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The Home We Make

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Cloud knelt in the dirt, hands chained behind his back and legs tied together. At least he was upright, even if he didn’t dare lift his head to see the strangers who had come to buy him. Lord Palmer had filled his head with stories about the infamous slave breakers and how they could train any slave, how they used whips and chains and other implements of torture to achieve results. Now as Palmer negotiated with the two men he could barely keep himself from trembling in his bondage. This was it – this was how he died.

“I’m sure you understand.” Palmer was saying to the two men. “I tried everything I could think of with him but it wasn’t enough. He’s simply too much of a handful for me.”

“We understand.” One of the men replied in an almost soothing tone of voice. “We deal with cases like this all the time. Slaves just need a little extra attention than what a master can offer. We fix those problems.”

Cloud tried not to shake harder, worrying at his lip as Lord Palmer said, “I’m sure with your reputation this one will not be a problem at all, but as I said, it’s just too much – I’m a very busy man. Although, I’d love to own one of the famous slaves trained by the slave breakers.”

The second man was keeping quiet, so the first Slave breaker said, “We cater to a very exclusive clientele, but I’m sure we can put you on a waitlist.”

It was the sort of backhanded compliment that Cloud might have chuckled at, in another lifetime. As it was he only registered the surge of panic – would they sell him back to Palmer once they trained him? Please, by Shiva, no!

The negotiations turned to a discussion on price, and with mounting dread Cloud listened as the slave breakers drove the price lower and lower until it was surely far less than what he’d sold for years ago, when he’d been a virgin and untrained. It was fitting, he decided. He was worthless and this is what he deserved for being such a terrible slave. If only he’d done better – tried harder – he wouldn’t be here.

Cloud almost didn’t notice when the price was settled and decided on, when the transaction took place, so lost in thought. Then the slave happened to glance up just high enough to see a leather clad knee before the silent Slave breaker knelt in front of him, inspecting him. Cloud ducked his head even lower, careful to keep his eyes on the ground.

The man didn’t say anything, just rose back to his feet and, with careful arms, tilted Cloud back until he could lift him in a bridal carry, since Cloud could not walk with his legs bound. The chatty slave breaker said his farewells and they turned and walked back to their waiting car. Cloud found himself settled on the floor of the back seat as the chatty one climbed in after him while the silent one went to the driver’s side and got behind the wheel.

“Honestly.” The chatty one said. “The nerve of that man – as if we’d sell to a scumbag like him.”

“It almost always happens and you complain about it every time.” The previously silent one added. He had a deep, rich voice and Cloud found himself shivering.

“You’re right, I do, because it’s laughable.” One hand reached down to run fingers through Cloud’s tangled blond locks. “He beat this one into catatonia and then expects we’d trust him to know how to handle one we’ve trained.”

Instinctively, Cloud leaned into the comforting touch of the man, pressing his cheek against his knee. The man above him chuckled. “You’re a sweet one, aren’t you?” He said and with his other hand cupped Cloud’s cheek, raising his face to meet the man’s eyes. He was a handsome man, perhaps in his late twenties or early thirties, with fine, delicate features, bright blue eyes, and red hair that brushed the shoulders of his red jacket. “What pretty eyes you have, too. Blessed by the goddess, as they say.”

Internally, Cloud brightened at the compliment. Maybe if he pleased them they wouldn’t hurt him. He hated being hit with a whip so maybe he could avoid that if he just tried hard enough. Certainly he’d failed spectacularly to even be sold to the slave breakers but at least he could appease them. Couldn’t he?

As soon as the red haired man released his cheek, Cloud pushed forward, nuzzling against the man’s groin with his nose, pressing soft kisses to the leather clad flesh there.

“Well now,” The man purred and with gentle strokes encouraged Cloud closer. “Catatonic, Lord Palmer said, well this certainly isn’t my definition of catatonic.” To Cloud he said, “You’re positively a sweetheart, aren’t you?”

Cloud managed a small smile at the compliment. So it was working. He was ingratiating himself to them. That was good, that was what he wanted. The red head smiled back. “What a beauty! Yes, this one will take some real breaking.”

Instantly Cloud’s smile faltered and he began to shake again.

“Genesis.” The man in the front seat said. “You’re scaring him.”

“I’m sorry darling.” Cloud wasn’t sure who Master Genesis was talking to, but it probably wasn’t him. “I always know what to say to frighten the new ones, but you don’t need to be frightened, do you?”

This was nice. Cloud had never had a master who talked to him like Master Genesis did, all sweet words and comforting. “We should have brought Zack.” The other master said.

“Yes,” Said Master Genesis. “He’s good with the new ones, but we were told this one was dangerous. I was imagining something of a different scenario getting him home and didn’t want Zack getting hurt.”

“Angeal, then.” The other master insisted, and Cloud wondered vaguely who they were talking about.

“And scare the poor thing with Angeal’s size? Even if he is a gentle giant, he’s quite intimidating. No, you knew it had to be us alone, Sephiroth.”

“And now we have a frightened slave.” Master Sephiroth pointed out.

The car pulled up into the driveway of a house in the suburbs of Kalm. Cloud could see glimpses of it when Master Genesis opened the door to get out of the car. It was fairly nondescript in a distinctly middle class part of town, surrounded by identical houses in a quiet cul-de-sac. It was the type of place Cloud’s mother would have clipped pictures out of magazines of, back when she was alive.

Master Genesis was the one who picked Cloud up this time, carrying him up the front porch with its idyllic swing. The front door opened and a young man around Cloud’s age stepped out. He was dressed in the loose shift of a slave, the deep red color complimenting his dark hair perfectly. A collar around his neck confirmed what the tunic had already revealed. One of the slave breaker’s other slaves. He didn’t seem hurt in any way. In fact, he smiled when they approached, bowing to them as he held the door open.

“Did it go well?” The slave asked as Masters Genesis and Sephiroth stepped past him into the bright foyer of the house. “He certainly doesn’t look vicious.”

“He’s not.” Master Genesis answered and to Cloud’s amazement did not reprimand the slave for speaking out of turn. So this was a favored slave then. Master Genesis set Cloud on the floor as Sephiroth used a key to lock the front door, typing in the security code in the panel as he did so. Cloud knelt with his head down, trying to pay attention to his surroundings so he could follow this conversation more clearly, even as Master Genesis began to undo the ropes around his legs.

Tears sprung to Cloud’s eyes as limbs that had long gone numb from the tight ropes suddenly had blood flowing through them again. He fought not to cry out from the pain but it must have shown on his face because Master Genesis cursed. “Should have taken the ropes off sooner. Zack, call the doctor and let her know we might have some nerve damage. Ask if she can come immediately.”

Zack bowed and left the room as Master Sephiroth came to stand beside the other master. “We should bathe him before the doctor gets here. He looks like he’s been sleeping in ashes.”

Well, Master Sephiroth wasn’t too far from wrong. Cloud had been given a blanket and a pallet in Lord Palmer’s dusty cellar with its spiders and cobwebs and bugs. Cloud hated bugs, but that had only served to amuse Lord Palmer, who would leave him locked in the cellar for days with the bugs for company. Cloud also couldn’t remember the last time he’d had more than a quick shower or a sponge bath in the bathroom sink. He probably didn’t smell too good, but Master Genesis didn’t act revolted as he carefully picked Cloud up again and carried him up the stairs when it became clear Cloud couldn’t walk on his numb feet.

Cloud wanted to cry; he felt so useless. Master Genesis followed Master Sephiroth up the stairs and down a long hallway to the room at the end and Cloud froze. The room was filled with binding apparatus of all different types from the Saint Andrew’s Cross to paddling benches. Cloud recognized it all from playrooms that other nobles had. Whips and floggers covered the walls along with manacles and chains and ropes. But rather than tying him up in here, Master Genesis walked through the room to a door on the other side. The room beyond was dominated merely by a large soaker tub, easily big enough for two people to stand in. In fact, it was more like an indoor hot tub. It was already filled with water.

Master Sephiroth pulled out a pair of scissors from one of the drawers along the wall and cut through Cloud’s blue shift and let the fabric fall to the ground before stripping efficiently out of his own clothes and leaving them folded up on the counter. He pulled out a hair tie and tied his long silver hair up in a bun out of his face and stepped into the water, reaching for Cloud.

Master Genesis handed Cloud over wordlessly and Cloud froze in terror as he was lowered, arms still manacled behind his back, into the water. He was going to drown! The water was too deep! But Master Sephiroth kept Cloud’s head above the water as he settled him into a kneeling position in the tub and began the process of lathering his body with soap and washing away the dust and dirt.

Master Genesis left then, leaving Cloud alone with Master Sephiroth. Cloud tried to relax but he kept thinking about drowning. About what Lord Palmer had said about water torture. Whips and chains and drowning slaves. He’d filled Cloud’s head with so many stories about the slave breakers that he couldn’t stop thinking about it. Master Sephiroth lathered shampoo into Cloud’s matted hair and gently washed the dirt out of it. “Hold your breath.” He said and that was the only warning Cloud got before he was pulled forcefully back into and under the water.

Cloud flailed in fear and tried to get away, struggling to his feet as he burst out of the water and tripped over the edge of the tub, falling to the bathroom floor in a splash of water. Cloud tried to get to his feet but they were still numb and felt like they weren’t really there. Master Sephiroth, on the other hand, just stared him before stepping out of the tub and grabbing a towel out of the cabinet behind the tub. He returned to Cloud and grabbed him by the manacles, pulling him to his feet. Cloud managed to find his footing and even though each step sent jolts of pain through his feet he let himself be pushed into the playroom.

Now he’d really done it. He’d tried to run away from another master – this one a slave breaker! He was definitely going to be punished for this and he’d deserve it. Master Sephiroth led him to a low table and pushed Cloud to lie on it on his stomach. Cloud trembled but did as ordered, fighting back the urge to cry and beg for mercy. Whatever was coming next, no matter how bad, Cloud reminded himself, he deserved it.

Master Sephiroth used rope to tie Cloud to the table via the rings along the side but he used much more care than Lord Palmer had – inserting fingers under the rope and carefully moving knots away from pressure points. Cloud was baffled. Why did Master Sephiroth care if he was damaged or made uncomfortable by the knots?

When he’d finished, Master Sephiroth grabbed the towel and began to dry Cloud off, carefully working his way down his body with brisk efficiency. Cloud remained tensed as no pain followed, aware that it would. He was so lost in worry that he almost missed when Master Sephiroth finally spoke. “Were your last escape attempts like this?” He asked.

Cloud couldn’t comprehend the question. “I’m sorry.” He cried. “I didn’t mean to. I won’t do it again I promise. Please don’t kill me.”

There was a sound behind him that Cloud thought might have been a sigh. “We don’t kill slaves, especially not when we first get them.” Master Sephiroth said. He set the towel aside and left the room, leaving Cloud to contemplate that last sentence.

When Master Sephiroth returned a few minutes later, he was dressed and his long hair was once more unbound. It had managed to stay dry and untouched even with Cloud’s flailing. Master Sephiroth climbed on top of a paddling bench, resting comfortably on the surface as he regarded Cloud.

“You never answered my question.” Master Sephiroth said. “Did you try to run away because you were scared or did you make a plan?”

“I…” Cloud trailed off, trying to force his words out through the numb haze of terror. Why wasn’t Master Sephiroth doing anything to him, especially now that he had him tied down? “I was scared.” He finally managed, stilting. “I didn’t mean to run, it just happened.”

Master Sephiroth nodded at him, as if his explanation made sense. “Fear is a tricky thing. Too little and you get burned by the fire. Too much and you’re too paralyzed to live life to the fullest. Just enough is good for everyone, especially slaves.”

Cloud kept his silence as he listened, wondering what Master Sephiroth was going on about. The man seemed to notice and sighed again. “I don’t need a scared slave.” He said. “I need smart slaves. I need slaves that know how to think through a situation and decide what will bring about the optimum outcome. Do you think you could do that, Cloud?”

“Yes sir.” Cloud said without really thinking about it. Could he? Everyone said he wasn’t smart, even as a child other children had called him dumb and slow. He wasn’t smart enough to be what someone like Master Sephiroth needed.

“No.” Master Sephiroth said. “You don’t think you can, you’re just agreeing because that’s what you think I want.”

Cloud froze in fear, but was saved from punishment when Zack knocked on the door and stepped into the room. “The doctor’s here.” He said and a young woman with brown hair pulled back in a long braid stepped into the room. She looked like she was around Zack’s age – too young to have completed the required training for a doctorate.

“Dr. Gainsborough.” Master Sephiroth greeted and the woman smiled at him.

“Sephiroth.” She greeted. “Zack told me you had a slave with possible nerve damage, is this him? Why did you tie him down if he’s injured?”

“He tried to run.” Master Sephiroth said simply and Dr. Gainsborough frowned. “I checked all the knots but you are more than welcome to undo them. I believe Cloud will behave for you.”

Cloud nodded because he thought that might be what they wanted from him. Dr. Gainsborough tsked and set to work on the knots. Without permission, Zack came and helped her. “Master,” Zack said, “You tied the knots too tight.” He fumbled with his while Dr. Gainsborough used her nails to undo the worst of them, freeing Cloud’s legs but leaving his shoulders tied to the table.

“Tell me if anything hurts.” She said, and ran her hands over Cloud’s legs down to his feet. Cloud held still – the pain was gone but her touch was so light it tickled and he had to fight to keep from squirming. Involuntarily, he kicked out when she reached the sole of his foot. “Ah, so you can feel that,” She said, catching his ankle easily. “I supposed that’s a good sign. Look for any tingling or numbness over the next couple of days, but I think everything’s going to be all right.” She spoke to Master Sephiroth as she released Cloud’s foot and pulled her stethoscope up around her ears. “I’m going to listen to your lungs now. Breathe deeply for me.”

The rest of the exam was the routine checkup he’d been through before, but Dr. Gainsborough was gentle and kind and didn’t push him into positions. She freed him from the table and had him sit up so she could check his blood pressure and pulse, which she noted the latter as being high.

Finally, Dr. Gainsborough said, “Is there anything I should know about? Any damage to your body I need to look at.”

Cloud considered it, shifting uncomfortably. A few days ago Lord Palmer had had a few friends over and one of them liked to be rough with Cloud. “I don’t know if this counts as an injury, ma’am.” He began, “but my… my hole… is a little torn.”

Dr. Gainsborough had Cloud lie back on the table and pulled a pair of gloves and antiseptic lubricant out of her bag. She was gentle as she probed his hole. “It’s torn all right.” She announced. “And chaffed. No sex for you until this heals. I’ll leave some medicine that should help with the pain and keep you from getting an infection.” She sighed. “This is why lubricant is not optional during sex. Even my wife and I use it and we’re both women!”

It was apparently an old conversation, because Zack just laughed – outright laughed! – at the free person. “Yes ma’am.” He said. “We’ll be sure to tell Lord Palmer that.”

Dr. Gainsborough sniffed and put her supplies away. “Well, that’ll be all. You’ll call me if anything changes or an emergency comes up.”

“Of course, doctor.” Master Sephiroth said and stood up from the bench. He led the doctor out the door and they both disappeared down the hallway. Alone with Zack the other slave grinned at him.

“So, welcome to the jungle.” Zack said brilliant white teeth flashing. “Do you have any questions? You can ask me, all right? Don’t be afraid. I know it’s always really scary – it was when I was first sold here – but everything will be all right.”

Cloud was dying to ask a question but didn’t want to be rude to the obviously favored slave. “How long have you been here?” He ended up asking. He managed to relax a little around the infectious personality of the dark haired slave.

“About three years.” Zack answered. “It used to just be the masters and Angeal – he’s been with Master Genesis since the beginning, apparently – but they decided to keep me around since I’m so good with the new ones. Plus I’m the one person who doesn’t complain when Master Sephiroth wants to practice ropes.”

Three years! And he didn’t seem to be hurt or broken – seemed downright disobedient at times, even if he seemed to have proper deference towards the masters. Maybe… maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. Master Sephiroth hadn’t hurt him when he tried to run away, hadn’t beaten him for disobedience or denied him care from the doctor.

“You’re shocked, I can tell.” Zack said, interrupting Cloud’s train of thoughts. “You know, they call Master Genesis and Master Sephiroth the slave breakers, but that’s really not what they do.”

“What do they do then?” Cloud found himself asking before his brain caught up with his mouth.

“They train, that much is true, but they teach more than that. It’s about knowing how to be smart and obedient, about learning to be observant. They teach slaves how to be better. You’ll see. They’re good at what they do – sometimes they hurt but they’ll never harm you.”

Cloud couldn’t comprehend the difference between the two, especially not when he was sitting in a room that was antithesis to all that, a room meant to hurt, to punish.

Master Genesis chose that moment to step into the room. He glanced at Cloud and Zack, sitting together on the table, and at Cloud’s still nude form. “Zack, fetch a tunic for Cloud then take him downstairs. The doctor says he’s underweight and needs food.” He peered at Cloud as Zack did as ordered. “When was the last time you ate?” He asked.

“Yesterday morning, sir.” Cloud admitted. Before his disastrous attempt to run away from Lord Palmer.

Master Genesis frowned at him. “We don’t use food deprivation as punishment in this household.” He explained. “You are always welcome to eat. Angeal cooks twice a day for communal meals, but you are always welcome to fend for yourself and eat what you please.”

Cloud startled backwards in surprise. Previous masters had kept him on a strict diet, keeping him trim and aesthetically pleasing on the eyes. What Master Genesis was suggesting ran opposite of that – unless Cloud was being given the responsibility to keep his weight down on his own. He could do that – that he wouldn’t fail at.

Zack returned with a red tunic for Cloud, which Cloud guessed was the house uniform. He led him down the stairs to the kitchen at the back of the house, which was through a formal dining room. The kitchen was big enough to have a breakfast nook where Zack sat Cloud down and rummaged through the fridge. “Hey, we’ve got casserole left!” He cheered and pulled out a plastic container of food, which he threw in the microwave and began to nuke it. “Angeal makes the best casseroles.” He explained to Cloud. “I thought for sure Master Sephiroth had eaten it all already.”

The microwave dinged and Zack set the food down in front of Cloud, along with a fork which Cloud picked up and handled awkwardly. It’d been a long time since he’d used utensils. Zack watched as he ate in silence, managing to eat half the casserole leftovers before he pushed them away, stomach feeling unusually full. “Hey now, don’t make yourself sick.” Zack said. He cleaned up the leftovers and put the food away just as another person stepped into the kitchen. By process of elimination, Cloud guessed that the tall, broad shouldered man who stepped through the back door carrying gardening supplies was Angeal. His face was smudged with dirt, as was his red tunic. He punched a code into the panel by the door and the door locked shut, arming the system.

“Hey Angeal.” Zack greeted cheerfully. “This is Cloud. Cloud’s probably not going to be with us very long, but hey while he’s here let’s make him comfortable.”

“Zack.” The older slave sighed, setting the supplies on the bench near the door. “You should really watch what you say. Besides, you’re terrible at predicting how long someone will take to train.”

“Nah.” Zack replied. “I got this one down pat. He’s a sweetheart. Unlike that last hellion we had – Reno was a nightmare. Cloud’s got nothing to worry about.”

Cloud watched the interaction silently but felt soothed by the realization that he wasn’t going to be here long. Although he wondered if that was a good thing or a bad thing. Sleepy from the warm food and from a late night, Cloud yawned.

“Oops. Busy day, huh?” Zack said. “Here. I’ll take you to your room and you can get some decent shut eye.”

Cloud followed after Zack as he led him back upstairs and to a room next to the playroom. It was dominated by a large bed that looked sinfully soft and had a black and red sheet set on it. This must be the master bedroom, Cloud thought, and looked around for a pallet his could lay out to sleep on. Not finding anything he frowned and asked, “Where do I sleep?”

“On the bed, silly.” Zack answered. “This is your room. While Master Sephiroth or Master Genesis may come in here at will, Angeal and I will stay out of your personal space. My room is right next to yours, Angeal’s is downstairs near the kitchen, and the master bedroom is across the hall. If we get any other slaves in while you’re here, they’ll share your room but otherwise it’s all yours.”

“My own room.” Cloud whispered in disbelief. Even as a child he’d slept on the floor of the loft with his mother next to him, too poor to afford a house with real bedrooms. Certainly after becoming a slave the only time he’d slept in a bed was when his master found favor with him, which was rare.

“You’ll get used to it.” Zack reassured him. “Now under the covers you go. Try to get some sleep. Tomorrow’s going to be a busy day.”

Cloud pulled the covers back and climbed under them, nestling into the warm softness of the bed and pillows. He was out almost immediately after Zack flipped the switch. 

Chapter Text

The next morning Cloud awoke when he felt the bed shift as someone sat down upon it. He blinked blearily, coming awake slowly as he peeked out from under the covers and saw Master Genesis sitting on the edge of his bed. “Good morning!” The master greeted cheerfully. “It’s time for breakfast.”

Cloud sat up and slipped out of the bed, kneeling at Master Genesis’s feet. Master Genesis smiled and ran his hand through Cloud’s hair, which had gone from being matted and tangled to still tangled but spiked up. It was cute. It looked like Zack’s hair when it was shorter. “You’ve been so good since we got you, you’re just nervous. Do you have any questions for me before we go down to breakfast?”

Cloud considered it. He’d felt steadier since having a solid meal and the promise of food to come helped with that. Still, he didn’t know what to expect, what his rules were or how to behave. He’d been following Zack’s lead but Zack was obviously favored by the slave breakers so the rules could be different for him. Besides, Cloud tried to imagine behaving with that much forwardness and failed. He simply couldn’t do that. “Master, what are the rules?” He asked. “I don’t know how you expect me to behave.”

Master Genesis smiled at him and ran his hand through Cloud’s hair as Cloud leaned instinctively into the soft touch. “You don’t have many rules. Be respectful, for one, to everyone in the house. You won’t make many friends if you’re rude to the other slaves, after all. Don’t try to leave the house without permission. The alarm system is armed to go off if you do, but just as a deterrent we’ve locked all the windows and doors and the neighbors all know what business we’re in. You wouldn’t make it very far. Keep your room clean and help out with the daily chores. Angeal makes a list every week. If you break the rules or don’t do your work, you will be punished.”

Cloud nodded. That was reasonable and all very basic. “Yes, master.”

“Any other questions?” Master Genesis asked. Cloud shook his head. “Good, let’s go downstairs.”

Breakfast was coffee cake, fresh eggs, and bacon. Cloud stared at the plethora of food with wide eyes even as he took the one open seat at the table, next to Master Genesis and Zack. He’d never been invited to sit at a table with his master before and handled the silverware awkwardly, trying to remember the manners his mother had taught him. Over breakfast he listened to the other members of the household discuss their daily plans.

“I’m going to Lord Shinra’s estate today to check up on Elena and Reno.” Master Sephiroth said. “Would you like to come, Zack? You and Reno seemed to get along.”

“Yeah, sure, sir.” Zack didn’t sound particularly enthused, but he was smiling so Cloud assumed whoever this Reno person was Zack did actually like them. “Haven’t seen him in months and it’s been over a year since we sold Elena.”

“I need to go to the market.” Angeal said. “Does anyone have a request for food?”

Cloud kept quiet as the others made their requests to Angeal – Banora Apples for Master Genesis, raspberries if they were local for Master Sephiroth and Zack wanted sweets. Angeal turned to Cloud and said, “Cloud, is there anything you would like?”

Suddenly all attention turned to Cloud. He sank back in his chair, eyes wide. “I don’t…” He started and trailed off. “I don’t… know.” He finally finished lamely. Nobody had asked him what he wanted to eat since he’d been sold and even though his mother had tried to indulge him they’d been too poor to really afford sweets or fresh fruit.

Master Sephiroth said, “Buy an assortment of fruits. Stick to local farms to narrow down selection. The natural sugar makes it a good treat but it’s still healthy.”

Angeal nodded and Cloud let out a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. Now that the attention was off of him he went back to eating his coffee cake in silence.

After breakfast, when everyone dispersed to other activities, Master Genesis led Cloud back upstairs to the play room. Cloud froze in the entryway and wrapped his arms around his waist as the trembling started again. What did he do? Did he do something to displease Master Genesis? Suddenly he regretted eating so much at breakfast. He felt like he was going to throw it all back up.

But Master Genesis merely said, “Don’t freeze up now. You’re doing so well. I promise I’m not going to punish you now.”

Not trusting the master to be telling the truth but knowing there was nothing he could do even if Master Genesis was lying, Cloud took a halting step forward into the room. Master Genesis smiled at him, that calm warm smile that didn’t frighten Cloud like other smiles. He managed another step, bringing him fully inside the room and forced himself to breathe. Whatever Master Genesis had planned, at least it would be over soon enough. He hoped.

Cloud managed to make it most of the way into the room until he was standing once more in front of Master Genesis, who was watching him carefully. “Strip.” He ordered and Cloud divested himself of the red shift quickly enough, letting the shift drop around his ankles. “Good. I’m going to ask you a few questions and I want you to answer honestly.” At Cloud’s nod he continued. “According to your file you’ve had four masters in five years. Why do you keep being sold?”

Cloud froze. He didn’t know how to answer that! It just happened, it wasn’t like anyone told him. One day a man showed up and left with him on a chain. He decided on a safe answer. “They got bored of me, Master.”

“A pretty boy like you?” Master Genesis commented. “Their loss. Your next master is never going to want to let you go.”

Cloud didn’t know what to say to that so he kept his silence, his head bowed low. Master Genesis sighed. “You’ve only had male owners before, according to your file. Have you ever been with a woman?”

“No, Master.” Cloud answered, wondering where this was going. Not many women bought slaves and when they did, they usually bought other women even though birth control and forced sterilization of slaves made pregnancy almost unheard of.

Master Genesis nodded in response to that. “Would you be interested in having a Mistress instead of a Master?” He asked.

Cloud thought about it. Would he? “It doesn’t matter.” Cloud said, mostly because that was true, then because he thought the answer might displease Master Genesis he added, “So long as they’re kind.”

Yes, that sounded like Cloud’s ideal Master or Mistress. Someone kind and gentle who wouldn’t beat him or lock him in small rooms or starve him. Someone like that would be more than he deserved.

“Good enough.” Master Genesis said. “Now I need to get some baselines. Unfortunately, because you’re injured that part of the test will have to wait, but you can still show me what you’ve learned about using your mouth.”

*~*~*

Cloud was in the den kneeling at Master Genesis’s feet when Master Sephiroth and Zack returned home. He’d been reading a book while Master Genesis read his own book, which looked worn out and battered, well loved. Cloud had grabbed a book more or less at random when Master Genesis said he could have one to read and thus ended up with a romance novel. It wasn’t half bad – the hero was a jerk but the heroine reminded him of a girl he knew growing up, plucky and strong.

So when the door to the den slammed open and Master Sephiroth stepped in looking like murder in his eye, Cloud found himself shrinking closer to Master Genesis and snapping his book shut. Master Genesis, however, just glanced up coolly and raised an eyebrow at the irate man.

“You need to deal with Zack.” Master Sephiroth said simply and took a seat in the armrest across from Master Genesis.

“Sounds like you need to deal with him.” Master Genesis replied. “What did he do this time?”

“He got in a fight with Reno.” Master Sephiroth said.

“That doesn’t sound like a big deal. Reno knows exactly what buttons to push to set Zack off.” Master Genesis said. “He usually calms down after some time alone.”

Master Sephiroth shook his head. “And he back talked Lord Shinra. He went to ground immediately after but we don’t need our clients thinking we let our slaves get away with insolence. I’m far too furious right now. I might harm him.”

Master Genesis nodded and set his book aside. He nudged Cloud with his foot. “Why don’t you go into the kitchen and see if Angeal wants help with dinner?” He suggested mildly, but Cloud knew an order when he heard one. He got up and placed the book back on the shelf and made quick work of leaving the room, but he heard Master Genesis say, “I’ll deal with him, but you’re the one who has to do aftercare.”

Curious what was meant by aftercare but knowing it wasn’t his place to ask, Cloud made his way to the kitchen where Angeal was making what looked like spaghetti sauce on the stove. “Master Genesis sent me to help you with dinner.” Cloud said, pausing just inside the door.

Angeal merely nodded in acknowledgement. “I have it all under control, but I wouldn’t mind company.” He said. “How are you doing? Your first full day in the house is almost over.”

“I’m fine.” Cloud said. He took a seat at the breakfast table. “It’s not what I expected, being sold to the slave breakers.”

Angeal chuckled. He left the sauce to simmer and took a seat across from Cloud. “Most of the slaves who come through here say that, though usually not on their first day. Then again, it’s been a while since Master Genesis was so invested in a slave. He’s really quite taken with you.”

Oh. That didn’t sound like a good thing. Being a favorite was good but what if Angeal and Zack didn’t want him to be a favorite like them? They could make his life miserable if they wanted to. Worse than being a favorite however was simply having a master’s undivided attention. Though if the training today was anything to go by then that wouldn’t be so bad. Master Genesis had been positively gentle when he made use of Cloud’s mouth.

Cloud must have been silent too long, lost in thought because Angeal said, “You’re a quiet one. It’s a nice change of pace. Reno talked a mile a minute and so does Zack.” Cloud didn’t say anything in response, so Angeal cracked a grin at him. “You don’t have to be so solemn.”

“Sorry.” Cloud replied and ducked his head, staring at his hands folded on the table. “I just don’t know what to expect.”

“And you won’t, for a while.” Angeal said kindly. “Surely Zack told you that our masters train, not break, so you don’t need to fear violence from them.”

Cloud thought about what Master Sephiroth had said in the den. I might harm him. Was that why he’d asked Master Genesis to punish Zack? And if he wouldn’t harm him, what would the punishment be?

And why have a playroom full of toys if you weren’t going to use them?

The pot on the stove began boiling so Angeal stood up to fish noodles out of the pantry. “I don’t understand.” Cloud said. “Master Sephiroth said that Zack yelled at someone today, but he sent Master Genesis to punish him because he was afraid of hurting him.”

“Harming him.” Angeal corrected. Then he explained. “Master Sephiroth has a slow but powerful temper, though Zack does know how to shorten the fuse. He’s very good about controlling his anger, unlike Master Genesis who has a more explosive temper. They balance each other out, especially where Zack is concerned. Don’t worry. Zack will be fine.”

It hadn’t answered Cloud’s implied question – what was Master Genesis going to do to Zack – at all but Cloud couldn’t open his mouth to ask another question because right at that moment the door to the dining room swung open and Master Sephiroth stepped into the kitchen. “Can Cloud finish dinner?” He asked, tone clipped and cool.

Angeal glanced over at Cloud. “Can you boil noodles and grate cheese?” He asked. Cloud nodded. He wasn’t a stellar cook but even he could manage that much. “Let me get Cloud started here. Where would you like me to meet you?”

“Your room or mine.” Master Sephiroth replied. Angeal decided on his room and Master Sephiroth left again. Angeal pulled out a cheese grater and a block of parmesan from the fridge and set them on the counter. He started the noodles and set the timer for Cloud before pulling out a colander.

“Is there anything else you need?” Angeal asked.

Cloud shook his head. “You shouldn’t keep the master waiting.” He pointed out.

“Master Sephiroth is fine. He’s not that irate. Don’t wait up for anyone. This is likely to take a while. Put the sauce and the leftover noodles in the fridge when you’re done eating.”

“What about dinner?” Cloud asked bewildered. Where the heck was everyone going? Zack he could kind of imagine if he was being punished might miss dinner but everyone else?

“We’ll eat later. Probably very late tonight. Don’t worry about us.” Angeal reassured. Then he was gone.

Cloud ate slowly once the food was finished, then had to search through the cupboards looking for plastic containers for the leftover food. He found them eventually and after putting the food away decided to do the dishes. He didn’t know where things went but he hoped he’d done enough to make the kitchen clean again. Overall, it was almost two hours later before Cloud left the kitchen.

The house was dark and silent. The door to Angeal’s room was shut tight and Cloud didn’t want to think about why that was so he darted past quickly, climbing the stairs intending just to go straight to bed. The door to Zack’s room was open and Cloud couldn’t help pausing to peer in. Master Sephiroth and Zack were curled up together on top of the coverlet, Zack naked and Master Sephiroth stripped down to a pair of black cotton sleep pants. Zack looked fast asleep but Master Sephiroth, who had his arm flung over Zack’s waist, glanced up almost immediately to see Cloud standing in the doorway.

“Come in.” Master Sephiroth sounded much calmer now, his voice was low and soft, almost a whisper but it carried in the silence. “Is there something you need?”

“No Master.” Cloud replied. “I was on my way to bed, since no one came down for dinner.”

Master Sephiroth shifted and stretched out the arm that was flung over Zack’s waist. “Come join us. I need to check on Angeal soon and I don’t want Zack to wake up alone.”

“I’m awake.” The dark haired slave muttered sleepily, obviously only barely conscious. He blinked at Cloud owlishly. “Hey, a chocobo head. Hey chocobo head, how are you doing?”

Cloud couldn’t fight back the scowl at the nickname, heard just a few too many times as a child. “I am not a chocobo head.” He hissed back.

Master Sephiroth chuckled in response to that and motioned Cloud over to the bed. Cloud went obediently and crawled up next to Zack, not protesting when Master Sephiroth wrapped his arm over Cloud’s hip as well, pulling him closer to Zack. Cloud tentatively reached out to touch the other slave, gasping when his hand met the heated flesh of Zack’s back. Zack winced slightly at the contact and Cloud pulled his hand away as though burned.

“Are you all right?” Cloud asked desperately.

“Yeah, ‘m fine.” Zack responded, even as Cloud sat up to get a closer look at the naked slave’s back. Zack’s shoulders and butt were crossed with welts, raised and red and swollen looking, and there was purplish bruising darkening fair skin on his ass. “Master Genesis knows how to work me over.”

“If you behaved, it wouldn’t hurt as much.” Master Sephiroth said. Cloud reluctantly laid back down and listened to the two talk.

“I’m sorry.” Zack said, and Master Sephiroth leaned forward to place a kiss on the back of his neck.

“I know you are. Mistakes happen.”

“I don’t understand.” Cloud found himself saying before he could stop himself. “You were afraid of hurting him.”

“I was afraid of harming him.” Master Sephiroth didn’t sound angry at the question, at least. “I was afraid I would go too far if I punished him so I asked Genesis to do it instead. A master should never dole out punishment when they’re angry – it would be too easy to go too far. It’s something we try to teach all our clients.”

This baffled Cloud. He couldn’t see it. Not punish when you’re angry? What? But that was when punishments were supposed to be doled out. “I don’t understand.”

Master Sephiroth said, “To hurt is to inflict physical pain on a person. In the case of a masochist like Zack, being hurt is not the problem. To harm is to inflict emotional damage or pain beyond what a person can bear.”

“Master can hit really hard. I don’t have that kind of pain tolerance.” Zack added quietly. He closed his eyes and snuggled closer to Cloud. “You’re comfy.”

“Think he’s comfortable enough to keep you company while I go downstairs and check on Angeal and Genesis?” Master Sephiroth asked. Zack nodded in contentment. Master Sephiroth rolled away from them and stood up, walking around the edge of the bed to the door. Without another word he left them alone.

“Are you really all right?” Cloud whispered as soon as he was sure Master Sephiroth was gone.

“Yeah.” Zack replied in that breathless way of the mostly asleep. “Course I’m fine. This is really nothing. Sometimes when we play around I’m so sore I can’t move for days. Besides, the painkillers are kicking in.” He yawned. “Good night.”

“Good Night.” Cloud replied.

Chapter Text

The next morning Cloud woke up when Zack rolled over on top of him. For just a moment his hazy mind panicked, remembering the last time someone had been over the top of him like this, but in the next second he remembered where he was and the pounding of his heart slowed. In two days nobody had hurt him. Not that he believed they wouldn’t, but now he knew they wouldn’t hurt him maliciously for pleasure. Only if he screwed up, like Zack had.

Sometime during the night someone had come and thrown a quilt over the top of them, staving off the chill of the morning. Cloud tried to worm his way out from under Zack but the older slave was persistent in not letting him go, holding onto Cloud and burying his face in Cloud’s shoulder. “’ve more minutes…” He trailed off sleepily and Cloud couldn’t help the smile on his face. Zack was pretty cute –and petulant – when he was asleep.

“Wake up.” Cloud said, shaking Zack’s shoulder gently. “I have to pee.” He did, that wasn’t a lie, but mostly he wanted Zack to get off him. Zack was heavy.

Zack grumbled something unintelligible but at least he rolled away onto his back, before hissing in pain as bruised flesh met with pressure from the bed. “Owe, fuck.”

Instantly Cloud sat upright in bed, glancing at Zack worriedly. “Are you okay?” He asked again. Zack had said he was last night but he’d also had painkillers apparently (and Cloud was envious because he’d never gotten painkillers after a punishment). Now all the medication had worn off and Zack was in pain

“Yeah. I’m fine.” Zack sounded unhappy as he said it, rolling back onto his side. “I am not going to sit for a week. Last time I tell Lord Shinra to piss off, even if he is an arrogant son of a bitch.”

“And that is precisely the kind of attitude that got you punished in the first place.” Master Sephiroth said from the doorway.

Zack, instead of apologizing for speaking ill of another master simply said, “I can’t help it if it’s true.”

Master Sephiroth huffed but didn’t reprimand Zack. “Breakfast is fix it yourself this morning. Angeal is resting today but I want you and Cloud to clean the kitchen and the training room after you eat.”

“Hey, how come Angeal gets to sleep in but I have to do chores?” Zack groused.

“Because unlike you, Angeal is not being punished. Besides, this is a good chance to desensitize Cloud to the training room.” Sephiroth said.

Cloud followed the exchanged dazedly as Zack sighed loudly and replied, “Yes, Master.”

“Enough with the attitude, unless you’d like to be turned over my knee.” Master Sephiroth threatened.

Zack cracked a grin. “You know, normally I’d say yes please but you only offer spankings when I’m already bruised and sore. You’re a cruel, cruel master.”

Master Sephiroth smiled in response and tossed something at Zack before he retreated back down the stairs. It rattled as Zack caught it and Cloud saw the label on the bottle – medication, probably more painkillers. Zack swallowed two pills from the bottle and placed it on the nightstand before standing up and pulling a fresh red tunic out from under the bed. He shimmied into it, hissing as it slid over sensitive flesh.

Cloud crawled out of bed and made a break for the bathroom across the hall. He washed his face and hands afterwards and then went to his room where he had a clean, neatly folded tunic waiting in the drawer by his bed. Feeling much more awake now that he’d changed into clean clothes, he headed for the kitchen where Zack was digging through the cupboards looking for food and Master Sephiroth was cooking what looked and smelled like oatmeal on the stove. The berries Angeal had bought from the market were sitting on the table, freshly washed and mixed. There were raspberries, sliced strawberries, and Cloud’s favorite – blackberries.

“Can I have some of the berries?” He asked Master Sephiroth.

“You needn’t ask.” Master Sephiroth replied. “Don’t eat them all – I’m going to mix them into the oatmeal when it’s done.”

Permission given, Cloud grabbed a few blackberries out of the bowl on the table, humming happily as he chewed on them slowly. Blackberries grew wild in Nibelheim during late summer so he’d gone picking with his mother on several occasions. She always made jam out of the leftovers and so they had blackberries all year long. Cloud never got sick of it.

Having no idea what to eat for breakfast, Cloud found himself watching as Zack fished out flour and baking powder, salt and sugar. Then he wandered over to the fridge and pulled out eggs and heavy cream. “What are you making?” Cloud asked.

“Pancakes!” Zack cheered. “You want some? I’ll make ‘em if you do the dishes afterwards.”

Cloud nodded, “But I have no idea where things go.”

“That’s okay. You wash and I’ll dry and put them away. Besides, we have to clean the kitchen anyway so may as well start with the dishes.” Zack pulled down a mixing bowl and several measuring cups and got started prepping the batter. “You want anything in the pancakes? I like mine with chocolate chips, personally but there’s blueberries and blackberries in the fridge.”

As if he needed to ask Cloud. “Blackberries.” He said and got up to get them out of the fridge for Zack, pleasantly surprised to see there was still two pints in the fridge, although one was half empty from Master Sephiroth’s breakfast.

Master Sephiroth had finished cooking breakfast and prepared three bowls of food, placing them on a serving tray and leaving the cookware in the sink to soak before he took the tray and left. Cloud guessed the food was for Angeal and Master Genesis, but he wasn’t jealous because he was getting blackberry pancakes.

It was homey feeling in the kitchen as Zack mixed the batter, added the blackberries and started cooking while Cloud watched and munched happily on the leftover fruit. Zack dished up Cloud’s pancake first before starting on his own. When he finished his he ate standing up. “Why don’t you sit down?” Cloud asked and Zack shot him a look that was partially perplexed and partially disbelieving. Cloud blushed. “Oops, sorry. Are you sure you’re all right?”

“How many times are you going to ask me that?” Zack replied. “Maybe I should sick you on Angeal. He gets overly worried about people too. I can’t even sneeze without him thinking I’m going to die. You two can be worry warts together.”

“Well excuse me for being worried about you.” Cloud muttered and Zack laughed.

“You’re actually a sarcastic little shit, aren’t you? Oh man you’re going to be so much fun to have around once you learn to relax. Think of all the trouble we could get into.”

“I don’t want to get in trouble.” Cloud answered. “I want to behave so I don’t get punished.”

“I meant the good kind of trouble. The kind that gets spankings and a nice hard fucking afterwards.” He grinned happily as he took another bite of his pancake. “Hmmm, spankings.”

Cloud, who’d been spanked before as a child and as a slave saw absolutely no appeal in what Zack was talking about. “What is it with you and spankings?” He asked.

“What isn’t with me and spankings?” Zack retorted. “I mean, especially with Master Sephiroth, being bent over those sexy legs, cock rubbing up against his thigh and his strong arm holding me in place. Master Genesis doesn’t do it the same way but he’s pretty mean with a paddle.” Zack was grinning and Cloud found himself blushing. “Don’t worry, once you’re trained you’ll see what I mean. It can be fun and then there’s the aftercare – that’s the best part. Knowing you’re loved makes enduring anything worth it.”

Cloud was slightly jealous of Zack for that. He had masters who laid with him in bed after punishing him, masters who let him get away with talking freely. Masters who loved him.

They finished off breakfast and cleaned the kitchen. Zack showed Cloud how to wipe down all the appliances and sweep and mop and dust. By the time they were done it was two hours later and everything was sparkling clean. “Okay!” Zack cheered at the end as they stood, dirty and sweating, in the midst of the kitchen. “Time to tackle the training room, and then lunch!”

“I hope it doesn’t take as long.” Cloud grumbled, but he was happy with how good everything looked. Surely Master Sephiroth would find no fault with the thorough clean.

“Nah,” Zack replied. “We basically nuke all the leather and wipe down the furniture. The training room’s easy.”

Going into the training room for a third time was easier, if only because he was with Zack and not one of the masters, but he still froze when he caught sight of the whips and floggers hanging on hooks against the far wall. Zack noticed and without a word walked across the room and pulled one of the floggers off the wall. He brought it back over to Cloud. “Here, feel this.” He said and put the implement in Cloud’s hand.

Cloud nearly dropped it in surprise. It was heavy but soft, with a suede handle and long suede tassels. Cloud held it daintily, unsure of why Zack had even given it to him. Were they even allowed to touch the toys in the playroom? With Zack it was hard to tell sometimes.

Zack said, “So that’s a flogger. It makes a stinging sensation if you hit with the tip and you generally try not to impact with it. It’s really hard to make someone bleed with a flogger so it’s a good first toy for a new master who’s still learning.” He took a few tassels, gripping them towards the end, and held out his arm. He whacked the tassels against his arm, turning the skin there a light pink color. “Now you try. Just take the end and hit your arm with it as hard or softly as you want.”

Cloud cringed away at the thought of doing that to himself voluntarily, but he did as Zack asked and picked up the tassels. Very gently, he brought the ends down on his arm and, when that didn’t hurt at all, looked back at Zack.

“Try a little harder this time. Keep going until it stings.”

So Cloud did and on the third try hit himself hard enough to turn his skin pink but it wasn’t bruised or welted. “See?” Zack said. “That wasn’t so bad, was it?” Cloud shrugged. It wasn’t, but he wasn’t really going to admit that. “So imagine that on your ass where you have way more padding, Just that, over and over again. Not too bad, is it?”

Cloud shook his head. “It sounds better than a spanking.” He admitted. The stinging in his arm had already faded, short lived and leaving not a trace of having ever happened. Zack grinned at him and took the flogger back, hanging it back up on the wall.

“C’mon.” Zack said. “Let’s clean the room.”

It turned out to be as simple as Zack described it. The implements that had been used last night – on both Angeal and Zack – were laid out on the table with the rings, the same table Cloud had been tied down to. The leather flogger – this one even heavier than the one Zack had given Cloud – had to be put into a machine that killed the bacteria without damaging the leather. It looked like a microwave, so Cloud could see why Zack called it nuking the leather. The canes and heavy wooden paddle on the table had to be wiped down with antibacterial cleaner and then Zack oiled the canes while Cloud set to work using the cleaner solution to wipe down all the furniture in the room. Overall, they were done in almost no time, but Cloud was hungry afterwards, despite breakfast being only a few hours earlier.

Zack grabbed two more pills out of the bottle in his room and led the way downstairs. The door to the den was open so Zack poked his head inside, Cloud standing right behind him. All three other members of the household were in the den. Master Sephiroth was working on something at the computer while Master Genesis was reading the same book from yesterday and Angeal was lying on his stomach on the couch reading what looked like a magazine on gardening. “We finished cleaning.” Zack announced to the quiet room. “Cloud and I are going to eat lunch and then what do you want us to do?”

Master Genesis glanced up from his book. “I had planned to give Cloud another lesson today, but I suppose just getting him in the training room for the time being is enough for today. You two may have the rest of the day to relax.”

“Awesome!” Zack beamed. “Can Cloud go outside yet? I want to take a nap on the hammock and soak up the sun.”

Master Genesis shook his head. “Not yet, but as long as you remember to lock the door you can go outside, just remember sunscreen this time. You don’t need a sunburn on top of everything else.”

“It was one time and you people won’t let me forget it.” Zack pointed out.  

Angeal chuckled and glanced up from his magazine. “If we didn’t remind you, you would forget it.”

Zack sighed in an exaggerated manner slumping down dramatically. “Fine, I see how it is. Everyone pick on Zack day. Even Cloud’s in on it.”

“What?” Cloud asked, confused. When did he pick on Zack?

Master Genesis rolled his eyes. “Go eat before you get yourself in trouble,again.”

With a laugh from Zack, he and Cloud did as bid.

*~*~*

Two weeks passed in a blur for Cloud. He spent most of his time in the training room with either Master Genesis or, more rarely, with Master Sephiroth. Master Genesis spent his time getting Cloud comfortable with fellatio and teaching him new techniques – like how to deep throat without gagging, a skill Cloud had never mastered before – while Master Sephiroth often tied him up, using that same gentle care as he had on Cloud’s first day. The ropes got surprisingly intricate, although they weren’t always constricting. He never went any further than tying Cloud up, although one day that changed.

They were in what everyone in the house called the training room, which was a name Cloud liked better than playroom. Playroom implied there was something fun to be done in there, and while Cloud hadn’t yet been beaten or hurt in the training room, there was still nothing fun about it. Fun was reading downstairs in the den with Master Genesis or laying on the couch with his head in Master Sephiroth’s lap while the master went over business documents and stroked Cloud’s hair. Fun was joking with Zack or talking to Angeal who always seemed to have good advice no matter what questions he asked.

Zack was in the training room with them that day. He’d healed up since his punishment two weeks earlier and hadn’t been punished since then, although he also hadn’t been allowed to accompany Master Sephiroth when he went to visit other masters. Zack was sitting on the table watching them as Master Sephiroth put Cloud into a body harness, talking his way through the steps and explaining each knot as he went. When he finished he pulled out two shorter shanks of rope and started on Cloud’s wrists and hands.

“These are flogging cuffs.” Master Sephiroth explained as he wrapped the rope around Cloud’s wrist, crossing it up over his hand. “They’re designed to hold your weight without putting it all on your wrists, so you can grab onto the cuff and have something to grip.”

Cloud nodded in understanding. He’d gotten used to Master Sephiroth explaining everything he did and was even allowed to ask questions. “Why are you putting those on me, sir?” He asked nervously. Everything the masters did was new and overwhelming to him, if only because he still didn’t understand why Master Sephiroth took the time to make sure the knots weren’t too tight, among other things.

Master Sephiroth wasn’t angry when Cloud asked questions, was patient as he explained things and Cloud had slowly begun to relax around him. “Because I’m going to tie you to the Saint Andrew’s Cross.”

Sure enough, as soon as he was done, Master Sephiroth led Cloud across the room by the ropes around his wrist and began the process of tying him to the cross so that Cloud was facing the rest of the room. It wasn’t a surprising position, since Sephiroth had already tied him in more vulnerable ones before, but it did confuse Cloud. Why was he in this position? Why was Zack here? What did Master Sephiroth have planned?

Knowing he’d get an enigmatic smile and a “you’ll see” from Master Sephiroth, Cloud kept quiet as Master Sephiroth turned to Zack and began repeating the rope harness on him as well, followed by the flogging cuffs. Zack seemed perfectly at ease as his hands were wrapped up and he was led over to the cross. Master Sephiroth used the same holes he’d tied Cloud to but turned Zack so he faced Cloud.

“Hey, spikey.” Zack joked as he pressed up against Cloud’s chest. “Cozy, huh?”

“What’s going on?” Cloud asked as Master Sephiroth fished out yet more rope and began by looping a length through the d-ring on Cloud’s collar and tying it to Zack’s collar, forcing Zack to lean his head on Cloud’s shoulder. This wasn’t what he’d expected.

“Desensitization training.” Zack replied, as if that answered everything. Cloud had thought everything they did was desensitization training, since they always brought him into this room with its implements and furniture. Now it didn’t bother him, being in the training room, although nobody had yet to use the toys against him. Master Sephiroth tied them together by the harness and Cloud felt the older slave’s erection pressing against his stomach. He wasn’t scared though – even though he’d healed up nobody had forced him into having sex with them, and he doubted today would be the day it happened.

Once he’d finished, Master Sephiroth reached for the suede flogger hanging on the wall. Cloud found himself trying to shrink away, held in place by Zack as Master Sephiroth stalked towards them. “Relax, Cloud.” Master Sephiroth said. “You’re not in trouble and neither is Zack. I’m not going to hit you.”

Cloud tried to do as ordered, but he had a hard time believing neither of them was in trouble with Master Sephiroth holding a flogger like that. “Yes sir.” He said obediently and tried to make his muscles relax, leaning against the hard wood of the cross.

“Good boy.” Master Sephiroth praised and without any warning lifted the flogger and struck. The blow landed on Zack’s ass and the slave cried out, instinctively moving away from the sensation and closer to Cloud. Without giving Zack a chance to recover, Master Sephiroth struck again and then a third time in quick succession.

After the initial strike Zack leaned heavily against Cloud took deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth. Because of the way Master Sephiroth had tied them, Zack couldn’t turn his head to see what was happening but Cloud could see it as the master took up a rhythm of strikes so rapid Cloud lost count of them. As he’d promised, the blows only landed on Zack’s body, not on Cloud’s. Still, Cloud was horrified and yet Zack seemed to be getting even harder.

Gradually Master Sephiroth increased the force of his hits, slowing them down enough that Zack was gasping between each breath. He moaned, low and throaty, after a particularly vicious strike, the sound erotic and sending a spike a pleasure through Cloud’s body. Horrified that he was even enjoying this, there was nothing Cloud could do to keep his erection from pressing against Zack’s. Zack, even in the euphoric haze brought on by the beating, must have felt Cloud pressing against him because he laughed breathlessly.

“I’m sorry.” Cloud whispered, horrified at himself.

“Don’t be.” Zack replied. “Hmm, you feel good.” And Zack did somethingthat intentionally made Cloud harder and Cloud bit back a moan.

Master Sephiroth paused in his beating, coming up behind Zack to run his hands over the heated flesh of his backside. Zack hissed and arched his back as much as he could. Master Sephiroth chuckled and loosened the ropes binding the two slaves together, but left the rope on their collars alone as he reached down and with one hand grabbed both their erections.

Cloud bit back a gasp, eyes widening as he bucked his hips, instinctively searching for the heat and the pressure Master Sephiroth’s hand offered. “You have permission to come.” Master Sephiroth said. It took precious few strokes to bring Cloud to completion, and few more for Zack to spill his seed across his stomach and Master Sephiroth’s hand. Master Sephiroth held his hand up to Cloud’s lips. “Lick.” He ordered, and Cloud tentatively darted his tongue out, tasting Zack’s seed mixed with his own. He made sure to thoroughly clean his master’s hand.

Master Sephiroth purred in pleasure as Cloud took one finger in his mouth and suckled it like it was a cock. “Good boy.” He encouraged, even as he pulled his hand away. Cloud managed a small happy smile as Master Sephiroth moved away and finished undoing the rope binding Zack and Cloud together, letting Zack lift his head from Cloud’s shoulder and kiss his nose.

“You were great,” Zack cheered. Master Sephiroth began undoing the ropes that bound them to the Saint Andrew’s Cross. Zack came away first and began the process of removing the flogging cuffs himself. He left the harness in place and began the process of rebinding the rope in a long braid that made it easy to undo without it getting tangled. As soon as Cloud was free he did the same, binding off the rope the way Master Sephiroth had shown him after his first attempt at bondage. Zack yawned loudly. “I’m beat, let’s sleep until dinner.”

“You are beat all right.” Master Sephiroth said. He grabbed Zack by the harness and pulled him in for a deep kiss before moving over to Cloud and doing the same. Cloud smiled against Master Sephiroth’s lips. He loved the way the man kissed him, all power and possession. When he released him, Cloud was disappointed it was over. “Let’s take this to the bedroom.” He purred and guided Cloud by the hand out of the training room and down the hall to the master bedroom. The bed in the master bedroom was easily big enough for all the members of the household to share, even if it was a cozy fit.

Zack did a running leap and belly flopped on the bed, his backside red but not welted or bruised. Cloud followed after more sedately, climbing under the covers as Master Sephiroth kicked off his leather boots and removed the white shirt he was wearing, stripping down to dark jeans before climbing in after the two. Zack pressed up against Cloud’s backside and Master Sephiroth held Cloud close to his chest. It was warm and comfortable between the two of them and Cloud never wanted to leave.

“You both did so well today. I’m proud of you.” Master Sephiroth said, but even he sounded like he wouldn’t mind taking a nap.

“Thank you, Master.” Zack replied and belatedly Cloud echoed him. Silence settled between them for a few minutes before Zack said, “Master?”

“Hmm?”

“I think Cloud might be a sadist.”

Cloud startled at that, looking over his shoulder at Zack to see if the older slave was joking, but he wasn’t.

“Is that so?” Master Sephiroth didn’t sound upset, but then again he never seemed to let much emotion into his voice. “This wouldn’t be the first time a slave has turned out to be a sadist.”

“I’m not… I don’t get off on people being hurt, sir.” Cloud replied desperately. He didn’t so how could Master Sephiroth think he was a sadist? How could Zack?

“No one is saying you do.” Master Sephiroth was quick to assure him. “A sadist, like myself, is someone who enjoys the reaction strong sensations cause. They enjoy control over another person. A good sadist cares about the person they’re hurting, at least enough to make sure they enjoy it. Zack enjoys a good bruising, and even Angeal gets pleasure from making another person happy by submitting, making it easy for me to beat them when they need or want it. You, on the other hand, see pain as a bad thing, as something to be avoided at all costs, which is simply not feasible for a slave. You will be hurt, but it need not be more than you can bear.”

Cloud thought maybe he understood what Master Sephiroth was saying, but once again found himself falling short. He wasn’t smart enough for this. Wasn’t good enough to grasp what Master Sephiroth was trying to teach him. “Does that mean I’m going to be punished?” He asked.

“Eventually, every slave needs a punishment, but as I said before, it need not be more than you can tolerate. Genesis and I have been training you to disassociate from your fear. Today you watched as Zack was beaten in front of you. In a few days, depending on you, we may begin training you to disassociate fear from pain.” Master Sephiroth explained.

Cloud thought he’d feel a spike of fear at that, but instead he had just a low level nervousness as he asked, “Will it be with the flogger?” He thought about the stinging sensation two weeks ago, how it’d been tolerable, and how maybe it would be tolerable in Master Sephiroth’s hands too.

“Yes. Now get some sleep, both of you. Today was emotionally exhausting.”

Chapter Text

The next day at breakfast, Angeal asked, “May I take Zack and Cloud with me to the market?”

Cloud expected a no from the Masters and didn’t have any hope that he might get to go outside rise in his chest. Yesterday after dinner he’d been allowed to go into the backyard with Angeal to help him pick blueberries from the bush in the garden but Master Sephiroth had followed them outside to keep an eye on Cloud. He doubted they’d allow him out unsupervised any time soon.

So when Master Genesis shrugged and said, “I don’t see why not. Cloud’s been so well behaved that I think it’s safe.” Cloud was shocked.

Master Sephiroth said. “I think it’s too early, but I suppose as a reward for good behavior he can go with you and Zack. Just keep an eye on him.”

“Thank you!” Cloud burst out before he could fight down his joy. “I promise I’ll behave, Masters.”

“You had better,” Master Sephiroth warned. “Or you’ll be learning about the flogger sooner rather than later.”

The threat didn’t dampen Cloud’s spirits as he ate the rest of his breakfast quickly, waiting with agonizing patience as Angeal and Zack took their time, then Angeal did the dishes while Cloud dried and Zack put away and finally, finally, they were ready to go to the market. This time when they left the house, Angeal didn’t arm the alarm, just locked the door and led the way down the street. The market was a twenty-minute walk away, during which they passed through the neighborhood, which Cloud realized was on the edge of town. They crossed an open field towards the market, which Cloud was surprised to realize was an open air farmer and flee market within walking distance of where they lived.

“Stay close.” Angeal ordered as they entered the market. At this time of the morning it was crowded with people and everywhere Cloud looked he saw families with children, customers haggling with bored merchants, but no slaves. Indeed, it seemed they were the only ones in the market. Suddenly Cloud was overcome with nervousness, even as he wanted to investigate every nook and cranny of the sprawling market, which was housed in a series of open walled barns.

They went unnoticed about the market, except to the fruit and vegetable sellers, who recognized Angeal and even Zack. The older lady selling Banora apples called out to them by name and with a smile Angeal ambled over to say hello. “Maria, how are you doing?” He asked.

“I’m doing well. Still working these old bones haven’t failed me yet. How is young Lord Rhapsodos doing these days?”

“You know he’s not a Lord anymore, Maria. He renounced his title.” It sounded like an old argument though, especially with the way Maria just stared at him.

“He’ll always be Lord Rhapsodos to me and you’ll always be little Angeal, glued to his hip.” Maria said. “You were both such cute children. And how is cranky Sephiroth by the way? I miss seeing him at market.”

“It’s been five years since Sephiroth last came to the market. He’s free now. He married Master Genesis.” Angeal replied. “But to answer your question, they’re both doing fine. Already on the hunt for a new slave to buy since this one was such a quick train.” He gestured to Cloud, who startled as he was made the topic of conversation. He’d been thinking about what Angeal had said.

“My, what a cutie!” Maria gushed. She held out an apple to Cloud, who took it and stared at it. “That’s for you, cutie.” She teased. “I bet a sweet one like you will be snatched up in a moment. You’re going to be someone’s darling once the slave breakers are done with you.”

Cloud didn’t want to think about being sold. Even with the promise that he wouldn’t be sold to someone abusive it still seemed like too much of a good dream ending. Soon he’d wake up to the harsh reality that he wasn’t in Master Genesis and Master Sephiroth’s home anymore.

Angeal finished up his conversation, buying a bag of Banora Whites from Maria before he continued on to the next stall. Cloud took a bite of his apple, surprised at how sweet it was. He didn’t normally like apples but this one was delicious. Zack came up behind him. “How is it?” He asked, even as he leaned over and took a bite from the apple still in Cloud’s hand.

“Hey!” Cloud protested. That was his apple! But Zack just laughed.

“So whatcha thinking about?” He asked. “You’ve got that look on your face – your brow furrows when you concentrate like that.”

Deciding if anyone was safe to ask about this it would be the overly friendly older slave. “Master Sephiroth was a slave?” He asked.

Zack’s smile dropped off his face as he turned unusually serious. “Uh, yeah. It was a while ago, before I was sold to them. Angeal’s the better person to ask about it because he’s been there since the beginning. He was there when Master Genesis bough him – Master Sephiroth I mean.”

“But – how?” Cloud asked. While it wasn’t unheard of for masters to free slaves, it wasn’t exactly common either. Plus, Cloud had a very hard time imaging the powerful, dominant man as a slave.

“I don’t really know.” Zack said. “Hey Angeal,” He called and the older slave turned around to face them. “You know more about Master Sephiroth’s past than I do. I think you should explain it to Cloud.”

Angeal frowned at them. “I shouldn’t have said anything.” He replied. “It’s not that it’s a secret, but it’s not exactly something we share freely. However, since I have a feeling you’ll be as tenacious as Zack I’ll tell you, but it’s better to start at the very beginning.”

Cloud nodded and finished off his apple, catching up with Angeal easily and walking next to him to he could hear the story over the dull roar of the market. “When Genesis and I were young, we lived in Banora where his family has their ancestral estate. He was born privileged, a lord of the land, and I was born to a poor widow with no source of income, yet that didn’t stop us from becoming friends. As we grew older and started learning about how the world worked it became obvious what would happen to me when I came of age. I was terrified of it happening but Genesis was always a brilliant thinker and planner. He had it all figured out. So when I turned fifteen three weeks after Genesis’s sixteenth birthday, he bought me despite the protests from his family. His father was furious and threatened to disown him but his mother thought this was only a passing fancy and once Genesis grew bored of me he’d sell me on and buy a much better pleasure slave – one that was actually trained and pretty. Even as a teenager I knew I was more masculine than most pleasure boys. I knew I wouldn’t be worth much but Genesis wanted me and that’s all that mattered.

“So Lady Rhapsodos set up a house in Kalm and quietly exiled us to here until Genesis ‘came to his senses.’ But four years passed and Genesis never wavered. We were happy. We were in love, and Genesis never wanted anyone to come between us.”

“What happened?” Cloud asked curiously. “Why did Master Genesis buy Master Sephiroth?”

Angeal sighed and ran his hand through his dark hair. “One day we decided to go to Midgar, since neither of us had ever been. Midgar has a large slave market and runs pleasure houses out of the back of upscale restaurants and clubs. Genesis hadn’t yet renounced his title so he had plenty of money and we went to one of those restaurants. Our server was beautiful but distant, a slave whose job was both to cater and to seduce – the real money in these establishments was in the slaves. Genesis was too wrapped up in me to even notice him, really, and we ate and left, intending for that to be that. But as we left we heard a commotion from the kitchen and saw the maître d’ beating the server with a quirt and the slave just took it without a word. He was furious that the slave had failed to seduce a lord like Genesis.

“So Genesis got in between the two of them without even thinking and the slave just had this blank look on his face like he didn’t care either way about what was happening. After an argument with the head of the establishment and several other people a decision was reached. We’d buy the slave who was about to be sold on anyway.”

“So that’s how you met Master Sephiroth?” Cloud asked and Angeal nodded.

“He’d been sold several times before because he had so many problems with authority but by the time we met him he’d just given up. He no longer cared what happened to him because people were going to hurt him either way. We thought he just needed time to heal and that he’d be all right in the end, but he wasn’t. He didn’t see us as being any different from anyone else who’d owned him, who’d hurt him in the past.”

Cloud was still trying to reconcile the confident, cool man with the slave Angeal was describing. Someone who was so broken they had given up on trying to live. Cloud shuddered as he thought that might have been him had he not been sold to the slave breakers. “So what happened to change all that?”

Angeal hesitated and they had to pause the story while he spent a few minutes haggling over vegetables that he didn’t grow in his garden. When they moved on from the stall Angeal said, “Well, about a year later we thought things had gotten better. Sephiroth seemed to be more energetic, he took an interest in solving puzzles and Genesis couldn’t buy them fast enough for how quick Sephiroth seemed to go through them. He was never very talkative but he would actually say more than two words to us at a time. We didn’t know then but the warning signs were there in everything he was doing.”

“What warning signs?” Cloud was filled with a sense of dread; his heart felt like it was about to drop out of his chest.

Angeal didn’t answer him, continuing, “One day Genesis and I went out together for some alone time since buying Sephiroth had put a strain on our relationship and we were trying to work through it. We came home early because we’d had a fight – I don’t even remember what about but Genesis had decided he’d rather sulk. The house was dark and quiet and we couldn’t find Sephiroth. I was the one who finally found him, bleeding out in the bathtub. He’d slit his wrist with a kitchen knife and by the time we found him he’d been unconscious from blood loss.

“Of course we did everything we could to save him but we were baffled – he’d been getting better. He wasn’t happy, we knew that but we didn’t think he was suicidal. He wasn’t, not really. Sephiroth is smart enough that he knew how to end his life quickly and efficiently. He was telling us in the only way he knew how that he needed something to change. He wanted to live, he just didn’t want to live like that anymore.”

“So what happened?” Cloud asked. “He got better, right?”

Angeal nodded. “Eventually. He was taken to the hospital and given blood, had his wrist sewn up and sent right back home without any sort of counseling or care. But while he was in the hospital, Genesis was there with him and they talked. Genesis said he’d set him free because he couldn’t stand seeing Sephiroth hurt. But Sephiroth had nowhere to go. His father had abused and neglected him and then sold him into slavery at fifteen. He’d belonged to two different brothels and a string of masters before Genesis had bought him and each one had been a different sort of horror. He had nowhere to go and he didn’t know what to do with freedom. So Genesis offered to marry him. He could stay with us – not as a slave but as a husband. They signed the marriage certificate and the writ of manumission on the same day.”

“But, if you and Master Genesis were in love, why did he marry Master Sephiroth?” Cloud asked. It didn’t make sense to him. Lords married for duty and obligation, but Master Genesis had already balked at that title when he’d taken Angeal as a slave. “Why didn’t he free you as well?”

“Master Sephiroth was the one who couldn’t live with being a slave any longer. He has too much need to be in control. He can’t let go of things.” Angeal explained. “Besides, it’s not like he could marry both of us. It was bad enough marrying Sephiroth. Genesis’s parents were furious that he’d married a commoner, let alone one who used to be a slave. They disowned him and Master Genesis renounced his lordship.”

They paused again in the story as Angeal bought a bag of kettle corn for Zack and Cloud to share. Zack, who’d been staying silent during the story, instantly dove into it, eating with relish as if he hadn’t had breakfast just a few hours earlier.

“So if Master Genesis was no longer a lord is that why he became a slave brea – I mean trainer?” Cloud asked before taking a handful of kettle corn. He’d never had it before and was surprised at how sweet it was.

“It was Sephiroth’s idea.” Angeal answered. “He knew there were other kids like him out there. He wanted to save them all and set them free, but there’s a steep fee for freeing a slave and they knew it wasn’t feasible. Besides, what were they going to do with all these kids around? So Sephiroth thought if he could make them better – make sure they knew the ropes and how to handle a master and if they only sold to masters who wouldn’t abuse the kids, maybe they could make lives better.”

Cloud nodded. He could see that in the training. Learning to dissociate fear from pain, learning that not everything had to hurt more than he could bear. He could see how they’d made lives better that way, and then by selling slaves to people who would treat them kindly and continuing to make sure they were well treated. Still, Cloud had trouble getting used to the idea that he would eventually be sold on. Even though he knew intellectually that he wouldn’t be hurt, the safety that Master Genesis and Master Sephiroth represented was hard to let go of. He wasn’t sure what he’d do when that time came, but he imagined it was still some time in the future.

*~*~*

It was early afternoon when they finally returned from the market, burdened down with fresh produce and Zack’s requested sweets. Cloud hadn’t said a word since the story at the market though Zack and Angeal chatted easily as they put groceries away and made plans for the afternoon. When they finished and Angeal and Zack dispersed to their separate activities, Cloud wandered the house eventually ending up in the den. Master Sephiroth was in there sitting at the desk, though he glanced up when Cloud knocked on the door.

“Is there something you need?” He asked.

Cloud shook his head and took a few hesitant steps forward. He crossed the room and knelt in front of Master Sephiroth, taking his hands gently in his own. Cloud pushed up the sleeves of his shirt and inspected both wrists until he found the scar – so pale and faded it was nearly invisible – and pressed his lips against it.

“So,” Master Sephiroth sighed, resigned, “Angeal told you.”

“I’m sorry.” Cloud said.

“You have no reason to be sorry. It was not your fault.”

“I don’t like seeing people hurt.” Cloud whispered. “I don’t like knowing you were hurt.”

“It was in the past.” Master Sephiroth said. “The past can’t hurt us, only the memories if we let it.”

Cloud nodded, but he knew that wasn’t quite true. The past created them, shaped who they were, and became the template upon which the future was painted.

“Do the memories hurt you, Master?” Cloud asked.

Master Sephiroth shook his head. “They used to, but not anymore. When you learn to put aside what you’re feeling and focus on the present moment, the past fades away. Sometimes though, I remember.”

“I’m sorry.” Cloud apologized again. “You’re so strong. I don’t know how you lived through it.”

“You’re the one who is strong.” Sephiroth answered. “You have to be, to survive as a slave at all. I couldn’t do it, but I was lucky enough to have Genesis and Angeal to save me.”

“Thank you.” Cloud said suddenly realizing just how lucky he really was. Whatever happened next, this had happened now and he owed everyone in the household his gratitude. “For saving me. I don’t know if I could have gone on much longer. Thank you for rescuing me and taking care of me.”

Master Sephiroth pulled Cloud to his feet by his wrists and wrapped his arms around Cloud in a hug, the first time he’d given him one without it being in the context of aftercare. “It’s what I needed most when I first came here, so it’s what I try to pass on. Slaves are strong because they have no choice otherwise, but everyone deserves to be saved when they need it most.”

*~*~*

Four days later, at breakfast Master Genesis announced, “Lord Tuesti is coming over today.”

This was the first time someone had come to visit the house. Normally Master Sephiroth went out to visit with other nobles, a duty that Cloud had learned included interviewing potential clients. Ever since Lord Rufus Shinra bought Elena from them, they’d experienced a boost in popularity as suddenly it was seen as fashionable to be on the slave breaker’s exclusive list of clientele.

“He’s new, isn’t he?” Zack asked. “Nice but awkward, right? Why’s he coming over?”

“Well,” Master Genesis began, “We’re thinking about selling Cloud to him.”

Cloud froze in place. They were going to sell him? But he hadn’t even been here three weeks yet! He was still learning the rules. And the masters had yet to take him and Master Sephiroth still hadn’t taught him how to dissociate pain from fear and… and…

“Breathe, Cloud.” Angeal ordered from across the table.

“You’re not going to be sold right away. Your training isn’t over yet.” Master Genesis assured him. “This is merely to see if you two might be a good fit.”

“Yes sir.” Cloud replied, trying – and failing – to hide his disappointment. They weren’t keeping him. Of course they weren’t. This was their job – training slaves and selling them again and they probably needed the money.

“I think you’ll like Lord Tuesti.” Master Genesis said kindly. “He’s a bit older but lonely and has no wife. He’s looking for someone to spoil rotten. It’s a good placement, being a first slave. Otherwise, Lord Shinra has looked to add another slave to his household.”

“But he just got Reno!” Zack protested. “Besides, Cloud doesn’t seem like his type.”

Master Sephiroth said, “He’s a second choice right now. We feel that Cloud would be better suited to a person like Lord Tuesti, in a house where he can have undivided attention.”

Cloud ducked his head and tried to tell himself it would be all right. Maybe he’d like Lord Tuesti. Maybe even more than he liked Master Sephiroth and Master Genesis.

After breakfast everyone dispersed to their morning activities and Cloud took on cleaning up the breakfast remains, grateful for work that took his thoughts off the visit. The work was numbing and boring, such that he almost missed when the doorbell rang.

Master Genesis opened the door just as Cloud was leaving the kitchen to find a place to hide. If they couldn’t find him maybe they wouldn’t sell him so soon. He was caught, however, standing in the downstairs hallway like a lost duck when a handsome older man stepped through the door. His dark hair was streaked through with a few strands of gray and there were laugh lines around his eyes, but those eyes were kind and he was smiling as he greeted Master Genesis.

“So, is this him?” The man – Lord Tuesti – asked, gesturing to Cloud. Cloud automatically ducked his head, staring at his bare feet rather than look up and accidentally catch Lord Tuesti’s eyes.

“Yes,” Master Genesis said smoothly. “This is Cloud. He’s a little shy.”

Lord Tuesti chuckled and held out his hand. “Come here, little one. I don’t bite.”

Cloud did as ordered, crossing the hallway to stand in front of the lord, keeping his head bowed. The lord, however reached out and tilted Cloud’s chin up so he was staring into his face. He really was handsome and he did have gentle eyes. Cloud tried to tell himself that he wouldn’t mind belonging to someone like that. He could survive anything after his previous masters and Master Genesis and Master Sephiroth weren’t going to sell him to someone who would harm him.

“What pretty eyes you have.” Lord Tuesti complimented and Cloud forced himself to smile at the compliment.

Master Genesis suggested they go into the sitting room and led the way, Cloud following behind Lord Tuesti unhappily. When the Lord and Master each took a seat across from each other on the couches Cloud moved to kneel at Master Genesis’s feet before being rebuffed gently. “Go kneel by Lord Tuesti. He’s here to see you.” Master Genesis sounded encouraging, but Cloud suddenly had the urge to snap something back. He didn’t know what but he felt irrationally angry at being sent away. It was a feeling that would get him punished so he squashed it down and did as ordered, kneeling beside Lord Tuesti who immediately began to stroke Cloud’s hair, which only served to make Cloud feel more annoyed. Lord Tuesti wasn’t his master… yet.

It was that yet that echoed in his head as he forced himself to relax and lean into Lord Tuesti’s touch as he and Master Genesis chatted above him.

“He’s very sweet but has a sarcastic side.” Master Genesis was explaining. “He’ll do best with a master who lets him have a bit of lip now and then.”

Lord Tuesti chuckled. “I don’t mind that, so long as he’s respectful of others and behaves in public, I actually appreciate openness and honesty.”

Master Sephiroth stepped into the room then, dressed in his usual black leather and a deep crimson button down shirt that matched Master Genesis’s red attire. He took a seat beside Master Genesis on the couch. “Lord Tuesti,” He greeted, “It’s a pleasure to have you here.”

“The pleasure is all mine, and Reeve is fine. I’m not one to stand on ceremony in private. So Genesis tells me you’ve had this one for three weeks now?”

“Around that time, yes.” Master Sephiroth replied. “He was nearly catatonic with fear when we bought him. He’s made great strides forward. I think Cloud will do best in a home where he can feel free to express interests and opinions.”

“Oh, there’s no need to worry about that.” Lord Tuesti laughed. “I intend to spoil him rotten. It gets lonely with just my robots around and I’ve never had much interest in marriage.”

“So you’re interested in him? You do understand he’s not yet done with his training, correct?” Master Genesis asked.

“Yes, I’d love to purchase him when he’s ready. That is, if Cloud would like to come with me?”

Cloud hesitated as all eyes turned to him. He wanted to say no he really did, but this was his best chance. He wasn’t going to be staying with Master Sephiroth and Master Genesis forever, after all. He hesitated too long however because Lord Tuesti laughed and said, “I’m not really so horrible am I?”

“No, my lord!” Cloud rushed to assure. “I… I… wouldn’t mind.” He said, trailing off quietly. It was almost the truth, except for the fact that it wasn’t.

“He’s still a bit skittish. His last master believed all talking was back talk.” Master Sephiroth explained. Cloud had told Angeal that weeks ago. He supposed nothing was a secret for long in this house. No that he minded, especially since it presented a believable excuse for why he wasn’t feeling very talkative.

“Poor thing.” Lord Tuesti said, giving Cloud a pitying look. Cloud ducked his head so he didn’t have to see it.

The rest of the visit proceeded agonizingly slow as the talk meandered around politics and the happenings of the noble court. Things Cloud knew nothing about and had no interest in. Every once in a while the topic returned to Cloud, who was trying not to fidget and reveal his boredom, and the attention would be on him again. It never lasted particularly long, but the whole time Cloud felt tense and unsure, even as Lord Tuesti continued to stroke his hair.

Finally, finally, the meeting was over and Lord Tuesti departed, but not before kissing Cloud chastely on the mouth. Cloud endured it quietly, and failed to picture himself ever enjoying Lord Tuesti’s kisses as much as he loved Master Genesis’s kisses or Master Sephiroth’s hugs or Zack’s energy or Angeal’s advice.

He loved this home, and even the prospect of a better home couldn’t sway him. What was he going to do?

*~*~*

The next day Master Sephiroth took Cloud up to the training room after breakfast and Cloud knew what was going to happen. It didn’t stop him from trembling harder the closer they got to the room, and by the time he’d stripped out of his tunic his hands were shaking too hard to grip the rope he was supposed to be untying.

Master Sephiroth saw and took the rope from Cloud’s hands. “Breathe.” He ordered gently. “What are you afraid of?”

“I don’t… I don’t know.” Cloud stuttered out. He twisted his fingers together in an attempt to stop the shaking, or at least hide it.

“Is it the pain? The flogger? Or something else?” Master Sephiroth asked as he finished undoing the rope. Instead of immediately beginning to tie Cloud up like normal he waited instead.

“I don’t know.” Cloud repeated. “I really don’t. Can we just do it? I want to get it over with. Sir.” He added the last part belatedly when he realized how rude he sounded. He didn’t mean to, but he was nervous and worried and shaking and he felt like he was going to throw up.

Master Sephiroth frowned but nodded and took the two shortest lengths of rope, tying on the same flogging cuffs as before with quick efficiency despite the shaking in Cloud’s hands. He led Cloud over to the Saint Andrew’s Cross and tied him to the cross with less slack than he had before, forcing Cloud onto his toes.

Cloud tested the bindings experimentally, but Master Sephiroth’s knots held fast. Still, he reminded himself, Master Sephiroth was not going to hurt him any more than what he could handle. That didn’t make him feel any better.

Instead of launching straight into the flogging as Cloud half expected Master Sephiroth to do, he ran his hands up and down Cloud’s sides and back, causing Cloud to shiver at the contact even as he leaned into it. Master Sephiroth’s hands were feather light and gently soothing. “Just remember to breathe.” Master Sephiroth instructed, “And if it gets to be too much, simply say so and I’ll stop.”

Cloud nodded and relaxed a bit. He focused on loosening the knot in his chest; inhale to feel it, exhale to let it go. Master Genesis had taught him that. He was almost in a meditative state when the first lash fell across his backside. It stung, but not more than a slap would have. Cloud gasped but didn’t cry out – Master Sephiroth was starting light and slow for his sake. Cloud could do this. The next lash fell.

Slowly, Master Sephiroth increased the pace of the flogging until the stinging turned to burning and his whole backside felt warm and tingling, until all Cloud could focus on was the pain. Until it was his whole world, but unlike beatings in the past, Cloud didn’t feel scared. His shaking had stopped and he knew at any moment he could ask for this to be over and it would be.

He didn’t want it to be.

Right now Master Sephiroth’s attention was focused solely on him and oh how he craved that attention, craved his approval. Eventually it would be too much but for now the pain didn’t build any further, just stayed constant and low level and oh how he wanted to make Master Sephiroth happy – how he wanted to please Master Genesis and him so they wouldn’t sell him. He wanted to stay so badly.

Cloud didn’t even notice he’d begun to cry until after Master Sephiroth stopped beating him and hands were on him, undoing the ropes with feverish quickness. He didn’t go any farther than detaching the ropes from the cross, instead grabbing hold of Cloud and pulling him down to the floor with Master Sephiroth. Cloud twisted and flung his arms around Master Sephiroth’s shoulders without realizing what he was doing until he was already sobbing into the material of Master Sephiroth’s shirt.

“Shh…” Master Sephiroth soothed, stroking Cloud’s back as he held him. “Why are you crying? You did such a good job for me. Are you hurt?”

“I’m sorry.” Cloud said, trying to make the tears stop but they wouldn’t. He felt like he was going to burst from the strength of the myriad emotions within him. Fear, hope, love, an eagerness to please, a desire to stay, anxiety, and sorrow that this was only temporary.

“There’s no need to apologize.” Master Sephiroth said. “You did so well for me. I want to make you feel better.”

“I’m fine.” Cloud replied, but that wasn’t quite the truth and they both knew it, so he amended his answer. “I’m just sad.”

“About the beating? Sadness is a valid emotion – it’s better than fear at least.” Master Sephiroth still thought this was related to the flogging. It wasn’t.

Cloud shook his head. “I don’t want to leave here. I’m sad because eventually you’re going to sell me and it will be over.”

“Oh Cloud,” Master Sephiroth sighed and hugged him tighter. “Genesis and I are not planning to sell you for at least another month. By that time you’ll be happy to be rid of us. Lord Tuesti will spoil you rotten and you’ll forget all about our rules and regulations.”

“I don’t want to be rid of you.” Cloud responded. He sniffed, grateful that the tears had stopped but mortified that he’d gotten tear stains all over Master Sephiroth’s silk shirt.

“It’s just a passing fancy, Cloud. You’re reacting to the kindness we’ve shown you. You think it’s all there is. It’s happened before but as soon as you’re settled into your new home you’ll see.” Master Sephiroth explained. “Just wait, Cloud. You’ll see.”

*~*~*

Cloud didn’t want to see anything. He didn’t care if everyone in the house thought he was simply infatuated with them, Cloud knew it wasn’t true. He’d never felt anything like this before, and if he couldn’t have it then what was the point?

Those thoughts spun around in his head for over a week, mixing with anger and bitterness and other emotions that were, quite simply, unacceptable for a slave to feel. He fought against the negative feelings, trying his hardest to remain serene even as he planned and plotted. Cloud had to find some way to convince them to keep him or he didn’t know what he was going to do. If anyone noticed, they said nothing.

A week passed and Cloud came up with nothing – no plan of any sort and no way to broach the subject of him not wanting to leave to Master Sephiroth and Master Genesis. He’d tried Angeal, fount of wisdom that the older slave was, but Angeal had only told him it was common. Elena hadn’t wanted to leave but now she loved Lord Shinra dearly and enjoyed living in his household. Cloud would come to see Lord Tuesti the same way.

Zack was more sympathetic, claiming he would miss having his spiky haired bud around, but even he was convinced there was nothing either of them could do to delay the sale, especially since Cloud was making such good progress. “We’ll still see each other, though.” Zack promised, hugging Cloud, but Cloud knew it wouldn’t be the same.

The next market day came around the same time Zack caught a summer cold. Nobody wanted Cloud around in case he caught Zack’s cold. In fact, nobody in the house wanted to catch what Zack had so while Master Sephiroth went out to visit their clients, Master Genesis shooed Angeal and Cloud out of the house to go to the market together.

Cloud was grateful to be outside. The walk to the market helped clear his head and the fresh air of late summer was calming even as a breeze hinted that autumn’s chill was just around the corner. He knew what he was going to do. If he couldn’t stay with Master Genesis and Master Sephiroth then Cloud didn’t want to belong to anybody.

The market was busy once more, crowded with people and Angeal once more stopped at nearly every booth selling fruits and vegetables, if only to chat with the shop keepers. The old lady from Banora gave him another apple and Cloud munched on that while scanning the crowd. Near the last stall there was an alcove that led out to the shop keeper’s vehicles.

He waited until Angeal’s back was turned, once more engaged in conversation, and with a silent apology ducked into the alcove and out the back, hiding behind one of the trucks. Then he scanned his surroundings. The sun was high in the sky but he knew they’d come from the east based on the sun. If he continued west, that was where the outlying farms were located. He could find some clothes that didn’t mark him a slave and get rid of the collar and then continue on. He didn’t know where to go from here but he’d figure it out.

He’d have to, because he couldn’t go home again.

Chapter Text

Cloud knelt in the dirt, hidden from sight. Night had fallen and he’d walked all day, avoiding the main road, traipsing through fields in sandals that were not meant to take such abuse, until he came across this old farmhouse where he was currently hiding in the shadows, trying to gauge when the occupants would go to bed so he could break in and steal clothes and food. His fair skin – mountain pale – was now red with sunburn from being out all day without proper protection. It would blister and Zack would laugh at him.

No, he couldn’t think of Zack, or Angeal – Planet he’d probably gotten the older slave in serious trouble. He hoped the masters were lenient. It wasn’t Angeal’s fault. Thinking about the place he’d wanted so badly to call home sent a pang of regret through his heart. He’d never see one of Master Genesis’s smiles or lay with his head in Master Sephiroth’s lap again. He’d never laugh with Zack or listen to one of Angeal’s lectures again.

Cloud felt the sadness from the loss and then let it go. He had to live in the present moment and not get caught. Running away four times now – surely even Master Sephiroth’s patience would be worn thin at that – there was no way they’d take him back. If he was caught they’d probably just kill him because he was too much trouble to train and sell. That’s what any reasonable master would do. At least he could trust them to do it painlessly. Even so, Cloud didn’t want to die.

He forgot himself for a minute and came back just in time to hear the sound of a door opening and a woman’s voice calling, “I’ll be back in a minute dear, just let me check on the animals.” He had enough time to duck behind the edge of the house, away from the back door, and hide in the shadows as a woman with long dark hair stepped out and crossed the wide back yard to a barn offset from the house. Cloud had considered entering the barn but was now glad he hadn’t because he’d have upset the animals and been discovered when the woman went in there.

Now he was waiting with baited breath as the woman entered the barn and came back out a few minutes later. If the woman circled the building she’d see him. He ducked behind the trashcans placed at the edge of the house, out of sight.

“Hey!” The woman called and Cloud knew he’d been spotted. Like a deer caught in the headlights of a truck, he froze and then made a run for it. “Hey!” the woman called again, giving chase. “Wait! I’m not going to hurt you!”

Like Cloud believed that. He made for the fields but the woman was faster and wearing better shoes, she caught up with him easily and tackled him to the ground. Cloud fell with a sharp cry as he tried, and failed, to struggle free of her grip. Damn, she was strong.

“Just wait, it’s okay.” The woman said. “You’re okay. Don’t try to run. I’ll let you go if you promise me that.”

Cloud nodded warily, not feeling Particularly trusting.He sat up reluctantly when the woman let him go hoping this wasn’t some trick. Even in the pale moonlight he gasped when he saw who it was. “Tifa?”

Tifa Lockheart had been a girl Cloud knew growing up. Everyone knew Tifa, the mayor’s daughter and most popular girl in the village. She was somebody when Cloud was just a nobody, the poor widow’s son.

“Cloud!” Tifa exclaimed, equally surprised. “When I heard I –“ She cut herself off. “Are you all right? You’re not hurt are you?”

“I’m fine.” Somewhat dazed from hitting his head on the ground but otherwise just fine. “You live here?” What even were the odds of that?

Tifa nodded. “With my wife. We help runaways get to Cosmo Canyon where the law can’t follow.” She flung her arms around Cloud’s shoulders and hugged. “Oh, my Cloud, I can’t believe it’s really you! I thought I’d never see you again.”

Cloud returned the hug lightly, still trying to sort out his feelings on the subject. He’d only known Tifa in brief moments when their paths crossed. When his mom died, Tifa had been at the funeral, but the next day Cloud was gone, never having known her as anybody but the daughter of the man who sold him.

Tifa didn’t seem to mind his silence. She stood up and offered him a helping hand, leading him back towards the farm house. “C’mon, it’s going to be okay, you’ll see.”

What luck he’d had, running into Tifa and finding out she was an abolitionist. That she was willing to help. Cloud felt relief wash over him. Everything was going to turn out fine. He felt the adrenaline that had carried him this far fade away, leaving weariness behind. It was late and he’d had a long day. He needed water, food, and rest. Hopefully Tifa could provide all three.

Tifa went inside the house first, cheerfully announcing her return. “Aerith honey, I’m home! I brought somebody with me.”

“Found another runaway did you?” A familiar voice announced from somewhere near the kitchen. The home was smaller than Master Sephiroth and Master Genesis’s home but cozy and lived in, radiating warmth. A woman turned the corner into the living room and froze at the sight of Cloud. Cloud froze too. It was the doctor from his first day! The one who knew Master Sephiroth so well. Dr. Gainsborough.

“Cloud!” Dr. Gainsborough said. “You ran away? What happened? You were doing so well with Sephiroth and Gen.”

“I don’t understand.” Cloud said before he could stop himself. “If you two are abolitionists why do you work with the slave breakers?”

Suddenly trusting Tifa didn’t seem like such a good idea, considering who she was married to.”

“Well the simple answer is they pay me.” Dr. Gainsborough said brightly. “Now answer my question. You were doing well. Last time I spoke to Zack he told me they were going to sell you. What happened to make you run away?”

“They were going to sell me.” Cloud replied sullenly, almost muttering the response.

“Oh,” Said Dr. Gainsborough. “Oooh, you have a crush on them, don’t you?”

Cloud flushed. “It’s not just some silly crush that I’m going to get over given time. I don’t want to belong to anybody if I can’t belong to them.” He snapped. He was tired of people dismissing his feelings as if they didn’t matter. He knew it was genuine. He did.

Dr. Gainsborough and Tifa shared a look with each other, the silent communication of the married. “Why don’t we call Genesis and Sephiroth and work this out in person.” Dr. Gainsborough suggested.

Cloud startled. “You promised.” He accused Tifa. “Don’t turn me back in to them, they’ll probably just euthanize me since I’m so much trouble.”

“They won’t.” Tifa assured him calmly, even as he debated making a run for it. He wouldn’t get far dressed as he was and if Tifa came after him again she’d catch up easily enough. He couldn’t get away. “I promise. They’ll let you go if that’s what you really want but it’s best to actually talk to them, first.”

I don’t believe you. Cloud wanted to snap at her, but years of learning to hold his tongue had made him reluctant to speak, even as Tifa pushed him down on the couch while Dr. Gainsborough came back out holding her PHS.

Dr. Gainsborough said into the phone, “Hello, Genesis, missing someone? No, I’m not joking with you… okay… okay… give me a minute.” She held out the phone to Cloud. “Gen wants to speak with you.”

Cloud looked at the phone like it was going to bite him. The verbal lashing he was surely about to get was not worth it. He debated running again. Maybe he could surprise Tifa and get a head start on the woman. In the end, he finally took the phone. “Hello.” He said dully.

“Cloud, baby!” Genesis’s voice sounded harsh, but in a way that spoke more of stress than of aggravation. “Please tell me you’re all right. We’ve been so worried about you sweetheart.”

It was all Cloud could do to keep from crying. This was kindness he in no way shape or form deserved. He’d never deserved Master Genesis and Master Sephiroth and even then what had he done? Betrayed their trust and run away. “I’m fine, Master, sunburnt and tired but I’m okay.”

“Good. Good.” Master Genesis exhaled and said. “Can you stay there? Sephiroth and I will be on our way soon and we can talk when we get there. Do you want to stay with Aerith and Tifa? They can take you to Cosmo Canyon and you’ll be safe there.”

“I want to stay with you.” Cloud replied. “Please believe me. I want to belong to you and Master Sephiroth and no one else.”

Master Genesis sighed into the phone. “Cloud.” He began but Cloud cut him off.

“Please. If I can’t stay with you then I want to go to Cosmo Canyon.”

Master Genesis didn’t say anything for a long time. “We can talk about this in person, Cloud.”

Which was a no.

*~*~*

Dr. Gainsborough made Cloud some soup and rubbed aloe vera on his sunburn but otherwise Cloud sat at the dining room table staring at his hands while Tifa and her wife talked quietly at the other end of the table about chocobos and crop yields and the kinds of things Cloud never imagined Tifa would do. She was a farmer now, and wasn’t that something else when she’d been so privileged growing up?

Eventually, a knock on the door startled Cloud and Tifa ran to get it, inviting in Master Sephiroth and Master Genesis, who were dressed much as they had the day they’d gotten Cloud – in clothing meant to intimidate. Master Sephiroth didn’t even wait to greet Tifa and Dr. Gainsborough, just crossed the room and backhanded Cloud across the face. Stunned, Cloud went with the force of the blow, nearly falling out of his chair. He kept his face turned down and away, ashamed to face the man who must be so furious at him right now.

“What were you thinking?” Master Sephiroth said. “There are monsters in the plains outside of town. You could have been attacked and killed.”

Cloud wanted to apologize, but another part of him – that terrible, angry part that was broken and hurting from rejection – refused to let him. Instead he stayed silent, refusing to meet Master Sephiroth’s eyes.

Master Sephiroth sighed. “You’re so stubborn, like I am. Maybe you really aren’t cut out for the life of a slave. We’ll let you go.”

Cloud startled, glancing upward to see if there was any truth to the words in Master Sephiroth’s eyes. There was; he was gravely serious. “No!” Cloud cried. “I can do it, I really can. I just want to be owned by you…”

Master Genesis had come up behind Master Sephiroth at that point and was regarding Cloud with a calculating stare. “Cloud,” He began and Cloud just knew what he was going to say. “You really are stubborn. Sephiroth and I discussed it. We think you’d be better off in Cosmo Canyon, but until you feel ready to leave, you can stay with us.”

Cloud couldn’t jump out of the chair fast enough. He launched himself at Master Genesis and before his more rational brain kicked in he had his arms wrapped around the Master. But rather than a reprimand, Master Genesis just laughed as Cloud gushed. “Thank you! Thank you so much you won’t regret it, I promise.”

“Oh Cloud.” Master Genesis said. “What I wouldn’t do to see that beautiful smile of yours. It lights up the whole room and makes me want to spoil you rotten.”

Cloud couldn’t help the grin on his face so he buried himself against Master Genesis’s  chest, hugging as hard as he could. They were going to keep him! He couldn’t believe it.

Master Sephiroth interrupted by saying, “You do realize if you come home with us you’ll need to be punished for running away.”

Even that couldn’t dampen Cloud’s spirit. “I understand.” He replied. “I’m not looking forward to it, but I trust you.”

And that was perhaps even more important than the growing love for them he had in his heart. Master Sephiroth wrapped his arms Cloud and Genesis, sandwiching Cloud between them. He leaned down and kissed the crown of Cloud’s head. “I don’t understand you.” Master Sephiroth admitted. “We offer you the world and you choose a cage.”

Cloud said, “It’s not a cage when I’m with you.”

*~*~*

Two days later Cloud was lying on his stomach on the couch in the den, dozing off from painkillers that made him sleepy and left his consciousness drifting. His head was on Master Genesis’s lap while he read from his loved and battered copy of Loveless. The door to the den was pushed open and Angeal stepped in. They hadn’t punished him for losing Cloud – too concerned with finding him before he died (which, after Master Sephiroth’s lecture about monsters was perhaps almost an imminent thing had Tifa not found him when she did), but he’d forgiven Cloud with surprising ease, grateful that he was safe.

“How are you feeling?” Angeal asked Cloud as he leaned down to give Master Genesis a kiss. “Still sore?”

“Yeah.” Cloud replied sleepily, but he was too content lying in Master Genesis’s lap to move, even when Angeal leaned down and kissed him on the forehead. Cloud yawned.

“I think it’s time for a nap.” Master Genesis said, setting aside his book. “Where are Zack and Sephiroth?”

“In the training room.” Angeal answered. “They’re playing around – I heard Zack laughing when I came in.”

“Lucky.” Cloud said through another yawn. Zack loved it when Master Sephiroth paid attention to him, loved it when Angeal and Master Genesis did too. He was such an attention hound. Like a puppy, eager for approval.

“Soon, Cloud.” Master Genesis promised. “For now, let’s go upstairs and see if they’d like to join us for a nap?”

Angeal nodded and Master Genesis playfully shoved Cloud off his lap so he could stand up. Cloud rolled upright reluctantly, still feeling the dazed from the medication. His ass was sore and he winced as he put weight on it. The punishment hadn’t been too bad but it’d still hurt and Cloud wasn’t eager to be in that position again. But it meant he was here, and that was more important than pain that would fade. Pain that didn’t leave scars on the heart.

Angeal picked Cloud up and carried him like he weighed nothing, which for Angeal he probably did, being so small and light weight as he was still recovering from previous ill treatment. Cloud put his chin on Angeal’s shoulder and sighed happily as the bigger slave carried him out of the room and up the stairs. Master Genesis went to the play room to talk to Master Sephiroth and Zack while Angeal carried him into the master bedroom and set him on the bed. It would be a tight squeeze for five people to share the bed, but nobody really minded. What was one more in their happy little family?

Angeal laid down on the bed beside Cloud, pulling back the covers so he could tuck it around them. Cloud curled up against Angeal, seeking the warmth as they waited for the others to join them.

“I’m sorry about the market.” Cloud apologized, yet again. He really was. He’d made Angeal worry about him. The man had searched everywhere when Cloud had run, fearing the worst – kidnapping, death, anything. Cloud hadn’t even thought about the impact of his decision. He’d been selfish.

“It’s fine. What matters is that you’re safe.” Angeal reassured him. “I’m sorry we didn’t listen to you.”

Cloud was here now, and that’s what mattered.

“Why did you come back?” Angeal asked. “Why choose us over freedom?”

It should have been obvious. As Master Genesis entered the room followed by Master Sephiroth and Zack who was still wearing rope bracelets and a harness, Cloud said, “Because I love you.”

“We love you too, Spikey.” Zack answered, snuggling up against Angeal’s back. He tapped Cloud on the arm gently. Master Genesis came around to the other side of the bed and curled up next to Cloud while Master Sephiroth sandwiched Zack in.

“Yes.” Master Genesis said with a kiss to Cloud. “We love you, and we’re happy to keep you.”

“Thank you.” Cloud said, and drifted off to sleep in the shelter of their arms.