"If that's how you really feel about him, why don't you just tell him?" Tifa snapped.

"Don't be stupid," Cloud frowned into his beer, not daring to meet her eye.

"What's stupid?" From under his hair, Cloud could see Tifa's fingers drumming on the table top. She only ever drummed her fingers like that when she was angry. "Telling him how you feel and getting it over with? Or mooning around after him like a fangirl for the rest of your life making an idiot of yourself? What are you going to do when he brings people back? Stick your fingers in your ears?"

"Tifa!" Aerith chuckled. "You're awful!"

"No, I'm not." Tifa said. "I'm not. I'm being realistic. Neither of you really think that he's going to stay single for ever, do you? You think he's a monk or something? Well, he isn't. And that means that one day, he's going to bring someone home, and one day, he's going to fuck that someone, and one day, we're going to hear it happen. So," she stopped for a moment, glaring at Cloud, "unless you want that someone to be someone else, you need to tell him how you feel!"

"But..." Cloud protested. "But... I can't tell him! What if he says no?"

"At least then you'll know, and you'll be able to get on with your life instead of following him around everywhere like you were his shadow or something."

"I do not!" Cloud glanced up at Tifa. Her fingers were still drumming on the table top. "Anyway, he probably doesn't even like men."

Tifa snorted. "Cloud, you can be such an idiot! You..."

"Cloud. Sweetie." Aerith interrupted. "You are adorable and we both love you very much. But you aren't always very bright." She smiled sweetly at Cloud as he opened his mouth to protest, cutting him off with a single raised finger. "You remember when he moved in? When we interviewed him?"

Cloud closed his eyes. He remembered, alright. Aerith - always prudent, always wise - insisted on interviewing prospective flat-mates, and Tifa - always bored - insisted on turning it into a game. Cloud thought the whole thing was stupid, but it was two against one. The worst of it was, they made him sit there and be interested. The worst of it was, when the buzzer sounded, they had made him answer it.

When Cloud had opened the door and seen him standing there, his first thought had been that Tifa had found the manga he had hidden under his mattress and was somehow playing a trick on him. His second thought had been to wonder if he was blushing. His third thought had been that Tifa was going to do that thing with the towel, at which point Cloud had become as clumsy a new-foaled colt.

"Uh, hi? I'm Leon. I'm here about the flat share?"

"Yeah, come in," Cloud had managed, watching the tiniest hint of a frown crease Leon's forehead for the briefest fraction of a second. He had followed Leon up the stairs, trying not to see the way the black fabric of his pants tightened across the cheeks of his ass as he took the steps two at a time; the belt hanging on his hips; the three inches of white t-shirt in the gap below the hem of his short black jacket.

Aerith had made a pot of coffee. Cloud sat on the end of the couch watching Leon lift the mug to his lips as he answered the girls' questions. Cloud had no idea what they were asking, or what Leon was saying in reply, until Aerith had asked him why he was looking for a new place and he had said something about a relationship having come to an end.

"Okay, then, " Tifa had said. "Unless Cloud has anything he wants to ask you," and she had shot him a black look, sideways along the couch, "I think we're all done here. Maybe if you could give us a few minutes to talk it over, we should be able to give you an answer straight away."

"Sure," Leon had smiled. "Where do you want me to wait?"

"Well, actually," Tifa had glanced at Aerith. "There is just one more thing."

"Oh?" Leon's smile hadn't faltered. "What would you like to know?"

"What do you look like in a towel? The shower's through that door there. There's a fresh towel on the rail. You can shower or not, whichever, but just give us a couple of minutes either way, would you?"

As it turned out, Leon - freshly showered and with the towel knotted on one hip - looked like he had just freshened up after a hard day in the studio of Polykleitos the Younger. But to Cloud, without the benefit of a classical education to inform his obsessions, he looked like Emba.

"O-kay," Tifa had said. "I think that just about seals it." Aerith had nodded. "Cloud?" she said sweetly.

In his room, Cloud had fished the manga from under his mattress with shaking fingers, letting it fall open to the page it always opened to. "Hang... hang on!" he called out, voice cracking and about to come, at the soft knock on his door.

"Sorry, I didn't want to disturb you," Leon had said through the door. "I just wanted to say it was nice to meet you and I hope to see you again soon."

"Me too!" Cloud had gasped, come splattering over the drawing of Emba's naked torso.

Cloud opened his eyes, nodding. "Oh, I remember," he said.

"And you remember when I asked him why he was moving out of his old place? You remember what he told us?"

Cloud nodded again. "He told us he'd just broken up with his partner," he said, flatly.

"That's right," Aerith smiled. Cloud hated it when Aerith smiled at him. It always made him feel like he was seven.

"So?" Cloud said.

"So," Tifa butted in. "Men on the rebound are bad news. Either he was going to be all heart-broken and looking for comfort from Aerith and me, or there was going to be a deranged ex-girfriend hanging on the buzzer at all hours and following us around in Walmart calling us whores. So Aerith did some research. And found out who this partner was."

"His name is Zell Dincht," Aerith said quietly. "I think you'd be surprised if you saw him."

"His name..." Cloud says. "Name... His... But... Oh, god."

"So, what's your next excuse?" Tifa said.

"Tifa! Be kind!" Aerith laid a hand on Tifa's arm.

"I am being kind," Tifa said, looking from Aerith to Cloud and back. "He needs a good kick in the backside, and I'm giving him one. I'm his friend. It's what friends do."

Aerith nodded. "You're right. It is what friends do. Cloud," she turned to the boy, who was still frowning into his beer, "this is a gift Tifa is giving you. Don't make me angry by refusing it."

"But..." Cloud said.

"Cloud!" Aerith raised a warning finger. "Don't make me tell you again."

"Alright, alright. I'll tell him. But you'd better be ready to clear up the mess when it all goes wrong."

The three of them sat silent for a moment, Cloud lost in his own thoughts, Tifa and Aerith grinning at each other.

"Well?" Aerith said after a while. "He's not here is he? How do you propose to tell him, sitting there?"

"What?" Cloud looked up from his drink. "Now? You mean tell him now? But..."

"Cloud! Go!" Tifa said, getting up from the table and taking hold of him by the shoulders, pulling him up onto his feet, propelling him out of the bar into the street. Cloud stood for a moment, staring at the two girls blocking the doorway.

"Okay," he said at last. "Okay. Shit, I can't believe I'm going to do this."

"You'd better!" Tifa said, threateningly. And "and he'd better say yes," quietly, to Cloud's receding back.

"That was a nice thing you did for him," Aerith said, taking Tifa in her arms and hugging her hard. "I know I can't be easy for you."

"Oh, you know," Tifa sniffed. "It's been so long now, and I've known how he is longer than Cloud has himself. We grew up together, remember? And ever since that whole hero-worship thing with Zack you'd have to have been blind not to see what it was he really wanted. So yes," she sniffed again, "it's hard, and I love him, but I want him to be happy and I want to be happy and if we can't be happy together that doesn't mean I don't want us to be happy at all."

Aerith hugged her again. "You know what?" she said. "You and me need to go dancing." She turned back into the bar, pulling Tifa after her. "So let's see," she said. "What are the choices tonight? How about that one?" Pointing to a tall tanned man with long fair hair. "He looks nice."

Tifa snorted. "Aerith! He does not look nice! He looks like a classic narcissist. And anyway, if he's straight I'm Sephiroth."

"Well, okay, if you say so," Aerith looked doubtful. "How about that one? You like red heads."

Tifa narrowed her eyes. "That one... now, you know, that one doesn't look to bad". Moving towards the bar and the flame-haired man.

- x X x -

Cloud meant to go straight home, but he kept running through scenarios in which he told Leon how he felt without sounding like a complete jerk, and in every single one of them he ended up sounding like a complete jerk. The best he had come up with so far was "Leon, listen, I think you're really hot." Which scored on directness, but failed on pretty much everything else. Cloud decided he needed a drink.

In the bar, Cloud sat sucking down one bottle of Dos Equis after another, running through one scenario after another, each one worse than the last. He was half-tempted to give the whole thing up, but whenever he decided to just creep home and sneak into bed he thought of what Aerith and Tifa would do when they found out. "Better get this over with then," he said to himself, and clambered to his feet.

Until he stood up, Cloud hadn't realised just how drunk he was, nor how difficult it was to keep one foot in front of the other. "Whoa, there!" he muttered, reeling against a wall as the sidewalk kept slipping out from under him. "Ten blocks. Ten blocks. You can make it. Ten blocks."

He does make it, just, and after far longer than ten blocks has ever taken before. It's only partly because he's drunk, or rather it's only partly because he's too drunk to walk in a straight line. The other problem with being drunk is that when Cloud drinks he gets horny, and when he drinks too much he gets really horny, and he had been half-hard all night thinking of Leon and now that he has got really drunk he has been thinking about Leon sucking him off, and his dick is pressing painfully against the fabric of his pants and every step is making him harder.

And on the steps of the apartment building he fumbles his keys and they go rattling down somewhere dark and he can't find them anywhere and presses the buzzer until Leon answers.

"Hello?" Leon sounds out of breath, and for a moment Cloud stands there, listening to the sound of him breathing heavily into the intercom. Panting, Cloud thinks, and breaks into a grin that turns into a frown. Why would Leon be out of breath? "Hello?" Leon says again.

"Leon. Hi. S'me. Cloud." Cloud leans his head against the wall, trying to speak clearly into the intercomm.

"Cloud. Hi. Forgot your key?" Leon buzzes Cloud into the building, each word punctuated by a heavy breath. Panting.

"What were you doing?" Cloud says, before he realises it.

"What? Cloud, are you okay?"

"Fine. M'fine," Cloud says. "You sound different, s'all. Out of breath. Like you've been..." He stops himself just in time by clapping a hand over his mouth, eyes widening in horror. Like you've been having sex. He had actually been about to say it.

There is a moment's silence. "I was working out," Leon says. "Cloud? Have you been drinking?"

"Mmhmm," Cloud says, into the hand that is still clapped across his mouth.

"Well, listen, why don't you actually come in? It's probably easier than talking through the intercomm, right?"

"Mmhm," Cloud says again. "Be right up."

Cloud is thinking about Leon working out, about the way the sweat would be sliding over his shoulders and chest, the muscles taut and slick, about him open mouthed and breathing heavily. He makes it half-way up the stairs before he can't make it any further and sits down on the first floor landing, kneading at the bulge in his jeans. "Leon Leon Leon," he croons. "Leon Leon Leon," half talking, half singing.

"Just look at the state of you."

Cloud opens his eyes. Leon is coming down the second floor stairwell, wearing only a pair of black pants. Cloud stares at the big pectorals and the way Leon's torso tapers down to a hard narrow column of muscle and realises that he still has his hand in his crotch. "Leon Leon Leon," he sings, "how are you doing?"

"I'm okay, Cloud, thanks." Leon is squatting down next to him, a little grin curling one corner of his mouth. "How are you?"

"Better for seeing you," Cloud says.

"Well, that's not really all that much of a compliment, given the state your in. Better for being run over by a truck, too, I'd think. Anyway, let me help you up." Leon lifts Cloud under the armpits, hauls him to his feet, and Cloud stumbles against him, his fingers splayed against Leon's chest. "Can you walk?"

"Probably. Don't want to." Cloud slides his hands around Leon's chest, over his back, down onto the swell of his ass.

"Cloud?" Leon says questioningly. "What are you doing?"

"Leon, listen, I think you're really hot," Cloud says, and bursts out laughing, as if he's just made a great joke, and grabs Leon's face is his slick palms and kisses him, hard and hot, spit and tongues and desperation all mixed up in their mouths.

"Whoa! Whoa!" Leon breaks away, trying to take a step backward, but Cloud is still clinging on to him and Leon is supporting both of their body weights. "Cloud, slow down. What's going on?"

"Sex, I hope," Cloud says. He pushes himself up against Leon. "Want me to suck your dick?"

"Oh my god," Leon breathes.

"Z'at a yes?"

"How much have you had to drink?"

"A lot." Somewhere in his head his normal everyday taciturn self is saying what the fuck do you think you're doing? what happened to not looking like a jerk? but his drunk insistent horny self doesn't care. He wants Leon, has wanted him ever since he opened the door and saw him standing on the steps, ever since he had jerked himself off over the manga, imagining that he was Yuuen and Leon was Emba. Drunk insistent horny Cloud wants the muscles that he can feel rolling under Leon's skin to be pressed against him, wants to feel them trembling as Leon comes, wants to hear Leon's breathless voice in his ear as Leon shoves him roughly up against the wall and takes him, wants to hear his name a sigh in Leon's throat, to hear himself moaning Leon's name.

Cloud slides his fingers into Leon's crotch, feels the length of him straining under his gym pants, rubs hard.

"Shit!" Leon gasps. "Cloud, I... Stop, stop," as Cloud begins to fumble at Leon's waistband, "stop, Cloud."

Cloud's mouth is pressed against Leon's chest, the sweat drying on him salty on his tongue. He brings his teeth together over one nipple and sucks, moving his hand again as Leon's breath hisses in and catches in his throat, fingers in Cloud's hair, half pulling him in, half pushing him back.

"Cloud! Stop!" Leon pushes him away, catches him as he stumbles against the wall. "What are you thinking?"

Cloud is thinking about Leon's skin on his tongue, his fingers tangled in his hair, the smell of his sweat and his breath hot in his mouth. About Leon's hips in his hands and dick in his mouth and the feel of every single molecule in Leon's body trembling as Cloud sucked the come out of him and Leon cried Cloud stop don't god stop don't stop stop don't stop...

"What are you thinking?" Leon says again. "Come on, let me take you upstairs." Stepping away from him, holding out a hand, ready to catch him if he falls.

"I think you're incredible," Cloud says, and grins, an embarrassed, sloppy, sideways grin. "I think you're amazing. I think you're the hottest thing'vever seen in my life. I haven't bn able to stop thinking bout you since th day I met you."

Leon looks at him. He has known that this moment was coming, ever since he'd pressed the buzzer that first day and the door had opened on the blushing blond kid fiddling with the ends of his hair; ever since he'd stood there wearing a towel and seen Aerith and Tifa looking approvingly at his naked torso and Cloud looking anywhere but. It had been the only thing that had put him off moving in, the incredible fog of sexual tension that clung to Cloud like a flock of starlings. It was pretty clear to Leon right away that Cloud either didn't know he was gay, or knew he was but hadn't admitted it to anyone. And then there had been the one night when only he and Tifa had been in and she had told him about Zack, and everything had more or less fallen into place.

"So what do you think?" Tifa had asked him.

"I think he needs to find a man he's hot for," Leon had said.

"Oh good," Tifa had said. "Me too," raising an eyebrow at him.

It had taken most of Leon's willpower not to take advantage of Cloud, and god alone knew there had been opportunity after opportunity, Cloud seeming to turn up pretty much wherever Leon was, a constant scowling taciturn presence, always there in the background, never making a move. It was almost as if Cloud was Leon's punishment - because Leon had been forced to admit to himself pretty quickly that Cloud was closer to his ideal than anyone had ever been. It was as though someone had boiled Zell down and poured him into a mould shaped after Leon's imagination and then slapped a coat of resentment, vulnerability and need over the top, just in case Leon still thought he was able to resist.

And now here he was, in front of him, too drunk to know what he was doing, practically begging Leon to have sex with him.

"Let me take you upstairs," Leon says again, hating himself.

"No," Cloud says, and pushes Leon against the cold concrete wall of the stairwell, drags his fingernails along the side of Leon's neck, bites him on the shoulder. "Want me to suck you off?" he whispers into Leon's ear.

Cloud is down on his knees before Leon can tell him not to, and in his heart of hearts Leon doesn't want to stop him. Cloud has his dick in his mouth and Leon is trying to say "Cloud, stop, you're drunk, don't" but it's just coming out as a little whining noise in his throat. And Cloud is drunk and Cloud is horny and Cloud has wanted Leon for too long to care about what might happen afterwards and he is still thinking about Leon's hips in his hands and dick in his mouth and the feel of every single molecule in Leon's body trembling as he sucks the come out of him and Leon shouting Cloud stop don't god stop don't stop stop don't stop... And somehow magically it seems to have come true.

"Will you fuck me now?" Cloud says, pulling away from Leon and getting to his feet. Leon has his eyes closed, and he is panting like he was when he answered the buzzer.

"Oh, Cloud," he says, "just come upstairs. You're drunk, and I don't want to have to find another apartment when you remember what you did."

"Won't remember," Cloud says. "Never 'member what I do when I'm drunk."

"That's not really a reason, though, is it?" Leon frowns. "Look, Cloud, I think it's pretty obvious that I like you, and there can't really be any doubt that you like me, but I don't want to take advantage of you."

"Want you to, though," Cloud says. "Ev'ry way you can think of". He steps forward and pushes himself up against Leon again, dick hard in his pants. Leon takes a breath and grabs hold of his shoulders.

"No," he says. "Come on. Time to stop this." Cloud can feel Leon trembling, and struggles against him for a moment, but Cloud is drunk and Leon is sober and he's stronger than Cloud anyway. Leon half-carries him up the stairs, Cloud's arm over his shoulder, his around Cloud's waist, and gets him into the apartment. "Water," he says. "You need to drink water."

"'kay" Cloud mutters. "Just sec. Going bathroom." Weaves away through the room.

For a minute or two there is silence, and then Leon hears Cloud vomiting. "Damn," he mutters into the silence that follows. "Don't let him have locked the door."

Luckily, he hasn't. Leon finds Cloud slumped under the hand basin, vomit slopped over the edge and dripping into his hair. "Damn," Leon says again, and lifts Cloud up off the floor, frowning at the dead weight of him, grimacing at the acrid smell of his vomit and the sight of it smeared across Cloud's shirt and trousers. "Hey!" he calls, and gives Cloud a gentle shake. "You in there?"

Cloud opens a bleary eye. "Sorry," he mumbles. "Gon' puke 'gain". Leon gets him over the toilet just in time, holds his shaking shoulders as he dry heaves into the bowl, tries to keep his hair out of the lines of bile drooling from the corners of his mouth.

When it's over, Cloud sits on the bathroom floor, not meeting Leon's eyes. "Sorry," he mutters again.

"Feel better now?" Leon says.

Cloud nods. "Need a shower." He gestures to himself, vomit-flecked and reeking, and clambers to his feet, pulling at his shirt buttons.

"Okay," Leon says. "Be careful. I'm going to get dressed."

Half an hour later the shower is still running, but Leon can't hear any other sounds at all. With a sigh, he opens the bathroom door and sees Cloud sitting under the stream of water, fully clothed except that his pants are around his ankles, water dripping into his open mouth off the ends of his hair. His eyes are closed, but he is breathing, bubbles forming and bursting on his lip.

"Oh for fuck's sake," Leon says and turns the water off.

Cloud is soaking wet. Leon takes his shoes and socks off, and then pulls the sodden pants over his feet. Cloud's shirt is still plastered with vomit, but Leon takes a hold of the hem and pulls it up over his head, Cloud's arms flapping. Leon drapes Cloud's arms over his shoulders and lifts him up.

"What're you doing?" Cloud says.

"Oh, you're awake," Leon starts to say, but only manages "Oh" before Cloud has pushed him back against the wall of the cubicle and kissed him, tongue deep in his open mouth. Cloud tastes of vomit, and under that of semen, and Leon tries to push him away but Cloud is nearly naked and Cloud is slippery and Cloud is desperate and in the confined space of the shower cubicle Leon can't stop him.

"Take your clothes off," Cloud pants as he comes out of the kiss to breathe, and turns the water back on as Leon starts to protest. Cloud is tugging at Leon's belts, a little needy whine in his throat, pulling Leon's hips into him, bending to bite the soft skin on his abdomen.

"Shit!" Leon splutters into the water that is jetting into his face. "Okay, okay, wait!"

But Cloud won't wait. Somehow he has Leon's clothes off and has Leon's hands in his, pressing them against his chest, his face, his dick. Leon has never seen Cloud in anything less than boxers and a t-shirt, and the sight of him and the feel of him has him hard in seconds. Cloud's mouth is everywhere on Leon, in his neck, against his throat, biting the bony protrusions of his hips, and Leon is so hard that it hurts and Cloud's mouth is everywhere and Cloud's hands are everywhere, pulling at Leon, coaxing Leon, desperate for Leon until he turns Cloud round and pushes him up against the cold tiles on the wall and fucks him, one arm around Cloud's waist pulling him back, the other pulling on his dick until Cloud comes, hard and shouting with his lips mashed against the wet tiles.

- x X x -

When Cloud wakes up the next morning, every single part of him hurts. Once he can finally bring himself to open his eyes, there is a moment when he can't work out for the life of him where he is. And then someone says "morning", very quietly, and kisses him. And Cloud starts to remember.