Of all the things that could happen, this was one of those things that you would never expect to happen. It was one of those things that cannot happen to you. But things that don't happen to you happen to other people, strangers. But this was different – this was something that simply did not happen. Cloud Strife was not happy to be the first to experience such an event, and hoped that he was the last.
The young SOLDER-to-be rested stiffly against the dark, bulging corner of a cramped wall. He cringed slightly upon recalling the ridiculous events of his recent, haunting past that had put him in the confined area in the first place. Cloud slowly pulled a ratty old towel over his nose and breathed steadily, closing his deep blue eyes. He knew he would not sleep, though. There was always something to bother him – the sickening dim aura of faint light that crept from the tiny escape crack under the prison-like metal door – he remembered the thing from yesterday. The surreal situation that he had been put in all happened a day ago. At least, he assumed that it did.
The young boy sighed and buried himself deep within the warmth of the old towel that smelled like putrid chemicals, hoping to clear his wandering mind. He couldn't see anything, which let his thoughts run loose and vivid. Cloud squeezed himself into a comfortable ball and shut his eyes. This time, the silence bothered him. Cloud let out an annoyed huff and rolled over. Again, it was too silent when he had settled. He curled the towel that was now burning his nostrils into his fists and rolled on the cold, hard floor, hoping to get into such a tight and comfortable position that he would be forced to sleep. It did not work. Cloud groaned. He wished he knew what time it was or how long he had been locked in such a place.
It occurred to Cloud that he couldn't leave the room he was currently locked it. This reminiscent earned the blond another good reason for his insomnia. Sure, he was comfortable enough in the prison-of-a-closet, but it was uncomforting to know that he couldn't leave the said prison. Very uncomforting. The suffocating fumes of chemical smells weren't helping, either. Cloud blinked his annoyed, unseeing eyes in the darkness and gave up on trying to sleep. Cloud wanted out. He was cold. He was hungry. But mostly, he was worried. Not for himself, either – his supposed rescuer had not returned yet. Although Cloud was positive that time was moving slower in his prison, he could have sworn it had been at least a day. Cloud lay still and let loose the restrained thoughts from his restless mind.
The previous day had been normal enough to begin with. The industrious Midgar was vivacious as ever. People went about their business and would casually chat with each other about petty, useless things, as they always did. The weather was not half bad, either, Cloud recalled. The young boy roamed the town freely and proudly, thankful that he had no duties or training to do that day. It was Sunday, Cloud's favorite day of the week. The only problem with Sundays is that Cloud was so used to not having leisure time that he sometimes didn't know what to do with the overwhelming twenty four hours of no duties or responsibilities. That day, the young boy wandered through the slums, clad in his proud Shinra uniform, looking for something to do. However, he was perfectly content with walking around.
"Hey – well, if it isn't Spiky," Cloud was greeted lazily by one of his supervisors – a friendly third class SOLDIER. He smiled widely at Cloud with droopy, carefree eyes that shined with the signature glow of Mako energy. Cloud shifted with jealousy at the SOLDIER and hoped that the man didn't notice. He should have been among them, but unfortunately, he had failed to become a SOLDIER for the time being. Cloud tightened his jaw at the bitter thought but stared at the SOLDIER kindly.
"Sir," Cloud responded respectfully, standing up a bit straighter. He scrambled to a tense, complete halt to look his superior in the eye. The SOLDIER laughed hardily.
"It's Sunday, Strife. There's no need to be so formal," he replied sheepishly after taking a drag from his cigarette and loosely flicking the ashes off the end of it. The SOLDIER looked tiredly into the air as he exhaled the smoke with much concentration.
"Yes, sir," Cloud muttered, slightly disappointed. He made note of that and usefully stored the information away. Next time, he would definitely please his superiors. He would do anything to become a SOLDIER, even if that meant being a suck up to SOLDIERS.
The SOLDIER shrugged. "I have a message for you, Strife. I guess there's no goddamn work around here so they have to make the oh-so lowly third class SOLDIERs do all of the petty trainee missions, hmph," he said with annoyed and bored look of disdain. Cloud shifted and frowned without responding. He would gladly carry out the third's missions.
"But, hell, why am I babbling on about that?" the SOLDIER asked. Cloud carefully assumed that this question was not meant to be answered, so he remained silent. He cautiously waited for his superior to continue. The SOLDIER took another drag from his cigarette and blew the smoke away from Cloud. "A SOLDIER shouldn't complain about his work, right?" Cloud shook his head. "Yeah, anyway… you have to go to Shinra headquarters around midday – got that, boy?"
Cloud nodded feebly. His expressed slowly changed into worry, that came out as annoyance. The SOLDIER laughed again and gave him a forceful slap on the shoulder. Cloud tried to remain grounded – he had almost lost his balance from the winded pound. He let out a weak smile. "Don't worry, kid. You must have done something right if you're goin' to the headquarters – you know where that is, don't you?" Cloud nodded, raising an eyebrow. "Yeah? Good boy. Well, uh, like I was saying, you either are doing somethin' good or else you screwed up pretty bad, man. Good luck."
"Wait, sir," Cloud blurted out before the SOLDIER could carry on. The man obeyed and looked at Cloud in the eyes. Cloud flushed a little, thinking about how stupid the question was that he was about to ask. "Do I go inside of the headquarters? I don't think… that's allowed, sir – at my rank."
The older merely shrugged. "How should I know, Strife? Just do whatever you think you should do," he said nonchalantly.
The SOLDIER then snickered and shoved his hands into his pockets, lazily looking at the sky and taking another long drag from his cigarette as he walked away, leaving the young mercenary to stand alone in the woeful streets of Sector One. He had no idea what to expect at the Shinra headquarters. Should he go inside? Would that be okay? Cloud wondered if doing so would hurt his reputation with Shinra, even if he was supposed to go there in the first place. He had just heard a lot of things about how you should never enter the respected headquarters unless it was an absolute emergency or if you worked there. Cloud thought that SOLDIERs could, too, enter parts of the headquarters, but he wasn't positive.
Well, at least I have something to do today instead of wandering around aimlessly, Cloud thought, trying to cheer himself up. Of course, it didn't work. Cloud stared bleakly up at the Shinra headquarters. It was a massive building – a defined landmark of Midgar – that could be seen from very far distances, even away from the city.
The spiky-haired blond slumped down the debase slums of Midgar like he was marching to his execution. Whoever had told him to be there had not given him much time – it was practically midday. However, Cloud wanted nothing more than to evade the entire situation. He could always play oblivious and say that no SOLDIER had ever talked to him that day. Cloud knew that this wouldn't work though and the situation remained unavoidable. Cloud huffed and kicked a tiny pebble, watching it ricochet randomly of a piece of faded-colorful scrap metal with a thunk.
Cloud stared up at the massive Shinra headquarters as if he were standing at the foot of a great mountain. He typically did not get this close to it, having no reason to. The ridiculous proximity of the building made Cloud wonder what Shinra workers could possibly be doing in there.
Cloud blinked his eyes to snap out of his awe-induced trance and awkwardly waited outside of the headquarters. He had decided that it definitely wasn't a good idea to enter the place. The building did not look like a place you could just casually stroll into and entering at as a simple grunt infantryman would be insulting to the company. It would be a joke. There were no windows and no people coming in or out. Cloud sighed and sat down on an old metal bench in the area.
It was loud today. People were talking and laughing amongst themselves loudly and Cloud could clearing hear the train screeching to a desperate, ear-splitting halt. There was also, of course, the deep humming sound of the power surging throughout the city. The deafening noises of Midgar used to bother Cloud. He was used to the tranquility and calmness of his hometown, Nibelheim. Having lived in Midgar for quite a while now, he barely even noticed these odd, industrious noises.
"Hey, buddy," Cloud heard an all-too familiar voice say. Surprised, Cloud shot his head up and saw Zack, his mentor and friend. Cloud smiled faintly. Zack looked extremely tired, but still wore his signature smirk. "I take it you're here looking for me, right?"
"I don't know," Cloud replied honestly, embarrassed. Zack shrugged.
"Did someone tell you to come here?"
"Then you're looking for me," Zack replied simply. Cloud breathed an obvious exhalation of relief that he had not even tried to suppress in front of his idolized mentor. Cloud felt so much better now that he knew that he hadn't in fact done something horribly wrong. He looked up at the older man. Zack looked intimidating in his signature first class SOLDIER outfit that clung to his body, emphasizing his muscles. However, Zack's scarred face was friendly.
Zack laughed at the young boy's reaction. "Come on, kiddo. We've got some work to do."
It's Sunday, Cloud thought to himself. He nodded at Zack and stood up immediately. He did not want to question anything his mentor said and made sure that he was pleasing the other. "Where are we going?" Cloud asked hesitantly.
"First," Zack stated loudly. "We're going to get some food. How's that sound?"
Cloud's eyes narrowed in confusion but he nodded like a bobble head nonetheless. He did not question his master. He stared at Zack with curiousity, wondering what kind of mission they were going to go on. "Is this for training?" Cloud asked.
"What, food?" Zack asked sheepishly.
"No, the work we do after we eat."
"Oh," Zack said, grinning. "You could say that," he said quietly. Cloud blinked and said nothing to this, even though he was now dying to know what they were going to be doing. He felt nervous again. "Let's go."
Cloud trotted alongside Zack as he weaved his way through the crowded streets of Midgar. Cloud was a worried at Zack's unusual despondent and dark behavior. It wasn't exactly dark, but there was definitely something off about Zack that day. He stole suspicious glances at him whenever he was not looking. Usually, Zack was happy-go-lucky and outgoing to the extreme – except in battle. Cloud wondered what happened.
The two military men ended up in a small sandwich shop in a nearby sector. Zack clearly was into the idea of getting lunch. He was practically drooling as he leaned heavily on the bar table. His legs were spread wide on the bright red bar stool in eager anticipation. Cloud quietly took a seat beside him, stealing a glance at the older man, who happened to be looking at him with a grin. "You hungry, Cloud? You don't look too excited."
"Sorry," Cloud apologized, staring into the kitchen of the sandwich bar and listening to the upbeat, yet old music playing over the radio. The music had the classic grainy and muffled effects of an old record about it – Cloud liked that.
"Can I help you two?" a pretty girl asked nervously from behind the counter. Zack smirked and Cloud raised his head shyly to look at her. The young waitress seemed flustered. After all, she was serving the revered Zack Fair, SOLDIER first class.
"Yeah, I'll have the special," Zack blabbered in a friendly way, completely oblivious to the fact that the girl recognized him. She nodded friskily and turned to Cloud, blushing.
"I want hot tea," Cloud said quietly. The girl blushed nodded, and then hurried off. Zack laughed at her behavior and turned to Cloud.
"I think she's hot for you, Spiky," Zack said, winking and chuckling. Cloud blushed awkwardly, taken aback by Zack's observation. He avoided looking at the other. Zack laughed in amusement at Cloud's face, which was rapidly growing pinker by the second. "I'm just kidding."
Cloud coughed, embarrassed by his mentor. He tried to conceal his rosey red cheeks. It was useless. Zack let out one last snicker before turning back to the counter and leaning on it heavily with both arms, grinning still. Cloud peeked at him curiously, wondering if he was done embarrassing him. "What kind of mission were we assigned?" Cloud said in an attempt to change the awkward subject.
"We weren't assigned a mission," Zack said simply. His grin faded slightly.
Cloud paused. "What?" he asked, confused. He finally turned to look at his friend in the eye.
"We weren't assigned this mission. Nobody but us knows what we're going to do."
Cloud got the hint that they were most likely going to do something that was frowned upon – possibly illegal. His brow furrowed and he bit his lower lip. "But – "
"I know you wanna be a SOLDIER, buddy. This won't affect that – don't you worry," Zack said reassuringly, reading Cloud's weary mind. Cloud didn't seem convinced.
"What will we be… doing?" Cloud didn't feel to exited about going on this so-called mission with Zack anymore.
"Now, I can't tell you that," Zack laughed. "Then you wouldn't go with me."
Cloud hung his head nervously. His thoughts raced wildly. The boy wanted to know what his mentor was up to. He was deeply concerned for whatever he was up to and his mentor's exalted status that was possibly at stake. Cloud already felt guilty and he didn't even know what was going to happen.
"Don't be nervous, buddy. It's for the greater good – you can trust me on that one, right?" Zack cajoled.
Cloud nodded, still looking concerned and confused. The boy was obviously deep in thought. Zack huffed a sigh and stopped talking to the youth. It was no use. At that moment, the pretty waitress returned with their food. This relieved the awkward tension for Zack as he stared hungrily at his sandwich, temporarily forgetting about Cloud. The waitress set his sandwich and Cloud's tea down for him, giving the boy a small look of sadness and concern, mirroring his own look.
Cloud noiselessly sipped his tea, listening to the rustic piano song that was blaring through the sandwich bar with the same choppy record sound as before. Cloud did not enjoy it as much as he did previously, his mood being killed by his anxiety – which was in overdrive. He tried not to think about what Zack had said and concentrated on his tea.
"Cloud," Zack said briskly. "You don't have to worry about getting in trouble, alright? If anything happens, the blame will be on me for sure." He took a huge chomp out of sandwich, resembling a dog more so than a human.
Cloud blankly stared down at the counter after taking another small sip of his scalding hot tea. "I don't want you to get in trouble, either. It's not just about me…"
Zack grinned. "Then we'll just have to not get caught, simple as that. They don't call me a first class SOLDIER for nothing, ya'know!" Zack teased. Cloud, again, did not seem to be assured. "Oh, come on, Spiky, you don't have to worry about me. You know that."
Cloud looked away, trying to remain loyal to his mentor by not arguing with him. He took another long sip from his tea, which had begun to cool down. "Zack?" Cloud asked suddenly, nervously thinking of something that might affect whether or not they got caught doing whatever it was that they were going to do.
"Hmph?" Zack said, his mouth crammed full of the last bits of his sandwich. At the rate he was eating, Cloud wondered if he even tasted his food.
"If this is a secret, then why did you tell that SOLDIER to find me and give me information on the mission?"
Zack painfully swallowed his food and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. "He didn't know anything. I just told him to find you and tell him to come to the Shinra headquarters."
"What if I had gone in?" Cloud asked, alarmed.
"They probably just wouldn't let you go in. Simple as that. But the important thing is that I found you, right?" Zack said promptly. Cloud nodded. "Don't be worried about things you don't have to worry about, Spiky. You need to work on that."
"Okay," Cloud responded obediently. Zack seemed satisfied with his answer and dangerously leaned back on the bar stool, crossing his arms.
After the waiter gave the two men their tabs and was tipped heavily by Zack, the two left the small shop casually. Cloud followed Zack curiously as he strolled through the untidy streets of Midgar. He wondered where he was going and if he was still obligated to follow Zack. The older gave no signs of preferring either, so Cloud continued to follow him without making a peep. The chilly breeze shot through his spiky hair and he shivered.
"Where are we going, Zack?" Cloud asked nervously, gritting his teeth from the cold wind.
"Wherever you want to go. I'll find you when we need to start the mission, 'kay?"
Cloud nodded gravely. Zack smirked and spontaneously messed up Cloud's ridiculous hair. Cloud flushed and shrunk down. "Don't be so nervous, kiddo. I'll see you around."
Cloud stared at Zack as he strolled away casually. There was still that something dark about him that bothered Cloud to no end. He really hoped that Zack's predicament was correct and that everything would be okay. He didn't want to get himself or his master in trouble. If something were to happen, Cloud would feel obligated to take the blame for both of their actions.
Not really feeling like going anywhere else, Cloud ended up at the same rugged old bench outside of the Shinra headquarters. He sat in deep contemplation, looking slightly downward with wide, shining eyes. Cloud was worried about everything that could happen. He was scared and didn't want to go on Zack's self-proclaimed mission.
Cloud had lost track of time long ago. It was now dark outside. The air was damp and musky, and nobody else was around except for the occasional stumbling drunk or shady business man. Cloud did not look either in the eye and kept his head down, vulnerable. He was too busy thinking to care about anyone other than himself – and Zack's safety and reputation on their mission. Cloud sighed. He could see his misty, smoky breath in the cold night air.
Cloud quietly and tried to ignore the sharp cold biting into his exposed skin. He closed his eyes and slumped backwards in a more comfortable position. He crossed his arms against his chest and exhaled peacefully, listening to the faint industrious sounds of Midgar. Cloud felt like his eyes were sealed shut. His breathing began to even out and he snuggled into the bench further.
"Cloud!" a familiar voice asked all of the sudden, startling Cloud to stiffen up and crack his tired eyes open in a rude, shaky, crash awakening. Focusing, he saw Zack. "Sorry to keep you waiting, Spiky. 'Seems like you got some rest out of it, though." Zack chuckled.
"Not really, I was just resting," Cloud muttered back, embarrassed for having his master finding him conked out in the streets when he was supposed to be somewhat alert and waiting for him.
Zack laughed, lively as ever. "Right," he said sarcastically. Cloud got up from the bench. He subtly stretched his cramped muscles. It just occurred to him that he had been sitting on that bench in a trance for quite some time now. "Are you ready for the mission?" Zack asked, flashing a flawless grin. Cloud responded with a quiet whimper of protest. He was not ready and he never would be. Cloud didn't have a choice in the matter, so he nodded.
"That's the spirit," Zack said brightly. It was if he had forgotten what they were going to do in the first place – whatever that was. "Listen carefully Cloud. You must under all circumstances do whatever I tell you to do, got it? If I say run, you run; if I say kill, you kill; if I say get the hell outta here, you get the hell outta there, got it?"
Cloud hesitated. Zack sighed. "Cloud, I really need you to promise me that you're going to obey me unconditionally this time, okay? It's really important that you do, or else…" Zack trailed off. Cloud looked at the ground.
"Alright, I'll trust you," Cloud said sincerely. "I swear that I'll do whatever you tell me."
Zack eyed his apprentice. "Do you promise?" he asked seriously.
Cloud bit his lip and nodded.
"Pinky swear?" Zack said with a faint grin. He held out a gloved hand, his smallest finger extended. Cloud blinked. He then faintly smiled and slowly attached his pinky finger to Zack's, fulfilling the promise.
"I swear," Cloud said, shaking the hand.
Zack smiled. "Good boy." He released his grip. Cloud frowned again, back to his serious mode. Zack looked up at the Shinra headquarters with a look that could not be described. It was a grave look, but also showed understanding. Cloud watched his master curiously.
"Let's go," he murmured.
"Just follow me, aright?" A nod. Zack seemed satisfied with his pupil's outspoken response and soundlessly made his way towards the massive Shinra building. Cloud's eyes widened slightly. The pit in his stomach seemed to grow and he felt much more nervous than he had been previously. It all seemed real now – they were actually going to do it. He still did not know what he and Zack were doing and why, but he knew that it was something illegal and that it took place in the Shinra headquarters. Cloud's brow furrowed in a panic and he bit his lip in distress. He hoped that Zack knew who he was dealing with, sneaking into the Shinra headquarters at night. That was a one-way ticket to leave organization, and Zack was a first class SOLDIER. What are you doing, Zack? Cloud thought to himself, alert.
Zack remained perfectly calm. Cloud wondered if he really was. He very well might have been was pulling off a cool façade in order to not panic and not have Cloud panic. Either way, Cloud was nervous. Zack approached the shaded doors of the Shinra headquarters and put his face up to the glass. He put his hand above to block the streetlight glare that had prevented him from seeing inside. He stared bleakly into the deserted building a tapped on the glass. Cloud watched him, feeling useless.
"I thought that SOLDIERs had access to parts of the headquarters," Cloud observed in a whisper.
"We do," Zack said, not tearing his eyes from the dark glass door. "But it's late at night – my key won't work. Plus, they track who comes in at what time. It would be awfully suspicious to see that I tried to come in here at such an hour."
"Oh," Cloud said, defeated. He stared at the ground. His head shot up after hearing a sound he never thought he would hear anytime soon – the sound of a sealed, high security door unlocking and opening. Cloud jumped slightly, startled. He spun around and stared at the door with disbelief and utter confusion. Zack smirked at him and entered the building, holding the heavyset door for Cloud. Cloud entered the headquarters in a daze, feeling scared and rebellious when he set foot inside of the building. His heart pounded with adrenaline and fear. Cloud swallowed.
"Thank you," Zack said, smiling, to a young looking man in a Shinra uniform. He was the one who had opened the door for them. Cloud looked at him, confused as to why.
The man flushed. "Oh – it's nothing, Mr. Fair, sir! I hope you find what you left here, sir…"
"I'll try not to be too long," Zack said, smiling sweetly. His eyes were alert. The young man seemed completely star-struck that a SOLDIER such as Zack was speaking to him. He nodded with awe. His soft eyes crept over to Cloud and he stared at him suspiciously. Cloud avoided his gaze. Luckily the boy did not say anything, since he was obviously with Zack. He simply frowned with nervousness and disapproval.
"Please do try to hurry, Mr. Fair. I don't mean to rush you, sir, but you're really not supposed to be here…" the boy said painfully, fiddling with his long coat sleeve and staring at the floor.
Zack simply let out a grunt and smiled. "Come on, Cloud," he said quietly, giving a tiny wave at the boy as he casually moved into the building. Cloud followed him, not without stealing a final glance at the young guard. He was looking out the shaded window – nervous, Cloud could tell.
The building's interior was more massive and fancy than Cloud had imagined. Although there were no lights on, Cloud could tell that the place was high end compared to the rest of Midgar. It still had the familiar industrious feel to it but less so than in the streets. The buzzing and humming noises of electricity ran through the headquarters even though the lights were out. The place seemed wrong to Cloud and gave him the chills. He continued to stare at the walls and ceiling while he followed Zack up a narrow, metal flight of stairs at the end of the building's lobby.
The hollow clacking sounds of soft footsteps on metal stairs echoed throughout the headquarters. "Zack?" Cloud said so quietly that it almost blended in with the sounds of the clacking metal.
"What?" Zack whispered back ruggedly, glaring into the darkness with concentration. Cloud did not seemed fazed by his change in mood. They were on the mission now.
"Did that guy know?"
The two continued on and Cloud remained silent. At the top of the staircase, the two arrived at a wide, curving hallway. It was darker than the lobby downstairs, but Cloud's eyes had previously adjusted to the lack of light. Scanning the dark and warped hallway, Cloud could see several closed doors. Zack noiselessly began to creep his way down the side of the hallway. Cloud followed him closely, paying attention to the faint taps of his footsteps. He hated it when things were dead silent – the slightest sudden noise was heart-flinchingly startling. Cloud readied himself for the smallest noise so that he wouldn't yelp or look like a total fool in front of his brave master when it was sounded.
Zack looked like he knew where he was going. Whether he did or not, he had a certain air of determination and ease about him that made Cloud relax a bit. He was still incredibly nervous with the entire situation and wondered what they were doing. He tried to not think about it. If he did, the whole premise of the idea would hit him with such impact that he would walk to run out of the headquarters with his tail in between his legs like a quivering coward in front of his brave master.
There was one door that was cracked open. Cloud could tell that Zack was thrown off by this. He crept cautiously over to the door and gave Cloud a warning glare. Zack bravely poked his head in the door, tense and ready to fight. Cloud also was tense and severely frightened. If someone did find them here, they would probably alert everyone and their mother or attack them out of impulse. Even thought they worked for Shinra, they were intruders. Either way, the infantrymen would have to silence the man to keep their stealth. Cloud cringed.
Thankfully, Zack relaxed, but looked confused. "Cloud," he addressed quietly. Cloud gave him his full attention, trying to conceal his nervousness. Zack definitely noticed but his eyebrows met. "Look at this." There was something wrong. Cloud tensed.
Cloud looked inside of the door. He saw nothing unusual – it was a typical closet for cleaning supplies. He could make out a few water pipes running through it and the nauseating scent of chemicals. Cloud shrugged, looking at Zack with glimmering eyes. Zack raised a brow at him in annoyance, pointing to the center of the closet.
Cloud hesitated. "What, there's nothing there," he whispered promptly. Zack sighed.
"Exactly. There's our problem."
"Why is that a problem? It's a supply closet."
"It's a supply closet that happens to be unlocked and open at this ridiculous late-night hour with a huge empty space in it. Everything single room in this building gets shut and locked at night, Cloud. Someone opened it to get something out of it," Zack whispered, spelling it out for his pupil. Cloud blushed in embarrassment, ashamed.
"Why does that matter? To us, I mean."
"It means someone's here," Zack said. Cloud was alarmed to find a hint of worry in his tone.
"O-oh," he stammered, feeling stupid. Zack remained silent, thinking. He cursed quietly. "It's just cleaning supplies, though."
"Cloud," Zack started darkly. "Do you honestly think that someone came to the Shinra headquarters at this hour in the morning to clean?"
"Therefore this does matter – a lot. In fact, we should probably get out of here before said person finds us before we run into him. Whatever he's doing, that won't end well for –" Zack stopped in mid-sentence, his head shooting down the hall. He pushed Cloud into the closet with a powerful shove that nearly knocked the wind out of him. Cloud, completely surprised, crashed painfully into the pipes at the back of the closet and fell with a winded oof. Thankfully, the sound of his landing was muffled by something ragged and soft, but he still felt the pain and shock of the impact. Zack shut the door in a haste as quietly as he possibly could, leaving Cloud to sit in total darkness on the floor of the closet in shock.
"What the hell are you doing here at this hour, Fair," a dark voice growled. Cloud tried not to gasp from hearing another person's voice.
"Ah, hello Sephiroth," Zack replied casually. Cloud froze in shock. His eyes widened and his thoughts blazed. He could barely hear anything anymore over his wildly-pounding heart. His hero, Sephiroth was there?
"What the hell are you doing here?" Sephiroth hissed again, more baffled than angry. His firm-set jaw was clenched shut in surprise.
Zack looked at the SOLDIER, completely calm. "I could ask you the same question."
"I asked you first."
"If you must know, I left something important here yesterday and I'm here to pick it up." Sephiroth's cold eyes stared at Zack with disinterest.
"Now – what are you doing here?" Zack asked his peer, confused.
"That, my friend, is quite the story," Sephiroth murmured, curling his lip. He glared into the distance. "Perhaps to be saved for another day."
Zack shrugged. "Well, have a good night."
"You, too," Sephiroth said, looking at Zack with suspicion. He then continued on his way down the dark, narrow hallway, emphasizing the sounds of his footsteps more so than he had before. Zack's heart lurched and he could feel himself shaking slightly from how nervous he was from the random encounter. Sephiroth without a doubt had noticed this nervousness. If Zack was lucky, Sephiroth just passed it off as him being startled to see another person in the building – which would make a whole lot of sense.
Zack went on his way down the hall in the opposite direction in order to not look suspicious. He walked and waited a good five minutes before returning to the door that he had shut Cloud in a panic. He tapped on the cold metal to make sure that it was the right closet.
"Zack, what happened?" came Cloud's panicked voice from inside. It was the right closet. Zack pulled the handle and his heart nearly stopped. It was locked. He could feel himself sweating and began to panic himself.
"That is you, right?" Cloud asked, alarmed.
"It's me Cloud," Zack said gruffly, breathing harder. He shook the door knob in a poor attempt to open the door again. It didn't budge. Shit, shit, shit, Zack thought in distress, looking around for anything that could possibly help him break down the metal door. He saw nothing. "The door is locked, Cloud," Zack admitted numbly. "I'm so stupid," he growled angrily, pounding a fist onto the metal door, making a huge thunking noise. Zack didn't care.
Cloud remained silent and shifted uncomfortably in the closet. He felt all of the color drain from his face. "I…. I'm…"
"This is all my fault. I'll get you outta there, buddy. I promise," Zack said meekly, regaining his composure.
"Zack?" Cloud called weakly. He felt dizzy and sick. He did not want to be in this closet. If someone found him the next day, he would be dead meat. "Zack," he said again, standing up. He got no response. Cloud pressed his ear against the metal door, but only heard the sickening sounds of silence. Cloud stifled a stressed sigh and sat down, leaning his back on the pipes, feeling sick. He could have cried from such a disastrous situation. This could not be happening to him – it was an absolute nightmare.
And thus Cloud remained in the closet, waiting patiently for Zack to return like he promised. As he sat, time became irrelevant and he got increasingly colder. Bleak thoughts and scenarios unfolded in his mind of things that could happen if anyone other than Zack found him. His chances of becoming a SOLDIER would be completely gone. He would most likely be killed for sneaking around in such a confidential area. Cloud also worried about Zack – if he had gotten caught. He was at ease knowing that the person who had found Zack last night was Sephiroth, his idol, so there were no chances of him telling anybody. Cloud hoped that no one else found out about Zack or that the guard that had let them in didn't tell anyone.
Cloud assumed that Zack would have less trouble getting back in the headquarters without the hindrance of himself with his master. He felt horribly guilty that Zack had to go through the horrible risks and measures to come and rescue him. Cloud felt pathetic. Zack couldn't even carry out his mission. Sighing, Cloud curled up in the ratty towel he had found and tried to fall asleep. Whether he had or not, Cloud didn't know. He woke up, or his eyes opened in flashed every so often. Cloud wished he knew how much time had passed. It could have been minutes – it could have been days.
Cloud nearly jumped out of his skin when he heard a frantic pound on the metal closet door all of the sudden. He slowly slumped up, stiff from sitting for so long. Cloud did not know if he imagined the pound. It seemed so different and bizarre compared to the silence he had been experiencing for so long. "Cloud!" a voice hissed. Cloud could have screamed in happiness! It was definitely Zack's voice, only sounding more rustic and stressed, like he had been through a lot.
"Zack!" Cloud snapped, his voice cracking. He hadn't spoken in a long time. He heard the sweet sound of the metal prison being unlocked – the most joyful sound of freedom. Cloud's heart skipped a beat. The door opened slowly and the faint light was almost blinding to Cloud. He blindly darted out of the closet like an animal being released from its cage and ran straight into Zack's chest. Zack blinked in relief and smiled like a madman, having found his friend. He awkwardly hugged the younger, making Cloud blush from the unexpected contact.
"That… was one hell of a night," was all Zack said gruffly after releasing the boy from his strong grasp, sounding intently relieved that he had found his friend. "But it doesn't matter now, I got you."
Cloud looked at Zack, wondering what he had to go through to manage to get the keys necessary to free him. He glanced up at his master curiously. Cloud could have erupted in happiness but held back. "Zack?" he asked.
Zack didn't reply. It looked like talking would take the remaining energy out of the exhausted SOLDIER and he would pass out on the floor if he were to utter a word. Cloud had never seen him look so vulnerable. "How long has it been?"
"It doesn't matter, Cloud. Let's get the hell outta here before people start coming into the building, okay? That would ruin everything."
Cloud nodded in agreement at his tired friend. "Zack… I'm so sorry…" he started, weakly. It was painful to even bring up how guilty he was.
"Kid, remember what I told you yesterday? Don't question my commands. We'll talk about this later – and I said we've got to get out of here," Zack said, sternly yet playfully through his exhaustion.
Cloud glanced at his superior in amazement and slowly followed him. Zack trudged along the hallway. Cloud realized guiltily that Zack probably had been running on pure adrenaline and panic to get the means necessary to rescue him for the past hours. Cloud shrunk up guiltily. He felt a wave of exhaustion creep over himself as he walked with Zack.
Suddenly, Zack began to laugh, losing all care to be stealthy. Cloud looked at him. Zack was smiling. "Oh, Cloud."
"Just… this whole thing is insane – you scared the hell outta me. I'm just glad that I found you and that you're safe."
Cloud didn't reply and laughed with Zack, trying to ignore the twinging guilt he still felt. The whole situation was crazy and he was shocked that they managed to get out of it untouched. Zack grinned even more, trying to shrug off his mind-woozing exhaustion. "Let's never do this again, buddy, alright?"
"Agreed," Cloud said immediately. He never wanted to be in a closet again. Ever.
"You don't have to worry about the mission any more, either," Zack said in a slightly darker tone than before. "Everything's going to be fine now… the mission doesn't matter. Just go home and take a shower – you smell like you've been bathing in radioactive sewage," Zack said, wrinkling his nose.
"Ironic, since it was cleaning supplies," Cloud muttered. Both men chuckled, to tired to even think about how what they were saying and how it possibly could be humorous. They clacked down the narrow staircase defenselessly and Cloud noticed that it was less frightening than before, even though it was still dark. He was glad that Zack was there with him nonetheless.
The two exited the building successfully. Zack looked more relieved than ever, making Cloud curious about what measures he had taken the night before – or day before. Cloud didn't know and was too tired to think about it.
"Well, I would make sure that you got something to eat before I go off, but I'm about to faint and hibernate for a couple weeks after all that. Maybe I'm getting too old for this," Zack muttered, swaying slightly. He felt drunk although he was completely sober. Cloud cracked a smile at him.
Perhaps it was just the sheer exhaustion and relief from the situation, but the two mercenaries grew much closer after such a terrifying and embarrassing event. The situation was never spoken of again, despite the gaping holes of unsolved mysteries that it left for both boys. The 'mission' Zack had been on was also never spoken of again. Cloud still remained desperately curious, but never brought it up. It was just one of those things that the hidden rules and invisible guidelines said to never bring up. The cold night was never spoken of again, but was also never forgotten by the two men.
A/N: Sorry, I know this isn't completely accurate to the series. Also, I left a lot of loose ties in this story on purpose. They were completed in my mind, but it would end up as a long, long, long, long, LONG, story if I had answered them. This is meant to be a short little story... it didn't turn out like I wanted it to, but I still like it. On another note... MAN, that was hard to write. It took me WEEKS. ._.
I hope that you enjoyed my first FFVII fic. Be sure to review, I love getting feedback!