I am not going to overthink this. Here is the first of the three fills (the post was too large to include them all at once, the shorter of the two will be getting their own post). Expect a delay on any further fills, because it is once again tennis season in Australia.
A. FF7/Fifth act
C. Yeah! Shinra want to sell their first class action figures, Cloud FC , a Cross-dressing mission and mother hen Angeal
AN: I don't think I managed to hit all the details of your prompt, but hopefully this suffices.
“There are rumours that Don Corneo has come into possession into some potentially highly dangerous ShinRa cargo,” Sephiroth reported, silver brows furrowing on the last few words. “We cannot risk a frontal assault, lest the… merchandise gets damaged, so we’re performing an infiltration mission.”
“I exercise my right to refuse missions,” Cloud said immediately.
“How does he do that?” Zack complained. “Is this another one of those future things?”
Sephiroth, Cloud, Zack, Angeal, and Cissnei were gathered in the Briefing Room. Lazard was nowhere to be found – no doubt preferring to avoid being the one to issue this particular mission. Kunsel’s scarcity was telling in itself, too.
“SOLDIER First Class Cloud Strife,” Cissnei greeted, stepping in. “I assume you already know what the infiltration would entail, then?”
Cloud glowered at her. The slight brunette looked and acted, sweet, but Cloud had known far too many brunettes who also looked and acted sweet but would happily carve up marlboros with nothing more than a dagger. He wouldn’t be taken in by it. She was a Turk, after all.
“I understand your reluctance, but it’s very important, and I’m afraid our options are… somewhat limited.”
“What about you?” he asked pointedly.
“We need to stack the deck,” Angeal cut in, his tone light and diplomatic. It occurred to Cloud why exactly Angeal was there – to soothe the inevitably ruffled feathers, to put him at ease, and to be the steady voice of reason. It would have worked with almost any other SOLDIER in the program – and probably had many times in the past - but Cloud and Angeal had far too much water under the bridge between them for that. The grin the older SOLDIER was struggling to conceal didn’t help matters, either. “Cissnei’s the Turk representative, but we need some muscle to back her up, and we can’t risk having other innocent civilians in the way.”
“And this way we quadruple our chances for success,” Cissnei agreed.
“We have already drafted SOLDIER Second Class Luxiere, and Commander Genesis has graciously agreed as to help as well,” Sephiroth remarked in a flat tone. Cloud glared at him, too. He had a much better poker face than Angeal, but Cloud could sense the amusement coming from him.
“So?” Cloud asked. “That’s three, right? Why do you need me too?”
“Don Corneo typically brings four girls in a time,” the General explained with an air of patience.
…Perhaps Don Corneo had become less picky as he grew older. Four girls? Three struck him as a bit pathetic. Or maybe his private little empire had actually shrunk by the time AVALANCHE came onto the scene. More girls to entertain more employees.
Cloud’s skin started itching.
“…We wouldn’t ask this of you,” Cissnei said apologetically. She was really very good at faking it. “But you understand, in SOLDIER...”
“Mostly beefcake, right?” Zack cut in with a laugh.
Cissnei smiled. “Right. You could put all the makeup in the world on them and they’d still look manlier than half of the regular security forces. Take the General, for example. He wouldn’t even need a wig, but it wouldn’t fool anyone for half a minute.” Sephiroth inclined his head in acknowledgement, lips twitching at the thought.
“Aren’t there any actual women you can ask?” Cloud asked in a deadpan. “Rosso, for example?” He was fairly sure that in order to have been interred into Deep Ground as one of the top Tsviets, Rosso had to have at least been in SOLDIER by this point.
“Rosso, that redheaded Third?” Zack asked, puzzled. “Why are you asking about him? I guess he could pull it off, but he doesn’t have the security clearance yet apparently.”
…That was more information than Cloud ever wanted to know about Rosso the Crimson.
Wait. “And I have the security clearance?”
“The Turks are of the opinion that since you are from the future, you are logically already aware of the company’s secrets,” Cissnei replied. “Thus security clearance is a moot point.”
Cloud stared at them. They all returned his gaze expectantly.
“Aww, come on Cloud!” Zack cajoled. “You could be saving lives! What’s a bit of discomfort?”
“Not interested.” His answer was final, and they all heard it.
Angeal sighed. “Guess that leaves us with no choice, then.” He turned to his former student. “Zack, it’s going to be up to you.”
Cloud felt tired just watching them.
The Equipment Room had been overtaken by the three SOLDIERs preparing for the evening’s mission – several hours in advance at Cissnei’s insistence. Given their current progress, the Turk had known exactly what she was doing. They were going to need every minute.
Though why Zack hadn’t used his rights as a First Class to refuse the mission defied all understanding.
At least one person was happy about it. “I’m really excited we’re finally going on a mission together, Zack!” Luxiere gushed. Cloud hoped the eyelash-batting was simply a reflex from the unfamiliarity of wearing makeup. “I’ve wanted to work in the field with you for a long time.”
“Hey, thanks man,” Zack said, grinning even as he struggled with his silky black wig. It wasn’t going well, and the manhandling would have it soon resembling his usual spiky hairdo. “Doubt we’ll see much action, though. It’s supposed to be infiltration and all.”
“Depends on what your definition of action is,” Genesis sniped. “Stop that, you’re wrecking it. Here, let me.” He snatched the wig from Zack’s fingers and started attempting to comb out the tangles, a pained look on his face.
“Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea,” Angeal said, sounding in some parts worried, but mostly amused. “Zack doesn’t have such a great track record on stealth missions.”
“Hey, totally not my fault!” Zack protested. Genesis started muttering oaths to the Goddess under his breath.
Genesis at least seemed to have a flair for makeup that no one could account for, and he’d put these skills to marvellous use on himself and Luxiere, making their skin smooth and blemish-free, and using careful application of blush and tones to round their faces and soften the edges. They were also both wearing ample mascara and eyeliner, presumably to help hide the slight glow in their eyes. A casual observer would pass it off as a trick of contrast in the makeup rather than the mark of a SOLDIER.
By no means did either of them make beautiful women yet, but they were… convincing enough, if both a little too tall and broad. Luxiere’s wig of tumbling brown curls distracted the eye from his unusually muscled shoulders, and a carefully arranged shawl of fluffy white fur – likely from a northern couerl – when wrapped around his arms would give off both an air of elegance and the illusion of a better chest than what the stuffing could provide.
For his part, Genesis had donned a wig of red hair, a shade brighter than his natural colour, and perfectly matched by the red high-necked dress he wore. He had been in the process of attempt to wrest it into twist, and presumably would adorn it with the glittering hairclips scattered across the table. The dress itself was a heavily decorated affair, with sequins and ruffles in all of the right places, the complexity artfully hiding the lack of curves. A black feather boa would complete the ensemble.
In short, they were works in progress, but it was easy to see how once their outfits were fully assembled – stockings and shoes and jewellery – and the last touches on their hair and makeup were added, that they might even pass into the realm of attractive.
Zack, on the other hand…
“Stop blinking!” Genesis ordered, having temporarily wrested Zack’s wig into order – at the expense of his own – and now moving on to makeup.
Even with the dress and wig and the beginnings of makeup, Zack still looked exactly like Zack. Luxiere and Genesis were well on their way to being not only convincing women but also professional escorts. Zack, on the other hand, hadn’t yet even crossed the line to tomboyish.
There was no way they wouldn’t get found out immediately. The whole mission would be a bust before they even made it in the front door.
“This is stupid,” Cloud muttered to himself. But he couldn’t just sit back and watch them get exposed and compromise the whole mission. Lives could be at stake. “Zack, go get changed.”
“Huh?” The SOLDIER paused, one eye still fluttering under Genesis’s mascara brush.
“I’ll do it,” he grumbled. “Stay here. I’ll be back in three hours.”
“Are you certain that’s what he said?” Cissnei demanded. She’d turned up half an hour before, dressed in a little emerald green party number that showed off an obscene amount of leg, and looking entirely unselfconscious about it. “Maybe we should try and get Zack dressed again, in case.”
Genesis scoffed from where he was still fussing over his makeup in the mirror. “Impossible. A week would not be time enough.”
“We kept going for an hour anyway, just in case, but the best we could manage was making him look like a very obvious transvestite,” Angeal remarked.
Zack rubbed the back of his neck with a sheepish grin, and tried his best not to be offended. “Guess I’m not suited. Sorry!” He’d been happy enough to help, and hey, he wasn’t afraid of a bit of embarrassment, but it became quickly apparent that he’d never be able to pull it off.
Luxiere was sulking, disappointed at the prospect of no longer running a mission with him. Zack didn’t see the big deal – there’d be other missions, although he guessed the prospect of having to run a mission with Genesis and Cloud would be enough to make most Second Classes nervous.
The door to the Equipment Room whooshed open, and five heads swivelled expectantly towards it. Five sets of shoulders drooped when Sephiroth entered instead. The General paused. “I’m sorry?”
“Waiting on Cloud, sir,” Zack explained.
He nodded. “I see. I was wondering why you hadn’t left yet.”
“I’m still surprised he changed his mind,” Angeal added.
Sephiroth pursed his lips. “Yes. Cloud does not... change his mind easily.”
Cissnei checked her bracelet – or rather, her watch, artfully disguised as a bracelet. “We have to leave soon, or we’ll miss the window.”
“Cloud is nearby,” Sephiroth assured her. “He should be here any moment.” That earned a reliable scowl from Genesis.
Before he had the chance to remark, however, the door whooshed open once more.
The woman who stepped in froze all of the SOLDIERs in their tracks.
She wore a simple dress – plain purple silk that clung to her hips and slid aside to reveal a tantalising glimpse of pale, toned leg, clad in pantyhose that shimmered in the artificial light. Her gloves reached beyond her elbows, and revealing only the barest tease of pale shoulder blades beneath the loose, silky shawl wrapped around her shoulders, constantly threatening to slide down and expose the collarbones beneath.
Blonde curls framed a delicate face of smooth skin and full, glossy lips. A diamond tiara lay nestled, gleaming, in her hair. The scent of cologne drifted through the air, a subtle perfume of mountain roses and vanilla liquor. She wore only the lightest traces of blush and eyeshadow, but through thick eyelashes, her eyes seemed to glow.
“The goddess descends from the sky
Wings of light and dark spread afar,
She guides us to bliss, her gift everlasting…” Genesis breathed. The rest of them had been struck dumb.
Until Cissnei shattered the stunned reverie with a short nod of approval. “Excellent, Strife. I knew you could pull it off!”
Zack made a series of sounds that might have been swearing, or possibly just words lacking any sort of vowels. Luxiere gaped. Angeal blinked, and hurriedly averted his eyes to the ceiling in a somewhat guilty fashion.
Sephiroth, for his part, had adopted a curiously blank gaze.
“So Cloud,” the General said in a tone of perfect neutrality, “I take it then, that you’ve done this before?"
Cloud stepped forward, expression shifting subtly into one of threat. Normally, this would have all of the SOLDIERs in radius clearing out at supersonic speeds, or at the very least reaching for the nearest sharp thing in defence.
For once though, Cloud didn’t have his crazy sword on him, so the danger, while real, wasn’t quite so mortal. And dressed like that… the stance looked feline, and predatory, and the glare that promised death turned into something more like a heated smoulder.
In short, it looked a lot less like he was about to murder Sephiroth, and a lot more like he was about to jump his bones.
“Shiva, that’s hot,” Zack blurted.
Everyone turned to look at him. Including Cloud, whose eyes narrowed even further, and that wasn’t helping his case at all.
“What?! Just because I have a totally awesome girlfriend doesn’t mean I can’t recognise hot when I see it!” Zack protested.
Genesis swept forward, visibly fascinated. With silk-gloved hands, he delicately caught the blond’s chin and tilted his head from side to side, inspecting it – Cloud caught too off guard to do anything more than comply in surprise. “I recognise this work. The foundation is of the finest quality, the makeup subtle, the absolutely perfect edging around the eyes… How did you get her to do it?”
“Who?” Cissnei asked, looking interested.
“The makeup artisan of the Sector Six Theatre Grand!”
Cloud stepped back somewhat carefully. “…Is that her regular job? I met her at the Honeybee Inn.”
“I thought the Honeybee Inn was Member’s Only,” Zack commented. At the stern look from Angeal, he spluttered and said, “Hey, it’s not like I actually went! And this was before I met Aeris!”
“And this dress!” Genesis barrelled on. “I would recognise this style of design anywhere! Combining modesty with allure, the stitching creating the illusion of shape… His costumes are legendary! I thought he retired!”
“He just needed inspiration, apparently,” Cloud muttered. If the Planet wanted to swallow him up at any point, now would be the opportune time.
“And this tiara-!”
“The Inn in Wall Market has an odd reimbursement policy…”
“And this wig is made of genuine-”
“There’s this gym in the slums I’d rather not talk about,” Cloud cut in abruptly. “Now are we going or not?”
Cissnei, Genesis, Luxiere and Cloud had absolutely no trouble gaining admittance to Corneo’s mansion. Cloud already knew they wouldn’t. That didn’t make it any less depressing. He wanted the mission to succeed, certainly, but it might have salvaged his masculinity a little if the guards had looked a bit suspicious, or at least had not let them in with quite so much enthusiasm.
This particular adventure had been one he’d been sure was gone from the timeline forever. Instead, much like Zack falling through Aeris’s church roof, it had found a new outlet. At least, this particular infiltration had obviously never happened in his original timeline, otherwise AVALANCHE wouldn’t have been able to use this ruse. Maybe because Zack was such a hopeless girl they’d abandoned it. Or something else had changed, and the need for the infiltration had never come up at all.
But it was actually easier this time. He wasn’t responsible for making sure none of the girls were molested, which took a great deal of stress out of the whole miserable equation. Cissnei was a full-fledged Turk, after all – frankly, Cloud pitied any employee of Corneo’s who thought to take advantage.
Unfortunately, that meant that this time he was free to worry a lot more about himself. Had there been this many leering gazes the first time? It wasn’t any real danger to him, even without First Tsurugi, but his skin crawled all the same. It was an unpleasant insight into how the some of the girls at the HoneyBee must have felt all the time.
“Uncultured cretins,” Genesis muttered under his breath. Redheads, it turned out, were quite popular too.
“We’re not entirely certain where the cargo has been hidden,” Cissnei reminded them in a low voice as they were led through the luxuriously furnished halls. “Try not to raise the alarm too soon, or they might hide it and we’ll never find it. Hopefully Corneo will choose me, and I’ll ply him for information.”
“How?” Luxiere asked. “You’re not going to… you know…” His expression was stuck somewhere between fascinated and repulsed. He pulled his fur shawl around himself a little tighter.
“Turk interrogation technique 101,” Cissnei whispered with a perfectly straight face.
Genesis rolled his eyes at Luxiere’s shell-shocked expression and muttered behind the cover of his feather boa, “Don’t be a fool. She means he brags.”
“Guys like him have to show off to the girls however they can,” Cissnei remarked. “But you don’t have to worry about that. Just focus on finding out what you can through questioning. If you can slip away without breaking cover, search as many rooms as you can without being noticed.”
Cloud wondered if he should warn them about the spa. Whoever drew that straw might have a rough time of things. That might even be worse than dealing with Don Corneo himself.
Why was he doing this again? Right. Lives at stake.
Then Cissnei didn’t have any more time to whisper last-minute instructions at them, as they’d arrived in the central chamber, where Don Corneo was talking with a small coterie of his goons and two rather shady-looking businessmen.
He was just as roly-poly as Cloud remembered – a wingless ahriman in a dress suit. He still had a mostly full head of hair of blond curls though, unlike five years in the future when he’d been all but bald. Doing business with the Turks – even when it was above-board – could do that to a man.
“Oh goody! They’re here!” Corneo clapped and rubbed his hands together greedily, bouncing forward with an almost boyish eagerness, like a chubby child rushing for the cookie jar. Luxiere recoiled, but schooled his expression back into a fixed smile when Cissnei ground one of her heels into his foot. Genesis, being the most talented actor among them, had adopted a look of professional boredom as Corneo leered over them each in turn.
Cloud kept his eyes averted, careful to hide the mako glow. His shawl slipped a little, and self-consciously, he pulled it tighter, the satin moving like water across his shoulders. It was poor protection from their leering gazes. Gaia, it already felt like he wasn’t wearing enough without them so obviously undressing him with their eyes.
“So many choices! Oh, this one’s cute, too!” Corneo bustled from Cissnei, to Luxiere, to Genesis, raking his gaze hungrily across their bodies.
Cloud had been hoping that since his outfit wasn’t precisely the same – the dressmaker had decided gloves and a shawl was better than long sleeves this time, and the wig he’d won at the gym had been a little different too – Corneo might pass him up, and go for the obviously better choice of Cissnei.
The minute those beady little eyes landed on him, though, he knew his night was only getting worse.
Though it might have done him some good to have at least pretended to be surprised.
“Ah, at last we’re alone… now pussycat… come to Daddy,” Corneo purred. Or rather, attempted to purr. His greedy stare drank in every inch of his companion’s form as he drew ‘her’ to the bed. “You’re something else, I don’t think I’d ever get tired of looking at you. Do you… do you like me too?”
The bed was the last place Cloud wanted to be – it was covered in red silk sheets and looked like it had come straight from one the Honeybee Inn’s gaudier rooms. He perched on the very edge, and scrambled to buy some time. “I don’t know…”
“What?! Is there someone else?!” Corneo looked genuinely distraught for a man who entertained multiple escorts every week. Cloud wondered if this happened every time he brought girls in, or if this were a special torture just for him.
“Not exactly…” Probably wasn’t a good idea to crush Corneo’s spirits too soon.
“Who is it? Tell me!” he whined.
How could he angle this towards what he wanted to know? Something to do with ShinRa, maybe. “Oh, you know… there’s this SOLDIER…” There. Zack had signed him up to all of the fanclubs – including his – against his will. He could fake his way through this.
To his surprise, Corneo’s expression grew almost wicked. “Oh. Oh! Well, yes, they are very popular. But I have something that will make me almost as popular, you know.”
Cloud didn’t even have to fake his curiosity. “Yeah- I mean, yes?” Hard to remember to talk without slang and to act properly reserved. He bit his tongue as Corneo’s hand brushed its way down his spine and settled in the small of his back.
Lives were at stake, Cloud firmly reminded himself.
The mafia don nodded, and leaned in close as though to impart a secret. Cloud struggled not to lean back, even as the stink of Corneo’s aftershave grew overpowering. “It’s a present! One I know you’ll definitely love.” His eyes shone with greed and lust, even as he hopped off the red silk sheets and waddled over the closet.
“It’s going to make me very very rich, you know. Richer than your wildest imagination. You’ll definitely like me when you see this, and we can have wonderful times together,” Corneo confided, as he moved aside a pile of silk bathrobes to reveal a box… stamped with the ShinRa logo.
…Mission accomplished. Cloud was a little bit freaked out by how easy that had been.
He was wondering if it were okay to clock Corneo over the head and alert the others now, but Corneo wasn’t quite finished, chuckling to himself as he opened the box and started rummaging through it. “The real treasure is the casts, of course – we’ll be able to make as many as we need! But for you, my sweet little pussycat, I’ll give you your choice of one of the prototypes. An exclusive gift for exclusivity.” He waggled his eyebrows, and brought a tray over.
A tray of… SOLDIERs?
Cloud stared dumbly at the plastic action figures.
He picked up a figurine of Sephiroth and stared at it, dumbfounded. It even came with a slightly shorter-than-life Masamune. There was Genesis, too, posing rather vaingloriously with a book in one hand and his rapier in the other. Angeal with his arms crossed in some sort of cheesy action hero pose. Zack, in a lounging sprawl, throwing a grin at nothing in particular. There was even himself, with his shirt zip lowered far further than Cloud ever wore it.
This was the ‘highly dangerous’ ShinRa cargo he’d subjected himself to this torture for?!
“Do you know how many people died in the stampede when it was just Sephiroth’s? Those figurines sold out in less than three minutes, made ShinRa quite a bit of money I think.” Corneo chortled to himself. “Go on, then. Choose one. Whichever one you want! You’d better hurry, though, I’m not sure if I can keep myself away much longer.” Apparently thinking this had bought him all the good graces he could possibly need, Corneo’s hand slid over the purple silk on his thigh, creeping underneath the slit in the dress.
The figurine cracked in his grip. In less than an eyeblink later, Corneo was slumped on the bed with the promise of some fine bruises and a hairline fracture to greet him in the morning.
In a feat of spectacular timing, the door burst open. Cissnei stood there, hair in disarray, looking particularly cranky, but her eyes lit up when she saw the box. “Strife! Good work! You… found… it…” she trailed off when she finally registered his expression.
Luxiere and Genesis were there moments later, looking similarly harried. “What’s this?” Genesis asked, critically. “This is what we went on this ridiculous excursion for? I let those bottom-feeders breathe on me for this?!”
Cloud’s feelings exactly.
“They’re very valuable!” Cissnei protested, looking the most flustered any of them had ever seen the Turk. “The prototypes don’t matter quite as much, but these casts were made by a premiere sculptor we had to ship in from the Northern Continent! They’re the basis of our entire industrial line!”
“A premiere sculptor?! My hair looks nothing like this!” He snatched up the figurine of himself and shook it at the Turk.
Cloud shook his head in disgust, and stalked from the room. He paused only long enough to drop the figurine of Sephiroth to floor and very deliberately grind it underfoot with his disgustingly uncomfortable high heels. Cissnei winced, but sighed, and pulled a miniature microphone out of her hair. “Tseng? The merchandise has been secured. Have a van ready to meet us at the entrance.”
In the spirit of compensation, she didn’t say anything about Luxiere’s rather poor attempts at hiding the prototype of Zack’s figurine in his fur shawl. And nothing the company paid her would ever make her acknowledge the Cloud figurine that had mysteriously gone missing during Genesis’s theatrics, either.