Cloud looked up at the muggy sky. Midgar was a kaleidoscope of smog and toxic waste, but after three weeks of traveling it's a sweet victory to finally arrive. His shaggy, spiky blonde hair was slick with sweat and greasy with oil, and his black jeans and hot pink hoodie were smeared with dirt and grime. Cloud was sure that he smelled something awful. It had taken almost a year to convince his mother to let him go to Midgar. Cloud had thought he wouldn't be able to convince her in time to get to the fall pre-SOLIDER class try outs. It had been an intense battle for the fifteen year old….

FLASHBACK

"Cloud, you're not going to that cesspool! It's too dangerous, and I will not have my baby boy signing up with the devil!" Ms. Hazel Strife shouted as she ran about the kitchen preparing dinner. Ms. Strife was preparing dinner for the lovely twosome. It was a Saturday and just like any day in the quaint town of Nibelheim. Their house wasn't big, it was probably the smallest house in the town in fact, and that was say something in a town the size of a pea. It was a small white house with a wooded back yard and a front yard full of snow. All. Year. Long. Cloud hated the cold, and snow is cold. Think about it.

Two stories with a kitchen, a living room and den on the first floor, and two bedrooms and a bathroom on the second floor. Nothing really exciting about the house, and most of the rooms were painted white except for Cloud's bedroom, which was emerald in color. It had taken forever for him to find the perfect paint that matched the color of his eyes, but that was completely besides the fact.

"But Ma, it's only a PRE-SOLDIER class, it's not actually SOILDER!" Yet, Cloud added, sitting at the table. He huffed in annoyance. Why couldn't she just understand? It was his dream to become a SOLDIER, and this is the first ever class that they were offering before the training. The rate of failure for SOLDIER is about seventy-eight percent, and because of an extreme need for more recruits, the President decided to try out a new type of training class. He figured if the cadets had just a little more practice they would have a better chance of surviving the entrance exam. In theory.

Cloud knew full and well that he could still fail, even with the new class. But he also figured that if the chances of failing are so high without the class, if he took the class he had a much better chance of getting into the program.

"Doesn't matter Cloud, 'cause when you finish the PRE-SOLDIER class," Ms. Cloud snipped sarcastically, "then you'll move on to big and better things and try out for the real SOLDIER unit. Three boys died during the test Cloud. The test! It wasn't battle, it wasn't war, it was a freaking test!" By this point, she had turned around and was waving a butcher knife through the air. Cloud cringed and moved away, imagining his blood splattering the beige walls of their tiny kitchen. The kitchen table, where he was sitting, wasn't even six feet away from the pointy tip of the shiny steel knife. He gave a relieved sigh when she went back to cutting the nibel wolf… Well, hacking anyways.

"Please." That was all he said. Now take into consideration that he had been asking for a year,and every time his mother had said that it was out of the question or too dangerous. Hazel Strife was not a mean mother by any stretch of the imagination and could only take so much begging from her baby boy.

"Let… me think about it Cloud. Maybe," she sighed, "and that doesn't mean that it's a yes, now mind you! It's just not a no." Cloud whooped and bounced the two steps to his mother and hugged her, careful of the knife.

"Thank you." He whispered and Ms. Strife couldn't help the tender smile that overtook her face.

FLASHBACK END

Cloud reached what was supposed to be the registration for the new class; however the tent wasn't there like it said it would be in the flyer. He was sure he was in the right place. The flyer, which he had taken with him from Nibelheim, was wrinkled and stained with Gaia knows what, but he could still clearly make out the date and time… the date….

"Oh SHIT!" Cloud shouted, scaring an old man walking in front of him. Yes, he was supposed to be in from of ShinRa Corp at noon, but not until three months from now. He always knew he was a blond at heart not only at hair, but still, even for him this was a little much. He groaned as he moved to the side of the street, where there was an alley way between the ShinRa building and another. Crouching down, and planting his face on his knees, Cloud never noticed in his self misery and chastising, the three bulky men sneaking up on him from behind out of the darkness of the alley.

"Well, it looks like we have ourselves a lost kitten." A deep voice drawled. Cloud jumped up and whirled around, only to be shoved against the side of the brick building before he could even get his baring. He grunted on impact, and his suitcase and satchel went flying deeper into the back of the alley.

"More like a chocobo, wouldn't you say?" a whiny voice, said to Cloud's left. The first man still had him pinned to the wall by his shirt and was slowly bringing his arm up, cutting off his precious supply of oxygen. Cloud choked and brought his hands up to clutch and the man's wrist. They laughed, just as black began to dance across his vision and a high pitched buzzing started in his ears. In a last ditch attempt to free himself, Cloud brought up his right leg and kick the man close to the groin.

It connected with a thwack, and the man cursed, dropping Cloud harshly onto the ground, where he immediately started coughing and wheezing, eyes watering.

"You little piece of shit!" the man roared. Cloud looked up in time to see the man, who had short, buzzed brown hair, raise his left foot and bring it down on Clouds side. Crack. He screamed as he felt something give in his side, and then passed out.

~XxXxX

"Hellooooo, are you dead?" a soft, melodic voice called. Cloud groaned and his eyes fluttered open only to be met by darkness, and a blurry shape crouched next to him. He yelped, and flung himself back, only to whimper as his side protested. Curling onto his side, Cloud tried, with as minimal pain as possible, look towards the voice again. It appeared to be a woman dressed in a pink sun dress with a concerned look on her face.

"I'm fine," he said between clenched teeth, "just peachy actually." She flinched slightly at his biting tone of voice and Cloud sighed.

"I'm sorry, it's just my side really hurts right now so…." She smiled in forgiveness.

"Oh, I'm sorry. Can you get up? My name's Aerith by the way." She, Aerith, offered a sweet smile and put out her hand to help him stand up. Cloud smiled back and grabbed her hand, gingerly dragging himself off the ground.

"Name's Cloud." He grimaced. Son of a… Ouch, it hurt just to breathe. How the hell do I get myself into these things? After he stood up, Cloud leaned against the alley wall for support, and tried to catch his breath. He wanted to be in SOLDIER and this was all he could withstand? He could hear the bullies from back home.. Wimp.. Freak.. Fa-

"Hello, anyone in there?" Aerith giggled as Cloud jumped and blushed. He gave her a bashful look and a shy smile.

"Sorry. Um, have you seen a couple of bags around here by any chance?" Cloud had a sinking feeling that he had lost more then just his consciousness.

"No you were alone when I found you." Cloud sighed is resignation. He knew it, jumped and mugged. Maybe he should have just stayed home like his mother wanted after all….

"Did someone steal your bags? Oh Cloud, that's terrible! What about your money? Do you still have any on you?" Cloud checked the back pocket of his black extremely tight skinny jeans and shook his head no when he found his wallet was also missing. Aerith looked, well it was more of a squint in the dim lighting, at him for a while. Cloud started to get uncomfortable and fidgety when the minutes passed and she still didn't utter anything.

Suddenly she reached over and grabbed his forearm, smiling.

"Well, then I guess you can stay with me!"

"HUH?"

~XxXxX

"Here it is, home sweet home. I hope you like it." Here was a small surprisingly well kept house in the slums. It was quant and cozy, but maybe a tad drafty. The door had crakes in it and the paint was peeling off, but the furniture inside was well worn and obviously loved. The front yard was just dirt with little grass, seeing as there was little sunlight, however on the outside window sills, there were extreme amounts of potted plants, all in full bloom.

There were four rooms to the whole, small house; a bathroom, a miniscule kitchen, a bedroom, and the living room which housed the door leading outside.

The living room was painted a warm brown, sort of like freshly turned dirt. A beige couch sat to the left side, if you were coming in the front door. There was no TV but that was to be expected from a house in the slums. The bathroom might have been white once upon a time, but wear and tear had turned the walls yellow over the years. The smog and overall dimness of the slum didn't help the color either. The kitchen was surprisingly well kept for a slums house. The walls were tiled summer sunshine yellow and the floor had black, cracked linoleum flooring, reminding him of summer time bees. Cloud hated bees. Buzzzzzz..

Aerith's bedroom set the overall theme for the house. It was pink, not obnoxiously so mind you, but it was covered in flowers. There were pots everywhere over the house, but her bedroom was positively overflowing with them. A queen sized bed was placed in the middle of the room. There was a chest of drawers to the right of the bed, and a window to the left of the bed, also covered in hanging plants that eagerly lapped up the small amounts of sunlight that broke through to the slums After the grand tour, Cloud felt like he would never want to ever go back in to her bedroom ever again. It was just too much… eh, everything.

"Are you sure Aerith?" Cloud asked for like the millionth time. He really didn't think this was a good idea. Sure, it saved him time and the gray hairs, whatever grey hairs a fifteen year old could get, trying to find an apartment he couldn't afford because he was mugged, but it was so odd that a complete stranger was offering to board him at her house. She hadn't even asked why he was in Midgar in the first place. It really apparent that he wasn't from the big city because if his accent and for all she knew, he could be some deranged serial killer… Not that he was, by the way.

"It's fine Cloud. I live alone, so it's not like someone can say that you can't stay." She laughed, "They only one who might mind is my boyfriend, but I don't think that he will" Maybe, she added in her head. Aerith was pretty sure that Zack wouldn't care after seeing how adorable the boy was, but you never knew with him. Sometimes Zack was just so overprotective that it was annoying.

So she has a boyfriend. Umm, not that I was interested or anything, I just really don't want to get beat up again. What if he thinks that I'm a pervert or something? Oh GOD, I'M GOING TO DIE! GOODBYE SWEET, SHORT FIFTEEN YEARS OF MY LIFE! Clouds mental panic was interrupted by a soft giggle.

"You okay Cloud? You look kinda pale." Aerith reached out and felt his forehead, "You don't have a fever."

"I'm fine Aerith. Just, are you sure? I mean really, really sure that I can stay here?" Cloud didn't realize that he was giving Aerith his killer puppy dog look, and it was highly affective with Cloud's bright blue eyes and cute spiked hair.

Oh, Zack, you'll take one look and ask if we can keep him. Tee hee.

"Of course Cloud." Aerith giggled.

~XxXxX

I had been two weeks since Aerith had taken Cloud in, and most of the time was spent trying to make his ribs better. Fortunately, the rib hadn't pierced a lung or caused any serious internal damage, but they had discovered it was broken. Cloud had difficulties moving at first and had kept stationary most of the time on the couch. Cloud, after a debate with Aerith, took residence in the living.

Aerith had wanted to put Cloud in her bedroom and take the couch because Cloud was injured. Cloud however was not very pleased with the idea. The flowers made him nauseous, and the smell..yuck.. He hadn't wanted to tell Aerith he couldn't take so many sweet smells at once because she seemed to love them so much, but he had almost decided to. Cloud still hadn't met the elusive boyfriend either. He actually didn't want to meet Zack, not yet anyway. Aerith told Cloud about how Zack was a SOLDIER, and Cloud had just about fainted when he had heard. It would be so embarrassing if a man who was in SOLDIER learned that Cloud had been mugged, beaten and knocked out, only to be rescued by the man's girlfriend. Not the greatest way to introduce yourself to someone who's going to be your boss. It's also not a good first impression considering that his boss was a military boss. Sir, yes sir!

Now, Cloud was just wandering around the slums. It was two in the afternoon and surprisingly, his ribs only hurt a slight amount. Sector Seven is where all the shops are, but Aerith's house is in Sector Five, near an old abandoned church (1). It was quite a walk to the shops from Sector Five, but after being cooped up in the house for so long, Cloud just wanted to get away from Aerith. Sure, she was nice and all, but she was kind of an annoying chatter box.

There was trash everywhere. Piles and piles of it surrounded the narrow strip of dirt that led to Wall Market. Cloud was just meandering down it when he saw a flash of red in his peripheral vision. Startled, Cloud turned to see what it was, but he didn't find anything. Spooked, he turned back to the road, only to jump a mile in the air and scream. Standing in front of him was a tall man wearing a rumpled suit. He had goggles on his head and a red rat's tail going down the whole length of his back. He also had red tattoos, at least Cloud thought they were tattoos, under each eye.

"Yo, whatcha doin' hangn' 'round Miz Aerith?" The man drawled slowly as he circled around the teenager, like a dangerous predator. He was very intimidating, especially to Cloud, a country boy in the slums of Midgar.

"N-n-nothing. Um, she's letting m-me stay at her place." Cloud gulped, not knowing why he was telling the stranger personal information. I knew it was a bad idea to stay with Aerith. I just knew it. I mean, who walks up to a stranger and asks them what they're doing at someone's house. It's none of their business. Wait, is he going to mug me? Oh, mannn….

"Hmmm, roger that yo." The little blond boy couldn't be one of Hojo's men, that's for sure. He was too innocent, and that's what Tseng sent Reno to investigate. When the blond boy had suddenly popped out of no where two weeks ago, the Turks had been cautious at first. If he was a danger to Aerith they wanted to make sure that he didn't think he was being watched. If he, the blond, thought that he was being watched and he was a professional then it was highly possible that he would kill Aerith before they could even say 'Oh, poop…'. When it had become apparent that he was safe to approach, Tseng opted to send in Reno. The man could be threatening when need be, and he also knew that slums the best out of all the Turks. Well, maybe besides Tseng.

After watching the little guy, Reno had decided asking questions directly would work best. He seemed a little ditzy and Reno was almost one hundred percent sure that the blonde wasn't a threat. He didn't have that aura of danger. Tseng has also noticed the boy's nonthreatening aura, but he wasn't the Commander of the Turks for nothing. He hadn't wanted to take the chance Aerith might get hurt out of negligence.

"Well, if Miz Aerith is takin' care a ya, then I guess we don't have a problem. Watch ya back kid, you're way to naïve for this place." With that Reno sauntered back to his surveillance post, making sure that along the way he wasn't being followed. Tseng was waiting for him there. In the junk grave yard that surrounded the old church, there was a tent set up that the Turks used for daily surveillance. Tseng was standing in front of a monitor in his perfectly tailored Turk blue suit. Reno still couldn't figure out after all the years he had been in the Turks, how Tseng kept so crisp and professional when it was sweating balls outside.

"Well?" Tseng barely had to raise his voice to be in command. The man was looking a video feed of Cloud walking towards Sector Five. He was just reaching the doors to wall market and the train station. The kid looked way too easy to pickpocket, but somehow the pickpockets seemed to avoid him. It was probably because he had been seen around with Aerith. She was a well respected person in the slums. The Turks having her back only made her feared as well. Putting it lightly, Aerith was well protected, and through her, Cloud as well. Even if he didn't know that yet.

"He seems fine, Boss. He's way too nice to be a threat. Probably just some lost kid. I wouldn't worry." Reno leaned against the foldable table. He seemed wholly unconcerned.

"It's our job to worry. The Turks cannot allow failure." Because everyone knew that failure meant death.

"Jeez, Boss. I get it. Chillax." Reno smirked, "Spoil sport. I'll go trail the kid I guess. See ya Boss." Reno walked towards the tent flap.

"And Reno," Tseng waited until Reno looked back at him from the doorway, "You were a little heavy on the accent. You should work on that." Tseng's face was blank, and so were his eyes but Reno would bet a million dollars of the Presidents money that the man was laughing at him on the inside.

Scowling, Reno headed out. As much as he respected the man, he didn't need him telling him that his accent, the one he grew up with was too thick. Everyone talked like that. At least they did six years ago(2). Hmm, maybe the boss man was right….

~XxXxX

Cloud wandered along the pathway until he had came to the heavy, graffiti-covered metal doors of Wall Market. He was still disturbed by the encounter with that creepy red head. What was his problem? Walking around and sneaking up on me like that. People just don't do that. Stupid Ginger.

Wall Market was much more intimidating then the junk piles of Sector Five. There were masses of people hanging around all corners of the place; each little group of people seemed to be different then the next, both in age and race. Wall Market was designed in a circular pattern with the door on one side, and the steps to the train station on the other. Shops piled upon each other in unorganized clumps.

Each clump of shops seemed to have a designated ethnic group. The natives of the slums were in the middle of the square, making a little island in the circle. The Wutians seemed to be pushed into a corner. Walking in from the slums, they were to the left. How a circle could have a corner though, Cloud didn't know.

He immediately walked to the right, avoiding the Wutian people. They looked like they wouldn't accept business from a pale blond boy anyway. There were several clothes shops; jeans, turtle necks, sweatshirts, and cool hoodies. Everything was overpriced and nothing was of really good quality. All the shops seemed to be fake with no credentials. Further along, there was a shop that sold materia. The shop looked more like a lemonade stand, but he didn't care. Cloud was enthralled. He had never seen materia before and he hadn't thought that he would see any until he was a cadet, or even until SOLDIER.

There was so much of it. Green, blue, red, white; there was so many. Cloud didn't know what was what. He just stood there for a couple minutes taking in the sight with awe. The vendor looked like he was getting antsy. He finally got fed up with the stupid blonde kid standing and looking at his merchandise. He didn't need no pickpocket stealing his stuff.

"Hey kid, ya goin' buy somethin'?" Cloud shook his head no. He only had a little bit of money that Aerith had given him and he didn't feel right spending that. No, today Cloud was just seeing what was there.

"Well then, get lost punk" The man snarled over the broken counter. Cloud scampered in the opposite direction, unwittingly heading into the Wutian section of the slums. He really wasn't looking where he was going either. Otherwise he would have seen the man giving the little girl a hard time. He would have also seen the man backhand the girl into his path. But Cloud wasn't paying attention and he didn't see this so he rammed right into the tiny little thing, both of them landing harshly on the ground. Cloud landed on his bum painfully, his ribs protesting loudly, with the little girl between his legs. The girl automatically started bawling on the ground and Cloud felt like a rotten piece of Chocobo poop.

"Hey, are you okay?" Cloud was panicking. The little girl was wearing a lavender colored dress that was now covered in black mud. He sat up from where he fell and went to reach out to touch her hair. His hand never made it. Cloud was harshly pulled away from the girl. His arm was twisted painfully behind his back and he felt the prick of a metal against his already abused rib cage.

"Don't you dare touch her, you mainland scum!" a rough, gravelly accented voice growled in his ear. Cloud's vision started to blur with tears. The grip was extremely painful and he was terrified of the knife that was pressed against his side. It was worse than when he was ambushed in the alleyway above plate.

"I d-didn't mean t-to! I, um." Cloud whimpered. He was so scared. He had heard that Wutians were savages. Oh, man. I'm going to die!

"Leave him alone, Hibiki. He didn't mean to run into her. If you want to blame anyone, blame that aho(3)over there." A woman with long black hair gently pulled the man's knife away from Cloud's side. She was wearing the traditional Wutian garb. The only problem about it was that it was short, extremely short. It barley fell to her thighs. Cloud blushed and quickly looked away. Why someone would wear something so short was beyond him! Gross!

The man, Hibiki, huffed but let Cloud go. He landed on the ground again, painfully too. God dammit! After quickly, but gingerly scrambling to his feet, he looked around to take in the scene. The man in the suit was long gone and it was only the Wutian people who were surrounding the girl in concerm. There was an old, wrinkly woman who held her gently in her arms. The girl was still whimpering and sobbing but not to the degree that she had been. The lady was gently talking in Wutian.

"Get out of here kid." An older man with white hair down to his shoulder blades said. He gently pushed Cloud to the outskirts of the gang of people. Grateful, Cloud ran as hard as he possibly could away from the market and back to Aerith's house.

"How was your trip Cloud?" the young women was gently smiling at Cloud.

"You don't even want to go there." Cloud wheezed, out of breath from the run home. Then he walked over to the couch and passed out. In a manly way of course.

~XxXxX

It was two weeks before Cloud went back to Wall Market. It was a little colder and there was a slight chill whipping through the din. Walking slowly, Cloud entered the metal doors, noticing new graffiti on the door, and went automatically to the right, away from the Wutian market.

"Um, mister?" a soft, high pitched voice called. Cloud turned towards the sound, and to his surprise it was the little girl from a couple weeks ago. She was wearing yellow sundress today, one that was void of mud. "You're the one who ran into me right?"

Cloud winced. That hadn't been one of his brightest moments. "Yeah." Cloud mumbled under his breath. He blushed bright red and cursed his nordicness as the little girl giggled.

"You're a lobster mister. Hee, it's funny. I'm Maiko!" She held out a little hand for Cloud to shake, and he couldn't help but laugh at her cuteness.

"Cloud." He gently took her hand and barely moved it up and down, afraid to touch her.

"That's not how you should do it. Here, I'll show you!" Maiko started pumping Cloud's hand all the way up to her little shoulder and Cloud played along, almost lifting the girl off the ground as she giggled. However, the laughter soon stopped as Cloud emitted a very manly squeak when he was hauled away from the Maiko. Laying on the ground from where the strong hands had thrown him, Cloud realized it was the same man who had grabbed him the first time; Hibiki if he remembered correctly.

"You again, kuzo? Causing problems for our little girl?" The man didn't have a knife this time, but that didn't make him any less intimidating for a country hick like Cloud, though by Midgar standards anyone who came from Wutai also was a hick.

Shaking his head no, Cloud scrambled to his feet and turned to walk away. A loud wail sounded from behind him and Cloud looked back, kind scared of what he'd find. Maiko has throwing a temper tantrum in the middle of Wall Market. Hibiki was panicking, a frantic look on his face, and Cloud burst out laughing. Both of them looked at him; Maiko no longer crying and Hibiki turned red in the face from anger. Oh Shit! Cloud thought.

Just as Hibiki was going for Cloud again, Maiko stepped in between them, acting as is her little body would stop the gigantic hulk heading towards Cloud. Dear Gaia, he's going to eat me!

"NO! Don't hurt my friend! He's nice." Maiko shouted and then lapsed into a pout as the bigger man stared at her. Sighing he walked away again.

What's wrong with these people? First he yells at me and threatens me, and then he just walks away…. And on top of that, I get a knife shoved at my back and thrown to the ground, several time! I don't know if my butt can handle all the rough action(4).

Cloud almost bit his tongue when the man returned, thinking that Hibiki could have heard his thoughts somehow. Were people telepathic? Cowering before the man, he missed the old lady studying him.

"A little thin to be threatening ain't he?" startling at the sudden voice, Cloud peered behind Hibiki to see an extremely short grandma standing there and looking at him from behind circular wire glasses. She had graying hair and severe scarring lining her arms from where they peeked out of the edges of her lavender kimono.

Cloud realized that she was the women from before, the one who had been comforting the little girl when she fell the other day. Hopefully, she wouldn't be as violent as Hibiki. Not that Cloud was scared. She couldn't have been bigger then a chawawa… a very scary chawawa!

"Hello, ma'am." Cloud nodded his head respectfully. It seemed like a it would be a very, very bad idea to piss her off. Despite being the size of a flea… And from Cloud at five foot four inches and one hundred and twenty four pounds, that was saying a lot.

"Ha, ma'am makes me feel old. Call me Mima(5)." The old bat replied in good nature. Cloud smiled; relieved he had finally found someone sane. It was about ti-

"And just to make myself crystal clear, touch my granddaughter, and I'll make sure no one ever finds the pieces. Got that kid?" lighting up her pipe, Mima let a sardonic smile stretch across her lips. Is no one normal in this city? These people are fucking crazy. Like.. like a Bahamut tripping on acid. Imagine a dancing hulk dressed in a sparkly tutu. I'm screwed!

"I said, got that kid?" Jumping, Cloud stuttered an affermintive. Mima smirked in glee. It seemed the blonde kid was nice enough, if a little naïve. But, that would make it fun to torture.. tease him.

"Good, I like you kid. Even though you're a little quite. Speak up when I'm talking to you boy." Mima cackled internally when Cloud snapped out a quick "Yes, Mima!"

~XxXxX

A month had flown by for a busy Cloud. Reno had made contact with Cloud again when the kid had almost been attacked again. It was only the redhead's quick thinking that saved the blonde a lot of pain and humiliation. It had been two days after meeting Mima, and Cloud was walking around, only exploring really, which wasn't the smartest thing to do, especially at ten o'clock at night.

FLASHBACK

Cloud wandered off the path to look at the trash littering the ground. Maiko, a little bundle of seven year old wisdom, told Cloud that some cool things could be found in the trash. Cloud had brushed it off, assuming that there couldn't be anything of real value in the trash, and cool to a seven year old girl does not equal cool to a sixteen year old boy. No matter how many times two plus two equal fish(6). But later that evening, he had heard from that crazy bat herself, that scrape metal and unbroken bottles fetched a handsome price in the slums. Big surprise.

So, late at night, when the minimal light in the slums was reduced to next to nothing, Cloud was picking through the smelly garbage. The blonde was wearing neon green high tops, which Aerith had got him, with his black skinny jeans and a neon green hoodie, which Aerith had also purchased for him. Cloud decided that mooching off of Aerith forever just didn't sit right with him. Not only is he living in her house for free, he was eating her food for free and now she was buying him things. She had told Cloud that he didn't have to pay her back, but money was tight and he felt bad enough as it was without Aerith buying him extra stuff that he didn't need. Not that he didn't like the high tops and hoodie she bought for him. They were nice gestures really, but needing money, Cloud searched the trash.

Cloud's clothes and hair were so bright that it looked like a floating head and torso and leg less feet picking through the trash. That's how, even in the dingy lighting of the after dark slums, the two men found Cloud. Both were certainly taller then Cloud in a sort of gangly malnourished way, not that it's such a hard thing to do, but they would never be super muscular. Too many missed meals and drugs and seen to that. No, it was what they were carrying that scared Cloud.

A handgum.

"Heh, looking for something, pretty boy?" one spoke cockily, "anything I can help you… find?" both sniggered hysterically. Little fuckers! If he didn't have a gun I'd defiantly locate something. Balls meet foot! And pretty boy… asshole!

"I think you shocked him silent, Ryan." the medium brown haired boy crowed. The black haired boy youth laughed and waved the gun around a little.

"You might be right Chase. Should I shock him some more?" Not waiting for an answer, Ryan stepped forward and Reno, who had been observing from the safety of the shadows finally had had enough.

"Yo! Wassup chocobo head?" stepping out from behind the two offenders, Reno grabbed Ryan's wrist with one hand and put his other on the safety of the gun. A quick twist and pressure applied from opposite directions broke Ryan's wrist. The teenager fell to the ground, sniveling and whimpering. Chase was long gone, had been since Reno ninja-ed out of no where.

"Yo, get lost punk. I see ya' hangin' 'round my buddy Cloud 'gain, I'll break more then ya' wrist. Kapeesh, yo?" Reno purred dangerously. Ryan floundered his way from the blonde freak and red headed guard dog.

"Ya' all right yo?" Reno asked. Cloud was stunned. First he threatens me, now he's saving me… I swear these people all eat crazy pills in the morning.

"Yeah, thanks. Um." Cloud trailed off, sheepish. He didn't know the guy's name. It hadn't come up in conversation. What conversation?(7)

"Name's Reno, yo. Remember it" Reno wisely decided not to add the "because you'll be screaming it later." Not that he would sleep with the kid, a little too innocent for his tastes. Cloud just probably wouldn't appreciate a sexual joke at that moment.

"Can you teach me how to do that?" Reno was thrown for a loop and that wasn't easy to do. He never would have guesses that shy, quite Cloud would ask to be taught fighting. He thought that Cloud would have been like "Nice to meet you." and blush. Not ask a blunt question with a look of steel determination in his eyes. Maybe he had underestimated the kid.

"I could," Reno scratched his temple absentmindedly, just to make the guy sweat a little, "well, why not?" Reno barked out a laugh when Cloud's face lit up like a Christmas tree.

And that's how Cloud's martial arts training began. As a Turk who specialized in a night stick, Reno was required to learn a certain amount of hand-to-hand combat because of the short range. After much grumbling and whining, a week of Turk training went by. Reno, at age seventeen, decided that if he hadn't already known that his heart belonged to the night stick, he probably would have become a hand-to-hand specialist. Reno knew several types of fighting styles and he was teaching all of them to Cloud. The boy needed all the help he could get with his cherub-innocent yet naughty look that just attracted all sorts of evil beings.

Cloud was timid as first, but after being knocked on his ass a couple of times, he finally bared his fangs. Snarling, Cloud lashed out with his leg, completing an all most perfect roundhouse kick, his height versus Reno's the only thing hindering it. Surprised, Reno almost couldn't react to the open palm uppercut to his jaw that followed. Side stepping to the left and grabbing Cloud's wrist as it passed by where his head had been a moment before, Reno slung Cloud over his hip and flipped the blonde onto the ground.

Landing hard in a mass of twisted limbs, Cloud coughed, trying to get air into his emptied lungs. When he finally caught his breath, he was pissed, but mostly disappointed. Reno had been going over the moves for a week, just running through the motions so Cloud could memorize them, which he had no difficulty doing. Cloud might not be people smart, but he was certainly book smart… Without the actual books.

Reno was stunned. The boy had only been learning martial arts of a week at the most. Normally it should take months to become this advanced in technique. Cloud's power and speed was the thing that was holding him back. The kid was physically weak and seriously lacking in speed and confidence and it was only the adrenaline rush that enabled Cloud to nearly decapitate Reno, figuratively speaking.

"Not bad yo." Reno laughed. Cloud was pouting so hard he looked like a chocobo with its feathers ruffled.

"But you dodged it." Cloud whined. I guess I'll always be weak an- Cloud glared at Reno when the man started busting a gut.

"Ha, take it easy yo. Of course ya' not gonna take me down after a week of theory. Ya' need to build up your strength first. Come, follow the leader yo."

Reno led Cloud back to Wall Market, but they didn't actually go in. Cloud was confused, but then he finally noticed the crack in the wall just past the doors to Wall Market. It's huge! How did I not notice this before? Feeling stupid, Cloud flushed bright red and lost himself in his ramblings.

Yelping, he rubbed his nose. He had just run right into Reno's back. It was like running into a wall. I thin, bony wall. Not that Cloud would know what running into a wall feels like.

"We'll use this yo." Cloud looked up and squealed in joy. It was a playground. A little rusted and grimy, but it was still gold to little old Cloud. In Nibelheim, the only playground was the one Tifa Lockheart had and they, to say the least, did not get along.(8)

The idiosyncratic playground was completely enclosed except for the one entrance. A tall semi-rusted slide stood proud in the middle of the area. The ground was made of entirely of sand. It was a sandlot. Several kinds of monkey bars and jungle gyms littered the place and what looked like to be a balancing beam off to the side.

Reno led them over to a pair of money bars. They were slightly rusted and moldy. Cloud's face scrunched up in disgust.

"Now, do twenty pull ups yo!" Reno grinned at the blonde's facial expressions. The kid really was no good at hiding his feelings. Cloud went from being disgusted, to shocked, to angry and then to resigned in a matter of two seconds. Sighing, Cloud leapt up and clutched at the bar. The mold covering it made it hard not to fall off. He tried to pull himself up and his arms screamed and he got half way up before falling flat on his ass.

"This should be fun you." Reno sarcastically commented, already looking forward to training the little wimp.

END FLASHBACK

Now, Cloud can do more then half a pull up. Fifty is no challenge for him. Reno as him started on a strict training regimen. One of Cloud's exercises is to stand in a hand stand position and do push ups. It targets his shoulder muscles, forearm muscles and his core muscles. Originally Cloud had complained enough that Reno let him use a wall for balance, but no more. Every day six reps of twenty are expected to be done, if not more.

Running is his least favorite thing to do. Sprinting is great, jogging is acceptable but walking is "not cool yo!" If Cloud's outside, Reno expected him to being running to and from his destination, not slacking off by walking there. As much as Cloud hated it, it had to be Reno's drill sergeant attitude that was getting the results. He knew that is he tried to work out on his own, he wouldn't get even a quarter of the amount done that Reno has him doing.

A fun work out that Cloud remembered was the day that Reno covered one of the jungle gyms in wire.

"Touch it and you're dead. Breathe on it and you're dead. Look at it and you're dead… Yo." Reno said the moment Cloud jogged into the sandlot.

"What am I supposed to do?" Cloud replied, refusing to even look at the thing.

"Go through it you." Reno smirked. Gullible is your middle name.

Cloud, being the little blond boy from up north, had no clue that Reno was joking. Sure, his people skills had come a long way since Nibelheim, but he still believed a lot of things that he shouldn't have. Like the looking and breathing part. Cloud spent a couple minutes staring at the wires covering the jungle gym. Oh man, it's going to be hard to go through that thing without looking…

"Bhaaa Haaaaa! Relax kid, just try to get ta' the other side." Reno chuckled. Blushing furiously, Cloud hurried to the entrance of the wire trap. The opening wasn't very big and wire wound in and out of the bars tightly. Cloud put his foot onto the lowest bar and heisted himself up. Surprisingly, it wasn't as hard as Reno made it out to be. Cloud was naturally flexible and that really helped in the long run. He completed the course with ease, and with absolutely no marks or cuts.

"Hmph, now do it backwards."

Cloud had done it so many times that eventually he had done it with his eyes closed the whole way. Cloud greatest weakness was his flexibility. He didn't know how to use it. It could he his greatest strength, but it was useless at this point in time. The kid was pretty damn flexible. It's what compromised Clouds initial roundhouse kick. If he could have just jumped and then kicked at Reno, he wouldn't have been able to dodge to the side as easily and flip him.

Jump rope, despite Cloud extreme embarrassment, was a staple in his training program. Five thousand to six thousand a day. Cloud's stamina improved, but it was still humiliating that day a little girl and her mother had been at the playground. The women had told her daughter to "stay away from the strange boy." Reno had only snickered at the look on Cloud's face and doubled the jump roping for that day sadistically.

Parkour was Cloud's pride and joy though. Reno had been late to training one day when suddenly the ginger back flipped over a wall and into the playground. Before, Cloud had never noticed the whole slum was just high walls that don't exactly touch the top plate. How the hell does anyone notice these things? It's pitch black up there!

Cloud picked it up easily and was now surpassing Reno at it. Cloud could back flip out of the way of kicks and punches and front flip over his opponent to land behind him and deliver a clever blow to the spine. Backhand springs were becoming easier for Cloud too, who would use them to avoid forward attacks.

As it stood, Cloud was much stronger then he had been. Aerith noticed it too. His arms were starting to look like more than sticks and his jeans were getting tight.

"Cloud? Are you home?" Aerith just got back from Wall Market. She picked up some jeans for Cloud. All of them were skinny jeans like he liked them, but they were designed for muscular skinny people rather then anorexic skinny people.

"Yeah." Cloud came out of the kitchen, holding a chicked and cheese sandwich.

"You better have a plate magically appear out of thin air, because I know you're not going to eat that on my couch without at least a napkin."

Sheepishly, Cloud returned to the kitchen. "Sorry Aerith."

"It's okay honey, I just don't want ants. You sleep on the couch, and I know that wouldn't be fun."

"Yeah." Cloud was too absorbed in his food to really care. Boys will be boys. That was until her noticed the bags that Aerith had set down.

"You didn't get me something again did you?" he was concerned. Sure, he had started a job with Mima, but it really wasn't all that much and Cloud still hadn't paid her back for the first couple of weeks.

"Don't worry about it Cloud. You're going to need new clothes for tomorrow anyways." Cloud looked at her funny.

"What's tomorrow?"

"… Didn't you have that exam?"

"OH SHIT!"

~XxXxX

Author's Note:

I hoped you liked it. Not the first story I've written, but it's certainly the longest, even though it's only the first chapter.

(1) I don't really know what sectors are what, but Sector Five has the Church, while Sector Seven has Wall Market.

(2) Reno's 23 btw. He joined when he was seventeen. I made him younger then Sephiroth, who's going to be 24, because there will be later issues with age between them.

(3) I'm using japanese romanji for the wutian parts. There will never be full sentences in it cause I hate that when some puts that in their stories, but there will be bits and pieces.

(4) If you have to ask what I meant, you should leave now and never look back X]

(5) I have a friend who calls her grandma Mima, so I had the old hag as Cloud calls her, use that as her temporary name. She has an actual name, and I might be reviled later… Maybe :]

(6) Fairy Odd Parents… Amazing cartoon, but not as amazing as invader zim, which will be making a cameo in a later chapter now that I have the idea. Look forward to it.

(7) Cloud really likes to hear himself talk… Or think in this case. Is it annoying?

(8) Yeah, I don't like Tifa. Don't expect her to appear very much in this. In this universe, Cloud never promised to protect her. In fact, he doesn't even like her, but that's a different story.

Reviews would be lovely, but no pressure. I don't know when the next update it going to be because procrastination is my middle name but expect it in a month if I try really hard… 2 I'm I study for exams and 3-4 if I forget about it.

*Sephy Pooh Bear*