The sun still hadn't broke through the sky yet when they finally came to a stop. Cloud had been dozing off and on throughout the ride but he was awake now, sleepily glancing around at their surroundings. All he registered at the moment were tall trees and a dark starlit sky...it still seemed as if they were in the mountains though with no town in sight.
"Zack?" He asked softly while relaxing again against the others strong back while he tightened his grip around his waist. The carriage had of course been ditched long ago when it broke down in the snow, and since then they had ridden on the horse together. Zack had at first wanted to get another carriage to replace the last one, but honestly Cloud preferred this method of travel better. He liked being right beside him.
"I think we're pretty close," Zack explained quietly while pulling the map from one of the bags that was strapped to their horse.
"Close?" Cloud questioned as his eyes fell closed again.
"Yes," Zack replied gently while patting Cloud's arm that was wrapped around him. He knew the boy was mostly just talking out of sleepiness and was trying to lure him back into his comfortable rest.
Looking over the map his eyes zeroed in on the destination he was trying to find. That was definitely it, the same spot that Angeal had marked on the map was indeed the same spot that Kenzo had told him about. And if he was correct, it should just be a little further.
"Almost there," he said once again before folding back up the map and placing it securely back in the bag. He grabbed the reigns and steered the horse onto a smoother path and continued onward.
'Just a bit further now'
Stepping onto the snow covered ground Zack took in a breath of air. It had after all been awhile since he had breathed in fresh air, seeing as how he had been deemed bed ridden for some time by Cissnei. So the chilled air was actually a nice welcome to him. He took a few more steps before his eyes landed on an older man who was kneeling down and cutting at some type of plants in the garden. He must've heard the others footsteps though because he quickly looked up before dusting his hands off on himself.
"Well, it's good to see you back up on your feet," the man started before picking himself up off the ground.
"It's good to be up," Zack replied before giving the other a bow. "You must be Kenzo."
"That would be correct," Kenzo answered with a nod.
"I...am forever in your debt," Zack continued. "For everything that you and Cissnei did for Cloud and I. I'm truly grateful."
"Well I certainly couldn't leave you two out there like that," Kenzo said before crossing his arms. "However I do wonder what happened to put you in such a condition."
He gave Zack a once over before tilting his head slightly.
"I see that you wield a sword and something just tells me you're definitely a skilled fighter," he began while narrowing his eyes slightly. "I assume you weren't injured by just some usual bandits going after travelers. I asked your friend about it. He was very vague."
Giving another bow Zack spoke up. "Please forgive Cloud, I know he meant no disrespect. It's just he probably assumed he shouldn't say much without my knowing."
"Understandable," Kenzo said with a nod. "Which is why I wanted to speak to you when you when you were better. I don't mind helping you two out, but for the safety of my daughter I need to know just who I've allowed in my house."
That was perfectly reasonable to Zack. And he could tell that Kenzo was definitely a skilled fighter himself. So he wasn't surprised that Kenzo had been able to read him so easily.
"We weren't attacked by bandits," Zack began, "it was...Samurai."
There was a brief silence as Kenzo took in the information.
"Samurai are after you? Don't tell me you've committed some heinous crime?"
"Heinous?" Zack asked himself aloud before shaking his head. "Not at all, but I suppose I have committed a crime in some sense. But I assure you I haven't harmed anyone who didn't pose a threat."
Keeping his gaze firmly on Zack Kenzo gave a slow nod, almost as if he were debating on whether or not to take Zack's words as the truth.
"When I came across you two Cloud said you were injured trying to protect him. Is he the one whose in trouble?"
"I suppose the both of us are," Zack simply stated.
"I see," Kenzo began with a deep sigh.
"You've done so much for us," Zack started, "but I assure you we won't put you at risk any longer. We'll leave right away."
"Did Cissnei say you were fit for travel?" Kenzo asked.
"Well," Zack started with a blink, "not exactly. She said she would like me to rest for a few more days but really I'm perfectly-"
"Then you'll stay," Kenzo cut in before giving a bit of a shrug. "Doctors orders."
"Raise your sword above your head."
"Excuse me?" Zack asked in confusion.
"Go on," Kenzo continued, "raise your sword above your head."
Pausing for another moment Zack slowly withdrew his sword and moved to raise it before visibly wincing.
"You see there," Kenzo began while walking over to the other and giving him a tap on his side which made Zack lower his arm right away when the still tender spot was touched. "You can't defend yourself in that condition. You need a few more days. Don't go getting ahead of yourself."
"Understood," Zack replied quietly.
"But just because you can't travel just yet doesn't mean you can't plan ahead. You need to evade Samurai don't you? Where will you go?"
"I've got a few ideas," Zack said.
"Well," Kenzo started while motioning for Zack to follow him. "I may know of a place that you might benefit from."
Zack furrowed his brows questioningly as he followed the man back into the home. They ended up in the main room before Kenzo had made his way over to a cabinet where he pulled out a small box. Inside the box was a map and he pulled that out as well before making his way over to the table where he gestured for Zack to take a seat.
"There is an area, in the next town that's up in the mountains. Very obscure, and also not too far from town. There is an abandoned residence there," Kenzo explained while unfolding the map and pointing to the location.
Leaning over Zack glanced at the map before raising a brow. The place on the map looked vaguely familiar but he couldn't be too sure...
"Abandoned you say?"
"Yes for some time," Kenzo started just as Cissnei entered the room and asked if they wanted some tea. They politely accepted her offer before she was disappearing into the kitchen and then Zack was looking back to the map.
"I used to pass by it all the time when I made deliveries into the neighboring town."
A place that was hidden and obscure, up in the mountains and yet close by a town...it sounded ideal actually. But even so...
"Why would you tell me about this?"
"Why not?" Kenzo questioned just as Cissnei re entered the room and set their tea down before them and then exited again. "You need somewhere to go and I know of one possibly."
"But even after what I told you, why would you help-"
"I'm not a fan of the Shogunate or Samurai," Kenzo quickly jumped in. "My family used to reside in Edo...many, many years ago. But after...certain events, that lead to losing my wife and son...I cut all ties with them. And ever since my daughter and I have been here, away from any of their dealings."
Zack's eyes widened at that and he noticed the solemn look that was now on the man's face as he quickly picked up his cup of tea and took a sip.
"I see," Zack said softly. He felt he should say more but...what could one say to something as tragic as that? A part of him wondered just what had happened but he knew that asking was certainly out of the question. He only hoped that the man and Cissnei had been able to find some sort of peace with leaving.
"It's not my business to know why Samurai are after the two of you and in all honesty I'm sure whatever you did was valid for some reason or another. You don't strike me as the type do otherwise." Kenzo continued. "I'm sure they don't even realize my home is up here but if they ever happen to come by looking for you two, as far as I'm concerned I never met you."
This was it. No doubts about it now. This was the abandoned residence. Stopping again Zack pulled out his map before also pulling out the one that Kenzo had given him. He looked between the two of them, and sure enough the spot that was marked on his matched Kenzo's as well. Angeal had marked this area when he went over the map. He didn't specify to Zack what the residence was, or whose it had been before. He only simply told him, "If you go to this location, there's a residence there that you two can stay at.I know it well."
'Whose place is this Angeal?' Zack asked in his mind. Perhaps it was just a place that he had come across across while on an assignment? But no...he said he knew it well. Could it have been his? Perhaps like a home away from home?
Shaking his head he gently tapped Cloud's arm again trying to ruse him from his sleep.
"Cloud," he started softly as he felt the body behind him begin to stir.
"Mm," was the sleepy response he got. He carefully removed the blond's arms from around his waist before he started to dismount the horse. That caused Cloud to wake up fully when he realized Zack was moving away from him. He gave Zack a questioning look before glancing around. He saw trees still but this time there was also a home tucked away behind them.
"Zack?" He asked while looking back to the other who was securing the horse on a nearby post.
"Come on," Zack started while moving back and reaching out for Cloud. He extended his arms to the other and let him raise him up off the horse before setting him down gently on his feet.
"Where are we?"
Keeping his eyes scanning the area for a moment Zack looked at Cloud before giving a smile. "Our home possibly?"
Cloud's eyes widened. "This is what Angeal told you about?"
"Yes, this is definitely it," Zack replied before taking Cloud's hand. "Let's check it out, stay close."
"Okay," Cloud replied with a nod while tightening his grip on Zack's hand. They had been back traveling on the road for almost two weeks now since they had left Cissnei and Kenzo's, and they hadn't run into anymore trouble since thankfully. No Samurai at all or bandits of any kind. They did however encounter a few drunken men when they stopped into town once for dinner but that was nothing serious at all. A glare and a quick move from Zack made them back off and apologize profusely.
But one could never know when something might arise and Zack had told him to always be conscious of his surroundings. And when they stopped into town again Zack also got Cloud a small dagger. After their encounter before Zack had realized that while he would always protect Cloud till the end, that it was still good for him to be able to protect himself if the situation called for it. Cloud seemed nervous about it at first, he had never had a weapon of any kind. Ever. But Zack assured him it was good to have something to protect himself just in case.
"I can't," Cloud started warily when Zack placed the dagger in his hand for the first time.
"You can," Zack confirmed while closing Cloud's small hand around the handle. "It's small and light so it's not hard to use, but it can cause serious injury and that's the main thing."
Cloud eyed it curiously as Zack moved behind him and took his wrist in his grasp so that he could control his arm movement. He pulled his hand up before pulling it back and extending it quickly again in a jabbing motion.
"You see, fast and hard, that's your goal," Zack instructed. He looked down at the smaller one and realized that he had closed his eyes and noticeably flinched from the small motion.
"Don't be afraid of it," Zack continued gently while lowering Cloud's arm. "Open your eyes."
Listening Cloud opened his eyes, he hadn't even meant to close them it just happened naturally.
"It's just about efficiency and speed," Zack said while keeping his hold on Cloud's wrist. "Just strike quickly to wound your attacker and then take that chance to get away. But keep your grip secure on the weapon."
"Okay," Cloud replied with a nod of determination this time as Zack positioned his hand once more.
He showed him two moves to inflict severe damage with the tiny blade. One was a quick jab to the neck, right for the jugular, or a quick downward strike to the upper thigh followed by a twist. It would render his attacker immobile and would allow him to get away. And so with that Cloud kept the dagger secured under his obi just in case. But he prayed that he would never have to use it.
They made their way up the path and up the few stone steps that led to the door. Cloud looked around the area again while Zack attempted to open the door. It seemed stuck for a moment but with a few more tugs it gave way causing a loud sound in the quiet area. Cloud flinched at that before carefully peering inside just as Zack stepped in.
"Careful," Cloud said while tightening his grip on Zack's hand although he still remained at the door.
"Yeah," Zack agreed before glancing back at the other who remained unmoved. "Come on."
Hesitantly stepping inside Cloud gave a cough. It was definitely dusty inside, but it didn't look too bad considering it was abandoned. The sun had just broke over the horizon and so the place was filled with a soft, hazy light that barely seeped through the heavy curtains. There was a few pieces of furniture here and there under tarps of some sort, some lanterns scattered across the floor and a mountain of books off to the side of the main room, but no shelf it seemed.
Zack let go of Cloud's hand once he had gotten him inside and carefully made his way around the place to make sure they were in fact alone while Cloud inspected the few pieces of lavish furniture that he found beneath the coverings.
"Well," Zack began while walking from out of the kitchen, "It's not in bad shape...not in bad shape at all."
"No," Cloud said in agreement before looking back towards Zack, "just needs a good cleaning is all."
"That's music to my ears," Zack replied with a smile, "I thought I was going to have my work cut out for me."
Walking over towards the hallway Cloud peered down it before making his way over towards one of the doors. He slid it open and saw an otherwise empty room aside from a shoji screen and a dresser. And once again the items looked very nice beside being covered in dust.
"This is beautiful," Cloud said to himself while looking over the detailed shoji screen that was etched in gold. He leaned forward and blew off some of the dust before running his fingers over it gently.
"It is," Zack's voice came and Cloud turned around to see him standing in the doorway and watching him.
"Did Angeal mention who lived here?" Cloud asked curiously.
"No," Zack replied with a shake of his head. "He didn't really give too much information at all besides it would be safe for us."
"Maybe his parent's lived here...before they lived in Edo?" Cloud wondered, "I mean it must be in the family."
"Hmm," Zack began in thought. "I know Angeal's family has been in Edo for a long time though. But I guess it could be possible."
Walking further into the room Zack pushed aside the crimson curtains, letting now brighter sunlight into the room. Cloud squinted at the sudden flood of light before walking over towards Zack to look out the window also. It showed a clear view of the spacious backyard, that was covered in overgrown grass and patches of melted snow.
"Is that a pond?" Zack asked
"Where?" Cloud asked while ducking underneath Zack's outstretched arm where he was now pointing. All Cloud had seen at first was grass, but now that he squinted a bit he did see something that seemed to be shimmering off to the side of it.
"The grass is so high, I can't really tell," Cloud explained before Zack gave a nod.
"I'll have to at least do that then," Zack said before Cloud was looking up at him.
"Is that safe?"
"What?" Zack asked with a tilt of his head.
"Trying to cut that," Cloud began while looking back out the window briefly. "I mean...can't there be animals in there?"
Zack paused before a grin spread across his face. "Animals?"
"Or, rodents, reptiles," Cloud supplied.
"It'll be fine," Zack said with a brief chuckle before narrowing his eyes a bit. "Although...there might be bats. Will you be alright?"
Blinking briefly Cloud opened his mouth to respond before closing it quickly. His first thought was to ask if bats lived in areas like that. He always thought they stayed in caves or trees? But then when he caught the sneaky grin on the others face he knew right away that he was teasing him. He just knew he was making a reference to when they were kids and he got scared by the bats in the woods.
"I hate you," Cloud said evenly while turning away to look back out the window.
He heard Zack let out a loud laugh behind him and he couldn't help but to let a smile slip. The next thing he knew he felt Zack's arms wrap around him tightly before he was placing a kiss against his cheek.
"So," Zack started while keeping his hold on the other. "What do you think? Think we can make this...our home?"
Letting out a soft sigh Cloud thought about it. They were now far far away from Edo. They had encountered Samurai on the way and had gotten past that hurdle, and now he was pretty sure they had called off the search for him. After all it had been weeks. And even if they hadn't, they were so far away now that it probably wouldn't matter either way. And this place was in an area that wasn't easily accessible or visible for that matter. This place...well, he could actually see himself feeling safe here. And there with Zack...a place to call their own? That was...all he ever truly wanted.
"I," Cloud started softly, "I think so...yes."
"Yes?" Zack asked once more just to be certain.
"Yes," Cloud replied just as Zack turned him around to face him. He gave him a smile before letting out a chuckle when Zack pulled him into another embrace. He held Zack just as tightly before the other picked him up off the floor. Cloud gave a small yelp of surprise before placing his hands on Zack's shoulders.
"Good," Zack said with a smile of his own. "Because I...really think we can be happy here."
Looking into blue eyes Cloud cupped Zack's face in his hands before leaning down closely and placing a small kiss against his lips. "We will be happy here."
And Zack believed that, he whole heartedly believed that. And he could see, just from the genuine smile on Cloud's face, that he believed it too. And that meant...so much to Zack. All he wanted, ever since he learned what had happened to Cloud...all he wanted was for him to be genuinely happy again. And now that it seemed as if that vision was finally coming to life, he couldn't be more thrilled. He supposed in some way he wouldn't be able to let his guard down completely for some time, but at least he knew their odds were far better. And if anything else tried to threaten them here, he would fight with everything he had to protect it.
Cloud leaned in to kiss him once more, nipping at his bottom lip briefly before pulling away and wiggling a bit so that Zack would set him back on the ground. Zack did so while giving a bit of a laugh at Cloud's playfulness. Already he was enjoying this.
"I know we've been traveling all night, and we didn't even stop to rest," Cloud started while running a hand through his hair as he glanced around, "but we can't really sleep here now before I've cleaned up. Not to mention I didn't see a bed or any tatami mats."
"I didn't either," Zack said, "and the other room is completely empty. We'll have to go into town to get some things."
"And how far is town from here?"
"Not long at all," Zack explained, "there's a trail that leads straight there from the other side according to the map."
"Great," Cloud said with a nod, "because we need food too. We've pretty much ran out of what we had packed up. So we need to stop at the market for sure."
"Then we'll do that," Zack replied with a grin as Cloud continued to list off what they would need to clean up the place. He ushered the smaller one out of the house while placing a kiss on top of his head, and then he didn't hesitate at all before taking his hand into his own.
It had been a few days since Zack and Cloud had arrived at "their" new home, and they had been busy cleaning and restoring it within that time. At first glance it didn't seem as if it would be too difficult, but once they set in they realized just how much work it really was. Cloud had dusted and sweeped the whole place thoroughly at least twice, opening the windows and doors to ventilate it properly. And he had spent an entire morning cleaning the kitchen, scrubbing on his hands and knees. Out of all the rooms that one was definitely the worse.
In the meantime Zack had brought up the other essential items of furniture from town, and had thoroughly checked the doors and windows. Most of them had no locks and he wasn't about to have them staying in a place that wasn't secured. So he had to add them himself. They had made alot of progress in just a few short days however. It wasn't until one night in particular when Cloud swore that he heard scratching on the roof that they had discovered there was a small hole up there and squirrels had somehow gotten into it, and began making their way inside.
Zack chased them out all the while in a fit of laughter at Cloud's shriek before he too got a broom and helped get them out. Then the next day Zack patched up the hole and they seemed to be squirrel free.
It was now becoming evening on the fourth night in the house and Cloud was in the kitchen preparing dinner while Zack was seated at the table in the main room looking over a check list that they had made out.
"I'm pretty impressed," Zack with a stretch as he leaned back on his hands. "It looks like we've gotten most of it done already. All that's left is the outside mainly."
"Yeah," Cloud called from in the kitchen, "but don't worry about that until more of the snow melts. It'll just be a pain otherwise."
"That's true," Zack replied while rising up from his seat and making his way into the kitchen. He stopped briefly however to peer out the window and take in the view of the sky. It was a soft purple, mixed with hues of orange and blue and scattered with the bright stars that had already started to make their appearance. It was so beautiful, and he couldn't help but to admire it. Looking up at the sky had always been he and Cloud's perfect past time since they were kids. When they were at the lake, they always looked up at the stars together. But with everything that had transpired in recent events, that was something that they hadn't gotten to do in quite some time.
"Hey," Zack started while turning back and looking at the blond who was mixing something on the stove. "Come here for a second."
"What?" Cloud asked curiously while stepping out of the kitchen and making his way towards the other. Zack pulled him in front of him before pushing more of the curtain back with his hand to give Cloud a better look.
"Look at that view," Zack said softly as a smile touched his face. "It's pretty nice from all the way up here isn't it?"
Glancing up at the sky Cloud felt his heart skip a beat. He was always one to be awed by such beautiful visions in the sky, and this sunset was pretty breathtaking. He hadn't gotten the chance to really admire it from here at all, they had been so busy. But now that he was getting the chance to...he was pretty amazed.
"It really is," he said as he kept his gaze on the sky. He could get lost looking at something so beautiful. In fact it was what he usually did.
"You know," Zack started, "you never got to start your painting. I think something like this would be amazing for you to paint. Don't you think?"
Hesitating for a moment Cloud looked away. He didn't get to ever try his hand at painting, he really wanted to, and in fact he had started to get his canvas ready. He had started his sketch out for what he wanted to paint...but that was on the same night when...well, and after that he had sort of just lost any inspiration to do it anymore. He hadn't lifted a single item to sketch or do any kind of artwork since all of that had happened...
Sensing Cloud's change Zack carefully wrapped his arms around his slim waist before resting his chin on his shoulder. "You haven't given it up have you?"
"I don't know," Cloud replied honestly.
"Hmm," Zack started, "well...I know how much you love art. And if you don't want to do it anymore because your passions changed then that's one thing. But I hope you haven't given it up because you felt like you had to."
Maybe he did feel like he had to in some regard. He felt like such a different person after everything, and all the things that he liked to do just sort of...didn't seem important. But that was when his mind was so plagued with stressful issues, he didn't have the capacity in his mind to allow creativeness when he was constantly paranoid from one day to the next. So...maybe he hadn't exactly lost his passion for it but rather just wasn't in the mind-set for it at the time.
"I guess we'll see," Cloud said simply before looking back up at the sky. That was the most honest answer he give at that time.
"We will," Zack replied before pressing a kiss against Cloud's cheek. He knew deep down that Cloud wouldn't abandon his art. It was his passion ever since they were just kids. And he knew that this was only a set back, and that once Cloud got into a normal routine again that his passion would come back. And he knew when it did that Cloud would be even better, because it was one of the things that had always brought him happiness.
The sunset had almost completely gone down, drowning the sky in shades of both dark and light blue as more stars made their appearance. They had watched it change in a comfortable and content silence, Cloud still wrapped up in Zack's arms. He felt him press another kiss to his temple, and then his cheek before moving to his neck.
Cloud let out a small laugh when Zack continued to trail light kisses down his neck before nipping lightly at his ear. Cloud's eyes closed momentarily as he became lost in the feel of the others kisses, but then he was opening his eyes and shifting them towards the kitchen. He had left the pot on and he saw a steady rise of steam coming from the top of it.
"I think dinner's ready now," Cloud said softly.
"Oh," Zack replied, although he didn't pull away and continued to kiss Cloud's neck. And Cloud didn't pull away either, he was quite enjoying himself actually. After all, they hadn't been together in awhile. The last time being when they had first spotted the Samurai after coming out of that teahouse. And then Zack was injured shortly after and they were at Cissnei's, and after they left they had been so focused on moving forward and getting to their destination that it left little time for them. Most of their days were spent traveling, and when they weren't they were at an Inn resting. And then when they did finally arrive they still had work to do. They had been so close during it all yes, but not in the way that they both so desperately missed.
"So," Cloud started while turning around in Zack's arms. "Maybe we should..."
The rest of his sentence was lost against Zack's lips and he felt himself instantly lean in, pressing more into the kiss before wrapping his arms around his lovers neck. It was with that that he truly realized just as how much he was craving this closeness. All it took was that initial kiss to light the fire inside of him and a soft moan escaped from his throat.
Zack pulled Cloud closer against him as soon as he felt him wrap his arms around his neck. He meant for the kiss to be soft at first, but when he felt Cloud push more into it and heard that sweet sound escape from him, he seemed to lose his composure more quickly than he thought.
Their kiss quickly turned more passionate and Cloud ran his fingers through raven hair before running his hands down the others back. He felt Zack push aside the top of his kimono, exposing his shoulder before he leaned down and place a kiss against it, going back up his neck once more.
"How about dinner later?" Zack asked on an exhale of air.
"Okay," Cloud quickly agreed. He pulled away from Zack to enter back into the kitchen before he started to set the things aside that were cooking. It was finished now for sure, so he quickly killed the heat and placed covers over the rest of the food. He turned back around to see Zack keeping a close eye on him, and when their eyes met again Cloud felt a blush rise to his cheeks. Zack must've noticed it too because he gave the other a smile before reaching out for him once more. Cloud wondered if that blushing would ever stop happening, but while it may have sometimes annoyed him he honestly didn't mind if it was brought on by Zack.
They had made their way down the hallway to the room that could now be more appropriately called their bedroom. They were consumed in a kiss as they moved towards the bed, and clothes started to be stripped away without a second thought. When Zack's kimono was shed however Cloud found his eyes focused on the diagonal scar on his side. His fingers wandered there on their own and he traced lightly over it. The stitches had long since been removed, Cissnei had taken them out days before they left. But this scar would never fade, Cloud knew that. And while Zack did have some small scars on his body from battles and fights that he had been in back in his Samurai days, none had been so prominent as this one was. And it was brought on from Zack protecting him. He couldn't explain it really but, Cloud felt like that scar was probably one of the biggest symbols of their love. Of course he didn't want Zack to be hurt, and he would do anything if he could go back and change it from happening. But even so...it meant alot to him in an odd way he supposed.
"It doesn't hurt anymore," Zack explained softly while gazing down at the blond. He clearly misunderstood Cloud's reaction to seeing the scar again and thought he was feeling guilty about it, or worrying that he still felt pain.
"Yeah I know," Cloud replied while flicking his eyes up to meet blue. "I just..."
Placing a kiss against soft lips Zack leaned back slightly and kept his eyes locked onto Cloud's. "Tell me," Zack urged gently.
"You...you've done so much for me. Always and...you got hurt because of me," Cloud continued while running his hand over the scar again. "You did all this for me and...I...I just wonder if you really understand how much you mean to me. I just feel like...saying I love you isn't nearly enough compared to what you've done."
Zack stared back in silence before a grin spread across his face. "Say it again."
"What?" Cloud asked in confusion.
"Say it," Zack said while leaning down closer.
"I love you?" Cloud asked, wondering if that was what he was trying to get at.
Zack's grin widened before he continued. "Say it again."
Cloud gave him a look of surprise before letting out a laugh and shaking his head."What are you-"
"It's enough," Zack softly broke in. "It's more than enough...and I love hearing you say it, and no matter how many times you do I'll still want to hear it again and again. Always."
The smile that was on Cloud's face slowly disappeared as he took in Zack's words and he blinked a few times to try to stop the sting of tears he felt at his eyes. "Really?"
"Yes," Zack replied while wiping away a tear that had managed to escape from Cloud's eyes. He didn't mind these tears though because he was sure they were happy ones.
Reaching out Cloud wrapped his arms around Zack pulling him down close and holding onto him tightly. "I love you," he spoke softly into his ear. "I love you so, so much." The words had barely escaped from him before they were locked in another kiss, deepening it upon contact. The room quickly became filled with the sounds of kisses and heavy breathing, along with the occasional moan of their names and cries of pleasure.
Zack had placed kisses all over Cloud and had left marks in their wake. It was something that he had never done before, because he couldn't risk the chance of his family or someone seeing them and then questioning him. But now that they were away, Cloud was truly his and he didn't have to worry about what others would think.
They made love well into the night, not seeming to be able to get enough of each other before resting comfortably in each others arms. They both eventually dozed off, all thoughts of dinner completely forgotten at that point. And it was the first time in a long while that Cloud actually slept without any type of worried thoughts, or recalling any past events or nightmares. He just slept peacefully knowing that his lover was beside him.
It had been almost a week since Angeal had left Edo, and he had had reservations about leaving after speaking with Sephiroth. He wasn't sure what the man was planning to do, but from the way he was talking he didn't have a good feeling about it. He had tried to make Sephiroth promise him again not to do anything that could land him in danger. But all Sephiroth had told him was "that he intended to complete what he started." Angeal didn't like that answer but it was all Sephiroth was giving him. And so Angeal left, in hopes to persuade the Shogun that Zack and Cloud were nowhere to be found. They had already decided that if when Angeal returned if the Shogun was still stuck on the search that Angeal would just make up a story of some kind saying that Zack and Cloud had died somehow. And Sephiroth was on board with that idea at the begining, but once Angeal left, he realized that the time to carry out his plan would be now. After all it seemed as if it would be beneficial in a few ways.
Taking a seat at the lavish table in the dining room Sephiroth let jade eyes roam about the place. So this was the Shogun's quarters? Or the one he frequented anyways that is. He knew that this was the one that he "entertained" guests at. The other one was basically for his wife, who, was just for appearance sake. That was a loveless marriage and it was no secret, though Sephiroth supposed he felt more sympathy for the Shogun's wife Scarlet. To be married to such filth must've been depressing.
As he kept his gaze traveling around the place he couldn't help but to wonder about the times that Genesis had been in this very place. What did he do? What did he say? Did he try to fight or did he just regretfully accept his fate?
He closed his eyes tightly at those thoughts. He didn't want to think about that, he didn't want to think about his love in such distress.
"Forgive me love," Sephiroth spoke quietly into the silence. "Tonight will be the night I make him pay."
The resident dinner would be ending momentarily, and that meant that the Shogun would be coming back into his quarters. Whether or not he would be alone Sephiroth wasn't course the guards would be by the front doors, that was a given. If he brought some company for the night Sephiorth would just turn the poor boy away and tell him to go home. If any Samurai followed him he would dispose of them quickly and continue on.
Getting inside had proved to be a pretty simple task. Sephiroth knew the castle inside and out, and just the same as he had snuck Cloud out of Angeal's quarters that night so long ago, he did the same on sneaking into the Shogun's. It wasn't his fault if the Shogun hadn't made proper security changes in his absence.
The sound of the heavy front door opening and closing caught Sephiroth's attention and he turned his gaze toward the hallway entrance. In a few seconds he saw the Shogun step into the room. He stopped instantly when he saw Sephiroth sitting at the table and he adjusted his glasses briefly before furrowing his brows.
"Sephiroth," he started with a bit of a relieved laugh. "What are you doing here? You weren't at the dinner tonight."
"Good evening you're excellency," Sephiroth started while rising from his seat and giving a short bow. "I had some important things to tend to tonight, and I needed to speak with you."
"Ah," Hojo began while making his way further into the room, "it's late already. We can attend to business matters in the morning."
"I insist," Sephiroth continued while gesturing for the man to have a seat.
"I suppose," Hojo gave in with a sigh before taking a seat, "since you're already here. My guards just let you in?"
"I told them it was urgent that I speak with you and they said you would be along realitively quickly so they allowed me to wait inside," Sephiroth lied smoothly.
"Very well," Hojo replied while reaching for the bottle of sake in the middle of the table and pouring a drink for himself. "So what is this urgent news? Have you heard something else about Zack and Cloud?"
"No," Sephiroth said with a shake of his head. "But you needn't worry about them any longer, they're just fine."
Looking back at Sephiroth quickly Hojo set the bottle of sake back on the table. "What do you mean? They've been returned?"
"Not at all," Sephiroth started calmly, "they've left Edo and they're happy together. So you won't be seeing Cloud again for your own amusement and pleasure and you won't be putting Zack to death either."
Hojo was rendered speechless as he gave Sephiroth a wary look. He cast his glance towards the doorway wondering if he should bring somebody else into the room now that the conversation seemed to be taking a turn.
"That was the real reason after all wasn't it?" Sephiroth asked with a slight tilt of his head. "Although you would have others believe that your intentions were good, didn't you just want to find Cloud because you wanted him? And you needed Zack out of the picture to do so."
"You're treading on very thin ice General," Hojo spoke up before taking a drink of his sake and setting down the cup. "I believe you forget who you're talking too."
Sephiroth gave him an icy smile before speaking again. "I know exactly who I'm talking too."
Reaching forward for the bottle of sake Sephiroth poured himself a drink as well as Hojo kept a steady watch on his movements.
"But I've come here not only to tell you that you'll never see Cloud and Zack again, but to give you a chance at...redemption," he explained before taking a sip of his drink.
"Redemption?" Hojo spat while leaning back and narrowing his eyes at the other. "I have no reason for such a thing."
"Oh but you do,"Sephiroth quickly replied while turning jade eyes onto the man before him.
"I've had enough of this nonsense," Hojo began while preparing to rise from his seat. But in a move that was too fast for him to even see Sephiroth had withdrew masamune and now had it placed across the table at the man's throat.
"Sit," he simply said while holding the sword with one hand and keeping his eyes levelly on the Shogun. The man's eyes widened behind his glasses and he slowly resumed his spot.
"You're making a huge mistake. I'll have your head for this," Hojo spoke lowly.
"I doubt that," Sephiroth replied without an ounce of worry.
"What is this about?" Hojo asked in a bit of panic, "Is it because of Cloud? Did you have some kind of feelings for him?"
"Cloud is a good kid," Sephiroth started, "and I did come to care about him but not in the way you think. This was going to happen even if I had never met Cloud."
"So then what-"
"Genesis Rhapsodos," Sephiroth finally supplied.
Hojo furrowed his brows in thought before shaking his head slightly.
Unbelievable. Did he not remember Genesis? Had he forgotten him just like that? Was Genesis simply a blur in the countless boys that he had brought to his bed?
Sephiroth swore at that moment he saw red and he could literally hear his heart and blood pumping in his ears.
"You better try hard to remember," Sephiroth explained in an unnerving tone that made the Shogun take notice. He paused for a moment longer before looking back to Sephiroth.
"Genesis Rhapsodos...yes, the Rhapsodos families son, his father is still on the council," Hojo explained once his memory kicked in.
"Yes, that would be the one," Sephiroth said with a shaky exhale. Shaky only because his anger was getting to him so much that he had to mentally remind himself to breathe.
"What about him?" Hojo asked carefully, "he passed away a long time ago..."
"Yes," Sephiroth replied while glancing away for just a moment at the thought, but then he was turning his eyes directly back onto the man again. "From a supposed high fever. It happened when I was away on assignment...and when I came back he was gone. But the thing is...he didn't die from a fever now did he?"
"Of course he did," Hojo answered instantly. "Surely you're not suggesting that I was responsible for his death?"
"Not directly," Sephiroth spoke as a distant look came into his eyes. "He took his own life...because of what you did."
"I did nothing to-"
"No,"Sephiroth cut in while tightening his grip on the hilt of his sword and pressing it closer to the Shogun's neck. "You don't get to deny it anymore. All this time I've had to live with knowing what truly happened, while you got to go on living as if nothing had. Now you get to admit to what you did to him. I need to hear it."
Swallowing when he felt the blade press closer to his neck Hojo closed his eyes before opening them slowly. "I didn't do anything to him," he spoke slowly.
Feeling his patience wane Sephiroth leaned onto the table slowly with his free hand, almost like a cat getting ready to pounce. His eyes seemed as if they grew brighter and Hojo felt himself lean back from the intense aura that was coming from off the other.
"I know that you did. I could see the light dimming in his eyes everyday and at the time I didn't know the reason for it. But I do now. And I need to hear you admit it. Lie to me one more time and I'll slice your throat right here."
Letting out a deep sigh Hojo clenched his fists. He didn't dare lie to Sephiroth again, from the look he was giving him he didn't want to test if that threat was real or not. So maybe if he just gave in to what he wanted the General would come back to his senses.
"Fine," Hojo replied quietly. "For a time yes there was something."
He wondered if Sephiroth had actually heard him though because for a moment he said nothing at all and simply kept his cool gaze on him.
Sephiroth knew it, he always did shortly after Genesis death he was able to piece it together. But hearing it...for some reason hearing it from the man responsible himself made it all that more real. But he needed for Hojo to admit it. Not only to confirm what he already knew but for Genesis memory. The whole time Genesis had to carry that alone, not allowing anyone to know, and even in his death were more lies. But no more, Sephiroth wasn't going to allow this man to deny what he had truly done anymore.
"It's because of you that I lost the one person who meant the most to me," Sephiroth began softly.
"Sephiroth," Hojo quickly spoke up. "If I had known that he was important to you...that he was involved with you I-"
"You knew," Sephiroth replied while narrowing his eyes at the other. "You always knew. But it didn't matter."
He thought back to the countless dinners and social functions that he had attended in the castle. With Genesis being the son of a council member he usually had to attend as well, and when they were together they didn't hide their relationship. They never had. And the Shogun had seen them together so many times. He knew what their relationship truly was. He just like always, didn't care.
"He often grew ill anways!" Hojo started to babble. "I told his family to say he died from illness to protect their honor, not me! I didn't want them to feel disgraced with others knowing that their son who had such a privileged life decided to commit suicide! He had it well! He over reacted!"
Rising from his seat without another word Sephiroth rounded the table and quickly grabbed Hojo from the back of his hair so that he was now looking up with wide eyes at Sephiroth. He held his hands up in surrender and started to sputter on his words. What he was saying Sephiroth didn't know, he didn't care what the other had to say anymore. He had gotten what he wanted and now it was time to end this.
"I pray that in the next life you'll be subjected to every foul thing that you've bestowed upon others in this one, only ten times over," Sephiroth explained cooly while placing the blade at the front of the man's throat.
"No! Don't do this! You'll-"
And with a quick slash to his throat the Shogun made a few gurgling noises before Sephiroth released the back of his hair and let him fall to the ground. His blood had spurted out landing on the porcelain skin of the General's face while the rest pooled beneath him and seeped into the expensive carpet. Sephiroth watched as the man twitched for a few more moments on the ground and then he finally stilled completely.
He gave a flick of his sword to shake off the excess blood on the blade and then he was putting it back in its sheathe. Letting out a sigh he closed his eyes as he took in the moment. This was what he had come back to Edo for. His life would never be complete without seeing this through, and he felt a sense of relief wash over him.
"It's done my love."
Authors Notes: THIS IS NOT THE END! But yeah Ding dong the pedo's dead! It's safe for all of the cute young boys in the castle to go out again! But really, I enjoyed writing the end to this chapter so much. After all the anguish and hurt that Hojo caused I really didn't see any other way then for him to die. And while Cloud had gone through a traumatizing experience with him, I found it only fitting for Sephiroth to be the one to kill Hojo rather than Zack. Genesis endured alot more, and the Shogun only got to Cloud once (one time too many but still) where as Genesis was the Shogun's play thing for awhile. And since Sephiroth actually lost Genesis, I figured his hatred for Hojo would run alot deeper. And I kind of like the irony that it was something in the past that came to haunt Hojo rather than what was going on in the present, because that would be way too predictable. There will still be about two more chapters depending on how long I make them to tie up loose ends and such. I wanted this one to be heavily based on Zack and Cloud though and them finally starting to be able to start the life that they fought so hard to get. With the Shogun's death, what will this mean for everyone? And what will it mean for Sephiroth? We're getting down to the end! Thanks so much for your reviews guys and hope to have the next chap out soon! Until next time!