The current Fem!Zack stories (in order) are: Guard Duty; It Takes Two; and Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice (incomplete).
Title: Dirty Laundry
Beta: none, very rough draft
Fandom: FF7 AU (COIverse, maybe)
Pairing/Characters: Cloud, Zack, Sephiroth
Disclaimer: Final Fantasy VII and all related prequels and sequels belong to Square-Enix.
A/N: Inspired by crack_fairy's comments about Zack washing Seph's socks (or vice versa).
Summary: Cloud's first encounter with Zack, under hot and steamy conditions. ^_-
Cross-posted to ffvii_yaoi and soldiersmut and zackfans
Private Cloud Strife hated the sweltering laundry area that handled the officers' clothes in Shinra HQ, with its great drum washing machines and driers. Having grown up in the crisp cold air of Nibelheim, the combination of heat and humidity was a killer. All he wanted to do was to wilt in a quiet corner. Unfortunately, that wasn't an option.
His squad was on punishment detail, thankfully for something that couldn't be possibly attributed as his fault, and doing the laundry of countless Shinra officers definitely constituted punishment. Muscling the masses of clothing and sheets was sweaty, backbreaking work for the toiling grunts, but what did that matter, as long as the officers got their nice crisp uniforms and clean bedding?
Being one of the shortest guys in his squad, Cloud got the unenviable job of being the one to climb into the giant drier drums when something got stuck. However, that afternoon, some of the other guys thought it would be funny to turn on the dryer and give 'ole Clod' a tumble, not giving a damn that they could've broken his neck with their stupid prank. As it was, he was a mass of nasty, painful bruises. Not that anyone alive cared how Cloud felt.
In a weird sense, it would've been easier to take if they HAD been trying to kill him. At least that way, it would've meant that he mattered to someone, even as a target, instead of being a total nobody.
Even as he fantasized about how he would get back at the other guys -- if he could ever work up the courage -- the swinging doors to the laundry burst open and someone carrying a huge load of clothing strolled in. The heap of laundry was so large, all Cloud could really see of the person was a few spikes are dark brown hair.
"Hey, Private, do me a favor, if you don't mind?"
Cloud started, then realized that he was being addressed by the laundry carrier. Peering around the clothes, he saw a good-looking, dark-haired guy with striking violet-grey eyes.
Glowing violet-grey eyes.
The person was a SOLDIER, which explained how he could carry with no apparent effort a load of laundry that would've taken at least two normal guys to manage. And although the SOLDIER didn't have any rank insignia on his casual uniform, all SOLDIERs were officers which pretty much gave him the authority to order Cloud to do anything he liked.
"Um... sir?" Cloud stammered.
"Could you give me a hand and round up the escapees for me?"
When the SOLDIER jerked his head expressively toward the hallway behind him, Cloud saw the scattered clothes littering the floor like a trail of breadcrumbs leading from the elevator.
"Oh, sure. Right away, sir."
As Cloud headed for the swinging doors, he heard the sergeant in charge, a narrow-faced sour-tempered martinet called Carter, yell in a shockingly cheerful voice, "Hey, Zack! You could've just given me a call and I'd have sent some guys to pick up the stuff!"
"No biggie, Carter. I was coming down here anyway," the SOLDIER replied with a careless shrug.
Whoever this Zack guy was, he had to be somebody important, considering the way that Sergeant Carter and his assistants casually shoveled other officers' clothes aside to clear the counter for him.
Out in the much cooler hallway, Cloud took his time picking up the clothes that had evidently escaped from Zack's pile. By the time he reached the elevator doors, he had retrieved three socks (black), a tanktop (also black), and one pair of briefs (again black). No, make that two pairs of black briefs -- the second one had been dangling from a frond of one of the blatantly fake potted plants that represented someone's feeble attempt at interior decorating.
Cloud frowned, wondering who the hell worn all black underwear, anyway, which was definitely NOT regulation. On the other hand, he was pretty sure that SOLDIERs, unlike humble junior cadets, didn't have to worry about people pulling down their pants to do spot checks on the color of their underwear.
There was something else odd about the clothes he was holding. It was their smell, or lack thereof. Cloud had a pretty sensitive nose and after living for months in the barracks, he was all too familiar with the pong of sweaty, dirty laundry. But the underwear he held didn't smell anything like that. Curious, he held them a bit closer and took a deeper sniff. Still nothing, not even the usual smell of detergent or clothes softener.
Returning to the hot, steamy laundry area, he saw the Zack guy briskly sorting his huge load of clothes into two smaller piles.
"Mine, mine, his, mine, his, his, his, mine, mine, his, mine, his, mine, his, mine, mine, his, his, mine, his...."
One of the counter guys suddenly leaned forward and started to reach for something.
"Yo, what's this...?"
"Oops!" Zack yelped and snatched something right out from under the other guy's fingers. Cloud didn't get a good look at it, but he thought that whatever it was, it was frilly and bright green.
However, the troopers at the counter evidently got a better look at the mysterious item because they immediately burst out into a loud chorus of wolf-whistles and howls of glee.
"Woohoo! Whassup, Zack!?"
"Who's the lady!? Details! We want details!"
Holding the item in a clenched hand behind his back, Zack grinned smugly and said in gallant tones, "Hey, I don't kiss and tell, okay? I'm a gentleman."
For that response, he was roundly booed and hissed.
"Aw, c'mon Zack! Be a sport and tell us something! You always find the best babes!" one of the counter guys said, clutching his hands and looking pitiful.
"All right, all right!" He pulled his hand from his back and held up the item in question -- a pair of emerald green female panties, very silky, very lacy, and even to Cloud's vastly inexperienced eyes, very expensive. Zack dangled the panties tantalizingly before their faces.
"This, I'll have you know, is a souvenir of a truly memorable evening with a gorgeous, smart, and incredibly sexy blond."
Groans of blatant jealousy rose from the troopers, and even the hatchet-faced sergeant looked a bit envious.
"Oh, don't tell us you're going to stop there, Zack!"
"Yeah! What's her name? And her phone number!" the youngest of the troopers at the counter yelled. He was immediately pummeled, albeit playfully, by his companions.
"Not saying," Zack said with a wicked little smirk.
The sergeant winked at his men and said solemnly, "Well, if he wants to hide the fact that he's sleeping with Director Scarlet...."
Zack staggered and clutched at his chest.
"What are you trying to do, Carter, give me a friggin' heart attack!? Don't even joke about something like that! SOLDIERs are brave, but we're not suicidal! And if you think that I'm going to allow someone like her near my private parts, you're nuts or aiming for a psych discharge! Besides, I don't like pain!"
Carter smirked, "Then be nice to the boys and cough up a few more details. Not that they're likely to come remotely close to scoring the way you do, but hey, that's their problem."
Zack sighed and said, "Okay, the hottie in question lives up on the Upper Plate, is a little younger than me (which totally rules out Scarlet), is a short-haired natural blond (which again rules out Scarlet), has stunning pure blue eyes, and a mouth that can drive a lover absolutely wild."
The SOLDIER then stuffed the green lacy panties in a back pocket and folded his arms, saying, "And not even wild chocobos will drag another word about this beauty out of me. Not even if you threaten to soil my reputation with slander about Scarlet."
As the troopers working the counter looked disappointed and shuffled back to their work, Zack turned and saw Cloud standing behind him, still clutching the handful of retrieved clothing.
"Thanks!" Zack said easily, grabbing the underwear. He extracted one sock and threw it onto the 'mine' pile, while the remaining socks, the briefs, and the tanktop went on the 'his' pile.
"Uh... no problem... Sir!" Cloud added hastily and belatedly saluting when he received a sharp glare from Sergeant Carter.
"At ease, Private," Zack said cheerfully as he resumed sorting the clothes.
As Cloud reluctantly made his way back toward the washers and driers, he heard the sergeant bellow in outrage.
Whirling, he saw Carter holding up a dark leather... jacket? No, it was an extremely muddy and badly ripped black leather coat.
"Yeah, I know. Total loss," Zack said with a shrug. "The pants aren't much better, which is why I need to order up a few more of both. Your cousin's still got the pattern, right?"
"Sure, no problem." Carter then added with a slight frown, "But you know, what you're asking for is custom work and my cousin has to charge accordingly. You could just order them directly through Uniform Requisitions for a lot cheaper."
"No can do. Whoever handles the leatherwork contract for Requisitions uses crappy quality stuff and they treat the leather with something that reeks. Hell, he refuses to even let those leathers into his quarters, much less wear 'em."
Trying to look busy while doing the minimum amount of actual work, Cloud wondered who the hell was this 'he' or 'him' that Zack kept talking about.
"Well, my cousin probably wouldn't mind giving you a discount when he knows who the goods are for."
Zack laughed and replied, "Don't worry about the money. It's not coming out of my pocket, so your cousin can charge anything within reason."
Carter grinned, "Fine, then I'll pass on the message. Might take a few days for the first set, depending on his workload, and another week for the remainder."
"No problem. Oh, and have you got those dress shirts?"
"Yup." The sergeant disappeared into his office and soon returned with several white shirts, each neatly hung on hangers and wrapped in plastic. "Dry-cleaned them myself. Not that it was a chore. I've got to say that they're some of the finest Gongaga silk I've seen in a long time. Beautiful work. Soft as hell. I had a hard time keeping my hands off 'em."
Zack grinned, "That's why I got them."
Having casually wandered back toward the counter area, where it was cooler, Cloud noticed the shirts weren't plain ordinary white, but rather a shimmering nearly metallic white that reminded him of platinum.
"They're nice, but pricey as hell," Carter commented.
"Shinra likes their top guys to look good and are willing to pay for it, so who I to complain?" Zack replied with a careless shrug. "Besides, when your superior officer's concept of dressing up for formal occasions consists of adding a shirt to his outfit, there's really not much room for pizzazz. So jazzing up the shirt it is."
Sergeant Carter said amiably, "I would've thought that a general's aide would be able to get out of handling scut work like laundry."
Zack leaned over the counter and beckoned the sergeant closer. In a mock-whisper that even Cloud could hear clearly, the SOLDIER said, "I'll let you in on a little secret, Carter. Sorry to disillusion you, but 'aide' is just a glorified word for 'go-fer'. My job consists of doing pretty much whatever my superior officer wants me to do, including laundry, walking his chocobo, cleaning up the office, finishing off excess paperwork, and all sorts of glamorous stuff like that."
He reached out, took the dress shirts, and slung them over his shoulder.
"Anyway, I've got to get back to the grind. The 'Powers That Be' want the mission reports ASAP."
"Sure thing, Zack. When the leathers come in, I'll send you a message." He suddenly whipped around and growled at the troopers behind him. "What the hell did I tell you bozos before? All SOLDIERs' laundry gets washed with the unscented stuff!"
Distracted by Carter's shouting, Cloud jumped as he felt a light pat on his back.
"Hey, thanks for the help, Private Strife," Zack said and gave him a warm, friendly smile.
And while a bitter voice in the back of Cloud's head jeered and muttered that Cloud hadn't done much and the SOLDIER hadn't really needed his help at all, Cloud still felt almost painfully grateful, and perhaps just a little bit happy. It was the first time in months --- perhaps the first time since he'd arrived in Midgar -- that anyone had genuinely thanked him for anything.
He watched bemusedly as the SOLDIER named Zack headed through the swinging doors and disappeared into the elevator, then turned to the sergeant.
"Sir... who is that guy?"
Carter scowled at him, as if he thought Cloud was trying to play games with him. Finally, he snapped, "Where the hell have you been all these months, Private?"
(Where have -I- been since joining Shinra? Mostly stuck in the latrines cleaning crap out of toilet bowls, scrubbing vegetables, and other shit details like that!)
"That's Zack, SOLDIER First Class, and the General's SiC." At Cloud's blank look, the sergeant said, "Second-in-Command, got it? And yeah, he just brought in his and the General's laundry."
"General...? You mean, THE General!?" Cloud stammered, his voice rising to a squeak. Did that mean that the underwear he'd picked up and which Zack had tossed into the 'his' pile belonged to THE General!?
One of the guys in his squad sneered and said, "Yeah, General as in General Sephiroth, Clod-boy! God, and you being such a SOLDIER wanna-be!"
"C'mon, get your lazy asses back to work!" barked the sergeant, all trace of friendliness gone.
But as his squadmates scurried off, Cloud remained frozen, staring at his empty hand.
He had traveled all the way from Nibelheim to Midgar in the hopes of becoming a SOLDIER, of becoming someone important and respected, of perhaps even surpassing the great General Sephiroth. And after all these months, how far had he gotten in his quest? What exactly had he managed to achieve so far?
Had he meet Sephiroth? No. Had he even managed to see the General in person? Yes, if seeing the General from the rearmost ranks of a large-scale troop assembly counted.
Now he could add to his resume the fact that he had personally handled -- and sniffed! -- the great Sephiroth's dirty laundry.
And wasn't that somehow the story of his life?
Zack was still chortling softly as he walked into Sephiroth's quarters. The general wondered if he should ask or whether he was happier not knowing. He eventually decided that he'd better ask, just in case.
After Zack finished relating the details of the conversation in the laundry, Sephiroth struggled to keep the smile off his lips. Zack would only take it as encouragement to behave more outrageously. How someone so astute and steady on-duty in the field could be such a lunatic and trouble magnet off-duty still boggled his mind.
Rising to his feet, Sephiroth said drily, "I see. You cruelly tease them with tantalizing hints of a pleasurable, amorous evening, and all the while you oh so casually neglect to tell them that the gorgeous, smart, sexy blond in question is Rufus Shinra."
He reached into Zack's back pocket, pulled out the emerald green silk lace panties, then dangled it in front of Zack's face with a slight smirk.
"And that -YOU- were the one wearing these."