Fandom: Final Fantasy VII
Rating: NC-17 overall; PG this chapter
Summary: Cloud has a week of leave to get away ShinRa. He had been looking forward to a break away from everything, until his holiday was unceremoniously infringed upon by one particularly over-friendly SOLDIER. But maybe having Zack Fair along with him isn't so bad after all.
| 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | Day 5 | 6 | 7 |
"Aw, Shiva. More mountains?" Zack mock-complained as they began the next morning's hike.
Cloud laughed. "C'mon, SOLDIER. This one isn't even as high as the last." It wasn't far off though.
As far as mountain climbing days went, it was a good one for the task. The patchy cloud of yesterday evening remained, offering shade without threatening any rain. The going was faster than their first ascent; Cloud was much more used to the weight of his pack now, not to mention that weight had also lessened somewhat with the reduced amount of food he had to carry.
The path wound round north and eastwards up the mountainside, and the breaks between trees offered them a stunning view back across the river and plains where they had just come from. Zack stopped and stared on more than one occasion. They hadn't exactly had time to appreciate the view when they'd been heading down the other mountain in the pouring rain.
"Man, you don't get views like this in Gongaga," Zack announced, stretching in the sunlight.
"What's so funny?"
"I'm sorry," he said, hiding his smile behind the back of his hand. "It's just... your accent suddenly comes out when you say Gongaga. It's really cute."
"Huh. Is that why you laughed when we first met in Modeoheim and I told you where I was from? Did you think it was cute then too?"
Cloud could feel himself starting to blush, but he spoke up anyway. "No. Then I just thought you were gorgeous," he admitted.
"Aww," Zack beamed. "I thought you were a total cutie too."
"And you were so kind. You actually talked to me like a person instead of a lowly infantry grunt, even though we didn't know each other."
"I was impressed that you talked to me like a person as well." Zack leant over and ruffled Cloud's hair. "Hey, don't look so dubious, it works both ways. When you get to SOLDIER, it's like people suddenly think you're above them. You walk into a room and conversation stops, everyone snaps to attention. It's all yessir and no sir. Seph gets it worst, but it happens to all of us. We're still human, just enhanced a bit. People forget that."
Cloud glanced down at the ground. He couldn't deny he'd been guilty of acting that way sometimes, putting any SOLDIER on a pedestal above him. But Zack always managed to joke him out of it soon enough.
"I've never been very good at staying professional around you."
Zack just chuckled knowingly.
"...hey, Zack. Can I ask you a question?"
"Is it in an embarrassing question? You look embarrassed."
"No! I mean- not really, I was just wondering... about yesterday."
Zack stuck his hands in his pockets and grinned. "I'm available for practice if you want more kisses."
"Yes. No. Wait." The offer was extremely tempting, but that wasn't what he had been trying to ask. "You're interested? In me?"
"Yeah, but... why? I don't get it." And maybe it sounded like he was digging for an ego boost, but Cloud needed to ask. Because he didn't understand it and that scared him. Like maybe there was no reason, and Zack could change his mind at any second.
"Hey." Zack took Cloud's hand and turned him round so they were facing each other. He hooked both arms over Cloud's shoulders. "I know what you're thinking, so stop telling yourself you're not worthy. You're funny and exciting and loyal. You're a total badass and adorable to boot. I've wanted to get to know you better since Modeoheim."
Cloud ducked his head, embarrassed by the compliment, but flattered. He had to raise an eyebrow at the badass comment though.
"Nibel wolf. Kitchen knife. Ten," Zack pointed out. "Not to mention you totally had my back that time with the griffon in Modeoheim. And even though you were injured then, you still came charging in to grab Hollander, totally out of nowhere."
"He got away, though."
"Heh. Well. Let's just say you're not the only one Hollander has escaped from. I, for one, am not in any position to hold that against you."
Cloud had to hide his amusement at how sheepish Zack looked. "What, he got away from you too?"
"Yeah. Junon, that time."
"I remember. We'd just come in by helicopter, and I'd run out of motion sickness tablets," Cloud sighed. "I was pretty useless when you ran into me. But you still offered to grab something to eat with me when I was feeling better."
Zack shot him a lopsided grin. "I was asking you out on a date."
"What?" Cloud looked adorably perplexed.
"Guess you didn't realise, huh?"
"No, I never thought... heh. And then those two guys from my unit invited themselves along. No wonder you looked so put out."
"I know! Who just muscles their way in on a guy's date like that?"
"Hey, Cloud. When we get back to Midgar I'll take you out for a bite to eat, my treat. And definitely just the two of us this time."
"Yeah, a date."
"I'd like that."
Cloud held Zack's hand for a long time after that.
They made the summit in time for a late lunch of leftover salad (it was getting squashed being carried around) and cold fish.
The mountain rand ran north to south in this section. They'd come up from the west, and were now at last offered a view of the marshes stretching out to the east. Zack swore he could see a Zolom even from their height.
"They actually get that big?" Cloud sounded doubtful.
"Oh yeah. The fully grown ones are taller than a house. If they lunge for you, run, because they can pick you up in their mouths and shake you around like a rag doll."
"Have you fought one before?"
Zack wrinkled his nose. "Sure. It wasn't exactly pleasant though."
It was just as well they had finished eating by that point, because Zack then went in to great detail on how one of his men had nearly been eaten by a Zolom, escaping by stabbing the thing in the mouth while Zack and the 3rd Class he'd been on the mission with hacked at the serpent's neck. They'd all ended up covered in stinking marsh mud and half-congealed Zolom blood, a combination that cause them to smell like a sewer for the rest of the day.
This soon morphed into a comparison of the worst missions they'd each been on. Cloud had had a week-long training exercise where it tipped down the entire time and turned everything into a complete, inescapable, stagnant mud-bath. It was so bad that some of the guys had ended up with trench foot.
Zack's tales mostly involved horrific monster encounters and the disgusting ways the mutated, deformed creatures had died.
"Lovely," Cloud commented dryly.
Zack elbowed him. "Get used to it. As soon as you get into SOLDIER, all the high-level monster killings jobs are yours."
It wasn't an 'if'. It was 'as soon as'.
Cloud pretended to groan.
They eventually moved on when the wind picked up, making the chill of the mountain top too bitter to be sitting still. They remained high up, following the ridge that connected the peaks in this section of the range. The cloud cover came and went, as it had for most of the day, but up here they found themselves becoming part of the clouds as they blew across.
"This is so cool," Zack declared. He ran his hand through the thick, wet fog, achieving absolutely nothing.
"Literally," Cloud agreed dryly, pulling his jacket tighter around himself.
He was pretty certain the clouds were coming down thicker and with greater frequency as the afternoon progressed, and it was making him uneasy. Simply put, it made their visibility shit. It would be so easy to lose the path like this, or even do something monumentally stupid like walk off the edge of an unseen cliff.
Soon enough the clouds came down and didn't let up again. They should've had an hour or two more to walk, but it was darker than it should have been with the thick mist around them. Cloud reluctantly called them to a halt.
"We're gonna have to find the best cover we can and camp up here," he sighed.
"Is that so terrible?" Zack asked, concerned at Cloud's lack of enthusiasm.
"We're on top of a mountain. There's still snow up here. It's going to be a very, very cold night."
"But you've camped up on mountains before, right? You must have done in Nibelheim."
Cloud scouted around the top of the small plateau area they had found themselves in, eventually finding a small hollow to one side. It was mostly flat and protected from the worst of the wind by a massive boulder. He led them down into it.
"Sure," he replied. "But I quickly learnt in doing so that camping in the mountains requires a much better sleeping bag and quite a few extra thermal layers. None of which I have."
"It's August. It can't be that bad."
Cloud smiled, but the expression was still grim. "Well, we won't die?" he offered.
"Oh, good. Not dying is one of my favourite things to do," Zack said happily.
At least that got Cloud to laugh a little. "We'll be alright. I'm just not looking forward to a night of sleepless shivering."
Even once the tent was set up and they had both bundled inside, it was still barely warmer than the biting chill outside. At least being out of the wind took the edge off.
Cloud started setting up his cooking equipment - soup heated on the stove seemed to be the go-to dinner option when they were better off staying inside the tent - and Zack hummed thoughtfully. He draped himself over Cloud from behind, head on Cloud's shoulder, his arms around Cloud's waist.
"SOLDIER body heat blanket. Do you feel any warmer yet?"
Cloud did actually feel a bit warmer, but he wasn't sure how much of that was to do with Zack's body heat and how much it was to do with the fact he was more or less sitting in Zack's lap. Still, neither of them shifted from the position while Cloud cooked. Zack's lips brushed against the back of Cloud's neck, making him shiver. Cloud found himself leaning back into the embrace without really meaning to.
They had to break apart in order to eat, and after that they agreed they might as well call it an early night. Cloud didn't bother to undress at all before crawling into the relative warmth of his sleeping bag. But Zack didn't even have that much, and Cloud frowned. There was no way they could both fit inside the sleeping bag, it just wasn't physically possibly. He hadn't brought a spare or any extra covers or anything either. He couldn't just leave Zack to sleep like that, though, even if he insisted he would be fine.
"Okay, I know this is going to look dumb, but don't laugh. I'm serious."
Zack watched curiously as Cloud turned and wriggled so he was half-in, half-out of his sleeping bag, delving into his pack to rummage. He emerged with a folded square of foil and offered it over.
"It's one of those emergency foil heat blankets," he continued as Zack unfolded the thing. "It might not be comfy to sleep under, but it should help keep you warm."
"Huh." Zack lay down and rolled around, bundling himself up in it. "I feel like a trussed-up Christmas turkey," he noted.
"You are a turkey," Cloud retorted.
Zack sniggered and unbundled himself, sitting up to give Cloud a kiss on the tip of his nose. "Well, thank you. It's cute you care so much."
"I just don't want you getting too cold."
Zack didn't bother rehashing the 'I'm a SOLDIER, I don't get cold' line. Cloud was clearly having none of it. "Weeeell..." he said ponderingly. "I might have another idea about how we can keep warm. I'll need to test it out first though."
Cloud walked straight into that one. Zack chuckled. He rolled over on top of Cloud and pressed their mouths together.
Cloud's eyes widened briefly in surprise, then fluttered shut as he returned the kiss.
Zack's weight was on top of him, pressing him down as Zack claimed his mouth. Cloud realised that Zack had only been teasing yesterday, testing the waters. This was kiss was so much more, hot and deep and unexpectedly passionate, and Cloud completely lost himself in it. He didn't care that he was moaning into Zack's mouth, or that his fingers had tangled into Zack's hair to hold him close.
Cloud could feel Zack's hands on him, cupping his jaw, rubbing his shoulders, moving lower to stroke his sides. His mouth pulled away to nuzzle at Cloud's throat instead, searching out the spots that made Cloud shiver in pleasure.
"Zack..." Cloud breathed. And then their lips were locked together again, Zack pulling him into a series of scorching kisses that left Cloud panting and desperate for more.
Zack raised himself up on his elbows, surveying the blond beneath him. Cloud was flushed pink, dazed and breathing heavily, his lips red and kiss-swollen. Hot.
Zack pressed the back of his hand to Cloud's forehead as if taking his temperature. "Yep, definitely warmer," he decided. There was a note of strain evident in trying to keep his own breathing even. "There we go. If you get cold in the night, just wake me up and we can make out for a bit. For your own health and safety, of course."
Cloud was still too bewildered to formulate a sensible answer.
Zack grinned at him. "Goodnight, Cloud," he said, gently brushing their lips together in one last, soft kiss. Then he rolled off Cloud and onto his side, pulling the tin foil blanket up over him. He was already pretending to be asleep by the time Cloud's overheated brain had finally caught up.
Zack's fake snore sounded suspiciously like a laugh.
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