His head hurt from the rush of suppressed memories. He'd held them back so well for so long… Well, not really. But he'd only let himself remember his death, as a way of repentance. He'd even tried not to think Zack's name; that was too painful for him. But all the details had flooded back into him: Their first date. The night they'd both slept outside, away from Midgar, just so they could watch the stars together. The picnic they'd had when Zack got back from a particularly long mission. The time he'd tried to teach Zack how to cook, and they ended up making love in the kitchen. The night they'd spent together at the Niebelheim Inn… Soon after that, though, memories blurred.
But it was the clear memories that had hurt him the most. The happy ones, where he and Zack were closer than two human beings had ever been before. Cloud could hardly bear the knowledge that he had been the reason for Zack's death. If only he'd been stronger…
"Cloud… wake up, please. Waiting for you to open your eyes is kil-driving me crazy." A rough hand gently brushed his cheek. Instinctively, the blonde man turned his face into the touch, like he had done so many times when he was younger.
Then he remembered whose touch it was. His eyes snapped open, and he looked straight into Zack Fair's face. It was a bit older than he remembered it, and for good reason. It had been three years, after all. His hair was longer, for one. And he had a bit of stubble on his face. Cloud stiffened, unable to accept the fact that this man was alive and touching him.
"Why…Why are you here?" he asked quietly, his eyes narrowing a little. He had to admit it; he was angry. If Zack had been alive all this time, where had he been? Why hadn't he been with Cloud all this time? Had he just taken advantage of the fact that Cloud thought he was dead? What if he'd seen other guys, or even girls?
Zack sighed and ran a hand through his wild hair, and try as he might to ignore it, Cloud couldn't pretend that he didn't want to touch the ex-SOLDIER's hair too. "It's a long story… Honestly, you have every right to be angry, Cloud. I should've come sooner. But please, let me explain before you look at me like you hate me." His glowing eyes looked sadly down at him.
Cloud sat up so he could pay more attention to the black-haired man's words. When Zack had said his name, he had to bite his tongue to keep from crying. He'd been pushing his emotions away for three years, but merely being in the presence of this man had brought all of those feelings coming back in a torrent. "I'm sorry," he mumbled. "I'll listen." He wondered if Zack could tell the difference in his voice: he had changed, matured, and his voice echoed that.
The ex-SOLDIER breathed a sigh of relief. "Thank you. Cloud, the only reason I didn't come sooner is that I didn't remember. I had been unconscious for so long by the time they rescued me, I had lost all of my memories. As it was, I was asleep for almost a year before I woke up. It was a miracle I did." His eyes implored Cloud to understand him.
Cloud listened as he explained that he was taken in by the family that ran the inn at Kalm, completely unaware of what his previous life had been. The couple that had cared for him had named him 'Wildz,' because of his hair. How many times have I stayed at that inn? he wondered, trying to keep his jaw from dropping.
"But I kept having these dreams, Cloud. I realize now that they were memories, but I didn't know what the hell they were then. There was a lot of fighting, and walking, and then there was… This blonde… I couldn't see his face, but for some reason the dreams I had of him were my favorite. I thought he was an angel.
"And then, about a month ago the town was attacked." The black-haired man closed his eyes like he was seeing the scene again behind his eyelids. "There was nothing any of us could do, and the inn was almost destroyed. A bunch of us were rebuilding the inn when the roof collapsed on top of us…"
Cloud watched as he flinched a little at the memory. He definitely looked and acted just like Zack did, but… Cloud had watched Zack die. This man talking to him, claiming to be Zack, just couldn't… There was no way he could be the one Cloud had been wishing for.
"When I woke up, I remembered it all: Being in SOLDIER, fighting Sephiroth, escaping from the lab, everything." He looked straight into the blonde's eyes. "Most importantly, I remembered you, Cloud. My blonde angel. Ever since I remembered, I've been trying to find you. And today… Today I did." An ecstatic smile crossed his features.
Cloud wanted to believe him, he really did. His entire heart implored him to believe the man in front of him. But he couldn't. "You don't understand… I watched you-I watched Zack die," he answered quietly for fear of his voice breaking. Even to this day, he didn't like to admit it. "I was there… There's no way…"
"Cloud." The man's face was solemn, and he put his hands on the hero's shoulders. "I promised you I wouldn't leave you alone. And I meant it. It took me a long time- it took me much too long to come back to you, but I would never… I would never, ever break a promise to you."
Cloud was practically gnawing off his own lip to keep himself from crying. He was too old to let that kind of emotion show. But the man's words had convinced him of his identity, for only Zack knew of that secret pledge he'd made. They had been alone, and had never told another soul.
"I'm sorry it took me so long. Please, believe me," Zack pleaded, his eyes softening. "I love you, Cloud."
"I love you, Cloud."
"I love you, too, Zack." The moment he said those words, he knew there would be no one else in this world he could ever love as much as he did Zack. The man was irreplaceable.
As the brief memory floated through his mind, Cloud finally let the walls drop. Before he knew what he was doing, he had pulled Zack close to him, his eyes overflowing like they'd been asking to for so long. "I…I love you, t-too, Zack…" he managed around the sobs now wracking his body.
He was too embarrassed to look at him. What kind of man in his mid-twenties breaks down sobbing like that? Zack probably thought that he hadn't matured at all in three years. He covered his face as emotions overtook him. For all these years, he'd thought he was the cause of his lover's death, and now… It wasn't true. He still had to contend with Aeris's death, but his heart could rest knowing that he hadn't caused Zack's death…
Large hands pulled him forward, and he could feel Zack's heartbeat. "I'm sorry, Cloud. I won't make you cry again. Now that I'm here, I'm not letting you go. Ever."
Cloud didn't mind that thought at all.