"Where are we going, Zack? I thought all the training simulators were up on the main SOLDIER floor." Although the words were puzzled, Cloud's tone was agreeable. He'd been under the impression that the floor they were currently on was devoted primarily to recreation facilities. As such, he hadn't really spent much time there. Occasionally Zack would drag him away from his studies to play one-on-one basketball, or he would retaliate in turn by forcing the bundle of energy he called his best friend to play pool; but that was the extent of it.

"They are," came the reply, "but this floor holds the recreation simulators."

Cloud raised an eyebrow, coming to a halt in the otherwise empty hallway to stare at his companion. "I thought you said we were going to train," he stated flatly, before another – apparently more pleasing – thought occurred to him. "Wait, do they have a ping-pong simulator?"

It was a ridiculous thing to be entranced by, and both young men freely admitted it. Nevertheless, given the opportunity, they would engage in a ping-pong 'death match' that could last for hours, and result in an odd assortment of bruises and damaged equipment. A few months ago they'd completely destroyed the table in the infantry rec room, and been forbidden to use the replacement that was paid for out of SOLDIER funds. The pock marks in the walls, and the madly ricocheting ball that almost took a bystander's eye out, could also have played a factor in the ban.

Zack had won, and Cloud had been angling for a rematch... if they could find a table they were still permitted to touch.

Laughing, Zack slung his arm around Cloud's shoulders to get him moving again. "I said I was going to show you a different training room," he clarified, "I never said anything about using it myself. And Lazard denied my request for a simulator. He says we're the only two SOLDIERS who are both obsessed with the game, and unable to control ourselves when we play."

Cloud sighed regretfully, then returned to the subject at hand. "If this floor is devoted to recreation, why are we here?"

"Because I was using the word training as a euphemism." The younger man blinked at him in uncomprehending confusion. "Shortly after the SOLDIER program began, Shin-Ra ran into trouble with places like the Honey Bee Manor in the slums," Zack explained. "Seems the first batch of enhanced warriors didn't know their own strength – not that newbies like you are any better," he added, ruffling Cloud's unruly spikes, "and it caused... intimacy issues." He paused to see if his meaning registered, and was reassured by the sudden blush that infused Cloud's normally pale features. "So Shin-Ra developed a special simulator to help educate us on just how strong we are."

Eyes narrowed, face still uncomfortably flushed, Cloud dug in his heels to stop their forward momentum. "Zack," he hissed, "are you taking me to a virtual brothel?"

The urge to laugh was almost irresistible. "Not exactly. It's more like... a virtual call girl."


"C'mon Spiky, it's really easy to get carried away during sex. Lots of our guys are in committed relationships, and almost all of them are sexually active. Using the VR simulator is a lot better than learning the hard way exactly how fragile your partner is in comparison to yourself." All of which was true, but the fact that it was free and catered to individual tastes didn't hurt, either.

"I don't have a girlfriend, Zack," Cloud grated out.

"No, but you've got a hell of a lot of tension saved up," Zack countered. "Look, you don't have to use it, I just wanted to show you that it's here, and how to program it. And," he leaned closer, his manner conspiratorial as he dropped his voice to a whisper, "it's a lot more convenient and varied than going to the Honey Bee for your first hand sex-ed."

"Zack!" Cloud sputtered again, face turning an even more startling shade of red. But when his friend resumed moving down the hall, he followed without further protest.

If his dreams of the girl-next-door ever came to fruition, it would be good to know how to make sure she enjoyed the experience, and to be certain he'd never hurt her.