Chapter Title: Are You Ready Yet?

Word Count: 2,707

Summary: Cloud and Zack prepare for their boat ride.

Dedication: To anyone who has a perverted mind, like Zack. XD

A/N: There's not much to say about this chapter except that we get a mention of someone special to Cloud… and No! It's not Zack… well… at least not yet! And yes. As you can see, I am making Cloud fit into the whole "I'm a teen… so?" mood in this fic. I always felt that he was a bit more playful in Crisis Core and so that's what's going to go on in this fic! You have been warned! Mwahahaha! XD Enjoy! Oh, and if you don't know who my Beta is by now… then you really are not searching hard enough. XD

B/N: OH LOOK. IT IS I. THE BETA FOR THIS FIC. owo …hi guys! xD Look, look! Rain finally updated! HOORAY! Once again, I have merely touched up on this lovely fic, to make it flow smoother, and I hope you all can enjoy it! Although this is a short update, I feel like it's definitely worth the read. Rain hasn't told me what she has planned yet, but I just feel it in my bones that this is building up to something! And I know Rain won't disappoint. ;3 So I hope you all enjoy this long-awaited-for update! X3 Cheer Rain on into updating sooner! xD I can only do so much! –Laughs!- Till next time! X3

Chapter IV: Are You Ready Yet?

The sun shone brightly on Cloud's face. He squinted whilst his eyes were still closed, placing the blanket over his head. It was too early for someone who went to bed only two and a half hours ago to wake up to face the day. A normal person would not have the energy to get up to use the restroom, let alone get ready for a sea adventure. Zack, however, was not a normal person.

"Wake up, Sleepyhead!" The energetic man, no matter what time of day, was bouncing on top of Cloud. Almost screaming in his ear, Zack then began to pull on the sheets that the younger boy seemed to hold onto for dear life. "Let's go, Cloud! It's time to get up!"

Cloud moaned and simply shoved his superior off him. "Fifteen more minutes."

The dark-haired man threw his entire body on top of Cloud, demanding for the youth to rise from his slumber. "The ship leaves in fifteen minutes! I swear, if you don't get up, I'm going to have to force you to get ready… and we all know how you love that." Zack smirked, stroking the blonde's back tenderly.

Almost instantly, Cloud's eyes shot open. He rose to his feet, pushing Zack onto the floor, and rushed into the bathroom where only flowing water from the shower could be heard.

Zack chuckled, in spite of himself, whilst raising himself off the floor to get his belongings together. Fenad and Vollex were waiting for them from within the ship that was to take them near the town of Icicle Inn. Of course, this wasn't unusual for the duo. They were always the first ones to make it to a destination before any of their other team members. However, they did grow tired of waiting for their outlandish commander and his aloof subordinate.

All eight of his bags were packed and ready to go. He could hear the rumble of the shower coming to a halt whilst listening to tiny movements from within the room. Considering they only had eight minutes to make it to the ship before it set sail, Zack took the liberty to pack Cloud's belongings. He was confident that he wouldn't leave anything behind.

He only brought one bag. How hard could it be to pack it?

Little did Zack know that he would pack everything except for one important item...

"Okay let's see. I got his uniform… oh, wait… he's going to put that on now." With a simple toss of the clothing to the floor, the cerulean-eyed man began to pack up Cloud's possessions again. "Now where's his toothbrush? That's right! He must have left it in the bathroom when he used it last night! So… what else did he bring? Underwear? Found them! Whoa! Twenty-four pairs of underwear? How much does the kid need?"

At that moment, the blonde stepped out of the bathroom with only a towel around his waist. His hair was soaked and, Zack observed, it was a few inches above Cloud's shoulder. One could never really tell how long his hair was due to the gravity-defyingness to it. His body glistened from each water droplet that ran down his slender but dazzling form. His skin was a tad redder due to the hot water pouring on it from moments before, but he still looked exquisite in Zack's eyes.

How peculiar that his cheeks began to burn. Why would they? He'd been around people he felt attracted to before yet he never once felt nervous from it. If anything, he was known to be rather flirtatious. In fact, he even made a few public displays with even the boy in question, i.e. the truck ride. Nevertheless, this had been the first time he had ever seen Cloud with barely anything on.

"With you around, there's no telling how many pairs of underwear I may need." Cloud placed his arms across his chest, narrowing his eyes whilst wondering why his friend was going through his things.

He quickly looked away from his young friend, cheeks glowing crimson. "Really? You think I would do somethi-" Once again, Zack was cut off before he was able to finish his sentence.

"No! Remember that time when I wanted to do the laundry but you decided to do it in my place?"

"You mean the time when I put your underwear in the blender instead of the washing machine?"

"Yes. That's exactly what I mean."

"Heh… you're right then. You DO need that much underwear." Zack laughed whole-heartedly, finally overcoming his bashfulness and picked up Cloud's uniform from the floor. "Here you go, buddy. Hurry into this! We don't have much time left." He gently smiled and handed over the clothing.

Cloud smiled back, a rather faint smile, whilst walking a bit closer to Zack, which made the man somewhat nervous all over again. "Hey, Zack?"

"Uh… yeah?"

"Can I ask you something?"

Oh no… not now! We don't have enough time for that! Well, I guess I can go fast if I really put my mind to it.

"Wh-what is it?"

"Can you take off my underwear from your head? I kind of need it right now." A blush crept onto the boy's cheek. He never expected to say such a thing before and although he could have easily grabbed another pair in his bag, he didn't want the entire world to see them in plain sight on his superior. However, because they were friends first, he decided to not give the SOLDIER too much of a hard time. Odin knows that he could.

Zack sighed and handed over the plain black boxers. He turned his back to continue to pack whilst also giving the blonde some privacy, which wasn't needed for he trotted back into the bathroom.

I got my hopes up for nothing… Damn it…

"Zack," came Cloud's voice. It sounded muffled due to the closed door between him and the other soldier. "You're packing my stuff, aren't you?

"Well, if I let you do it, we'll be leaving to the Glacier in spring."

"Did you pack everything?"

"What, exactly, is 'everything'? Your toothbrush and some shorts? Man, you've packed nothing in here! And your toothbrush is still in there."

It was a normal routine with the two. Cloud asked a question. Zack gave a foolish reply. Cloud got frustrated and it went downhill from there. Of course, all was well again once Zack showed his much more caring side. A side that appeared on his countenance a few times a day… and a side that always managed to get the blonde in a much more relaxed, blissful mood. Something which wasn't apparent to either of them but was accepted as how it should be.

Cloud sighed with exasperation. "Forget about my toothbrush for a second! That wasn't the only thing I packed!"

"Then hurry up in there, princess. I don't know where you put your secret stash!"

The door to the bathroom slammed open, this time with a fully clothed Cloud appearing from it. His hair seemed a bit more unruly than it usually did. The young boy must have just run the towel through his hair a couple of times which would explain the "unique" hairstyle it usually settled into. This little insight to how the flaxen-haired boy prepared himself for the day made Zack's heart leap in delight. The boy never allowed for anyone to know about his habits. The fact Zack was able to see this side of Cloud gave him hope that maybe one day…

"You're hopeless," came the somewhat irritated voice of the blonde.

Zack scoffed playfully and poked Cloud's stomach once he was close enough. "Said the boy with the green skin. Ready to puke on Vollex again today?"

"Shut up." The young boy began looking around the bed. He seemed to be searching for something that was of value to him. Of what, Zack had no idea. However, not wanting to leave his friend to search on his own, he got down on all fours and searched under the other bed where Fenad had rested the previous night.

"What am I looking for?"

"It should be here…"

"What am I looking for?"

"Where could it be?"

Is he deaf or what?

"What am-"

"A picture." The blonde fell silent afterwards. The only sounds that could be heard were of him rustling through his belongings and on the desk where he placed the photo last night.

A picture… ?

In just a few moments, Zack looked behind the bedpost to find a picture frame. He assumed it must have fallen onto the floor during one of Vollex's escapades with his malted milk balls. The frame was bright silver with intricate designs Zack had never seen before, yet they seemed strangely familiar.

Huh… he's from Nibelheim… yet this doesn't seem to be made there. Then where…?

He continued to examine the photo further. It seemed to be slightly faded due to age but it was clear the picture contained a beautiful blonde woman with gorgeous blue eyes wearing a simple sky-blue house dress with an apron on top. Her pose was of her waving at the camera with a warm smile whilst carrying an iron in her free hand. The same picture he saw on Cloud's dresser back at HQ.

"Wow… what a babe. I do believe we have lift-off!"

Cloud looked up from searching his bag for the tenth time and dashed across the room to where Zack was. "Don't talk about my mother that way!" He snatched the photo from Zack's grasp and walked calmly over to his bag, placing it gently inside.

Zack was dumbfounded. "That was… your mother? No way! How can something as pretty as that give birth to something like you!? It makes no sense!"

"Shut up, Zack! Everything's packed so let's just go." With that said, the blonde turned on his heel and walked out the door in a much hastened strut.

Left to wander in his own thoughts, the dark-haired man began chuckling as he recalled the angered look on Cloud's face when the mention of his mother was being sprawled out from Zack's lips.

"So, that's his mother… I can tell she's a kind soul… just like him." He was, indeed, correct. She was an amazing woman with a caring heart. She sacrificed everything to raise her son properly. The hardships she had to endure… one could not even imagine. Unfortunately, now was not the time or place for such a tale… but perhaps soon…

The cerulean-eyed man smiled to himself and ran out the door of the shack, once again trying to catch up to his younger comrade.

I swear… that kid… is faster than Kunsel when he's looking for his next big scoop!

He rushed up the ramp of the ship just to see he was seconds away from being left behind.

"Phew! Made it!" Wiping imaginary sweat from his brow, he looked to his other three companions and grinned.

"Crap… I was hoping you'd get left behind."

"Now, now, Vollex. That's not a very nice thing to say." Fenad placed one hand on Vollex's shoulder. "You should apologize to him."

"I don't DO apologies."

"Ah, that's okay! I don't mind. I'll just have to call your wife to tell her you said she smelled like old cheese." Zack removed his cell phone from his back pocket and began dialing Vollex's number.

"No! Don't do that! I'm… ugh… sorry! There! Are you happy?"

He placed one finger over the 'Send' button, whilst glancing back at his companion with a mischievous look in his eyes. "Like you mean it."

"Damn you, Zack! Alright fine!" Vollex exhaled dramatically, acting as if this truly was a difficult task. "I'm very sorry. I truly do not deserve to be in your presence, Almighty Leader."

"That was a cheap act." Fenad playfully pushed Vollex, hoping he would stop his childishness and apologize correctly to the man.

However, this was not necessary considering how Zack fell for it. "Why, thank you, my good man! That wasn't so hard, was it?"

"Yes. Yes it was."

"You need to relax some more. Here. Let me help you."

"No. Wait! What are you doing? No! Stop! That's my lumbago!"

Whilst the two laughed at the grumpiest member in the group, Cloud stood at the edge of the boat looking out to sea whilst the ship took off. His eyes were lost; somewhere distant. To where, only his conscious knew, uneasy thoughts coming to shroud his mind. Why was it that he was the only one that wasn't allowed to enjoy this beautiful scenery?

Am I supposed to feel this out of place?

The ship sailed on for the next couple of hours without much of anything to keep them entertained.

Although… they were traveling with a rambunctious lot with the head being known for causing chaos. This trip wasn't going to be as peaceful as one would hope. After all, what else was there to do when you were trapped on a ship, miles away from your destination, surrounded by your best mates?

Zack would have an answer for that and, perhaps, it would make a certain someone realize this SOLDIER First-Class's antics had meaning to them… much more meaning than he realized.

Don't worry, buddy. Even if you feel you're all alone… Don't worry. Because… I'll be your ocean.