Title: Body Language (presentfic #1 of 3)
Author: chibirisuchan based on ciceqi's Anthroverse AU (LJ archive / IJ archive)
Disclaimer: totally not mine; the game is Square's and the AU is Coyo's!
There's three of these for ciceqi's birthday and Christmas fics... from 2006. *facepalm* 2007 has SO sucked.
I had the first two written and the third outlined in January, and then I had to find time in 07 when I wasn't (a) making hospital visits, (b) drowning in classwork or homework, or (c) scribbling like mad for a deadline-fic, which meant that I only got 4 drafts done outside January in all of 07. @__@ BUT. I got vacation time at the end of the year! Yaaaaaay for vacation time! ♥♥♥♥♥
Coyo wanted Zack and Cloud and comedy of errors fics, and said it was OK if I wrote presentfic for her in her universes, and then I couldn't decide which of these ficbunnies I wanted to write the most, so I kind of jumped in to a bunch of snippets to see which ones turned ficcable... and I got two of them done just fine back in January, but the tentacleverse just kept spawning at me in several directions at once, and then 2007 happened at me, and I finally had to hack and slash to call it a string of vignettes done enough to post or else it wanted to turn into a collection of 'vignettes' the length of Don Quixote! I'm still not technically DONE with it, but I'm DETERMINED to finish it today so I can get all three of them posted...
Zack kept wheedling for more 'everybody hangs out on the beach in as little clothing as possible' scenes, and Sephiroth kept being so absurdly pragmatic about the number of things that can be done much more efficiently when you have an extra several dozen prehensile limbs to work with -- his 'one man army' thing kind of made sense with fishing and construction and maybe gardening, but then there was the laundry. There's just no way to look as dignified as he thought he was looking while up to the not-the-elbows in soap suds. And Cloud kept periodically surprising the heck out of me by doing things like peeling off all his clothes and offering himself up for molestation and I just didn't have the strength to tell him no... erm, anyhow...
I'm determined to finish it off today, because my brain just spawns scenes like mad with no actual plot to hinge them on when given a mental image like 'FFVII OT4 meets Survivor crossed with Fantasy Island, With Extra Bonus Tentacles'. It was supposed to be ...I don't know, orderly or something, but then it just kept putting out more tentacles and poking 'oh yeah, and picture this'-es at me. Sigh... XDDD
In hindsight, Zack had to admit that he'd never really thought about it before. It wasn't the sort of thing you thought about, after all; it was much more the sort of thing you just did. And just reacted to. Thought really wasn't involved on any level.
("Why am I somehow not surprised to hear that," Sephiroth had said with a longsuffering sigh, and obviously that didn't need thinking about either. That needed pouncing-on and rolling-over and play-growling-and-gnawing that led into ferocious sex that led into happy panting afterglow with ear scritches, but no thought.)
It was... just... it was reflex. Like walking into the bedroom and seeing just a glimpse of fluffy yellow down peeking out from underneath the arch of Sephiroth's sleek black wing, with the rest of Cloud all curled up into a trusting little huddle beneath the sweep of that luxuriant plumage, and starting to grin.
Like Sephiroth looking up from the sleepy little golden treasure nestled beneath his protective, possessive wing-shelter, and recognizing Zack's grin, and matching it with one of his own: slow, sly, gloating -- shamelessly savoring the richness they had stolen away from the oblivious world.
Things like that didn't need thinking about, just luxuriating in.
...Okay, Zack had learned to think about it a little, after the fifth time they'd had to replace an alarm clock or a lamp that had been knocked off the bedside table, but he hadn't thought about things like why, or what, or when. It was just... instinctive.
And he'd come to take Cloud's blushes as a reward, really. Not something to be asked about or concerned over. Definitely not something to be thought about, not beyond oh hey look he's doing it again! Score~!
And Sephiroth even agreed with him about Cloud's blushes, and the little half-strangled peeps they could sometimes tease out of him, and how much fun it was to nuzzle into the silky-soft down of his hair. When Sephiroth agreed that something was good, unqualifiedly and without reserve, then Zack definitely didn't stop to ask things like 'why'.
And Cloud hadn't ever protested on the training grounds, or in the locker room, or in the halls, or in formation with the other Soldiers, or... well... anywhere else, really. Cloud rolled his eyes a lot, and blushed nearly as much, but the eye-rolling he took as a compliment to his teasing prowess and the blushing he took as a compliment to other sorts of prowess and... he'd just never... thought about it, before.
So when Cloud's patience snapped in a Plate-top restaurant one night, Zack had been pretty much blindsided.
The waitress, a cute young chocobo chick with a riot of pink hair that might even have been natural, had been struck mute by their presence. Zack suspected the poor little thing must have intimidated by the presence of Shinra's legendary General, because there was definitely nothing intimidating about Cloud unless he had a Buster Sword in his hands. And they'd left the Buster Swords in the barracks, because the things took up too much space on the subway trains, so it couldn't be Cloud's fault the girl was incoherent with alarm.
The waitress clutched at her serving tray almost as though it were a shield, and kept crunching down an inch at a time until it had almost crept up to her nose, and Zack leaned toward her with his widest, friendliest grin on, hoping to settle her nerves with a bit of charm.
"Stop that," Cloud hissed at him, clamping a hand down hard on his tail, and Zack yelped.
"Huh? Stop what?"
"I'm serious, Zack," Cloud said, bristling all over. "Stop it. You're scaring her."
"I'm scaring her?" he echoed, incredulous, looking back and forth between Sephiroth's utterly motionless, rigid, almost-coiled silence and the cowering little waitress. "What am I doing?"
"Zack," Cloud said, in the voice that said it was supposed to be obvious.
So Zack tried even harder. He tipped his head to one side, ears at cheerfully lazy half mast, smiling with every inch of his body, even the clumsy half-thumps of the tail Cloud had pinned to the back of his chair. "It's all right, hon, I swear I'm harmless -- yeowch!"
Cloud had just pecked him. Which was even more impressive considering he didn't have a beak. But Zack couldn't call it anything else when stiff-pointed fingers jabbed sharply into the back of his head.
Turning an indignant look on his fiercely fluffed-up little lover, Zack demanded, "What was that for?"
"You just don't know when to quit, do you?" Cloud said.
"Can we pretend just for one minute that I've got no idea what you're talking about?"
"Humor me?" Zack said, with his most mournful set of puppy eyes.
Cloud flailed both arms around, helpless with indignant frustration. "You don't know when to quit! You just keep doing it--"
Zack flopped his head down on the table in order to look as harmless as possible when he asked, "Doing what?"
"See?" Cloud said. "You know what I'm talking about! You stop when I threaten you, but I shouldn't have to threaten you to--"
"Cloud," Zack said, not moving an inch even to blink, "first of all, I love you, okay? Second of all, what did I stop?"
Fed up beyond the capacity for coherent speech, Cloud pecked him again. And kept pecking him, apparently at random, all through dinner.
On the bright side, the fact that the fluffy little chocobo was irritatedly pecking the big strong wolf into submission (and wasn't getting eaten for it) did seem to soothe their skittish waitress. By the time their dinner was over with, she'd actually giggled at them.
And Sephiroth was no help -- it was unfair to say 'as usual', but really, the set of his ears never let anything slip unintentionally. And his ears were on their best behavior for their waitress. ...Or maybe for Cloud. Maybe he knew exactly what was going on and had already figured out how not to get himself pecked for it.
Well, Seph was the strategist, after all. And he was certainly bird enough to have good instincts when it came to understanding pecking behavior.
But still, anybody who called himself a General really ought to have let his second-in-command in on the strategic peck-avoidance plan already, Zack thought, rubbing at his abused skull.
On the train back to the barracks, he'd finally dared to prick his ears back up, because they were safely out of waitress-intimidation range; his hound-dog-eyed looks were having an effect too, because Cloud kept huffing to himself and looking the other way in an odd blend of exasperation and guilt.
Sensing the knock of opportunity, and since Cloud's shoulder was too far down for flopping without serious spinal dislocations, Zack shamelessly snuggled his cheek onto the top of Cloud's fluffy head, grinning all over.
Cloud spluttered again, of course -- but instead of going for his head, the boy clamped a hand onto his tail.
"Will you quit advertising?" Cloud said, fiercely.
Zack's jaw couldn't drop open too far when it was propped on the top of Cloud's head. "Huh?" he managed, weakly. "Advertising what?"
"Advertising you!" Cloud was pink from the tips of his ears all the way down, now. "You never, ever stop flirting! Even when you're with us, you flirt like you breathe! And that thing you always do with your tail -- I swear to Bahamut--"
Zack sat up again, blinking in concern. "You thought I was flirting with the waitress? She's--"
At that point, though, Zack's last few self-preservation instincts kicked in; he couldn't say she's just a kid, because with all the fluffy pink down in the hair that she'd rearranged into an approximation of a punk hairstyle, she couldn't have been any older than Cloud himself was.
"You flirt with the entire planet, Zack," Cloud said, scrubbing a hand through the thick soft spikes of his own hair. "How would you like it if I attached a big flashy flag to my ass and waggled it at every sexy thing that walked down the street?"
Zack was ...pretty sure that the noise coming out of his throat was a growl. He didn't have cat blood anywhere that he knew of, so it couldn't have been a purr. But the thought of Cloud wagging a tail at him was very nearly temptation enough to outweigh the problems with Cloud wagging a tail at the rest of the world too.
"There, you see?" Cloud said. "Every time you feel horny, your tail starts in, and apparently you feel horny all the damn time, and--"
"That's not fair," Zack protested, grinning. "You only see me when I'm around you. And I'm always horny when I'm around you!
"Yes, I know, that's not your point," Zack conceded. "But, really -- sometimes it's just being friendly. I swear. I wouldn't have laid a finger on that poor little chick."
"But how was she supposed to know that?" Cloud asked. "You're walking around begging people to stare at your -- your hips, and your tail, and you just keep waving it around like -- like it's saying 'Look here! Yeah, right here, where my sex-parts are! Look how long this thing is and how much it stands up all by itself! You don't even have to use your imagination when I'm waving this around--'"
Zack heard himself made a noise something like 'snorfle,' even with both hands over his mouth. Apparently it still sounded close enough to a laugh; Cloud's eyes narrowed, and then he started pecking again.
Obviously, the only thing to do at that point was to grab Cloud and scruffle him a good one. The fact that he ended up with a lapful of vigorously wriggling chocobo-boy was purely accidental. Really. Hadn't entered into his calculations at all.
By the time Cloud had given up on squawking and thrashing and had exasperatedly surrendered to being nuzzled and whuffed on, the few remaining inhabitants of the train car had either left for another car or decided on a different train entirely. In Midgar, it didn't pay to stay too close when the bright-eyed ones got rowdy. Sephiroth was the only other inhabitant of the car by that point, and he looked as though he wished he were anywhere else as well.
"What do you think, Seph?" Zack asked, chin propped in the mess he'd made of Cloud's hair. "Do I flirt that much?"
As the silence stretched out while Sephiroth thought of a suitably neutral way to answer that, Cloud dug his elbow into Zack's ribs: "I told you so!"
"But I think it may be a case of differing signals," Sephiroth offered, a tentative olive branch to them both, maybe in the hopes that it would spare him a public pouncing-on-and-scruffling from Zack. "Birds use their tails for steering in flight and for sexual displays. So if you're not in flight, there's really only one way to interpret a tail gesture from a bird. But furred creatures say other things."
"Maybe," Cloud admitted, a bit grudgingly, "but you can't tell me he doesn't flirt like he breathes."
"Oh, of course he does," Sephiroth said, and his ears didn't even twitch at Zack's betrayed yelp. "It's just that that's not all he does."
"I'm hurt," Zack said, trying for the wet puppy eyes, though he suspected he was grinning too much to get away with it. And he was sheepishly surprised to realize that it took deliberate, conscious effort to keep his tail still. The soft thwap-thwap-thwap against the vinyl wasn't really enough to bring it to his attention, but Cloud's irritated look was.
Tilting his head just the faintest bit to one side, not quite bird-fascinated and not quite cat-curious but somewhere close to both, Sephiroth studied them with a wry, affectionate quirk to his lips.
"When you think about it," he said to Cloud, "a person's face takes up a fairly small percentage of their surface area. And a person's mouth takes up an even smaller percentage. That's not enough to express all the exuberance he has. So obviously, in Zack's method of living, his tail's best use is for smiling as well. I suspect he can't really help himself," he added thoughtfully. "He's so full of enthusiasm, it's not all that surprising that it spills out everywhere."
"Enthusiasm and flirting," Cloud reminded, though he'd somehow shifted from wriggling to nestling in the middle of that, and he pushed his head up under Zack's chin in something both exasperated and trusting at the same time.
"Enthusiasm, flirting, opportunism, mischief, and unadulterated delight in life," Sephiroth said, counting points on his fingers. "Which requires more smiling than one mouth could be expected to manage without assistance. He needs more than just one vent for sharing his enjoyment of life. Let his tail help him express it all, Cloud, or else I suspect he might explode from the internal pressure." He nodded pointedly in the direction of Zack's tail, which wasn't fair because...
...oh hey wait, when had it started up that thumping again?
"But," Cloud said with an expression that was struggling to be stern and not quite getting there, "it's mostly flirting."
"Hey," Zack said, grinning all over. "Yeah, sometimes it's flirting. Sometimes it's 'I'm warm and my favorite people are here and I want them to know that'--"
"How is that not flirting?" Cloud asked, with the corners of his lips twitching.
"Or 'I want to knock someone over and scruffle them all over'--"
"Also flirting," Sephiroth observed, and he was much better at not quite twitching than Cloud was.
"Or 'I want a tummy rub,'" Zack said, a little desperately, because he was starting to run short on alternatives.
Cloud and Sephiroth traded a look, and then Sephiroth arched one exquisitely sardonic eyebrow.
Zack deflated a little, but the thwap-thwap-thwap kept going like enthusiasm's own timekeeper. "Okay, yeah, that's flirting," he admitted. "Can I help it if I'm always happy to see you?"
Sephiroth was the one who broke at that point; he made a half-strangled sound, clamped both hands over his mouth, and turned away, shaking with his efforts to fight back laughter. A second too late, Zack realized what he'd just said. He flailed over an attempt to make it sound at least a little less horny.
"That's not what I -- I mean -- okay, it is what I meant, only -- not -- not like with pockets and stuff--" Real smooth, Zack scolded himself with an internal groan. Way to go and score Cloud's point for him! And the game, and the match...
"Pockets?" Cloud asked, and that started Sephiroth laughing harder.
"Don't ask," Zack said, feeling his cheeks burn and chuckling helplessly despite himself. "I mean. You don't ask what's in a guy's pockets, right? When he's. Um. Happy to see you."
Cloud blinked twice, and then he made a sound Zack had last heard out of Skadi when some idiot of a stablehand had tried to tie bells to her bridle. He hadn't really known chocobos could shriek in absolute indignation.
By the time the train doors opened and Zack staggered through them still laughing too hard to see straight, Cloud's ranting had spiralled down from the near supersonic range to a cranky warbling tenor grumble. The minute Sephiroth stepped off the train, Zack dodged behind him for cover from the random boot-scuffings and ankle-kicks and pecks in places he hadn't known were peckable.
"You could at least pretend to have some shame, you know," Sephiroth said wearily, rubbing at the bridge of his nose.
"Guys, molesting that poor little girl was the farthest thing from my mind!" Zack protested, both hands up, trying to gulp back the laughter that really wasn't helping his case any.
"I was referring to your attempt to shield yourself from the line of fire using the still-breathing body of a superior officer, Lieutenant."
"But you love me anyway, right, boss?" he teased, then peered over a black-clad shoulder at Cloud's simmering, irritated half-amusement. "Cloud -- did you really spend all this time thinking I was pimping myself whenever I was wagging my tail? Ifrit's steamy balls, I'm really not that bad, I swear!"
"I don't know," Cloud said, tucking his chin down. "I couldn't tell. It's just... to a bird that can't fly, advertising for sex is what tails are for. And you're so laid back about everything... how was I supposed to know you weren't advertising for more mates? You've got two of us already, so you're not ...numerically particular, and..."
This was another of those things that didn't need thinking about.
Zack scooped him into a hug that swung his feet off the ground, kissed him until he squeaked, and spent the rest of the walk home practically draped on top of him, nuzzling and licking and petting all at once.
"I love you," he said. "I'll never stop loving you. Both of you. No matter what. I swear that on my life."
Cloud blushed and spluttered and flailed, but he didn't peck; he was pink all the way from the roots of his hair to the collar of his shirt by the time the door to Sephiroth's apartment closed behind the three of them. Then Zack scooped him up and pinned him to the wall and kissed him until they were both a little wobbly in the knees.
"If it bothers you," Zack said, panting for breath between kisses, "I'll try not to smile so much."
"That's not what I meant!" Cloud protested, just as breathless. "It'd be like cutting your hands off, asking you not to smile. Just... maybe..." He gulped for breath, then offered, "Can you try not to whole-body smile at little half-fledged chicks who think tails are for sexual propositions?"
"I'll work on it," Zack said, and his tail started up again like a contented pendulum when Cloud smiled back.