Summary: In which Zack is forced to get a haircut...

Warnings: foul language

Disclaimer: Not my characters.

Zack huffed in irritation, blowing a short puff of air at the bangs hanging in his eyes. His bangs were really starting to get in the way. And his hair was getting uncomfortably itchy and ticklish since it was beginning to touch the back of his neck. He adjusted his grip on his weapon and shook his lengthening mane in a futile attempt at clearing his vision, hastily dodging one of his mentor's speedy lunges with a quick half-step and spin that was just the slightest bit off balance.

Angeal noticed the action and bit back a sigh of irritation, choosing instead to glare and lower his weapon. "Zack! Why haven't you gotten that haircut yet?"

Zack winced at the sharp demand and sheepishly scratched the back of his head. "Whoops. I, uh, I'll make sure that I do it today..." The disbelieving look on his mentor's face was enough to make him take a small step back. "I'm serious, man! I'll get it done on my own, don't worry about it!"

"This afternoon."

"Right, this after—hey! Whaddya mean this afternoon?!" he demanded, protectively patting his thick black spikes.

The bigger man rolled his eyes at the ridiculous sight. "Zack..."

Zack pouted and turned watery, sad eyes his way. "But Angeal..."

Shit, the kicked-puppy look. Determined to win this battle, (Zack was getting distracted by his own hair) Angeal slid his eyes past his student's face and folded his arms, studiously ignoring the urge to soothe the boy's feelings. "Either you get it done, or I drag you down Loveless Alley to the barber's myself, Zackary!"

Zack took two steps back and put his palms out in a half-fending, half-peaceful gesture. "Now wait a minute…"

Angeal sighed again and closed his eyes, before pinching the bridge of his nose. Might as well give the boy a head start. "Zack, we're going today. And that's final. You know your hair grows fast and that you have to keep it tamed or it'll distract you from doing the simplest things."

He opened his eyes, and blinked at the sight of the open training room door. No Zack in sight. Wow, he'd actually gotten faster and quieter in his haircut getaways; Angeal was surprised that he hadn't heard his student's boots pounding across the room. There was one bright side to this unofficial game of chase that he and his student played every other month, though.

At least he knew that Zack was learning his lessons well.

Thirty minutes later, Angeal was still impressed, since he had yet to find Zack. Usually, he could locate the boy within minutes, but apparently, someone had been paying attention to their combat lessons or getting stealth lessons from a Turk. He hadn't seen a hint of his student since the kid had taken off. He'd talked to a few Seconds and Thirds that he knew to hang around the boy, but they hadn't seen him since that morning.

Angeal had already checked Zack's apartment and the SOLDIER lounge floors with no luck, but he wasn't in any particular hurry.

Because he had an ace up his sleeve that he was sure he wouldn't have to use.

The dark-haired First Class smiled to himself as he continued the search for his student, wondering what Zack's next move would be in order to effectively dodge his mentor.

Four hours later, and well past seven o'clock, Angeal had gone from a cocky hunter, to a seriously stumped mentor.

Just where on the Planet had Zack gone and how was he staying hidden so gods-damned well?

"Careful old friend, frowning like that, one could mistake you for an old man," Genesis's smooth baritone alerted him that the red-coated man was right next to him, and he looked up, the lines falling from his face as he smiled at his childhood friend.

"Genesis," he greeted. "It's so nice to know that you're the voice of my vanity. Where would I be without you?"

"In the very depths of despair, my dear friend, for this world couldn't last long without one who knew of the gift of the goddess."

Angeal resisted the urge to roll his eyes and continued on his path. A comfortable silence reigned between the two for a moment before Genesis asked, "Where is your puppy, Angeal?"

The frown immediately darkened his face again in response to the question. "Today was supposed to be the day he got a haircut, but…I haven't found him yet," he confided, giving his friend a small sideways glance.

Genesis was quiet as a thoughtful smirk found its way onto his face. "I see…so that's why you were looking so worried. Did your pup finally manage to outwit you this time, Angeal?"

"Unheard of," a voice stated mockingly behind them. Startled, both Firsts nearly drew their swords before the familiar creak of leather reached their ears and they turned as one to regard Sephiroth, who had a teasing smirk on his graceful features.

Genesis pouted, his features sullen as he regarded the General of SOLDIER with a hint of challenge lighting his eye. "Must you always prove that you're the perfect SOLDIER by sneaking up on us, Sir?"

Sephiroth ignored the comment in favor of leveling Angeal with a bland look. "I take it you failed to get the puppy to obey and get his haircut," he decided after searching his friend's face for a long moment. "How long has he managed to elude you this time, Hewley?"

Angeal grimaced and glanced at his watch before sighing out loud. "About four hours and thirty six minutes."

Silvery eyebrows shot upwards in surprise, while a sound between a snort and a laugh erupted from Genesis's direction. Angeal wrinkled his nose at them before running a broad hand over his slicked back hair. "Yeah, yeah, laugh it up. I don't see you two chasing down any brats."

"And for a good reason, apparently," Genesis muttered snidely.

"Do you require assistance locating him?"

Angeal paused at Sephiroth's question, barely noticing when his friends stopped on either side of him. For some reason he was stuck between accepting and denying assistance; asking for help felt almost like…cheating or something. But still…who knew where Zack had gone to avoid his teacher? Angeal folded his arms and continued walking for a moment before reluctantly agreeing, "If you've got time, I won't say no."

Cramped, uncomfortable, and horribly thirsty, Zack silently willed the hours away till the barbers' closing time.

After briefly discussing what they all knew of Zack, the First Class trio eventually agreed to divide the search amongst themselves in different sections and floors of the building.

"Look guys," Angeal started, "I know Zack and I already checked with Zack's friends, but they haven't seen him."

Sephiroth's smirk didn't quite cover the impressed gleam in his eyes. "Ah, I see now. The puppy has covered all his basics and avoided contact with anyone or anything traceable. I must say, it's unusually thoughtful of him."

Genesis snorted in disagreement. "This is Zack you're referring to, Sephiroth. I doubt that he has the foresight or the deviousness to plot such an elaborate escape. Not to mention the brainpower," he muttered.

The dark-haired SOLDIER glared at his friend before taking a moment to glance at his phone. His sudden, uncharacteristic curse caught the attention of the other two Firsts as the normally sturdy man grumbled out sullenly, "It's almost eight and the barber closes at nine, we have to find him."

"Calm yourself old friend," Genesis murmured as he lightly grasped Angeal's shoulder. "I'm sure the puppy is fine. You can rest your mothering instincts for the moment. I highly doubt that the pup has managed to slip into a lion's...den..."

The simultaneous horrified expressions on Angeal and Genesis's face made Sephiroth smirk in honest amusement.

As his two friends strode off in different directions to search, Sephiroth leisurely made his way in another, wondering if he should inform them that he had a pretty good idea of where Angeal's pupil was tucked away.

Maybe later.

Sometime later, a small bit of maneuvering allowed him to open his phone and check the time.

He was unsurprised to see his inbox sporting two new messages from Kunsel, two from Angeal, and one from Luxiere. Oddly enough, near the bottom was an anonymous message with no subject.

Angeal (16:12:59): Come out, come out wherever you are, Pup. You can't run away forever.

Yes, he could too if he wanted.

Kunsel (16:34:45): Where are you, Zack? Angeal just stopped by looking for you. He looked kinda frustrated.

Course he's frustrated, hence why Zack had made himself scarce.

Luxiere (17:56:19): Oi, Zack! Your mentor just stormed off the elevator demanding to know where you were. What'd you do?

It wasn't what he'd done so much as what he hadn't done that was the problem.

Angeal (20:02:03): Zack, this isn't funny anymore boy. This is for your own good, Pup.

Who said Zack was laughing? And he knew what was good for himself, thank you very much.

(No subject) (20:05:08): If not today, then tomorrow. It is inevitable. Your mentor is a determined man, young one.

...Okay, who the hell was that, and why was he suddenly creeped out beyond all reason?

Kunsel (20:11:32): Hoo boy, Zack! I think you're gonna get it! I heard Genesis Rhapsodos was out looking for you, too! And everyone knows how he hates being delayed in reading his Loveless. Boy, oh boy, what'd you get yourself into this time, Zack? (Might as well tell me while you're still living.)

"Gee, thanks a lot, Kunsel," Zack muttered under his breath, shifting himself so that he could tuck the phone back into his pocket after a quick glance at the time. "What a loving, supporting friend."

The young SOLDIER 2nd warily eyed his surroundings. Only fifty minutes...surely he could last that long, right?


Zack snorted, then winced as a dust bunny the size of his fist whizzed past his face in the small puff of air. Strangely enough, that didn't just look like dust in that thing, but it kinda looked a little like...

"Shit," he muttered in nervous realization. A fucking cobweb. He was face to face with some creepy spider's leftover mobile home and if the little bugger was still around, it might decide that Zack's hair might make a better nest or something. He shuddered at the thought of millions of spider babies flying from his spikes when he shook his head or swarming his hands in militant, mutant droves when he tried to wash it.


The sudden sound of the door whirring open with a mechanical hiss jerked Zack from his morbid thoughts. He seized every muscle in his body and slowed his breathing, willing his suddenly active heart to calm down so that the SOLDIER entering the room wouldn't hear its beating and be alerted of its owner's position.

The heavy tread of standard-issue boots echoed as their owner neared the room he was in, and Zack tensed in surprise at the rapid pace of the footsteps.

Had he been found out, then? Only minutes away from avoiding a snipping and he got caught. Great.

A heavy curse surprised Zack from his thoughts. Angeal never cursed, but the man himself was saying things that would make a sailor from Junon blush. Zack saw the boots suddenly move in and out of his field of vision as his mentor impatiently paced back and forth in his room. He tensed as the pacing suddenly stopped, and stilled himself as a heavy body sunk into the mattress above his head.

'C'mon, Gaia,' he thought desperately. 'Can't I win just one round of hide-and-go barber?'

Angeal was puzzled.

Where the hell had Zack gotten to? Forty minutes till the barber closed shop for the night and the boy had still managed to hide himself for this long.

He had to admit, he was a little proud of his puppy for having the patience to hide himself so well. Usually, the boy would take off for the nearest spot and be discovered anywhere from ten minutes to an hour, but this time was a completely different story.

Resigned to the thought that maybe he'd have to drag Zack to the barber's tomorrow kicking and screaming, he began a steady pace, his mind mulling over a way to get Zack to go into Sector 8 without expecting a haircut. He scowled to himself, cursing when he thought of just giving up and letting the puppy win. Most weren't aware of it, but Angeal Hewley was fairly competitive and just hated the idea of giving up to anyone.

A sudden buzz in his pocket alerted him to an incoming text. Hoping that his friends had found something, he hurriedly flipped open his phone and stopped his hurried footsteps before looking at the contents.

Genesis (20:25:09): I'm sorry that I couldn't find your Pup, Angeal, perhaps you should just take him tomorrow. Current Score: Puppy-1, Angeal-0.

Angeal groaned at the dig and sunk onto the bed in frustration.

(No subject) (20:26:35): I have a riddle for you: where do puppies hide when they fear the wrath of their masters?

"What the hell," the confused SOLDIER First wondered aloud. "Where do puppies hide...?"

Angeal blinked as he cut himself off and got to his feet before slowly lowering his gaze to the darkness under his bed. No, he wouldn't be...

Would he?

Zack grimaced as he heard the words Angeal spoke and watched in horrified dread as those booted feet slowly turned to face the bed; complete silence reigned for a moment before his vision was suddenly dimmed and filled with a stern, disbelieving face.

"Godsdamnit!" His mentor swore as he scowled at Zack's tucked in position under the bed. The younger SOLDIER yelped at the fierce tone and hastily scooted himself as far away from the older male as possible, sincerely grateful that Angeal's bed was against the wall.

"Get the hell out from under there, Zack," Angeal roared in frustration. When the boy in question stubbornly shook his head and remained lodged under the bed, the older man gritted his teeth and plunged his arm under the darkness of the bed.

Now, Angeal was known to be a bit broad in the shoulders; add that to the fact that he had on his shoulder pauldrons...well, it wasn't a bit surprising when he met empty air. Zack was grinning at the reaching hand in a way that could only be described as wary triumph, but he made no move to test the limits of his mentor's flailing limb, especially since the older man had wised up and removed the shoulder armor.

In a very deliberate manner, he opened his phone and read aloud, "Eight twenty-eight. I'd say it takes...oh, about ten minutes to walk to the shop from the entrance and about fifteen minutes to snip my hair." Enjoying himself, Zack made a show of counting off on his fingers, "Eight thirty-eight, eight forty-eight, plus five...eight fiftyyy...three?"

He blinked innocent blue eyes at his mentor, who snarled in response before redoubling his efforts to snatch his protégée from under the bed. Zack made a huffy sound when a broad hand nearly closed on one of his unruly spikes. "Even if you manage to pull me out now, you won't get me there in time to get a good cut in," he concluded with a haughty air.

Angeal paused and carefully withdrew his arm and merely settling down to eye the wary youth gazing back at him. "...if you come out now, I won't punish you in training tomorrow," he promised gravely.

Zack looked as if he was contemplating his offer before suddenly shaking his head as much he could with a happily chirped, "Nope!"

"Zackary," the First Class ground out in warning. "I'm trying to make an offer here."

"Pfft. Puh-lease, 'Geal. I may be restless, but I'm far from stupid; as soon as you get a hold of me, you're gonna run my ass into the ground until I collapse. Then you'll still go make me get a haircut tomorrow." He gave his fuming teacher a winning smile. "Besides, this way, I get a chance to win for once!"

Angeal was getting discouraged now; he slumped his forehead against the ground and breathed out a miserable sigh through his nose before saying in a defeated breath, "Okay, Pup. You win."

Zack gave his characteristic grin before letting out a happy whoop. But the unaffected huddle piled in front of the bed only served to make him feel slightly guilty; cautiously, Zack reached out a hand to lightly pat the older man's disheveled mane, an apology resting on the tip of his tongue.

That was his mistake.

With the lighting-fast reflexes befitting those of a SOLDIER First Class, Angeal whipped his hand underneath the bed and latched a rough, callused palm around his student's wrist. His grip was unrelenting as he bodily tugged the younger man out amidst indignant, thwarted howls erupting from the younger man's mouth between pleading whines and curses.

When the Second Class finally quieted enough to meet the triumphant, mako-greened eyes and the mile-wide grin of his mentor, he swallowed heavily as he was steadily set on his feet and hastily frog-marched out of the room without so much as a by-your-leave.

"Shit," he muttered sullenly.

Eddy "Big Ed" Curtis Jr. had owned Big Ed's Casual Cuts for a solid ten years without the old man's shrewd eyes looking over his shoulder and stingily managing the books. Eddy Sr. had been a shrewd, bitter old man that was all about business and nothing else; he made no bones about his anger towards ShinRa, despite owning a business on the plate that catered primarily to ShinRa's workers. His mother often said that it was because the old man had spent the rest of his life cutting and taping the hair of the very men that he had once aspired to be, which made him sour as a month old lemon.

Despite the old man's crabby nature, Junior had managed to grow up into a kind, fun-loving man with a bright, if somewhat shy smile, and a wonderfully sincere temperament. His father's glaring silences had often made customers uncomfortable, which had contributed to the family business's steady decline over the years. It was only until Junior had taken over that more people had started coming, and then they had gotten regulars—most of whom were SOLDIERs and infantrymen in ShinRa that couldn't stand the fancy, overpriced barbers and salons that the executives and office drones used.

So it was a credit to his prosperous history dealing with the army that Big Ed, five minutes away from closing time, suddenly found a hulking shape filling his doorway, dragging a struggling, slightly smaller form behind it; rather than doing what any sensible shop owner would and turning the two stragglers away, he merely unpacked his kit and gathered up a cover, comb, and scissors.

Giving a wicked grin, Ed gave a friendly wave to both and patted his barber chair. "Hiya, Zack. Evening, Commander. You know where to plant 'im, Mr. Angeal, Sir. 'M surprised ya didn't bring 'im in sooner."

"Good evening, Ed. I trust you are well?" Angeal inquired politely as he gave his squirming bundle a narrow-eyed glare. "It took longer than I anticipated to get him ready."

"...hey, Ed," Zack grumbled as he stubbornly crossed his arms and settled into the chair he'd been unceremoniously dumped into. Big Ed smiled at the expression on the boy's face before carefully spreading the hair cover over Zack's uniform.

"Now, now, boy. You know you're m' favorite customer of all! I can't have ya mopin round in a snit. Just sit back and I'll be done in a jiffy."

Some of the stubborn reluctance seemed to dim from Zack's face as he rolled his eyes and gave a light grin. "You still shoulda closed the door in our faces," he told the barber in mock severity. "Then I coulda kept my beautiful curling locks for another day."

The older man burst into laughter as he studiously checked the scissors and lifted a long spike of hair. "Heh, these have gotta be the stiffest curls I've ever seen, boy." He raised an eyebrow a bit at the light sheen. " been headin off to one o' those girly, prissy-pants salons where they oil ya hair, kid?"

The young Second Class looked highly affronted, "He— " a warning look from Angeal "—heck no, Ed! I'd trip on my own sword before walking into one of those places!"

Angeal stiffled a sudden grin as a bit of his mean streak surfaced. "You didn't exactly walk here either, Zack."

Zack grumbled as both men laughed at him, but the telltale twitch of his lips gave his own amusement away. "You know I'd never cheat on Ed," he joked.

"Much obliged there, Zack," Ed said gratefully. After a moment, he patted the kid on the head and delicately pulled the hair cape from around his shoulders announcing, "There ya go, son! All done for this month."

Angeal blinked in confusion before glancing at his watch with a surprised frown. "Really? But that only took five minutes…"

Zack whooped before messily running his hands through newly trimmed spikes and sighing in satisfaction. He gave the barber a cocky grin. "Perfect as always, Big Ed! I always look forward to coming to see you at the beginning of the month."

"Zack," Angeal barked in baffled laughter. "If you like coming to see him so much, then why do you always insist on dodging me on haircut days?"

Zack just grinned, eyes practically squinting shut as he held back gales of laughter.

"Uh, I think I can answer this one, Mr. Angeal," Ed said calmly, his look not bland enough to hide the laughter dancing in his old eyes. "It's the chase."

Seeing the furrowed brows aimed in his direction only made the older man chuckle as he efficiently began repacking his tools. "He doesn't mean any harm, he just…the boy just wants to play, Angeal. He's trying to lighten ya up a bit." From the corner of his eye, Ed watched Fair creep towards the door with the biggest pie-eating grin in the world on his face as his mentor turned to fully regard the patient barber brushing stray hairs off Zack's previously occupied seat.

"Playing," Angeal said flatly, his tone both amazed and annoyed as he stared the older man down. The Kalmish man just patted the larger man on a brawny shoulder as he swept black hairs into a grayed out dustpan that may have started out life black.

Zack slid out the door without a sound.

"Cocky little brat," Angeal murmured to himself when he noticed a moment or so later.

But despite the words, Ed could hear the almost fatherly pride in his voice and turned to hide his face. "Alright, now. It's best you catch 'im before he gets into anymore mischief, sir," he said patiently.

Unbidden, Angeal felt his lips twitch in fond amusement as he headed for the door. "Why…do you always let us come in late?" He wondered.

"More fun that way," was the reply. "Gives ya both more time ta play hide-n-seek. Simple as that."

Sometimes, Angeal wondered if he was the only sane person he knew. As he walked back to the compound, he received a text:

Zack (21:11:17): Don't think I'm not on to you old man! I know you cheated this time, but next time, I'll find an even better spot! : P

'Yep,' Angeal decided. 'Definitely the only sane one.'

QNC: Ok, I dunno about you guys, but for some reason, I fell in love with Big Ed and his wise country self. This was originally three parts, but I changed my mind since I'm already stressed enough as it is IRL. Anywho, lookout for other oneshots, k? Also, if you see any mistakes let me know; I'm now actively seeking a beta to help me out since my English professor has killed my confidence in proofreading my own works. PM me if you're interested, but you gotta know a good bit about FF7 and a bit about Kindgom Hearts. Later guys!