Title: Just Another Tuesday Afternoon

Summary: Zack has found a higher calling. A short, silly ficlet.

Disclaimer: All characters belong to Square-Enix.

Notes: Set pre-game. For Squeemu, who requested Zack/Sephiroth/Cloud: stains.

"I am now the owner of an erotic cake shop," Zack proudly announced, striding though the door.

Cloud stared at him. Sephiroth kept reading the newspaper.

It was quiet for thirty-seven seconds. Zack looked back and forth between the two of them, obviously waiting for acknowledgement and/or congratulations.

"That's…" Cloud paused for word choice, struggling. "Nice?"

"I thought so," Zack said happily. "Reno also holds a majority share. I got you an apron!"

He tossed a bundle at Cloud.

"That's nice," Cloud repeated helplessly.

"For God's sake, try to keep the damage to one sector," Sephiroth said from behind the newspaper.

"I make no promises," Zack said. "So, anyway, there was this card game—"

"Why is the crotch cut out of this apron?" Cloud asked.

"It'll make sense when you're wearing your special baking chaps," Zack promised. "So there was this card game, and there was this guy, and one thing led to another, and next thing I know he's putting down the deed to the store and I put my sword and materia in—"

"I'm not requisitioning you another sword if you've lost it again," Sephiroth said, still not looking up.

"I didn't lose my sword this time, aren't you listening to me? We both put our bets in, and I got Reno to drop some stuff in the pot also, and then he called, and I had a full house and he only had a flush, so I won the store. I'm retiring from being a SOLDIER."

"Oh?" Sephiroth said, uninterested.

"I've found a higher calling. It's totally awesome, there's even an apartment over the store. I have it all figured out, I'm gonna move Cloud and me into the apartment so we can live there at night and work during the day."

The last statement finally made Sephiroth put down the newspaper and make eye contact. He was using his Moderately Annoyed Glare, at middle to high setting. Cloud inched back into his chair, still clutching the apron. Zack seemed undeterred.

"You can't. You have a contract with Shinra. And even if you now own a cake shop—"

"An erotic cake shop," Zack interjected.

Sephiroth made a distinct noise of pain, but continued. "An erotic cake shop—"

"Why are there holes where the nipples should be in this apron?" Cloud asked.

"Reno did that," Zack said absently, and Cloud recoiled, dropping the apron hastily. "He made some of those stains, too. Don't worry, most of them are from chocolate, not blood. We took a tour of the place."

"Erotic bakeries are not a lucrative career path," Sephiroth said flatly, in a tone that brokered no argument.

"Shows what you know. I know guys here who would pay, like, a ton of gil for this kind of service. I mean, and that's just for the naked baker viewing options, not even for the cupcakes with nipples on them. We're also going to do party cakes. Like, the big ones where someone's inside, and they come out. By the way, Cloud, you're not allergic to whipped cream, are you?"

"I have to go wash my hands," Cloud said, already halfway through the door. He went straight for the kitchen sink, which wasn't filled with dishes for a change, and scrubbed fiercely for over five minutes with hot water and the super-industrial detergent he'd started buying to cut through the way Zack's pots and pans inevitably ended up.

Back in the living room, he could hear arguing, or at least, Zack saying things loudly about maraschino cherry nipples and Sephiroth's voice too low to distinguish the words, but definitely rising from Moderately Annoyed to Actively Irritated. There were scuffling noises. Zack yelled. Cloud came back into the room just in time to see Sephiroth duck Zack's charge, twist, and throw him partially through the living room wall with a horrible crunching noise.

'See," Zack said mostly muffled, as his legs kicked. "See, this is why it would be a good idea to move in over the shop. The walls aren't so shoddy there. This is gonna take a shitload of spackle to fix. Cloud, c'mere, I need you for a minute."

"While you're in there, see if you can find the fusebox," Sephiroth said.

"Ow, shit. Yeah, it's here."

Cloud sighed, and went to go get his prying bar.


The Pie Hole had its grand opening three weeks later, and burned to the ground exactly one week after that.

"Do you think some of the loose cactuars maybe got into the heating vent, and that's what caused the fire?" Zack asked, as he sat on the curb across the street and watched the flames climb higher. Cloud leaned against him, soot-smeared and still slightly shell-shocked. Most of the apron had burned off, though there hadn't been much to begin with.

"You shouldn't have let them run around free range," Sephiroth said, from where he was leaning against the lamppost. He dropped his coat on Cloud's lap.

"Yeah, well, they get all stringy when they're cooped up. Plus, you can dress them up in little outfits and put them on top of the cakes."

"Cactuars are not erotic."

"Are you still pissed about the stripper-cake I sent to your office?" Zack asked. "Because I told you, that was supposed to be Cloud in there. I have no idea how those cactuars got into it. Or how Reno did."

"It had coconut frosting," Sephiroth said, lip curled in distaste.

"Your hair is, um, still smoldering a little," Cloud said, and pointed.

"Yeah, it does that." Zack raked a hand through his hair; a charred and feebly struggling cactuar fell out "Well, hey. I thought I felt something moving. Poor little guy."

The cactuar staggered for one step and emitted a half-hearted pota-pota burst; its needles had mostly burned away. It fell over in the gutter, twitched for a few seconds, and then was still. Cloud nudged it with the toe of his shoe. It twitched again.

"That is the saddest thing I have ever seen in my life," Zack said. "Someone put a napkin over it so we don't have to look at it. Or just step on it, whatever."

"I didn't know cactuars could actually burn," Cloud said. "I thought they were immune to that."

"Some of them were alcohol-infused. Reno and I ran out of limes when we were doing the tequila shots last night."

Cloud straightened up suddenly. "Um, has anyone actually seen Reno ever since the fire started?"

They all glanced around the area. The building kept burning. Part of the roof collapsed in a crackling flurry of embers shooting skywards,

Zack cleared his throat and smiled over-brightly. "I'm sure he's fine. I only found him napping in the ovens that one time."

"We should be so lucky. It appears you're going to have to return to the SOLDIER program," Sephiroth said. "Though I note you never actually stopped drawing your Shinra paycheck."

"I didn't want to fill out the paperwork." Zack leaned back into Cloud, who squeaked and had to brace his feet against the curb to keep from being flattened. "And I never even had a chance to take out an insurance policy on the place. Ah well, military life's not so bad. So much for my career as a purveyor of prime pornographic pastries."

Sephiroth twitched visibly. "Never say that again."

"I grabbed some marshmallows on my way out the door," Zack said. "Get masamune out, Seph, we can toast marshmallows before we go home. Or cactuars."

"Masamune is not a kitchen tool."

"Yeah, well, my kitchen's currently on fire and falling apart, so it's more like it would just be a regular tool, you know? Quit holding out on us. Cloud, tell Sephiroth to let us use his sword."

Cloud yawned. Sephiroth coat was warm over Cloud's shoulders; Zack's arm was warm around his waist. The rest of the bakery's roof collapsed in an even more spectacular shower of sparks, and the heady sweet smell of burnt sugar swelled outwards into the night air.

"I hope you've learned a lesson from this," Sephiroth said later, gingerly picking off melted marshmallow goo from the back of his glove.

"Not in the least," Zack said cheerfully, through a mouthful of marshmallow. There were the remains of three more melted ones stuck in his hair, as collateral damage from when he'd called Sephiroth a carnal cake cockblocker.

"Some of it was kinda fun," Cloud admitted. "The parts that weren't completely illegal."

"That's the spirit, kiddo."

Zack gave him another marshmallow. From time to time, bits of gray-white ashes fell from above, like handfuls of coconut flakes exuberantly scattered. Eventually, the store burned down to nothing but coals, and then they went home.