Title: Pearly Whites
Fandom: FFVII AU
Warnings: Not really. Mentions of oral sex.
Word count: 2215
A/N: Written for the square playing an instrument on my schmoop_bingo card.
A/N the second: This is a part of my bartender!Zack verse. If you haven't read the other parts, all you need to know is that Zack owns a bar, Cloud is his boyfriend and the Turks are
Summary: Reno needs a favour. Cloud needs to be somewhere else.
Anyone who'd spent more than five minutes around Reno could tell you that he was most dangerous when he was grinning.
After nearly nine months of spending essentially all his spare time at Zack's Bar - and in subsequent close proximity to Reno's band, the T&Cs - Cloud liked to think that he'd learned this lesson well.
Which is why, when Reno pounced on him the moment he walked through the door with a wickedly pleased smirk and a gleam in his eyes that could only be described as terrifying, Cloud felt the immediate urge to run in the other direction.
"About fucking time you showed up," Reno said, wrapping a hand around Cloud's arm before he could bolt. "Come on."
"Wha? Reno, hey quit... wait!" Cloud staggered awkwardly in Reno's wake, ducking his face away from the amused grins that followed their progress across the floor. "What's going on?"
Reno ignored him entirely, dragging them both to a stop in front of the bandstand. "Got him!" he announced to Tseng and Rude who were busy setting up for the evening's gig. "All under control."
"So I hear," said Tseng dryly, not looking up from where he was tuning his guitar. "Though it appears that you neglected to warn him of your plans for the evening."
Reno waved an absent hand. "And give him the chance to bail? I'm not that stupid, yo."
Tseng's tone was rich with irony. "Of course not."
Cloud tugged futilely against Reno's grip on his sleeve. "Reno!" he snapped, with all the authority he could muster. Judging by the easy expression on Reno's face, it wasn't all that much.
"Yeah?" Reno asked him, supremely unbothered.
"What the hell's going on?"
"Oh." Reno's grin was breezy and far too smug to bode well for Cloud's continued well-being. "Elena's sick. You're filling in."
It took a long moment for Cloud to realize that, yes, Reno had just said what he thought he had. The blood drained from his face.
"What?! Oh no, no, no, no. Reno, I can't do that!"
Reno shrugged. "Sure you can. Elena doesn't mind if you use her keyboard."
"No, no, that's not-" Cloud raked his fingers through his hair, fighting to keep calm. "Reno..."
"No point in trying, Strife, it's already a done deal."
This was not going well. "Zack..."
"Ain't here right now," Reno cut in. He waved a hand negligently in the direction of the bar where Cloud could see Xigbar topping up a patron's glass. The big man caught Cloud's panicked glance and answered it with a decidedly amused grin.
"But," Cloud twisted round to look at Reno in confusion. "It's Friday. Zack's always-"
Reno shrugged. "Had a supply run to do. Don't bother counting on him to bail you out - you're gonna be waiting a while."
Cloud was starting to feel lightheaded. "You're not really serious."
"Fraid so." Reno grinned at him. "You told me yourself that you can play. It's your own fault, yo."
Cloud groaned, wishing he could sink straight through the floor. "I'm never drinking with you again."
"I've heard that before, yo. Come on." The hand on Cloud's arm tightened briefly before Reno let him go. "Rude'll hook you up with the music."
"Goody," Cloud managed weakly, more than tempted to run.
"Cloud," Reno said then, which was unusual enough that it startled Cloud into meeting his eyes. Reno's expression was serious as he caught Cloud's gaze and held it. "I'm asking for your help," he said. "We can't perform without a keyboard."
"But I don't, I can't..."
"You can," Reno shot back. He arched an eyebrow. "Unless you wanna be the one to tell the Bossman that he's got no band on fucking Friday night."
Cloud flinched. "That's a low blow," he accused.
Reno's shoulders rolled in a careless shrug. "Yeah, well I'm a bastard. You gonna help or what?"
"Okay," Cloud said, because really. What else could he say?
"Great!" Reno wandered off towards the bar, tossing a grin over one shoulder. "We're on in twenty."
Cloud sank down to perch on the edge of the bandstand and buried his head in his hands. "I'm so going to regret this."
"Maybe," a deep voice agreed and Cloud started when Rude's solid bulk loomed over him. There was sheaf of paper in the hand Rude was holding out towards him. "Guess you'd better do your best to avoid that."
Cloud managed a shaky smile as he took the sheet music. "Thanks."
Rude nodded and drifted away to join Tseng who was fiddling with the amps. Cloud stared after him for a moment, then squared his shoulders and turned his attention to the spill of black notes scrawling across the top page. If he had to do this, he could at least do his best not to make too much of a fool of himself in the process.
The twenty minutes flew by in a flurry of unfamiliar melodies and complicated chord progressions and Cloud jumped when Reno's hand waved in front of his face. "Reno!"
"Ready to go?" Reno asked, bass already slung around his neck. Cloud glanced up to see that Tseng and Rude were back on the bandstand as well, Rude settled easily behind his drum kit and Tseng picking out an absent tune on his guitar.
"No?" Cloud said honestly, feeling a little better when Reno's answering laugh wasn't at all unkind.
"Too bad, Strife. Time to rock and roll." Reno held out a hand to pull Cloud to his feet, then shifted back on his heels, giving Cloud a once-over that made Cloud's face flame despite its brevity. "You come here straight from work?"
Cloud looked down at his shirt and tie, still unreasonably proud of the Shinra insignia clipped to his belt. "Yeah. I was on the mid-shift so I- augh!"
Reno ignored Cloud's rather unmanly yelp, long fingers deft as they finished unbuttoning Cloud's shirt. "Loosen your tie," he instructed, tugging the hem of Cloud's shirt free from the waistband of his slacks.
Cloud flailed, doing a remarkably poor job at keeping his clothes on. "Reno!"
"Hmm." Reno stepped back, eyeing him critically. "Better," he decided. "You're not as scrawny as all those baggy clothes of yours make you look." He reached out and rucked up the hem of the plain white t-shirt Cloud was wearing under his dress shirt. "Roll up your sleeves too."
"What the hell, Reno?" His hands, Cloud was somewhat chagrined to note, were fumbling obediently with his shirt cuffs.
Reno's eyes rolled. "You didn't seriously think I'd let you play with us looking like a tax accountant, did you? Besides," Reno jerked his head over one shoulder, towards the rest of the bar. "There's at least one person here who's enjoying the view."
Cloud followed Reno's gaze and flushed scarlet when he caught eyes with Zack, back behind the bar where he belonged and staring at Cloud with bemused curiosity written all over his face.
"Relax," Reno said then, clearly reading Cloud's impending panic attack loud and clear. One of his hands clapped onto Cloud's shoulder and steered him over towards where Elena's keyboard was set up and waiting for him. "Just concentrate on the music, okay?" Cloud stared at him, feeling dangerously close to passing out, and Reno rolled his eyes. "Cut that out. It's not the end of the world. And for fuck's sake, try to have a little fun. That's what music's all about, yo."
Reno didn't bother waiting for Cloud's shaky nod before he turned away, leaning into the mic with a wolfish grin.
"How's it going y'all?" he asked and Cloud kind of whited out the rest of the words falling out of the speakers, wishing the jumble of notes swirling across the page in front of him would stay still.
"This one's called Bolt," he heard Reno say. Rude's drums exploded into sound behind him and Cloud brought his hands down in the shape of the opening chord almost without thinking about it.
It was different from a piano. Cloud's fingers tripped shakily down the keys, each wavering note perfectly audible no matter how unevenly he pressed down. He fumbled fewer notes than he'd expected, the chime of the keys threading between the swirl of the drums and the growl of the bass to fight with Tseng's dancing guitar. Behind the white haze of noise in his head he could vaguely hear the enthusiasm of the crowd, the stamp of feet dancing in the open space in front of the bandstand, and he shoved the part of him that was wringing its hands in despair into the corner of his mind, no time to panic as the music tumbled and spilled out around him, from him, wild and terrifying and exhilarating.
He was shaky with nerves and adrenaline as they wrapped up the first song and he caught Rude giving him an approving nod. He kept his eyes on the pristine white keys in front of him, sure that the tenuous grasp he'd got on his nerves would melt the second he allowed himself to remember that people were watching this. Just breathe, he told himself. All he had to do was breathe.
Then Reno introduced the next song and they were off again.
Against all odds, Cloud found himself relaxing somewhat as they worked their way through the first set. He wasn't sure he could categorize the messy tangle of nausea, determination and adrenaline rolling around in his stomach as enjoyment, but the edge of something that almost felt like satisfaction knifing along the borders of his mind helped make up for it. His playing got smoother with every song, half-forgotten skills coming back sluggish but whole.
His mother had first started him on piano lessons as a child. She'd hoped they'd calm him down, give him an outlet for everything he kept bottled up inside. It hadn't really worked out that way; music had never been Cloud's passion and he'd not so much as touched a piano since he'd left home.
Still, it was... nice to be playing music again and Cloud couldn't help but get drawn into the sheer manic energy that Reno and the others brought to their craft. Playing rock and roll covers with the T&Cs was apparently a lot more rewarding than practicing La Campanella by himself in his mother's front room. Somehow, that wasn't the surprising revelation that Cloud expected it would have been a year ago.
It came as something of a shock when Reno announced that they were taking a break and Cloud realized that they'd been playing for the better part of two hours. He let his hands fall away from the keyboard, chest heaving with exertion and his undershirt clinging to his sweaty skin.
"Nice work, Spike," Reno told him, with a heart clap on the shoulder. "You're pretty good. You should jam with us sometime."
"Maybe," Cloud said, surprised to find that he meant it. Maybe he'd missed the piano more than he'd thought.
Reno grinned. "So," he said then, a wicked glint in his eyes that made Cloud immediately wary. "I'm guessing you never told the Bossman you play?"
"No?" Cloud answered, puzzled. "Why would I?"
Reno's eyes rolled. "Because playing an instrument is fucking sexy, you moron." He took Cloud by the shoulders and turned him towards the bar. "Look. Your boyfriend thinks so too."
"Wha-?" Cloud's voice died on an embarrassing squeak when he realized that Zack was staring at him with lust-dark eyes, wearing the expression that meant he was about five seconds away from pinning Cloud to the floor and teasing him till he screamed.
Zack's grin sharpened when he caught Cloud looking back and he stalked out from behind the bar without breaking eye contact, a predator's grace in every move. Cloud forgot how to breathe.
"You are so getting laid tonight," Reno said into his ear, sounding terribly amused by the whole situation. "You're welcome." He moved past Cloud's frozen form, pausing to throw an absolutely sinful grin back at him. "You've probably got time to give him a blowjob before our break's over, but if you're not back on time I'm gonna make Rude drag you out of the supply closet whether you're wearing pants or not."
Cloud's cheeks flamed bright red. "Reno!" he choked and Reno laughed again, nodding at Zack as they passed. Zack gave him an absent wave and stepped up onto the bandstand, getting right into Cloud's space in a way that Cloud couldn't bring himself to object to. At all.
"So," Zack said, in a low, smoky timbre that did uncomfortable things to Cloud's pulse. "You play the keyboard?"
"Piano," Cloud managed, squeaky.
Zack looked delighted. "I do hope you realize that's fucking hot."
"So I've heard." he caught Reno smirking at him from the bar and made an abrupt decision. "Come on," he said, grabbing Zack's wrist and tugging him towards the back room. "I've got enough time to blow you before we go back on."
Zack made a sound that sounded suspiciously like a whimper and Cloud didn't bother to curb the Reno-like grin that curled his lips in response. He'd have to buy the band a round of drinks to say thank you.