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ShinRa's Guide to Survival feat. Zack Fair, SOLDIER Extraordinare

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I.


Cloud found a new mug on his desk the day after he'd agreed to be in a relationship with the Generals and Zack. It came with a note that had hearts doodled on the edges of it, the script one he was familiar with, even as he smiled at the card stock.

Cloud,

Thank you for hearing us out and accepting our advances. It is to my understanding that you prefer sturdy mugs of decent quality for your coffee and that you do not appreciate coffee thieves. Are you free this upcoming Thursday?

-Sephiroth

P.S. Zack drew the hearts. He said the message was too impersonal.

He chuckled at that, tucked the note into his desk's false-bottomed drawer and peeled off the newspaper-wrapped cup in question. It was big, black and had a single word -meh.- written on the side in lowercase. He washed it, dried it and put it to use, steam curling off of it as he worked on the piles of paperwork his squads made for him.

Zack bounced by his cubicle later that day, violet eyes looking hopefully at his mug.

"Yes, I'm using the mug. I appreciate it very much and I'm stuck with staff duty on Wednesday but I am free on Thursday." Cloud replied to Zack's questions before the other man could even inhale. Give Zack an inch and he'd take it a mile, after all.

"Great! Umm," the glance down at his mug again made it clear.

"You wanted to try some?" He offered wryly, taking his mug with him as he also took Zack's hand to lead him to his machine.

"Caught me," Zack confessed sheepishly, scrubbing at the back of his neck under his longer spikes. "It's just... I've heard a lot of stories."

"You're curious and now that you fall under the rules, you want to try it." Cloud reasoned as he pressed a cautious peck to Zack's scar. He prepped a mug and handed it over, watching as Zack fiddled with the coffee station a bit longer before he came back to Cloud with a cup of heavily creamed coffee. "Go ahead."

The expression of sheer bliss that crossed Zack's face made Cloud smile behind the rim of his own cup. Zack set it down in the next second, cupped Cloud's cheek and pressed his forehead to Cloud's own. "Can I kiss you?"

"Hmm? Yeah." Zack tasted like coffee and there was a curious aftertaste, as though Zack had licked a Cure Materia. "Are your kisses supposed to taste like Materia?"

"Huh? Oh, that's the Mako. It's in everything, including our saliva. We... don't really notice since we're used to it, sorry." Zack pulled back but Cloud fisted his hand in the knitted blue fabric.

"Guess you four are gonna have to kiss me enough that I get used to the taste then-" Cloud murmured, a teasing lilt to his tone before Zack leaned down for another kiss.


Zack left with a mug of coffee and a thoroughly mussed Cloud sipped from his new mug with a Cuahl-ate-the-Chocobo grin that had everyone avoiding him.

He got more work done that way too.


II.


A few weeks -and dates- into the relationship, another mug was sitting perched in his desk, surrounded by his squads, the burnt edges of the paper signifying the person behind this one.

"Eh-herm. Don't you all have something to do?" Cloud directed sharply, tapping his booted foot with no coffee in hand.

The scattering of men never failed to pull a grin from his lips.

Dearest Cloud,

Delighted as I am by you and the others, would you mind a solo date with me? There's a new play on that isn't LOVELESS that I'd like to see. The other three would tease mercilessly. Are you free on Saturday?

Genesis

P.S. I hope you enjoy the mug, it was difficult to find in a larger size.

He ripped open the paper and started laughing at the large mug, all glass and with writing on the side in levels of —Go Away—, —Not Yet— and finally, —How Can I Help You?—. Cloud filled it up and doctored it in his usual way, almost cackling as troopers left and right eyed the mug like it might bite them. Supply whimpered in a corner until it reached the —Not Yet— level.

Cloud drilled with the mug in hand and his platoon was faster for the virtue of practically fleeing Cloud's measured, loping pace that outmatched them all. He'd learned it from Nibel Wolves, the smooth glide a ground eating pace if done properly.

A SOLDIER caught up to him and he granted this particular SOLDIER a sweet smile. "Hey Angeal."

"How are you doing that?"

"Oh, this? You have to shift your stance, here and here," Cloud prodded the spots with his free hand, having switched his mug to his left to poke. "You feel it?"

"Hmm. That is incredibly effective."

Cloud countered, "It only works for endurance, though."

"How are you finding Gen's gift?"

"Fun, because Supply eyeballed it like it'd bite them if they looked too close." He laughed, causing a few troopers to turn their heads before Cloud narrowed his eyes. They went back to running, almost finished with their laps. "What brings you down here? I thought you three had a meeting?"

"We do but Gen offered to take my spot over if I asked you about his 'hot date' with you and if you were, in fact, free to come." Angeal confirmed as they slowed down and cooled off under the shade of ShinRa's parking garage. "... Admittedly, I was also curious as to whether or not I could try some of your coffee. Zack said it was well-balanced, even better than mine and Gen's Banoran Blend."

"I am free this Saturday, so you can tell him yes." Cloud offered his mug after he'd poured more coffee into it, not really caring about germs because they were dating. "Sure, take a mug when you go, just remember to bring it back. Zack forgot his in his office."

"I'll wash both and bring them back." Angeal murmured after he'd taken a sip of coffee from Cloud's and snuck a mug full from Cloud's machine. "Mm, this is very nice. My compliments to the maker of said coffee."

"It's my Ma, so I'll send it along with my next phone call to her." Cloud replied, snuggling up to Angeal even though he was sweaty and probably gross from running with his squads.

Angeal leaned down for a kiss but paused before he touched Cloud's lips, "May I? The Puppy bragged about getting quite a few from you."

He met Angeal the rest of the way, pulling back with a -snik- to tease, "Well then, we should probably try to keep up."

"How did I get so lucky?"

"Coffee and stupid Behemoths."

Angeal laughed into their kiss and nipped at Cloud's throat under his scarf. "A wonderful combination, to be sure, but not as wonderful as you."

"Flatterer."


Cloud's soft smile was tempered by the dark hickie that touched his jawline, peeking just above his scarf as he worked, mug still steaming from a fresh batch of coffee.


III.


Cloud was in the foulest mood he'd been in for some time, all thanks to Hollander, his face as thunderous as his name.

"You are sleeping with two of my subjects, hand yourself over for observation-Ghk!-"

"What, precisely, did you think happened to the last scientist who tried that route, Professor?" Cloud inquired in the same saccherine tone he'd used on Hojo as he twisted the baton. "Though it's none of your business, neither of the Generals you claim as subjects would appreciate your approach. They're taking things, you see," he removed the baton and slammed it into the man's gut, precisely where it needed to land. "by my comfort levels."

"How-?"

Cloud released the man, who slumped at his feet, a particularly unwelcome smell wafting up.

"Ma taught me that spot when I was six. She said to use it on bullies, of which you are and if I find out anything from the Generals, you may find yourself in a similar position once more. I haven't had my coffee yet so be glad that all I'm doing is making you have an involuntary shit. Ask Supply how well it goes when you deny me coffee." Cloud sneered as he wiped down the baton's end and sheathed it again.

Genesis' rolling stride slowed to a smooth stop, muffled laughter escaping him with a hand over his nose. "The last time he was without coffee, Professor, he nearly killed a Behemoth with the smallest amount of Mako the labs have ever seen. By all means, try him."

Both of them left him gaping in the hallway, Genesis handing Cloud a neatly wrapped box.

"What's this?" he asked, gently peeling the tape off of the wrapping.

"Angeal's gift to you for our two months. He had to get all fancy, not like us plebeians you also share a relationship with, you know." Genesis sniffed with his nose pointed in the air before he started laughing again. "Oh, oh Hollander's face was priceless. I wish I'd taken a picture."

"I did it for you." Cloud said slyly, wiggling his PHS before he clipped it back to his belt case. He set the unwrapped box on his desk, folding the iridescent paper Angeal had used carefully.

"Phoenix blessed me when I met you." Genesis crooned as he wrapped around Cloud and rocked them side-to-side as Cloud popped open the box with his boot knife.

Dear Cloud,

Some days it feels like we can't relax. Within your gift is an item of relaxation with a request attached to it. Please read it.

Angeal

P.S. Gen laughed whe he saw what it was. He's probably forgotten but it should make you smile.

Another mug rested within the nest of fluffy yellow tissue paper, this one white with a black trim that said -I CANNOT BE HELD RESPONSIBLE FOR WHAT MY FACE DOES WHEN YOU SPEAK.-

Cloud blinked, glanced inside it and peeled the second note off of the plastic coated yellow ball.

This is a bath bomb. Care to join me for a relaxing soak?

He flushed but hummed as Gen read it over his shoulder, "You can tell him yes and that I'm taking him up on that offer tonight. It's been a rough morning already."

"I'll pass it along. Speaking of gifts... I was meant to return these to you." The two mugs Angeal and Zack had borrowed, cradled in Gen's hands. "They're having a VR session, otherwise Ang would've handed them back himself."

"Care to join me for a cup? I need a minute or I'm going to shred some poor soul with vitriol they don't deserve." Cloud accepted them and put them back in his mug collection, which was slowly growing past the basket he used for them. He'd have to get another one if his boyfriends kept getting him new ones.

"This is the same blend you gave the Puppy and Ang?"

"Mmhmm. Ma's Nibel coffee."

"... Nibel coffee. This I have to taste." Genesis' skepticism wasn't unusual, given his preferred blend was the best coffee on the Planet. Had it not been for Ma's personal mix, Cloud would've gone for Banoran Blend.

"It grows three weeks out of the year an' Ma harvests it all by hand before the frost strikes. The flowers can bloom in the summer, even in the mountains."

"Your desire is the bringer of life, the gift of the goddess." Genesis looked up Nibel summer weather and blanched. "I commend the fucking beans and you; that's entirely too cold for me."

Cloud chuckled at that, handing over a mug and looking hopefully at Gen's lap. "We get by with a little warmth and lots of cuddling."

"Let me fix this," Genesis pressed a peck to his forehead, made his coffee the usual way and then settled into the sole squishy chair in the break room. "Oh my goddess, I am never going back to Banoran Blend."

"That good, huh?"

"Your Ma is a damn genius; she made you and this wonderful coffee. Best two things to come out of a place I am, sorry dearest, never going."

Cloud sprawled on the chair with Genesis, sipping his coffee from the shelter of Gen's arms and huffed, "Not even for really warm cuddles? I mean..."

"There is no hate, only joy in your suggestion, Cloud. I'll... give it a good turn. You're very persuasive." Genesis offered as he took another sip. "Can I steal a few kisses before the awful tactics assessment?"

"Mm, don't have to tell me twice." Cloud set their mugs down in the tiny break room table, cradled Genesis' face in his hands and leaned only halfway up. "May I?"

"Of course," Genesis met him the rest of the way, quiet joy suffused between hitched breaths and kisses.


Cloud hummed a Banoran lullaby as he worked, which left his platoon somehow even more enamoured of Genesis than they already were; even hot-tempered people had their soft moments, after all.


IV.


The enormous package on his desk made him laugh, tired as he was after his long mission and a good twelve hours of sleep later—which had been courtesy of Zack standing in front of his quarters with the Buster and an unfriendly look.

He made to reach for his boot knife and found one hovering in front of him, a familiar silver waterfall of hair making him smile.

"Thought I wouldn't see you for a while," Cloud inquiredly lightly as he accepted the lovely rainbow titanium knife and cut open the box. The box had another box inside of it, which meant that this was all Zack's doing and his present to Cloud for their three months together.

"I may have... sped up the timeline of my mission to be back here for yours." Sephiroth admitted quietly, pulling out another knife and helping break down each box that Cloud opened in his stupidly tiny cubicle. "This is clearly Zack's doing."

"I'm going to beat his ass with a training sword if I have to open anymore boxes after this one." Cloud snorted as he cut through what he hoped was the last box.

This mug made him shake his head as he held it up so Sephiroth could read it too, -ZERO FUCKS GIVEN- with the middle underlined in a strong line with flowers on the cup.

The way Seph's slitted pupils turned round made Cloud coo under his breath. Sephiroth rarely, if ever, softened that visibly in public so to see it in his cubicle meant it was to be a savored thing.

Cloud,

Sorry about the box thing, this was planned before that shitty mission you had. I hope you had a knife on hand, it was a Lot, to be fair. Hah, get it? Thank you, thank you, I'll be here all week XD Anyways, I was wondering if you'd wanna go on a camping date? Just us and the stars and you don't have to do squat -hehe- other than cuddle and help me cook dinner for our trio of Generals, like a week from now. Send whoever's down there with you up with your answer cause I know us and we're always sort of gravitating towards you.

-Love, Zack

P.S. Give whoever is reading this over your shoulder a nice, wet kiss on the forehead for me, will ya?

Cloud held out his hands and Sephiroth obliged by bending down and allowing his forehead to be smooched with a wet kiss that Cloud wiped right off. Seph hesitated but offered his own arms.

Cloud hummed as he was lifted up and wrapped his legs around Sephiroth's ridiculous waist. "Ferry us over to the coffee machine? I know you haven't tried Nibel coffee yet."

"Of course, Cloud."

Cloud kept his legs locked around Seph's waist but twisted to be even with the coffee counter and his cups. It took him a few minutes, prodding Seph with questions like cream or sugar before they settled into the squashy chair. He handed over a cup, sipping from Zack's new mug and watched out of the corner of his eye as Sephiroth tried the coffee.

"... It is as described by Genesis; flavorful but not too intense. I agree that your Mother is talented in many aspects, childrearing included."

"I think he said that the only good thing to come out of the place are my coffee and me but he hasn't had the Nibel eggnog yet." Cloud mused, pillowing his cheek against the satin-smooth muscles of his boyfriend's on-display chest.

"I'm sure it will be a delight, coming from you as it is." Sephiroth rumbled against his cheek and Cloud snuggled closer. "You enjoy listening to my voice, don't you?"

"Best spot is right here, Seph. It gets all rumbly and you're within kissing reach, y'know." he replied cheekily.

"Hmm, this is true. May I?" Sephiroth put down the mugs, shifted Cloud's hips so that he straddled Sephiroth and then waited for Cloud to make the first move.

Cloud dug his fingers into the silken waterfall and cradled the back of Sephiroth's head as he paused just before parted coral lips. "You sure?"

"Yes," Seph breathed out, both of them wrapped up in one another before Sephiroth pulled away at the sound of someone else in the break room.

It was Jones, whistling an Eastern tune but completely unaware of them and Cloud chuckled.

"I think one of us accidentally cast a Barrier, Seph."

"... Well then, shall we take advantage of that?"

"'Take advantage,' huh?" He teased.

"I did not-"

"Double entendre, Seph, and you can 'take advantage' of me any time you want." Cloud reassured. "Within reason, obviously."

"I see." Sephiroth's fingers tugged his shirt out of his belt and hesitated but Cloud leaned into the touch and smiled. "Nothing below the waist, yes?"

"Considering we both have shifts in, mm, twenty minutes, I think that's a good idea." he glanced at the clock before wriggling his eyebrows suggestively.

It got Sephiroth to relax under him too, which was a bonus as far as Cloud was concerned.


Cloud's Cuahl-ate-the-Chocobo grin was back in place fifteen minutes later, Sephiroth having thoroughly ravished only above his waist as promised. Apparently this grin is so terrifying as to have Supply avoid him completely.


V.


A small, neat package sat next to his coffee machine, almost too discreet and Cloud chuckled.

Trust Tseng to show his thanks where it could be disguised in Cloud's collection of mugs. He treated this one much the same, opening the box to see another white mug, this one making him shake his head as he pulled out the note tucked into it.

Strife,

Thank you for the coffee. As I am not romantically inclined towards you, would you mind just sharing a cup of coffee together?

Tseng

P.S. Feel free to disabuse the notion that we are in any way attached aside from the coffee.

Cloud wheezed a little at that last line, tugging the mug out of the box and breaking it down to discard it. This one read: -I'M SORRY IF YOU FIND MY RESTING BITCHFACE INTIMIDATING.- Pastel flowers broke up the words but it continued and Cloud actually did laugh, -I'M ACTUALLY A FUCKING DELIGHT.-

He rinsed it out, filled it with coffee and dug into his paperwork on performance reviews, cup still steaming as he lifted it to drink out of.

"Who got you that one?" Zack flung himself into the chair next to Cloud's, the poor plastic chair creaking at the strain and scooting back about a foot. His lover sheepishly scooted it back up to the table and took a sip from the mug as Cloud continued to work.

"A friend." He hummed, absently accepting the kiss from Angeal, followed by Genesis's forehead peck and then Sephiroth's soft, toe-curling kiss. Zack pressed a kiss to the other side of his forehead, a smile in his face.

"A friend?" Sephiroth echoed.

"Mmhmm." He glanced up to see risen eyebrows. "I have friends, you know, in multiple branches of ShinRa."

"Not saying you don't, Spikey, but it is pretty rare." Zack pointed out.

"I did say disabuse them of the notion, Strife. Generals, Commander." Tseng countered dryly, mug steaming with -ZERO FOX GIVEN- on the side with a fox inbetween the other two words. "I asked to buy the coffee outright and politely. That is the extent of our relations."

Angeal was the first to relax but the rest followed, prompting, "Sorry Cloud."

"You've a right to keep your own counsel and friendships. Forgive our trespass?" Sephiroth murmured.

Cloud reached across the break room table to stroke his thumb across a familiar cheek. "I know I haven't exactly had the best tracking record when it comes to friends. You were only being cautious."

"I kinda want to hear that story," Zack mentioned, nudging Cloud as he handed the mug back refilled and the shade Cloud liked it.

"Alright. So it started like Reno's every other attempt to lunge for my coffee..."


By the time he'd finished the story, his lovers were laughing, sharing stories they'd overheard about him and how many had been true.

"I'm not surprised to find a great majority of them to be true," Genesis pointed out, "I mean, we met Cloud on the back of a Behemoth, so why wouldn't the rest be the truth?"

"People like to stretch the truth when it suits them." Tseng offered, "Strife is capable of a great many things but due to his size and general demeanor, the truth can seem exaggerated."

"What he said," Cloud managed around a mouthful of sandwich, which Zack had made by raiding the Infantry fridge. "Hey, Jones, this is a free break room. Either come in or go to the one a door over."

Jones snorted, stole a sandwich half off of the large plate and poured himself a cup of the Infantry sludge. "I've seen you do too much shit to be phased by our commanding officers and a Turk sitting next to you. The rumor mill next door was getting a bit much for me."

"Does that mean you were there for the Levikron incident, Sgt. Jones?" Angeal prodded.

"It does, sir, and a more terrifying soldier there never was in pursuit of justice for coffee spilled. Twenty-eight of those fuckers went into the camp and exactly zero made it out." Jones pointed out, gesturing with his half-eaten sandwich for emphasis. "So anything Strife does or doesn't do will never top that or the Behemoth thing, sir."

"I'd heard you had taken on a Behemoth but did not put stock into that particular rumor." Tseng rose a brow at Cloud and Cloud blew a raspberry. "What on this good green Planet suggested that it was a good idea, Strife?"

"The idea that it was going to kill my squad, I had the balls to take it on and I hadn't even gotten to make my coffee, let alone have a sip." he countered, taking a drink of his coffee into the brief silence.

"I can see why Jones is absolutely not phased by anything you do anymore, Cloud." Genesis chuckled, stealing the mug to have a sip.

Jones' jaw dropped, Cloud watched him visibly tick off the boxes and then squawk in either outrage or defeat. "Godsdammit, Strife, couldn't you have waited like, a week longer?"

"How much was the pool?" Cloud's razor-smiled response had Jones whimpering. "A lot, huh?"

"Well over 10,000 Gil man."

"I mean, no one else knows yet. Keep it to yourself and I'll think about letting you win it."

"... You want half, I take it?" Jones rolled his eyes but shrugged.

"You're damn right I do, it's my relationship they're speculating on."

"Fair enough," Jones muttered, finishing off his sandwich half and taking another as he left.


+I


Cloud's tongue stuck out to the side as he wrapped the box, leaving it on Zack's desk and whistling Nibel lullabies as he left to go to work.

He hoped Zack liked it.


In the middle of morning PT, Cloud put down his mug, bracing for whatever reaction Zack would have by keeping his coffee safe. He'd rather not have to have his gifted mug replaced because Zack was sweet but incredibly destructive; hence his preparation.

He yelped, however, when Zack scooped him up and peppered his face in kisses, his words inbetween the kisses sweet enough to turn Cloud to mush.

"Thank-kiss-you, you beautiful-kiss-wonderful-kiss-smart-kiss-boyfriend. How-kiss-did I get-kiss-so lucky?"

Cloud caught his face before he could deliver another kiss, said fondly, "Breathe, Puppy."

Zack pouted but obliged, then smiled up at Cloud with all of his sunshine affection. "How'd you know that your coffee helps?"

"Since you started drinking it and calming down without help," Cloud stroked along Zack's ridiculous cheekbones and smiled as Zack leaned into the touch. "Since you've started doing less squats when you've had it to help you concentrate. It's not the only thing that I'm sharp about, Zack."

"Yeah, that checks out pretty well," Zack agreed as he gently set Cloud down and handed his mug back to him. "Sorry."

"Don't apologize for who you are, Zack, with coffee or without it." He replied. "We wouldn't have you any other way."

"Thanks, babe." Zack hummed before he blurted, "Shit, was that too soon?"

Cloud only laughed, tugged Zack down by his sweater and paused just before his lips, "May I?"

"Hell yeah."

He kissed until Zack practically melted against him, pulling back with a quiet -snik!- to murmur, "I enjoyed it. I thought Angeal might go first but this is nice too."

"Can I tell the other three that it's okay? They've been holding back."

"Of course you can, honey bun." Cloud teased.

"Hey, I was gonna say that!" He protested.

"Too bad, I guess you'll have to steal it back later with some kisses."

"All the kisses." Zack promised as he pecked Cloud on the cheek and did a little dance as he walked back to the ShinRa compound.