"Sooo, what do you think?" Zack asked, as he pivoted, flexed, and then held a pose. He checked his own ass out from the reflection in the closet door mirror, and nodded in approval. "Aw yeah."
"Um," Cloud said, slightly bug-eyed.
"You know, Hojo did less damage to my psyche in eighteen years than you have just now, and he was trying," Sephiroth said.
"Is that your way of saying you don't think I'm really able to pull off a sweetheart neckline?" Zack asked. He stroked the spangled fabric of the skirt against his thighs, smoothing it down, and then swished his hips a little to make the sequins glitter more. "There was a halter version, but I didn't really like it. It didn't do justice to my cleavage."
"Wherever you took those from, you should give them back," Sephiroth said, from where he was sitting on the edge of the bed with his posture straight at a perfect 90 degree right angle, and practically radiating disdain in visible waves.
"You can thank the Shinra quartermaster and the good folks of Sector Two who manufacture all components of our SOLDIER uniforms, most notably the socks," Zack said, and shimmied a little. "I have nine of 'em in there right now, creating the curves of my tender, maidenly bosom. Also at least two tennis balls and possibly some of Cloud's underwear."
"You can keep that," Cloud volunteered. He shifted uneasily from his spot closer to the foot of the bed, knees drawn up against his chest and arms tight around them like he was afraid of taking up an inch more of space than necessary. "I don't mind."
"You're a good kid, Cloud," Zack said. "That kind of sincere thoughtfulness is what makes me wish I was marrying you, even if that is illegal pretty much everywhere except in Mideel."
"Yes, um, speaking of that," Cloud began cautiously. "Don't get me wrong, it's a nice wedding dress, Zack—"
"It's the ugliest item of clothing I've ever seen in my life and you look ridiculous," Sephiroth added.
Cloud flinched, either over the obvious lie he was telling or the stress of having to present an openly different opinion to Sephiroth's, though he soldiered on bravely. "But I thought wedding dresses were supposed be, um. White. And long. Like, all the way around. This one's cut kind of short in front. And. Red. Really red. And shiny."
"First of all, bless your sweet little Nibelheim heart for thinking I qualify to wear a white dress, Cloud," Zack said, "despite evidence to the contrary performed with you both last night and this morning—"
"This morning?" Sephiroth said. "I knew you were lying about why you were late."
"And secondly, you are looking at the fine example of fashion known as the mullet dress," Zack said, ignoring Sephiroth. "Next big thing. Everyone's gonna be wearing them.
"It makes your ass look huge," Sephiroth said. "The ruffle doesn't help."
"That's the peplum," Zack explained. "Heh. Peplum. If you say it over and over, it kind of sounds dirty. Peplum. Peplum. Peplum. Peplum."
"Zack," Cloud said. He took a deep breath. "Also. Well. Are you really going to marry Reno?"
Dressed like that hung unspoken in the air between them, but Zack figured that might only actually be the second most important factor in the question. And Cloud had that horribly sad look on his face, the one that started with the little crease between his eyebrows, paused for further effectiveness on the bitten lower lip, and finished strong on the dejected downward tilt of his chin; it made him look like someone had told him that Christmas was canceled and dessert had been outlawed and no one was ever allowed to smile again unless they wanted to be sent directly to Corel to toil in the materia mines, or the salt mines, or whatever it was they did miserably down there. Zack wasn't entirely sure, but Sephiroth threatened to have him reassigned there roughly every other week, so there was probably some sort of horrible fucking activity they performed in the general vicinity.
"Potato mines," Zack said out loud.
"Potatoes aren't mined," Sephiroth said.
"I grew up in a swamp. Gongaga potatoes are mined. Also, shut up, do I interrupt your inadvertent soliloquies?"
"Zack," Cloud started, and oh, he'd moved on from just biting his lip to actual lower lip trembling. Absolutely deadly.
"Hey." He sat down on the bed next to Cloud and dropped an arm around his shoulders. Even Cloud's hair was drooping. "Hey, little buddy. Don't be so down. Look. Reno is totally not my first choice for a legal spouse. He doesn’t even crack the top ten. It's just, circumstances are what they are, and I don't like it either, but this has to be done."
"Or…" Sephroth says, drawing the word out slow and obvious. "You could not marry Reno."
"Seph, it's a matter of principle," Zack said patiently. "You have to accept that."
"No, it's a matter of just paying the bakery back for all that wedding cake you ate under false pretenses." Sephiroth said. "Marrying Reno just to avoid that is stupid."
"I was promised free cake, goddammit," Zack said. "Just because I exploited an advertising loophole—"
"You lied to the bakery and told them Reno was your fiancé and then you ate thousands of gil worth of cake."
"—no one can prove I wasn't engaged at the time I ate the cake, and they promised free cake if I was engaged," Zack said. "I am getting married in three days. Therefore I am engaged. Ipso fucking facto, I ate free cake."
"Maybe if you just apologized…?" Cloud suggested.
Zack shook his head. "No way. This is my honor at stake."
"But it's Reno," Cloud said helplessly. "The janitor who cleans the hallway right outside the Turk lounge got a really bad rash just from touching the doorknob right after Reno did. They say he lost some of his fingers."
"I've got all my shots," Zack said cheerfully. "Hey, did you know they updated the inoculation regime you get as a part of Shinra? Now it's a nice shiny cocktail of Hep A, Hep B, tetanus, chocobo flu, and the Reno vaccination. Apparently, they have to update it constantly, in order to keep up with the new STDs and shit."
He stood up in a swirl of skirts and cocked his hip to one side. "Besides, Reno should be proud to be marrying me because I am way better than he'll ever do in his entire life. I'm a total catch. I'm fucking classy."
"One of your testicles is hanging out of your underwear," Sephiroth pointed out.
Zack looked down and poked. "Shit, Lefty's up to his old tricks again. He's always trying to make a run for it, aren't you? I wish you could be more like Pancho."
"You name your balls?" Cloud asked.
"You don't name your balls?" Zack said.
"Not all of us need to create friends by naming our genitals," Sephiroth said, which was such a major statement of hypocrisy because Zack knew for a fact that aside from Cloud, himself, and the weird constantly shifting frenemy status with Tseng, Sephiroth's only other significant relationships were with his sword and the cactus on his desk.
"Har har. You're so fucking hilarious, Seph. You're funny. You know who also has a major funny bone in her body? Your mom, for five gil, every night and twice on Fridays."
"Dressed like that, I'm not surprised you know the current going rates," Sephiroth said. "Your area of expertise, I imagine."
"If you keep talking like that, I'm not gonna ask you to walk me down the aisle," Zack said. "I was gonna give that honor to you, even though you're a freaking agoraphobe and you flee any scene as soon as there are more than ten people there."
"I'm not an agoraphobe," Sephiroth said
"I know, I know. You just hate everyone. Same thing. Whatever." Zack shrugged. "Cloud, you wanna be a combination flower girl and best man? You're probably the better choice anyway, because you're the prettiest and I'm betting you can throw a better bachelor party than Seph can."
"Um. Your, um," Cloud said, and pointed vaguely, one hand flopping in the air like a dying fish. "The right one is uneven. And drooping."
Zack checked his crotch and then checked higher up. "Oh. Yeah. That was on purpose, actually. Charlene's a D and Loretta's a double D. I wanted to see which looked better." He frowned and punched at his breasts in a way that made Cloud wince and Sephiroth frown, like he was internally checking his mental rolodex of normal social behavior and having to adjust it for Zack-factor. Zack had mostly given up deliberately fucking with him on those kind of things because it just made socializing with Sephiroth even harder and more complicated in the long run, and Zack preferred trying to persuade Sephiroth into doing normal-human things without having to resort to quoting bullshit stats or just general blunt force trauma.
"You named your fake breasts too," Sephiroth said. "With, I note, a rather traditional dichotomy of gender-based nomenclature."
"Seph, if I've told you once, I've told you a million times—boobs, cars, boats, and projectile weapons like guns are female. Cocks, balls, motorcycles, and stabby weapons like swords and knives are male. Everything else can go both ways." He stopped groping his own chest and eyed Cloud expectantly, waiting.
Cloud sighed. "That's what she said," he said obediently, rolling his eyes at the same time. Zack high-fived him anyway.
Sephiroth looked like he was thinking way too hard about it all. "Given the womb comparison, cars and boats are understandable, if somewhat disquieting, but I feel as though guns fall in a more phallic range of comparison and should therefore be male," he said.
"How would you know, have you even touched a gun in the last ten years?" Zack said. "Your sword is an eight foot long wang joke, anyway."
"Why do you have to wear a dress to marry Reno?" Cloud broke in, transparently desperate, before Sephiroth could initiate the usual violence that occurred when anyone insulted his weaponry choice. "I mean. Couldn't you just wear normal clothes?"
"Because Reno doesn't have the legs to pull this style off," Zack said. "I think he's going for, like, a fishtail cut. He said something about mermaids over the phone, and I assume that was what he meant. Either that, or he was trying to fight that dolphin at Junon again. He hates that dolphin."
"Excuse me." Sephiroth seemed momentarily distracted from the insult to masamune and looked as close to stunned as he ever got. "Reno is also wearing a dress to this abomination of an event?"
"Well, I mean, originally he was going to go in a formal traditional Wutainese marriage kimono and headdress just to see Tseng have a full-on aneurysm over the rape of his cultural heritage, but apparently no one will sell him a genuine one and they're super expensive to rent and he's too lazy to find a good knockoff, so, yeah, more of a standard wedding dress," Zack said. "Also, Tseng might've threatened to castrate him."
"Reno is the laziest employed member of the Investigation Sector of the General Affairs Department in the history of Shinra," Sephiroth said slowly, eyebrows knit in careful consideration. "And you yourself have been written up for being AWOL from not coming into base because you said there was a spider near your apartment door keys and you couldn't be bothered to find your back-up set. Several times."
"I'm not sure if Reno is actually employed," Zack said. "Tseng fires him a lot. And I was talking to Rude once, and he says Reno was never actually hired, he just kept showing up. Also, that spider was fucking huge. You would have done the same thing."
"You just need to use a tissue," Cloud told him. "Or a shoe."
"Why would I do that? I've got you, the best spider-killing little buddy a guy could ever have," Zack said. 'Seriously, I don't know what I did before you."
"You skipped work a lot," Cloud said.
"The two of you could barely be trusted to keep a house plant alive, let alone plan an event that would culminate in your joining in matrimony," Sephiroth said. "And yet, somehow you both have obtained a license and a date in a church as well as… formal wear."
"And a cake," Zack said cheerily. "I fit, like, so many slices into the pockets of that coat I brought with me to the store. And flowers. I know a guy. Well, a girl."
"This is a dare, isn’t it," Sephiroth said flatly. "You're only going forward with it because you and Reno have some sort of bet riding on it."
Zack was quiet for a long minute, with only the sound of crinkling crinoline in the silence. "There comes a time in every man's life," he said finally, "where he has to play a game of gay wedding chicken."
"Zack," Cloud said, horrified. More so than usual, anyway.
"Oh for God's sake," Sephiroth said.
"My honor is riding on it!" Zack insisted. "Also, possibly, twenty thousand gil and Reno's porn collection. And pictures of the loser in his dress in next month's company newsletter."
"This is the stupidest thing you've ever done," Sephiroth said.
"You say that so often, it's really lost most of its impact," Zack said. "Besides, I'm just going to divorce him right afterward."
"Gay wedding chicken," Cloud said wonderingly, like if he said the words slowly enough, they'd make sense. "Gay wedding chicken."
"Don't knock the gay chicken ritual, kiddo, it’s how actually I got Seph in bed the first time," Zack said. "'Course, he didn't really understand how to play. But hey, I rolled with it and look how it ended."
"Stupidest thing ever," Sephiroth repeated.
"It's really a great porn collection, Seph," Zack said earnestly. "He's got this thing with the double-jointed Wutainese acrobat twins."
"So both of you are just going to… dress up like this and go to a church and say all the words and kiss and get legally married—" Cloud paused for a breath, gulped air. "Just because neither of you wants to be the first to back down and lose the bet?"
"Got it in one, kiddo," Zack said. "My dress clashes with his hair so badly. It's going to be awesome."
"…Sephiroth is right, that's stupid," Cloud said.
"Oh!" Zack exclaimed and staggered across the room and leaning against the bureau. "Shot through the heart! Beset on all sides! The agony! No one can understand the pain of my love!"
"If by pain of love, you mean a burning sensation while you urinate, yes, that's what you'll have to look forward to in your marriage," Sephiroth said.
"Um, just to let you know, Pancho's gone rogue as well," Cloud said.
"Zing," Zack said, and dramatically collapsed on the floor. Skirts were, he decided, really very fun to collapse dramatically in. They added so much more to it, somehow. The fluttering was key. He threw one arm over his eyes and groaned soulfully. "My love… for Reno… is like…"
His cellphone rang.
"Hold that thought," Zack said, and answered it. "Hello?" he said.
About three minutes later, he said, "Yes. Okay. Okay, thank you. Goodbye." He clicked the phone to end the call and sat up fully. "The wedding's off. Cloud, help me get the zipper on the back of the dress."
"Was that Reno? Did he back out?" Cloud asked, perking up and practically bouncing on the end of the bed.
"Nope," Zack said. "That was the chief records clerk from the Midgar Marriage License Bureau, letting me know that he can't issue us a valid marriage license because Reno is on record as being already married to nine other people. Also, the blood test sample Reno provided spontaneously caught fire somehow."
"I'd say I was surprised but I really can't be bothered to lie," Sephiroth said. "I hope you still have the receipt for that dress."
"Who says I'm getting rid of the dress?" Zack asked, as Cloud fiddled with the zipper. "The Annual Miss Shinra Drag Pageant is just two months away. I'm gonna strut my stuff and win the crown. The winner gets free beer for a month at the Shot Bar in Junon."
There was a ripping noise. "Oops, sorry," Cloud said, not sounding very sorry at all. "The fabric tore, kinda."
"Why, you little—" Zack said, and tried to grab him. Cloud evaded him, snickering as he ducked under Zack's arm, but Zack managed to snag his ankle before he could make it to the bed and pulled him back into tickling range. "Trying to get me out of my clothes by force? I'm not that kind of girl, Cloud."
"You were just jilted," Sephiroth said as Zack went to work on Cloud's sides, working him over mercilessly while Cloud shrieked and giggled and swore. "I feel like you should show more gravity for the occasion."
"I'm pretty sure I won by default," Zack said. "I think I can argue that he owes me at least half his porn collection anyway. I'm screwed for the deposit I put down on the margarita machine for the after party, though. Unless I can come up with another fiancé really fast. Hey, Cloud, screw it, let's go to Mideel and get hitched."
"I want a ring," Cloud managed to gasp out, in between laughter. "And a pre-nup."
"No problem," Zack said. "You might need to wait for the next time we can get over to the Saucer for a ring, though. Well, third time's the charm. Anyone opposed, speak now or forever hold your peace."
"I object," Sephiroth said.
"You had your chance, buddy," Zack said. "Besides, what would you do if I told you that one of the nine people Reno's registered as married to was actually Rufus?"
Sephiroth's eyebrows shot up. The corners of his mouth curled, ever so slightly.
"And," Zack added, "that Rufus hasn't been notified of this fact yet? And that I've got a non-refundable security deposit down on a really good camera that might record his reaction to this happy announcement to the fullest advantage?"
Sephiroth tilted his head, considering. "What idiocy has joined together, let no one put asunder," he said finally, and smiled fully.
"Amen," Cloud hiccuped.