ChibiRisu-chan (chibirisuchan) wrote,

Mascot-bribefic for Ciceqi: Terrorist Activities

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So this would be where I've been all day today... ^__^;; Standard fan-fanfic disclaimer: I have no idea whether Ciceqi wants any of this to be canon or not, just tossing it out there for bribing purposes. Here's hoping you like it! And that it might beget some more bunnies in your head, too.

...okay, I have to admit I am also just too weak to turn down the mental image of Reno armed with a super-soaker full of cherry pie filling, or Sephiroth faced with photographs of drunk plushies in compromising positions. Because I am evil that way. Anyhow...

Terrorist Activities

for ciceqi

If this were Wutai, Sephiroth would have been concerned by the sound of whispers and scuttles in the hall. Since this was Shinra headquarters, and since one of the imbeciles scuttling in the hall had a very familiar giggle, Sephiroth simply reached for the lock override on his door.

He hadn't quite counted on Zack putting on a burst of mako-acceleration to make it through the door before it could close, though, and the Shinra office doors had overrides that prevented them from crushing anyone standing in the doorframe... much to his occasional regret.

Zack had a bandanna around the bottom half of his face. It might have been somewhere near convincing if he had bothered to take off his uniform, hide his hair and his luminous eyes, or even cover his nameplate. He also had a neon orange squirtgun aimed between Sephiroth's brows, and said in a hilarity-choked voice, "Don't move or the hair gel gets it!"

"...It's not even noon, Lieutenant. What have you been ingesting this time?"

Zack ignored him entirely, making a theatrical gesture over his shoulder: "Come on, Red, I've got the target covered!"

Reno came scrambling into the room with a bright pink headscarf over the bottom of his face; it was his giggle Sephiroth had heard. The boy was young enough his voice hadn't completely settled, and Shinra sent him on assassination missions. Some things didn't bear too much thinking about.

...The yellow-and-electric-purple plastic submachine gun Reno cocked theatrically was clearly among the things that didn't bear too much thinking about.

"Don't even think about it," Reno said, on the verge of mad giggles again. "This fucker's loaded for bear! Cherry pie filling. You ain't never gonna get the stains out of that mouse-ass gray carpet they're addicted to up here, so don't even tempt me, yo."

Reno and Zack high-fived each other. Sephiroth fought back the urge to reach for a Bolt materia. He suspected he really should have learned to keep one equipped at all times by now.

Zack ambled around his desk and pushed both him and his chair away from the keyboard, flexing his fingers like a maestro before he took over Sephiroth's workstation. "Let's see here. Too many damn meetings. Okay, I'll fix that -- you are now--" and Zack highlighted the next ten hours of his schedule and typed in an override -- "investigating urgent rumors of impending terrorist activity. There." He punched the enter key and turned around and sat on the edge of the desk with a grin. "Give me your key card."


"He's serious about that cherry pie filling, boss, I wouldn't push it if I were you."

"Zack. 'Impending terrorist activity?'"

"Kidnapping the head of the Shinra military sure as hell counts as impending terrorist activity in my book," Zack said, grinning from ear to ear, and Reno flashed a thumbs-up sign at him. "I need your key card, Sephiroth, seriously."


"Because my girlfriend is waiting at the Sector Five railway station with a picnic basket with hot sandwiches and apple dumplings and a blueberry pie that just came straight out of the oven, and she's holding it hostage," Zack said, with great earnestness. "She'll start eating it by herself if we don't get there in time to stop her. You can't have a crime like that on your conscience, boss, we're supposed to be the good guys. So I need your key card. Just for ten minutes, I swear. Red's fast."

"...Your girlfriend's possession of a picnic basket means you need my key card."

"No, my girlfriend holding our lunch hostage until we arrive to rescue it means I need your key card. Because your key card is going to get Red here into the 68th floor conference room long enough to hose it down with pie makings, since nobody in hell is insane enough to think you would pull a prank like that. Which means the Veep's scheduled chain of conferences is going to get derailed when security swarms the place, since they won't know who did it because I'm about to loop the cameras from your workstation via a mainframe out in Junon. So since Rufus won't be able to get near the room for at least six hours, nobody's going to miss you at all those meetings that aren't going to be held, which means we're clear to go liberate our lunch from my girlfriend the terrorist. And it means Rufus won't be done with his meetings by end-of-business, which means he won't be taking Rude with him when he takes a security squad to Costa del Sol, which means Red can get Rude to take him out drinking tonight! So that's why I need your key card," Zack finished triumphantly.

"We are awesome together, man," Reno said gleefully. "Why didn't anybody ever tell me they made Soldiers like you? 'Cause I would so have signed up in a nanosecond! The kind of shit we could've gotten away with if I had your reflexes and your clearance -- it'd be righteous, yo."

"...Somehow I doubt 'righteous' is the word I would use," Sephiroth murmured. He silently cursed Hojo for the thousandth time this week, because standard painkillers no longer worked at his level of Mako enhancement, and it was simply cruel and unusual punishment to expect anyone, super-Soldier or not, to handle Zack and Reno at the same time without the assistance of drugs.

"That's why I marked it down as terrorist activity," Zack said happily, one expectant hand held out while the other scrolled through the security clearances needed to reroute through an anonymous connection to the mainframe in Junon. "Card, please."

"You are insane."

"Not news, boss," Zack said, and tried a quick shot of puppy-eyes over his shoulder. "Come on, man, think of the blueberry pie. She's got no mercy, I'm telling you."

Silently, Sephiroth took out his key card and placed it in Zack's palm. With a whoop of glee, Zack flicked it to Reno, who caught it out of the air and went dashing down the hall at a headlong sprint.

A few seconds later, another pair of footsteps -- much more sedate ones -- made themselves audible. Zack's little blonde shadow tapped cautiously on the open door before peeking in.

"Zack? Reno just shot by like someone lit a rocket under his--"

"It's okay, Spike," Zack said magnanimously, repatching cameras like mad. "Just keep an eye on the elevator 'til he gets back, okay?"

"I thought you said you were going to invite the General on the picnic," Strife said. "Is he busy?"

"Not anymore, apparently," Sephiroth said, steadily gazing at his insubordinate idiot of a friend. Strife blinked twice, perplexed. He certainly couldn't blame the boy for that. Even with his own years of experience, some attempts at Zack-management veered wildly out of control no matter what one had intended.

Zack-management wasn't the only thing to which the phrase 'wildly out of control' applied, Sephiroth thought, bringing his motorcycle to a more gradual and less rubber-skidding halt beside the Section Five platform where a girl in pink waited with the legendary picnic basket. She all but flew down the steps, beaming, and Zack scooped her up and swung her around and kissed her soundly, and then the minute he set her down, she tackled the little blonde and nearly crushed the air out of him, hugging him until he squeaked. The boy was blushing fiercely by that point, no matter how accustomed he might be to Zack's unusually generous and inclusive method of managing relationships, because she was ruffling his hair with a bright grin, and Zack was laughing at them both, and Sephiroth felt almost like an intruder as he walked closer.

Most people, he suspected, wouldn't have been able to read that in his expression; he prided himself on his self-discipline. Zack, however, had never, ever been like most people. He darted over, caught Sephiroth by the arm, and all but dragged him over to the others.

"See, doll, I told you I could get him away from the paperwork for an afternoon!" Zack declared proudly. "And it didn't even take blood on the carpets! --Well, not on his carpet, anyway. I'm still not sure what all Reno did to that conference room. Boss, you already know my boyfriend, of course, what with that whole commanding-officer gig you've got; this is my girlfriend, Aeris Gainsborough. Aeris, this is General Sephiroth, obviously."

"A pleasure to meet you," Sephiroth said. "Zack has told me many wonderful things about you. --And about your pastries, as well."

Aeris' eyes were a startling shade of green, deeper than his own and just as uncanny. She looked up at him in silence, then took a step forward and reached up to touch his cheek; it was all he could do not to pull away in shock. "Oh," she breathed. "Oh, I'm sorry."

Zack blinked, an arm still slung around Strife's neck. "Aeris, hon, you okay?"

Completely heedless of anything resembling decorum or restraint, she flung both arms around Sephiroth and rested her cheek against his chest, eyes closed. "I'm so sorry," she murmured. "It'll be all right in the end, really it will..."

Sephiroth had wondered, not infrequently, how a man like Zack could end up with a girlfriend who was, by all reasonable accounts, quite a normal girl next door type -- sweet, cheerful, kind, and a little mischievous. No one had never mentioned that she might well be more insane than Zack himself, though it certainly explained some things. "Miss Gainsborough?"

She pulled back then, eyes a little too bright, blinking fiercely, and gave him a bright, determined smile. "You," she said, poking him in the chest, "are obviously suffering from a severe lack of homemade pastries in your diet. I don't think you have a spare ounce of fat on you anywhere. That's just not right! Zack, why didn't you tell me your best friend didn't have anyone to make pastries for him? We are going to have to correct this. Give me that basket back."

Maybe she was being a little more insane than usual; Zack was looking as bemused as Sephiroth felt, even as he held the picnic basket up out of her jumping range through pure reflex. "Hon, we have got cafeterias at the office, you know..."

"Cafeterias," she said, with an indignant flick of the hand, and tried jumping for the basket again, while Cloud watched them as though this kind of exchange was not actually anything unexpected. "Cafeterias haven't got any soul. You need to make desserts with love, to make up for the fact that there's no nutrition. Now give me back that basket!"

"Not 'til we get out to the hostage exchange site, remember?"

Aeris blinked, and then her face cleared. "Oh! Right! Okay, let's go."

"You were in on this terrorist scheme of his too, Miss Gainsborough?" Sephiroth asked, wondering how it was possible that the world held in it a person even more confusing than Zack, and how the two of them had ended up meeting each other.

"Of course I was, silly," she said, tossing her head lightly. "Who do you think cooked all their ammunition? Good cherry pie filling doesn't grow on trees, you know! And I've just given your janitorial department several thousand gil of cleaning bills; I think you're entitled to call me Aeris. --So, who's riding with whom?"

...She just called me 'silly.'

Of all things-- I believe I've had most of the profanity in several languages applied at one point or another, but... silly? At what point have I ever been silly?

Strife was fastening a helmet on already, unfazed by their ongoing squabbles. Sephiroth leaned in his direction, wondering if any of the people who spent too much time around Zack managed to keep a semblance of sanity. "Private -- does she do things like this often?"

"Like what, sir?" hope from that side either. "Never mind."

"No, sir, I just meant which thing you were asking about," Strife said, rueful. "She's even worse than Zack when it comes to pranks, sir, because she looks so innocent nobody ever suspects she's messing with your head."

"That... explains a terrifying amount, really. Thank you."

Much as he'd suspected, the boy ducked his chin at the thanks, his cheeks pinking. "Er... um... yes, sir, whatever you say."

Sephiroth quietly raised his private estimation of the boy's courage. Whenever he'd seen him, the little blonde always seemed so quiet and overawed -- but it had to take a good amount of nerve to deal with the combination of Zack and his mad girlfriend, on a regular basis that was by nature intimate. Perhaps he had some business among the Soldier applicants after all.

Aeris had just smacked Zack with her helmet. He was laughing. "Come on, doll, you know it'll be cute!"

"What will?" Sephiroth asked, because sometimes forewarning helped.

"Her riding in the middle and Spike on back. Makes the most sense really."

Strife's head jerked up at that, and his jaw worked silently for a moment before he got his lungs working again. "You jerk! I'm not going to -- to -- I mean -- there's nowhere I could -- hang on -- and anybody's got to hang on when they're riding with you, you maniac--"

"Told you it'd be cute," Zack gloated, and Aeris hit him again. "Seriously, have you got a better idea? She'll be more protected in the middle, you know. Don't tell me you're going to be rude enough to endanger her just because you're a prude, kiddo."

...His lieutenant truly was an evil, scheming, manipulative bastard. Fortunately, both of his lovers seemed well aware of the fact. Aeris gave up on the helmet and thumped on his shoulder with a fist, and Strife was making mostly incoherent noises of protest.

"One of you can ride with me," Sephiroth said, and all three heads turned to look at him.

"Spoilsport," Zack said, and got hit from both directions at once. "Ow! Hey, just saying..."

If anything, Strife seemed to be blushing even more fiercely at this point, and staring fixedly at the wheel of the motorcycle. Aeris leaned over and murmured something into his ear that had a sound suspiciously like Sephiroth's name in the middle; Strife flinched, looking at her in absolute terror, and she giggled at him.

"All right, Cloud and I have it all worked out," she announced, wrapping an arm around the boy's shoulders much like Zack did. They were close enough to a height that she didn't even need to stretch up on tiptoe, though she wasn't a tall girl. "The basket and I are going to ride with the General," she said, "because we all know how Zack rides, and I'd like for some of our food and dishware to still be in one piece when we get there. --Plus this way I can keep an eye on you two!"

Something about the delight in her voice made it quite clear that she didn't mean it the way a girlfriend usually meant it when saying something like that to her boyfriend. Strife looked as though he'd been sunburned already, and Zack scratched behind an ear with a sheepish chuckle. "You heard the lady," he said. "Let's roll."

The one problem with their arrangement, Sephiroth realized halfway to Kalm, was that it left him no refuge from the girl's questions, and no known sane quantity against which to gauge her responses. Only long, long years of control kept him from missing the turn entirely when Aeris shouted to him, "Why don't you join in?"

"What?" he shouted back, more to do with shock than any concern for the wind noise, because surely she couldn't be suggesting... scratch that, she could be suggesting anything, and so clarification would be either helpful or traumatic, or perhaps both at once...

"You love him too, don't you?" she asked, in a tone of voice that indicated rolled eyes. "It's so hard not to love him. I'm not about to hold that against you. Really, you should just join in one of these days."

"Miss Gainsborough--"

"If you're ever going to be my boyfriend's other boyfriend, you really have to start calling me Aeris!" she hollered back.

"Miss Gainsborough--"

"He'd do you a world of good! I mean it!"


Aeris laughed aloud, a wild, gleeful sound, and poked him in the ribs. "Cloud would absolutely die," she shouted. "He worships you anyway! And you know I understand--"

Sephiroth leaned into the next corner a little farther than was strictly necessary; it stilled her for a moment, but only for a moment.

"Really," she called. "Just think about it. If you don't know what to do, just walk up to him and kiss him some day. He'd love it if you did. After he got done falling out of his chair, that is. Don't tell me that doesn't tempt you! --And I'll bet he'd never dare it himself. You're too private. Too controlled. He's worried about pushing you too far."

"And you're not?"

Aeris laughed, short and sharp. "I," she said, wildly, "have nothing to lose!"

Sephiroth gripped his silence as tightly as the motorcycle's controls, because he suddenly wondered if they were even having the same conversation anymore.

"Just think about it," she said, and laid her cheek against his shoulder. "Please. You could be so happy. He's so good at making people happy."

That last was true enough in his own observation, but it really had no bearing on the fact that his best friend's girlfriend was still certifiable.

The 'hostage exchange point' was a hill a few miles outside Kalm, with a huge old tree at the peak of it. Aeris began humming happily to herself as she set about laying out the picnic blanket and the food, as though she hadn't just been inviting her boyfriend's commanding officer to consider making her boyfriend's bisexual threesome into a foursome.

Somewhere along the ride, Sephiroth had ceased wondering how she had ended up with someone like Zack, and had begun wondering how Zack had ended up with someone like her. But they both seemed so happy with the arrangement -- they all did, really, even though the Strife boy still blushed at the slightest provocations. The more he learned about the Gainsborough girl, though, the less he could blame the boy for his blushes. Strife really was a stronger person than one would guess; he'd been surviving the two of them combined for how many months...?

...and Zack had his nose trapped between two knuckles.

"Got your nose," Zack informed him.


"Stop thinking so much," Zack said, rueful. "Your eyebrows go all scrunchy. This is a scrunchy-eyebrows-free zone, by declaration of me."

Sephiroth was still waiting for the point to be made.

Zack let go of his nose, and punched his shoulder lightly, the same way he scruffled Strife's hair. "Come on; we've got food," he said, gentle-voiced. "Made with love instead of nutrition. You can taste the difference."

Zack was also right about that -- not that Sephiroth recognized the taste of love, exactly, but the taste of the lack of nutrition was certainly distinctive. And very sweet. It seemed that love tasted like fruited sugar syrup somehow, particularly when warm.

"When did you take those?" Zack demanded, laughing too hard to snatch the photos from her hand. Aeris danced out of reach, sticking out her tongue at him, and tossed the photos to Sephiroth.

She had arranged Zack's three plushies in ...improbable positions. The mildest was the one in which she'd apparently pinned their little hands together in a three-way hug. Then it grew more ...creative, and elaborate. He hadn't previously realized plushies weren't subject to the same physical laws of positioning as humans were, although upon further reflection, the lack of bones went a long way toward explaining it. The little weapons-brandishing plushie-pyramid stacked on top of a toy motorcycle, captioned with a paper cutout speech-bubble proclaiming 'Charge!', was quite a feat of engineering.

And then there was the series of photos that she'd taped together in an accordion. In the first one, the Skadi-plushie was busily studying a military manual four or five times her size, and the other two were 'sneaking up behind' with a piece of brightly-colored yarn. The second photo had crumpled shreds of paper thrown wildly all over the manual, along with captions like 'pow!' and 'oof!' and 'aiee!', and there was a distinctly plushie-hair-shaped shadow cast across the mess. The third shot had the Skadi-plushie tied up in yarn and sitting between the other two, in front of what was apparently supposed to be a plushie-sized cocktail bar made of a shoebox under a cloth handkerchief, furnished with Zack's empty beer cans for stools and Aeris' sewing thimbles for cups. Somehow, the Odin plushie managed to look distinctly pleased with itself, and it had one mitten-hand firmly atop the Tyr-plushie's bright hair, and all three of them had bright felt circles stuck to their cheeks.

A brilliant white flash went off from entirely too close, and he'd jumped ten feet straight back before he realized what had happened: not materia, just a camera. Aeris was leaning on the tree, half convulsed with giggles.

"Sorry...! Sorry, didn't... didn't mean to startle you...! Just... the look on your face...!"

Sephiroth took a deep breath and tried to force his heart rate down by pure will. "You couldn't have warned me?"

"Then you would've changed expressions," Aeris said, wiping at her eyes. "Sorry! Next time... Well, next time I probably won't warn you either, to be honest!"

Zack had both hands over his mouth, because laughing at a superior officer who was still running on a combat-charge wasn't conducive to a long and healthy career. Strife was looking back and forth between Aeris and himself, torn between sympathy and something softer, deeper, more difficult to name. Only then did Sephiroth wonder exactly what about his expression she'd wanted to capture.

Given the evidence of her previous photo collections, he had no particular desire to hear the answer to that spoken aloud, because then he might have to respond to it.

...Only Zack's girlfriend would get his plushie collection wasted and take incriminating pictures, really.

The story was clear enough, and he wondered what kinds of things Zack had been telling her, in order for the Skadi-plushie to be the one being hijacked toward a party. Surely Strife had put up as much resistance, at first, before he'd learned that there was no resisting the walking cyclone that was Zack aided and abetted by this madwoman, and the best one could hope for was something solid to cling to while they blew through one's life. --Or perhaps the photos had been her storyboard for the current 'terrorist mission.' ...Except there was no cherry pie filling in evidence, and no red-mop-headed pipecleaner of a boy; and no Aeris herself...

"Your collection is still incomplete, you know," Sephiroth said to Zack, who blinked, once, and then began smiling as fatuously as a lovestruck fool.

...which wasn't all that inaccurate, really, so he supposed he should make some allowances.

"Hmm?" Aeris said, looking up from picking stray leaves out of Zack's wild mess of hair.

"I'm missing a goddess, of course," he told her, tilting his head up so that they were suddenly nose to nose. "An autumn-haired goddess with eyes green as summer..."

"...Oh." Aeris giggled. "Except then any of you could get back at me with embarrassing plushie pictures whenever you wanted! I'm not so sure about that idea."

"When the hell did you take those anyhow?"

"A girl's got to have her secrets," she said, grinning.

"No, seriously." He plucked his hair free of her hands, and threatened to tickle her with it. "Don't make me break out the heavy weapons, doll."

"No, not the tickle torture!" she mock-protested, laughing. "I'll confess! I'll confess! --I got Reno to pick the lock on your door when you were on shift!"

"...You what?"

"How do you think he got to be so fond of my cherry pie filling to start with?" She grinned and kissed the tip of his nose. "Trust me. You can always bribe a teenaged boy with a homemade pie right out of the oven."

Zack shook his head in bemusement, even as Strife lost his private battle with a fit of hilarity. "You are one dangerous woman, doll. Good thing I love you that way."

There was no actual rational reason for it, but when the sky began to darken, Sephiroth took a spot on the west side of the group, so that he wouldn't have to watch the sun setting. The frisbee Aeris had packed among the plates was glow-in-the dark, and Zack had given it a good charge-up from his motorcycle's headlights before beaning Strife in the head with it; he'd nearly scalped Sephiroth three or four times in the attempt to drag him into the game, but tactically speaking, it really wouldn't have been a good idea. A Soldier playing with two normals had prompts to keep his speed and aim under control. A Soldier who had worn out both of the normals and started flinging flying objects at another Soldier in the dark -- well, it wouldn't have been enjoyable for the other two, who would have been outclassed fairly quickly; and sooner or later the frisbee would have been thrown too far and too fast for anyone to catch up. Sometimes Zack didn't know when to ease back on his playing.

Zack tossed the frisbee to Aeris, who began gleefully dancing just outside Strife's reach, and trotted over to flop down at Sephiroth's side with an overexaggerated oomph. He wasn't the least bit winded, but took Sephiroth's cup from his hand and drank from it anyway, grinning.

"We need to do this more often."

After a moment's careful consideration, because any type of encouragement was likely to be far overblown, Sephiroth detached his common sense far enough to say, "Yes, we do."

Zack sat bolt upright, the sudden shine in his eyes bright enough to light the sky. "You mean it? --You really had fun?"

It was always so much easier to smile around Zack, somehow. Easier not to need to care that he gave too much away, because Zack still saw through him regardless, and so it didn't matter if he let himself say too much or feel too much.

"Thank you," Sephiroth said, "for letting me join your, I suppose. Both families, even if Miss Gainsborough takes embarrassing liberties with one set. Your welcome and your generosity are..." He stopped, and shrugged awkwardly, because Shinra had never taught him the words for something like this. "Thank you."

"Aeris takes embarrassing liberties with both sets," Zack said, grinning from ear to ear. "But if you can stand the wacky lot of us, you're always welcome."

"Thank you," Sephiroth murmured, carefully looking away from the setting sun, but its light gilded the boy's pale hair and warmed the girl's laughing face regardless. "Zack -- there is one favor I'd like to ask, if I may."


Sephiroth quirked a brow. "Anything?"

"Name it, and it's yours," Zack said, with a smile. "Call it a happy-day present."

Sephiroth almost felt guilty for the way the strategist in his mind immediately began to process the possibilities this left open. Almost, but not entirely, because when it came to Zack, wide-open opportunities like this were counted on the fingers labeled 'rarely' and 'never.'

"Never, ever bring Reno into my office armed with cherry pie filling again," he said. "Ever. Under any circumstances. --In fact, I probably need to change my key card by now, because I'm certain that if there's any way to copy those codes, Reno knows it, has used it, and will use my clearance ruthlessly... stop laughing. No, Zack, I'm serious. Stop laughing. No bandannas, no pie filling, no terrorist kidnappings -- the next time you want to have a picnic, just ask me."

"Oh, sure, if you feel like doing things the easy way," Zack said, still laughing, of course.

"We're both in the military, Zack. Little enough happens the easy way, not when it can go explosively wrong instead. Take advantage of it when you can."

"Reno's going to be crushed," Zack said.

"Have Miss Gainsborough bake him another pie. He'll get over it."

"Have me bake who another pie?" Aeris asked, dropping the frisbee in Zack's lap and collapsing breathlessly at his side; Strife took his other side, not as winded but happy to rest his head on Zack's shoulder.

"Congratulations, doll, you've become an interdepartmental tactical weapon," he told her cheerfully. "The General here wants to bribe one of the Prez's bodyguards to not redecorate his office for him. Think you're up to that kind of order?"

"I don't know," Aeris said lightly, pretending to chew on a fingertip. "It might take more than one pie."

"You can do it!" Zack replied, laughing. "I have total faith in your culinary powers!"

"You're just angling to sample the trial pies," Aeris said, turning her nose up.

"That too, of course." He reached over and slung an arm around Strife's neck. "But look at this little face. Can you say no to such big blue eyes? You know his mom's too far away to send him any nice warm homemade pies of her own..."

"Stop that!" Strife said, trying to drive an elbow into Zack's ribs, but the angle was wrong. "Ignore him, Aeris, he's just being a-- a--"

"Shameless opportunist?" Sephiroth offered. "Greedy manipulator?"

"Yes, sir, exactly!" Strife said, still wriggling.

"I'm going to have to make pies for all three of you, then," Aeris said, giggling. "Because it's going to take work with expert opinions to bake a pie good enough to bribe Reno not to cause trouble! That's going to be much harder than the bribe for picnic-terrorism, you know. I'm going to have to practice. Quite a lot! Let's see -- blueberry, apple, and --" Much to Sephiroth's surprise, Aeris turned to him, eyes sparkling. "What's your favorite pie flavor, General?"

In the blankness of utter honesty, he said, "I don't know."

"Well! We're going to have to correct that, aren't we." She stood up and dusted off her skirt, then held out her hands. "Come on, time to get back to the city. I've got a lot of baking to do if we're going to find the General's favorite pie flavor by process of elimination!"

"Miss Gainsborough--"

"Aeris," she said, firmly. "And I'm kidding, really. But... Mom does worry if I'm out too late."

"Ah," Sephiroth said. "Forgive me. I had overlooked that mothers would do such things."

"Why do you think Spike and I joined the army?" Zack said, tossing the frisbee back into the picnic basket with a sigh. "Come on, General. First one back to the office wins!"

"Wins what?"

"...Damn. Okay, last one back to the office still not there as long as the other guy has to be, you're right. Hmm." Zack scratched his chin, leaning hard enough on Strife's shoulder to make the boy stagger. "First one back to the Section Five station gets a candy bar out of the vending machine!" And he took off at a run, yelling over a shoulder, "Come on, Spike, move it!"

Sephiroth dug a hand through his hair. "So can the rest of us, you know," he said, and sighed. "Miss Gainsborough?"

She picked up the basket with a smile that seemed more strained than before, somehow. "Coming."

Mercifully, the ride back was much quieter and less embarrassing than the ride out had been. But he would have traded the pollution-hazed bulk of Midgar rising on the horizon for any amount of embarrassing chatter, much as it surprised him to admit it even to himself.

Zack and Strife had beaten them to the station, of course, and from the edge of the platform, Zack was gleefully waving his prize candy bar overhead as they pulled in.

When she'd swung down from the motorcycle, Aeris hesitated for a moment, then bent close and brushed a kiss against his cheek. "I forgive you," she said.

And here he'd been thinking that there was very little left that she could do to surprise him. "...Miss Gainsborough?"

"Don't worry," she said. "If you remember, it's all right. If you don't... well, I suppose it wouldn't matter then, would it?" She handed the helmet back to him, and smiled. "We tried apple and blueberry today, and I understand you've picked up an entirely reasonable aversion to cherry, so next time I think I'll try peach. And there are dozens more flavors, too. I hope one of them will be your favorite, someday."

Watching her skip up the steps to try to steal a piece of Zack's victory candy bar, Sephiroth thought that they quite likely deserved each other, because nobody else would be able to understand what was going on.

Tags: fan-fanworks, ffvii, fics

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