Anxious Heart


Rating: Mature

Pairings: SephirothxCloud, AngealxZack, RudexReno GenesisxTseng

Warnings: Yaoi, Shonen Ai, Lemons, Time Traveling, Smut of varying degrees, Memory loss, Angst, Hojo and dark themes.

Summary: Cloud Strife is sent back to his cadet days with his veteran abilities, but no memory of his future. What does this mean for him? For the entire Planet? Can you forge happiness from misery? SephxCloud. AngealxZack. RudexReno. TsengxGenesis

Author's Note: Yes, this story is named after Nobuo Uematsu's "Anxious Heart", which can be heard playing in Nibelhiem in both the original game and Crisis Core. It's a beautiful and melancholy song, so I recommend going back to listen to it if you haven't for a while. Hope you enjoy the first chapter!


Chapter One


The air underneath the ruined plate of the once powerful city of Midgar was heavy, silent, and suffocating, like walking through an abandoned cemetery on a humid night. The silence was why Cloud Strife returned here. The rest of the world was loud, always moving and very restless. This broken metropolis was forever stuck in a state of repose, much like the young man visiting here. The rumbling purr of Fenrir's engine was cut short by nimble gloved fingers flipping the keys in the ignition, glowing blue eyes rising from the motorcycle to appraise his surroundings. Everything was still and silent, save for an infrequent breeze that rustled Cloud's unruly blonde spikes.

Mako eyes roved over the stillness and the youth dismounted his motorcycle, glancing to his left to the church that had once symbolized so much, but was now as empty as the rest of Midgar. Cloud's gaze flickered around once more, alert for sound and movement before he turned and pressed the release on Fenrir, grabbing First Tsurugi and sheathing it smoothly before closing the weapons compartment. The blonde hero finally faced the church, wind tugging on the black cloth of his outfit as the lithe man entered the ruined structure.

He had been trying to restore the church since it had such significance, but the more Cloud tried, the more problems that seemed to surface. The biggest slap to the face was the flowers, wilting under three feet of water when they had once been so lovingly tended to. The roof had been decrepit before, but now there was nothing to work with after Kadaj had used Lightning Materia to blast a way to escape from the building with Jenova's head.

Cloud walked across the uneven wooden planks, his heavy boots making a hollow noise that was quickly swallowed by the still air around him, until he was beside the pool of water, the flower's liquid tomb. He stared down at the soaked yellow petals below before his shining blue eyes sharpened, focusing on his own reflection rippling unsteadily on the water's surface. It had been a total of fifteen years since his hometown had become an inferno and burned to the ground. He had been sixteen then and was thirty one now. But… The spiky haired youth scowled at his reflection briefly before looking away. He looked no older then when he had defeated Sephiroth for the first time.

Sephiroth…

He hadn't come back even after promising he wouldn't become just a memory. Cloud lived day to day expecting his return, but as the months became years, the blonde had realized he wasn't just expecting the silver haired ex-General, but very nearly looking forward to it. Monotony had set in and refused to leave and Cloud was left behind to watch in confusion as his friends got married and aged without him. Vincent and Nanaki were the exceptions, with Nanaki being so because of his tribe's longevity.

The ex-Turk had speculated that he and Cloud were different because of prolonged exposure to the company of Hojo and when the spiky haired man asked Vincent if they would be allowed to die and join the Lifestream, the long haired Turk became quiet and spoke no more on the subject. The concept was just too real and horrible to consider, Cloud figured, at least for him. Death was looking more appealing everyday, but if he could not and was unable to join his friends in peace, then this life truly must be his Hell. Nothing ever happened and nothing ever changed.

Cloud turned his attention back to the water's surface and froze when his glowing eyes met warm emerald hues. Afraid to move at all and break that vision, the war hero remained absolutely still as Aerith moved closer to him in the reflection, smiling softly.

Brooding again, Cloud?

The spiky haired man tilted his head away from the reflection of his deceased friend, guilt tearing him up inside. Aerith sat down behind him, green eyes never losing their warmth.

Hm?

Cloud's blue eyes met hers in the water and he frowned softly, his pouting lips tilting downward. The brunette Ancient never lost her expectant smile. The youth sighed.

"Aerith… When I die, will the Lifestream reject me?" It made sense to ask that question, since he was attuned to the Planet and was visited by dearly departed friends as if there were no other way. When that smile crumpled, Cloud turned his eyes away from the water.

"Forget I asked…" Cloud murmured, wishing for that smile to return, one that he destroyed so easily, with just words. There was silence for a long moment.

Cloud… Can you not be happy?

Blue eyes met concerned green in confusion. Happy…? This was as close as he had gotten to being happy, he supposed…or had he ever experienced happiness? Cloud frowned and Aerith tilted her head, obviously waiting for his answer.

"I don't know." The blonde answered finally, in a defeated tone. There was more heavy silence and Cloud had to look at the water again to make sure that Aerith's spirit was still there. She looked torn between something, the expression making Cloud's chest ache.

What Hojo did to you cannot be undone… However, there is always a price…

Cloud tilted his head at her and frowned, confusion shining in his blue eyes. She smiled shakily at him.

You can't join the Lifestream, but we can give you a chance to create a happier future. You've done so much for the Planet, it's the least we can do…is to try…

"Aerith… I don't understand…" Cloud murmured, his eyes meeting hers in the water. She smiled fully this time and shimmered from existence, leaving the blonde to stare at his lone reflection.

Cloud glanced over his shoulder as if in paranoia to check to see if his friend was truly gone, wondering what she had meant. The blonde looked at the pool of water by his boots again, as if expecting Aerith to reappear only to be struck by such a strong wave of vertigo that he toppled forward, his body striking the green-tinged water and sinking. When he should have met the bottom but found himself sinking deeper, the glowing blue eyes opened and saw nothing but glittering green. It was then that the pain struck and Cloud Strife thrashed and screamed; his voice swallowed by the Lifestream as everything ceased to exist.


The barracks were quiet aside from the occasional snore or sigh from one of the many Shinra cadets sleeping in the long line of bunks. There were no windows to allow the mako ridden air inside and the air within was slightly stale. All was peaceful until one lithe figure jerked upright in his bunk, clutching at his neck as if being strangled, gasping in the stagnant air desperately. A few stirred in their rest, but none woke. Slowly, the fifteen year old allowed his hands to drop to his sides, but the labored tempo of his breathing continued.

Cloud Strife was in a horrible amount of pain, but he didn't scream out of sheer will. Screaming never helped, he had learned so early in his life. There was also a deep seated sense of something being utterly wrong. Gasping, the blond tore the blankets from his fevered skin and he stood, sparing the clock a quick glance. It was two hours earlier than when he usually rose for morning drill.

The youth staggered through the rows of bunks to the back of the barracks where there was a communal shower and locker room for all of the cadets. He pushed the doors open and slipped in as quietly as his pain wracked body would allow. Cloud stumbled over to the sink and turned the water on, splashing bitterly cold water into his face. He lifted his head and froze in shock and fear.

Staring back at him was his reflection. His body was the same, lithe, small, and short. Same pale complexion that stubbornly refused to tan. On top of his head was the same light blond hair spiked in every which way no matter how much he tried to tame it. But what frightened him, shook him to the very core were his eyes.

They weren't the eyes he had yesterday. Those pale, azure orbs that shined from natural light that he had inherited from his mother. No, these were the eyes of a stranger.

Staring back at him were the eyes of a SOLDIER. Translucent, glowing emerald snaked from his black pupils to mix in with his natural blue color. They glowed fiercely with the power of the Lifestream, obvious in natural lighting, unmistakable in anything remotely dark. Cloud's grip tightened on the sink as he looked and looked at the strange eyes set into his face. He had dreamed about having eyes such as these one day. But not today! The day he had been dreaming of was after SOLIDER exams, after he had passed, after the many Mako injections needed to achieve his enhancements. One did not just wake up with the eyes of Shinra's most valued warriors! It was impossible, unless…

Frantically, the blond cadet began checking over his body for any indication of an injection site. He looked everywhere he physically could, but could not find any such wound. Cloud would have to go to the infirmary to get his entire body checked out. His thoughts screeched to a halt. No, he couldn't possibly. He would be Science Department fodder for sure. There were rumors of people mysteriously vanishing and everyone believed that Professor Hojo was behind it. It wasn't confirmed, but Shinra already experimented on living subjects. The SOLDIER were proof enough as it was.

Cloud's body burned with fever and he gasped as every muscle group suddenly spasmed, sending him crashing into the floor. He wanted to scream, shout, and cry in agony. He wanted to get help, but knew he couldn't. Cloud didn't know what was happening to him, but it was a pain that he had never known before. Surely this was what dying felt like? If so, he wanted it to be over with soon.

His wishes seemed to not reach the Planet as time drug on, his muscles contracting and tightening, his newly glowing eyes burning. Hot tears slid down his face as Cloud bore the pain, enduring it with only his seizing body and hyperventilating breaths to give the inner torture away.

The cadet didn't know how much time had passed. It felt like forever to him. But as swiftly as the pain started, it vanished. Cloud waited until his quickened breathing slowed to a normal tempo and then he lifted himself, surprisingly easily from the tiled floor to stand in front of the mirror once again.

His glowing eyes were drawn to his arms, blinking in shock. They were more defined, the muscles there were tightly corded. It was as if he had been working out and had reached his peak. Cloud lifted the hem of his white shirt and found that his stomach and chest were just as built as his arms. The muscle didn't look out of place or abnormal at all. His small body was just more compact and built. But it was downright frightening. It was just as unnatural as his eyes. Mako didn't build nor define muscle, but it seemed that some outside force had attacked his body until he was at his prime. This wasn't normal. He didn't want this.

How long had he been laying here? The cadet shoved his shirt down and left the locker room, his body moving with self assured steps. It was both scary and a little bit exhilarating. It was like he had attained new instincts as well. His body knew what to do even though his mind was in shambles. It brought little comfort but Cloud had so much more to worry about. He had to hide this.

The blond opened the trunk at the foot of his bunk and stealthily gathered up his military personnel uniform. He lowered the helmet over his head, grateful for the mandatory requirement to wear it. He then pulled on the top and the fatigues. Cloud paused and looked at the clock on his bed stand. He had been in the locker room for nearly two hours, so everyone else would be awakening in just a few minutes. He finished putting on his gear and sat on the edge of his bed.

His new circumstances…he had to hide it for as long as he could. He knew there was no way he could take the SOLDIER exam already enhanced. He also could not go back to Nibelhiem this way. The blond had promised that he would come back a SOLDIER, and even though he met those qualifications, he still hadn't made it in. He wanted to prove himself, he wanted that rank. It had been his dream to join Shinra and become strong, like his hero; Sephiroth.

But now… How could he possibly make it without being discovered? It was impossible. He needed a plan and quickly.

A shrill horn blared loudly throughout the barracks and many of the cadets jerked out of their restful sleep, the hall immediately filled with groans of complaint. Cloud rose to his feet, anxiety bubbling in his chest. How could he hide the confident way his body moved now? Sure, he could hide the brilliant shine in his eyes with the helmet, but these new instincts would be harder to suppress. He walked out of the barracks to the mess hall, trying to play down the way he was moving by sticking close to the walls and slowing his footsteps. It seemed to help because no other cadet or Shinra employee bothered to glance his way.

He grabbed a tray and waited in line with the other cadets to receive their breakfast. What constituted as food in the mess hall was questionable at best, but it kept them running through drills until another serving of the slop around noon. Cloud sat down at his table against the wall, shining blue eyes watching his peers move around the cafeteria and interact with each other. Everything now seemed to pale in comparison to his new 'problem'. Like how he ate alone, was bullied, and his classes… He probably could trash the trio that had previously made his life hell, but the blond definitely did not want to draw undue attention to himself.

Cloud ate his meal hastily and dropped his tray off at the sinks. His first class was Physical Evaluation. He needed to concentrate on being sub-par, on being as invisible as possible. Not very likely with Sergeant Hakes on his case. The short blond had been a favorite of the Sergeant, a constant example of what not to be when trying out for SOLDIER. Too short, too innocent, too naïve. Even his hair was brought up, though Cloud hadn't a clue of what that was supposed to prove. His hero, the General Sephiroth had very long silver hair and from what he heard, it didn't impede on the man's ability to fight at all.

The lithe teenager walked out of the mess hall and down a long hallway before exiting unto the training field. The Sergeant and a few other cadets were already lined up, so Cloud joined them. Even though it was early in the morning, it was still dark out and would remain so. The mako and light pollution blocked out the sun and cast Midgar in an eternal night state. It was ever darker underneath the plate. At least on top of the plate the air quality was slightly better. As the minutes passed, more cadets came spilling out of the mess hall and took their place in the lineup. Finally, Hakes looked up from his chart and placed on hand firmly on one hip.

"So, it seems all of you decided to drag your sorry asses out of bed this morning. On time, I might add. Be still my heart." The broad shouldered man stated, his voice thick with sarcasm. His brown eyes roved over the line and he paced forward, beginning to point out discrepancies in some of the cadet's uniforms.

"You, button the top button of your top. You are not a lazy Turk. You, wear that like a scarf, not a fucking towel hanging around your neck. You, tighten up your laces! This isn't acceptable. Wear your uniforms like President Shinra might grace you with an appearance!" He stopped at Cloud and securitized him critically. Normally, the blond would tense at this, but his body surprised him by staying completely calm. The Sergeant frowned and stared a little more before passing him by.

"Alright, children! You are going to run today, all period long. No complaints, you need to build up your stamina and by Ifrit, you will run until you drop, got it? Now, move!" Hakes yelled and the line broke as cadets dashed for the dirt track and began running. Cloud fell in line with those at the back, who were pacing themselves more wisely and because he usually was in the back. This wouldn't draw any attention from the Sergeant.

After about an hour at a steady, ground eating pace, the blond was marveling at how easily his body was taking the stress. Over half of the cadets had already dropped in exhaustion. Cloud wasn't even winded like those around him. It was thrilling to be able to keep up for once with the higher ranked cadets. He frowned behind his helmet. Was he already making a spectacle of himself? He would've already dropped by now. Half of him wanted to keep running, to feel the adrenaline and test his newly changed body. But he knew that he had to keep this a secret.

So he stopped and dropped to the ground alongside the track as if exhausted. Some cadets had gotten sick, but he couldn't fake that. His body was humming pleasantly from the work out, but ached for more. How long could Cloud run before he was truly tired? How much could this body take? The cadet sat there for a good fifteen minutes before he got up and trotted back to where the other cadets were standing. He glanced at the track, finding that only three others were still running, albeit unsteadily now.

Feeling eyes on him, Cloud glanced over and nearly froze. Sergeant Hakes was staring at him critically as if just seeing him for the first time. They stood there for countless moments just regarding the other before Hakes lowered his eyes and wrote something on the chart. That couldn't be good. Had he messed up already? But the brunet man didn't approach him, so Cloud relaxed a bit. Maybe he had run enough to make an impression but not to raise an alarm?

The remaining cadets stumbled into the group, panting for air and the Sergeant checked his watch.

"Only an hour and twenty. You boys still have forty minutes to run. Well…why aren't you still running?"

The answering groans made the Sergeant's mouth twist in consternation.

"Too tired…too weak, huh? Alright then, drop and give me two hundred!" He barked and the cadets scrambled to obey. All but Cloud it seemed was dismayed. The short blond only felt a deep calm and a blossoming feeling of power. He could do this, he just needed to pretend that he couldn't. While pushing his body up and down on the ground, Cloud kept an eye on the tempo and number of push ups that his peers were able to do so he could copy it. He didn't want to give Sergeant Hakes another reason to take note of any sudden improvements on his part. He dropped when the others dropped, even though his body still protested that he could do much more, push himself so much harder.

"Alright, now two hundred squats!"

More groaning.

"Stop your bitching! You could've just run today, but you quit so this is what you get instead." Hakes yelled and he paced alongside the cadets as they began the movements he wanted. Cloud again stopped when the others did. Sergeant Hakes had paused beside him. The blond turned his head and met that stare with his own, glad that the heavy tint in the visor hid the glow in his blue eyes. Silence stretched between them before the Sergeant shifted his weight.

"Alright then, that's enough." Hakes stated and the class made sounds of relief. His gaze settled on Cloud for a moment before he addressed the rest of the cadets.

"Go to your next class. Dismissed!" Relief consumed the blond and he left with the other cadets. Everyone hit the barracks showers except Cloud. He didn't want to bathe until he was certain everyone else was asleep. Taking off his helmet would be a deadly mistake. He was glad that everyone was too tired to notice his sudden change in habit. The teen walked alone to his next class, Battle Tactics. He sat in his usual place, in the back by the window.

When the class was full, the instructor began by opening up a text book and he started reading from it. Cloud tried to focus, but this class had to be the most boring of them all. Many of the cadets dozed off and the instructor didn't bother to wake them. The blond teen was still baffled that this man still had a job at Shinra when all he did was read from a book the whole period. It was a pointless class as hands on experience in missions were what they needed. Sure, in the beginning it had been mildly interesting to learn about when the body achieved it's limit and how many powerful moves could be performed at this stage. But afterwards, it was usually 'if Monster A uses the ability Slow, what would be the most effective way to counter this move?' Some of it was useful to know, but most of it was useless until one experienced it.

Cloud was glad when the class was over with and he went to the next class in line, Mako Sciences. This class was actually quite useful as their everyday lives were effected by mako and the chances of coming into contact with it were quite high. Especially those that aspired to be in SOLDIER. They learned about Mako Poisoning, how Mako reactors worked, how to deal with faulty equipment and how to handle the substance with care. The class didn't focus on the spiritual aspect of Mako because Shinra would rather teach their cadets practical things about the glowing liquid. But Cloud knew that Mako was the essence of the Lifestream. The terrorist group, Avalanche often preached the teachings of Cosmo Canyon near the train stations and the blond cadet would often stop and listen even though the speaker would give his uniform a dirty look.

The bell rang for lunch and many of the sleepy cadets jerked up from their seats and rushed out the door. Cloud sighed as he leafed through his textbook. There were no instances of people waking up enhanced. He closed the book and rose from his seat to head for lunch. Upon reaching the mess hall, the lithe teenager took a clean tray and received the normal slop that they called food. He sat down at his usual place and began eating. About halfway through, the blond was interrupted by three other cadets taking the seats adjacent to him. Cloud lifted his head and frowned at the trio.

Anderson, Felix and Mathers had taken it upon themselves to make the short cadet feel unwelcome. They were nothing but petty bullies. Much like the other children back in Nibelhiem, but these three were larger and more capable of doing damage. He had only been subject to a few beatings from these cadets and he had never reported them, not wanting to cause a stir among his peers.

Stay calm. Don't let them get a rise out of you.

Cloud froze in his seat. A voice…? It was inside his head… That couldn't be a good sign. He recognized one of the voices as his own, but it sounded slightly deeper and more mature. The other voice twined with his older sounding self was familiar, but the blond couldn't place it.

"Hey there, Strife. What was the deal with drills this morning? You finally hitting puberty or something?" Anderson questioned with a sneer. Cloud frowned, realizing that the last three that had been running and those that he had kept up with had been these jerks. What that had to do with puberty escaped the cadet, but the trio wasn't really keen with their insults.

"Yeah, you actually kept up with us. You been working out or something?" Mathers questioned, looking at Cloud's lower arms. The only exposed skin that revealed any changes. Cloud kept his silence.

"Hey, we're talking to you, porcupine. Mind sharing your secret?" Anderson asked, his voice lowering as his impatience rose. The blond didn't say anything, merely spooning up the slop and eating it. Anderson gritted his teeth and swiped his hand across the table, sending Cloud's tray careening unto the floor. The blond stayed calm like the voice instructed. It wasn't really hard. He was enhanced and saw no threat from these cadets. It was all so petty and childish, really.

"Answer us, Strife or you will be very sorry." Felix murmured. Felix rarely spoke as he was the brawn in their group. Cloud straightened and stood, gathering up his tray and walking past them.

"I have nothing to say to you." Cloud told them in an even tone and he disposed of his tray before leaving the mess hall, no doubt leaving the three infuriated. Environmental Studies and Arsenal Instruction went by without a hitch. It was when the blond cadet arrived at Materia Practice that he began to worry. What if his new enhancements extended to magic? Faking weakness had been particularly difficult in this new enhanced body.

The blond snapped his attention back to the Materia Instructor, Corporal Lykus who was currently pacing up and down the line. He held a glowing green orb and Cloud knew even before he said it that the magic inside was Fire. Judging by the dim way it glowed, it was only at the first level.

"Now have you got all that memorized? We're going to start with a basic Fire spell. Don't go catching yourselves on fire, hmm?"

Several nervous chuckles emitted from the line of cadets as everyone moved towards the metal case that had a few dozen of the glowing crystals inside. Cloud picked his up and walked over to a slightly singed practice dummy. He slipped the Fire into his iron armlet and then froze as his instincts screamed at him.

You're seriously not thinking of casting that, are you?

Check that, his instincts and the voice in his head that had surfaced in lunch. He frowned at the Fire Materia.

Who are you?

Silence.

Hello?

Sighing, he eyed the glowing orb through the visor of his helmet. Taking it out of his slot, he held it and concentrated. It was warm and somehow alive in his gloved fist. Of course, it should feel like that because Materia was crystallized mako and mako was the Lifestream. But the magic almost felt… excited?

Alarmed, Cloud re-socketed the orb and then focused on the dummy, twisting the line of his mouth to make it appear that he was trying really hard to cast, but nothing was happening. Lykus passed him over in favor of helping a cadet five dummies down that had indeed succeeded in catching his uniform on fire.

Quickly, the lithe blond slipped the level one Fire into his pocket and grabbed another orb from the case before it was noticed. He slid it into the slot and frowned at the dummy, still posed as if he were trying to cast. Stealing from Shinra now? Well, he wasn't going to cast anything while here, so may as well try the spell elsewhere to see what he could do.

Glad that he was on the lee side of the surveillance camera, Cloud lowered his arm when the bell sounded. Three cadets had managed to burn themselves while the rest had managed a few sparks or a small flame.

"Well, just be glad that this is the last class of today. You three, go to the infirmary to get those burns treated. Dismissed!" Corporal Lykus called; collecting the Materia from everyone. Cloud returned the one in his iron armlet and walked off the training field. He pulled out his PHS and checked the time. It was six in the evening, so many of the cadets would be heading to the mess hall for dinner. The lithe fifteen year old wasn't feeling particularly hungry. He was more interested in pushing his body and perhaps casting Fire to see how the Materia reacted to him now that he was infused with Mako. Cloud returned to the running field that drills had taken place in that morning and he paused, letting his sharpened hearing take in his surroundings. It seemed to be clear at first and the youth was about to take off at a dead sprint to try to push his limit, but the sound of the door opening from the mess hall stopped him.

Anderson, Mathers and Felix strode across the distance separating them with dark expressions. Cloud froze in place. He knew that look. It was the precursor to a beating. How would he possibly get out of this?

Don't fight back. It will be alright.

Cloud frowned. He had always fought back the previous times. It seemed like he couldn't this time. The blond didn't want to be discovered and he had a feeling that he would hurt the other cadets severely if he did fight back.

There was no choice but to take it as quietly as he could.

"Hey, Strife. You ready to face the consequences for your attitude at lunch, hmm?" Anderson sneered. Felix rounded on the blond and took hold of him. Cloud tensed, suppressing the battle ready adrenaline coursing through his veins. He wanted to jerk his head back and smash Felix's mouth against his helmet. The mako inside him sang at the possibility of battle, but Cloud wouldn't fight back. He couldn't…

Anderson kicked him in the stomach, momentarily stealing the blond's breath. Cloud was able to close his eyes just in time when Mathers punched him in the mouth, his head jerking with the force, sending his helmet flying from his head. The blond kept his eyes closed tightly as the beating continued, punches and kicks raining down on his smaller frame. He felt his lip busting, blood running down his chin. One of his eyes were already swelling and his entire body ached. It felt like it would go on forever until…

"HEY!" The blows stopped coming and Cloud was released. He immediately dropped to the ground as Felix abandoned him in favor of running. There were a few curses as they tried to beat a hasty retreat, but Cloud heard the sound of a blade being drawn. The trio stopped running immediately. The blond uncurled himself from the fetal position he had adopted and started feeling the ground for his helmet. His fingers brushed it.

"Running away? Cowards. Tell me your names right now and I will see about your punishment." The unknown person demanded. There was a sound of feet snapping together as the three cadets saluted. Someone higher on the military food chain had caught them it seemed. Cloud took the helmet and secured it back in place before opening his swollen eyes and looking over.

"Cadet Mathers, sir!"

"Cadet Felix, sir!"

"Cadet Anderson, sir!"

The man standing in between them and the door to the mess hall had a SOLDIER 2nd Class uniform on. His sword was drawn and pointing menacingly at the trio. Raven hair spiked back from his head, while some unruly bangs framed his glowing mako blue eyes. His expression was thunderous. A surge of familiarity and fondness swept through Cloud. Why, though? He had never seen anyone higher than a 3rd Class SOLDIER before. The youth frowned and sheathed his sword before pulling out a PHS. He dialed swiftly and pressed the device to his ear.

"Reno, I have three cadets down here that I need you to escort to the cells. They were beating up another cadet. Sergeant Hakes will take care of the punishment, I just need you to take over while I check out the damage they did." The SOLDIER hummed and nodded, "down on the running track. See you."

The SOLDIER crossed his arms as he waited, glowing blue eyes moving over to Cloud.

"Hey, there. Can you stand up and come here?" The 2nd Class questioned. The blond rose to his feet and walked over to the older teenager. The other smiled gently, though his eyes were concerned.

"What's your name?" He asked. Cloud snapped into a salute.

"Cadet Cloud Strife, sir."

"At ease, Cloud. How are you feeling? Do you need to be taken to the infirmary?" Cloud shook his head quickly and the other teen frowned slightly. The door opened before the SOLDIER could ask more questions and a fiery headed man in a Turk uniform strolled out. At the sight of the uniform that only Turks wore, all three of Cloud's tormentors stiffened in fear. The Turk smirked at the SOLDIER before regarding the rigid forms of the three bullies.

"Well, then. Come with me, you upstarts. I'm sure Sergeant Hakes will love to hear your account of things, hmm?" Reno questioned with a devious expression. The cadets trailed after Reno, looking at each other nervously. Once the door closed, the SOLDIER turned towards him, placing a hand on his shoulder.

"My name is Zack Fair, kiddo. You sure you don't want to go to the infirmary? You were taking quite a beating. Why didn't you fight back?" Zack asked, his compassion clear in those glowing eyes.

Tell him everything.

Cloud froze at the sound of the voice in his head and the other familiar voice clicked in his head. Why was SOLDIER 2nd Class Zack Fair speaking to him in his mind alongside his own, more mature voice? It was puzzling. He hadn't met the other before now, right? And to tell him everything…

"No, I don't want to go to the infirmary. And I wasn't fighting back because I would have hurt them." Cloud replied, deciding to listen to the voice. It was strange, but he trusted Zack. Even though they had just met. Zack withdrew his hand with a shocked expression.

"Hurt them? Cloud, you were outnumbered by three cadets that are bigger than you," Zack reasoned, wondering if this was a question of pride. The blond shook his head.

"No, I would've hurt them. Zack… Can you keep a secret?" The cadet questioned. Zack paused and then looked up at the polluted air of Midgar in consideration.

"It depends on what that secret entails. If it could hurt the President, the company, or my friends, I can't keep it." He replied. Cloud mulled this over. He wouldn't go out of his way to hurt any of those things listed.

"No, it could only hurt me if some individuals found it out." The blond replied. Zack returned his glowing eyes to Cloud and he nodded.

"In that case, I could keep it. You seem like a nice person, Cloud. You've already been bullied and beaten, I wouldn't want you to be hurt any further." Zack smiled. The lithe teenager paused.

"Promise you won't freak out?" Cloud asked. The ebony haired SOLDIER frowned.

"Just who would hurt you if they found this out?" He asked. The cadet hesitated for a moment.

"The science department. Namely, the scientist called Hojo." He answered truthfully. Zack had froze, eyes wide. Hojo was in charge of the SOLDIERs. The 2nd Class had a feeling of where this was going but he had to make sure.

"You made sure to put on your helmet even though you were hurt. Cloud, take it off." He requested and Cloud obeyed, lifting his gloved hands up to dislodge the helmet. Blond spikes fell free and Cloud lifted his swollen eyes to meet Zack's. His blue eyes were blazing even brighter than the 2nd Class's. Zack pressed a gloved hand to his mouth.

"Holy shit, Cloud… How did this happen?" The SOLDIER's eyes were wide as he took in the blond's face, battered from the beating, but those eyes…they could only be rivaled by Sephiroth's. Cloud shrugged.

"I don't know, Zack. I woke up this way." He answered. Zack stared at him skeptically.

"You woke up that way? You know that doesn't happen, Cloud. It's impossible. Do you have any instances of lost time? The science department might have already got a hold of you." Zack questioned. Cloud shook his head.

"No, I've always been aware. Ever since I came to Midgar. Last night I went to sleep as a regular cadet. This morning I woke up with these eyes and spent about two hours in pain as the mako did something to my body. I haven't been experimented on, I know it." Cloud answered. Zack hesitated and then sighed.

"Okay, that's even harder to believe. But…," Zack stared at his face some more, "I believe you. It's strange, but I really do." Relief flooded through Cloud and Zack smiled a bit before taking an item out of his belt.

"Now, I know why you didn't want to go to the infirmary. Here, a hi-potion to get rid of those injuries." He handed the vial to Cloud, who downed it and sighed in relief as his bruised and cut flesh knitted itself back together.

"Thank you, Zack." He breathed.

"No problem, that's what friends are for." Zack returned easily. Cloud lifted his glowing eyes to regard Zack.

"Friends?" He questioned softly. Zack grinned.

"Yeah, you know, those people that stick by you during tough times. Don't you have anyone like that?" The SOLDIER asked, concern slipping into his gaze once more. Cloud frowned and then shook his head.

"No, not really." He returned. Zack sighed and held out a hand.

"Give me your phone, Cloud." Zack ordered, holding out his hand. Confused, the small cadet handed his PHS to the black haired 2nd and watched him quickly press numbers. Once satisfied, the older boy gave Cloud's phone back. Glowing blue eyes peered at the display and was shocked to see Zack's number programmed into the memory. He raised his eyes and looked at the SOLDIER in askance.

"Now you have a friend. Call me anytime, Spiky." His blonde hair was mussed up by an affectionate gloved hand and Cloud refrained from pointing out that Zack's hair was just as spiky as his.

"Thank you…Zack." He said softly. There was something comforting and warm about having the older SOLDIER as a friend. Zack smiled at him.

"You better put that helmet back on for now. We don't want anyone to see those eyes of yours." The raven haired 2nd advised and Cloud lowered the helmet back into place.

"Hey, now that you have my number, did you want to come train with me? My specialty is swordsmanship though." Zack told him. The blond cadet smiled.

"That's okay. I actually would prefer swords over rifles any day." Zack returned the smile.

"How does Friday after dinner sound to you?" He questioned. Cloud nodded in agreement.

"Sounds good." Zack patted him on the back.

"Great. I will call you then and tell you where to meet me. And don't worry, Spiky. I won't tell anyone else your secret." Zack told him and Cloud knew that it was true, somehow. Zack opened the door to the mess hall.

"You better hurry up and get something into your stomach. Mako burns calories really fast, so make sure not to skip a meal, okay?" The raven haired SOLDIER advised and Cloud stepped into the long hallway.

"Okay, Zack." The other teen flashed a smile.

"See you later, Cloud." He let go of the door and waved as the blond replied.

"See you, Zack." The door closed and the blond cadet hurried to the mess hall, relieved to find that it wasn't closed just yet. He grabbed a tray and filled it with a slightly different looking slop than at lunch and sat at his table. He was feeling better. Someone else knew his secret and was going to help him with swordsmanship. And he had a friend. Something that he had desperately missed and was grateful for now. He ate dinner and then loitered for a long while, knowing that he couldn't take his shower until all of the other cadets were in bed. Once the hours passed, Cloud stood up from his place at the table and put his tray away. He quietly returned to the barracks and gathered up his sleeping garments, blue boxers and a white tee-shirt. The blond showered alone and quickly before he finally went to bed. He left his helmet on the night stand, just in case. After a hectic day, Cloud Strife fell to sleep swiftly, secure in his knowledge that he had Zack as a friend. That someone was on his side.


Sephiroth never entertained the notion of the symbolism of dreams. They were just electric signals in your brain sending you information while you slept. Meaningless things, really. So when the General laid down that evening for a few hours of rest, he hadn't expected his views to change so quickly.

There was fire everywhere, raging and consuming. It was too dim and too much had been destroyed for the 1st Class to make out what the charred remains littering the earth around him had once been. Mako green eyes flickered over his surroundings, taking in the dismal ruins of buildings. He noticed that all he could feel was the heat from the inferno and not the pain.

A dream, how quant; he realized with detached amusement. His dream hazed mind guessed that it was probably Genesis who set this blaze. After all, the red head was partial to the element of fire.

He turned around in a full circle, taking in the decimated buildings and hungry fire. If anyone had been inside those structures, they were probably dead.

But that didn't matter. This was just a dream of course.

Sephiroth froze when he came face to face with another human being that stood apart from the flames, unaffected.

Blazing blue eyes stared at him levelly as the flames tousled spiky blonde locks. He was wielding a complex Buster Sword not unlike the one Angeal was so protective of. His black outfit was licked at by the fire but didn't catch. What bothered the General the most was that every time he looked at this stranger, the more vague and unrecognizable the other defining features were. The harder he tried to place this man, the more difficult it was to see him other than mako blue eyes and blonde hair.

The silence stretched on between them, marked only by the roaring of flame. And then…

"Kill me."

"Don't kill me."

Sephiroth blinked. The man's lips had moved with the first statement, but not the second. It was almost as if the stranger had spoken directly into his mind. Not that it wasn't something that would happen in a dream, but something about this was screaming at the silver haired man's instincts. He carefully considered the unidentifiable but intriguing figure wrapped in flames.

"Why?" He questioned. Fathomless blue eyes tinged with the glow of mako stared back at him. If it was one thing to remember and was clear, it was those eyes. And perhaps that unruly hair. It reminded him of Angeal's pup.

"She'll seduce you with her lies eventually."

"Don't give in to her again."

Utterly confused, Sephiroth stared at the unfamiliar warrior with the anguished gaze. Who? The green eyed General didn't fall easily for tricks or lies.

"And why do you care?" He demanded over the sound of the fire. Those pained blue eyes cleared and the emotion was one that Sephiroth could only connect to respect.

"Because you could've killed me so many times, but you didn't."

"What are you waiting for? Attack me."

Sephiroth resolved to only listen to that alluring, gentle voice. It wasn't laced with pessimism or anger. It was reasonable and the tone effected the silver haired man deeply.

"I don't understand."

"Just don't ignore your instincts. And remember…"

"Remember?" Puzzled jade eyes stared down at the warrior. He was shorter, Sephiroth noticed absently. Those soft lips quirked into a barely there smile as pain laced those cerulean mako eyes. For a split second, Sephiroth was able to see the other clearly and then it was gone, but the 1st Class couldn't help but admire that wild beauty that was shrouded in so much pain.

"Not everything Hojo tells you is the truth."

Sephiroth woke up suddenly, lurching forward in his bed. The clock read 02:00 hours and he shakily pinched his nose. He could still feel the heat of those flames… See the pain in the blonde man's eyes.

It was only a dream.

Why did that sound so feeble? The General resolved to push it to the back of his mind.

To be Continued…


Author's Notes: Updated for a third time to address page breaks and correct the confusion with Reno. I hope you enjoyed the first chapter of Anxious Heart. Please leave a review to tell me what you thought or what you enjoyed.