Wee! I love you guys, thank you for your reviews, favorites and alerts.
Since this flashback is quite lengthy, I decided to break it into two parts, chapter 4 and chapter 5. After that we're gonna go back to the present to focus on Cloud and Zack's recovery.
And… also… does anyone know what Zack's fanclub's name is? I never play CC so I don't know.
UltimateNinjaOfDoom: yes, Zack was injected with wolf DNA, but remember that his body rejected it, that's the important point. It would help later when something happens to him…
DeviateChaos: thanks a lot for your praise. Now that I have finished the exams at school, I will keep writing and update as soon as possible.
TaintedRhapsody: Thank you sooooo much for your review. The three Firsts' story in Crisis Core is simply too sad, and angst-ing is very tiring, so I solve the problem about Angeal and Genesis' case (and also Sephiroth's little episode in Nibelheim reactor) and boom! They are all friends again. Of course, the reason why it took them 1 year to find Zack and Cloud will be told, but you will have to wait for it. ^^
Nekousagi o3o: thanks a lot for your wonderful review *hugs* It tore my heart apart when I wrote the torturing scene, but I had to, because it will help later. And I really appreciate your help for pointing out that I made grammar errors. English is not my mother tongue but I'm not using it as an excuse. I'll try to be more careful from now on, and if you find out my errors, please point them out for me. I really appreciate that.
Meggura: you made me curious about what your idea was, but let's see if my ideas can please you or not, ne? ^^
Akitty, Kimberly kim, AnnAisu, Kichou: thanks a lot, I'll try my best to update regularly.
Rayne Destiny: Hm… Zack might be a wolf, or he might be… what-his-nickname-is. I'll let you readers decide it later, when ANIMA Project finally kicks in. And about how Sephy gets ouf of Jenova's grip, I'll tell you later. Thanks for reviewing.
Warning(s): some naughty thoughts, and Genesis decides to make the first move.
~Two years ago…~
It had taken Zack and Genesis almost a month to see the petite boy, Cloud Strife, again. After filling in the application form in Sephiroth's apartment, the boy had immediately moved into his barracks. Not wanting to bother the SOLDIERs anymore, Cloud had timidly said while staring at his boots as if they were the most interesting thing in the world. Too embarrassed to face his heroes, the SOLDIERs knew the truth but kept it to themselves. They did not need to embarrass the boy anymore if they wanted to keep their good impression on him. Only Zack had looked heartbroken and had promised that he would see the boy again, of course, Cloud had been as pale as a corpse when he heard that.
At the welcoming ceremony for new recruits, Angeal had caught the sight of blond standing among hundreds of new cadets. Cloud absolutely stood out against other boys. With his bright chocobo hair, who could miss him, even if he was on the shorter side? But the boy kept looking at the floor all the time, not once lifting his eyes up as if he was avoiding them, so the SOLDIERs couldn't catch his eyes. And when the ceremony was over, the boy had slipped out too quickly for anyone to call him back. And then there came the paperwork. Sephiroth was literally buried in paper every time Angeal walked into his office. The General had almost strangled an innocent secretary when she unintentionally gave him another nine-inch stack of paper when he had just finished a seven-and-a-half-inch one. Angeal and Zack had their arms full of new cadets, the Puppy had almost pulled his rank to be assigned to Cloud's class but Sephiroth only glared at him intensely and Angeal ushered the teen out of the General's office before anything bad happened. And Genesis, not doing paperwork or teaching, was assigned (aka kicked out) to Junon. The redhead had only left after he had fixed Director Lazard a very burning glare, making the security guards and the Director shrink in fear.
And here they were, 3 weeks later…
It was a quarter to three in the evening then in the Shinra Tower, the hall was remarkably empty compared to what-it-would-be 15 minutes later, when the cadets went to their next classes. But there were still a handful of people walking peacefully, either returning to their offices or leaving for missions. But their peace was broken, absolutely and mercilessly broken by the sound of footsteps slamming heavily against the floor like gunshots. Two blur shadows, one black and the other red, were sprinting down the hall in lightning speed, leaving echoes of curses in their trails. Some of the old employees who were too familiar to this sight, as well as two Turks on the hall, immediately flattened themselves against the wall, not wanting to be caught in the 'trail of Death' created by two everyone-knows-who SOLDIERs. The newer employees only shrieked in utter fear.
Zackary Fair was considered a prodigy ever since he stepped in to Shinra Military due to his amazing talents with swords (and his knack of pulling pranks at the superiors, everyone knew but no one dared to talk that aloud). But his commanding officers (including one General and two Commanders) had known for a very long time that his talents also included being constantly stupid. It all happened when he oh-(not)-so-innocently yelled again that LOVELESS was a stupid play and snatched the book from Genesis' hand and chucked it across the room, right in front of its owner. Three strained seconds passed and Commander Angeal Hewley's office exploded with a mighty boom, scaring the shit out of half the employees on the floor. Zack and Genesis were kicked out to the hall to personally solve their problems. Angeal had immediately made himself scarce in cadets' classes after getting out of his now wreck of an office and shut his phone down, and Sephiroth had locked his office's door before anyone got the chance to knock on it. Angeal knew the man had even had Masamune readied for anyone or anything came to his office that related to 'Genesis' or 'Zack' or both. Let those two idiots play with each other, they mused.
That day, Zackary Fair had learnt something.
Running is nice.
But running from a maniac Commander hot on his heels, is not.
Zack was panting, his face flushed red not only from the exhaustion by running two hours nonstop from Genesis, but also from dodging giant 'red rubber balls' aka fireballs from said man. The Shinra Tower's hall had been somewhat destroyed during their 'little' running exercise (he was sure Shinra would more or less kick Sephy's ass for this, and then Sephy would kick his ass, or Genesis' ass, or both's), and Zack was running on sheer will now, but it didn't seem like Genesis wanted to stop. Well, one more thing to add to your mental note, Fair, never again to provoke Gen-Gen by telling him that LOVELESS was stupid no matter how stupid it really was. One drop of sweat rolled into Zack's eye, and he stubbornly blinked it away although his eye stung. They have been running up-and-down the building at least five times. One glance at the metal board attached to the wall told Zack that he was now on the 68th floor, two more floors to the terrace with no exit, unless one counted jumping down from 70 floors an exit.
"Crap." Zack muttered, opened his mouth to gulp some air into his lungs. Even for a 'puppy' like Zack, he mush admitted that he was tired, and running down the stairs again was absolutely not an option unless he wanted to lie in bed for a whole week straight before he could attempt to walk. So Zack ran, ran and ran and ran until he saw the door led to the rooftop of Shinra Tower. Zack sent prayers to every gods he knew and didn't knew. Please, please let me get away this time, I promise I'll be good. I'll do my paperwork for Seph, I'll train with Angie without complaining that he was evil, and I'll listen to Genesis' stupid LOVELESS.
With nothing left to lose, Zack barely heard Genesis shouting something about 'down' or 'doom'. The metal door opened with a loud bang, Zack almost missed the fact that it had already been opened, and stumbled into the terrace.
Genesis was hot on his heels after the pup, no one got away after insulting his LOVELESS, let alone doing it twice. And when Zack stumbled, he launched himself forward and sent the Puppy face first to the floor with a loud thud. Zack sprawled face-down on the ground, apparently too exhausted to move except the frantic movement of his chest. Letting out a triumphant sound in gasps for breath, Genesis perked his head up and for the first time noticed the sight around him. What he saw there was startling. The giant red orb known as the sun was setting behind the horizon, painting the sky nearby with a hue of orange-red and bright yellow, while the further sky away was already covered by a velvet dark blue and purple curtain. The still dim moon dangled loosely behind thick dark clouds on the opposite direction of the dying sun. Mother Nature's painting was amazing and breathtaking, but it was nowhere near gorgeous as the only person in it.
Genesis whispered the boy's name from his position on top of Zack, but it wasn't loud enough for the blond to snap out of whatever trance he was into. The SOLDIER took a moment to memorize the sight before his very eyes. There was the petite cadet standing alone in the sunset at the far corner of the terrace with his side to the SOLDIERs. The evening wind went howling over the air, blowing the boy's uniform backward, flattening it against his lithe body and showing off his new and nicely toned muscle. Even his chocobo hair was blown behind his ears, and with the sun painting its last ray on, it looked more gorgeous than ever. His sky blue eyes were glued at the horizon, or more specifically, the sun. The distant gaze in those blue orbs reminded Genesis of a lost child looking for his parents. Ah, maybe a lost cloud silently calling for his brothers and mother sky.
Genesis gaped without realizing he was doing it. The blond boy was… simply stunning.
Zack loud groan seemed to have done its job on snapping Cloud out of his trance. The boy whipped his head to the SOLDIERs' direction, his eyes wide and startled before he began stuttering. He looked very much like a chocobo caught in the headlights, Genesis stifled his chuckle when the boy's voice came out as a squeak.
"Co- Commander? Lieutenant?"
Genesis made a face. How many times had Zack told the boy not to call them by their titles when they were alone? He opened his mouth to correct Cloud, but Zack beat him to it.
"Hey ya, Spiky! Good to see you!" Zack's greetings were muffled by his position on the floor, and Genesis smacked the teen's head hard enough for him to yell. "Fuck, Genesis!"
Cloud was simply confused by the SOLDIERs' action, what were they playing at when sitting on top of each other like that. At first he was sure he would have been scolded or grounded for wandering up here and not returning to his bunk like other cadets. But it seemed like he would get away this time. Cloud was smart, he wouldn't ruin his chance of survive. Trying his best to be helpful in this situation, Cloud hurriedly ran over to Genesis and Zack, mentally cheering himself for not stumbling even once.
"Commander, Lieutenant, are you alright?"
"Drop the formality, Spiky, call me Zack. And no, I'm not alright. Can you kick this fucker out of my back, please?"
Cloud pretended not to hear Zack's pleading. He had heard of Zack's antics from other cadets, and it was best not to interfere once another officer had caught the Lieutenant. Especially when that officer was the famous short-tempered Genesis Rhapsodos.
So, Cloud turned to Genesis, who appeared to be very pleased that he had gotten the boy's attention.
"Um… Commander, sir. If I may ask, what happened to Zack?"
"He was just being stupid… again, that's all. And Cloud, call me Genesis."
"Uh… okay, Genesis, sir." Genesis sighed, old habits sure die hard. Cloud ducked his head in embarrassment – he wasn't used to calling his idols by their names, well, except Zack since the Lieutenant had embarrassed him in the cafeteria enough to make Cloud call him by his name whenever the blond cursed him – and turned to Zack.
"Zack, what did you do this time?"
"Nothing, kiddo. I swear I'm innocent, don't give me that look, Spike!" At Cloud's unwavering stern gaze, Zack sighed. "I just gave him some… constructive criticism."
"Calling something stupid is not constructive, Zack."
Cloud gave a long-suffering sigh, very much like a parent received his naughty child back from an angry neighbor after the boy had broken the man's window.
"I apologize for him, Genesis, sir. He just doesn't know when to use his brain." Genesis had to bow his head to hide his smirk at Cloud's tone. The teen sounded suspiciously like Angeal when Zack had been caught pulling pranks at someone.
"I'm not sure if he has a brain or not."
"Hey! Even dogs have brains, don't insult me like that!" Zack protested wildly, earning him an is-that-so? look from Cloud. The boy sat down on his heels in front of Zack.
"Alright… so what did you call 'stupid', Zack? I'm sure you don't have the guts to call the Commander 'stupid' right in his face, so what is it?"
"It's his stupid LOVELESS. OW!"
"See my point here, Zack? You really don't have a brain." Genesis really considered about getting a rolled up paper now if he wanted to prevent his knuckles from being cracked by having to smack Zack's head constantly.
Zack opened his mouth to retort but Cloud quickly cut him off with a dark grimace.
"Zack! That was inappropriate! You can't say things like that about LOVELESS! That was totally uncalled for!" The boy's voice was almost a squeak, but his gaze was stern enough to rival Sephiroth's and Zack could almost see a killer cat slowly replacing the sweet kitten that had been there just a minute ago. "LOVELESS is an amazing work of art, a priceless cultural heritage of humanity, it deserves to be treasured and respected!"
Seeing Zack's stupid look and Genesis' smug smirk, Cloud tilted his head to a side questioningly, then quickly clamped his hands to his mouth when he realized he had just yelled at his superior… again. The boy blushed and sheepishly looked down.
"Uhm… sorry, sirs." Zack had changed into gaping disbelievingly now and Genesis' smirk became a grin.
"Don't worry, Cloud, you've just done me a favor of scolding the pup, I'm grateful." Genesis softly said, shifting to sit on Zack's shoulder blades to get nearer to Cloud and lifting the boy's chin up with his hand. "Now, will you tell me why you know about LOVELESS?"
Cloud's blush darkened tenfold before he timidly said.
"My- my mother has a lot of books at our home in Nibelheim. She- she always read them to me before I went to bed, and one of those books…"
"… was LOVELESS?"
Cloud nodded, still not trusting his voice enough to make a vocal answer.
Zack perked his head up and looked at Cloud with his eyes wide with horror and sympathy. Holy shit, what kind of mother would read LOVELESS for their children to go to bed? He really sympathized with the timid little blond chocobo sitting in front of him. Such a cute creature didn't deserve to have LOVELESS beaten into his head before he knew how to read. Discretely glancing up, Zack cringed when he saw that Genesis was grinning smugly. And the young Lieutenant made a vow to rescue his lovely chocobo from the evil grip of Genesis and LOVELESS. Just you wait, Gen-Gen.
Genesis decided to ignore the glance he got from Zack, although he could read exactly what was going on inside that spiky black head. There was no way he would let the teen keep Cloud out of his reach once he knew that the blond also knew about LOVELESS. He stood up, stepped out of Zack and let Cloud pull the teen up. The blond was still looking at Zack disapprovingly, and Zack could only grin sheepishly at the boy like a child caught with a cookie jar in his hands.
"So, Cloud, what are you doing here?" Zack's attempt to change to topic was rewarded with a blush from Cloud.
"Uhm… I'm… sight-seeing?" The boy sheepishly stepped backwards, scratching the back of his head. Zack made a face.
It was a friendly comment, but Zack yelped when Genesis hit him in the head. Ignoring the Lieutenant's protest, Genesis stepped closer to the boy.
"Why aren't you in your bunk with your squadmates, Cloud?"
"Uh…" Cloud began to step back again, but Genesis quickly grabbed his thin arm to prevent that.
"Tell me, I won't scold you." Genesis used the very sentence he had used when he first met Cloud. Zack shot him an indignant look. Cloud's blush returned full-force when he stammered.
"… It's just… I don't think staying down there is a good idea."
"Why? Something with your bunkmates?"
Cloud hesitantly nodded, averting the Commander's eyes. Zack immediately sobered himself, stepping in and put a hand on the boy's shoulder, asking him with concern in his voice.
"Cloud… are you… bullied?"
Cloud looked back at him with… surprise? in his sky blue eyes before letting out a small laugh.
"Huh? No. Not bullied… yet. J-just some stupid nicknames and all. It's nothing."
But Zack let the last sentence flow out of his ears. His face crunched up with anger as he yelled.
"'Nothing'? How the fuck is that 'nothing'? That was fucking something, Cloud. No one makes fun of my little chocobo!"
Zack stomped his way next to Cloud and drew the boy into a protective hug, he shot Genesis a touch-him-and-you-are-done look, making the Commander snort. Cloud blushed ferociously in Zack's arms but then winced.
"Lieutenant… just when did I become your chocobo?" He narrowed his blue eyes dangerously, and finally Zack's brain worked effectively enough to let its master know that he was in danger. Cloud didn't call him 'Lieutenant' unless he was on duty or something Zack did bothered him greatly. The Lieutenant grinned nervously before slowly letting Cloud out of his grip.
"Uh… no, Spike, I didn't mean…"
He was cut off when Cloud whole-heartedly kicked him in his shin with a low growl in his throat. The Lieutenant howled painfully, strings of colorful languages flew out of his mouth as he jumped away from Cloud. Genesis grinned widely. If there was one thing Cloud hated, it was being called by something not his real name. And Zack, oh Zack, just happened to have a knack of renaming everything and everyone. But the Crimson Commander quickly schooled his expression when he turned to Cloud.
"Cloud, if you say you can handle this… bullying, I'll take your word for it." Genesis knew he wouldn't have to worry about Cloud, since the boy's level was way beyond other cadets' if his fight in the slum was anything to go by. "But if anything gets out of control…"
"I'll report to my superiors right away, sir." Cloud meekly said with a firm salute. Genesis nodded, but he somehow wished Cloud had said 'report to you'.
The two turned their heads to Zack's direction when a loud and excited 'eep' was heard. Zack was grinning like an idiot when he skipped next to Cloud and clapped a hand over his back.
"So, Spike, have you eaten dinner?" Cloud gave him a glare for calling him 'Spike' but answered nonetheless.
"No… I usually eat later to avoid… them." The two SOLDIERs understood the meaning of the word 'them' without having it spoken out loud. Zack's grin widened so much that Cloud was afraid the man's face was splitting apart.
"Then would you like to have dinner at our place?"
Genesis finally decided that Zack also had a knack of using his brain at the most unpredictable time. But this was a good time, very good indeed. Cloud was gaping at the idea of eating together with four most powerful men in SOLDIER. Apparently he was overwhelmed with his thoughts, Genesis secretly hoped that the boy wouldn't faint like the first time. But if he fainted… then Genesis would simply have to carry the boy to their apartment, wouldn't he? Well, that was very tempting. The redhead licked his lips.
After five minutes of great thinking, a dark blush found its way to every part of Cloud's exposed skin, from his collarbone – which was partly hidden behind his scarf – to the tips of his ears. The blond ducked his head, whispered embarrassingly.
"If… if that's okay with… with you."
Zack let out a playful whoop and hugged the boy tightly, effectively lifting him about a foot off the ground. Cloud squeaked.
"Of course it's okay, Spike! It's more than okay!"
"No! Zack! Put me down!" The boy was wailing and thrashing vainly in Zack's arms. Genesis considered throwing the pup a (fire)ball for him to catch, but decided to clear his throat instead.
"As touching as the sight is, I must say that we have fifteen minutes to walk back to our apartment and start cooking dinner before Seph decided to step into the kitchen and beat the crap out of the microwave again."
Zack scrunched his nose in disgust when he remembered the outcome of that event. He set Cloud back on the ground and turned to Genesis.
"Hell yeah! He totally scared me shitless when he said he was going to execute it with Masamune for blowing up his breakfast. And who the hell boils eggs by putting them into the microwave?"
Genesis snorted and absently waved his hand before turning to the staircase. Sephiroth's little act with the microwave had caused the General to be banned from stepping into the kitchen for two months and Angeal to buy a new microwave and two fire extinguishers. The SOLDIERs began walking to the metal door and only turned back when they realized Cloud wasn't with them. Still standing in the dying sun ray, the boy was busy gaping in shock.
"You- you mean… General Sephiroth… he- he can't cook?"
"He's a disaster in the kitchen, Spike. Never let him go there unless you have a fire extinguisher nearby." Zack mumbled. Genesis chuckled, grabbing Cloud's thin arm and proceeded to drag him down the stairs.
It was lucky for Cloud that most cadets and employees were having dinner in cafeterias, or he would never live it down. And although Genesis had let go of his arm when they stepped back to the lower floors, the boy still carefully kept his distance to the SOLDIERs. Another lucky thing for the cadet was that the trip Sephiroth's apartment was relatively short. Apparently they were the first to go 'home', Angeal and Sephiroth were no where in sight. Genesis ushered Cloud into their apartment when the boy seemed to have rooted himself in front of the door, Zack just wanted to scoop the boy up and dump him to the couch already. After five full minutes of reassuring the poor cadet, Cloud timidly stepped into the SOLDIERs' 'home'. And he couldn't stop his eyes from going wide.
Cloud breathed out with awe at the sight of the apartment. Well, if it could be called an apartment. This… place looked more like a five-star hotel room. The living room was painted in white and was at least two times bigger than the cadet's bunk. There was a big TV to the right with a black leather couch and some brown fur armchairs nearby. The couch was stuffed with fluffy white pillows and blankets. There were two wooden doors in the living room and one wooden-paved corridor that was too deep for Cloud to see where it led to.
So this is where the four most famous men in SOLDIER lived. Cloud was mentally jumping up and down and screaming with joy. Oh, the Silver Elite, Red Leather, Keepers of Honor and Little Puppy would kill to be in his place right now.
Cloud was vaguely aware of his surroundings when he heard someone snickered right behind him. His instinct kicked on, Cloud immediately dropped to the floor, attempting to sweep out the attacker's legs. The movement was so quick that Cloud found his head spinning. He heard a 'whoop' sound, and something – someone – stopped his leg and effectively pinned him to the floor. The back of Cloud's head collided with the tile and he had to bit his lower lip to prevent himself from yelling. Panicking, Cloud lashed out with his free arms, hoping to hit the attacker.
Zack's pained voice pulled Cloud back to reality. Wait, where was he again?
In the General's apartment.
The mere thought was enough for Cloud to immediately stop moving and focus on blinking to get his vision back. There was a blur figure looming over him, and Cloud narrowed his eyes.
"It's Genesis. And that was some move you've got there, Cloud." The redhead smirked from his position above Cloud. And he really meant it, the praise. SOLDIERs could easily react when they spotted even the smallest threat, but they were all battle-hardened warriors, and they had had to go through years of training to hone their instinct like that. But Cloud had managed to surprise the two SOLDIERs… again when he dropped to the ground and attempted to sweep out Genesis' legs. The boy was truly a natural warrior, and Genesis knew both SOLDIER and Turk would kill to have the boy in their ranks once they found out his talents. But since Genesis was a SOLDIER himself, he would fight with tooth and nail before letting a Turk touch the boy. Yes, there was no way he would hand Cloud to the Turks. Especially when they had had the pervert of a new recruit two months ago, Reno or something like that.
Genesis' train of thought was cut when he saw Cloud's blush. Ah, finally the boy had realized his position.
"To the first-aid kit, you gave him a black eye. Nice job." Genesis grinned and helped Cloud to his feet. Cloud paled visibly. Oh no, the punishment of hurting a superior – intentionally or unintentionally – was… to be expelled from the army. As if reading the boy's thoughts, Genesis quickly reassured him.
"Hey, it's alright, there's nothing to worry. The pup can handle better than that. No one's gonna charge you." He affectionately ruffled Cloud's blond spikes then suddenly wrinkled his nose.
"Goddess, Cloud." Genesis leaned closer to the boy's face, making him blush a dark shade of red. "You stink." He sniffed the boy's spike and ushered him to the bathroom by pushing his back. "Go take a shower, Chocobo. You can't welcome Seph and Angie home with a dirty face, right?"
"B- but…" Cloud tried to protest, his face now redder than a tomato. Using the General's bathroom? The mere idea was enough to make him die over and over in his head.
"It's an order, cadet." Genesis sternly said, and Cloud instinctively gave him a sharp salute before blushing.
"… But… I don't have any clothes, sir."
You can be naked, I don't mind. Although the thought was very tempting, Genesis knew better than to say that out loud. So he resided to a more appropriate solution.
"You can wear Zack's. Puppy, get your ass into your room and give Cloud some clothes."
All Cloud heard was a bark for an answer. Minutes later, Zack emerged from the corridor – Cloud cringed at the sight of the SOLDIER's dark left eye and mentally slapped himself for hurting him – and tossed Cloud a bundle of clothes.
"Try these, Spiky. The pants might be a little loose for ya, but you'll just have to tie up at the waist, ok?" He grinned reassuringly before running away to find a pack of ice for his poor eye.
"Y- yeah." Cloud squeaked before locking himself in the bathroom. He missed the smirk Genesis had on his face.
It was the best shower Cloud ever had. The bathroom was really big and luxurious, paved with shining tiles and painted white. Cloud carefully stripped off his cadet uniform and neatly folded them and put them in the sink, then he gingerly stepped into the bathtub – which can easily fit for ten people – before turning on the shower knob.
Cloud nearly yelped when streams of cold water hit his bare skin. He reached up to change the water temperature and waited for awhile before stepping beneath the shower again. This time, Cloud sighed in relief. Shiva, he hadn't felt this good since he entered the program. The cadet shower was simply too crowded to get comfortable under the ice-cold water. After wetting his stubborn blond spikes, Cloud reached over to where bottles of shampoo and conditioner were set. He let out a small triumphant sound when he found out that General Sephiroth's shampoo and conditioner had vanilla odor and not mint like the Silver Elite had said. And the apple scent bottles must be Genesis' and Angeal's, and Zack's was blueberry and fresh grass.
Carefully squeezing a little of Sephiroth's shampoo into his small hands, Cloud proceeded to wash his hair and use Genesis' conditioner after that. He completed his bathing by washing his body with Zack's soap. Stepping out of the bathtub, Cloud dried his body with a fluffy white towel, his hair would take a while to dry before sticking out in every directions again. Cautiously wrapping the towel around his slim hips, Cloud donned the white T-shirt over his head, finding it quite loose around his body. The pants were obviously one of Zack's smallest and shortest ones, but they still reached over Cloud's knees and he had to tie the strings around his waist to keep it still. Cloud attempted to dry his hair one more time before putting the towel around his shoulders and stepped out of the bathroom, not forgetting to retrieve his cadet uniform.
General Sephiroth had had a long day. After the ruckus caused by Genesis and Zack in Angeal's office, he had managed to lock himself in his own office for two hours before President Shinra himself demanded him to come to his office right away. Sephiroth then spent the next hour trying to think of how he would murder Genesis and Zack later and not listening to even one word from the fat President. After he was dismissed, he met up with Angeal on the way to his apartment. The burly SOLDIER seemed to also have a bad day from trying to reassure new cadets and employees that Genesis and Zack were simply 'playing' with each other and not wanting to roast them all alive. Sephiroth silently vowed to be as ruthless as he could be without killing those two idiots, maybe he would tie them up and hang them over at the entrance of Shinra Tower. Angeal preferred the peaceful way, he just wanted to kick them out of the window and let them be.
Sephiroth opened to door to their apartment and was not surprised when he saw Zack lounging on the couch in front of the TV in a sea of pillows and blankets. Zack offered them the brightest grin he could muster, and Angeal immediately forgot everything he had intended to do to the Puppy. The burly SOLDIER only reached out to pet the young Lieutenant's hair and kissed his forehead. Genesis was properly preparing their dinner in the kitchen again, if the delicious smell was anything to go by, Sephiroth thought. But then he stopped dead in his tracks when he spotted a pair of standard combat boots lying near the door and the sound of the running shower in the bathroom. If Zack and Genesis were already here, then who was inside the bathroom?
Apparently Angeal was having the same thought as he was, since the Commander gave him a questioning look. Sephiroth slightly shrugged, indicating the he, too, was clueless. Zack seemed to know their unspoken question, and he grinned.
"It's Spike. He's here for dinner."
Realization dawned on Sephiroth's pale face. Cadet Strife, or Spike as Zack had said, was here, in their apartment, and was taking a shower in their bathroom. Zack bobbed his head up and down.
"Gen and I found him wandering on the rooftop, so we invited him here."
"Try to be as gentle as you can, Seph. We don't need him to faint like last time."
Genesis appeared from the kitchen, dressed in a plain red T-shirt and black shorts, holding a big spoon in his hand. Knowing the sentence was just a joke from the redhead's mocking tone, Sephiroth shrugged before walking over to his room and proceeded to take a bath before changing his clothes. He really had to give Genesis and Zack credits for inviting Strife over. Ever since the encounter in the slum, Sephiroth had wanted to talk to the boy again but found himself unable to personally go find the boy in the barracks. He had found the boy to be the perfect candidate for SOLDIER, and with proper training, Cloud would certainly be in the same ranks as them. Sephiroth knew he would kill himself before he admitted this, but he… he was somehow attracted to the blond boy. Was it the boy's talents or his feminine but attractive figure, the General never knew. But one thing was for sure, the General had longed to the chance to speak with the boy for ages. And now the two trouble-makers in their group had done him the favor, well, he may spare them from the deaths he had wanted to give them before. Mentally shaking his head, Sephiroth quickly rinsed the conditioner out of his silver hair before dressing himself in plain white shirt and black pants and stepped out to the living room again.
Angeal had already made himself comfortable on the couch next to Zack and Genesis was busy with LOVELESS on one of the armchairs when Sephiroth returned to the living room. The shower was still running. Apparently Cloud had decided to take his time in there. Sephiroth wouldn't blame the boy, he knew how bad the cadet shower was. He was trying to listen to the news on TV when the bathroom door opened. All eyes in the living room immediately turned to the figure that stepped out from the steam-filled room.
Sephiroth was sure his heart had missed a beat at the sight before his very eyes. And according to the reactions of other inhabitants in the living room, they all had the same thoughts.
Cadet Cloud Strife emerged from the bathroom with a towel around his shoulders. His usually spiky blond hair was somewhat flattened. The longer spikes reached down to the base of his neck and were still dripping with water. Those droplets traced down the small curve of the boy's neck, to his collarbone – which was exposed due to the loose T-shirt, apparently Zack's – before disappearing behind the white fabric of his shirt. The T-shirt's sleeves almost reached past the boy's elbows, but it was still enough for the SOLDIERs to see the newly toned muscles in the blond's forearm. The black pants were hung loosely around slim waist, although the SOLDIERs knew the boy had tried his best to tie them up, revealing lean but strong legs. Everything just made Cloud Strife seem younger than his already young age. And his happy youthful face just made him more… attractive. Sephiroth heard Zack swallow and immediately forced himself to get rid of the dark thoughts flying in his head. Somewhere near Zack, Angeal gently cleared his throat.
Cloud snapped out of his trance as soon as he heard the sound. His head whipped up to recognize four pairs of eyes looking at him intensely. Cloud blinked once, twice, before blushing to the tip of his hair. The General and Commander Hewley were home already, how the hell didn't he hear them coming in? The blond looked around frantically, trying to find an escape route before he heard a high-pitched squeal and was swept into a bear-hug.
"Spiiikyyyy! You're so cuuuute!""
Cloud let out a very un-manly squeak and started kicking furiously in the captor's arms. He heard someone chuckle. According to the low and warm voice, it was Commander Hewley.
"Zack, let the boy go."
"Aww, but he's so cute, Angie. Can I hold him for another minute?" Zack whined like a spoiled child to Angeal while hugging Cloud more tightly.
"S- sir." Cloud choked. "You're… suffocating me."
Zack let out a panicked 'meep' sound before loosened his arms so much that Cloud fell to the floor on his ass. The boy whimpered slightly, earning light chuckles from other SOLDIERs. As he lifted his head up, Cloud met the General's green eyes watching him intensely.
"S- sir!" He scrambled to his feet to salute his superiors, but Angeal gently waved his hand with a smile.
"At ease, Cloud. You don't need to salute."
The General's eyes somewhat softened and he inclined his head lightly. Cloud's ears blazed bright red as he ducked his head, seemingly trying to hide his face with the towel.
This earned another chuckle from Angeal. The Commander rose from his seat on the couch and walked to Cloud, putting a large hand on his shoulder.
"You can call us by our names, too, Cloud. And… it's a pleasure to have you at dinner with us."
"Uh… the pleasure is mine, Angeal… sir."
Everybody in the room smiled, even Sephiroth. Then Genesis' voice was loud and clear as he stood up to go to the kitchen.
"Get to the table, children. Dinner will be served right away."
Cloud was mentally thanking the Crimson Commander for giving something to do instead of standing in the middle of the room like an idiot in front of his idols. He quickly scrambled to the large table on the other side of the living room, choosing the chair that the SOLDIERs would most unlikely sit down before gingerly settling himself on it.
Everybody else also settled themselves into their seats. Zack immediately pulled out the chair next to Cloud's and proceeded to dry his hair with the towel. Cloud protested when his poor head was swinging side to side.
"Lieutenaaaant!" The boy whined. "Stop ruffling my hair…, sir."
Zack flashed him a bright grin and ruffled his hair even more.
"Nuh-uh, not until you call m- us by our names."
Cloud pouted under the towel. His hair, despite how stubborn and abnormal it seemed, was the most favorite part on his body. He wouldn't let someone as troublesome as Zack ruin it. Inhaling a big gulp of air, Cloud roared at the top of his lungs.
"Zachary Fair! Stop ruffling my hair immediately or I will castrate you!"
Zack froze dead in the middle of whatever he was doing, the white towel fell from his hands to the floor. Angeal whistled. Sephiroth smirked. Genesis burst out laughing in the kitchen.
"Goddess, Cloud. I think we should have you here for dinner more often." The redhead yelled back between his laughter.
Cloud stuck his tongue out at the now-frozen Zack, snatching the towel back and proceeded to flatten – soothe – his poor spikes before settling himself further into the seat and blushed heavily. Angeal laughed heartily and reached out his hand. But he froze right in front of Cloud.
"May I, Cloud?" There was twinkle of amusement in the man's eyes and humor in his voice. Well, Angeal thought, better to ask first, I wouldn't want to be castrated.
Cloud looked at the Commander bashfully before nodding gently. Angeal petted his hair lovingly for a couple of times before retreating. Zack howled painfully, making Cloud jump in his seat and Sephiroth's ears twitch.
"CLOOOUUUD! How could you do that to meeeee?"
And he proceeded to cry alone in his seat and occasionally looking at Cloud with his best kicked-puppy eyes. Eventually, Cloud found himself guilty of what he had done and tentatively reached out to touch Zack's forearm. He missed the interested and amused look from three other pairs of eyes, two from the table and one from the door to the kitchen.
"H-hey… um… Lieu-lieutenant?"
Zack didn't answer the boy, he just hiccupped. Cloud mentally slapped himself.
"Hn?" There was an answer this time, but Zack still had his back to the blond and was still sniffling. Although the three other SOLDIERs could clearly see the smirk hidden behind his hand.
"Um… I'm- I'm sorry. I didn't mean to yell- yell at you like that."
No answer. Cloud discreetly sighed before continued.
"L-look, you can… um… pet my hair if you like. Just… just don't over do it, okay?"
A hiccup. "Really?"
"Y- yeah." Cloud was growing more and more uncertain about his decision of soothing Zack now. But he was too focused on the task to notice that Genesis was snickering in the doorway, Angeal was biting his hand to keep himself from burst out laughing and even Sephiroth was smiling with interest.
"And you'll let me call you Spike?"
"What?... Um… no…"
Cloud really wanted to slap himself again when Zack howled in pain.
"Alright, alright, you can call me Spike, or Spiky, or Cloudy… anything you like."
"And you'll call us by our names?"
"Uh…" Cloud nervously scratched the back of his head. He had to be respect towards them… but only when he was on duty, right? "… I'll try."
"Promise?" There was the lack of sniffling and crying now, but Cloud was too naïve to notice.
As soon as the word 'promise' was out, Cloud was immediately tackled to the ground by none other than Zack Fair. The Lieutenant was smirking evilly while pinning the blond the floor. It was only then that Cloud realized he had been trapped. He proceeded to growl and snarl and fight his way out of the steely grip but failed miserably. Somewhere up there, on the table, he heard snickers.
"Lieutenant." Cloud whined again, but Zack only waved a finger in front of the blond's face.
"Nuh-uh, Spike. You promised to call us by our names."
Cloud pouted. Zack grinned at him with a say-it-or-I'll-punish-you look. When he got no answer from Cloud, he pulled the boy's T-shirt up and began to tickle him in his ribs. Cloud squirmed restlessly on the floor while trying to catch his breath.
"N-no… let me go… argh… Z-zack, let me go! Alright, I promise, I- I promise to call you… call you by your names."
The tickling ceased, and Cloud was a lying and gasping heap on the floor. Zack ruffled his blond spikes affectionately.
"That's my Spiky. Good work, cadet." And then he pulled Cloud up and set him back to the chair. Cloud shot Zack a death glare but he ignored it. When Cloud looked up and saw that Angeal was smiling broadly and Sephiroth was also smirking, he again blushed heavily and ducked his head, silently vowing to get Zack back sometimes. Maybe he would castrate the SOLDIER in his sleep.
Sephiroth watched the blond in front of him with amusement in his eyes. The blond had changed almost non-stop from the sweet and naïve kitten to the killer cat and back. But what had amused him most was when Zack tickled the boy. The white T-shirt had hiked up to Cloud's ribs, revealing the smooth skin of his flat and round tummy. Sephiroth suddenly wondered what it would be like to rub his hand over that perfect skin and have that equally perfect body writhing and squirming under his every night. The General had to shove those thoughts out of his mind and knew that he would have to pay a visit to the bathroom later, when Cloud had gone back to the barrack.
Meanwhile, Commander Genesis was also having similar thoughts. He was sure his breath had hitched in his throat when the T-shirt was pushed up to the boy's ribs. While he was pleased to see the perfect skin underneath the fabric, he silently wished that the shirt would… rise higher to reveal the things above the ribs. And those loose pants hanging low around the blond's waist, if only they could… move down a little… Genesis gritted his teeth and banged his head with the wooden spoon to force himself to remember about dinner. He quickly retreated to the kitchen and proceeded to bring the food to the table.
Dinner, fortunately, took place in peace if one ignored the death glares Cloud would occasionally throw Zack. Genesis had intentionally placed himself on Cloud's other side to catch the boy if he decided to pounce on Zack. But Cloud looked like he was just going to ignore Zack until the Lieutenant came begging for him to talk again. If there was one thing Cloud was good at, it was keeping silent.
And then they talked. They talked about everything. From the officer's day (with a lot of colorful words from Zack and Genesis and glares from Angeal and Sephiroth) to SOLDIER's Entrance Exam – which would take place in 9 months time. The SOLDIERs around the table agreed that Cloud would certainly pass with flying colors if he kept up with what he was doing. And Cloud couldn't help but feel proud at the praises. Then they proceeded to talk about the chase between Zack and Genesis – Cloud winced when he heard what had happened to the walls in Shinra Tower – and hence the reason why they found Cloud on the rooftop. But when Zack decided to tell everyone about Cloud's problems with his peers, a heavy atmosphere covered the table. Cloud sincerely kicked Zack's shin under the table again.
Commander Angeal was the first to speak.
"Cloud, is what Zack said true?"
"… Yes, sir." Cloud hesitantly nodded but hastily added. "But don't worry, sirs, they just call me by stupid names. I just need to ignore them and all."
"Are you sure you will be alright, Cloud? The situation can sometimes get out of control without you knowing."
General Sephiroth spoke for a long sentence for the first time in dinner, and it made Cloud jump at how low and smooth the General's voice was. He had the feeling that the silver haired man was like a big predator lurking in the shadow, ready to strike at any moment and couldn't help but shiver. Cloud's spikes bobbed up and down along with his movement.
"It's alright, sir. I can handle it."
Sephiroth assessed Cloud with his eyes for a moment longer. He believed Cloud would do his best to stay out of trouble, and would undoubtedly defend himself if something bad happened. But bullying never went in a single case. Not wanting to sound like he was underestimate the boy, Sephiroth nodded.
The tension in the room disappeared. Until Genesis proudly exclaimed that he now had another companion to travel in the deep sea of LOVELESS and draped his arm around Cloud's shoulders, making the boy pale visibly. Angeal's mouth twitched in amusement at the discovery while Zack gave Cloud a sympathetic look, only Sephiroth didn't say anything at all. The redhead immediately proceeded to quote LOVELESS, Cloud shyly admitted that he only knew the poem and not the real meaning behind it. This make Genesis eye him in mock-disappointment and Zack burst out laughing.
When the clock on the wall indicated that it was indeed eight o'clock, Cloud politely excused himself back to the barrack. But he was stopped at the threshold by Sephiroth's low voice.
"Cloud, about the problem with your… peers, we can help you."
"Eh… what do you mean, Sephiroth, sir?" Cloud immediately stopped whatever he was doing. Apparently the idea of being helped by General Sephiroth was beginning to get too much.
"We can help you… train to defend yourself better, if you want."
Zack howled like a puppy just received his favorite toy and playfully exclaimed.
"Great idea, Seph! Yeah, Spike, we can train you."
He clapped Sephiroth's arm from across the table. The General wince slightly and sent Zack a warning glare.
"But… isn't that favoritism?" Cloud was now tying his boots on the floor. Angeal shook his head.
"No, Cloud. SOLDIERs have the right to train any cadets that we found potential in the program. I personally trained Zack when he was a cadet. I still don't know how I survived him in the first place." Zack beamed proudly at the last sentence.
"Besides, it would give you advantages if something happened."
Not knowing what to say, Cloud mutely nodded. He could ignore the other cadets now, but if things really got out of control, then he would need more than 'a little skill' to defend himself. Zack clapped his hands together.
"Then let's see… I can train Cloudy in sword fighting…"
Cloud gasped at the idea of having Zack Fair as his private kata instructor. To the cadets, having some free pointers from SOLDIER Third Class was considered a blessing. But now he was going to have lessons with a Second Class, and said Second was the SOLDIER prodigy. Cloud's head began to swam, but he tried his best not to faint again. But it seemed like he wouldn't get just one mentor when Angeal turned to Sephiroth and asked.
"Sephiroth, can a cadet have more than one mentor?"
Cloud froze and paled. Is Commander Hewley saying what Cloud thinks he was saying? The General mused over Angeal's question for a moment.
"It's unorthodox but it's not against the regulations. So yes, a cadet can have more than one mentor."
Angeal was pleased with the answer when he turned back to Cloud.
"Then Cloud, I would train you in hand-to-hand combat, if you would like."
Cloud had to remind his body that breathing was good and told it to resume breathing. Judging from his expression, Genesis didn't want to be left alone in all this fun stuff.
"You just leave Materia to me, Cloud."
Cloud nodded dumbly again, not trusting his voice enough to say anything. And all four pairs of eyes turned to General Sephiroth's direction, making him shift a little in his seat before saying.
"… I'll… supervise."
The SOLDIERs turned back to Cloud when the blond was taking a deep breath to calm himself. When he opened his eyes, Cloud found himself having four new mentors who are four of the most famous SOLDIERs in Shinra. And he couldn't help the goofy grin that was threatening to take over his face, he ducked his head.
"Thank you, sirs."
The SOLDIERs nodded approvingly with warm smiles and bid him good night. Zack happily escorted Cloud back to the bunk, just in case some perverts wanted to do something with the boy. Genesis proceeded to wash the dishes and Angeal helped him. Sephiroth paid the bathroom a visit.
"We're here. Thanks for walking me back, Zack."
Zack laughed lightly before ruffling Cloud's hair. Cloud had gave him permission to ruffle those chocobo spikes, right? As long as he didn't overdo it, he wouldn't be castrated.
"Nah, it's nothing, Spike. And… you can keep these clothes, Cloud. They don't fit me anymore."
"Well… thanks again." Cloud blushed. Zack chuckled and petted his head like he would do to a good kitten.
"Good night, Cloud. And… training also starts tomorrow, okay?"
"T-tomorrow?" Cloud stuttered. So soon?
"Yeah. Meet me at training room number 3 after lunchtime. I'll get you the others' schedules later."
Cloud nodded, determination shone in his sky blue eyes. Zack smiled approvingly. Teaching the boy would be fun.
And starting from the next day, Cloud always tried to finish his lunch early so that he could meet up with his mentor in time. Zack was a great teacher, he was very serious and instructive when learning. Cloud lost count of how many times he was knocked flat on the floor, but Zack always made up for him after that. Lessons with Angeal were fun, too. The man was all burly and brawny, but who would have guessed he could be so gentle at times. Steadily, Cloud learned how to perform some higher level moves, like somersaults and backflips. He could easily knock his fellow cadets out within two minutes and hold his ground against Angeal in five minutes now. And Materia lessons with Genesis were the best. The Commander was very skillful with those orbs and could play with a Fire 3 like with a rubber ball. He also gave Cloud some tips in Materia training. One of those tips was: "Just pick the one you like from the box and hide it under your sleeve and take it back to your bunk, no one will notice."
If lessons with the three SOLDIERs were fun and excited, then being supervised and taught by the General himself was… thrilling. It all happened one day when Cloud was going through his kata alone in the Training Room since Zack was late. The door opened and Cloud immediately looked up to see who was there, since Zack always made his presence known by shouting or yelling something stupid, and his heart skipped a beat when he realized it was General Sephiroth standing before him.
Cloud dropped the sword to salute his superior. The General nodded.
"At ease, Cadet. Please continue with your training, don't let my presence disturb you."
Cloud nodded then picked up his sword and went through the kata Zack had just taught him again. Although he wasn't paying any attention to the man, the General's presence was always there, never faded away no matter how far he was standing from Cloud. Whenever Cloud turned his head back, he would always met with a pair of glowing green eyes, and it sent shivers across his spine. He was about to finish the kata when Sephiroth's low voice was heard.
"Go through that again."
Confused, Cloud turned back to face the General.
"Go through the kata again." Sephiroth made a gesture for Cloud to repeat the kata. Cloud nodded slightly, wondered if he had made mistake.
When Cloud was just bringing the sword down in a powerful chop, two gloved-hands abruptly wrapped themselves around his smaller ones. The General's voice sounded right next to his ears.
"Relax your legs, you're using too much pressure on them."
Cloud clamped his eyes shut and shivered, not paying attention the hot blush on his face.
Sephiroth mused over the sight before him as Cloud slowly relaxed his stance, but his face was blushing furiously and those sky blue orbs were clenched shut. He was just going to find Cloud to inform the boy that Zack had gone on a mission and wouldn't be back in a week when he found said boy practicing kata in the Training Room. The General must admitted, Zack had done a good job. Cloud's move was fluid but firm, and he knew how to control his strength. But there was… something wrong.
Decided to observe more closely, Sephiroth walked down to meet the boy and requested him to go through the kata again. When Cloud brought the sword down… there was a mistake.
The General spent three second to memorize the smaller body before him. Small hands that felt so warm in his cold gloved fingers, lithe form that fit in him perfectly, fluffy soft blond hair that tickled his chin but also smelt so nice. Sephiroth memorized them all. He whispered into the boy's ears again.
"It seems like Lieutenant Fair made a mistake here. He always forgets that you are smaller than him. What he has been teaching you is the technique with Buster swords, but the stance is for soldiers with large build like him and Commander Hewley." He brought one hand down on Cloud's right hip, enjoy the faint shiver from the boy. "Shift your hips a little, relax your shoulders, straighten your legs. Yes, that's right. Now go through it again."
a mistake here. He always forgets that you are smaller than him. What he has been teaching yo
Sephiroth released Cloud's hands and was pleased when the boy went through the kata again without making any mistake. After ten minutes of watching and giving pointers, he informed Cloud about Zack. Cloud politely thanked him.
"But… General, sir, if the Lieutenant wouldn't be back for a week than who…"
Cloud trailed off and shyly ducked his head. You are getting your hopes high, Strife. Down, boy, down. He mentally berated himself. The General had more important work to do than training a lowly cadet like him. But to his surprise, Sephiroth savored him a small smile.
"I can replace him and train you, if you don't mind."
Cloud spent the next five minutes staring and gaping at the General until he realized that he had to make a vocal answer.
"Uh… it's… I don't mind, sir. It's an honor to work with you."
And for a whole week later, Cloud had lessons with General Sephiroth. The man even let Cloud use SOLDIER's weapons once, and introduce him to his beloved Masamune – which Cloud only had the courage to wrap his hands around the hilt and lifted the blade three inches from the wooden table before returning it to its rightful owner. And in return, Cloud had made him chuckle with real interest, which the blond considered a huuuge achivement. On the last day before Zack was back, Cloud had a small spar with Sephiroth. The blond cadet chose a standard broad sword, since he was not strong enough to carry a SOLDIER Buster Sword, and the General unsheathed Masamune. The spar lasted four minutes and seventeen seconds before Cloud was knocked flat on his back, panting heavily, and that was the General had held back. Sephiroth praised Cloud at the end of the spar, Cloud thanked him and gave him a bright smile. The General had to squash the urge to smile back, but he was sure that Cloud also noticed the warmth in his emerald eyes.
Cloud still skipped dinner and decided to spend that time sight-seeing on Shinra Tower's terrace. That was how Genesis detected the boy. Since then, he proceeded to 'teach' Cloud more about LOVELESS. But eventually it became Genesis quoting the play and Cloud listening to him. To tell the truth, Cloud didn't understand much about 'gift of the Goddess' or something like that, but if Genesis liked to read it, he let him read. More than once, Cloud found himself lying on the rooftop with his head in Genesis' lap. The SOLDIER's gloved fingers gently stroking his hair, and his voice reading LOVELESS above Cloud's head. The man's warm and rich voice was different from Sephiroth's low and smooth voice, but they were still lullabies to Cloud. The cadet often woke up on the couch in the SOLDIER's apartment, wrapped in a warm blanket. He would blush and stutter an apology. Zack would burst out laughing and ruffle his hair until it became a mess of blond spikes (not that it wasn't a mess from the beginning anyway). Angeal would smile broadly at him and pet his head. Genesis – the culprit – would smirk and wink at him and proceed to drag him to the dinner table. After the meal, Sephiroth would dismiss him back to the barrack, but not before giving the boy a small smile himself. Eventually, Cloud became used to the SOLDIERs' presence and opened up to them. Although none of them – maybe minus Zack – would admit it, but Cloud's smiles always made something flutter in their chests.
Apparently the other cadets had also noticed Cloud's major improvements in classes and his unusual disappearance at dinner, therefore they made their annoyance known. Cloud had to watch his steps more carefully and dodged quickly when someone decided to 'slip' their hands in combat practice. But he didn't have to worry about bullying at lunchtime. Since either Zack would sit there with him and escort him to the Training Room later or would drag him to the SOLDIER cafeteria five floors above, where he would sit with Angeal and Genesis, and sometimes Sephiroth. The other SOLDIERs were eventually familiar with Cloud's presence, and Cloud was grateful that they didn't see him as a lowly cadet, but a worthy companion. Cloud even befriended with two of Zack's friends, Kunsel and Luxiere. And the other First Classes had decided to call him 'Kitten' instead of his real name, due to one of Genesis' jokes about how Cloud stretched after he woke up that earned him a powerful kick to the shin from Cloud. In short, Cloud was well-known amongst Firtst Class and Second Class. Only the Third Class still eyed him with wariness. But they knew better than to stare at the cadet unless they wanted to meet the murderous glares from either the General, the two Commanders or Lieutenant Fair, or worse… from four of them.
One night, after having dinner with the SOLDIERs, Cloud was surprised when Zack mysteriously disappeared and Genesis volunteered to escort him back to the barracks. (Later Cloud found out that Genesis actually tied the Lieutenant in the toilet so that he could walk with Cloud). After saying good night to the other SOLDIERs, Cloud happily walked side by side with Genesis in the weakly lit hallways. The redhead was burying his nose in LOVELESS again, but the silence was not uncomfortable since Cloud was used to it. Only when they reached the final stairs led to the cadet's floor that Genesis raised his voice.
"I'm going to Junon on a mission, probably won't be back for a week."
Cloud tilted his head cutely to the side to regard the SOLDIER, not understanding why Genesis told him this.
"The monsters there decided to go rampaging. Shinra needs someone to… show off some power."
"Oh, I see… Well, good luck on your mission, then." Cloud gave the Commander a bright smile filled with admiration that made his heart skip a beat, then furrowed his brows in confusion. "But if you're gone, who will teach me with Materia?" Ah, always the hard-working one.
"Thank you. And Sephiroth will replace me." Genesis was sure that Cloud didn't notice the light jealousy in his voice when he said the General's name. Cloud nodded but didn't say anything more. An awkward silence occurred between them until Genesis decided to break it again. "Hey, Cloud?"
"If you were going to participate in LOVELESS, which role would you choose?" The fittest topic to talk about right now was LOVELESS, Genesis decided. And just like he had predicted, the tension between them broke immediately.
Cloud furrowed his golden brows again and dipped his head lightly to think about the question, all the while humming a soft song. After a few minutes, golden wild spikes bobbed up when Cloud lifted his head.
"Well, I would choose the 'hero' role, then."
"Hm, very common." Genesis mused over the boy's answer, but hastily spoke up when he saw the worry in those sky blue eyes. "But don't worry though, everybody wants to be hero."
Cloud visibly relaxed his small shoulders and exhaled relievingly. When he spoke up again, there was a small smile on those soft pink lips.
"Then… which role would you choose, Genesis?"
Genesis stroked his chin a little, his fingers drumming on LOVELESS' bound. Everything was going on well, maybe he could use this chance…
"Hm… I would like to choose 'Hero', too. But sometimes… I feel that heroes were no more than prisoners."
"Eh, what do you mean?" Delicate golden brows furrowed once again, Cloud's voice lost its happiness, even his spikes seemed to drop down at at the sadness in Genesis' tone. Genesis looked at the boy assessingly for a while before speaking.
"You see… in Shinra, if you want to be a hero, you have to do what they call 'glorious' things, no matter how dirty those things are to other people. Shinra and this country called us heroes when we returned from Wutai War. And we became heroes for what? For killing thousands of people. It's like being a puppet for them to pull the strings." Genesis angrily gritted his teeth but then sighed sadly. "To me… you only become a hero when you got to do things you really want to. When you do that, at least you are a hero to yourself."
Cloud nodded understandingly and his eyes softened. But in the end, the boy smiled sadly.
"Yes… it's great when you get to do things you want. But sometimes… it was up to the world's opinion to decide if you are a hero or not." Cloud's tone possessed something that made him sounded older than he was. And Genesis had the suspicions that Cloud was speaking from his own experience from the past. The Crimson Commander decided to let it slide, but some day he would ask Cloud about this. And he blinked curiously instead of asking.
"Oh… I see." He paused a little, as if choosing the right words. "Then what about me?"
"What is your opinion about me? Am I a hero or not?"
At this time, Genesis had stopped walking and was standing right in front of Cloud, his eyes narrowed, his voice was just louder than a whisper. Cloud's eyes widened at the question and the serious tone in Genesis' voice. He stammered with so much surprise that his voice came out as a squeak.
"O-of course. Of course you're a hero. You're the hero of Shinra, of SOLDIER, of every boys in the world who want to be like you…"
Genesis seemed very pleased with his answer as his deep blue eyes softened and a small smile formed on his lips. In face, he seemed too pleased that Cloud had to ask.
"Um… why did you ask me that?"
"Because I only need your opinion."
At the boy's silly tone and his clueless eyes, Genesis only dropped LOVELESS onto the top of Cloud's head, a soft 'thump' was heard when the book was met with fluffy blond hair. The Commander smirked teasingly and tried to balance the book as the cadet made an attempt to swat his hands away.
"Silly. You said it yourself, Cloud. 'It's up to the world's opinion to decide if you are a hero a not'."
"B-but… I said 'world's opinion', not mine." Cloud's eyes only got wider and his hands were now flailing everywhere, trying to catch Genesis' hands. The older man grinned.
"Don't you understand, Cloud?" The Commander withdrew the book, tapping the boy's nose lightly with his bare finger and leaned down so that his face was only inches from Cloud's, so close that he could see the endless sky in Cloud's eyes and breath in tune with the boy. "You are my world."
With that, Genesis gently ruffled Cloud's hair and pressed a light kiss on his forehead as he stepped out of Cloud's way to his bunk.
"Good night, Cloud. And see you a week later."
The Commander's red shirt had disappeared around the dark corner but Cloud still stood frozen in front of the wooden door. Gingerly, he raised a hand to touch his forehead, where Genesis had kissed him minutes ago.
Did he… did he just confess his feelings to me?
When Genesis returned one week later, neither he nor Cloud spoke anything about that night. Genesis didn't make any effort to remind Cloud about it, either. Cloud was sure that the Commander had some sort of… feeling for him, and he sure liked him back. But there was something… something in the back of his head told him that he should think very carefully about this before answering. No, not something… someone. Sighing tiredly, the cadet decided to focus back in his Materia class, ignoring the jealous and angry glares he received when a Fire2 burst out from the orb in his hands.
It was two months later when troubles arise. One trouble that would change their lives forever.
A/N: And… yes, that is chapter 4. I'm sorry if this chapter doesn't have as much action as you want, but I promise to make it up for you in Chapter 5, where we will get to see the real action – it involves violence, raping and killing, and of course, my very own reason that Genesis deserted Shinra. You've been warned beforehand.
I'm thinking about writing a Seph/Cloud one-shot, and it will be dedicated to the ones who can answer my question below.
"Yes… it's great when you get to do things you want. But sometimes… it was up to the world's opinion to decide if you are a hero or not." Cloud's tone possessed something that made him sounded older than he was. And Genesis had the suspicions that Cloud was speaking from his own experience from the past.
What is the 'experience' in Cloud's past that caused him to say this?
A/N2: I'm still in need of a name for Zack's sword. How does 'Aesir' - no, not 'Aeris' ^^ - sound?
Please read and review.