Title: An Idiot in Hades
Word count: 1635
Warnings: terribly, terribly sappy floof
Summary: Cloud comes back for his idiot.
Cloud stood unmoving beside the Coliseum, staring heavily at the gateway to the Underworld.
The fact that it didn’t stare back wasn’t nearly as reassuring as it ought to have been.
From behind him, he heard Riku sigh. “It’s not going to eat you, you know,” the teen remarked, with a touch of asperity. He ambled forward, looking up at Cloud through the long fall of his bangs. “Besides, it’s rude to keep people waiting.”
“Even if they’re already dead?” Cloud shot back without thinking, regretting the bitter words almost before they’d left his lips. It wasn’t Zack’s fault. None of it was.
Riku’s mouth quirked into an understanding smile. “Especially then,” he declared. His hand caught under Cloud’s elbow and starting tugging him forwards, the pressure light but firm. “Come on. Zack’s waiting for us.”
Helpless against the draw of those words, Cloud let himself be dragged to the arching entrance, sternly telling his heart not to get its hopes up.
The chill mist of Hades’ realm swirled around them as they entered, skittering across Cloud’s nerves and setting his teeth on edge. He’d never liked that sensation, the deathly chill reminding him far too much of sluggishly shifting mako and long stretches of half-forgotten nothingness in the lab. The thought of Zack being trapped down here – Zack who was brighter and more vibrant than anyone Cloud had ever known – made the comparison seem even worse than usual.
Riku released his arm and took a few steps forward, peering curiously around the heavily shadowed cavern they were stood in.
“Which way?” Cloud asked gruffly, when all Riku did was stand there.
“Good question,” Riku remarked, a self-depreciating sort of amusement plain in his face as he twisted round to grin at Cloud. “Sometimes things are just far more complicated than they need to be.”
Cloud would probably have asked, only Riku closed his eyes just then, his breathing evening out as Cloud looked on. Riku tilted his head thoughtfully to the side, still and silent and listening to Ramuh only knew what. A breeze shivered past, biting and cold, and Riku pivoted smartly on his heels, facing the far wall.
“This way,” he called over his shoulder, not opening his eyes, and Cloud fell in behind without a word, trailing after Riku as the younger man struck out boldly through the twisting murk, leading them deeper.
The ghosts started appearing before long, their slack features sharpening with almost absent curiosity as they drifted closer. Cloud did his best to ignore them, unnerved as ever by their complete disregard for the wounds they carried with them in death – the hacked off limbs and gaping knife slashes that trickled pearly drops of translucent blood to the floor beneath them, gruesome and eternal.
Riku navigated fearlessly past all of them, his steady footsteps ringing in the dark. Cloud didn’t know whether it was because Riku couldn’t see them or because they really didn’t bother him either way, though he found himself suspecting the latter.
They came eventually into a wide, cavernous room, the silvery splash of a low pool chiming sweetly through the air. It was there that Riku stopped, drawing in a deep breath and opening his eyes to take a look around the dim.
“Good,” he declared, voice rich with satisfaction. “It is still here.”
“Things don’t change much in the Underworld,” Cloud offered noncommittally, shying away from a clammy hand on his sleeve. “Hades likes consistency.”
Riku flashed him a surprisingly cheeky grin. “Well, let’s see what we can screw up, then.”
He sucked in a deep breath.
“OI!” Riku bellowed, his voice shattering through the uneasy silence like a cannon volley. “ZACK! You there?”
“Stop it!” Cloud hissed. He grabbed Riku’s arm in a futile attempt to draw it away from his mouth. “Are you trying to get us killed?” he demanded.
“By who?” Riku demanded, unfazed. “Hades? Hercules told us that he’s in Olympia right now, remember?”
“That’s not the point,” Cloud muttered grumpily.
“Then what is?”
“I…” Cloud shook his head. “Nothing. Nevermind.” He wandered over towards the splashing pool and stared blankly down at it, watching the ghost of shadows across its rippling surface.
He could practically hear Riku rolling his eyes. “Some big hero you are. What are you so afraid of? That every ghost in the place is going to go report us the minute Hades gets back?”
“Hey now,” a voice that was most definitely not Riku chuckled, the sound just as nice as Cloud remembered. “I can think of at least one ghost who wouldn’t tattle on you.”
Cloud froze, his chest suddenly tight.
“Zack,” Riku greeted, while Cloud trembled. “I see you’re not a behemoth after all.”
Zack’s laugh shivered down Cloud’s spine like a caress. “What? You didn’t believe me?”
“Let’s just say I wasn’t going to discount the possibility,” Riku allowed dryly. “Though from the stories Aeris was telling that’s never stopped you before.” His voice lifted. “Isn’t that right Cloud?”
Stunned and suddenly more terrified than he could ever remember being, Cloud stared at his boots and didn’t answer.
Riku huffed impatiently. “Are you sure you’re the idiot in this relationship?” he demanded of Zack. “Because I’m having a hard time deciding.”
“That’s what they tell me,” Zack answered, his tone fond and strangely wistful. His voice drifted closer and Cloud tensed despite himself, not sure enough that this wasn’t a dream to want to turn around and ruin everything.
Zack was right behind him. “It’s just me, Spike,” Zack’s voice said, gently as though he were trying to calm a frightened chocobo. “Won’t you let me say hello properly?”
“I…” Cloud’s body couldn’t decide whether to flinch or relax at the cold touch of Zack’s hand on his shoulder, familiar but strange. “Zack I don’t…”
“Hey,” Zack said, in a tone of voice that Cloud had never been able to resist. “I’ve never let you down before, have I?”
Cloud took a deep. “No,” he admitted, and turned around.
He wasn’t sure what to expect. A filmy Zack outline peppered with a hundred bleeding wounds, his smiling face sunken and bloody. The glowing yellow eyes of a Heartless or the smirking blankness of a Nobody. Nothing but empty air and the bitter taste of grief sharp on his tongue.
A lump welled up in his throat when he looked up to find Zack grinning down at him with his brightest smile, whole and healthy and almost exactly as he had been in life. The eyes were the same, the warmth of their regard still enough to make Cloud’s cheeks flame embarrassingly, and his open face was just as handsome as Cloud remembered. The man’s ubiquitous tan was gone, the ghastly pallor of his skin a tingling reminder of what he was now. The outline of him wavered slightly as Cloud watched, legs not quite stretching all the way to the floor, but Cloud couldn’t find it in himself to care. Not when it was Zack. His Zack.
His arms snaked around Zack’s shoulders without consulting his brain first, and Cloud couldn’t help a shiver as Zack’s own arms wrapped around his waist, still as solid as steel bands but deathly cold.
“Hey,” Zack said again, softer this time, and Cloud tightened his hold, resisting the urge to bury his face against Zack’s neck when he felt his arms sink slightly into insubstantial shoulders. “Good to see you, Cloud.”
“Gods Zack,” he managed thickly. “I’ve missed you so much.”
Zack’s gentle chuckle reverberated through both of them. “That’s good,” Zack smiled. “I would hate to think I was the only one.”
They stood there for a long time, Cloud’s heartbeat loud in the space between them. Eventually a cough came from behind them and Cloud drew reluctantly back, glancing over to find Riku ambling towards them with a secretive sort of smile.
“Feeling better now?” he asked.
Zack laughed, one cold hand resting above Cloud’s shoulder as he turned. “I think better’s an operative term for me, what with the mostly dead thing, but I’m certainly not complaining.”
“Good,” Riku smiled. “Because here’s where it gets interesting.” He tilted his head towards Cloud. “Here,” he said, flicking his arm negligently.
Cloud caught the object instinctively, feeling the warm pulse of magic through his gloves. He blinked at Riku, confused. “Wha…?”
“I asked Aeris,” Riku told him. He hooked his arms behind his head and grinned at them, looking just like Sora. “And she said that you should be able to do something with that now that it’s been mastered.”
Cloud looked down at the Holy materia for a long moment, watching the flickering swathes of blue and green and silver dancing in its depths. Then he looked at Zack.
Who was grinning at him in a very familiar way.
“Lay it on me, babe,” he said, in the tone he usually reserved for trying to convince Cloud to do something completely outrageous. “I can take it.”
“Idiot,” Cloud remarked, slotting the materia into his sword and feeling the snap as the magic twined eagerly through his veins. “Thinking you’re invincible is what got you killed in the first place.”
He didn’t think he’d ever get tired of hearing Zack laugh. “But that’s what I do,” Zack protested, completely fearless as Cloud aimed the spell at him. He grinned, warm and unreasonably fond. “Besides, I’ve been told that idiots take a lot of looking after – I wouldn’t want to disappoint.”
“You don’t,” Cloud promised, light flaring sharp in the gloom as he cast the spell. Zack’s ghostly shape shimmered, hazy outlines coalescing into firm muscles and laughing violet eyes and Cloud couldn’t help a smile.
Idiot or not, having a Zack of his own again sounded like a pretty good thing to him.