Title: Running Silent
Fandom: FFVII AU
Rating: G (with one instance of fighting)
Word count: 1290
Prompt: Forgiven by Within Temptation. I, er, kind of took the whole song into account rather than the single stanza the mod suggested, but I didn't want to go with the more obvious relation to the words (because I'm a huge sap and unrelieved angst is... not really my thing). Hope people enjoy it anyway!
Summary: A demon has possessed the prince. The Baron of Gongaga has gone to try and find a solution. A lowly stable boy is finding things difficult without him.
Cloud huddled fearfully in the hollow of a twisted oak tree, his cloak pulled tightly down over his head and his fingers trembling perceptively. The sound of heavily-armoured soldiers tromping through the underbrush echoed sharply in time with the drizzle of the rain, ringing in his ears and making him want to whimper. Cloud held his breath, feeling the mud soak into his thin hose and praying to the four gods that they wouldn’t find him.
There wasn’t much chance of that, if he was being honest with himself, but the thought made him shiver even more than the steady drip of water down his back so he tried to ignore it. If he could only survive this, then maybe he’d be able to get to the border like Zack had wanted him to, away from the castle and the demon wearing their prince’s face like a mask.
Zack? he thought silently, his voice sounding lost and alone even in his own head. Not like Zack’s – you could actually hear the smile in Zack’s voice when he whispered into your mind, the intimate purr of his more outrageous suggestions enough to make Cloud blush at the most inappropriate times even without the reinforcement of Zack’s unfairly handsome self.
It had taken Cloud a long time to get used to it – he was only a stable boy, after all, and inner speaking was a gift reserved for the gentry and those trained in magic. Cloud was neither of these things, although it seemed like Lord Zack, Baron of Gongaga, either wasn’t aware of the law or just didn’t care. Zack was an exception to pretty much every rule of how the aristocracy was supposed to behave, Cloud had learned; how else could he have gotten away with spending so much time with a nobody like Cloud?
The breathless stillness inside him didn’t change and Cloud bit back a sigh, sinking his head further into the cradle of his bent arms. Of course Zack wouldn’t answer. Even Zack couldn’t inner speak across two countries – provided he was even in any condition to do so. It had been nearly a full moon cycle since he’d left, grinning down at Cloud from the back of his white charger and making him promise not to get in too much trouble while he was gone. Which, obviously, had been a waste of breath, considering that right now Cloud was soaked and lost and terrified in the Sacred Forest with men with swords hacking through the undergrowth all around him, but Cloud didn’t think Zack had expected things would get this bad this quickly. They’d both thought Cloud would have at least another fortnight to prepare, or that Zack would get back before everything came to a head.
As far as Cloud could tell, the idea that the demon would come after Cloud first hadn’t even crossed Zack’s mind.
“Anything?” a voice shattered through the tense darkness, far too close for comfort, and Cloud shrank further into the shadows, lips working in a soundless prayer.
“Not yet,” another soldier shouted back. Branches snapped loudly as his sword whistled through the air and his voice was thick with frustration. “I can’t believe they’ve got us out here traipsing through the forest all night looking for some damn runaway. It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack.”
“Orders are orders,” the first said, sounding farther away than it had before. “Kid’s got to be around here somewhere.”
An unamused snort. “I just hope it doesn’t take us all week to find him.”
The voices fell silent, more crashing and tearing leaves filling the air and Cloud let out a cautious breath, wondering how much longer he’d be able to hide. He shivered, thinking wistfully of fresh bread and his dry pallet in the servants’ quarters. Thoughts of the wide bed in the north tower and Zack’s furnace heat wrapped close and comfortable around him made his cheeks warm and the lonely ache in his chest hurt even more. He missed Zack, his laughter and his confidence and his smile, and it was hard to restrain a shudder knowing that the demon that looked through Lord Sephiroth’s once-green eyes had no intention of giving Zack the chance to come back from his desperate mission alive.
Which is why Cloud had been forced to run, fleeing with the things Zack had asked him to protect as soon as he’d realized what was in store for him if he stayed. No one was supposed to know, of course – Zack was the people’s hero and Lord Sephiroth’s trusted vice-Captain when he was in his right mind – but Cloud had become quite adept at overhearing things he wasn’t supposed to these past few months.
Which was just as well, he recognized with a grim twist of his mouth, else he’d have still been in the castle when they came for him, with no defense against the monster who wore the crown and the demon masquerading as his son.
Cloud shifted his hand away from his face, brushing his fingers lightly over the magic orb in his pouch and the knife tucked safely into the soft cord belted around his waist. Zack hadn’t told him what they were for but Cloud was damned if he was going to give them up without a fight. Not when Zack had trusted him to keep them safe.
“Oh ho,” a voice said suddenly and Cloud’s head jerked up in horror at the sight of a mail-clad figure leaning down towards him, his teeth flashing in a satisfied smirk. “Hello little mouse.”
His fingers were still on the knife. Cloud jerked it out of his belt and lunged for the soldier. The man step-sided easily, his amused chuckle all but lost in the pattering rain. “Nice try,” he remarked, one gauntleted fist raising against him. “But that little thing isn’t going to help you no– what the?!”
The knife-hilt felt hot in his hand and Cloud didn’t stop to wonder about the impossibility of the shimmer filming over his eyes. He ducked under the soldier’s nonchalant guard faster than he’d known he could move and wheeled hard, watching the man’s eyes widen in shock as the magicked blade buried deeply into the unprotected skin between his mail shirt and his helmet. Blood spurted and Cloud jerked back, some instinct leading him to catch the man before the clatter of him hitting the ground could alert every other soldier within hearing distance. He grimaced at the chill slide of mail beneath his fingers, his knees buckling with the effort as he lowered the body slowly, carefully to the ground. Then he stood and stared at the muted glow of the knife in his hand, hardly able to believe what had just happened.
Only the gentry had the power to use magic. Even if the knife was spelled – which he had very little doubt about – Cloud shouldn’t have been able to make it do that.
Zack, he thought immediately, not knowing what his lover had done but knowing that, somehow, it had to be his fault. His gaze drifted down to the dead man lying at his feet and the corner of his mouth crooked ruefully. Not that he really minded. Even two countries away, Zack still managed to look out for him.
More crashing came from his left and Cloud found himself feeling strangely calm as he wiped the blade on the fallen soldier’s tunic and took off, silent as a ghost amid the rain-soaked trees. The inside of his mind was still quiet but Cloud figured he could live with that for now.
Zack would just have to apologize for taking so long when they finally found each other again.