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Zack wakes up first, with the first hint of sunlight through the curtains. He leaves soft kisses on both Aerith and Cloud's lips. Aerith wakes for just a moment, smiles, then rolls over against Cloud to fill the gap Zack left behind and to fight off the morning chill together for a little while longer.

Aerith is the next to get up, leaving Cloud alone in bed, which is enough to get him moving too. Together they eat the breakfast Zack made while Aerith fills the silence with chatter about a new exhibit at the art museum that they all should go to. Cloud watches her talk, fixated. (Zack watches Cloud, admires how his face is filling out, thanks to regular meals and gym sessions three times a week.)

At the door, Aerith ties Zack's hair back into a ponytail. She teases him for how long it's getting while loving every minute she spends fussing over it. They leave together, splitting up at the end of the street - Zack on a run, Aerith to her moms' flower shop.

Cloud, left alone in their apartment, breathes in once, long - smelling the flowers Aerith has lined up along the kitchen divider in recycled glass bottles - and gets to work. A corner of the living room has been taken over for (not by) him. He'd argued over taking up so much of the room, and besides, he has his own bedroom, but Aerith insisted; the living room got the best light, after all. Now a rainbow of oil paint tubes hangs on the wall, next to an easel. Even with his own space, with all this time alone, he's having trouble finishing the painting he started the week before.

In shades of phthalo blue, Cloud had started to paint the farm he grew up on. Inside the picture, it's raining, filling up puddles in the grass. The longer he waits to finish it, the less he remembers about the day he based it on. Cloud ends up sitting at the easel for hours, getting no work done, while the light passes from the windows.

Zack comes home too fast and finds Cloud stuck there. Cloud flinches at Zack's hand on his back (instinct) but sighs and relaxes against it. Cloud feels his cheeks heat up while Zack regards the painting. It feels like he looks forever before speaking.

"Been a while since you've been back there, huh?"

Cloud turns around to stare at Zack. After a moment, he only says, "Yeah."

"Let's all go next weekend, okay? It'll be fun." Zack is beaming, but Cloud's cheeks have gone red and he looks like he's sucking in his lips to hide a frown. "Hey," Zack says, "don't you wanna see Aerith try to ride a horse again?"

And Cloud cracks a smile.

"C'mon," Zack says, gripping Cloud's shoulder. "Let's clear your head for a while. I need to shower anyway."

"Yeah," Cloud says, standing, and Zack can hear the playful bite in his soft voice. "You stink."


Aerith doesn't get home until the end of her shift six hours later. Cloud and Zack are back in bed together, naked, asleep.

"So," announces Aerith, loud enough to wake them both up, "I guess no one started dinner?"

Though Zack is laughing, Cloud looks mortified. Something about being alone with Zack still feels wrong to him, like he's doing something horrible behind Aerith's back. He feels this way despite Aerith being the one who started their relationship, who saw Cloud - skinny, short - and somehow brought him into her relationship. He doesn't understand how she can't be jealous. He's just some nobody, butting in on two beautiful, amazing people. He pulls the blankets up to his nose.

Zack gets up, but before he can find his boxers from the mess on the floor, Aerith throws her wet dress at him. "By the way," she smiles, "it's raining." Under the covers, Cloud laughs.

They make pasta together with the kitchen windows open, listening to the storm. Aerith mixes alfredo sauce together while she's delegated cutting chicken and vegetables to Cloud. Zack was supposed to be heating up the pasta, but mostly he's distracting Aerith with small, teasing touches and pointless stories about his morning.

Before they can put the sauce on the stove, the lights all go out. Cloud tenses up, Zack starts ranting about their cheap apartment in their crappy neighborhood, and Aerith uses her phone to find the candles and matches she'd stocked in the cupboards. To keep Cloud busy, she teaches him how to light the gas stove without power, so once they can all see again, they finish cooking dinner together. They make a mess eating on the couch, wrapped in spare blankets.

The power isn't back on by the time they're getting ready for bed. Zack, carrying a camping lantern, finds Cloud changing in his room. His bed's been fixed. His phone lights the room dimly in a cool blue.

"You really wanna be by yourself tonight?"

From anyone else, it would sound like a jab. Zack has a way of talking that doesn't make Cloud feel immature or stupid, only cared for. The thunder makes Cloud flinch but he still just shrugs in response. He shouldn't butt in like earlier again. Aerith should have time alone with Zack too. He was her boyfriend first, long before she even knew Cloud.

But Zack isn't stupid either, so he waits by the door just in case Cloud wants to talk.

He doesn't.

Zack eventually gives up, leaving the lantern behind for him.

Aerith is the one to come and get Cloud. Without any invitation, she slips into his twin bed next to him. Cloud, of course, objects - loudly. Then he gives in, because she's Aerith, and he loves her, even when she's pushy and pig-headed like this, he loves her stubbornness, her sure hands, her long hair draped over him. She kisses him until he starts to relax and slowly, she coaxes him back into their bed together.

"It's okay if you want to be alone sometimes," she whispers to him in the hallway, "but not if it's because you feel guilty or bad." Cloud looks away, making himself very busy with the dial of the lantern. "I love you both, and both of us love you. You and Zack should feel comfortable together too."

Cloud doesn't know if he believes that yet, but he still smiles when he sees Zack waiting for them. Zack has lit a few too many candles around the room, making the whole place look both very warm and comfortable but not unlike an 80s music video.

"It took you guys long enough!"

"Zack," Cloud sighs. "You're gonna burn the place down."

Unfortunately for Zack, Aerith agrees.

"No way! This is the kinda reaction I get for trying to be romantic?"

Cloud and Aerith look at each other, nodding, holding in smirks. But they get in bed anyway, Aerith tucked in between her boys, holding Cloud to her chest. By the morning, the candles have all burnt out, and Cloud wakes up smiling in a tangle of legs and blankets.