Title: Puzzle Pieces
Fandom: Final Fantasy VII
Disclaimer: No ownership implied, no profit gained. This is a fanwork.
Characters/Pairings: Sephiroth, Cloud, Zack
Summary: Sephiroth is a total curmudgeon about Valentine's Day and Cloud tries a new tactic to get his attention.
"What is today's date?" Sephiroth asked, looking out the window behind his desk.
"It's February 5th. You still have more than a week," Zack replied as he crouched over a box claiming to contain SHURGOOD frozen chocobo patties. Instead it was filled with pinkish declarations of adoration.
"Would it discourage them if I cast Fire3 on the entire box during the weekly assembly?" Sephiroth walked over beside Zack, making a face when the box came into view.
"Most people would be flattered by these," Zack said, pulling a few of the offending pieces of cardstock from the box and looking them over. "I know I'll be happy to get more than a couple valentines."
"Unlike you," Sephiroth began, giving the box a swift kick across the room. "I don't desire any of the activities those things offer."
Zack rocked back on his heels, reading from one of the cards.
"Some of these could be fun," he said, holding them up for Sephiroth.
"I'm trying to avoid reading them this year." A black-gloved hand grabbed the cards like they carried the plague and deposited them back in the box.
"Yet you keep them."
"I told you, Fire3 at the weekly assembly."
"I'm also tempted to tell them I'm already aware of places to go for mindless sex," Sephiroth said, sitting down on the edge of his desk.
Zack started laughing. "I can't believe you don't at least eat the chocolate."
"That would be acknowledging them."
"Isn't that what keeping them in a box in your office is doing?"
"Again, Zack, Fire3."
"You're a cold one." Zack said, getting up and walking over to the box. "Hey! I know my roommate has a thing for chocolate - mind if I take him some?"
Sephiroth nodded. "Still taking care of that little guy?"
"He's got potential. He just needs to grow into it. I could show you - I've been working with him on weekends..." Zack looked like he was ready to go into a long explanation, and Sephiroth didn't feel like hearing it. Two more red pieces of paper had just appeared under his door.
"Perhaps next week, Zack. Now please go get those." He pointed towards the door. "And put them in the box."
A few minutes later, Zack left with his pockets (and mouth) full of chocolate, hoping Cloud was home.
"Whatcha doing?" Zack leaned over him, who was toiling away at his desk.
"Nothing!" Cloud exclaimed, quickly opening a drawer, sweeping everything inside, and closing the drawer again.
Zack stepped back. "Well sorry. I just wanted to tell you I got us some chocolate."
Cloud turned around, puzzled. "Why?"
"Because you like chocolate and it was free." Zack pulled a few pieces from his pocket and handed them over.
"Does it matter?" Zack grinned. He knew his roommate had the same crush on Sephiroth that everyone did, and to tell him the chocolate came from...
"Just tell me," Cloud said, mouth already half-full. "What could make it a big deal?"
"Sephiroth didn't want it, so he let me take it."
Cloud made a face and tried to swallow. "This was his?"
"Well, kinda. He's got this huge box of valentines sitting in his office that he's going to ignite at the next assembly. He hates them to no end, I guess. But anyway, he let me take some chocolate, since he has no use for it," Zack explained, eating another piece himself.
"He hates valentines?"
"It's not like..." Zack began, before noticing the look on Cloud's face. "Is that what you were working on? Cloud, Sephiroth isn't like normal people, something totally different makes him tick."
Zack shrugged. "I'm not sure, but if you make him a valentine, it'll only end up getting torched next week."
Cloud sighed, and picked up another piece of chocolate.
"Only eight more days of this," Sephiroth said to himself as he opened the door to his office, pushing aside the pile of pink with his boot. After dumping a small pile of paperwork on his desk, he disdainfully went about depositing the pink things in their box.
Before he had them all in his hands, something in the pile caught his eye. It was a black piece of construction paper shaped like a puzzle piece and it had silver writing on it.
Pink fell to the floor as he picked it up and looked it over. The writing wasn't any of the languages Sephiroth knew, despite being sure he knew every language both spoken and written on the planet.
Ignoring the other valentines, he walked back to his desk with the strange note and sat down. It definitely wasn't anything he'd seen before, and it had him very interested.
Cloud had given up paying attention in class. Instead he was wondering whether or not his valentine had even been noticed by Sephiroth.
Sephiroth kept going back to the black puzzle piece, looking it over hoping to find a clue to decode it. But there simply wasn't enough text on it to begin with.
The ever-growing pile of pink was still there when Zack stopped by in the afternoon.
"Only three more days, Zack," Sephiroth said. "Then those things stop." He pointed at the almost over-flowing box across the room.
"Are you still going to burn them this afternoon in front of everyone?"
Sephiroth nodded, eyes catching back on the black puzzle pieces he had laid out on his desk. He seemed to only have half of it, and still he wasn't sure about decoding it.
"Still stuck on those puzzle pieces? It's just..."
"It's interesting. I want the rest of them."
"Have it your way."
"Would you mind carrying the box? You can have all the candy out of it. I just don't want to be seen with it."
Zack burst out laughing. "Aren't you taking this a little too far?"
"I want nothing to do with them. This is a stupid excuse for a holiday." Sephiroth leaned back in his chair.
Just like everyone else, Cloud groaned in disappointment as he watched Sephiroth toast the box of valentines.
Walking back to the apartment, Zack caught up with him. "Candy?"
Cloud looked at the bag he was being offered and shook his head.
"That was something else, wasn't it. Usually he just shreds them or throws them away."
"Zack, I don't want to hear about it."
"Did you make him one after all? Cloud, I told you it wouldn't do anything."
Cloud nodded glumly, walking with his head down.
"Especially this year..." Zack continued, digging through the bag as he walked. "Someone has been leaving these weird black puzzle pieces and Seph's been fixated on those for a week now. He hates not knowing things, and this has his full attention."
"Puzzle pieces?" Cloud asked, giving Zack one of the weirdest looks the older man had ever seen.
"Black puzzle pieces with silver writing. And not any language Sephiroth recognizes, either. He doesn't have enough to try and make a key to translate it either. Whoever is leaving them for him really has him baffled. It's almost funny to watch." Zack laughed, unwrapping a lollipop as he walked.
"Why are there more?" Sephiroth asked, slogging through a virtual forest of pink and doilies. "And why are you always in my office, anyway?"
Zack shrugged, kicking aside a small mountain of valentines. "I don't think they got the drift, Sir."
"Just find the puzzle piece for me. I'll go down to maintenance and see if they have a box I can have."
Zack grumbled after he received his second paper cut, but finally found the mysterious black puzzle piece. He walked over to Sephiroth's desk and tried to place it.
"A middle!" he exclaimed, setting it in place.
"A middle?" Sephiroth was back with a box, which he quickly set down.
"Yeah. You've got more than half now."
"I know, Zack," Sephiroth said, looking up at the black-haired man. "But I want all of it."
"It's obviously not a valentine," Sephiroth said. "Since that holiday is tomorrow and I still seem to be missing four pieces of the puzzle."
Zack shrugged, dumping another armload of valentines into the new box. "Still coming to see my student tonight?"
Sephiroth looked confused for a second. "Oh, yes, of course. I almost forgot about that. What time?"
"Eight." Zack replied. "You should stop it with that puzzle already. I've never seen you so distracted."
"From what, these useless reports and endless documents about things I don't care about? I'm a soldier, Zack, not a secretary," Sephiroth said.
"I didn't know you liked puzzles."
"I don't. That's why this is so amusing." Black-gloved fingers rearranged pieces, making sure they fit. "I just need to figure out a couple letters and the rest will be easy."
"What?!" Cloud looked like Zack had just told him the sky was falling. "Why didn't you tell me sooner?"
"I didn't want you to be nervous," Zack explained. "It's not like you have to fight him or anything. He just wants to see how you're doing. I've told him about you enough times that he's interested."
"But it's Sephiroth! I can't..." Cloud sat down at his desk and put his head in his hands. "Besides, what if I had something to do tonight?"
"Well..." Cloud paused as he though. "It'll work out, I guess."
"That was so embarrassing!" Cloud wailed, flopping down in the living room.
"If you didn't let him distract you so much..."
"You said I wouldn't have to fight him!"
"You would have been fine if you'd been watching his sword and not his..."
"Zack! Now he'll just write me off as another nothing. He barely said anything afterward."
"What did you want? A cookie? Sephiroth can be a cold one sometimes. I think he was impressed."
Cloud sighed and stood up slowly. "I should just throw these away." He said, walking to his desk and pulling out a handful of paper.
Zack turned in time to see four pieces of black paper flutter into the garbage. He lunged at them. Cloud looked at his roommate for a second before heading for his room.
"You made this?" Zack asked, grabbing the puzzle pieces from the garbage.
"Yeah. It was my secret code when I was younger," Cloud said, pausing in the doorway.
"So what does the whole thing say?"
"Cloud. One of us is going to take these damned things to the General's office or else." Zack grabbed Cloud's arm and tried to pull him along. "And you are going to tell me what the message is."
"It was just, um, asking, um, Sephiroth to, um, get a burger or something tomorrow night," Cloud mumbled.
Zack looked incredulously. "Really?"
Cloud nodded, not lifting his gaze from his shoes.
"That might just work. Once he has the full puzzle, he'll probably just want to meet you to see who's been tormenting him," Zack said, fanning the pieces in the hand that didn't have a grip on Cloud. "Why don't the two of us sneak up and stick these under his door. I promise to act all surprised about it tomorrow."
Cloud looked up and into Zack's eyes. "You promise not to tell?"
Zack smiled. "Nah. It's been too much fun watching him stew over this whole thing. Why cut that short." He winked, and pulled Cloud out the door.
"So maybe it was a valentine?" Zack asked, handing the last two pieces over. He'd acted requisitely shocked to find not one, but four black puzzle pieces in what had to be a regenerating pile of pink.
"I don't much care." Nimble fingers snatched the papers away. "I just want to know what it says. And then I'm going to figure out who sent this brain-twisting oddity and have them shot."
Zack winced. "You're kidding, right?"
"I would like to know who created it. If there's a good enough reason, I'll let them live." Sephiroth was quiet a moment as he finished placing the pieces and stared at them. "This should be simple enough," he said after a moment.
"Why?" Zack came around the desk.
"It's just a coded version of our language. It uses standard punctuation, and if I assume correctly that these symbols, followed by this comma..." Sephiroth pointed as he spoke, explaining exactly how to decode the entire note. "It even came with a key."
"The symbols here most likely spell out my name, which contains seven highly repetitious letters that can be used to take care of easy words, like 'the' and also, since ''e' is the most common letter in the language..." Sephiroth trailed off, copying the symbols onto a blank piece of paper.
"You have half the thing translated already, and filling in other letters should be easy!" Zack exclaimed, momentarily forgetting he already knew what the thing said.
"Zack, why are you always in my office?"
Cloud sat alone in the burger joint. There were only a handful of other people in there. Apparently this wasn't the holiday for fast food. He was facing away from the door, instead staring off at a blinking pinball machine and a broken jukebox.
"Heya, ya waitin' for someone?" A black-haired waitress had bounced over with a menu. "My name's Suzy and I'll be takin' care of ya tonight."
"I'm kinda waiting," Cloud replied. "I don't know if he'll show up though."
"Well, what time's he supposed to meetcha?" Suzy, who couldn't have been any older than Cloud, sat down in the booth across from him.
Suzy looked at her watch. "It's almost seven now, so ya still have a few minutes. But why'd ya pick this place? It's not too romantic!" She laughed, high and skittery.
Cloud shrugged. "I don't know."
"Seems like no one's comin' in tonight." Suzy had her elbows on the table, arms and hands propping her chin. "But I could grab ya somethin' to drink while yer waitin'."
"Just a soda."
"Right on." And Suzy bounced away only to return a minute later.
"What time is it now?"
"Aw, ya still got time. I bet he'll show up. You seem like a real nice guy. And with ShinRa and all. Heck, if he doesn't, mind if I eat dinner with ya? Yer my only table." Suzy sat down again, ignoring glares from her manager.
"I don't know. I guess so."
"Thanks, um... I don't know yer name yet." Suzy smiled, waiting for Cloud to fill her in.
"That's a cool name. I hate mine. But I guess it kinda fits me. So the guy yer waitin' for, what's he like?" Suzy grinned, pulling out her notepad.
"He's perfect. Too good to bother coming here tonight," Cloud replied, taking a sip of his soda. He noticed Suzy was busy scribbling away on her notepad. "What are you drawing?"
"A picture. I'm not very good, but does the guy yer waiting for look like this?" She handed the notebook over to Cloud, who took it apprehensively.
Cloud stared at the rough sketch. Despite not telling her a thing about his physical appearance, she'd done a very recognizable drawing of Sephiroth.
"How did you...?" He handed the notepad back, eyes narrowed.
"Ya said he was perfect, so I went from there." Suzy winked. "Besides, he's standin' behind ya. Smilin' an' all."
By request! The Puzzle Pieces Code:
Drink Lemonade! Tip Your Waitress!