Blanket Warning: This is a fanfic that is rated M for Mature. It may, or may not, contain one or more of the things for which stories are given the rating M for in the course of the story. Thus, this is your one and only warning to read this fanfic at your own risk.


Disclaimer: I do not own, nor do I even think I own, FF-7 and its compilations, or any characters within them, in any way, shape, or form. I'm doing this just for fun, and the practice- can't forget the practice. :P


AN: Well, this story has certainly been a long time in coming :( I just got tired of this being stuck on my hard drive, so I cleaned it up a bit and here I present to the first chapter of Paranorma. This is less on the Clack romance(it's Established Relationship really, so there's that), and more on the drama :)

So... enjoy?


Paranorma: Chapter One


Opening the door to the poorly lit bathroom, the boy slammed the door hard before he ran past the stalls to the sink; not caring if a teacher shouted at him for causing racket.

Running water sounded as he let the faucet run, dipping his hands in and roughly splashing his face, rubbing the slowly bruising surface as furiously as fast as he could, to make the blood and grime go away.

Minutes went by as he rinsed and repeated the same action, wanting the shame of his humiliation to wash away as well- but he knew no amount of water would do that, even at his young age.

With slow movement, the boy stopped, and looked up from his hands towards the mirror. Blond spiked hair wet from the rinse framed a slowly bruising face, blue eyes shining with sadness, and spark of rising anger.

'Why does this keep happening," the boy asked himself bitterly, 'why do they always bring that up?"

His mirror self didn't respond back, but he wasn't expecting him too. Except for his mom, no one would. Only words of disgust, blasphemy, condescension… anger.

He never understood why things such as his family name, or how he didn't have a father, or any other little thing their nasty little minds came up with, could ignite such a response around him and his mom. Yet, as he stood there over the sink, hands still halfway to his face, he started to feel the ushering of tears start to well up inside, demanding to be set free.

'Mom...' the boy thought to himself, "You get the most of it don't you? Yet you fight it with a smiling face and carefree spirit. I can't...'

Gripping the sink, the blond-haired boy fought back the tears that were welling up, his shut eyes shadow cast by the spikes of his hair, and the window showing a darkening sky.

Whispers, incoherent, sparked a movement so fine through the room, the boy didn't hear it in his fight for dignity, but at the sound of the door opening and closing slowly on its hinges and flickering off of the lights, he froze with apprehension.

'Please tell me they didn't follow me in here,' the boy thought quickly. He had chosen the farthest bathroom he could find, flying past fellow student after student, and a teacher here and there telling him to slow down in the halls, but he thought he had lost them in the chaos that only happened during lunch.

When he heard nothing else, the boy began to fidget, as thoughts that maybe he had been hearing things entered his mind; the light's flickering off, which was a usual affair for this school anyways, not creeping him out half as much as the thought he was going crazy did.

Still... the boy thought checking just in case was a good idea.

Slowly he walked towards the nearest stall, inching his head over the corner as he placed his hands on the cold metal. He could hear his heart race and pound, as he looked past the corner; the dark atmosphere outside seeping into the bathroom, giving it an eerie light.

Nothing.

Not a soul in sight down the long hallway that the bathrooms here at Nibelhiem Middle were so blessed with. No one came in through that door.

'Weird..." the boy thought as he turned back to the sink, the feeling of more blood seeping from his cuts and bruises making him go for the faucet yet again.

Vigorously, despite the burning pain it brought, the blond-haired boy washed his face for quite awhile. Once satisfied that his face was good, he blindly reached for the paper towel rack, pulling the brown paper out to dry his dripping face.

Whispers shrouded in mist made him stop what he was doing.

'Okay,' the boy thought to himself as he stared past the sopping towels, 'that does it."

Whipping around, the boy clutched the towels in his hand as he walked out in view of the door and the hall of stalls.

"Hello," the boy demanded, "I know you there, so stop this crap right now, you hear me!"

No answer.

With a purpose, he went down the aisle, opening every door venomously. When no one was found in any stalls, he turned around, looking for the source of the noise.

"Look," the boy said, not letting the small fear that was slowly building up get to him, "this isn't funny. So please stop…"

No answer yet again.

Angry now, the boy went back to the sink to finish drying his face.

As he threw the wet towels into the trash, he turned to the mirror to give his face one last check before he went back to what was left of the lunch period- only to be beset with the blurry image of an unfamiliar girl looking over him.

Yelping, the boy slipped on the wet floor, landing firmly on his back; but he wasted no time trying to get up.

Scrambling, he backed into the wall as he searched this way and that for the girl.

'What the-," the boy thought when he could see no trace of her. Then the whispers came again, so faint he could not understand them, as if they were hindered by some murky substance.

Eyes widening, the boy looked back at the mirror he had last seen her, and sure enough- the girl was still there, hair flowing as if in a dream, and eyes filled with sadness and confusion so profound, the boy could only stare back in mixture of minuscule-building pity and massive terror as the girl slowly drifted out of the mirror towards him, a seemingly small glimmer of hope shining in those wistful eyes as her arm stretched out to him.

Heart hammering in his chest, and breath like fog as he breathed in and out rapidly, the boy darted past the stalls for the door, only to find it wouldn't budge.

Pulling at the door handle, and twisting and turning it in different directions, the boy started to panic as he turned to look back.

The girl, now a gossamer apparition cast in the faded light of the window, flowed as if through water slowly towards him, arm stretched out to him with pleading intent.

What she was pleading him to do didn't matter to him in the least- he only wanted her to go away. To get away.

"No, stop," the boy yelled as he turned around and pounded at the door while messing with the handle. "Open the door! Let me out! This isn't funny!" Fully convinced this was just some sick joke being played on him by the older kids, the boy started kicking at the door- the feeling of the apparition closing in inch by inch.

Whispers sounded again through the air, so soft to not be heard by any means, but gave the feeling of sadness, helplessness, and other despairing emotions with a thin layer of that same fleetingly small hope he had seen in its eyes- but the boy wanted nothing of it.

Panic turned to full blown hysteria as the boy felt the apparition near, reaching out to him, the whispers growing louder. He shut his eyes and pounded the door, kicking and screaming over and over, "Please! Open the door! Let me out! PLEASE!"

He started to break down, tears falling down his face, as chills tingled down his spine, fearful that he was going to die if that door did not open soon.

Just as he thought no one would save him from this new despair, though, the door wrenched open, sounds from the outside breaking the whispering silence that the bathroom had held. The boy was yanked out into the hall onto his back, but already he was scrambling to get away- away from that... that thing!

Vaguely as he tried to get up and away from the bathroom, he could hear inquiries about his health, if he was alright, looks that said it all from his naysayers. But most of all, as he finally managed to get up and turned to get the hell out of dodge, the boy got a hazy look through the bathroom door as people went in to inspect it- he could only feel the deep sense of failure that superseded the image of an empty room.

It only made him run home to his mother full of tears all the harder…

-C-Z-C-Z-C-Z-C-Z-C-Z-

At the swerve of the car, Cloud Strife woke up with a start in the passenger's seat, the dream that played through his mind just moments ago clear as the day it had happened, and filled with the same fear that he always kept inside.

"Oh hey," the man next to him said sheepishly, "sorry 'bout that Sunshine. Didn't mean to wake ya."

Looking towards the man in question, Cloud was about to say no problem, letting his uneasiness fade with every second, but when he saw that the man was trying to read a map and drive at the same time – "Zack!" Cloud said as he yanked the map away, and proceeded to slap the black-haired man on the back of the head, "watch the road ya moron."

One hand on the wheel, Zack scratched the back of his head sheepishly, "Sorry! You just looked so peaceful, and I didn't want to bother ya. I was being very careful," he continued, putting up both hands in a placating gesture, "honest!"

"Zack!" Cloud said exasperatedly.

"Right, Right," Zack said as he put both hands back on the wheel, "they're back on. See? Is that better?"

"Very," Cloud said in all seriousness, as he got the map resituated so he could read it. "How close are we to Destiny anyways?"

"Have been for awhile, babe," Zack said, with a cheesy grin, waving one hand around, "look outside. Nothing like the big city, am I right?"

Gazing out the window, Cloud saw the small quaint city of Destiny was indeed nothing like the big city of Midgar. Large enough to be called a city-proper, the car passed by the main part of the city, small office buildings, cozy-looking restaurants, friendly people ambling by on the sidewalks, looking through the windows of small-business' that were spread throughout the town. The atmosphere seemed that of a small town. No hustle and bustle of the big city could be seen, as the sparse few people that were out and about, and children as well, walked on with no greater purpose then that they'd get to their destination sometime surely- just taking their sweet time of course.

Cloud instantly liked this place more by the minute. He had heard Zack talk about it a lot before they moved everything out of the apartment in downtown Sector 7 and was on the road over here, but he didn't think he was all that serious. Still, he only hoped it would let him be free of the torment that plagued him day by day in the big apple. A torment he never could tell Zack about. He felt a pang of sadness at that, but Zack would never understand, nor would Cloud even want him too. "Yeah, it sure is..."

Eyes kept firmly on the road; Zack didn't miss the sound of regret in the other man's voice, but wisely kept his worries to himself as he came to a stop light on 12th Avenue.

Deep in thought, Cloud eyes were glued to the outside, not aware of much of anything that the people that passed by the stoplight were doing- trying hard to keep his composure.

In the silence, the wind picked up just a hair, it slipping through the open window, rustling the hair of both men in the packed car, filled with things from their move. Even then, there was still a van that was on its way there, filled with all the things they couldn't bring with them in the small car- still, Cloud wasn't going to place trust in the movers when it came to his motorbike, so Zack found a trailer, and put it in there, and anything else that would fit, and away they went.

Something in the silence, though, made Cloud look upwards out of his own meanderings and down the street, a feeling tingling in the back of his mind.

A woman with black flowing hair, wearing a strange outfit that consisted of a long, sleeveless, blue rib-knit duster sweater with matching arm warmers, a black halter top with a denim button-up skirt atop black biker shorts was smiling warmly in his direction. Time seemed to stop for a minute, as he stared curiously at the strange and her smile, people and things around her seeming to slow to a standstill, as she waved at him and turned slowly away.

"- Anyways, I hope you like this house , Cloud," Zack said, his words finally getting through to him as the man drove onward, "She 's a beaut, I'm telling ya!"

Shaken out of the trance, Cloud looked back to see if he could still see her, but all he saw where people milling about where she last was. 'Weird,' Cloud thought.

"Cloud," Zack asked, finally showing the concern that had been kept on the down low, "you okay?"

Looking back towards Zack, Cloud saw the concern on his face clear as day, the bottling up of the worries over the last few years now starting to come full circle. Plastering on a small smile, he said, "I'm fine really, Zack. Now what were you saying again? I didn't quite catch that."

Zack gave him a searching look as he tried keeping eyes on both the road and the blond next to him. Sighing, he turned his full attention to the road a few minutes later, and said, "I was just saying how cool it is that we finally get to get out of the commotion of the big apple, and talked about the house we're about to get the keys to, and 'oh, by the way, I hope you aren't mad at the choice I made. I was thinking about you when I made it!' while memories of how an inebriated blond tried to make a life altering decision but failed oh so badly before he passed out. Remember?"

Blush forming on his face, Cloud went to looking out at the passing scene, as he said, "Oh..."

"You know, I wonder sometimes about the stuff they give you," Zack said in all seriousness, "what was up with that anyway? New medication? New dosage?"

Shame starting to well up now, Cloud stared out the window, "Something like that..."

Glancing briefly at the man, Zack chose to ignore the slight feeling of uneasiness, and said, "Well, we're almost there, anyways. Can you check the map? Want to make sure this is the right way."

Stifling a sour taste that was starting to form in his mouth, Cloud said, "Sure thing..." as he put his attention back on the map in his lap, "Where's this place anyways?"

Zack thought for a minute, scratching his head, "Uhh, I think it was on Guyner, but I'm not sure."

Rolling his eyes, Cloud said, "well, that sure tells me a lot," but he was already searching for it on the map, "huh... let's see... ah ha, left on Fort Brag, and take a left as soon as you hit the intersection there, you should come up to it then."

"Alright," Zack said, silence descending into car once more, as Cloud folded the map back up and put it back under the cup holder station, choosing to look at the passing life through the window, instead of Zack.

Uneasiness flitter through Cloud's mind at the secret that he was keeping from Zack- that he had been OD'ing on his meds again.

What would Zack say to him if he found out? He didn't want to know, really; to have to look at the face that usually kept such a supporting smile, turned into a look of utter disappointment. Maybe Zack might just get angry enough that he would put his ass out on the street and tell him he never wanted to see his face again; something Cloud always thought would happen if he ever found out the whole truth- a truth even he had trouble stomaching.

Passing building by building down the 25 MPH street ways, Cloud chose not to think of such things, and went back to thinking about the strange woman he had seen. He didn't know who she was, how could he? He just got here.

Yet, he couldn't shake this feeling about her no matter how hard he tried- that somehow she knew him from somewhere. 'Maybe I'll run into her sometime,' Cloud thought reassuringly moments later, 'then maybe I could get some answers then.'

Still, a small tug in the back of his mind wondered if he really wanted anything to do with her.

Turning onto Guyner, Cloud could see in the distance that Zack had remembered correctly, as the realtor building came into full view when Zack pulled into the parking lot, trying to find a spot that would fit both the car and the trailer attached.

Shifting to park, Zack turned the car off and took the keys out of the ignition. Taking off his seatbelt, Zack grabbed hold of the wheel with both hands, and took a deep breath, in and out. Cloud watched him curiously, wondering if he was okay.

Looking towards Cloud, Zack flashed him an uneasy smile, "Well, you ready for this?"

Raising an eyebrow, Cloud said, "What do you mean 'you'? I'm not the one who's going to be doing the talking, remember? That contract crap always gives me a headache- I'll just nod and pretend I understand what I'm being fed." Removing his own seat belt, his thoughts turned away from the depressing for a minute as he opened the car door and went outside. Leaning into the car, Cloud finished with a small smile of his own, "besides, I've got you to keep me from making a big mistake. Now come on, hop to it."

Laughing, Zack grabbed a binder from the back and got out of the car and headed towards the entrance with Cloud.

Inside, it gave off the feeling of false warm welcome, with the fake trees, mass-produced 'art', and comfortable-looking-but-not-so-much chairs that were situated in the waiting area- but they needn't have to wait, as their realtor, Amy, was already ready for them to come back into her office.

Following her deeper into the building after the exchange of initial pleasantries, Zack's face held none of the worry that he had shown to Cloud earlier, as he risked a glance at him as they reached their goal. Despite what he had told Zack though, Cloud was kind of nervous about this.

What if things weren't as complete as they had thought? It had already taken them months to get to this point, and despite the fact that the house they were about to buy had been abandoned by the previous owner for years, although Cloud admitted to himself that he really didn't remember how many those were, they had been pulled this way and that for something that had cost so little compared to what he normally thought a house would go for this far out of the way.

So Cloud had some nagging feeling that this wasn't going to be the end of it, that they wouldn't get the keys today, buy have to wait and find some hotel while they waited for this house to be theirs completely. One thing was for sure, though- he wasn't going to feel well about this whole thing until they had the keys in their hands and were walking through the door.

Once inside her cozy little office, the realtor gestured towards two chairs in front of her desk, "Please. Sit down." Once situated, she asked, "Would you both like anything before we start. Water? Something to eat?"

"No, no," Zack said, putting both hands up, "we just want to get this over with and get on our way." Looking towards him, Zack smiled and grabbed his hand underneath the table and squeezed gently, "Ain't that right, Sunshine?"

Blushing slightly, Cloud nodded, as Zack turned his attention back to the realtor.

"Alright, let's get things moving, then" Amy said enthusiastically, as she pulled out several documents. "Now, first things first, do you have all the forms I asked you to bring?"

As the clock ticked away in the background as they went through document though document, and as the realtor explained things that went over his head, Cloud noticed that never once did Zack let go of his hand, squeezing it from time to time when he felt Cloud tense up. It made a dragging process of signing and nodding of fake understanding that more bearable.

When they signed the last dotted line, the realtor gathered them up into one small stack and put it in a folder, while she handed Zack a new folder. "Keep that."

Cloud was nervous now, as he looked at the folder that Zack handed to him- were they going to have to do more?

But the realtor only smiled as she dug into one of her drawers, shifting through the contents, and fished out a set of keys that she handed to Zack. "Well, boys," she said, beaming, "congratulations on your new home."

Blinking, Cloud looked towards Zack, who was holding the keys in morbid fashion. When he took too long to answer, Cloud squeezed his hand, and Zack looked at him in confusion for only a sec before he turned back to Amy, goofy grin plastered on his face as he shook her hand and pulled her into a hug, "thank you, thank you, thank you. We couldn't have done it without ya, Amy!"

When Zack let go, the realtor said with a blush forming on her face, "yes... well. I'm just glad to have been of service to the both of you." Getting up, she directed them out to the front, saying as she pulled out a card, "I really hope you two enjoy your stay here at Destiny. If you have any questions at all, don't hesitate to call me, and I will answer them to the best of my ability."

She hesitated for a moment, as if she wanted to say something, but as Cloud gave her a look of concern, Zack's mind already driving towards their new home to be aware of what was being said, she shook whatever it was out of her mind, and handed him the card, saying finally, "... any at all."

With that she turned to leave.

Confused by her actions, Cloud was taken by surprise as Zack dragged him all the way to the car, where he turned toward him, excitement just bubbling beneath the surface. "We got out own home."

Rolling his eyes, Cloud said, "Yes. Yes, we do. Way to state the obvious there, Zack."

Sticking his tongue out at him, with a smile on his face, Zack got into the driver's seat of the car, and turned the ignition on. "Well get in, we'z gotz us a date to catch."

Rolling his eyes yet again, Cloud complied as he got in and put his seat belt on, putting the folder on his lap. Once he got his own belt on, Zack put the car in reverse as he slowly started pulling out of the parking lot, and was on his way out and into the streets.

Turing on the radio, Zack drove on through the business district of the town out into the residential areas, and Cloud looked on as the streets passed by, the people, children, and their pets, all going their own way. Cloud was even pleased to note that there was a park, where at the time, was filled with families and children playing in the fields and assorted playground equipment. The fountain within the middle of the park caught his eye, as they passed it on the way to their new home, and he knew one place he would go quite often.

Once outside the business district, the trip in the residential area was a sight for sore eyes, as it looked more inviting then he thought possible. The nearest snow-capped mountains only several minutes drive away framed the backdrop of rolling hills, sparse forests, houses with reasonable distances for privacy, and trees here and there providing adequate shade over the sidewalks that even now had people doing their evening jogs, and curious onlookers stared at the newcomers.

Coming from a huge city like Midgar, this seemed close to paradise than anything else. He could see himself taking walks up into the mountains, with his camera in hand, as he just relished in the calm peace the surrounding area had to offer. It reminded Cloud of his youth, when he lived with only his mother, with a future too dim to see past the present, yet still somewhat of an easy life, despite the hardship thrown at them both.

He hoped it was easier this time, though, with Zack at his side, and away from a place that held too much sin, despair, hopelessness, anger... death.

It took Zack shaking him, to make Cloud realize they had reached their destination- their new home.

Looking from Zack's searching face towards the house that sat nicely on a low hanging hill, surrounded by neighboring homes more than a few yards apart, Cloud saw a house eerily familiar from days of his past. It sent chills down his spine.

With its nice looking front yard, several trees scattered around that gave the home a shaded feel, its cozy looking front porch, and its two story shadow that overlooked a rather spacious backyard that held decent sized shed from what he could see, Cloud could not get past the feeling that this home looked so much like the one he and his mother lived in all those years before- so many memories that transpired as he grew up and was soon forced to fly away from, so many years before.

But that was a foolish line of thought, as this city was several states away from where they had lived then. Yet, even as Zack urged him out of the car to go inside, Cloud still couldn't shake the uneasiness away as he followed suit.

Up the porch, the squeals and groans of old age and non use sounding with each of their steps, Zack took the keys, giving Cloud a quick smile before he put them in and unlocked to door. Opening the door, Zack stood back, letting Cloud go in first.

With slight trepidation, Cloud stepped into their new home, taking in the sight.

Straight down from the door, was the door into the kitchen and dining area, with a hallway going off to the right of it. Off to the left, the living room could plainly been seen, furniture situated here and there. This confused Cloud at first, as he stepped in deeper. Why was there still furniture in the house? Sliding a finger across the wooden arch of a nearby couch, Cloud asked over his shoulder, 'the furniture comes with the house?"

Closing the door behind him, Zack stepped into house, putting the keys back into his pocket, giving the room a once over. "Yeah," Zack said giving him a smile of reassurance, "everything in this house belongs to us now. "

Moving past Cloud, who still held the look of confusion on his face, Zack continued, "Seems like the last owner left without warning, leaving everything behind- or so I was told. That was a little under thirty years ago though, so I'm not sure why they haven't cleaned house yet. Although it was kept cleaned at some point- not sure what happened there, though. I might look into it later once I get settled with my new job."

Startled by this news, Cloud said, "thirty years? This house has been on the market for that long?"

Nodding his head, Zack tilted his head as he observed from a distance Cloud's investigation, as the blond looked around, moving further into the abode.

"Huh," Cloud said under his breath, a small frown alit on his face, "no wonder this house was so cheap, then. I wonder what's wrong with it."

"Well," Zack said sheepishly after awhile, standing there waiting for some form of response, "did I do good?"

Looking back from the hallway that lead to the staircase, Cloud looked towards Zack, and seeing his worried expression, his face softened into a smile, "you did good."

With those words, Zack couldn't keep in the building excitement he had felt since they had left the realtor's office any longer, as he laughed and whooped, and rushed forward to pull Cloud into a crushing hug, whirling him around.

"Umpf," Cloud got out as he was twirled around, but he was happy all the same as Zack stopped and pulled him into a slow, sensual kiss.

Cloud closed his eyes as he got lost in the feel of the other man's lips against his- all the uneasiness that had settled in his heart lifting away. Kiss deepening, and lips parting to allow tongues free reign to explore familiar territory, Cloud found his hands roam up Zack's body, to rest atop the other man's shoulders, as Zack's own hands cupped his face. Fully enamored in the moment of bliss, Cloud simply forgot the passage of time.

Kiss slowly ending, their foreheads met as they broke for air and their eyes opened as they stood there for awhile, relishing in the afterglow.

Backing away, Zack kept hold of Cloud's face in his hands, and looked into his eyes. Rubbing a thumb over his cheek, Zack said, smiling softly, "how about we bring the stuff in the back of the car inside, and we'll go out somewhere to eat. Sound good?"

Closing his eyes again, Cloud leaned into the gesture, like he always did when Zack held him like this, and only managed a soft, "mhmm."

Finally letting go a few minutes later, Zack took his hands away and grabbed Cloud's, and pulled him along, "alright."

-C-Z-C-Z-C-Z-C-Z-C-Z-

Transporting the boxes and things from the car to the house took awhile, especially with Cloud's insistence that he take care of his bike first, but Zack said it'd probably be better to wait for that later. Cloud let it go eventually, but still gave lingering looks towards his baby as they cleaned both the car and the trailer out one trip at a time.

Almost everything went directly to the only downstairs room down the hall that was next to the half-bath, as it was both empty and the easiest place to store their belongings till the movers arrived later the next day. As it were, with the last remaining things carried from the car and into the house, Cloud stepped into the kitchen area and sat the boxes down on the counter, opening them one by one to put the few remaining foodstuffs they'd managed to save from their apartment into the big pantry.

Once finished putting them away, Cloud moved on to putting the empty boxes into bedroom with the rest of things only to stop in his tracks as a faint sound of movement was heard somewhere upstairs.

'Huh,' Cloud thought as he put the box he had started to pick up back down and looked up towards the general direction of the noise, listening intently for any sign of more. 'I could've sworn Zack said he was going to back the trailer up the driveway so he could detach it from the car- or am I just hearing things?'

Moving from the kitchen, Cloud saw out the open door that Zack was indeed backing the trailer up the driveway slow and steady, with the sun setting in the distance as night drew nearer. "Huh," Cloud said as he scratched the back of his head, "guess I was hearing thi-"

The sound came again, more pronounced than before, cutting Cloud off as he turned towards the hall, eyes narrowed at the sight of the staircase. Suddenly alert and reaching into his pocket to grab hold of the pocket knife he always carried on his person, Cloud started towards the stairs as quietly as he could.

Breathing slow and even, Cloud took his first tentative step up the stairs as he reached it, and, with his free hand on the railing, ascended up each step with slow and quite precision, eyes open and alert to any movements before him.

Cloud's heart started a steady rhythm within his chest, a glimmer of anxiety forming in the pit of his stomach, as he reached the top of the stairs.

Down the dark hall, he could plainly see the open door of the farthest room, a flowing gossamer curtain swaying in the window that showed a scene of pink-stained mountains from the setting sun in the distant backdrop from which the light extended eerily outwards from the room.

"Hello," Cloud whispered clearly as he stepped cautiously down the hall, looking this way and that as he passed closed doors, "anyone there?"

Movement was heard behind him as Cloud stopped halfway down the hall, a strange staccato of whispers accompanying it in short procession, as he grasped the pocket knife, turning around.

Nothing but the stairs.

Face slowly losing color as he fought down the increasing anxiety that was fast building within, breath starting to come in uneven huffs and heaves, Cloud heard the strange whispers from behind. Sweat rolling off down his face, Cloud slowly turned around; dread filling him at the sight that was laid out before him.

Within the room sat a chair in front of the curtained window that had not been there before, a woman, dressed in beautiful Sunday dress, sitting upon it. Long flowing brown hair tied up in a rather large ponytail swayed with the woman's movements as she rocked within her arms a baby, the dappled sunlight dancing within the room as the trees from outside swayed in the breeze. Humming of a soft lullaby could be heard plainly from Cloud's standing in the hall, as the woman sang to her child, the curtain flowing freely around them.

But Cloud shut his eyes, unable witness it any longer, his hands flying to hold his head.

"No, no, no," Cloud in mantra, his breathing becoming erratic, "This isn't happening. This isn't real."

He repeated that over and over, trying in vain to override the sound of the lullaby that wound its way into his soul.

Knees feel to the ground not a moment later, as tears started falling from Cloud's closed eyes, choking back the sobs that tried to break free from the veiled sadness that overwhelmed him from the room that he refused to step one foot more towards.

"Please," Cloud whisper brokenly at the floor beneath him, "go way. Leave me alone!"

Cloud jumped from where he sat, thrown back into his senses, as a hand squeezed his shoulder.

"Cloud," Zack exclaimed, turning Cloud around to face him, 'what's wrong? What happened!"

Cloud looked at man sitting before him, tears staining his cheeks, before he afforded a look back at the room.

The room, just like the others in the hall, was closed shut. No flowing curtain, no woman holding her baby, no humming.

Nothing.

Letting out an unsteady breath, Cloud looked back to Zack's worry filled eyes, never so glad to see his face.

Smiling slightly, Cloud went to stand, helped by Zack, before he answered, "N-nothing much. Just another anxiety attack."

Zack searched his face for signs of holding back information, but finding none that he could see, he pulled the younger man to his body, hand finding its way to his hair, stroking it in soothing motions.

"Holy shit, Cloud," Zack finally said after awhile, pulling back to look back at Cloud's eyes, hand cupping the left of the young man's face, "I was beginning to think the worst there for a moment. Still want to go out to eat? I mean, I'm not really sure how late things are open around here, but if you don't want to, we can sit in tonight."

Shaking his head, Cloud took Zack's hand in his, "A few pills, and I think I'll be alright. Are my meds still in the car?"

Nodding his affirmation, Zack said, smile slowly forming on his face, "Well, if you're sure. Come on, then. Times a-wastin'!"

As Zack turned to leave, Cloud turned to face the room down the hall, giving its closed door one last glance before he went down stairs, spring in his step as he put distance between him and that room- trying, in vain, to repress the bad feeling he was starting to have with this place.

TBC


AN: Well- how was it? Bad? Good? Ugly?

I don't know why, but I really hate the kiss scene, feels -blegh- to me. But then again, this is less about romance as it is about other things, so... yeah.

Anyways, drop me a review and tell me what you think so far about this story. :)

(And yeah... I'm very aware I should be updating my TMYLM story... I'm sorry I haven't updated that in about in forever. I swear I'll get to it sometime this year. :'( )