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Winter in Midgar has Zack decidedly homesick.

Midgar is muggy and damp year round, but when November rolls around it gets frigid. A wet cold that seeps into the bones. There are flurries of snow on the plate that mingle with murky puddles until every step splatters dirty slush all over the damn place, up pant-legs, into unsuspecting socks.

Gongaga is nothing like this. Autumn is a brilliant rush of leaves going yellow and orange and red, and winter comes quick on its heels with cool rain and grey skies. It gets colder, but it’s nothing compared to Midgar’s icy sidewalks and endlessly long, frozen nights.

Zack himself doesn’t get cold, exactly. The mako treatment keeps his blood running just a little hotter than average, sure, but it doesn’t keep away the damp. And right now he is exceedingly damp and positively hating it.

He shakes out his coat when he crosses the threshold into the Shinra tower lobby, stamping his boots until he’s got a nice, satisfying pile of snow surrounding him and melting into the tile. Ah, the great indoors.

Of course the second he’s managed to get rid of most of the snow, a resigned looking janitor comes shuffling over with a mop. Zack has some regrets.

“We should get doormats,” he suggests mildly, gesturing to the puddle at his feet as if he hadn’t been the one to put it there.

The janitor doesn’t so much as look at him, just gets immediately to mopping. Zack guiltily makes his way to the elevators.

He welcomes the gentle blast of heat from the elevator’s vents like a cat finding a sunbeam. It’s a real shame that he had to come back to the tower at all — he thinks wistfully of his apartment, of his piles of blankets and the heater turned all the way up, of the half-full bottle of bourbon at the back of his cupboard.

The elevator dings in an unmistakably mocking way. Reports to be written, debriefings to be had. Duty calls.

He’s dried out a little by the time he makes it to the forty-ninth floor and thankful for it when the chill of the aircon hits him. Why SOLDIER insists on running cold air through the whole damn floor all year long is beyond him. Possibly Lazard is a sadist.

He means to head straight to an empty office to write up his report. Really, he does. His full intention is to keep his head down and get to work so he can get home.

Only, there’s a group of kids in Public Security uniforms huddled in a half-circle in the lounge. Shuffling their feet uncomfortably around one grunt who’s slouched on a sofa with an ice pack pressed to his face.

“That kid’s crazy,” Ice-Pack is mumbling. When he speaks, Zack can see the flash of a missing tooth. “He came at me like a fuckin’ wild dog, ow.

The boys around him snicker. 

“Shouldn’t’ve cornered him,” he goes on, and there’s no laughter in his voice. “You know, like, only trapped animals freak out like that.”

“Ew, dude.”

“Listen, if the shoe fits-,”

“Evening,” Zack says cheerfully, and all of the infantrymen jump and jerk around into a salute. “I hope you all have clearance to be up here!”

They all look around at each other. It’s more unsure than guilty, Zack notes, and one of the kids takes a hesitant step forward. 

“There was, um, a fight. Sir.” His shoulders are straight but he’s not quite meeting Zack’s eyes and Zack considers giving him shit for it. “Director Lazard was… nearby.”

Interesting.

“So Lazard is… what, reprimanding a Pub-Sec grunt?” Zack asks, tapping his foot idly against the tile. “Seems a little below his pay grade.”

The kid with the ice pack bristles, leans in but doesn’t stand up. “He sucker-punched me in the face, sir. Everyone saw it.” The others mumble their agreement.

Zack crosses his arms. The kid’s attitude is goddamned deplorable and something doesn’t seem quite right here, but he doesn’t have any reason or evidence to keep pressing them. Technically it’s out of his jurisdiction anyway — SOLDIER isn’t meant to meddle in army business, and vice-versa.

“Alrighty,” he says after a beat, giving them a wave as he turns. “At ease, then! Rest that face up, kid.”

He doesn’t see the kid react but he hears him hiss through his teeth and Zack smiles to himself while he walks away. He gets along with almost everyone, sure, even Public Security. But the younger grunts hate that he can pull rank on them when he’s not even twenty.

Too bad, so sad, he thinks, and he makes his way down the hall. 

Much like he hadn’t meant to get involved in Pub-Sec drama, he doesn’t really mean to stop and eavesdrop at one of the spare office doors. It’s just that he hears Lazard’s deadly-calm, I’m not mad I’m disappointed voice through the wall and finds that he really can’t help himself. He’s nosy, what can he say.

“...first warning,” he hears Lazard saying. “Next time you could be suspended.”

“Yes sir.”

“We don’t tolerate infighting at Shinra. I really should report you to Heidegger.”

“Yes sir.”

Zack misses whatever is said next — it’s a quiet exchange, Lazard’s too-faint-to-hear voice followed by a soft acknowledgment from the grunt. And then Lazard dismisses him and Zack has to very quickly and casually press himself up against the wall to avoid getting hit by the door as it opens.

“Fuck,” says the grunt the second the door clicks shut. He’s running his fingers through his hair, tugging at it anxiously. His face is tight and pinking with frustration. “God-fucking-damnit.”

It takes Zack maybe a second longer than it should to recognize the shock of blonde hair, the blue eyes, the smattering of freckles visible under an angry flush. He blinks, digs through his tired memory until he recalls — right. Modeoheim.

“Oh,” Zack says. “Hi!”

Cloud Strife nearly jumps out of his boots and twists like a startled cat to face him.

“Shit,” he says, wide-eyed, and Zack thinks, cornered animal. “Zack?”

Zack smiles and gives him a sympathetic wave with one hand. “Gettin’ reamed, huh?”

Cloud immediately goes rigid, the line of his mouth sharp and tense. He looks down at his shoes and his brows come together. Zack remembers him being a little too serious for his own good but this seems like something more than that.

It takes a moment to really register the state Cloud’s in —  his lip is split, there’s a bruise going dark around one eye. His knuckles, when Zack lets his gaze grift to where he’s clutching at his helmet with one hand, are split too. 

“The other guy looks worse,” Zack tells him. It’s not a lie.

Cloud’s mouth twitches up in one corner. It’s almost imperceptible but Zack takes it as a victory.

“C’mon,” he says, pushing off of the wall and clapping Cloud on the shoulder as he passes. “Let me walk you back to the barracks.”

“I don’t need-,”

“That’s an order!” 

Zack is pretty sure he isn’t imagining Cloud’s soft huff of laughter. Another victory.

“So, who really started that fight?”

Cloud’s fists go so tight at his sides that Zack can hear his knuckles crack. They’re making their way out of the lobby, back out into the miserable Midgar winter and Zack shoots the janitor an apologetic glance when the doors open and let in a gust of cold air and snow.

“Doesn’t matter,” Cloud answers after too-long a pause. “I finished it.” 

Zack looks over at him and Cloud’s face is so serious that he can’t help but laugh. “You sure did, man, that kid looked messed up.” He ruffles Cloud’s hair like they’re old friends and not just friendly acquaintances. “Honestly, I think it was an improvement on his face. You did him a favour.”

Cloud ducks his head and it seems less like it’s to get away from Zack, more to hide how his lips are curling into something embarrassed but sort of pleased. 

“I did, didn’t I?”

It’s strange how warm it makes Zack feel. The softness in Cloud’s voice, after seeing him fight in Modeoheim, after seeing what he’d done to a fellow grunt. Cloud is anything but soft. Anything but weak. 

He’s not sure that Cloud trusts him, exactly, but the idea that he might makes Zack feel startlingly protective.

He clears his throat and lets his gaze drift down to his boots, then back at Cloud. “When did you get transferred to Midgar?”

Cloud glances up at him, blinks once and purses his lips in thought. “Uh. Just a couple of weeks ago. I was stationed in-,”

“Junon, right?” Zack interrupts, watching Cloud huff out a breath that steams in the cold. He’s not looking at Zack but there’s another faint, pleased quirk hooked into one corner of his mouth.

“Yeah.”

“Well,” Zack says, clapping Cloud on the shoulder, “Welcome to Midgar. Just in time for winter. Yuck.”

Cloud huffs again, humoured this time. “It’s not as cold as it is back home,” he says. “Wetter, maybe.” 

“Gongaga never really got snow,” Zack says. “I’m still not used to it.”

Cloud hums. They both go quiet as they step up to the barracks. It’s still raining more than snowing, but it’s cold enough that it’s starting to cling in frosty clumps in Cloud’s hair. 

Zack means to say goodbye, he realizes. He means to stop staring like a weirdo. 

Cloud looks up at him. His eyes are hard.

“They insulted my mother,” he says, so quiet that Zack almost doesn’t hear him, and it takes him a second to connect the conversational dots. He thinks about the grunt with the ice pack, and Cloud’s split knuckles. 

It’s strangely easy to smile about it.

“Worth knocking out someone’s teeth over, I think,” Zack says.

The smile Cloud flashes him isn’t big, or wide, or particularly bright. But it shines a lot like the winter sun in Gongaga, Zack thinks. Warm and comforting and precious.

“Thanks for walking me back,” Cloud says, and then schools his face into a frown and salutes mock-seriously. “Sir!”

Zack laughs, too-loud, and salutes him back. “At ease, soldier. I’ll see you around.”

When he ruffles Cloud’s hair again in parting, he tells himself it’s to shake the snow out of it and nothing else at all.

Zack is getting exceedingly tired of the winter. 

It’s barely been snowing for a week but he is just over it. He wants to cash in his vacation time. Wants to get out of this cold, slushy city and sit on a beach until his bones don’t feel permanently brittle with ice. He wants to go home to Gongaga and climb a damn tree, let the humidity seep into his skin, fucking bask in it.

Another late mission has him slinking back into the Shinra tower past sunset with snow caught in his hair and clinging to his clothes. There’s a carpet in the lobby now, and he feels significantly less asshole-ish for stomping his boots on it. 

The janitor is watching him. Zack can feel it. He makes sure to shake off the rest of the snow before he steps onto polished flooring.

It’s another one of those nights where all he wants is to go back to his apartment and have a drink. Maybe take the world’s hottest bath before he crawls into bed. Another one of those nights where, instead, he’ll absolutely be stuck in the tower doing paperwork well past midnight.

He sighs audibly and some pencil-pusher waiting for the elevator gives him a sidelong glance. Zack is too tired to care.

His hand falters on its way to hit the button for the forty-ninth floor. Hangs in midair long enough that it earns him another look from the suit in the elevator until Zack punches the button marked forty-five instead. He’s got spare clothes in a locker there, he thinks. And he can take a shower.

He groans out loud at the thought and is rewarded with a third stink-eye. Joke’s on them — Zack has exactly zero shame.

He’s most of the way to warm when he gets out of the elevator but the winter-vibe is still clinging to him and he shivers despite himself. It’s a quick walk through the floor’s lobby, a short hallway to the lockers and blessed, blessed hot water. 

Then Zack pauses. 

The mako treatment has given him sensitive hearing which is great for being on the battlefield, great for stealth when needed. Not so great when his neighbour brings home a girl for the night. A double-edged sword, truly.

He hears, with his hyper-sensitive ears, muttering coming from the locker room, followed by the quiet snick of a locker clicking shut. It should be innocuous. The breathless and half-giddy way whoever is in there is laughing is distinctly not that. 

Bare seconds later a trio of grunts come speedwalking down the hall. One of them is clinging too-tight to a duffel over his shoulder and Zack side-eyes them, purses his lips when they belatedly and rather half-heartedly salute as they pass. 

Suspicious. Very suspicious.

He shakes his head and keeps on along the hall toward the showers. He listens to the elevator ding behind him, listens to the doors slide open and then shut again. Distantly he hears the sound of water shutting off. A pause, then wet footsteps padding across tile. 

There is the clatter of a locker opening followed almost immediately by a shriek of rage so loud it echoes off the hallway walls. Zack is half into a run when someone comes bursting through the shower room doors.

A blurred mess of wet, blonde, and naked comes streaking toward him, bare feet slapping against the flooring. 

“Come back here you motherfuckers!"

Zack takes half a step back and blinks once, twice. Registers, oh, Cloud.

He gets his hands up placatingly and chances a smile as Cloud tries to dodge around him.

“Hang on. You’re, uh-,”

“Naked,” Cloud snaps. “I know. Those fuckers ran off with my-,”

There’s a pregnant and exceedingly awkward pause as Cloud meets his eyes. The fury pulled taut across his face shifts into surprise, and then realization. 

“Oh, shit,” Cloud says, and then flings his arms around his front to cover himself.

Zack wiggles his fingers. “Hi.”

“Shit,” Cloud says again. He’s flushing, now, from his throat all the way up to his ears. Zack glances away politely. 

“I have an extra set of clothes,” he says, keeping his eyes trained nonchalantly up at the ceiling. “You can borrow ‘em to get back to the barracks.”

Out of the corner of his eye he can see Cloud duck his head. He’s so red that Zack can see it in his peripherals.

“You don’t have to, um, do that,” Cloud says. Zack is reminded of a deflating balloon. All of the rage sucked out while Cloud’s shoulders hunch and his head hangs. “It’s - I can find some spares, somewhere, the-,”

“C’mon, soldier,” Zack interrupts, breezing around Cloud and expecting him to follow. 

Sure enough, Zack’s spare uniform is stuffed into a locker in the back corner of the room. There is also, thankfully, a spare towel. Zack pretends to be very interested in a crack in the ceiling while he listens to Cloud pad away and then dry himself off, listens to the rustle of clothes and clinking of a belt.

Zack calls, “You decent?”

Cloud makes a soft noise, caught somewhere between frustration and embarrassment. “If you can call it that.”

When Zack turns he smiles entirely against his own will. 

There’s no other way to describe how Cloud looks except cute. The uniform is too big on him and he’s pouting faintly while he tries to pull the belt tight enough to keep the pants up on his narrow hips. His cheeks are flushed again. Zack thinks, we gotta stop meeting like this.

“It suits you!” Zack tells him, clapping him on the shoulder when Cloud gets close enough to reach. “Cloud Strife, SOLDIER First Class. I could see it.”

The second he says it he regrets it, even if he means it — he remembers seeing Cloud’s paperwork. How he was rejected from SOLDIER and turned to the army presumably just to stick around. It’s almost certainly the wrong thing to say.

But Cloud looks up at him, brows knitting together, eyes a little wider than usual. He’s gnawing on the inside of his cheek and staring at Zack like he’s trying to see through him.

“Thanks,” Cloud says hesitantly. “Um. For saying so. And for the clothes.”

Zack beams at him. 

“No problem at all,” he says, and then gestures toward the door in a sweeping motion. “Can I walk you back?”

It only occurs to him after Cloud ducks his head and nods that Zack is absolutely not going to get his shower until well after midnight. 

A second realization: he really doesn’t mind.

He doesn’t see Cloud for a few weeks after the shower room incident. 

He makes a point to dig into the infantrymen who’ve been targeting Cloud. It seems more like bullying than anything else; none of them have been recruits long enough for it to be in the realm of hazing. It’s still punishable by suspension if they’re caught. 

The reason they’re going after him is a mystery, sort of. Zack knows, now, how scrappy Cloud is. Totally at odds with how Zack had figured him after they’d first met. He’d seemed sweet, a little shy, a little too serious. Probably the optimal target for a group of new recruits with self-esteem issues.

He shakes his head and slaps his folder shut. Realistically it comes down to a boys-will-be-boys situation, if he’s being honest with himself. Which is still entirely unacceptable, but is an explanation at the very least. 

Unfortunately, he thinks, it’d cause more problems than it would solve to take action on this. As much as he wants to help out, interference from upper management would probably bring down even more trouble for Cloud. 

It’s frustrating, not being able to do anything. 

Zack stretches, pops his spine a couple of times and stares dully down at the paperwork on his desk. It’s most of the way done, he figures. The rest could probably be put off until tomorrow. 

He stuffs his folders into his bag and heads out. It’s snowing when he glances out the lounge window, coming down in fat, fluffy white flakes that he just knows are going to get stuck to his hair and leave it halfway to drenched by the time he makes it to his apartment.

“Hot shower,” he mumbles encouragingly to himself. “Hot shower and bourbon, hell yeah.”

A Third Class whose name he’s forgotten gives him a look of vague alarm, but Zack’s already headed for the elevator.

Sure enough, the snow is coming down so hard that he immediately gets a flake in his eye the second he leaves the lobby. 

He’s thankful, as he scrubs at his eyeball, for his waterproof bag and leather jacket. He’s not going to be cold, not on such a short walk, but he doesn’t particularly love the feel of wet clothes sticking to his skin. He shakes his head fruitlessly, runs a hand through his already wet hair and veers left. He can cut past the army barracks and be home in ten minutes if he moves quick enough. 

It’s pure chance that he glances up on his way past the barracks — he’s kept his head down most of the way to guard his eyes from any more wayward snowflakes. But he does look up. And it’s dark out, but with his mako-enhanced eyes he can see the skinny form of a grunt huddled up near the entrance to the gates. He can see the shock of blonde hair and the bare arms wrapped around a willowy middle.

Oh, Cloud. Zack thinks, not for the first time, we really have got to stop meeting like this.

He goes to him, because he’s not going to let this kid stand around outside and catch pneumonia. Zack might have the immune system of an ox on steroids, but Public Security doesn’t have any such benefit.

“Hey,” he calls, lifting a gloved hand in greeting. 

Cloud looks up at him and Zack’s heart positively aches. He’s pink in the cheeks, nose bright red. He’s shivering so violently that it’s visible even from a distance.

“Hello,” Cloud says quietly, and Zack’s surprised his teeth aren’t chattering. 

“You, uh.” Zack pauses when he reaches him, standing just a little closer than is proper, willing his body heat to reach Cloud. “You locked out?”

Cloud’s face flickers with something so quick that Zack can’t quite place it — anger, for sure. Embarrassment, maybe. 

“Forgot my… keycard,” Cloud says after a notable pause.

Zack considers his options. 

It would be pretty easy for him to get Cloud into the barracks. Technically he doesn’t have access since he’s not Army, but no one is going to give a First Class any shit for using an override code to get inside. That option is tempting, only, if Cloud’s being escorted around the bunk rooms it might bring even more of a shitstorm down on him. Especially since Zack is almost one-hundred percent sure one of those little infantry assholes stole and hid his keycard. 

A second option, markedly less appropriate: he could bring Cloud back to his apartment. Public Security isn’t allowed in and out of the SOLDIER apartments without clearance, but Zack’s presence would be sufficient. 

He weighs it in his mind. Would Cloud think of it as a come-on, if Zack were to offer up his home for the night? The kid isn’t exactly the most trusting, and with very good reason. 

Zack draws himself up and offers his most brilliant smile. “I was just headed to my apartment, if you want to come with.”

The look Cloud gives him is predictably sharp and suspicious. For a second he looks like he’s going to give Zack shit but then sneezes so spectacularly that it dislodges the little piles of snow that have settled on his shoulders.  

“Nothing funny, I promise,” Zack says, softer, trying for reassuring. “If you’re, you know, locked out. I figure you could crash on my couch for the night. I’ve got food and hot water and all.” 

Cloud’s face crumples for the briefest of seconds, like the thought of hot water has undone him. Zack absolutely gets it. 

“Is that even allowed?” Cloud mumbles finally. He won’t meet Zack’s eyes. “I’m not SOLDIER.”

“Pub-Sec isn’t allowed in, but friends are,” Zack says, and Cloud’s head jerks up.

“Friends,” he echoes. Like he’s tasting the word, testing it out on his tongue.

Zack feels weirdly tense, waiting for Cloud’s answer. A little insecure in a way he hasn’t been in years.

Cloud clears his throat and looks away, and his cheeks are still pink from the cold but Zack doesn’t think he imagines the way the flush goes a little deeper. A little more pleased.

“Sure,” Cloud says finally. “Fine, yeah. Let’s go.”

Zack beams.

The walk to the apartments feels a bit like an escort mission. Zack keeps up an easy stream of commentary about nothing at all and walks just a little too close to Cloud the whole way. Offering up his own jacket had felt like it would be overstepping, leaping over a line instead of toeing it.

He’s not expecting another flare of insecurity as they get to his floor and Zack gets his keys in the lock. He’s had plenty of people over to his place, plenty of friends who’ve been at-or-above his rank that he’s never felt the need to impress.

He feels like he’d like to impress Cloud, though, and it’s weird. Out of character for him.

The apartment is tidy-ish, at least, when Zack finally manages to get the door open. Stacks of paperwork here and there, movies, books strewn across the coffee table. Dishes in the sink. He likes to think it makes the place look more lived in than a mess.

As he struggles to shove his boots off without untying them he chances a look at Cloud, who is staring around like he’s just walked into a damn palace and not a dim Shinra-issue one-bedroom apartment. 

“S’nice,” Cloud says quietly.

“Anything without bunk beds is nice,” Zack says, giving up and bending to unlace his shoes. He’s thankful for the opportunity to hide the grin he can’t keep off of his own face. What is it about Cloud’s approval that gets Zack so stupid and giddy?

Cloud already has his shoes off and tucked neatly against the wall when Zack straightens and kicks his own boots into the corner. He gestures them both into the apartment with a grand sweep of his arm — there’s not much to see, really, but Cloud is still looking around with absolute reverence.

The silence stretches long enough that Zack starts feeling tense with the need to fill it. He clears his throat and points out the bathroom.

“If you wanna shower, it’s in there,” he manages. “There’re spare towels in the cupboard.” 

Cloud glances down at his wet clothes and Zack grins before he can say a word.

“You can borrow some clothes, too, no worries.”

Cloud quirks a smile up at him that feels like the sun cracking through on an overcast day. “We gotta stop meeting like this,” he says, and Zack’s heart skips a beat.

He thinks he wouldn’t mind, actually, if they did in fact keep meeting like this.

Eventually he herds Cloud into the bathroom and stacks an old tee and pair of shorts outside the door while the shower runs. He doesn’t mean to listen in — he never does, really — but he catches Cloud’s tuneless humming and has to hurry away into the kitchen.

Cute, he thinks. 

He indulges in a couple fingers of bourbon from his stash and sips it at the counter while he pointedly does not listen to the water running in the other room. He plays Zolom on his Shinra-issue PHS. He finishes his bourbon as the bathroom door clicks open and then closes again.

When Cloud steps into the living room Zack is ready with a smile that he has to work extra hard to keep steady. 

Cloud’s hair is drooping around his face, still damp from the shower. His skin is pink from the heat and Zack’s clothes are at least a size too big for him.

Cute! he thinks, at a frankly deafening volume.

“All clean!” Zack blurts. “Cool!”

Cloud gives him a curious look, squinting just a bit.

“Yes,” he says slowly. “Thanks for… that.”

And then he settles on a stool across the counter, shooting Zack a smile, and it’s sort of stunning how at ease he seems. Zack feels a bit dizzy. It’s the bourbon. Totally the bourbon.

Almost immediately Cloud breaks eye contact, though, looks down at his hands and starts tugging at his fingers. His nails look bitten down, pinker than the rest of him. In a moment of total insanity, Zack reaches over and pats Cloud’s hand very, very gently. 

“D’you want to crash in my bed? I can take the couch,” he says. It’s meant to be comforting. An offer of the privacy of the bedroom, at least, but Cloud looks up at him like he’s just kicked a small animal.

“Absolutely not,” he says sharply, and Zack notes dazedly that he doesn’t pull his hands away. “I’m a guest. The couch is fine.”

Zack blinks at him. Stares at the line knit between his brows and the puckered frown on his lips. 

And then he cracks the hell up.

“What,” Cloud asks. “What?

Zack has to suck in a haggard breath to gather himself, leaning away and waving a hand around wildly. 

“You just looked so serious. About the couch.

Cloud gapes at him and Zack inhales again, prepares himself to apologize. Only then something very, very strange happens.

Cloud cracks a whole-ass, face-splitting smile. 

He doesn’t laugh the way that Zack had been laughing. He brings up a hand to cover his mouth and muffles what Zack can only describe as a giggle, and it sets Zack off again into peals of laughter that he just can’t keep down. It feels like a moment straight out of a bad movie; two characters cracking up in a kitchen for no good reason. Zack loves bad movies. 

When they both manage to settle down it’s only because Cloud interrupts their laughter with a yawn so wide that his jaw cracks.

Zack grins easily. “Bedtime?”

“Bedtime,” Cloud agrees.

Zack gets him situated on the couch, bundled up in so many blankets that all that’s left visible is a tuft of blonde hair and one blue eye. It looks extremely cozy, and it takes a lot of Zack’s willpower to tear himself away to head to his own bed for the night. 

“Hey, Zack?”

He pauses jerkily in the hall and makes himself turn with the biggest smile he can muster.

“Yeah?”

Cloud peers at him sleepily over the edge of his pile of blankets and Zack thinks it might be nice to see this all the time. To see Cloud at this level of comfort, to see him taken care of. It sparks a certain want for domesticity in Zack’s chest that he’d never really considered until now.

There’s a pause, a silence that hangs thick in the air between them, and it doesn’t feel awkward. Zack can tell by the crinkling of Cloud’s eyes that he’s smiling again.

“Thanks,” he says finally.

Zack grins. “Any time,” he says, and he has to force himself to turn and head to his bedroom to hide the way his face is going a pleased beet-red.

As he tucks himself into bed he thinks that Cloud doesn’t need saving. He’s never needed saving, and Zack knows he can take care of himself. But a little help never hurt anyone.