Anxious Heart


Rating: Mature

Pairings: SephirothxCloud, AngealxZack, RudexReno TsengxGenesis

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: Thank you so much for all of the lovely reviews! Beta'ed by x-YaoiWolf-x.


Chapter Three


It had felt like that dream took forever and the blond was just as exhausted emotionally, if not more than when he had initially gone to sleep. His gaze trailed over to the clock on his nightstand, realizing it was an hour before anyone else would get up. It was Friday morning, the day he and Zack had scheduled a training lesson in swordsmanship.

Zack...

He was sure that voice in his head belonged to his friend, but it was different and not likely connected to the Zack he encountered during his waking hours. It was just another piece to a puzzle that Cloud didn't know the bigger picture of. He was beginning to have suspicions, though. Just a few more pieces and perhaps he would know the answer.

But was the solution one that a Shinra cadet could handle?

He got up from the bunk stealthily and went over the dream once more in his head as he went through his morning routine. The blond took a shower quickly and dressed in his cadet uniform. Only when he returned to his bed to sit quietly, his standard issue helmet secure over his shining eyes, did he allow himself to speculate. That dream and the brief encounter with…the other Zack, it was something that his mind wouldn't have made up or conjured on its own. It was far too real. But what had it been exactly? Cloud had never been on a mission, much less traveled to Modeoheim. He didn't know Hojo or that other scientist, Hollander, yet he had been made privy to experimentations on Shinra's two Commanders. Top secret information, something that a Turk would know.

It hadn't been a mere dream. Was what he had been shown…a possible outcome that would happen in the future? He could only think of one omnipotent force that had the power to do that and that was the very will of the Lifestream. There weren't many that put stock in the power the Planet held, but his mother, Elyria had believed in the teachings of Cosmo Canyon and had passed the stories down to him.

Of course, as a child he had accepted them without much thought. It was when he had grown a little older and found that Shinra was using the Lifestream as a source of power that he began to doubt the teachings that Avalanche followed. Surely if the Planet was being taken advantage of, it would defend itself somehow, right? But now, in this situation that Cadet Strife found himself in he couldn't help but believe what his mother had taught him. There was just no other explanation.

His thoughts meandered to the last part of the dream where the other Zack had spoken to him. Seeing that the dream was important to his new mission in sneaking into the labs, Cloud could only guess that what he did might save Commander Hewley and Commander Rhapsodos. He didn't want them to die, especially after seeing Zack's emotional reaction to losing Angeal. Commander Hewley was the heart of SOLDIER and Commander Rhapsodos the soul. If rumors were anything to go by, these two men were the only people his hero and General was close to and considered friends. How would losing them effect Sephiroth?

It had to be done, but…

That curt order to use the elevator was not well thought out and likely an impulsive order born from raw emotion and hope. There were things to consider when trying to be stealthy in a building with such high security. There were suspicious people, Turks, security cameras and key cards. It wasn't a two dimensional mission to be sure. Sneaking into the last place he wanted to be would have to be approached delicately and even then there was risk he would be caught nonetheless. He needed a plan and he had all day to think about it.

The alarm to wake the cadets sounded. Cloud stood and headed for the mess hall.


Zack Fair slowly opened his eyes and let the world around him come into sharp focus. It took him a few seconds to register the sight offered to him but when he became fully aware, he smiled warmly. Angeal was sleeping soundly with a peaceful expression on his face. The Commander must have finished his mission and come home last night without waking the spiky haired teen. Zack didn't move, simply running his eyes over his mentor's face. When asleep, the 1st Class SOLIDER appeared carefree and all the worries of the world could wait until he awoke. Azure eyes gentled at this and Zack's smile became tender. They had been together through a lot of things.

The sable haired youth had joined the military at fifteen after running away from Gongaga and his parent's wishes. Even though he was friendly and outgoing, the other cadets resented his boundless energy and determination to obtain his dream of becoming a hero. He had consistently been first place in both studies and physical prowess. Most of his peers kept him at arms length while some became hostile. Being alienated had been torture because he was a very social person and thrived when in groups. This had caught the attention of his Commander and Angeal had taken him under his wing to teach him.

This of course alienated him even further from the cadets but Zack didn't have to worry about it for long. Under Angeal's tutelage, he had made 3rd Class before he was sixteen. With the mako treatments and moving to the SOLDIER quarters, Zack had made friends and he continued to thrive. He hit 2nd Class at seventeen and now as he was verging on becoming eighteen, the youth figured 1st Class wasn't far off.

He had realized his feelings for Angeal after a mission as a 3rd. He had gotten injured in a skirmish at Fort Condor. It had been a gash on his chest. Zack had thought it minor and not worth a potion, so he had decided to let it heal normally. What he hadn't realized was that 3rd Class SOLDIER still could get ill, the level of mako in their system still weak enough to let common sicknesses occur. No one knew an infection was plaguing the young SOLDIER until the teen fainted while lifting weights. Unfortunately, he had been bench pressing about four hundred pounds at the time and when he fainted, all that weight had crashed down on his chest.

He had awoken a week later in the intensive care unit of the infirmary with Angeal at his side. The man had been an emotional wreck. He had called Zack every insult under the sun and demanded why he hadn't sought help, but it was the tears in the man's grey eyes that gave him away. Angeal had been truly scared. The nurse said that it was a miracle that he was alive and that his mentor hadn't left his side once during the week. Even though Zack was weak and was being yelled at, his heart pulsed faster and for a different reason as he smiled helplessly at his teacher. It had began as a small spark of emotion until it was a steady and unflinching fire. Zack loved Angeal. His patience, determination, loyalty, a pillar of strength in weak times. Angeal was everything Zack needed and wanted.

Zack had thought that his love would be unrequited. After all, the broad shouldered 1st Class was nothing but professional. It had been five months ago that they had both tripped up in a Virtual Reality simulation and ended up falling over the other. Angeal had been attempting to correct Zack's stance but being the ever distracted 'puppy' led the raven haired teenager to abruptly unbalance them both because he had noticed a monster approaching them. His helmet had flown off as Angeal sprawled on top on him and the VR simulation had began dissolving around them due to a built in safety feature. Zack had stared up at his teacher, finally seeing the light of longing and hesitation Angeal had been hiding from him. Before that could dissipate, one of Zack's gloved hands rose and rested on the back of Angeal's head, placing soft pressure there until their lips met in a chaste kiss.

It had taken a month of constant reassurances and stubbornness to convince Angeal he wasn't taking advantage of Zack in any way. So they were on month four of their relationship and the 2nd Class SOLDIER couldn't be happier. He smiled brightly as the other man stirred and opened up stormy eyes to regard him. Angeal returned the smile.

"How long have you been awake, puppy?" His teacher's voice was husky from sleep and Zack grinned.

"About twenty minutes now, 'Geal. I was just enjoying watching you sleep," He replied. The 1st Class SOLDIER sat up and rubbed his eyes.

"That's not creepy at all," Angeal replied with a small quirk of his lips. Zack snorted and sat up, wrapping his arms around his mentor's shoulders.

"You still love me though, right?" He questioned jokingly. Angeal removed his fingers from his face and looked down at his student seriously.

"Of course I do, Zack." The broad shouldered man confirmed before smiling. Angeal leaned down and kissed the sable haired teenager. When Zack tried to deepen it, the 1st Class SOLDIER pulled back with a sigh.

"No time for that, pup. I have a meeting with Lazard shortly and will be occupied throughout the day. I will make time for us tonight though," the grey eyed SOLDIER amended with a smile when Zack pouted. "What are your plans for today?"

Zack hesitated. Today was Friday, the day he had promised Cloud to train with him. He couldn't lie to Angeal because the other man knew him too intimately. Even omitting that detail would put the other man's instincts on edge that something wasn't quite right. Even though he wanted to keep Cloud safe, deep down he knew that Angeal wouldn't betray someone Zack cared about. He wouldn't tell his teacher the details, but he felt like there might be a time when the blond's secret would have to be made known to at least Angeal.

"I promised a cadet that I would help him in swordsmanship today. We'll likely do that once his classes end," Zack answered. Angeal's face appeared stunned for a moment before a warm smile stretched his lips.

"So you're taking someone under your wing as well. I didn't know that my desire for teaching rubbed off on you, puppy. How did you meet this cadet?" His lover questioned.

"Well, a few days ago I found him on the running track being beat up by some punks. I took care of the problem and after we talked for a bit, I offered to train him," Zack answered, picking his words carefully. Angeal frowned at the mention of bullying.

"Sounds like he made an impression, what's his name?" His teacher asked. There was the barest of pauses before Zack answered. He trusted his lover not to turn Cloud in if he found out the truth.

"Cloud." He replied. Angeal nodded and got out of their bed, checking his PHS.

"That's a unique name. Well, I have to get ready for the meeting or I'll be late. Good luck with your training session, pup. I will see you tonight." Angeal caressed his cheek and placed a lingering kiss on his student's lips before leaving the bedroom to prepare. Zack sighed and checked his own phone. There was mail from Kunsel, but no other pending missions or meetings. So his day was truly free.

He laid back against the pillows to wait for his turn to get ready, his thoughts returning to Cloud Strife. It was odd to say the least. It was even stranger that Zack really did believe his story. There was just something about the blond that made the 2nd want to protect him from the cruelty of the world. Something about the way he spoke and held himself made Zack want to believe him despite the ridiculous notion that Cloud had woken up enhanced. The teen was still struggling with that aspect, but if the blond cadet insisted that he hadn't been experimented upon already and that he had in fact woken up like that, then Zack would believe him. Strange things happened to those that affiliated with Shinra. This was stranger than anything that the youth had seen, but it was that elusive 'something' about Cloud Strife that compelled Zack into believing him.

Zack was drawn out of his thoughts when Angeal called out that the shower was free. He got up from the bed and got ready for the day, counting down the hours to when he would be able to see Cloud.


Once dinner rolled around, Cloud ate his lunch as quickly as he could despite the three bullies being absent. He was excited and he didn't know exactly when Zack would contact him, so he was erring on the side of caution and getting his meal over with. He had no sooner placed his tray aside when his phone rang. The blond looked at the display to confirm that it was Zack calling before answering.

"…Zack?" He queried, a bit of hesitation in his voice as the dream flashed across his mind. There was an answering chuckle.

"Hey, Cloud. Are you all done for today?" The 2nd Class SOLDIER asked eagerly. The blond's lips quirked upward.

"Yes, just got finished in the mess hall. What's the plan for tonight?"

"Well, I can't say much over the phone but could you meet me at the train station?" Zack questioned. Cloud carefully filed away the information that their phones might be tapped if the other's actions were anything to go by. He hadn't said anything incriminating and would be careful from now on.

"Of course. I will head there immediately," he answered.

"Great! See you there, Cloud!" The line dropped and Cloud pocketed his PHS before dropping by the bunks really quick. The blond checked around the room and once he found it was clear, opened the chest at the end of his bed. He dug underneath his clothing and gear before quickly pocketing the stolen Materia found at the very bottom. Cloud planned on returning the orb as soon as he tested it out. Seeing as Zack had said they were going to the train station, they were not training within Shinra headquarters. The cadet wanted to see what he could do with magic. If he told the 2nd Class SOLDIER he would return it, it shouldn't be a problem.

The youth left the bunks and left the Shinra military compound, mako blue eyes taking in the sights of the civilians that lived on top of the plate. They looked happy and many were dressed formally. Cloud had not been sent to the Slums on a mission yet, but he had heard stories of just how horrible living conditions were down there. It was surprising to him that people would choose to live under the massive plate, never seeing the sky. The only reason that he could think of that people would stay there was that they had no where else to go. Perhaps that and they had something to hide…

Cloud hastened his steps when he heard a whistle blow, hoping that his side trip to the bunk wouldn't make he and Zack miss the train. He got to the platform to find Zack waiting for him. The spiky haired SOLDIER smiled and his blue eyes brightened upon the uniformed cadet's arrival.

"Hey, Spiky! You are just in time. Come on, let's go." Zack had two tickets in his hand and Cloud frowned lightly.

"You didn't have to buy my ticket too. I could've gotten it," He insisted. Zack tossed him a disbelieving look while handing the tickets over.

"With the pittance they pay you?! No way, it's on me. Now come on or we won't be able to do everything I have planned." The teenager sounded eager as they boarded the train. Cloud sat beside Zack, noting that the SOLDIER had two standard issue broadswords strapped to his back. He refrained from asking just what Zack had planned because he didn't know if anyone from Shinra was on this train. Even just an employee was dangerous because Shinra was a cut-throat organization. Some would do anything to get a promotion.

"So I looked at your file in the database. It says you are from Nibelhiem. What is it like there?" Zack questioned suddenly, his knee bouncing in impatience. Cloud's eyes widened behind the helmet's visor but it really shouldn't be a surprise that the other teen looked him up. Under such odd circumstances, it was natural for the SOLDIER to be curious about him. The blond considered the other's question.

"Well, it's pretty barren. We have really harsh and long winters. Summer is tepid at best. And there's the mako reactor up on Mount Nibel…other than that, there really isn't anything special about it," Cloud answered. Zack smiled at him, bemused.

"Yeah, I know what you mean. Gongaga has a reactor too. What I really wanted to ask was what was life like there for you?" Zack frowned, noting that the blond had become very still. "What's wrong, Cloud?"

"You said…Gongaga?" The blond asked hesitantly.

"Me? Gongaga!"

"Yeah, it's a pretty humid place surrounded by jungle. Why?" Zack asked, his eyes bright with confusion at the other's reaction. Cloud shook it off and frowned. It seems that his dream really was more than it seemed. There was no denying that now.

"It's just that I never heard of it. Where is it?" He lied. The SOLDIER chuckled and rubbed the back of his head.

"Actually it's not very far from Cosmo Canyon. So back to my question, what was life like in Nibelhiem for you? Did you have any friends you left behind?" Zack questioned.

"Well, I actually didn't have many people around my age. Nibelhiem is pretty small. But the others that were my age were a lot like those cadets you put away. I don't know the reason, but my mom and I weren't treated that great. Like we weren't welcome there. As for friends… I really didn't have any. But there was a girl there that made me make a promise to her," Cloud answered. The sable haired teenager smiled teasingly.

"Ah, so you have a girl waiting for you back home?" He asked coyly. Cloud blinked and shook his head quickly.

"It's not like that at all. While I admit I did have a crush on Tifa when she was younger, it eventually faded," The blond said softly. Zack frowned a little and tilted his head.

"Why?"

"Well, the kids that she hung out with were the ones that bullied me. If she truly cared about me, she would have made time for me and perhaps told her friends to back off. But she didn't do that. She only expressed interest in me when the town found out that I was leaving for Midgar to become a SOLDIER. It was when she asked me to make a promise with her that I decided that Tifa could be nothing more than a potential friend. We grew up together but were never really close," He explained.

"What was the promise you made?" Zack questioned. Cloud smiled a little sadly.

"She said that she wanted me to save her when she was in a pinch. That she wanted to feel what it was like just once in her life. I told her I would." Zack made a face.

"Sounds like she wanted you to be her knight in shining armor. While I think its cool to save a damsel in distress, she really could have had better timing. Are you going to keep up your end even though she wasn't really a friend?" Cloud nodded in answer.

"Yes. The reason I wanted to join SOLIDER was to become strong like Sephiroth, so that I could protect those that I cared about. I hated being weak," the blond smiled. "Ironic now, huh? Will I even be admitted now?" Zack hesitated, glancing out at the polluted sky.

"I don't know, Cloud. I really don't. But…," he looked at the cadet seriously, "don't give up on your dream, okay?" The blond looked over at the 2nd Class, finding himself at the end of a piercing stare. He paused and then nodded with a wan smile.

"I won't."

"Promise?"

"I promise," The blond affirmed with a slight nod. Zack smiled at him and stood up as the train slowed. Cloud looked out the window and realized they were stopping near the outer plate of Sector two. He refrained from questioning Zack as they got off at the platform.

As they walked, the sable haired SOLDIER led them closer to the construction zone. Workers meandered about the area, manning heavy equipment and directing steel ties through the area. They skirted around the area until the steel underneath their feet turned to hard ground as they passed through Sector two's gate. Once Cloud was certain no one was in the area, he finally felt free to ask his questions.

"Where are we going?" He asked. Zack glanced over his shoulder and pointed to the cliffs about a mile out.

"Well, seeing as we don't know exactly how strong you are; I figured that the outskirts would be a good place just in case. Plus, out here there is no surveillance and we can't harm anything if we let loose," He explained. Cloud hummed quietly in understanding.

"So…how was your life before you came here?" The blond asked, genuinely curious. Zack smiled at the question.

"It was pretty much the polar opposite to yours, actually. I was a rambunctious kid. Everyone in Gongaga loved me and my family. It was humid nearly year round. I always had this dream that I would grow up and become a hero. But I couldn't do it in Gongaga, so I left to come here." He shrugged.

Silence stretched between them for a good portion of the walk.

"So, Cloud? How do you think you became enhanced? I know you said you woke up like that but you have to have some theories by now, right?" The 2nd Class SOLDIER questioned. Cloud blinked behind his visor and hesitated before answering.

"Well, it wasn't science, so I am thinking something more metaphysical," The blond answered. Zack frowned for a moment before hazarding a guess.

"Like the Lifestream?" The sable haired youth glanced over his shoulder. "So, you believe all that stuff about the Planet having its own sentience and such?" Cloud took a moment before nodding finally.

"No other explanation fits. You have already taken courses related to mako, what do you think?" He asked. Zack heaved a sigh and looked up at the unpolluted sky.

"I really try not to think about it, actually…but now that you bring it up, it might be possible. I know that Shinra waters the actual study of the Lifestream down because it would paint them in a bad light, so I don't know much. All I know is that when we die, we return to it and that mako is essentially the Lifestream giving SOLDIER its power. Why would it suddenly give you power, though?" He asked with an earnest question.

Cloud glanced off to the side with a frown. He didn't want to tell Zack that he was having dreams of prophetic nature. What if what he did during the mission that the other Zack gave him backfired and harmed instead of helped the Commanders? It was too early in their friendship for the blond to trust too blindly. Zack believed him and would protect him, pushing that might break their bond. He would wait until after the mission to tell Zack.

"I don't know," he replied simply. "We don't understand a lot about the Planet or the Lifestream." The SOLIDER sighed and shrugged.

"Well, it's happening regardless of science or the Planet. We just need to keep you out of Dr. Creepy's clutches and we're good." Cloud blinked at the nickname for Hojo and stared at the sable haired teenager's back in consideration.

"Why are you helping me?" He asked finally. Zack stopped and looked back at him with a soft smile.

"You know, I was wondering the same thing this morning. There's just something special about you that I can't place. I just feel the need to project you and be there as your friend. You have been going it alone so far…it must've been rough." The SOLDIER took the extra sword from his magnetic sheathe and handed it to Cloud. The blond sliced it through the air and then looked down the edge. He frowned.

"It's unbalanced," he murmured, "and not nearly heavy enough." Zack laughed.

"Well, it's the best I could grab. I'm pretty sure they don't teach the cadets swordsmanship so I'll teach you everything I know. It sounds like you picked up a sword before…Are you used to something heavier?" He questioned, unsheathing his own sword and testing it. Both swords hadn't felt unbalanced to him. Cloud looked from the sword to Zack.

"I've never handled a sword in my life…" He confessed. Zack blinked in shock.

"What?! Then how did you know it was unbalanced?" The raven haired teen asked in confusion.

Cloud brought the sword up and considered it silently for a few moments. Something in him was telling him that the steel broadsword was smithed incorrectly. The blade had an imperfection at its core. Although it was a sword for the SOLDIER elite, that same something was aching for something more… A faint idea rose from the depths of his mind and the blond felt like he needed to sketch it out before the night was over so he wouldn't forget. Moving his focus back to the question, Cloud answered as honestly as he could.

"There's some instinct that is telling me that I'm used to something else," He murmured. Zack looked at the other teenager silently before smiling helplessly.

"This situation gets more and more complicated. Let's see what you can do, okay?" Zack slid a foot back and fell into a ready stance. Cloud lifted the helmet and threw it to the side before mimicking his friend; bringing the sword up readily. The SOLDIER darted forward and swung the sword hard, aiming for the blond's open side. Metal met metal as the blond cadet moved swiftly to deflect the blow.

Another blow towards the head and Cloud's blade came up lightning quick, blocking effortlessly. Sparks flew off the exchange and Zack grinned, beginning to attack in earnest with his full strength.

Zack was amazed, every strike that he issued was met with steel. Cloud's glowing blue eyes were narrowed, focused, and calm. The blond didn't appear fazed, but he had yet to strike out at the sable haired teen. Zack decided to pull a dirty move and he kicked out as his sword swung downwards. The SOLDIER froze when his foot encountered empty air and he had to pivot on one heel to direct the sword's momentum away from his own body. His sword gouged the earth from the force and Zack straightened, eyes widening when he spotted Cloud several feet away.

"Damn…that was fast…" He breathed. Sure, the raven haired youth relied more on strength than speed, but he had only seen the General move that fast before. Zack felt a sliver of excitement and fear run through his veins.

"Hey, Cloud? Why aren't you attacking me? This is supposed to be a spar!" He chuckled a bit nervously when the blond took a readied stance.

"Are you sure you're ready?" The cadet called to him.

"As ready as I'll ever be…" Zack murmured. Cloud hesitated.

"What?"

"Yeah! I'm ready!" Zack yelled in return. The cadet seemed to hover in indecision for a moment before launching himself forward and swinging the sword upwards. Sparks flew off of the blades as Zack fought to keep his footing but he was unprepared when Cloud followed that attack with another. Zack watched mako blue eyes widen and he jerked back, the blade nicking his cheek. The blond dropped his sword.

"Zack? Are you alright?" He asked, reaching a gloved hand out to his friend. The sable haired teenager was panting and he smiled as blood dripped from his jaw.

"Looks like my strength can't match yours. And your speed… Cloud, with that amount of skill, you are easily a 1st Class SOLDIER. I couldn't even take one full attack from you. Please tell me you weren't holding back." He rummaged through his item belt and withdrew a potion. When the blond lowered his eyes guiltily, Zack nearly spit out his potion.

"What? You were holding back? How?" He demanded. Cloud quickly brought up his hands in a defensive gesture.

"Only in where I swung, not anywhere else. I didn't want to hurt you." Zack lifted an eyebrow.

"You are a horrible liar, Cloud. Tell me where you held back." The SOLDIER watched as Cloud looked off to the side.

"If I would have struck with my full strength, the swords might have broke. At least mine would have. I didn't want to injure either of us," The cadet answered truthfully. Zack frowned. He had barely been able to withstand that attack and hold it with his full strength. Was Cloud a match for Sephiroth? Was he stronger than Sephiroth? He could only thank Gaia that the blond was on their side.

"Well, I didn't bring a spare sword and I don't think I'm a match for you. Want to head back?" Zack questioned. Cloud paused and shook his head.

"I have one more thing to try…" He pulled out a dimly glowing green sphere. Zack blinked in surprise.

"Where did you get Materia, Cloud?" The blond frowned at the sphere in his hand.

"Well…I didn't want to accidentally pull anything so I took it from Materia Class," he looked up at Zack's expression and quickly followed it up with, "but I'm going to put it back! I'm just borrowing it. I will return it," He promised. Zack sighed and then smiled, shrugging.

"Okay, as long as you return it. Let's see what you can…wait a second." Cloud watched in confusion as Zack ran a few meters away from him.

"What…?"

"Hey, can't be too careful! Now cast," Zack called. He watched as Cloud held the sphere out in front of him and closed his glowing eyes. His smile faded when nothing seemed to happen after awhile, but upon closer inspection…the Materia was gradually glowing more and more brightly. He backed up a bit more when Cloud opened his eyes and they were shining a brilliant green just as bright as the orb he was holding.

"Cloud!?" He gaped as he realized just what the blond was doing. He wasn't just casting. He was charging the Materia.

A Materia's power was revealed by its shine. Cloud had been holding a low level Fire, now it was glowing so bright that it had to be mastered. Only Sephiroth had been able to successfully charge a Materia and the man wasn't known for relying on them. To do this maneuver, the person casting had to have enough focus and willpower to match the knowledge held within the orb.

"Shit! Cast it!" He yelled out in warning. Zack didn't want to see his friend reduced to an empty shell because of a foolish feat. Cadets were only taught it was a possibility when those in SOLDIER were made privy that it could be done. Cloud's glowing green eyes lifted to regard the open air in front of him before he breathed the fire spell. The roar of the Fire 3 spell ripped through the air as it scorched the area in front of the them, ripping the dry earth up and charring the stone. The blond exhaled slowly as his eyes returned to normal. The Materia in his hand remained glowing brightly, mastered. Zack ran the distance separating them and placed his hands on Cloud's shoulders.

"Are you trying to kill yourself?! What were you thinking!? You…" Zack's voice trailed and cut off at the puzzled and slightly scared expression on the cadet's face. The SOLDIER froze and hesitated.

"You…weren't even trying to charge it, were you?" He asked breathlessly. Cloud's eyes lowered.

"I knew the theory, but I really wasn't. When I reached in for the magic, it grabbed a hold of me and didn't let go until I forced it out. It reacted to me, somehow," he murmured. "It wasn't hostile though. The magic wanted me to hold it. It's strange." Zack let go of the blond and stared at the shining orb.

"…We're in over our heads, Cloud. I need to tell Angeal about this. He might know what to do," Zack insisted. The blond's grip around the Materia tightened.

"You said you could keep my secret," The blond murmured. Zack's mouth twisted and he let out a frustrated breath.

"This is bigger than me. I can't protect you alone… Maybe if Angeal knew, he might have a game plan. As you are…well…" Zack stopped talking and fidgeted.

"What are you talking about?" The blond asked softly.

"The exam has Materia involved and they can't administer mako without testing your blood first…" Zack breathed. Cloud's eyes widened in realization.

"I can't take the SOLDIER exam," the blond whispered and he grimaced, "I can't become a SOLDIER. What am I going to do now?" His dream…Zack had said to not give up on it, but now it seemed impossible.

"At least, not through the normal means." Zack's voice sounded more sure of himself. Cloud looked at the other teenager.

"What is that supposed to mean? How else am I supposed to get into SOLDIER?" He questioned. Zack smiled and patted the cadet on the back.

"I'm not quite sure right now, but if the impossible can be pulled off, it would have to be those three doing it," The sable haired teenager answered with a sudden grin.

"Three? Are you talking about Angeal, Genesis, and the General?" Cloud asked in confusion.

"Yeah," Zack nodded. "I'm sure they would be able to pull this off somehow." Cloud hesitated and then sighed, seeing no way to deflect his friend's reasoning. But…

"Could you give me a week? Before you tell the General and the Commanders?" Cloud asked. Zack paused but then smiled.

"Sure, I can give you that. As long as you keep playing down your abilities and keeping your helmet on, I see no problem." He walked over to the discarded helmet and handed it to Cloud. "Just be careful, okay?"

Cloud nodded. "I will. I promise, Zack."

"As for that…you better keep it. We don't want to raise suspicion by returning a mastered Materia," Zack told him. The blond pocketed the Materia and picked up the Shinra issued sword before handing it to Zack. The SOLDIER smiled and sheathed it.

"Don't worry, Cloud. We'll find a way to protect you."

As they made their way back to the towering metropolis, Cloud glanced over to the smiling teenager at his side. He definitely needed to carry out his secret mission that the other Zack from his dreams had given him. That broken state that his friend had been reduced to couldn't happen. He had to save the Commanders and to do that, he needed to go to the Science Department and risk himself. He silently apologized to Zack Fair for putting himself in danger when all the other wanted to do was to protect him.

A week should be enough to carry out his plan.


Genesis Rhapsodos collapsed on top on his lover and sighed at the sticky feeling. While he enjoyed the Turk inside him from this angle, he had known that this was merely a distraction. Tseng's fingers lightly touched his unhealed shoulder.

"Hollander hasn't found a solution yet?" The normally stoic Turk Commander asked softly. Genesis' blue-grey eyes met the dark eyes of his forbidden love.

"No, that man insists that these appointments would help, but alas…" He murmured. Tseng's arms moved around him in a silent embrace. Genesis' thoughts darkened.

It would not be long before he deserted his dear lover and friends if the wound did not heal. Though his lover was loyal to Shinra, he hated the company that twisted he and Angeal and Sephiroth, dictating how they should lead their lives.

A war was coming. And Genesis wasn't sure which side he wanted to win.

To be Continued…

Author's Notes: Yes, I know. ^_^;; This was mostly a character development chapter. And just so you know, I don't hate Tifa at all. I just think her and Cloud's relationship was forged mostly after the Nibelhiem incident. Also, if you can tell me if it is going too fast, just right, or too slow in your opinion, please tell me that. Also, I will answer long reviews or reviews that ask questions. I hope you enjoyed it and please leave a review!