A/N: This is for Illulian. Thank you again for participating in my contest and here's that oneshot I promised.

Any comments, reviews and the like are loved. I thrive off feedback.

Disclaimer: This was for fun, not for profit. I own nothing FF7 related….blah blah blah. To quote another writer: "These are not my characters, I'm just abusing them".

Summary: Everyone knows that Sephiroth was the hero of the War with Wutai. What happens when the first battle occurs suddenly in the sleepy town of Nibelheim and he's the only SOLDIER there? And how does a little blond boy play a part? AU. Young!Seph & Young!Cloud

Words: 7,760

Rating: T

The Battle of Nibelheim

By Catsitta

It was perhaps two weeks into his mentorship with the famous Commander Angeal Hewley, when Zack Fair trudged into their shared apartment and collapsed onto the couch, three heavy textbooks resting on his chest. The raven-haired SOLDIER cadet closed his eyes and let out a groan. Why did his Battle Strategy instructor have to assign a research paper on the Wutai War on the one day he usually had for goofing off?

Grumbling some curses under his breath, Zack sat up and opened the top book. A few seconds of reading left the puppy ready to chuck the thing at the wall. Why did every textbook say the same drabble about the start of the war? How was someone supposed to do a decent paper if all the information available was summed up in a paragraph?

After spouting a few more choice swear words at the book, he opened the next one in the pile. Again, he ended up tossing it…as well as the third. The teen was ready to start pulling his hair out in frustration. There had to be more to The Battle of Nibelheim than this! Honestly, it was the start of the most renowned war ever. If it had not been for ShinRa's victory at Nibelheim, then there would not be a ShinRa. If it had not been for Nibelheim, the SOLDIER project would not have become the legendary force it was today.

But all the books said the same thing.

Wutai invaded the continent at a slow pace. No one thought anything of their colonization movement until they made an assault on the first (and at the time only) Mako reactor. The energy creating technologies being built and studied there were funded by the ingenious president of the ShinRa Electric Company, and were priceless. If they lost the reactor and the scientific research facility underneath, they would be set back for decades. So, they unveiled their pet project, a child SOLDIER named Sephiroth.

True, other SOLDIERs existed at the time and were rushing to Nibelheim's aid at hearing about the crisis, but the quiet mountain town was in the middle of nowhere and rather difficult to get to. By the time help arrived, Sephiroth, whom was perhaps fifteen or sixteen at the time, stood the proud victor of the skirmish.

Before him laid a whole battalion of dead enemy soldiers. And apparently, there were no casualties on his side of the battle…except one. A local man, whose name no one would disclose, who worked at the reactor as a guide and a guardsman of sorts. His death, however, was shadowed entirely by Sephiroth's amazing victory and immediate promotion to not only First Class, but General.

From that moment on, he was the hero of the war.

So why, in Gaia's name, was there not more information on the battle? Zack sighed. Did they not ask Sephiroth what happened? He blinked. No, they probably did not. A smile broke onto his features. With a few puppy pouts directed at Angeal, he could get an audience with Sephiroth and then…yes, then, he could get the silver warriors side of the story.

Feeling proud of himself, Zack dashed out of the apartment and straight for Angeal's office. The Commander sat hunched over his desk, scowling at a handful of paperwork when the cadet slammed open the door. Dark-blue eyes leapt up to meet those of smiling aquamarine. He shot the teen a questioning look, which the boy promptly replied to with a wild leap in his direction. The Commander barely had time to brace himself against the raven-haired teen's infamous Tackle Hug attack.

He grunted. Zack grinned.

"What do you want, Zackary?" Angeal asked with a weary sigh. The excitable boy really was going to be his death one day…and was he pouting? Oh Gaia, what chaos had the boy caused now!

The teen snuggled his face against his shoulder, trying to feign innocence. Trouble was the boy's middle name. After a short pause, Zack mumbled something into his shirt. Angeal shook his head and told him to speak up. Another pause and that puppy pout was at full force yet again. He was beginning to get worried.

"I said: I want…no NEED to talk to General Sephiroth. It's important, 'Geal."

Arching a brow, the Commander's only reply was that of a skeptical look. Gaia, could those eyes get any bigger?

"Pleeeeeease," Zack whined.

"Why?"

"I have this paper to write on the start of the war with Wutai and the only person I can think of to ask about it is Sephiroth."

"Couldn't you do your paper like every other student and read a few books?"

"I did. They were useless. C'mon, 'Geal, pleeeease. At least lemme talk to him, and if he says no, then well, I've leave him alone."

Mentor and puppy stared at each other for a long time. Despite Zack being fifteen and a prodigy among his peers, the cadet still acted liked a six-year-old when he wanted something. He would whine, beg, and even cry. Then, once Angeal caved, the teen would try to squeeze him to death and squeal like a little girl. It was sometimes concerning how childish and innocent someone so brilliant could be.

Shaking his head, the Commander let out a soft groan of defeat. Of which, Zack translated into a yes and promptly began half-strangling his mentor with joy. Angeal rolled his eyes. If he was lucky, Sephiroth would entertain the pup for a few hours and let him recover from his protégé's enthusiasm. Soon, said protégé was bouncing out of the door towards the General's office.

Feeling thrilled that his mentor agreed to let him talk to the General, Zack barely registered the annoyed squawk that escaped the secretary's lips when he sped past her and made his way to the door. Excited, he opened it, not caring if the silver warrior was busy or not. Fortunately, he was not and that more than likely saved his hide.

Peering over a fresh and steaming cup of coffee, Sephiroth looked mildly startled to see Zack enter his office. Paperwork laid in neat piles on his desk and he appeared to be taking a break of sorts if the way he was leaning back in his chair was anything to judge by. Grinning fearlessly, the raven-haired teen walked straight up to the General's desk, placed both palms flat on the surface and said,"Hi!"

Sephiroth blinked.

"I'm Zack Fair, SOLDIER cadet and Commander Angeal Hewley's student." He added happily,"Call me Zack. Anywho, I'm doing this research project and 'Geal said I could talk to you since there are not really any good sources with information on The Battle of Nibelheim. And…"

His mind at last catching up with Zack's hyperactive prattle, Sephiroth leaned forwards and glared at the cadet. The raven-haired teen paused and stared up at him with wonder-filled eyes. Then, he grinned wider and continued talking…and talking…and talking…

Eventually, it was all the General could do just to figure out what in Gaia's name a cadet was doing in his office asking him about the Wutain War. When Zack paused again to take a bit of a breather, Sephiroth cleared his throat and decided to make an interjection of his own.

"Fair, you barged into a superior officer's office without thinking of the consequences." He began.

Zack snorted,"C'mon, General, I wanna know what happened!"

Was the cadet honestly unafraid of Sephiroth when he began speaking in his General voice? Apparently so because now the teen was staring at him with the most ridiculous pout on his face that Sephiroth had ever seen in his life! It was…unsettling.

"You wish to know what happened…?"

"Yeah, at The Battle of Nibelheim. Please. Please. Please. Pleeeeeease!" The cadet could not have possibly looked more vulnerable as he begged. Those eyes were wide and watery. His lips were puffed out and set into a frown. And he was angled so that his face was directly below Sephiroth's. How did Angeal tolerate the kid? Then again, the man did have an amazing capacity for patience. He could weather even Genesis's foul temper when the auburn Commander decided to throw a fit. So a whiney cadet could not be much worse…

Settling back in his chair, Sephiroth tapped his fingers together thoughtfully,"So you really do want to know?"

Zack jumped up and down as he nodded vigorously.

"Then sit, cadet. It's a long story."

The raven-haired teen plopped down in one of the nearby armchairs and looked up eagerly. Sephiroth reached into his desk and pulled out a notebook and a pen, before tossing it at the cadet, whom caught the objects, understanding on his face.

"Where to begin—?" Sephiroth mused aloud as he lost himself in a not quite distant memory.

000X000

Six years earlier, Nibelheim:

Bright lights, cold steel, the faint hum of electronics whirring to life—these were all things Sephiroth was familiar with growing up in the lab. What he was unfamiliar with was this place called "outside". True, in his fifteen years he had been outside of the labs on occasion and he read enough to know what was out there, but now, standing alone and practically unsupervised, he was uncertain what to think.

With his silver hair tied into a severe braid, the teen did his best to blend in with the locals. They stared enough as it was without having a literal banner flowing behind him. He just did not understand why they seemed so disconcerted by his appearance…then again, most people in Nibelheim were thickly set, blonde or red haired with pale skin and pale eyes. Sephiroth, while pale, just did not fit the local profile in any other way.

His eyes were a brilliant shade of green that was practically luminous. His build was very tall and slight. His features bordering feminine. Then add in his long silver hair and a military uniform, and there was no possible way for him to go unnoticed. But he tried. They had to give him credit for that much.

So as he moved through the town, quietly and as covertly as possible, the locals did their best to at least pretend to ignore him.

Well, all the locals except one.

He noticed a set of eyes watching him intently but he could never find their owner. Sephiroth did not betray his unsettlement in hopes that his stalker would give up and go away. The silver teen ducked beneath a tree branch and decided to lose his follower in the mountains…And what amazing mountains they were.

Those high up peaks jutted into the sky like frost covered daggers, stealing his breath away. He always had an affinity to the wild landscape…there was something about the way the forest sprawled and the rocks sat that felt like home…a true home. Not the place filled with pain and cold emotion that his father Hojo called home. The mountains were open, free and dangerous as well as secure and confining and safe. Things grew slowly here but in that growth, they became eternally innocent as well as wise in the meaning of nature.

After adjusting the katana on his back, one he affectionately called Masamune, Sephiroth scanned the area for monsters. Nothing. Just peace, quiet and lots of ice. A small smile quirked on his lips. Hojo would have a fit if he knew that his pet project was out wandering in the forest alone. Then again, the scientist was in Midgar and what he did not know did not hurt him…And if Sephiroth had his way, the man would never know.

He would have to thank professor…what's-his-name…for allowing him to get some fresh air if all went well.

Then, a low growl broke the silence. Sephiroth whirled around. Standing all over fifteen feet away was a whole pack of Nibel Wolves. How had he not sensed the animals' approach? He drew Masamune and readied himself for attack, only, when he made to swing at the growling leader, a shout broke his concentration.

"Stoooop!" Came the cry and next thing he knew, a little boy of six, maybe eight years, stood panting between him and the wolf. His hair was a bright blond disarray of spikes and his eyes were wide and clear blue. He stared hard at Sephiroth, his face scrunched up into that of anger. "Don't hurt them."

The teen lowered Masamune and frowned at the little boy,"They're dangerous."

"They're nice!" The boy shouted, tears forming in his eyes. He glanced back at the wolves behind him and a strange smile appeared on his face. Slowly, the alpha wolf padded closer and nuzzled the boy's face, its tongue wiping away his fallen tears. "See." He looked back at Sephiroth, those blue eyes still gleaming wetly.

Confused, the teen replied,"But, they're monsters. Monster's are not…nice."

The little boy shook his head and took a step towards Sephiroth,"They are not monsters. They're my friends."

"Your…friends?"What was a little boy doing out in the forest? Even the locals could not possibly allow for such a young child to be wandering about unsupervised.

"Uh-huh. My friends. So don't hurt them. They were just curious, is all, since you smell funny."'

Sephiroth sheathed Masamune,"How exactly is my scent any different than yours?"

The boy rolled his eyes as if the answer was obvious,"Because, you're from the reactor and there is only one person from the reactor that is from here."

"How do you know that?" He asked, frowning. True, he was from the labs beneath the reactor and yes, there was only one local working at said reactor, but how in Gaia's name would a kid know that? Then again, the boy was friends with Nibel Wolves, beasts that were notoriously bad tempered and aggressive.

One of said wolves padded to stand beside the boy, its ears flattened and teeth bared.

The boy pouted and tapped the beast on the nose, telling it 'no' much like one would an ordinary dog…and it worked. The wolf backed down and sat on it haunches next to its pack mates…there were six in all, including the alpha that snuggled up to the blond.

Apparently satisfied by the wolf's reaction, the boy looked back at Sephiroth and said,"My daddy works there…and he saw you before and when I saw you outside, I wanted to know who you were…why you're here." The teen quirked his head a bit. For such a young child he was very articulate. He reminded Sephiroth of himself at that age, able to prattle on about things he should not understand like a little adult.

Then again, as he ran through the list of names of employees at the reactor, there was a good reason why the boy could talk so well. His father, a man named Marcus Strife, was a reputable genius of sorts. At least, by Nibelheim standards. If his son was intelligent as well…

"Your father is a man called Strife, yes?"

The boy smiled and nodded,"Yep. Oh, and I'm Cloud by the way. Cloud Strife."

Sephiroth arched a brow. Cloud? The man named his son, Cloud. It would have been a more logical choice to name the unfortunate kid Chocobo or something of the like. Honestly, who named their kid Cloud? It was not a name, not really. But who was he to insult the kid's name? Cloud, for all his quirks, had followed him through town and stayed out of sight. An impressive feat to say the least.

"Sephiroth," the teen offered, unsure of what else to say.

Cloud hummed something before turning to mumble something into the nearest wolf's ear. The brute let out a small whine before giving the boy a well meaning lick and trotting away…the rest of the pack reluctantly followed. This was, all things considered, one of the most bizarre days of his life. Then the boy looked back at him and smiled,"I know. Daddy told me who you were."

"He…did?"

"Yup. Daddy said there was a boy named Sephiroth with silver hair and pretty green eyes that lived in the labs and sometimes protected the reactor from monsters." Cloud replied sweetly,"So that must mean you're really smart and brave."

"Why do you assume that?"

"Because, silly, labs are where the scientists are and if you live in the labs you must be a scientists and scientists are smart…like daddy." Cloud giggled, it was obvious he was very fond of his father,"But if you fight monsters, that means you have to be really strong and brave 'cause monsters are scary."

"Nibel wolves are monsters," Sephiroth deadpanned.

The boy rolled his eyes,"Nuh-uh, they're nice. People just think they're scary 'cause they don't understand… So they hurt them. I don't like it when my friends get hurt. Makes me sad. Mommy doesn't like it when I'm sad. She says it makes her sad. And if mommy is sad, daddy is sad. Then everyone is sad. I don't like it when everyone is sad…So I help my friends so everyone can be happy!"

Sephiroth blinked. Children were…confusing. Especially intelligent ones. At least, to him they were. Not that he had a chance to speak with many smart kids in his life.

"So stop calling my friends monsters. You can be brave and strong and not hurt them. Daddy told me that it sometimes takes a lot more bravery to try to understand something than to hurt it. People hurt things because they're scared, a lot of the time."

Was the kid ever going to stop talking?

"Understand?"

"Huh?"

"You weren't paying attention!" Cloud exclaimed, stamping his foot.

"No." Sephiroth looked away. As interesting as this exchange was he had better things to do than talk to a little blond six-year-old with a fondness for deadly, mako-enhanced beasts. Said little boy had a temper though and proceeded to chuck a stick at his head. Surprised, the teen frowned.

The kid stuck his tongue out,"Meanie."

"I was not the one who threw a stick."

Cloud crossed his arms and puffed his bottom lip,"You ignored me."

"Yes."

"Didn't your mommy teach you not to ignore people when they're talking to you?"

Sephiroth flinched and let his gaze fall to the ground. Cloud, strangely enough, seemed to understand and he slowly approached, an apologetic smile on his face.

"Sorry."

"You didn't know."

"I made you sad…want to come to my house and have some cookies? Mommy's cookies always makes me happy."

"Cookies?" What were cookies? He'd read about them but Hojo told him that they were sugary treats that a growing super solider did not need. Would it be okay…?

"Yeah! C'mon." Cloud chirped, before bouncing down the slope back towards town. He looked comfortable in the hazardous terrain, despite the uneven paths and bitter cold that had most of the scientists bundled up in three jackets. The kid only wore one and it did not look very heavy…but his boots looked watertight compared to Sephiroth's own soggy cloth ones.

With the smallest of smiles and filled with curiosity, he followed.

000X000

Upon reaching the Strife residence, Cloud bolted ahead and swung open the door. It was an odd quirk found only in small towns, but no one appeared to lock anything. Homes, sheds, vehicles, ater. Back in Midgar, such would lead to one being robbed blind. But here…it was normal. Safe.

Sephiroth felt a strange twinge in his chest. He grew up in Nibelheim, but little things like this he never learned until recently. Such was life when one was born and raised underneath a reactor in a laboratory with people determined to shape you in as controlled an environment as possible. He half expected the inside of the homes he peered into to have stark white walls and smell of mako… but none did. Especially not Cloud's home.

The boy urged him to follow and when the teen crossed the threshold, his senses were assailed by the strangest smells. There were all kinds: sweet, savory, spicy and salty. He followed Cloud into the kitchen, his eyes flicking around the cozy cottage (the walls were warm shades of brown but it was hard to tell with all the knickknacks that nearly covered every available inch).

"Mommy, I made a friend. His name is Sephiroth!" Cloud called, and as the teen peered into the cramped, tiled room, he saw what made all those wonderful smells. Sitting at the center of the room was a table chocked full of native dishes on plates and in bowls. Dark broths with floating chunks of meat and potatoes. A strange pasta dish with a creamy sauce. Little mushrooms stuffed with a kind of custard. And cookies. A whole plate of round little treats…snicker doodles, Sephiroth assumed based on their strong cinnamon aroma.

His eyes must have gone wide because Cloud began to giggle and said,"I think he likes the way dinner smells. Do you think he could stay, mommy? Just to eat."

That was when he finally got a good glimpse of Mrs. Strife when she popped out the pantry, a jar in one hand, an apron tied at her throat. Sephiroth nearly had to take a step back in surprise. She looked to be in her early to mid twenties, delicately built, perhaps standing no taller than five foot, with impossibly long blonde hair that went well past her waist and the most intense blue eyes he had ever seen in his life. They practically glowed! And the no nonsense expression on her face was not very comforting either.

Then, Cloud scurried forwards and wrapped his arms around her leg and that expression softened. There was a lot of love between the pair, even Sephiroth could sense it.

"What did I say about talking to strangers, Cloudy?" Mrs. Strife scolded gently.

"Sorry mommy. But he tried to hurt my friends so I had to talk to him and then I found out he thought they were monsters and so I told him that they were nice and not to hurt them. And…and mommy, he doesn't know what cookies are!" The little blond replied.

His mother shook her head and looked at the silver-haired teen,"Hello Sephiroth. You might as well sit down, dinner will be ready soon."

"Thank you mommy!" Cloud shouted and squeezed his mother's leg a little more before he allowed the woman to peel him off.

"What am I going to do with you, Cloud?" She sighed,"Such a curious 'bo."

Cloud, apparently not hearing his mother's words of exasperation, hopped up into a seat at the table. "Sit!" he commanded, and Sephrioth, after glancing warily at Mrs. Strife, did as he was told. The boy grinned and once again began to prattle on about nonsense like only a child his age could.

000X000

Dinner went well, surprisingly enough.

Shortly after Cloud and Sephiroth sat down, Marcus Strife, whom looked like a bulky, older version of the boy, returned home and scooped his wife up into a dramatic kiss. His son made a face but ended up giggling as his father broke away, quirking both brows in a comical gesture and kneeling to be eye-to-eye with the boy. Apparently, Sephiroth's presence did not disturb the man in any way.

Marcus simply sat down across from him and asked casual questions…he was friendly. Open. Willing to ignore the fact that the teen was an experiment and supposed to be in the reactor labs, and talk to him like a normal human being. He did not ask probing questions like Hojo. He inquired about mundane things like the weather and how he met Cloud.

It was…nice. Very nice.

As was the food. He could never remember eating so many delicious things in his life! The meals he ate back in the labs were specially made to the nutritional value for optimal growth and health. This feast that lay before him had no dietary qualities whatsoever and he loved it.

Especially the cookies.

And the coffee. He wondered why no one would let him have the stuff. Everyone who worked there drank it like water…now he knew why. It tasted wonderful and made him feel…good. Really good.

He smiled. This was strange but wonderful. Was this what it was like to have a family? A normal, loving family?

Cloud was lucky.

Sephiroth wondered if the boy knew that. He pushed away the thoughts. No need to trouble such an optimist child with the knowledge that there were others out there that did not have a happy life and a full belly. He took a long sip from the mug in his hands. Let the boy have a few more years of ignorance. Childhood was a precious time and something the teen never had a chance to enjoy.

A short time later, it was time to say goodbyes.

Marcus shook his hand. His wife (whom he learned was named Aubrey), patted his shoulder and tucked a cookie into his uniform pocket. And Cloud hugged his leg.

"Bye," the boy mumbled as his mother pulled him away.

"Bye…" Sephiroth whispered before opening the door.

"I'll see you again, right?"

The teen paused and nodded.

"Promise?"

"Promise."

000X000

Sephiroth kept his promise.

Each day for the following weeks he would wander into the outskirts of town and find the boy playing with his wolf friends. It took some getting used to, but the teen did adapt the animal's presence. Cloud was right, they were friendly. But why?

But these visits were bittersweet. In three days, Hojo would be returning from Midgar and Sephiroth would be back under lock-and-key. Freedom was nice while it lasted…

As he returned to the reactor that evening, feeling disheartened, his paths crossed with Marcus.

"Evening," Sephiroth offered.

The man smiled,"Would you like to come to dinner?"

"Yes, but I have guard duty," the teen replied solemnly. It used to be, the one night of every week he was allowed out of the labs was something he looked forwards to, even if he was still inside the reactor.

"Good luck, kid," Marcus said with a sympathetic pat on the arm before he headed down the mountain towards home. It was quite a lengthy trek from the reactor to the little cottage on the far side of Nibelheim. How did the man do it, walk to work and home and back and still maintain that smile? A question for another day.

Sephiroth slipped inside the reactor, adjusted Masamune (though he never needed her it seemed) and took his position by the door. It was going to be a long night…

As his eyes began to slip closed from sheer boredom, like usual, a strange noise made him snap awake. Blinking, the teen stalked further into the building. Scientists worked diligently, ignorant of the sound to high pitched for them to hear. That was when it happened…that was when all hell broke loose.

The sound became an earsplitting shriek that even the normal humans could hear, causing Sephiroth to fall to his knees, his hands clapped over his ear. The pain…so much pain. And then, the front entryway (the one he normally stood in front of ) burst open in a spray of white-hot shrapnel. With the nose gone, his head spinning from the sound, the teen rose back to his feet.

Standing outside, with their rifles pointing at the huddled, quivering scientists, were two Wutain soldiers.

Tensions between Wutai and ShinRa military forces were always high. The company always seemed to be prodding at the nation with a little too keen an interest and Wutai eyed the unclaimed territories on foreign soil. This led to conflict, mostly of the political kind. But never had colonization troops ever come this far inland, much less into a populated town (no matter how remote or tiny) protected by ShinRa forces.

And these troops did not look like there were here to negotiate.

They were declaring war!

Sephiroth leapt to the scientist's aid as the bullets rang out. Masamune familiar and deadly in his hand, he deflected the shots with ease. He was a SOLDIER. It was his duty to protect civilians from danger and disaster…he just did not think he would have to so soon. But that did not mean he was unprepared. The virtual simulators and regular—though monitored—monster hunts had him well prepared for combat…

Just…

The men tossed a grenade towards the computers…It was a tricky shot, but Sephiroth caught the device with the end of the katana and slung it back at the soldiers. A burst of light and sound send the teen backwards…and when it cleared, revealed two badly burned enemies, screaming in agony. With a flick of Masamune, he ended their lives.

When he turned to check on those he protected from death, he saw that they were already gone. Based on the spinning lights, they were going into lockdown. Knowing that there was potentially more troops out in the town, Sephiroth ran out before the emergency doors slammed shut, sealing him away from those who would need his help.

A quick flash of blond spikes came to mind. Marcus. The man was walking home alone! Hoping he was not too late, the silver warrior dashed at full speed down the mountain slope. His hopes shattered when he heard the ring of gunfire ahead. Cursing, Sephiroth plunged into the unknown ahead and straight into the line of fire. Bullets sang as they ripped through the frigid mountain air, like a haunting melody of coming death.

He could only react, his instincts in full control.

Masamune became a shield, her seven-foot blade moving in his hands at speeds that no normal human could even see. As the last of the bullets fired, she became a sword again, slicing through steel, flesh and bone. His mind was blank. His eyes unseeing. All he do was survive…and so he did.

With a speeding heart, Sephiroth cut down the last of his opponents and came to a pause to catch his breath. As he gulped down lungs full of air, a head of blond spikes caught his attention. He paled. Marcus.

Nearly dropping Masamune, the teen lowered hurriedly into a crouch in the snow. There was blood everywhere…but as he checked for vitals, he found a faint, but existent pulse. Filled with relief as well as a fresh wave of panic, Sephiroth pulled the man onto his back. Moving him was a bad idea but leaving him in the snow was worse of one. He had to get Marcus help but the town was now a warzone. The troops could attack at any given moment.

Left with no better options, the teen began to move as quickly as he could towards Nibelheim.

000X000

It was either by some blessing by Gaia or by some lucky happenstance that the enemy had not began a reign of terror on the town. Everything was quiet and sleepy as it normally was…sort of. When he made it to the Strife residence, shout of panic could be heard inside. Sephiroth, fearing the worst, ran quicker to find the door kicked down.

With the weight of the unconscious man wearing him down, the teen feared that he would not be able to fight. So, quickly and gently, he placed the man on the couch, wishing that he had a Cure or a potion to stop the bleeding. But before he could even think about checking the extent of the man's injuries, another peal of screams caught his attention. Aubrey!

Sephiroth moved into the kitchen where he found three soldiers backing a petrified Mrs. Strife against a wall.

"Where is he?" One of them growled.

"We know your husband works at the reactor." Another added.

Aubrey let out another scream.

"Kill her," the first said with a snort,"She's useless."

"What about the boy?" The third inquired.

"What about him? He ran off into the forest, no doubt the monsters will kill him before morning."

Anger filled the teens gut as he plunged Masamune through the back into the chest of the first soldier. He let out a strangled cry that was quickly cut off by Sephrioth freeing the blade and lopping off his helmet encased head. The other two turned, only to suffer a similar fate.

He was created to be the perfect SOLDIER. A killing machine. A weapon. Seeing the corpses fall to floor did not faze him, nor did their deaths cause him once out hesitation.

"Are you okay?" he asked softly, and the blonde woman crumpled to the ground and sobbed.

"M-my husband…" she wailed.

"Alive…"

Aubrey looked up with wide eyes.

"..but barely."

"Gaia! Where is h—"

"On the couch…and if you will excuse me, I have to protect the town."

"Wait!"

Sephiroth stopped mid stride.

"Find him. Please. Find my little Cloud and bring him home."

He nodded. There was no question about it, he would find the boy and make sure he was safe. He may have failed Marcus, but there was no way he would let his son suffer too.

With nothing left to say, Sephiroth plunged into the darkness outside.

000X000

The night was one filled with fighting.

Out of nowhere, men armed with guns and grenades would leap out and attack the town. Only a twisted kind of luck helped Sephiroth cut these troops down before they harmed any of the terrified locals. Blood stained everything. Bodies laid everywhere. It was a massacre.

Only he could stand and fight these men, and he was only one teenager. With no potions or Cure spells, or any materia at all, he was at a an almost laughable disadvantage. The odds were stacked against him. Winning this fight and preventing Wutai from taking over the town was a task for a whole hoard of SOLDIERs.

Then again, Hojo claimed he was supposed to be the best of the best, the perfect SOLDIER. The one man army.

Fear bubbled in his gut. There was good chance he could die before daybreak…what then?

Then, he told himself, Nibelheim would be captured. Then, there would be no one to protect the people from being slaughtered like cattle…Then, there would be no one to save Cloud.

Cloud…he had to find him, but how?

A howl pierced the air. The cry of a Nibel Wolf.

000X000

Unsure of how far he had to run, Sephiroth simply started in the direction of the wolf's cry and kept moving. It was a desperate action, to say the least, to hang onto the belief that the boy was alive and well and all he had to do was get to him in time. That he would be with his friends.

The faint gleam of the sun broke the horizon as he made his way back up the mountainside towards the reactor.

He had been up all night fighting.

Lights still flashed on the outside of the building but Sephiroth ignored them. The place was still intact, that was all that concerned him about it at the moment. He had to find Cloud; that was his top priority.

Moving quickly, he scanned the forest and the rocky path that led further up. Another howl assured him that this was the right direction…the sound of gunfire were a cause for panic.

Sephiroth moved quicker than he thought he could and came to halt when he found a troop of perhaps fifteen men being harried by a pack of six wolves and a little blond boy wielding a stick. Cloud, with a fearless expression on his face, barked out orders to his friends. Bullets rang out, making the silver warrior's heart wrench…until he realized that they were bouncing off something…a Barrier spell! Cloud wore a little silver cuff with a two slots on it.

How in Gaia's name did the boy know how to use materia?

Then again, it did not matter. Cloud was safe…sort of.

"Take that!" he screamed, chucking the stick he brandished so fiercely at the nearest trooper. The projectile bounced off his helmet…the Nibel wolf that followed, however, did not. It was the big alpha. Its coat was torn and ragged, matted with blood and dirt. Yet it still stood by its friend… bravely and loyally. "Hah. I win."

Warmth filled Sephiroth's chest…pride. Which was quickly drenched with horror when one of the Wutain troops slung a grenade at Cloud's feet, the force of the explosion sending him and his Barrier spell sailing backwards…and off the side of cliff into a rocky trench between Nibel Peak and its neighbor.

"I win." One of the men said darkly.

Horror soon turned to rage. How dare they hurt Cloud! Wielding Masamune like the demon he would later be deemed as, Sephiroth demolished the troops, hacking at them until nothing remained but mangled flesh. Then, when he was satisfied, he ran over to the edge of the cliff where the six wolves sat, whimpering.

"No…" the teen breathed with sorrow, before sliding a still bloody Masamune back into her sheath, and leaping into the dangerous valley.

He managed to slow his fall by sliding down the rocky face. But even when he did that, his landing was a rough one, sending a twinge up his spine. Ignoring the pain, he searched for any sign of Cloud.

Minutes ticked by.

Nothing.

Tears began to build in his eyes. No. This was not the way things were supposed to happen! Cloud was a kid…and his friend. Sephiroth was a SOLDIER. He was supposed to protect his friends.

"So brave," he murmured aloud. The kid was willing to befriend monsters and face down armed gunmen wielding only a stick. It took so much courage to do that, especially at the tender age he was. Refusing to believe that the boy was a casualty of the battle, and newly declared war, Sephiroth kept searching… and searching…

000X000

"Did you ever find him?" Zack asked with a choked voice.

Sephiroth let out a soft sigh, "No."

Silence.

"He found me."The General added with a sly smirk.

The raven-haired cadet took in a gasp of air, "You had me feeling sorry for you, thinking your friend died."

A small chuckle. Sephiroth was…laughing?

"Pardon if this tale is not as tragic as you suspected. But it would take much more than a fall down the side of a mountain to kill a boy like Cloud…he truly was amazing." He continued before once again losing himself in the past.

000X000

"What'cha doin'?"

The teen whipped around. He had abandoned his search and was reluctantly trudging towards town, dreading the news he would have to tell the boy's mother. There had been no further gunfire and in the distance he could see that the lights on the reactor were off, meaning 'all clear'. The town was safe…

"C-cloud!" he exclaimed. Standing behind him in tattered clothes and mussed up spikes, was a little blond boy with stubborn smile. The kid was a wreck, blood covered half his face and bruises mottled once flawless white skin. But by Gaia he was alive!

"You look surprised to see me," Cloud replied, staggering forwards. "All I did was fall. The Barrier stopped the rocks from hurting me. See, all good." He waved a trembling arm as if to prove he was okay.

Sephiroth pulled the boy into his arms,"I'm sorry."

"For what?"

"I-I was not fast enough."

"It's alright. I'm okay." Cloud murmured.

What was he going to tell the kid, that his he left his father wounded and dying on the living room couch? That if he had just taken the man's offer to go to dinner that he'd still be alive?

"Y-your father, h-he.."

"Shhh," Cloud crooned,"Bad men hurt him, didn't they?"

Sephiroth nodded. The boy tried to put on a brave face, but he could see the tears welling up behind those big eyes. Then, he buried his face in the teen's shirt. "I wanna go home."

Without another word, he took the boy home.

000X000

Aubrey Strife nearly broke down with tears when she saw the silver-haired SOLDIER walking towards her home with her son in his arms. Sephiroth could see the emotion flashing behind her eyes as she tried to smother the need to cry with joy and pain. It was understandable. Judging by the black ribbon braided into her hair, she had her son safely returned but lost a loving husband.

As soon as he set Cloud onto the ground, he ran up to his mother and clutched her skirt.

"I love you mommy," he said hoarsely.

"I love you too Cloud. So very much."

"Your son was very brave," Sephiroth interjected, hoping to ease the new-widow's grief with a spark of good. "A real hero."

She looked between her son and the teen curiously.

"He stood down fifteen men and stopped their assault on the reactor. Had he not done so, I might not have had enough time to get there and prevent them from destroying it."

"He what?" Aubrey screeched.

"Be proud of your son, ma'am. Not many children his age could do what he did. If you don't mind me saying so, I think he would make a fine SOLDIER one day."

The blonde woman tossed her head,"My baby is not running off to join the military when he's grown up. He's going to be a scientist at the reactor or a guide for the mountains."

Sephiroth smiled when Cloud shyly looked away from his mother's skirts at him.

"You never know." He said softly before turning away…only to find someone tugging at his pants. The teen looked down and saw the little blond grinning up at him.

"Thank you." Then, the boy reached up and opened Sephiroth's hand before placing something in his palm and closing his fingers around it.

"What's this for?" The teen asked when he saw that it was the silver bracelet with the dual materia slots. "

"To remember me," Cloud replied. Then, he hurried back to his mother and let himself be wrapped in her comforting embrace. Sephiroth watched on with confusion. He did not realize then that those would be the last words he ever heard from the boy.

After returning to the reactor he was rushed into the labs, brought out only when Hojo returned, a whole squad of SOLDIERs behind him looking a little lost. There was destruction and bodies everywhere, but no battle left to fight. When told that Sephiroth, a secret to them until that point, was the one who took down the Wutain invaders, they were baffled.

The rest of the story became a bit of blur after that, even to him. So much happened after Nibelheim. He was shipped out of the small town and slapped with the title of General before being sent into the middle of combat. How he managed to lead the army to victory was still a mystery to him...

But no matter how many times he told his tale about the first battle of the war, people left out the human details. Apparently it was not important to include his friendship with a little boy and how that kid was as much a hero to be praised as Sephiroth…

000X000

"Is…is that it?" Zack asked, his hand hurt from scribbling down notes.

Sephiroth nodded.

"That's…amazing! I'll write the best essay ever…hey, I wonder if Cloud will ever find his way out of Nibelheim. Wouldn't it be cool if he joined SOLDIER?" The cadet remarked with a grin. The General waved for him to leave his office.

"One never knows what the future will bring," the silver warrior replied softly.

Zack, brimming with energy, leapt from his seat and ran out of his office. He had an essay to write.

000X000

One year later; Nibelheim:

A Boy Among Wolves:

The true story behind the Battle of Nibelheim

An Essay by Zack Fair

We all know the story about how General Sephiroth fought and won the first battle of the War in Wutai single-handedly. With Masamune in hand, he cut down the enemy forces that attacked the Nibelheim reactor and the town itself. In one night, he went from a mystery to a hero.

What is not known, however, is tale of the battle itself.

I, Zack Fair, in an interview with the General himself, have learned the true story. It is a tale of a boy among wolves. Sephiroth was but a teenager, striving and growing stronger in world of expectations. And it was a strange little boy named Cloud Strife that gave him the motivation to become who is today. A child of no more than six or eight years, with wild blond hair and blue eyes, who befriended a pack of the Nibel mountain's most feared monsters…

"What are you reading, Cloud?"

The blond looked up from where he sat on his bed. His mother stood in the doorway, a basket of laundry resting on one hip, her long hair tied back. He smiled.

"Just a newspaper article, mom."

She tilted her head,"Is it about you-know-who?"

Cloud groaned,"Mom, he has a name. And yes, it's about Sephiroth."

"What grand thing did he do now?"

"Nothing…just, some guy named Zack Fair wrote an essay for some reason and it was published…I think it's because, well, it's the whole story." He told her, his eyes falling back onto the paper.

"You mean….?"

"Yeah mom. It says he interviewed the General himself and I believe him… he mentions me, and you and…dad. Only Sephiroth knew those things… I can't believe he remembers what happened seven years ago after everything else…"

Aubrey Strife walked over to her son and placed the basket down on the floor.

"I wonder if he still has the materia bracelet."

She sat next to him.

"You never know, sweetie."

"No, you never do…" Cloud mumbled, before shaking his head and laughing lightly,"I guess there's only one way to find out."

"Hm?"

Blue eyes glistening with mischief he said,"I'll have to join the SOLDIER program and ask him myself."

He ignored the horrified gasp his mother let out and went back to reading the essay. After all these years… the great General Sephiroth, a man he admired still to this day, remembered his name. Maybe that was enough. But something inside told him that they were to meet again, that there was still something important left to do.

Until he figured out what that something was, Cloud did the only thing he could.

Wait.

A/N: (I love it when you review my pretties. =3)