Disclaimer: I do not own FF7 or any of the FF7 characters. This is written for my own entertainment!
"Ready or not here I come!"
With that shouted the little boy picked up his running speed and continued to search for a place to hide. But every good hiding spot already had somebody else there, and when he would come upon it they would say in a hushed voice "get away!" or "get out of here before you get me caught!"
Frowning he kept up trying to find a spot for himself.
"Come out wherever you are!" The voice shouted again, this time sounding closer than the last time.
He felt his heartbeat speed up as he looked around frantically for a place to hide. There wasn't any good spots! How unfair. He didn't like this game anymore. He never won at any games, and that was no fun.
Slowing his pace he felt tears sting his eyes in frustration. His little lungs were burning from the lack of air and he was just about to give up and let the person catch him before he heard a loud whisper.
"Cloud! Over here!"
Looking around he saw a hand waving to him from under the steps of his house. His eyes widened slightly, he didn't even know that anyone could fit under there. What a great place to hide!
"Come on!" The whisper spoke again as the boy emerged from beneath the steps, carefully glancing around before running up and taking the other by the hand and dragging him back to beneath the steps.
He didn't get a chance to say a word before the other held a finger up to his lips in a shushing motion.
Nodding the blond was as quiet as can be as he pulled his legs closer to himself and leaned back as far as he could to remain out of sight from the onlooker.
"Come on where is everybody!?" The voice shouted again before the sound of footsteps getting near sounded.
Holding his breath and hoping not to be seen he waited until the footsteps would go away. A pair of arms circled around him and pulled him tighter as they waited in silence. Finally the footsteps went away and Cloud let out his breath.
"I think he's gone," the other whispered while carefully letting go of the smaller one and crawling out just a bit from the hiding place to look around.
"Be careful," Cloud began quietly.
"It's alright, he's gone. I see base, let's go!" The other exclaimed while reaching back and clasping the blonds small hand within his. In a second they were off, running as fast as their legs could carry them, whizzing past trees and hopping over small bushes as twigs cracked beneath their sandals.
It took Cloud a little more effort to keep up with his friend, but as long as he was holding his hand he knew that he wouldn't let him fall behind. And within a minute they reached the huge rock that was deemed "base" and they were safe.
"Yes! We did it, first ones here too!"
"Yeah!" Cloud beamed with a laugh while hopping up onto the big rock.
"I found you!!" They heard the voice shout followed by a girl's scream before a few more kids rounded the corner.
One after one they tagged the base and slumped against the rock tiredly before the last one approached with a frown on his face.
"You guys cheated!"
"No we didn't!" Practically everyone said in unison.
"I only found one person and I still couldn't tag her!" The red head shouted.
"It's not our fault if you're slow Reno!" The gray eyed girl shot back.
"Shut up Yuffie!"
"Hey you almost caught me," Aerith spoke while trying to catch her breath in between words.
"Well I'm not being it again!" Reno shouted.
"You have to be you didn't catch anyone!" Yuffie continued.
"Because you guys went too far, we said no farther than the lake!" Reno argued.
"I didn't go that far," Vincent spoke softly, not even seeming to be the least bit out of breath.
"Fine!! I'll be it again!" The red head yelled in frustration.
"You won't be able to find us, Zack and I have the best hiding place," Cloud explained while hopping off from the rock.
"Whatever, I'm counting so go already!"
"Cloud!" A woman's voice called from off in the distance. All of the kids stopped and looked towards the sound before looking to the blonde.
"I think that's your mom Cloud," Aerith spoke while fixing her ponytail.
And sure enough walking over to the group of kids was the blonde's mother.
"Time to come inside," she spoke with a wave of her arm.
"Aww mom can I stay out for just a little bit longer?" Cloud pleaded while looking up to his mother with bright blue eyes.
"It's starting to get dark out already, and you haven't even had dinner," she began with a shake of her head.
"Can he just play one more game auntie? I'll walk back home with him afterward," Zack chimed in while walking up beside Cloud and giving his mom a wide smile.
"Well…" she started while pondering it for a moment then gave a brief nod, "ok that's fine I guess. Just one game. And then I think you all better be heading home also."
They all replied yes before Cloud's mother retreated back into the house and then they were back to their game. Reno started to count again and everyone scattered to find hiding spots. Cloud was just about to turn to run back to their previous hiding spot before Zack grabbed his hand.
"Come on, I know a better spot!"
Smiling Cloud followed. Zack never left him behind. Ever.
Letting out a sigh Cloud continued to gaze out at the lake as he snapped out of his small flashback. It seemed to be that he was frequently thinking back to those times when he was just a little kid. Maybe because now things were so different. Even if it hadn't exactly been too long ago. He had only been eight then when they all used to play here, and now he was fifteen. But a lot could change in seven years. And between he and his friends, many things had changed. In each of their lives things were so different, and it sometimes prevented them from all seeing each other all the time like they used to.
Looking off to the side his eyes fell onto the small quaint house that he and his family used to stay in. The one where he and Zack hid countless times under the stone steps. He still wondered how they managed to squeeze into such a small space, and that thought alone brought a smile to his face. As he kept his eyes scanning over the area, the small town and the little houses, a memory would pop back into his head. He was currently looking at Zack's home, it was only a few doors down from the house he used to stay in. He remembered them staying out countless nights playing out in the streets or sitting in the current place that he was now looking out at the lake as they shared their dreams of the future with each other. It just seemed like it was yesterday.
Leaning back he laid out on the grass, staring up at the cloudless sky. It was such a nice day out, easy to get lost in ones thoughts while relaxing like this. He closed his eyes as the gentle wind blew threw his hair, making him even more comfortable with each second that passed. It was entirely to easy to feel relaxed here and he was sure that he could easily fall asleep if he wasn't careful.
Blinking open his eyes slowly he found himself staring into blue. However it wasn't the blue of the sky, but instead the dark blue of someone's eyes.
Letting out a scream that he would deny ever happened if questioned the blonde quickly sat up as the other fell back in hysterical laughter.
"Oh that was great!" Zack began in between laughs while wrapping his arms around his stomach.
Narrowing his eyes the blond moved over to the other before socking him hard in the arm, "shut up!"
"Ow!" Zack cried while clutching at his arm, though he was still laughing in the process.
"You're an idiot," Cloud replied with a shake of his head, however he couldn't help the small smile that began to spread across his face.
"Sorry, I didn't think you'd get that scared," Zack explained once he got his laughter under control.
"Well I was spacing out," Cloud responded while turning back to the lake briefly.
"Apparently," Zack added while still rubbing at his arm, "what are you doing out here anyways?"
"I was going to sketch but," he began while looking beside him to his sketching materials that were placed next to him, "changed my mind," he finished while looking back to Zack and briefly rubbing at his injured arm that he had hit. "I didn't really hit you that hard did I?" He asked feeling a bit guilty
Grinning while reaching out to ruffle blond spikes Zack shook his head. "No don't worry," he replied before picking up the sketch book beside the other and rifling through it, "there's some new ones in here."
"A few yeah," Cloud nodded while looking at the sketches as well.
"Each one you do is better and better," Zack explained as his grin widened, his eyes not leaving the images before him.
"Think so?" Cloud asked while glancing up to the other.
"Are you kidding me, they're great!" Zack continued while lowering the sketch book to look towards the blond.
"Thanks," Cloud replied with a smile while shifting to a more comfortable position beside Zack, "I really want to paint now."
"Why don't you?" Zack asked while closing the book and setting it down in front of him.
"Just haven't taken the time out to start," Cloud began with a sigh, "and my dad would-"
"Who cares what he thinks," Zack quickly cut in, "you're an artist. And if he can't see that it's his problem."
Pausing briefly Cloud gave a small nod. He knew Zack was right, but still it was something that annoyed him. His father thought he was wasting his time on his passion for art. And it wasn't something that his dad was proud of. He wanted him to do something else instead of doing "silly drawings" as he would say. If he could have it his way, Cloud would be preparing to become a great samurai. Like Zack now was.
But it was completely different. Cloud knew that Zack really wanted to be a Samurai when he got older. When they were kids, it was all Zack ever talked about. And it just fit him. Ever since Cloud could remember Zack was always the "protector." It was in his blood, something that was just Zack. And while Cloud never would consider himself weak exactly, he didn't think he was a warrior either. Never would be. And art was what he loved, always had. Since he was little he had always admired paintings and was waiting for the day when he could create his own. Something that he was absolutely proud of.
However now that his father had become the Chamberlain to the Shogun he often thought that his dad just wanted Cloud to do something else so that he could brag about it. As Chamberlain he supposed his father had some image to uphold, and while he understood that it wasn't as if he was doing anything to disgrace the family. In a way he sort of wished his dad wasn't Chamberlain and that they hadn't moved into Edo Castle. He didn't need all that, and he would be fine with still living in his tiny home in the village. Though he'd never admit it out loud for fear he would be looked at as ungrateful.
"Hey, did you eat already?" Zack asked while nudging Cloud with his elbow.
Blinking briefly Cloud shook his head, "no not yet."
"Let's go then! I'm starving!" Zack exclaimed while hopping up off the ground and extending his hand to help the other up. Pulling Cloud to his feet they began making their way away from the lake and further into the town. It wasn't very crowded on the streets anymore seeing as how the sun was beginning to set, and most people were in their homes for dinner already.
It didn't take them long before they reached the small restaurant, the best one in town, owned by none other than the Kisiragi family.
It was actually pretty crowded inside. The sound of men's laughter filled the place. No doubt they were drunk off sake already.
"Welcome! Just a sec!" A voice called once the two had stepped inside.
"Let's sit there," Zack spoke up while pointing to a table off to the side of the room. Cloud nodded and followed as they took seats at the small table. He sat down next to Zack instead of across from him, something that he had always done since they were kids.
"Here you are!" The voice came again as a girl emerged from the kitchen with a tray of food and took it over to a nearby table, "Enjoy!" After setting down the tray she turned her focus over to the two before making her way over.
"Hey!" Zack beamed while leaning a bit onto the table.
"Busy enough in here for you?" Cloud asked with a look of sympathy.
"Save me," Yuffie whined while kneeling down beside the table and covering her face with her hands. "These drunks are making a mess, that I'll have to clean up no less."
"Yuffie!" A woman's shrill voice called from the kitchen.
"Coming!" Yuffie shouted back before looking back to the two, "no time for breaks I guess. Be right back with some tea," she finished before scurrying off to the back. And she was right, she didn't have time to take a break at all from that moment on. She was constantly running around the restaurant, fetching drinks and food for the loud men in the restaurant. Zack and Cloud ignored the others for the most part and were caught up in their own meal and conversation. But Zack did keep a close eye on Yuffie after he heard a few guys make some inappropriate comments towards her. It seemed like Yuffie hadn't heard them though seeing as how she was so busy. But Zack did, and he clearly made his presence known as he cleared his throat loudly and shot a look their way that seemed to say "cool it." And after that they stayed in line. Once they were aware there was a Samurai among them they didn't want to cause any trouble. And it wasn't that Zack was trying to intimidate them with his position so much as it was that he didn't want them disrespecting the girl. She was barely fourteen! The youngest amongst their group of friends, and these guys were easily ten years older than her if not more.
But as the evening went on the men left little by little and finally the restaurant was empty. They didn't stay much longer after that, just enough to talk with Yuffie briefly and then they had left out allowing the restaurant to close up for the night. They walked back throughout the town, not saying where they were heading but they didn't need to. Their legs just carried them to their usual spot.
"I guess I better be getting back, my mom's going to worry I've been out all day," Cloud explained with a sigh.
"Yeah, you're probably right," Zack replied while glancing up at the stars, "it's just so nice out I don't want to be inside."
"Neither do I really," Cloud responded while looking up at the sky with Zack.
"Then stay out here with me for a bit longer," Zack began while lowering his head to look back to the blond, "I'll walk back with you afterwards."
A part of Cloud wanted to tell Zack it was fine, he didn't need to walk him back. But it was just something that had kind of stuck since they were kids. No matter where Cloud was going in their little town, Zack was always his escort. Even when he was just walking home from the other's house, when they used to live like three doors down from each other…Zack still walked that short distance with him. In a way it was sort of flattering though, and Cloud secretly always felt special in some way that Zack did that for him. After all he only did that with him. Even though it was no secret that they were best friends, everyone knew. Ever since they were little it was always "Zack and Cloud, Cloud and Zack." It had a nice ring to it he thought.
"Okay," Cloud replied with a nod before lying back against the grass and gazing up at the sky.
Smirking Zack followed suit and laid down beside Cloud with a content sigh. They stayed that way in comfortable silence for a while, both of them admiring the night sky and simply enjoying the others presence. Here by the lake it was their time. No matter how hectic life got at times, when they were here they could relax and just be them. It had still remained the same after all those years.
Without a word Zack extended his hand to grasp the blonds smaller one within his before squeezing it gently.
Turning his head to look at the other Cloud squeezed back before letting a small smile appear on his face.
Just that small touch from Zack was enough to make Cloud's heart race. That warmth that he felt was so comforting, and something that he dearly cherished.
Looking beside him to Cloud, whose eyes were already fixed upon him Zack returned the smile.
"Come here," he spoke softly with a certain glint in his eye before tugging at the boys hand a bit.
Moving over closer Cloud propped himself up with his free hand so that he was now staring down at Zack. Into those deep blue eyes that he easily found himself lost in.
An arm gently wrapped around his waist before he leaned down and placed a chaste kiss against Zack's lips. Pulling back his smile widened as he looked at the disapproving look on Zack's face. It could only be described as that of a sad puppy and he couldn't help but to let out a chuckle before leaning back down and giving the other a proper kiss.
And like always it warmed him from head to toe, brought a blush to his cheeks and made his heart want to burst from his chest.
The feelings that would arise when he was with Zack…like this, was indescribable. And these moments were cherished more than anything else, what they both looked forward to at all times. Because it didn't happen all the time, and it was at times difficult for just the two of them to be together.
And main reason for that was because their relationship was a secret. Not that they really wanted it to be, but they really had no choice. For anyone to know about it would only spell disaster and cause problems for them and even possibly their families.
But their feelings for each other were too strong to be ignored. And despite what others may think that didn't stop them from being together. This had been going on for the last four months now. It had been a long time coming though. They both had feelings for each other for a lot longer, but it was their fear and uncertainty that kept them from speaking up about it. In the end it had been Zack to take the first step and tell Cloud how he felt, no matter how clumsy his words were or how nervous he had been…he never regretted it for a minute. They had been here in their usual spot on a night just like this one when he had poured his heart out to the blonde. And for a moment there he thought it may have been the wrong decision in doing so when he saw tears well up in the others eyes. Disgust, hatred, appalled? That was what he first thought Cloud may have been feeling and his heart sunk. But when Cloud wrapped his arms around him he felt a little hopeful. And when the blonde spoke up next, it was all he needed to hear.
"It's always been you Zack. Ever since we were kids…"
And since that day, those confessions, their bond had become even more tight than it already had been. Even if things weren't like when they were kids, even if they couldn't see each other every day and had to keep their relationship secret, it didn't hurt them…if anything it made their bond stronger.
"Much better," Zack said with a grin once they broke their lengthy kiss.
Shaking his head Cloud laughed softly before lying beside Zack again, this time closer to him so that he could rest his head on his chest. He felt the others fingers running gently through his hair and he closed his eyes at the soothing feeling.
"You know I really do need to get back," Cloud spoke again, his eyes still remaining closed as he draped an arm across Zack's waist.
"Yeah," Zack began with a sigh. Their time together never seemed to be nearly as long as he wanted it to be. But with Cloud staying in the castle it was nearly impossible for him to stay out for very long. There was too many eyes and ears around and speculating would begin if he stayed out late hours. "Let's go then," he finished while patting the other on the back.
Pulling himself up from his comfortable position Cloud got to his feet as Zack did the same. Heading back home was always the part Cloud dreaded most. His life back at the castle was so different, and he often wished he still lived here in the village like Zack did. If they were still just houses apart he wouldn't have to always cut their time short like he usually ended up having to do. That always made him feel guilty and he hated it.
Being true to his word like he always was Zack walked Cloud back to the castle. It really wasn't too far off from the village, but still far enough in Zack's opinion and he would never let Cloud walk it alone at night, and he never had.
"What's going on with you tomorrow?" Cloud asked as they approached the gates.
"I don't know yet. I'm going to meet with Angeal in the morning for something, but not sure what it's about," Zack replied as they came to a stop at the entrance.
"I have to meet with my tutor tomorrow," Cloud explained, not at all sounding happy about it. When he was doing his studies with his tutor it usually took up a good portion of his day.
"Well," Zack began with a nod, "when you're done there you should work on your painting. You have to make time for it."
"Yeah, I'll try," Cloud replied with a smile. Zack was always pushing for him to continue with his art, he was almost as passionate about it as Cloud was himself.
Casting a look over to the guards by the front gates Zack decided they should cut their conversation short. Even though everyone knew the two of them were best friends, he never wanted to give them any reason to question it or to make accusations. People loved to talk and gossip, it wasn't exactly hard to see how a rumor could easily start up.
"Okay, well get some rest. I know you have to wake up early," Zack started just as Cloud glanced behind him to the guards. They didn't seem to be paying attention at all but still Cloud understood why Zack was wrapping up their conversation.
"Yeah, you too," he answered while looking back to the other.
For a moment there, just for a moment it seemed as if Zack were going to lean in as if to kiss Cloud goodnight. And even though the move was subtle Cloud could still tell, he even felt himself lean forward in response to meet him halfway but he quickly caught himself.
"Goodnight Cloud," Zack spoke, giving the other one last smile for the evening.
"Goodnight Zack," Cloud replied, returning the smile gently before turning around and heading towards the entrance. He made sure not to linger after saying his goodbye, he always did so. Zack had told him not to. Cloud was the Chamberlain's son and Zack was a samurai. And in that sense Cloud was above him, if you got technical about it. Even though Cloud could care less about his position it was still important to everyone else around him. So to keep up the charade he had to act a certain way in front of onlookers. It was rather annoying but it was what he had to do.
Once he made it to the gates the guards acknowledged him with a greeting before opening the gates to let him enter inside. He didn't look back as he continued further into the castle, not until he heard the front gates close loudly. But it was just for a moment.
"Hurry up, you're going to be late!"
"Coming," Cloud replied quickly before stuffing a couple more bites of his breakfast into his mouth.
"You wouldn't have to rush like this if you didn't wander around so late at night and were at home at a decent hour," his father spoke sternly before shooting his son a disapproving look.
"It's not that, it's just he's not a morning person," his mother added while giving Cloud a warm smile. Always trying to come to his aid when she thought his father was being to rough.
"And for that reason he keeps his tutor waiting," his father continued.
Standing up from the table Cloud let out a quiet sigh before turning to his dad, "sorry."
His father didn't say anything but simply headed for the door, sliding it open as he stepped out with Cloud right behind him.
"Have a good day you two!" His mother called from behind them.
Cloud said goodbye to her before catching up to his dad who had already begun making his way out of their quarters.
"No slacking off today understand?" His dad started. However it wasn't anything unusual, he said the same thing to him every day he went for lessons. And Cloud didn't know why he said it so much, it wasn't as if he was bad when it came to his studies.
"Yes," Cloud replied before stopping in his tracks. "Oh I forgot my notebook!"
Pausing briefly his father cast a look back at him before sighing, "fine go and get it. I have to go before you make me late for my meeting," he finished before continuing on.
Not hesitating for a minute Cloud quickly turned around and made his way back to retrieve his notebook. As soon as he had slid open the door his mother was waiting there with her arm outstretched, notebook in hand.
"Thanks," he spoke while taking the item from her hand.
"Wait, take this too!" His mother began while picking up a folder that was set on the table, "you're father needs this for his meeting I'm sure. Go take it to him."
He really was going to be late to meet with his tutor now, but he supposed it didn't matter at this point. Taking the folder he turned and quickly made his way out of the quarters and into the main halls of the castle. There was already a lot of people bustling around, most of them he knew. He smiled and said a quick hello whenever someone would acknowledge him. But for the most part he was just focused on getting to the meeting hall where he knew his father would be. Even if he was bringing something for him he was sure his dad would still be upset that he was further delaying himself from lessons.
Finally making it to the room he lifted his hand to knock and then thought otherwise. If their meeting had already started he didn't want to disrupt it. Maybe he could just slide the folder under the door? No, that probably wasn't the best option. Grasping the handle he slowly pulled open the door, cringing when it made a loud creak. But when he peered inside he saw that the table where people should've been sitting was empty. They must've been in the back. Perfect. Walking into the room quietly he made his way over to the large conference table before setting the folder down upon it.
The sound of the door creaking again made him jump slightly and he turned his gaze towards it when he heard voices and footsteps.
"Oh, who might this be?" A woman's voice asked. Cloud turned his focus towards her. He didn't recognize her, but the two men beside her he knew. One was Angeal, he was Zack's mentor along with being the lead over the Samurai in Edo. And the other, the man with dark sleek hair pulled back into a low ponytail, was none other than Hojo. The shogun. Even though he resided in the castle now he still didn't see him often, so to run into him was sort of a big deal. But of course he knew who he was.
"I'm sorry, I shouldn't have been in here," Cloud quickly explained while bowing before the Shogun. "I'm Cloud Strife, the Chamberlains son."
"Chamberlain Saito's son?" Hojo spoke in a questioning tone while adjusting his glasses that were resting on the bridge of his nose as he carefully raked his eyes over the other.
"You've met him briefly before I believe," Angeal added.
"Yes, it was a while ago," Cloud confirmed. They had only really met once when his father had just became Chamberlain. "I was just dropping something off to my father," he continued before standing back up straight.
"That's fine," Hojo spoke, "our meeting hasn't begun yet, you're not disturbing anything," he explained with a smile.
What a relief, Cloud thought. The last thing he wanted was to get in trouble for this and have his dad lecture him about it later.
However the look that the shogun was giving the blond made him still feel a bit worried. Even if he was smiling. Hopefully he wouldn't mention anything to his father.
"Cloud, you should be leaving now though right? Don't you have lessons today?" Angeal spoke while turning his gaze from Hojo to the boy.
"Oh yeah," Cloud began with a blink, he had almost forgot. For a moment he wondered how Angeal knew about that but then figured Zack must've mentioned it to him. "Sorry again, excuse me," he spoke quickly while giving one last bow to the Shogun who simply just gave Cloud a small nod.
Slipping past the three Cloud made his way out of the room, not catching the glance that the Shogun shot over his shoulder at him before the door fell shut.
Authors Notes: And there is Chap 1, not very long but most of my intro chapters never are! I've been wanting to write this for a while but I kept getting distracted, but now that I've started I'm excited about it. I love Japan during the Edo period and I thought it would be cool to write a fic based around that time. I've gotten a lot of messages about people saying they would like to see a lot more FF7 characters in my future fics. So I'm throwing in a lot in this one since it was requested! I'll fill out more character development later. Please read and review! Thanks, will post chap 2 soon!