Zack's cooking is disasterous, so Cloud takes him out to a new place. Turkland!
Cloud hadn't taken more than one step into the lounge used exclusively by members of SOLDIER when the odor hit him. Wrinkling his nose, he hurried through the seating area to the kitchen, grabbing the fire extinguisher off the wall as he passed.
Holding the extinguisher ready, Cloud strode into the kitchen prepared to battle the flames, only to find none. The air was a hazy gray, but that was it. He frowned at the man standing at the stove.
"Zack, something's burning."
"That would've been the cod," Zack replied, cocking his head over his shoulder. "It got a little overdone. Don't worry, I doused it with some beer, so it should be edible."
Blond eyebrows shot up. Biting his bottom lip, the teenager eyed his friend.
"Why were you making cod?" he asked, almost afraid of the answer. He crept closer, keeping his finger on extinguisher's pull tab just in case.
"Well, I'm getting tired of the stuff they serve down in the Mess and I didn't want to go out and eat. So I thought I'd cook dinner for my best bud and I," Zack beamed, waving at the blond with one hand. The other was occupied with stirring a pot on the stove.
Peeking into the pot, Cloud tried to think of what would turn macaroni purple.
"What is that supposed to be?" He watched the macaroni noodles bob and turn in the boiling water. There was a faint aroma of cheese, but it was mixed with something else Cloud couldn't identify.
"Macaroni and cheese," Zack said proudly. "Although, I thought it needed something else. Swanson said that I could use up his eggplant. Since I know you need to have vegetables or fruit with every meal and they make noodles with eggs, I figured they'd go great with macaroni and cheese. Although, I expected them to have some sort of yolk..." The SOLDIER trailed off, confused, and continued stirring.
Cloud stared up at his friend in utter disbelief.
"Zack, eggplants are a plant. They have nothing in common with eggs at all. Plus," he gazed down at the bubbling mess and tried not to choke. "They don't go with macaroni and cheese."
"They don't even taste like eggs?"
Cloud shook his head.
"Hellfire!" Zack snarled throwing up his hands. Purple liquid from the stirring spoon flew everywhere. Most of it landed on the stove top and not in Cloud's face.
"And cod doesn't really go with it either. The beer was a good idea, but should've been added before you started cooking. It normally goes in the batter. Oh, and you need to drain the water from the noodles before adding the cheese," Cloud said gently, taking the spoon away from his friend. Setting the extinguisher on the ground, he reached over and turned off the burner before Zack could start a fire.
Zack paced back and forth in the kitchen grumbling while Cloud opened the oven to inspect the cod. There was nothing worth salvaging.
"It's too late to go out, all the restaurants are full this time of night and the crap at the stands over by the train station is as bad as the Mess. In fact, I think they get our leftovers." Sighing heavily, Zack crossed his arms over his navy turtleneck and scowled. "I just wanted something good to eat for once. I don't know how you stand it down in the Regulars' Mess. I was so glad when I made SOLDIER. That damn gruel was disgusting. Okay, admittedly it was probably one step up from gruel, but it still tasted awful! And how do you know so much about cooking?"
Cloud tapped the spoon on the edge of the pot to clean off the remaining liquid. Dropping it into the sink to his left, he turned, and leaning against the stainless steal counter, waited for Zack to finish fuming.
"Well, it was just Mom and me growing up, so she taught me to cook a little," Cloud answered. "I don't eat in the Regular's Mess often. Usually you sneak me food from the SOLDIER's Mess or I go get something from Turkland."
"Turkland?" Zack gave him a puzzled look. "Never heard of it."
"Well," Cloud glanced over at the pot of eggplant and macaroni and made a slightly disgusted face. "I don't go there too often, but it has some of the best food at ShinRa."
"Oh? How come I've never heard of it?"
Bringing his full attention back to Zack, Cloud gave him a sly smile.
"Because it's a secret."
Zack squared his shoulders, crossed his arms, and glared at Cloud.
They were standing in the back corner of the ShinRa military locker room, well hidden from the view of anyone passing by. The area was used for storage of extra uniforms, clearly marked by type and rank, for those who needed a quick replacement before going on duty.
Cloud, to Zack's amazement, had easily picked the lock to one of the Regulars' lockers. He was impressed the youth had paid attention to any of his 'Zack's Life Lessons' lectures. The lecture on 'What Will Not Get You Completely Drunk in Five Minutes" hadn't made a dent in that spikey blond head.
"No way. I'm not putting that on," Zack stated.
Cloud held up a Regular's standard blue Kevlar jacket, checking it for size, then thrust it at him.
"If you want to get into Turkland, you'll need to put on this and the helmet. You'll need to change your pants too."
Still reluctant, Zack took the offered jacket and held it as if it were going to bite.
"I worked hard to get away from this uniform, you know?" With a grudging sigh he slipped it on and zipped it up. "I take it this place has a dress code? Regulars only?"
"Sort of," Cloud replied tossing the standard issue helmet with mask at him.
"Sort of?" Tucking the ends of his black hair under his collar, Zack stuffed the helmet on his head. He felt ridiculous and confined. He'd always hated the helmet.
"Yeah, sort of." Studying him for a moment, Cloud shook his head. "Gotta change the pants too. They're not the right style or shade. I'm going to have to get into the other locker, hang on."
"Strife." Zack growled as Cloud hopped over the bench separating the locker bays. Cloud ignored him and, pulling out the little picks he'd used earlier, set to work on the next locker. With a heavy sigh, Zack plopped down on the bench to wait.
"So explain to me again why we're crawling through the ducts and why I couldn't do this in my normal clothes?" Zack said, ducking lower so that he didn't hit his head on the top of the metal tube.
After leaving the locker room, Cloud had lead Zack on a merry romp over half the ShinRa building, ducking in and out of various hallways, up stairs and through the library. All of it was done in a convoluted twisting pattern that made no sense to Zack since he was sure they'd passed through the lounge on floor 60 twice. The maze had finally ended at a room marked "Experimental Data", which oddly enough contained four computers, one bookshelf crammed with data disks, a cot, a blanket, a pillow, a recent copy of a popular porno magazine, and a stuffed pink rabbit. Zack didn't want to know about the rabbit.
Climbing up on the cot, Cloud opened the large grate covering the ventilation shaft . He dropped the grate at the foot of the cot, scuttled inside the shaft, then called for Zack to follow.
"The reason we're crawling through the ducts is that we don't have access to this floor. The reason we're wearing the clothes is because we want to disguise who we are," Cloud explained following the incline in the duct." They've installed security cameras."
Zack paused mid-crawl. "Security cameras? Strife, where exactly are we going?"
"I told you. Turkland," Cloud replied matter-of-factly.
Several minutes later, Cloud came to a halt next to a grate. After a moment of work, he managed to pry it off and handed it to Zack. The SOLDIER watched with growing respect as the teenager reached down and carefully turned the security camera so that it was pointing slightly to the left. Taking the grate back from Zack, he replaced it and moved on to another grate a little further down.
The action was repeated at the second grate, only the camera was moved to the right. Once that was done, they moved to a third grate. As they approached it, Zack noticed a long pole with what appeared to be the hook end of a metal coat hanger duct taped to it at one end. Eyeing it, he waited for Cloud to explain himself.
"Hand me the pole," Cloud said, tucking the last grate behind him.
Still curious, Zack obliged.
"Thanks." Cloud lowered the pole, coat hanger end first, down and left. Below, something scraped across the floor as he brought it back to the right. Nodding slightl, Cloud handed the pole back to Zack. "Okay, we're in."
"You'll see." Cloud dropped down out of the duct.
Following his friend, Zack landed on a chair and looked around.
The kitchen was clean, neat, with white walls and black linoleum floors. To his left was a table with several folding chairs. Glancing up at the duct they just exited, Zack was beginning to wonder exactly how long Cloud had been doing this.
"So this is Turkland?" He jumped down from the chair and peered around the wall separating the kitchen from the next room.
"Yep." Already at the refrigerator, Cloud had it open and was taking inventory. "Oh, just as a note, anything labeled 'Rude' should be avoided. He likes jalapeÃ±os and four star Wutai-ese."
"Right, Turk-land. I get it now," Zack snickered, crossing over to examine the fridge. "So, what's on the menu?"
Cloud continued rifling through the refrigerator, handing Zack various containers and a couple of bottles of expensive fruit juice before opening the freezer, and setting to work in there.
"I should stand guard," Zack commented, inching towards the entrance. "They might come back."
"It's end of the day meeting time," Cloud said, hauling out a white box with gold lettering on it. He peeked inside and grinned. "They won't be back for another forty-five minutes. Tseng tends to rattle on, or at least that's what the red-head told me."
"You spoke with a Turk?" Zack arched and eyebrow. Turks rarely spoke with anyone in the lower ranks, unless it was an order to get out of their way.
"I had to deliver something here from command. This red-headed guy was sitting over there eating when I came in. He went on about how he wasn't looking forward to the meeting and then gave me the rest of his sandwich. Didn't want it to go to waste."
"Ah, I see," Zack smiled. "I take it you've been doing this a while?"
Holding his frozen prize, Cloud retreated to the chair. He stuffed the box inside the duct.
"For about five months. It was a good thing I was on security room duty the day they put those cameras in or they'd have caught me," he commented hoisting himself up after the box. "Come on, I'm starving."
Checking to make sure they hadn't left any sign of their pillaging, Zack carried his portion of the booty to the duct. He almost wanted to be there when the Turks arrived back from their meeting and found half their food swiped. It would be priceless.
Sephiroth wandered into the SOLDIER's kitchen and came to a dead stop, The stainless steel table normally used for food preparation had been turned into a smorgasbord. Containers of all shapes and sized, most of them made of white cardboard, were being emptied onto plates by tow, cheerfully chattering, spiky haired men in Regulars' uniforms. Never mind that one of them had no business being in that uniform and hadn't for a while. Arching one silver eyebrow, he watched them divvy up proportion between them.
"Hey Sephiroth!" Zack called, waving his fork at him. "Wanna join us?"
Green eyes lit on the white box they were currently taking bites from. "That tiramisu was for Tseng's birthday."
Both younger men stopped mid-bite. In unison they looked from the box to the General and back.
"Well, too late now," Zack shrugged, sticking his fork back in the dessert.
"It's really good," Cloud said, sheepishly licking his fork.
Sephiroth sighed deeply. "Zack..."
"Mmm?" The dark haired SOLDIER blinked, his mouth full of fork and cake.
"You do realize that if the Turks catch you, they have a perfect right to have you..."
"It wasn't me!" Zack protested, swallowing quickly. "This was all him!" He pointed to Cloud.
Sephiroth's eyebrows shot up. He gave Zack a skeptical look, then shifted his gaze to the blond. "I...see."
"Really!" Zack exclaimed.
"No, I believe you." Sephiroth smiled a bit too tightly.
Cloud poked at the cake.
Eyeing his General warily, Zack reached for an extra plate. "Tiramisu?"
Sephiroth hesitated, then shrugged. The damage was already done. Grabbing a fork, he sat down next to Zack. "Give me a corner piece."