They were still days where Zack let his thoughts get the better of him. Those days where he couldn't bring himself to smile or sound cheery. Everything felt terribly dreary on those days and he hated every moment of it. It always managed to hit him the hardest at night though.
Whenever he tried to just sleep it off, every possible lingering thought tormented him in his mind. He never was an insomniac before, but he felt like he was slowly starting to become one each with passing day.
"I guess it's just another one of those nights, eh Cloud?"
He waited as if there would actually be a response.
"Yeah… I thought so. I just gotta find a way to manage. I know we'll get through this."
Zack turned his head and looked at the blond that was laying next to him. His eyes were still left in that eerie half open state. The mako still faintly glowing in his vacant looking eyes.
Humming softly Zack started to ruffle Cloud's hair. "You gotta give me something at some point Cloud. I don't know if you honestly can hear all my rambles… but I don't know how much longer I can go on like this… You know, I'm a people person… I need people to talk to… and to have them talk to me in return."
Zack stopped ruffling Cloud's hair when he saw many strains of hair had now fallen in front of Cloud's unmoving face. Slowly Zack stared to brush them away, as he let out a sigh. "Just keep hanging in there, buddy. I know you must be trying… if you can keep going, I'm sure I can too."
Zack pulled Cloud a bit closer to himself before he finally closed his eyes, hopping to drift off into sleep. "G'night Cloud."
Zack's eyes shot open. He blinked a few times before closing them again. "I probably just imagined it. Lack of sleep… yeah probably…"
Now he was sure he had heard something. Pushing Cloud back a bit so he could see his face, Zack looked directly at the blond. His heart was racing by this point, unsure if he was hearing it or if he had finally gone crazy.
Cloud blinked. His eyes still hazy, but for once after many months there seemed to be some focus. His eyes slowly shifted until he was looking right at Zack. "Zack?"
Tears filled Zack's eyes as he brought Cloud into a hug. He hated to cry in front of others, hating to seem so weak. The only exception to see like this was Aerith, but now none of that seemed to matter to him anymore. "Oh Gaia! Cloud! You're talking!"
"Yeah… talking…" Cloud murmured, his voice muffled from being pressed up against Zack. A moment later Cloud gave a thoughtful sounding hum. "Zack… your close."
"Huh? O-Oh…" Quickly Zack pushed himself a little bit away. "Sorry. I guess I had gotten used to being that close. But now that you're really waking up there, it will just be kind of awkward."
Cloud slowly furrowed his eyes to look confused. "Why?"
"Why would it be awkward? Or why was I doing it?"
Cloud blinked slowly but didn't give an answer.
"Ah… I guess you're still kind of waking up there. I um…" Zack rubbed the back of his neck. "You've been catatonic from mako poisoning for months now. I know it leaves you unable to do anything, but I… I was worried whenever I would try and sleep that I would wake up to find you gone. So I always kept you close. I guess it seems kind of silly now that I'm trying to explain it."
Cloud suddenly scooted forward and buried his head against Zack's chest. "Always good when you're near."
Zack felt a bit startled from Cloud's sudden choice of movement, but he couldn't find himself to push Cloud away. "Is it just cause I've gotten used to him being this close? But what is he talking about? I don't get it… Maybe it is just because he is a bit hazy in waking up."
"Cloud?" Zack asked. "What do you think you're doing?"
"Yeah, I got that part, but why?"
Cloud tilted his head up towards Zack, his eyes still having that mako glow to them. They were in fact becoming more focused, but mainly they were still looking a bit foggy. "Why not?"
Slowly Cloud moved his hand up to Zack's face. His fingers gently brushed against Zack's chin. It sent a slight tingling sensation down Zack's body, only further adding to his own confusion. Before it could go another further, Zack took hold of Cloud's hand and held it back, looking at his friend, trying to understand just what was going on.
"Are you okay Cloud? Or maybe… is this the mako doing this to you?"
"What? But thought…you wanted…" Cloud trailed off as he blinked a couple of times. "Is this… not a dream?"
Zack furrowed his brows, still trying to understand what Cloud was trying to talk about. "No Cloud. This isn't a dream. We've been heading to Midgar and camping out a lot in areas where we won't be found."
"O-Oh…" Cloud quickly managed to pull his arm away from Zack. He lowered his head, averting his eyes from him now.
Though it was nighttime, the moon was still out and enough light was shining down that Zack could tell Cloud clearly looked upset… and was blushing? Zack narrowed his eyes and looked more carefully. With his SOLDIER enhanced vision, he could see clearly that it was blush that was showing on Cloud's face.
"Cloud? You okay there, buddy?"
"Now why are you sorry?" Zack asked, seeing as Cloud was still not extremely talkative yet. He needed the proper prompting if he was to give any answers.
"I thought this… was dream. Sorry…"
It still didn't give him enough. Zack sighed before placing a hand on Cloud's head, warranting him to look up at him. "Can you tell me why though? If it's too hard for you to explain it can wait."
"I thought dreaming… because… the dreams were good. With you." The blush did not once fade from Cloud's cheeks as he tried his best to continue talking. "Because I…"
Cloud stopped and frowned and averted his eyes again. "Nevermind…"
"No way, Cloud. We've gotten this far. I am not going to just let this go. I still have too many questions. I need to make sure you are all right and that there isn't something else going on."
"Then finish what you were going to say. Please."
"Because I like you."
It was said in a whisper, far too quiet for the normal ear to hear. But it wasn't too quiet for Zack's hearing, it just wasn't what he was expecting. It was blunt and to the point, yet it just opened up a flood gate to many more questions.
"You like me? As in…?"
Cloud gave small nods. "Always have admired you… You inspired me… made me feel happy and confident again. Handsome too…" The last part was murmured, but it was still easily heard by Zack. "Never was able to tell you before… I love you."
It left him with an odd fluttering in his stomach. Something he had not ever felt… or had not felt in a very long time. Zack wasn't too sure on which of the two it really was at this point. He was far too caught up in the moment to truly anasly what his own feelings were. Though as he thought about it, something came to mind.
"Is… is that why you always sent me emails thanking me and stuff but not actually saying to my face?" Zack said as he recalled the few emails he had gotten from Zack during their time at Shinra. Cloud would write sometimes short emails just rambling about how he was thankful for what Zack did or said to him. Inspiring him and giving him confidence. Or sometimes just asking to hangout, even that was never said to his face but only asked in an email.
"I don't remember… can't remember what was said…" Cloud frowned as he spoke. He groaned slightly, looking pained a little from the thought of not being able to remember. "But too shy before…"
Zack frowned as well. It worried him that Cloud wasn't able to remember something that seemed to mean a lot to him. That was probably the mako's doing. He noted that he was going to have to look into trying to deal with that as soon as they got to Midgar.
Zack's eyes widened. "No. No I'm not mad. Just worried about your memories is all. Nothing to do what you just told me."
"Then?" Cloud asked, his voice lingering on his one simple word.
"I… I just don't know Cloud. I can't think straight. Haven't gotten much sleep lately and then you wake up and confess to me something like that? It's a lot to take in."
Zack breathed in deeply before continuing. "Just give me some time, okay? I just need to think."
"Okay… Sorry…" Cloud's voice stayed soft, wavering slightly with his few and simple words.
Zack rolled his eyes and pulled Cloud into another close embrace. "You don't gotta be sorry about your feelings Cloud! Don't think that you did anything wrong." Zack started to rub Cloud's back as soon as he started to hear the faint sniffles coming from the blond.
"Hey… it's okay. Just take in some deep breaths. If anyone has to be sorry here, it should be me cause I can't give you a good answer."
Cloud hummed, but didn't say anything after that.
Zack sighed and rested his head on top of Cloud's. "Just get some sleep, okay? We still got a lot of ground to cover before Midgar."
He felt Cloud nod and then after that his spiky haired friend was quietly breathing and fast asleep. Zack let out another long sigh now that he was the only one left awake. Even now when he was alone in his thoughts, he couldn't make any clear lines from any of this. None of this was what he expected to hear from Cloud when he woke up.
After so many months, Cloud finally was able to talk again. At least that was what Zack was hoping. The smallest fear he had was that he had dreamt all of this and it was all in his head. But all of this felt too real. The way Cloud spoke to him and said what he did, there was no way he could have dreamt all of that up.
But that meant Cloud in fact had confessed his feelings. Apparently always having them but being too shy to admit it. Honestly he knew that Cloud already was a bit shy from time to time when they were back at Shinra. It wasn't all the time, but he did remember a good few times where Cloud was just a bit too shy to give a proper answer.
But now it was out in the open, and Zack knew eventually he was going to have to figure out what he felt on the matter. But for now, he just needed to try and sleep. Maybe with sleep he could finally figure out all of this and know what he could do.
"How are you feeling Cloud? Not too motion sick?" Zack asked.
Cloud tilted his head slightly towards him. "You ask that a lot…"
Cloud wasn't wrong. For the past couple of hours they had been riding on the back of a truck. It was going to take them straight into Midgar. Every 20 minutes or so Zack ended up asking the same question, remembering back to the Shinra days when Cloud told him about his motion sickness.
"I know, I know. But I just gotta be sure you're feeling all right."
Cloud closed his eyes and nodded. "I'm still fine. Thanks though."
His words were still short or broken up most of the time, but either way it excited Zack to see Cloud talking again. Though he still had the lingering thoughts from nights ago. Cloud didn't seem to want to talk about it after that night. He never tried to bring it anyways, though Zack was sure Cloud still had it deeply on the mind. He knew that he had it on his own mind and couldn't make heads or tales of it.
"It's still so strange to think… he's always had these feelings for me. I still can't seem to wrap my head around it… I can't stop thinking about what he said, but I can't just get a good response."
Zack sighed slightly as he looked out at the passing barren land. Soon they would be at Midgar, and soon they could finally figure out a better hiding plan than just jumping from place to place. Maybe once they were settled in one area, Zack could finally clear his head and get everything sorted out.
"So Cloud," Zack said as he turned back to Cloud. Even if his words were short, it was finally something he could work with. "What do you think you'll wanna do when we get to Midgar?"
"Huh?" Cloud asked, sounding a little sleepy. He opened his eyes and stared at Zack, looking a little confused. "I thought… stick with you…"
Zack couldn't help but laugh a bit. "Yeah I know that bit. No way I'd let you go out on your own, we need to stick together. But I mean like what you'll do. Like if we start looking for jobs and stuff cause we're gonna need it."
Cloud sighed, looking more relieved. "Oh… I don't know…"
Zack smiled and leaned in closer to ruffle Cloud's hair. "Hey, that's okay. We'll figure it out together. I'm thinking of being a mercenary. Sound good for someone like me? Hey, maybe when you fully recover you could join me in doing that."
Slowly Cloud's cheeks reddened. He smiled slightly. "Yeah… sounds good."
Zack suddenly stopped and pulled his hand back. "You okay Cloud?"
Cloud seemed to shrink back a bit. "Yeah… fine. I'm fine."
"Huh… I guess now that his feelings are out in the open he just isn't trying to hide them?" The longer he stared at the blushing Cloud he couldn't help but smile once more. "I mean he does look kind of cute when he blushes like that."
Zack found himself leaning forward to ruffle Cloud's hair again. "Hey Cloud you're going to turn as red as tomato if you keep this up."
"Maybe… don't tease…" Cloud muttered.
"Aw, but where's the fun in that?"
Before Cloud could respond, a bullet shot over the truck. Zack tensed up looking around. He wasn't exactly sure where it was coming from, but he knew that he was not going to let this innocent trucker get hurt.
He shouted for the trucker to pull over quickly as he went to pick up Cloud in his arms. While Cloud could mostly walk on his own, his movements were still slow. "Come on Cloud, looks like the rides over."
As soon as the truck stopped, Zack jumped off and singled for the guy to keep on driving. He could only hope that the trucker would make it. Now that they were on the ground, Zack moved closer to a large rock that would be good cover.
"All right. Cloud you stay here… I'll go deal with what is most likely a Shinra 'welcoming present'."
Zack gave Cloud one last ruffle of the hair and turned around. But before he could even step away, Cloud latched onto his wrist. Zack looked back to see Cloud staring at him with the widest eyes he had seen yet on him.
Zack sighed. "I need to go Cloud. I'll be back though, okay?"
Moving slowly, Zack knelt down and smiled at Cloud. "It's going to be all right Cloud. It's nothing I can't handle."
"Let me help."
Shaking his head Zack frowned. He could see the wanting in Cloud's eyes. He wanted so badly to stay by Zack's side and help. But he was still recovering. It was far too much of a risk for Zack to take.
"I can't let you Cloud. I want you to be safe. You know, a hero has got to protect who he cares about after all."
Suddenly Zack was pulled forward, his forehead now resting against Cloud's. The young blond was staring at him with his eyes the most coherent that they had looked yet. There was nothing else that happened though.
Cloud stared into Zack's eyes as he breathed slowly. There was a longing look in his eyes from what Zack could see, but there was still no action that was taken. He just kept staring deeply and nothing more.
Eventually Zack pulled away quickly. Remembering that dawdling would only make things worse. "Cloud, I promise I'll come back. Just please promise that you will stay safe for me?"
Not waiting to wait a single second later, Zack turned around and walked he came to a wide clearing, but far up ahead he could see hundreds of men. Hundreds of Infantrymen all readied their weapons as he stepped closer. There were even two helicopters flying around overhead, no doubt filled with more men.
"Boy oh boy…" Zack said as he let out a long sigh. He stared at what was before him, feeling the slightest sinking feeling in his chest. "The price of freedom sure is steep."
He almost was able to turn the corners of his mouth into a smile but he held back. Reaching up slowly, he pulled his sword out to the front, surprised that none of the Infantrymen started to attack yet.
"They're waiting for me to make the first move… how nice…"
He brought the sword up to his face and closed his eyes. Before he could go any further with his, he knew what he needed to do. What he needed to recite to give him strength. "Embrace your dreams. And, whatever happens, protect your honor… as SOLDIER!"
Though honestly he was through with SOLDIER, it was all a part of what he felt was right. To speak those lines and feel the strength in him rise. He could already feel his heart racing. He knew this was it and this battle would be probably the longest and hardest yet.
But he was ready.
"No matter what comes next… gotta give it my all! Can't give up after all. I got Cloud waiting on me. I gotta get through this."
He breathed out sharply before running forward, sword at the ready to attack.
"Come and get it!"