Fandom: Final Fantasy VII AU (OGC)
Warnings: none really. A little Cloud angst
Word count: 4800
A/N: A Zack's story. Takes place about a week after the original fic.
Summary: Clearly no one has told Zack that first dates are supposed to be awkward but Cloud's pretty sure he's awkward enough for the both of them.
There was a condom in his pocket.
Cloud didn't think he'd ever been more embarrassed in his life.
"Here we are," the cab driver said, the sound of his voice breaking Cloud out of his moody contemplation of the falling rain. Water splashed under the tires as the taxi pulled up outside the theatre. "That'll be $18.50."
Cloud reached automatically for his wallet, eyes skimming not quite idly across the crowd clustered damply beneath the overhang at the top of the stairs. Smears of colour flashed in the rain as people pelted through the downpour, hands raised ineffectually over their heads as they ran. He didn't see Zack.
Maybe he wasn't here yet, Cloud told himself, trying to ignore the sick feeling in his gut that had been rising steadily all day. He was nearly a half hour early, after all - too panicked to stay inside and wait - and he doubted that nerves had chased Zack out of the house the way they had Cloud. Zack probably went on dates all the time and Cloud... didn't. He could still barely believe he'd held himself together long enough to make the plans.
Why on earth had he agreed to come?
"Here you go," the driver said, Cloud's change in hand, and Cloud decided abruptly that he couldn't do this. He'd just ask the man to drive him home again - that sort of stuff probably happened all the time, right? - then call Zack and tell him something had come up.
Maybe then Zack would have enough sense not to waste time on him in the future.
He hadn't got much further than "um" however, when the flash of an arm caught his eye through the window and there was Zack at the top of the stairs, grinning a mile wide.
Cloud deflated, escape plans forgotten. "Thanks," he muttered to the driver as he got out of the car. Water soaked through the hems of his jeans as soon as his feet hit the pavement and he jogged hurriedly up the steps, trying not to look too openly reluctant about being there.
"Hey," Zack greeted as he drew close. "You're early."
"Uh," Cloud managed, brushing at his wet sleeves. "You too."
"Eh, no big deal." Zack winked at him. "Only just got here myself."
Cloud looked at the dry shoulders of Zack's shirt and privately doubted that.
"I would've offered to pick you up if I'd known you didn't drive," Zack said then, sheepishly apologetic, and Cloud tried not to sound defensive as he stumbled to explain.
"I do drive. Ride. Usually. A bike, er, motorbike. " His shoulders hunched self-consciously. "Didn't seem like a good idea in the rain." Which wasn't to say that he hadn't been sorely tempted - riding cleared his head and there was nothing quite so exhilarating as the chance to roar through a storm like this, open to the elements and trusting to nothing but his reflexes and the bike he'd rebuilt from the ground up with his own hands - but even he knew better than to show up to a date soaked to the skin and flirting with hypothermia.
Instead of giving him the suspect look his babbling merited, Zack simply nodded. "Yeah, stuff like that's one of the reasons I had to retire mine. I sure miss it though - maybe you can take me out on yours sometime. I'm kind of surprised that Tifa didn't offer to give you a lift, considering," Zack continued, as Cloud gaped at him. "She's normally pretty big on stuff like that."
It took Cloud's brain a couple of seconds to catch up. "Huh? Oh. Uh, she was going to but she erm, had to go out." After she'd pressed a condom into his horrified hand and made it embarrassingly clear that the house would be empty tonight in case he and Zack wanted to… Cloud flushed and carried on hurriedly. "She paid for the cab."
Zack 'ahhed' in agreement. "That sounds like her. No way to help left undone and all that jazz." He grinned. "She's probably been mothering you half to death today, huh?"
"Something like that," Cloud allowed weakly, the little foil square feeling like a lead weight in his pocket.
"Right," Zack said then, thankfully changing the topic before Cloud could spontaneously combust from embarrassment. "We've got just over an hour before the movie starts. I've already got our tickets so we'll have to find something to entertain ourselves until then."
Cloud tried and failed to remember what movie they'd decided on.
His stomach churned violently at the thought. "Not really."
"Me either. There's a neat little coffee shop around the corner if you want have a hot drink while we wait, but I'm not sure we want to brave the rain if we're going to be sitting in an air-conditioned theatre afterwards." He gave Cloud a boyish grin. "To the arcade?"
"Uh, okay?" Cloud tried and Zack's grin widened.
"Great! Let's go."
The movie theatre was noisy and crowded, the smell of popcorn thick and sticky on the air. Cloud breathed shallowly as he tailed Zack through the crowd, trying not to bump into anyone.
"So," Zack said as they pushed into the mercifully less populated arcade. "Where do you want to start?"
"Um…?" Cloud said, somehow unsurprised by the handful of arcade tokens Zack produced from his pocket as he turned.
"Air hockey it is then - excellent choice!" Zack slanted him a wink. "I have to warn you though, I'm pretty good."
"Good man!" Zack slotted tokens into the air hockey table as though Cloud wasn't trying to have a panic attack less than five feet away. "Ready?"
Zack's grin was unfairly friendly as he hoisted his plastic mallet. "En garde then."
Cloud lost the first match spectacularly and the second only marginally less so. Zack kept grinning the whole time, just as pleased when Cloud scored as when he did.
Cloud surrendered after the third match and they made a leisurely tour of the arcade, plugging Zack's seemingly endless supply of tokens into whatever game caught their fancy. They gave a crew of teenagers a run for their money at an Indy 500 game, and Cloud watched Zack happily make a fool of himself at some rhythm game that involved lots of flashing colours and a considerable amount of spastic flailing on Zack's part.
Zack eventually solved Cloud's aversion to the shooting games by the simple expedient of handing him a plastic gun and slotting some tokens into the machine before Cloud could protest. Cloud tried to hide his cringe at the way the noxious blue toy felt in his hand; awkwardly balanced and lacking the heft of a real gun.
It was still a gun though, jarringly familiar despite its inaccuracies, and Cloud was sure he looked a complete fool leveling it at the screen, his stance rigidly accurate and his weight braced for a recoil that wouldn't come. He'd never faced zombies as a bodyguard though, and Zack's cheeky comments weren't anything like what he'd have heard at the shooting range.
"Nice shooting," Zack complimented at one point as Cloud cut through a swath of shambling zombies in their way and Cloud tensed, waiting for the ridicule that was sure to follow.
Only Zack didn't say anything else, busy wielding his painfully pink gun against the next wave, and Cloud faltered as he realized that the man had apparently meant it.
The zombies were on him before he'd managed to wrap his head around that fact and he made a small sound of dismay as his screen faded to red, then black, numbers counting down for his chance to rejoin the fray.
"Uh oh," Zack grinned, putting up a last brave offensive before the zombies overwhelmed him as well. 'Game over' flashed across the screen. "Whoops. Oh well." He dropped his toy gun back into the bracket, then turned his grin on Cloud. "You want to play again? We can probably squeeze in one more round before we have to head over to the theatre."
"That's okay," Cloud denied, replacing his own gun and trying very hard not to think. He had enough to deal with tonight without bringing up more bad memories.
"Should we go find somewhere to sit then?"
Cloud agreed in as few words as possible and fell in step as Zack forged again into the crush of people.
They stopped at the concession stand on the way ("you can't go to the movies without eating popcorn," Zack declared sagely, "Violates all the laws of the known universe,"), then passed over their tickets and headed into the dimly lit theatre. Zack led the way up to some empty seats. Cloud, who had up until this point been having a surprising amount of success at remaining calm, remembered all of a sudden that this was a date. And promptly panicked.
Zack beckoned him with a wave and Cloud slid shakily into the seat next to him, trying to figure out what he was supposed to do now. Should he have suggested seats at the back? Was Zack going to try and hold his hand? Should Cloud take Zack's hand first? Were you supposed to kiss on a movie date? Why was he even here?
"You alright there?" Zack asked at his side and Cloud blinked at him, abruptly terrified.
Something in Zack's expression shifted subtly. "I hope you're going to have some of this popcorn," he said, which Cloud was pretty certain wasn't what he'd been originally intending to say. Zack tilted the tub in Cloud's direction. "I'll never keep my girlish figure if I eat all this by myself."
His words startled an unwary snort from Cloud and the chokehold Cloud's nerves had on him lessened slightly. "In a bit," he managed, relieved when Zack took him at his word.
"Alright, but don't blame me if it's all gone by then." Zack ate a handful of popcorn as if to prove his point, smiling at him from far too close. The butter made his lips shine. Cloud flushed and looked away.
It seemed to take forever before the lights dimmed and the movie started and Cloud was dismayed to find that the change made him feel even worse. They'd settled on some kind of action comedy, apparently, which Cloud might have enjoyed if he'd been able to concentrate on it. As it was, he was too hyper-aware of Zack's presence at his side, the quiet crunch of popcorn and the effortless lightness of Zack's laughter whenever something funny happened. Cloud could feel the heat radiating off Zack's arm where his shoulder was pressed against Cloud's in the close-packed seats.
Zack nudged him again with the popcorn bucket about half and hour in and Cloud took a handful for lack of anything better to do with himself. He ate it slowly, then left his hand on the armrest between them in a fit of bravery, telling himself that it was okay if Zack took it. It was a date, after all. Only Zack didn't seem to notice, no more attentive of Cloud than Cloud would have been with Tifa or Barret sitting beside him. Cloud wasn't sure whether to be confused, relieved or both.
Eventually, when it became clear that Zack was too engrossed in the movie to be indulging in... date-like stuff, Cloud firmly told his nerves to take a hike and did his best to focus on the film. The second half didn't make much sense without the benefit of the first, but it was entertaining enough and Cloud was surprised to find himself smiling along with Zack's laughter once or twice. He was still smiling faintly as the credits rolled and the lights came on.
"That's a good look for you," Zack's voice murmured unexpectedly and Cloud jerked, smile fading instantly. "You ready for dinner?" Zack asked lightly, as though he hadn't noticed. "Popcorn's good and all, but it can't beat real food."
"I…" Cloud tried desperately to look like he wasn't floundering. "Dinner sounds good."
Zack's grin flashed. "I know this great little place round the corner. Come on."
The weather had only grown worse in the time they'd spent inside the theatre; rain pounded down in earnest, great sheets of water sluicing across the cars in the very full parking lot. It made Cloud feel a little better about not having brought his bike - even he would have thought twice about driving in weather like this.
Zack hummed thoughtfully. "Right then. Looks like we've got two choices. The restaurant's about a ten minute walk thataway." A careless sweep of his arm towards the left. "So we can either get kind of soaked finding my car in amongst all that mess or we can leave my car here and get really soaked making a run for it."
Cloud hesitated. "Will the restaurant still serve us if we come in soaking wet?" he asked, thinking nervously of waiting lists and finger bowls.
Zack's answering grin was thick with mischief. "This place'd probably serve us in hula skirts and leis as long as we promised them a dance first."
Oh. That… actually didn't sound too bad. Cloud looked at the rain. "A ten minute walk you said?" he asked, trying for casual.
Amusement sparked in Zack's eyes. "Bet we can do it in seven if we run."
This felt an awful lot like taking his courage in his hands. "Lead the way," Cloud decided and Zack's grin ratcheted even wider.
"You got it."
They broke out from the shelter of the overhang, tearing pell-mell through the rows of rain-spattered cars. Cloud was completely drenched before they even reached the road, his hair hanging heavily in his eyes and his clothes plastered to him like a second skin. A glance to the side revealed that Zack was in the same condition, but the man's carefree laughter made it clear that he didn't mind overmuch.
They were both breathless and exhilarated by the time the restaurant materialized out of the gloom, and they pounded through the door fast enough that Cloud was surprised they didn't jangle the bell right off the wall. Wet shoes skidded on the polished floor and Zack whooped out a startled breath as his legs splayed wide, dangerously off balance. Cloud grabbed instinctively for his arm, hauling him upright before he could fall and nearly tumbling them both to the floor in the process.
"Thanks," Zack told him, his voice thick with laughter as they wobbled on their feet. "You okay?"
"Yeah." Rain flicked off his bangs as he nodded. "Just wet."
"No kidding. Hell of a lot more fun than sitting in traffic though, huh? Probably faster too." No longer in danger of falling on his face, Zack set about wringing some of the water out of his clothes. Cloud let go of his arm hurriedly, pushing his dripping hair out of his own eyes almost as an afterthought.
"Looks like we've got the run of the place," Zack observed jovially. "Guess nobody else wanted to brave the rain." His shoes squeaked as he twisted round. "Where do you want to sit?"
"Um…" Cloud looked around the restaurant for the first time, taking in the décor. It was an old-fashioned 50s style diner, complete with jukebox and garishly red vinyl seats. The sound of someone singing vaguely off-key along with the radio drifted from behind the closed kitchen door. "Anywhere's fine," he said awkwardly.
Zack's grin flashed. "You sure are easy to please," he said, though not unkindly. He gave his shirt a final twist, sending another patter of water to the floor. "Come on. I usually sit at one of the booths by the window."
So, you come here often? Cloud's mind offered inanely and he tried very hard not to make faces at himself as he squelched wordlessly in Zack's wake.
"The pizza's great here," Zack told him, sliding into the booth with a damp squeak.
"Okay." Cloud shifted, trying to get comfortable in his wet clothes. He wondered how Zack could seem so effortlessly at ease with the whole situation.
A movement from beyond Zack caught his attention and Cloud glanced up to see a girl with short brown hair stalking towards their table, a pair of menus tucked under her arm and a dangerous look on her face.
Zack twisted round to see what Cloud was looking at. "Hi love," he said to the approaching waitress. "I was wondering if you'd be - ow! What was that for?"
"I just mopped that floor!" the girl declared vehemently, raising the laminated menus to hit Zack a second time. "What are you going to do about it, huh?"
"Ow! Quit it, Selph - geez would you just… ack!" Zack was laughing, hands raised over his head as the girl laid about his head and shoulders with the menus. "Cut it out! You're not making a good first impression here!"
"Huh?" The girl paused in her barrage to blink at Cloud. He gaped at her.
She winced. "Sorry honey," she said. "Didn't mean to startle you. I'm guessing he," another whap of the menus and Zack yelped, "Didn't tell you what to expect coming in here."
Cloud shook his head, sure he looked like a deer in the headlights.
The girl rolled her eyes. "It's not that funny," she said to Zack, who was making no attempt to curb his snickers. "You're gonna give the poor kid a heart attack."
Considering that she looked at least five years younger than him, Cloud felt vaguely offended by that.
Zack shook his head disapprovingly. "See now, that's just not giving him enough credit." His grin resurfaced with a cheeky vengeance. "Though you are pretty terrifying with a menu in hand."
A huff. "You're impossible. Well?" she said impatiently, when Zack just batted his eyes at her. "Introduce us!"
"Your wish is my command." He glanced over at Cloud with a grin. "Cloud, this is Selphie Tilmitt. Her granddad runs this place. Selphie, Cloud Strife. He's an almost-regular at my bar. "
"How do you do?" Cloud said politely, only slightly hesitant as he extended his hand to shake.
"Manners. I like that." Selphie's grip was warm and firm, appraisal clear in her eyes as she looked him over. Cloud stifled the urge to squirm.
"Huh," she remarked thoughtfully. "I never knew you had such good taste, Zack. So cutie," she said as Cloud flushed. "What do you do when you're not putting up with this louse?"
Cloud stilled, hoping that the sudden clench of his jaw wasn't too noticeable. "Uh, I work in security."
"Really?" Her expression turned considering and Cloud braced himself for the comments about his height, his features, his build. He'd heard them all before.
"Well then," Selphie said instead, the twinkle in her eyes inviting Cloud to join in on the joke as she grinned at Zack. "Better watch out for this one, Zack. Sounds like he can kick your ass for being an idiot."
"It'll keep me on my toes," Zack answered, not sounding like he minded in the slightest. "Now are you going to hit me again or can we take a look at the menu?"
Selphie sniffed with overdone pique. "You'd probably deserve it," she said, though she handed out the menus anyway. "I'll give you a minute to look them over."
"Sorry," Zack apologized as Selphie headed back towards the kitchen. "I should have said something." His grin flashed. "Didn't expect her to hit me until after the appetizers had shown up, at least."
Cloud shrugged. "It's okay." He glanced around curiously. "I didn't know this place was here."
"It's kind of an open secret," Zack told him, red vinyl squeaking as he slouched more comfortably in the booth. "This was one of my favourite spots to eat when I first moved here. I've known Selphie since she was in pigtails. She's kind of like the kid sister I never wanted…"
"I heard that, buster!"
"…but can't help loving despite the fact that we drive each other up the wall on a regular basis." Zack finished, grinning through the open kitchen door at Selphie's mock frown.
"You - don't you have any siblings?" Cloud ventured timidly.
"Hmm? Nope, just little old me - my folks couldn't afford to have a big family. Didn't stop them from spoiling me rotten though. What about you? Any protective older brothers I need to watch out for?"
Cloud shook his head. "No. My dad didn't - I, it was just me and mom."
"Not a bad way to be," Zack said airily. He waggled his eyebrows at Cloud. "Your mom probably decided she wasn't going to do any better and quit while she was ahead."
"More like she wasn't going to make the same mistake twice," Cloud muttered, the words hitting his ears before he'd quite realized he'd spoken them aloud. They made Zack chuckle though, so maybe it wasn't that bad.
Selphie returned to take their orders before Zack could say anything further. Cloud ordered blindly, not having taken a single look at the menu despite the damp handprints he'd put all over it. He tried not to fidget while Zack teased Selphie with easy familiarity, feeling awkward and dull without anything to contribute to the conversation.
Then Selphie was gone, orders in hand, and Cloud was left staring across the table at Zack without a single coherent thought in his head.
"You, uh…" he tried valiantly, before realizing that no other words had volunteered to join in.
Zack didn't appear to have the same problem. "So," he said, leaning forward on his elbows with a winning grin. "What kind of bike do you ride?"
Things got easier after that.
"...and then Tifa told them she wasn't about to bust up the bar just to teach them a lesson, but if they wanted to follow her outside she'd be happy to teach them not to offend ladies who could kick their asses six ways to Sunday." Zack was laughing as he spoke, sprawling back in his seat with his mostly-empty glass dangling from his fingertips. "That girl sure knows how to make an impression."
"She always has," Cloud admitted, his own hands cupped his own cup of coffee. There wasn't much left in the mug and Cloud was trying to savour it - the food had been good, but the coffee was really to die for.
"I can believe it."
Selphie appeared at the tableside then and Zack smiled at her. "Thanks love," he said, taking what Cloud abruptly realized was his change. When had he paid the bill?
"My pleasure. You boys have a nice night." Her gaze flicked over to Cloud. "And don't you let this fool push you around too much, y'hear me?"
"Um," Cloud said eloquently.
Selphie gave him a bright smile. "Nice to meet you, Cloud. I hope I see you around here again."
"Oh, uh you too. Thanks."
"Be nice," she warned Zack, her obvious amusement at the situation ruining the effect of the threat.
"Naturally," Zack grinned, and she cuffed him upside the head before she headed back to the kitchen.
"Ready to go, sport?" Zack asked Cloud then, finishing off his drink with a quick tilt of his wrist. He left most of the change on the table as he stood, waiting patiently while Cloud drained the last of his coffee and dragged himself out of the booth.
The rain had been rattling against the windows the whole time they'd been eating so Cloud was supremely unsurprised to the see the restaurant's parking lot looking just this side of flooded, water sheeting over the few lonely cars with the fervour of a small monsoon.
"You want a ride home?" Zack asked then, casual and only slightly sheepish. "Cheaper than a taxi even if we're going to get wet again getting back to my car."
Cloud thought about what Tifa would say if she found out he took a cab home when Zack had offered to drive.
He aimed for a careless shrug, pretty sure he failed at it miserably. "That'd be good thanks. It's not like I can get any wetter."
"Oh, I don't know about that," Zack drawled, looking unreasonably pleased. He arched his voice towards the kitchen. "See you later Selph! Come on, " he said to Cloud, and Cloud took a deep breath as they forged out again into the rain.
The theatre parking lot was still packed by the time they made their soggy way back ("that's Friday night for you," said Zack), so it took several wet minutes for them to find Zack's car amidst the rain and heavy shadows.
"Don't worry about the seats," Zack said, throwing himself into the driver's seat with a loud squelch. "They've seen a lot worse than a little rain."
Cloud climbed in rather less enthusiastically and pulled the door shut behind him. The rain rattled against the roof and he shivered a little, realizing for the first time just how cold he was.
"Here." Zack flicked on the heater then started backing carefully out of his parking spot. "That'll warm you up in a jiffy. Where to?"
Cloud gave directions and then mostly just listened to Zack talk as they drove through the nearly empty streets to Tifa's. True to Zack's word, the heater soon had Cloud feeling warm and cozy, so much so that he found himself almost on the edge of dozing more than once.
"Here we are," Zack's voice said after an interminable length of time and Cloud started, blinking muzzily at Tifa's house as it materialized out of the gloom. The windows were dark. "Looks like Tifa's still out."
Sleep's cocooning warmth stripped itself away from him as Cloud remembered suddenly what that meant. "Y-yeah," he managed, feeling heat rising in his cheeks again. "She said she probably would be."
"Ah well." Zack pulled neatly into the driveway, then glanced over at Cloud with a grin. "Means you'll get the bathroom to yourself at least. You look like you could use a hot shower and a change of clothes."
"...yeah." Cloud's fingers traced the shape of the condom in his pocket and he wondered where his calmness had gone. It was with something that felt too much like despair to be straight panic that he stammered out, "I...er, look d-did you...want to...?"
The gearstick slotted into park and Zack turned to face him with a smile that Cloud couldn't read. "Nah," Zack said, shocking Cloud entirely. "I had a lot of fun tonight," Zack continued, before Cloud could decide if this was what it felt like to be let down easy.
"...me too," Cloud said after a beat, surprised to find that he actually meant it. "Thanks."
Zack chuckled warmly. "It was absolutely my pleasure. Will I see you around the bar?"
"Tifa will probably drag me down again," Cloud admitted after a beat, feeling suddenly disappointed for reasons he didn't really want to examine. He'd known that Zack would lose interest with someone like him quickly, right? Cloud unbuckled his seatbelt with slightly shaky hands, sure it was well past time for him to get out of the car already.
Only Zack was still smiling at him from far too close and when he spoke his voice was so very soft. "Can I call you again?"
The door was open, rain dripping on his sleeve, and Cloud stilled, watching Zack watch him and wondering what he'd done to deserve any of the fondness he could see in those gray eyes.
"...Yeah, okay," he decided and then, before he could lose his nerve, he closed the distance between them to press a chaste kiss to Zack's lips.
"G'night," he muttered quickly, red faced as he scrambled to get out of the car. Zack let him go, his smile at once brighter and gentler than it had been before.
"Goodnight Cloud," he said.
Cloud managed to get the car door shut behind him without shaking too noticeably and he stood in the rain, watching Zack's car reverse back out to the road and drive carefully away, his taillights flickering in the darkness.
He was cold again, Cloud realized absently, turning automatically towards the door. A hot shower and a change of clothes sounded like a very good idea indeed.
His fingers brushed the foil-wrapped shape in his pocket as he dug for his keys and Cloud couldn't help a vaguely incredulous smile about the entire evening.
Tifa would probably be disappointed. For his part, Cloud simply resolved not to protest quite so strenuously the next time Tifa dragged him down to Zack's bar.
Because really, if all of his first dates had been like that, Cloud thought he might have managed more second dates.