FF7 || PG-13 || Cloud, Zack || ~1,200 words
Sometimes your worst enemy is just day-to-day life. Modern!AU.
- Lyrics come from Rise Against, "The Approaching Curve"; Plowed, "Sponge"; The Killers, "Runaways." Because they're favorites, and I can, and this is semi-pretentious self-indulgence (i.e. therapy!fic for disaffected twenty-somethings) anyway.
Cloud is so lost in his own thoughts that he doesn't realize anything is different until he finds his hand grasping the handle of a car door. "What," he tries, and doesn't argue when Zack laughs and opens the door to push him gently into the passenger seat. The slam of the door makes him jump, and Zack is grinning when he drops into the driver's seat.
"With how scatterbrained you've been lately, I figured you'd be less likely to die if I brought the car instead of the bike. I'd rather your brain stayed inside your skull than smeared down the freeway."
"Oh," says Cloud, because he can't really argue, isn't sure that Zack isn't right when he imagines trying to hold on to Zack while going 70 miles an hour. His body is already shaping itself to the seat, going boneless until his knees knock into the dashboard and his head is resting uncomfortably against the window. He ignores the way Zack is looking at him sidelong as he starts the car, watches the Seventh Heaven's faded sign getting smaller in the side mirror as they pull onto the road, wonders if Sephiroth knows that Zack borrowed his car.
"Long shift?" Zack finally asks, and Cloud huffs a short laugh. "Y'know, I hear the auto place is hiring."
"Yeah." There are already groups of people walking the town in the late morning sun, some of them in the carefully careless vintage style of the college students, others wearing the earthy tones of expensive fair-trade fibers, most in nondescript jeans and prints. There are a few teenage gutter punks, dark hoods pulled up, begging on the street corner with all their earthly belongings in a couple black plastic garbage bags beside them; Cloud remembers what that's like.
"I was thinking we could stop for a couple burgers, get some greasy calories into your scrawny stomach."
"Stomachs aren't scrawny," says Cloud.
"Well, you're doing a good job of proving otherwise. How's a double cheeseburger sound?"
"Like a heart attack."
Zack makes a pfff sound with dismissive cheerfulness. "You're twenty-two, kiddo, take advantage of your youthful metabolism while you can. You want Betty's or Rosie's?"
The only difference between the two is that Rosie's is an Irish pub with the cardboard leprechauns on the wall to prove it. "Doesn't matter."
Zack is quiet as they approach-stop-wait-go through two red lights, then suddenly jerks the car into the outside lane that feeds into the freeway exit.
"Uh, the apartment's the other way."
Zack rolls down the windows, forcing Cloud to sit up before he gets a blast of wind and exhaust to the face. "Yep."
"I should change these clothes." He can smell beer and the salt of roasted peanuts from the bar, and he remembers the gutter-punks, and he thinks that some things don't really ever change. The hand that gives his hair a thorough ruffling makes him flinch, and Zack is giving him that smile as he takes his hand back and fiddles with the radio.
"I think you're good the way you are, kiddo," says Zack over the guitar of his taste in rock, and Cloud opens his mouth to say something like, What, covered in the spills of alcohol and drunk confessions, but his throat has gone tight and he looks out the window instead. Dry brush and summer-browned trees line the freeway on either side, trimmed with the plastic bags and fast-food containers and the occasional shoe lost by oblivious drivers, broken up by the blue of the ocean on the horizon ahead. They'll remember only our smiles 'cause that's all they've seen, the radio grinds out as Cloud rests his arm on the windowsill and holds out a hand, letting the wind rush over and under it.
It takes ten minutes of wind and rock and the glare of the new sun on the car's hood before Zack takes an exit, and the number of other cars drops to just a few, the ocean now closer and bluer, the sky now so much bigger. I turn the engine over and my body just comes alive, and we're all just runaways.
"When do you think things are gonna change?" Cloud eventually asks, barely loud enough to be heard before the wind steals his breath and adds to its chorus of lost sounds. But Zack doesn't turn down the music, which Cloud appreciates, doesn't want his words to be real enough that they can drop like stones somewhere in the world.
"What do you mean?"
He's only twenty-two but sometimes he feels three times older. He's only twenty-two but sometimes he feels like he'll be stuck at twenty-two forever, like he's been caught in a cage, the days so blurred together that he can't remember half of them.
"I've been working at the bar since I was underage with the same customers and the same scratched-up counter and rags stained with stuff you really don't want to know about. I don't think I've worn anything that hasn't smelled like the floor in five years."
"Soon," says Zack, confident and optimistic, looking ahead as he talks, while Cloud's eyes keep getting drawn to the side mirror reflecting the road stretching out behind them. "I've got a bit saved up from that gig I've been doing for ShinRa and I know you've been putting aside as much of your paychecks as you can. You and me, kiddo, we'll move up to the city, get our business started, and we'll bring Aeris with us, there are always churches looking for help with their charity programs. Sephiroth, too, get him out of ShinRa's security office before he finally kills those bureaucrats."
Cloud can't help a small grin when he remembers the night Sephiroth dropped by Zack and Cloud's shitty little apartment and ranted, in that carefully controlled way of his, about superiors who get confused when turning a computer off and then on doesn't actually get rid of a virus.
Zack catches Cloud's smile out of the corner of his eye, and his own gets even wider. "Whaddya think, maybe one of those fancy townhouses with the garden out front where Aeris can show off her mad gardening skills. You know she'd either totally charm or terrify the whole neighborhood."
"Sephiroth could do our bookkeeping. He likes all those numbers," Cloud adds tentatively.
"And you know everyone needs shit delivered anyway, we'd put FedEx out of business."
"Probably drive Sephiroth crazy with all the money we'd spend on gas." Always moving, but always knowing there'd be a place to call 'home' at the end of the day: Zack's laughter, Aeris' smiles, Sephiroth's absolute loyalty.
"Eh, gives the guy a way to channel his need for terrifying efficiency."
Cloud finally lifts his gaze from the side mirror and looks forward out the windshield. The car eats up the hot, black miles with a satisfied purr while Zack sings along with the radio, and, for a little while, Cloud lets himself believe.