Here it is, the end. I want to thank everyone who read this and double thanks to anyone who reviewed. Knowing people were reading and waiting for the next post kept me focused and writing on this instead of getting distracted by other things. This is the longest, finished, fic I've done and I'm happy that I actually got through it. It's been a long road; three apt and a baby but I'm done at last (free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, free at last).
I've said before that there's a sequel. Hopefully in time there will be, just don't hold your breath. I want to work on some plotlines. Plus, there's the whole me figuring out what's-going-to-happen thing.
Thanks again everyone. It was fun.
(BTW, I typed this A/N all with one hand while holding a tired, sick baby. This is the life I lead.)
Zack strolled down the sidewalk, hands snug in his jacket pockets. The overhead lamps were the main light source at this time of night, forming bright circles of light on the cracked cement. Neon lights littered the building walls, casting funky looking colored shadows on everyone walking by. The young man hummed happily to himself, nodding in greeting to those few that he passed on the street. He was headed toward the Slums but he wasn't worried about being mugged or attacked. He didn't have his sword on him, being only in civvies, but the glow of his eyes dissuaded most would-be assailants. Any others he could just warn away with a growl and a flexing of his arms. Normally he wouldn't mind a quick brawl – fun to get the blood flowing – but not tonight. Tonight, in a black leather jacket, black jeans and a deep blue button-up shirt, he was dressed for success.
Or so he hoped.
It'd been a month since the whole Shinra incident and Rufus had taken over his father's seat. The old man – supposedly – was retired in a nice sea-side cottage outside of Costa del Sol. Reno offered a bet on it; Zack promptly declined. Last Zack heard on Hojo was that he was recovering in some medical suite, away from the press and over-protective brothers. Zack would be happy if he never heard of the scientist again in his life. Meanwhile, the newly crowned Ice King had been negotiating a truce with Wutai. Zack had never met her but apparently the Wutai princess was putting up a good fight and not letting Shinra just walk all over the island nation. Also, she, along with two other members of Avalanche apparently beat-up and captured the first group of SOLDIERs Rufus sent to tell the advancing army the change in leadership.
Zack really wished he could have been there to see that.
For his part, even though he had been 'given' his job back, Zack was on a three month suspension with half-pay. Someone had to be punished for all the misconduct that had happened while Sephiroth and he were gallivanting around the countryside and since Sephiroth was The General and hero, it fell to Zack to bite the bullet. Not that he really minded. It was like a mini-three month vacation. Sure he couldn't leave Midgar and some days he had so much pent up energy from the lack of missions that felt that he could wrestle a dragon, but he managed.
Plus there was a certain blond he had his sights on.
Speaking of, Zack turned the last corner and there, standing under a lamppost with his back towards him and hands stuffed in his brown leather jacket, was Cloud. Zack took a moment to study the blond. His hair was in its usual pointy yet stylish mess. The brown coat was loose on his frame while blue denim jeans hugged his thighs and calves just right. A pair of thick, black leather boots could just be seen sticking out from under the jean bottoms, giving Cloud a rugged kind of look.
All in all, Cloud looked good. (As if there was a time he didn't look good.)
There was nothing serious between the two – yet. Zack had been spending his month long free time in just befriending Seph's little brother. Which turned out to be a good thing for two reasons. One, Seph would kill him – and that was if he was lucky – if Zack was just fooling around. Not that he would just string anyone along for the hell of it, but sometimes people did get the wrong impression or were looking for something other then Zack was offering. Not to say he was a slut or anything but he did like a fun night like anyone else. One didn't always have to have sex. Joking, watching movies, rough-housing, making-out, and all that were just as good to spend a night.
The second reason was Cloud himself. After everything else that had happened to the blond, what with the amnesia, experiments, torture, ect ect, Cloud was still getting used to, well, himself.
Zack had noticed there were three different Cloud's. One was Strife; the cold, bit of a hard ass warrior who didn't care for most people but would fight anyone who threatened those few he did. This was the persona that most of the world saw, the one Cloud used when he was around strangers or, strangely enough, when he was unsure of the situation. Zack figured it was defense mechanism of some kind, since Cloud turned out to be rather shy.
That led to his second persona; shy, quiet, and slightly nervous Cloud. That was Seph's little brother, what he was before Hojo got him. 'Little Cloud', as Zack dubbed him mentally, almost only ever showed up around Sephiroth. He was innocent, unknowing of the darker side of the world and Shinra. Sephiroth wanted to keep his brother like that, keep him sweet and naïve and, well, his little brother. The one that he had left in their hometown, the one that he had failed to protect. Zack was always extra careful when he was hanging out with the two of them, not getting too carried away, knowing that both needed each other.
The third was 'Spike'. That one, Zack was proud to claim, was because of his influence. Spike was a mix of the other two with a dash of exasperated eye rolling. The eye rolling wasn't Zackish, but hey, no one was perfect.
"Hey," Zack called out as he neared the blond, his usual grin wide on his face. Cloud turned and offered him a small but pleased smile of his own.
"Hey," he greeted back, hands still in their pockets. Zack joined his side then the two started down the sidewalk, an extra bounce in Zack's step.
"So, whadda what to go see?" He asked the shorter man. He listed off, "Comedy, action, horror, or romance?"
Cloud bit his lower lip as he thought, a very enduring trait that Zack loved. "There was a space movie I kinda wanted to see." Cloud ventured softly.
"Great! Action it is! We'll get something to eat after the movie."
The two chatted as they made their way to the theater. It had been dawning on Zack for the past month that he had it bad for the young man. At first it was just lust for a beautiful body and face but the more time he spent with Cloud, the more he liked him. The more he could see himself being in a real – as in long term – relationship with the blond. They say opposites attract and Zack liked to think that was what was going on with them. Cloud was quiet, thoughtful and wasn't prone to rash actions. The perfect person to balance out Zack's loud intensity.
They arrived at the theater but before they got in line they spotted a group of people loitering outside the doors. A rather familiar group of people.
"Cloud!" Tifa called as she waved high in the air in greeting. Zack blinked at the group of former Avalanche members. Cloud waved back.
"Hey guys." Cloud greeted as the two joined them. Aeris, Barret, and Cid greeted back in their own ways while Vincent remained silent behind his girlfriend. The black haired man had returned a few days ago, while the other member, a four legged beast with a flame on his tail, had stayed behind with the Wutai princess. Zack had met Tifa and Barret after they were done storming Shinra.
"Whacha guys all doing here?" Zack asked.
"Stri – I mean, Cloud," Aeris mended, "told us that you and he were seeing a movie tonight. It sounded fun so we thought to go too." The brunette cocked her head to the side, "That isn't a problem, is it?"
"Er, no." Zack said as he rubbed the back of his neck. He covered his sudden frustration with a huge grin. "The more the merrier!"
"That is good to hear."
Everyone turned toward the new voice, Zack fighting down the instinct to salute.
"Hey, Seph. Here to see a movie too?"
"Perhaps. Cloud informed me of your plans. Seeing how you always remind me that I am overworked, a night at the movies should hopefully prove relaxing."
Cloud was looking sheepish, a hand scratching the back of his head. He looked up at Zack. "Um, sorry?" He said nervously. "Was – Should I not have said anything?"
Zack slung his arm over the blond's shoulders. "Nah, it's fine." He addressed the group. "We're seeing that space flick. You guys?"
Aeris and Tifa shared a look. "The new one with Squall Lionheart(1) looks good." Tifa said.
"You all just want to see Lionheart 'cause ya think he's good lookin'." Cid said.
Aeris blushed while Tifa huffed at the older blond.
"Some action sounds good." Barret said. "Been kinda slow around here since that kid took over."
"President Rufus wishes to keep the peace. I hope you are not suggesting that you would prefer a war to break out, are you?" Seph said in his usual dry tone. Only Zack could see that the man was teasing the large man as Barret stuttered out a quick negative.
"A moment please?"
"Sure. Here, Spike," Zack handed Cloud some money, "get the tickets. I'll catch up with ya inside."
"Um, sure, okay." Cloud glanced between the two, uncertain, before joining the others. Zack and Sephiroth watched the group of friends enter the theater before they started to talk.
"Yeah, Seph?" His superior and friend looked uncharacteristically tense as he stood before him.
"Is there anything between Cloud and – and you?"
"How do you mean?"
Sephiroth gave him a hard look. "You know what I mean."
Zack grinned sheepishly. "No. I mean, we're friends and all but nothing else. Not like that. No need to worry, Seph."
"You wish it otherwise."
"Er." Zack rubbed his neck as he gazed at the ground, suddenly nervous. "I'm not playin' him, Seph. You know that."
Sephiroth sighed. "I am aware. Just… be careful. He has gone through a lot. I don't wish to see him in anymore grief. Plus, he is my brother."
"I don't want to see him hurt either, Seph. And believe me; I'm fully aware that he's your brother. And hey, he might not even like me that way anyways. We haven't really gotten around to talking about that."
Sephiroth was silence for moment before, "Hmm, I see. Well, if he does 'like you like that', remember…"
"I wouldn't forget, Seph. I'd like to be alive and fully intact if I ever start dating Spike."
Sephiroth grimaced. "I don't wish to talk about… that." The silver haired man sighed. "We should join the others."
"Right!" Zack brightened quickly now that very uncomfortable conversation was over. "So, what are you going to go see?" Zack asked as he held the door open for his friend. They stopped at the end of the line, the taller man looking over everyone else's heads to read the movie listings. As they talked, they slowly stepped forward as the line progressed.
"I'm not sure. Any recommendations?"
"Hmm, not sure. Never thought you'd actually go to a movie. What do you like?"
"I have seen a few, I believe they are called sitcoms, on TV. I did not understand much of the context."
"Right. Can't see ya watching a romance so that's out. Horror?"
"Does it compare to the battlefield or Hojo?"
"No. So, no go on horror. That, ah, leaves the space one."
"Is that a problem?"
"Well, ah, that was the one that Cloud and I were gonna see."
"And… you wish to be alone?"
"Are ya gonna hit me if I say yes?"
"Hey," Cid interrupted as he walked up to the two. "Barret and I are seein' that comedy with what's-his-name in it."
"Zidane Blank(2)." Aeris filled in.
"Is he funny?" Sephiroth asked.
"He does slap-stick." Aeris answered. Sephiroth frowned. She added, "It's a kind of physical comedy."
"Like Zack?" A chorus of snickers and giggles answered the General's semi-bland tone.
Sephiroth thought as he stood at the ticket counter before handing the girl on the other side some money. "One for the romance, please."
Zack blinked. "Seph?" Besides him, Cloud, who had already gotten the tickets for Zack and him, mirrored his confusion. "You're gonna see a chick flick with that Lionheart guy?"
Sephiroth took his ticket and walked out of the line. "Perhaps," he started as the group made their way to the movie halls, "It may provide a good learning experience." He glanced at Zack. "At least it should explain why the female lieutenants have that certain look when I enter a room."
"Seph, I've told ya to just ignore them. Most of 'em are harmless as long as you don't give 'em any extra attention."
"Lieutenants?" Cloud asked curiously.
"It's nothing," Sephiroth told him. They came to the dividing hallways for the movies, splitting up into their groups. Zack was surprised to see Vincent going in with the two girls and Sephiroth, though he shouldn't have been since Tifa and he were holding hands. Sephiroth send Zack a warning looking as he led Cloud into their theater. Zack grinned back.
Zack and Cloud took their seats in the middle of the middle, the best spot to get the full feel of the movie, Zack claimed. They sat in the dim room for several minutes, talking and watching people slowly fill in. The lights finally dimmed, signaling the start of the movie, or at least the trailers.
Zack glanced at Cloud from the corner of his eye, took a deep calming breath then leaned over and kissed the blond lightly on the cheek. Cloud's head whipped to look at him, eyes wide and bright from the reflecting light from the screen.
"Wha – D-d-did you…?"
Zack smiled softly. He placed his hand over Cloud's which was resting on the armrest. "I just wanted to let you know that I like you, Cloud. Ah, ah," he continued when Cloud opened his mouth, "Don't worry about it right now. I don't want to pressure ya or anything. Just wanted you to know, 'kay? Just – just think about it some."
Cloud pursed his lips in thought for moment before slowly nodding. "Alright," He said softly.
"Great." Zack turned toward the lit-up screen, a wide grin on his face. "Alright, let's get this show going."
(1) No, not that one. I did this just for kicks. I needed a name and his came up and it was amusing. At least to me. End of footnote.
(2) Yes, I know that's not his last name but, whatever. Same as (1).
(3) As in fin for finally.
*Bows* I hope everyone enjoyed.