, and get whacked with the Pillow of Doom because his mother thought he was a "perverted burglar". All this drama usually ended up with Cloud being sent, alone, back to his room.
Cloud wished, desperately, throughout those many long years, that someone would just let him in during those night terrors. Someone warm and friendly and who preferably was bigger, or roughly the same size, as General Sephiroth.
As Cloud had none of those things, he settled for Zack.
So, Cloud gave a running jump onto Zack's bed, armed with Birdie, a non-working flashlight, and little ice cold feet. "S-Sir?" he whispered.
A groan, then a smacking sound emitted from beneath the covers. It sounded more like a zombie was under those blankets rather than Cloud's self-employed mentor. Cloud balked, ready to leap away, bash the being with the flashlight, or screech like a little girl.
(Okay, so he would probably do the latter. But at least his little blond intentions were in the right place.)
Before he could choose a potentially damaging action, however, Zack's head popped over the top of the comforters.
"Cloudy? What's wrong?"
Cloud went lax. Not a zombie. "I…I can't sleep."
Zack shot up. Cloud almost went toppling off the side of the bed.
"Really?" Zack said, freeing one hand to flail empathetically. "Don't worry, buddy, I'll help you! I have laxatives somewhere around here…that's supposed to help you sleep, isn't it?" He tilted his head to the side, frowning. "Last time I tried those, though, I had a bit of a problem…I just can't remember what it was…"
"A-Actually, sir," Cloud stuttered, "Could…could I stay with you?"
Zack stared at him. Cloud tacked on a, "Please?" and attempted to make his eyes as big and vulnerable as he could. It didn't usually work, but it was worth a try.
A slow, frightening smile spread across Zack's face. "You mean…you wanna have a sleepover?"
This situation was beginning to look dangerous. Cloud looked helplessly from side to side, but only found shadowy corners-all the more reason to stay with Zack. The last thing he wanted was to be sent back to the room that Sephiroth was haunting.
"Y-Yes," Cloud replied.
Zack let out a shriek ill-fitting the hour, surging forward and pulling Cloud into him.
"Oh my GAIA, this is like a dream come true!"
And in a split second, Cloud found himself under the covers. After a few creaks and bounces, Zack's long leg tangled with his, and a lanky arm had draped itself across his skinny chest. Cloud wiggled a little, and found a way to both hide his face under the covers so he couldn't stare at the dresser (which looked remarkably like a leering monster) and so Zack's elbow wouldn't dig into his ribs.
Zack's face suddenly appeared in front of his. "Comfortable?"
Cloud nodded gratefully, unwittingly smiling back. "Yes. Thank you, sir."
"No problem," Zack said, disappearing around behind Cloud.
"Oh!" Cloud suddenly said, burrowing out from Zack's grip. Re-grabbing the flashlight and ready to clock something, he scurried across the room, pressed Birdie into the plug, gave a hop-skip of fear when his foot touched a crusty shirt, and streaked back to the bed, pressing his face into Zack's chest.
Zack looked down at him for a moment, blinking slowly. "You," he said finally, "Are strange."
Cloud looked up at him, a hurt expression beginning to blossom on his face. All his life, he'd heard that he was strange-and it was usually used in a bad way. He wasn't strange, per say…just a little different.
Zack hadn't even noticed the mood shift as he continued on, "But I like that. A lot." And with a warm hearted smile down at him, Zack pulled him close and dropped his head down to the pillow.
In that moment, Cloud suddenly realized something. Zack might've been a novice instructor, and a very scary one at that. He might've been a hyperactive SOLDIER who inadvertently caused traumatizing experiences for others.
But despite all of it, he was a really, really good person.
So Cloud hugged him tightly, not quite sure if he was awake or not, snuggled closer, and promptly fell asleep.
In the dark, Zack smiled.
But not in a frightening way.
Shinra Military Academy
The really bad thing about being a cadet at Shinra Military Academy was that you had no clout. If a cadet was in the kitchens around the same time a cook made something virtually inedible, it would probably end up with the cadet as the taste tester. If there was the need to test an immunization shot on something else besides the worst case scenario computer scenes, a few cadets could easily be pulled out of classes. In fact, the only reason that Shinra scraped by lawsuits was because they were lucky.
This either had something to do with their status as a superpower in warfare, medicine and science…or due to the fact that President Shinra made a habit of collecting four-leaf clovers. Both ideas were plausible.
Whatever it was, it worked. Cadets who tried awful smelling foods didn't keel over, even if they were a little wobbly afterwards. The immunization shots gave common colds, and not diseases that would trigger the zombie apocalypse.
Thankfully for Cloud, when he was pulled aside by a harried looking SOLDIER on his way to his next class, it wasn't to taste outdated dates or to be suddenly stuck in the arm with a scary needle.
Cloud's first impulse was to try and step around the SOLDIER. He avoided them as much as he could, after Zack's entire speech on "approaching the wrong person ending you up in a casket". This guy, however, kept stepping in his way, before finally getting annoyed and snapping, "Cadet!"
Cloud snapped to attention. The man surveyed him coolly for a moment before shuffling some papers, handing a few to Cloud. "I need to deliver these papers to a few people, but I'm short on time. Could you please give these to Angeal Hewley?"
Cloud tilted his head. Angeal Hewley sounded familiar.
"Yes sir," Cloud replied politely, shifting the papers under his arm.
"Thank you," the SOLDIER said, and promptly disappeared around a corner to bully more cadets into taking the rest of his papers.
Cloud almost looked at the papers out of curiosity, but luckily remembered at the last possible second that looking at things that didn't belong to you without explicit permission ended up with you being cursed. Duh.
Holding onto things for too long was potentially scarring as well, so he decided that he had to get rid of the papers as soon as possible.
There was only one problem.
He had absolutely no idea where this strangely familiar sounding Angeal Hewley was.
The best course of action, in the case of a normal person, would be to pursue the SOLDIER who had assigned him to duty and request directions.
Cloud, however, held the firm belief that the man would suddenly turn out to be a serial killer. One with a hockey mask who killed people with lollipops. He could definitely not be trusted twice. So off he went, wandering down hall after hall, making himself lost like only someone like him could.
Finally, he stumbled across a secretary. She looked about in her late forties, snapping gum, her eyes glued to what was undoubtedly very important on her computer screen.
(Marie Ericsson says IMMA GETTING MARRIED TOMORROW, WHOOOOO
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Cloud stood there, shifting uncomfortably from foot to foot, waiting for the lady to notice him. When she finally tore her eyes away and nodded at him, he held out the paper.
"Do…you know where I can find…Mr. Angeal Hewley?"
The lady looked at the paper, then back at Cloud, and then back at the paper again. "Sure, I know where to find him. Are you sure you want to find him, though?"
That sounded ominous. "Yes?" Cloud ventured.
The lady shrugged. "Whatever. Not any of MY business." Directions were given, and a slightly more uncertain Cloud was sent off once again.
Finally, Cloud reached a point where three hallways joined. One hallway was rather shadowy, with a MEETING ROOM sign over it. The other two were brightly lit, cheerily leading the way to more labyrinths.
Cloud prayed that he wasn't supposed to go to the meeting room, and looked down at the scribbled directions.
Knees quaking, Cloud walked into the center of the intersection, staring down the hallway. At the very end was a door, possibly-if he could trust the secretary-containing one Mr. Hewley.
As Cloud watched, the door opened, and another blue-eyed, blond-haired cadet came rushing out, slamming the door behind him and running for dear life down the corridor. He finally noticed Cloud, stopped, and looked him up and down.
"Hey," he said. His eyes were wide. "You going in there?"
He jerked his head back towards the door. Cloud looked at the door, then to the cadet, nodding uncertainly.
The cadet put a hand on his shoulder. It was a comradely gesture…yet the boy's face was dead serious. "Trust me, kid…you don't go in there." His eyes flickered back and forth, and he clapped Cloud once more on the shoulder before scrambling off down the hall, disappearing around the corner Cloud had just come around.
Cloud was left alone in front of the now extremely ominous hallway. His teeth, quite against his will, began to chatter.
He took his signs where he got them; and everything was now telling him to NOT go in that door. He could go back the other way, and find someone else to deliver the papers to Mr. Hewley. Someone who wasn't him.
Having decided that this was the best course of action, Cloud turned around to find the way back to safe domain and his classes.
Before stopping dead.
Because, as the odds would have it, who else would be coming down the opposite hallway but General Sephiroth? His hair shone stark silver in the fluorescent lights, and the familiarly evil smirk was on his lips. He was currently preoccupied with his PHS, but knowing Cloud's luck, he wouldn't be for long.
Cloud felt like crying. What a situation to be caught in. There was no way to go down the OTHER hallway, because then General Sephiroth would definitely see him. He definitely couldn't go down the General's corridor. And at his back was the door that he'd been explicitly warned not to enter.
He was stuck. Scary, scarier, or scariest?
General Sephiroth let out a little chuckle at whatever he read. Very white, straight, sharp teeth were temporarily flashed.
With a little, frightened sob, Cloud dashed through the door, slamming it behind him.
Sephiroth blinked, his head snapping up from his screen. He'd been sure that he'd heard a door slam-but no one was there. He shrugged, turned off down the other corridor, and was gone.
Cloud was currently pasted on the other side of the Door of Doom, panting hard and very near tears, his eyes squeezed shut. Whatever in there was going to be horrible-maybe a mutated science experiment, or a vampire.
Instead, there was a very awkward cough.
Cloud deigned to open one watery eye.
The room, as he expected, was occupied, but not by bloodsucking creatures. Instead, there were two men; one in a chair, and one leaning against a wall. One Cloud immediately recognized-Big Zack, from the orientation, was sitting in the chair. The other wasn't at all familiar-a SOLDIER, apparently, dressed from head to toe in red. They both were looking at him oddly.
And Cloud suddenly remembered why the name Angeal had sounded so familiar. He could give him his papers and just leave. Stumbling slightly, Cloud came forward, holding out the papers with one, trembling hand.
"S-Sir," he whispered, "Here are papers for you."
Angeal, however, didn't reach out to take the papers. Instead, he stood up from his chair. At the same moment, the other guy leaned up from the wall. Cloud's eyes flickered back and forth between them, shrinking back. Something about this didn't feel right.
The guy in red looked from Angeal to Cloud, smirking. "So you're not going to say anything?"
"It's him," Angeal wheezed. "I'm sure of it."
One red eyebrow went up. "Really?" He leaned forward a little, putting a gloved hand on a terrified Cloud's shoulder. "Tell me, kid, what's your name?"
Cloud wanted to run for the door. At the same time, though, Zack's mentor was in the room; that MUST mean that everything was okay, right?
"C-Cloud Strife…sir," he said, shifting from foot to foot.
Unexpectedly, a smile-ten times more terrifying than any of Zack's-blossomed on the SOLDIER's face.
"Gotcha!" he crowed.
This was the exact moment that Cloud finally broke away and ran for the door.
Unfortunately, Angeal was already in front of it. Someone from behind grabbed Cloud's shoulder.
And Cloud shrieked.
Now would be a good time for an interlude…don't you think?
If you have read all the way to the end, or have this story on Story Alert or your Favorite Stories list, PLEASE take a moment to review. It really means a lot to me!
A/N: The more I write on this story, the wackier it becomes. O.O Though edited, it still is excessively wordy, so sorry about that. The next chapter is outlined and begun, so hopefully it'll be out sooner than this one.
Good News from Here: I'VE GROWN TWO INCHES. And that is all. BUT IT'S A START.
Thank you SO much for all of the sweet reviews I received-especially the ones that made me laugh. :) All the alerts and favorites are overwhelming too-I really don't know what to say. THANK YOU for liking this strange story!
Another day, another dorky Author's Note.