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Without Armor

Title: Without Armor
Part: 2/10
Fandom: Kingdom Hearts
Disclaimer: No implied ownership, no financial gain, only fanwork.
Characters/Pairings: Ansem/Cloud, Sephiroth, Riku
Rating: MA
Summary: Ansem plans to catch a god. But he becomes the one to take the bait.
Notes: -

Cloud found himself alone again, soon enough. The castle was all but uninhabited, save for some creepy dead women he was informed that he was not to touch.

At least, Cloud told himself, they had heads.

Up on a balcony, the sun was shining fiercely bright. There was plenty of space, and Cloud happily launched into a workout he knew would distract him for hours.

What he wanted was to be infinitely more adept with certain things than he found himself being. His magic was in a rather sorry state, he noted as flames died at his fingertips for the sixth time in a row. And while his limit-break like attacks were strong, there was something lacking in his technique. He could somehow feel his flaws, but not pinpoint them.

He wished for advice, for a spotter or some old ally who could instantly see what he knew himself to be missing.

He wanted Zack with him, holding the blade with him, guiding his movements - an awful feeling in the pit of his stomaach warned that too much of his own unique technique left flaws open. Zack was always so good about those things. And Sephiroth, though he seemed to be nothing more than a memory Cloud did not want to conjure up.

Finally Cloud slid down to his knees, slowly catching his breath. The expanse of sheer space stretched as far as he could see, the faint trails of a world falling off to a blissful, content-looking nothingness.

A tiny bit of envy burned in Cloud - he never had figured out just why he was the one who had been spared when so many others had been lost. He was nothing special. He was... hungry.

It was a silly revelation, but his stomach didn't find it so trivial. Cloud made his way down to the large kitchen, happy to find a reasonable amount of food in it. His cooking skills weren't exactly amongst the most honed, but he could keep himself alive without turning too many things to burnt ashes.

There was only so much Cloud could find to do around the castle. Once he had the maze of flickering elevators and transports figured out, things became downright dull. Even getting as lost as he possibly could, it didn't take long to find his exact location and make his way to another point sadly also not lost.

He had never been the most voracious reader, but more and more the expansive library called to him, beckoning him in with mind-expanding works about any subject imaginable.

Cloud now knew more about earthworms than he had ever wanted to. And the art of trebuchet construction. Part of him actually wanted to build a trebuchet, but he really couldn't think of any reason to do it besides actually doing it. He'd become much too practical over the years, thinking back to a time when he did what he could for survival, ignoring anything extraneous.

There were few chairs in the library, and not a one was comfortable. Without his armor, though, Cloud could easily sink to the floor and lean against a pillar as he read, legs stretched out in front of him. More than once he'd fallen asleep in that position, only to be woken some time later by Ansem.

Time was becoming nonexistant. Cloud had not bothered to mark the days, but he was sure weeks had passed since his still-somewhat inexplicable arrival in Hollow Bastion.

Ansem seemed uninclined to reveal whatever he was scheming, so Cloud contented himself just to pry for any information he could.

It wasn't exactly an easy task - Ansem did not make himself an easy man to approach. Most of their encounters thus far had been instigated by Ansem, for Ansem's benefit. It grew frustrating. Cloud was really starting to wonder if the dead women upstairs would be a better source of conversation.

The more he thought about Ansem, the more captivating the man became. Ansem wasn't a bad host - Cloud certainly never wanted for anything except perhaps a little entertainment.

Stretching, Cloud wandered around the upper level of the library for a moment, double-checking for any hidden switches he had missed previously. The entire room was a beautiful maze, though even that got old after a couple days of figuring out exactly what the handful of configurations truly were.

From the balcony, Cloud could see Ansem working on something at a desk below. The volumes he had spread before him were dusty and old and in a language Cloud could not read.

More than anything, Cloud wanted to know the why of his situation. He couldn't quite bring himself to believe that his bizarre extraction from the Coliseum had been a random act of kindness. Ansem didn't seem the sort.

It was about that moment that Cloud realized he too was being watched. Piercing orange eyes that seemed to have an etheral fire behind them were surveying him in quite the penetrating manner. Cloud couldn't help a slight blush before returning the gaze.

And then, turning, Cloud decided he'd had quite enough of the library for one day. The overwhelming feeling that he'd stumbled into something he shouldn't have shot through his body and he couldn't help but feel slightly ashamed. As much as boredom was bound to drive him crazy, he had no reason to go spying about on his benefactor just yet.

But the thought was very tempting, of course. Cloud knew that he knew the library painfully well and could at least attempt to locate the books that Ansem had selected. Whatever was in them had to be important. And it might, Cloud decided, possibly explain just what was going on.

Making his way to the lift, Cloud selected his next destination carefully. Those dead women in the upstairs hall had to be some significant piece of the puzzle.

As Cloud crept closer to what he thought of as the Hall of Deadwomen, he could swear he heard voices. Or at least a voice.

Whatever was going on, he suddenly realized that perhaps his adventuring days were not entirely over.



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