I Knew a Man
By: Phoenix Dayze
Disclaimer: I do not own Final Fantasy.
Cloud studied Zack as he once again went through his after-drill ritual. Everyday it was the same, wind down with a few simple exercises, hone the weapon, (check for damage, work the metal, clean the blade) shower, mend his uniform, and then, in a habit that intrigued Cloud, he would stroll, shirtless and still damp, to the roof of the barracks, and stand, eyes closed, arms outstretched, and let himself be buffeted by the breeze. Cloud didn't know why Zack did this, why no one else seemed to notice this peculiar act, or why Zack always seemed so at peace when he returned from his secluded heights.
No one else ever seemed to notice these small, unusual things about Zack, not like Cloud did. If they did, they would know that the Zack everyone else saw was not the real Zack at all. In public, Zack was loud, brash and cheerful, always smiling. But in solitude, when no one was around to see, save Cloud's hidden gaze, Zack was morose, full of silent repetitions, he was hard, a distant shadow of what he showed people. He never smiled. The man, who bore the reputation of the lighthearted, flirtatious instigator, alone, carried the burden of the world on his tired shoulders. More than once, Cloud had seen him swipe away a solemn tear from his weathered cheeks. And the more Cloud watched, the more he longed to take this misinterpreted man in his arms and kiss out the truth. Somehow, his curiosity had slowly changed, possessed him unawares, and Cloud had fallen in love with this controversial man. Fallen in love with his silence, in love with his masks, in love with the depth of emotion in the violet eyes that no one else ever saw.
Cloud raised a hand to his brows, blocking the waning sun from his eyes as he stared up, watching the still, stalwart figure on the ledge. Cloud had stopped worrying that Zack would fall, or worse, jump, and simply saw. Zack was searching for something, and for whatever reason, this seclusion on top of his world seemed to calm his restless spirit. It obviously wasn't enough, wasn't giving him the answers he needed, or Zack wouldn't keep going up there.
The man on the roof turned, disappeared from Cloud's view, and instead of leaving, hiding himself as he usually did, Cloud waited. Zack pushed out the side door a few moments later. He stopped when he saw Cloud, confusion running over his face. But it disappeared as quickly as it had come, and Zack pushed on past him with a small, lifeless smile forcing its way onto his lips.
Cloud said nothing, simply watched him go. After a few feet, Zack slowed, his head turning to glance over his shoulder. Their eyes caught. Held. Want to need. Ache to ache. Man to man. Cloud to Zack. Blue questions to violet pain.
Then, the connection snapped and Zack was gone. Cloud stood still, lost in what he'd seen. He raised a hand to his cheeks and realized that he was crying.
Cloud waited. He was stretched out on the roof of the barracks, reclined against a shingled outcropping of the eaves, one knee pulled up to his chest, arms wrapped around it, and one leg splayed out before him. Zack would be here soon. He was nothing if not as consistent as clockwork. Zack would come. He always did. Leaning his head back, Cloud closed his eyes, letting the vision of Zack's face as he'd seen it the day before rise for the millionth time in his mind. The questions, the buried hurt there, the distinct aura of something missing haunted Cloud, and he ached to do something, anything to somehow fix things, to bring life and joy to Zack's empty smile. If the man would let him.
The door to the roof opened with a nearly inaudible squeak. Cloud didn't bother looking up, instead he kept his eyes closed, enjoying the serenity offered here, but a small smile graced his lips at the approaching footsteps. They paused about halfway to him, and Cloud could feel Zack's piercing gaze searing his flesh. The weight of choice in the air was thick and smelled of doubt. Cloud remained still, face closed to his companion, and after a moment, the feet shuffled on to their usual spot. Over the next while, Cloud could feel Zack's eyes travel back to him a few times, but Cloud ignored him, clinging to his own reverent solitude, and leaving Zack to his.
When the sun dipped down past the horizon, Cloud opened his eyes and rose to leave. Zack was still standing on the ledge. Cloud turned and headed to the door. He was about to pull it open, when a hand clamped down on his arm. Cloud's head whipped around to face Zack, who was standing next to him, his face a blank canvas, aside from his eyes, which were alive with their usual myriad, tells.
Zack reached past him and opened the door, holding it open for Cloud to pass. He gave Cloud a nod of acquiescence. He was willing to share his sanctuary if that was what Cloud wanted, provided that Cloud held up his end of their unspoken bargain and left Zack to himself.
Cloud gave him a nod of agreement, a soft smile, full of honest gratitude, on his face, and left.
And Zack's ritual became Cloud's. Everyday Cloud would wait for Zack on the roof, and they would be there together in silence, each in their own world. Cloud never spoke, never even looked at Zack during these times. This was Zack's world, Zack's therapy of sorts, and he had let Cloud into it, and Cloud would respect the unvoiced rules that reigned here. Silence was their only connection, the only thing that brought them together. And Cloud knew that silence was the only thing that would be able to quiet Zack's soul. Zack was a beast, raging and thrashing on the inside, and Cloud was intent on taming him. He would keep returning, day after day, let Zack get used to his presence, make himself fit into Zack's world, and one day, Zack would trust him.
The wind caressed Zack's face, a beautiful, sensual brush of the world around him. It wasn't much, but it was something. It made him feel. That was all he wanted after all. He wanted to escape the dull, glossed-over void that had consumed his life. He wanted to fill the blank spaces in his being with something other than this too-familiar pain that ate away at him, body and soul. But most of all, he wanted to forget.
He looked over at the blond man who rested, eyes closed, a few feet from where he stood. He didn't know why Cloud had started coming here, why he offered this silent company. Zack would have thought that this invasion of his privacy would have been just that, an invasion, but oddly enough, Cloud's presence was somehow comforting. It was almost like Cloud understood what plagued him, what he needed, and was telling him that he wasn't alone.
He turned his eyes back to the horizon, letting the Mako in his system absorb the glare of the setting sun as he stared straight into it. "I didn't used to be like this." He said quietly, his voice hoarse from the pressing silence. He turned toward Cloud, who was still reclined, eyes closed, but he could see the tension that had suddenly lined the man's face, the interest that had been piqued by his words. His eyes scanned the surrounding sky, not really seeing any of the vibrant colors that streaked the heavens. "Not before." He swallowed heavily. "Before I came…" He paused. "I used to be human."
But no longer. He thought. Not since that day. I gave up my innocence to be in SOLDIER, traded what I believed was right to follow orders. The images never left him now, never abetted long enough for him to grab onto a shred of peace. His eyes churned with memories more alive than he was. "Don't change, Cloud." He said, addressing the man for the first time since this whole thing had begun. "Don't trade your soul for rank. You may never get it back."
Blood. Cries for mercy. A family. A husband, a father, a man already dead on the floor. A woman. A child. An order for a clean sweep. A mother's plea. A mother's blood. A stain Zack could never wash away. A child's tears. An innocent face. "Everything must die, Zack. Anything that lives there." A small, broken body in his arms. His hands bruised in the flesh of youth. A feral cry that tore his throat and still echoed.
His eyes were wild when he turned back to Cloud, who was watching him, concern etched across his features. He dropped to his knees next to the man and grabbed Cloud hand. He pressed it to his heart. His voice was rough, heavy with untold sorrow and guilt that had no outlet. "I used to be alive!" He spat. "But I gave it away! And now I'm nothing!" Letting go of Cloud's arm, he grabbed the man's face, lacing his long fingers on either side of his head. He stared, unflinching into the blue eyes, violet agony pouring out in a hated flood. "Do you see what I've become?" He half whispered, half growled. "Do you see?"
Cloud's lips pressed against his in fervent prayer, a desperate hope to quell the demon. It was hot and hard and searching, and Zack melted into the contact with a frantic whimper. His soul slipped between his fingers and whirled through the cosmos of forbidden sensation and caught in the open hands of a silent, blond companion. He died from the innocence, raged at the touch. He was hungry, unsure, and Cloud was ready to show him the way.
Zack pushed back from Cloud with a shattered cry, despair dripping from his face. He shook his head in denial as he scrabbled backwards. "No!" He sobbed. "I can't!" He stumbled to his feet, swaying where he stood. "I…Cloud, I…" He turned and fled.
Cloud's chest heaved, his cheeks burning. Hot tears streamed down his face. How could he fix this? It was all for nothing! Zack was gone and it didn't take a genius to know that he wouldn't be coming back. Wrapping his arms about his knees, he pulled them close to his chest and buried his head between them and cried. The emerging stars were the only witness to his silent tears.
The storm raged overhead, the rain slicing down like tiny, splintering shards of unfeeling ice. Cloud welcomed the sting. He opened his arms to it, letting it consume him the way he'd seen Zack embrace the summer breeze. The wind howled in his ears and pushed against his small form, threatening to topple him off the edge, but he didn't care. He wanted to get lost in the storm, wanted it to silence the cries of his heart.
A voice carried to him on the wings of the storm, black as the sky and sharp as lightning. "Why are you here?"
Cloud turned to see Zack standing behind him, uniform clinging wetly to his muscled body, hair plastered to his head. His eyes glittered like two purple jewels on fire.
"Why?" Zack repeated. "Why do you care?" He grabbed Cloud's wrist in a painfully tight grip, yanking him away from the ledge. He shook the man violently, the lithe form moving easily in his hands. "Why?"
Cloud forced his eyes to focus through the rain, to meet Zack's accusing gaze. He winced slightly as the grip on his arm tightened and he licked his lips. "Because," he began honestly, "it hurts me to see you like this. Because I don't want you to have to hide anymore." He cried out as pain laced up his arm, Zack's hand an unyielding vice. "You're hurting me!" He choked out, voice thick with the ache of sorrow mixed with physical torment.
Anger without understanding burned in Zack's eyes, but his grip loosened slightly. He hoisted Cloud up close to his face and stared, furiously into his eyes. "What do you want?" He said this softly, albeit still harshly, and Cloud could barely make it out over the storm. Desperation tinged Zack's voice as he repeated his question, his expression a mixture of mental anguish and fear. What do you want?"
Cloud met his gaze unwaveringly, determination overruling his uneasiness. He clenched his jaw stubbornly. "You." He answered simply. He reached a hand up and gently touched Zack's face, an icy hot tingle of arousal and need fanning through him. "Just you. I love you." Making sure he still held Zack's gaze, he continued. "And I don't care what you did. What I do care about is you. And right now, all I want is for you to let me love you. Like you deserve to be loved."
Zack shook his head, silently backing away.
"Please!" Cloud begged, advancing on him, hands outstretched. "Let me love you!" He grabbed hold of Zack's body and pulled him close. He could feel the corded resistance that lined the man's muscles. Slowly Cloud slithered his hands up the man's arms and around his neck. He sank his fingers into the wet black hair. He leaned close, inhaling Zack's musky scent. "Let me love you." He whispered into his ear. "Let me bring you peace."
He brought their lips together again, this time letting his passion have full rein, allowing the fiercely tender love that had been steadily building inside him slide between their lips and feed Zack the truth of his intent.
Zack slowly responded, his hands moving to grip desperately at Cloud's shirt, tears leaking from his eyes to mingle with the rain. Aching warmth began to spread through his frozen soul, and he tugged needily at Cloud's body, trying to bring him closer. God, he wanted to feel! He whimpered against Cloud's mouth as the man thrust their hips together, hands still gripping, mouth still tasting. "Please!" He whispered in a broken cry. "Let me feel again! Please make me feel!"
Cloud took a step back, his arm sliding down Zack's body until he could grip the man's strong hand in his own. He gave him a reassuring smile, and tugged.
And Zack followed.
Cloud tugged Zack under the small overhang, spun him around, and pressed him against the door. The rain poured off the sides of the small shelter, hitting the ground hard, the drops splashing up onto their already soaked legs. Cloud sealed their mouths again, hungrily exploring the man who had finally been laid before him. He slid his hands beneath the hem of Zack's shirt, caressing the chilled abs, feeling them twitch and flex under his touch. Breaking the kiss, he lowered his head to Zack's neck. The man inhaled sharply as his lips connected with tender flesh. Cloud nipped and sucked, ravishing the tanned skin as his hands worked hastily at Zack's belt. He slipped beneath the fabric barrier, and Zack let out a shaky moan as Cloud's slim fingers wrapped around his length. Cloud smiled and dropped to his knees.
Zack's entire body gave a violent shudder as Cloud's mouth enveloped him in a wet, torturous heat that chased away the chill of the rain and the cold in his heart. He came with a strangled moan, spilling himself down Cloud's throat. His chest heaved with heavy breaths. When the fog slowly dissipated from his eyes, Zack reached down and hauled Cloud up by his collar. New passion churned in his eyes, burning coils of lust quenching the darkness. His voice was little more than a growl. "Get me to a bed!"
The mattress had barely sunk beneath Cloud's weight before Zack was on him, stripping the clothes from their bodies with unrivaled skill and quickness. Zack's hands were hard and sure, but not cruel, and Cloud felt the flame of need growing with each pass of his fingers. He cried out, fingers clenching in the sheets as Zack swallowed him down without warning, his mouth a flawless match for the rest of him, smooth, solid, dangerous. Stars danced before Cloud's eyes as the suction grew stronger, then slipped away, Zack's mouth receding, allowing Cloud's impending release to float out of reach.
Cloud was dimly aware of being flipped onto his stomach as his foggy brain readjusted. Zack's hand probed between his thighs, and moments later Cloud felt Zack's aching shaft press up against his body. Cloud wasn't prepared by any means, usually only allowing someone to enter him after extensive rounds of foreplay. But this was Zack. And Zack needed him. There would be plenty of time for foreplay later, time to explore each other's bodies, right now Zack needed closeness, a body who was ready and willing. Cloud exhaled slowly, relaxed his body, and took Zack easily.
Zack emitted a broken gasp as he sank into Cloud's body, settling into slick, wet heat that encased him like a vice. One of his long-fingered hands stroked over Cloud's shoulder, the other fisted deep in the covers, holding him up. Slowly he dragged his fingers along Cloud's skin, moving his arm lower and lower until he could slip it beneath Cloud's stomach and pull the man to his knees. He let out a gruff humming sound as the new angle allowed him deeper access and their bodies came flush together.
Rising up off his arm, Zack laced both of his hands around Cloud's slim hips and began to move. Long, solid strokes, letting Cloud take his whole length, the heat, the need, and Cloud's near-breathless moans driving him closer and closer to the edge.
Cloud's body moved instinctively with the force of Zack's thrusts, the man's desperate passion fueling Cloud's blood. He'd never felt so in tune with what was happening as he did at this moment. He could feel every shift, every minute tremble in Zack's body, the sound of Zack's racing heart, the rough, exhaled breaths pounded in his ears. He was full, stretched and owned, and the column of hard flesh that claimed him wracked Cloud with heart-wrenching love for the man that moved against him. The stars returned. Zack's strokes found a hidden coil of sexual heights within Cloud's body. Cloud screamed, a harsh, raspy cry of fulfillment as he emptied himself, his body convulsing and clamping down around Zack's shaft.
Zack gave an answering growl as his own body tensed, his thrusts growing erratic, and he climaxed with bruising force. He fell against Cloud's body, sending them both sprawling against the mattress. Their breaths sounded together, a silent mantra. After a moment, Zack carefully withdrew from Cloud's body. He gently turned the man in his arms until they were face to face. He settled between Cloud's thighs, his arms spanning around Cloud's shoulders, hands stroking the man's face, weaving through the damp, blond locks. He leaned down and kissed him tenderly, a soft, airbrushed kiss that lacked none of the earlier passion. He kissed and nuzzled against Cloud's mouth, neck, shoulders, all the while gently rocking his hips until he felt Cloud stir to life once more.
Zack maneuvered Cloud's legs to twine around his waist as he slowly entered him again, reveling in the feel of the man shivering and arching beneath him. He set up an easy rhythm, taking Cloud with short, lazy thrusts.
Cloud trembled, his breath coming in deep, shaky gasps. Zack was moving so slow, so carefully, steady and wholesome as a prayer, and Cloud almost couldn't feel Zack's strokes at all, just the incredible sensation of being filled, of being one. He whimpered with a hard flare of arousal as Zack's arm slid beneath his back, cradling him closer, and slowly pulled him up until he was straddling Zack's lap, the man's hard length still deep inside his body, the position bringing them eye to eye.
They stared into each other. Man to man. Cloud to Zack. Blue healing to violet need. Cloud's arms wound about Zack's neck, fingers lacing through strands of dark hair, as Zack caressed along his back, found purchase on his hips again, slowly guided him into the shallow, rocking rhythm that had them both so very, very close.
Cloud leaned in and kissed him, a promise, his body tightening, clinging to Zack as they moved together. His voice was little more than a whisper as it seduced Zack's ears. "I really do love you." He felt Zack spasm within him, twitch and flood deep. He felt the man's hands move down to wrap around his length. Beautiful stars bled through Cloud's veins as Zack brought him to completion, kissing him with gentle reverence.
A soft smile crept up onto Zack's face as he stared at Cloud's flushed and gasping figure, and this time, the smile finally reached his eyes.