Life as a SOLDIER isn’t always bad. It’s not always good, either. It’s this strange mixture of hope, faith, anguish, honor, joy and anger. People often don’t attribute this kind of really deep thoughts to me, and I really don’t care enough to correct their opinion. I’m far too busy as it is, anyway. Life as a SOLDIER also means that you’re always busy.
This fancy hotel room is one of the few perks of the life I lead. If I had stayed in Gongaga, I’d never been able to visit this place, let alone afford it. A nice, kingsize bed, a jacuzzi, laundry service and a restaurant that serves the best and juicy steaks - what more could a man want?
The mission was supposed to be simple data retrieval, and I didn’t understand why they bothered me with it. Ever since the situation with Genesis and project G escalated, we’ve been continuously investigating leads, with and without success. They even performed an autopsy on one of the Genesis clones; fortunately I wasn’t present…I got the gory details from Tseng himself. Before we could pursue a lead to a certain dr. Hollander, Tseng gave me this unexpected order to pick up a package at Modeoheim. To my surprise, I wasn’t allowed to refuse, and he even made sure that I was accompagnied by this promising new recruit, who listened to the name Cloud Strife.
Genesis wasn’t my friend, Angeal was. Maybe Tseng thought that after his…departure and Gillian’s death, it was better for me to take a break. We’ve all been on the edge, but I didn’t feel like a needed a break. I’m not a toddler. I’m a SOLDIER damnit, ever since I was fourteen and started with the training program. I might not be as stern as Sephiroth or as strict as Angeal was, yes, I like to goof off every once in a while, and don’t get me started on ‘Loveless’- I hate that play with the passion of a thousand suns. I am who I am - and I am damn good.
The modest bouquet of flowers in the vase on the nightstand reminds me of Aerith. Flowers in Modeoheim…flowers at a hotel that’s too cheap and shoddy to rise above two stars, but still tries to reach above the average. It looks preposterous. Usually SOLDIERs are urged to finish their missions as soon as possible; Tseng however had made it clear that the data retrieval wasn’t that urgent. He just should’ve said that he thought I was in need of a break. Which I wasn’t. Honestly. Nonetheless… this bed feels mighty good. It’s soft and bouncy, not a hard, metal bunk with a thin blanket. It reminds me of Aerith too - the softness, the warmth. I wonder how she’s doing?
I look up, startled out of my thoughts. Bad, bad Zack - I shouldn’t have dropped my guard. I should’ve noticed him coming into the room.
“Yes, cadet Strife?”
“Sir, the shower is free.”
The data retrieval didn’t go as easy as Tseng or I had planned. It had been an ambush, set up by Wutai rebels. They weren’t exactly a match for me, but I was surprised when they made a summon out of nowhere - rebels with a hold of materia, just what we need. It makes me wonder how they knew of our arrival…but that’s something for Tseng to find out, or maybe even Sephiroth.
Cloud’s arm sports the bruises he sustained in the fight. He did well, disposing of a few rebels himself before he took a crippling hit to the arm. I couldn’t keep an eye on him as I was busy with the summoned monster, and when I was done, the rest had already fled. Rebels with materia but not enough firepower or strength to take us both out, fortunately.
I get up from the bed. I’m roughly his size and I have no difficulties staring directly into his eyes.
“Cloud,” I say and he shows no surprise when I address him with his first name. He should know better by now anyway.
I lift my hand up and rake it through his wet hair. “You look absolutely adorable with your hair down. Just like a cute, wet little duckling.”
He takes a deep breath to say something, but I don’t allow him to. My lips are on his before he can answer; no surprise either when he immediately returns the gesture, parting his lips and responding to the kiss. He insists on calling me sir, even when no one is around, maintaining a perfect mentor-student relationship. After all, I’m not allowed to favor any cadet, and it’s pretty rare that a cadet accompanies a SOLDIER on a mission, even if it’s data retrieval only. We’re far away from ShinRa, SOLDIER and everyone else now, and I feel at ease. I know how I can make him feel at ease, too.
My hands go down, sliding over his back, and I don’t care that the front of my clothes are getting soaked because he hasn’t finished drying himself off yet.
“How often, Cloud?” I ask.
His arms are around my waist, but he doesn’t understand.
“How often?” I repeat, my fingers slipping between towel and bare skin.
“Not often enough,” he breathes and it comes out chortled as he tries to cough to cover it up. I can’t help but laugh, my chest heaving against his. I remove my hands and before he can mourn the loss, I give him a whack on his firm ass. He can stand it. More so, he clings tighter to me, unabashedly grunting.
“Zack,” I whisper in his ear, tilting my head and leaning into him, my teeth grazing his earlobe.
“Zack,” he finally says, sounding relieved. I don’t think he was afraid during the rebel attack, or that he’s afraid now. He just needs to relax, to realize that we’re safe. You can’t train people the thrill and the adrenaline rush during and after a fight. You need to come down after you physically exerted yourself, fighting for your life, facing a monster - and it’s not only that. We’re still searching and exploring, trying to adjust ourselves to one another. It’s not that easy. It’s not like we declared undying love the first time we met.
That was during our first mission to Modeoheim, by the way. Our helicopter crashed due to an incoming monster, right in the mountain range. We bonded over the fact that we were both from the countryside, and I was impressed how he held up while trekking through the bitter cold landscape. We couldn’t get a signal trough to the rescue team, and we couldn’t make it to the city in time. A storm surprised us, forcing us to improvise while setting up camp. We were stuck together in our makeshift tent, and I suggested to share bodyheat. Cloud murmured something under his breath and quite demurely, hugged himself. I made fun of him and pressed closer, jokingly. He never protested, not even when I started nipping at the base of his neck. Our clothes came off that night and needless to say, we weren’t bothered by the cold at all. His touches were hesitant at first, as were mine; honestly, I didn’t mean to go all the way immediately.
I’m his superior. I can easily force him to do things he disagrees with, just by abusing my rank. I know it happens, there are always bad apples around. I don’t want to be an imposing asshole who takes advantage of power differentials. Cloud showed me that he enjoyed it and didn’t think of me that way; moreso, he took the initiative to kiss me soon after, and we rolled on top of each other again, almost taking the entire tent with us. I know Tseng and the other army dudes didn’t notice; it was extremely bad weather and not to mention, completely dark. I love the mountains.
Now is the first time that I see him naked in the light of day. I considered joining him in the shower, but decided against it. Like I said, I’m a SOLDIER. We don’t do fluffy romance - even if it’s efficient to share a shower - and we don’t do long-term relationships. Not with what we are. Monsters or heroes, I’m still not very sure.
I know what made me change my mind to think of SOLDIERs as lovers. It was because of Cloud, who leans against me. He’s touching me, checking for injuries - now that does take the fun out of an embrace like this, doesn’t it? I bite down on his earlobe. He gasps.
“It wasn’t a high-level monster. Leave it be.”
People will ask questions if we refer to each other too familiarly in the ranks of SOLDIER, but here, at a hotel room in Modeoheim, we can forget what and who we are. What future does our…interaction have? I don’t know. I thought when I crashed through the ceiling of a church and heard the voice of an angel calling “Hello? Hellooo?” out to me, I had found love. I thought I had found friendship with my mentor, who turned out to follow Genesis’ path, or so it seems. I thought that being a SOLDIER first-class was my ultimate goal, and when Lazard granted me that rank, I felt emptier like ever before.
Cloud doesn’t make me feel empty. He’s a handful, literally - I untie the towel and let it fall down, to pool around his ankles. He’s in perfect shape and condition, except for those bruises, and I see a particular nasty one on his back. Cloud’s done with checking me over as well, and I know what he wants to say, because he can’t let it go.
“You can say it one more time,” I interrupt him before he can start.
“Zack,” he says and I can hear from his voice that he surpresses a laugh. His hand is in my hair. “You stink.”
“Well excuse me,” I protest. “I had to protect you from a big, bad monster.”
“You should’ve showered with me,” he says and I notice his grip has become even tighter.
What are we searching for? Protection? Reassurance? We’re supposed to stand on our own two feet, independent, able to take care of our own business. Does that mean we have to be alone for the rest of our lives? Relationships aren’t forbidden for SOLDIERs, but like this, blurring the line between superior and subordinate… my hands are caressing his bare skin, touching his naked flesh. He feels warm, soft, and he smells good. I know his fingers are calloused, I see small scars, his hair starts to dry. He’s Cloud, and he’s…the sky.
“Let me hear it one more time,” I say, teasingly, hands on his hips again.
“Zack,” he repeats my name like a good little soldier, like the first-class cadet he is. Distance and proximity, naked lust and demure chastity, sun and sky, dark and moon, night and rain. I know he’s inhaling my scent, despite my less-than-clean appearance. I allowed him to shower first, because I like looking at his body. He’s strong, he’s going to get far in the ranks of SOLDIER. With or without me, but as far as I’m concerned, I see myself by his side. Comrade, brother and lover in arms.
He starts plucking at my clothes, his fingers grasping the fabric. I start tugging as well, shifting and pushing a little, to move him towards the bed. He brushes his lips past mine, I can see the smile on his face. Yes, he’s the sky. My sky. I wanted to be a hero, I wanted to follow my dreams, but now all I want to do is to take to the sky, where my Cloud is.