If I Should Wake Before I Die #3

A bit after game-end, Cloud broods over Zack’s sword and gets a visitor. Romance with Angst, I-3

Character(s): Cloud Strife, Zack Fair
Pairing(s): Zack/Cloud

Dust puffed up as Cloud drove the sword into the ground.

It took him a moment to pull his hand away from the hilt, and then he stood just staring at it. His new sword was an excellent one, but this… this was Zack’s sword.

“Which is why you have no right to use it, idiot,” Cloud muttered to himself, slumping down to sit beside it. His hand still stole back out to touch the blade.

“You’re going to cut yourself, playing around like that. Don’t you know better, by now?”

Cloud surged halfway to his feet, only to fall back with a thump, staring. He had to swallow a few times before he found his voice; when he did it was hoarse. “Zack?”

On the other side of the sword, Zack put his hands on his hips and grinned. “In the flesh.” After a considering pause he added, “Only not, of course.” He looked down the length of his body with a critical expression. “She’s right, this really does take it out of you. We should make this quick.”

Cloud bowed his head, dozens of childhood whispers dinning in his ears. Something left undone could hold a spirit to the world; and surely someone like Zack had had hundreds of things left undone, and now he couldn’t rest, and it was entirely Cloud’s fault. “I’m sorry,” he whispered.

Zack sounded startled. “What for?”

“If you can’t move on… I…” Cloud stared down at the dust. “It’s my fault.”

There was a sigh and then a small thud, and Zack was sitting beside him. “I realize it may be hard to believe after the past couple months, but, honest, not everything in the world hinges on you personally.” Zack sounded patient, now, and Cloud’s head sank a little lower.

“I know that,” he protested. “But…” He looked up and couldn’t get another word out in face of the wry smile Zack wore.

“Let me guess. You think you got me killed.”

Cloud might have been out of it at the time, but he remembered enough to be very clear about the fact that he had gotten Zack killed. Since Zack obviously didn’t agree, though, he shrugged and looked away. “It isn’t just that.”

Zack leaned back on his hands. “So what is it?”

Cloud raked a smudged hand through his hair, embarrassed and guilty, and a little annoyed that Zack was going to make him say it out loud. “Damn it, Zack, I was pretending to be you! Claiming to be you!” A glint off the sword caught Cloud’s eye and he slumped again, muttering, “Running around, waving your sword, telling everyone I was a SOLDIER First Class, and used to be Sephiroth’s friend, and…” The sheer humiliation of it choked him. “You can’t possibly tell me you aren’t pissed off about that.”

“Sure I can.” Zack chuckled as Cloud’s head whipped up to stare at him. “Cloud, you idiot, you were sicker with transition than anyone else I’ve ever seen, and by the time you could put two words together in a row all the physical evidence and memories you had pointed to you being me. Why should I be mad at you about that?”

Cloud opened his mouth and closed it again, nonplussed by this attack of logic.

“Besides,” Zack crossed his ankles comfortably, “you did a good job of being me. Saved the world and everything.” He smiled at Cloud, eyes sparkling behind the glow. “I’m not mad. I’m actually pretty damn proud of you.”

Cloud’s chest suddenly felt light and shaky, and he swallowed against a hot tightness in his throat. “Zack…”

“I mean, look at how well you turned out. You are First Class, now, my friend.” Just as Cloud thought he might have to look away or cry, the sparkle turned into a gleam. “Of course, some things never change.”

Cloud yelped as Zack tackled him into the dust and glared up at his captor. “Zack!”

Zack grinned down at him. “Too much seriousness is bad for you.”

Cloud’s eyes narrowed and he growled. He remembered that line. And, while he might have gotten pummeled like a little kid three or four years ago, things damn well had changed, now. He twisted and heaved, and bared his teeth in a grin of his own when it actually worked and dumped Zack off him. He dove after.

They thrashed back and forth though the rising clouds of yellow until Zack finally got his weight over Cloud’s hips and both Cloud’s hands in a good grip. By then they were both out of breath and laughing.

“I’m going to win next time,” Cloud declared, wriggling his wrists to test Zack’s grip.

And it did loosen for a second, but in an odd way. Cloud frowned. He frowned more when Zack muttered, “Aw, hell.”

“What? Zack? What is it?”

The smile he got this time was a little more crooked than normal. “Just reality catching up with us again.” Before Cloud could ask what he meant, Zack shook him a little. “Listen. It wasn’t your fault, Cloud. And I’m still here. Remember.” His expression turned considering. “Actually… why don’t I make sure of that.”

Just as Cloud’s brain was starting to catch up to who and where they were and what must be happening, Zack swooped down and kissed him. Cloud’s brain hit the pause button again.

Zack’s lips were gritty and his mouth tasted of dust. And then it was just warm, and wet, and the soft pressure of Zack’s tongue searching his mouth.

And then it was nothing.

Cloud lay, staring up at the sky, quite alone on the bluff except for the sword. “Damn it, Zack,” he whispered, hearing his own voice shake. “I demand a rematch.”

A short gust of wind ruffled his hair like an affectionate hand.