MAKING THE CUT
DAWN OF A NEW DAY
"Hey... Would you say that I became a hero?" ~ Zack Fair
It had been hard for Cloud to sleep last night, worrying about the results. Their unofficial standings had been announced immediately after the test was finished, but they played a very small role—if one at all—in Director Lazard's decision of who to select for SOLDIER. Jadak and Zidane's team had ended up winning the challenge. Cloud later found out that Zidane had grown up in the slums as a pickpocket, thus giving him the advantage. Jadak managed to eliminate four cadets, including Bartz shortly before Cloud had knocked him out of the game. Zol lost his flag to Zidane, and cadets were slowly picked off until Zidane and Squall were the only ones left in the field. The showdown was epic, according to Zidane, who had emerged the victor and overall champion of the exercise.
Jadak, Zol, and Cloud's new-found friends were all SOLDIER shoe-ins for sure. Cloud, on the other hand, had only one flag to his name. Not two minutes after eliminating Jadak, Zidane had materialized out of nowhere and snatched his flag. There were no hard feelings, of course; it was impossible to be angry at Zidane, but Cloud hoped Genesis wouldn't be disappointed in him. He'd done his best.
Now, as Cloud stood in line with the other cadets, it was time to see if his best had been good enough. There were no second chances—this was it. He either made the cut, or he didn't.
"Before we get to the results, I want to congratulate all of you," Instructor Davis said. "Your test performances were some of the best I've seen in all my years of teaching this class. But, as you know, only those the Director feels are a good fit for SOLDIER will be chosen."
Davis opened the folder he was holding and pulled out a sheet of paper. Cloud's chest tightened in anticipation. His future could be on that paper.
"Our newest future SOLDIER recruits are..."
"You okay?" Squall asked out of the corner of his mouth.
Cloud realized he was holding his stomach and dropped his hands. "F-Fine."
"...Jadak Avon, Zol Avon, Walsh Burns..."
Goddess, this was torture! Cloud wanted to run up and rip the paper from Davis' hands. Why did his last name have to start with an S?
"...Bartz Klauser, Demetrius Koral, Squall Leonhart..."
Please, please, please, please, pleasepleasepleaseplease let me be on that list, please...
"...George Peters, Remil Raster, Cloud Strife, and Zidane Tribal."
Please please pleeeeaaaa—wait.
He'd been so caught up in his panicked begging that he missed the actual moment when his name was called.
"D-Did he say my name?" Cloud hissed at Squall.
"Yeah, weren't you listening?"
Unable to contain himself, Cloud bounced in place and slapped his hands over his mouth to prevent the scream inside his head from exiting out through his mouth. He did it! He did it!
He... He really did it.
Instructor Davis wrapped up his speech, but Cloud wasn't listening. By the time he managed to wander out of his daze, the class was being dismissed. Zidane let out a whoop, tackling Bartz with a hug. He made to smother Squall next, but the taller cadet's stony glare made him turn and crush Cloud instead. His ribcage was in danger of collapsing from the pressure, but Cloud hardly noticed.
"We made it, Cloud!" Zidane exclaimed when he pulled away.
"Y-Yeah." Cloud felt himself nod. "We did it."
"We're gonna be SOLDIERS!" Bartz cheered. "This calls for a celebration! Let's all go out for pizza tonight."
"What time is it? I've gotta catch the Sector 5 train down to the slums. Baku is not going to believe this."
"That's because Baku thought you were going to get distracted flirting with everyone."
"Shut up, Bartz."
As the cadets began to filter out, some elated and others disappointed, Cloud caught sight of Jadak and Zol across the room.
"Hey, we're gonna go down to the Mess," Bartz said, nudging Cloud's shoulder. "You coming?"
"In a second," Cloud replied. They parted ways and he turned to Jadak. The other cadet regarded him with a calculating gaze, arms folded tightly across his chest. He knew.
"That was a cute trick," Jadak drawled, slowly approaching. "But I'm afraid I won't be falling for it again."
Cloud swallowed, taking an unconscious step backwards. Jadak may not have killed him when he found out about Genesis or saw him reading the letter, but he was going to die now. At least he'd had a chance to prove himself first.
Jadak halted in front of him. He didn't say anything for a long time and Cloud could feel the sweat starting to soak into his uniform under his arms.
What is he waiting for?
"Well played, Brother."
Cloud opened his mouth to reply before he even had words. Was that... a compliment? "A-Aren't you mad?" he asked, incredulous.
Jadak laughed. "Of course I am. But we both got what we wanted in the end, didn't we?"
"I... Well, yeah."
"Besides, now that you're going to be a SOLDIER too, I have as much time as I want to make you miserable." There was a distinct bounce in Jadak's step as he turned to leave. "We'll see you in class, Cloud."
Cloud barely had time to process the fact that he was not dead before he found himself being wrapped up in a tight embrace. He squeaked, flailing a little when his feet left the ground.
"I missed playing with you, Brother," Zol said.
"Uh, y-yeah. Thanks."
Once he was released, Cloud pressed a hand over his chest. If anyone else hugged him, he was going to break a rib.
Cloud watched Zol run to catch up with Jadak and mused over the sudden turn of events. Life may not have been perfect, but things were finally starting to look up. Smiling to himself, he walked to the training room doors. Outside, Zack and Yuza were waiting for him.
"Took you long enough," Zack said. He looked like he might burst any second. "So? What happened? Did you pass?"
Cloud sucked in a deep breath for drama. "I did."
"Yeah!" Zack pumped a fist in the air, then did a few excited squats. "I knew you'd do it!"
"Congratulations, Cloud," Yuza said, smiling. It was the first real smile Cloud had gotten from him.
"Now we'll get to train and go on missions together! It's gonna be great, Spiky."
"Commander Rhapsodos will be pleased to hear you've passed," Yuza added.
At the mention of Genesis, Cloud's face fell.
Zack's excitement turned to concern. "What's wrong, Cloud?"
It hadn't occurred to him until yesterday, a few hours before the test. "Well... the test is over," he murmured. "I don't have any reason to see him anymore."
"He's a SOLDIER First, Cloud. It's not like you'll never see him again," Zack said. "I'm sure you'll run into him when you're a Third."
Cloud appreciated Zack's attempt at cheering him up, but it wouldn't be the same. He didn't want to run into Genesis in the hallways just so he could salute him and be on his way, or be one of the many nameless cadets sent on a mission alongside him. But Zack was right; Genesis was a SOLDIER First Class, and Cloud was only a cadet. The test was over. In a few weeks, Genesis would forget all about him.
"Go stop by his office," Yuza urged, "at least to tell him you passed in person."
Cloud nodded. "Yeah, I think I will."
"Hey, you wanna go out to celebrate tonight?" Zack asked.
"I am. With some other cadets who passed." Cloud glanced between Zack and Yuza. "Do you guys want to come? I'm sure they won't mind."
"Sounds great!" Zack replied, grinning.
Yuza examined his nails, feigning disinterest. "I think the Turks can spare me for one night."
Infinite in mystery, is the gift of the goddess. We seek it thus, and take to the sky. Ripples form on the water's surface; the wandering soul knows no rest...
A soft rapping on his office door startled Genesis out of his reverie. "Come in," he called, shuffling papers to make it look like he was doing work in the event Lazard happened to be prowling the SOLDIER floor again. However, it was only Cloud.
"Good morning, Strife," he greeted, leaning back in his chair.
The cadet didn't respond. He scuffled in and took a seat on the leather chair facing the desk, tucking his legs up to his chest. "I passed my test," he said in a quiet voice.
Of course, Genesis knew already—he'd been hanging over Lazard's shoulder for the past twelve hours. While it had everything to do with witnessing the moment the Director made his decision, it may have also had something to do with the fact that he'd gotten an absolute riot out of Cloud faking Jadak out and he'd wanted to watch it again. "You don't seem all that enthusiastic about it," he commented.
Cloud's head shot up. "Oh, I'm happy, I'm just..." He sighed, lowering his head again. "I've been doing a lot of thinking over the past few days, and there's something I said to you that isn't true."
"Oh? And what would that be?"
"When I found out about the bet... I told you that you'd never be a hero."
Genesis flinched, and was grateful Cloud wasn't looking. "I... remember that, yes."
"I was really wrong about that," the cadet said. "Because I've realized that being a hero doesn't really have anything to do with the number of lives you save, the monsters you kill, or the wars you win. It's not whether you're remembered or how popular are or how much media coverage you get. Heroes are the ones who make changes. Maybe it wasn't intentional, but you made a change in my life and I can't thank you enough for that."
Is that really all it takes...?
It took Genesis several moments to find his voice. "I've been thinking too. I've been thinking that perhaps... Perhaps I don't really have what it takes to become the kind of hero I've wanted to be."
"You don't have to be a hero to the masses, Genesis," Cloud said, sneaking a peek at him out of the corner of his eye. "You only need one person, and... you're a hero to me."
"...Thank you, Cloud."
Cloud unfolded himself and stood up. "Well, that's what I wanted to say, so I guess I'll let you get back to your paperwork."
I'm his hero.
He was halfway to the door when Genesis jumped up from his chair. "Cloud, wait." Rounding his desk, he approached the cadet. Nerves bubbled in his stomach. "I know there are things I've said and done that I have no right to ask forgiveness for, but I want you to know how proud I am of you." The words came fast and his hands wouldn't stop moving to hide the fact that they were shaking. "You've managed to find your own success despite everyone who tried to cut you down, but you've also helped me a great deal."
"You taught me that there is value in humility. That just because I'm not the best doesn't mean I can't be accepted."
"Maybe you aren't the best, but you're better than a lot of people."
"Perhaps." Genesis regarded Cloud for a moment, wondering how it was possible for him to have earned his respect. "But I'm not better than you."
Cloud glanced over his shoulder, as if he could possibly have been referring to someone else. "S-Sir?"
"You've changed me, Cloud. Heroes are people who make changes. So by default, that makes you a hero," Genesis said, raising an eyebrow. "Doesn't it?"
"I... I never asked to be a hero."
"Neither did Sephiroth."
Light glimmered off the liquid welling up in Cloud's eyes. "I don't know what to say," he whispered. "Thank you."
Genesis smiled. "No, thank you."
A tear dripped down Cloud's face, leaving a wet trail behind. "I-I'm really going to miss you, Genesis."
At that, the commander furrowed his brow. "Miss me?"
"I passed my test. It was what I wanted, but..." Sniffling, Cloud wiped his face. "Training won't be the same without you."
"Who said you'd have to do it without me?"
"B-But I thought you were just... for the bet...?"
Genesis nearly laughed out loud. This was what Cloud was so upset about? Unbelievable! "I've discovered I quite like teaching. There are plenty of Thirds I could choose from, but I'd much rather train you." He cracked a smile. "Besides, you'll be a Third soon enough."
The look on Cloud's face was such pure joy that Genesis couldn't help himself. He extended his arms and embraced the cadet.
"Th-thank you so much," Cloud blubbered into his coat, somewhere between laughing and crying. "I p-promise you won't regret this."
Genesis snorted. "I'd better not." Then, in a much softer tone, he added, "Congratulations."
Cloud pulled away, wiping away tears with his scarf. "Um... I got invited out to pizza tonight by some friends in class. Yuza and Zack are coming too. Um, would you... W-Would you like to come, too?"
Pizza with Zack Fair, a Turk trainee, and a bunch of cadets? Genesis sighed. Well, there were worse things.
"I'd love to come."
"Really? Zidane is dying to meet you..."
Well, you did it, Cloud.
We did it.
Regen's Final Thoughts:
If you're reading this, thank you. It means the absolute world to me that you are. If you've favorited, followed, or reviewed, thank you. You are the ones who made this story so popular, and that just blows my mind. Thank you for approaching this with an open mind and a sense of humor. Finishing this story is a milestone in my writing that I'm going to remember for the rest of my life. It's been two years since beginning Making the Cut, and in that time, I've had plenty of stories (much better, more epic stories, in my opinion) crop up that I could have pushed to the finish, but I'm glad this got to be my first, complete novel-length piece. It's quirky and makes me facepalm more than Squall, but I had too much fun writing it to hold any sort of grudge against it. So, if you loved it, great! If you hated it, great! That makes three of us!
Again, thank you. See you guys in whatever comes next! :D