Final Fantasy VII CloudxZackxZephiroth

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Liittynyt: Pe Loka 10, 2008 11:39
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Final Fantasy VII CloudxZackxZephiroth

Viesti Kirjoittaja Light-Kira » Pe Joulu 05, 2008 01:39

Eli löysin tämän ficcin eräältä sivulta. Toivottavasti tykkäätte. Eli minä en ole kirjoittanut tätä. Jos teen tähän jatkoa niin no. Kerron sitten :)))) Näillä näkymin tarinan alkuperäinen kirjoittaja ei ole tehnyt jatkoa tähän.. (Tarina on seissyt eräällä sivustolla jo ties kuinka pitkään :))) Eli lukekaa ihmeessä :) Rakastan tätä! Ja tarina on englanniksi..

Author's Note: Technically this is AU, as the info from 'Before Crisis' tells us that Zack was definitely already a SOLDIER when he met Cloud, and that Cloud joined the military after failing the SOLDIER exam. Also, from 'Last Order' we know that Zack was 18 and Cloud 16 at the time of the Nibelheim incident, one month after Cloud's 16th birthday - in this story, Cloud would have just turned 17, not 16 (because I screwed up and miscalculated and didn't realize it until chapter 12 -_-). However, this was written based only on game canon, and is entirely compliant with the game.

Disclaimer: Final Fantasy belongs to Squaresoft and various other interested parties, not me. I'm not making any money from this, and no infringement of copyright is intended. This is a work of fandom, intended as appreciation of the original work.

Chapter 1

If there was one thing Cloud had learned in his five and a half days so far in Shinra's boot camp, it was that drill sergeants must be chosen on the basis of their capacity for sadism. He'd come to join Shinra's army to get stronger; partly so he could be strong for Tifa, but also partly to get away from the bigger kids in Nibelheim who thought they could talk down to him and push him around.

If he'd wanted to get away from bullying, he was discovering, he'd come to the wrong place.

"Cloud! What the hell was that supposed to be?" the sergeant was barking at him now. The man was standing in front of him, so close his spittle was landing on Cloud's face as he yelled. Cloud knew better by now than to do anything to get rid of it or react in any way.

"Sergeant! That was a lunge and parry, sergeant!" he answered, keeping his eyes carefully fixed on a point front and center, about a foot behind the sergeant's pasty face.

"The hell it was!" the sergeant snapped back. "That was the saddest excuse for a lunge I've seen in my entire career. Then again, you're just about the saddest excuse for a recruit I've ever seen, so maybe I shouldn't be surprised, should I?"

"Yes sergeant!" Cloud had also learned better than to try to argue or - Odin forbid - make excuses. If the sword was too heavy for him, if he was drooping with exhaustion after an afternoon spent doing endurance drills in the hot summer heat, if his arm was aching so much from yesterday's drills he could hardly lift a fork, let alone his sword... well, as the sergeant would be happy to point out, those were all good reasons for Cloud to drop out and give up 'like the pathetic loser he was'.

Dropping out and giving up weren't options Cloud was willing to consider, however. At first it had been because he'd been so determined to make himself stronger. Now, it was at least as much from a desire to prove the sergeant wrong and make him eat his words.

"And you!" The man turned on Cloud's current sparring partner, a tall dark-haired boy probably a couple of years older than him. "You're damn lucky he's so incompetent. You left a hole in your defence so wide I could summon Bahamut through it! Do you want to find yourself eviscerated?"

"No sergeant!" Cloud couldn't actually see the other cadet without moving his eyes, but he could hear the smile in the older boy's voice. So could the drill sergeant, though Cloud was certain Zack wasn't stupid enough to let the amusement actually show on his face.

"Drop and give me twenty, both of you! Then get your pansy asses in gear and start swinging those swords like they're weapons, not conducting batons!"

"Yes sergeant!" Their response came in unison, but Zack's answer was much more cheerful than Cloud's had been, bordering on irreverent. So far as Cloud had been able to determine, there was literally nothing that would cause Zack to lose his good cheer. The sergeant certainly seemed to have made it a personal mission to try, which at least gave Cloud some relief from the man's attentions.

On the other hand, Zack had good reason to be cheerful. Scuttlebutt in the camp said that Zack was already being scouted by officers as a candidate for the SOLDIER program. He was the best in their squad, probably the best in the entire boot camp, and everybody knew he was going to end up as an officer at the very least. Pissy drill sergeants aside, Zack had no cause to be anything less than cheerful.

Some days Cloud hated him for it. Especially when he had to drill with Zack, because it just made him look even more frail and incompetent than he was. As they both dropped to their hands and toes and started doing the required push ups, Cloud could already tell Zack was going to be finished in half the time he was.

"What in Hades' name are the rest of you lily-livered pansies looking at?" he heard the sergeant bellow. "Get back to your drills!" There was a scramble of motion as everyone else renewed their efforts at the sword drill, not wanting to be the next one singled out for abuse.

"I wonder if drill sergeants start out that mean, or if it's a process they go through like the one that makes SOLDIERs?" came an unexpected whisper from beside him. Cloud glanced over, surprised to see Zack grinning at him between push ups.

"It's gotta be special training," he muttered back. "Nobody's that mean naturally."

"Maybe that's what's behind the rumours of monsters appearing in the wilds outside Midgar," Zack said thoughtfully. "It's really just the retired drill sergeants getting frustrated because they don't have anybody to pick on."

That startled Cloud into a snicker. He did his best to muffle it and turn it into a cough, but he was too late. "I'm glad you find your punishment so amusing!" the sergeant said, coming back to stand in front of him. Cloud groaned internally. "Since you're enjoying it so much, maybe you'll find KP duty just as entertaining!"

Great. He was going to starve because he wouldn't have enough strength left in his arms to feed himself, and get no sleep because of being on KP. Cloud had already been assigned Kitchen Patrol once this week; the camp cooks had a seemingly infinite pile of vegetables that needed chopping and peeling, and they were more than happy to put a wayward cadet to work for half the night or more. "Thanks a lot!" he hissed at Zack as the sergeant moved away again and the older boy was climbing to his feet.

"Hey, I..." Whatever Zack had been about to say was cut off as the sergeant bellowed for him again.

"Zack! Get over here and train with Thomas. At this rate Miss Cloud there won't be done until the drill session is over."

"Yes sergeant!" Zack replied smartly, and marched off to the indicated spot. Cloud noticed the other boy's steps didn't drag in the least; if he was tired after the long day of training, he wasn't showing it. Just one more thing to resent the Golden Boy for.

He did finish the push ups before the drill session was over, but he didn't fare much better against his new sparring partner. Either Zack was performing well enough that the sergeant couldn't find anything to fault, or the man had decided it was 'pick on Cloud' open season, because he never moved more than a few feet from Cloud for the rest of the session. And, of course, he was more than happy to point out Cloud's long list of mistakes and failings loudly enough to be sure everyone in the whole bloody camp heard him.

Cloud ground his teeth and refused to even listen, concentrating everything he had into the next swing of the sword. And the next, and the next after that, in an endless repetition that seemed like it would never be over.

Finally the trilling whistle that signalled the changing of the guard came, and that meant their drill session was over. Cloud didn't drop his sword or let the point drag in the dust, he'd learned that lesson on their first day. He slid the sabre gratefully back into the sheath at his waist and formed up with the rest of his squad to be dismissed.

Pacing back and forth in front of their lines, the sergeant eyed them with his hands folded behind his back. "Congratulations," he said, his voice dripping with sarcasm. "You all have made it through six days of training. Clearly our standards have fallen drastically." He shook his head. "Tomorrow is your last day of boot camp. Those of you who make it through tomorrow will have earned the right to call yourselves privates in Shinra Corp's army."

Pausing, he eyed them all slowly. "Don't start celebrating just yet," the sergeant warned. "Tomorrow will be harder than all six days you've been through combined, and then some. Shinra is not interested in funding a corps of whining babies who run back to their mamas at the first sign of hardship, which is about all you lot add up to. We will be putting you through hell, and we will be testing you to your limits and beyond. Not all of you will make it to the end of the day."

Now Cloud was certain the man was staring straight at him, though he didn't dare turn his eyes to check. His jaw clenched, and his hand tightened on the hilt of the sword. The thought of a day worse than everything so far was nearly enough to break him... but not quite. He'd come this far, there was no way in hell he was backing down now.

"Dismissed!" the sergeant finally barked, and the cadets turned in their lines to march smartly off in formation.

Of course, the formation broke up into little straggling groups as soon as they were out of the room. None of the groups included Cloud; he'd never been good at making friends, and he hadn't had the energy to spare to even make the attempt while he was trying to survive boot camp. He picked up his pace despite his exhaustion, not wanting to linger and watch everyone else laughing and having fun.

Showering was a noisy, crowded affair. Cloud didn't think he would ever get used to bathing in front of so many people, but it was just another thing he had to grit his teeth and bear. It wasn't like it was difficult, just embarrassing. He wasn't really all that short, but he was still half the size of some of his squad in terms of sheer mass.

At least being the scrawny runt meant it was easy for him to worm his way through the press of bodies and find an empty space big enough for him at one of the nozzles. He washed himself quickly but thoroughly, wanting to get to the mess as fast as possible. If he got there early enough, he could claim a seat to himself in a corner and not get stuck among a bunch of laughing, chattering men who didn't particularly want him there.

The food the cooks plopped down on his tray looked unappetizing at best, inedible at worst. Cloud was used to it by now, though, and took what was given to him without complaint. Some of the others weren't so resigned; he could hear more than one voice protesting the glop, and the sharp retorts of the cooks.

Settling himself into his preferred quiet corner, he started shovelling the crap into his mouth, trying to ignore the aching protest of his much-abused arm. Normally he hurried through his meals so he wouldn't have to taste the awful stuff any longer than necessary, but tonight he was in no rush. Once he was done he had to report for KP, and every minute spent lingering over his meal was one less he'd have to spend peeling vegetables.

No one had ever disturbed him in his solitude before, so he was more than a little shocked when somebody dropped a tray on the table in front of him and plopped down onto the bench. Somehow he wasn't entirely surprised to see who it was.

"What do you want?" he asked, more curtly than he'd really intended.

Zack gave him a soulful look, like Cloud's abruptness had hurt his feelings. "Look, I didn't mean to get you in trouble. Honest. Sarge finds enough flaws to pick on without us handing them to him on a silver platter. I'm sorry."

It was hard to stay mad in the face of such a sincere apology, especially since Cloud was fairly certain the older boy really hadn't intended it maliciously. "It's fine," he said, prodding at a lump of what he thought might be mashed potatoes, not looking up to meet Zack's eyes. "If it wasn't that, it would have been something else. He likes to make certain I'm aware that I'm the worst in the squad."

"Sure, but you've been the worst in the squad since day one, and you're still here," Zack commented cheerfully. "Half the people who started out with us have packed it in already. And I bet they're not going to be able to chase you off tomorrow either, are they?"

Startled, Cloud made the mistake of lifting his head and was immediately caught in the older boy's gaze. For all that he'd just insulted Cloud, there was an odd sort of earnestness in his eyes. "Look, you made your apology and I accepted it," Cloud said gruffly. "You don't have to stay here and eat with me just to show how sorry you are, or because you're taking pity on me or whatever the hell you're doing."

"Is that what you think?" Zack sounded amused rather than offended as Cloud ducked his head to stare at his tray again. "You don't have many friends back home, do you?"

"That's twice in as many breaths that you've insulted me," Cloud said, getting angry. "Would you just go away and leave me in peace?"

His anger wasn't helped any when Zack merely chuckled and propped his chin on his hands, his elbows on the table. "Ramuh, but you're a prickly little thing, aren't you? Look, I like you okay? I've been watching you since about our third day here, and you've got a lot of spirit."

"That's a polite way of implying that spirit is all I've got," Cloud pointed out between gritted teeth. "I'm sure you enjoy the fact that being around me makes you look that much better, but you don't really need the boost to your ego. You're already the Golden Boy."

"Heh. Is that what they're calling me?" Zack snickered, having apparently missed the point of Cloud's rant entirely. "That should be your nickname, not mine. I've never seen hair that blonde before. You'd better tuck in, or you'll just be hungry when you're still peeling carrots at oh-dark-hundred."

Suiting action to words, Zack started eating with every evidence of enthusiasm. Cloud couldn't help but watch him with a sort of sick fascination. "How can you eat that stuff like it actually tastes good?"

Chuckling, Zack swallowed and grinned at him. "I spent a while in the Midgar slums before I signed up. Trust me, compared to what's available down there this is good. You been down there yet?"

Shaking his head, Cloud went back to eating his own meal. He didn't bother to answer, not wanting to encourage the older boy in conversation. Zack seemed to catch his mood, or maybe the brunette was just that hungry, because he went back to cleaning his plate without another word.

Zack went back for seconds, but returned to his place across from Cloud as if they'd always sat together. Even so he was finished at about the same time Cloud was, inhaling the food like a human vortex. "Do you always eat like that?" Cloud couldn't help blurting out.

"Sure," Zack grinned at him again. "I'm a growing boy after all. Aren't you hungry? You're nothing but skin and bones, and you look like you've got a lot of growing left to do yet."

"I'm always hungry," Cloud admitted, a little ruefully. "This stuff is just awful. I hope they serve the troops better food than they give the cadets, or I'm going to starve to death in my first week."

"Miss your mama's cooking, huh?" Zack's smile became sympathetic. "Me too. My mom was such a great cook, I could stuff myself on her food and never get enough. It's a good thing I left as young as I did, or I'd have eaten my parents out of house and home. But I do miss it. She made the best cherry cobbler this side of... well, anywhere..."

Somehow, Cloud realized as he stood and gathered his tray while Zack chattered on, he'd been drawn into an actual conversation with the other boy even though he hadn't meant to. Zack was like a fire spell; bright and passionate and impossible to ignore, burning you without meaning to but you wanted to get close and warm your hands anyway.

It wasn't until Zack actually followed him through the door to the kitchens after they'd deposited their trays that Cloud realized the older boy seemed perfectly willing to trail him all the way to his punishment duty. "Where are you going?" he interrupted the stream of cheerful words.

"KP duty," Zack said, as if it should have been obvious.

"What? Why?" Cloud was mystified. Surely he'd have remembered if they'd given Zack KP at some point during the day. It wasn't like the sergeant pulled them aside privately to hand out punishments. "You're not the one who got in trouble."

"No, but I'm the one who made you get in trouble," Zack shrugged. "If I hadn't been mouthing off you'd have been fine. So I'm going too. It'll make the work go faster."

"You're crazy, you know that?" Shaking his head, Cloud stared up at him. "It's not like having you there will get me out any sooner. They'll keep me until they feel like letting me go, not until I've done a specific amount of work."

"Yeah, sure, but having company always makes the work go faster. Besides," Zack winked at him. "Us backwater hicks gotta stick together." He started towards the kitchens again while Cloud was still trying to formulate an answer to that. "You're from Nibelheim, right? I recognize the accent."

"How did you...?" Cloud trailed off, mystified. Sure, he had enough of an accent that everyone could tell he was from the western continent. But most people in Midgar didn't seem able to distinguish between the subtleties of foreign accents.

"I'm from Gongaga," Zack confided. "Trust me, when I got here my drawl was as bad as yours. In a year or two yours'll wear off too. So, like I said, hick solidarity. Now get your feet moving, soldier. The sooner you get to the kitchens, the more likely the cooks are to let you off at something approximating a more reasonable hour."

Helplessly Cloud found himself following along behind. He revised his earlier comparison; Zack wasn't like a fire spell, he was like the Typhoon summon they'd seen an officer demonstrate the other day. He just picked you up and swept you along with him, and all you could do was hope you came out the other side in one piece.

The cooks didn't question being presented with two cadets for KP rather than just one, and shortly both Zack and Cloud were ensconced on the most uncomfortable stools Cloud had ever encountered. Cloud was peeling the first of a truly impressive pile of potatoes, and Zack was chopping greens. Somewhat to Cloud's disbelief and irritation, Zack was actually humming softly under his breath as he worked, tapping one foot idly along with the beat.

"Never fails to amaze me how they can take perfectly good ingredients and turn it into the nameless sludge they feed us in the mess," Zack said after a few moments. "If I wasn't looking at these veggies myself, I'd have said there wasn't a single bit of real food in that slop. Maybe this goes to the officers?"

"I challenge your definition of 'perfectly good'," Cloud replied, holding up one particularly sorry specimen of potato for proof. This one was especially bad, shrunken and wizened like it had never had a chance to grow properly, but none of them were likely to win any prizes. "Where do they grow these, in a cave?"

"Farms outside Midgar," Zack replied, his tone more sober than Cloud had yet heard it. The change surprised him, and he looked at the older boy more closely. "Pretty soon they're going to have to give up on the home farms and start shipping it in, I think. Nothing grows properly around here any more. The soil dries out more every year, and they don't know why." He shrugged. "Good news for farming communities elsewhere, not so good news for the people beneath the plate who can barely afford food prices as it is."

Like a dog shaking off water, Zack tossed his head and shed the sombre mood he'd briefly slipped into. Cloud watched the change with fascination. So there was more to Zack than the hyperactive incessantly cheerful Golden Boy after all.

"Speaking of living under the plate," he said, pointing the knife at Cloud with a mock-accusatory look. "How in Hades' name did you convince the recruiters you were old enough to sign on?"

Caught off guard, Cloud sputtered. "Hey! What makes you think I lied about my age?" he asked indignantly. "Maybe I'm just short!" Half of his indignation came from the fact that he had lied, of course. But when he'd gotten to Midgar and found out you had to be sixteen to sign on, he'd just about died.

"Bullshit," Zack said in a conversational tone. "Kid, I am just barely old enough to be here, and there's no way in hell you're my age. You look like I did when I got here at fourteen, at least, I don't think I was any scrawnier than you then. I spent a year and a half after I got here living in sector 5, coming up to the recruiting office every month to try to convince them I was old enough, and they weren't having any. How'd you do it?"

The image of Zack as a kid as small as Cloud was, harassing the poor recruiting officers, was enough to make him laugh. "Come off it, you were never as small as I am," he said, sure of this much. He'd thought Zack was eighteen at least; if he really was just sixteen, he was the best muscled sixteen-year-old Cloud had ever met.

"No seriously, I was," Zack insisted with a grin. "Little shrimp right off the boat, Gongagan accent so thick nobody could understand me, and it was the shock of my life that I was too young to sign on. All my big dreams of winning fame and fortune as a SOLDIER hadn't included having to wait around to be old enough."

Cloud flushed and ducked his head, hoping Zack wouldn't read on his face that he'd gone through exactly the same thought process. He hadn't yet admitted to anyone here that he wanted to be a SOLDIER, because he just knew they would laugh at him. They laughed at him enough for just wanting to be an ordinary trooper, he wasn't going to give them free ammunition.

"Anyway, there I was without a penny to my name, since I'd stowed on board the ship to get to Junon and walked to Midgar," Zack was continuing, waving his knife around for emphasis in a way that would have made Cloud worried except for his certainty that Zack knew exactly where it was at all times. "Half starved, freezing because it was the middle of winter and I'm from a place that's never even seen snow, and being told 'Thanks for your interest, come back when you're older'. I lucked out and managed to find enough work to keep me fed and sheltered down in sector 5, and now that I'm finally sixteen they let me in." He pointed the knife at Cloud again. "So? How'd you do it?"

There was some satisfaction in knowing he'd managed to do something that Golden Boy Zack had failed at. Cloud's lips twitched despite himself as he admitted, "I set up camp at the recruiting office door and refused to budge until they signed my paperwork. They had to go in and out through the back door, nobody could get past me. They threatened to shoot me a couple times, but finally a visiting officer said if I was that determined, they should just let me go kill myself in training."

"You... you camped out..." Zack stared at him with his mouth open, knife drooping in his hand, then burst out laughing. "You stubborn son of a bitch! That's one thing I never tried, for sure. And I thought I was being a pain in the ass coming back every month."

The older boy was actually crying with laughter now, and he dropped the knife on the counter so he could wrap his arms around his stomach and wheeze. Cloud watched, utterly nonplussed. Surely it wasn't that funny.

"Cloud, don't let them ever convince you that you're not good enough to be here," Zack said when he finally started to calm down, wiping his eyes. "You're trying for SOLDIER, am I right?"

Looking away, Cloud swallowed. Zack was still chuckling, but he didn't seem to be laughing at Cloud, or at least not at his dream. "Yeah," he acknowledged gruffly. "I made a promise to myself."

"Then you're going to do it, because fucking hell I've never met anybody with your determination." Cloud couldn't see Zack's expression, but the tone of his voice was almost... admiring? "They're gonna try to shoot you down, but if you stick with it you'll make it eventually." Zack nudged him in the shin with the toe of his boot, and Cloud looked back at him. The older boy was grinning. "We'll do it together, okay? You and me, we'll take SOLDIER by storm."

"Why do you care?" Cloud burst out, unable to contain himself any more. "What difference does it make to you what I want to be? You're going to make it, everybody knows that. They're already talking about how you might even make 1st Class. What do you need me for?"

"To watch my back, of course," Zack said as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. "Everyone's gotta have someone to watch their back, if they plan to get anywhere. Besides," he flashed his incorrigible grin again, "I want to have a friend, someone I know I can count on. And so far you're the only person I've met in this whole damn camp who seems worth the effort."

Staring at him for a long moment, Cloud tried to find his voice. His brain seemed to have shut down sometime during that little speech, and the words just weren't coming. "You're nuts," he finally managed. "Everyone will be happy to tell you so, too. I'm just going to slow you down."

"If ninety percent of people are telling you that you're doing something wrong, then you probably made the right choice," Zack informed him cheerfully. "I don't really care what people think of me, or my friends. I told you before, I like you. I want to be your friend. If you don't want to, that's fine. But don't tell me the guy who argued the Shinra recruiting office into taking him years too early is gonna let the opinions of a bunch of jealous jerks dictate who his friends are."

Once again Cloud found himself lost for words. Slowly he shook his head. "I still think you're crazy," he said, hoping his voice wasn't wobbling too much. Had he ever had a friend? A real friend, not just someone he wanted to be close to, like Tifa? "But if you're happy being crazy, I'm not going to argue with you."

Clearing his throat, he shrugged and turned back to his potatoes, not wanting to let the rather sappy moment stretch out to the point where it would be embarrassing. More embarrassing, rather. "Now start chopping, or they'll never let us get back to our bunks," he ordered roughly. "We've got a hard day tomorrow."
Viimeksi muokannut Light-Kira, Pe Joulu 05, 2008 04:11. Yhteensä muokattu 1 kertaa.
Everybody makes up their own story, some are more skilled at it
There´s no magical happy endings, only the ones that you write
But there is a plot line in every story pay close attention, you might miss it
Lose the plot and you're screwed.

Viestit: 98
Liittynyt: Pe Loka 10, 2008 11:39
Paikkakunta: Helsinki

Re: Final Fantasy VII CloudxZackxZaphiroth

Viesti Kirjoittaja Light-Kira » Pe Joulu 05, 2008 01:41

Chapter 2

True to the sergeant's prediction, when they formed up in the early afternoon there were fewer people in the ranks than there had been the day before. Cloud was so exhausted he could barely hold his arm up to help him dress the line against Zack next to him. Even Zack looked tired, his face streaked with blood from where he'd gotten a minor head wound and hadn't had a chance to clean it up.

They hadn't had a chance to do anything but what the sergeants ordered them to do. They'd been rousted out of bed even before the (already obscenely early, in Cloud's opinion) reveille sounded, and herded off to a series of written exams to show how much they'd managed to absorb of what they'd been taught. Trying to think on an empty stomach and maybe three hours of sleep hadn't been pleasant, and Cloud was a little nervous about his results.

Ten minutes to grab breakfast, which consisted of the nearly inedible field rations, and then they were off again. Drills, sparring, obstacle course, endurance run, shooting range... everything they'd done over the whole week, crammed into the morning and early afternoon.

Several people had dropped from sheer exhaustion. Others had taken injuries once weariness made them start getting sloppy; Zack's head wound had come from an argument he'd lost with some iron spikes on the obstacle course, and Cloud's side was aching from a fall from the climbing rope in the endurance test.

He wasn't sure how it was that he wasn't one of the people who'd succumbed to exhaustion. His body was telling him in no uncertain terms that it would be happy to do so, but he'd refused to give up. Mostly he'd concentrated on just following Zack, and during the times he fell behind he focused on catching up again.

Having someone to work with, to challenge and follow and watch each other's backs, was a new experience for Cloud. He was deciding it was one he really liked.

They'd just come off the endurance run, and their lines were a bit more ragged than was strictly regulation. There was a lot of panting and stifled moans, but everyone here had made it through two thirds of the day. Surely the last third couldn't be as bad? Cloud wasn't even sure what they had left to be tested on.

The captain in charge of the camp was standing at the front of the formation, waiting for them to finish dressing ranks so he could call them to attention again. "I suppose you all think you're getting lunch now," was the unpromising beginning to his speech.

Cloud's stomach dropped, and beside him he thought he heard Zack muffle a groan. Breakfast had been a long time ago, and they'd been expending a lot of energy. He was starving, and considering the way Zack ate he was probably even hungrier.

"In the field, you may not always have access to supplies," the captain continued. "The enemy will not schedule their attacks so as to give you a convenient lunch break. If you can't perform under these conditions, then you are not worthy to wear the Shinra uniform."

Turning, he gestured at the building behind him. They'd all been trucked into the main Shinra compound; this was one of the smaller outlying buildings. Possibly a warehouse of some kind, Cloud thought, or maybe offices. "Your mission today is data recovery. There is a vital piece of information on a disk in the safe of one of the offices. Some of our real soldiers have been stationed inside the building, to simulate security you might run into if this were a real raid on an enemy compound. Squad leaders will be given the map with the target marked on it; other than that you're on your own. Squads with less than five remaining will be matched up with other small squads. Each squad has a different route to the target; if you stray too far from your route you will be penalized."

There were six people still in Cloud's squad, including him and Zack. The squad leader, of course, was Zack, so at least he didn't have to worry about his leader 'accidentally' misplacing him or otherwise doing something that would cause him to fail.

"The guns you are being issued contain paint pellet ammunition," the captain said. "Your enemies are armed with the same. Be aware that the paint pellets can cause severe damage when fired at close range. Collect your guns and maps, and line up by squad number."

There was a general movement towards the nearby tables stacked with rifles, and it was only marginally orderly. Apparently they were allowed to discuss things, because the officers were making no move to curb the murmurs that had already started. "Well, it could be a lot worse," Zack said cheerfully. "The way they've been driving us today, it wouldn't have surprised me much if we'd been given real ammo! This sounds like fun."

"Fun for you, maybe," Cloud groaned. "I'm ready to drop."

Grinning at him, Zack clapped him on the shoulder. "The faster we get in there and get our target, the faster we get out, pass, and can go rest. I'm tired too, trust me."

They accepted their guns and Zack received their map, and they took their place in line. They were Squad 3, so at least they wouldn't have very long to wait. "All right, it sounds like the squads ahead of us are planning to charge in with guns blazing," Zack said as they huddled together to plan strategy. "We're going to try a stealth approach. It'll be less work for us, less likely to get any of us 'killed', and if we can avoid some of the enemies I'll bet we get extra points. Any objections?"

Nobody had any, so he nodded and moved on. "Good. I'll take point. Lucas, you take rear guard, Terry and Cloud flanking. Watt and Ryan, you'll be centre and in charge of the map. Cloud is second in command; if anything happens to me you follow him, got it?"

Startled, Cloud gaped at Zack, his face turning bright red. Their squadmates were no less surprised, and not entirely happy with the pronouncement. "I'm squad leader, and those are my orders," Zack said quietly, with no hint of cheer in his voice for once. "If you don't like it, you'd better pick another squad leader."

Since Zack was the current leader specifically because he had been the only one everyone could agree on, there wasn't much to be said to that. Cloud got a couple of resentful looks, but there wasn't time to say anything more. Two minutes had passed since the second squad went in, and now it was their turn.

Once inside, Cloud pushed his worries and fears off to one side, determined to concentrate on living up to Zack's belief in him. The hallways were dim, as if it were night in the compound they were raiding; that suited their stealth approach just fine.

Whispered directions from the middle led them through the labyrinth of offices. On the right flank, Cloud kept his finger on his rifle trigger and paid sharp attention to everything on that side. Zack would approach each intersection first, crouched low so he wouldn't get shot the moment he poked his head around the corner. Once he'd confirmed the way was clear, he would wave the rest of them forward.

They successfully avoided two enemy patrols that way, waiting until they'd passed by before crossing the intersection behind them. Cloud was just starting to think they might actually get through this with no casualties when there was a muffled exclamation from Terry. "Left!"

One of the office doors had been slightly open, and even as Terry called the warning three men in Shinra guard uniforms burst out with their guns blazing. Cloud swung his rifle around, but there were three people between him and them and he couldn't risk shooting for fear of causing friendly fire.

Biting his lip, he deliberately turned his back on the attack and turned his attention back to the right flank. The noise of the rifles might bring other guards, and if they were all focused on the current enemy they'd never see it coming.

Turning his back was still the hardest thing he'd ever done. He had to trust his squadmates to deal with it and watch his back. Two paint pellets whizzed past him, one actually brushing against his uniform sleeve, but they spattered harmlessly on the wall.

Just at that moment, another pair of guards rounded the corner of the next intersection and came running for them. "Zack!" Cloud shouted, half panicked as he lifted his rifle to his shoulder and fired. His aim was off, but he managed to hit one of the approaching men in the leg. In real life it probably would have been a minor flesh wound, but it was enough to make him hesitate for a moment.

A 'fatal' moment. There was the sharp crack of a rifle firing from his left, then again in quick succession, and both of the approaching men sprouted red paint over their hearts.

"Nice shooting, kid," one of them called, rubbing his chest ruefully. Turning his head, Cloud saw Zack shoulder his rifle and wave a grinning acknowledgement. There was no sound of fighting behind him; turning further, Cloud saw that the other enemies were down as well. Terry was on the floor hunched over his stomach, looking pained, and Cloud thought he could see real blood among the red dye on Watt's sleeve. He remembered what the captain had said about the damage the pellets could do at close range, and shuddered.

"I know you're all disappointed not to have any more enemies to play with, but let's not stand around waiting for the next batch," Zack drawled. "Terry, you're 'dead', we'll have to leave you here. We'll come back for your body on the way out if we can." He glanced at their other casualty. "Watt, can you continue?"

"I'll have to fire left-handed, but I'll manage," the man said, his face pale as Ryan finished tying a quick bandage around his upper arm.

"You take the map then, and Ryan will have the left flank," Zack declared. "Let's go. The sooner we finish, the sooner we can get you two help."

Cloud tried to keep his breathing quiet as they continued down the halls, but he could feel his heart pounding in his chest and knew he probably still sounded a little panicked. Zack gave him one reassuring grin, then focused his attention on getting them where they were going with no more casualties.

They ran into one more patrol, but this time they were the ones who sprang an ambush and they shot down the men with no trouble. "Almost there!" Zack crowed, his eyes bright as he bounced slightly on the balls of his feet. "One more corner and it's the office at the end of the hall, right?"

"Yeah," Watt agreed, checking the map. Cloud was impressed. Zack remembered the route after only having the map for a few minutes?

"Be careful, there's probably more security at the office itself," Zack cautioned them. "I don't see any sign of the first two squads, though. We might even be the first ones here."

"Let's hope they don't come charging up behind us and alert the guards just as we're sneaking out," Cloud muttered, and the others grumbled agreement.

Zack edged forward as they approached the next corner, and the rest of them fell back as agreed. There was nothing but blank wall on the right, so Cloud turned his attention to the front. As a result, he saw the way Zack suddenly ducked back around the corner and plastered himself to the wall, looking like he'd just seen a ghost.

"Holy Alexander," the older boy murmured. "That's not fair!"

"What? Is there a whole platoon there or something?" Cloud whispered back, wondering what could have shaken Zack like that. Wordlessly the older boy shook his head, and Cloud crept forward to get a look of his own.

It wasn't hard to figure out what had set Zack off. Pacing up and down the narrow hall in front of the door they needed to reach was the Silver General himself. At least, Cloud was fairly certain it was really him. Surely nobody else had silver hair like that, or would have the nerve to wear that uniform?

Sephiroth wasn't paying any attention to his surroundings, just walking back and forth as if he was deep in thought - or possibly just bored waiting for the squads to get there, Cloud thought. He jerked back around the corner and plastered himself to the wall much like Zack had.

"It's Sephiroth," Zack whispered back to the rest of the group, having apparently recovered a bit. He was still wide-eyed and a little pale, but he had himself back under control.

"Sephiroth?" Ryan almost squeaked. "That's... that's insane! How are we supposed to get past him?"

"Maybe it's just someone in a wig and a costume," Cloud suggested, though he didn't think that was the case. There had been something, some indefinable quality to the man that had him convinced it was the real thing. The way he walked, maybe; all coiled tension and barely restrained power like a panther prowling for prey. Normal people just didn't move like that.

"No, it's really him," Zack shook his head, probably thinking much the same things Cloud was. "I'd stake my life on it. Damn it, this is completely unfair. Don't they want anyone to pass this test? Sephiroth so far outclasses us that..."

A thought seemed to strike him, and he halted in mid sentence. "Wait, maybe that's it," he said slowly. "In an enemy compound, if we came up against superior firepower, we wouldn't be able to just go back to our commanders and whine about how it's not fair. Maybe the test isn't getting the document. Maybe it's to see whether we're willing to risk everything to follow orders."

"We're still gonna get killed if we go out there after the Demon of Wutai," Lucas protested. "And I don't mean 'killed' like Terry was!"

"You go ahead and fail then," Zack said, his eyes alight with determination. "I'm going after that disk. Who's with me?"

'I'm out,' Cloud had intended to say. There was no way in hell he wanted to go up against the Silver General. What came out of his mouth instead was "I've got your back."

Appalled at himself, he nearly bit his tongue. Well, he'd come this far... it would be really stupid to back down now, he supposed. Zack nodded as if he'd never doubted that Cloud would be coming, and looked at the others. "Anyone else?"

Their squadmates looked at each other uneasily, and shook their heads one by one. "We'll guard your retreat," Lucas offered. "It'd be stupid if you got past him and got the disk and then got shot down on your way out."

"Fair enough," Zack shrugged, though it was clear from his tone that he'd already mentally dismissed the lot of them. "C'mon Cloud, let's go take the first step to SOLDIER."

Almost shaking with nerves, Cloud nodded and followed him. The others remained behind, watching them go with a certain amount of disbelief. Cloud couldn't blame them. "Are we going to try to sneak up on him?" he asked softly, his voice trembling.

"Nah. No point," Zack said. "Hell, he probably already knows we're here. We'll jump out at him when he gets to the part of his pacing closest to us. I'll charge him; you're smaller, so you concentrate on getting by him to the door, okay?"

"I'll hit him from behind," Cloud replied, a little more firmly. "I'm not letting you sacrifice yourself. I don't want to have to lead them out of here!"

"You'll be fine," Zack assured him absently, concentrating on watching Sephiroth pace to judge their best moment. "Ready?" Cloud hefted his rifle, trying to ignore the way his hands were shaking. "Three... two... one... Go!"

They burst out from their concealment, Zack yelling a fierce battle cry and Cloud just doing his best not to scream in terror. He fired wildly, unable to aim but hoping a lucky shot might actually connect.

Sephiroth had been turned away to start his pacing back towards the door. He spun to face them, a whirl of silver hair and black leather. For just an instant, Cloud thought he saw an expression of surprise on the general's face, as if they'd actually caught him off guard. Surely that couldn't be right?

He didn't have a chance to wonder further, because suddenly everything went to hell. There was a flash of magic and Zack cried out as he was flung into the wall hard enough to leave a sizeable dent. He slumped to the floor, dazed or unconscious, bleeding from the reopened head wound.

Cloud didn't have time to worry about him though. Sephiroth had grabbed him around the neck and lifted him right off his feet, and his every thought was focused on just trying to get enough air past that crushing grip.

Glowing, inhuman green eyes stared down at him; somehow Cloud managed to spare the brainpower to marvel that even holding him up off the ground, Sephiroth was still taller than him. The general's gaze flicked over Cloud's uniform and the paint spatters on his own leather jacket, then returned to Cloud's face. "You have spectacularly bad taste in pranks, cadet."

The general's deep voice was soft, but somehow all the more menacing because of it. Cloud's eyes widened. "Prank?" he squeaked around the constriction of his throat. "Uhhh... Zack! I don't think he's part of the test!"

His voice was hoarse and almost incomprehensible, and he wasn't sure Zack was awake to hear him anyway, but he did get a response. "Test?" the general repeated, one eyebrow raised.

"Boot camp... final exam," came a wheezing voice to the side. Rolling his eyes as far as he could, Cloud could just see Zack shoving himself gingerly into a sitting position against the wall. He was holding his arm against his ribs, and taking tiny, shallow little breaths. "Supposed to... retrieve a disk... in that office. Thought you were... the last test... sir." From the way he was talking, having to force each word out as if it was an effort to think, Cloud suspected Sephiroth had hit him with a Slow spell.

"I see." Cloud's feet touched the ground again as the general lowered him and let go of his neck, but his legs wouldn't support him. He collapsed to his hands and knees, trying to draw in air past the bruising in his throat. Sephiroth looked down at them, his expression now more neutral than angry. "Well, that explains why I was actually able to get the quiet I wanted. I suppose they cordoned off the building after I got here, and nobody who saw me would have presumed to question my presence."

"Y'picked the wrong... hallway for quiet, sir." The Slow was wearing off and Zack seemed to be getting his breath back a bit, but Cloud couldn't catch his no matter how hard he tried. The older boy frowned at him in concern. "Hey Cloud, can you breathe?"

Shaking his head, Cloud fought for what air he could get through the swelling. There was a soft murmur above him and cool green energy rushed over him. It bubbled and sparkled, and seemed to wipe away not only the bruise around his throat but the ones on his side. It even left him feeling energized, as if he hadn't just spent the whole day in ridiculously tiring training.

Beside him he heard Zack draw a cautious deep breath, and realized the general had used a Restore materia on them both. A fairly high level one, if it had healed Zack's broken ribs as well. "Thank you, sir!" Cloud said, managing an awkward salute as he scrambled to his feet and Zack followed suit.

"As you were," Sephiroth said automatically, then paused. With a faint smile, he added, "Well, perhaps not, all things considered. At ease, then."

Zack made a small choking noise, and Cloud stared at the general as they moved to the parade ground rest position. Had the great General Sephiroth actually made a joke?

The man studied them, almost curiously. "I apologize for hurting you," he said formally, which made Cloud's eyes bug out even more. First a joke, and now an apology? He hoped the rest of the squad was close enough to hear this conversation, because nobody was ever going to believe this. "Perhaps I'm misremembering, but aren't these exercises generally conducted in squads with several men?" Sephiroth arched an eyebrow at them.

"Sir, yes sir," Zack answered. "The rest of our squad hung back to provide covering fire for us, sir."

"Oh?" Sephiroth glanced down the empty hall, then back at them. "I don't recall any covering fire."

"Well, you see sir," Zack explained with a perfectly straight face, "The point of covering fire is that the people covering you are out of range themselves. Your range is a lot farther than our rifles, sir, so they had a bit of a problem."

Once again they were treated to the sight of a faint smile on the general's face. "I see. I suppose there will be other squads along shortly as well?"

"Most likely, sir," Zack agreed.

"I won't keep you from your task, then." Sephiroth moved past them, but paused once more. "What are your names?"

"Zack, sir," the older boy answered.

"Cloud, sir," Cloud put in as well.

Sephiroth nodded. "Finish the exercise, then. Shinra can use people with your courage and determination."

With that he was gone, fortunately taking a different path than the one where their squadmates were hiding. Assuming the rest of the squad hadn't fled the moment Sephiroth seemed to be attacking them in earnest. Zack let out an explosive breath, and Cloud gasped and leaned against the nearest wall to keep from collapsing again.

"Holy fucking Alexander," Zack murmured, staring after the general with an awed look. "I can't believe that just happened."

"I can't believe we attacked Sephiroth and lived to tell about it!" Cloud retorted, his voice shaking as badly as his knees. "And he apologized to us. And I think he made a joke!"

"I think he did too," Zack said, the awed expression slowly turning back to his usual grin. "Well, there's one good thing about all of this. After that, the rest of this exam is going to seem like a piece of cake!"
Everybody makes up their own story, some are more skilled at it
There´s no magical happy endings, only the ones that you write
But there is a plot line in every story pay close attention, you might miss it
Lose the plot and you're screwed.

Viestit: 98
Liittynyt: Pe Loka 10, 2008 11:39
Paikkakunta: Helsinki

Re: Final Fantasy VII CloudxZackxZaphiroth

Viesti Kirjoittaja Light-Kira » Pe Joulu 05, 2008 01:42

Chapter 3

Thanks to the general's Cure spell Zack and Cloud had emerged from the exam in much better shape than just about anyone else, but nobody felt truly human until they'd finally been allowed to shower and eat. Shinra medics applied Cures to anyone who'd been seriously injured in the test, but anything more minor than broken bones was left to heal naturally.

Of course the story of their encounter with Sephiroth started making the rounds the moment their squad exited the building. It seemed like everyone in the entire camp made the time to wander by and oh-so-casually mention the subject to them. Cloud was a little flustered by all the sudden attention, but he was more annoyed that people seemed to be assuming he'd just cringed against a wall while Zack did all the hard work.

It helped that Zack swiftly corrected anyone who said as much to him, and it helped more that the older boy was visibly becoming as impatient as Cloud at the way everyone would glance doubtfully at the blonde, then look back at Zack with an 'if you say so' expression.

"Just give up, they're never going to believe you," Cloud advised wearily as yet another curious person wandered away again. For a wonder there was nobody behind them, and that meant Cloud and Zack might actually have a chance to finish their dinner. Cloud had gotten about halfway through his, but Zack had hardly had a chance to touch his because he'd been talking so much.

"It's just stupid," Zack complained, frowning as he toyed with his food. "What's so difficult to believe? Why would I lie about it? I mean, you made it this far, I don't see why everyone persists in acting like you couldn't possibly have been any help to me."

"Zack, look at me," Cloud said dryly, gesturing down at the way his cadet uniform hung off his scrawny shoulders. He was tall enough that his uniform was only a size or two smaller than Zack's, but he didn't have nearly the muscle mass needed to fill it out properly. "Of course they don't think I could have been useful. Haven't the drill sergeants been making it painfully clear all damn week how pathetic I am? Forget about it, it's not important."

"It is important," Zack insisted, his scowl deepening. "We're probably the only two people crazy enough to have ever charged general Sephiroth with a couple of paint guns. That took serious guts, and you were right there with me. Yet people are treating you like you did worse on the test than the rest of our squad, who all hung back like a bunch of... ow!"

Blinking and giving Cloud a hurt look, Zack actually pouted slightly at him. "What was that for?" he asked ruefully, leaning down to rub at his abused shin.

"Because you were getting loud enough for the whole mess to hear you, and you were about to call our squadmates cowards," Cloud replied in a low voice. "I don't think they'd likely appreciate it, and one or both of us might end up with some of them in our regiment once we're sworn in. Neither of us needs to start making enemies."

"True," Zack agreed sheepishly, lowering his voice as well to bring it back to a normal conversational tone. "See? I told you I needed you around to watch my back. You really think they'll split us up?" He looked faintly worried.

Cloud shrugged. "What reason would they have not to? They probably spread the new recruits out through all the platoons, so no one group has too many green people. It's not like they care that we're... friends." The last word came out more hesitantly than he'd meant it to, but he was still a little unsure of the whole thing. He kept expecting Zack to come to his senses. And if they were assigned to different regiments they'd hardly ever see each other, so he shouldn't let the older boy mean too much to him.

Drumming his fingers on the table, Zack looked thoughtful for a moment. "They don't have any reason not to put us together," he finally said. "And you and I both know I'm going to graduate this camp as the top-ranked cadet. That's gotta count for something if I make a request." He grinned. "Hell, if I need to, I'll write General Sephiroth and ask him if he can fix it. I think we impressed him, he might just help."

"You wouldn't dare!" Cloud gasped, though he had a fairly good feeling Zack would dare if he decided it was necessary. "You're completely insane, you know that?"

"So you keep saying," Zack said unrepentantly. "Good thing I've got you around to keep me humble. C'mon, it looks like they're gathering everyone up for the exit ceremony."

Glancing at what was left on his plate, Cloud sighed and decided it wasn't worth shovelling it into his mouth just for the sake of eating it. He'd probably choke on it. Zack scooped up one last large mouthful, but considering how little the older boy had gotten to eat Cloud couldn't blame him.

"You'd think they'd at least give us decent food for our send-off meal," Zack complained good-naturedly as they made their way out of the mess towards the parade ground. "Well, once we get our papers they can't take it back, right? So what will they do to me if I go raid the kitchens later?"

"I'm sure you'll find out," Cloud said dryly. "And I suppose you'll want me there to watch your back, so I'll probably find out, too."

"Now you're getting the idea," Zack agreed with a grin.

As squad captain Zack of course was the right marker for their section. Usually Cloud ended up somewhere in the middle of the back rank, out of sight. Tonight there weren't enough of them left to form more than one rank, but he was still surprised when the others blatantly left the first two spots in the rank open.

He nearly missed a step in his surprise, but he recovered quickly and took the place that had been left for him. Zack nudged him gently with his elbow, and he thought he caught a fleeting grin from Watt on his other side.

It finally occurred to him that the rest of their squad did know that Cloud had been just as much a part of the attack on Sephiroth as Zack, and this was their way of showing him honour for it.

Flushed with pleasure, he fixed his eyes front and centre and fought down a stupid grin. For all his determination, this was the first time it had really felt like he was going to get where he wanted to go. The first step to SOLDIER, indeed.

The ceremony was boring, of course. It hadn't taken long for Cloud to figure out that formal military inspections or reviews or ceremonies were all pretty much the same... he stood around in his uniform fighting the urge to fidget or look around, while various officials made boring long-winded speeches. The length of the speeches depended on the importance of the event, and that was pretty much the only difference.

He was just grateful that the general's Cure spell had left him energized as well as healed. He heard more than one desperately stifled yawn around them; everyone was exhausted after a ridiculously hard day of tests, but they hadn't been handed their papers yet. For all they knew, successfully getting through the graduation ceremony without falling asleep or otherwise drawing attention to themselves was just one final test.

At last the captain started calling names, and each cadet moved up to receive their graduation certificate and the transfer papers that listed what unit they were being assigned to. The captain nodded and shook each man's hand, and then they moved back into their rank to wait until everyone was finished.

They were calling names by squad, so it wasn't long before they got to squad three. Cloud was the first one called, and there was a certain amount of giddy joy to walking up in front of everyone and proving that yes, he could do it. As he marched back to his place in the ranks he saw Zack flash him a quick wink, and let his lips twitch in a brief grin in response.

Zack was last to go up in their squad, and he got a special commendation for having the best marks in the camp. The captain offered him a personal welcome to the ranks of Shinra as well as just shaking his hand, and Zack's salute in return was textbook perfect.

Then they had to wait while all the other squads were called. Cloud found he was grateful that relatively few people had passed the last day of boot camp; it meant the ceremony only dragged on for a month, rather than a year.

Once all the names had been called, the captain stepped up to address them again. Cloud started to tune the man out just as he had with all the other speeches, when Zack's elbow dug into his arm again and prodded him to attention.

"...have your kits packed and ready to go at oh-six-hundred tomorrow morning," the captain was saying. "Your gear will be transferred to your new unit's barrack, and you will be expected to report to your new commander by no later than oh-eight-hundred. As of that moment, your lives will officially belong to Shinra Corp, until such time as you are discharged for whatever reason." He gave them all a thin smile. "Enjoy your last night as free civilians. Dismissed!"

Nobody moved until the officers had left, of course, but the moment they were all free to move a roar of voices broke out. "Cloud! Did you hear that?" Zack grabbed him around the shoulders and tried to pull him into a headlock, and Cloud had to punch him hard in the ribs to get his grip to loosen enough for him to pull free. Zack just laughed at him, reaching out to ruffle his mussed hair instead. "We've got leave! Screw raiding the kitchens, we're going to town!"

"Who's 'we'?" Cloud wanted to know, narrowing his eyes at the older boy. "I don't know anyone out there, I'm just gonna stay here and pack."

"Not if I have anything to say about it," Zack replied, and his cheerful tone promised that he intended to have a great deal to say about it. "We've got to celebrate, man! Anyway you know me, and I know people out there. I'll take you down to sector 7, there's a bar down there I washed dishes in for a while, they've got the best drinks and atmosphere anywhere under the plate."

"You want to go down to the slums?" Cloud asked, dismayed. He'd come in through Midgar's main gates and headed straight for the recruiting office, then gone from there to here. He hadn't seen the area of Midgar under the 'plate', but he'd heard the horror stories. Desperately he tried to think of a reason not to go that wouldn't make him sound like a chicken. "I... I don't have any money, Zack. I spent everything I had just getting here."

"Dumbass," Zack chuckled and snatched the envelope containing Cloud's transfer papers out of his hand, smacking him over the head with it. "Your first paycheque is in here." At Cloud's astonished look, the chuckle became an outright laugh. "Didn't anybody tell you? If you make it, the week of boot camp is considered paid time at the base rate for a private."

"Yep, and it's tradition to take it all and blow it on your last night of freedom," Ryan put in as he walked past them and overheard their discussion. "That's why they give it to you directly. After this we get paid by automatic deposit into an account with Shinra Corp, and you have to go through all kinds of paperwork to withdraw it. Enjoy yourselves, boys! I'm off to visit a couple of lady friends who are going to miss me sorely between leaves." He laughed and continued on his way, leaving them alone in the crowd again.

Flushing, Cloud shot Zack a suspicious look. "If that's what you've got in mind, I'm not interested," he said vehemently. The idea of paying a woman to have sex with him, a woman probably dozens of guys had been with before him, was totally unappealing.

Almost immediately he realized he probably should have chosen his words a little more carefully as Zack's grin turned innocently surprised. "Why, Cloud," he said, his tone just short of truly angelic. "I had no idea you weren't interested in women. Well, they do say the military is more progressive these days..."

"You... that's not what I meant and you know it!" Cloud punched at him, and Zack blocked it with his palm; Cloud had been expecting that, and Zack hadn't been expecting the kick that connected with his already abused shin while Zack was distracted by the punch.

"Ow! Damn it, kid, I need that bone," Zack exclaimed, hopping back out of reach with a grimace. "All right, I won't tease you. About that, anyway. You gotta admit that was a perfect straight line, though. You saving yourself for your true love or something?"

"No," Cloud flushed and rolled his eyes, trying not to think of a promise he'd made in the moonlight. That was... that didn't have anything to do with this conversation at all. "I just don't want to catch something nasty right before I report for my first day of duty."

"Well, it so happens I agree with you," Zack relented, grinning again. "And since most of these bastards are probably planning to follow Ryan's itinerary for the evening, it'd be crowded anyway. If I need some that badly, I'll go visit my girl in sector 5." He coughed and looked rueful. "Not that I'm likely to get much action there. Her mom hasn't left us alone together since that time she caught us kissing out in the garden."

"You have a girlfriend?" Cloud didn't know why he was surprised. Of course Zack had a girlfriend. He was smart, and strong, and sweet, and obviously going places in life. He probably had girls throwing themselves all over him, and his girlfriend would be the prettiest, smartest, nicest one of them all.

To his surprise, Zack flushed and ran a hand through his hair. "Nah. Nothing that formal. She's been a good friend to me since I got here, helped me find work and shelter and made sure I was always fed. We've messed around, but it's not serious." His grin this time was a little quirky. "I'll introduce you one of these days. She'll love you, and everyone loves her. Not tonight, though. Tonight is for celebrating with the guys."

"In other words, going out to get drunk," Cloud concluded with a sigh.

"Now you're getting the idea!" Zack agreed cheerfully. "You trust me, don't you?"

"I trust you to drag me into trouble right along with you," Cloud replied, but his mouth quirked in a small smile. Hades, he'd followed the man into battle against Sephiroth, how could he balk at doing anything less?

"Exactly," Zack snickered. "Trouble shared is trouble halved. Or something. Come on, if we don't hurry the shuttles back to the train platform will be full and we won't get to go!"

Cloud still wasn't entirely convinced that would be a bad thing, but he let Zack hustle him back to their bunks to change into civilian clothing. After a week of wearing nothing but the scratchy fabric of the standard issue cadet uniforms, jeans and a t-shirt felt almost sinfully good against his skin. "I hope our new uniforms aren't as uncomfortable as these ones were," he said as he tugged the shirt over his head and debated whether or not to grab his sweater as well. He didn't have much in the way of clothing, having worn out most of what he'd left home with on the journey here.

"Gotta be," was Zack's considered opinion as the older boy ran a brush through his hair. "Damn, I wish they hadn't made me cut my hair. Think they'll let me grow it out again when I get into SOLDIER?"

"You too, huh?" Cloud ran a hand over his own spikes, thinking wistfully of the ponytail he'd been forced to chop off. "Probably. The general's was long."

"Yeah, but he's Sephiroth," Zack said, shaking his head. "We'll see, I guess. Hey, did you check your transfer orders yet?"

"Not yet," Cloud replied, grabbing the envelope and slipping it open. Inside was a cheque on official Shinra paper, as Zack had promised. The thick packet of papers was too complicated for him to be able to skim through it effectively, but he found the name of his new unit easily enough. "3rd rifle battalion, alpha company, B platoon," he read. "You?"

"Hah!" Zack's exclamation was triumphant. "I won't even have to ask for any favours, after all. That's my assignment too. I claim top bunk!"

"You're welcome to it, and I won't have any pity for you when you fall off in your sleep," Cloud retorted, but he couldn't keep his genuine relief out of his voice. Something had relaxed inside him at Zack's declaration that they'd been assigned to the same unit, and he was a little reluctant to admit to himself just how happy he was about it.

At least it meant he could let himself safely enjoy the friendship Zack seemed determined to extend to him, without fear of turning around and losing it tomorrow.

Which led him right back to the fact that Zack was dragging him out to the slums, of course. He sighed again. "Why is it I can already tell I'm going to feel put-upon a lot of the time when I'm with you?" he asked as Zack grabbed a jacket and they both headed for the door.

"Clearly, because we are soul mates," Zack said mock-seriously. "How else could you understand me that well this quickly? Brace yourself, this is the part where realization strikes and we have to do the 'run through the flowers and fling ourselves into each other's arms with sappy declarations of love' scene."

"Well, we're a little short on flowers, but if you want to do the sappy declarations, just hang on a second while I find a recorder," Cloud replied, shoulders shaking with repressed laughter. "I'm not going to pass up blackmail material like that. I can tell I'm going to need it."

"Heh. Blackmail only works if you're ashamed of what's on the tape," Zack said. "You'll have a damn tough time blackmailing me, kid. C'mon, let's go! The night is wasting!"

Maybe it was because they were both relatively fresh and almost everyone else was suffering from the day's efforts, but even with their arguing and Cloud's attempts to stall they made it to the shuttle well before it was full. Cloud let Zack take the window seat because it wasn't worth the argument, and plopped down beside him.

Someone from another squad leaned over the seat in front of them and started asking about Sephiroth. More than happy to let Zack field the latest round of repetitive questions, Cloud tuned them out and sank into thought.

Everything since the fight with Sephiroth seemed a little surreal. Cloud kept wondering if maybe the general had cast Confuse on him, and he was just imagining everything since then. When Zack turned his full attention on you, it was so hard not to respond. The older boy had done it last night over KP as well, drawing him out into talking and laughing in a way he couldn't ever remember doing before.

Was this what having a close friend was like? Someone who could tease you and you knew it wasn't malicious, someone you could tease back and who would laugh with you when you actually managed to get a point of your own? If it was, Cloud thought he could get used to it. He already liked it, though it made him a little nervous to open himself to someone this way.

"Gil for your thoughts?" Zack startled him by asking, and Cloud blinked his eyes open to find the older boy looking at him with a curious expression. "Then again, they seemed like they were pretty serious, so maybe they're worth more than that?"

"Nah," Cloud shook his head, feeling oddly embarrassed. "They're not even worth that much. I was just thinking about what a bad influence you've been on me already."

"Corrupting influence," Zack corrected him, laughing. " 'Bad' is subjective, but nobody could argue that I haven't been a properly corrupting influence."

"How exactly are you planning to get me into a bar, anyway?" Cloud wanted to know, changing the subject before they could wander into uncomfortable territory. "You're underage too, but at least you look old enough. As you so thoughtfully pointed out, I don't."

"There is no such thing as 'underage' under the plate," Zack shrugged. "That's a concept for a civilized society. If you're old enough to be able to see over the bar to ask for the drink, you're old enough to drink it. Besides, you're a trooper now." He snorted. "Drunk and disorderly is an expected condition for us when we're on leave. You have to live up to the image."

They transferred to the train that ran in a spiral down through Midgar to the lower sections without any problems, but as soon as they got beneath the plate it was like entering an entirely different world. Even though it was still only sunset above, they were plunged into a world of eternal night that was more than a little disturbing. Cloud blinked at the sudden transition, trying to accustom his eyes.

"It's always a little startling," Zack said, leaning against a pole beside him. The train was packed with cadets and other troops on leave, and there hadn't been room to sit. "You never quite get used to it. Creepy, huh?"

"It's... not right," was Cloud's uneasy response, as he shivered. He was glad the Shinra military compound was above the plate, where the sun could shine down on them properly. He didn't think he could live in this permanent gloom without going a little crazy. "You lived down here for a year and a half?"

"It's not so bad," Zack shrugged. "There are good points to it. Though I have to admit, except for a couple of friends I'll be leaving behind, I won't be sad to move back into the sun. And I can always visit."

"Or have them visit you," Cloud suggested, leaning closer to the grimy window so he could look up at the plate above. "Who on earth decided it was a good idea to build a city on top of a bunch of other towns? Wouldn't it have been easier to just find a new place to build on?"

Zack laughed. "You know, I have no idea. Personally, I suspect Shinra built it just to prove they could. Hey look, we're coming into sector 6. You ever see anything so gaudy in your life?"

Looking out at the sea of garish lights and signs in the business district, Cloud listened as Zack pointed out sites of interest and explained what all the different buildings housed. The majority of the troops and cadets got off at the sector 6 platform. "Heading for the Honeybee," Zack said with a wink that told Cloud all he needed to know about that particular establishment. At least it gave them some breathing room on the train.

The bar Zack had wanted to take him to wasn't far from the station 7 platform, which Cloud was grateful for as it meant he didn't have to walk too far under the unnatural gloom of the plate. Once inside the warm, noisy, well-lighted atmosphere of the bar it was easier to relax, to pretend he was in any one of a hundred similar establishments that probably existed above the plate.

Enthusiastic greetings followed Zack's progress through the crowd, and he greeted most people by name in return. "Your usual, Zack?" the bartender asked, and Zack made a scornful noise.

"Nah. Beer's for an ordinary night, however much Gongagan beer is a cut above the rest," he declared, to much cheerful booing from those around them. Cloud stayed mostly in Zack's shadow, more than happy to let the older boy take all the attention. "Tonight is a night to celebrate! Cloud and I are officially troops of Shinra, and well on our way to SOLDIER!"

There was a round of cheering and applause at that, and Cloud was a little surprised. He'd have expected the people beneath the plate to be resentful of Shinra and everything it stood for. Maybe they were, and it was just that Zack was popular enough that they were applauding his accomplishment more than anything else. But they also seemed to be genuinely applauding Cloud as well. He flushed under the attention, but wasn't displeased.

"So! To start the night off right..." Zack flashed that incorrigible grin at the bartender, and the man chuckled in response. "A shot each of Fire 3 for me and Cloud, please." Another cheer, at their bravery this time, which made Cloud a little apprehensive about what Zack was about to try to pour down his throat.

Watching the bartender concoct the shots was fascinating, though. He poured a bit of this and a bit of that, somehow keeping the liquids in their distinct layers, so that the whole thing was striped in shades of red and gold. Then he thrust a clear rod into the middle and stirred once, and suddenly bits of red and gold were swirling around each other in separate but slowly blending waves that did indeed sort of resemble dancing flames. With a flourish the man set fire to the two shots, and shoved them towards Zack and Cloud.

"Quick, before it's too hot to drink," Zack urged him with a laugh, reaching for his own drink. He deftly blew the fire out and downed the shot all in one go, tipping his head back and shivering. "Hoo boy! That is some damn fine shit, right there."

Not wanting to seem like a coward, Cloud steeled himself and reached for his own shot. The fire was hot against his face as he blew it out, and the liquid scorched his tongue and mouth on the way down. He'd expected it to be harsh enough to make him choke, but it went down smoothly, tasting of cinnamon and spices and even, somehow, of heat.

Then the effect of it actually hit him, a sharp fire that blossomed in his throat and spread rapidly down to his stomach. He gasped, for a moment afraid he'd waited too long and the liquid had burned him badly, but the fire wasn't actually painful. Warmth spread through his whole body, and he felt a little light-headed. "Whoa," was all he could think to say, dazed. No wonder the drink was named after a powerful fire spell.

"See? I told you that you could trust me," Zack said cheerfully. "I'll have you know I have very good taste." He reached for his wallet; they'd both taken a moment to cash their paycheques before boarding the train, and while a week as a cadet wasn't exactly enough to let them live comfortably for any length of time, they weren't going to have to worry about how much the drinks cost tonight.

"Nope, this one's on the house," the bartender said good-naturedly, shaking his head at Zack. "Congratulations, boys."

Laughing, Zack pressed the money on him again. "A round for the house, then," the dark-haired boy insisted. This pronouncement was greeted by more cheering from the crowd. "Share the joy, and all that. What do you want to try next, Cloud? Something sweet, or sour, or spicy again?"

Later, when Cloud tried to remember the events of the night, it was mostly lost in the haze of alcoholic fog. There must have been another cadet there, or else Zack had told the story at some point when Cloud wasn't listening, because it seemed like everyone already knew about their attack on Sephiroth. Unlike the other cadets these people seemed perfectly willing to believe that Cloud might have been just as much a part of it as Zack had been, which left him bombarded with all kinds of questions. His shoulder started to ache with how often people had slapped him there in congratulations.

He never got quite drunk enough to start getting sick; he wasn't sure if Zack had been watching out for him or if the bartender had just been careful not to serve him more if it seemed like he was at his limit, but Cloud was fairly certain it wasn't his own doing. At the same time, he was never allowed to sober up too much either. Eventually he found himself laughing and joking with the rest of the crowd, chattering as cheerfully as if he were Zack. Apparently he was a happy drunk, and it felt good enough that he didn't even try to fight it.

Zack, on the other hand, seemed to be a touchy drunk. He spent what seemed like half the night with an arm slung over Cloud's shoulder, dragging him this way and that to introduce him to various people, or try a new drink, or challenge him at the arcade games, or whatever else struck his fancy. It wasn't just Cloud, either; he was always ruffling people's hair or punching them in the arm in a friendly manner or just generally making a nuisance of himself. Cloud found he didn't mind as much as he might have, as it was hard to object to the warm camaraderie Zack insisted on dragging him into.

It seemed like it couldn't have been more than a few hours before the bartender was announcing last call, and Cloud stared around him in confusion. "What time is it? Why are they closing so early?" he asked, his voice a bit slurred.

Laughing in that careless way that only someone who is drunk can manage, Zack leaned on his shoulder and grinned at him. "It's stupidly late, kid," he replied, shaking his head. "Or stupidly early, depends on how you look at it. We've probably only got a few hours before we have to report. Just enough time to sleep off the last of the drunk, and it's a good thing they'll probably be expecting everyone to show up with hangovers."

"What? No way," Cloud protested, trying to make his fuzzy mind work properly. "We haven't been here that long!"

"Sure we have," Zack shrugged, and nudged him back towards the bar. "C'mon, one last drink for the road. What should we have?" He looked thoughtful for a moment, then nodded, his eyes gleaming. "I know. Liquid mako!"

Waving acknowledgement, the bartender set to work mixing the last drinks for them. Cloud couldn't see what he was doing this time through the crowd of people around the bar, but the glasses that were handed to them were half-filled with a glowing green liquid that did indeed look very much like mako.

"It's not really, is it?" Cloud asked, eyes wide as he gingerly accepted the glass and held it away from him. Mako this concentrated would not only be worth this whole bar and then some, but probably toxic as well. Everyone knew that mako overexposure could do strange things to you; that was what the modifications made to SOLDIERS were based on, in fact.

"Nah, not really," Zack snickered. "It'll keep us awake and aware enough to make it back to the camp, though! Drink up!" He clinked his glass against Cloud's, and they both knocked back the drinks at the same time.

It wasn't unlike the effect of the Fire 3 he'd started with, Cloud thought in a daze as the effects of the drink poured over him, but at the same time it was completely different. It felt like pure energy; not fire or lightning, but just energy. He'd been a little drowsy with the warmth and the alcohol before, but now he was wide-awake. "What...?"

"The base is a Potion," Zack explained, grabbing him around the shoulders again. "And it's got some Speed Drink in it, not enough to Haste you, but enough for you to feel it. Best thing to end the night with, it helps mitigate the hangover. But we definitely want to be back in our bunks before it wears off, because we'll probably crash hard."

Cloud had never experienced Haste so he couldn't make any comparisons, but he did feel as if everything around him was just a bit sharper, a little slower, easier to process and react to. "Wow," he said, shaking his head. He immediately regretted it, as the room spun around him a bit. He was still drunk then, however clear-headed he felt at the moment. It was only an illusion, and he'd have to be careful to remember that.

"Let's go, then," he said, with a crooked grin of his own. "I don't want it to wear off before we get back; being found passed out in a gutter somewhere probably won't look very good on our records when we're applying for SOLDIER."

"Truer words were never spoken," Zack chuckled. "Off we go!"

The effects of the drink seemed to make Zack even more exuberant than usual, and he babbled endlessly the entire way back through sector 7 to the train. Cloud was content to just listen, finding himself grateful for Zack's warm arm around him. The night air was chilly after the heat of the crowd in the bar.

By the time they made it back to the camp, the effects were starting to wear off. Both Cloud and Zack were dragging their feet, and Cloud could see why Zack had described it as 'crashing'. "Think we'll actually get any sleep?" he wondered wistfully as they staggered towards the building where their squad shared sleeping quarters with three other squads. "Drunk guys coming in at all hours..."

"Nah, most of them will spend the night in the city," Zack asserted, shrugging. "Wouldn't surprise me if we're the only ones in the barrack."

They weren't, as it turned out, but the three people inside were sleeping the oblivious sleep of the drunk, and they hardly even needed to worry about waking anyone. They did their best to stay quiet anyway, though they weren't entirely successful.

Cloud had the bunk by the door, the least desirable spot, but he had it all to himself. His bunkmate had been one of the first to drop out. Zack glanced at the empty upper bunk, then down the long narrow room to where his own bunk was. "Too far," he declared wearily. "I'm just gonna bunk in with you tonight, if you don't mind."

"I don't care," Cloud shook his head, stifling a yawn. His eyes were drooping, and he couldn't blame Zack for not wanting to go the extra twenty feet. "Can you even get up there?"

"I'll manage," Zack chuckled, wrinkling his nose. "Last thing we need is the rumour mill going about us being found curled up in bed together."

Cloud felt the flush start at the base of his neck and sweep upwards until it felt like his ears were on fire. "No, definitely not," he agreed immediately, wincing at the very thought. He'd heard that such things were more accepted in big cities like Midgar, but 'more accepted' didn't mean 'acceptable'.

"Heh. You're cute when you blush like that," Zack murmured, and his grin had an odd quality to it that Cloud hadn't seen before. Swallowing, Cloud looked back at him, wondering if it was only his imagination that put that look in Zack's eyes. Considering what they'd just been talking about, and how drunk he was...

Then warm lips closed over his, clumsy with the effects of all the alcohol they'd drunk, and Cloud made a startled noise. Zack had his hand on Cloud's shoulder, preventing him from jerking away reflexively, and Cloud was drunk enough that he couldn't seem to figure out what he was supposed to do in response to this.

It was over almost as quickly as it had started, and he blinked at Zack, dazed. "Way too cute," Zack declared again, grinning and ruffling Cloud's hair. "Sweet dreams, kid."

With that he kicked off his boots and hauled himself up into the upper bunk with a motion that looked effortless, but that Cloud probably couldn't have managed in a million years. Cloud stood there just staring up at him long after quiet snores told him Zack had joined the others in drunken oblivion, wondering if he'd just imagined the whole thing.
Everybody makes up their own story, some are more skilled at it
There´s no magical happy endings, only the ones that you write
But there is a plot line in every story pay close attention, you might miss it
Lose the plot and you're screwed.

Viestit: 98
Liittynyt: Pe Loka 10, 2008 11:39
Paikkakunta: Helsinki

Re: Final Fantasy VII CloudxZackxZaphiroth

Viesti Kirjoittaja Light-Kira » Pe Joulu 05, 2008 01:43

Chapter 4

There were an awful lot of things the recruiting officers neglected to mention when they were handing out brochures, Cloud reflected. They were always talking about glory and honour and the thrill of battle, about serving with the best military on the planet. And most of all, about the SOLDIERs and how strong and fast and admirable they were.

What they didn't tell you was that as a grunt, the vast majority of your working time was spent on patrol or guard duty. They didn't mention how mind-numbingly boring it was to walk through the empty halls of the Shinra Corp tower, or to stand motionless for hours in front of a door somewhere.

On the other hand, there were moments when Cloud would happily have volunteered to spend a double shift standing guard over the least important door in the compound, if it would get him away from the duty he'd been assigned instead. This was one of those times.

Coming around a corner, he caught a glimpse of movement ahead and nearly panicked, jerking his rifle up and around to aim. Just before his fumbling finger found the trigger, he finally registered the blue uniform that was the same as the one he was wearing. "Zack?"

The older boy had been facing the other way, and he jumped visibly when Cloud called his name. Turning, Zack scanned the dim room until he saw Cloud at the other end. "Hey Cloud! Don't sneak up on me like that. I nearly fired on you."

"I nearly fired on you," Cloud retorted, moving up to join him. It did make him feel a little better to know that Zack was just as jumpy up here as he was. He did his best not to look around too much as he walked, not wanting to look too closely at the things in the tanks and specimen jars. "Hades, but the laboratory levels are the creepiest place I've ever been. I hate patrolling up here."

"You and me both," Zack replied ruefully, tipping his helmet back so Cloud could see his face. "Hell, us and the entire rest of the army, that's why these levels always get assigned to the tenderfeet. And these helmets don't help, they cut off half your line of sight. Who the hell designed these, anyway?"

"Not someone who was ever going to have to wear them," Cloud agreed sourly, pulling his own up far enough for him to be able to look around properly. The helmets included goggles that could be switched to a night-vision mode, which would have been more useful if not for the interference given out by all the lab equipment. Even outside of the interference, though, the night-vision was hardly worth the horrible restriction to your field of vision imposed by the narrow lenses. Not to mention the way everything became washed in shades of red, making it hard to distinguish between colours.

"Probably the PR people," Zack said, rolling his eyes. "Just think of all the identical soldiers in their neat little ranks in parades and such. Never mind the fact that having our vision restricted might make the difference between winning and losing a fight, and it's our asses on the line."

"Or maybe it's to make it easier for the brass not to think of us as people," Cloud suggested with a shrug. "So they don't have to feel bad if they send us out to die. If they can't see our faces, we might as well be toy soldiers."

"You might have something there," Zack snorted. "Well, either way, there's not much we can do about it. We'll just have to make SOLDIER soon, they don't have to wear helmets." He grinned. "Three months until the next exams. We'll have to work our asses off, but we can do it!"

"I know, Zack," Cloud said with exasperated good humour. "You've reminded me at least five times a day, every day for the last week!"

With a sheepish laugh, Zack shook his head. "Well, it bears repeating. Motivation, and all that. And part of getting in involves not getting caught slacking off on duty, so let's get moving. We'll patrol together, all right? Maybe then it won't seem so creepy."

"Are we allowed to do that?" Cloud asked in surprise as they tugged their helmets back down.

"Sure, I've seen other guys bunch up in twos and even threes," Zack said, shrugging. "It's not like this level is so big it needs multiple people patrolling in the first place. They just need something to do with us all."

Following along as Zack set off down the hall again, Cloud did his best to focus on his friend rather than everything else around them. "Do you suppose it's less creepy during the day?" he asked, fingering the trigger guard on his rifle nervously. "I mean, there'd be people wandering around, and presumably they'd bring the lights up?"

"I dunno about that last part," Zack said thoughtfully. "I heard the lights are mostly kept dim, at least in this area. Something about potential damage to the specimens. But yeah, surely with people around it's got to be less spooky."

"What are they doing up here, anyway?" Cloud wanted to know. Despite his best efforts not to look around, he kept getting glimpses of dead animals stuffed or otherwise displayed for view, and other less recognizable things that were probably best left unidentified.

"Studying the monsters that have started appearing outside Midgar, I think," Zack said, squinting at one of the displays. "I heard some people think they're connected to the way the soil out there is drying out, though I don't really see how that could be. Nobody knows where they're coming from, so they're probably trying to figure it out."

"Strange creatures shouldn't just appear out of nowhere, should they?" Cloud asked uncertainly. It seemed pretty unlikely to him. "I mean, they have to have come from somewhere. Up in the mountains where people don't go, maybe?"

"That's the most popular theory," Zack agreed. "I think their food supplies must be affected by the same thing that's destroying Midgar's farms, and they're just ranging farther afield in search of food than they ever have before. Still, it's good to study them, we can probably learn a lot. And the guy who runs the labs is the same one who came up with the SOLDIER process, right? They probably do lots of studies on that, finding ways to improve it or lessen the side effects so more people can withstand the transition."

"I'd hate to have been one of those first few people they made into SOLDIERs," Cloud said, shivering. "Can you imagine? Undergoing an experimental process like that, not even really knowing what it would do to you."

"I dunno, Sephiroth was one of the first, and he turned out pretty well," Zack laughed. "But yeah, I hear you. I'm glad they've got most of the bugs worked out now."

The conversation died out; it was hard to find innocuous things to talk about in this atmosphere. As they walked Cloud found himself sneaking surreptitious glances at Zack, though it didn't do him much good. It was hard to read his friend when all he could see was the lower half of his face.

He'd been watching Zack a lot over the last week, though. He couldn't seem to help himself. The older boy had never said or done anything to indicate that he remembered the drunken kiss, and Cloud was seriously starting to believe he'd just imagined the whole thing.

That didn't stop him from thinking about it, though. Somewhat to his embarrassment, he found himself thinking about it rather a lot. He'd tried to tell himself it was only to be expected, after all... having a guy kiss you wasn't something you'd forget any time soon. And if it had really happened, it was his first kiss, too.

Still. Cloud tended to blush at odd moments, especially if Zack caught him looking and teased him about it. He'd never had the courage to ask about it, and wasn't sure he really wanted to anyway. What would he do if Zack remembered, and said it hadn't been a mistake?

What would he do if Zack remembered and it had been a mistake?

Shaking off his thoughts, Cloud risked a look around to distract himself. They'd entered the live specimens area now, which was at least a little less creepy than looking at rows of dead animals and body parts. The cages ranged in size from one as small as Cloud's hand, to one that took up nearly half a room. Not all of them were full; in one Cloud saw a lizard-like creature with dull red scales, with a black VI tattooed into its shoulder. Beside it were two apparently sleeping creatures that looked like blue mounds of fur, the closer of which had an XV tattoo visible.

A sharp bark and a sudden thud from his other side startled Cloud into swinging around, his rifle levelled and finger on the trigger. Beside him Zack had dropped to one knee to get out of Cloud's line of sight, his rifle trained on the now growling animal as well.

Only a mesh of wire stood between them and the snarling creature. Hoping the cage was strong, Cloud studied the massive dog-like animal. "Zack, that's a Nibel Wolf!" Cloud exclaimed, his eyes wide. "They live in the Nibel mountain range. Only I've never seen one that big before. And it doesn't quite look... right."

It was half again as large as any wolf Cloud had ever seen in the mountains, and its claws and teeth seemed out of proportion even for the larger size of its body. Muscles bunched in odd places on its limbs, and its muzzle was longer and narrower than what Cloud was used to.

"Maybe they live in the mountains around here, too?" Zack suggested, slowly straightening from his crouch. "Or some kind of cousin to them?"

"Maybe," Cloud agreed doubtfully. "There haven't been any reports of strange creatures showing up anywhere other than Midgar, have there?"

"Not that I've heard," Zack shrugged. "But they'd probably be keeping something like that quiet to avoid a panic, so it's hard to say. You really think that's a Nibel Wolf?"

"I don't know," Cloud confessed quietly, staring into the wolf's eyes. It looked back at him with an uncanny intelligence, and he shivered. Some instinct told him that whatever this creature was, its intentions were entirely malevolent. "I guess not. Nibel Wolves aren't all that smart, for one thing, and this one..."

"Yeah, it's pretty smart," Zack agreed. "Looks like it's trying to figure out how to get its paws around the latch."

"It cannot escape." The sudden and unexpected voice from behind them made Cloud yelp, and they both jerked their rifles around to aim at the man who'd entered the room. Apparently oblivious to the threat of the guns pointed at him, the man moved forward to pat the cage holding the wolf, equally oblivious to its snapping fangs just short of his fingers. "All the cages are quite secure, and designed specifically with the capabilities of the contained specimen in mind."

Recovering from the surprise faster than Cloud, Zack cleared his throat. "This is a restricted area, sir. May we see your pass, please?"

The man's shoulders were shaking beneath his lab coat, but it took Cloud a moment to realize he was laughing silently. Turning to face the two troopers, he raised an eyebrow at them and pushed a stray lock of hair out of his face. "Well. Guards who actually do their job, how refreshing. I trust this will be sufficient clearance for you?"

He pulled a badge from his lab coat pocket and held it out; from this angle Cloud could only get a glimpse of the picture, but Zack would be able to read it.

The helmets kept him from seeing Zack's expression, but he knew his friend well enough to read the sudden intake of breath and tension in the older boy's shoulders as shock. "Professor Hojo, sir!" Zack came to attention and saluted, and belatedly Cloud did the same. His brain caught up to him a moment later as he finally recognized the name, and he drew in a sharp breath of his own.

The man who had pioneered the SOLDIER program regarded them with a faint trace of cynical amusement in his expression for a moment, before waving off their salutes with an irritable gesture. "I have no patience for your military formalities. You are tonight's guards, I take it?"

"Yes, sir," Zack confirmed, dropping the salute. "I apologize for not recognizing you, sir."

"Bah." Turning, Hojo moved away from them to study the large red lizard, smiling as it breathed a gout of flame against the glass walls surrounding its cage in an attempt to burn him. "I'd much rather have overzealous guards who question everyone than the lackadaisical ones I usually seem to be burdened with. I was beginning to suspect Heidegger of deliberately assigning his most incompetent men to me in an attempt to sabotage my department.

Zack and Cloud glanced at each other, and Cloud repressed a snort. Somehow he didn't think it would be very politic of him to mention the fact that only green recruits were assigned up here, specifically because it was considered the worst job on the whole guard roster and nobody else would do it.

"Perhaps I should request to have you assigned here regularly," Hojo mused, and Cloud stiffened. Having to patrol here all the time instead of just every so often as it came up on their squad's roster would be the worst thing he could imagine. He'd never sleep properly again, considering the nightmares he was sure he was going to have tonight.

"With respect, sir, I believe the duty roster is regularly rotated to prevent anyone from becoming complacent with a familiar assignment," Zack said smoothly. As usual Cloud had to admire his friend's ability to think on his feet under questioning - this time he might even be telling the truth, too. "If we were always assigned here, we'd end up becoming as careless as the people you're complaining about, just for different reasons."

"I'm not certain that's entirely sound reasoning, but I'm a biologist, not a psychoanalyst," Hojo shrugged. "At any rate, I will be working late tonight. You will guard the door. You may patrol the rest of the floor if you like, but under no circumstances am I to be disturbed, is that understood?"

"Sir, yes sir!" Cloud and Zack acknowledged in unison, saluting again.

"Good," Hojo said, gesturing at the door. "Off with you, then. Remember, no interruptions. That door is to remain shut even if the building is burning down around us."

Both of the troopers made quick time back to the door they'd entered by, and Zack closed it behind them. When they were standing out in the hall again, they tugged their helmets back and looked at each other wide-eyed.

"What was that all about?" Cloud wondered. "What kind of experiments would he need to be doing at midnight, without even any techs around to assist him?"

"Maybe that's the point," Zack said, shrugging. There was more than a hint of unease in his voice, though. "I mean, maybe it's something so delicate he can't risk having anybody else around to ruin it, so that's why he's doing it so late. I bet people are always barging in on him during the day with 'emergencies' and administrative crap. Probably drives him nuts."

"He's creepier than the rest of the lab combined," Cloud declared, shivering.

"Yeah. Charismatic though, when he wants to be," Zack said thoughtfully. "And he can't be just an absent-minded scientist type, if he's this high up in Shinra's cut-throat political environment. I heard he's got a lot of influence on the president."

"Where do you hear these things?" Cloud asked, momentarily diverted. "You work with the same people I do, and I never hear any of these things you're always so casually repeating."

"That's because you just work with them, you don't actually talk to them," Zack replied, laughing and rapping smartly on Cloud's helmet, making his ears ring. "You always hang back and let me do all the talking, when you participate at all. You need to be more outgoing Cloud, seriously."

"I'm as outgoing as I want to be," Cloud retorted, rolling his eyes. "I've got you to drag me into being more sociable than I want to be, already."

"Yeah, and you love it," Zack teased him, grinning broadly as he knocked Cloud's helmet the rest of the way off and caught it in one hand, using the other to mess the smaller boy's hair vigorously. "C'mon, admit it. What would you do without me? Wither away in your dark little corner, probably."

"Zack! Cut it out!" Cloud protested, trying to duck away from the ruffling. As always when Zack got this close to him he found himself thinking about the kiss, and his heart was pounding. At least if Zack bothered to ask, he could write off the faint flush in his cheeks to embarrassment from the current teasing. "You are such a pain!"

"And you are way too cute for your own good," Zack replied, laughing. The words were so similar to what he'd said that night that Cloud froze for a panicked moment, half expecting another kiss. Instead Zack jammed his helmet back on his head, putting it on deliberately askew so that Cloud could only see out of one side of it.

Grumbling, he reached up to adjust it, giving Zack time to step back out of range of retaliation. "So you think we should stand guard here, or go patrol some more?" Zack asked as Cloud straightened himself out.

Thinking about the rows and rows of disturbing samples in some of the other rooms, Cloud swallowed. "Stay here," he decided. "If we go patrolling we might miss someone, and they could come knock on the door or something. The professor said he didn't want any interruptions."

"True enough," Zack agreed. "Door guards it is then. At least we don't have to stand motionless. I suppose it'd be a bit much to pull out a deck of playing cards, though?"

Cloud knew Zack wasn't serious, because for all the older boy's teasing there was nobody who took his duties more seriously than Zack. Still, he was half tempted to take him up on it, just for the distraction a game of cards would provide. He didn't want to be caught slacking off either, though. Neither of them could afford any black marks on their record if they wanted to make it into SOLDIER.

He was about to say as much, but his words were pre-empted by a sudden shrill scream from behind the door they were guarding. It was a high, thin noise, almost more of a shriek than a scream, and it sounded like an animal in mortal pain.

"What was that?" he asked, his head jerking around to the door so fast he was surprised he didn't break something. "What's he doing?"

"I don't know, but it doesn't sound pleasant," Zack said, grimacing. There was another scream, this one ending in a choked sounding cry. "Fuck. And he wonders why he can't get decent guards to stick around."

"Y'know what?" Cloud said. His words came out a little too fast and high, but he couldn't seem to calm them. "I think I changed my mind. It'd be stupid if someone got in and messed around in the lab while we were just hanging around here, right? Maybe we should patrol after all."

"I... can't fault your reasoning," Zack agreed, glancing at the door again as a third cry came, this one little more than a whimper. "We'll just make sure nobody gets this far, and that will keep him undisturbed too." He jammed his helmet back down, and headed back the way they'd come at a trot.

They didn't slow their pace until they were past the first room full of samples. Cloud decided that compared to having to stand outside that door and listen to animals screaming, the rest of the lab was downright homey, not creepy at all. "How often do we get assigned up here?" he asked, proud that his voice trembled only a little.

"Too often," Zack replied, shaking his head. "Way, way too often."

"Hojo gives me a bad feeling," Cloud said softly. He felt like a chicken saying something like that, as if admitting he was too scared to face the man. But this was the sort of 'bad feeling' that twisted in your gut until you felt nauseous, and you were sure that whatever it was your subconscious was worried about, you never wanted it to happen.

"Well, surely he doesn't work this late every night," Zack said, reaching out and squeezing Cloud on the shoulder. It felt like a gesture meant to reassure him as much as Cloud, and in an odd way that was the part that comforted Cloud most of all. "With any luck, we'll never run into him again."
Everybody makes up their own story, some are more skilled at it
There´s no magical happy endings, only the ones that you write
But there is a plot line in every story pay close attention, you might miss it
Lose the plot and you're screwed.

Viestit: 98
Liittynyt: Pe Loka 10, 2008 11:39
Paikkakunta: Helsinki

Re: Final Fantasy VII CloudxZackxZaphiroth

Viesti Kirjoittaja Light-Kira » Pe Joulu 05, 2008 01:44

Chapter 5

In an environment where everyone showered and slept together in a big open room and privacy was more precious than gil, it was an unspoken rule that you just turned your head and pretended not to hear if someone started moving in their bunk in the night. So long as nobody actually saw you doing it, you were safe from teasing on the subject.

When Cloud had first realized just how things had to work, he'd been mortified and certain that nothing would ever induce him to be the one squirming around where a dozen guys could listen to him. That resolution had lasted about a week and a half; he was a teenager, after all.

The next day he'd found himself blushing horribly if anyone so much as looked at him, especially Zack. Nobody had said anything, though, and eventually he'd resigned himself to the situation. After that he generally gave in to his body's needs a couple times a week, and felt much better for the release.

It was also an unspoken rule that you didn't indulge yourself if you heard someone else going at it. Cloud wasn't sure how he was aware of this rule, but he was certain of it. Maybe it was just that he'd never heard two people at the same time. Or maybe it was an instinctive knowledge that something like that would be frowned upon as if the second person were getting off because of the first, not just because of a need that happened to crop up at the same time.

Never mind that sometimes, lying in the dark listening to someone's strangled breathing and faintly creaking bunk, it did make him hard. How could it not? Cloud was sure he wasn't the only one thus affected. The moment he heard someone else doing it, his subconscious bombarded him with images of doing it himself, and his body responded. He couldn't help it.

Generally he just buried his head under his pillow and refused to listen, and often the problem would be taken care of as he drifted back into sleep. If not, he would just wait until a decent amount of time had passed since the last guy stopped, and then take his turn. Sometimes a whole string of guys would go in turn, with a few minutes pause between each so they could all pretend each incidence had nothing to do with the others.

Tonight, though, nobody else was stirring as Cloud lay staring blankly up at the bottom of Zack's bunk, trying to control his breathing. He hadn't actually touched himself yet, was in fact struggling to ignore the urge in a way he hadn't bothered to since he'd first gotten here, but it was a battle he was already pretty sure he was going to lose.

The reason he was fighting it tonight had everything to do with the cause of his tightly wound state, and it wasn't something he wanted to think about. They'd spent the afternoon doing hand-to-hand drills. Cloud was so much smaller than just about everyone else that he tended to come out of those drill sessions aching and bruised, so Zack usually partnered him. It wasn't that Zack went easy on him, exactly, but the older boy did pull his punches a bit more than the rest of their toonmates.

They'd been at it all afternoon, learning various grappling techniques and how to overcome each. Everyone had stripped down to his fatigue pants and sweaty undershirt, and some had even abandoned the undershirts. Zack was one of the latter, his having been torn when Cloud had kept too tight a grip on it after successfully heaving Zack over his hip and flipping the bigger boy onto his back on the ground.

And Cloud, much to his horror, had realized that wrestling with a half-naked Zack was having a very profound and disturbing effect on certain portions of his anatomy. Objectively, anyone would have had to admit that Zack was beautiful, with his golden skin and muscles sculpted by more than a year of hard work down beneath the plate. Subjectively, though, he shouldn't have been paying so much attention to the way Zack's slick skin felt as he grappled with him, and his body certainly shouldn't have been reacting in entirely inappropriate ways.

Somehow Cloud had managed to make it through the session without anyone noticing his predicament, though Zack had been concerned enough by his distracted performance to ask if he was feeling all right. Bless the baggy design of the fatigue pants.

That had left him with a not-so-small problem to deal with, however. He'd managed to force the reaction down enough to get him through the rest of the day, but the moment he crawled into bed and glanced over to see Zack - in nothing but boxer shorts - hauling himself up to the upper bunk, he'd been right back where he started.

So now he was lying there, struggling to keep his breathing slow and steady even though he wasn't doing anything, his cock hard and aching as his subconscious mind pelted him with memories of the afternoon. The quickest and easiest way to deal with it would have been just to deal with it, to let himself take care of it and get it over with, but Cloud felt wrong at the idea of jerking off to mental images of his best friend. There had to be something wrong with that, especially when said friend was sleeping just above him!

At this rate, though, he was never going to get to sleep. And anyone awake enough to hear him probably thought he was going at it anyway, hell they were probably wondering what was taking him so long. Maybe someone else out there was lying there aching and waiting impatiently for him to finish, and he was just being selfish.

He was also rationalizing, he fully realized as he gave in and reached down beneath the blankets. Well, a little rationalization wouldn't hurt him. It wasn't like anyone was ever going to know what he'd been thinking about. This would just seem exactly like every other time he'd given in to his body and touched himself at night.

The rough weave of the starched cotton Shinra-issue sheets wasn't exactly silken against Cloud's skin, but as worked up as he was any extra stimulation just added to the heat pooling in his gut. He was in his boxers too; most of the guys slept that way, though some few went commando. It was too hot in the summer for anything more, never mind that their employer was a power company and you'd think they wouldn't begrudge air conditioning for the barracks. As Cloud slid his hand down, the fabric rubbed against his arms and chest, sensitizing what seemed like half the nerves in his body.

He rubbed himself through his boxers first, biting his lip to keep the incipient moan trapped in his throat. The callous that had started to build on his hand from sword and rifle drills caught on the softer cotton of his shorts, adding an extra edge of sensation as he stroked himself slowly through the fabric.

Almost immediately he knew this wasn't going to be quite like the other times. He was already so hard it almost hurt to touch, his body rocking up into his hand no matter how hard he tried to keep it still. The more he fought against images of Zack, the more strongly they came to him.

Zack grappling him from behind. Zack pinning him to the ground, and Cloud knew he should have tapped out much sooner each time but oh, the feel of that strong body over his. Zack kissing him, the image hazed with alcohol and uncertainty.

Zack's hand wrapping over his, guiding it down into his boxers and encouraging him to stroke directly on his cock. Zack touching him directly, his hands larger and stronger than Cloud's, but calloused just the same. Zack touching himself, lying up there in the bunk and doing exactly what Cloud was doing now; Cloud had felt the bunk shift a few times in the night, but Zack was apparently quieter at it than Cloud was because he'd never actually heard anything.

He wondered what the older boy would sound like. Zack had a smooth voice that had settled nicely into a rich deep tone, unlike Cloud's that would still sometimes crack unpredictably. What would it take to get Zack to make noise? Had his girl down in sector 5 ever heard him gasp and moan with pleasure? Cloud burned at the thought, and he knew he shouldn't be picturing these things, but he couldn't stop himself now.

Maybe Zack would moan softly in the back of his throat, letting the sound build inexorably until it escaped him in a muffled groan. With his eyes closed and head thrown back against the pillow, an expression of stifled passion on his face, he would look like some kind of erotic god.

The image was so provocative Cloud had to still his hand and just lie there for a moment, his breath caught in his throat. If he so much as shifted his fingers he was going to come, and as much as he knew he shouldn't be indulging himself while thinking about Zack, he couldn't bear to let it end so quickly.

In that moment of stillness, he heard something that shocked him so deeply he couldn't quite believe it. The desperately stifled moans weren't a product of his imagination, and the slight shivering of the bedframe wasn't all his doing.

The first thought that managed to make it through his muddled mind was a horrified awareness that Zack was definitely awake and probably listening. He jerked his hand away from his cock, and he must have made some kind of startled noise because suddenly the soft sounds from above stilled as well.

At which point Cloud finally connected the noises with the knowledge that Zack was, in fact, breaking one of those unspoken cardinal rules. He wasn't just listening to Cloud, he was touching himself at the same time.

Shivering with unfulfilled need, Cloud lay staring wide-eyed up at the bunk above him. He wondered what was going through Zack's mind at that moment. Maybe, impossibly, Cloud had actually been quiet enough that Zack hadn't realized what he was doing?

That seemed the most likely explanation; that Zack had simply been so caught up in his own pleasure he hadn't been aware of what was going on below him. Silently Cloud prayed that none of the others were awake to hear this. Nobody had ever broken the rules before that he knew of, and he wasn't certain what would happen if the others realized he and Zack had.

From above came a whimper so soft Cloud wasn't sure he'd actually heard it, and he knew Zack must be as close to the edge as he was. At this point it was physically painful not to continue, and Cloud had to clench his fists in the bedsheets to keep himself from giving in to the need to continue. His whole body ached with the desire for release.

What were they supposed to do now? Cloud didn't think he could bear to do the relatively acceptable thing and let Zack finish, then wait a few minutes before finishing himself. And even if he managed to hold off, how could they possibly look each other in the eye tomorrow morning and pretend absolutely nothing out of the ordinary had happened the night before?

Zack gave another of those tiny, choked off moans, followed by an almost inaudible gasp. The bunk creaked softly, and Cloud knew Zack had started touching himself again. He could almost picture it, just from the quiet chorus of sounds. The creaking of the bed was when the older boy arched his hips up into his hand, unable to keep himself from bucking. The gasps came when Zack pulled his hand back at the end of the stroke, when there was almost no contact before he plunged his fist back over his cock. And those little moans were surely the moments when Zack rubbed his thumb over the tip, collecting the slick drops of precome from his slit to help his hand glide more easily.

There was no way he was going to last even until Zack was done, let alone until five minutes afterwards. Biting his lip, Cloud gave in to the inevitable and snaked his own hand back down under his shorts. Anyone listening had already heard them doing it at the same time earlier anyway. Since they were both in the same bunk, maybe they'd get lucky and it would just sound like only one of them was doing it and they were just making a little more noise than usual.

His cock was almost shamefully wet when he touched it again, dripping with enough precome that he didn't even need to rub over the slit first. He did anyway, just because it felt so good, like little shocks all along his nerves.

He knew his attempt to muffle his groan in his pillow had failed when he heard another soft whimper from Zack. He shivered, knowing the older boy was listening to him, aware of every move Cloud made just as Cloud was aware of him. The only way they could have been more intimate without actually touching each other would have been if they were watching each other; staring blindly up at the bunk above and picturing Zack in his mind's eye, Cloud almost felt like he was anyway.

Unconsciously Cloud matched his rhythm to what he could hear from above, or maybe Zack was the one matching him. Either way they fell into synch without meaning to, and once there Cloud couldn't seem to break the rhythm. He'd never had sex, but he thought it might be something like this, two bodies moving together in a dance as old as time itself. All they needed was physical contact between them. The image of sex with Zack was far more arousing than it should have been.

Together they rushed headlong into orgasm, and Cloud could feel the waves of pleasure rising to engulf him. His muscles tightened, his balls pulled up close to his body, and his breaths came in harsh little pants. Normally he wasn't this loud, but then again it usually wasn't anywhere near this intense. When it crashed over him and the knot of coiled tension within him exploded, it was all he could do not to cry out.

Heat licked over his body as his veins sang with electric energy. At that moment he almost felt like he could cast a spell without even needing the materia, just the sheer energy of his own release. He came hard, gobs of sticky white fluid spurting over his hand and stomach, leaving him feeling limp and wrung out.

When his ears stopped ringing and he became aware of his surroundings again, he could hear Zack's muffled moans much more clearly. It sounded like the older boy was biting his pillow in an attempt to stifle himself, but it wasn't quite working well enough. After a minute Cloud heard his breath hitch once, then again, and then stutter to a stop altogether.

For a long moment there was silence, before Zack finally drew in another gasp of air. Sprawled bonelessly over his narrow bunk, Cloud lay still and listened to Zack try to catch his breath. He thought he heard the older boy mutter a soft curse, but it might have been his imagination.

Neither of them said anything. That would have been blatantly breaking the rules; not only would it force them to acknowledge what had just happened, but it would have opened them up to unending teasing from everyone else. Assuming, of course, that they weren't going to be mercilessly teased anyway. Cloud's throat ached with unasked questions, and he desperately wanted to know what Zack was thinking. At the same time, he really didn't want to know, didn't want to have to think about any of this or its possible implications.

Not quite five minutes had gone by before he heard someone else start up, a few bunks over. Wryly Cloud reflected that the others really didn't have any room to tease, since he was sure that wouldn't be the last person to go tonight. Above him there was a soft snort of amusement, and he knew Zack was thinking much the same thing. Oddly, the moment of connection made Cloud feel just a little bit better about the whole mess.

Sighing, he forced himself to roll over and face the wall, staring at the rough plaster in the dim light. A soft rustle above told him Zack was doing the same thing. He wondered if either of them would be able to sleep tonight.
Everybody makes up their own story, some are more skilled at it
There´s no magical happy endings, only the ones that you write
But there is a plot line in every story pay close attention, you might miss it
Lose the plot and you're screwed.

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