By: Ziggy Pasta

Author's Note: Hello and welcome! I am thankful for your interest in this story of mine. First off, I will warn you of several things before you read, just to clarify this story beforehand. For one, it contains a gay male relationship, so if you don't like it, run away. Second, this story is very depressing, so if you like total complete 100% fluff I don't suggest reading this. It will be depressing, tragic and angsty, but will have some romantic fluff mixed in as well. Also, this contains several OC characters that will play a large role in the plot movement of the story (plot devices). If you are wary of original characters, I assure you that the ones in this story are likable (if not lovable) and relatable, and are in no way Mary Sues/Gary Stus. Also, the first ten chapters or so are a bit rough around the edges, but my writing gets smoother and better as the chapters go on. I will be going over each chapter and rewriting some things soon.

There are rape themes, suicide themes, death themes, violence, prescription drug abuse, foul language, and mental health/psychological themes.

So yeah, I warned ya. Enjoy!

Chapter One: Enigma

An unbelievable sensation.

He was sweating. His chest was heaving. His threw his head back, letting out a loud groan. "Y-yeah!" His eyes squeezed shut, and the muscles in his body were taut. "R-right there."

The young blond looked up with apprehension, his face moistened with what the man could only have guessed was a flushed sense of nervousness. "L-like this, Zack?" His voice came out meek, barely there.

"No, you're holding it wrong." Zack reached down with shaking arms and corrected the blond's hands, readjusting them to ease up on the pressure he emitted unintentionally. "There. That's a good angle. Keep going, Cloud."

Cloud obeyed silently, glancing up every now and then to study the reaction on Zack's face and to read into the expressions he made as his hands worked on him with diligence.

"Good kid," Zack said and let a relaxed sigh escape his lungs as he closed his eyes, the feeling of Cloud's warm body between his thighs soothing.

Cloud stopped after a few moments, his voice coming out in a slight panic. "There's … a lot of it!"

Zack let out a lucid laugh, the sweat that was trickling down his face causing him to shiver. The air around them was thick and hot, almost unbearable. "Well, that's what happens when you're too rough."

"I-I'm sorry, Zack, I can't do this anymore." Cloud began to pull back, his eyes wide with panic and disgust. He was stopped by Zack's hand grasping onto his arm firmly. Zack spoke low, almost a whisper.

"You're all I have, Cloud."

Cloud swallowed hard, staring at him with a face that was frightened, a face that wanted to run from fear. "B-but … I don't know what I'm doing."

Zack then spoke in a reassuring tone, trying his hardest not to come off sounding desperate; he didn't want to scare the boy away. "You're doing great. It'll come naturally to you."

"O-okay," Cloud said and reluctantly slid back down onto his knees between Zack's legs and continued to wrap his bleeding thigh in a bandage.

"You look so pale, is this your first time seeing this much blood?" Zack's voice rolled out of his throat, followed by an amused laugh as Cloud nodded his head silently, a grimace on his white face. "I'm sorry to put you through this, Cloud. But there's no one else to help right now."

Cloud continued to nod numbly, his hands shaking at the sight of the deep wound in Zack's thigh. He said nothing. Zack continued to reassure Cloud through gritted teeth, the pain coursing up his torso from his thigh in an annoying throb. It felt much like a migraine, but in his leg.

A 'thighgraine'? Zack mused to himself, trying to focus on something asinine in his mind to distract him from the pain. But he failed at this, and the pain relentlessly persisted.

Cloud leaned forward with his head going down to Zack's crotch area, his mouth grazing up against his bare thigh as he took the bandage between his teeth and ripped off the remainder of the roll, finally finishing dressing the wound. Zack flinched involuntarily. The feeling of Cloud's warm breath against his skin and the feeling of his soft hair brushing up against him made it hard not to grasp Cloud's head and hold it there between his legs. But Zack, once again, didn't want to scare the boy away. He forced probing thoughts down into his mind and managed a weak smile as Cloud pulled back.

"See? That wasn't so bad, was it?"

Cloud slipped back onto his bottom, his eyebrows arching in a rather pitiful look. He looked down to Zack's blood on his own hands as his shoulders wilted with distress. "I … I'm sorry," he murmured. "This happened because of me."

Zack let a small groan escape from him as he bucked his hips, tugging his uniform trousers back up to his waist. He lowered himself slowly, buttoning the top with care. "C'mon now, Cloud. Don't beat yourself up over it. This is nothing that a SOLDIER 1st Class can't handle."

This seemed to have upset him more. "I should have been able to handle it!"

Zack leaned forward, placing a gloved hand on Cloud's shoulder reassuringly. "Hey, how were you supposed to know that the monster knew how to cast Blizzaga? That's a high level spell, even for some SOLDIER." He playfully punched Cloud in the chin when this did nothing to assure him. He tried to get him to snap out of the impending self-loathing he always seemed to hurl himself into whenever something went wrong.

Cloud's mind seemed to shut down at any given time, whittling what little confidence he actually had for himself down to practically nothing. How this pained Zack, and longed to grab the boy by his shoulders and shake him violently whenever he said something negative about himself, but that wouldn't have done much to remedy Cloud's self doubts. At first it was a bit of a hindrance to Zack, as much as he now hated to admit, but as time went by and as Zack began to nurture the boy, taking him under his wing as an unofficial mentor, he soon found that this little quirk of Cloud's to be rather endearing. It was what defined Cloud.

And what defined Cloud, also defined Zack. Never one to turn his back on a friend or loved one, that certain quality in the SOLDIER made it next to impossible not to feel for Cloud, and he soon took it upon himself to make sure that this boy was taken care of. There was something so intoxicating about him that Zack could never quite figure out what it was. It started out as a simple request from the SOLDIER to Cloud's fellow infantry unit to watch over him during missions. But after Cloud had returned injured from a mission to the Materia Cave on the Western continent, that request from Zack soon turned into a personal mission he gave to himself to decipher the intriguing enigma that was Cloud.

Zack found this enigma to be staring back at him with soft eyes and a concerned look. He hadn't realized that he fell silent for several excruciating moments, much to Cloud's dismay.

"Zack?" His voice came out young and gentle.

"Wanna help me up, buddy?"

Cloud nodded with much vigor, jumping to his feet faster than Zack had ever seen him move. He must have thought that he had to do something useful, since he obviously felt guilty over Zack's injury. He reached down and grasped Zack's forearms and helped hoist him up onto his feet.

Zack then had to be the one to help Cloud back onto his feet as he suddenly fell forward, his eyes fluttering closed.

"W-whoa!" Zack caught Cloud as he fell against his chest, wincing as Cloud's knee nudged his injured leg. "H-hey!" Cloud murmured something incoherently, his face utterly pale. "It was just a little bit of blood, Cloud! C'mon now." Zack watched as Cloud's hand slid up his chest, gripping onto the brown leather strap beneath his pauldron to keep himself up. Zack reached down and tapped his cheek lightly, trying to rouse him from the brink of unconsciousness. "Get a grip, buddy."

After a moment, Cloud finally opened his eyes, but he didn't look up at Zack. He seemed embarrassed over his weakness and the position they stood in. "I'm sorry. I don't like blood."

Zack laughed as he continued to hold onto him until he could feel Cloud straighten out his legs and stand with his own weight. "No one likes blood, Cloud. No one but vampires and phlebotomists."

"Y-yeah …" Cloud lowered his hands from Zack's chest, his head cast down in the most sheepish expression Zack had ever seen him use to date.

"Can you walk?" Zack asked him, glancing around at their surroundings, which now flooded back into his senses. The pain had numbed out everything around him until that moment.

Cloud frowned heavily. "That's not something you should be asking me."

Zack noticed that Cloud was staring at his leg. His blood was soaking through the layers of bandages and spreading slowly across the fabric. "What, this? I told you – it's nothing I can't handle. Let's get back to Midgar before they send a search party out for us, though." He reached up and slapped Cloud on his shoulder.

Cloud began to teeter on his feet and Zack retracted his hand quickly, his eyes wide in fear that he may have caused him to lose his balance in his woozy state. Cloud corrected his wobbling and shook his head, trying to rattle his senses into working again. "I'm sorry Zack."

"Stop apologizing for something you shouldn't be apologizing for. I remember the first time I saw a lot of blood."

"Really?" Cloud looked up at him, his face softening from its dejected appearance. "Did you faint?"

Zack's heart sank as the boy looked hopeful, like he were able to connect with Zack on that level, as though Zack had a story similar to this one that would make him feel a little bit better about himself. But, unfortunately for Cloud, this was not one of those stories. All it was was a simple, "No." Zack frowned as Cloud's eyes fell to the ground, ashamed. "But, I did throw up afterwards."

Cloud laughed quietly, the color finally returning to his whitened skin.

"And you, my friend, have kept your lunch in your belly so I suppose you're a little bit better off than I was."

Maybe it really was one of those stories, after all.


"Well, let's get outta here. I'm officially all out of potions and the monsters will be lurking around again. I don't feel like dying up here on this cliff anytime soon, do you?"

"No. Definitely not," Cloud said, smiling faintly. He swung his assault rifle up onto his shoulder.

Zack gave Cloud one last pat on the shoulder before the two glanced over to the city of Midgar, which stood proudly before them on the close horizon.

Cold, dark eyes surrounded by the sterile white of the infirmary tried to dig into the SOLDIER's mind, attacking his nerves without uttering a single word. Arms were folded across a rigid chest, and a foot tapped impatiently against more sterile white.

"How could you let yourself get injured so easily?" said a firm, yet calm voice.

And a defensive, irritated response, "I just slipped up, okay?"

"It was a simple training mission," said the calm voice.

"Yeah well sometimes even SOLDIER makes mistakes," responded the defensive voice.

"Is Strife a hindrance to you?"

"Stop squirming, I can't heal you properly Mr. Fair," said a new voice, and caused the two men to jump slightly. A nurse was kneeling down by Zack's left thigh, her hands glowing with the hues of Curaga. "And this would be a lot easier for me if you were to lie down, Mr. Fair."

The two men ignored her.

"Tseng, we had a deal. You get Cloud assigned to me, and I stop acting so reckless on missions." Zack flinched as the nurse bumped his thigh with her small hands, and she blurted out a frightened apology.

Tseng shook his head, scoffing. His eyes glanced down to the healing wound on the SOLDIER's leg, nary a flicker of sympathy or understanding in his face. "Looks to me like you're not holding up your end of the bargain."

"Well it's not like I did it on purpose." Zack winced and withdrew his leg, looking down at the nurse with disdain. "Is this your first time? 'Cuz you're really awkward."

She blushed a terrible shade of shame and stammered several words that weren't necessarily in a language that any human spoke. With now shaking hands, she resumed her magic.

"If he can't improve even under direct training from a SOLDIER 1st Class, then I will personally see to it that he is shipped out for guard duty on the outskirts of the Northern Crater."

Tseng was such a hard person to read, and Zack couldn't tell if this was an empty threat or not. But a threat was a threat, and Zack didn't appreciate such blatant arrogance and complete disregard for what he was spouting off. Guard duty at the Northern Crater – bitter cold, merciless environment – was rumored to be the place where Shin-Ra sent the lowest of the low or the weakest links within SOLDIER and the army to work, as though a form of punishment. The thought of Cloud going there made slight panic rise in him.

"Look, he's getting better," Zack said, trying to hide any shred of defensiveness in his voice. "He managed to cast Fira without so much as breaking a sweat today! He's the one who killed the monster in the end. It wasn't me."

Tseng lifted an eyebrow over those cold eyes. "Is that right?"

Zack scoffed, throwing his hands up in the air. "Yes! What do you want, a written statement!?"

"Actually, yes. I expect a report of the incident on my desk by evening." Tseng turned and walked out of the room right as Zack let out a childish whine.

Tseng walked briskly passed a figure clinging against the wall outside the door of the infirmary room. His eyes briefly met that of Cloud's, and he continued on.

Cloud was giving him a very stiff salute as he passed, having heard the entire conversation, so the least he could do was appear attentive. He could now hear the nurse informing Zack of some precautionary instructions on how to keep his wound clean and what signs to look for in case it began to get infected – all of which Zack was paying absolutely no attention to, Cloud knew.

Tseng exited the infirmary, the glass doors letting out a hiss – a hiss that made Cloud finally relax. How Tseng made him nervous.

But a feeling of excitement entered him at that moment, as now he had some time to spend with Zack before he had to report back into the barracks for the evening. He had questions to grill the man with about SOLDIER – magic, swords, materia, and everything in between. Anything and everything his brain could conjure up for the short time they would have together began to swarm into his head, as his legs involuntarily began to move into the infirmary room.

And soon he found the questions being knocked out of his head as he, rather roughly, walked right into Zack, who was exiting. Cloud let out a small cry of surprise as he began to fall backwards, the balance taken right from him.

Zack moved swiftly, his hands going down and grasping Cloud's outstretched arm before he became parallel with the cold tile. "Whoops!" he said, chuckling and watching the shocked expression that formed across the blond's face as he hoisted him back up onto his feet – all before he even knew what had happened.

Cloud blinked hopelessly, his eyes darting back and forth on Zack's hand which still clung to Cloud's arm firmly, not wanting to let go until he was sure Cloud could stand on his own feet.

"You okay?"

Blood began to tingle behind the skin in Cloud's cheeks, but he willed it away after a quiet, yet embarrassed laugh. "S-sorry," he said.

"There you go, apologizing again for something that you shouldn't be." Zack's hand slowly lowered, watching Cloud's face carefully. "You sure have a bad habit of doing that."


Zack dragged a gloved hand down his face. "Dammit, Cloud."

Cloud squeezed his eyes shut, apologizing for apologizing too many times. "Sorry!"

"Just … shut up." Zack laughed and wrapped his arm around his shoulder, pulling him into his side in a brotherly fashion. "Hey! How 'bout some food?"

"But … shouldn't you be resting your leg?" Cloud said, but secretly was hoping for the opposite. He waited on edge for Zack's reply, hoping that he would say that it was nothing, and that he could spend all the time in the world with him.

"Nah, I want food, then dessert, then maybe seconds, and dessert seconds, and then sleep. In that exact order."

"Don't forget your report you need to write."

Zack's face fell flat. "Y-yeah. And the report." He reluctantly added that to the list. They exited the infirmary and began to walk towards the elevator, the sound of their footsteps echoing in the hallway. "Can we maybe slip that in after the seconds?"

"Wait. Between the seconds or the dessert seconds?" Cloud said, sounding confused.

"Um … well … maybe … never."

They both laughed together as the elevator door opened, and in they stepped. The door closed with a ding of the bell.

The blond stood more than uncomfortably in Zack's tiny living quarters on one of the barrack floors. It was located in its own section that housed the SOLDIER members only. He felt out of place, almost as though he didn't deserve to be on the same floor with so many great SOLDIERS.

Cloud was admittedly a bit jealous that he had to sleep in a large, cold room filled with loudly snoring and crude men in tiny bunk beds, while Zack at least got his own room with a small, but humble living space. But that was a perk that came with the job, Cloud knew. And Zack deserved the tiny one bedroom luxury, despite this jealousy.

He then began to wonder where Sephiroth's room was on the floor, and he grinned shyly to himself. How he would have loved to walk past Sephiroth's space and to pass by him. He would love to catch a glimpse, or perhaps maybe have Zack finally introduce him to his hero. But Cloud was content enough to be brought into Zack's little home, and began to feel giddy as though he were really meeting Sephiroth.

And this began to confuse him.

What started as admiration for the fact that Zack was a 1st Class, soon turned into admiration for Zack himself. He was strong and confident, charming and optimistic. In Cloud's eyes he was nothing short of the perfect SOLDIER; he was everything the young blond envisioned a SOLDIER to be. The sheer embodiment of a hero, like Sephiroth, and Cloud felt blessed to have developed a close friendship with him. Just knowing Zack made Cloud feel as though he himself were important and privileged, and that fact alone kept him motivated to try hard to be like him. Zack gave Cloud the strength and will he desired to feel at least on par with his fellow Shin-Ra infantry, as sometimes he pictured himself to be the busted leg of the unit. And of course, name dropping the fact that he was friends with Zack Fair, SOLDIER 1st Class came with some perks as well.

And Zack Fair, SOLDIER 1st Class had been talking to Cloud for some time now from his bedroom, but Cloud had zoned off.

"Cloud?" Zack poked his head out into his living room where Cloud stood, staring off distantly into the leather couch in front of him. He hadn't moved from where they first entered the apartment. "Cloud!"

Cloud blinked and forced a sheepish smile. "S-sorry."

"I asked if you were hungry."

"Oh … um … a-a little." He was lying. He was very hungry from the training in the outskirts of Midgar all day. Fighting creatures worked up an appetite quickly in him, and he longed for a nice hot meal that would put him in a food coma for several hours.

"Dammit," Zack said, his voice muffled from inside his bedroom.

"What's wrong?"

Zack laughed nervously. "I forgot to do my laundry. I have no clean pants to wear that aren't full of dirt and blood."

Another odd note – Zack was messy.

It was nothing that five minutes of picking up and a garbage bag wouldn't cure, but a mess was a mess, in Cloud's mind. His mother had always taught him to be clean and tidy, and she would scold him if he even so much as left a cup sitting on the table for too long unattended. Even being so far away from his mother, he still had SOLDIER operatives in charge of his barrack screaming in his face if his bed wasn't made properly in the morning.

Zack was apparently the opposite, having empty cups of instant ramen noodles strewn about across the coffee table in the living room, and Cloud wondered if that was all from one sitting, as Zack had a healthy appetite. A few magazines were flipped open on the black leather couch, a layer of dust blanketed the small television, and a few open bottles of water littered the counter top in the connecting kitchen. All were reasons for Cloud to feel that much more uncomfortable. Cloud was a bit mortified as he realized the mess was starting to bother him.

"Hey, make yourself comfortable, this may be a while as I search."

Cloud hesitantly walked over to the couch and sat down stiffly, the sound of the material beneath him squeaking. The cushions felt firm as though they were brand new, and given the amount of dust that covered the television in front of him, Cloud wondered how much time did Zack actually have to spend in his quarters.

Cloud could hear Zack laugh rather loudly, and he turned on the couch to face the doorway to Zack's room.

"How mad do you think Tseng would be if I wore shorts to the chow hall?"

"Very mad," Cloud said with a smirk. "As mad as he will be if you don't give him a report of the training mission today."

Zack grumbled, and his voice became clearer as he stepped out into the living room wearing nothing but his boxer-briefs. "I'm screwed. All my clothes are dirty."

Cloud's eyes briefly fell upon the man's chest, taking a bit longer of a look on his defined abs than he had planned, taking but a moment longer to wander the firm stomach, to wonder how hard Zack had to work to look like that.

He quickly tore his gaze away. Whether his eyes lingered for too long because of jealousy, or something else hidden inside his mind, he wasn't sure. "Just wear dirty clothes then, it's just the chow hall," he finally said.

"Hey! This SOLDIER's gotta look good at all times, pal. You'll understand sooner or later, when you join." He paused for a moment and then darted into the bathroom. "I think I may have something thrown in here." The light was flicked on, and Zack disappeared inside.

Cloud tugged at the knee of his issued Shin-Ra trousers, uncomfortable. He hoped that Zack would clothe himself soon. His eyes went to a magazine next to him to try and take his mind off of, well, Zack.

"Can you hurry? I'm beginning to starve over here," Cloud eventually said with a playful whine. He picked up a magazine about Shin-Ra weaponry, and he immediately threw it back down onto the couch. But it looked out of place, so he picked it back up again and neatly set it down on the coffee table in front of him. But now it looked odd next to several cups of ramen, so he picked those upright.

But now the ramen was a bit funny sitting there, so he picked them up and stood, walking over to the kitchen to find the garbage can. He tossed them out and turned, seeing the half-empty bottles of water. So he dumped those out into the tiny sink and tossed them in with the ramen to keep them company. They seemed happy together in the garbage can, and Cloud was pleased that he could introduce the two together and start a new friendship between ramen noodles and water bottles.

But the sink had some lonely dishes in it, so Cloud picked up the sponge and began to spend some time with them so they didn't seem so alone and dejected. Or at least, this was how Cloud justified it in his head to be cleaning Zack's place.

He was unaware that Zack had heard all of the friendship going on and he stood behind the small bar counter that connected his kitchen with the living room, grinning at the blond who stood oblivious, unaware that he was being watched and laughed at silently.

Zack waited for Cloud to turn the faucet off before he spoke. "Having fun?"

Cloud twirled around, his face pale and his eyes wide. "I-I'm sorry!" He lifted a wet hand to his face and cupped it over his mouth. "I didn't mean to impose."

"It's all right. I know, my place is a mess. I never have time to clean it, really."

"I didn't mean to be rude."

Zack shook his head, chuckling at the bumbling blond. "Don't worry about it. I'm not mad."

It was then that Cloud noticed that Zack had the same amount of clothes on as he did a few moments ago. Cloud looked away.

Zack noticed Cloud's sudden uneasiness and decided that it had nothing to do with the fact that Cloud was caught cleaning up his apartment, red-handed. "What's wrong?"

"N-nothing. I'm just … tired." He lied again.

Zack frowned as he looked over his friend whose attention was at the front door with a look like he wanted to bolt through. Zack realized then that he wasn't wearing much clothing. It hadn't occurred to him, as he was comfortable in his own place and he was used to being around other men in any situation. Having gone through Shin-Ra infantry, and then SOLDIER throughout the years, being around other people with barely any clothes on was hardly a thing to worry about for Zack. He thought that Cloud would have been used to that too, having to share barracks with about thirty other men at a time, and showering with those people as well. Why would Cloud be so bashful all the sudden? He decided to not probe at him and turned to find something to wear.

Cloud relaxed, seeing Zack retreat back to his room through the corner of his eye. He shook his head, a bewildered expression crawling across his face. He just couldn't look at him, and he knew that it showed.

After several moments, the SOLDIER finally emerged wearing the same uniform he had when they had entered the place. The same pair of trousers that had a huge tear in the thigh, surrounded by the same blood stain from his injury, wearing that same bubbly look on his face as the thought of food in his near future crossed his mind.

Cloud looked at Zack and smiled softly, seeing that look he recognized. "Food time?"

"Hell yes. Sorry to keep you waiting, Cloud. I guess this'll do after all." He walked to the front door and Cloud noticed he was walking with a slight limp.

His heart sank. "Are you sure you want to go all the way to the chow hall? I can bring you back something, if you like." Cloud trotted over to him as Zack was bent over, tying his boots with a slight wince. Cloud was hoping that Zack would agree to this, so he could be of some assistance to him.

"Nah, I'm fine. Just a little sore. I'll sleep it off." He threw open the door as Cloud hurriedly began to tie his boots back on.

Zack smiled at him as Cloud fumbled with the tongue of the boot that had seemingly eaten his laces. He waited patiently, but Cloud failed to notice his understanding demeanor and continued with his frantic search for the ends of his laces.

Cloud was so entertaining to watch at times, and his heart swelled when he realized that the boy was so eager to please him. It was rather endearing watching him scramble around, doing everything he could to be of use to him. Zack had to admit, it worried him a bit to know that the boy was so devoted to him, and Zack wished he would do things as enthusiastically for himself from time to time. But Zack was content in knowing that Cloud seemed to enjoy any activity he did with or for him, as long as it meant more time with each other.

"You know, you can slow down."

Cloud looked up at him from his seat on the floor, his knee brought up to his chest as he clumsily tied the laces he was finally able to unearth. "Sorry! I know you're probably in a hurry to get something to eat."

Zack began to laugh, looking down at Cloud who was too busy apologizing to notice he tied his index finger into the knot on his boot.

It took two hard tugs of his hand and a quick glance down to notice this. And then a red blush appeared on his face. A very red blush. He hung his head, hoping that his hair would hide the fact that he was utterly embarrassed once more.

But no amount of his wild hair would cover his face enough to hide it, as Zack squatted down, ignoring the burning pain in his leg as he helped Cloud remove his hand like father would do with his child who was learning how to tie their shoe for the first time. "Here."

This embarrassed Cloud even more and he looked away, ashamed of himself.

Zack tied Cloud's boot for him and flashed him a wryly grin, but Cloud didn't catch it as his eyes stayed miles away.

"I could sing you the shoe tying song if you need me to."

Cloud seemed to pout at this, which all the more edged Zack into more teasing.

"Over, under, around the tree …" he began.

"Shut up, you ass," Cloud said while laughing. He playfully shoved Zack's hands away and scrambled to his feet.

Zack let out a raucous laugh as he stood, watching as the blond stormed past him, completely embarrassed. "What would you do without me, buddy?"

Cloud ignored him but was still blushing a terrible shade of red.

They had not walked twenty feet before Zack was leaning up against the nearest wall and wincing in a sudden onslaught of pain from his wound. He was thankful for the empty hall, save for the worried blond, as he had let out a rather embarrassing yelp once the unwanted and unexpected pain coursed through.

Cloud was immediately at his side, his hands cupping Zack's outstretched arm to help him balance. A few beads of sweat rolled down Zack's temple, his vision seeming to course with the throbbing of the pain.

And another loud yelp as he attempted to take another step.

"Zack! You're not okay, I knew it." Cloud swung Zack's arm over his shoulder, supporting his weight against him as they slowly turned back to his quarters. "There's no way I'm letting you go all the way down to the chow hall. C'mon," he urged him after a moment of rest.

They made it back slowly and Zack flopped down onto his squeaky couch, letting a very long and exasperated sigh escape from between gritted teeth. He watched slightly amused as Cloud dragged the coffee table across the carpet and held out his hand for Zack's leg.

Zack obeyed and Cloud helped ease his leg onto the coffee table to elevate it. It instantly began to feel better. He leaned his head back, closing his eyes at the relief.

"So maybe it was a bad idea." He let out a questionable noise as he felt Cloud beginning to tug at his boot. A warm smile crawled across his face as Cloud removed his boots for him and placed them neatly by the door. "I could've done that, you know," he said in his defense.

"Just like you said you were fine and could make it down to the chow hall?"

Zack chuckled in response.

Cloud walked over to the television and swiped a gloved hand across the screen. He flicked it on and walked back over to Zack, holding out the remote. "Relax for a bit. I'll be right back."

Zack blinked in confusion as he silently took the remote, and before he could question Cloud, he was already leaving his quarters in a blond blur.

He realized at a moment what Cloud was doing, and shouted after him, "Bring back dessert!"

After much sweet talk from Cloud to the lady behind the mess hall serving food, he managed to escape with more than an arm full of boxed up meals, and of course, desserts. At first she was reluctant to let him leave with what was obvious more than he could possibly stomach, but after he used what little charm he thought he had on her, she eventually gave in. She even packed the meals for him.

Clambering through the halls filled with the rowdy and somewhat inconsiderate Shin-Ra infantry and SOLDIER mix was a feat all its own. But pushing way through this sea of power hungry and cocky men with a tower of foam boxes was even more admirable, as Cloud somehow managed to do it. Meek and polite pleas were first used, careful of who to address and in what tone, but eventually aggravation got the better half of him and he began snapping at people to move out of his damn way.

Finally he reached the 1st Class SOLDIER floor and let a long, heavy sigh as he carefully balanced his way down the empty hall.

Reaching Zack's residence he soon realized to his dismay that opening the door himself was next to impossible, as he found himself staring through a pile of boxes to the closed door in front of him.

"Dammit!" he said, frustrated. Should he knock? Should he get Zack to come help him, even though he was behind the door resting? Cloud shook his head, whimpering softly.

He began to slide one hand out from beneath the boxes, leaning back to allow their weight to be balanced against his chest and face. He let out a small cry as one almost toppled over, but he managed to balance it back in its place. He paused, feeling his heart beat heavy in his chest, thankful that the dessert that Zack so longingly wished for didn't end up as a new form of shoeshine on his issued boots. He was so engross in his balancing act that he was unaware of the footsteps beside him.

"Allow me,'" said a low, male voice.

Cloud could sense a form next to him reaching in front and opening the door for him. He stammered several polite apologies and thank yous to the person who stood besides him. He knew that it had to be some sort of high-ranking SOLDIER, bit as to whom he was unsure.

He slipped inside and heard the person close the door behind him, and through the tower of boxes he could see Zack grinning devilishly at him from the couch. He still had his leg obediently propped up on the coffee table, much to Cloud's surprise.

"What's that look for?" Cloud almost collapsed as he set the mound of boxes down on the table next to Zack's leg.

"How in the world did you manage to haul all those meals here, let alone get Sephiroth himself to open the door for you!?"

"S-Sephiroth!?" Cloud yelped, nearly choking on the saliva in his throat.

"You must've caught him in a generous mood for him to do that, especially for a 'grunt' like you," Zack said jokingly.

Cloud gave into the urge to collapse, and he so willingly did on the couch next to Zack, who was peering at him suspiciously.

"T-that w-was S-Sephiroth!?" His face was drained of its color.

"Yeah, you didn't notice?" Zack said casually as he leaned forward to grab a box from the middle, not even caring what was inside. He opened it like a treasure chest, carefully and considerately taking in the beautiful and hearty sight in front of him – big, fat cheeseburger. He purred with contentment.

Cloud would have been chuckling at the behavior of his friend if he wasn't so occupied reeling beside him.

Zack ignored Cloud and began to passionately eat his burger.

The blond continued to stammer to himself, staring into the television mindlessly, not taking in the sights before him on the screen.

After a few silent moments Zack waved a hand in front of Cloud's face, shrugged when he got no response, then resumed eating.

Eventually hunger got the other better of him, and Cloud reached forward with a now steady hand and grabbed whatever box he first touched and brought it to his lap. His face was still void.

Zack began to laugh at him uncontrollably then. Cloud was blindly fumbling for his utensil with his right hand, completely and utterly unaware that the fork he was searching for was in his left hand already. Blank eyes continued to watch the flashing screen in front of him.

"You're too cute!" Zack cried out, leaning to the side of the couch, racked with laughter.

"What?" Cloud blinked, looking over at Zack, his distant eyes now back to the present, filled with confusion and what almost looked like interest.

"What?" Zack said back through dissipating laughs, but the question was actually aimed at himself. His laughter subsided with several heaves of his shoulders at the realization of what he had just blurted out to Cloud. He slowly sat up, his eyes wanting to look away from Cloud's, but resisted. That would be too suspicious.

"What did you just say?" Cloud peered at him questionably.

"I said 'You're too cool!'" What a terrible, God-awful save.

But it seemed to be enough for the blond as he turned his gaze back to the television in front of him with a quick nod, and began to mindlessly eat his dinner from his lap.

Zack let out a very slow, constricted sigh that was inaudible to the blond beside him, and he was thankful for that. He bit his bottom lip, his eyes staring at the images on the screen, but was not processing them.

A thought occurred to Zack then as a shampoo ad flashed on the screen. "Why are you so shocked that it was Sephiroth?"

Cloud choked on the bite of food in his mouth.

Zack reached over and patted his back instinctively as Cloud took in gulps of restricted air, watching as his hand went up to his chest and pounded several times.

"W-what?" he squeaked out, his eyes wide with a dubious look.

"You got a thing for him or what?" Zack grinned, but then realized what he had said and then waved a hand dismissively in front of his face. "I mean, is he your hero or something?" He forced back an embarrassed flush that threatened to wash over his face. Zack had been hoping that Cloud would answer his original question, in hopes to determine if he was possibly into that sort of thing …

Cloud was the one to turn red out of the two, as his hand lowered from his chest and onto his box of food. He leaned forward and placed it on the coffee table quietly, trying to form his answer in his head.

Please, please, please, please answer the question. Zack's mind was a sudden jumbled mess, his heart racing in his chest.

But of course, like a tragedy, Cloud answered as vague as he possibly could, which really was no surprise to Zack at all. He was rather secretive and shy, and would possibly never admit anything of the sort.

"I was just shocked that he would help me out, is all."

Zack's shoulders slumped and he turned his attention back to the television in front of him dejectedly.

"I …" Cloud started, and Zack looked back at him with curious eyes. "I've just always wanted to meet him."

A tender smile broke out on Zack's face. "I could arrange that, you know."

"R-really?" Cloud was suddenly trembling at the thought and Zack could see this excitement in him, like a child who just received a brand new bike on their birthday.

"Let me pull some strings with Tseng, and I'll see if we can go on a mission or something soon, okay?"

Cloud nodded enthusiastically, the largest of the blond spikes on his head bobbing as he did this. His youth really showed at that moment as his light blue eyes sparkled on his face. Zack was wishing he hadn't lied.

Damn, he really is too cute.

Ending Author's Note as of 01/21/2018: After a four year hiatus from writing this story, I've finally continued writing. I don't have an update schedule like I used to, but I'll try to update at least once a month. I do suggest putting this story on e-mail alert, if possible. My goal is to stay minimum one chapter ahead of what I publish as a sort of cushion, but it's also so I can work out minor plot wrinkles and such before making the chapter public.

Also I think ffnet got rid of my scene dividers for pretty much EVERY CHAPTER, so sorry about that. If you prefer to read this on AO3, my username on there is ziggypasta.

My plan is to go back through the story, once it's finished, and really gut it and clean it up. My writing has evolved immensely since first starting this story back in 2009, so the majority of this story is due for a tune-up. Anyway, thank you for reading, and I hope you enjoy.