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Off the Line

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"You're not going to tell her?" Vincent asked while Cloud finished looting after his tenth Magic Pot. "That you work for the game's development team, I mean."

"Nah. Not yet anyway. It doesn't change much about what I do with them," Cloud shrugged, turning the dagger he had gotten in his hands. He didn't use them anymore, with heavy swords taking pretty much both his hands. And he couldn't sell it either, seeing that he'd need access to an npc for that.

"Doesn't it?" Vincent asked blandly.

Cloud glanced up at the gunner, who was sitting on a nearby boulder, one leg crossed over the other. He laughed. "Well, not yet anyway, I don't think. I'm just learning and even after I figure out what I can do and learn what I need to know, it's not like it will affect much. They might say I'm part of the development team, but I'm not, really. They have different use for me, than development."

"Do you really think that tracking my body down is the only thing they want from you? If your… perception in VR is so different –"

"Nah, of course not. Tuesti has other agendas. But I think he's sort of done with Terra Online. Terra Online, as far as he is concerned, is just Cait Sith's project now. Whatever Tuesti has in mind, it doesn't have anything to do with Terra Online, and thus," Cloud grinned, "it won't affect my game play here."

The gunner gave him a dubious look. "And those other agendas don't bother you?"

"No, they do," Cloud shrugged and stood up, walking over to him. "But everything is a dual edged blade with ShinRa, and I've figured that if you always wait for the other shoe to drop, you miss a lot of things. Weird stuff is happening – I'm good with weird. I'm going to enjoy the weird. If there's bad things coming, then I'll handle them as they come."

"That's not a very sound sounding strategy. If you know there's something coming, you should prepare for it," Vincent argued.

"Probably. And I will. Doesn't mean I won't let loose and enjoy myself in the meantime," Cloud said and nudged at the gunner's leg. "Are you worried?"

Vincent just stared at him and Cloud laughed. "Spread 'em," he said, knocking his knuckles against the man's knee, and with a frown Vincent eased up his position, shifting his knees apart. Cloud stepped between them and then turned around, leaning his back against the man's chest, reaching back to take Vincent's hands and wrapping the man's arms around his own shoulders.

"What?" Vincent asked, sounding baffled.

"You're cold," Cloud shrugged, leaning back. "And I want to write my report to Cait Sith before Flower gets here, and I can't do that while hugging you. So… I thought this would be cosy and it is," he added, smiling while Vincent shifted a little, his arms moving to a more natural position around his shoulders.

"I think we're moving beyond realm of… comfort, here," Vincent murmured, even while leaning in and almost nuzzling into Cloud's hair, forcing his ears to flop a little bit apart.

"And if that bothers you, just tell me," Cloud said, making himself comfortable and then opening his command menu. With a flick of his finger, he brought up the private message screen, and a virtual keyboard appeared in front of him. Idly Cloud typed Cait Sith into the receiver box before starting in on his report about the glitches he and Vincent had taken a look at, and the Magic Pots that he'd fought.

Vincent watched him write silently for a moment. "Rainstorm," he said then. "Do you… want that?"

"Want what?" Cloud asked, glancing backwards.

The gunner considered how to answer and then shifted a little. "That," he said. "Relationship. Or sex. Whichever."

Cloud frowned and turned sideways a bit, so that he could see the gunner's face. "Am I giving you that vibe?" he asked. "I told you you could just not do stuff I tell you. If you don't like this, just let me know, kick me off, whatever. I'm not going to push."

"That's not what I asked." Vincent said quietly, looking at him steadily over the collar of his ragged cloak thing.

Cloud smiled wryly at that. "Alright then," he said. "Yes. Maybe. I don't know. All of the above," he said and shrugged. "I'd love to, to be honest. Won't deny that. But the circumstances are what they are and that makes it not just kind of impossible but kind of wrong too. You don't remember which means… you can't quite give your consent to anything. And we don't know what state your body is in. We don't know what will happen. This is too weird, too new, and too uncertain. So yes, I guess I'd like to. I like you, as much as I know you. But no, I'm not going to try and make it happen."

Vincent frowned, eying him, red eyes flickering between looking at Cloud's left and his right eye, like trying to see if he could catch something illusive that kept flickering from one to the other. Then, without word, he grabbed Cloud by the chin, and kissed him.

It was, actually, Cloud's first kiss – and it was… not really at all like he'd imagined kissing to be like. It was warm and sort of awkward thanks to the angle, and Vincent's presence against his face was sort of overwhelming. His own nose was against the man's cheek, Vincent's smashed into his, and that was weird – he hadn't thought that would happen, but then, of course it would, human bodies being what they are.

It was also over before Cloud could figure out how he liked it.

"Um. Wha-?" Cloud asked, confused, blinking.

"You keep reminding me of things, sensations," Vincent murmured, looking at him. "Someone's done this before, I… keep almost remembering. Touching and holding and warmth. Kindness and understanding and patience. Kissing," he let out a breath and looked away. "I'm sorry."

Cloud blinked again and looked away for a moment, almost forcibly smothering the urge to touch his lips in wonder. He… kind of wanted to kiss Vincent again. A lot. The kiss had been kind of closed off – nothing like those epic movie kisses, deep and passionate. If anything, Vincent's kiss had been kind of stiff and awkward. And Cloud really wanted to see how much it would take to – how long would they have to work at it – to go from that to the epic movie kissing type of kissing.

And whoa, this was a whole new problem wasn't it.

"Okay," he said and then looked at Vincent. "It's okay, don't worry about it. Have you remembered anything concrete? Names, faces, places, anything?"

"Just sensations. Situations. It's very… fleeting and blurry," Vincent said, low. "But it's more than I remembered before."

Cloud hummed, nodding in understanding. Well, that was something, maybe. At least before the hell of Terra Online Vincent had led a better life, if kindness brought out memories. "Okay," he said again. "I don't know how effective kissing is as a tool for remembering, though."

"Surprisingly effective," Vincent murmured, closing his eyes and licking his lips and Cloud just froze, staring at the man's mouth.

That was when they heard the running steps of a mount, just before Flower crashed through the foliage and into the clearing. "Heya, guild master! Vincent! You're looking downright adorable today!" she greeted them cheerfully. "Hope I didn't interrupt anything."

Cloud tore his eyes away from Vincent. "Hey," he said, but didn't move away from Vincent. "You cover ground fast. And… you've changed your clothes," he added.

Flower jumped down from her chocobo's back, and the bird disappeared. She looked down at herself and grinned, doing a little spin. "Bigshot made them for me," she said, displaying the armour she was wearing. It looked nothing like the long dress she had been wearing before – this one was all brown, travel worn leather, formfitting and vaguely corset like, with boots that reached above her knee and coat tails that almost looked like a skirt. She also had a short cloak on, one that reached her knees and had a large hood, folded back and almost hidden beneath her hair – it was a nondescript green.

"I'm going to buy some clothes dye when I get the chance and change it all to pink and red, of course. But right now it doesn't look too bad, does it?" Flower asked. "Makes me stand out a little less."

"From my perspective, anything that covers more than 30% of skin looks amazing," Cloud said honestly, while saving his unfinished message to Cait Sith and closing the window. "Clothes dye?"

"Yeah. They're stuff you can dye your clothes with, obviously. They don't work on costumes though," Flower said and smiled. "You can get them from the auction house."

"Hmm… I will have to try some, sometime," Cloud said and, feeling like he had recovered a bit from the bombshell Vincent had just dropped on him, he straightened up a bit. "So, you had an idea about how to get into Alexandria."

Flower grinned and opened her inventory. Leafing through the pages, she grabbed an item and brought it out, making it unfold from the icon into an actual object.

It was a long blue coat that looked more like a dress, with a hem that reached the ground, a tight waist and a cut that emphasized the curves – one obviously made for a woman. It also had a large hood.

"You know the moment I take hold of that, it will shift into the coat equivalent of a swim suit, right?" Cloud asked.

"Nope, it won't. Because this, my dear guild master, is not gear. It is a costume," Flower said, grinning. "And they don't shift with race or class. They'll only shift to fit the body, and that is all."

Cloud blinked. "What, really?" he asked, and with a gentle squeeze against Vincent's wrist, moved away from the man. "What's the catch? There's got to be a catch?"

"They're bound to the player who first wears them," Flower admitted. "I've got lot of costumes, but most of them are bound to me. This one included," she said, and flipped her inventory around, showing a wide array of outfits ranging from cute to comical to downright disturbing. A lot of them were dresses, there were a few furry suits, but there was also one that apparently added effects of the plague on a character.

"Also, costumes are tailored to the wearer's sex, so only women can wear female clothing, and only men can wear male clothing," Flower added. "But since you have that handy necklace of yours…"

"We are so making costume making one of our guild productions," Cloud murmured, for the first time seeing a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel that was Viera appropriate gear. "So, which ones aren't bound?"

Flower peered at the inventory, scrolling it down. "This," she pointed at costume that was basically just a fur shawl. "This," another one that was gory monstrosity of blood and flesh that made bones stick out from the wearer's chest. "This," Flower said, motioning at a dress that looked like it was made from spider webs. "Aand… this."

The last one was a dress that looked a lot like it had been made from a lot of multi coloured scarves that bundled around the hips and trailed down in an artistic mess. The top of the costume was a sort of bustier top that covered more skin than most of Cloud's gear ever did. It didn't look very good for hiding. Except for one thing.

It came with a large scarf – a sheet really – which judging by the image could be wrapped around the whole costume – and the person wearing it.

"It's the dancer costume," Flower said, grinning. "It's a bit too flashy for my taste but –"

"How much do you want for it?" Cloud asked. As ridiculous and over the top and yes, very very flashy, as it looked – it looked so much better than the jewellery armour he was currently wearing.

Flower sold the costume to him for twenty gold, easily paid thanks to all the players Cloud had killed that day. While Vincent dropped down from the boulder he had been sitting on, Cloud took out the gender-bender necklace and for the first time since getting it, didn't hesitate at all in putting it on. Then he equipped the dancer costume, prompting a message of [Once the item has been used, it will be bound and can no longer be traded or given to other players]. He ignored it.

The costume was… kinda silly but oh, how beautifully it covered so much skin. For the first time, not a bit of his thighs were visible, and even his knees only barely peaked past the flurry of scarves that made the skirt. The costume also shifted his footwear, from the stilettos to… well, he was still wearing high heels, but the heel of the sandals was only about a third of what he usually was forced to wear.

And the best thing was the big red and gold scarf – bigger than a bed sheet – which appeared over Cloud's shoulders. He wrapped it quickly around himself, grinning and Flower laughed at him.

"No, no. Gimme that," she said, taking the scarf and then she arranged it with practiced ease. She flattened Cloud's ears gently back and then brought the scarf over Cloud's hair, covering his hair completely. Then she somehow managed to arrange the rest of the scarf so that it looked like a natural part of the dress, all the while covering Cloud from his head almost to his ankles. She even managed to tuck the scarf in so that it stayed in place.

Cloud blinked and opened his character menu, to see the reflection of his avatar there. He looked… nothing like he had before. Hell with the scarf hanging over his face like a hood, he didn't even look like Viera at all.

"Damn," he murmured. "Flower, you are now my best friend forever."

She laughed and glanced at Vincent. "What do you think?" she asked, turning Cloud around to face the gunner. "Does he pass?"

Vincent glanced up and down and sighed. "I preferred the way he was before, but I guess there's no avoiding it," he said, and Flower let out a peal of giggles while Cloud stared at the man, wide eyed.

"What?" Cloud asked.

"More skin contact that way," Vincent said, utterly unabashed, and Flower almost toppled over at the sound of the strangled sound Cloud made.

"I –  eheh," Flower wheezed. "I-I got something for Vincent too," she said, leaning onto Cloud's shoulder.

"Something for Vincent?" Cloud asked, tearing his eyes away from the gunner. "Please tell me it's something embarrassing."

The elf grinned. "I'm a beast tamer, you know. I make pets," she said. "So I've got a lot of pet gear too – and that, unlike costumes, doesn't bind. I don't know how they'll do for someone like Vincent, but it can't hurt to try – he's kinda noticeable, and people saw him at Elder Tree too, after all."

"… Pet gear?" the delighted Cloud asked in unison with a horrified looking Vincent.

Flower nodded, grinning wider. "Yep. Pet gear."