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Pretty (Final Fantasy VII, Zack)


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This is a silly one because it’s from a silly part of the original game.  No particular fandom knowledge required, so it should be accessible to anyone who wants to read.  No spoilers, but there is some canon divergence, so if anyone who does know the game would like to be warned about that, you can find details of the changes in the spoiler box below.



Zack’s alive… surprise!  But I figure if Square Enix can get away with it in the remake then it’s probably fair game.  There are some story implications though - I’ve gone for continuing Zerith, and I’ve tried to write Cloud more like his end-of-original game personality, since Zack would have been there to help him understand his memories.  Those things make sense to me in a situation where Zack and Cloud arrive in Midgar together, but in case they don’t work for you, consider this some advanced warning.


This is beta-read by @solitaire-au.  I can’t express how helpful her feedback is.  She has absolutely transformed this fic.



When Zack had sat on the back of the truck to Midgar and proposed a mercenary life to a comatose Cloud, he did not imagine that this was where it would take him.


Not that he hated it, not at all.  He’d been on rescue jobs before, but nothing like this one.  Not that he’d given it a lot of thought, but much of the military life he’d once lead had been monotonous - rows of identical dorm rooms, standard-issue uniforms and armour, even the identical font used in every official communication and assignment request.  Aerith, as well as being considerably more attractive then anyone who’d ever handed him a mission plan before, also had a shedload more creativity, and that’s how Zack had wound up behind an abandoned bar in the slums, sitting on a giant crate, and wearing a dress.


Initially, he’d insisted on a blue one, certain that it would bring out his eyes, but none of them had been close to long enough.  The one he was wearing wasn’t really long enough either, but mercifully Aerith had found him thick tights that fit.  Otherwise it was perfect.  It was made of velvet in a deep green and it came with a headdress of feathers in the same shade.  He rarely saw that colour in Midgar.  It reminded him of the dense shrub of the Gongagan jungle, and the feathers could have been dyed griffon wing tips.  It was pretty unlikely that they came from an actual griffon.  Those things were fucking hard to kill, and if someone did take one out for the sake of his headdress, they deserved a bigger pay-cheque than the whole outfit had sold for.  Still, griffons were native to Gongaga, so Zack liked to imagine it was a neat little coincidence.  He could get pretty nostalgic about his home village as long as he didn’t actually have to live there.


Aerith had dressed up too.  It was easier for her, for obvious reasons, but the transformation was still dramatic.  Zack was having to avoid looking at her too often because there was a strong risk of feelings that were… not compatible with a rescue operation.  While he and Cloud were trying to figure out how to fasten the dresses, she’d curled her hair into ringlets. She had her usual shorter pieces loose on either side of her face, but she’d replaced her plait with two twisty ponytails, stretching down to her hips and wrapped all around in ribbons and flowers.  Her dress was red and floor length, hugging her figure close until it hit her thighs, when it flared into ruffles.  It looked silky and smooth and Zack wondered what what it would feel like to the touch.  Then all he could think about was touching it…


Aerith bit her lip, with an adorable frown of concentration that did unhelpful things to Zack’s brain. She slid a hair grip under Zack’s long, black wig at the temple, concealing the last of his unruly spikes.


“Make it good, now,” he said.


“Always.” She dipped her head with a giggle, and sweet Shiva, Zack could listen to that sound all day.  He grabbed her narrow hips and pulled her close.


He was keeping it light - everyone was - but they were under no illusions: they needed to get Tifa out of that mansion, preferably with an army or two standing between her and Corneo’s slimy grasp.


Beyond that, Zack did have a serious reason for wanting to nail the outfit.  Don Corneo was not just an horrendous skeazebag: he was a Slum Lord.  He had money and power in a place where you had to fight to keep that stuff.  His hired goons would be serious game.  One of them would have to go into Corneo’s room - alone - to kick off the ambush.  Zack would feel a whole lot better if it ended up being him.  Realistically, that was only going to happen if the Don liked girls who were 6’1 and muscled, but Zack was an eternal optimist.


Aerith gave a thoughtful hum, bending over the crate at Zack’s side.  She had an array of equipment lined up there, and it was like no mission kit that Zack had ever seen.  Aerith’s stash was endlessly varied - lipsticks, brushes, coloured powders, odds and ends of jewellery, hair clips and headbands with artificial jewels and plastic flowers.  She reached for the perfume.  The container was clouded plastic, but it was trying to look like a fancy old fashioned one, with a tube and a squeezy pad to make the stuff squirt out.  It looked like a lot of fun actually but when he’d tried to mess with it earlier Aerith had slapped the back of his hand and told him to sit still.


“Close your eyes,” she said, and he did, shuffling to get comfortable before he sat up straight. After a few squirts his eyes flew back open.


“Oh.”  His nostrils flared with irritation.  There was an artificial tang that permeated the air as the mist settled around him.  It was bitter and acidic, and smelled absolutely nothing like the ‘Lillies of Mideel’ of which it claimed to have ‘notes’ .  Potentially more important than that, it was definitely not agreeing with Zack.  “Shit,” he hissed, smashing a fist against his nose.  The scent shot needles down his nostrils.  His breath caught.  “We should have shelled out for the better one,” he said, teeth gritted.  He waited for a moment, hoping the feeling would settle down.




So much for that.


“Zack!” Aerith said, her tone concerned and gently chiding.  “You should have told us you were allergic.”


“I’m not,” he growled, pinching his nose.  “You sprayed me with poison!”  He curled in on himself, trying to get a grip on his breathing.  “Not even good poison.  Cheap-ass, stinky, smells-like-crap poison.”  He released his nostrils, only to immediately grab at them again when the itching blazed in response. “Ohhhh, okay that burns.”


He aimed for his best wounded pout, and mostly achieved it, before his face crumpled in itchy misery.  He pressed his fingertips against the edges of his cheeks, expecting to trigger another sneeze.  What he got instead was a resonating buzz, sinking deep into his sinuses.  He didn’t like that at all.  His nose, he’d learned, could turn seriously disagreeable on occasion.  It would be very helpful if this didn’t become one of those times.  He held the back of his hand under his septum and sniffed.  That only set off a cascade of little itchy sparks.


He wriggled on the crate, wanting to jump down and walk it off, but navigating the dress and heels could be an issue if the sneezing kept going.  Ultimately, he settled for the safety of his seat, propping his elbows on his legs and pressing his fingers to his eyes.


“Are you okay?” Aerith asked him.  “Do you need-”


“No,” he said, cutting her off.  He planted his hands behind him and tipped back, shaking the artificial hair out of his face.  “Just… uh… can you do Cloud’s?  Give me f-hh-five minutes.”


Cloud.  That was a whole other thing.  Who ever knew the kid would be so good at this?  Talk about weird-ass hidden talents. He was a smaller guy, and he had this kind of sharp chin.  When Zack thought about it, he supposed that Cloud’s features were a little feminine.  Aerith had made the most of that, painting stuff on his face that made his eyes shadowy and his lips small and pink and pursed.  His dress had a tight blue bodice and a fuller navy skirt that gave the appearance of an actual figure. To Zack’s considerable discomfort, he was starting to suspect that if he didn’t know it was Cloud, he might actually find him attractive.  Since it was Cloud he had no idea what to do with that information, and he was doing his best to keep from looking at him altogether.


Zack angled his head down, breathing in determined pants and willing his lungs to stay under his control.


“Zack…” Aerith said, the note of warning in her tone suggesting that she’d recognised his struggle.


Zack clamped his nose and turned away.  “I’m working on it,” he muttered.


“I’ve finished with Cloud.”


Zack’s gaze drifted to his friend then, and his eyes grew wide.  Aerith had clipped two blond plaits near the nape of his neck and set a bow between the bigger blond spikes on top of his head.  It looked like an actual (admittedly slightly wacky) hairstyle and not just the crazy mess that Cloud usually had.  It completed the picture.  If Zack didn’t know any better, he would swear he was looking at an actual woman.


“Oh…” Zack said, unhelpfully.  “Uhhh…”


Cloud shifted his eyes to him, deadpan and unimpressed.  He had fucking lashes.  Real curly feminine ones.


“Something you want to say to me, Zack?” Cloud said, his painted lips pinched and his voice tightly constrained.


Eyes wide and staring, Zack shook his head.


With all of that headfuckery, the itching he’d been fighting had run far beyond his control.  Zack was entirely relieved, though, when it wrenched his attention, giving him a reason to look away, his breath hitching and his nostrils twitching helplessly.


Heh… heh… Heh… HEH…Oh-Heh-Heh-Shit he breathed.  HEH’SHHSH’YEW!  HEH’SHHHSHYEW! HEHT’SCHYEW!  Oh man,” he said, breathless.  He gave an almighty sniff and pressed his fist under his nose.  He groaned.  “This could be a problem.”


“Oh, Zack, bless you…” Aerith’s features were squeezed tight with concern.  “Are you okay?”


“Yeah - uh-” Sniffling, and keeping a hand to his face, he scanned Aerith’s tools on the crate.  He picked up one of the napkins she had stacked in a pile.  She’d had them kiss them earlier after she’d put on their lipstick.  “Can I use this?” He asked.


“Of course!”  She said.  She hesitated for a moment as he blew his nose.  “Do you think you might sneeze in the mansion?”


“Ugh, I really hope not.”  Zack rubbed his fingertips against his eye.  He fiddled with the lace at his sleeve as he focused on his face.  The dull buzz in his nose and cheeks was not encouraging.   When he sniffed, the sensation turned fiery and his nostrils flared.  He pinched his nose again, massaging between his finger and thumb.  “Could be a possibility,” he said, with an unhappy pout.


Aerith squirmed in her heels and twirled her finger round a loose piece of hair.  “Did you know that you, um… sneeze very loudly?”


“Okay?”  Zack blinked up at her, not understanding the significance.


Leaning against the outside of the building, Cloud cleared his throat.  “I think she means loudly as in, ‘not very much like a woman.’”


“Oh,” Zack frowned.  “Right.  But… uh…. I’m not really sure what I can do about that.”


“Can you… make it smaller?”  Aerith asked, eyebrows raised and hope in her adorable little face.


Zack was starting to wonder what the hell he’d gotten into.


He sighed.  He supposed he was trying to do a thing here, and this mission was already full of stuff he’d never attempted before. Feeling really damn conscious of Aerith and Cloud and their eyes on him, he slid his gaze towards a mako-powered light above.


It didn’t take long.  His sinuses were a powder keg.  As his chest shook with rapid breaths, his mind turned frantically, trying to remember what Aerith sounded like when she sneezed.  He’d never really been paying that much attention.


“Hhh… HHh-HUH… HH’TSH!” It was quick and harsh, and immediately followed by an enormous cough, as if that violence had to force a way out of him. He wrenched forwards and had to catch his balance to keep from falling from the crate entirely.


“Try pinching your nose,” Cloud suggested, an irritating edge of amusement in his tone.


Either way, Zack was quickly going to get a chance to try.  The stupid sneeze had been entirely unsatisfying.  Still sharp and acerbic in the air, perfume pricked his nostrils to twitching and his shoulders shook.


“Hhh…HHH…HMM’KKKH!  HEMP’KIH!” He clung to his nose as his body slammed against his hand.  Pain lanced the centre of his forehead and scraped down his throat.  “That just fucking hurt.” He bent fully over his knees then, with a miserable groan.  The material of his dress tightened at the sides and he straightened, afraid it might rip .  “Sorry,” he added with a sniffle, looking blearily at Aerith.


“I’m not porcelain,” she told him, rolling her eyes.  “I’ve heard the words before.”


“Maybe it’s better if you just don’t sneeze,” Cloud said.  He did sound sympathetic.  Not that it helped much, since his words were so fucking stupid.


Zack leaned backwards, propping a hand behind him while the other pinched the bridge of his nose.  “Thank you Cloud, for that helpful advice,” he said, flatly.  He shook his head with a thick sniff, his artificial hair an unfamiliar weight  behind him.  “Wish I’d have thought of thh-that be-HAH!…EhH!  HEHkkkKHM! EH’SHHHT! TCHH’SHHT! HAHPSCH’SHH! Oh for fu-” He squeezed his lips shut, pressing a fist to his ribcage where the suppressed sneezing had shaken through.  The fabric of his dress hung loosely where his chest was too flat.  His nose ran and he gave a burst of rapid sniffles.  All he could smell was the damn perfume.


Aerith laid a gentle hand against his upper arm,  “You know you don’t have to come inside.  If you wait for us, we’ll…”


He rounded on them then, “Alright, why have you guys spent this whole afternoon trying to talk me out of this thing?”


Aerith’s eyes dropped, studying her shoes.  When he swung his head towards Cloud, he looked away as well, but there was the slightest hint of a smirk on his lips.  Zack narrowed his eyes.


Little fucker.


“I’m coming,” Zack growled, reaching for another napkin from Aerith’s stack.  He pressed it to his face, muffling his voice as he continued.  “They say he keeps a sewer monster in his basement.  As a pet.  If something takes me out on this job, I’m not having it be the damn perfume.”  He blew his nose, and crushed the napkin in his fist, sniffling.  “Are we done? Feelin’ like I wanna try get in there. Give me something to think about other than needles in my nose.” He held a knuckle under his septum, scrubbing aggressively.


Aerith caught hold of his arm in both hands.  “Gentle,” she chided, twisting her lips in a dubious frown.  “You’re not being very feminine.  Anyway, you’ll make yourself sore.”


Zack’s mouth fell open.  “You’re telling me I can’t rub my nose?”


“Not like that, Mister,” Aerith said, digging through a patterned bag. “Not if you want to fool Corneo.”


Zack wriggled his nose, wanting very much to touch it but having no idea how a woman might do it.  He sat on his hands instead and scowled.  The job was rapidly becoming less appealing.


“You know, you still don’t have to…”


Zack’s head whipped towards Cloud. “Don’t you dare say it.”


“I knew I had some!” Aerith exclaimed, holding up a tube of lotion.  Coming up close to Zack’s side, she nudged his thigh with her hip.  She leaned in closer, her loose bangs brushing against his cheek.  “Keep your legs together,” she whispered.


Zack sighed, but he watched her as she took a fresh napkin to dab at his nose, before squeezing some of the cream onto her fingertip.  Despite everything, he couldn’t help his slowly spreading smile.  He should be embarrassed probably - but Aerith looked stunning, and she was tending to him, and as far as he was concerned the slums, and Cloud watching, and his ridiculous overreaction could all drift away.  He shut his eyes and felt her steadying hand, small and warm at the base of his neck, while her finger made feather-light contact at tip of his nose.   


Her touch was so gentle that it made something in Zack’s chest ache.  She brushed under his septum in tiny downward strokes.  There was something in the lotion though, some barely perceptible scent.  He wouldn’t even have noticed it normally, but his nose felt skinned and raw inside, a mass of hyper-reactive nerve endings.  The subtle smell prickled them, harried them, nudged him closer to a sneeze.  Infinitely regretful, he caught her narrow forearm, and, eyes still shut, gave a little shake of his head.


His mouth dropped open and his nostrils flared, shocks of irritation riddling his ticklish skin.  Instinctively, he raised his arm to his nose.


“Not into your sleeve!” Aerith yelped.


Aghast, he met her eye, and slammed a hand to his face, “HUH’TISHH’UH! HeH…” Remembering himself, he clamped his nostrils shut. “HEHkK’MMPH! HEH’MMP! HaAH… AHH… HAH… HeHhhh’GHH’SHHHUH!”  He planted his hands on his on the crate, breathing heavily, and gave a sniff that was liquid and violent, glowering at the realisation that that probably wasn’t feminine either.  He felt blindly for another napkin and pressed it to his nose.  “Can we just go?”


Cloud had moved from his spot, and was pacing the alley.  He stopped at Zack’s words and regarded him with eyes that were sceptical and pitying and made Zack want to punch the wall.  Aerith tilted her head as she inspected him.


“Your make up is a little smudged,” she said, the corners of her eyes creased and wincing.  “I should probably re-apply…”


Zack stiffened as he took in Aerith’s kit - the brushes, with their long, sweeping, protruding bristles, the pots of fine powders that crumbled into endless dusty particles.  When he looked back at Aerith, his eyes were wide.  He shook his head frantically.


“If you touch me with that right now, I don’t think I’ll ever stop sneezing.”


He sat back on the crate. He wasn’t going to be able to do this.  The realisation hit like air leaving his body after a gut punch.  It wasn’t a familiar sensation, and it wasn’t a comfortable one.  Tifa was locked in a guarded mansion with the slimiest, seediest creep he’d ever had the misfortune to come across, his friends were going to put themselves in considerable danger trying to bust her out, and he was going to be absolutely fucking useless.


Aerith shut her eyes briefly, apparently understanding, and she set her hand against his upper arm.  “Maybe… we could take some make up with us, see how you feel feel before we go in?”


Zack stared blankly.  “Sure.”


For all that the rest of his body felt dull and weighty, the prickles spiking down his nose were electric and alive.  He wasn’t optimistic.


Aerith clutched her hands at her chest.  She twisted her thumb in her other hand, her eyebrows knit together.  “Zack… maybe you need to…”


Cloud laid a hand on Aerith’s shoulder, peering into her eyes as if requesting permission.  She moved aside.


“Hey,” Cloud said.


“Hey.”  Zack dropped his head.  He scrunched his nose, desperate to rub it.


“Don’t worry,” Cloud’s lips quirked.  “He was never gonna pick you anyway.”


Zack shut his eyes and shook his head, questioning his hearing.  “What?”


Cloud jerked his chin, his jaw set.  “You heard me.”


Zack pressed his fingers against his forehead then, wondering whether squashing sneezes had done something destructive to his brain.  It made no sense for Cloud to start some fight about who was more feminine.  He hadn’t wanted to do the thing with the dresses in the first place.


Besides, Zack thought bitterly, no one in their right mind would consider it a contest at this point.


He eyed Cloud, trying to read him.  “Are you… messing with me?”


Cloud’s eyes locked with Zack’s, wide and serious.  “Are you letting me get away with it?” His tone was soft but resolute.


Zack broke away, gaze dropping to the satin panel that cut through his dress.  He gave a little huff of laughter, getting it.


“Shall I try again?” Cloud suggested, and he pressed right on before Zack could answer.  “He was never going to pick you, Zack.”


Zack shuffled back on the crate, regarding Cloud.  This time, his eyes blazed.  He gave a little grunt of interest. “That’s what you think, is it?”


He was a tough little thing, Cloud.  He played a good game, but Zack didn’t miss the flash of relief in his eyes before they hardened again.


“You telling me I’m wrong?”


“You’re damn…”  Zack twitched his nose, twisting his lips as he tried to contain a sneeze.  “You’re damn right, I am.”


“Got any action to back up those words?”


“Ye-hhh…” He snatched at his nose.  “HEH’GHH!  HEH’GHH!  HEHT’GHHH! HEHG’GSCHhuH!”  He took a heaving breath, leaning over the crate, and steeled himself again.  “Yeah,” he said, wanting a good, hard sniff, and settling for a flurry of little ones.  “You think I can’t do this?  How ‘bout you watch me?”


Zack slid off the crate, and barely bit back a yelp of surprise.  He’d forgotten what it felt like to stand in the heels.  In his too-short dress he’d had no choice about wearing them, and the only ones that would fit his feet were way higher than he had wanted.  They were sequined and black and an absolute fucking nightmare.  Zack was permanently enhanced, chemically and genetically manipulated by his former employer.  His ankles could handle a five foot vertical jump.  But would they hold still on a four inch heel?  No.  They fucking wouldn’t.  He clung to the crate and hoped, with more optimism than expectation, that he would be sitting down the next time he needed to sneeze.


He was a mess.  His feet hurt.  His ankles hurt.  His dress squeezed his ribs at either side. His face felt swollen, numb and drippy, and his nose felt tender and shivery and volatile.  He grabbed another napkin and pressed it under his septum, not sure if he was allowed to blow his nose.


Zack gawked after Cloud as he set off down the alley. His steps were fucking smooth.  Zack wondered if he had boots under the wide skirt of his dress, but his back was straight and long.  If he wasn’t wearing heels he was giving a masterful impression of someone who was.  Aerith joined Cloud, looping her arm through his and holding one of his silver teardrop earrings on her fingertip to admire it.


Clamping his lips, clenching his jaw, Zack forced a teetering step.  “Hey Strife,” he called.  “Y-hh-you th-hh-think…” He stopped walking, held himself rigid.  “HAH!  EHH! HPP’TCHH! HEHP’TSHH! HEHP’TSCH! HEHK’TCH’EW!”  He gave a giant sniff then, unable to help himself, and pressed the napkin tighter to his nose.  “You think you can out-pretty me?”


Aerith turned to look over her shoulder, heart-stoppingly beautiful in the dirty street.  Her decorated hair swayed with the movement.  She watched him as he resumed his determined march, his knees knocking together as his legs trembled from the ankles.  There was affection in Aerith’s eyes, but she bit her lip, her expression pinched.


“What’s that look for?” He said, grabbing the wall when his ankle threatened to give way.  “What?  You don’t think I can do this?  I can do this!”


He hitched his skirts, and he tottered off after them.


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🥰 Aww, thank you! Glad I could help!

Zack wouldn’t have the first clue about how to convincingly pretend to be a woman. No wonder Aerith had to remind him to keep his legs together!



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i know the barest possible surface level info about ff7 but this was SO fucking good. the banter, the descriptions, the embarrassment, the competition and vague gender complication and ouhgghhgh the whole thing was BLISTERINGLY hot and surprisingly tender. thank u for this gift

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7 minutes ago, Via said:

i know the barest possible surface level info about ff7 but this was SO fucking good. the banter, the descriptions, the embarrassment, the competition and vague gender complication and ouhgghhgh the whole thing was BLISTERINGLY hot and surprisingly tender. thank u for this gift

Oh my goodness thank you so much! At the risk of massive overshare. I have issues with social anxiety, especially around text based communication, and when I've put something out there - particularly something like this, that's dragged out of the private bit of my brain that I don't show people - my mind tends to turn with all sorts of negative ideas about how it's received.


The fact that you took the time to write such an amazing comment is so appreciated and it makes me feel so much better about the process- thank you!


12 hours ago, solitaire-au said:

🥰 Aww, thank you! Glad I could help!

Zack wouldn’t have the first clue about how to convincingly pretend to be a woman. No wonder Aerith had to remind him to keep his legs together!



Thanks Solitaire, for the comment and all the help :) I so appreciate being able to write these stories with you.

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