Buddies Chapter 1

Leaving Home

By Vegnagun Zack

[This story takes place seven years before the game, at the time that Cloud leaves home, and will eventually end when Cloud ends up in Midgar at the beginning of Final Fantasy VII. I have changed a few things in the commonly believed timeline. Namely the time span of the War in Wutai and Zack being common infantry in the Shinra military in the beginning. The reason for Zack being common infantry is because in one scene of the game (Nibelheim flashback), Cloud is still using Zack’s memories as his own and refers to the mission to Nibelheim as his first mission. That being said, read on!]

The young man took one last look at his hometown as he threw his duffle bag onto the Shinra truck. He grabbed an outstretched hand and climbed into the back. He sat down and as the engines started, he could feel his stomach turn.

“Goodbye Nibelheim…” and as the small town shrank in the distance, he whispered ‘Goodbye Tifa. I won’t forget.’

He had always perceived himself as weak. Not just physically, but emotionally as well. He had never really had many friends. So many times he had tried to fit in, to play with the other kids. In fact, the only person in his town that actually liked him was his mother. She had cried so much when her son left. Told him to write everyday. Told him to be strong and to take care of himself. He told her that he would. That, no matter what, he would make her proud. He would be a hero, he boasted. She was the only one to see him off.

He was emotionally weak because he would often get into fights. Over little things, like some other kid making fun of him, or someone ignoring him. Or when they would dare him to go into the Shinra Mansion and he wouldn’t. They’d call him a chicken, ask him if he was afraid of the vampire that lived in the basement. And he would make them regret it. Besides, there was no such thing as vampires.

[Seven years later he would find that he was somewhat wrong - there was someone down in that basement, though he wasn’t a vampire (but that‘s a different story).]

And physically weak because of what happened that day in the mountains. He couldn’t protect her. And the others blamed him. Why not? Why shouldn’t they blame the little black sheep of Nibelheim, the little fatherless bastard that no one liked anyway? That incident was what lead to his fighting. He was angry at the others for their judgment and blame. But he was even more angry with himself. That’s why he resolved to meet Tifa at the town well that night a few days before he left. Mostly to impress her, partially as an apology for what happened in the mountains so long ago. And she made him promise. Promise to rescue her when she was in trouble. It was a promise he intended to keep.

He wasn’t the only one to be leaving Nibelheim. Most of the boys were. He was just the first to leave. They were all off to find jobs, make themselves fortunes, make their lives worth something. But he was different, he would make a name for himself but not like them. No, he was to go off and join the military. Join SOLDIER 1st Class. Just like the great Sephiroth!

After Nibelheim had disappeared into the distance he looked down. Apparently this transport wasn’t agreeing with his stomach. Made him feel sick. Made his stomach turn, and his head spin. Made him want to blow chunks. No worries though. He figured he’d get used to it. He’d never been in a motor vehicle before. Not many people from his town had. Sure, there was that beat-up, old pile of rusted scrap that some called a truck. The one that had sat out by the entrance for as long as he could remember. That was far beyond repair. Maybe when he would finally return to Nibelheim it would be gone. He doubted it.

He looked around the back of the Shinra truck. There were a few others inside with him. They had been picked up before he had. Probably from other towns in the area. It wasn’t his problem where they were from. He didn’t care. He assumed they were all off to join the military too. Just like him. But he knew that they would probably fail. In fact, he could almost guarantee it. But not him though. He would get 1st Class or die trying. He had made up his mind.

The others consisted of kids like him. In their early to mid-teens. It had always been customary for young men to go off and find jobs. Especially if they didn’t want to get stuck in their shithole hometowns. He didn’t want that. He wanted adventure. Excitement. Glory. He wondered if he looked as scared as some of the others in the back of the truck. He felt nervous, sure. It was something new. Being nervous was something to be expected. But not scared. He wasn’t scared by any means. Just a little nervous, that’s all.

Someone tapped him on the shoulder. His head snapped up, causing his nausea to increase slightly. He turned his view towards the guy next to him.

“Hey buddy! My name’s Leo.” he shouted over the noise of the engines. “Who’re you?”

“Cloud. Cloud Strife.” Cloud wasn’t interested. He returned his gaze to the floor. He was absorbed in his own thoughts.

The same hand tapped his shoulder again. “I’m off to join the Shinra military! I’m from Corel! I’m so excited, I can’t wait to see what’s out there! So what’s your story?”

“I’m gonna join SOLDIER 1st Class.” Cloud said with an obvious tone of annoyance. Maybe this Leo guy would take a hint, he wanted to be left alone.

“1st class, huh?” Obviously he hadn’t taken the hint. “I hear that’s really tough!”

“It doesn’t matter how tough it is.”

“Well, that’s cool! Maybe I should try that too! I’m just out for adventure, myself!”

Cloud looked at this Leo kid. He was taller than Cloud. Most people were, but he had the same build. His hair was orange. And short. Not too short, but short enough to where it wasn’t all over the place. Cloud had longer hair. It was blond and spikey. Extremely spikey by most standards. He also had a ponytail. He planned on getting rid of it soon. Or maybe not. He kind of liked it. But he would figure that out later. He kept listening to this Leo guy.

“Its soooo boring out there in Corel. Nothing to do. There’s just the town, the desert, and the coal mines. ‘No way I’m gonna be a coal miner!’ I told my dad. ‘It’s not for me!‘ I said. Well, that kind of pissed him off. Actually, it REALLY pissed him off. He jabbered on about how coal mining was in my blood, how our family had done it for years. He said that no son of his was gonna go and join the Shinra. He got mad a lot. So I ran away. Now I’m off to join the military!” Leo continued. “What about where you’re from? Nibelheim was it? I bet its real boring there!”

Cloud just nodded. This guy could be one of his friends. Possibly his first real friend. He thought about this for a minute. Did he really want a friend like this? This guy could go on and on, talking and talking if he wanted to. Cloud didn’t think he liked that. He didn’t talk so much himself. Not anymore at least. He was the quiet type.

“I’m kind of trying to catch some sleep here,” he told Leo. Maybe that would get him to shut up.

“That’s cool, that’s cool! I’ll let you get back to that then!” Leo turned and started to annoy the guy to the other side of him.

‘Hmph,’ Cloud thought. ‘It doesn’t matter. I don’t get lonely. Not anymore. I don’t need friends.’

Was that really true? Did he really not need friends or had he just told himself that?

‘There’s no room for friends in my life right now. I have one goal. To join SOLDIER 1st Class. Maybe I can have friends after that. I’m sure people will like me then. After I’m a hero. But not right now.’

The truck kept driving, stopping at neighboring towns along the way. Occasionally others would get on. There would be breaks every so often to eat or go to the bathroom. The trip to the coast city of Costa del Sol took a little over two days. During the trip Leo had bugged him almost the entire time. But he seemed to be getting the picture.

This had been the first time he’d ever been to Costa del Sol. Actually, he’d never even been too far outside of his town before this. He was amazed by how warm it was. Usually in Nibelheim a cool breeze continually blew down from the mountains during the summer. Winter was another story. It was totally different here. Bright, warm, almost hot. He was willing to bet that it never got cold here. And the ocean. It was beautiful, he thought. And so were the women on the beach…

But he couldn’t think of that now. He wouldn’t let anything stand in the way of his becoming SOLDIER 1st Class. Besides. There was Tifa. She may not like him very much now. But she would when he came back a hero. ‘I bet she’s not even thinking of me.’ He wouldn’t know how wrong he was for quite some time. He shook that thought out of his head as the guard rail in the back of the truck slammed down.

“Alright! Everyone out! You have fifteen minutes to go use the bathroom and get something to eat! If you aren’t at the docks by then, you get left behind! Move!” the red-suited Shinra commander shouted. Cloud grabbed his duffle bag and waited as the others scrambled off the truck. They all ran to the restaurants. He simply headed for the docks. He wasn’t hungry anyways. And he didn’t need to use the bathroom. Cloud looked after the others and shook his head. They were all running around, looking at everything. Making a big deal of the place.

‘Childish,‘ He climbed the steps and crossed the bridge. He found the commander and the driver. The driver was common infantry. Probably been in the military for years. Stuck there, in that rank for a while. The guy could probably barely afford to take care of his family. Cloud didn’t care. Wasn’t his problem. He just set his bag down beside him and watched the driver back the truck into the cargo hold of the ship. The ship really caught his attention. How was something so big, and made of metal, supposed to travel across the ocean? It didn’t seem possible. But it was.

Soon the others reached the docks and stood around, chatting about all they’d seen. Cloud stood outside the group, waiting for the cargo hold to close. He couldn’t believe that his companions could act so… so immature! But really, was he the one that was out of place? They were all kids, after all. Including Cloud… was he the one that was wrong? No, that couldn’t be it.

The cargo hold shut with a loud, echoing bang. Cloud could see sailors up on the ship, running around, doing their jobs. The commander stepped up to the group and yelled for them to line up. They did so and to Cloud’s disappointment Leo stood next to him. There were about ten in all. He could have sworn there were more in the truck than that, but it didn’t matter.

“It will take us four days to cross the ocean! We will arrive at Junon harbor. There you will all receive your equipment and your training! Then you will receive assignments!” he yelled as he walked and looked over all of them. He slapped a sandwich out of one of the others’ hands and continued walking. He reached the end and stared at Cloud. “IF you aren’t kicked out! Do you think you can handle the training?”

“Yes.” Cloud said. ‘Great,’ he thought. He’d been picked out of the group.

“Oh really? You think you can handle the training required to make you into a man?” the commander was inching closer and closer to Cloud. Soon their faces were no more than two inches apart. “Are you sure? Because if you aren‘t, you might as well find a way home now!”

“No sweat. I can handle this,” Cloud said, unblinking. He knew what this commander guy was trying to do. He was trying to psych him out. Trying to scare him. ‘Well,’ Cloud thought, ‘He’s not getting to me.’

The commander let out a laugh. A deep, raspy, throaty laugh. Much like someone who smoked too much. “I like you, kid! You better not let me down or I’ll see to it PERSONALLY that your narrow ass is thrown out, got it?!”

Cloud just nodded and let the commander walk away. Good first impressions were a good thing. Especially if he was going to want to join SOLDIER. The commander continued down the line yelling at the others, trying to do the same thing that he had tried to do to Cloud. On a few the commander succeeded. He had a few crying. Especially the one who had the sandwich. But Leo did pretty well, actually. Cloud was surprised. But he didn’t really care, after all.

“Alright!” the commander shouted after he had finished inspecting them, “Get on the ship! The quarters for slime like you are in the cargo hold! Go! Move!”

The others rushed in a panic, all weighted down with their things. Cloud coolly picked up his bag and made his way after the others. Once inside the small room (one which was actually just a section of the cargo hold divided from the rest by a sheet of metal), he moved to the closest bunk. He set his bag to the side of the bed and sat on the bottom bunk.

“Hey Cloud! Mind if I’m your bunkmate?” a familiar, annoying voice called out. Cloud looked up at Leo’s smiling face.

“It doesn’t matter.”

“Thanks buddy! I don’t think those other guys like me too much, but that’s cool.” Leo said as he tossed his bag up to the top bunk and climbed up himself.

Cloud rolled his eyes at Leo’s last comment. ‘No one likes you, huh? I wonder how that could be possible.’

“So buddy. You want to look around the ship?” Leo’s head appeared over the side of the bunk.

Cloud was about to reply when a large roar signaled that the engines were being fired up. The whole ship seemed to shake. Soon the noise level went down considerably as the engine’s parts started to work more consistently with each other. Then the ship went into motion and Cloud was suddenly very glad he hadn’t eaten lunch in Costa del Sol. He jumped up and ran up the stairs to the deck.

Leo followed and saw why Cloud had been in such a hurry. “Well, at least you made it to the rail, huh?”

Had Cloud not been so miserable, he would have punched Leo, just for the hell of it. He felt Leo pat him on the back once.

“Yeah, I hear motion sickness is a bitch. Hey! Look at that! Two of us got left behind!” Leo said and laughed. Cloud looked up and sure enough, he could see two of the people from the truck standing at the docks, yelling something that they couldn’t hear and waving their arms. Oh well, they were late and they paid the price.

“Well, I’m gonna go look around, Cloud! Get better!” Leo said and took off.

‘Damn…’ Cloud thought. He could tell this was going to be a very long trip.

The rest of the journey over the ocean was uneventful. For the most part. Cloud’s seasickness started to wear off. It wasn’t completely gone, but he could now manage to eat AND keep it down. Every morning of the voyage they would be shouted out of bed and then, mostly in the cargo hold, they would be made to go through a series of exercises. They weren’t made to clean the ship or anything like that. They weren’t there to be sailors, they had all signed up for the military. The physical training was mainly there so they would be somewhat prepared for what the military would have to offer. Cloud excelled at the exercises. Seasickness was an obstacle, but it never much stood in the way, as long as he hadn’t eaten anything too soon before the exercises.

The fourth day was no different. Cloud woke up, performed his exercises to the commander’s orders, ate, did other routine things, exercised again, ate. Same as it had been the other three days. Cloud was up on deck, looking forward, in the direction they were heading. He could now see land in the distance. Quite clearly, actually. It was odd. From this distance the city on the shore looked huge. Even from THIS distance! And as the ship got closer and closer to the city, Cloud could tell that the city wasn’t just on the shore. It scaled the large cliff that stood behind it. And if that wasn’t enough, from the city a huge cannon stood out, facing west. He found it all so amazing, yet almost frightening. A cannon of that size, it could do some major damage. But it still looked as if it were under construction. The scaffolding that surrounded the cannon was the sign that tipped Cloud off to that fact. There’s human ingenuity for you.

Suddenly the loudspeaker blared. “ETA in Junon is roughly twenty minutes. All new recruits report on the deck with your belongings. I repeat…”

Cloud was ready. Finally he would be off of this ship, and he would be able to sleep in a bed that wasn’t rocking with the sea… He went below deck to get his belongings in order. Once he had he followed the others back up, he stood in formation as they’d been trained. At this point the ship was preparing to dock.

‘Won’t be long now,’ Cloud thought. His seasickness may have been almost gone, but he was still glad to be getting off the ship.

“You will all follow me off the ship and to the registration office!” the commander yelled. “You will fill out your paperwork and once you do you will be given boarding assignments! Lights out at 2000 hours! Your real training begins first thing tomorrow!”

With that, the ship shook as it docked. The commander led them out and into the city. They traveled through the streets and Cloud couldn’t help but be amazed. He looked everywhere. All of the shops, the bars, the houses, the buildings in general. They were all huge! They were bigger than Cloud had even thought possible. And the cannon. He couldn’t take his eyes off the cannon. What could be the purpose of such a large weapon? Either way, it didn’t matter. There were military personnel everywhere. Common infantry patrolled the streets, there was a steady stream of infantry coming and going into and out of the bars. Probably off-duty. He even saw some members of SOLDIER, 3rd, 2nd, and 1st. The common infantry use assault rifles as weapons. It was standard issue. But SOLDIER was different from the common infantry. They didn’t use guns. Well, he supposed that they did occasionally, they had to. But their main weapon was a sword. A standard issue Buster Sword. They were heavy, extremely large swords. But they were no sweat to handle for a member of SOLDIER. They were the elite, the best.

Soon they had reached the Shinra headquarters for the city of Junon. They were all brought into a room and each was handed a small stack of papers. Cloud grabbed a pen from the desk and made his way into a corner. He sat and started to work.


Date of birth.


Closest kin.

The forms seemed to go on in this fashion forever.

Your preferred duty.

There we go. He wanted to join SOLDIER 1st Class. In order to do that, he would have to prove himself. He checked the box marked ‘High Risk.’ He knew it wouldn’t matter if he had marked desk jockey. If there was a mission that needed people, someone would be chosen no matter what they’d marked in this box. He might as well say that he’d do high risk. He had finished his paperwork soon enough and brought it up to the front desk. The woman behind the counter took his paperwork, ran it through a machine, and then pointed him towards a doorway.

“Fourth door on the left.”

Cloud brought his duffle bag to the hall. He counted out the doors as he went and entered the room. On the door it said ‘Equipment.’ He was instructed to put his bag by the door and go over to the table. The man behind it stood next to a large series of large boxes and some machines. The man asked him a series of questions concerning his clothing size, and what size boot he wore. The man went about sorting through the boxes of equipment. After he had found the right sizes, he pressed some buttons on one of the machines behind his desk. It beeped once or twice and a small slip of cloth fell from the slot in the machine. The lettering on the strip of cloth simply read ‘Strife’. He put it on Cloud’s uniform and then went to another machine. He read the monitor and pressed a button. Another part of the machine clamped down and the man took out two little tags. He put them on a chain and handed them to Cloud with his uniform and PT gear.

“You’re to wear these dog-tags at all times, understand?” Cloud nodded. “Go into the back room and try on the uniform. Then report to the commander in the next room.”

Cloud waited in line behind some of his comrades. Either their uniforms fit, or they didn’t. If they didn’t, they would go back to the man and get new equipment. Soon it was his turn. He went into the room and tried on his new uniform. It fit perfectly. He put on his helmet/faceplate and turned to the mirror. He looked good in the uniform and he knew it.

‘If only they could see me now. Not too long before I reach my goal.’ For the first time in a long time, he smiled.

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