Disclaimer: Dissidia and its many many characters are not my property, and I am not profiting in any way from this story.
Warnings: Cross-dressing, implied shonen-ai and innuendo. If any of those things offend you, please don't read, and don't complain about things you were warned about.
Author's Note: I just noticed this armour in the store a couple of days ago, so had to trade for the full set immediately. Oh, Dissidia, you please the fans in strange and wonderful ways.
Allure of Honey
It was Bartz's fault. He'd sold off a pile of armour and weapons from their collection without a single thought that Cloud might still be using some of them, all so he could get himself an exclusive set. And right after Onion Knight had used up a stack of materials on what he called 'trading up'!
So the blond had trudged to the shop, short of gil and only a handful of materials weighing down his pockets for trading. And it just so happened that the only armour he could afford with decent stats...
That settled it. He was Cosmos's private joke.
The silky blue dress brushed his ankles, and Cloud nervously tried to close the leg slit again. Did it have to go so damn high? Maybe it would be hard to fight in otherwise, but Ultimecia never seemed to have a problem, and the shoes that went with it were worse! He cursed under his breath as long blond hair tickled his neck, and adjusted one of the spaghetti straps.
Why did it have to be this exact ensemble? Right down to the Member's Card? And how by the Planet did a wig and a flimsy silk dress showing off this much skin constitute more powerful armour than a crystal helmet and chainmail?!
This reality was even more warped than any of them had thought.
So now Cloud stood outside the castle ruins they'd converted into a hideout, dressed in an outfit he'd sworn never to wear again, yet had somehow followed him across the dimensions.
He was really beginning to loathe this 'destiny' thing.
The blond poked one of the breast cups, cringing at the sensation of the soft padding filling out his chest and the fabric flowing over his hips like water. How did girls go out dressed like this all the time? The silk was so smooth it felt like he was barely wearing anything at all.
No avoiding it. Taking a deep breath, he stepped inside.
The reaction was immediate.
"Everyone! We've got a visitor!" Onion Knight hollered.
"Is it Chaos's forces?" The Warrior of Light was quick to draw his sword, ever prepared for battle.
Rallied by the call, the others came running. Cloud glared at the floor through blond bangs, willing it to swallow him whole. Why did they all have to come see? Wasn't this already humiliating enough?
Cecil paused on sight of him, and lowered his sword. "…I think it's a false alarm, everyone! She doesn't look like one of Chaos's. And she's not even armed."
Proved how much they knew. He was definitely armed. He'd gone light on the cologne was all. Cloud hardly wanted to knock his allies out.
Although the embarrassed blush blooming on the Paladin's cheeks was making him rethink that stance.
"She?" As though summoned by a siren's call, Zidane scampered into the room before skidding to a stop, jaw wide. Just as quickly, he closed his mouth, smoothed his ruffles, curled his tail, and sauntered up to Cloud with a charming smile. "Why hello there, pretty lady. My name's Zidane, and consider me at your service." He clasped Cloud's left hand before the SOLDIER could protest, and held it to his lips. "Are you lost? Surely fate has brought you to my doorstep."
Cloud snatched his hand back, leaving the genome stumbling. Was he serious? Sure, he'd fooled that shortsighted idiot Don Corneo, but he thought his comrades were better than that! "Whoa, she's strong, guys!" Zidane's tail lashed from side to side as he fought for balance.
"You'd hope so, if she is one of Cosmos's champions," the Warrior of Light pointed out.
Tidus was next to arrive, and he let out a long whistle. "I haven't seen a getup like that since walking the streets of Zanarkand at night!"
Cloud's eyebrow twitched. If Zanarkand was anything like Midgar, the blitzballer was going to very soon be sporting a broken nose.
The others noticed his displeasure in time, lucky for the bleached blond. "Don't be rude," Firion chided, cuffing the boy on the shoulder. "You're insulting the lady's honour."
"Lady? But isn't that-"
Terra poked her head around the corner then, and smiled nervously. "Hello." She shuffled a little closer while Firion grabbed Tidus in a headlock. "I'm Terra," she introduced shyly, fingers twisting her light brown hair in curls. "Are you with Cosmos's side?"
Still dumbfounded by the reaction, Cloud nodded. His voice refused to clamber from the frozen confines of his throat.
The timid girl brightened. "Wonderful! It'll be nice to have another girl around. Sometimes, with all the guys… well, they just don't understand some girl things," Terra confided in a whisper.
Panic began to set in. Cloud definitely didn't want to know anything more about girl things! Aeris and Tifa had done him irreparable damage already!
"This doesn't feel right," Squall muttered, arms crossed and eyeing him from the corner of the room. It would be easier to take him seriously if his gaze didn't keep drifting to Cloud's exposed thigh. "Didn't Cosmos say we were the last ten left?"
"But then we found Shantotto," Bartz reminded him. "Maybe there are other refugees from other worlds out there!" He gave Cloud an appraising look. "I have to say, though, you're not the usual image of Cosmos's champions! Maybe you're a pirate? Or a princess?"
His mouth opened and closed a few times, but still no words escaped. He was trapped in a special circle of hell, designed just for him.
"Guys, give the lady some space!" Zidane strolled back onto the scene, no evidence of being at all ruffled from his rather obvious rebuke earlier. "Such delicate beauty should be admired from a distance, not smothered before it can flower!"
"Drop the fancy stage airs," Tidus said, rolling his eyes. "That's Cloud."
You could hear a pin drop in the silence that followed.
Then Terra squeaked, and quickly covered Onion Knight's eyes.
"An interesting tactic," the Warrior of Light commented, completely unperturbed by the revelation. "Though I suspect it will not be very effective against Cloud of Darkess or Ultimecia."
"Or Kuja," Tidus added. "But I bet it'll work great on my old man."
His voice finally struggled free. "It's not… the stats…" Cloud protested, face burning underneath the long blond strands of hair.
The rest of the males were still staring, dumbstruck.
Onion Knight wiggled free of Terra's shielding hand. "Ohhhh, I get it now." He frowned. "But there's a flaw in your logic. Cloud of Darkness wears a lot less, and they seem pretty used to her."
"But she's all scary-looking with creepy eyes, not like-" Bartz cut himself off when he realised the destination of that train of thought.
"Oh yeah, I should have noticed the glowing eyes," Firion said, voice tight and a little higher than normal. At this point, Cloud simply appreciated his effort at acting normal. "I mean, I haven't seen eyes like those on anyone else."
Squall scoffed, crossing his arms and pinning them all with a flat stare. "Admit it. None of you were looking at his eyes."
"And where were you looking?" Cecil pointed out.
Zidane just looked traumatised.
Cloud felt a little traumatised too.
The only person other than the Warrior of Light completely unbothered by the whole affair appeared to be Tidus, but then, Tidus wound run with whatever ball you threw him. He made Bartz look uptight. And he was currently crouched by Cloud's ankles – when did he move? – inspecting the getup more carefully.
"Wow Cloud, you even shaved your legs?" the bleached blond asked, running a finger along the exposed calf.
Cloud skittered away. "No! The mako burned it off. Stop that!"
"What's mako?" Onion Knight wondered, but nobody answered his question.
"What I don't get is the…" Bartz made a cupping motion with his hands. "That's what fooled me."
"Oh no, that's just padding, right?" Tidus patted the fake bulge, and his blitzball reflexes were all that saved him from a broken arm. "Hey, chill Cloud! I was only explaining."
"It doesn't need to be explained," he hissed. Was Tidus the only person who'd seen a cross-dresser before? He'd thought for sure Zidane at least, with his theatre background, would have been clued in! Especially with Kuja for a brother!
"It's okay, Cloud," Firion assured him. "I'm sure nobody thinks any less of you."
Squall eyed the rebel suspiciously. "If anything, I'd think he ought to be worried about people getting a little too friendly."
"Think of Queen Brahne, think of Quina, think of Kuj- No! Don't think of Kuja. Think of Amarant…" Zidane muttered, rocking back and forth.
"I don't understand," Onion Knight piped up, tilting his head to the side.
This time, Tidus – apparently the resident expert, thanks to his big-city experience – stepped up to the plate, slinging an arm around the shorter boy's shoulders. "Y'see, sometimes when a guy wants to score with someone other than the princess, there's this thing where they like to-"
"It's not like that!" Cloud interrupted, and pointed an accusing finger at their resident wanderer. "It's all Bartz's fault!"
Bartz recoiled, hands held up disarmingly. "Wait, what?! When I said I was adventurous, I didn't mean…"
Then there was a gentle touch on his elbow. "Cloud?" He turned at the girl's timid voice. Terra looked crestfallen at the loss of her 'big sister', but she forced a brave smile onto her face for his benefit. "Um… I just wanted to say… You look very pretty!"
Cloud's heart sank, and he gave up defending his masculinity. None of them could ever say a mean word to the half-esper. "Thanks, Terra."
The very next morning, Cloud had stormed out of the base, thoroughly humiliated after an evening of stilted conversations, awkward stares, and an endless array of questions from Onion Knight. He was going to stay out destroying every manikin that dared cross his path until he had enough materials to trade for anything else.
Of course, the Gods obviously weren't finished torturing him yet.
Firelight reflected in mako-blue eyes as Cloud flambéed yet another soulless manikin with a strategically cast Comet, then scoured the area for any drops. Nothing. With a scowl, he continued on. Hours and hours of cutting down weak manikins, and still not enough to even get a normal weapon!
Then a pebble skittered across his path, and he realised he wasn't alone in the castle.
Very, very carefully, Cloud turned to stare at the shadow stretching across his path.
Two enormous horns branching from a helmet. A sword on a chain that made his Buster look like a kitchen knife. Plates and plates of metal armour laid upon each other and forged until nothing but dark pools for the eyes remained.
He'd fought Garland before – they'd all fought Chaos's ten champions at least once each – and though he was slow, without a more conventional Cloud would be a sitting duck.
So this was how he was going to meet his end. Struck down by a villain from another world, to die in enemy territory, dressed in drag.
Except Garland didn't draw his enormous weapon. He just stared at Cloud and then… threw back his head and laughed. Laughed and laughed and laughed, like he'd set up the whole cosmic joke himself.
Cloud inched away, the Member's Card clutched between his fingers feeling woefully insufficient in the face of such madness. Garland's deep, throaty laughter echoed after him, bouncing off the castle walls.
As soon as the sound receded into the distance, Cloud hitched up his skirt and ran for it.
Idiot! Wandering right into Chaos's territory without backup! This getup worked fine fighting manikins, but he still didn't feel comfortable enough in these shoes to take on one of Chaos's warriors!
He swung around the corner, heels clattering on the honeycombed tiles, and promptly crashed into a firm chest.
"Oh, what have we here? A lost little mouse?"
Cloud mentally swore to every summon on the Planet, and then threw in a few from other worlds for good measure. The Emperor from Firion's home, too?
He tried to pull away, but a purple gauntlet gripped his bare shoulder and held him in place. The blond glared up, challenging, and found himself being regarded with a pair of assessing, violet eyes.
"Interesting," the Emperor drawled. "Not such a mouse after all. A new player in the game?"
...Apparently, his 'disguise' worked just as well on his enemies as it did his friends.
A long, sharp claw traced his jawline. "Such lovely eyes. And your hair - a beautiful colour." Cloud's gaze darted to the fine, platinum blond locks hanging over the Emperor's shoulders. Firion had said the warlock was something of a narcissist. "Nothing at all like those other two." The finger left his jaw to slide through his hair.
The SOLDIER-in-disguise shifted, uncomfortable at how close the Emperor's face had come. He was unnaturally pale, like a corpse, and he stunk of fine incense. "I can tell from just a glance, you possess strength." The grip on his shoulder tightened. "Nothing so grand as my own, of course, but enough to be useful."
Cloud's glare intensified, but the Emperor's attention had long left his eyes, instead fastening on the bared collarbone, violet eyes practically tasting the exposed flesh. "Long have I searched for an appropriate Empress," he breathed, finger leaving his hair to trail down the curve of his spine, heading lower…
Then Cloud sprayed his Sexy Cologne in the Emperor's face.
Screams of agony and betrayal left behind, the blond dashed around the corner, heading into a more open area, filled with massive stone pillars. Out, out, he had to get out, could this day possibly get any worse?
Apparently, yes. Yes it could.
His flight was brought to an abrupt halt when some sort of cord wrapped around his leg and yanked. Cloud tripped and sprawled on the floor. Stupid shoes!
As he found himself being dragged backwards, however, he had to forgive the heels. He tried to yank his foot free, but it wouldn't give. When he glanced back to figure out why, a yellow serpent, wrapped snugly around his ankle, leered at him.
"What-?" he murmured.
A shadow stretched across his legs, and the fallen warrior looked up to the sight of a naked woman hovering above him.
No, not quite naked. Cloud of Darkness.
The silver-haired witch with sunken eyes and flaring cape floated closer, and the serpents snapped around his wrists instead, hauling him up from the floor to dangle in the air like a puppe- like a marionette. Cloud struggled briefly, but hanging in the air, couldn't get purchase to break free. A tiny, twisted smile hovered over her lips as she regarded his efforts with a far-too-wide-eyed stare. Her voice, thin and sultry, barely reached his ears.
"You'll make fine bait for my trap."
"Trap?" Cloud asked, squirming uncomfortably, still testing for some way to break free of the serpents holding him aloft. It would be easy, if they weren't so damn flexible and – and they were getting rather high. High enough that even an enhanced SOLDIER like himself balked at the altitude. No streams split the air nearby to hitch a smoother ride down on, either.
"I've noticed Cosmos's warriors have a strange weakness for rescuing women in distress," Cloud of Darkness intoned, even as she set about hanging the blond up by the wrists from the top of one of the pillars.
"I'm not-" Cloud began to protest, but one of the serpents slithered over his shoulders, winding itself around his neck, and he promptly shut up. Grand – strung up by his arms on top of a pillar in the middle of Chaos's territory like a piece of meat. His shoulders ached from the uncomfortable position, and his feet dangled over empty air. One of his shoes came loose and tumbled to earth, toe-over-heel. Cloud counted to fifteen before it hit the ground, and swallowed.
Pleased with her work, Cloud of Darkness gave him another small, close-lipped smile, and floated off to hide behind one of the other pillars.
Then they waited.
Cloud's fingers, stretched far above his head, soon went numb, and the ache in his shoulders turned to a burn. He didn't bother calling out, though – none of his companions, if they knew what was good for them, would be anywhere near this place. His curled the toes on his bare foot. It was getting cold. This set of 'armour' might have had – despite all logic – decent stats, but it utterly failed in the environmental comfort stakes.
Eventually, the silence shattered under the metallic clunk of armour far below. There was a pause, then a crackling of magic in the air. Cloud fervently prayed it wasn't the Emperor. He'd wind up either dead or married. Possibly both.
Instead, a form clad in midnight black armour, trimmed with gold, rose into view. Golbez. Cosmos's blessing hadn't entirely abandoned him yet. "This is most unusual. Wait a moment, and I'll have you down."
The bindings around his wrist burned away with a quick spell, and Cloud thudded into Golbez's outstretched arms. They floated back down to earth, where the black warlock carefully placed him back on the floor.
"You're interfering," came Cloud of Darkness's hissed protest from above.
Golbez didn't appear concerned, instead checking that the 'rescued damsel' could stand upright without help. "You expected anyone to fall for such an obvious trap?" he asked. "Cosmos's minions are not to be taken so lightly."
Cloud of Darkness 'tsked' and floated away, apparently losing interest.
The witch gone, the warlock turned his attention back to the blond. "I have not seen you around before. Are you new?"
Cloud nodded, perhaps a little too quickly.
"You should take more care," Golbez rumbled from within his dark armour. "This is no place to wander unarmed and... dressed in such a fashion."
"Right," Cloud mumbled, alternating between massaging his aching shoulders and tugging down his dress – the skirt had ridden uncomfortably high in Golbez's arms. "Thanks."
"Your shoe," he offered, holding it out with both hands and a slight bow.
Unnerved by the courtly display of manners – although he supposed it made sense, Cecil's world still ran on a monarchy – Cloud accepted the shoe, and Golbez gallantly held his elbow while he slipped it back on his foot. "I should get going." His voice came out falsetto. Golbez might have been one of the more mellow characters in Chaos's group – being Cecil's brother and all – but he didn't want to push his luck any further.
"Until we meet again, miss." Golbez bowed again, and almost made a knightly motion to take his hand like Zidane had the day before, but Cloud avoided it by checking that his wig was still in place and then got the hell out of there.
Instead of running, he walked away this time, figuring that nobody had yet appeared to recognise him as one of Cosmos's, and he was less likely to get attacked if he wasn't running for his life.
Of course, when the hulking figure clad in ornate sky-blue armour teleported to the end of the hall and began walking towards him, he lost a little confidence.
To his relief, however, ExDeath just walked straight past without a glance.
Of course he did. He was a tree. What would he care?
Cloud kept walking, revelling in the brief lull as he regathered his frayed nerves. A silky dress and some long hair and suddenly everybody started acting crazy.
Well, crazier than usual.
…And he probably wasn't one to talk.
His hopes of being able to escape back to neutral territory without further attention didn't hold. The only warning he received was a slight shift in the air, before suddenly all of his warrior's instincts came alive at once, screaming at him to run, to escape!
"My, my, what have we here?" The smooth, seductive tones curled around him like ropes, trapping the blond in place.
As the Warrior of Light had so accurately surmised, his 'armour' would be of little benefit when faced with the witch.
The sorceress floated over the startled fighter. "A lost little kitten, pretending she is a tiger?" she cooed, leaning forward and tilting his chin upwards with one long, sharp fingernail. "My dear, you have a lot to learn."
Cloud's eyes tracked her every movement, but he didn't dare move. He was no slouch with magic, but his Firaga was nowhere near as quick on the draw as Ultimecia's arrows. She was a long-range fighter, too. He wouldn't be able to escape without a distraction.
Fighting appeared to be the last thought on her mind. She laughed haughtily. "Are you even a sorceress? Such plain clothes!" The time-witch plucked at one of the spaghetti straps. "You're obviously not one of Cosmos's little chits, at least. But, my dear, one must learn that there is a point when showing so much skin loses its class. You shouldn't be taking influence from certain vessels of darkness." The words were barbed, the intent sharp as knives. Or would have been, if Cloud were actually a girl and cared about the insinuations.
"Blah blah blah! You're just jealous!" The high-pitched voice echoed off the stone, a moment before the circus clown bounced into view. Cloud stiffened. Two of them? If they got suspicious… "If you've got it, you've gotta flaunt it!" The last words were rasped, and followed by a maddening giggle.
Ultimecia frowned, and looked away. "Foolish clown. What would you know about class?"
"Class? I'm at the top of it! And my speciality? Pretties with power!"
"Fool. You couldn't even properly use that delicate little flower on Cosmos's side. As I understand, she blew you away."
Kefka roared with laughter, stomach jiggling and feet dancing. "That, my sweet, was just an appetizer. And here, we have the main course- eh?"
Cloud had used their argument to slip away. Keeping a better awareness about him now, he wove through the corridors of what felt like five different castles, at least one of them filled with giant cogs, and another that looked like it was made of glass. The sky began to open up into a patchwork of colours, and the cobblestones underneath his heels turned to the clink of crystal.
Taking a deep breath, Cloud stopped and leant against one of the towering amethyst pillars. He was getting tired after well over a day of fighting manikins, then outrunning Chaos's minions, and not to mention his shoulders still ached from when Cloud of Darkness had strung him up as 'bait'. Girls had it rough. He just wanted to get back to base, armour be damned. He'd rather endure staring from his friends than deal with bitchy sorceresses or sleazy emperors.
So of course Jecht chose that moment to appear, and all Cloud could do was hang his head in defeat. Was he doomed to run into every person he'd ever fought wearing this getup?
"Heeeeeeey! I was wondering where the real ladies were at!" The blitzballer ambled towards him, dragging his sword like a club.
The blond-in-drag closed his eyes, hoping that perhaps when he opened them again, Tidus's father would be gone.
No such luck. The bare-chested man had only come closer, looking him up and down with dark eyes and rubbing his stubbled chin appraisingly. "Not bad at all. Hey, how about going out for a drink? The rest of the girls around here are a bit out there, but you look halfway sane."
Cloud sighed. Was it true? Did he really look that much like a girl? He needed his Buster Sword back. Nobody ever mistook him for a girl when he carried that.
"Alright, I admit, there aren't exactly any bars around here. What do you really expect? Oh, hey, Sephiroth! Before you even ask, no, I'm not sharing."
Cloud's breath caught in his throat, his head snapping around to confirm what was almost definitely his worst nightmare ever.
No mistaking it. The long black coat, the cruel twist to the lips, the green cat's eyes, all framed by long, silver strands. No no no no anybody but him PLEASE don't recognise me…
That light in his archenemy's eye crushed all hope.
"Cloud." Sephiroth didn't say his name so much as molest it. Right then, Cloud was half-tempted to change it to something sharper, something that didn't roll off the tongue so smoothly, something like Za- best not to go there.
"Cloud?" Jecht asked, and swore. "Dammit, not again! I thought I left this stuff behind in Zanarkand…" He wandered away, muttering about 'damn weird kids' under his breath.
Neither of the other two men saw him go. Cloud didn't dare break eye contact with Sephiroth.
The General stared, raking his gaze down to his feet, then slowly, as though inspecting a sloppy cadet's uniform, returning to his eyes.
Then he vanished.
Cloud tensed at the sudden puff of hot breath on his ear. "Interesting approach, Cloud."
He tried to twist away, but a pair of arms encircled him, pulling him back flush against the General.
"Is this what you desired?" Sephiroth purred. "Clinging to me so desperately, you'd stoop to even this?" A heavy hand fastened itself on his hip, while the other slid up his stomach, rippling the fabric on its leisurely path to the neckline. Cloud shivered under the touch, paralysed by shock.
"As if I'd desire anything from you." The words dripped with hate, but they didn't prove very effective with Sephiroth pressed against his back, trailing his hands down his sides. Through the thin barrier of fabric, he could feel every seam and buckle of the General's coat, and his bare shoulders were tickled by the feathery touch of long silver hair.
Sephiroth chuckled, breath ghosting over the side of his neck. "Relax, Cloud." The hand on his hip moved to brush aside the long blond locks of hair, tucking them behind his ear in a mockingly affectionate gesture. "If you wish to hide behind this façade, I shall accommodate."
"This has nothing to do with you!" he snapped.
"Then why don't you take up your sword?" Sephiroth taunted.
Somehow, spraying his archenemy in the eyes with Sexy Cologne didn't seem right. Cloud wrenched away, and this time, Sephiroth's hands slid free, unprotesting. "I don't have time for this!" He needed to hurry up and get some armour that didn't involve revealing silk and high-heels and perfume!
The General indulged him with thin smile. "Hmph. Very well. I'll let you walk today… but know that my shadow is burned onto your heart." He walked past, gloved fingers drifting briefly across the blond's bare shoulder, before he continued on. "I think… that I prefer you as you normally are, anyway."
Cloud stiffened and whirled, but the General had already vanished.
Simmering, he stomped along the crystal platforms, viciously tugging the spaghetti strap Sephiroth had slipped from his shoulder back into place. Always talking like that, as though Cloud existed only for his personal amusement. The man should have just stayed dead. Next time they crossed swords, he would pay.
When the clack of another pair of shoes landing against crystal reached his ears, Cloud could no longer care less. "What?!" he snapped, turning and folding his arms across his chest.
Kuja tilted his head to the side, the plume of white feathers in his hair swaying in the gentle breeze. With consideration, he drew his gaze slowly up and down the blond's body, finger perched on the cleft of his chin. After a lengthy moment of deliberation, he nodded. "It's a start."
Cloud tore the blond wig from his head and tossed it the ground.