Sorry this took so long. This did not want to be written, lol. But here it is! Enjoy~ I figured I would suck it up and finish, it's been a while. Plus, my birthday is in five days, and it's Cloud's birthday in the fic sooo. Beware more crazyfanboying on Cloud's part and general weirdness, OOC, sap, fluff, etc. Thanks guys. : ) and for anyone interested who doesn't know, Invisible Molestation's been updated. Thanks! PPCloud is my favorite Cloud that I've ever written, haha (though IMCloud gives him a run for his money). He's so fun. XD


This fourth time, Cloud tried extra hard. All his original ideas ended up being scrapped. They were all too silly or would be ineffective.

...This was Sephiroth he was talking about.

His General had been Cloud's first crush. It had been instantaneous—Cloud had taken one look at the man's face and just known. Soon enough he had fallen hard for the other three after arriving at Shin-Ra and learning about them. Something about Sephiroth, however, made him feel sick and lose his nerve.

He could do this, though.

He took a few days off to really work on this one, make sure it would work. He almost decided to cook the General dinner, but he remembered that he couldn't cook. He considered leaving amorous little notes, but he realized it would be next to impossible to sneak into his office and leave them there every day.

It was when he was pondering on a soft chair in the back of the library that he finally came to a decision.

"Hey Strife," a voice said, and there was suddenly a weight on his shoulder.

Cloud blinked and looked up. "Sir," he greeted. It was Luxiere—a nice enough guy, but...but...

"How are you doing?" Cloud's shoulder was squeezed a few times, and the SOLDIER's other hand came to rest on Cloud's upper arm. Eeeheheh.

Luxiere had sort of a thing for Cloud, apparently—and Cloud found out about this after learning of the man's other thing for Zack. He was a nice dude, but Cloud only had eyes for some guys who definitely weren't Luxiere.

"Good," Cloud said, smiling and quickly gathering his stuff, pressing the notebook to his chest so Luxiere couldn't see what he had written. "I'm sorry, but I've got to go..." He didn't really, but, whatever.

"I'll walk with you," Luxiere said with a smile. Cloud tried not to wince and smiled, leading the SOLDIER out of the library. He felt stiff and awkward, shy—he hoped that, one day, after knowing his four crushes were attracted to him, he didn't act all crazy like this. Darn his temperament.

"What're you up to?" Cloud asked, because he had to make conversation.

Luxiere grinned at him. He was a handsome guy; hopefully he'd finally get a girlfriend or boyfriend soon and stop stalking Zack. "I'm headed to the General's office. Got some stuff for him I deliver every day." He whapped a thin folder against Cloud's hip.

Cloud stopped short. Luxiere turned, cocking his head a little.

"To Sephiroth?" Cloud asked stupidly.

"...Uh huh."

Cloud kept walking, thinking so hard smoke almost came out of his ears. They exited the library and Cloud turned to the man.

"Luxiere..." he began, scratching his cheek and looking to the side.

"Huh? What's up?" An arm slid around Cloud's shoulders—and for once Cloud was kind of glad about that. Cloud turned his head and looked up at Luxiere; he seemed concerned and quite a bit curious.

Oooh, he was a bad man.

"I'm sorry to ask this of you," Cloud began, fumbling a little, "but... would you be willing to let me take over your job for today and go deliver that to the General?"

Luxiere paused, the arm around Cloud slackening for a second. "Oh...I dunno," he began. "What do you want to do that for?" he seemed suspicious.

Cloud didn't want to give away that he was a helpless fan and was trying to get closer to him—instead Cloud lied, promising that he'd make it up to the man someday.

"You probably know I'm friends with Zack," Cloud started, taking a few steps and beginning to walk down the hallway, Luxiere still attached to him. "I know he's happy with Sephiroth and Angeal and Genesis, but I'm his friend, you know? I've got to make sure that they're good guys-" he paused and flailed his hands a little, "-I'm not saying t-they're bad or anything, I just need to see for myself—"

Luxiere helped him out. "Hey, I get it," he soothed, squeezing Cloud's arm again. "I'm Zack's friend too; I want the same thing. Go for it." He handed Cloud the folder, and Cloud beamed at him.

"Thank you!" He reached up and hugged Luxiere in delight, then realized that that probably wasn't the best course of action when Luxiere hugged him back, a bit too tightly.

"I haven't seen you in a while," the SOLDIER murmured by Cloud's ear. One hand ran down his back. "Come by and see me sometime."

"I'll see you tomorrow," Cloud promised, aware they were in the hallway and anyone could see them. "Thanks so much—it means a lot."

Luxiere finally let him go and Cloud smiled, waved and walked away quickly, clutching the folder and trying not to jump up and down.

Alright! He totally had this!

Cloud darted to the General's office. He knew the route by heart—up this staircase, down this hallway, up this elevator, and first room on the left. He stood outside it, shifting from foot to foot, wondering what to say. He had developed a habit of picking at his cast when he was nervous, and he made himself stop. He knocked smartly and waited, frozen, feeling the same way he had when he had been doing this with Angeal.

Did he look alright? Sure, okay. Smell okay? Yup. Nothing in his teeth? He didn't think so.

Sephiroth's voice came from inside, "Enter."

Cloud entered. Sephiroth was looking through a side drawer for something, but he looked up when Cloud came in. He gave a very small smile, almost unnoticeable but there nonetheless. Cloud didn't know if these guys liked him because he was friends with Zack and didn't want to anger him by being mean to Cloud, or if they honestly found him pretty okay to be around. Who knew. Hopefully it was the latter.

"Ah, Cloud. Good to see you."

"H-Hi, Sir." Cloud winced and held the folder tightly, willing himself to calm the fuck down because he was making an idiot out of himself—

"How's your arm?"

Cloud blushed brightly, jumping and hiding his hurt arm behind his back. Then he brought it back out sheepishly and waved it around a little so Sephiroth could see. "It's okay," he murmured. "The cast comes off in the next few days. Commander Hewley came to see me the other day to see how I was doing."

Sephiroth found whatever he was looking for and shut the drawer, moving the object—it looked like a small container of paperclips—to the corner of his desk.

"He feels awful about it. The way he described it, one would think he snapped your arm off entirely."

Cloud made a horrible face at the mental image and cradled his arm against his chest. "...Heh—he's been really nice about it. I told him to stop apologizing to me." He paused for a moment, admiring Angeal's perfectness, and then remembered why he had come. "Oh! I'm supposed to deliver this to you..."

He walked forward, to the front of the desk and handed the folder to the General. Sephiroth nodded his head at him and opened it, flipping through the contents for a few seconds. Cloud took in the image of the man sitting behind his desk and had to turn away. He had a separate little fantasy involving each man and his desk—what could he say, he just had a thing for them, or maybe it was just he office atmosphere in general?. Sephiroth's involved lots of kissing and—yeah. He couldn't afford to think about that now.

"Thank you."

"No problem," Cloud said, waving away Sephiroth's thanks—literally, and then snapped his hand down to his side in embarrassment. They talked for a minute more, and then he exited, glancing over his shoulder once more at the man and closed the door behind him, taking big breaths.

Sheesh, he was intimidating. And sexy. And a sweetheart.

Thank you, Luxiere!

So, Cloud's new plan was to take over Luxiere's job and go talk to Sephiroth every day. Sephiroth would be charmed over time by his magnetic personality and eventually sweep him off his feet and put him on the desk and they'd make out or something. Theoretically.

The problem was... every day he had to go visit Luxiere. The guy had an office—pretty small but still impressive, all things considered. It was, honestly, too small, because Cloud wasn't able to put much space in between them. It was all gravy though; he'd do what he had to.

But...it was hard. Cloud would go down to the man's office after breakfast and chat with him for a while, then Luxiere would give him the folder and he'd be zooming off to Sephiroth's office, where he was making enormous progress. Sephiroth, once you got over any initial fright or awe, was nice to talk to, and he had a voice that made Cloud's whole body want to melt into the floor.

But...as he said before, it was hard. Cloud liked Luxiere—really, he did—but every day it was getting harder and harder to escape with the goods. Luxiere wanted Cloud to sit next to him, to talk about his day, his dreams, to hug him when he left, to let Luxiere give him a massage...

It was, honestly, getting a bit creepy.

After a week of this Cloud had to choose. Sephiroth, or Luxiere? Was visiting his elegant, dangerous, beautiful future boyfriend (psssh) worth all the uncomfortableness that went with seeing Luxiere? His conscience was bashing him over the head too—he felt just awful leading Luxiere on, sort of, in his own way.

The last straw came when Luxiere, as Cloud was getting ready to leave with that day's folder, tugged Cloud onto his lap in his office chair and rested his head on Cloud's shoulder. Cloud stiffened a little but allowed it.

"Cloud..." Luxiere said. One hand squeezed Cloud's hipbone. "You've been making me really happy lately. Thanks."

Cloud's heart broke. He squeezed Luxiere back and answered, "Uh huh. I know how that feels." He did—whenever he thought about Genesis he felt that way, for example.

Luxiere pushed him off and gently swatted his hip with his palm. "Alright, see ya later, Strife."

"Bye," Cloud called, taking the folder and skedaddling.

His fourth plan came to an abrupt stop. He couldn't bear to keep visiting Luxiere—partially because the guy was nice and Cloud couldn't bring himself to hurt him, and also because the guy was getting a bit too touchy-feely. He didn't have an excuse to visit Sephiroth anymore.

Cloud entered Sephiroth's office that last day with a heavy heart. The man looked as appealing as ever, in his big, important chair. Damn it!

"Sir," he greeted respectfully.

Sephiroth gave him that warm little twitch of the lips that he liked so much. "Cadet."

Ah, hell—he was smiling again, even though he was sadder than he had been since his last failed seduction. He couldn't help it. These guys... Cloud was drawn to them all like a mosquito. He didn't want to suck their blood, but...

He was being weird again. Cloud swallowed. He said, walking forward, "Here you go, Sir."

Sephiroth took it with a thankful glance and sat it on the corner of the desk. Rather than leaving right away, Cloud perched on the edge of the desk like he had of late. The General and he had made a lot of progress. Cloud had gone from just barely knowing the man to being able to carry a pretty decent conversation. Sephiroth wasn't a big talker, and neither was he, to be honest, but Cloud thought he... understood the Silver General, or at least he was getting there.

The charm had been layered on thick—but not too thick—this past week. He didn't know if Sephiroth thought anything romantic about him yet. That was coming.

Or, it would have, if this wasn't his last day and he didn't have to stop coming here, stop seeing this wonderful intimidating man and his pretty green eyes and prettier hair.

...Damn it!

"How has your day been, Sir?"

Sephiroth looked at him, still typing something up. "It's been fine. I ate breakfast with the Director and attended a meeting. How about yourself?"

Cloud jiggled his knee, looking off to the side. "Good," he answered glumly, unknowingly drawing Sephiroth's curious gaze.

"Oh? Sephiroth stopped typing and the absence of the familiar clicking made Cloud look over. He couldn't hold his gaze.

"...Uh. Actually," Cloud managed, swallowing, "Today's my last day coming here. I was taking over for Luxiere, just for a little while..."

Sephiroth frowned. It made Cloud's heart leap—was Sephiroth a little bit disappointed that he wasn't coming back? "That's a shame," he said in that freaking voice of his; it made Cloud's whole body sing and his fingers tremble. He tilted his head the littlest bit, and some hair fell into his handsome face a little more. "Come back to talk sometime. Don't be a stranger."

"I...I won't, Sir," Cloud managed, eyes wide.

They had one last conversation. Cloud witnessed one last sexy stressed-shoulder-rolling. Sephiroth gave Cloud one last goodbye as he left, and gifted him with one last smile and one last wave.

Cloud leant against the door once out in the hallway. He could go back... but this was it. Seducing Sephiroth hadn't worked. Nothing had worked.

Cloud went back to his room, threw the notebook against the wall and knew that he had failed—failed at seducing all four of his SOLDIERs.

It just wasn't meant to be, he finally concluded after a night of Wutaiain food and a lot of angst. He'd never feel Angeal's sleepy arms around him, never have LOVELESS read to him, never run his hands through Sephiroth's hair and never end any long, stressful day with Zack and kisses and cuddles.

He was destined to be an old, crusty hag forever!

Alright, no, but, yes, no, whatever. He was heartbroken—he could exaggerate if he wanted.

He somehow found himself on Zack's living room floor, lying in a crumpled heap of misery. For all his obsessive love for the guy, Zack was still his friend—he'd be able to help. The thing was, Zack wasn't home... Cloud rolled over onto his tummy and glanced balefully around at all of Zack's stuff—his couch, his table, his TV. Ugh, depressing.

He rolled over onto his back, looking up at the ceiling. He shouldn't be so hard on himself... did he really—really—expect that he would be able to accomplish anything with these guys in the first place?

No...he'd be better off celebrating his birthday as a single guy, hiding from Luxiere and on some pathetic online dating site...pfft...that was a funny...image...

"Spiiiiiiike?"

"Yoo-hoo. Spikey."

"Clooouuud."

"Go away," Cloud murmured, reaching out and weakly smacking the person above him. The voice stopped, and he heard a quiet laugh.

"C'monnn. At least get up off the floor."

"Dunwanna."

"Clouuud."

"Shut uppp, Z'ck—mean it..."

Cloud whined a little as he was picked up, trying to smack Zack, who he had realized was trying to wake him up. Ugh, so much hate—and then he was on something blissfully soft and he curled into it, propping his head up on something warm.

"Aw, come on, don't go back to sleep—"

"The poor thing is exhausted. Leave him be."

Cloud nodded his head in sleepy agreement, tucking his hands under his chin. He exhaled, shaking his bangs in front of his eyes and was still. Then, he abruptly sat up and nearly sprang off the couch, managing to catch himself but just barely. He stared at Genesis Rhapsodos, whose thigh he realized he had been using as a pillow, who looked back with amusement.

He raised three fingers and wiggled them at him in greeting, then returned to his book—and it wasn't LOVELESS, surprisingly. Huh.

"How are you, Cloud?"

"Ah..." Cloud hesitantly sat on his butt on the cushion, looking around shyly. He had to forcibly stop himself from thinking things, to wish—but it was all for the better. He wasn't going to try to chase these guys any more. It just wasn't meant to be. "I'm okay," he answered, trying to calm down and act normal; Genesis was just a friend, just a friend, "a little..." he broke off and yawned, raising his arms and arching his back as he stretched, jaw and back making satisfying cracks and pops for a few seconds. He shook the sleep off, rubbed his eyes, and finished, "...tired." He smiled and rubbed the back of his neck, looking to the side and finding Zack leaning against the far wall, PHS in hand but ignoring it, instead watching him.

"Hey," Zack said simply.

"...Hey."

Zack pushed himself off the wall and happily plopped down in between them, making Genesis scoot over a little. Cloud crawled into the back of the couch, as far away from the other two as he could and leant against the armrest, wrapping his arms loosely around his knees and resting his chin on his left one, curled in a compact, nervous little ball.

The SOLDIER lightly punched Cloud's shoulder and asked, "So why were you asleep on my floor?"

Cloud grimaced. He couldn't very well tell them he thought they were all gorgeous, amazing people—er, had thought, because he was over it now, moving on to different things after four consecutive humiliating failures—so he made up some vague deflection off the top of his head. "I just wanted to visit you; I was really bored. You weren't here though, and I guess I was tired..." He frowned and looked down at the couch, studying the wrinkles in the leather with critical, narrowed eyes.

"Uhh," Zack said, sounding confused yet amused, "Okay. You can use the bed next time though, if you're really tired. I don't think the floor is too comfortable."

Cloud swished his mouth to the side. "...Kay." He paused, then, "Are you two the only ones here?"

Genesis answered his question, abandoning his book to look him in the eye. It was unsettling, being the guy these men talked to sometimes—he doubted he'd ever get used to it. It was a good thing he wasn't interested, huh... he'd probably become all tongue-tied at the worst possible moments, like when they were all at the beach having fun and he was overwhelmed by their manliness or... something... what the hell was he even thinking about?

What was done was done.

And as far as these four went, Cloud was done. They didn't like him.

Time to move on.

"Yes," said Genesis. "Zack and I haven't spent much time by ourselves lately, so I came over. Sephiroth and Angeal are around here somewhere."

Cloud slid off the couch and started slipping away. Preventing possible private time? Genesis and Zack bonding time? "Ohhh. I'm sorry, I'll go, I didn't mean-"

A hand reached out and grabbed the back of Cloud's shirt, yanking him backwards over the back of the couch. Cloud landed upside down, flailing a little; he knocked Genesis's book out of his hand by accident and sheepishly reached down to pick it up. He got the message and stuck around for a while.

He was surprised. After a little while it was a lot easier to interact with the two of them. Now that Cloud wasn't after their love and affection—just friendship, that was good enough—he wasn't so shy, and didn't feel so pressured to be perfect, look perfect, and impress them. This was all for the better.

He'd get his own love interest on his own time some day. His birthday would pass and he'd be single, but perhaps being single was something to cherish, not loathe.

Genesis was surprisingly funny. He knew Zack was a nut, but when that man was together with this man, he went bonkers. In a great way. They both made him laugh, and they even let him stay for dinner, quick microwave dinner things they ate at the island in the kitchen; Cloud's feet didn't touch the floor on those high stools, much to Zack's amusement. It wasn't really awkward—they weren't all cuddly and all over each other, making Cloud feel like a third wheel. It was like the two men were his buds, which was an odd thing to think about Commander Rhapsodos; he always seemed so much... higher than everyone else.

It was nice.

After a time they seemed to realize that Angeal and Sephiroth weren't coming. Zack texted Sephiroth, who responded saying that they were out in the city and probably wouldn't be back until very late.

"They're probably drinking and going to some boring art museum or something," Zack said with a pout. He brightened, "We're having way more fun here, right?"

"Right."

Later Cloud realized it was almost curfew, and he hastily stood, ready to leave, but Zack invited him to spend the night, saying that he hadn't really spent any time with Cloud in ages and that they should make the most of it.

That was kind of true. Cloud had been awfully busy for the past month or so, always plotting and scribbling in his notebook—he had probably neglected his friend a little. Darn.

Genesis accompanied him on his way back to the barracks to grab his stuff, just in case anyone decided to scream at Cloud for being out so close to lights-out. To be honest, Genesis was kind of intimidating, but Cloud coped well, managing to hold a steady conversation as they walked all the way down and all the way back.

They stayed up a while longer, chatting about work and stuff, and then Genesis and Zack tossed him a warm, heavy blanket and a pillow and disappeared into Zack's room. Cloud curled up on the couch, happy in his warm cocoon and knew that this was really one of the best decisions he had ever made; his life was so much more agreeable now that he wasn't sad and pining and miserable.

He woke up to a mostly empty apartment. It took Cloud a few minutes to figure out he wasn't alone. There was no other noise, save the humming of Zack's (probably empty) refrigerator in the kitchen. After looking around a little bit with bleary eyes he spotted General Sephiroth sitting in a soft recliner chair not at all far away from the couch, reading a book with a concentrated, slightly eerie look on his face. Cloud jumped a little and pulled the covers from his chin to his forehead, covering his eyes, and then slowly dragged it down, peeking over the top.

Sephiroth was looking over at him now. Cloud gripped the blanket, feeling incredibly silly for some reason, lying down like this and said softly, voice a bit scratchy with sleep, "Good morning, Sir."

"Good morning," was the quiet answer.

Cloud swallowed and glanced around the apartment again just in case. He knew these four didn't have one collective apartment; they seemed to stay in whichever one they felt like that night. That was kind of cool. Zack had told him that they were planning to get a big apartment for themselves that took up a whole floor, or perhaps they'd buy a house. The thing was, real estate in Midgar was often less than appetizing, so a big apartment in Shin-Ra might be their best bet. Anyway.

"Um... where's everyone else?" he sounded shy, but he couldn't help it. This man. Phew.

Sephiroth tilted his head a little, and Cloud was utterly enchanted by the way his hair moved. Pretty. But, he felt a lot lighter somehow—Sephiroth didn't seem quite as scary when you weren't out to get him to bang you. That was a weird thing.

"Genesis and Zackary are doing laundry, and Angeal is working," he answered, green eyes locking with Cloud's. "Zack requested that someone be here when you woke up."

"Ahh—thanks," Cloud murmured. "It's okay." He got up off the couch, feeling silly in his pajamas and dragged the blanket back to Zack's bedroom, carefully putting it back on the bed, making sure it was smooth and the corners looked perfect. He poked his head back into the living room; Sephiroth was sitting in the same position—right leg leisurely crossed over the other, hair spilling all over the back of the chair. He looked good enough to eat.

Except, ahem. He didn't have to worry about that anymore. Reassured, Cloud reentered the room and sat where he had slept. The cushions were pleasantly warm from his body heat. Neither said anything for a while, but eventually Cloud spoke.

"How are you, Sir?"

Sephiroth's smile was always so nice to see. "Fine. Yourself?"

"Good," Cloud said, shrugging, then decided to be a little adventurous. "I... I miss talking to you every day," he began shyly. "Anything new?"

"I'm afraid not. Work has been pleasantly boring lately. And yourself?"

He had come to an all-important decision about his love life. I decided I don't love you anymore, General, he wished he could say. Instead: "No, not really. I think I have a mission next week for a few days. That's about it."

Sephiroth asked him about missions he had previously gone on, and they had a conversation about it. Areal one. As friends, or at least acquaintances, General and Trooper.

This was so much better.

And as time went on, things improved. Cloud's whole life was so much more chill. Sure, he still had to deal with horrible instructors and that hellish run over the monster intestines every morning, but he did the math—he was saving, on average, a total of an hour and twenty-three minutes a day by not being obsessed with Zack, Sephiroth, Genesis and Angeal. Wow!

Cloud paid attention to his other friends. He wrote letters home to his mom and to Tifa. He discovered the joys of the virtual training room. He was able to do normal, sane people things, and at the same time grew a lot closer to the men that made him so crazed before.

He was just Cloud Strife—that blond kid who hung out with the famous SOLDIER foursome when he got the chance.

But his birthday was very, very soon. He got a bit sad again. He was being silly; he was really living for once! He should have just taken it slow, he didn't need to date anyone...

"I need a boyfriend," Cloud said out loud one hot day, sitting at Zack's kitchen table. Zack was the only one around; he was washing dishes and promptly dropped a plate into the sink, where it broke to pieces.

Zack spun around and looked at him, mouth hanging open in horror. "WHAT?"

Ohhh. Shit! He had never—never told anyone—

Cloud stared back, covering his mouth with his hand. "Uh." Zack was still quiet, looking at Cloud like he had grown a second head. "...That's...an awkward way to come out to someone, eh-heh...?"

Zack waved his hands around, suds flying all over the already-cleaned dishes. "When did this happen? My little Cloud, saying he wants a—"

"Zaaaack," Cloud whined, covering his blushing face. "Stop it..."

The SOLDIER abandoned the sink and zoomed in close, gripping Cloud's shoulders, standing behind him and swaying the smaller teen back and forth. "I'm so happy for you buddy. Wow. Wow!" Almost to himself, Zack breathed, "...Wow."

"Is it so surprising?" Cloud mumbled, still hiding.

Zack stopped moving him back and forth. "That you're gay? Uh... hm. I never really thought about it." He scooted over until he was in front of Cloud and could look him in the eyes. Cloud thought Zack looked far, far too surprised about the whole thing. Really surprised.

"I guess I thought you'd be Cloud—my little friend forever, heh." Zack smiled, giving him a soft—but oddly sad—look. Cloud shrank in on himself a little. The air between them was thick with some strange emotion. Then Zack's face crumpled.

"What," he burst, pretending to cry, "I'm not good enough for you?"

Cloud kicked Zack in the kneecap and went bright red, pushing him away.

Once upon a time, yes. He was all Cloud ever wanted (minus three other men). Now? He was going to get someone a bit more in his league. It had been silly, hoping everything would work out.

Zack must have told the others, because the next time Cloud saw them all, the day before his birthday, everyone started giving him names.

"What about that one Third? 'C' something—"

"Christopher? With red hair?"

"Yeah. He's hot. You'd like him, Cloud."

"What about Kunsel?"

"No, he's not honorable."

"Hmm, how 'bout—"

"Stop," Cloud groaned, speeding up and walking a good ten feet in front of everyone else. The other four were on their way out to eat some grub and had spotted him asking one of the secretaries about fall class registration. So here he was, eating ice cream with the four most powerful people in Shin-Ra... and being given suggestions for a future date.

A few minutes later, after a lot more embarrassment on Cloud's part, he said over his shoulder, "Look. For a while it was like my goal to... not be single on my birthday, but I realized that'll never happen, and that's a dumb goal." He ducked his head, forgotten ice cream running down his hand. "Just leave it alone, please."

Leave it alone they did—except for Zack, who called him that night, when he was in bed.

"I wanted to apologize, in case we were making you uncomfortable earlier."

"That's not it," Cloud sighed, pulling the blankets to his chin. He couldn't say, 'Hey, I used to love you guys, so it's kind of awkward talking about my possible relationship with someone else with all of you.' "I just... I don't want to bother any of you with personal stuff."

"You don't bother us," Zack quipped. Cloud heard some shuffling, then, "Hey. Do you mind if I ask you something?"

"Go for it."

"Why d'you want to be in a relationship so bad?"

"Zack," Cloud said miserably, kicking the blankets off his body. His friend said nothing, waiting, and Cloud huffed. "I mean... other than you, I don't have many, um, really—any, friends. My mom's halfway across the world, and I really wanted...you know. To have someone. Plus... I really, really liked this, uh, person for the longest time. They don't like me back though." He went limp on his mattress. "Please don't tease me. I'll kick you in the nuts."

Zack had been quietly listening, but at that he burst into laughter. "Haha, Cloud, don't worry. I understand." He sobered. "And I didn't know you felt that way. I can be a shitty friend at times, I know-"

"No, you're an awesome friend. You're all I need." It didn't occur to Cloud that that second sentence was a bit creepy, but what was said was said.

"You're gonna have a great birthday tomorrow," Zack promised. "I've got a surprise for you."

"Aw, tell me!"

"Nope. I can't tell you."

"...Fine. Thanks."

"Hey. Cloud?"

"Mm?" Cloud got comfortable again.

"That person you liked... who is it?"

Cloud went stiff and didn't breathe for a long time. "I... can't tell you that either."

"...Okay. Goodnight."

"Night Zack."

Frowning, Cloud closed his eyes.

In the morning things seemed like normal. He got up slightly-too late and sprinted to breakfast. He got his slightly-too burnt toast and slightly-too mysterious bacon and eggs. No one wished him happy birthday, but that was expected; Cloud didn't have anyone to tell.

This was it, then. His sixteenth birthday. Cloud figured he'd feel a lot sadder than he did. He had wanted to happily be sitting with Genesis, Angeal, Zack and Sephiroth right now, as equals—and that wasn't the case. He was sitting by himself, still the weird little loner. He had nobody that really cherished him like a significant other would, no one that admired him and liked him for being who he was and thought he was special.

But... that wasn't totally the case. Cloud smiled into his food, thinking about his friends. Plural. All four of them, not just Zack, were his friends now. He had grown a lot closer to Zack over the course of this whole thing and was more than just a stray acquaintance of the others. He didn't have anyone to hug him and kiss his troubles away, sure, but he had people who would clap him on the back, tease him a little and hang out with him.

He was actually pretty damn lucky.

That new mentality got Cloud through his first few classes. He didn't feel any older, but that was alright. He'd take things slow; he didn't have to magically grow a lot older, in more than just age, as soon as he hit sixteen. There was nothing wrong with being innocent.

After his third class though, about nine in the morning, Cloud spotted Zack coming his way. "Hey," he said, falling into step with the man, "Good morning."

"Happy Birthday!" Zack said loudly, making a few people look over.

"Zack," Cloud hissed, shoving the older man with his shoulder. "Quiet!"

"Happy Birthday, Cloud!"

"Zack!"

"C'mon." Zack tugged on his sleeve and pulled him through the crowd.

Cloud turned and looked back the way they had come. "Zack? I have class..."

"You've been sent on a patrol of all the fun places in Midgar," Zack said, grinning, "With Gen, Seph, Angeal and I."

The blond stopped, tugging his arm away. "You guys don't have to hang out with me."

"Sure we do. It's your biiirthday! Now come on!"

Cloud followed the First, ears burning. Some random guy, after hearing Zack's outburst, wished him a happy birthday too—and Cloud realized he wasn't so random after all. The guy was in one of his classes. He wasn't as lonely as he had thought, it seemed.

They stopped at Cloud's dorm, because he was still in uniform. Technically, if it had been a real patrol, he should have been in uniform, but Zack said the last thing they were going to do was actually guard anything. It was ridiculously hot outside, so after poking through his dresser Cloud changed into a plain white t-shirt and a pair of black running shorts which were perhaps a bit too short to be walking around in town with...but what did it matter? It was his birthday. He'd wear whatever the fuck he wanted. All of Midgar would admire his gorgeous sixteen year-old thighs. Everything else was dirty, besides.

The other three—the big, important, gorgeous three—were waiting for them. They all greeted Cloud, Angeal asked him once more about his arm, which was long healed and Cloud told him so, and they were on their way.

This was what a birthday was all about. Cloud had fun. He was treated to good food, went shopping, talked and joked. They went to WallMarket and explored the slums. There was a small carnival in one sector, so Cloud watched the ever-serious SOLDIERs get progressively pissed off at the rigged games. Cloud was getting over his shyness, little by little and was able to enjoy himself.

He shouldn't have worried about having someone to kiss and all that—this was much better.

By sunset Cloud was sweaty but happy. In a bag in Genesis's left hand were Cloud's presents; everyone had bought him something on their trip. They had slowly returned to HQ and were now in the sector 8 slums, considerably nicer than many of the others. Cloud, beaming, hopped up onto the lip of the fountain in the middle of the square. Everything had turned out... just so perfectly. Sure, he was just friends with these guys, but friends was a hell of a lot better than absolutely nothing.

Cloud bounced on his tiptoes and peeked into the fountain. The Gil coins at the bottom glittered in the pinkish sunlight. He fished a coin out of his pocket and tossed it in. Someone who was having an awful day, unlike him, could use it far more than he could. He turned, preparing to hop off and go home but halted. All four of his friends—and they were his friends—were standing beside each other, watching him donate his Gil.

"...Cloud," Sephiroth said softly. The blond balanced on the marble, facing them. The raised barrier was a little more than a foot off the ground, and like this Cloud was more or less the same height as the others.

"Hmm?" He smiled.

"You've had a good birthday?" Genesis asked.

Cloud nodded, swinging his arms. "This has been the best birthday I've ever had. Thank you all so much."

Zack and Angeal shared a look, and Zack began, putting his hands on his hips, "The last thing we want to do is ruin your birthday... so hopefully this'll make it a lot better."

Cloud swallowed, looking at them all in turn, confused. "...Uh, okay. What is it?"

Angeal spoke this time. "We... all of us—we enjoy your company. You're attractive and we like you. You said you wanted a boyfriend by your sixteenth birthday... how about four?"

Cloud fell into the fountain.

He shrieked as he hit the water, flailing and spitting out a Gil coin that had probably been up someone's butt or something equally disgusting. "No!" he screamed at them, climbing to his feet. He shook his wet bangs out of his face like a madman and gripped onto the lip of the fountain, still screeching. "NO! No way! That's impossible!"

All four looked taken aback by Cloud's violent rejection, all of them frozen halfway to the fountain to pull Cloud out. Ouch. No one spoke, so Cloud kept going. The Cadet waved his arms, sputtering, face contorted in rage.

"I've been after all of you for months! I tried to seduce all four of you, and that was a complete disaster, so I thought you'd never—and I—and I gave up! You're telling me you actually do like me?"

He jabbed his angry finger in all their faces for a long minute, mouth working soundlessly.

"Whaaat?" Zack croaked, holding up his hands. "You tried to seduce us?"

"YES!"

Ever the opportunist, Genesis saw his opening. "So it's a yes?"

"Yeah—DUH! Of course, I'm not stupid!"

Angeal pulled Cloud out of the fountain; the blond was still yelling at them, something about lollipops and how angry he was and how there was no fucking way they liked him back. He enveloped the wet boy in a hug, sharing amused (and concerned) glances with the other three until Cloud exhausted himself.

"Spiky?" Zack asked tentatively, afraid Cloud would snap at him.

"...Remember when I told you there was a person I liked and I wanted to be with them by my birthday?" Cloud tiredly asked Zack, sagging in Angeal's grip like a slimy noodle. Angeal had to crouch and scoop him up again with a grunt.

"Um. Yeah."

"I was really talking about you guys." Suddenly full of energy he stood up straight, the top of his skull hitting the underside of Angeal's chin. "I was after you guys for ages! Did you seriously not notice?"

"Not at all," Genesis said, shaking his head. "None whatsoever.. We were actually quite nervous about asking you..."

Zack grinned. "We've been after you ever since you told me that you wanted a boyfriend. It was like... we liked you, but didn't realize how much until we knew you could be gone and then we'd never have a chance. Does that make sense?"

"Ages," Cloud gasped, going limp. Angeal shot Sephiroth an alarmed look and picked him up entirely, not daring to set him on his feet. Cloud was slowly reddening as his rage faded and the situation caught up to him. "I... I didn't notice at all. We're all so stupid and oblivious."

"You said you tried to seduce us?" Sephiroth prompted, daring to run his hand up and down Cloud's back, trying to soothe the distraught teen a little. "How so?"

"Ohh..." Cloud's face scrunched up in embarrassment. He rested his forehead against Angeal's shoulder, then kicked a little, dropping to his feet. He jabbed that finger in General Sephiroth's chest; the man froze, looking like he didn't know what to do. He stared at his chest where Cloud's pointer was landing.

"You! I put up with Luxiere for over a week so I could come to your office and talk to you everyday. You didn't show the slightest interest in me." He rounded on Angeal. "I asked you to help me with my hand to hand and you broke my arm. I had someone beat me up right by you so you'd rescue me Genesis, but you totally didn't pay any attention! And you-" He glared at Zack, then dropped his offending finger. "You made me choke and then you punched me!"

They didn't say anything, because Cloud evidently had a short fuse, and no one wanted a sore jaw like Angeal. Cloud stared at them, steam coming out his little ears, but quickly calmed down. "You're not kidding?" he asked softly, looking vulnerable with his eyes wide and soaked clothes clinging to his body.

"No," Genesis reassured. He lifted up an arm and Cloud went to him, dazed.

"I'm sorry," Cloud apologized to them all. "I just... I can't believe it." He gripped Genesis' shirt and sniffed. "I've wanted this for so long..."

They all cuddled him a little and they headed back home, this time with both of Cloud's hands held by Angeal's (Cloud kept apologizing about hurting him) and Zack's. "How did you guys not realize I'm crazy about you?"

"I have no clue. How did you not notice we're crazy about you?"

"...Dunno."

Later, after cake and lots of talking, Sephiroth asked him on the couch, lips close to his ear, if he had had a nice birthday.

Cloud smiled, looking at all of them. He could envision what he had wanted and, truthfully, never completely given up on—lazy mornings with Angeal, walks with Sephiroth, shenanigans with Zack and poetry with Genesis. What was in store was going to be better than his mental pining anyways.

All that work was worth it, even if his plots hadn't exactly been successful. Cloud slipped his arms around Sephiroth's body and beamed. "Best birthday ever."