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.

 

Some words to know: Ronin-A samurai became masterless from the death or fall of his master, or after the loss of his master's favor or privilege.

Nemaki- Similar to a yukata but worn for sleep wear.



 

 

Blinking open his eyes he quickly squinted them as harsh rays of sunlight beamed down on him. But despite the bright sun that was present there was still a crisp chill in the air. Rubbing sleepily at blue eyes Cloud pulled himself up a bit, causing the warm blanket to partially fall off of him.  It was then that he finally became aware that the carriage was not in motion. But more importantly there was no rider on the horse.

A sinking feeling suddenly crept into his stomach and he tossed the blanket completely off of him.

“Zack,” he called a bit unsure as he already began climbing out of the small carriage. “Zack?” He continued on as he felt the panic steadily rising inside of him. He had just rounded the carriage when he smacked into a solid boy.

“Hey,” Zack said gently while steadying Cloud, placing his hands on his shoulders.

“W...where were you?” Cloud asked with wide eyes.

“Just a few feet away looking over the map. I just wanted to give her a quick rest,” Zack explained while nodding in the direction of the horse.

Letting out a sigh of relief Cloud half-heartedly punched the other on his arm. “Don’t scare me like that.” 

Although the jab was done in a joking manner, Cloud’s tone and the look in his eyes told Zack that he genuinely was really scared in those brief moments.

Pulling the blond into his arms Zack placed a kiss on top of his head.

“I’m sorry,” he replied with sincerity before pulling back with a grin. “I’m surprised you woke up now, you’ve been out for a while.”

“Have I?” Cloud asked and Zack nodded before continuing.

“It’s good that you did though, we’re really close to the next town so we’ll make a stop there.”

“Great, I could definitely eat, “ Cloud replied. While they were out on the road he could only really snack on the things that they had packed up. And even then he never wanted to be too greedy about it. After all they had to make sure that it lasted them for a while. And it just didn’t compare to a hot meal honestly.

“That’s the first thing we’ll do then,” Zack spoke as he led them back towards the carriage. He helped Cloud in before automatically reaching for the discarded blanket and placing it over the other. Cloud couldn’t help the small smile that appeared on his face at the gesture and he pulled the blanket more tightly to himself.

In a few moments they were back in motion, Cloud gazing about and taking in his surroundings that were quickly passing by as the horse kept up his steady stride. But after some time he felt himself dozing off again only to reawaken when he felt the carriage slowing down and various voices and sounds emerging.  As they entered into the town he saw small vendors set up on the sides of the roads and people bustling about. And although the actual surroundings were different it still very much reminded him of home.

‘Wait, home?’ Could he still even actually refer to it that way? He supposed not but then again it was where he had grown up. He just didn’t know...

Pulling the blanket off of him he set it beside him. The sun had risen higher in the sky and by this point it was warming up and the cold morning chill had faded. Coming to a stop Zack dismounted the horse before looking back to Cloud.

“Seguchi tea house?”  He asked while pointing to the place that was off to the right of them.

“Sure,” Cloud replied while preparing to step down, but Zack was beside him in a second to help him out. Cloud was going to protest but he had to admit it was pretty high up and he wouldn’t want to fall. 

“Let me just secure her,” Zack began while reaching for the horses reigns. “Why don’t you get us a table?” 

“Okay,” Cloud replied before turning and making his way into the teahouse. It wasn’t very big and there was only a few patrons inside, which Cloud was glad for because he didn’t want to wait a long time to eat. Finding a table off to the side he took a seat just as a young woman with dark raven hair pulled into a bun approached.

“Welcome,” she said cheerily while taking a teacup from her tray and setting it before the blond,her ruby eyes sparkling all the while. 

“Oh, one more please?” Cloud asked before she began to fill his cup.

“Of course,” she replied while setting down another cup and filling it with hot green tea. “Take you time deciding, I’ll be back shortly.”

“Thank you,” Cloud spoke while glancing at the menu.

“Welcome!” The woman’s voice rang out again as another patron entered. Cloud looked up to see Zack give the waitress a smile in greeting and then he was making his way towards the table. Taking a seat across from Cloud he began removing his sugegasa and placed it beside him.

“Did you order yet?” He asked while scuffing a hand through his hair. 

There was a brief pause before Cloud responded with no. He felt a little silly for noticing that Zack had sat across from him and not beside him. But of course he would notice, Zack always sat next to him...it was what he had always done. Although it wasn’t something Cloud was going to make a big deal about, but he did feel a bit odd.

“Hey,” Zack began while reaching forward and sliding the menu away from Cloud, causing him to look up into blue eyes. “This is just for precaution,” Zack explained while pointing back and forth between them. “Until we get further out you know?” 

“Oh,” Cloud started as a small blush graced his face. “Yeah of course, it’s not a big deal,” he finished while dropping his gaze and reaching out for his cup of tea.

A smirk appeared on Zack’s face before he looked down at the menu. Honestly, his boyfriend really could be so transparent at times. It was really endearing. 

“Here you are,” the waitress voice broke in as she approached the table and set down two bowls of miso soup. “Have you decided?” 

“Yes, may I have three yakitori along with rice? And a side of steamed vegetables,” Cloud said as the waitress gave a nod of approval before turning to Zack. 

“A large bowl of ramen and six of the tempura.”

Giving a bow the waitress scuttled off to the back to put in their orders. It didn’t take long at all before she was back at their table and setting down the dishes. It smelled so good and both Cloud and Zack instantly started in on it.

“You should’ve at least gotten something with some vegetables,” Cloud started with a raise of his eyebrow when they were halfway through the meal. “It’s all fried or greasy.”

Stuffing a mouthful of ramen into his mouth Zack shook his head before pointing at the small bowl with his chopsticks.

“In the miso soup,” he explained.

“That doesn’t count,” Cloud said with a small chuckle before taking a sip of tea.

Giving the boy a grin Zack continued. “You should know my eating habits by now.”

Cloud gave a shake of his head before Zack started eyeing Cloud’s food. “I’ll have some of yours.”

Pushing the dish of vegetables forward Cloud laughed when he noticed Zack had his mouth open, waiting to be fed. So picking up a piece of brocoli with his chopsticks Cloud leaned forward slightly and held it out to Zack who took the bite. Smiling Cloud went back to his meal as Zack continued to eat the remaining  vegetables. They finished the rest of their meal in casual conversation and a certain playfulness that they hadn’t gotten to share together in recent times. It was... nice, and perhaps a small glimpse into what their future could truly be like. And Zack held onto that with every fiber in his being. Just hearing Cloud’s laugh and seeing him smile...he wished they could stay like this at the teahouse all day. But their meals were finished and more travel awaited them.

“Sure you don’t want any dessert?” Zack asked.

“No, I’m full,” Cloud said with a sigh. “I’ll just finish my last cup here.”

“Okay,” Zack replied while putting back on his sugegasa. “Meet me out front? I’ll go get her ready.”

“Alright, I’ll just be a minute,” Cloud explained as Zack stood up from the table.

“No rush,” Zack said with a grin. He paid the bill and then exited out of the teahouse. Cloud’s gaze lingered on the entrance for a moment and then he was taking a sip of tea. Although it had only been a few days since they had left Edo Cloud felt a lot more at ease, and sure he had his moments of fear like he did earlier in the day when he didn’t see Zack...but as long as Zack was there he took a great deal of  his worries away. Smiling a bit to himself he finished off his drink before rising from the table.

“Have a nice day!” The waitress called to him as he made his way to the door. He gave her a polite smile just as he reached the entrance, but once his gaze fell onto the road outside he felt the blood drain from his face. He saw two men conversing...no, two Samurai from Edo to be exact. There was no mistaking that fact, he knew that uniform down to it’s last detail. But what were they doing there!? Surely they couldn’t be looking for he and Zack. They were supposed to be days ahead of them, how could Samurai have caught up so quickly? 

Ducking back inside the teahouse Cloud peered around the corner to continue looking outside. The two Samurai were still talking in the same spot as they had been before. They were exactly in the middle, if he stepped out they would most likely spot him. And Zack...wait, where was Zack? Didn’t he say to meet him out front? Did they find him? Were there more? Cloud felt his heart racing, what was he going to do? He couldn’t just walk and he couldn’t stay in the teahouse, he needed to find Zack.

“Excuse me,” Cloud spoke up while walking further into the teahouse and catching the waitress attention. “Forgive me,” he continued with a bow, “I know this might be a strange request from a patron, but do you have a back door to this teahouse?” 

Cocking her head to the side the waitress hesitated. “Well yes, but it’s connected to our kitchen so-”

“Please could you allow me to go that way?” Cloud pleaded.

The woman could sense the urgency in his voice, what was the cause of it she didn’t know but she felt it wasn’t right to deny his request. “Yes, follow me,” she replied while turning and making her way towards the back with Cloud behind her. Once they were in the kitchen she pointed towards a door and Cloud gave her another bow in thanks. He noticed a few of the cooks giving him questioning looks but he quickly made his way towards the door. Opening it cautiously he glanced around before stepping out and shutting it gently behind him. It was quiet behind the teahouse, vacant aside from empty produce boxes and bags of trash. 

Following the wall down to the end of the teahouse he glanced around the corner, looking down the alley that led to the road. He didn’t see the two Samurai anymore, but then again maybe he just couldn’t see them from this angle. Moving around the wall he slowly began to make his way up the alley. He accidentally knocked into an empty box and he quickly tried to steady it before it fell and caused any unwanted noise that may draw attention. But an arm wrapped tightly around his waist and a hand covered his mouth before he could even do so.

‘Oh no, they found me.’

Letting out a muffled scream Cloud began to struggle against his captor.

“Shh, Cloud stop it’s me,” A voice he knew all too well whispered against his ear. Eyes widening he craned his neck around just as the other removed his hand from his mouth.

“Zack,” he began with a sigh of short lived relief, “they’re here! I saw-”

“I know,” Zack cut in while stepping ahead of Cloud. “Stay right behind me. The carriage isn’t far.”

Nodding Cloud stepped right behind Zack and followed him closely as they made their way down the alley. Once they reached the end Zack stopped and looked in the direction of the Samurai. They had ventured further down the road, away from the teahouse and Zack took that opportunity to act quickly. He pulled Cloud in front of him and led him in the direction of the carriage. Cloud quickly climbed in and sat back as far as he could, almost as if he could somehow disappear into the seat. Tipping his sugegasa lower Zack got onto the horse and started down the opposite direction of the Samurai. Cloud thought for sure that they were leaving but after some time he realized that the scenery remained mostly unchanged and that they were only going deeper into the town. And eventually they had come to a stop altogether.

Zack was dismounting the horse again before tying it up beside a building.

“Zack?” Cloud asked softly while sitting forward. “What are you doing?”

Unstrapping one of the sacks that was tied to the horse Zack slung it over his shoulder before moving to the carriage  preparing to help Cloud out.

“We’re going to stay here for the night,” Zack explained. Cloud glanced up at the Inn that they were by and he opened his mouth before shutting it again. They were going to stay in the town? Now? When there were Samurai around? 

“No Zack we need to leave,” Cloud said while pulling back from Zack’s offered hand. 

“Not now,” Zack replied, “we need to be off the road.” 

“But what if-”

“Cloud,” Zack began firmly. “I’m not going to argue with you out here. Let’s go.”

Cloud still wanted to protest, and he probably still would. But he wouldn’t argue outside, he knew Zack was right about that. They didn’t need to draw attention. So taking Zack’s offered hand he let him help him out of the carriage and into the Inn. An elderly woman greeted them at the front and she gave a bow when they entered. They both returned it before Zack was speaking.

“Is there a vacancy?”

“Yes,” the old woman replied, “we have a few.” Without another word she began to walk down a hallway and they followed behind her. Finally coming to a stop at a room towards the end of the hall she slid the door open before stepping aside and giving another bow. “Is this to your liking?”

Taking a quick glance into the room Zack nodded. “This will be just fine, thank you.”

“We’ve just served lunch, would you care to eat?” 

“No thank you,” Zack continued while stepping further into the room as Cloud did the same.

“Very well then. Dinner is served just before nightfall. But please allow us to bring you some tea,” the woman explained, not waiting for an answer before she slid the door closed to depart.

Letting out a sigh Zack set the bag down on the ground before removing his sugegasa once more. He had just set it down on the table before his eyes traveled over to the small blond who seemed to look both angry and fearful. But it seemed as if anger might’ve been dominating.

“Three days,” Cloud started quietly. “Isn’t that what you and Angeal said? That we would have at least a three day jump on them?”

“I’m sure that we do,” Zack replied while crossing the room and closing the shutters to the windows.

“What?” Cloud began in confusion, “Zack they’re here! There’s no way that’s true.”

“Those Samurai I’m sure were from some different assignment,” he began to explain before pulling out the map and sitting down at the table. “They’re either coming back from somewhere they were assigned to or passing through. But they haven’t been dispatched for us.”

“Even if that were true it doesn’t matter! If they see you or I it’s still bad! Especially me, they know I’m missing and if they don’t know about you yet I’m sure it still won’t look good.”

“Cloud you have to relax,” Zack started while giving Cloud a pleading look.

“Relax?” Cloud asked incredulously, “How can I when there are Samurai right outside of  these walls?”

“We don’t know that there are any more than the two that we saw,” Zack continued.

“We don’t but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t! I knew this was going to happen...I knew it,” Cloud began to ramble in a panic before running a hand through his hair.

“Nothing’s happened,” Zack started gently while rising from his seat and walking towards the other. “All we’ve seen is a few Samurai who have no idea that we’re here. We’ll stay the night, give them a chance to pass and then we’ll continue on just as we have.”

Letting out a shaky breath Cloud looked up into Zack’s confident gaze. He seemed so unshaken by it all, but Cloud...he just couldn’t bring himself to believe that this wasn’t a bad situation.

“But what if they are going the same direction as us and not back to Edo? Won’t we just inevitably cross paths at some point?”

“That’s why I’m going over the map, it’s good to have more than one route. The path less traveled, it would be much easier to evade them just in case,” Zack explained.

“Angeal marked that map with what he thought was safest,” Cloud pointed out as he thought back to the night that they departed Edo.

“He only gave a guideline and some good spots to stop at, it doesn’t mean that we can’t diverge from that path,” Zack continued while reaching out to cup Cloud’s face but the boy batted his hand away.

“No, that’s not safe!” Cloud exclaimed as tears of frustration began to well up in his eyes.

“It’s fine,” Zack assured. “Cloud don’t you realize that I’ve been in situations like this before while on past assignments? I know how to evade an enemy, and more importantly I know how Samurai think...I was one of them.”

“This is different,” Cloud disagreed, still not finding comfort or security in Zack’s words. “You promised me that-”

“I promised you that I would keep you safe,” Zack cut in sternly, “I didn’t say that we may not have any encounters. I haven’t broken my promise to you...and I won’t.” 

Shaking his head a tear slipped from his eye and Zack’s face softened.

“Cloud please don’t cry,” he started gently. He hated seeing Cloud’s tears, and to know that he was so upset right now because of the Samurai’s sighting was frustrating. But he understood Cloud’s fears, he just didn’t want them to consume him.

Wiping away the lone tear Cloud made his way over to the bed and curled up onto it, turning so that his back was facing Zack. He didn’t want to talk anymore, he just wanted to be out of this town and far away from any Samurai. He just wanted to push those facts far away from his mind.

Deciding to give Cloud some space Zack took back up his seat at the table where he had unfolded the map. He studied it carefully looking for any other possible routes. He wouldn’t lie that it was a bit of a difficult task, and he understood now why Angeal had chosen this specific way. While there was indeed other ways to go it was important that they were paths that could be easily traveled. Zack couldn’t go taking Cloud ways that were filled with treacherous terrain. While Zack would’ve been able to easily get through it would be impossible with Cloud. He didn’t have the proper training, and he had to keep in mind that Cloud hadn’t traveled at all really. This was all so new to him. And then he had to take into account the weather. The days were indeed getting colder and snow was a definite possibility in the near future. He needed to find a completely safe way that was unknown and somewhat obscure. Now the question was where exactly would that be?

 



 

 

 

Opening his eyes he stared into the now dimmed room, noticing that an oil lamp had been lit. Stretching slightly he also noticed that a warm, soft blanket was draped over him. Zack had obviously done it when he realized he had fallen asleep. Cloud felt a warmth from the sweet gesture and he instantly started to feel guilty for his actions earlier. He didn’t mean to come off as ungrateful, or to whine and cry but...it was still all so overwhelming, and at times he just didn’t know how to handle it. But he was trying, he really really was trying. And he had to remember that Zack was probably just as overwhelmed. Sure he didn’t show it, Zack was always strong, his pillar of strength. But it didn’t mean that it wasn’t true, and it would be more than unfair to further burden him. 

Shifting in bed he turned around and his eyes fell onto Zack who was still at the table. Although now there was a tray of food and a small bottle of sake on it. Looking up at the sound of his movements Zack gave a small smile.

“Hungry? Dinner was brought while you were sleeping.”

Sitting up Cloud lazily slid out of the bed before making his way to the table and making sure to sit beside Zack. His subtle way of showing that he wasn’t still angry.

“They brought sake?” Cloud asked while pouring a cup for Zack before pouring just a bit for himself.

“Yeah they said it was complimentary,” Zack explained while folding up the map and setting it aside. 

Taking a glimpse at it Cloud set down the bottle. “You’ve been studying that all this time?”

“Yes, but I’m done now anyways,” Zack casually replied before taking a drink of sake. He didn’t want to discuss the map or anything related to that right now. He didn’t want Cloud getting upset.

Lifting the small cup Cloud took a sip also and Zack looked at him curiously. “Strong?” 

Cloud was picky when it came to sake and he couldn’t drink certain types at all.“Not too much,” Cloud replied before giving a small nod. “I can handle it.”

Reaching forward Zack picked up a piece of Sashimi with his chopsticks as Cloud started with his soup. They ate in a somewhat comfortable silence before Cloud was pushing away his now empty bowl.

“Forgive me for earlier,” he said softly while looking down to his hands that he had now folded on his lap.

Staring down at the smaller one beside him Zack shook his head in slight confusion. “What for?”

Looking up at the other in surprise Cloud blinked briefly. “For...being so difficult. And for doubting your decisions. I said I would trust you and so I shouldn’t be second guessing or questioning you. I’m the one out of my element here, not you. So...it was rude of me.” 

“Hmm,” Zack mused while setting down his chopsticks. “I don’t think you were being difficult. I can understand where you were coming from, you’re just concerned. I just want to make sure you realize that I’m doing what’s best...even if you don’t necessarily see it that way.” 

“No,” Cloud quickly replied with a shake of his head, “I do realize that, I never thought otherwise I was just...worrying.”

“It’s alright,” Zack said with a smile before Cloud was returning it. Then he leaned up to place a lingering kiss on his lips.

“It’s been a long day,” Cloud said with a sigh after he broke their kiss.

“It has,” Zack replied in agreement. “Although you’ve slept through a nice portion of it.”

Giving a small chuckle Cloud nodded as he placed the empty dishes back on the tray. He didn’t know why he had slept so much, perhaps the days were just catching up with him. After all he had been so nervous and on edge their first day of travel that he didn’t think he had really slept at all.

“We’ll head out early, just before sunrise,” Zack explained while rifling through the bag.

“Okay,” Cloud replied as he sat the tray and the dishes just outside the door in the hallway. Sliding it closed he turned around to see Zack pulling out their nemaki to sleep in. He handed Cloud his before retreating into the small washroom and Cloud started to remove his yukata. Zack would change in there. It had sort of become the routine these past few days. Cloud figured that Zack was giving him privacy, but neither of them said anything about it. Cloud appreciated the gesture, but he also sort of missed those types of small intimacies.And it painfully reminded him that there was a definite break in their relationship. He missed it...and Zack did too he was sure of. 

He finished putting on his nemaki and had just climbed into bed when Zack emerged from the washroom and blew out the single oil lamp. The room fell into complete darkness and Cloud tensed a bit. Moving over towards the window Zack opened the shutters slightly to let in some of the moonlight.

“Better?” Zack asked while retrieving his sword that was by the table.

“Yes,” Cloud replied softly as he watched Zack place his sheathed sword right beside the bed before he was climbing in also. 

“Is that something that all Samurai do?” Cloud asked.

“Hmm?” Zack asked questioningly as Cloud moved closer.

“Placing your sword right beside you before you sleep,” Cloud said while resting his head against Zack’s chest. “I’ve noticed you’ve done that every night.”

“Oh,” Zack started in understanding before running his fingers through blond spikes. “Yeah. Just as precaution.”

Nodding against Zack’s chest Cloud let his eyes fall closed as Zack’s fingers glided out of his hair to trail soothingly up and down his back. It was strange that there was so much about Zack that Cloud didn’t know when it came to his life as a Samurai...or rather former Samurai. Cloud know knew that there was so much of that life Zack kept away from him, but being out on the road traveling now Cloud was getting more and more glimpses into it, a side that he rarely got to see. And it was a bit exciting but also scary in a way. Cloud always knew that Zack was a good Samurai, but to him Zack was always just happy and carefree. That was the side of him that he knew best.

“Cloud?” Zack asked almost hesitantly.

“Yes,” Cloud replied softly.

“You know...I meant what I said earlier. I will keep you safe, no matter what,” he explained.

Opening his eyes Cloud lifted his head to look up at Zack. He was staring up at the ceiling but shifted his gaze towards the blond when he felt him move.

“I know,” Cloud said while looking directly into blue eyes. 

“And that could mean...if there is any confrontation with any Samurai or whoever else we may encounter who would try to harm you...I’ll stop them,” Zack continued before pausing briefly. Cloud let out a breath as he understood what Zack was really saying, he wouldn’t hesitate to draw his sword if he had to. It wasn’t anything new to Zack, he had been in battles. And the only thing Cloud ever saw as a result from them was the occasional injury that Zack would come back with, but he had never actually seen a person cut down before him. It was definitely a big possibility in this new life however, in the situation they were in now.

“I never really liked the idea of you being exposed to things like that,” Zack began with a sigh. “But I don’t think that’s something that I can promise to shield you from.”

“It’s okay,” Cloud said softly with a brief shake of his head. “It’s not something that can be helped.”

“Yes that’s true,” Zack started with a slight frown. “I guess I’m more curious how you would look at me after seeing something like that.” 

Pushing himself up more Cloud held Zack’s gaze. Was Zack worrying that he would somehow have a different perception of him somehow? 

“What do you mean?” Cloud asked in honest confusion. “I’ll look at you just the same, if not with even more respect in my eyes.”

Zack’s eyes widened a bit and Cloud shook his head.

“I don’t know why you would think anything else,” Cloud started while running his fingers through raven hair. “You left Edo...because of me. You abandoned your status of Samurai and became a Ronin because of me. You’ve put yourself at such risk because of me. And you said you would do whatever it takes to...protect me,” moving his fingers down the side of Zack’s face he stroked his cheek lightly. “How could I not be proud and look at you with such a deep respect and awe. You might’ve dishonored the Shogunate but...there’s such great honor in what you’ve sacrificed for me.”

Looking at the other speechless Zack sat up. He hadn’t expected to hear all that, but he had to admit that he was glad that he did. For Cloud to reassure his worries meant more than anything to him. What Cloud thought of him was very important, Cloud’s view of him was the only one he cared about after all. Reaching out he pulled Cloud towards him and the smaller one instantly folded himself into his arms.

Cloud closed his eyes as he melted into the embrace. Zack hadn’t said a word but Cloud could feel his relief there in his arms. 

“The bigger sacrifice would’ve been staying in Edo and losing you,” Zack spoke before placing a kiss on top of blond spikes. And he meant every word of it, Cloud had been pulling away so much then. And if Zack had never discovered what had really happened he knew it would’ve only been a matter of time before Cloud became completely closed off and pushed him completely away. As to what would happen after that...he didn’t like to think.

‘Losing me.’ It was for him. It was all for him, everything that Zack had done was for him...and not just now, but always. He had always put him first and foremost. Pulling away a bit Cloud looked up into blue eyes briefly before leaning up and pressing his lips against Zack’s. He reached up and wrapped his arms around his neck, pulling closer. He wanted to hold him and never let go, he loved Zack...so much. The emotion was so intense and gripping, it always was but especially now after reflecting on so much.

Zack held onto Cloud when the other pulled closer, wrapping his arms around his small waist. He was surprised however when he felt Cloud’s tongue running across the seam of his lips. Carefully he opened his mouth and without hesitation Cloud’s tongue slipped in. It had been...a long time since they had kissed this way. The last time they did Cloud was unnerved by it and quickly drew away. And after that Zack promised himself that he wouldn’t do it again, at least not for a while. Cloud needed time to heal, and Zack was going to give him as long as he needed to do so. The last thing he wanted was to hurt him in any way. But this...Cloud had initiated this.

Their tongues were caught in an intimate caress and Cloud gave a small moan. It sounded a bit foreign to him and he realized that it was because it was such a long time since he had heard it. He felt a blush come to his cheeks before he was moving his hands, sliding them across broad shoulders and coming to rest against Zack’s strong chest. 

It was Zack who finally broke their passionate kiss and he found himself staring into Cloud’s glossy eyes and flushed face. That look was one that Zack hadn’t seen in quite some time and he had to try to calm his racing heart. 

Clutching his fingers at Zack’s chest Cloud leaned into him resting his forehead against his hands. He felt Zack run his hand up his back and his eyes closed at the sensation. There was a deep ache inside of him to feel more of Zack’s touch...he needed to. It had been so long...

“I miss you,” he spoke softly.

Raising an eyebrow Zack stopped his movements. Missed him? What was Cloud talking about, he was right there with...

“What?” Zack asked as he started to process the meaning.

Lifting his head Cloud looked into Zack’s eyes before looking away a bit shyly. “I miss...being with you.”

There was no misunderstanding those words and Zack took a moment to let it sink in. But perhaps he took too long because Cloud was looking back at him with a somewhat hurt look. 

“You don’t miss me?” He asked unsure before Zack was shaking his head and taking Cloud’s hands into his, pressing kisses against his knuckles.

“Of course I do, more than you know,” Zack started, “it’s just I thought...that you may need more time.”

“I’ve had time,” Cloud replied. “You’re you, Zack. Not the...” trailing off Cloud shook his head before he could even have the time to think of that sick man. His name was not worth the mention or the thought. “I just...miss you. Us.”

Taking Cloud’s face in his hands Zack looked into his eyes, looking for any trace of doubt or fear. But he didn’t see any...not at all. Cloud was sincere with his words and it made Zack happy to know that. No more lies, not anymore. All of that had been left back in Edo also.

“I do too,” Zack said gently before pressing a soft kiss to Cloud’s lips. He pulled him towards him and Cloud threw his arms around his neck. The soft kiss grew more passionate and they both lost themselves in it. Now with no uncertainties behind it and now that they both had admitted how much they needed each other. There was a tenderness behind it that made Cloud’s heart swell with love. And even though it had been so long since they had been together Cloud knew that just pure lust wouldn’t win out. This wouldn’t be rushed, because it was so, so much more than just a physical act. It was the mending of their bond, alough it was never actually severed, but damaged. It was Cloud finally closing the door to that dark place he had been in. Leaving Edo was the first step, but he knew it would never truly actually close until he could separate what happened to him and his relationship with Zack. And until he could fully be Zack’s again, the Shogun still had a hold on him. But those fears, and that nightmare were part of the past, and he wasn’t going to let that man ruin him, his relationship or his future. It was time for a blank canvas.

Squirming a bit beneath Zack now that he was lying back against the bed with the other on top of him, he let out a soft moan as Zack kissed his neck and gently bit his earlobe. His eyes fell closed and his body practically shuddered. He had almost forgotten how Zack could make him feel with such just small touches and kisses.

His breathing had increased and he continued making small sounds of pleasure. And while Zack loved to hear them he was keeping a close eye and ear on the blond. Making sure that those things were indeed from pleasure and not from fear or nervousness. He couldn’t take it if he hurt him or caused him to recall any horrible thoughts. But as time went on he knew he was probably being paranoid, because Cloud seemed to be enjoying things just as much as he was and was losing himself in the moment.

He hesitated for a moment before gently working at Cloud’s clothing. It wasn’t completely off, but partially open and pushed down past his shoulders. Zack pressed kisses to his bare shoulder before moving his hand down his chest, stopping at his taut abdomen. Cloud let out a shaky breath and Zack kissed him.

“You okay?” He asked softly and Cloud nodded, the flush from his cheeks moving downward like it always did. Zack smiled at the display before kissing down Cloud’s neck, to his chest and stomach. He pushed the nemaki completely away before placing his hands on Cloud’s bare hips. Feeling his skin was amazing, and in a few ways he felt as if it were truly their first time together all over again. He wondered if Cloud felt the same. Hearing the hitch in the smaller ones breath Zack glanced up into his face before reaching out and grasping his hand in his. Small fingers tightened around his and Zack continued on kissing down his skin. Every inch of him he covered with a soft kiss, making sure that nothing went neglected. Touching and caressing him lovingly.

Cloud’s heart was beating wildy, and he knew he was already beginning to unravel. Reaching up he began to pull at Zack’s nemaki. He wanted to touch him, feel him. And as each second passed by his desire only deepened more. Zack helped in removing it and shrugged off the garment effortlessly. Blue eyes immediately fell to his form and small hands sought him out. Cloud took his time exploring Zack’s body, he had committed every touch to memory before and he was simply recalling it. Biting his lip he moved his hands to the others chest, feeling the warm, smooth skin beneath his fingers and the muscles rippling. Beautiful, powerful and his. Those were the thoughts running through his mind before he pulled Zack down towards him and sealed their lips in a kiss. 

He found himself wrapped in Zack’s strong arms and a warm feeling coursed through him. He felt safe, content and loved so unconditionally. They stayed that way for a while, reveling in the moment and each others presence. 

“Zack,” Cloud started gently while grabbing onto the others shoulders. He felt a slight hesitation in him and he wanted to let him know it was okay to continue.

Looking down into blue eyes Zack nodded before pressing a quick kiss to Cloud’s nose.

“Tell me to stop and I will,” Zack began in assurance as Cloud nodded. Looking beside the bed Zack picked up a small glass bottle. Unscrewing the top he poured the oil onto fingers. It smelled faintly of jasmine and so he was sure it was hand oil meant for a woman, but it would  do. He moved carefully between Cloud’s legs, making sure to be as gentle as possible and keeping a close on the blond. Slipping in a finger he quickly stopped when Cloud took in a breath. Caressing his thigh in a soothing manner he continued on, moving his finger back and forth, ever so gently. It was almost teasing to Cloud in fact and he bit his lip before grasping the pillow beneath him. Eventually Zack had added a second and then third finger,making Cloud cry out and writhe in pleasure. Then he was removing them before positioning himself and Cloud was wrapping his arms tightly around him.

“You okay?” Zack asked once more as Cloud nodded against his shoulder before kissing Zack’s cheek in confirmation. Not hesitating any longer he slowly eased into his lover, listening as Cloud let out a small moan he continued slowly, sinking in deeper until he was all the way inside. There was a moment of stillness after that, both of trying to get used to the feeling again of being connected this way. Leaning down Zack placed a kiss against Cloud’s forehead, his cheek and then made his way to his neck. Arching up against him Cloud slowly began to move beneath him and Zack carefully pulled out before pushing back in.

Cloud’s eyes fell closed and he tightened his hold on Zack as he continued the steady motions. Everything around them became obsolete in that moment, it was only them, without any worries or distractions on their mind. It was love at its rawest and purest, and made them feel as if it was too much and yet not enough...not ever enough. They didn’t want it to end, and wished that the night stretched on endlessly before them. But as they continued it was easy to tell that it wouldn’t happen. Cloud’s moans and hitched wails increased as Zack sped up his movements. Burying his face against the others shoulder to muffle his voice Cloud gripped his back tightly with one hand as Zack took the other and laced their fingers together.

It wasn’t much longer before Cloud was calling out Zack’s name in a broken moan and squeezing his hand as he arched up against him. And Zack was following right after,shutting his eyes tightly. That blissful moment being the last thing he needed to push him over the edge. The darkened room was filled with the sound of their heavy breathing and their pounding hearts that seemed to course through their ears. Partially collapsing on top of Cloud Zack rested against him as he listened to his heartbeat. Cloud wrapped his arms around the others shoulders, letting his fingers gently brush through raven hair. He felt so...complete and content in that moment, and he wished that morning would never come.

Pushing himself up on one arm Zack looked into Cloud’s still flushed face and he quickly leaned in, pressing a kiss against unsuspecting lips. Moving to the side of the blond he pulled him with him so that he was pressed up right beside him.

“I love you,” Zack murmured into spiky damp hair while letting his hand caress his lovers bare back.

“I love you too,” Cloud replied while pressing a kiss to Zack’s chest, just above his heart. He felt comforted by the warm embrace he was in, the after glow of their lovemaking and just simply because Zack was with him. His eyes fell closed, and he felt himself drifting off. Although he really wanted to stay awake, to keep this night alive for as long as he could. But sleep eventually won out. Zack smiled down at him, he saw him continually blinking his eyes, no doubt trying to fight sleep. And while he was indeed a bit tired himself, he couldn’t seem to take his eyes off of Cloud.

 



 

 

 

“Well then, if that about wraps up things,” Elena spoke while scribbling some notes down in her folder. People began to stand from their seats at the conference table, preparing to leave out of the room. Angeal had just closed one of his folders and had stood up from the table when the Shogun called out to him.

“Oh Hewley before you leave,” he began while adjusting his glasses slightly, “I’ve noticed that Zack hasn’t been with you the last two meetings. I wasn’t aware that he was on assignment.”

“He’s not your excellency,” Angeal started with a bow, “however I did excuse him from duties for a while.”

“Is that so?” Hojo asked while clasping his hands together and leaning on the table with his elbows.

“Yes,” Angeal replied while tucking the folders under his arm.

“I see,” Hojo said with a nod of his head. “Do you suppose he’s using this time to search for Chamberlain Saito’s son?” 

“It’s possible,” Angeal started easily, “there’s not a day that goes by that he doesn’t try to search in some way.”

“Or,” Hojo began with a tilt of his head. “He’s already discovered his whereabouts and has no intention on returning him back home?”

“You’re Excellency?” Angeal asked while furrowing his brows.

“In fact, maybe he has no intention of coming back either,” Hojo continued. Lowering her folder Elena looked at Angeal before looking back to the Shogun.

“I’m not sure I follow,” Angeal said while narrowing his eyes slightly.

“I’ve heard that someone fitting Fair’s description was seen just outside the towns limits a few days ago,” Hojo explained, “but not only that, he had a companion with him.”

Keeping silent Angeal kept a firm gaze on the Shogun and the man continued.

“I’m told it was a younger boy with blond hair, seems to me like that may be Cloud. Wouldn’t you agree?” 

“If it were then that means Zack found him and would be bringing him back home safely to his family,” Angeal quickly replied.

“You would think that,” Hojo said with a nod, “however I’m told that they were going in the opposite direction of here.”

“You have to be careful on who you get your information from,” Angeal started with a shake of his head, “I’ve been told nothing of this by my men.”

“A samurai came directly to me with this information,” Hojo explained. “I believe they were coming back from an assignment when they saw the two individuals. This samurai came back but the other two he was with followed the individuals. I imagine if it is indeed Zack and Cloud that the other Samurai will be able to confirm this.”

Keeping his face neutral Angeal gave a nod in agreement. “This Samurai’s name who reported to you?”

“He asked to be kept anonymous, I do hope you don’t mind,” Hojo replied with a smile.

“Of course You’re Excellency,” Angeal said, “I’ll look into things on my end as well.”

“I would appreciate that. After all the Strife family is very concerned about their son.”

“Of course,” Angeal spoke with a nod before turning to leave.

“Angeal? You do understand that if Zack remains absent for a substantial amount of time I will have to assume that what I heard is the truth. And if that’s the case, he’s dishonored me severely,” Hojo explained quietly, “I realize he’s your pupil, but even you know the consequence of such actions.”

“Yes You’re Excellency,” Angeal said once more with a bow before turning and exiting the conference room. He saw Sephiroth waiting across the hall, his arms crossed and giving Angeal a questioning look. Obviously wondering why he had come out so late from conference. Angeal began to walk down the hall and Sephiroth fell into step beside him.

“They’ve been spotted already.”

 



 

 

Authors Notes: And here is chapter 21! Sorry for the delay, my life has been sort of crazy lately. But alas here it is! I wanted to focus this chapter alot on Zack and Cloud and their starting journey, but more so on their relationship. Because with the previews chapters and all that had gone on with the Shogun they needed to have a chapter that dealt with the insight on their relationship, the ups and downs of the fragile state it was in when it came to Cloud’s ordeal. I rewrote the scene between them a few times, since it was the first time after the rape I wanted to try capture the love and the bond between them. Hopefully it came across how I wanted it to! And the Samurai by the teahouse, not just a coincidence then? Hmm, until next chapter. Thanks so much for reading and reviewing! 



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