If it weren't for their constant denial and lack of solid evidence on anyone else's part, at least the whole of Midgar would have thought Cloud and Zack were a bonded pair. Unfortunately, the two had made it absolutely clear that they. Were. Not.
Despite everyone thinking so. Despite contantly being all over each other. Despite certainly seeming perfect together—Alpha and Omega, classic or cliché it may be, but it's certainly looking true for them. They might as well be a textbook example. Dynamics aside, they work well together every which way—both strong, both at ease with each other, both all over each other. Top it all off with the lingering looks, the absent-minded touches. The scents.
Goddess, the scents—
While everyone had their own scent, the two already spent too much time with each other that theirs mixed. Reminiscent of how a bonded pair's would. Which, again, they were not. And friendly scent-marking shouldn't make their scents mix as much!
Angeal sighed in defeat at the big "NO" his own traitorous mind answered him. After all, it was the same for him and Genesis back when they were unbonded. With at least one of them overly touchy and affectionate and sure to leave traces of themselves on the other, well. It was inevitable, the eventual mixing of scents. He'll begrudgingly admit that he couldn't remember a day he and Genesis didn't smell of each other since they were children other than when they were separated for days. He could only hope they realize things sooner, if not for their sake then for everyone's sanity.
Genesis had frequently expressed his own frustrations on the "strange, dragging courting" as he dubbed their many, friendly interactions. And with both Angeal and Genesis worked up, Sephiroth was as well. There's even a new rumor flying around that he already started making threats to stab someone if things don't settle down anytime soon.
And if people investigated a bit more (which they did. Anything for sweet, delicious gossip), they'd hear Tseng, unfortunate witness of the beginning of it all, agreeing that they were two fools dancing around each other from the moment they met. Tseng could confirm: they met, they clicked, and the rest was history.
But perhaps no one is more stressed than their closest friends. Kunsel, while wholly supportive and ahead of most info concerning the two, looked the most pained of the whole ordeal. Being one of Zack's best friends meant Zack also being all over him (not to the extent he had with Cloud, fortunately) and the poor Beta was forever assulted with the confusing mix of Zack's and Cloud's scents.
Even Aerith at the flower shop was starting to get pushier. Only she could make so many off-hand comments to matchmake the two and yet she's constantly being shut down because they're. Not. Like. That. Much to her increasing frustration.
But Tifa of Seventh Heaven probably had the worst lot of them all, what with her running a bar where Cloud frequented (and usually alone). Being the unclaimed Omega that he is, people loved hitting on him. And now that Cloud smelled too much of Alpha, even if he's still unclaimed, Tifa had to help fend off the more persistent ones who wanted to challenge "his Alpha" and have Cloud for their own.
So when Cloud showed up with a painfully obvious bite mark, smelling of him and Zack and still saying they're not bonded, everyone collectively lost their shit.
"Everyone thinks we're bonded, y'know," Zack informed Cloud, which earned him a snort.
"We're not," Cloud replied, their immediate response. "Why are they so obsessed?"
"Someone probably likes you," Zack mused. Cloud was attractive. Zack has eyes, thank you. "Or me. I do make a good mate, don't I?"
"Sure, Zack," Cloud said with an indulgent smile that Zack absolutely treasured more than the agreement to his guesses.
"'Sides, what would you do if someone else actually liked me?"
Zack sighed heavily, halting his attempt to reach out and drag Cloud to sit as close as Zack could get away with manhandling him. "I guess I'll have to stop touching you all the time, huh?"
It's all innocent Alpha helping out unbonded Omega by scent-marking at first, which they both agreed to and actually worked. Maybe worked a little too well, since it all exploded into this huge misunderstanding. Not that they're complaining. It kept away the lechers harrassing Cloud, at the very least, and Zack wouldn't deny that he liked smelling of each other—liked smelling himself on Cloud and Cloud on him.
But if someone actually wanted Cloud... and Cloud wanted a serious relationship with them in return...
Zack's making it harder for either of them to move forward, then.
It took a bit of holding himself back from smothering Cloud when he finally joined him on the couch and sat as close as he usually did; all his sweetness and lightning and clean mountain smell wafting over to Zack and this time much sharper and headier than the usual addicting mix.
"...what if I told you not to stop?" he asked, catching Zack's gaze (easy, Zack's always looking at him), and holding the contact with a challenge for the already struggling Alpha.
"That's unfair," Zack complained, not seeing the point of continuing their arrangement if Cloud wanted a relationship with someone else. But they both knew he'd do anything for Cloud in the end. And if he'll make someone jealous? Fine. A lot of people already are.
Cloud silently agreed. Unfair. Still, it made Cloud wonder how much he could get away with pushing Zack's buttons this time, now that the topic of bonding's finally on the table.
"Well, even if someone else likes me, I already like someone, anyway. And they're okay with the touching."
Zack blanched at the off-hand comment, his mind spinning to a halt. He wanted to think it's just Cloud messing with him, but it's a little hard to tell with Cloud's pretty face betraying nothing.
"You sure?" Zack challenged. "Because I'm sure I'd have at least smelled them on you a long time ago."
"I don't know, Zack, people say I reek of him," Cloud teased even as he kept up his unbothered facade. He grinned to himself as he registered the moment Zack got it, sky-blue eyes staring more heatedly at him, could feel the twitch of his hand behind Cloud's head, simply itching to touch.
How could he not lean to the touch and let Zack's fingers catch in his hair? And when Zack tugged, just a little, Cloud could barely hold back an embarrassing noise in delight. "Yep, so okay." Nailed it.
"No one in their right mind would let anyone else close, Cloud."
"Sure," Cloud drawled. That Cloud knew all too well. More than once, he had caught Zack growling loudly in warning to someone tailing him or stared at him wrongly. Zack's possessive arm around him while they walked. One time, a persistent slimebag actually took a swing at Zack and got knocked out for the trouble.
"I'm serious," Zack insisted, growling faintly.
"Are you?" Cloud pushed, pushing his face into the crook of Zack's neck and daring to lick a long stripe up the delicious column. Inadvertently exposing his own neck to Zack's hungry gaze.
No response. Cloud huffed in impatience. This time, he nipped at skin.
It was the last straw.
He should have expected the eager retaliation to the blatant provocation, to Cloud basically giving him the go.