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this or that, now versus then

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Sephiroth had been a… well, mistake isn’t a strong enough word here. Cloud had harbored a small hope throughout the relationship that maybe he could fix him and his self destructive habits. It’s stupid and cliché and Cloud doesn’t think he’ll ever stop beating himself up about it, because now Sephiroth has this weird fixation with him that’s hard to shake.

Which is what led Cloud here, leaning on the counter of Hot Topic with a wild look in his eye after spotting Sephiroth a few stores down.

“Please,” Cloud says, desperation tinting his voice. The man behind the counter – dark hair, kind eyes, name tag that reads ‘Zack’ – looks past Cloud, toward the door.

“The edge lord looking dude with the silver hair?” Zack asks, a sympathetic look softening his face when Cloud nods. “Then get back here, holy shit, dude looks like he could tear you in half without breaking a sweat.”

Cloud scrambles behind the counter gratefully, praying that Sephiroth hadn’t seen him. He settles into a corner, just to the right of Zack’s cash register, his back pressed up against a display case for various piercings. Maybe Hot Topic wasn’t the best hiding place. Sephiroth always comes here even when he’s not chasing down his exes.

Cloud lets his head fall back against the cool glass and looks up at Zack to distract himself from the way his heart is trying to recreate a scene from Alien.

Cloud hadn’t really noticed before, too consumed in trying to hide, but Zack is really attractive, in that boy-next-door, guy-to-bring-home-to-your-parents kind of way, which, when looking at Cloud’s dating history, is the opposite of his type. But something about the way Zack smiles, how genuine it is even when dealing with customers… Well, it’s making Cloud’s heart do weird things that aren’t entirely dissimilar to what it was doing before.

“Hey there,” Cloud’s startled out of his contemplation when Zack’s tone turns from friendly to forced politeness, “Did you find everything you need today?”

“I’m looking for someone,” and oh shit, that was Sephiroth. Cloud pulled his knees closer to his chest, like making himself seem smaller might actually make him disappear. That would be preferable to this probably.

“Um,” Zack fumbles, clearly not expecting the harsh tone, “we don’t sell people?” he says and Cloud has to bite back a snort.

“He’s blond. Kind of short.” And wow, Sephiroth had miraculously gotten even more rude since the last time Cloud saw him. “I saw him come in here.”

Cloud freezes and he can see panic flash across Zack’s face before he covers it up. Fuck, he’s screwed. There’s no way Sephiroth didn’t see it too.

“You’re hiding him.” Sephiroth says, low and dangerous.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, sir.” Zack’s voice is cold, his customer service smile replaced by a hard look. Cloud lets himself wonder whether Zack could take Sephiroth in a fight, he certainly has a little bit of muscle underneath his band tee.

Sephiroth snatches the front of Zack’s shirt and pulls him forward, so he’s half splayed on the counter. “Where is he.”

“If you don’t let me go, I’ll have to call security,” Zack says, deceivingly calm despite the situation.

As much as Cloud wants to just disappear and not have to deal with this, he can’t let this guy get hurt because of him, so he pulls himself off the ground.

“Let him go,” Cloud says, trying to radiate confidence like that will distract Sephiroth from the fact that Cloud had just been hiding.

“Cloud,” Sephiroth actually smiles. He lets go of Zack and reaches for Cloud.

“Hey,” Zack steps between them, pushing Cloud further behind the counter, “You don’t get to touch him.”

“Who even are you?” Sephiroth asks, looking down his nose at Zack.

Zack looks at Cloud, and oh no, Cloud doesn’t like the glint in his eye when he winks at him. He reaches out and takes Cloud’s hand.

“I’m his boyfriend.” Zack smiles sweetly and flutters his lashes in Cloud’s direction. Cloud tries to ignore how his stomach swoops at that.

Sephiroth laughs, full bodied and mocking, filling Cloud with anger, “Please. Cloud has better taste than you.”

“Hey,” Cloud steps forward, planting himself next to Zack, a show of unity, “my taste has done nothing but improve since I dumped you.”

Then things happen too fast for Cloud to follow. He registers Sephiroth moving, feels Zack move next to him. Then Zack has Sephiroth’s arm in one hand and his hand is curled into a fist and smashing into Sephiroth’s nose.

And Sephiroth is on floor and Cloud isn’t quite sure what happened.

“Holy shit,” Cloud says, raking a hand through his hair. He leans over the counter to see Sephiroth clutching his face, blood staining his fingers, his eyes furious.

“Sorry, he was going to hit you and I panicked,” Zack says, glaring down at Sephiroth. Cloud knows he shouldn’t be touched by this, displays of violence aren’t romantic, but he is a little and it’s a hard thing to squash.

Not a moment later, mall security shows up. Apparently one of the customers called them. Then it’s a whirlwind of talking to them - convincing them that Sephiroth started it and no, they really don’t need to call the police - and by the time that’s all done, Cloud and Zack are standing in the mall parking lot, totally exhausted.

“So,” Zack says, swaying back and forth on the balls of his feet.

“So.” Cloud agrees, stuffing one of his hands into the pocket of his jeans.

“Okay, I know this is probably weird, and I’m sure you don’t want to date another jock weirdo after that dude, but you’re really hot and I would probably die from regret if I didn’t at least ask you out on a date,” Zack says, almost too fast and frantic for Cloud to follow.

“I don’t know,” Cloud pretends to consider, “would you be punching anyone on our date?”

“No!” Zack says, eyes wide, “Yes. Maybe? I don’t know. What do you want me to say?”

Cloud laughs brightly and reaches a hand out, “Here, I’ll give you my number. I’m free all weekend.”

“Seriously?” Zack hands over his phone, a grin stretching across his face.

“Seriously.” Cloud says, tapping out a text to himself so he could have Zack’s number too. Cloud smiles at him when he hands back his phone, “call me.”

Cloud walks away, pretending he doesn’t hear Zack celebrating behind him.

He’ll embarrass him with the story much later, when they’re telling people how they met.