It occurred to me that there's been very little yaoi-ish yumminess in the "Decorum" series, and I hope this one, which will be in two parts, will remedy that. This one is M not because the whole series is, but because there is sex ahead. Oh yes.

SquareEnix owns, I play, you read and review, you know the drill. : )

INDULGENCE

"Zack?"

The office had been unusually quiet for the last ten minutes or so. As much as Cloud liked doing his homework here, with Zack close by to smile at him and offer help with difficult questions, he usually had to deal with more noise than this. Zack could never concentrate on paperwork for long before tickling or bouncing or suggesting they go do something more fun. Cloud hated to interrupt him now, when he was actually focused, but he couldn't hold back what was on his mind any longer.

As expected, Zack looked up from his computer monitor and grinned. "Yeah, Spiky?"

"Can I talk to you about something, or is this a bad time to distract you?"

"Good time, I promise. What's up?"

Aw, how cute. No matter how many times he had observed it, Cloud's shyness and reluctance to speak up was the most adorable thing Zack had ever seen. He wanted to leap across the desk to the couch and squeeze Cloud and bury his nose in that soft, bright hair. Cloud was usually pretty good with being cuddled and clung to, and besides, it was his own fault for being so squeezable. But they both had work to do, and he could practically hear Sephiroth's voice: "This is not the time or the place, Zack."

"Um, you know how my birthday is coming up?"

"Of course! Are you finally gonna tell me what you want?"

"No. Do you remember what you and Sephiroth told me about my sixteenth birthday?"

It was Sephiroth who had insisted, though Zack agreed (with a grumble or two) that he was right. Mature or not, they had decided that Cloud was, at fifteen, a little young for actual sex. Cloud protested this but Sephiroth had, predictably, held his ground, promising that the prohibition would end on his next birthday. Zack briefly considered making a joke with the words "Grand Opening" in it, but Cloud was being serious, so he refrained.

"Uh-huh. What's wrong, you need more time?"

Wide sky-blue eyes, normally the very picture of innocence, narrowed. "If you two make me wait even a day longer, I'll kill you."

"Like I always tell Seph," Zack laughed, "you look sweet, but you're dangerous. Sorry, kiddo, pouting only makes you cuter. So what's on your mind?"

The scowl disappeared, and Cloud was his uncertain self again. "Who is it...going to be with? My first time, I mean. You or Sephiroth?"

"We talked about that."

"You did?"

"We talk about you all the time." Zack smiled. "We agreed that it's entirely up to you."

Cloud's face fell. "I can't do that. I can't choose one of you over the other."

"Baby," Zack began, and Cloud's heart fluttered to hear that word he protested from everyone else, "the first time is a big deal, but it's about you more than either of us. You're gonna have plenty of times with me and Seph. I promise, whatever you choose, we're both fine with it. He's not gonna get offended if I go first, I'm not gonna get offended if he goes first. Heh, I'm kinda making you sound like a carnival ride. Sorry about that."

"But I..." Cloud looked almost tearful. "I love you both."

Zack was up faster than non-makoed eyes could see, sinking down onto the couch and pulling Cloud close. "We love you too, baby. I promise, no one will think you favor one of us, no matter who you pick."

"Really?"

"Trust me. Gaia, you're full of silly ideas today," Zack teased, combing his fingers through the fine blond hair, "first thinking I could forget your birthday, and now this."

"I didn't think you forgot."

"Good, 'cause I'm not that scatterbrained. Anyway, it's marked on my calendar with exclamation marks and hearts and X-rated stick figures."

"Zack!" Cloud pulled back, relieved to see a mischievous smile. "Tell me you're kidding."

"I am, I am. It just says 'Spiky's Birthday', and then a smiley face. But I'll make it more explicit if you don't stop worrying about this. The three of us will have our whole lives." Cloud beamed at him, and Zack instantly did the same. "That day is only about you."

Cloud's eyes flickered away for a moment, and when they returned they were thoughtful. "Could you...is there a way you could both do it at the same time?"

Zack didn't answer, but it didn't seem to be his fault. The way his pale eyes (how Cloud loved them!) stopped blinking and his face went slack made the boy afraid that Zack was having a seizure or a stroke or something and, alarmed, he grabbed Zack's shoulders and shook him. The 1st's jaw was hanging open and flapped a little with the movement.

"Zack? Zack!"

Thank Gaia, blinking resumed and beneath it dawned a reassuring, though dazed, smile. Zack looked like he was waking out of a dream that had boggled his mind. He exhaled deeply and pushed back his soft black spikes. Cloud noted absently that he looked younger with his hair worn on the sides of his head like that, not that Zack ever seemed as old as he was.

"Whew, sorry about that."

"Did I say something wrong?" Cloud asked timidly.

"Gaia, no! Just...not conducive to keeping my brain unmelted. That one's too hot to handle, but I'm definitely filing it away with my other masturbatory fantasies."

"So it can't be done?" Cloud asked, disappointed.

Zack shivered a little, trying not to be distracted by the images that Cloud's innocent suggestion had conjured. "No, it can be, but regretfully, not by us, for two reasons. One, Seph or I will prepare you carefully and of course be gentle, but the first time is always uncomfortable at first. And that's just with one person."

"Did it...hurt for you?"

"Yeah, for a minute. The guy was also a bit too eager, so he kinda rushed."

Cloud's sweet face scrunched up with confusion. "Wait...Sephiroth wasn't your first?"

"Uh-uh. Second person and second time. I wish it had been only Seph," Zack said glumly.

Cloud's eyes widened, showing a bit more surprise than Zack had expected. He couldn't know that Cloud was thinking of how protective his partners were with him, how Sephiroth often asked Cloud if anyone ever bothered him, Zack's serious lecture about how Cloud should tell them immediately if anybody harassed or tried to touch him. Was there a reason for this extreme caution?

"Spiky, what's wrong?"

"Was it...bad?"

Zack studied Cloud's fearful expression and saw what he was thinking, and his mouth fell open again. "Oh, Gaia, baby, no, not like that! I was willing, it was just really dumb of me. I was in love with Seph and didn't think he'd ever love me back, so I was trying to get over him, so I did something I wasn't ready for, with someone I didn't really want. You thought...?"

Cloud shifted uncomfortably, embarrassed now that he had jumped to such a grisly conclusion. Zack patted his cheek.

"It wasn't like that. Seph was pretty hard on the guy anyway, but if I had been raped, they'd still be collecting the bodies from his psycho killing spree."

Cloud's smile was weak at first, but it grew with the knowledge that he too was now part of the protective circle of Sephiroth's love. And Zack's. Maybe it was just them being protective, after all. Zack had told Cloud once that people were constantly looking at him and most of them meant no harm, but it never hurt to be careful. He hadn't said much more, probably not wanting to make the boy afraid or paranoid.

"And we're gonna skip the second reason," Zack was going on, "because it'll make you grumpy with me."

"No it won't, just tell me."

"Well." Zack smiled playfully. "Seph's pretty big, and I'm not exactly deficient in that respect myself. We would hurt a tiny little thing like you."

As expected, Cloud pouted. "I'm not tiny."

"You're small-framed." Zack placed his hands on the blond's waist and slid them down to the hips, stroking them gently over the blue cadet uniform. "See how narrow you are here? Not much space. You're gonna be tight as it is, always."

"Is that good?" Cloud asked, in an innocent voice that contrasted with his devious smile.

"Oh, it's good."

Cloud's rose-petal lips sought his own, eagerly, Cloud's arms wrapped around his shoulders and squeezed as he was pulled closer. The thought of the upcoming occasion was driving both of them, making them desire this touching even more than usual. At last, Cloud's age would match the consent his words and actions had long wanted to give. At last, he could offer Zack and Sephiroth what he'd always intended to give to his true love.

Zack pushed the Tactics homework off Cloud's lap and reached for the boy's zipper. Sephiroth could scold them about responsibility later.

czsczsczs

Sephiroth moved systematically through the file of 1st Class reports, scanning them carefully and appending his signature to each as a sign he had reviewed the contents. He read and processed information quickly, he always had. Good thing that this duty was one he was used to and could do without effort; his mind was on more pleasant things. He guessed that one of those pleasant things was in the outer office, if Levine's grumbling was anything to go by.

The door to the inner office opened just slightly, and through the crack, a strange object slipped. It appeared to be a hand covered by a black sock, with googly eyes and a felt smile glued to it.

"Oh, General!" Zack called in a silly, high-pitched voice. "I have a report to make!"

"What, that my underwear drawer has been ransacked again?"

"Yes, sir, the perimeter has been breached. I failed you, sir. Many of my comrades have bravely fallen in its defense. I was taken captive by the intruder."

"Along with some of the underwear, I'm guessing?" Sephiroth asked, looking down to try to hide his smile.

"Two or three pairs. But I'm here to make it up to you, sir, if you know what I mean." The fingers manipulating the sock made it grin. "Would you like to breach my perimeter?"

"Get in here, Lieutenant," Sephiroth laughed softly.

"Sock-tease."

Zack breezed into the room with a cheery smile, and plopped carelessly onto the general's desk. Sephiroth normally shooed him off, but this time merely moved some paperwork aside and slid the young SOLDIER closer over the polished wood. His hands first ran up and down over Zack's thighs, then lifted to reach for the ruined sock, which Zack held protectively.

"Give me that. At least take it off."

"I'll return it when I'm done with it. I return most of the undies, don't I?"

"What I don't understand is why you take them at all," Sephiroth said calmly. "What do you do with them?"

"I sleep with them on the nights when I'm not with you."

"You know my offer remains open."

Zack smiled brightly. "I know, and we'll get there. But I think you need your own space, and if we lived together we'd never get out of bed again."

Sephiroth had to admit that that was a possibility. He intensely disliked the mornings that followed his nights with Zack, when he had to watch the body he craved leave the warmth of his arms and walk away. He had always been good with mornings, needing very little time to wake up, but Zack made him want to stay in bed, to re-enact the events of the night over and over again.

"Besides," Zack snickered, "it's more of a challenge when I have to go all the way up there to get to your underwear."

"So what brought you down here, at a time when the drawer is vulnerable?"

"Something I heard from Cloud's c.o. He said it's a shame that the kid has been requested for an observation mission in North Corel. A dreary place, forced to stand and watch and learn, on his birthday."

"I am not really sending him to North Corel," Sephiroth said quickly.

"I didn't think so. So what's really going on?"

"Do you recall, in our conversation about Cloud's birthday, we discussed gifts?"

Zack nodded. He was all set, himself, having chosen a set of materia - Ice, Fire, Heal, Shield, Restore, Contain, Sense, Time - that Cloud could work with on his own time outside of lessons. Cloud loved magic and was excellent at it, and it was unheard of for a SOLDIER cadet to have his own materia. He could have them worked up impressively by the time he became a 3rd, although the Restore was already mastered. Because Zack wasn't at all protective, oh no. He knew Cloud would love it.

Sephiroth was in a slightly tougher position. His gifts were always amazing and expensive, but Cloud would no doubt have to explain to curious friends where he had gotten something of that kind. Though his birthday would make him legal to be involved with anyone older than himself, Sephiroth remained determined that Cloud would not have to deal with the weight of a public relationship with ShinRa's most famous names. Not while he was a cadet, at least. So what gift could avoid scrutiny and unhelpful questions?

"I have decided what to give him."

"C'mon, spill."

"Do you recall that beach house we spent a few days at a year or so ago?"

A gleeful grin spread over Zack's face. "Seriously?"

"Yes. This time, the three of us will have it for a week. As far as ShinRa and most of the commanders know, only you and I will be there. Do you think Cloud will be pleased?"

"Are you kidding? A week away from ShinRa, with just us, on a private beach in Costa del Sol? He's gonna freak!"

"And that is good?"

"As Cloud would say, duh."

"It's decided, then," Sephiroth said, smiling.

"If I remember correctly, that house is pretty isolated, too. Perfect in case he turns out to be a screamer."

"Has he spoken of that?"

"Don't worry, Seph, he's as eager as we are, though I did have to reassure him a little about it being his choice which of us it is." Zack sighed dreamily. "You know what he suggested?"

"No, what?"

"Let me take off my pants first," Zack said, standing to undo his belts.

"What?"

"Trust me, it'll save you the trouble of ripping 'em off."

czsczsczs

Cloud was nervous. Not in a scared way, more like a something's-going-on-and-I-don't-know-what-it-is way. It was the night before his birthday, and he had returned from dinner to find a message from Zack waiting for him in his dorm room. It was cryptic, which was typical of Zack, whose mind was always running in a million directions at once. 'Pack for a week-long trip. I'll come for you at ten.' The note had been left on top of a white box. 'Open this.'

Cloud was confused. Zack had given him his birthday gift early (for once he didn't care about the whispers of favoritism that would follow, it was worth it to have his own materia) so what could this be? He opened it to find an army trooper's uniform, complete with helmet, and instructions to put it on after his roommate was asleep.

If this was some sort of kinky role-play idea of Zack's, Cloud didn't quite get the attraction of it, but he trusted Zack. He packed quickly and hid the suitcase under his bed, and when Cadet Lindley's snores became regular and deep, he put on the army uniform. Zack's punctuality seemed to improve on special occasions; it was exactly ten o'clock that he crept soundlessly into the room and raised a finger to his grinning lips. Cloud nodded, let Zack take the suitcase and his hand and allowed himself to be led out.

It was strange to see these hallways dim and empty when they were normally bright and bustling. Cloud was going mad with curiosity and wished he could make enough noise to ask what was going on. He'd had a feeling Zack or Sephiroth would get him out of the mission he'd been dreading and had been thinking he might actually accept special treatment, for once, rather than spend a week away from them. But, clearly, something bigger was going on. Were they going to Sephiroth's apartment? Was he about to lose his...

But no, they entered Building C and boarded the elevator, but went right past Sephiroth's floor. The button that had been pressed appeared to be the one for the roof. What...? Cloud looked at Zack, unable to get his questioning expression through the helmet's visor, but Zack seemed to understand. He smiled and squeezed the boy's hand.

"It's okay, baby. It's a surprise."

Cloud was certainly surprised when they stepped out into the windy night and began to head for a sleek black helicopter that awaited them. As they approached, the blades of the propeller began to whir, and the door slid open. The noises startled Cloud, to his embarrassment, and he jumped. Seeing this, Zack climbed into the intimidating vehicle first and offered a hand down. Cloud took it, and found himself suddenly in a quiet, warm compartment, and his anxiety vanished at the sound of a familiar voice.

"Zack, you did get the right one, didn't you?"

"I think so." The helmet was lifted off, and Zack grinned. "Yep. Happy Almost Birthday, baby."

Cloud accepted the hug he was pulled into. "Thank you."

He turned as he was released, looking for the owner of the voice, and there was Sephiroth. He beamed, thrilled to see him for the first time in a week, and was rewarded with a soft, loving gaze. Zack was talkative, giving and demanding a constant flow of words, but that was rarely necessary with Sephiroth, who - like Cloud - was naturally quiet. The two of them could have whole conversations only with their eyes.

Zack had plopped down opposite the general after signaling the pilot to take off. Cloud glanced back and forth between them, feeling again the burden of choosing between two people he loved equally. It was just Cloud's way to worry about hurting the feelings of others, he tended to feel such things even more acutely than the ones being hurt.

"Sit with Seph," Zack said mercifully. "He hasn't seen ya for awhile."

There was something hopeful and almost shy about the way Sephiroth opened his arms, and it drew Cloud to him with an eagerness the boy didn't often show. It felt so right, so normal, to sit on the general's lap and snuggle against his chest, to let that glorious hair fall around him like a curtain.

"I missed you," Cloud murmured, as he pressed his face to that flawless white skin.

"And I you." Sephiroth's arms were around him, his fingers massaging.

"Where're we going?"

"You will see." The answer was light and teasing, a side of Sephiroth he would have once thought inconceivable. "Sleep. I will wake you when we arrive."

"Sleep?" He was tired, but Cloud didn't want to miss a moment of this closeness, this intoxicating scent.

"We have all week. Time for everything. Sleep now."

Even if he had planned to protest, Sephiroth's voice was too soothing, almost hypnotic. Cloud's blond head was drawn gently to a leather-covered shoulder, the body cradling him slowly rocked, and he drifted off. His last waking thought was Please don't let this be a dream.

czsczsczs

Even before his eyes opened, when he was still caught between the world and the quiet of sleep, Cloud sensed he was being carried. It was lighter, he could see the change through his eyelids, but it was still the same body holding him. He pressed his nose to it, breathing in, and Sephiroth's quiet laugh came from above.

"Do not look until I tell you to do so."

Cloud answered with a contented sigh. His curiosity could wait. It was only a few moments, though, before he was being gently let down and steadied on his feet, and the voice was telling him to open his eyes.

As Cloud obeyed, he realized why the ground beneath his boots felt soft, why the sun was so warm, what the clean, salty smell beyond Sephiroth's scent was. This was a beach of pristine golden sand, uninhabited except for them. Just over there, so close by, was the sea, blue-green like Zack's eyes when strong emotion brought mako into their paleness. And he and Sephiroth were a few steps from a large house built right on the sand, with balconies all around the upper floor and a large deck surrounding the lower. Within the enclosing fence there even appeared to be a well-tended garden, and a hot tub nearby.

"Are we...staying here?" Cloud whispered, amazed by the luxury of the place and the beauty of the scenery.

Sephiroth's arm wrapped around his shoulders. "Yes, this is our home for the week. For your birthday. Do you like it?"

"Are you kidding?" Cloud grabbed Sephiroth around the middle and hugged him. "This is unbelievable. Thank you."

Zack bounced through the front door and down the steps, having gone ahead to take their bags inside. Cloud laughed as Zack picked him up and spun him around, rather than protesting as he would usually do.

"Spiky! Awesome place, isn't it?"

"Amazing. Have you been here before?"

"Yeah, Seph and I came here once, a few months after we got together." No wonder Zack looked so happy to be here. "C'mon, we'll show you around."

The interior of the beach house was every bit as impressive, exquisitely and comfortably furnished in neutral colors. The dining room was illuminated by a chandelier that was definitely an antique. The library was bordered all around with shelves of handsomely-bound, first-edition books. (Cloud guessed that Sephiroth must especially like that room.) The fully-stocked kitchen was light and airy, with sunlight pouring through the windows and drenching the marble floor and countertops.

The living room was dominated by cushy couches facing a large TV. Zack drifted over to the cozy brick fireplace with a beaming smile and patted an area of wall beside it. The others joined him there, and Sephiroth laughed softly and brought Zack close to him for a lingering kiss. Apparently this spot had a special meaning for them.

"This is the first place where we fucked here," Zack explained. The word never sounded vulgar when he used it. "We were having wine by the fire, and next thing I knew, my feet were up there and I thought I was in heaven. I'm still not sure how we got that angle to work."

"As I recall it," Sephiroth said thoughtfully, "I am flexible, and you were drunk."

"Yeah, that would explain it."

For Zack, the tour of the rest of the ground floor focused mainly on his amazing recollection of every intimate act he and Sephiroth had performed in each spot. Sephiroth smiled and shook his head and Cloud blushed and laughed as Zack pointed out the location of every blowjob, handjob, penetration, etc. He once used a word Cloud didn't know, "rimming", and obligingly explained, in a way that was typically Zack. ("Tab B," he said, pointing to his tongue, "into Slot C," he finished, indicating his behind.)

Sephiroth mercifully took over the tour as they stepped out the sliding glass door onto the patio. The hot tub was shown without comment from Zack (he merely smiled dreamily at it) and Sephiroth led Cloud down into the thick green grass of the garden. Flowers of all shapes and colors were nestled in beds, blossoming from bushes, creeping over trellises and the fence. Cloud observed the idyllic scene with open-mouthed wonder, scarcely hearing as Sephiroth gave the complex-sounding names of some of the species.

It was quiet then, too quiet, and at the same time they looked for Zack. He was standing in front of the garden's sole tree, a young apple sapling that was nearly his own height. Cloud was about to call to him when he saw, shocked, Zack shudder suddenly and hide his face in one hand. Sephiroth was at his side in an instant, stroking his hair, cupping his cheeks, speaking softly to him. Zack mouthed what looked like assurances that he was all right, and offered a dimmer version of his usual smile. Sephiroth didn't seem convinced right away, and it was only after kissing him and brushing away a tear and seeing Zack's smile grow bright again that he nodded and let him go.

"Hey, Spiky!" Zack called. "Race ya upstairs! You still gotta see the bedrooms!"

As soon as Zack had bounded off, Cloud hurried to the patio steps where Sephiroth was waiting. "Is he okay?"

"He's fine," Sephiroth said confidently. "You will probably not see him that way again this week, but if you do, don't worry. Zack is all right."

"What happened? He looked so sad by that tree."

"Angeal was very fond of gardening," the general said softly. "Zack loves trees and flowers for that reason, I believe, but they also bring up the memory of loss for him."

Cloud nodded. He didn't know much about Angeal, only that he'd been a famous SOLDIER, Sephiroth's best friend and Zack's mentor, and that he'd been killed before Cloud had come to ShinRa. He knew Angeal was the reason the older 1sts treated Zack like a younger brother and occasionally called him "the puppy". He was curious, but he didn't want to ask Sephiroth or Zack about something so painful. He followed Sephiroth back into the house, and to the top of the stairs where Zack was waiting.

The upper floor had a master bedroom and two others, each with its own bathroom. As Zack led the way into the master bedroom, he explained that this was where they would all be sleeping -

"If Cloud wants to," Sephiroth reminded him.

"Cloud wants to," the blond said with a smile.

- but he and Cloud also each had their own rooms, for storing their belongings or if they wanted time alone. Sephiroth had completely redecorated all three for their trip, and this one was like a dream of paradise, all white and silver. The general saw Cloud's surprise at the choice and admitted that he was very fond of white.

"Why do you wear black, then?" It couldn't be for fear of stains, Sephiroth seemed incapable of getting dirty.

He smiled. "I wouldn't look very menacing in white, would I?"

The next was Zack's room, and Cloud laughed as they entered. Purple, the rich, deep shade that there were so many touches of in his apartment back home. Zack only grinned at the boy's reaction; he was aware that the color was considered an odd favorite for a man and seemed to love it all the more for that, out of stubbornness. His bags had been carelessly tossed onto the carpet, but the stuffed animals he was attached to were placed carefully on the bed, occupying the same place of honor as they did at ShinRa. One was an extremely battered black dog, the other a smiling yellow Moogle that was older but in better shape. Yet another thing Cloud loved about Zack - he, a twenty-year-old 1st Class, would never think to hide or excuse the presence of his beloved toys.

Cloud wasn't sure what to expect when they opened the door to the last bedroom, his, but his mouth dropped open as they stepped inside. It was beautiful and richly furnished like the others, with a sinfully thick, soft carpet and a view of the nearby sea that sent a cool breeze to billow the sheer curtains. Most amazing, though, was the dominant color, a pure, perfect sky-blue, the color of peace that Cloud knew so well from seeing in mirrors. He liked the color, but more than that, just the idea that anyone paid enough attention to his eyes to know it by heart, to fill a room with it...Cloud felt the loving presence of Sephiroth and Zack behind him, and trembled as his eyes began to leak overwhelmed tears.

"Cloud?" Sephiroth stepped in front of him and gently brushed at the warm wetness of his skin. "What is it?"

"You...love me?" the boy said, not meaning it to be a question but making it one. "You...both...love me."

"Yes, we do." Sephiroth was alarmed by this, and by the distressed noise Cloud made as he embraced him. "Are you all right?"

"Me," Cloud repeated, sounding dumbfounded.

Fortunately, as was so often the case, Zack understood and knew what to do. He hugged the cadet from behind and said lightly, "No doubting, Spiky, and no thinking you're not worthy. Would Seph or I ever love someone who didn't deserve us? Have a little more faith in our taste, baby, and accept how unbelievable you are or I'll kick your butt."

Cloud laughed softly and his eyes began to clear, to Sephiroth's relief. "Sorry. It's just..."

"A lot." Zack nodded. "I've been there. Sometimes I still wonder if this is a dream and I'll wake up a lovesick 3rd again."

"Generals may suffer similar ailments," Sephiroth said with a gentle smile.

"This is amazing," Cloud said to him. "I don't know what to say."

"You need say nothing."

Zack bounced over to the closet, which puzzled Cloud, because he hadn't put anything in there yet. "Just in case you're not yet convinced that we're obsessed with your eyes..."

He opened the door to reveal a space which was, in fact, not quite empty. Several pairs of new silk pajamas were hanging there, all in the same shade of sky-blue.

"So we'll match, kind of," Zack explained. "Seph's are black, mine are purple."

"Thank you," Cloud whispered again, wondering how many times he would utter that phrase during the next week. Each time, the true and deepest meaning behind the phrase would be clear to Sephiroth and Zack - thank you for seeing something lovable in me that I could never see for myself.

cszcszcsz

Zack, always ridiculously energetic even in the morning hours, decided that their first order of business was breakfast. In the airy kitchen he made use of his love of cooking and whipped up waffles served with whipped cream and fresh fruit, while Sephiroth and Cloud - forbidden to help - talked about classes and recent SOLDIER business. In talking excitedly about his new materia and his eagerness to use it, Cloud saw a chance to bring up something he'd wanted to for months.

"What's the deal with Instructor Zane?"

Sephiroth frowned. "Has he said or done something?"

"Oh, no, he's just so..."

"Zany," Zack finished. "Maybe insanity is the price he paid for being so damn good at magic. Or maybe it's all that time spent with chocobos."

"He seems kind of obsessed with them."

"Heh, that ain't the half of it. Don't repeat this, especially not to the other cadets, but - "

"Zack," Sephiroth said in a warning tone, "I hardly think that's appropriate for Cloud to hear."

"Seph, you're infantilizing again. It's okay."

"Very well."

"Thank you. Zane's a little too fond of chocobos, if you get what I mean."

"I'm not sure I do," Cloud admitted.

"Let me put it this way - he's not allowed in the stables."

"You mean..." A look of disgust came over Cloud's face. "That's gross!"

"He is dealing with this problem," Sephiroth assured them. "Zane has regular therapy and avoids triggers."

"Unless your hair is a trigger, Spiky," Zack laughed. Sephiroth swatted at him playfully, and he ducked with 1st Class reflexes.

Cloud watched them with the tiniest bit of envy. Zack was Zack, no matter who he was with, but before meeting Sephiroth, he couldn't imagine that the general was ever so relaxed as he was with Zack. With Cloud, Sephiroth was loving, but still careful, as though he were handling something fragile. Cloud loved this softness, but he wondered if what they had would ever become the easy familiarity those two shared. It was probably silly to be worrying about this only months into the relationship.

A pale hand gently touched Cloud's. "You seem lost in thought."

"I was wondering...were you two always like this?"

"Like what?"

"Comfortable like this."

Zack managed to swallow a spoonful of fruit before he started laughing. "Are you kidding? We had no idea what the hell we were doing. Every time something new happened - holding hands, spending the night, saying 'I love you' - I always worried it would be inappropriate or too soon or whatever..."

"I wish you had told me you felt that way," Sephiroth said. "At the time, you seemed so much more confident than I."

"It was mostly bravado," Zack admitted sheepishly. He looked at Cloud and smiled. "Few people have ever been brave or dumb enough to chase after Seph as much as I did. I was the first to get him. No pressure, right?"

"Zack was your first..."

"Relationship," the general finished quickly. "Yes. I didn't really know what I was doing or what other relationships were like."

"Then I convinced him to stop analyzing and go by feeling," Zack said, "which worked. For ten minutes, then I'd have to remind him. I should just stitch it into a pillow or something."

"Well, I had to be careful. If I had made a mistake with you, I would have had to avoid high places," Sephiroth said carefully.

Zack smiled wistfully, to his relief, and he mirrored the expression. Cloud looked confused.

"I don't get it."

"When Angeal was alive," Zack said steadily, keeping his voice light, "people who upset me tended to get pushed from great heights. He was a little overprotective."

"Because he loved you," Sephiroth said gently.

"I know. I still don't know why he bothered with me to begin with. Don't look so nervous, Spiky. I'm okay talking about Angeal."

"Were you and he - " Cloud blurted, without thinking.

Zack rolled his eyes, but laughed. "Too many people thought so. No, Angeal was more parental than anything. Or anyone, including my own parents."

"Was he okay with the two of you...you know..."

"I think it was a little awkward for him at first, his student and his best friend together. But he was good about it. All he cared about was that we were happy."

"And that he not hear too many details," Sephiroth said thoughtfully.

Zack's eyes went wide. "You tried to give him details?"

"I merely commented on your stamina and focus. I thought he would be pleased to know this, but he covered his ears and threatened to throw himself on the Buster Sword."

Zack groaned through his hands. "Be glad you didn't come along any earlier than you did, Spiky. That could've been you."

"Your sword?" Cloud asked. "The same one?"

"Uh-huh. Angeal left the Buster to me, and me to Sephiroth."

"General's privilege," Sephiroth said with a smirk. "I always get the best prize."

The rest will be along soon! Please let me know what you think!