Never let it be said that Zack would allow anything to stand in the way of his goal. So when Cloud, standing at attention in the row of other anonymous, helmeted Regulars behind the first row of SOLDIERs, felt Zack reach back unerringly and shove something into the bend of Cloud's elbow, he really couldn't be surprised.
Glancing at the Regulars on either side of him to make sure that the SOLDIERs' tall shadows somewhat obscured his movement, Cloud carefully braced his rifle against his shoulder and managed to flatten out the paper ball. Zack's usual scrawl was worse than usual, but still legible.
Cloud twitched violently and really, really wished that they were in private so he could kill Zack without witnesses. He patted his pockets one-handed while trying to keep his upper body, which wasn't as well-hidden as the rest of him, relatively still, and finally found a pen tucked into one of his trouser side-pockets. It was pink and had a plastic heart stuck on the end by a small metal spring, and he honestly couldn't say if it was Zack or Aeris that hid it there. The ink, thankfully, was plain black, not sparkly rainbow unicorn's blood or whatever.
Bracing the paper awkwardly in the flat of a palm, Cloud scribbled,
and then poked it roughly into Zack's armpit. Zack managed to turn a loud squawk into a bout of coughing, drawing a number of disapproving glares from the suits sitting behind the speech-making president. Cloud smirked.
The SOLDIERs were ranged in a half-moon from one end of the stage, behind the suits, to the other end, the Regulars behind them and down the length of the hall in what amounted to purely a show of force and numbers. Which was pretty stupid, considering everyone in the room was either a part of ShinRa or lived in Midgar anyway. How Zack was managing to write notes without anyone – anyone important, at least – noticing, Cloud was almost afraid to ask. He shot a look towards Sephiroth, a small distance down the line at the center and flanked by Angeal and Genesis, but none of the three were looking.
Zack's arm twisted behind his back and waved the crumpled paper enticingly. Cloud took it with the sort of wariness usually reserved for poisonous snakes.
One of the things that sucked about being a blond from the mountains who'd seen maybe three full hours of sunshine in his entire life meant that, when he blushed, he went full throttle, tomato red, slapped-repeatedly-by-a-fish red. Cloud could feel his cheeks flaming and it was miracle the fire alarms hadn't been set off yet.
Before he could write a reply, another ball of paper was passed back, Zack's hand wavering suspiciously too far south. Cloud nabbed the note before a feel could be copped and flicked the center of Zack's palm hard, pointedly, and grinned behind the protection of his visor when Zack twitched and immediately withdrew. The paper asked,
Asshole knew exactly what he was doing, of course.
He shoved the paper partway down the back of Zack's pants and grinned when Zack did this odd shimmy and ass-wriggle that probably made someone wonder if he was getting jock itch or something. He was further vindicated when he noticed Angeal's eyes flicking in their direction.
After a few minutes, Zack tilted his head back in what must've looked like a world-class yawn and accidentally-on-purpose dropped the paper ball when he raised his hand to politely cover his mouth. The ball bounced off Cloud's visor and landed at his feet, which, shit, if anyone got a hold of that thing, there could be some issues.
Waiting several minutes for people's eyes to move on from Zack's minor disturbance, Cloud leaned over as subtly as a trooper in full uniform and with a rifle could and scooped up the note.
Cloud added, and checked,
The reply was,
Cloud hesitated a moment before scribbling,
The small bit of embarrassment was rewarded with another loud coughing fit from Zack, which still had too much of a "haha" in it to be even vaguely convincing. The president just droned on because it'd take the Plate falling on his head to make him hear anything outside his own voice, but on top of the increased glares from suits, Sephiroth had joined Angeal in the eye-flicking thing. Except his glance was a little more intimidating, even after two months of sneaking around and fucking.
Oh, yep, there went the blush again, and was anyone else hot in here?
Fifteen minutes passed before Zack tried passing the note back, which was getting rather worn and sad in places. It said,
Cloud let another ten minutes go by before replying,
Cloud rolled his eyes so far he strained something.
While Zack was writing a response (seriously, how the hell had no one noticed yet?) Cloud happened to glance back at the Firsts. Sephiroth was facing forward again and Genesis looked like a cat hovering somewhere between being bored and playing-with-you-before-killing-you bored, but Angeal was still looking sidelong at Cloud and particularly Zack with an expression of exasperated patience. Cloud wondered if a lifetime of dealing with Genesis had inured him to most things that would drive a normal person to madness, or if it was just something about Zack that made the effort worthwhile.
…Wait, then what did that say about Cloud? Sephiroth might've had some issues, but who didn't, and Aeris wasn't far from being Zack's female counterpart but she was still, y'know, sane. Usually. Well, sometimes. Oh gods, had Cloud inherited his mother's madness? Was he going to start talking to trees and wearing sleeveless blouses in winter and putting pepper in his cornflakes because he liked the way the black flecks floated in the milk –
Cloud's existential crisis, which he tended to have once a month or so, sometimes two if he was feeling particularly angsty, was interrupted by a sharp backwards jab from Zack's elbow and the note nearly being shoved into his crotch. He managed to catch it, but then he had to catch the rifle before he dropped that, and the instinctive lurch forward had him smashing his visor between Zack's shoulder-blades and knocking the SOLDIER forward a few steps. The president actually paused, and Zack coughed politely into his hand before crossing his arms behind his back and facing forward in textbook-perfect parade rest.
Strange, sure, but Cloud didn't see what was actually creepy about getting Angeal a teddy – oh. Oh. The other kind of teddy, and he was only sixteen and a country boy, he shouldn't even know these things except it was Zack's fault.
And Aeris', but it was harder to blame someone who made industrial-strength orgasm-inducing cherry pie.
Cloud wouldn't know; he still couldn't meet the man's eyes.
Cloud sighed, but he really couldn't say no. Besides, Angeal had never been anything other than nice to him, even when he found out that Cloud was part of the four-way relationship in which his favorite student was involved. Angeal had blinked at Zack's woeful puppy eyes, then pulled Sephiroth aside for what looked like an intense conversation of the classic If You Ever Hurt Him I Will End Your Existence, to which Sephiroth had been typically In That Case I Would Do It Myself, and Zack had interrupted with I'm A Big Boy, Thank You Very Much, Now Excuse Me While I Go Restock On Lube, and Cloud had stood in the background with his face on fire.
Instead of shoving the ball of paper down Zack's pants or shirt, he poked him in the shoulder. Zack surreptitiously reached back, and Cloud put the now well-worn note in his palm and brushed his fingers over the lifeline and heartline creases before letting go.
Another good ten minutes passed before Zack reached back again, sans paper. He wiggled his fingers and Cloud tangled them with his own, felt Zack squeeze lightly, and was thankful again for his visor when he couldn't help a ridiculously sappy grin.