Life, According to Zack
16 January 2008
Oneshot; Sephiroth+Zack+Cloud. Unbetaed.
*cough* More fluffy pointlessness. OH THE FLUFFINESS, but Cloud's too damn cute for it to be healthy. I feel so dirty.
...And vaguely guilty, for poking a bit of fun at my own major.
When Zack came into Sephiroth’s quarters after a good long session in the gym and found him reading, he sauntered over the couch and fell onto it, draping his legs over the arm and putting his head directly in the general’s lap. This was a good thing, because Zack had Best-Friend-And-Lover rights, and really, he deserved to be in Sephiroth’s lap way more than some stupid book did.
“Hey boss. Whatcha reading?”
Zack’s position had forced Sephiroth to hold the book out towards his knees to make room for the SOLDIER’s head. He looked down with a flat expression. “A discourse on ancient Wutaian philosophy.”
“Really? Sounds boring as hell.” He wiggled around a bit to peer at the book’s pages, and if that meant he was leaning into Sephiroth’s lap farther than was strictly necessary, well, that was just a coincidence. Even considering he’d never bothered learning how to read Wutaian characters.
“Indeed. Go take a shower.”
“But Seph, it’s the musky scent of maleness and hard work, youth and vitality—“
“You smell, and you’re going to make me smell. Go take a shower.”
Hauling himself to his feet an exaggerated groan, he muttered, “Yes, mother,” and slouched made his way to the bathroom, drooping his shoulders in pure abandonment while sneaking a peak to see if he was winning any pity. (He wasn’t; Sephiroth still had his pointy nose in that Planet-forsaken book, and now it was war.) On the way, however, he passed the bedroom, and was surprised to see Cloud sitting at the large desk with several textbooks and a dictionary’s worth of notes scattered around him. Well, perhaps ‘sitting’ wasn’t the right word, because the cadet had put his arms on the desktop and pillowed his head on them to sleep, and despite the dark circles under Cloud’s eyes Zack had to consciously keep himself from cooing at the sight.
He might have taken advantage of the kid’s unawareness, too, but then Zack caught a whiff of himself and realized that Sephiroth had probably had a good point, damn him. So he cleaned himself up and went back into the living room without bothering with more than a pair of pants (who needs shirts and underwear, really?) and stood in front of Sephiroth with his arms crossed.
“No, Zack,” said Sephiroth, without looking up from his book.
“I didn’t even say anything!”
The general raised an eloquent brow at him as though to say it’s when you don’t say anything that I should worry, and Zack grinned ruefully.
“What’s Cloud doing here? Didn’t he have a training class today?”
“Yes. He’s been trying to study for the SOLDIER exams, but it seems that his barracks aren’t conducive to research.” He sounded disapproving as he said it, not of Cloud, but of the other cadets. “So I let him come here to study in peace.”
Zack snorted. “The ones that think the exam’s gonna be a piece of cake are going to find themselves heartbroken,” and he didn’t sound sorry about it at all. He relaxed his stance and moved to stand in front of Sephiroth, bracing himself with one hand on the couch’s arm and leaning over to look at the book again upside-down. If the reading light was blocked, it was totally an accident. “So, what’s happening? Any slaying of dragons, death-defying heroics, or girls in miniskirts? Oh wait, I’m sorry, philosophy doesn’t have any of that. Anything that won’t make me fall asleep, then?”
“Your personality is the type that Wutaian culture would consider undisciplined, uncouth, and potentially dishonorable,” Sephiroth told him sagely.
The general just shook his head and went back to reading. This only made Zack more determined, and then he smiled.
“Heeey, I know something those stuffy old philosophers couldn’t figure out,” he drawled. The expression Sephiroth gave him this time was incredulous, but willing to go along with it. Zack leaned in closer and whispered, “I know the meaning of life.”
Sephiroth blinked at him suspiciously. “If this is another way for you to get myself and Cloud into bed—“
“Well, I certainly wouldn’t complain,” he said hopefully, “but I was actually being all serious, you know.”
Grin broadening widely, Zack removed the book from Sephiroth’s hands and put it to the side, firmly out of reach, and then tugged the man upright. “C’mon, it’s in here,” he urged, and guided Sephiroth by the shoulders into the bedroom. Sephiroth stopped in the doorway, about to affirm that now was not the time to satisfy any libidos, but Zack thwapped him lightly and put a finger to his own lips.
“Sh,” he hissed, and pointed at the desk. Cloud had his face turned towards the doorway and looked weary even while asleep; skin pale, lips thinned slightly, and skinny teenaged body slumped boneless against the desk. Despite that—or perhaps because of it—Sephiroth felt an odd sort of protectiveness, one that he’d only been able to identify fairly recently, ever since Zack had convinced both him and Cloud that, hey, the bed in the general’s quarters is too big for one person, isn’t it?
Even so. “I fail to see your point, Zack,” he said softly.
Zack hooked his chin over a broad shoulder and stared lazily at Cloud. “It’s living,” he whispered, almost directly into Sephiroth’s ear. “The meaning of life is to live. See, Cloud wants so badly to be a SOLDIER, and if he makes it—which he should—then he’ll be that much closer to his dream. If he doesn’t, well, he has the two of us to pick him back up, dust him off, and push him at it again.”
“I thought Cloud’s dream was to be a SOLDIER?”
“Nah, not really. Least, it was, but he’s finally gotten a bit more ambitious than that.” And no, Sephiroth wasn’t imagining the smile in that voice, although it was softer than usual. “It’s just another step in getting where he wants to be.”
“To stand next to the both of us without any need for regulations or inferiority or whatever. He doesn’t think he’s worthy of us, which we know is totally bullshit but he’d never believe that.”
“…How does this demonstrate your point?”
“Because he’s got a dream that he can reach, and because he’s almost there. He’s living for it, and not because of some wacked-out theory that a senile, dusty old geezer decided to publish just for the hell of it. You know what I’m saying here?”
Sephiroth had a sensation similar to seeing something out of the corner of his eye, or having the words just on the tip of his tongue, or the answer to a complicated calculus problem on the edge of his thoughts. He wished he could say yes. He wondered how Zack could switch so fluidly from flirting to seriousness.
When the silence stretched on, the warmth at his back finally disappeared as Zack moved around him and crouched in front of Cloud. “Hey,” he said softly, burying a hand in the yellow spiky hair. “Wake up, sleepyhead.”
Sephiroth could see Cloud’s nose scrunch itself up, his eyelids fluttering slightly before opening ever so slightly. “Zack?” he slurred.
“How tired are you, kiddo?” the SOLDIER asked, speaking carefully so the cadet’s befuddled little mind could understand.
Between the stress and the long studying hours, Cloud must have been very tired indeed when he didn’t jerk awake the way he normally would have. (Sephiroth had always wondered about that, too; why it seemed the boy was always so sure he’d be thrown out.) Instead, he just blinked at Zack very slowly. “’M tired,” he murmured.
“Cloud, before you go back to sleep, Sephiroth needs a hug. He’s taking things literally again. Can you do that for me? Kiddo?”
“Let him rest, Zack,” Sephiroth tried to say sternly, a little defensively, but Cloud was already pulling himself to his feet, rubbing his eyes sleepily as he stumbled towards the general. Wiry arms wrapped themselves around his waist, and then Cloud was more leaning against him than actually hugging him, but whatever it was managed to make him feel bewildered. He could lay his arms around those thin shoulders, but that would only encourage Zack in his strange ways; yet he could hardly push Cloud away, either, and truth be told he didn’t exactly want to anyway.
In the end, he let out a long sigh of mixed exasperation and fondness and lightly put his arms around Cloud. He was careful not to squish him or wake him up further. In response, Cloud rested practically his entire weight against the man and let out a long sigh of contentment that Sephiroth knew would have utterly humiliated him, if the cadet had been conscious enough.
Zack had both hands over his mouth to keep his laughter to a more quiet snerking sound. After taking a minute to get a hold of himself, he stage-whispered, “So, do you really want to go back to that book?”
“…No.” Looking down at the fuzzy-chocobo head pressed against his chest, Sephiroth had to admit that he truly didn’t feel any desire to move away. Interesting, considering physical touch hadn’t been encouraged while he was growing up in the lab.
“Do you get it now?” Zack pressed, rocking on his heels like a kid. The general was fully aware that his officer was in the habit of using just about anything as an excuse for more contact, more social interaction, more everything when it came to the three of them, and was apparently determined to teach Sephiroth about the fuzzier sides of life if it killed them all.
Cloud’s nose scrunched up again and a small hand found his long hair, tugging at it gently.
“Hm. No. I believe I require more empirical evidence to support your conclusions,” the general said after a short pause, feeling Cloud’s warmth through his gloves, and his face was so perfectly straight that Zack was momentarily unbalanced. Then a slow grin spread across the other’s expression.
“Well, you know me, boss. I’ll give you all the empirical evidence you want, and I’ve always said that this bed was too big for just you—“
Sephiroth couldn’t help rolling his eyes.