Pairing: Sephiroth/Cloud Aerith/Zack
Summary: "I'll let you go, under one condition. One of my men has to ask me to set you free. I may not be the kindest man you've ever met, Cloud, but I'm not heartless either. I care about my men as if they are my brothers, and I'll listen to their pleads. If one of my men were to care about you so much that they would beg me to let you go, I will."
Disclaimer: I do not own FFVII or any of it's characters.
"Grandpa, grandpa! Will you tell me the story about the evil king and the princess again?!" The ten year old Yuki climbed up her grandfather's legs to settle down in his lap.
"Of course, darling." He smiled at her and brushed the brown hairs out of her face.
Yuki leaned back against her grandfather's chest as he wrapped one arm around her waist, the story about the king and the princess was their favorite and at least once a week he told her, but maybe this time, she was old enough for the truth, she'd turn eleven tomorrow, she needed to know.
"Long ago, there was an evil king that ruled this land; he lived in a giant castle up on the hill so he could keep an eye out for danger. There was a time that the evil king was at war with the neighboring country and it cost him so much. He lost men and women in the battles that came closer to home with each passing day. The evil king's friend advised him to stop the war or at least find a way to cease the battles; they couldn't afford to lose more men.
"The king listened to his friend, but did not plead for peace at all. He found a way into the enemy's home and kidnapped the princess. In a wild attempt to free his daughter, the good king died and the war came to an abrupt halt. The princess didn't fight the evil king; she gave in to his commands in exchange for peace so her country would be safe. The king was surprised by her willingness to sacrifice herself to keep other's safe and when he found out no one was ever going to attempt to rescue her, he made her a promise."
"I'll let you go, under one condition. One of my men has to ask me to set you free. I may not be the kindest man you've ever met, Cloud, but I'm not heartless either. I care about my men as if they are my brothers, and I'll listen to their pleads. If one of my men were to care about you so much that they would beg me to let you go, I will."
The king motioned for a soldier to take the prince to her room, but before he left the room he turned to the king and smiled.
"Thank you, Sephiroth."
Yuki's grandfather sighed and pulled the small girl a little closer before continuing on with the story.
"The princess staid in her room for a whole week, but when she appeared again, on the arm of one of the king's men to join him for dinner, she looked gorgeous. It was said that the moment they saw her, all the king's men fell in love with her. The soldier who brought her to her seat, right next to the evil king, became her friend. The princess and the soldier spent a lot of time together and the evil king waited patiently for the soldier to come and ask him to let her go, but the soldier never did.
"One day the soldier did came to the evil king and he requested that the king spend some time with him and with the princess. The soldier was no regular soldier after all; he was the king's best friend. Because of the princess love of riding they spend the day in the woods on their horses back, riding and racing and laughing. The king was mesmerized by the way the princess laughed and how at normal she acted despite being held against her will. If she had wanted to, she could have escaped. The horse she was riding was one of the fastest horses the king had and the dark woods would make it hard to track her down. Instead she stayed with them, with the king and the soldier and it was the first time in her life she smiled that much."
"Zack! Zack, where are AAAH!" Cloud screamed and only Sephiroth's arm around his waist kept him on his horse.
"Zachary, be careful. Not everyone is as strong as a soldier; if he'd fallen he could have gotten hurt." Sephiroth raised one brow at Zack's antics and carefully put Cloud back straight on the horse.
"Are you calling me weak, Sephiroth?" Cloud laughed and poked the king in his side before riding off. "Catch me if you can, almighty king of the lands!" His laugh echoed through the woods, even when Sephiroth dragged him of his horse.
"When the king finally realized his presence was very much appreciated they all spend a lot of time together. And when the princess admitted she was interested in swords both the king and the soldier decided to teach her everything they knew. She was an eager student and fairly gifted with swords, it didn't take long at all for her to be able to defeat most of the king's men. To the king's surprise, she didn't use her skills to fight her way back home; instead she fought by his side when the castle was attacked and saved him from an assassin.
"But one day she did came to him with tears in her eyes, she collapsed at his feet and took his coat in her hands while she begged him to let her go, for just one day. The king didn't understand what was going on and pulled her up in his arms, she clung to him while she cried and he comforted her as best as he could. When the tears died down he asked her again what was wrong and she looked up at him and told him she needed to go home, just one more time, because her mother had died."
Sephiroth hugged Cloud tightly against himself and caressed the prince's arm and back. He didn't understand family at all, or why one would be sad when they lost their parents but Cloud was crying now, so he had to help him. Sephiroth's father, King Vincent, had died during a war and his mother, queen Lucrecia had run away, leaving her new born baby behind. Her maid Jenova took the child under her wings and married the king's advisor; Hojo. Together they raised Sephiroth but they forgot to tell him about humanity and declined to teach him about emotions.
"I'll come with you Cloud, I'll keep you save." Sephiroth held the small prince while he cried and when the day came they indeed went to bury Cloud's mother together.
"The evil king went with the princess to bury her mother. The princess had told the evil king a lot about her parents and about the fact that her mother heart had been broken a long time ago, when her father came home on the verge of dying. The princess told the evil king that when he took her and let his men kill her father her mother probably died as well. She had already said her goodbye to her mother when she left but the pain of knowing that her mom would never come back still ran deep. The evil king just stood by the princess side, together with the soldier and gave her everything she asked for just to make her smile.
"It took quite a while for the evil king to realize that he cared about the princess a lot. If the soldier hadn't told him he knew that the king loved the princess, the king never would have realized. So he had to ask her, because no one would ever back him to let her go if they knew he loved her, if she wanted to leave. She had turned to face him and she had laughed, she told him it had taken him long enough to see that she loved him as well. They got married but the princess couldn't give the king a child, so they asked the soldier, who had gotten married not long ago, if he was willing to take the throne.
"Zack, please? The kingdom needs a king or queen and I can't give Sephiroth an heir. You're perfect for the job and you know it, you've been ruling the land as much as Sephiroth has. You and Aerith… please, Zack. Think about it." Cloud pleaded softly.
Zack shrugged and awkwardly turned the other way. He had been kidding when he said he'd take over the throne with Aerith so they could lay back and enjoy each other without the advisors breathing down their necks. Since Sephiroth and Cloud had gotten married without the advisors permission they had been pushing Sephiroth to leave the prince for he could not give him an heir. Of course he had talked about this with Aerith, they both had wanted to help the couple but they couldn't actually do anything. Zack wanted to take the throne, not because he wanted to be king but to help his friends. But he was no king, he wasn't even royal so what could he do?
"Cloud, come on! I'm no king! I'm a soldier, a knight; I'm not even of royal blood. I can't lead a country, not even with your help. Besides, I can't demand of Aerith to rule with me, I'd have to ask, probably even grovel. It's a no go Cloud, we'll find another way, okay?"
"Actually Zack, you are of royal blood. I never mentioned anything because I thought you knew and just didn't want to talk about it. You're my cousin, you're the oldest son of my father's youngest sister, and it qualifies you to take the throne. Talk about it with Aerith and think about accepting. You won't have to do this alone, we'll be there every step of the way and you know that." Sephiroth smiled at him and Zack couldn't help but nod, he'd think about it.
"The soldier thought about it for a long time before he accepted with his wife's blessing. Under the new king's command the two neighboring countries, the one of the evil king and the one of the princess, came together to form a new strong and united land. The evil king and the princess staid in the castle to guide the soldier and his wife where it was needed. The soldier's wife gave the soldier an heir; two sons and a daughter and they were raised with all the love and the care in the world by not only their parents, but also by the evil king and the princess. They all lived happily ever after in the castle and the kingdom is still ruled by the soldier's children."
"Grandpa! How do you know this story so well? You always avoid that question…" Yuki pouted and gently squeezed her grandfather's hand.
"I suppose it is time I tell you the truth my child. My grandmother was the soldier's youngest child and she told this story many times to my father when he was young and to me. Zack, Aerith, Cloud and Sephiroth loved her and her brothers equally but, according to my father who actually spoke to Sephiroth about this, she herself was more interested in her uncles and their past then in her own parents. She wrote the full story down and it had been past along from generation to generation. You're father has the original now and one day Yuki, you will have it too. And someday it will be your turn to tell your ancestor's story and to give your children the truth."
"But grandpa, you just told me the truth, right?"
"No, my child, not completely. Sometimes the truth is too hard to understand and we have to alter it slightly. Genders change, names are forgotten and the harsh realities ignored. The story of the princess and the evil king sounds so perfect, does it not?"
Yuki nodded slightly, staring up at her grandfather's face with worry in her eyes.
"It was far from perfect, my child. The princess was no princess, he was a prince and the evil king wasn't evil, he was a savior. One day you will understand my child, now it's time for bed."
"But Grandpa! I'm not tired yet!" Yuki protested loudly, until a yawn cut her off.
"Sleep, my child and maybe you'll meet them in your dreams. I'm certain they'll watch over us, because we watch over them."
Yuki's grandfather carried her to bed and tucked her in before kissing her forehead. Walking softly he left the room and in the hallway he paused in front of a huge painting, another family heirloom. Four happy faces stared at him and he could only hope that despite their hardships Cloud and Sephiroth and Zack and Aerith as well, had never regretted a day in their lives.
"Do you ever regret it?"
"Giving up your throne to be with me."
"No, Zack's a good king and I love you."
"I love you, too."