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.

 


He was walking down the hallways in a daze, not even exactly sure where his feet were taking him. He was vaguely aware of some people passing him in the halls and saying hello to him, but he didn't reply or acknowledge them in any type of way. He couldn't seem to come to grips with what he had just heard being discussed beforehand in his father's office.


The Shogun and his father...they were using him as some sort of barter? For what reason? What on earth could the Shogun have possibly said to Saito to make him be able to pass off his son to him so easily? Did he just not care at all? Cloud couldn't wrap his mind around it. Was he not still his blood? Even if he knew that he and his fathers relationship was at times strained, he never would've thought that his dad would so casually allow the Shogun to take him to his bed. It didn't make any sense, it...hurt more than anything.


How long he had stayed there hiding in the office he wasn't sure. But after his father and the Shogun had left he seemed to be unable to move. So he just sat there in a stupor of sorts. Shocked and confused more than anything. And once he finally was able to stand to his feet he began walking, until he arrived at the destination he was at now.


Lifting a small, shaky hand he knocked on the door tentatively. He knew it was late now and he didn't mean to disturb the other...but he couldn't go home, he just couldn't. And at this hour he wouldn't be able to leave the castle's walls. He was essentially stuck, but he had to do something.


There was a silence and so Cloud lifted his hand again and knocked more loudly this time. He heard some shuffling on the other side of the door before it was slid open. The man before him at first held a bit of a questioning look, no doubt wondering who would be knocking at his door at such an hour. But once he caught sight of the blond his eyes softened.


"Forgive me," Cloud started softly, "I know it's late but...I didn't know where else to go."


"Cloud," The Samurai began while gently reaching out his hand and taking the blond by the wrist. "It's okay, you're more than welcome to come here."


"Thank you," Cloud replied as he was guided inside the home.


"Have a seat," Angeal spoke up while leading Cloud into the living room. He sat down carefully before the man sat down across from him. He raked his eyes over the blond once noticing the paleness in his skin and the red around his eyes. And although there weren't tears coming from his eyes at this moment Angeal could tell he had been crying earlier.


"Would you like some tea?" Angeal asked.


Nodding Cloud met his gaze briefly before twining his fingers together nervously. Angeal rose to his feet and made his way to the kitchen. He knew something serious was bothering Cloud, and he had no problem with allowing him to stay at his place. But honestly he just wasn't very good at comforting and talking about things. So the most he could do was try to make Cloud a little comfortable and give him some time to calm down.


Glancing around the room Cloud let out a sigh. What was going to happen since he didn't go home? He knew his mom was worrying, and that he felt bad about but he just couldn't be there right now. How was he supposed to go home to the same place as his father after finding out that he was half responsible for putting him through that hell? A part of him felt if he were to look his father in the face he would yell and scream at him or just burst into tears. He was so confused at this point, nothing made sense to him. And just like that his father was going to willingly allow the Shogun to be with him again? Just thinking back to it made him further sick. It was already one thing having to try to face the Shogun and go against him...but now his father too?


Did he do something? Did he make his father so angry, was he so disappointed in him?


He felt the tears begin to sting his eyes again and he let out a shaky breath. At this point he felt as if the tears may never stop. Knowing that his own father aided in the most terrible experience of his life...it was the ultimate betrayal. He may as well have just stabbed him in the back...literally.


Coming back into the living room Angeal placed the cup of tea on the table in front of Cloud. He noticed the new tears falling from his eyes and could hear his erratic breathing. The poor kid seemed to be losing it and falling apart right before him.


Reaching out a hand he gently patted his back before speaking up.


"Stay right here okay? I'll be right back."


Not being able to talk at the moment Cloud simply nodded his head as he continued to wipe away his tears. He was only vaguely aware of the Samurai getting up and exiting the home before he laid down on the tatami mat and curled up. Sleep was the furthest thing from his mind at this point, but mentally...he was exhausted.




Bolting inside before the castle doors were even completely opened Zack spun around and impatiently waited for his mentor. Angeal followed after, waving his hand at the younger one letting him know it was alright to run ahead if he wanted. Saying a quick thank you Zack continued on. He just had to hurry up and get to Cloud, his mind was racing and he just needed to make sure his boyfriend was okay. When he woke up to Angeal knocking at his door his first thought was that something had come up and that they needed to head out somewhere. But when he said that something was wrong with Cloud Zack's heart dropped. He knew that if Cloud went to Angeal's so late in the evening and he appeared to be as upset as Angeal had said he was...surely no good could come from that.


Finally coming up to Angeal's quarters Zack opened the door in a hurry and stepped inside. His eyes were scanning the place and once he entered into the living room he saw a small form curled up on the floor in the dim lighting of the room.


"Cloud?" Zack asked softly while walking over towards the other and kneeling down quietly beside him. Letting his fingers gently run through blond spikes he was surprised when he felt Cloud flinch and cast a glance back over his shoulder. He seemed to look a little shocked to see Zack there instead of Angeal, but he was glad that it was him.


"Zack?" He started while pulling himself up and turning around to face the other. It didn't even take him a minute before he was throwing his arms around his neck and holding onto him tightly as his tears continued to fall.


"Shh, it's okay. I'm here now," Zack whispered soothingly while wrapping his arms around the smaller one.


The sound of the door closing in the background caught Zack's attention and he glanced over to see Angeal walk into the room.


"Thank you," Zack said to the man who just gave him a nod.


"I'll be in my room," Angeal replied before retreating down the hallway and into his bedroom.


Turning his attention back to Cloud Zack ran his hand up and down his back comfortingly. He could feel Cloud shaking in his arms and he heard the sobs escaping from his throat. Whatever it was that was bothering him had him really worked up. And while he was accustomed to Cloud's tears, he had never seen him cry this way before. As if he were completely breaking down. Now he understood why Angeal had gotten him, something was definitely wrong here.


"Cloud," Zack began softly while running his fingers through his hair. His heart was breaking at the sight and he couldn't help but to feel guilty about not being around Cloud as much lately. It wasn't that he didn't want to, but with Saito forbiding them to see each other it made it so much more difficult. Zack used to see Cloud practically everyday and now it was as if they were drifting. Things were going on in Cloud's life that Zack probably knew nothing about, and he hated that feeling. It was like things were detached, which was a foreign feeling to him considering that he and Cloud used to be practically inseperable. And now...if something happened. Zack wouldn't be able to fogive himself. "It's okay."


"No it's not," Cloud cried in between sobs before burying his face against Zack's shoulder.


"What do you mean? What happened Cloud?" He asked gently.


Letting out a sigh Cloud closed his eyes tightly. He had to tell Zack...he had to tell him everything. There was no more running away, no more evading. Things were way over his head now, and it seemed as if his nightmare was nowehere near finished. He couldn't hide behind the false mirror anymore, he couldn't carry this alone by himself. He felt like he was thisclose to breaking and he didn't know what to do.


"I'm...scared," Cloud finally admitted while gripping Zack tighter.


Scared?


Zack felt his stomach drop at that. Not so much from the actual word but from the way it escaped lips. He could hear the quiver in Cloud's voice and he had spoken it so softly. It was almost as if when he said that he reverted back to the little boy that Zack remembered all those years ago.


"Of what?" Zack asked carefully while pulling Cloud even closer to him. He felt himself becoming protective already, as if he were trying to shield Cloud now from whatever else may try to harm him.


"Everything...I don't know," Cloud whispered while exhaling a breath that he hadn't even been aware he was holding. "I don't want to do this anymore. I don't want to get hurt. I don't understand why..."


Cloud had run through things so fast and so quietly that Zack had to strain to hear him. But he picked up on what he said, and he felt more confused than ever. Although the one thing that stuck in his mind most of all was Cloud saying he didn't want to get hurt. Was that what he was scared of? Who was going to hurt him? Had someone already?


His thoughts quickly went back to the night of the festival when he and Cloud had gotten into an arguement. What stood out most in his memory from that night was when he grabbed Cloud's arm and noticed the bluish, black mark on his arm. He had asked what happened but Cloud didn't really say much about it and just pulled away from him. Zack had thought it was odd at the time but with everything that was going on it sort of slipped his mind. But now...with Cloud saying this and remembering that night...


"Somebody hurt you?" Zack asked in horror while pulling back a bit.


Cloud sniffled and kept his gaze downwards all the while remaining silent. It was still so hard to say, he was still so ashamed of the whole thing.


Anger started to rise within the Samurai just from the sheer thought of it and he quickly became impatient.


"Who?" He demanded, his voice becoming more loud as he took Cloud by the shoulders.


Cloud could hear the anger in his voice and when he looked up into his eyes he shrunk back a little. Not only was he ashamed to speak of it, but he was also afraid of Zack's reaction. True he wondered what he would think of him after, but more than that he was also a bit worried at Zack's temper. Zack was a very good natured, laid back person and everyone who knew him knew that first hand. But when it came to his family and loved ones...he was very protective. And if any harm came their way he was definitely one to not take it lightly.


"Cloud," Zack persisted while narrowing his eyes slightly. Almost as if he were trying to read into Cloud's mind.


"The..." Cloud started shakily while dropping his gaze once more. "Shogun" he finally confessed in a quiet voice while covering his face with his hands. It was the most horrible thing to have to say that to the person he loved. To let him know that he had been with someone else, even if it wasn't by his choice. He knew that was all he needed to say for Zack to understand what happened. And honestly he didn't think he could tell him anymore than that even if he wanted to. To relive that night would only further break him.


There was a thick silence that fell over the room as Zack digested the information that had just been given to him. His mind went completely blank at that moment, everything around him seemed to stop and he was only vaguely aware of Cloud's crying. And then after that his blood began to boil. The Shogun...the very man who he was serving had hurt the one person who meant the most to him. How did he not see it? There had been so many signs earlier on. Cloud's strange behavior, his withdrawn ways. The sleepless nights and nightmares...the bruises. How did he not piece it together more quickly? Or did he just not want to believe what he probably had already suspected in the back of his mind? How did he allow for this to happen? He was suppose to protect Cloud at all cost, he had promised him that he woudn't let the Shogun touch him and yet...he failed him.


He focused his attention back on the small blond in front of him who still had his face covered and was quietly sobbing. He looked so small and fragile in that moment and Zack couldn't help but to think what he must've went through, all alone with nobody to help him. Clenching his jaw he quickly got to his feet and began to cross the room.


Sensing the other's presence move away Cloud pulled his hands away from his face and glanced across the room at Zack's retreating back. What was he doing? He hadn't said a word since Cloud had spoken what he did to him, and now he was leaving? Cloud was confused and a little worried at this and he slowly rose to his feet.


"Zack?" He asked a bit unsure and softly. When he didn't get a response and Zack was nearing the door he quickly went after him. Coming up to the door just when Zack had slid it open Cloud quickly closed it while leaning against it with his back and looking at the Samurai.


"What are you doing?" He asked a bit shakily. In all honesty he was a bit scared from the look in Zack's eyes. They seemed to be glossed over and a little unfocused. It wasn't the usual warm, loving look that he was used to seeing in those blue depths and he didn't know what it meant.


"Just stay here," Zack spoke surprisingly calm while reaching for the door again.


"Why? Where are you going?" Cloud asked in a panic. Zack was obviously angry, in fact beyond the point of just anger. No, this surpassed something else. And although Cloud had never seen it before he was sure that this was probably the mode that Zack would go in when out on the battlefield. It was unnerving to him. The last thing he needed was for Zack to go into some sort of red rage and do something terribly stupid. He wasn't thinking clearly, no, he just wasn't thinking at all. This was merely instinct.


Flashing a glance his way briefly Zack ignored Cloud's question and opened the door again. Cloud wanted to close it again, but honestly he wasn't going to be able to overpower Zack. He couldn't do it to begin with and he definitely wasn't going to be able to do it with him this way. What was he going to do? Should he go and get Angeal? Surely if anyone could stop Zack it would be him.


Cloud felt his panic rise as Zack stepped out of the quarters and started down the corridor. No, this wasn't right. If Zack got hurt because of him, Cloud would never be able to forgive himself.


"Zack stop!" Cloud cried while stepping out of the doorway. But it landed on deaf ears and Zack continued. Hot tears were rolling down Cloud's face and all of his emotions seemed to get to him at once. He was already a wreck, he didn't need to be further stressed with worrying about Zack's safety. What was he doing!


"Zackary!"


Maybe it was the sheer anguish in Cloud's voice, or maybe Zack had just finally started to come back to reality. But he finally stopped. His heart was racing and he clenched his fists so tightly that his knuckles turned pure white. He had to get grip, he had to think logically. He couldn't let his anger blind him, and as a Samurai he definitely should've known better. But he just...


Turning back around his eyes fell onto Cloud who still standing in the doorway of Angeal's. He was breathing heavily and a steady stream of tears were rolling down his face. How could he further hurt him? That thought alone only made Zack feel even more guilty. He needed to be there for Cloud. He had to be strong for him, he couldn't be wreckless. Within a second he was right back in front of Cloud and scooping him into his arms in a fierce embrace.


"I'm sorry," Zack apologized with a heavy heart, "I'm so sorry."


"I need you," Cloud cried, "you can't do anything foolish like that. I can't lose you."


"You're not going to lose me," Zack continued. "I'm sorry."


'I'm sorry for breaking my promise to you. I'm sorry for not being there when you needed me most. '


Zack didn't know what he was more angry at. The fact that the Shogun had gotten to Cloud or that he had allowed him to. He was never going to be able to forgive himself for not being there. Cloud always trusted him, always took his word to heart without doubt. And he had broken that, and he wasn't sure there was ever going to be anyway to make up for that.




"If I fall asleep out here you won't just leave me will you?"


Glancing down to his friend who was stretched out on the ground with his eyes closed he couldn't help but to laugh a bit.


"You do look awfully comfortable," Cloud began while leaning back on his hands, "but I promise I won't leave."


Cracking open an eye Zack gave a grin, "good," he replied before reaching up and tugging at Cloud's arm. "Then relax with me."


Letting himself be pulled down Cloud lay beside Zack and let out a sigh as he gazed up at the night sky. It was such a nice evening, nights like this were what he loved most. Simply taking in the surrounding and the company of his friend. It was what they always did for as long as he could remember. The thought of not being able to have moments like these anymore pulled at his heart and he felt himself becoming depressed just at the mere thought of it.


"What's on your mind?" Zack asked quietly while letting his eyes open to stare up at the sky.


Cloud wasn't really surprised at the question. Even though he was trying to act as if nothing was bothering him, Zack was always able to sense when something was wrong even if nobody else did. And while a bit annoying at times...he wouldn't have it any other way.


"My father's going to be on the council. He was appointed as Chamberlain," Cloud explained softly.


"What?" Zack asked while turning to face Cloud who simply just gave a nod.


"That's great!" Zack beamed while pushing himself up slightly.


"You think so?" Cloud asked while letting wary blue eyes focus on the other.


"Of course," Zack replied, "I know your dad works hard. It's an honor for him to be acknowledged and be able to move up. It's good for your whole family."


Smiling gently Cloud glanced away, "I knew you'd say that."


Tilting his head slightly Zack kept his eyes on Cloud. "Well of course..."


"I know...everyone would say that," Cloud continued before looking back towards the Samurai, "which is why I can't say...I wish he wasn't. How ungrateful would I be."


"Well you said it to me," Zack started gently, "and I don't think it means you're ungrateful. What worries you about it?"


"I just," Cloud began before letting his gaze drift upwards to the stars again. "Feel like everything is going to change. A lot has been changing already and...I don't know. Just this gut feeling I have. It's going to be so differerent...we'll be moving and I like it here."


Zack could understand that. It was an extremely big change. Cloud was going to be uprooted from the only home he'd ever known and placed into a huge, foreign place where he would probably have to interact with tons of people. And knowing Cloud's personality and his shyness around others at times, it probably seemed like the worst thing to him.


"Well," Zack started, "change isn't always a bad thing. Life is full of changes. And you won't be too far away from town...and hey Aerith stays in the castle, so at least you already know someone there right?"


"I guess," Cloud replied while looking back to Zack who was giving him a comforting smile. That smile that Cloud was so used to seeing on a daily basis. How was he going to manage not being able to see him all the time? His whole life Zack had only been a few doors away from him.


"But I'll still be far away from you," Cloud finished while dropping his gaze.


Zack's heart dropped at the look on Cloud's face when he said those words. He knew that was what was bothering Cloud the most about moving...and in all honesty it bothered Zack to, but he was trying not to show it for Cloud's sake. When you were so used to being around someone almost all the time, and for that to change so suddenly was a drastic thing. But...things were changing. And they couldn't stop that, it was life. The best thing that they could do was embrace it and learn to deal with it, and do everything in their power to still keep their friendship strong. At least Zack knew he would at all cost.


"Is that all?" Zack asked with a raised eyebrow.


Shifting his gaze back to his friend Cloud had a bit of a confused look on his face. He opened his mouth to speak but he only fell short and nothing came out. That caused Zack to laugh and he poked Cloud in his side while smiling down at him.


"Don't look so sad," Zack continued, "as if you could ever get rid of me. I'd like to see you try." He needed for them to go back to their usual ways. Their playing and joking around, to steer the serious conversation to other things. It was always Zack's goal to make sure Cloud was happy. He could only deal with him looking down and sad for so long before he had to get in there and do something to bring a smile back on his face. It was something he always did since they were little. If Cloud got hurt and scraped his knee, his tears would only last for so long before he was smiling and laughing at something Zack did or said. And before he knew it Zack would've already patched up the cut, almost as if it had never happened.


"Well that's creepy," Cloud started with a bit of a smirk, "almost stalker like perhaps."


"Hey!" Zack gasped in defense while a laugh had already escaped from the blond. "Take it back!"


But before Cloud could even say another word Zack had sprung up and let his fingers begin to tickle the other. A wicked smile spread across his face when Cloud's first shriek of laughter broke out. It didn't take long before he was laughing too. He had to admit that he enjoyed torturing Cloud this way, he always had and by now he knew all his most ticklish spots. It was the quickest way he could always win against Cloud in any play fight and it worked everytime.


"You win!" Cloud cried in between laughs.


"I what?" Zack asked jokingly as he continued his assault.


"Zack!" Cloud shrieked while trying his best to pull away, "I take it back!"


"That's what I wanted to hear!" Zack exclaimed while stopping his assault.


Sitting up abruptly Cloud glared at the Samurai who simply laughed and ruffled his hair.


"You always know the outcome and yet you still try me," Zack said with a smile before draping his arm casually across Cloud's shoulders.


"Shut up," Cloud replied slightly out of breath.


"You good now?" Zack asked, his voice taking on a bit of a more serious tone.


"I think so," Cloud said with a brief nod.


"Good," Zack started, "because everything really will be fine. You'll see. And we'll still see each other, I promise. Besides I'm at the castle half the time anyways. Now I just have more reason to stick around."




"You were right," Zack mumbled to himself, "completely right." He couldn't help but to think back to that conversation he and Cloud had before he had moved into the castle. It was almost as if Cloud had a gut feeling that something bad would happen from being there. And although he didn't know the reasons for it then, his worries and fears were in fact accurate. And Zack was angry at himself for telling Cloud otherwise, saying that everything would be fine. Luring him into this false sense of security.


Leaning against the wall in the castle hallway he let out a sigh. He had been up all night but oddly he didn't feel the least bit tired. After he had gotten past his rage he and Cloud had gone back into Angeal's and continued talking. And while it wasn't easy for Cloud he got through it with Zack's comfort and gentle prodding. Zack didn't think that Cloud had stopped crying at all last night, it was almost too much to bare in fact. But after Cloud had explained everything, after he had told him what he overheard in his father's office Zack couldn't blame Cloud for his worry. Saito? It didn't make sense at all to Zack either, but what further infuriated him was knowing that was the reason why Saito told Zack that he didn't want him to see Cloud anymore.


'How could he set up his own son?'


What was he getting out of this? What deal had he struck up with Hojo? No matter what it was it wasn't worth it...it could never be worth 's father or not Zack didn't really care at the moment. He had lost a great deal of respect for this man. A father was supposed to look out for the well being of his family, love and protect them at all cost. Not hurt and destroy them.


Zack had been racking his brain all night with what he was going to do to ensure Cloud's safety. Letting him go home wasn't even an option at this point. There was essentially an enemy living right there, so unfortunately Cloud wasn't even safe there. And Natsumi...she must've been oblivious to all of it.


So at the moment Cloud still remained at Angeal's. His mentor really didn't know what was going on and didn't ask many questions, he just asked that Zack do what he thought was necessary before any comottion started to come about. Zack thanked him many times, Angeal was such a good friend. He didn't have to do any of this, and he could possibly be put in a bad position if anyone found out that he was allowing Cloud to stay there when surely his family would be looking for him. But right now it was the safest. Zack had to leave and go about his daily duties however. It would only become too obvious if Cloud weren't around and all of a sudden he disappeared as well. So until he figured out what he was really going to do he had to keep things looking normal on the outside. However one thing was for sure and that was that he had to figure things out quick.


"Zack!"


Turning in the direction of the chipper call Zack saw Aerith practically skipping towards him. Full of bright smiles and a certain glint in her eyes.


"Hey Aerith," Zack replied, forcing a smile as he tried his best to appear his usual self.


"I haven't seen you in a while. You're so busy these days," Aerith said while clutching her notebook closer to her.


"Yeah, that's part of the job I guess," Zack said with a brief laugh.


"Well I'm glad I caught you!" Aerith continued before looking at the ground a moment, "There's this council dinner coming up. It was actually supposed to be a while ago but they post poned it. Anyways, it's not an all resident event and so alot of people I would like to be there won't. But I know you usually attend the dinners, so I thought maybe you would come to this one with me? You can get in because you're Samurai I'm sure and besides if you come with me it'll be fine! I mean...it's just that I don't want to be there alone, it'd be nice to have some company."


Hesitating briefly Zack pushed himself away from the wall. He vaguely remembered Cloud mentioning something about this to him. Was this the dinner he was talking about? In any event he had a few reasons why he really couldn't go. And at this time especially it just wasn't go to work.


"Oh I," he started while clearing his throat, "would like to but I can't unfortunately. I'm sorry but I have some other things going on that day."


Aerith's smile fell a little and she hugged her notebook closer to her.


"Oh really?" She asked quietly, "Funny. I didn't even tell you what day it was."


Great...


"Oh I just assumed," Zack began as he tried to think up some way to save himself from the corner he just backed himself into. But to his luck he wouldn't have to think on it long because Kunsel came from out of the conference room and ducked his head to look down the hall at Zack.


"Hey, they're about to get started," his friend said while waving for him to follow.


"Oh alright," Zack replied with an inward sigh of relief. Looking back to Aerith he gave her a smile before speaking. "I've got to run but...listen, I'm sorry. If things change I'll let you know okay?"


That seemed to be good enough for the brunette and she perked up a little returning the smile back to the Samurai. Saying a quick good bye Zack disappeared into the conference room. Of course he knew he still really wouldn't be able to go with her, but he didn't want to hurt her feelings and be so blunt about it. She was his friend and he cared about her, but honestly he had far more bigger things to worry about.


Taking a seat beside Angeal Zack let his eyes sweep the area. Kunsel was on the other side of him and a few other Samurai off to the side of him. There were only a few Samurai that would be able to attend these types of Conferences and they were the ones that were the top beside the Generals. There were a few council members present also, for the most part he usually saw them documenting what was discussed during the conferences but other than that he didn't really know their places on the council.


The door creaked open and Zack turned his gaze towards it. He was a bit surprised to see General Sephiroth walk in. He hadn't seen him at all since his audience with the Shogun when he had returned. All he had heard was that Sephiroth was taking some time to get settled back into things and that it would be a while before he started participating in battle again. He didn't make his way to the conference table and instead just stood beside the door he had entered and leaned against the wall with his arms crossed over his chest.


He saw Angeal look over to the man and they gave a nod of acknowledgement to each other but said nothing at all. Zack didn't ask however, he knew the two were good friends and probably really didn't need words to communicate what they were thinking.


When the door creaked open again Zack didn't even look to know who it was that would be entering. At any conference like this the Shogun was always present. He always had to be there to have a say in any type of assignments that were set forth and had to give clearance for them to even take place.


"You're Excellency," a few of the Samurai said as the man crossed the room and took his seat at the head of the table.


"Everyone accounted for," Elena spoke while following behind the man and taking her place at his right, standing beside his seat.


"Very well," Hojo replied before shifting his gaze towards the General across the room. "Sephiroth, please join us here."


Jade eyes scanned the area before settling back on the man. "I'm fine here You're Excellency."


"I see," Hojo replied with a small smile, "I suppose it'll take some time getting used to the way things used to be."


"Forgive me if I prefer to be alert at all times," Sephiroth continued with a slight bow, "I mean no disrespect."


"None taken," the Shogun replied while nodding his head at the other.


"Then if we may begin," Elena said while opening up her folder and glancing over to Angeal. "Hewley. You're update on the status at Kyoto."


"You're Excellency," Angeal started with a bow towards the Shogun. He opened a file before him and begun reading the information out loud. However Zack wasn't really aware of what was being spoken after that. It was almost as if he had a ringing sound in his ears and he carefully pinched the bridge of his nose. He could feel his heart start to race again and he had to tell himself to breathe. But it was hard to do when he was only feet away from the man who had raped Cloud. How in the world was he supposed to sit in the same room as him, act as if he respected him, when what he really wanted to do was reach back and pull his sword from it's sheath and slice the man's throat. His fingers were practically itching to grab the hilt of his sword. Damn loyalty, that meant nothing. When he had become a Samurai he had pledged loyalty and to honor the Shogun ate...but now, those vows meant nothing to him. His loyalty to Cloud was far greater than to some old, twisted pervert.


The rest of the conference seemed to pass by in a blur and Zack ocassionally lifted his gaze to look at Hojo but he always had to look away quickly for fear of what he would do if he stared any longer. There were a few more updates and talk of new assignments and then the meeting was coming to a close. People began to file out of the room and Zack stood to do the same.


"Ah Zack," Hojo started while still seated in his chair. The hairs on the back of Zack's neck stood on end and he slowly turned around to face the man.


"You're Excellency?" Zack forced out with a bow. Angeal was still beside him gathering his documents and such and giving a quick look to Zack.


"I wanted to ask you before you left," Hojo continued while pushing his glasses up higher on the bridge of his nose. "Chamberlain Saito brought to my attention this morning that his son didn't return home last night."


"Is that right?" Zack asked while standing back up to his normal height.


"Yes," Hojo replied while leaning forward on the table a bit, "Cloud Strife. I'm aware that the two of you are best friends. Or rather used to be. I figured I should ask you if you've seen him. His parents are awfully worried."


'Used to be? How the hell does he know...'


Was there anything that this man didn't know about he and Cloud's relationship? Had Saito told him everything? Zack couldn't deny that he was more than a little upset by this, it was as if he had people looking in on the most intimate moments of he and Cloud's life and he didn't like it one bit.


"I'm sorry I haven't seen him," Zack quickly replied with a shake of his head.


"That's unfortunate," Hojo said with a sigh, "if you do happen to come upon him please see to it that he makes it back home safely."


"Of course You're Excellency," Zack said with one last bow before he was exiting the conference room. Angeal was right behind him and once they made it into the hall the man spoke up.


"They'll be looking for him soon," Angeal said lowly so that only Zack could hear him. "A council members child that goes suddenly missing...they won't take that lightly."


"I know," Zack replied, "I just need a little time."


"To do what exactly?" Angeal asked as they made their way down the hall.


"To move him," Zack said, "I just need to get him out of the castle."


"Zack," Angeal started, "think this through. It could be more dangerous trying something such as that than to just leave things as they are."


"Angeal I can't," Zack shot back, "If I leave things as they are Cloud will never be safe."


There was a thick pause that passed between them before Angeal was letting out a sigh.


"Zack," he started gently, "Please don't take this the wrong way, as I don't agree with what the Shogun does. However. I've seen this cycle time and time again unfortunately. He'll move on from Cloud soon enough."


Clenching his fist Zack shook his head. He understood what his mentor was saying. Honestly he did, and he knew Angeal meant no ill will towards Cloud. He was just being realistic, and the fact of it was that this sort of thing happened. They were all aware of it, but now that it was somebody that they knew...it seemed to put a whole new perspective on it. And while there may have been downfalls and danger to try to take Cloud away from the situation...doing nothing at all seemed far worse in Zack's opinion. There was no way they were just going to "wait it out." The Shogun had already touched Cloud one time too many and Zack would be damned if he would sit idly by and let him hurt him again.


"That's not good enough," Zack finally replied.


"It could mean your position if they ever found out you aided in this," Angeal continued.


Zack was aware of that. If for some reason they did get caught and they saw that Zack was helping they could easily make up something bogus and say that it was kidnapping or abduction. And since Cloud was the Chamberlains son the punishment would be more severe. They could easily take away his position as Samurai, he would be disgraced and not allowed to ever set foot back in the castle, possibly even Edo. And if that happened...he really wouldn't be able to see Cloud again. But even so...


"I know," Zack responded, "that's why I've got to think this through carefully."


It didn't take them much longer before they were arriving back at Angeal's. Zack quickly made his way into the living room and a warm smile touched his lips when he saw a mess of blond spikes and tired blue eyes. It looked as if Cloud had just woken up, which he was glad for. He had been worried that he wouldn't have gotten any sleep at all and he knew that he needed it.


"Hey," Zack said while taking up a seat beside him.


"Hi," Cloud replied while returning the smile partially.


"Did you just wake up?" Zack asked with a bit of a laugh while running his hands through the messy golden spikes.


"Yeah," Cloud said with a yawn to confirm his statement. He started to fold up the blanket that was around him and Zack kissed him on the top of his head. Just in little moments like these Zack really understood how precious Cloud was to him, and it only reaffirmed that he would do anything, absolutely anything to keep him safe.


Angeal gave a brief smile before shaking his head and going into the kitchen. He wasn't going to try to argue with Zack anymore and try to get him to change his mind. He knew it was only futile. Besides, it was that loyalty, drive and consideration that made Angeal respect the younger man.


"So," Zack started carefully, "it looks as if your dad already mentioned that you hadn't come home last night."


Cloud's eyes widened and he opened his mouth to speak but Zack quickly cut in.


"It should be fine for now," Zack assured him, "but we don't want to wait around too much longer. They'll probably start having people search for you."


"What do you mean wait around too much longer?" Cloud asked in confusion.


"I mean...I think you need to leave here," Zack explained, "we need to get you out of the castle."


"What?" Cloud asked in surprise while searching blue eyes, "Zack that's...that's jsut not possible though I-"


"Of course it is," Zack pushed, "Cloud all of the problems are here, in these castle walls. If we take you away from the people and the situation...it's the only thing to make sure you're safe."


"Well yeah but..." Cloud started before letting his gaze drift away. Leave the castle? Where would he go? He was just a kid, he couldn't make it out there on his own! And what about his family? Maybe not so much his dad but his mom. What would she do if he just never went back home? She would worry herself sick thinking the worst had happened to him, and he couldn't put her through that. She didn't deserve it. But then again he knew Zack was right. He couldn't hide out at Angeal's forever, they would find him too quickly and he would be sent back home. And there he would face his father's wrath and probably be sent to the Shogun's bed chambers shortly there after. He couldn't live like that.


"Cloud," Zack tried again while gently cupping Cloud's cheek, "I know it's a bit scary but...I think it's the best way. With you staying here I can't look out for you the way I want," Zack admitted with a guilty look on his face, "with your father separating us it's almost impossible. My hands are tied in so many ways. I just want to make sure you're safe."


"Zack," Cloud said softly. He knew since Zack had found out the truth about what happened he had been so hard on himself. He was blaming himself for not protecting Cloud, for not being able to shield him from this but it wasn't his fault. With all of the thoughts that had run through Cloud's mind after that horrific night, not once, once, did he ever get angry or mad at Zack and blame him for it. Why would he? It wasn't his fault, he didn't know, he wasn't around. And that was what the Shogun wanted. The man was smart and that was why he had Saito split them apart. It was all apart of his twisted little scheme.


Leaning his forehead against the Samurai's he let out a sigh. It seemed as if those really were his only two options. Leave the castle or stay in the castle. Staying meant a world of torment, and leaving meant...well, just uncertainty.


Entering back into the living room Angeal set a pot of tea on the table and filled each of the small cups. Cloud said a quiet thank you as he picked up the small cup of the steaming liquid.


"I don't want to constantly keep pointing out the negative," Angeal began while lifting the cup to his lips. "But Cloud, if you leave you won't be able to come back. If they think that you ran away your father would be adamant to disown you. It would bring disgrace upon your family. So if you leave...it's for good."


Staring at Angeal with wide eyes Cloud gave a broken nod. He knew he was right. He would never be able to just waltz back in and expect things to be okay. If he left he would forever be out there...alone.


"Maybe...there's another way," Cloud replied after a moment of contemplation, "I mean I wouldn't be able to go out on my own like that and expect to-"


"What?" Zack asked while setting down his cup. "You think I'm going to just throw you out there and tell you to fend for yourself?" Laughing slightly he ran his hands through his hair before taking Cloud's free hand in his, "I'm going to be with you, I won't leave you."


Cloud's heart swelled at that and he started to feel a bit hopeful before Angeal gave a groan of disapproval.


"Now I really am against this," he said with a heavy sigh and rubbing his temples. "They would definitely look for you at that rate. Both of you, and the results would not be pretty."


"Angeal," Zack started but Angeal was having none of it.


"Believe me Zack," he started seriously, his eyes boring directly into his pupils. "I'm not saying all of this to be difficult, I'm saying it because I don't want any harm to come to you. If both you and Cloud disappear they'll know that the two of you went off together. And word of "the Samurai and the Chamberlains son" running off together would spread in an instant," pouring himself some more tea he continued. "And at that point they would try very hard to find you, and when they did Cloud's safety isn't the one I would be worrying about. He would just be returned, but what about you?"


"Zack?" Cloud asked while turning his gaze back onto the Samurai who was now looking away at nothing in particular. Was that true? If they did find them...would Zack's life be in jeopardy? Since Cloud was the son of a council member his status was technically higher than Zack, and for that reason they probably wouldn't think twice to hurt him.


When Zack didn't respond Cloud quickly shook his head, he wasn't going to go through with that plan when there was so much at stake.


"I won't do that," Cloud stated and Zack let out a sigh.


"Cloud that's a big what if. It'll be fine if-"


"I won't do that!" Cloud repeated, "I'm not going to take any chance of you getting hurt because of me."


Nobody said a word after that and the room was once again draped in silence. They all continued with their drinks, each lost in thoughts of their own. But the air and the whole situation started to get to Cloud and he just needed to get away for a minute. He knew at this point that he couldn't actually leave Angeal's, but he just needed a little space.


Standing to his feet he placed the blanket that he had folded earlier beside one of the seats.


"Excuse me Angeal, would it be okay if I used your bath?"


"Of course," the man replied and Cloud was already quickly scurrying down the hall. With all of the tension and stress that he had been in within the last day soaking in a hot bath sounded like a good idea.




Staring up at the ceiling blankly Zack thought back to Angeal's words. The man was wiser than he was, and in hindsight Zack realized that he had probably not completely thought through his plan on getting Cloud away from the castle. And he definitely didn't want to put Cloud in anymore stressful situations. The last thing he needed was to add to his worries.


Angeal had left out again to take care of some other things but had told Zack not to worry about whatever he had lined up for the day. He just needed to take the time to figure out what to do and to keep an eye on Cloud.


Pulling himself up to a sitting position he glanced down the hall. Cloud had been in there for a long time now it seemed. Deciding to check on him he rose to his feet and made his way down the narrow hallway. The last room on the left was the bath and he stopped in front of it and tapped on the door lightly.


"Cloud?" He asked. When he was greeted with more silence he tapped on the door once more. There still wasn't a response and he suddenly felt as if something were wrong. Quickly pulling open the door he squinted through the steam before his eyes landed on the large circular tub in the center. He saw the back of Cloud's head and his shoulders and the rest was submerged under the water.


"Cloud?" He asked again as he neared closer, and now he could see that his shoulders were slightly shaking. Once he had come right beside the tub he saw Cloud's palms pressed to his eyes and he could hear him quietly sobbing.


Not saying anything else Zack knelt down beside the tub and wrapped his arms around Cloud's shoulders. They stayed that way for a while, not saying any words at all as Zack continued to hold him as he cried. Pulling one of his hands away from his eyes Cloud placed it over Zack's who quickly grasped his fingers.


There was no point that Zack saw to ask Cloud what was wrong, why he was crying. Those were questions that he had continually asked before he knew what happened. But now that he knew...he didn't need to question anything further. What Cloud was going through he could only imagine but he would never really know. He hurt because Cloud hurt, but he wasn't the one in the position. He would never truly know, and for that reason he would never understand the actual meaning behind the tears. But the one thing he did know was that he was there with him now...and he wasn't going to let Cloud go through it alone, not anymore. He would comfort him as best as he could, and from this point on he was going to protect him at any cause. He was going to make sure that one day these tears did stop, that the pain he felt now would eventually go away. It wasn't something that would happen over night he knew, but he promised himself that he would make sure Cloud was happy again.




Authors Note: And here is Chapter 15! Wow I know it is far overdue, but I've recently come to this conclusion and that is...that I fail at computers! New or old, I always seem to have some sort of issue with them! And then when I did try to post this chap the other day was having some issues. I can never win! But anyways! I tried to make this a nice length chapter to make up for it's lateness. It heavily consisted of Cloud finally telling Zack what was going on...although I didn't want to go into much detail about that, because I didn't think it would be believable for Cloud to honestly say more than he did. I also didn't want to put too much romance or anything of that kind between Zack and Cloud at this point. It just doesn't seem appropriate at this time ( I know people want Zack/Cloud kisses and stuff ^^) And I wanted to give Cloud one big final breakdown. With his father being added into the mix I thought it would be even more challenging for him to cope with. Anyways, now that Zack finally knows what happened the story will be taking a change. Please read and review and I will sincerely try to have the next chapter out much more sooner. Until next time!



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