Totally Ciceqi and Dogmatix's fault. I disavow as much responsibility as I can manage while staring in horror at my fingertips and wondering where all that came from.
Shamelessly warping the title from the Cthulhu musical:
Title: A Shoggoth on the Chimney
Author: Oh my God I have to admit to this don't I...
Series: Final Fantasy VII, Cloud, Zack, Sephiroth, AND Aeris, because hey, when you're being over the top, let's really go for it...
Warnings: R-rated. Tentacles. Sephiroth failing to be as melodramatic as he desperately wanted to be. Tentacles. Aeris in an I-just-cleaned-that-you-slime-freak rage. Did I mention tentacles? Fluff. With tentacles. Yes, there are fluffy tentacles. Also, Cloud and his wheelbarrow. And some more tentacles.
"Ow. Doll, you could be a little gentler--"
"Hush," Aeris said, and tossed the sharp aluminum pull-tab she'd just tugged out of his tentacle into the slowly growing pile of debris. "Who was it that just had to see how literal he could make the term 'barcrawling'?"
"Hey, every good stock phrase has to have -- ow! -- has to have started somewhere, right?" Zack blinked at the bit of something she'd just pried out of his tentacle. "What was that?"
Aeris held it up to the light for a moment. "Looks like it used to be the stem of a beer bottle." It was a little difficult to tell, with the amount of pounding and crushing it had gotten in the interim. "Now, hold still."
She poured half a bottle of disinfectant down the length of Zack's tentacle; the one she was holding kept perfectly still, but all the rest of them were flailing like mad, as though all the wriggling impulses he was biting back had to find an outlet somewhere. Cloud hastily ducked before one could clock him in the head.
"...Damn," Zack wheezed, when the stinging had died down to a level he considered bearable. "Aeris, honey... if you'd just pass me that Restore materia..."
"But then you wouldn't remember your lesson," Aeris said brightly, and caught the next tentacle in a firm grip, untying the fluffy pink ribbon from the just-treated that she'd been using to mark her place and tying it around the base of her next victim. There was a shimmery pale-green ribbon tied on his other side, around the first tentacle she'd dosed, too.
"You know, doll," Zack said, with the puppy-eyes out in full force, "you're a cruel, cruel woman."
"I would call her wise myself," Sephiroth murmured, the first thing he'd said since Zack had come back bloodied and grinning from his late-night more-literal-than-usual barcrawl. "You knew how normal humans would react to the sight of something like us--"
"Hey, are you casting aspersions on my girlfriend and other boyfriend?"
"--and you were a fool to provoke them," he finished, as though Zack hadn't even spoken.
His grin was as irrepressible as ever, though it wavered for a moment when Aeris pulled free another shard of glass. "I just wanted -- ouch -- wanted to see how many of 'em were too drunk to notice--"
"And the ones that weren't too drunk to notice assaulted you."
"Nah," Zack said, still grinning. "The ones that weren't too drunk ran screaming!" He sounded eminently proud of himself.
"And the ones that were too drunk couldn't care less, unless they started giggling a lot. All this is just the trash I picked up getting myself there and back." He winced again at another tug from Aeris. "Gotta think of something to do about that part."
"You two don't own enough pairs of boots anymore, do you," Cloud said, concerned. "And they don't exactly make shoes for tentacle sizes. Or if they do, they don't advertise enough... although maybe I can guess why they wouldn't exactly advertise. But I bet they probably just don't make them yet..."
"They will not need to make them," Sephiroth said sharply. "This will not be a long-term situation. If Hojo continues to refuse to cooperate, I will make him an example to his subordinates and encourage them to be more efficient in solving the problem."
"I think a hundred and fifty-nine fractures, major tissue and nerve trauma, and massive internal bleeding is a pretty illustrative example already," Zack mused, and Sephiroth turned on him with the speed of a striking snake.
"I will NOT accept this!" When he got upset, his tentacles tended to express it for him; Cloud grabbed a lamp that one snarl was thrashing its way too close to. "I will not accept being made into some subhuman freak, I will not accept his insane plans to harvest our tentacles and let their regeneration create legions of cloned Soldier-powered freaks to serve the President's megalomania -- and I will not accept his claims that this is irreversible. That man would claim anything, right up to the moment where I crush his skull and--"
"Seph," Zack interrupted, twining himself around as much of his friend as he could manage. "You're scaring them."
"I'm not scared," Cloud said immediately, though his face was paler than it should have been. "We're going to fix you -- both of you. It'll be okay."
"You don't sound terribly confident, Strife." Sephiroth's growl made the boy duck his head.
"I'm sorry, sir. It's just that in the meantime, if they don't make tentacle-shaped shoes, what are we going to do...?"
Despite his barely-checked fury at Zack's cheerful provocations and the situation in general, Sephiroth glanced at Zack, one twitching brow intended to ask, he's still on about the shoes?
Zack's broadening grin clearly indicated, Yep, along with a hefty dose of isn't he adorable?
"Nobody should have to walk around on those streets without shoes," Cloud was saying, his brows scrunched together in a tight worry-line as he carefully set the lamp he'd rescued in a higher spot. "I don't care how good a job Hojo thinks he did with your immune systems. There's got to be all kinds of nasty stuff out there and I don't want to find out the hard way what the stuff does when it gets into your poor tentacles, and..."
Sephiroth made a faint, bewildered gesture with one green-striped tendril: 'our poor tentacles'? Zack just rolled his eyes and went back to amusedly watching the show. Both of Aeris' hands had crept up over her mouth, though from the laughter in her eyes, she wasn't going to manage Zack's level of endurance without more practice.
"And Aeris wouldn't be torturing Zack with the disinfectant if we could keep you from getting all nicked up in the first place," Cloud said, still frowning fiercely as he puzzled through the problem. "But you both roll your tentacles around a lot when you move. --I think what we really need is some kind of good sturdy poke-proof tentacle-socks, because all the surfaces get walked on sooner or later and--"
Aeris broke then, abandoning her attempt at controlling the escaping giggles and throwing herself face-down on her bedcovers to laugh; Cloud's face was a study in hurt reproval.
"It's not funny," he said. "Don't tell me you want them to get all nicked up just walking around-- er, moving around anyway--"
"Tentacle-socks...!" Aeris wheezed, thumping a hand on her pillow helplessly.
"I don't see anybody coming up with any better ideas," Cloud mumbled, scowling at the corner with his arms folded. "They'd just slurp right out of shoes, but socks would stay on better, and you know about the glue stuff the teenaged girls use to keep them--"
"Okay, okay, slow down a second," Zack said, his eyes a little wider than usual. "I was with you up until the teenage girl fashion stuff started coming into the picture. Who the hell taught you about what teenaged girls put in their pantyhose?"
"Not their pantyhose," Cloud protested, blushing scarlet. "Their socks! They stick their socks on at the right height because otherwise they slide down, and since you don't have bones in there you probably wriggle a lot more, so the glue would be--"
"I'm still missing the part where you tell me who told you about this teenaged-girly glue-stuff-to-your-legs business in the first place," Zack said.
"But it's useful," Cloud muttered, still blushing. "Half the cadets use it when they think nobody's looking. I hate it when your socks squiggle down into the bottom of your boots and you've got half a day left to march around and the sock rubs blisters on your foot and you know you have to march the next day, and nobody's going to spare materia or elixirs for foot-blisters and--" He stopped, and shook his head, and said, "Anyway, my walking-around-type parts have got shoes, and yours don't. We need to find you something--"
"Okay, okay," Zack soothed, with both hands and several tentacles waving gently in the air for reassurance. "I hear ya, Spike. Tentacle-socks and pantyhose-glue swiped from teenaged girls. Gotcha. I'm sure my masculine pride will survive somehow..."
"Oh!" Cloud turned to look at Sephiroth anxiously. "I -- I didn't mean it like that, sir--"
"Wait, you apologize to him?" Zack protested.
"It's got nothing to do with the teenaged girl part, I swear," Cloud said to Sephiroth, all hovering concern. "It's just that they've tested that type of glue on skin and it's okay, and we've got enough things we need to invent for you pretty quickly, we shouldn't waste the time trying to re-invent that too. Do you know if the stuff they use in body armor has got any kind of stretch to it? Because if we made a lot of tubes out of that stuff..."
"Don't put yourself to the trouble," Sephiroth said, tight-voiced. "The problem is going to be resolved very quickly, one way or another."
Cloud looked over a shoulder at Zack, helplessly, and that silent doubt set Sephiroth's tentacles to coiling and knotting again.
"You've never been sick before, have you, Seph?" Zack asked, a little wistful. "Sure, you've gotten the shit kicked out of you six ways from Sunday on battlefields all over the damn planet, but you've never just come down with a head cold, or anything else a Restore or Heal materia couldn't fix. Never anything where you had to simply wait before you could feel better, where your body itself was betraying what you demanded of it... I think I'm luckier in that respect. Measles, mumps, chicken pox, I got the lot of 'em when I was little, so I'm used to this stuff. It's almost too bad your gorgeous designer-genes bod doesn't let you catch the sniffles once in a while, to get used to the idea."
"There is a considerable gulf between being afflicted with 'sniffles' and being afflicted with tentacles, Zack."
"But they're both something you can't change just by wishing and fuming," Zack said. "So I promise, boss. Hang in there, and don't worry. We're going to fix things. But it's probably not going to be today, and there's a chance it won't be this week, and in the meantime, we're not surrendering to anything by looking for ways to cope. And Spike's girly tentacle-socks sound like a better idea than another round of sharp filthy things stuck in my extra bits the next time I feel like doing something other than hiding and raging at the universe."
"I have no intentions of wasting my energy raging at the universe when Hojo screams so much more fulfillingly under torture," Sephiroth said. "My rage is entirely reserved for the fool who thought that he could do this to me with impunity, because I began my life as nothing but his lab specimen. Before he dies, I will see exactly how much of him can be cut out and put into dishes to be analyzed, since it would only be just that his life should end in the same manner in which he lived it. And then what cannot be extracted should instead be dissolved with acid, preferably while he is still conscious, since it would be cruel to deny him his final observations in the field of scientific enquiry--"
Even though his voice was as crisply, coldly controlled as ever, the lamp Cloud had rescued got knocked off its new higher perch by a savagely lashing snarl of tentacles. It hit the floor and shattered before Cloud could lunge for it a second time.
Sephiroth stiffened all over, and then curled everything in, into a tightly writhing knot. "I apologize," he murmured, low-pitched. "This is hardly suitable thanks for your kindness in taking in two monsters, Miss Gainsborough."
"It's all right; I never liked that lamp anyway," Aeris said lightly.
Under rigid control, one of Sephiroth's tentacles snaked out toward the shards of the broken lamp; Cloud caught it firmly before he could reach it. "Don't," he said. "I'll clean it up."
"You've had to 'clean up' too many of my mistakes in the past several days already, Strife."
"I've had fingers a lot longer than you've had those," Cloud said, already picking up bits and tossing them gingerly into the wastebin beside her desk. "I've got more practice. Just let me handle it, okay?"
"...That wasn't entirely what I meant."
"We know," Aeris said, with a rueful smile down at one of Zack's tentacles. "It's all right. You've had an unbearable number of shocks to try to deal with all at once. I doubt I'd be dealing with this anywhere near as gracefully, sir."
"Doll," Zack said, "you'd be exploring even more than I am, and you know it."
"My point exactly," she said. "I found this book on squid and octopuses and anemones and it's fascinating stuff. Did you know you probably give off neurochemicals when you get agitated? From the little wriggly ones all the way underneath -- they're so cute-looking, but there's dozens of things you can probably do with 'em. Even sea-creatures without brains have come up with about thirty different jobs for them to do. Paralyzing somebody to get eaten, pre-digesting them -- some of those chemicals get really hallucinogenic, apparently -- and then there's the reproductive chemicals! They'll get sticky to make sure the other one's sperm or eggs or whichever you're not making will get attached to whichever you're making, and since you've got brains big enough to have pleasure centers, I'll bet there's all kinds of fun pleasure-chemicals and euphoria-chemicals you can make if you think about it!"
Cloud's hands had frozen midway through discarding a bit of lamp, and Sephiroth looked as though the cheerily chattering girl had just sprouted a few extra appendages of her own.
"Er..." Even Zack was a little thrown. "Babe... what little wriggly ones?"
"Oh, that's right -- you probably can't bend far enough to see underneath there, can you. You've still got a spine and everything to deal with. Where'd I put my hand-mirror..." Aeris began searching through the pile of stuffed animals atop her bed's headboard. "They're all the way underneath, inside the row of the big ones. They're the cutest little things," she enthused, "all fluffy-soft-looking and waving around -- normally it'd be sea currents that made them move, but I'm guessing your heartbeat shifts your blood pressure enough to make them wriggle like that... aha!"
She came up with a small mirror, and handed it to one of Zack's other tentacles as she went back to searching her pink-ribbon-sporting tentacle for any scrapes or debris. "If you curl up and lean back, you can probably see. They look so soft! And they kind of glow in the dark, too, which is handy because I didn't exactly want to shine a flashlight under you to get a look at the backs of your tentacles; I wouldn't have enough hands for bandaging then. Yours are kind of goldeny-tawny at the base, with these bright electric blue tips -- I wonder what color the General's are, and whether you make the same types of chemicals?"
Zack was looking around under the bell of his lower body, trying to keep the long outer tentacles out of the way enough to see what was nestled underneath, and he gave a slightly nervous-sounding laugh. "...Weird," he said. "And this is coming from a guy who's gotten a lot more used to weird in the past few days."
"I think they're pretty," Aeris said. "Like a little underwater flower garden, except not underwater." She parted the roots of his tentacles and beckoned to Cloud and Sephiroth: "Come on, I need some backup here. Come take a look. Don't you think they're pretty too?"
Sephiroth looked horrified at the mere thought of looking, though; on the other hand, Cloud was already nodding wistfully. "You're right about the underwater flower garden, though I think I'm glad I didn't know about the neurochemical stuff at the time..."
"So, when exactly did you get that kind of a personal look-around?" Aeris asked, teasing.
Zack was tanned enough that his blush wasn't immediately obvious; Sephiroth, so much paler, didn't have that type of defense. Cloud apparently wasn't thinking of the same event at all, though.
"It was kind of crazy," the boy murmured, running a hand through his hair. "General Sephiroth was, uh, kind of unconscious -- I was kind of responsible for that actually. And Zack was hurt pretty bad too, and we had to figure out how to move both of them without getting seen too much, and even with the wheelbarrow -- have you ever tried using a wheelbarrow for moving two hurt people who've both got tentacles longer than you are tall? It was like trying to eat spaghetti with a spoon -- things flopped and oozed a lot, and I'd kind of noticed them when I was trying to keep the General from sliding out of the wheelbarrow entirely and -- er --"
About then, he'd noticed the series of interesting colors the tips of Sephiroth's tentacles were turning as they coiled and uncoiled. "Spaghetti with a spoon," the General echoed, very, very quietly.
"Er," Cloud said. "I'm sorry, sir. This is probably not the most dignified way of telling your commanding officer what you did with his unconscious body the other day, is it; I mean, 'wheelbarrow' is the sort of thing you're not too surprised to hear when somebody's talking about moving somebody with Zack's affection for alcohol-assisted partying, but it's not necessarily the most suitable transportation for someone's normally very sober commanding officer, especially when there are tentacles to deal with, and, er, I should really shut up now, shouldn't I...?"
"No, you shouldn't," Aeris said, hands clasped together under her chin, the very image of a teenaged gossip. "So what color are his?"
"Um," Cloud said, avoiding everyone's eyes quite studiously. "Kind of like snowdrifts at night, kind of translucent-white-blue-shining-ish, only the tips are like ...sunrise, kind of, rose-colored or violet or both at once..."
"Oh," Aeris breathed, her voice soft with hushed delight. "Oh, that sounds beautiful."
"Yeah," Cloud murmured, wistful, and then realized what he'd said and clamped a hand over his mouth. Muffled, he mumbled, "'M s'rry, s'r, I sh'ldn't've..."
But Sephiroth had already huddled himself further into the corner, making himself as small and tight a knot as he could manage, head bent and both hands clinging tight to hunched shoulders, the very picture of humiliated denial.
Aeris and Zack traded a quiet look, and Zack reached a couple of tendrils over to nudge Cloud closer to him. "It's going to be okay, Seph," he said, even as he twined tips around Cloud and Sephiroth both. "It's going to be okay. And at least there are a couple nuts around here who still think we're gorgeous in the meantime."
"Gorgeous and fascinating," Aeris corrected, slipping her hand through his outer tentacles in order to stroke the luminous ones nestled at their base. "And so soft..."
Her exploring fingertips set off a spectacular chain reaction, though. First Zack stiffened as though she'd just shoved a tentacle into a light socket; then he shuddered and curled up all over, twitching and gasping for breath.
"Gods," he wheezed, "babe, warn a guy first--!"
Aeris was staring at her fingertips, which were faintly smeared with a throbbing electric blue ooze. "Oooh," she breathed, "now it's tingling."
"Neurochemicals," Cloud squeaked, and scrambled over to Zack's backpack and began digging frantically for his materia. "Neurochemicals are more like poisons than like injuries, right? Or are they? Do you need Heal or Cure? Or both--"
"No," Aeris said, breathless and pink-cheeked. "No, I like this. ...Ooooh." She tugged loose the first couple of buttons of her dress, panting a little.
"Materia, Strife," Sephiroth said, his voice noticeably more tense than usual. "Quickly. --Now. --Please."
Cloud shoved both materia into his bracer and took aim at Aeris with a shaking hand. He wasn't sure which of the two of them did the trick, but something shook her out of it; the throbbing blue on her fingertips had faded into a smudge of ash-gray, and she looked actually disappointed.
"I think those were the mating chemicals," she said thoughtfully. "Plenty of endorphins and euphorics in there, and it was just starting to get interesting when you went and neutralized me. ...Zack, were you using mating chemicals on me?" She sounded gleeful rather than accusatory, though.
Zack was still curled up in a twitching little huddle. "Seemed like... the best option... --damn...!"
"So who have you been practicing on, and why wasn't I invited?"
"Nobody!" he gasped. "Not with neurochemicals anyway -- shit--"
"He's only had them for a couple of days, and you were here in Midgar," Cloud mumbled, scratching behind an ear. "And we were kind of busy trying not to get caught or burned at the stake or anything. A lot of people tend to start screaming. I guess I can't really blame 'em; if it hadn't been Zack and the General I probably would have started screaming too, and I can't expect everybody to know them that well, but it's kind of an awkward reaction to try to work around, and..."
"You," Aeris said, poking him in the chest, "are too cute for words, you know. Why don't you have tentacles? That way I could pet yours and make you wriggle and curl up squeaking too!"
"Don't," Zack wheezed. "They... uh... they kind of want something to... uh... mate with, like now, and... you all might kind of want to go?"
"Really?" Aeris said, and her eyes positively lit up.
"I mean it," Zack said through clenched teeth, doggedly hanging onto scraps of control. "Out of the room... unless you really want... --oh damn..."
Sephiroth's face wore the kind of tight-shuttered shadow of horror that spoke of awful memories, and Cloud wondered for a moment whether some of the Nibelheim villagers might have set off similar triggers in him -- likely the triggers for the paralytic or hallucinogenic neurochemistry, to judge by the way they'd been screaming. Cloud didn't know which of the two of them to try to comfort first. A moment later, though, Zack had taken the choice out of his hands, flinging himself past them and scrabbling out the window toward the roof.
"Zack!" Aeris sounded positively indignant as she rushed over and looked up through her window. "Get back here! I wasn't done playing with your wriggly bits yet and-- oh, for the love of... Zack, get back inside; I don't want you doing that on top of shingles, they've got poky edges and you're already cut up!"
The sound Zack made didn't have much to do with human vocal cords. Sephiroth shuddered, and Cloud stepped close enough to put both arms around him.
"It's going to be all right," Cloud murmured. "We can handle this. I swear it's going to be all right."
Sephiroth was careful to return the embrace with nothing more than his own hands; Cloud sighed a little, and knelt to stroke his outermost tentacles in a deliberate caress, despite the shudder that ran all the way through the General at that touch.
"I, um, I'm pretty sure I love you," Cloud said softly, chin tucked down a little, but determined. "I love both of you, and I love everything about you. You haven't changed -- the part of you that makes you yourself, the part of you that we love, hasn't changed. And if you have a few more instincts to deal with -- well, any decent-sized group of soldiers have got at least as many revolting personal habits between them, and they deal with things and go on with their jobs. So it's going to be okay no matter what."
Aeris really wasn't helping his attempt at calming persuasion, unfortunately.
"Zack," she was shouting towards her rooftop, " I don't even want to know what you think you're doing to my chimney -- but if you have to get a marriage licence for it before you get one for me, I'm going to be very cross with you!"
Zack's responding rumble-howl-moan was clearly indignant. Aeris threw her hands in the air, and turned her back to the window, arms crossed.
"Men!" she announced, looking at them for support, as though somehow neither of them quite counted as men in her internal estimation. "I'm sure my chimney's not going to appreciate that nearly as much as we would."
"Er," Cloud managed, and couldn't think of a good way to follow it up.
He glanced back at Sephiroth, who certainly had to be used to dealing with awkward conversations since he'd spent so many years as Shinra's model soldier trotted out for display at society functions. It seemed as though something had broken inside the General, though, somewhere between the books and the monsters in the tanks and Nibelheim's midnight, and that horrible week-long nightmare, and being prevented from murdering his life's cruel nemesis, and sneaking back into his own city as a fugitive just in time for his brand-new boyfriends' girlfriend to make startling personal comments about major architectural fixtures' xenosexual preferences.
Cloud supposed that his General really had been asked for too much already, and patted a tentacle in quiet reassurance as he scrambled for something else to say in the face of Aeris' utterly unselfconscious acceptance of an astonishing number of things that really should have made most people flinch.
He mostly came up with, "Um."
Aeris giggled. "Did I mention how much too cute you are?"
"Uh," Cloud said, and gulped hard, and she reached over and fluffed his hair and made him splutter and try to duck away.
That set Sephiroth's tentacles to twining about him swiftly, both possessive and defensive at once. Aeris tilted her head a bit to one side, something shimmering deep behind her eyes.
"Oh," she said, softly. "I'm sorry about that; I really am. I was trying to reassure you that none of us will flinch away from your changes; I didn't mean to upset you."
"You are the one to whom apologies are owed, I believe," Sephiroth murmured, his gaze averted.
"But you're the one who's upset, and I'm sorry," Aeris said. "I can't really get much of a sense of you -- I think it's something about the concentration of the Crisis active in your body right now -- and I'd thought you'd be more like Zack, because you're a warrior and a general and you've been responsible for so much. But when it comes to people you're more like Cloud, aren't you? I'm really sorry. I didn't mean to startle you so much. Can we start over again?"
She sat on her heels and held out a hand, a few inches from the tip of one of his tentacles, and said, "My name is Aeris, and it's truly a pleasure to welcome you into our family, General."
"Our family," she corrected firmly. "Zack and Cloud and you and me. I love my boys, you see, and they both love you, and they have excellent taste, so I'm fairly sure I'll love you too." Her hand was still waiting.
"Miss Gainsborough," Sephiroth murmured, and Cloud could feel his trembling in the tentacles that loosened and slithered away from him almost too quickly. "I nearly killed Zack three days ago. I still could. I still might. I don't know what triggers the animal reflexes of this monstrous, horrifying thing I have become -- Zack may have no fear of himself, but Zack also has no common sense. We are already far too indebted to you for your shelter and your healing; I cannot possibly accept an offer of such unwarranted kindness, not when I cannot guarantee anyone's safety around me. Least of all those who -- who draw too close..."
"Cloud," Aeris said thoughtfully, "you know military protocol. Can I say 'pish' to a general?"
"Uh," Cloud said. "Er. --I probably wouldn't."
"Drat." Her hand was still hovering there expectantly waiting for a tentacle's acceptance. "I don't suppose I can say 'pish' to a general who's on temporary medical leave, since he's not wearing the official bells and whistles at the moment?"
"I, um, still probably wouldn't."
"But Zack probably would, wouldn't he?" Her eyes were nearly as effective at puppydog-pleading as Zack's were.
"I don't think Zack would say 'pish.'"
"You're right," Aeris said thoughtfully, "but if you're not supposed to say 'pish' to a general, I'm pretty certain you're not supposed to say 'bullshit' to a general either. ...Which, again, is certainly no guarantee that Zack doesn't; right, General?"
"Aeris," she corrected firmly.
"Aeris," Sephiroth conceded, because it was one less battle to have to fight and he was obviously too deeply beseiged already. "I truly appreciate what it is you're trying to do for Zack's sake, and also for myself. But your faith and generosity are shields too frail to hold against the eldritch horror that is consuming your beloved from within--"
"That's an eloquent way to say it," Aeris said, smiling. "I bet she'd like being called an eldritch horror better than some of the other names I have for her. Much more respectful than 'undead asteroid hairball' or 'freak mutant virus thing' or 'zombie space loogie,' all things considered."
"Zombie space l--" The whites were showing all the way around Sephiroth's eyes, and he was trying to curl up into the corner again. "Yes," he managed somehow, weakly. "More respectful. In any case. I would strongly recommend that we spend less time on semantics and more on the strategies you may need to survive our--"
Right about then, Zack began oozing his way back in through the window a few tentacles at a time, exhaustedly hunching along like the world's most overgrown slug. Several shingles were sticking to him, and Aeris made an exasperated sound.
"We just had the roof replaced last autumn, you know! And don't tell me what you did to the chimney yet."
"Urgh," Zack said, and coughed, and tried again. "Graah." He flopped down on the floor with an unpleasant squelching noise, and lay there panting.
Aeris poured him a glass of water from the pitcher she'd been using to dampen the hand-towels with, and pursed her lips at the soggily bedraggled remnants of what had once been her place-marking bows. "I'm going to have to start all over, aren't I. Honestly. The more surface area you have, the more of it you go and get poked and punctured and cut up..."
"Nnnnggh." Zack gulped down the water, and made pathetic eyes at her. "Ugh. More...?"
She sighed and refilled the glass, and then gingerly removed her ooze-covered bows and dropped them in the wastebin before looking around for something more disposable to mark her places with.
"Cloud, would you be a darling and bring me some more washcloths from the linen closet?"
"Bathtub," Zack wheezed, oozing a few feeble inches toward the door. "Easier."
"You are not trailing slime of questionable origins all across the floors I've just mopped, Zack. Mother would be horrified. --Cloud, where'd you put that wheelbarrow?"
"There is a better option than the wheelbarrow," Sephiroth murmured. "Excuse me a moment." And he slithered out the window with a grim set to his face, struggling to force shame back long enough to make it surrender to practicality.
A few moments later, he'd fit most of himself and the tentacles mostly back inside, but there were some logistical problems involved in trying to fit a half-full rainbarrel through the window without drenching the entire floor; Aeris removed the top section of her window in order to let him back through, and then she made a face at the slime Zack had left on the outside of the glass on his way up.
"That does it, you're not going anywhere without a good scrubbing first," Aeris told him firmly, getting a careful grasp on several limp tendrils and pulling him toward the rainbarrel. Her heels skidded on a slick spot on the floor, and she would have landed on her rump if it hadn't been for the sudden twine of Sephiroth's tentacles about her waist.
"It will be easier to handle him one section at a time," Sephiroth said, carefully lifting Zack over the barrel and tucking a dozen or so dangling tendrils into the water.
"I can see you're used to dealing with long hair too," Aeris said approvingly, and tied washcloths to mark their starting and ending places.
The task went much more quickly with more than two hands -- well, to be fair, Cloud thought, there were four actual hands, but quite a few more tentacles once Sephiroth had made self-loathing bend to grim practicality and joined in too.Continued...