A/N: I originally came up with this as part of a sequel for BoF, but I had too much fun with it and decided to make it it's own, tiny little one-shot. Ah, the trials of parenting a teenager.
Next Up: Puberty
Cloud was still trying to figure out what to say to Denzel. It was only after Tifa had confronted him with a few random overly-stiff socks in the laundry that he realized what it even meant.
"Is this what I think it is?" she asked. The look on her face was part laughing, part disgust as she held up the sock for his examination.
Cloud gingerly took the sock and turned it inside out, looking at the partially dried but still sticky white goo clinging to the fibers of the material. "Uh…yeah…that's…yeah." He couldn't bring himself to say it, but he was pretty sure Tifa already knew anyway.
She plucked the sock from his fingers and tossed it in the washing machine. "Alright, well that's on you, then."
"What? What's on me?" Cloud looked a little worried, wondering what he was being accused of.
Tifa raised one fine eyebrow. "You need to talk to him about this."
Cloud took a couple involuntary steps back. "What's there to talk about? I'm pretty sure he knows what he's doing."
Tifa pressed her lips together, trying to hold back the smile. He didn't appreciate when she laughed at his awkwardness. She understood that he been deprived of his own normal adolescence, but he was an adult now and should be able to deal with this kind of thing. "Yeah, I'm sure he does, but I really don't like sticking my hand in these kinds of surprises in the wash, so please just…talk to him about it."
Cloud had mercifully received an order that would take him out of town for a few days, and Tifa was willing to let him slide for that long, but she wouldn't be happy if she came across another stocking surprise. He had a lot of time on the road to think about it, but he still hadn't come to any conclusions about what to say to Denzel. He didn't want to embarrass the kid…hell, Cloud was embarrassed enough for both of them.
That was how he came to find himself standing outside of Denzel's bedroom door after dinner on the evening he returned, ready to stumble headlong into a conversation for which he was (still) wholly unprepared. He raised his fist to knock, hesitated, and then lowered it again.
Man up, Strife! You've taken down Sephiroth three times already! Talking to a fifteen year old kid about masturbating shouldn't be so intimidating.
But it was. Fighting was something he knew. At that moment, he almost wished for a calamity to fall from the sky so he could avoid this conversation.
He sighed and raised his fist again, tapping it quickly against the door before he could lose his nerve. Then he forced himself to stand there rigidly when his feet just wanted to flee.
The door opened and Denzel poked his head out. "Yeah?"
"Uh…" Cloud really didn't want to have this conversation in the hallway. "Can I come in for a minute?"
Denzel glanced behind him quickly, probably checking for anything that shouldn't be out, and then stood back and opened the door the rest of the way. Cloud walked in and looked around, avoiding eye contact. The room was typical teenage-boy-messy, littered with books and magazines and CDs. In one sole corner, the remnants of his childhood could still be found – the few toys he'd been given were stacked neatly, gathering dust. It made Cloud a little sad.
"So." Denzel sat down on the bed, looking at Cloud expectantly. "What's up?"
Cloud focused on the toys. "Oh, nothing big," he assured the boy. "It's just that Tifa's been finding your socks in the wash."
"Yeah?" Denzel looked at him blankly.
"Dirty socks," Cloud specified.
Denzel snorted. "Well I don't usually put clean socks in the laundry."
"No, I mean…socks that you…uh…you know..." Cloud rubbed the back of his neck. Oh, Gaia, he's really going to make me say it.
Finally, with a look of understanding and instant embarrassment, Denzel rescued him. "Oh."
"Right. So…umm…I mean, it's ok. There's nothing wrong with it. Just maybe use something…umm…disposable. To clean up. Like a tissue. Or do it in the shower if you can…be quiet." Cloud was pretty sure that his face was burning worse than Denzel's. "Cool?" he asked, finally looking at the boy.
Nope, Denzel probably looked even more mortified. "Uh, sure, Cloud. Got it."
The sense of relief that flooded through Cloud was really disproportionate to the situation. "Ok. Good talk," he said, patting Denzel's shoulder awkwardly and escaping as quickly as he could. Mission accomplished.
He ducked into the bedroom he shared with Tifa. He had to get himself under control before Tifa saw him, or she would do that thing she did when she was trying really hard not to laugh at him. He always saw through it, although he appreciated the effort on her part.
It wasn't until a week later that Tifa asked if he'd had a chance to talk to Denzel about the sock incident.
"Of course," he said breezily. "No problem."