This is my first story for the site. I've been reading of course, but it wasn't until I got this idea that I decided to try my hand at a FFVII story.

Been writing in other places, genres, but this is a first. I hope you enjoy.

Oh, and yeah ... I'm a firm believer in anticipation. The build-up is the thing. So if it feels slow to you, just remember this is not a one-shot. :)

Thank you so much for reading, review if you wish, I will be happy to reply.

Chapter One:

Gettin' There

There was an art to making yourself invisible. Cloud Strife had it down. Plodding off the bus in front of ShinRa's recruitment center, Cloud wasn't truly noticed by a single person. It wasn't just about clothing – although Cloud had that aspect covered very neatly by his 'shades of gray' attire. Gray jeans, gray t-shirt, gray hoodie with the large hood pulled up so far that the front edge dipped forward in front of his face. Gray floppy beanie under the hood to cover his fucking hair.

It was also about attitude. Posture. Motion. Cloud Strife took up very little room on the sidewalk in front of the gates of the center. He slouched in his hoodie, he kept his head down, he didn't make any sudden moves. He also did not speak unless absolutely necessary. Looking down, he saw the off-white of the sidewalk, spotted with bits of old gum, other unidentifiable stains. Tilting his head up slightly, he saw where the dark metal deck-plates took over from the concrete, marking the area around the gates into the ShinRa complex. Squat metal poles stood at intervals, roughly chest-high to Cloud, barrier poles that would stop any intruding vehicles dead in their tracks. To see anything else, he'd have to lift his head. Stress and worry kept it down. If he got through this, he could relax. Well, almost.

"All right, dipshits, line up!" a man in an infantry uniform shouted, clapping his hands for emphasis. "Come on, get the lead out, let's go let's go!" Teenaged boys began scurrying around, clomping down the steps of the bus, forming a single-file line on the sidewalk. "Don't face me, keep your eyes square on the guy in front of you. We're gonna be walking in, got it?"

Cloud slowly – but not too slowly – gravitated to somewhere around the middle of the line. Not too near the front where the ra-ra's congregated, not too near the end where the delinquents dragged their asses. From under his hood he glanced at the boy in front of him and made sure he was squared up behind him. Then he just stood there, motionless and silent. His heart raced but he forced himself not to tremble. Easy up, he thought to himself. Calm … calm, fucking calm.

"C'mon, slacker, move it!" the infantryman hollered. Cloud didn't look up to see who was getting shouted at, he just stood there. Apparently things were worked out to the sergeant's satisfaction, because he stopped yelling and began to pace near the line of boys, speaking firmly and clearly but at a reasonable volume. "My name is Sgt. Myerding. All I'm here to do is get you men off the bus, through the gates, and into the center so you can be processed. Now listen up!"

Cloud listened with half his attention as he glanced ahead of him, noting that the guy in front of him had a long red ponytail. Fuuuck. Although Cloud wouldn't be caught dead with long hair in such a garish color, he decided that this guy was a good one to stand behind – he would attract all the attention and Cloud would fade to – you got it - gray.

Myerding's voice caught his attention again. "… proceed, single file, into the building. You'll start at the left side of the room and move from table to table. You'll get your room assignments, your uniforms and equipment, your schedules, and your ID pictures will be taken. Okay, move out!"

With a grimace that he hid by pressing his lips together, Cloud 'moved out', following the redhead, who turned slightly and said something under his breath that Cloud didn't hear. His blood was pounding in his ears, pain lanced through his head … was this what a stroke felt like? No. Stop it. He was ready for this, he'd thought of everything. He'd come prepared.

Moving from table to table, Cloud mumbled his responses to questions, avoided eye contact, and kept his lips folded inward in a tight line. He was measured – "whoa … barely made it, buddy" – he was immunized, he received 5 full sets of uniforms with two pairs of black combat boots, he signed papers. He received a PHS coded specifically to him, a large duffel bag to put all his stuff in, and a sort-of accordion folder to store all his papers.

He'd been told to lower his hood but had been allowed to keep his floppy over-sized beanie on. But when it came time for his ID, the lady working that table told him his hat would have to go. It was okay. He'd known this was coming and had prepared for it. Sliding the beanie off the back of his head, he revealed hair that was slicked back tightly, with a slightly wet look that darkened the color considerably. He kept a frown on his face and his jaw clamped tight.

The tinted glasses did nothing to impair his vision. In fact at nighttime they enhanced it slightly. They fitted neatly on his face – tight enough to make sure no-one could peek around them, loose enough so that his eyelashes didn't hit them. He had a damned good reason for wearing them. He wore them from the moment he gained consciousness in the morning until he shut his eyes to sleep at night.

"Cadet Strife, the .. sunglasses? .. will have to be removed for your ID picture," the woman - Miss Eloise - said, kindly but firmly.

Cloud was ready. He whipped out the paper from his sleeve, he'd had it ready from the moment he'd approached the bus, but this was the first time his glasses had been challenged. It said:

"To Whom It May Concern:

Cadet Cloud Strife has an ocular condition that necessitates wearing special corrective lenses at all times."

It was stamped "APPROVED", signed and counter-signed by ShinRa wienies, and bearing the company seal. Miss Eloise looked at it, took it to her supervisor who then took it to his supervisor, and then returned to hand it back to Cloud. "Well, alrighty then," Miss Eloise said. "Stand with your toes on the line. Look straight into the camera … do you want to smile, Cadet?"

Cloud mumbled, "no, ma'am," and shook his head slightly. He'd been a bundle of nerves as the paper had been passed around and examined. ShivaOdinplease …. But it had worked. It worked! He readied his face for the camera.

The flash lit up and it was done. The resultant picture showed a frowning young man with a heart-shaped face, lips pressed together in a thin line, and nondescript muddy eyes behind wire-rimmed, slightly tinted glasses. The young man's hair was a dark dishwater blonde and was slicked straight back from his face. Miss Eloise clipped the badge onto a lanyard and handed it to him. A small unnoticed sigh of relief accompanied the placing of the lanyard around his neck. Cloud looked at it. Height – 5'5". Weight – 130lbs. Blood type – AB+. He contained his excitement and turned to the next table, where he'd get his room assignment.

First hurdle – conquered!

"Strife, you're in the Deusericus Building, Room 658. Here's your key card. Don't lose it, if you do you'll have to pay for subsequent key card copies." Cloud wondered how many times Corporal Pogue had done this spiel. "Your room-mate is …" he checked on the computer screen, ".. Takahiro Midori." Pogue's eyes flicked over to Cloud, then back to his screen. "Room assignments are made in advance and are not subject to change." He scooted the key card over to Cloud, looking up at him. "Of course, where you actually spend your time is up to you." The left corner of Pogue's mouth was tilted upward in a smirk.

Cloud looked down at him, a small frown drawing his brows together. Huh? He picked up the card and slipped it onto the lanyard with his ID.

Pogue shrugged. "Next!"

So far so good. Since the room assignment was the last stop, Cloud went back outside, then crouched down against the side of the building as he lit up a cigarette. Goddammit, he was stressing so hard he could feel the muscles beginning to ache across his shoulders and neck. He tried to relax them but it wouldn't work without some vigorous exercise, Cloud definitely knew this drill by now.

No-one was looking his way with any real interest, so Cloud took this opportunity to study his surroundings. The ShinRa complex was completely walled off from the rest of Midgar, which Cloud didn't get to see much of on the way in. He settled the floppy beanie on his head as he looked around. There wasn't much going on. It was Saturday, so the administrative staff of the "base" was off, except for those who were here to greet and do intake on the new recruits. Very few people were out and about at this hour on a weekend morning.

President ShinRa apparently had a fetish for dark metal and stonework, because practically everything Cloud saw was built using those two materials. The buildings were tall and spare, with few windows and no "trim", really. It left no doubt: this was definitely the military part of the ShinRa complex.

His musings were rudely interrupted when Sgt. Myerding came down the steps from the Admin building, already red-faced and roaring. "Back onto the bus! C'mon, you guys, I want to have a little of the weekend for my fucking self!"

Cloud got to his feet and slung the stuffed duffel from his shoulder. He took his seat in the middle of the bus and stilled. Other boys were talking and joking, but he remained inside a cone of silence that discouraged interruption. The bus pulled out, followed by the other two that carried the remainder of this year's incoming cadets.

Entering another gate further down the high walled complex, the buses made several stops before coming to a halt before yet another tall featureless building. "Deusericus Building, everybody off!" Myerding shouted. Cloud waited for the other boys to hit the aisle before he did, then grabbed up his bag again and joined the line. Once off the bus, he gravitated to the edges of the group of teens who waited on the sidewalk that led up to gated access to the Deusericus Building. Within a couple minutes, the buses had pulled away and Myerding came back out of said gate, accompanied by a tall man with long black hair. Cloud took a quick look and then turned his face away.

"This is SOLDIER Second Class Zack Fair!" the sergeant said loudly. "He's the resident advisor for this building. Take any problems you have to him, first, got it? I don't want any of you little fuckers showing up at my door unless you've seen Fair beforehand. All yours, Zack," he finished, turning to the SOLDIER with a grin.

Zack was in the middle of a yawn. "Guh," he finished, then muttered, "thanks, dickwad." Myerding smacked a fist into Zack's shoulder and trotted off. "All right, c'mon in," the tall SOLDIER said, waving one arm in a relaxed come-hither gesture.

It was quick work for Fair to get all the boys settled. They went up the elevator (Cloud clenching his jaw and willing his stomach to settle as the motion got to him), dropping off boys at each floor. When they reached the sixth floor, Zack held the elevator doors open as Cloud got his things together and began to move out. "Hey," Zack said in a friendly voice.

Cloud turned around.

"Lighten up, kid, okay? It's gonna be great." A wide shit-eating grin split the older teen's face.

Cloud stared up at him for a second, then nodded. "Th-thanks," he managed to say, then cursed himself silently for the stutter.

"Later!" Zack chirped, and then the elevator doors closed, leaving Cloud in blessed solitude.

He found his room. He keyed the card in the reader and the door clicked. He turned the handle and opened it. He stepped inside and let the door close behind him. Empty. Letting out a long shaky sigh, Cloud let the strap of the duffel bag slide off his shoulder and the bag hit the floor with a thump. Then he slid to the floor right beside it. His breathing was loud and rapid, his heart was beating like a kettle drum in his chest. A panic attack was on the way, he saw the black fuzziness begin to coalesce at the edges of his vision.

"No … no," he muttered, trying to slow his breathing. He'd made it here. He didn't want to be here but he had nowhere else to go, no other prospects, and he couldn't go back home. The letter had worked, he was a nameless nobody who was getting a fresh start on a new life. The road stretched out before him, empty and featureless … he could make his life into whatever he wanted. He slumped back against the door, gasping, mouth slack, arms and legs boneless. Time passed, he wasn't sure how long. The grayness began to splinter.

Cloud … you're such a pretty boy. The deep, adult voice broke into his consciousness as he struggled to keep from passing out.

Cloud … you're just so damned pretty! A different but still definitely male voice, younger, frustrated, yearning.

His eyes snapped open, he clattered to his feet, hanging onto the door for balance. NO! No. Cloud shook his head, clearing it. Do something … get busy … work until you drop … the mantra was working. He reached down to pick up his duffel bag, still fighting slight dizziness, and then looked around the room.

One side was blank. "Just like me," he mused quietly. The other side was … how to describe it? It was like something out of a movie. Tatami mats covered the floor, tasteful panels were on the walls, the bed was a frame-style futon, there were flowers on the bedside table. The desk also had flowers, an open laptop, a phone/iPod charger, some books. Two stuffed animals (?) were on the futon, alongside what looked to be about 50 pillows. Okay, not 50 … but a lot. Cloud couldn't see into the bathroom on that side, but he could only imagine. Whatever.

He was removing his uniforms from the duffel bag when the lock clicked behind him.

End Chapter One. TY for reading!