He will never say anything bad about the back-up dancers, ever. Cloud was just starting to get the hang of dancing and singing simultaneously while their back-up dancers were to dance all throughout the entire show. And he was already getting exhausted. He had gone through 4 out of 5 routines, one for every song he was to sing at his debut performance, and Cloud was getting his muscles strained like he never strained them before in his entire life.
Mainly his leg muscles cause of the very elaborate moves he had to do for the performance. And maybe his arms as well because apparently he had to carry props while dancing and singing on the actual live show. He had watched one of the live-shows and almost everyone was to do at least dance routine, much more if they are a singer, dancer or an idol. The actors and actresses were made to sing sometimes, just to promote their new show but that's all they have to do.
It made Cloud wonder just what was the organizer of these shows were thinking in having their... 'stars' do things aside from their designated jobs. Not to mention the sheer exhaustion their back-up dancers must have felt everytime they did a live-show.
Sure, Cloud was to stop dancing at certain times and concentrate on the actual singing, but to think that the rest of their back-up dancers were to keep on doing the actions that complement the songs he has to sing made his mind boggle on the idea. Were they masochists or what?
Aside from it was their job, which was they were doing it willingly, they also have this… drive or will to dance. Cloud could understand why they were doing it, since he saw firsthand that Maqui, Yuj and the rest of their crew clearly had talent in dancing and they selflessly admitted it was their passion.
"Okay! Let's take a break for now! 10 minutes! No, make it 15! I forgot to make a call!"
Cloud slumped immediately to the floor, panting hard and sweat dripping like melting icicles on top of a fire. And to think he has to sing the songs while dancing…
He fell himself at the floor on his back as he groaned out the pain – no, to call it pain was too much, maybe stressed because of his muscles? – he felt from his legs. Also from his stomach area. The blond never realized that people could do that twist until he had to do it by personally. He was skeptical at first when Mr. Sabin showed him the maneuver but apparently he could do it.
Could apparently meant should in Sabin-speak. And the semi-squats he had to do when doing that maneuver... It looked amazing if it was done by other people but it was a pain to him, someone who had never danced before coming to Midgar.
A chuckle in front of him was heard by Cloud, which prompted him to open his eyes and search for the source of the sound. Maqui, the leader of the Krazy Kat Krew, was there above him, grinning like a crazed Malboro and was reaching out his hand to him. He took it and Maqui helped him get up from the wooden dance floor of the studio.
"When you say you couldn't dance, I bet you weren't expecting you will in the end of the practice huh?" Maqui asked him as he sipped from a water bottle he had. Cloud gave the water bottle a heated glare as he nodded to the much older teen with googles on his head. He doesn't understand why he used googles as a headband but Cloud guessed it looked cooler than just a plain headband.
He learned that image was almost everything in the entertainment industry and Cloud had only spent 2 weeks yet with NORA. Keyword: almost. Aside from having the looks that would attract their desired audience, Cloud had to have a pleasant and appealing personality for them to support him.
Which was a very, very, very hard thing to do, because Cloud isn't and wasn't a nice kid at all. He was bullied in Nibelheim because he could reach the proper notes when singing the Nibelheim Anthem, unlike the other kids and adults of the small town-like city. (There was also the fact that his family consist of only him and his mother because his father ran away for some reason.) Thus he had to fight the bullies, though most of the time he failed miserably, to the point that he had managed to break at least 3 bones to the strongest bully that fought with him one time in a fight before he found himself on a ditch with a ripped eyebrow and a sore cheek.
Still didn't stopped them in the end though.
The blue-eyed boy also traveled by himself on the road to Midgar, for almost half a year. Passing through the surrounding towns near Nibelheim, he rode on the trucks that travelled through the plains of the Western Continent until he reached the Strait of Geminismi. He went through Cosmo Canyon and the Gongagan Subcontinent (gave him a tan that Serah said looked good on him), crossed through the dessert and Corel (chased away actually by a flock of migrating Chocobos), passing by and beating the petrifying monsters of the Corel Area (learned he could do the rumored Limit Break there which was awesome), hitchhiked and bullshitted his way to Costa del Sol and the subsequent ship ride to Junon ('It didn't happened, he teleported to Junon!'), tricked a lot of people so that he could get on the earliest bullet train to Midgar (Cloud learned the word gullible without getting a dictionary that day) and, lastly, got himself drunk that he performed in front of an audience in a small bar at Sector 8.
If he didn't pick up several bad mannerisms and habits on his journey from Nibelheim to Midgar, in addition his very pleasant nature to strangers, then Ramuh could Judgement Strike him right there immediately for being a liar. Cloud wasn't a very nice person, at all. His surname, Strife, really suited his personality and it never lied. Ever.
Still, Cloud was willing to play the part of 'a brand new and newly discovered idol from outside of Midgar, with hopes and dreams to become a successful person!'. He had to resist gagging when he heard his introduction from the television after he had signed the contract that day. Ms. Lebreau and Serah already had a plan for his debut way before he was found by Mr. Michael at the Slum Stairs.
When Serah said he was claimed, oh Titan, did they claimed him good.
"Give me some water, will ya?" Cloud asked as he followed Maqui to the benches on the side of the room. There laid on the space underneath the seats were their bags containing a change of clothes, some snacks and drinks and their PHS. Cloud had already emptied his water during their 2nd break and they were already on their last practice session for that day, a total of 5 practice sessions with 4 fifteen minute breaks between each session,
Maqui tossed him the object he requested and proceeded to jug down its contents. They were already on their last session for the day and he had nothing else on his schedule, the cramps he would experience later was nothing to the thirst he was currently under. Cloud wiped the sweat off his forehead with the towel has around his shoulders and said, "When will Ms. Cynthia return? She sent an e-mail to me this morning that she couldn't come to our voice lesson this day."
The teen with a purple shirt shook his head. "No idea man. Snow told me an hour ago how he had to deliver some papers to Cynthia's place in Sector 5 and noticed it was empty. He just pushed it to her mailbox and told Ms. Lebreau about it." He sat on the bench, stretching his arms. "Why? Aren't you supposed to be happy that you got off from a voice lesson? You were bitching about it to me last time."
Cloud had to restrain himself from not throttle the other blond. He wasn't bitching, he was just saying that Ms. Cynthia was trying his patience by making him reach the notes he couldn't reach. Well, for now that is. He was sure he could reach it soon but Ms. Cynthia was so insistent on him getting it on the first try.
He did reach it but at the cost of wasting the entire session that day, Ms. Cynthia had a face of a broken Dorky Face when she left the building, grumbling about how unreasonable Cloud was. It wasn't his fault that even though he had a slightly deep voice for a 15-year-old, he could still reach the notes he used to reach before starting puberty.
Serah said that was the purpose of his voice lesson/coaching, to try and help him retain the range of his voice while also working on improving the areas he could reach. It was hard but it was said to be worth it in the end. Case in point: different singers in the company who started out with only a certain range in their repertoire (low and high) but now were so versatile in getting it, though they were still restricted because obviously a bass couldn't have the range of a countertenor).
Good thing, or maybe it was a bad thing, that his voice matured faster than what was the norm according to the people in the company. NORA had a special department in their company that focused on the health of their singers' vocal chords and their dancers' muscles, they were the ones that discovered his voice type and its apparent maturity so all he had to do was to keep it 'healthy'.
The drawback was that his body sacrificed his height for his voice so Cloud's mood went sour when he was told about it. Still, they said that he would get his most awaited growth spurt in a year or so. That was enough for the teen. His mom had pictures of her and his dad back when they were teens and they were quite towering.
"…I really don't know what to do with it, honestly. I spent all of my time practicing and dancing here that…" Cloud dropped down on his seat, arms hanging limply on his shoulder and sweat dripping from his forehead. "Should I… get out and explore?"
Maqui grinned immediately. "You took the words outta my mouth, Cloud! You probably should. I mean, you never got to explore Midgar, right? In its entirety?" The blond nodded. "See? You have the time, get out and explore! Just bring your PHS and avoid places you know you shouldn't get into and you'll be fine."
Cloud raised his finger in protest but Mr. Sabin came to the room, voice booming like a rabid Elphadunk. "Okay! Time's up! Break's over! This is the last session for this day so get up and let's wrap this up!"
Protest interrupted, Cloud rose up from the seat and stretched out his limbs. He might as well do what Maqui said. He himself had thought about exploring Midgar before he brought it to the other blond, it wasn't something that was forced onto him. The KKK were already in position and were waiting for Cloud to come back, making him hasten in his steps from the benches.
"Okay! Now let's do number 5 for the last time…"
When people said Sector 8 was the entertainment sector of Midgar, they weren't just implying that it had movie theaters only. The rumor outside Midgar that said Sector 8 was just a place for movies was true at all. It was a bustling jungle of skyscrapers with billboards of artists and fictional characters advertising their respective shows and programs. Everywhere there were posters plastered about the latest schedule of shows and concerts being held at the Midgar Metropolitan Stadium and Concert Grounds. Merchandise of various shows were being sold at almost every corner and it took Cloud two weeks to get accustomed to the bustle of Sector 8.
Before he got to Midgar, he heard from rumors that Sector 8 was a dreary place where plays and theaters were being held. In reality, its existence was dying. Almost no one was going to the theaters where plays were being held that Cloud couldn't help but wince when he passed by another theater being demolished around the corner. There was a redhead SOLDIER protesting but apparently being a member of Midgar's Major Sponsor's Private Security Force couldn't dissuade the demolishing crew workers from wrecking the ancient establishment.
If it could be even called ancient, that is. Midgar was said to be only 39 years only yet everything in the city doesn't show it was. Skyscrapers at every corner being constructed and demolished, with every design being more outlandish yet at the same felt right in the urban landscape. Railways, overpasses and tunnels being built to accommodate the number of people coming to and fro within the metropolis. And the trash… Oh Minerva. The trash piles were humongous.
"Where are the trash collectors?" Cloud voiced out, as he stared at the 5 feet tall trash tower at an alley behind the Moogle Meadows and was across the currently being demolished Sampaguita Theaters. He was wearing his civilian attire, namely a simple combo of dress shirt, jeans, blue sleeveless hoodie and a pair of black sneakers. Cloud also had a green scarf around his neck, covering slightly his lower face, because damn if he wouldn't wear one.
He had to avoid being recognized by people, namely from COCOON, because they might abduct him from the streets. Not that they would do it but Cloud doesn't want to take chances. He saw a group of people being dragged into a van at an alley in Costa del Sol and Cloud ran like crazy away to the nearest hotel. One thing he learned from being bullied was that fighting people is so different than fighting monsters.
They could think unlike the monsters who just outright rush into fighting you. It was why he thought maybe he could do something about when he decided to join SOLDIER. Well, he now knew better. It was a stupid thought, now that he mulled it over.
And the sight of a SOLDIER helplessly trying to stop the demolishers from doing their jobs made Cloud think that even being a SOLDIER couldn't stop a building from being destroyed. The redhead SOLDIER, he was wearing the uniform of one: tacky sleeveless turtleneck and that bulky and revolting suspenders. At the very least, the SOLDIER had decided to cover it with a red coat, diminishing the overall effect of the uniform he was wearing.
He had to avoid Serah and Ms. Rinoa now. Wonder what they had already done to his mindset and how far it was corrupted that a SOLDIER uniform looked revolting to him now.
"As a person whose life has been touched by the arts done in this establishment, I implore you to desist from abolishing the establishment behind me!"
"Sir, you're in our way. You know what, whatever. Just because you're a ShinRa lapdog meant you could stop us from doing our jobs. Gerald! Tom! Get them fired up!"
Instantly the building exploded, though not quite as large as Cloud had expected when he saw bombs at the back of a truck. Small scale perhaps? The redhead was cursing as he sidestepped to avoid being hit by a destroyed part of the theater's wall. Cloud could swear Pompeii was being played by the man who in a dump truck as one of the workers scrambled away from the building.
As for Cloud, he also scrambled away as the explosion rocked the area. It caused the towering garbage pile to topple over, forcing the blond to get out of the way. It was his luck that he bumped on the redhead, who also thought to move at his direction in his attempt to get out of the immediate blast area.
"Goddess may have mercy on your souls for I have nothing to give to you heathens!" The redhead pulled out a PHS from the pocket of his coat, not giving any heed to the teenager who bumped his back earlier. Cloud had to admit, the SOLDIER was tall but the blond will surely be taller than him. "Hello? Angeal? It's me, Genesis. Is Lazard there? Could you – What do you mean no?! Can you believe – Surely not, I attest to you! Just let me – I am not – Listen to me for a – "
The SOLDIER was talking now to someone on his PHS with an angry tone, making Cloud think whoever was on the other side of the PHS was either brave enough to disagree with a SOLDIER or just plain foolish. Either way, the man with the red coat was so concentrated on arguing on whoever was on the other side that he didn't saw a debris flew towards them. Cloud had the honor of seeing a SOLDIER be struck down with a piece of concrete because he was so busy on arguing.
His PHS flew out from his hand from the impact, passing over Cloud's head and landing on the road nearby. Luckily it didn't land on the pile of trash that was for some reason was making green colored fumes. Cloud went to pick the PHS while the SOLDIER was nursing his face with a shocked expression. It was a brand new model, clearly not the ones being sold to the public, so Cloud had no idea on what its functions were. He had accidentally activated its speakerphone function when he picked it up, causing the voice of whoever that was on the other side be heard by anyone on the street.
"-lutely no way Genesis. SOLDIER have no jurisdiction over the affairs of civilians and no matter what the higher-ups will not allow you to buy the remaining theaters in Midgar under you name just for the sake of 'saving historical facades of art'. Yes, you have the rest of the day off, I'll talk to Lazard. You deserve it. Now, are you listening to me- "
"Give me that!" The PHS on Cloud's hand was abruptly taken by a hand, prompting him to search for the person who took it. He then saw the redhead, who had a black-eye on his left eye, end the call with a resounding 'beep!'. "Who told you to go around and listen to other people's calls, huh?"
He ducked his face even further to the scarf he had around his neck with his cheeks and ears bright red. "It was an accident," he answered in an almost inaudible tone. With how the explosions keep on exploding inside the block-wide building, Cloud doubted he could be heard by the SOLDIER in front of him. "Sorry."
"Huh. You're polite. And even sorry for touching what isn't even yours. Good for you."
Oh that's it. It's one thing to be angry at someone who eavesdropped on a private conversation, it was another to get angry at someone who accidentally overheard an argument and was then ridiculed for just touching a phone? Who does he think he is? The General of SOLDIER?
"…Yeah at least I'm a person who have the decency to help others than someone who kept on preventing people on doing their jobs!" Cloud retorted back with a sharp rise on his previous volume, causing the smirk on the redhead's face disappear. It was then replaced by a gape and followed by a snarl. "Who do you even think you are? Can't you see that they are just doing their job? They have to work or else they won't have something to eat later!"
"I'm Genesis Rhapsodos, a SOLDIER First Class, you… you… civilian! I'm one of the strongest people here in whole Gaia! I'm the Crimson Comman-"
"Yeah, yeah, Crimson Whatever. You're still same person who got owned by a puny looking concrete slab! You got a black eye on your face,stupid!" He walked up to the tall man and pointed to his eye that was shut from the obvious pain. "So don't you dare imply that you're more or less better than me or us! Just because you're a SOLDIER First Class. Bah. What a load of Chocobo shit." With that, Cloud marched out of the area, fuming mad from the man's apparent disregard to respect and decency.
He was already riding the 11:45 train of Midgar Metropolitan Transit Service when it dawned to him that he had just… just… criticized a SOLDIER First Class. Straight to his face. Quickly covering his mouth, Cloud managed to muffle out the involuntary hysterical cry of disbelief his body had made. The other passengers of the train turned their attention immediately at him, stares honing their judgmental opinions to him which then killed his body's desire; a desire to react in a very bad way at his… very impolite action to the SOLDIER First Class.
… But it was so worth it in the end. Cloud could remember how the redhead's expression went from a smirk to an image worthy of being hung at NORA's Hall of Shame.
Getting off the train on the Sector 3 Station, Cloud mused he would have to explore Sector 8 another time. The SOLDIER could be hounding the streets of Sector 8 for him and boy, he doesn't want to be there when the SOLDIER came to berate him on his actions. If he could find him of course.
With a smile, one that seem to radiate the sun's brightness and cheer, Cloud made his way through the streets of the Commerce Sector of Midgar. He decided to go there and buy at the very least stuff for his very small yet homey studio apartment. Given to him by the company, as a sort of investment and a part of their contract, Cloud had no qualms whether or not it was small or it felt like he was back at his room at Nibelheim. Technically, it was larger than his bedroom but he was in the city.
He was set to be introduced to the public the next week so he had yet to earn some type of profit for the company. Serah said as he will get a larger flat courtesy of the company reflecting his status in the company or he could buy one for himself using his earnings in the future. She, however, had her own apartment being shared with her sister so she herself couldn't give any tips for Cloud on getting a 'proper' flat.
Still, that was in the future. Given that he would be a hit on his debut, and they say he will but Cloud was skeptical about it especially with his track record of being disappointed, the 15-year-old earnings will depend on how much singles he could sell, talent fees on appearing on television shows, advertisements and other more. It all made Cloud's head dizzy at the things Ms. Lebreau had thrown at him two weeks prior.
For now, Cloud was working on a very tight budget. As some sort of 'joining fee' or something, Cloud received enough money that could be compared to his mother's earning for 7 months. He was ecstatic at first but then he realized how much higher the prices in Midgar than at Nibelheim. The blue-eyed teen wasn't a stranger on budgeting since he had to keep himself fed on his cross-continent expedition to Midgar, but the level of budgeting had to do was something he never expected.
No wonder his mother was so nasty after the bills had arrived. Thankfully, his studio apartment's rent was paid by the company but the utilities were a different thing. And the furniture there. It was so basic: bed, single sofa, a mid-sized television, a table and 3 chairs, a single cabinet for his clothes, couple of toiletries, and some towels. Sure there was a small fridge for his food but he really didn't expect to have an electric stove. Serah laughed at him when he stood still for almost half an hour, bewildered at what he should do to cook his food.
Cloud shook his head, he shouldn't have his mind wander too far, for he had to buy a lot of things if he had to make his apartment livable. At the moment, he had lived on Wutain take-out and some half-assed meals made by the building's landlady, who certainly wouldn't allow Cloud to use her pots and pans for cooking even if it was just for an hour or so.
Passing by several appliance stores, Cloud felt he was like those old ladies he saw on tv that haggled at store owners for discounted prices, which was strangely the actual truth because there was just a middle-aged woman he passed by getting worked up on trying to get herself a pen for free from a salesperson in a stationary store.
The thing about 'searching for low-priced yet quality merchandise' hagglers at Sector 3 was famous for, Cloud felt he was one of them as he left the 6th frying pan and pots store with absolutely nothing on his hands and a still-full wallet. Cloud wouldn't stand to buy a pot for the same price of a Moogle Meadow Deluxe Burger and Fries Set.
It was just a pot. A pot for making stew. Its existence would be meaningful on top of his elective stove with it stewing the authentic - though how could it authentic if there's no Nibel Wolf Meat in it? - Nibel Stew. Why would it be much more expensive than a 12-item meal?
He took a look around him and tried to find another shop. The sky was getting dark already and the streetlights were already lighting up one by one. Passing cars was slowly increasing in their volume as the highways and overpasses of the roads start to become congested from the evening rush. Cloud let out a deep sigh.
Two weeks already in Midgar yet he wasn't used to the traffic made by the cars at its towering overpasses. Even the trains are full of students and office workers who are either going home to their respective homes or going out to whatever places they had plans at. Most likely the bars and clubs at Sector 8 that opens only when the clock strikes 19:00.
"What did Snow said I should try? A Micro-laid? What is that?" Cloud asked himself as he entered a supermarket around the corner. To his surprise, the shop was actually a supermarket and a department store in one. The immediate left of the shop's entrance was the supermarket section, the one that had frozen vegetables, meat, canned goods, drinks, and other instant meals, while to his right was the department store section, the one that had refrigerators, ovens, sofas and… what is that small box?
Cloud went towards the small box thing and read its label and tag. "ShinRa Microwave 2k51 – 49999 Gil Only!" He let out a shriek, a very weird shriek that made everyone in the area turn to its source. Cloud ducked immediately to avoid being noticed. "Shiva's tits! What kind of... What is that anyway?!"
He rose up and looked around, noticing no one was looking at his direction. Cloud take another look at the price and gasped. It was still the same and his eyes weren't tricking him. "Nope! Not taking a chance. Made by ShinRa it may be but I won't pay for something that costs my entire wallet! Not a chance!"
He pushed the offending appliance further in the shelf and hid its price-tag and label from sight. NO ONE should experience having an almost heart attack by looking at its price. "I'm pretty sure there's a much lower priced microwave here." And boy he did found one.
Pros: It was on sale and its price was at a jaw-dropping 1999 Gil only. Though it may not be a ShinRa Microwave 2k50 Series, it was from a slightly older series. The ShinRa Microwave 2k20 Series and Snow had just sent him an e-mail a moment ago on the best type of Microwave he had. According to the big guy, the said mircrowave series was the sturdiest of all the ShinRa Microwave Series and only the latest 2k50 Series could contest its durability.
Cons: It was the only one left in the store and he had a contender for it.
A tall, black-haired guy with a startlingly similar hairstyle as his and had tan much darker than his, which Cloud assumed was the guy's natural skin color unlike his which a result of his travels under the sun. He was quite stocky from his physique and seemed to be a nice guy all in all judging from his own intuition, which was so helpful on his cross-continent trek. But the way he smiled at Cloud, grin almost reaching to his ears, unnerved the blond as he and the black-haired stranger kept on tugging on the last microwave in the store from each other's hands.
"I have to cook for myself, you know!"
"Well I have to too! And cooking with a microwave isn't cooking. At. All."
"I'm on a budget and this is the only thing that could fit in it!"
"Well tough luck Spike 'cause you'll have to find another one!"
"Yeah?! Maybe you'll be the one that would have to find one because I found it first! Finder's Keepers!"
"No ya ain't! I saw it first! We had an emotional connection instantly!"
It went on for a whole 5 minutes, half-hearted insults against one's appearance and probably one's parentage, catching the attention of the shoppers in the department store and the sales personnel that were on stand-by at the microwave section. He and the black-haired guy were still having their little tug-of-war when someone who had enough courage to interrupt them voiced out a simple statement.
"If you damaged the item, you two will pay it thrice. And by the way, we called security already."
That caught their attention immediately, both of them dropping the object of their desire on the floor with a crash.
Cloud winced at the result of his and stranger's action. He didn't wish to drop the microwave; it was a reflex honed by countless of times he had been reprimanded at the general store back at Nibelheim whenever he was browsing the good there. Cloud looked at the person across him and saw the guy was legitimately shocked and written across on his face the expression of genuine regret.
"Well," the person who interrupted them continued, "I presume you two have the Gil to pay for it, right? It is the last one of its series and its quite valuable." There was a name-tag on the woman's vest and on it was a 'Hilda; Store Manager'.
They're so screwed.
Thankfully, he got away from paying a single Gil on that broken microwave. He still had a lot to buy and he doesn't know when he will receive his so-called 'paycheck'. The Sunday Live-show was just a week away and would be televised all over the world on TvM. After the show ended, NORA would then open their online music store which would hold his 2 debut albums: one that was a customary album for all of its singers and one that would reflect his own personal career.
"When will you forgive me for breaking the microwave?"
The lineup for both of his albums were amazing to be honest, but he couldn't stop from feeling he would be a flop when next week comes around the corner. He had exhausted himself on training his voice and subsequently tired his own mouth from the recording he had done. Good thing the recording stuff was over and he had to concentrate now on the routines he had to do on the live-show.
"I did cover for it, you know. You could say I paid for it, thrice over."
However, he hadn't left the store scot-free. Cloud had a companion with him ever since he left the store, tailing him with pleas of forgiveness and genuine(?) regret.
"For the last time, I am not angry at you. I'm appalled that we both dropped it and had to pay for three times its price! And why are you even following me?"
"Well, to be honest, I have no idea. Wait. I think there is!" the black haired guy announced as he stopped Cloud on his steps and position himself in front of him. "You. Look. Lonely."
"I mean, really, you look like you had the world on your shoulders and it's a Friday today. Why do you look like you got dumped into a pile of Chocobo shit?" He asked. "Besides, I have to do something to make it up to you."
"Did the lady banged you up at the counter or what?" Cloud had a feeling the guy received the 'facedesk' maneuver he once saw on television because he was acting strange. For a stranger, even.
"Come on. Let me make it up to you."
Cloud scoffed at his insistence. Was he a rich guy or what? He just paid almost 8 thousand Gil because of a broken microwave, even pricier than the 2k51. But maybe…
"Well… there's one thing you could help me with…" he trailed off, twirling the end portion of his scarf on his right hand. The guy perked up instantly. "It's not really a big deal, so to say, but do you know where I could get some low priced but also quality stuff here?" He seemed to have an idea with how things work in Midgar, by the way he ignored the signs of shops and the scenery he and Cloud passed by with the kind of look he now had when ridding the train.
Grinning widely, the guy took his arm and dragged him into a store with a signboard titled 'Shoe Mart'. "Trust me. I know all of the best deals here. Just follow my lead and you'll get what you want in such a very low price. By the way," he trailed off as he waved towards a saleslady arranging some type of glassware on the shelves. "The name's Zack. Zack Fair, nice to meet you."
Cloud let himself be dragged by the guy into the store that was significantly cooler than the one he was in, loosening his scarf around his neck to let in the cooler air. In fact, it reminded him of the chill of Nibelheim it was still not the same, though, just similar.
"Cloud. Cloud Strife," he offered as he took in the new environment he was in. "This is… strange." Really. Everything was… blue. Was it the trademark color of the store? And who in the world would name a store 'Shoe Mart' if it doesn't sell shoes at all, with the store selling appliances and had a supermarket in it. There were even food stalls there with their attendants calling out for customers.
Now that he saw the supermarket, Cloud felt it wasn't a store at all. "Yeah, this is one of the biggest malls here in Midgar. It's the best!" He can agree with that because just now a lady handed him a sandwich, keen on giving away what Cloud assumed to be a 'free trial batch'. "On Fridays the people here tend to give out samplers so many customers rush here for the free food."
The blond turned around, stopping in mid-bite, and gave Zack a stare. "You mean, there are more of this?" he asked, holding the sandwich with both hands. It was a turkey sandwich and had… was that mayonnaise and mustard? "And these are just samplers...?"
"Yeah, anyway, you asked for the best place to buy low priced stuff and here we are! Want me to show you around?" Zack said as he bought some type of steaming bun from the same lady who gave Cloud the… turkey sandwich. Cloud kept on staring at the turkey sandwich as Zack led him towards the appliance section of the mall.
"Hey," the 15-year-old voiced out as they passed through the security guards. "Why were you even there in the first place?" If Zack knew this was the best place to buy low-priced stuff, then why was he there?
The guy gave him a sheepish smile. "I somehow broke my roommate's microwave and it was the same model. Thought maybe I could replace it before he knew it. Well, we both know I failed in getting the last of that thing in Midgar so I guess I'll just have to face him later. You?" He then grimaced as he spat out a raisin. "Dammit. Forgot that she doesn't use seedless."
"I, uh, I'm getting stuff for my place. Kinda new here and haven't-" He was interrupted when Zack turned around to him and gripped his shoulders, eyes sparkling with glee.
"Really?! Wow. You're one lucky guy. And you even got a place for yourself. How long have you been here exactly?"
Taking a bit from the turkey sandwich, Cloud answered, "About 2 weeks. I-Is it really that unusual?" He should return to this place next week if Zack said was true, even if it was just a sampler. The sandwich was better than he expected and to think Midgar's stores and malls give them out for free.
"Of course it is! Life in Midgar is expensive and the stuff here is much pricier than those outside the city, well that was what Kunsel said but I'm from the Western Continent so I really have no idea what's the difference of the prices here in Midgar and other cities in the Eastern Continent."
Now that he had said it, Cloud could hear a bit of the accent most people in the Western Continent had but it was more or less now inexistent. It's there but not really noticeable unless one had to look for it. "I'm from the Western Continent too. And yeah, everything here is too expensive but I guess it's the norm for people here, huh." He took another bite from the sandwich and had to close his eyes. What did that lady put in the sandwich anyway that made it so…?
"Hey hey, I know it's that good but you had to watch it. You will trip over something." Cloud opened his eyes and gave the taller guy in front of him a glare. "Just saying," he replied with hands up in surrender. "Only those from the Western Continent can appreciate her food okay? But the people here couldn't find in themselves to like it except for us, Westerners."
Cloud snorted. No wonder she was giving it away, the only people who bought from her are from the other side of the world because her tastes cater to them. "Does she even try to change it up?" He took another bite and stopped himself from closing his eyes. It was hard.
"She did but the taste stays the same. Anyway, here we are. You're looking for a microwave, right?"
Zack was a big help to Cloud on getting the right stuff for his apartment. The older teen – he was apparently only 2 years older than him when Cloud blurted out his age – lived in Midgar for almost 2 years and came to the city at the same age as Cloud's, which was why he knew almost every trick Cloud needed to get the best deals in the mall. It was like a small tradition for them Westerners in Midgar to help one another because apparently, they were just a few of them in the metropolis.
Cloud wondered though on how many is 'few' because the last time he checked, Midgar's population reached to a billion and that only included the place above the Plate. How many people lived below the Plate that also came from the Western Continent. Zack received the same treatment from a fellow Gongagan who was his co-worker somewhere in Midgar.
Cloud respected Zack's decision on not informing him about his job, since Zack was most likely on off the clock and his company had strict rules on workplace etiquette. Serah and Ms. Rinoa had told stories to him about some people in Midgar had lot of trouble in maintaining the so-called 'workplace animosity' between the various conglomerates. It was that serious that ShinRa had to employ their very own 'assassination department' just to silence the ones that could bring trouble to the company, according to the rumors. Cloud himself also didn't tell Zack that he worked in the entertainment industry, well, soon to work; he valued his privacy, thank you very much.
It didn't stop the older teen from latching onto him and helping him buy the groceries he need for the next few days. His help was received gladly but Cloud couldn't help but to think he was inconveniencing the black-haired guy. Zack waved off his concerns after he voiced it out when they were checking out the bulk of vegetables, meat and other 'necessities' Cloud would need. The self-proclaimed Spike-Handler had coupons with him that gave Cloud a whopping 75% discount on all of his purchases.
His head wobbled in shock when he heard of the discounts but he got a headache as he absorbed the fact that Zack proclaimed himself to be… the Spike-Handler. Cloud grumbled on the injustice of his new nickname as he brought the bags out of the mall along with Zack who also brought the rest with him. Zack just laughed at him, no offense on his tone whatsoever, that the blond felt bad at the obvious attempt on befriending him.
Cloud hated nicknames but maybe he could make an exception with Zack.
"Where do you came from, if you don't mind me asking?" Zack questioned him as they made their way to the Sector 3 MMTS Station. "I'm from Gongaga, the hottest place in the Western Continent and probably in the whole world!"
"Nibelheim." Cloud then let out a sigh at the sight of the line at the ticket office. It was long. He opened his PHS and took notice it said:'21:24'. "There's not really much there but I think I can say it's the coldest place in the world. We also have dragons. Nibel Dragons." He must have spent a lot of time in the mall being picky at the stuff Zack was throwing at his direction.
"Cool. We have Touch Mes at Gongaga. Nasty bunch, I swear they're not frogs nor toads but distant relatives of Tonberries." Zack joined in Cloud on the line, still grinning despite the weight he was carrying on his arms. He must have noticed Cloud focusing on the things he should have been the one carrying, because he tried to address the Cloud's worries. "Hey, I volunteered. I'm not gonna have you carry all these stuff to your apartment."
Cloud scoffed at it and went back on making sure he wasn't cut on the queue. He had once been cut off and offender got off the station with a nasty bruise on his face. Currently, Cloud couldn't do it again because he was warned by Mike and Ms. Lebreau to avoid 'physical confrontations'. It wouldn't do to have him incapacitated on the next day, especially when he was still under his last minute rehearsals and recordings.
"Just thinking why you're doing all of this. Don't you have something else to do other than helping a fellow Westerner?" He looked up to the overhead monitor showing the news, about how there was an accident somewhere on Highway 82 and a robbery at somewhere near Sector 6's Chase Avenue. "I mean, I'm grateful and all but, I think I'm really bothering you with this."
Zack just placed his hand on his shoulder and patted it. "Come on, don't be so sentimental. We guys have to stick together or else we won't succeed on our dreams! You went here to reach your dreams right?" Cloud almost choked on Zack's words. "I'm not gonna pry and demand you tell me though, I know it private but Midgar is known to be the city of dreams. That's why I'm here! I'm going to be-"
"Where are you going, Zack? I'm going back to Sector 5. My apartment is right there." No need to be reminded. It wasn't worth it.
"Hmm? Oh wow. Same too. I live there too. Let me guess. Bodhum Residences, am I right?" Cloud raised his eyebrows at Zack's guess. "Yep. Called it. Mine's a couple of blocks away. Casa de Carbuncle." Just his luck.
"…Alright." It seemed he won't dissuade the older teen – how could he be 17 if he… dammit, curse his body for prioritizing his voice – from accompanying him. "…Thanks."
"Hmm…? Oh no problem. By the way, can I get your PHS number?"
*Beep!* *Beep!* *Beep!* *Beep!*
"Hey, Cloud. Your PHS is beeping. Why don't you use one of your songs as a ringtone?"
"Ohhh! I get it. Anyway, check it out. It's been beeping for a while."
"…He's not yet done. I'll check on it later."
"If you say so."
Ever since he gave Zack his number, the guy was a constant annoyance to his PHS. It was like he used Cloud as his personal journal or something similar to it. Occasionally, he replies to some of his e-mails like the one he felt Zack needed actual advice on but recently he was being quite a nuisance.
Cloud opened his PHS with a click and grimaced at the e-mails on his Inbox. [ 5 e-mails received.] He opened it and had to hold back the snort he involuntarily tried to make.
[ From: Zack Contents: Hey! You free this afternoon? I know you said you were free on Saturdays but just checking to make it sure. Thought maybe you and I could hang out? Kunsel and Luxiere told me about this new place that sold some amazing crepes and thought 'hey, maybe I should get Cloud to try it out?'. So yeah? Wanna check it out?]
[ From: Zack Contents: Oh yeah, Ang complained to me that Gen was being a douche recently. Not exactly using the word douche but close to it, okay? Ang said he was obsessed with some guy that somewhat, his words by the way, 'verbally assaulted me by presenting how incredulous my recent actions were'. Ang was so… distraught? Was that correct? - On how Gen was that he talked to me about it. Can you believe that?! Ang, my mentor, the one and only greatest man in the word, confiding to me!]
[ From: Zack Contents: Hey, have you been to the Slums lately? Reno told me about this new place that sold some stuff from the Western Continent. Ones that couldn't be sold top Plate because of how… weird it is. Guess what it is. Exotic(?) ingredients, to Midgar tastes. Want to taste test my Gongagan Cooking?]
[ From: Zack Contents: Have you seen Reno lately, Ciss? I swear he took the bangle. It was Ang's. Tell him if he doesn't return it soon, Angeal will have my ass!]
[ From: Zack Contents: Dfgdfjjasdsrwfs]
All of it were so… Zack. The last two Cloud was sure weren't meant for him but for someone else, though the last one was surely an accident. Well he was free for now. He just finished this week's rehearsal for the Sunday Live Show and Mike told him to enjoy his day off. The past week was so hectic that Cloud wondered how he survived through it.
Though, he could say Zack was helpful in that. His e-mails every evening kept his mood positive and took his mind on how 'stressful' his job was.
Waving goodbye to Maqui and his crew, he sent an affirmative reply to Zack and told him to meet him at Moogle Meadows. Cloud wondered as he rode down the elevator of the NORA Building on how Zack doesn't show the signs of recognizing him. It was already 2 weeks since his debut on TvM's Sunday Live Show and the attention he got was phenomenal.
Apparently, ever since he made that mini-concert at Be Blue V people were waiting anxiously for his next performance. Serah and Ms. Lebreau's announcement of him being their new singer just added more fuel to the fire, especially when he discovered that NORA and COCOON had a very interesting rivalry. On the day of the live show, he had sang 3 songs on his two albums in front of an audience. Good thing that the people were hidden mostly by the darkness of the small arena or else he couldn't have done it, notwithstanding his rehearsals on the stage days prior.
Cloud thankfully managed to pull it off, though how he did so was something he couldn't remember because his mind just blanked out and went into what Tifa used to call 'tunnel vision'. He apparently had forced himself to focus on his performance and he, according to Mike, Serah and other fellow members of NORA, was phenomenal on the stage.
What followed were several TV guestings and radio shows. Thankfully Ms. Lebreau and Mike haven't planned for him to do mall shows and other small performances because his 'fanbase' haven't reached the desired number for it to be feasible. Cloud just shook his head at the words his two bosses were saying to him. One more thing he was thankful was that for the past 2 Saturdays he didn't have anything on his schedule, though those days were all occupied by the Puppy.
That nickname somewhat stuck on his head when Zack told him what his mentor was referring him as one day and Cloud saw it was appropriate for the seemingly attention-deprived guy. He may haven't noticed it but Cloud could see he adores being given attention to, just like a puppy. The blond couldn't help but feel he understood why Zack's mentor gave that nickname to him. It was also fair for him to call the older teen with that when he didn't bother to change his own designation for Cloud: Spike.
"Seems to be we're both a pair of dogs if someone heard us call each other with that," Cloud mused as he stood on outside the station platform of Sector 8 MMTS. For the past weeks, he spent most of his time inside the NORA Building, his apartment or at the various radio stations and tv stations in Midgar; travelling on the van Mike and Serah had on the trips from the 'headquarters' to the stations and always on the first and last train rides every start and end of the day. On weekends, he and Zack spent a part of their time together buying supplies for the respective apartments and hanging out at the local mall or the arcade in it.
Strangely, Cloud noticed people seem to move out of their way when he and Zack were on their weekend hangouts but he paid no mind. He was just thankful that people respected his Saturdays with his best friend.
…When exactly did he refer Zack as his best friend? Probably happened during the past two weeks, since the older teen stuck to him like a leech on that day they broke the microwave. Accidentally.
"Hey! You're here!" Cloud turned around and saw Zack waving his hand at the distance. He was wearing a plain shirt and pants, just like him, except he had his cap to hide his untamable hair. The only way Zack knew it was him because he had his small ponytail out and he was exactly at the location he e-mailed Zack he would be at.
"Really? You really had to wear that hat on today as well?" Zack asked him as he sat down on the bench Cloud was sitting on. Cloud already bought two tickets for them to Sector 3 and was just waiting for the other guy to arrive. "You aren't Spike if you don't have your spikes. Come one, take it off."
"…You really have no idea, huh." Cloud shook his head. "It gets to my eyes, Zack. Besides, I hate wearing sunglasses so I'll just stick with having these on. Gives some shade for my eyes." He was certain Zack would call out his white lie, his bullshit, after that.
Zack gave him a look and grunted. "Alright. You say so. Anyway, so what did Maqui did this today that you had to tell me personally?"
Cloud smiled at his best friend's casual drop of the 'hat' topic. "He flirted with the adopted sister of Noel, no, not that Yeul but the other one: the one that had a very strict boyfriend who works at the Chaos Gyms?" Cloud corrected as he saw Zack's eyes widened momentarily. "Noel's sister and his girlfriend had the same first name but they AREN'T related to one another. They had these DNA tests just to prove it. Well, back to the topic, Caius decided to visit her girlfriend just this morning and saw Maqui flirting with Yeul…"
"Oh boy, really? So what happened? Did he got the knuckle sandwich?"
"Later. Who's this Genesis and why does he complain to your mentor? You keep on sending me e-mails about how 'Ang felt sorry for Gen' or how 'that guy really had an obsession'. By the way, you sent accidentally an e-mail to me instead of some 'Ciss'."
Zack widened his eyes at that. "So that's why Cissnei didn't reply. It was okay though. I found Reno after I sent that e-mail, Cissnei and your name was next to each other."
Just then the train arrived, breezing past by them and prompting several waiting passengers to stand up from their respective benches. He and Zack also stood up and waited for the doors to the train to open and let the passengers to get off first. "We should get a seat fast." Cloud nodded at it.
People around them moved away slightly when Zack and him went in the train carriage, making Cloud wonder what Zack's actual job was. They should be doing the exact opposite since Cloud was now a known singer, idol, performer and possibly a voice actor in the future – if Ms. Lebreau and Mike went with the idea of him playing the role of Praus on the rumored soon-to-be adaptation of Sorcerer's Knight.
Though, that was quite pretentious of him to think of it in hindsight. It wasn't like he was that famous already, like Ms. Rinoa and Mr. Cecil, but their advice to be wary of his 'fans' was something Cloud took seriously. After all, it wouldn't hurt to err on the side of caution.
Still, whatever Zack's actual job was, though he had suspicions of it being similar to Serah's sister's job, Cloud shook it off his mind as he found a seat for Zack and him.
"Thank you Zack," he said as Zack took the seat beside him and the train started to move.
"Hm...? What for?"
"Nothing. Just… thanks a lot."
"Whatever it is, you're welcome. I guess. Anyway, there was this time when he went out to Sector 8 and…"
Notes: Hey, for now I'm uploading a chapter of this story for 10-6. Got carried away from playing YS 7 on PSP, just got my hands on it and I apologize. It was that addicting. I'm already past Ruins Island and I have to say this, just to let it out,: Bring Aisha back, game! I don't want Sigroon in my party. I love her Tumble Shot but not with Sigroon using it! Sure she replaced Aisha in the party, with having the same stats and all, but it isn't the same!
Also, got my hands on P3P. I'm swarmed with these PSP games. Binging on it. I swear this is the result of a kid deprived of video games and was swamped with books and all. And before I forgot. Just finished 7th-Dragon 2020. There's an english patch released last April, I think, and you guys should check it out. Amazing game. It's JP, no US release, but there's an English patched version out there in the net.
That means, we players can enjoy playing the game on English while listening to the voices of our favorite JP Seiyus. Hint hint: Takahiro Sakurai is also there and boy I used his voice for the M!Samurai Class. My F!Psychic used the F!Hacker model while having Minori Chihara as her voice. It was amazing. Oh and my M!Hacker used Atsushi Abe as his voice. FTW Hacker!Kamijou Touma with an Invincibility Exhaust Skill. Imagine Breaker in a different form.
Just waiting for the English patch of 2020-II, which was said to be released next year or so based on the translator's pattern in releasing their past 2 patches.