Sephiroth. Cloud. Serious talk. Hard liquor. Music. This can't end well.
Booze and Mako
"Just how many of these little 'talks' are we going to have, Strife?" Sephiroth leaned back in his seat, feeling the carving on the wood press uncomfortably against his spine through his thin shirt. He forced himself to remain still. He would not fidget in front of the blond man sitting right across the small table, not on this matter. He watched as Strife, stone-faced and silent, reached for the bottle on the table and smoothly poured himself a drink. Not being a drinking man, he had no idea what it was and did not care. He watched as Strife frowned at the drink but made no move to pick up the glass, obviously lost in thought. Sephiroth resisted the urge to speak again.
He did not move his head, but slowly broadened his focus to see the one-time Avalanche leader and the pilot, Wallace and Highwind, in one dim corner of the bar. Their heads were bent low over their cards, their shoulders tightly set. Sephiroth knew he had never seen them that quiet. It seemed that Strife had brought reinforcements. Tifa had not opened the bar today. He wondered just what Strife had done to get her to agree to this. The blond man was getting more ridiculous about this by the day. Ridiculous and possibly dangerous. Strife had the tone, the posture and bearing of a trained warrior.
Sephiroth was a warrior himself and instinctively, he glanced around to see what he could use to defend himself. He had brought no weapons to this meeting, had no knives up his sleeve, or blades in his boots. He had been willing to make peace with Strife and intended to show that in every way, even forgoing his armored coat for simple black shirt and pants. And his gloves, of course. With things quickly growing even more tense than they usually were when Strife broached the matter, he took quick stock of the barstools, the smoothly polished tables and chairs. A bottle broken just right would do, but the thought of a brawl hardly appealed to him, even if it was only self-defense on his part, and he did not care to trash Tifa's bar. If only her hardheaded husband would just let it drop.
The front door swung open and all heads turned as a somewhat rumpled redhead walked in. Reno flashed them all a grin. "Sorry I'm late," he hollered at them, though from his tone and his grin he was obviously not. He sauntered over to the jukebox in the corner and began fiddling with it. Strife finally seemed satisfied and downed his drink in a flash. Sephiroth grew even more alarmed. Strife had been waiting for more support all along? And a Turk at that? This was not good. He looked past the yellow spikes at the blue-suited man.
"Oh, yeah!" An upbeat rhythm filled the half-lit room and Reno began bobbing his head in time as he moved over to join the card game. Strife reached over the table and Sephiroth prepared to defend himself but the shorter man only put a full glass down in front of him. Sephiroth stared at the golden liquid, confused.
"Drink up," Strife said dryly as he refilled his own glass. Sephiroth frowned at the glass.
"I don't drink, Strife. I only came here because you said you wanted to talk."
Cloud polished off his second shot in response. "Drink and we'll talk." Sephiroth could hardly have felt more disgusted with the man. Wariness was giving way to anger. It was becoming clear that if he wanted things finished quickly, he would have to take matters into his own hands.
"Look, Strife, Aerith is with me by her own choice and believe it or not, she is safe. And happy." There. It was out in the open. Let Strife take that as he would.
The blond lifted his head to glare, the cold blue eyes narrowing in contained anger. "Drink!" When had Strife developed such a commanding tone and what made him think he had the right to use it? Sephiroth crossed his arms and clenched his teeth in a show of stubbornness.
"What for, Strife. I've already told you what you wanted to hear. I've told it to you over and over! If you think I'll tell you something else if I get drunk enough, forget it! There's nothing different to say." Sephiroth braced himself for an outburst but did not get one. The smaller man only leaned back slowly in his seat, his stare unwavering.
"If that's the case," he spoke softly, with words that held a taunting lilt, "what's one drink?"
Sephiroth had only wanted one thing that evening, before the blond man had 'invited' him over for this farce of a conversation, and that was to be back in his room with the one he loved in his arms. He reached out slowly to touch the glass but kept his eyes on Strife all the while. If this was what it would take to get out of this peacefully and be back where he belonged, so it would be. It was a small price to pay.
He raised the glass to his lips and paused for a moment. The smell was threatening to make his eyes water. He had never been able to stand the scent of liquor and the one time a certain dark-haired subordinate of his had conned him into actually swallowing the stuff... He hoped Aerith would understand when he stumbled in. He had never asked for his strange body chemistry.
"One drink, Strife, and I'm leaving immediately after." The blond did not even blink. Sephiroth was aware of the attention the situation had garnered from two of the men in the corner. The third was either better at covering his gaze or truly too wrapped up in the music. Too many witnesses either way. It did not matter. Anything for Aerith, after all.
The former General braced himself. He threw his head back and swallowed in a rush. The less he actually tasted it, the better. It was useless. Whatever Strife had chosen, it was potent. Sephiroth slammed the glass back down on the table and doubled over, coughing hard. The liquid burned a fiery trail from his tongue all the way to his stomach. The aftertaste was absolutely revolting. And the festivity had hardly begun. He cried out hoarsely and slammed his head down on the table with his arms wrapped around his middle. Dear Gods, people did this for fun?
"What's the matter over there?" He heard the words from the corner. "The psycho can't hold his liquor?" He bit down on a groan and tried to focus on getting the coughing under control. It was true after all. All he could hope for now was that they would just leave him enough dignity to walk out of there and go back to the inn where Aerith waited for him before the real trouble started.
He forced himself to draw deep breaths and ignore the uncomfortable burning sensation. With a little more effort he drew himself upright once more, breathing hard all the while. All eyes were on him and that blasted music was still playing in the background. At least the rhythm was good, something he could lose himself in to keep his mind off the wide blue eyes right in front of him. It was something of a relief that Strife at least had the decency to look shocked instead of satisfied.
"No wonder you don't drink," the blond murmured. "Is it like that for you every time?" Sephiroth glared at the man, at the same time doubting the effect of anything he was able to muster at the moment.
"There aren't that many times," he almost growled. Control was slipping away from him already. He could feel it. Strife reached for the nearly empty glass and Sephiroth wondered exactly what the shorter man thought he was doing.
"Have another." Strife poured more of the vile liquid into the glass and set it down closer to the former general. "It would help if you build up a tolerance." Sephiroth stared in disbelief. Then he exploded.
"Are you crazy? I'm not touching another drop of that stuff! I can already feel my liver shriveling up as it is!" He clutched his midsection and slumped forward onto the table again.
Strife, wide-eyed with astonishment, downed another glass himself. How many did this one make now? It didn't matter. Cid was walking over to one of the closer tables. This was apparently more interesting than a simple card game.
"Big guy like you can't handle one little shot?" he taunted. "And here everybody was thinking you were one tough cookie!" Sephiroth answered before Cloud could tell the pilot to shut the hell up.
"Yes, Highwind, I can't hold my ale. I get wasted just smelling regular rubbing alcohol. You're a bigger man than me. Happy now?" He rolled his forehead to touch the wooden surface. Thick locks of silver hair slid downwards and the ends pooled on the floor. The dark soldier either did not notice or did not care.
Cloud had no idea what to do. He really had only wanted to get the truth out of the tall man. He had not expected Sephiroth to react like this and to be honest, he had the slight suspicion that he might have gone a little overboard with the alcohol himself. You had to be careful with Wutai imports.
He poured himself another shot.
Across the table, Sephiroth was mumbling something and if Cloud listened hard enough, he could just pick out words from the jumbled stream. "Hate it . . .smells so bad . . .burns like hell . . .wanna go home, I just wanna go home . . ."
There was something that was just pitiful about the whole thing. Cloud almost felt sorry for the silver-haired man. He had never heard Sephiroth speak the way he had to Cid and this incoherent flow of words was definitely not what he would have expected from the man. Sephiroth seemed to be in real pain, or at the very least was experiencing some terrible discomfort. And it was all Cloud's fault, wasn't it?
The blond man sighed. This was not turning out the way he had hoped. Sephiroth was in no shape to spill his guts. Now all Cloud could do was make sure the man got home safely. He would do it for Aerith, if not for the man himself. "Sephiroth?"
The other man raised his head wearily from the table. The edge of the table had left a vivid red imprint on his forehead, but it faded in a breath. The green eyes that had always glowed with intelligence and fury were disturbingly blank.
"What?" The word held no sharpness. Cloud sighed.
"One drink and you were going to leave, remember? Come on. I'll get you back to the inn."
Sephiroth brightened and hollered loudly, "Yes, back to the inn! That's all I want!" Cloud heard the snickers in the background and Barret commenting on just how out of it the soldier was but Sephiroth continued unabated. "I just wanna go back to the inn. I wanna go up to my suite and get to the bedroom. Then I can do a good hot striptease for Aerith! She loves that!"
If not for the music blaring from the corner, there would have been no sound at all. Cloud downed the contents of his glass. Then he took a good long drink from the bottle, enough to induce sputtering. He slammed the bottle back down on the table and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. "Striptease?" he asked, eyes wild.
Sephiroth answered honestly, with an expression of impossible innocence "Yes, striptease, yes, that's what I said. Striptease. Aerith likes it." Cloud took another gulp from the bottle.
"Whooooo! Go Sephy!" Reno whooped as he walked towards the table. "How the hell did you learn to do that, anyway?"
Sephiroth flashed him a smile that was almost sweet. "I got me some lessons a long time ago." He glanced up at the ceiling and tilted his head in the direction of the jukebox. "This is some pretty good music for it, actually." He bobbed his head in time to the beat, much as Reno had been doing before. "Very danceable."
Reno pulled a chair up to the table and straddled it, grinning. "Damn, Sephiroth! Aerith is one lucky woman!"
"Lucky?" Sephiroth seemed confused. Didn't they usually think she was in perpetual danger with him?
"Yeah!" Reno gave him a toothy smile. "She's got you all to herself. I bet that must be some show." Barret and Cid were not even bothering to hold back their laughter anymore.
"Yeah, I'll just bet!" Barret hollered. "Ole Seph stripping down to his skivvies!"
"Spinning around a pole," Cid hooted, laughing so hard that there were tears in his eyes. "In a thong!" He guffawed and pounded the table.
Sephiroth frowned, perplexed. What was so funny about it? What Aerith wanted, Aerith got. That was all. Reno spoke for him.
"Hey, Sephiroth could make a hell of a living as a male stripper. You know how many girls would be trying to book him for bachelorette parties and stuff. He'd make a killing with that body! Not like Blondie here." He punched Cloud playfully in the shoulder. The young man almost wobbled under the blow. "Wouldn't be too many people interested in seeing you shake that pancake you got for an ass." Now it was Cloud's turn to frown.
"That's not true!" Sephiroth leapt to the blond's defense, twice as loud as he usually was. "Cloud has a very nice ass!"
No one said a word. Only the sound of a drum machine was left, filling the air with a rhythm that was disturbingly like the rapid beating of a human heart. Three pairs of eyes roved back and forth between the two swordsmen, seeking some kind of response. Finally, Cloud spoke.
"I said," Sephiroth leaned forward, nearly yelling, stressing every word as if Cloud was almost deaf, "you have a VERY! NICE! ASS!" He settled back in his chair and continued quietly. "It's a very nice ass, I said. It's shapely. Firm. Tight." He nodded to himself, as if in confirmation. Everyone else was silent.
Cloud's mouth split into a wide grin. "Thanks!"