Ukiyoe Painting

BY : MystIc19
Category: Final Fantasy VII > Yaoi - Male/Male
Dragon prints: 1072
Disclaimer: I do not own FF7 or any of the FF7 characters. I do not make any profit in writing these fanfictions.





Disclaimer: I do not own FF7 or any of the FF7 characters,
and I do not make any money from writing this story unfortunately.

 

                A warm sensation on his back caused Cloud to
stir and he slowly cracked open his eyes to see the sunlight spilling into the room.
However taking in the surroundings and realizing that he wasn’t back at home in
his room caused him to panic and he clutched the blankets tighter to him before
sitting up briefly.

                “Good morning,” a woman’s voice
spoke in the silence of the room as the sound of curtains being opened filled
his ears.

                Turning his head slightly he saw
a small woman with dark hair that was pulled up into a bun drawing open the
curtains. Once she was finished she turned to him and gave him a smile. “I drew
a bath for you, and then after that you can have your breakfast.”

                Glancing around the room once
more Cloud felt more confused than ever. He was still in the Shogun’s quarters, the man wasn’t anywhere to be seen though. Not
that he was complaining in the slightest, in fact…once he had left in the evening
Cloud didn’t recall him ever coming back into the room. But aside from that,
who was this woman?

                Sitting up a bit more straight
he winced at the pain that shot up his back and the woman was beside him
immediately.

                “Please don’t push yourself,” she said softly while letting her eyes trail
across Cloud’s arms and noticing the slight bruising. “Forgive me,” she
continued, “my name’s Keiko. I’m the Shogun’s assistant in the home.”

                Keiko? That name sounded
familiar to him. Cloud nodded a bit before glancing around the room once more,
trying to locate his clothes.

                “I set your clothes in the
bath,” Keiko explained when she noticed his eyes scanning the area. “Do you
need some help getting there?”

                “I’m fine,” Cloud mumbled while
holding the blankets more tightly to himself.

                “Are you sure?” She asked with
concern. “You can keep the blanket around you while I help you there.”

                Shifting once more and feeling
the pain course up his back Cloud wondered if he really would be able to manage
walking even a short distance by himself. But he felt
so ashamed getting someone’s assistance for a situation such as this. And the
thing that bothered him more was that Keiko seemed accustomed to this routine
almost. And perhaps she was…after all Cloud wasn’t the first boy to wake up in
the Shogun’s bed, and maybe Keiko had helped all of them like this the morning
after. Just that thought alone sickened him.

                Cloud couldn’t speak and so he
just gave a nod and Keiko was helping to secure the blanket around him before
she helped him stand. She was surprised to see so much blood in the bed and she
had to look away before she thought of the pain that the blond must’ve gone
through the previous evening. With Keiko’s help they made it to the washroom
fairly quickly since it was only at the end of the hall, then she was leaving
Cloud in the room alone telling him to call her if he needed any help. While he
was in there she finished up with breakfast.

                He really didn’t want to stay in
the place any longer than he had to, but he felt disgusting and he wanted to
wash away everything from the night before. But no matter how hard he scrubbed
he still felt dirty. Finally when the water began to cool he got out of the tub
and slowly dressed back into his clothes, trying to move slowly and carefully
so as not to cause any further pain. Once he left the washroom and made his way
down into the front area Keiko had already had breakfast on the table.

                “Please come eat something,” she
said while walking over to his side, preparing to help him to his seat. But
Cloud carefully pushed her away before shaking his head.

                “I’m not hungry, I just want to
leave,” he explained softly, his voice still hoarse from all of the screaming
and crying.

                “You really should eat something
before you go back home,” Keiko said sympathetically.

                “I just want to leave…please?”
Cloud asked while pressing his palms to his eyes.

                “Of course,” Keiko said with a
nod. She wasn’t about to push it, and she didn’t blame the boy for wanting to
get out of the place as soon as possible. “I’ll get you an escort.”

                “Escort?”
Cloud asked while removing his hands from his eyes that had already began to
tear up.

                “Yes, one of the guards will
help you back,” Keiko said before crossing the room, preparing to get one of
the guards on watch at the door. But she stopped midway and turned back to
Cloud. “And the Shogun already sent word to your parents about you being gone
for the night. And…you’re not to say anything to anyone about what happened.”

 

xxx

               

               

               

 

 

A swift blow to his
stomach knocked the breath out of him and the next thing Zack knew he was flat
on his back, coughing and gasping for air. The hit had been pretty strong, but
he wouldn’t expect anything less from Angeal.

            “Zack,” his mentor started while
standing above him and giving him a disappointed look. “What’s with you today?
You’re not focused.”

            Letting out a sigh Zack sat up
with a slight wince. He couldn’t argue with Angeal about that, he knew he
wasn’t focused with their training right now. He was always sharp and on alert.
He would never leave himself open like that otherwise.

            “Sorry Angeal,” he said while
pulling himself up to his feet.

            “Apologies aren’t what I want
to hear,” the man started while giving Zack a pointed look.

            Zack glanced away at that. He
knew he couldn’t fool Angeal, he could read him easily. Then again it probably
wasn’t hard to figure out that Zack was distracted. He tried to quiet his
thoughts and focus on the task at hand but it was too difficult. His mind kept
drifting back to Cloud, he couldn’t help it. The last time he had seen him was
when he dropped by his home when Natsumi had told him how Cloud had been acting
lately. And after Cloud had snapped at him and yelled at him to leave, he
hadn’t spoken one word to him. No letters, no more opportunities to visit him
at all…it was as if they had been completely cut off from each other. Exactly
what Saito wanted. But Zack, he missed Cloud more than
anything, and in the back of his mind he wondered if Cloud missed him too. He
honestly didn’t know, that last time he had seen him he seemed so upset. And
while he was directing his anger at Zack the Samurai couldn’t be sure he was
really the cause of it. After all he couldn’t think of a reason for Cloud to be
angry at him but…he just didn’t know anymore.

            Letting
out a sigh Angeal put away his sword. “That’s enough for today.”

            “What?”
Zack asked as blue eyes widened slightly, “Angeal no, I’ll be focused. We can
continue.”

            Raising
a hand to stop Zack Angeal shook his head. “I see no point in doing so.”

            Looking
towards the ground Zack clenched his fist at his sides. He hated to disappoint
Angeal and he knew he had with his being so distracted.

            “Whatever
it is that’s bothering you Zack I suggest you either fix it…or forget about it.
You need to have a clear mind. And I’m not just talking about when it comes to
your training,” Angeal explained before placing a hand on Zack’s shoulder.

            Fix it or forget about it…

            “Yes,”
Zack replied while looking up into the others eyes. He could see the faint
smirk on his face and Zack relaxed a little at that. Angeal wasn’t too upset
after all and he was glad for that.

            “Good,”
Angeal spoke while removing his hand from the younger ones shoulder. “In that
case you should be getting ready to go to the festival. You don’t want to be
late for it.”

            “Oh
that’s right,” Zack said while looking towards the dojo entrance. 
“I guess I’ll go home and get ready and then
head there.”

            “Very
well,” Angeal said with a nod, “I’ll meet you there then.”

 

           

xxx

 

 

            “Come
on Cloud! We don’t want to be late!”

            Letting
out a sigh Cloud slid open his bedroom door and stepped out into the hall where
his mother was waiting at the end.

            “Mom,”
he tried again while giving Natsumi a weary look. “I really don’t feel up to
going to this.”

            “Sweetie
it’s the Cherry Blossom Festival!” Natsumi beamed while walking closer to
Cloud, “you go every year.”

            “I
just-”          

            “It’ll
be fun!” Natsumi broke in while adjusting Cloud’s kimono, “I did a good job on
this one huh?”

            Glancing
down at his attire Cloud gave a nod. “Yes, you always do.”

            Smiling
Natsumi placed her hand on the side of Cloud’s face. “I just want you to have a
good time alright? I think you need to get out of this house for a bit, it’ll
be good for you.”

            Hesitating
briefly Cloud thought it over. He really didn’t feel like going out and being
around people and would be more than content with just staying inside his room
all evening. But he knew he was worrying his mom half to death, so he felt like
he owed her that much at least. He hated to see her worry, and she had put so
much time into making the special kimono for the event that he just didn’t feel
right about not going at all.

            “Okay,”
he finally said and his mom nearly jumped five feet into the air.

            “Good!”
She said before leaning in to place a kiss on his
cheek. “Now your father is going to meet us there once he’s done with work. But
in the meantime let’s go and enjoy ourselves!”

            Forcing
himself to give a smile for his mom’s sake Cloud nodded once more. Natsumi lit
up from the small smile and that made Cloud feel good. Even if he wasn’t
feeling particularly up to it, it made him happy to make his mom happy and well…that was at least one
positive in all of his negativity.

            Not
idling about for a moment longer Natsumi had started to drag Cloud from out of
the house and into the castle. She was so excited to get Cloud out that she was
happily chattering away the whole time as they made their way into town. Cloud
hadn’t really been talking but it didn’t look as if that mattered to his mom.
He didn’t even realize that they had gotten into town until he realized that
the streets had started to become more crowded, and there was music drifting in
the air.  

            Little
kids ran throughout the streets, pulling their parents along behind them as
they rushed over to different vendors who were selling sweets. In fact it was
actually the first thing that Cloud would usually do when he arrived in town
for the festival. Go and get sweets. They only brought out the best kinds
during the Cherry Blossom Festival and he made it a goal to get as many of them
as he could every year. He could already smell the sweet aroma wafting into the
air and he couldn’t help but to let his eye linger on one of the vendors
carts.

            “Shall
we get one?” Natsumi asked when she noticed Cloud looking towards the vendor.

            “Uh,”
Cloud started, but before he could even finish his sentence Natsumi was already
making her way over to the cart. Cloud simply followed behind her as she made
her way up to the front of the line and ordered two Adzuki rolls. Once she had
them in hand she turned around and gave Cloud his before taking a bite out of
her own.

            “Mm,”
she started while wiping away a few crumbs, “remind me before we leave to get
more of these to take home.”

            Nodding
briefly Cloud took a bite out of the small pastry before catching his mom’s
questioning gaze.

            “It’s
good,” he said and Natsumi smiled. She was so glad to be able to get him to do
the small usual things that he would normally do before he had gotten in such a
strange way. And she was determined to keep going like this until he was back
to his same self…however long it took Natsumi promised herself that she was
going to see him through it.

            “Natsumi!” A woman’s voice cried causing both Cloud and his
mother to turn around.

            Rayoko!” Natsumi exclaimed as the
woman got closer, “I wasn’t sure if you were going to come or not.”

            “Of
course, I couldn’t miss this,” the woman spoke before turning to Cloud.

            “It’s
nice to see you again,” Cloud said softly with a bow. This woman was a friend
of his mothers and back when they used to live in town he would always see her,
but since they had been in the castle he rarely ever saw her anymore.

            “It’s
nice to see you as well Cloud,” Rayoko said with a
smile, “I remember when you used to be this big,” she explained while holding
her hand out a little below her waist. “Makes me feel old.”

            Rayoko!” Natsumi gasped with a
laugh, “if you’re old than you’re saying so am I. And that’s not the case.”

            The
two women laughed together before continuing on with their friendly
conversation. Cloud idled about for a few moments as he looked around at the
passing people, but he didn’t really want to hang around there any longer. The
crowd was suffocating and all of the laughing and music seemed to annoy him now
for some reason.

            “Excuse
me,” Cloud began with a bow, “sorry to interrupt, mom is it okay if I find you
later? I’m going to go look around.”

            “Oh
yes of course sweetie,” Natsumi said while giving him a smile, “I’ll see you
later. Your father should here by then.”

            “Okay,”
Cloud replied before turning to Rayoko, “I hope I see
you again soon,” he finished with another bow. Rayoko
gave him a smile and a nod and then he was off, making his way through the sea
of people. He almost had half the mind to go back to the castle and just go
home, but he didn’t want to upset his mom if she were to find out. Finally
making it to his destination he stepped inside the usually fairly quiet
restaurant that was now full and buzzing with chatter. 
Letting out a sigh he made his way across the
room and took a seat at a table that was off to the side, mostly isolated from
the others but not really with all of the people inside.

            “Welcome
sir, just one se…Cloud?”

            “Hi
Yuffie,” Cloud said as his younger friend made her
way over to his table.

            “I
didn’t expect to see you here!” Yuffie beamed, “well
at least not by yourself. Where is
Aerith and everyone else?” She asked while setting down a teacup before filling
it with the hot liquid.

            “I
don’t know,” Cloud replied quietly while taking the small cup in his hands.

            “Well
I’m sure she’ll be here soon,” Yuffie continued,
“along with Zack if he’s not busy. But I think I remember him and Kunsel
saying that they were going to be here…maybe as
security though.”

            Cloud’s
breath caught in his throat at those words. Just the mention of Zack caused him
to worry. He hadn’t seen Zack since that time he came by to check on him. And
while he missed him, and while he really did want to
see him…he still couldn’t bring himself to.

            “Do
you know what you want?” Yuffie asked while glancing
over at a rowdy table briefly.

            “Not
yet, give me a second?” Cloud asked while looking up to his friend.

            “Sure!”
Yuffie said with a smile before turning and making
her way over to another table and refilling their tea.

            Letting
out a sigh Cloud placed his elbows on the table. He really wasn’t even that
hungry, he just came to the teahouse to get away from the crowded streets. Even
if it wasn’t exactly quiet in here it was much better than wandering around
outside. Out there he would see families and friends having fun, laughing and
talking…but not him. He hadn’t spoken to anyone about the festival. In lessons Aerith
tried to bring it up, but Cloud practically ignored
her. He didn’t feel like socializing and he only went to his lessons because he
had to, but right after that he went home. Kunsel had
stopped venturing down that way and delivering notes to him, whether that was
because he was busy or Zack had just given up on writing to him Cloud wasn’t
sure…all he knew was that they did. And while he hadn’t returned any of Zack’s
prior letters, he had to admit that he was hurt when he didn’t receive any
anymore. What did that mean? Was Zack tired of being ignored? Was he frustrated
at him? Or had he just given up on him altogether?

            No, Cloud thought to himself while
resting his head on the table with his arms crossed beneath him. Zack wouldn’t give up on me. He just doesn’t understand…and he never can.

            Shutting his
eyes tightly Cloud’s thoughts continued to run wild in his head. Was he selfish
to think that Zack would just wait around for him forever when he was
continually pushing him away? He made no efforts to see him, or even act
remotely caring lately. Maybe Cloud’s father was right…no, had gotten what he
wanted. If they were separated for as long as they had been, maybe he knew that
they would eventually drift apart. No…that wasn’t it. His father had nothing to
do with it. The reason why he felt so distanced from Zack was because he
felt…unworthy of him now. Tainted, dirty…worthless.
All of the things that Zack didn’t deserve, so how in the world was he ever
going to be more than that again? He couldn’t, and that was the harsh reality
of it. Yes, that’s what it was. So then maybe Aerith would be much better for
Zack after all…

            “May
I sit?”

            Snapping
open his eyes Cloud’s heartbeat sped up and he seemed to stop breathing for a
moment. That voice…was one that he would never forget. A
voice that unfortunately was forever etched into his brain now.
Pulling
himself up from the table quickly he leaned back and looked upwards to see the
Shogun looking down at him and giving him a wry smile. Elena was beside him and
writing down something in whatever book it was that she was holding, not
seeming to even be paying attention to what was going on.

            Cloud
opened his mouth to speak but nothing came out. His eyes darted about the
restaurant nervously, and even though there was a room full of people he felt
more alone and scared than ever.

            Not
waiting any longer for Cloud’s reply Hojo slipped
into the seat across from Cloud.

            “I’m
glad to see you here,” Hojo began while adjusting his
glasses slightly.

            Cloud
couldn’t keep his gaze on the man any longer and he quickly dropped his gaze
down to look at the table and the steaming cup of tea before him.

            “You’re…”
he started shakily before clamming up altogether.

            “Elena,”
Hojo began while looking over to his assistant, “why
not continue your work outside? I’ll be along shortly.”

            “Yes
you’re Excellency,” Elena said with a bow before she was making her way out of
the restaurant.

            “What
would you like to eat Cloud?” Hojo asked while
redirecting his focus back to the blond.

            Shaking
his head a little Cloud continued to keep his gaze downwards. He didn’t think
he could speak at the moment even if he wanted.

            “Not
hungry?” Hojo asked while tilting his head, “then why
come here?”

            Cloud
shook his head once more and he heard the man give a soft hmm sound before
reaching out his hand across the table. Cloud instantly jerked his hand away
but it was then that he noticed the Shogun was only reaching for his cup of tea
and not his hand.

            “I
was hoping to see the art that you submitted in the gallery here,” Hojo
continued, paying little attention to Cloud’s
jumpiness.

            “I…I
didn’t,” Cloud replied while taking his hands off of the table completely and
placing them in his lap.

            “Hmm?” Hojo asked.

            “Nothing
was submitted,” Cloud clearly replied while glancing off to the side. Why was
this man here? How in the world could he sit across from him so casually as if
nothing had happened!? How could he just go on with his life normally while
Cloud was a wreck inside? He thought that was the end of it, the end of him! He
was hoping that he would never have to see him again, even though he knew that
would be hard. But seeing him in passing and around the castle was one thing,
but he didn’t want to have to be in his presence like this ever again.

            He
caught the eyes of some people in the teahouse, obviously smiling at the idea
of being in the Shogun’s company, but Cloud wanted nothing more than to not be
that. He would gladly trade his seat with anyone in the place.

            “That’s
a shame, your art is something that needs to be shared with others don’t you
think?” Hojo asked while taking a sip of his tea.

            Not
replying Cloud just kept his focus on the table. He was hoping that maybe Hojo
would get fed up and excuse
himself….but honestly, he knew that was wishful thinking. He now realized this
man’s personality for what it was. He was stubborn and selfish, and he used his
power to get what he wanted, and it didn’t seem as if he had a conscious at
all.

            “Cloud,”
the Shogun continued with a soft sigh, “what use is it to be shy around me now?
At this point…when we’ve been so close already.”

            Cloud
couldn’t help but to look up at that. Was he serious? Hojo said it as if it was
some option for him. He quickly looked around making sure that nobody heard
those words, but it was so loud in the place that he knew nobody did.

            “You’re
Excellency,” Cloud bit out while dropping his gaze once more. He swallowed to
try to soothe his suddenly dry throat and lifted his eyes just enough to look
at the front of the man’s chest. To meet his gaze was…not doable at the moment.
If he looked into his eyes, he would only remember the way he looked at him
that night when…

            Shaking
his head briefly he continued, “Please don’t say things like that to me.”

            “The
truth?” Hojo asked.

            The…truth. Yes, that is what it was. Even if he wanted nothing more than to try to forget about that.

            “Please
excuse me,” Cloud said after finally getting control of his emotions, preparing
to stand up from the table.

            “No,
stay here with me a little longer,” Hojo said while
gesturing for Cloud to sit back down.

            “I’m
here with my mother, she’ll be expecting me soon,” Cloud explained quickly but Hojo
only shook his head.

            “That’s
right. Is your father here as well? Surely he wouldn’t like you to leave so
suddenly if I asked otherwise,” Hojo said while
taking another sip of his tea.

            Sinking
back down into his seat Cloud felt the frustration begin to rise within him. He
wanted to scream, he wanted to throw something at the man across the table. He
wanted to cry, he felt sick…

            “Hello
sir! Just one second!” Yuffie called, greeting the
latest patron that had just entered the teahouse. Out of curiosity Cloud
glanced over to the entrance and his eyes widened at the sight of the Samurai.

            Strolling
in casually Angeal began making his way towards an empty table. But before he
had made it all the way there Cloud’s lips were already parting.

            “Angeal!” He called across the room to get the man’s
attention. A few people turned their heads to look at him with his outburst,
but he could care less about being rude at the moment. He just needed Angeal to
look his way, to see him…to help him.

            Looking
up from his name being shouted Angeal glanced about before his eyes landed on
bright blond hair and wide blue eyes. He gave him a bit of a questioning look
before making his way over, and it was then that he really focused on just who
it was that was sitting opposite of the kid.

            “You’re
Excellency,” Angeal said with a bow as he neared the table.

            “Angeal, so nice to see you. Are you enjoying the festival
so far?” Hojo asked with fake interest.

            “Yes,
it’s very nice. As it is every year,” Angeal replied before shifting his gaze
to Cloud.

            “Angeal,”
Cloud said softly while standing from his seat to give the other a proper bow,

            “I
saw your mother in town,” Angeal started, before pausing when Cloud looked up
at him and gave him a look that Angeal had recalled seeing only once before.
That pained, almost sad look that had been in his eyes that night when he had
been taken to the Shoguns quarters after that dinner. Deciding to trust his gut
instinct he quickly thought up a lie. “She was asking where you were, she’s
pretty worried. In fact I was looking for you myself.”

            “Oh,”
Cloud started with a nod, silently letting out a sigh of relief that Angeal had
caught onto what he was trying to convey with his eyes.

            “Forgive
me Your Excellency,” Angeal spoke while looking back towards the Shogun, “I
hope you don’t mind if Cloud comes with me now.”

            “Not
at all,” Hojo replied while adjusting his glasses. He turned his gaze onto Cloud
and gave him a brief smile, almost seeming amused that Cloud had been so bold
to draw attention to them. “I’ll be seeing you soon Cloud. Enjoy the rest of
the festival.”

            Giving
a quick bow Cloud had turned and was exiting out of the teahouse, barely giving
any time to see if Angeal was behind him or not. He couldn’t get out of there
fast enough, the air seemed suffocating, he felt dirty even if he hadn’t been
touched, and he felt sick.

            “Cloud,”
Angeal started while following behind Cloud who was now a good ways away from
the teahouse, moving through people carelessly and not stopping his quick
steps. “Cloud,” Angeal said again, this time reaching out and grabbing the
younger one’s shoulder. He quickly came to a stop and turned around to look at
the Samurai. He had a bit of a clouded, almost withdrawn look in his eyes and
Angeal frowned slightly.

            “Are
you alright?” Angeal asked while dropping his hand from his shoulder.

            Lowering
his gaze a bit Cloud was silent for a moment before moving away from the man.
“I don’t feel so well, excuse me,” he said before turning the corner. Angeal
stayed behind him, following him to the back of the buildings where the music
in the streets became fainter and the chatter of people’s voices died down. There
were some empty crates and things in the back of the buildings, probably
leftover clutter from the supplies and items for the festival. And Cloud went
right beside them and threw up the contents that were in his stomach. Angeal
stayed close enough to keep an eye on him, but gave him some privacy as he
brought up the vomit.

            Once
he finally got everything out he leaned against the crate while coughing a
little and wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. Ever since Hojo
had stepped foot into the teahouse his stomach had
been churning. He thought it wouldn’t get to him so badly but…

            “Better
now?”

            Looking
over to Angeal Cloud nodded weakly while pushing himself away from the crate.
“Sorry about that,” he spoke softly.

            Angeal
waved his hand in dismissal before taking a few steps over towards the other.
“Are you feeling alright to go back into the festival? Or should…” he stopped
once he noticed the boy was wiping tears away from his eyes. He was just about
to ask what was wrong when Cloud took a few steps forward and wrapped his arms
around him tightly. Angeal remained frozen as he looked down at blond spikes
that were right next to him. He kept his arms awkwardly at his sides as he
listened to Cloud cry and hold him tighter. What was Cloud so upset about? It
would have to be serious for him to cry in front of him this way Angeal
guessed. He knew Cloud now but still not well enough to really know his
personality. Most of the things he knew about him he knew through Zack,
and from finding out himself when he had been watching
him that time when Zack was away. Aside from that though he didn’t know much
except that Cloud was the Chamberlain’s son.

            “It’s
okay,” Angeal said while gently wrapping his arms around the boy and patting
his back. “Calm down.”

            Cloud
couldn’t describe the feelings that were running through him at the moment. He
just felt himself becoming more than overwhelmed with everything, and each day
it felt like a piece of him was slipping away. And though he was trying to save
that and fix it, seeing Hojo again today just seemed
to put him back right where he was before. And it hurt and frustrated him more
than anything.

            “Did
he say something to you?” Angeal asked cautiously. He felt Cloud nod against
his chest and he let out a sigh. “What was he speaking to you about?”

            Pulling
away Cloud shook his head. He wouldn’t dare say anything more than that. “I
don’t really remember I just…want to leave. Can you take me home?”

            xxx

           

            “Where’s
Angeal?”

            “ I don’t know, I haven’t seen him yet,” Kunsel
said while stepping out of the way of some passerby’s.

            “I
told him I’d meet him here,” Zack explained with a sigh, “guess we should’ve
said where.”

            “Oh
don’t worry about it! I’m sure wherever he is he’s having fun! Like we should
be!” Aerith beamed while grabbing hold of Zack’s arm. “Let’s go over to that
vendor there!”

            Zack
gave his friend a smile before nodding and letting her drag him over to the
vendor she was pointing to. He bought her a pastry while Kunsel
eyed the cart trying to decide if he wanted anything for himself. The whole
time though Zack kept his eyes scanning over the crowd, partially to keep a
look out for Angeal but also to see if he would maybe spot a certain blond.
Cloud never missed the Cherry Blossom Festival. When they were kids and it was
nearing it was all Cloud would ever talk about. He got so caught up in the
lights and the good food and music. It was something he looked forward to every
year, but with the way things had been lately Zack wasn’t sure that Cloud would
in fact even show for it. Not to mention that they always went together, but
this time…

            “Would
you like to buy a ribbon miss?”

            Hm?” Aerith asked while glancing
down to a little girl with bright green eyes and dark hair.

            The
little girl held up her box of bright colored ribbons so that Aerith could get
a better look. “They’re the finest material I promise!” The little girl said
while pointing to the red ribbon in her hair. “See! Even I’m wearing one!”

            “Ah,”
Aerith began with a smile while leaning down to inspect the girl’s ribbon, “and
it’s so pretty in your hair. I think I want my hair to look pretty like yours
too. So what color should I get?” she asked aloud while looking into the box. “How about pink?”
Aerith asked while pointing at the pink
ribbon inside.

            “Five
ryo,” the little girl said while pulling the ribbon
out of the box.

            Reaching
inside her sleeve to retrieve her coin purse Aerith frowned.

            “What’s
wrong?” Zack asked once he noticed the look on his friends face.

            “I
don’t have my coin purse,” Aerith said while looking at the ground, “did I drop
it?”

            “You
sure you brought it?” Kunsel asked.

            “Yeah,”
Aerith said, “or at least…I thought.”

            “You
don’t want one then?” The little girl asked as her face fell a little.

            “No,”
Zack started while reaching for his own , “she’ll take
it.”

            The
little girl lit up as Zack placed the coins in her hand, but then her eyes
widened and she looked back up to him. “You gave me too much sir.”

            “It’s
okay, keep it,” Zack said while giving the girl a smile. She brightened and
gave him a few bows while saying her thanks and then she was off to find her
next customer.

            “Sorry Zack,” Aerith started with a
sigh.

            “Don’t worry about it,” he began
while giving the ribbon to her. Smiling she accepted it before reaching back to
place it in her hair, tying it in a bow around the base of her ponytail.

            “Thank you,” she said, a slight
blush on her cheeks. Just as she had opened her mouth to speak more Kunsel had broke in, pointing off in some direction.

            “Hey isn’t that Angeal
right there?” Kunsel asked while looking over the
crowd of people.

            Shifting his gaze Zack looked around
before finally spotting his mentor. He was a little far away that Zack was sure
he wouldn’t hear him if he were to try to shout over all of the noise. But he
froze momentarily when he saw a short blond appear next to the man, glancing
around warily at the crowd around him and sticking close to the Samurai.

            “Cloud?”
Zack said quietly to himself once he got over his initial shock. “Uh…Aerith you stay here with Kunsel,
I’m going to try to catch Angeal.”

            “Hmm?” Kunsel asked while looking back to his friend, “you want us
to come with you?”

            “No it’s alright, with the crowd
it’ll be hard for all of us to try to navigate through there. I’ll catch up
with you two later!” Zack said before he was already moving into the crowd.

            “Well should we meet up somewhere?
Zack…wait!” Aerith started after her friend, but
after a few seconds Zack had been completely swallowed up by the crowd and Aerith let out a sigh of disappointment.

            Zack was only vaguely aware of the
girl calling out to him, but he couldn’t stop and take the chance of losing
Cloud and Angeal in the crowd.

            What
are they doing together anyways?
Not stopping his pace
he swiftly made his way through the obstacles of people and vendors, not once
letting his eye stray from that spiky blond hair. And when he was close enough
that he thought they would be able to hear him he called out.

            Pausing briefly Angeal
glanced about before seeing Zack pushing his way through the crowd.

            “Oh there you are,” Angeal said while crossing his arms over his chest.

            “Yeah, I didn’t know where you would
be and I just happened to see you walking through,” Zack explained before
shifting his gaze to Cloud. He wasn’t looking at him at all, and was standing
off to the side of Angeal and holding onto the sleeve
of his kimono. Zack guessed he was doing that so that he wouldn’t get separated
within all of the chaos.

            “I didn’t know if you were going to
come or not…Cloud,” Zack said carefully and softly. As if it saying it any
other way may scare Cloud away or something. The blond just gave a shrug and
Zack looked back to Angeal with a questioning expression. The man gave a soft
sigh before looking beside him at Cloud and then he turned his focus back to Zack.

            “Perfect timing then,” Angeal said, “you can take Cloud back home. He’s not
feeling too well.”

            Looking up, Cloud gave Angeal an odd look. “Angeal-”

            “I’m not really supposed to leave
from here until the festival is over,” Angeal further
explained.

            “Oh,” Cloud replied with a nod,
“well thank you very much,” Cloud started after letting go of his sleeve and
giving a bow. “But I’ll be fine getting back on my own.”

            “Cloud I’ll take you back,” Zack
stated, “it’s getting late you shouldn’t walk back alone.”

            Not saying anything at all Cloud
simply waited for Zack. He didn’t want to say he wanted him to walk back with
him, and at the same time he knew that he should given the circumstances. He
didn’t feel safe going anywhere really.

            “I’ll see you later Zack,” Angeal spoke before looking back to Cloud. “I hope you feel
better soon.”

            “Thank you,” Cloud said with a bow.

            “Let’s go,” Zack spoke while waiting
for Cloud to walk ahead of him so that he could keep an eye out on him as the
way made their way through town. It took them much longer to get out of town
than it normally would’ve with all of the congestion,
but after some time they were out and heading back into the castle. The travel
back was probably the most quiet and awkward moment that the two of them had
ever shared. No one spoke a word, and while Zack would let his eyes fall onto
Cloud every so often, he never once caught Cloud looking his way and that
unsettled him a bit. He used to be able to read Cloud so easily, but
lately…more and more, it was harder to do. And he never had Cloud shut him out
so badly, not like this. He had dealt with his anger before but it was always
only minor and something trivial. Never to this extent. He had never seen him
so down and upset and just….he couldn’t explain it. But he just knew that he
didn’t like it.

            Once they had made it back to
Cloud’s quarters and he had just opened the door to go inside he stopped
briefly and mumbled thank you before stepping inside and starting to slide the
door closed. But before it could go any further Zack stuck his arm inside,
stopping the door from meeting the other side of the frame.

            “We need to talk,” Zack said
seriously while keeping his gaze fixed on Cloud.

            “No, we don’t,” Cloud said softly,
still refusing to meet Zack’s gaze.

            “Well I’m not leaving,” Zack replied
with a shake of his head.

            Cloud let out a sigh while glancing
at the door, “Zack move your arm.”

            “No,” Zack started, “you’re not
going to close me out. So the only way to make me move my arm is if you open
the door and let me in.”

            “You need to leave, you can’t be
here,” Cloud explained mechanically while trying to continue closing the door.

            “Your parents are going to be gone
for a long time at the festival. And even if they come back I don’t care. I’ll
deal with it then at that time,” Zack shot back.

            “Zack,” Cloud began with a little
bit of annoyance in his voice. But Zack hardly cared about that, he was going
to take Angeal’s advice. And that was to either fix things…or let them go
eventually. Not negotiating with Cloud any further Zack brought up his other
hand and slipped it between the door, grabbing the door and sliding it in the
opposite direction that Cloud was trying to go. He saw Cloud struggle for a
moment but Zack easily pulled it open, causing Cloud to finally look at him and
give him an angry look. Zack didn’t want to overpower him like that but Cloud
was really not giving him a choice here. Once he had stepped inside and closed
the door behind him Cloud had already begun to make his way down the hall,  no doubt trying to
go to his room to escape Zack. But the Samurai wasn’t about to do the whole
fight with the doors again and so he quickly followed after Cloud and grabbed a
hold of his arm before he could venture any further down the hall.

            “Let go!” Cloud shouted while trying
to wrench his arm away from Zack.

            “Not this time, no,” Zack said,
keeping his voice surprisingly calm even though he was really frustrated
inside.

            “Zack!”
Cloud continued while twisting his arm in a futile attempt to free it.

            “What’s wrong? Just talk to
me…please. I’ve given you enough time haven’t I?” Zack asked
while softening his gaze but keeping his grip tight on Cloud’s arm.

            “Talk?
There’s nothing to talk about,” Cloud explained while glaring at Zack.

            Nothing to talk about? Those words
alone caused Zack to become more angry. Why was Cloud
being so cold towards him? Acting so nonchalant and casual as if Zack were the
one blowing things out of proportion.

            “How can you say that?” Zack asked
incredulously, “we haven’t spoken in…weeks! You don’t respond to my letters,
you tell me you don’t want me to be around….what is this? Just be honest with
me. Did your dad say something else to you?”

            “Zack,” Cloud started softly while
wincing slightly, “that hurts.”

            A brief feeling of confusion hit
Zack but then he quickly let go of Cloud’s arm when he saw him wince. He didn’t
think he was holding his arm that tightly, he didn’t mean to…

            “I’m sorry,” Zack quickly
apologized.

            Shaking his head Cloud gently rubbed
his arm, “I have a bruise there.”

            “What happened?” Zack asked while
taking a step forward, automatically going to check Cloud’s arm for the injury.
But before he could even really touch him Cloud had stepped back.

            “Don’t,” he said again while shaking
his head and pointing down the hallway, “Zack just leave….please.”

            “Cloud,” Zack began, his frustration
starting to hit a breaking point. “No, stop asking me to
leave!
I won’t, not until I know what’s going on…not until we’re okay
again.”

            Until we’re okay again? Cloud repeated in his mind. That
was…that couldn’t happen, ever. Not now, not anymore. Not when things were so,
so different. He wasn’t the same person, the Cloud
that Zack knew…felt like he didn’t exist anymore. And how could Cloud still try
to be with him with that in mind? How could he try when the Shogun had ripped
them apart already? So many things were stacked against them before…but was this the final straw that would make it all topple over? Was
it possible to salvage, or was it so badly damaged it was beyond repair?

            “Stop it…there’s no point.
That’s…it’s,” Cloud tried to explain as he felt that annoying sting come back
to his eyes, but he quickly tried to blink back his tears.

            “What?” Zack asked softly, urging
Cloud to continue.

            Shaking his head he mentally cursed himself
as his tears managed to escape from his eyes anyways as his throat tightened
with the sobs that had already started to come forth. Before he knew it he felt
Zack’s warm, strong arms wrap around him tightly before his fingers slid into
his hair, gently caressing his scalp as he whispered words of comfort to him.
It felt…so nice. It reminded him of how a loving touch was supposed to feel.
How it was so different from Hojo’s touch….how it was
wanted. But even though that may be
true…he couldn’t accept it. No, he didn’t deserve
it. And he…never would, not again.

            Pushing away from the comfort of
Zack’s embrace Cloud took a step back. He saw the confused, questioning look in
Zack’s eyes and he quickly had to look away.

            “What is it Cloud? Your dad said something
to you right? Did he find out about that day when you met me at Angeal’s?” Zack questioned.

            No, not that. Saito was only one
part of the mess. And while he did forbid Cloud to see Zack anymore…that hardly
mattered to Cloud. He would still see Zack even if he had to do so behind his
father’s back. But knowing that the Shogun told his father, knowing that and understanding that with everything that
had happened….

            “This isn’t about my dad,” Cloud
started while wiping at his eyes, “I just…Zack, just leave please.”

            Zack was trying to be calm, he was trying to be reasonable. He was trying to allow
Cloud some time to be able to open up to him. But even with so much time
passing and Cloud was still pushing him away…Zack didn’t know what to do. He
couldn’t force Cloud to tell him anything, he couldn’t force him to talk with
him if he didn’t want to. But he was just hoping…that Cloud cared, loved him enough to be able to give him
that much at least.

            “You really want me to leave?” Zack
asked, “ we barely see each other now and when we do
you never want me around. You’re so set on pushing me away all the time…do you
just want me to never be around you again? Is that it? Because if it is just
tell me now.”

            No!
At least that was what Cloud was screaming in his head. He didn’t want Zack
to be away from him…ever! He wanted nothing more than to just be able to be
with him, to have him fix him and put him back together again and tell him
things would be okay and have them really be fine. But that was a fantasy now , it could never be reality, not anymore. 

            Cloud could hear the frustration and
anger in Zack’s voice and he didn’t blame him. He was angry at himself too
after all. But underneath that tone he heard sadness, and that was what tore
him apart inside.

            “Cloud,” Zack continued while taking
a step closer to him and tilting up his chin so that he could look him in the
eyes. “Are you going to listen to these people on the outside? Are you going to
let them get in the way of us? You always say you’re so afraid of losing me…and
you’re the one pushing me away. Who cares what your dad says, it’s not about
him. You can’t let him get to you. Or is it something else entirely?”

            Cloud pulled away at those last
words but Zack was just as fast and caught hold of his arms once more before
Cloud could move further away.

            “Cloud,” he began softly while
leaning down and pressing his face into the side of his neck. “Please.”

            Cloud’s instinct was to lift his
arms and wrap them around Zack. To run his fingers through this his hair, what
he always did when Zack was troubled over something. But he couldn’t bring
himself to, and instead his arms remained at his side.

            “Zack,” he started weakly knowing he
should push him away again, but knowing that if he did it again that he would
only hurt Zack more…and he didn’t want to hurt him, honestly he didn’t. And he
hated that his pain was causing pain for the one he loved most.

            “Do you really not want me around?”
Zack asked, his voice slightly muffled from being
pressed against Cloud’s neck.

            No..

            “Are
you pushing me away because…you’re tired of dealing with the stress?”

            No…you’re
worth it. I never think of you as a burden…

            “Are
you just afraid to say it? That you really…want to break up with me?”

            NO!!

            Why
couldn’t he open his mouth and say these things to him?  Because he felt he had no right to…wasn’t
that it? It remained quiet for a while after that, Zack still standing with his
hands clutching Cloud’s arms and his face pressed against his neck, and Cloud
unmoving as he tried to put a wrangle on his thoughts. He only snapped out of
his chaotic mind jumble when he felt wetness against his neck and he turned his
head a little, raven hair gently brushing against his face.

            “Zack?” He asked softly. But he got
no reply, and the only sound that came from the other was his breathing.
Sucking in a breath Cloud’s eyes widened. Zack
was…crying. Zack who he hadn’t seen shed a tear since in years, and even then
it was only one tear that fell from his eye when he had taken a bad fall when
they were kids. And aside from that…Cloud never recalled seeing that display
ever again.

            “Zack,” he said again while finally
bringing his arms up to wrap around the Samurai. He held him tightly while
exhaling the breath that he had taken in. “Don’t…please.”

            Zack had no response, he couldn’t
respond. Because the thought of losing Cloud…if that’s what he really wanted
was to end things between them…Zack couldn’t imagine. And Cloud’s silence when
he asked that question was answer enough, or so he thought. Didn’t he mean more
to Cloud than that? Was he honestly going to let his father or whatever it else
that it was influence him so much that he was willing to let it all go?

            They stayed that way for a while, a
silence overtaking them as Cloud kept his arms wrapped securely around Zack.
Then he was pulling away gently and Zack reluctantly let him go before turning
his head quickly and wiping his eyes.

            “Zack,” Cloud said quietly, his
heart wrenching at the sight. “I don’t want to…” he started shakily as Zack
turned sad eyes back onto him.

            “I
don’t want to lose you…I don’t want to hurt you. I love you…”

            After
another brief moment of silence Zack looked away before speaking. “I get it,”
he said softly. “I’ll go.”

            Blinking Cloud watched as Zack
turned and made his way down the hallway, moving further and further away from
him.

            Wait…what?
No, that’s not what I…

            Zack
misinterpreted Cloud’s words. He hadn’t gotten to say exactly what it was he
really wanted, it was hard to get out the words. But
Cloud didn’t mean…

            The sound of the front door closing
shut caught Cloud’s attention and he realized that he had zoned out so much
from his shock that he hadn’t even fully realized that Zack had left so
quickly. He had to make this right, he couldn’t let
Zack think he didn’t want to be with him anymore. Finally moving from his spot
in the hallway Cloud quickly made his way to the front door and slid it open
quickly.

            “Zack? He
started while looking around trying to catch a glimpse of the Samurai. He
stepped out further and looked down the corridor to see Zack already almost at
the end. “Zack!” Cloud shouted after him in the empty
hallway. There was no mistaking if Zack heard him or not, Cloud’s voice
practically echoed in the place…but Zack still didn’t stop or turn around. He
just kept going.

            No…wait.
Please don’t be angry…

            “Zack
wait!” Cloud called again while running down the corridor after the other. With
each step he took he felt panic rising inside of him. What was he doing? He was
so messed up as of lately that he was pushing away the one person who he really
needed…and while he knew he wasn’t worthy of him now…he couldn’t help but to
want to be a little selfish. He loved Zack, he didn’t
want to be without him.

            “Zack please,” Cloud continued once
he had gotten closer to him.  Finally
ceasing his steps Zack let out a sigh, not turning around to look at Cloud
before he spoke up.

            “Isn’t this what you wanted?” Zack
asked, “Why are you confusing me like this?”

            Stepping up behind the Samurai Cloud
shook his head. “I’m sorry,” Cloud said while wrapping his arms around Zack’s
waist and holding him tightly. “I’m so sorry,” he repeated over and over before
he felt Zack pry away his arms. He felt his stomach drop at that for a moment,
thinking that Zack was pushing him away and going to continue walking away from
him. But then Zack was turning around to face him before pulling him into a
crushing embrace. Cloud immediately returned it, throwing his arms around Zack’s
neck and kissing his cheek.

            “Stop apologizing,” Zack said while
returning the chaste kiss.

            They stayed that way for a long
time, and even though they were out in the open in the castle, it didn’t seem
to matter to either of them.  And while
there was still so much for them to talk about, so much for them to work
through…it seemed as if they were at least going in the right direction.

 

 

           

           

           

           

           

           

           

           

           

 

           

           

           

           

           

           

 

           

           

           

           

           

 

 

 

 

 

           

           

           

           

           

           

           

           

           

           

           

           

           

           

           

           

           

           

           

           

           

           

           

           

           

           

           






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