"So…"

Leon glances up from his book, sees Cloud silhouetted in the doorway, his face lost in shadow, black wing blocking out the last of the twilight. He clambers to his feet, laying the book down on the sidetable, a slip of paper marking his place; rolls the stiffness from his shoulders.

"Any good?"

Leon can't tell if Cloud's query is genuine, so he just shrugs, waiting. Cloud's wing beats gently against the air, clawed hand clattering against the door frame.

Leon waits, but Cloud doesn't speak, just stands there in the doorway against the light. Leon can't read his expression, because his face is lost in shadow, but he can hear his breathing, quick and hard, and he can feel the hammering of his own heart, hard and heavy. He turns away from the door, just in case Cloud can see, and shrugs again.

"Just and old training manual. Nothing special." He lays a hand on the book; feels the embossed letters under his fingers; feels his fingers trembling. "So…"

"I'll be gone for a while," Cloud says. His cloak catches the last of the failing light as he turns, dark as heartblood.

Leon lets out the breath he hadn't known he'd been holding and turns back to face the emptiness where Cloud had been.

Hercules had brought him to them, bloodied and unconcious. Aerith had nursed him, stripped him and bathed him and rubbed salves into the long lacerations Cerberus had left in his flesh; bound his wounds and watched with a slight frown creasing her forehead as the healing spells took effect. "Watch him," she'd said to Leon, and Leon had watched, whenever he wasn't fighting the heartless. Through the long days when Cloud lay as still and pale and empty as the spring sky; through the long nights with only the shallow rasp of his breathing - almost too soft for Leon to hear - to show that he was still alive.

In spite of all of Aerith's efforts, Cloud's wounds had festered and he'd grown feverish. She'd stayed with him when she could, but Traverse Town was full of the sick, the homeless, the hopeless, and Aerith was needed everywhere. "Watch him, Leon," she'd said again, and Leon had watched, all through the terrible night when Cloud, burning with the heat of a thousand suns, sat upright in the bed, wide eyed and wild, blind and staring with the tears pouring down his face, the words pouring out of him. Leon had listened, and most of it he hadn't understood, but even so he had understood that it was nothing that Cloud meant any man to ever hear. So he had sat with him through the endless night while the fever danced Cloud along the brink of existence; had held him while he sobbed; had sat unflinching from the blows that rained around his head as Cloud called him the names of all the angels. And when, finally, the fever broke, and Cloud had lapsed back into unconciousness, Leon had refused to leave.

Cloud watches from the roof as Leon heads out into Traverse Town. At night, lit by the soft glow of the lamps and the firelight behind the myriad windows, the little town looks like heaven, it's scars softened and its wounds hidden. Darkness hides a million sins, Cloud thinks, smiling grimly at the irony as he climbs down to the street and softly opens the door.

The book is lying where Leon left it. He picks it up with his own hand, lifting it into the light of the lamp that Leon had left burning. "Let's see," he mutters.

The cover is the rusty red of dried blood, and most of it is taken up by the title, embossed into the leather around a design he can't quite make out. Cloud runs a metalled finger over the ridges and hollows, frowning as he struggles to decipher the title. "Just an old training manual," he mutters, and lets the book fall open at the slip of paper Leon had placed in it.

"O you whom I often and…" his voice fades to nothing as he reads, lips moving silently on the words. He stands for a long while once he has finished reading, feeling the coarse paper under his fingers, staring at nothing, a small flicker of fear guttering alive inside him.