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It's All Good News Now

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I need you to call me. Act like theres something important u need me for. PLS CALL, GET ME OUT OF HERE

It was a very long three minutes from the time Cloud sent his text to when Zack Fair called him back. They weren't unpleasant minutes, not really—his few quiet groans and the blush on his cheeks would attest otherwise—but three was longer than he would have liked. Three put him much too close to the inevitable moment that he was dreading—the one Zack was supposed to get him out of.

His PHS was not on silent, thank goodness—the sounds of chocobos warking blasted through the small space that was his friend Andrew's top bunk. Chocobos were a solid zero on the sexy scale and Cloud was only too happy to lean over Andrew and pick up his PHS from where it had gotten nudged underneath a pillow.

"Sorry," he apologized, "Ah—it's Zack."

Most of Cloud's friends knew he was also friends with the SOLDIER First Class. "Hello?"

"Cloud?" Zack's voice was entirely too inquisitive. Andrew could probably hear him too—he needed to be convincing. Cloud swallowed thickly.

"Hey," he said, trying his darndest to sound concerned, sound stable—sound like he wasn't straddling another infantryman's lap and didn't have another man's hands down the back of his briefs. "Is everything okay?"

A slight pause on Zack's end. "No. I fell during training with Angeal today, hit my head pretty bad. They say I have a concussion. I'm in the infirmary and I'm fine now, but they're sayin' I need someone to help me walk home. Angeal would do it but he got called away on a mission half an hour ago."

"I'll be right there," Cloud said, his voice firm. "Hang in there, okay? I won't take long."

"Thanks, Cloud. I dunno what I'd do without you."

Cloud hung up the phone and glanced at Andrew, who looked understandably disappointed. "I'm so sorry, but Zack needs help."

"Yeah, of course. A concussion? That sucks."

The blond nodded and began to extract himself, but Andrew leant in one last time and kissed him again. "You think we could continue this sometime?"

"Y-Yeah, maybe."

"Alright. Good luck."

Cloud dropped down neatly to the ground and pulled on his jeans, previously discarded next to the other infantryman's dresser. It was a miracle that none of his other bunkmates had come in, honestly; that was reason enough alone to cut this short.

He left with a stumbling, embarrassed goodbye and swept from the room, his face burning beneath his infantry scarf that he wrapped closer to his face for that exact reason. Instead of going to the infirmary he went straight to Zack's apartment. He hesitated outside. Although Zack hadn't told him to come over and explain he knew it was the right thing to do. The SOLDIER would worry about him if Cloud did what he wanted to do, which was lay down in his bed and hide from the world for a few hours.

With a great sigh he knocked on the door.

Zack answered it in sweatpants and a ShinRa t-shirt. His eyes went up and down Cloud's form critically for a moment, and after detecting no injuries he smiled. "You alright Spike?"

Cloud reddened more beneath his scarf. "I'm okay," he confirmed, and Zack let him inside.

His friend had ordered pizza and was halfway into his first slice. He immediately offered Cloud some and the blond collapsed on the couch gratefully. Eating it put off answering Zack's questions for a few moments, but the First eyed him the whole time he ate, his eyes narrowed.

"So… what was I rescuing you from?"

Cloud put down his plate and closed his eyes.

Gaia, this was embarrassing. Zack was his best friend—he told Cloud all of his sexual exploits on the daily but Cloud… Cloud Strife, of all people, didn't…

"I was messing around with a guy," he ground out. His shoulders rose to his ears in mortification and he hunched over his plate.

Zack's loud disbelief startled him. "Wha-!"

Cloud waited, his eyes still closed, and Zack's shout transitioned into happy laughter. "Whaaat? My Spike?" The infantryman just nodded miserably and Zack punched his shoulder. "Let me make sure I heard this right. Cloud Strife was one: getting' jiggy with it, and two: with a dude."

"Zack," Cloud protested, feeling mildly sick. "I didn't think you would make a big deal out of it. Knock it off."

And Zack shouldn't have—he was the one in the relationship with three other guys, all his superiors. Cloud could have told him he had just spent the last hour tied up on the President's desk as the man spanked him in fishnets and he shouldn't have been able to even blink the wrong way.

"I'm not." Zack's tone instantly switched to apologetic and he rested his hand over Cloud's shoulder, his thumb rubbing where he had punched Cloud moments ago. "I'm sorry, I was just surprised. I didn't even know you were…well, into any of that stuff, man."

"It's complicated."

"Why did you text me? Was this guy doing something to you that you didn't like? Were you in danger?"

Zack's voice switched to concerned and then dangerous so quickly and so convincingly that Cloud was awed by it for a moment. Because Zack was his best friend he forgot sometimes that he was a SOLDIER; a First Class, a powerful one, with a protective streak a mile wide. His eyes were narrowed and his jaw was tight. If Cloud had been in trouble he had no doubt that Zack would absolutely destroy whoever it had been.

"No, it's okay. Really," he said, covering Zack's hand with his own for a moment. He smiled, trying to get Zack to do the same. "I just… I didn't want it to go any farther, and it looked like it could have. I felt bad saying 'no' again and—I just felt like it would be better if I had an excuse."

Zack sighed and rubbed at his face for a moment. "Who was this guy?"

"A friend of mine in the infantry."

"If he's your friend, then you shouldn't feel bad saying 'no.' Cloud, I'm serious." The blond had looked away but Zack gently grabbed his chin and drew him back. His eyes were indeed serious, more so than Cloud had ever seen them.

"Rule number one. No's get respected. If you want to stop, then you and your partner stop, always. If this kid is the kind of guy where you're afraid to tell him no, then he's not the kind of guy you should be messing around with, and I want him to stay away from you. Understand?"

"No, I—" Zack continued to gaze at him, his expression hard. "I understand, Zack. I, I know that, don't worry. It's not like that. I know that he would have been fine if I said no, I just… felt bad about it."

He closed his eyes again and Zack sighed. The hand on his chin slid up to ruffle his hair. "I always knew you'd be the kind of guy to feel guilty over stuff like that." Cloud tilted his head, a bit surprised Zack had put any thought into him in that kind of situation at all. "But seriously, you really don't have to feel guilty about that. Ever, okay?"

Cloud nodded. "Got it."

"Sorry to get all scary on you. That's just so important. I never wanna hear about you doing anything you don't want to, alright?"

"Yeah."

"Weeell… except for doing your laundry. I know how you hate that." Zack poked his side, making the blond squirm ticklishly. "And your hand-to-hand class, I knooow you hate that." He poked again and Cloud knocked his hand away, grinning.

If Zack was joking now, the two of them were fine.

"How did you manage to text me in the middle of that anyway? I can't imagine how you did it."

Cloud blushed and covered his mouth, fighting back a smile, and Zack leaned in. "Okay, now you've gotta tell me."

He had been the one to rely on Zack's assistance to get him out of that mess—he had to suck it up and deal with the questions. Cloud just prayed to the Nibel gods that he wouldn't die of embarrassment before the afternoon was over. "I texted you behind his back."

"Huh?"

"I…" Cloud moved his pizza to the coffee table. "I was, um, sitting on his lap, right." He mimed it, but to his surprise Zack reached out and scooped him forward until he was doing just that. Cloud laughed and repositioned himself so he was just as he had been with Andrew—knees on the bedding, sitting back on the top of Zack's thighs. He had towered over his other friend like this, but Zack was a great deal taller than a teenage infantryman. Cloud's nose was all in Zack's spiky hair.

"Like this?"

"Uh, sorta. His hands were…" Cloud figured that if he was humiliating himself he might as well go all the way. He couldn't quite bring himself to say ass though and said as coolly as he could, "on my butt."

Zack snickered and grabbed two handfuls of Cloud's ass through his jeans. "Like this? Seriously?"

"No, they were, uh—"

The SOLDIER slipped his hands under his belt to cup his bottom through his underwear. Actually, Andrew's hands had been under the thin blue fabric but Cloud did not correct him. He pulled his PHS out of his pocket and reached over Zack's shoulder, thrusting the small device out over the back of the couch. "I texted you like this, but it was hard because he was kissing my neck and stuff."

Zack removed one hand from his rear to tug away the green scarf and planted a big, gooey, disgusting kiss on Cloud's neck.

Cloud was chuckling before he could help it. "Haha, yeah, like that—and he was saying stuff and I only went 'uh huh' because I was trying to text you." He frowned in concentration and mimed tapping away at the tiny device.

"Oh, Cloud," Zack said, his voice husky, an imitation of whatever he thought Andrew sounded like. "You're the sexiest infantryman in the entire building."

"Uh huh," Cloud droned, his voice the most bored and uninterested he could make it.

Zack went still for a moment. Then his amusement came out of him all at once like a shout—he tipped sideways, squashing half of Cloud's body beneath him. Cloud had heard Zack laugh many, many times, but his laugh was usually loud and booming, something cute and endearing, and not high-pitched, wheezing, and helpless.

"Oh my—oh my god, Cloud—" He was saying. Cloud spotted a tear work its way down Zack's cheek and he fucking lost it, going boneless on the couch. He didn't even mind his burning cheeks when his own embarrassing actions had resulted in something as funny as this.

Eventually Zack calmed down, saying whew a few times and fanning his face. He was all red—maybe blushing himself?—and he couldn't stop smiling. "Wow, Spike. That's the funniest shit I've heard in ages."

Cloud tried to look unamused. "I'm glad you found my awkward situation so funny."

Zack giggled again.

They went back to their pizza and Zack teased him a bit about the hickeys on his neck, visible now that Zack had removed his scarf. They had ice cream too, because Cloud apparently deserved it after going through something like that. They watched some TV and shot the shit like they always did, but Zack grew thoughtful and serious again and nudged Cloud's knee with his hand.

"Hey. You don't have to tell me if you don't want to, but what's the deal? You feel like you're not ready for sex yet, or was it intimidating, or…? You said it was complicated. I wanna help."

Cloud did not doubt it. Zack possessed a unique sort of kindness that he had yet to see in anybody else. The blond tucked his knees up to his chest and wrapped his arms around them, watching his socked feet dig into the cushion. "It's not that I'm not ready," he frowned, "It's more like… I can't bring myself to actually do it, even though I really want to."

"I don't get it."

"It's—in Nibelheim," Cloud confessed, finally ready to let it all out, his growing frustration in the last few months, all of it—"you're not allowed to lose your virginity before marriage. There's such a stigma around it. Some of the couples who did got shunned by everybody at school. I know this isn't Nibelheim; I tell myself that all the time. I'm not—going to wait for marriage or anything, that's ridiculous, and I know virginity is a—what is it—cultural construct, and all that, and that it doesn't really mean anything. But… for whatever reason I'm having trouble allowing myself to give it away to someone who doesn't matter, you know?"

Zack's eyes were kind; Cloud didn't know why he had been afraid of judgment from his best friend. "I understand. It's okay to be confused about that kinda thing."

Cloud shrugged. "I know virginity is stupid, but…"

"Different strokes. If it's important to the people in your hometown, it makes sense it's important to you."

"But it's not important to people here."

"I dunno… but either way, if someone doesn't respect that you don't wanna fuck 'em they're a piece of shit, right?"

"Right. I just want to get it over with though, honestly. I hate being so… hung up about it. If I could just do it once then I'd be free to…"

Zack's eyebrows rose. "Bang all the people you want to, you randy little shit?"

Cloud was hoping that the conversation was over but Zack looked thoughtful again, watching him. "Hey," he began, his voice gentle. "What kind of person do you want to get with for the first time, though? Clearly it isn't whoever you were with earlier."

"I guess it's… someone who actually cares about me. My mom figured I wouldn't do the marriage thing either and she wrote me a letter, told me to just make sure I like them, and that they'll treat me right. They don't have to be a boyfriend or anything. I'm not sure. Just a close friend." He chuckled into the fabric covering his knees. "She actually used 'they,' in her letter. I think she had a feeling I wasn't straight."

"Yeah, how come I didn't know about that? Or that strange boys have been all up on my favorite infantryman?"

Cloud just shrugged, but he didn't want Zack to be hurt over it. "I was just quiet about it. And you're busy with Genesis, Angeal and Sephiroth anyway."

"I'm never so busy that I can't help my best friend out with his problems!" Zack fixed him with another serious look, and then nudged him again. "Especially problems that involve kissing."

"You're a moron," Cloud growled, and started to kick his friend.

They wrestled a little, ate now-cold pizza until they were stuffed again, and when Cloud left he was positive that he had someone in his corner. Zack, in his clumsy, silly, adoring way, was there for him—he was the type to stage a fake phone call and take care of him afterward. That knowledge made him feel more secure than he was expecting.


The not-having-sex thing hadn't bothered him much when he first got to ShinRa. The showers had curtains. He had a hand.

Still, he was riding the long wave of puberty still, thankfully on its way out, and he was horny as hell all the time. He was surrounded by many men who talked about sex constantly, some who brought their girlfriends to base, others who fucked each other in the showers. Even though the showers had curtains it was hard to hide something like that.

All around Cloud Strife there were sexually charged teenage boys. Though he had resisted at first his resolve crumbled fairly quickly. So when his platoon went out for drinks one night and came back to play cards and clumsily hurt themselves at the gym, he enthusiastically crawled onto his bed so one of his bunkmates could follow him onto it. He had been a nervous, clumsy kisser, but the more practice he got the more he liked it.

He hadn't done anything too hardcore yet, but more items were being checked off his list every day. It was nice and satisfying, in a way—the human contact, the soft laughter he shared with his friends, the sensations of kissing and biting besides. Still, he hated gently steering his partners away from sex; he hated cutting it short. Gaia, he wanted to fuck someone—he did, he really, really did, but he couldn't.

He couldn't just do it with one of his friends, teens who didn't want him for anything more than immediate relief. He didn't want them for anything more than that either, but… it was different, somehow. His momma was right; his first time should be with someone he cared for, and who cared for him back. Boyfriend or not, he just wanted something more meaningful than what he had experienced thus far, even if it was fun, and even if he enjoyed himself quite a bit.

He'd regret it otherwise.

Telling Zack about it helped. Finally someone knew. Zack was cool with how Cloud was interested in not just girls, but boys too—and he was kind about his hesitancy to have sex. Zack asked him about it a few more times, trying to understand what Cloud needed so he would or could have sex some day.

Cloud didn't know—he'd know it when he was in the right situation, he concluded. When the right person asked. It would become clear. Eventually.

But in the meantime he was frustrated as fuck, and still mildly frustrated with himself over the whole ordeal.

"Zack," he sighed one afternoon, sprawled out on the man's carpet, "I'm horny all the time."

His friend snorted, sitting on the couch and focused on the television screen, where his game character was shooting an alien with a machine gun. "I'll bet, Spike."

"You probably never have this problem. Three boyfriends…"

"Ha! Lemme tell you! They're always on missions, or I'm away on missions, or they're sweaty and covered in monster guts. Don't get me wrong, I get some—but it isn't as often as you might think."

Cloud rolled over onto his stomach and observed his friend. "They're good to you, right?"

Zack blinked at him, glancing away from the TV for a moment. "Hell yeah they are. You seriously need to hang out with us one of these days."

It was an old conversation. Just the thought of Zack's boyfriends intimidated the hell out of him. He'd met all of them at least once, Angeal twice, actually—but all just in passing, in the hallway or elevator. Zack had introduced him, he'd stammered and stared at his feet, and that was that.

"I'll meet them properly eventually," the blond muttered, side-stepping that particular issue. The last thing he wanted to do was reveal his embarrassing crushes on his best friend's partners, no thank you.

Zack was quiet for a moment, and then paused the game. "Come up here for a sec?"

"Huh?"

Zack patted the cushion of the couch beside him and Cloud climbed up to sit beside him. "About them. I, ah, I asked the boys something, to see what they thought about it, and…well, they said it sounds like it could be a good idea."

"What could?"

The SOLDIER looked uncomfortable for a moment, which was so unlike him. "Just hear me out, alright? I was thinking about your problem, and how you want to have sex for the first time with someone you know well, and who you're comfortable with." Zack met his gaze and slowly smiled, his demeanor gentle, yet as confident as Cloud had always known him to be. "How would you feel about having that person be me?"

"What?"

"Come back here, seriously. Okay. Good. Just listen, alright? You said the other day that you would consider saying yes to a friend. I know how much this has been bothering you and I want you to get over any insecurity you have so you can do your best, y'know? So I asked Seph, Gen and Ang how they would feel if I did this for you."

"Y-You asked them if you could—" Cloud couldn't even finish his sentence.

"Yeah, and they said they were cool with it. They know how much you mean to me—you're my best friend, Spike."

Cloud did not know what to say, so Zack spoke instead. "Think about it. I'm not gonna put words into your mouth but I'm your best friend too, yeah?"

"…Of course you are."

"And I'm gonna hazard a guess and say no one here cares about Mr. Strife more than I do?"

Grin. "No, I guess not."

"So realistically, I'm the best candidate for this. You're cute, I'm cute… and it doesn't have to be a big deal, you know. I'd take it slow, go easy on you. You'd be more comfortable with me than anyone else, I think."

"Zack…" Cloud shook his head. "I'm always telling you you're too selfless. I don't want you having sex with me out of some sort of obligation. I can find someone on my own if I have to. I can't ask you to do this for me."

"You're not asking—I'm offering. If you're worried this is gonna fuck our friendship up, don't." He shrugged. "It seems like you're still friends with the guys you've been hooking up with."

"Yeah, but…"

Zack smiled and ruffled his hair. "You don't have to say yes. Just know I'm available if you want to take me up on the offer."

"I just can't believe the others said it would be…"

The SOLDIER snorted. "Please! When you've got four people involved communication is key, okay? I tell them everything. You're my best friend, and I care about you—as you know. I explained and they trust me."

"Wow." Cloud closed his eyes, feeling mildly dizzy. "Wow."

"And just think about it this way. One day, when you're a sexual dynamo and have all the boys drooling outside your apartment door can walk by and say 'oh yeah—you had me first! Best friend, assholes!"

"Shut up."

They laughed, and dropped the subject. Zack let him think it over.

And think it over Cloud did.

At first he convinced himself he wouldn't take Zack up on it, of course. He had never thought of Zack in a sexual way before so it was just…bizarre, thinking of them together like that. Not to mention that they were best friends whose relationship should not be in any way entangled with physical affection—it gave Cloud the shivers to even think about it.

Zack Fair's lips on his? Zack Fair, naked? Weird.

But more than once his thoughts strayed back to that possibility when he listened to his friends talk about what they had gotten up to that weekend. When he jerked off he kept imagining how it could be so much better; what, a bed instead of a freezing tile wall? Zack's familiar laugh in his ear instead of the talking and chatting of various infantrymen changing and getting ready for their next set of drills?

It was totally ridiculous that this was even an option, and it was even more ridiculous that Cloud said yes.

He called Zack late at night before he went to bed, his fingers trembling. "I have to do this now or I'll chicken out again," he said in a rush as soon as Zack answered, his voice low so none of his bunkmates would really hear him, "But I want to take you up on your offer."

It took Zack a moment to respond. "…I—alright. I mean, alright!"

"Yeah." Cloud nodded several times even though his friend could not see him.

"Okay. That's good—we'll work it out. Don't get stressed out about it, aight?"

"I won't."

Both of them stayed quiet, and then Cloud whispered, "I'm going to bed now. Bye, Zack."

He stuffed his PHS under his pillow and squeezed his eyes shut, amazed by his own audacity.