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 it's lovely characters.


Some words to know: Sugegasa- A simple style of conical hat originating in East and South East Asia.




"I hope you're full because there isn't anymore," Cloud spoke while blinking at Zack's empty plate.


Setting down his chopsticks Zack gave a grin towards Cloud before leaning back on his hands.


"I'm stuffed, it was delicious," Zack replied with a pat to his stomach.


Cloud gave a bit of a chuckle before shaking his head. "I forgot just how much you can eat." He had made dinner that evening for the two of them and had made what he thought was a good amount but once the Samurai started in on his dish he was beginning to wonder if he really had.


"Yeah, think you'll be able to handle it?" Zack asked, "After all I'm going to have to rely on you for my meals now."


Pausing in taking a bite of Udon a smile spread across Cloud's face before he let out a laugh in which Zack joined in.


"I guess that is true," Cloud said while finishing off his soup. They both were aware that Zack didn't know how to cook in the slightest, and once they left from Edo and were on their own that task was going to be completely up to Cloud. Though he didn't mind it at all honestly, and truthfully "preparing meals" wasn't on the top of the list when it came to his concerns. Even though he had agreed just a couple days ago on leaving Edo he was still more than a bit on edge about the whole thing. No matter how much Zack assured him that things would be fine, he couldn't help but to worry. The moment that the Shogun or his father was aware that Zack was gone, they would surely put together the pieces. They would know that his sudden disappearance was in conjunction with Cloud's being gone as well, and once word of that spread they would surely send people out to find them. And that was what Cloud was dreading. What would happen if they were found? No...no he knew what would happen if they were found, Angeal had clearly explained that to them. And knowing that...if anything happened to Zack...


Clearing his throat he quickly tried to dismiss those thoughts as he set about clearing the table. He couldn't think that way, he had to trust Zack when he said that things would be fine. And he knew that there wasn't really any other option, he couldn't stay in the castle anymore, he couldn't.


"That reminds me, tomorrow I'll stop into town and grab a few things that we should have before leaving," Zack explained while reaching out to pet Mizu who had recently plopped down beside him, stretching out his limbs with a small yawn.


Nodding from inside the kitchen Cloud set down the dishes on the counter before begining to wash them. "You should be careful though...I mean, you don't want to tip anyone off."


"It won't be anything to alert someone, just some essentials," Zack replied. "We need to travel lightly anyways."


"I'm...wondering what Angeal will say about all of this," Cloud said softly while running the dish rag along a plate. Angeal had been away on an assignment these past few days but he would be arriving back home within the next day or so, and Cloud was pretty sure that he wasn't going to be thrilled about their plan. After all he was the one who had talked Zack out of it the first time he suggested it.


"He won't necessarily like it but he'll respect it," Zack began while shifting his gaze towards Cloud. He watched him as he moved about the kitchen and a small smile tugged at his lips. Just the simple thought of knowing that he and Cloud would be together, away from all of this, just the two of them like they were now was enough to make him truly happy. That alone made him realize that he was indeed making the right decision.


Standing up to his feet he began making his way into the kitchen before stopping behind Cloud and running his hand along his arm.


"But let me be the one to tell him okay?" Zack continued while leaning down and pressing a kiss to blond spikes.


Nodding Cloud agreed. He wasn't entirely sure how that conversation would go and figured it would be best if Angeal heard it from Zack, after all they were much closer.


"What are you doing?" Cloud asked with a bit of a chuckle when he felt strong arms wrap around his waist and the weight of Zack's chin resting on his shoulder.


"Nothing," Zack replied, "just wanted to be near you."


Cloud's heart skipped a beat at those words. Despite the strange situation that had transpired a few days ago, Zack hadn't faltered at all. He was still just as sweet and loving towards Cloud as he always had been. Not that Cloud had expected that to change, but he guessed in the back of his mind he was still sort of thinking that Zack would view him differently. Damaged, tainted...but no. Those thoughts all belonged to Cloud, and never once had crossed Zack's mind. And even with Zack's reassurance it still lurked around in Cloud's head. But he knew that eventually they would go away.


Turning his head to look towards Zack he gave a smile before leaning in and pressing a quick kiss to his lips.


"Well if you want to be near me you may as well make yourself useful," he spoke while handing Zack a clean dish to put away.


"Fair enough," Zack said with a laugh while taking the dish away from Cloud and putting it away.


Things weren't perfect, by far were they perfect. But at least...at least maybe they were returning to normal? And perhaps once they were out of the castle walls, they could be for sure.




"Welcome back Angeal!" Zack beamed as his mentor stepped into the home. Pausing he stared back at the other, surprised to see him there. He thought they had decided that Zack should stay away for a while...but who was he kidding? It would take alot to keep Zack away from the blond. He gave a nod of acknowledgment to the raven haired youth before letting out a tired sigh. He had been off on assignment the past few days, and while the actual assignment wasn't exactly difficult it had taken up alot of time and left him feeling exhausted. But that wasn't anything that he wasn't used too.


"How is everything?" Angeal asked as he entered further into the living room taking in the surroundings. A moment later a blur of blond caught his attention and he turned just in time to see Cloud give him a bow.


"Welcome home Angeal," Cloud spoke softly with a smile. " I just made tea would you like some?"


"That would be nice, thank you," Angeal replied just as he took up a seat across the table from Zack.


"Did you see Sephiroth yet?" Zack asked. "Earlier today there was a meeting and he mentioned needing to run some things by you."


"No no yet," Angeal said just as Cloud re entered the room carrying a tray with a teapot and cups atop it.


"However as soon as I stepped foot back on the grounds the Shogun wanted to address the issues of the castles security. And wanted to discuss the new approach when it came to Cloud's whereabouts."


Cloud seemed to falter in his movements when that was brought up. He shakily placed the small teacups before the two men before carefully filling them each with steaming green tea.


"Yeah," Zack spoke while shifting concerned blue eyes onto the smaller one. He could easily read the shift in Cloud's demeanor when those words were spoken, even though they both knew it would be coming up sooner or later.


"That was mentioned during the meeting today also," Zack continued.


"I see," Angeal started in understanding. "Since it's beginning to become a major point of interest, I believe some sort of resolution needs to be established quickly."


"I agree," Zack began with a nod. "And that's what I wanted to discuss with you as soon as you arrived back."


"Oh?" Angeal asked while taking a sip of his drink.


"Yes," Zack said while shifting his gaze back to Cloud once more. Cloud finally lifted his gaze and blue eyes pierced into blue. Zack could see that Cloud was nervous, and even possibly second guessing. But Zack was going to take care of things from here on out, he had promised that to Cloud.


"We've discussed it for a long time, and we've decided that we're leaving Edo."


There was a thick silence that filled the room after that. Cloud lowered his gaze to the table, not seeming to be able to look in Angeal's eyes. What would he find hiding behind them? Would he be upset? Yes, of course he would be. After all he had made his feelings on the matter very clear early on. And Cloud understood his feelings, really he did. Even now, though he had agreed to it, he still had his concerns. He probably always would, but if he trusted anyone in the world at all...it was Zack. And if he said things would be okay, to trust him, then Cloud would do exactly that. He was putting his life... no not even his life, Zack's life also...everything was in his hands. But Cloud trusted his heart, soul and body to this man, so really, what reasons did he have to doubt him any longer?


"Absolutely not."


Blinking Cloud slowly lifted his eyes toward Angeal. The man had an unreadable expression on his face but his eyes were locked onto the younger Samurai.


"Angeal," Zack started calmly, "this isn't something that we just thought up. We've given it alot of-"


"Time and thought isn't the issue," Angeal interrupted. "Cloud, would you give us a moment?"


"Of course," Cloud spoke quietly with a brief bow before moving to rise from the table. But Zack's arm shot out in front of him to keep him seated where he was.


"Don't dismiss him," Zack started seriously. "This situation involves Cloud just as much, he shouldn't be left out."


Cloud's eyes widened slightly and he opened his mouth to protest in some way but after a moment he closed it.


Angeal narrowed his eyes at Zack briefly before shifting his gaze towards Cloud.


"Very well," he said with a sigh. "You wish to remain here Cloud?"


"I would much appreciate it if you wouldn't mind," Cloud said with a nod. He should be there at Zack's side, after all Zack was right, it was both of them in it together.


Angeal gave a nod, "I warn you I will speak candidly about this."


"I understand," Cloud replied. He had been expecting this much. Once he and Zack had decided that they were in fact going to leave Edo, one of the big things had been how they were going to tell Angeal. Zack had an immense amount of respect for his mentor, and he wasn't about to just up and leave without letting Angeal know about it. And Cloud wouldn't dream of doing such a thing either. Angeal had protected him and helped him so much when he had no real obligation to do so. Cloud would forever be grateful to him.


"I've told you my feelings about this," Angeal continued while reaching forward to pour himself more tea.


"You have," Zack replied, "and I understand and respect them. But it's something that has to be done."


"Surely there are other alternatives," Angeal spoke up with a shake of his head, "you just haven't looked hard enough."


"I have," Zack corrected. "Day and night the only thing on my mind is trying to find an answer for this. And the only thing that comes to the forefront is leaving here."


"It's suicide, Zack," Angeal said directly. "Not only would it be dangerous in general, but even more so now that Shogun suspects that you know something."


"Even if he does suspect that I know, it wouldn't matter either way," Zack explained. "By the time he started to put it all together Cloud and I would be far away."


"How far do you honestly expect to get when you already had an assassin following you?"


What?


"Assassin?" Cloud asked while keeping his eyes on Angeal for a moment before turning to Zack. "What does that mean?"


"You failed to share that bit of information?" Angeal asked with a shake of his head. "If you say that Cloud needs to not be left out on matters, then that should apply to everything."


"Zack?" Cloud asked with wide blue eyes.


Letting out a sigh Zack briefly scuffed a hand through his hair. "I told you about this, remember when I said that we thought someone may have been following me? And that's why I had to stay away for a while, but everything is fine with that so you don't have to worry."


"Not sure that should be so casually brushed aside," Angeal spoke with a slight raise of his eyebrow.


"I know what you're doing Angeal," Zack said with a bit of an irritated tone.


"You mean trying to get one of you to understand the voice of reason?" Angeal asked.


"I never said, nor do I think that it'll be easy," Zack started, "but it's possible and it'll work."


"Honestly," Angeal said with a sigh while rubbing his temples. "Im surprised you would go along with this Cloud."


"Well I," Cloud started uncertainly before clearing his throat. "I've thought alot about it, and at first I really was against it. But Zack feels as if it's the best choice and I...trust him."


"Is that so?" Angeal asked, "no matter the cost? Seems rather selfish to me."


"Angeal," Zack began as his eyes widened and he leaned forward on the table.


"Zack," Angeal cut in while raising a hand to silence his pupil. "You don't see this as a selfish act Cloud? Fleeing Edo while yes may surely give you some sense of safety and security...that's about it. You obtain security, for a while anyways. And in the meantime place Zack's life in the highest amount of danger. The end result is always the same, they find you and bring you back here. Whether they bring Zack here or not is another issue, if they did his fate is always the same in the end."


"Angeal stop it," Zack broke in quietly. He was getting more angry by the second, but still trying to remain respectful. But the picture he was painting was obviously getting to Cloud. He could see the worry and fear already creeping onto his face.


"He'll die out there trying to protect you if they come across you, or be put to death here if they bring him back. And in the end...you're right back where you started. But without the one you say you love so much."


"Enough!" Zack finally bit out while slamming his hand down on the table.


"You're right, it is enough," Angeal continued calmly. "Enough talk of this flawed plan. Don't you agree Cloud?"


"Alright," Zack said before Cloud had a chance to respond. He wasn't going to put him through this any longer, he already knew that Cloud still struggled with the decision. He was on board with leaving Edo yes, but he was still worried about it. And Angeal knew it, that was the reason he was playing off of those fears.


"Maybe it is better if you give Angeal and I a moment," Zack explained while wrapping an arm around Cloud's shoulders and squeezing him gently.


Cloud remained unmoving for a minute before looking up at Zack and giving a broken nod. He received a kiss on the top of his head before he stood up and quietly excused himself before retreating to the den. Once the sound of the door sliding closed was heard off in the distance Zack turned an icy gaze back towards Angeal.


"That was low," Zack spoke quietly.


Letting out a sigh Angeal nodded. "That it was, and I apologize for the insensitivity on the matter but I needed to get my point across."


"Scaring Cloud by highlighting the worse possible scenarios is a bad point to try to make," Zack explained while resting both his elbows on the table.


"If that's what I must do to make him reconsider than I'll do so," Angeal replied casually.


"Angeal," Zack began with a groan of frustration. "I know you're against this but please try to understand, and respect my view on it."


"I do understand, and I see your view clearly. You're willing to do anything it takes to protect Cloud, and you will do anything."


Zack gave a nod and Angeal continued.


"And yet you still don't really see what I mean."


Furrowing his eyebrows Zack shook his head. "That's not true I-"


"You are so focused on Cloud's well being and keeping him safe. Meanwhile who is doing that for you?"


A confused expression crossed Zack's face before his mentor spoke up.


"Me," Angeal stated. "Which is why I will not agree to this."


Blinking Zack tilted his head as he let the others words sink in. While he was looking out for Cloud...Angeal was looking out for him? He supposed he never really viewed it that way, but in retrospect he realized that it was fully true. Ever since he had become Angeal's pupil that had been true. Angeal always kept a cautious eye out on Zack. Whether that was from when he was younger and simply training or to now when he was a Samurai and on assignment. He may try to be discreet about it, but fact was that he did.


They had a close relationship, always had. And they were definitely much closer than other mentors and their pupils. Angeal figured it was only normal though, anybody would be drawn to Zack's bubbly and energetic personality. It was impossible not to. And perhaps Zack filled a void in Angeal's heart that he thought couldn't be replaced when he lost Genesis. Maybe that was the true reason.


"What?" Zack asked with a faint smile, "you don't believe that you taught me well enough?"


Holding Zack's gaze Angeal gave him a pointed look and Zack let out a small laugh.


"Angeal...I can do this."


Letting out a sigh Angeal pinched the bridge of his nose. Zack's skills weren't debatable, he was a skilled fighter. But even the most skilled fighter would be in trouble if outnumbered. But...Zack was loyal. It was one of the things that Angeal admired most about his pupil. And he knew that his loyalty to Cloud was the greatest by far. And in the back of Angeal's mind he knew no matter how much he disagreed and tried to talk Zack out of this plan...it would do no good. Mentor or not, Zack was growing up and he had to follow his own path.


"If you insist on going along with this...I want to be apart of planning it out. There can't be any holes at all in this."




"Zack?" Leaning over the Samurai's form Cloud gave a bit of a huff when he realized that Zack was fast asleep. They had gone to bed awhile ago but Cloud just couldn't seem to fall asleep. He had so much on his mind. It was the night before they were planning to leave Edo and he had so much anxiety inside of him.


"Zack," he started again while gently shaking the other by the shoulder. He felt guilty about waking him up when he was sleeping so peacefully, but he needed to talk. He had to voice his concerns.


"Mm," Zack mumbled while shifting slightly and pulling the blanket up higher. But he still didn't open his eyes and Cloud sat up fully before running his fingers gently through raven hair.


"Please wake up," Cloud said softly.


Blinking open his eyes from the gentle touch and soft voice Zack let his gaze fall onto the smaller one.


"Cloud?" He asked questioningly while pushing himself up a bit, "what's the matter?"


"I can't sleep," Cloud admitted with a shake of his head. "I'm...worried."


"Worried?" Zack asked while rubbing at his eyes briefly.


"I just don't know...if this is the right thing. Maybe Angeal's right," Cloud explained quietly.


Sitting up fully Zack pulled Cloud into his arms before placing a kiss on top of his head.


"It's going to be fine," Zack said comfortingly once he realized what had Cloud so nervous. "You have nothing to worry about. Angeal's fine with it now. And we've all planned it out."


Cloud was aware of all that though. For the past week ever since Angeal decided to not fight Zack on the issue anymore, they had been planning. All of them. Angeal, Sephiroth and Zack. Putting together the most flawless plan that they could manage and pulling their resources. They had seemed to plan everything out to the last detail. But even so, with it being the night before they were to execute it...Cloud was thinking of every little thing that could possibly go wrong.


"I know I just..." trailing off Cloud closed his eyes and let out a sigh. He couldn't formulate the words that he wanted to say. Or rather he felt like he would just be repeating what he had been saying all along, and he had told himself that he couldn't do that any longer.


"I know." Zack replied while threading his fingers through golden spikes. Cloud didn't have to say anything, he could easily understand his feelings. Despite what he said he knew that Cloud would still be nervous and fearful. And well...he couldn't blame him. It was a scary experience, he could understand that. And for Cloud who hadn't ventured any further than into town ever since he had moved into Edo castle...it was a big transition. Edo was what he knew, he was going to be leaving everything and basically everyone that he knew behind. Who wouldn't be a bit worried?


"Are you sad?" Cloud suddenly asked while curling his arm around Zack's waist.


"Why would I be?" Zack asked softly while resting his chin on top of blond hair.


"I don't know I...thought that you might be. Especially since you won't technically be Samurai anymore."


Letting out a quiet sigh Zack began to run his hand up and down his lovers back. "No,I'm not sad about that."


"Maybe not now," Cloud responded while tightening his hold.


"What?" Zack asked while pulling away to stare down into blue eyes. Cloud held his gaze for a moment before he was looking away at nothing in particular. "Cloud?"


"It's just...I don't want you to someday...resent me for making you abandon what you love," Cloud finally admitted.


Zack felt his heart clench at those words. How could Cloud ever think that? Resent him? It wasn't possible, and he wasn't making him do anything. Zack was doing this because he wanted to, because Cloud meant far more to him than any titles and status ever could. Even now, with everything that had happened, with all that Cloud had been through...in the end he was still thinking about Zack's feelings and not his own. How could Zack not feel anything else but an infinite amount of love for such an individual?


"But I'm not abandoning what I love," Zack started as Cloud looked up to meet his gaze. "You'll be with me."


Seeming to pause for a moment Cloud kept his eyes fixed on Zack's before a wide smile spread across his face.


"Zack," he said with a small laugh as the other joined in.


"It's true," Zack confirmed while squeezing the boy tighter before pulling him back down with him. He carefully pulled the blankets back over them before wrapping his arms around Cloud once more. "Try to sleep...I'm right here, don't worry anymore."


"Okay," Cloud replied softly while pulling himself closer to Zack's warmth. He didn't know what the next day and the days following would bring...but as long as he was with Zack, he wouldn't worry...not anymore.




The sun had just set shortly before and Cloud found himself pacing around in Angeal's quarters. He had been alone the majority of the day, Zack and Angeal left out in the morning as they usually had to attend to their regular duties so as not to cause any suspicion. But sometime during the day Cloud knew they were going to be finalizing the preparations. And once night fell Sephiroth would be coming to Angeal's quarters to get Cloud. That was all he really knew, the three men had planned it out themselves, telling Cloud only what he absolutely needed to know. But he preferred it that way honestly, after all executing missions wasn't his forte.


Mizu had been pacing around right along with him, almost as is if he also knew that something was happening. Looking about the place Cloud took it all in one last time. It was strange to be leaving here, after all he had been staying there for a few weeks now. And he hadn't stepped foot into the castle since that night when he had essentially ran away. This place, despite the circumstances, had become Cloud's safe haven...and he was going to miss it.


The sound of the front door sliding open made him freeze in his tracks and soft footsteps approached the living room. Stepping into the room the General nodded to him before Cloud gave a bow.


"Do you have everything?" The man asked while walking over to the window and peering out down at its surroundings.


"Yes," Cloud said with a nod. In all honesty he had everything ready the night before. It wasn't as if he had much anyways. The only items he had was what he had come there with, along with a few things that Zack had picked up for him in town. Whatever else he would get would be along the way.


"Very well then," Sephiroth spoke while making his way across the room and blowing out all the oil lamps except for one.


"There is a distinct route we will be taking, you need to stay behind me at all times and be quiet. If we happen to come along anyone let me handle it and do exactly as I say."


"Understood," Cloud replied while picking up his small bag and preparing to follow Sephiroth towards the front door. "Oh wait," he started before turning back and picking up a folded piece of paper from off of the table and securing it in his bag.


Sephiroth gave him a questioning look and so Cloud explained.


"It's a letter that I wrote...I was going to give it to Angeal...I will see him right?"


"Yes," Sephiroth replied just as they stopped at the door. "Stay close to me," he repeated and Cloud nodded once more. But instead of opening the door like Cloud expected him to, green eyes stayed fixed on him for a moment longer and a finger was placed beneath his chin before tilting it up.


"Zack will keep you safe. Listen to him...and one day forget all about this place."


Forget all about this place...


Blue eyes widened briefly and Cloud swallowed. Sephiroth was right, if he wanted to move on, truly move on and forge a new life...he had to one day forget...truly forget. He felt the sting of tears but he quickly blinked his eyes before nodding. He saw something flicker in the General's gaze, albeit something subtle but he caught it. This man, he had wondered about it before but still never knew why he helped. He had assumed it was just because he was close to Angeal, but that couldn't have been it all. And from his eyes just now, he wondered just what it was Sephiroth saw him in. A part of him wanted to ask, but he knew it wasn't his place to do so.


Sliding open the door Sephiroth stepped out into the hall before motioning for Cloud to follow. And true to his word Cloud stuck right behind him, even daring to reach out and grab the back of his kimono with a shaky hand. They walked further down the corridor before Sephiroth was stopping at what appeared to be a dead end, but there was a small space between the end of the wall and the hallway and Sephiroth began to squeeze into the space. Cloud let go of Sephiroth as he realized he was going to have to turn sideways to fit into the narrow space. After emerging from the other side he could barely make out the figure in front of him because no light seemed to reach this space. Glancing back down the narrow passageway that they had just gone through he could make out a little light at the end but that was it. He heard what sounded like a heavy door being pulled open and he looked back in the direction where Sephiroth should've been. Once the sound came to a stop however he blindly began to reach out in front of him.


"Sephiroth?" He asked while taking a tentative step forward and his hands landed on a firm body.


"I'm here," Sephiroth replied as he fiddled around with something. "Stay put, there's stairs."


Halting at those words Cloud glanced around, although it proved futile because he could barely make out a thing. Then suddenly a small light emerged, illuminating just a bit of space but much better than before. Raising the small lamp from off of the wall Sephiroth held it out before them and began to make his way down to the stone spiral stairs. Cloud couldn't help but to wonder just what part of the castle they were in. The further down they went the more cold it seemed to grow, and the whole place just seemed to radiate dampness and silence.


"Where are we?" Cloud finally had to ask.


"Making our way underneath the castle," Sephiroth replied quietly.


Under the castle? Well that explained the absolute darkness and the cold. Perhaps it was some secret way in case of a raid or battle? Cloud wasn't sure, but he figured he shouldn't keep asking questions.


They reached the bottom of the stairs and now the room seemed to be just a bit wider but still not by very much, and Cloud still had no clue just how much they had in front of them. But he figured if they were walking the length of the castle then they had a bit of ways to go.


The space was completely silent aside from their soft footsteps and what sounded like water dripping, but ever so often Cloud thought he heard a squeaking sound. He didn't think much of it until he felt something run over his foot causing him to gasp and jump a little.


"Cloud?" Sephiroth asked while stopping and holding the lantern up behind him to see the smaller one.


"Something touched my foot," Cloud explained quietly.


Sephiroth was sure that there was nobody else down there, he would've sensed it long ago. So he was sure that what Cloud felt was a mouse.


"There are mice down here, watch your step," Sephiroth spoke calmly.


"Mice?" Cloud asked with wide eyes as he looked towards the floor.


"Mm, you haven't heard them all this time?" Sephiroth asked.


Brushing at his arms for a reason he didn't know Cloud shook his head before it hit him. Those tiny squeaks were the mice! He didn't have much experience with mice. So many of the residents in the castle owned cats, there were even strays that hung around. He figured he just never saw any because the cats kept them away.


"Don't panic they're harmless," Sephiroth replied before turning around to keep going.


"Yes of course," Cloud said before quickly following after the man so that he wouldn't get left behind in the mice infestation. Reaching out again he grabbed at the back of Sephiroth's kimono before the man stopped once more. Cloud froze right along with him, he wondered if he didn't like him holding onto him, but he just didn't want to get left behind. That and he was trying to stay as near by the light as he could. In all honesty Cloud hated the dark. Complete darkness that is. He figured it had something to do with when he and Zack were kids and they got lost in the woods.


"Forgive me," Cloud quickly apologized while retracting his hand. However he was a bit surprised when he felt fingers clasp around his own.


"No need," Sephiroth replied as he continued on. "We're almost there."


Nodding Cloud felt himself blush before replying with a soft okay. They continued on mostly in silence. Sephiroth giving a warning whenever there was an uneven step or dip in the ground and then they were coming to a stop once more at the bottom of stairs. There was only a few steps that led up to what appeared to be two cellar doors. Sephiroth climbed the few steps before unlatching the lock and then he was pushing open one of the doors. A cool gust of wind wafted down and the dark space was illuminated slightly by the moonlight. Cloud walked up the couple of steps, stopping behind Sephiroth as he looked about.


"All go well?" A voice asked and Cloud looked up to see Angeal peering down at them through the open door.


"Yes," Sephiroth replied while reaching back to help Cloud up. Angeal took his hand and pulled him up from the cellar doors before Sephiroth was stepping out after him and closing the doors once more.


Now that they were outside Cloud could see that they were in fact outside the castle, but they were a ways away from it and off to the side.


"I'll double back from here," Sephiroth said while blowing out the lantern.


Nodding Angeal glanced around their surroundings. "I've been around this perimeter at least three times, seems fine."


"Good," Sephiroth replied, "I'll see you when you get back."


When he got back? Then did that mean...


"Are you not going any further?" Cloud asked.


Sephiroth shook his head. "Angeal will take you from here."


Looking up to Angeal the man smiled at him before patting his back. "Zack will be waiting for you up ahead."


Nodding Cloud shifted his gaze back to the General before taking a few steps towards him.


"Thank you so very much," Cloud said with a bow. "I can't thank you enough."


"You're welcome Cloud," Sephiroth replied. "Remember what I told you."


"I will, thank you," Cloud said with one last bow before Angeal was placing a hand on his shoulder. "Let's go."


Angeal had just begun to guide him away before Cloud looked over his shoulder. But Sephiroth had already gone. A small smile touched Cloud's lips, Sephiroth had been known as a legend. Edo's deadliest Samurai...and behind all that, he was also a good man.


They headed farther away from the castle, but from the opposite direction of heading into town. They seemed to be going off into a more shrouded area and soon the castle was barely even visible. By the time it was completely out of sight Cloud had become pretty tired from walking.


"Are you okay?" Angeal asked when it seemed as if Cloud had begun to slow down.


"Yes," he replied while quickening his pace.


However it wasn't much longer before Angeal was coming to a stop. Looking around Cloud didn't see anything except for trees and what appeared to be a dirt road that they had now come onto. He gave Angeal a curious look before the man was guiding him further down the dirt road, and off to the side he thought he could see someone standing there but he wasn't sure. He stuck by Angeal in case it was somebody that they didn't want to encounter. But when they got closer he knew it was Zack.


"I think you are on the wrong side," Angeal said as they got closer. "I thought we were meeting back there, I got confused for a minute."


"This is the right side," Zack replied with a laugh as they neared, "good thing you didn't turn back around." Smiling at Cloud he stepped forward and wrapped him in an embrace that Cloud immediately returned.


"Hey," he spoke softly while placing a kiss on his cheek.


"Hi," Cloud replied with a smile.


Looking up towards Angeal Zack spoke up. "Everything was fine on the way here?"


"No problems," Angeal confirmed while moving away from Zack. It was then that Cloud realized there was a horse with bags strapped across his back and a small carriage connected to it. Angeal was going through one of the bags and Cloud turned to look at Zack.


"That's ours?"


"Yeah," Zack replied with a grin, "it'll be much easier to get around right?" Cloud gave a small laugh as Zack led them over towards Angeal. It was then that he really paid attention that Zack wasn't in his Samurai attire when he saw him next to Angeal who was. But of course he wouldn't be, he couldn't let people know that he was a Samurai from Edo...and well, he wasn't a Samurai...at least he wouldn't be when word spread that he had deserted.


Instead he was wearing a black kimono with his sword strapped across his back, securely in its sheath. And a sugegasa that Cloud knew he was wearing since they would be traveling, but he also wondered if he wore it to try to obstruct others view of him.


"Let me see your map again," Angeal spoke while Zack rifled through one of the bags and pulled out the map, unfolding it and handing it to Angeal. "Try to stay on this path," Angeal explained while marking the route. "I already circled some places that I think would be safe to stop at when you need to."


"I don't plan on making any stops until tomorrow before nightfall," Zack replied.


"Don't push it," Angeal suggested, "Try to get as far as you can by then but don't tire yourself out."


Zack nodded in understanding before glancing down beside Cloud who was now pressed closely beside him. The temperature was starting to drop and it was pretty cold by this point. Placing an arm around him Zack pulled him closer while assuring him that they would be leaving momentarily.


"I assume you'll have at least three days before any word on your missing will surface. Once they realize you aren't on assignment and haven't been accounted for then they will send a search out," Angeal continued to explain.


"We can be here by then," Zack replied while pointing to a place on the map.


"Yes, however don't stay there long. That town is small, much easier to be spotted," Angeal said.


"Alright," Zack spoke while folding back up the map once Angeal had made his last minute adjustments on it. "Being three days ahead of them is good enough."


"It'll have to be," Angeal replied with a sigh before holding out an envelope to Zack. "Take this."


"What is it?" Zack asked while opening it up.


"You'll need it for your travel."


"Angeal," Zack began while handing the envelope back. "I don't need this I told you I had more than enough saved to get by for some time."


"Zackary," Angeal said pointedly.


Letting out a sigh Zack placed the envelope in one of the many bags before securing it.


"Thank you," he replied.


Watching the exchange between the two men made Cloud realize that he had something for Angeal too.


"That reminds me," Cloud said softly while reaching into his bag and pulling out the folded piece of paper. He held it to his chest for a moment before looking at Angeal. "Um," he started before giving a bow. "I know you've already done so much for me. More than I deserve. But I...I wrote this letter...for my mom."


Pausing for a moment he looked down to the letter before he felt Zack place a comforting hand on his back. Looking up towards him he caught his smile and so he continued on.


"I was wondering, not now of course. But perhaps sometime far from now in the future...that you could give this to her?"


Taking the letter from out of the boys hands Angeal looked at it briefly before looking into wide blue eyes.


"It's just someday...I would like for her to know what happened to me. Or rather, that she just know that I'm alive and happy somewhere. I would hate for her to forever think that the worst happened to me. Or...that she blame herself for me leaving."


Giving a nod Angeal gave Cloud's shoulder a squeeze before smiling gently. "You have my word."


"Thank you...for everything," Cloud said sincerely. He was going to give another bow but instead he moved in and wrapped his arms tightly around the man.


Angeal returned the hug, gently patting him on the back a few times. Pulling away Cloud wiped at a stray tear that had fallen before Zack was leading him towards the carriage. It was small, just enough to fit one or maybe two people but it seemed comfortable. There wasn't doors but rather a large canopy cover over the top. Cloud figured he was going to be pretty cold seeing as how it was so open, especially once they got moving. But once Cloud was seated Zack was reaching down and had pulled out a thick woven blanket, unfolding it and placing it on Cloud.


"Is that better?" Zack asked, almost as if he had been reading Cloud's mind.


"Yes, thank you," Cloud replied with a smile as he pulled the blanket up to his chin. Zack returned the smile before turning back to Angeal.


"You had better get going, you want to be pretty far from here before the sun rises," Angeal explained.


"Yeah," Zack replied, but he didn't make a move to mount the horse. "Angeal I," he started before trailing off uncertainly.


"I know," the Samurai responded.


"Right," Zack started before moving towards the horse. Then he was stopping and took a few steps towards his mentor before wrapping him in a fierce embrace. Angeal was used to Zack's hugs, he always did it. After they had been apart for periods of time because of an assignment Angeal had come to expect them. But with knowing that there wouldn't be any more of these friendly hugs in the future...


Cloud felt his eyes begin to water again as he watched the two. He had been feeling like crying off and on a few times all day, the whole thing was so emotionally draining.


"Go on," Angeal said softly while gently pulling away from the embrace and taking hold of Zack's shoulders. "You'll be fine."


"I know," Zack said with a nod before putting on his usual grin.


"Cloud, I'm counting on you now to keep him in line," Angeal said jokingly with a smile.


"Of course," Cloud replied while returning the smile.


Pulling himself up onto the horse Zack took the reigns before giving a nod to Angeal which he reciprocated.


"Goodbye Angeal," Cloud said just as they began to finally move. The man gave a wave as he watched them ride away further into the night, and after a while he couldn't hear the loud sound of galloping at all. Looking down to the folded up piece of paper in his hands he let out a sigh.


"It's just someday...I would like for her to know what happened to me. Or rather, that she just know that I'm alive and happy somewhere."


"I hope that will hold true Cloud..."




Authors Notes: And here is chapter 20! It's long overdue so please forgive me! But at last they are on the road and to a better life...hopefully? Angeal has gone along with it, but whether or not he thinks they will be successful I think is still obviously debatable. And Sephiroth, well I hope everyone understands that he see's so much of his lost love Genesis in Cloud, simply because of their ordeal. And helping Cloud maybe gives him a sense of atoning for his sins. Where were all of these separate paths lead? Thanks so much for reading and reviewing, much appreciated! Until next chapter!



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