Title: Ocean eyes part 1

Author: Sorceress Fantasia

Pairings: LxC, RxS, some other minor ones

Warnings: AU, romance, sap, humour, OOC-ness

Disclaimer: As much as I would love to lay claim to Cloud, I'm kinda scared of Leon's gunblade. So well, I don't own Kingdom Hearts and its character, and neither do I own the various Final Fantasies and their characters. I don't own the movie that this fic is adapted from.

Note: This fic is based on a mid-nineties HK movie named 'Mermaid got Married' which never quite left my mind. I've wanted to write a fic based on that movie since years ago, but could never get down to it. This time, the muses aren't letting go and it's making me lose sleep. I've no choice; Cloud and Leon demanded to have this fic written in their honour. Anyway, this fic uses a few characters and places from Disney's 'My Little Mermaid', but the storyline is not the same. Chapter last revised 25 June 07.

Summary: After a wayward merboy, Cloud, saves a drowning high school student by the name of Leon, he revives the human at the cost of losing the ability to return to the ocean palace. So, what's a merboy to do? Based on an old HK movie.


"This is not a kiss."

But Cloud found it almost impossible to convince himself that it wasn't a kiss when his gaze fell upon the man he had just rescued from a watery grave. Not when the man, lying still and unconscious on the beach, still looked so handsome and kissable despite being near death. And he was going to die if Cloud didn't do something soon.

Cloud cupped the other man's cheek, gently stroking the stray strands of brown hair that had gotten into his face. He was devastatingly handsome even with the scar on his face, and Cloud could feel his heart pounding desperately as his face burned up.

It wouldn't be a kiss. No, technically it wouldn't be. He was just trying to save the other man, to breathe some fresh air into him. So it would just be a chaste touching of their lips. Nothing more than that. If only he could convince his heart to stop pounding so hard.

Hesitantly, Cloud lowered his lips, but stopped again when their lips were just breaths apart.

"This is not a kiss," he whispered to himself once more before pressing their lips together.


Three days ago…

"Cloud, slow down! I can't keep up!"

A blond merboy blinked, and twisted his body around, stopping in his swim. He winced when he noticed his friend trailing behind in the bubbles he had left behind, trying desperately to slapping her green tail down on the water harder.

When she finally caught up to him, she had to lean against him as she tried to catch her breath. Almost looking as though she were in pain, she raised a hand to her bosom, willing her heart to calm down after the vigorous swim. Then, she glared at him.

"Could you just slow down? You were swimming like a whole horde of sharks were on your tail!" –she pouted- "And for a moment there, I thought you were going to leave me alone in the open ocean."

Cloud smiled sheepishly, reaching out to ruffle her red hair and pat her head. She batted his hand away indignantly, still pouting.

"Sorry Ariel… I just… got too excited, I guess. It's been a while since I got to get out here," he sighed. Slowly, he started to swim in lazy circles, twisting his body to roll around in the water, loving the the way the currents caressed him and ran through his hair. It felt different from the water in Atlantica. There, everything felt stiff and boring. Even the water felt stagnant and dead. Probably because of all those guards who swam around, patrolling the area day in and day out, he mused.

Atlantica was where all the merpeople lived, and also where the great ocean palace, home to King Triton and his family, was located. It was an immensely beautiful place actually, with coral reefs aplenty and colourful schools of fishes that swam here and there, meandering around the city's pathways and huge shells that served as houses for the merpeople. And the people who lived there were beautiful too. Cloud loved it when everyone just wandered out of their houses during the festive seasons, all dressed up in an assortment of beautiful shells and pearls and their tails sparkling clean.

But despite its beauty, Atlantica was also the most boring place in the ocean. The merpeople had a small population, so everyone pretty much knew everyone else. Even the king had a good knowledge of who was who, enough for him to ask his guards about the latest addition to so-and-so family who lived about five pathways away from the palace. To make things worse, merpeople tended to live in close proximity to their neighbours for protection, so there wasn't much privacy to speak of. The most one could have for a door was a giant fan shell, but even that didn't keep out the noises. Neither did it keep noises in, as Cloud had found out when his cousins threatened to break him door down one night for being too loud. Furthermore, guards were stationed everywhere to keep out dangerous creatures and predators like sharks, so life in Atlantica felt like it was under constant martial law: regimented and somewhat oppressed, even.

The only interesting thing that had happened in the recent months, apart from the occasional concert held within the palace, was when a giant school of jellyfish had drifted their way, and the head guard had found out about it too late to change their course. Cloud snickered as he remembered a few of his friends covered in welts and swimming in frenzied moves to get to the healer.

Ariel cocked her head to the side.

"What are you laughing about?"

"You remember the time when the jellyfish came and how everyone did the funniest things to keep them away? Zack even covered himself in grounded oyster pearl dust," Cloud answered, chuckling harder when he recalled how his friend, Zack, ended up with a dozen stings before turning tail and swimming away to safety. He was being silly, really; how could grounded oyster pearl dust repel jellyfish? That was just an old wives' tale, something Zack had to learn the hard way.

The mermaid giggled at the memory. It was hard not to, when the image of the black-haired merboy strutting almost arrogantly towards the jellyfish came to her mind. His poor navy-blue tail had gotten swollen after that, and he had complained loudly about how upset the mermaids were going to be when they discovered their number one heartthrob's tail had gotten hurt. Their other friend, Sephiroth, had promptly replied that his silver tail, the single most alluring tail in the entire kingdom, was completely fine.

Zack and Sephiroth. You couldn't find a closer pair of friends in the entire ocean, but even that didn't stop them from arguing who was more handsome and popular with the mermaids.

Personally, Ariel thought Cloud looked just as good as either of them, or perhaps even better. Most people said that Cloud's tail was the colour of the sea, and it was a colour so common amongst the merpeople that no one really took notice of it. But Ariel had snuck up to the human world once despite the many rules against it, and she had been immediately mesmerized by the vast and open sky above her. The colour… it was Cloud's tail. Cloud's tail colour wasn't common at all; it had a shiny glow to it, much like how the sky was lit up by the sun. And Ariel thought it was the most beautiful colour.

What was even better, Cloud's eyes were the exact same shade too, except that the glow was much more obvious. Coupled with his wild, untamable golden hair that was as stunning as the sun, Cloud seemed to embody the world above the deep waters.

Maybe that was why the merboy was so curious about that world, much like herself. They could spend hours in a sunken human ship, just rummaging through the artifacts and hazarding a guess what it was supposed to be used for, even though they had already seen a good number of those in their human classes in school. Their explorations were against merpeople law, of course; it was a rule enforced to keep the secrets of their existence away from human knowledge. In the name of science or whatever other excuses they could think of, humans were cruel enough to subject any merpeople to a life of torture, poking and prodding the potential wealth of knowledge as though the merpeople were mere objects for them to experiment on. And compared to what they could do in those scenarios, death by dissection seemed to pale in comparison, though it was still not anything any good merpeople would wish upon their worst enemies. For this reason alone, educators felt it was necessary to teach the young merpeople how the average human lived, just so it would fulfill their curiosity and let them know the dangers and cruelty of humans.

Ariel shuddered as a cold draft of water hit her, though it wasn't the only reason for the sudden chilliness inside her.

"Hey Cloud. I think we should head back home already. We've been out for hours already, and if daddy finds out about this, he's going to ground us forever. Not to mention Zack and Sephiroth. Sometimes, I think those two are just as bad as daddy."

The merboy sighed, but he nodded. King Triton was not going to be a happy camper if he found out that his youngest daughter and nephew had snuck out of Atlantica again. And then there was still Zack and Sephiroth. Those two had always had those big brother mentalities, always trying to look out for him and Ariel and making sure they didn't get into trouble. And ever since joining the royal guards some time ago, those protective streaks had gotten a lot meaner and it was getting to the point that Cloud thought his dead mother were possessing them. Luckily, those two had been assigned to guard duty today so he took the opportunity to sneak out with Ariel.

As the young mermaid turned tail and swam towards home, Cloud could not help but gaze upwards, where he knew the human world was. He wondered, how was the world like?


Lunch period at Destiny High School was always a noisy and much anticipated affair, and today it was no different. The noisiest bunch of students for the day, however, wasn't bouncing around in the cafeteria. They were sitting at their usual spot, under a huge tree in the school gardens, eating their food and talking. One of them in particular, the eldest, was resisting the urge to just get up and leave.

Sometimes, Leon wondered why he kept his friends around. Granted, they were mostly Riku's friends, but they all seemed to think he needed someone around him since he did not have many personal friends, so they hung out around him and thus became his friends as well. But sometimes, like now, Leon wondered if was his younger brother's evil scheme to gather more 'ammunition' to bug him and give him a gigantic headache.

When he noticed Riku peering his way with an amused grin, he had a sinking feeling he was right.

And right now, they were all trying to, as Selphie put it, 'show him some concern'. The sophomore was giving him advice about his love life, gesticulating so wildly that the hotdog that she was holding was starting to resemble some sort of spear. Apparently, the others shared his sentiments, and were keeping a safe distance away from the girl. Even Tidus, her boyfriend, was backing away slowly.

"Seriously Leon, just because you broke up with Seifer a couple of days ago, it doesn't mean that you should mope. I /always/ knew that Seifer wasn't meant for you; he's much too dominant, and you're dominant too. It's a big personality clash, you know? What you need, Leon, is someone who is submissive, cute, sweet-" she rambled, seemingly caught up in her own words.

"And knows how to take care of you 'cause you don't do it enough yourself," Yuffie, another sophomore, added. She merely stuck out her tongue when Leon gave her his evil glare.

Tidus raised his hand.

"I second that."

Kairi and Wakka took that as their cue to agree.

"Me too!"

"Count me in, yeah?"

Leon was starting to get annoyed, and then he noticed Aeris starting to slowly raise her hand, looking at him almost sheepishly.

"I think so too."

"Not you too, Aeris!" Leon groaned harshly, slapping his forehead. He had always thought that the girl was more mature and supportive of him than the rest of their friends, for she wasn't just his classmate (they were the only seniors in the group) but also one of his closest friends. However, Aeris had just proven him wrong by joining in on something as silly as voting for what they thought he needed in his love life. This whole thing was getting more ridiculous by the passing second.

"But Leon, it's true!"

He was about to bark at the person who had added that last comment when he noticed it was Sora, and the young boy was looking at him with those damned puppy eyes and characteristic pout. It took some effort, but Leon managed to stop his scathing comment from spilling. If he upset Sora, Riku would no doubt bite his head off; his younger brother always had a mean protective streak when it came to his little boyfriend. But seriously, Leon didn't have the heart to upset Sora either. They had grown up together, ever since the day Leon's family had moved into the apartment opposite to the Utadas and young Sora Utada had poked his head out of the door to greet his new neighbours. And somehow, through the years, Sora had managed to crack through his defenses and find a place in his heart. He was like another younger brother, one who was much more adorable and obedient than Riku, that blasted rascal.

Leon sighed, and he wondered when lunch period would be over so he could get away.

"I know!" Kairi chirped suddenly, clapping her hands. "Let's go to my uncle's fish farm this weekend! To celebrate Leon's new single status, and also to cheer him up!"

He rolled his eyes. There was no need to 'cheer him up' because he wasn't even upset at the breakup; like Selphie said, although he hated to agree, it was only a matter of time before things would turn sour between him and Seifer. He had just been… bored, and wanted companionship at that time. Still, Leon did not bother to correct Kairi on that and did not protest, for he was well aware that he would just be ignored.

Leon sighed inwardly again as the group cheered at the suggestion.


When dinner time rolled by, there was nothing Leon wanted more than sleep the rest of the night away, food be damned. He was definitely not looking forward to the trip to the fish farm this weekend, something his friends had decided on without asking for his opinion. And it wasn't likely that he could just skip out on it, because Riku had no doubt been given the task of dragging him out of bed that morning if necessary. If that failed, Riku would just have to walk across the corridor, get Sora over, and ask Sora to put on his best puppy eyes.

Leon scowled. He was not leaving his room tonight. He was going to forget everything and sleep. Yeah, that sounded good. Sleep it was then. Riku could handle his dinner himself. After all, the Loires were taught –or maybe 'forced to be' would be much more appropriate- to be independent since their childhood days, simply because their parents were constant globetrotters who seemed to think nothing of leaving their children at home while they were at work halfway across the world. Worse come to worst, Riku could eat burnt macaroni and cheese. It was nothing he couldn't stomach.

Just then, the silver-haired boy popped into his room.

"Hey Leon, we gotta get over to Sora's house for dinner tonight, remember? It's Wednesday!"

Riku raised an eyebrow when Leon punched his pillow, and he quickly ushered Sora, who had just bounced over enthusiastically, into the living room. Just in time too; Sora had been trying to tell them what his mum had prepared for dinner, and moments after Riku guided him away from Leon's door, a pillow came flying out and hit the wall with a dull thud.

Sora frowned.

" Leon's not in a good mood today, is he? What's he upset about? Surely it's not Seifer," he said, glancing up at his boyfriend.

"Of course not," Riku replied, but he was inwardly surprised that Sora was insightful enough to know that his brother wasn't upset about his recent breakup. His boyfriend had always been the innocent and even naïve one of the lot. " Leon's just almost always in a bad mood."

And that was true. It seemed that not a lot of things could make Leon smile, which was probably a result of their parents' constant absence, since it meant that Leon was made to take care of everything at home. If Riku were the one made to shoulder that burden, he reckoned he would be just as moody because seriously, there was nothing happy or cheerful about taking care of the bills and filling up forms. At that thought, Riku frowned. When was the last time their parents had been home, anyway? Four, five months? And they probably jetted off again for another job commitment after spending one or two measly days at home.

They definitely personified irresponsibility.

" Leon just needs to have a good relationship," Sora said sagely. "Like us!"

Riku beamed, ruffling Sora's wild brown hair.

"Right, just like us."

Sora gave him a wide smile before pouncing onto the sofa, much like a hyperactive child. Chuckling, he flipped himself around, lounging lazily and gazing at Riku intently.

"You know, maybe we should set him up with someone," he said, shifting himself to let Riku sit down on the sofa as well. "Someone we know who fits what Leon needs in a boyfriend. Someone like… erm… someone like…"

"Like?"

"Erm… maybe my cousin? We'll have to see though. I'm not sure what he's like 'cause I haven't seen him in years. Come to think of it, I don't think I've ever met him… Mum did once, but that was when he was still in the crib. But he's going to be fun. I just know it! It's in our blood!" Sora declared proudly, almost bouncing in his seat.

Riku did a double-take.

"Wait, cousin? What cousin? You have a cousin?"

"Of course! Well, we only just found out about him actually, 'cause mum got into this huge argument with her brother and they kinda haven't talked to each other in ages. You see, my uncle didn't want her to marry dad. He thought dad wasn't good enough," –he pouted- "But my uncle and aunt died in a car accident last month, so my cousin's coming to stay with us 'cause we're his closest kin now, and mum doesn't want him to live alone. We'll have to cheer him up and make his parent's death easier on him, you know? And mum's gonna transfer him to Destiny High, so we can introduce him to the gang! And then we'll bring him around town and everywhere, help him get settled and everything! Oh, and I want to take him to Tifa's restaurant! It'll be a blast! He's bound to love the food there!"

It took a moment for the message to sink into Riku's mind, courtesy of Sora's tendency to blabber on when he got excited. And Riku could easily see why that was: Sora hated being an only child, and from the look of things, it seemed that this cousin of his was going to be staying with him for quite a while. Even Leon and he wasn't enough to satisfy Sora's need for a sibling. They were his friends, neighbours, and boyfriend in Riku's case, but never quite siblings.

So he did the only thing he could: ruffle Sora's hair even more.

"That's good. Yeah, we'll make him feel welcomed. What's his name? How old is he?"

Sora cuddled closer, leaning into his boyfriend's hand. While he usually felt indignant when people tried to pat him on his head or play with his hair (he was seventeen, for god's sake!), he never really minded Riku doing it. Riku had a very special way of doing it that it made Sora feel like he wanted to purr.

"His name is Kumo, and he's eighteen, just like Leon."

Riku grinned.

"Kumo, as in the cloud in the sky? Man, your family loves naming kids after things in nature, don't they? You're the sky, and he's the cloud?" At Sora's eager nodding, his grin widened. "So when's he coming?"

"Mum said next week, but he might be over sooner to settle in. We wanted to drive over to Hollow Bastion –erm, that's where he is- to get him, but he said he'll come over himself. Anyway, you'll have to help us keep a look out, okay?"

"Sure. What does he look like?"

"No idea," Sora replied with a shrug and swinging his feet. He was a restless person by nature, and could never sit still for long. "Like I said, we just found out about him. But mum sent him a photo of my family for identification. So at least, he'll know what /we/ look like. So if someone's around the area, looking lost and holding our photo, you'll know it's him," -his eyes peered to the clock on the wall- "By the way, it's dinner time."

And before Riku could stop him, Sora was already yelling at the approximate direction of Leon's room.

" LEON! IT'S DINNER TIME! COME ON OUT!"

Riku winced when another pillow flew out of the room and slammed into the wall.


Saturday rolled around far too soon for Leon's tastes, and he could only resign himself to whatever his friends were putting him through and hope for it to end quickly. But from what he had tasted of the combined forces of Selphie, Yuffie and Kairi, the chances of that happening were slim to none. He sighed inwardly.

"Isn't it great? The sun is shining brightly in the sky, and we're headed for the sea!" Selphie yelled.

"Well technically, we are headed for a fish farm that's beside the sea…" Riku muttered, shrugging when the girl ignored him.

"Do you guys think we'll get to feed the fishes?" she yelled again, bouncing in her seat in the back row and giggling when Sora joined in the bouncing.

"Maybe! The owner is Kairi's uncle after all, so maybe she could help us ask!" Sora chirped, his excitement bubbling over when Riku shot him an appraising glance from his seat in the front. Suddenly, being separated from Riku for two hours while Leon drove them to the fish farm wasn't that intolerable. And being in the back seat with Selphie was fun! Even his boyfriend wasn't as chirpy when it came to 2-hour-long car rides. Riku was more of the motorcycle type, though he would never let Sora ride behind him for fear of getting into accidents.

Still, it was a really long ride…

" Leon, are we there yet? It's taking us forever to get there and I'm bored!" Sora whined, setting his chin on the shoulder of the driver's seat and tugging lightly on Leon's jacket.

"Would you two keep it down and let Leon concentrate on the road? It's dangerous to distract the driver!"

The only problem (or minor inconvenience as Sora would like to think) was that Tidus came from a long line of traffic police, and he was cautious almost to the point of being anal about road safety. As per his family teachings, Tidus pulled Selphie who had been sticking her head out the window back inside with a loud warning about losing her head had another car sped past theirs.

Riku snickered, and wondered what sort of havoc was Yuffie and Kairi wrecking on the other car with Aeris at the wheel, and if Wakka had passed out of a headache.

Luckily, all nine of them got to the fish farm safe and sound, though there had almost been an accident when Wakka's flailing arms had hit Aeris, nearly causing her to lose control of the car. Yuffie had to apologize profusely (albeit not really all that sincere) for strangling the poor boy with a choke-hold. The rest of them could only sigh, partially in relief and partially in response to the headaches that were setting in.

But thankfully, the fish farm wasn't all that bad. Kairi's uncle, Cid, was a friendly but foul-mouthed host who introduced the teenagers to his fish farm with a rather unique vocabulary and method.

"Alright, now you four, move those #&# crates to the other side!"

Cid was the type of host who liked making laborers out of visitors, his own niece included. No one seemed to really mind though, seeing that it was a new experience for the bunch of city kids. Sora and Selphie were the most energetic, running everywhere to get their assigned tasks completed despite the fact that Cid yelled at them most often to stop running or risk slipping on the wet ground and falling into the pools of fishes.

"I don't understand how those two can run in a place like this!" Tidus said incredulously when he noticed Sora and Selphie running about at the other side of the fish farm. He gave the platform he was standing on a cautious slide of his foot, and yelped when he nearly slipped.

"It's because they are Sora and Selphie," Riku remarked offhandedly as he adjusted the weight of the crates in his arms. "They wouldn't be themselves if they didn't get excited enough to run about in a place like this. They'll be fine." He walked away to elsewhere to deposit the crates.

"Sill, it's a miracle they don't slip and fall. We /are/ walking around on narrow platforms around the fish ponds, after all," Aeris added. She peered around the fish farm, which consisted only of two small houses for residence and work, and a whole lot of platforms crisscrossing across the edge of the sea. Nets at the bottom of the multitude of fish ponds prevented the fishes from escaping and also acted as protection against big predators and greedy fellows who wanted a bit of the fish feed Cid gave them twice a day. The platforms were the most slippery parts of the fish farm, and were made of a few planks tied together with some hardy string.

"By the way, where're the others?"

"Sora and Selphie are still running about doing I don't know what, Kairi and Wakka are in the house helping out with lunch, and Leon's there, all alone by his lonely self," Yuffie replied, pointing at the lone figure who was standing at the edge of the farm. " Leon was avoiding the fishes, so Cid made him feed them all. By himself." She sniggered evilly, and the rest who was around soon joined in.

The mental images of Leon-ice-prince-of-Destiny-High-Loire avoiding fishes like the plague were amusing to say the least. It was as amusing as the sight of their school's biology teacher, Captain Hook (he insisted on being called captain), scampering for cover whenever he heard a clock ticking too loudly and yelling that the blasted crocodile was coming back to eat his remaining hand. Rumours went that Hook had once tried to use a croc for an experiment, and the angry croc had bitten off his right hand for that, which explained the metal hook there.

Yuffie raised a conspiring eyebrow, and hushing the others, snuck off to Leon's side. Leon was too occupied with feeding the fishes as far as he could to notice the black-haired prankster coming in his direction. Aeris and Tidus stifled their chuckles as Yuffie got closer and closer, and suddenly, there was a loud yell, a flail of arms and a huge splash.

While the three laughed at their successful prank, the others were attracted by the splash. Riku was the first to reach them, closely followed by Sora and Selphie.

"What happened? Did someone fall into the water?"

"What's that sound?"

"Where's Leon?"

"Yuffie, what did you do!?"

The black-haired girl stuck out her tongue and waved the questions off with a smile. She said, "Nothing much, just pushed little Leon into the pond for an up-close and personal date with a couple of fishes. I'm sure he'll be up in a minute screaming at us."

Riku felt his heart still, and before he knew it, his hands were clasping Yuffie's shoulders in an iron grip and shaking her furiously.

"Riku! Let me go! You're hurting me!"

"Are you crazy!? Leon can't swim! He hates the water!" Riku yelled, still shaking her senseless.

Yuffie gasped. "What!? Leon can't swim!? You've got to be kidding me! How can Leon not know how to swim!? He's so good in sports!"

"He's good at all sorts of things /but/ swimming!"

"Riku, let her go! Now's not the time to argue! We have to save Leon!" Sora yelled, hurriedly prying his boyfriend's hands off Yuffie.

Sora's words seemed to awaken Riku, and he quickly let go, ignoring Yuffie's startled yells and the fresh imprints his hold had left on her arms. Instead, he turned back to the water, his eyes scanning the waters rapidly for a sign of his brother.

"Where is he!? Leon!"

Selphie was already on the verge of tears, and Tidus had to hold her close and murmur words of consolation softly.

"Where is he?"

"I can't see him anywhere!"

"He must have fallen into the open ocean instead! Quick, someone find him!"

"No Riku! You can't go after Leon like this! The water's too rough to swim through!"

"Let me go! Leon!"

" Leon! Answer us! Where are you?"

"Someone go get help! Get a boat or something! Quick! Leon might have been swept out to the open sea!"

" Leon!"

" Leon!"


Leon sighed inwardly, tossing another fistful of fish feed into the ponds. Just because he had avoided being too close to the edge of the water, that sadistic Cid decided to force him to 'face his fears' and feed the fishes. Whoever said he was scared of a few creatures that couldn't even live out of water was an idiot. A terrible, terrible idiot, in fact. Just like the swarm of idiotic fishes that was jumping, flipping and squeezing their way everywhere for a bit of food, only to see the fish feed float into another fish's gaping mouth.

Rolling his eyes, Leon tossed the last bit of feed he had to the fishes, and he turned around to face the vast ocean. Despite what others had told him often, especially the girls who were being nothing but romantic saps, the ocean was more dangerous than it was beautiful.

Perhaps he was being biased, but Leon had few good memories about huge bodies of water. But bad memories, he had more than enough to last a lifetime. In his mind's eyes, he could still see himself struggling in the lake, could still feel the weight of his clothes dragging him down, could still taste the spicy and choking sensation of water down his throat and in his mouth. And he could still remember the helplessness in the last few moments before he passed out.

Leon averted his gaze. The ocean was nothing but a gigantic grave.

Suddenly, he felt a force shoving him from behind and the next thing he knew, all he had just remembered, just seen, just felt, just tasted… all those memories were becoming reality again.

And then there was just… drifting.


Sephiroth and Zack had been put on guard duty again, Ariel was in singing lessons with her sisters and King Triton was listening in, and crabby little Sebastian was busy with his new orchestra… which meant that no one was going to notice if Cloud went missing for an hour or two. The blond merboy grinned, and after thanking Flounder the fish for all the information, he quickly swam off for a day by himself, something that was a rare occurrence and much treasured.

In a few moments, Cloud was out of Atlantica and swimming around the open ocean. The open ocean was one of his favourite best places to be when he wanted to relax; no one actually patrolled the area because it wasn't part of the mer-kingdom and so there was no rules or restrictions. Cloud stretched his body, sighing contentedly as he swam lazily in the warm waters.

"Ahhh… I just love it when the warm current comes," he sighed. "Too bad Ariel's not free today to enjoy this."

As soon as the words left his mouth, an idea hit him and he paused in mid swim, eyes blinking as realization dawned on him. No one was going to miss him today, not even Ariel whom he knew was going to be kept busy with her lessons since a performance was coming up soon. So even if he broke surface, no one was going to find out!

He grinned again. With a mighty propel of his tail, all that was left was a trail of bubbles as Cloud sped off for the sea shore where he knew the friendly seagulls would be. Those birds could update him on the latest juicy information about the land above the ocean! But he had to stay low first, and break surface only when he was in the shallow waters.

Just as he was approaching the shore, Cloud noticed a figure in the distance and he almost turn-tailed to escape. It was only when he noticed that the figure did not have a tail like he did, and therefore could not be a mer-guard patrolling, that Cloud stopped himself from swimming away. Instead, he squinted his eyes and tried to make out the figure better. When that did not work, he started to inch closer and closer.

"What is that? It doesn't have a tail… but its upper body looks so much like a merperson… and it doesn't seem to be swimming…" he mumbled, noting that the figure was actually sinking instead. Then suddenly, he remembered one of Ariel's collections: a statue of a human, she said. Humans didn't have tails, and instead, they had what she called 'legs' that could walk on land.

Couldn't humans swim with those… …'legs'? His human studies professors in school had mentioned something about humans being able to swim in the mid-depths with the aid of something they called frog suits and aqualungs, after all. Then again, a human ship had sunk a few months ago after colliding with a much larger ship, and its human occupants had struggled helplessly in the water until they seemed to give up and drowned. So perhaps humans couldn't survive for long in the water without the frog suits?

Gasping at the realization, Cloud quickly shot off to the figure. As he got closer, Cloud saw that the figure was indeed a human. A male human, in fact. Despite his fear for humans, Cloud grabbed the human's arms and hoisted him onto his back, quickly swimming upwards towards the surface.

Once they broke the surface, Cloud glanced around, his eyes lighting up at the sight of land. Good, no one was around to see him, and the shore wasn't too far off.

"Hey, you alright?" he asked the still figure on his back. No response. Cloud frowned; while the human could now breathe, he had probably already drunk a lot of water and was completely out.

"You humans are so troublesome…" Cloud muttered as he swam for the shore, the human in tow.

It wasn't long before they got up onto the sandy beach, and with more than a bit of effort, Cloud heaved the human onto dry land. He winced when the cool air hit his tail, prickling his scales. This was only his second time breaking the surface, and the first time he had actually gotten out of the water. Despite all the interesting things that might lurk up here in the human world, the air really didn't feel all that good, he thought. Ignoring his discomfort, Cloud turned back to the human who was lying on his back on the sand.

For the first time, the merboy got a good look at the human, and his eyes widened uncontrollably at the sight that greeted him. A blush crept up his face and he quickly averted his gaze, his face still burning and his mouth drying. Stealing another glance, Cloud thought that even the tips of his ears had burned up. He remembered a time when he had a crush on Sephiroth, and how his heartbeat would accelerate whenever the silver-tailed merman came close to him, but now… Cloud thought his heart had stopped beating.

Clearly defined features, long brown hair, muscular but not too much… The human was gorgeous, breathtakingly so.

Cloud licked his suddenly dry lips unconsciously. But when he dared to raise his eyes to the human's face again, he nearly gasped when he noticed it had turned an ashen, sickly white. Anxiously, he tried to remember what Sephiroth and Zack had told him about the human body. Those two had studied it as part of their military studies on humans' weakness, and they had told Cloud about it for fun. Well, maybe Zack had been too amazed at how weak humans were physically and just wanted someone to agree with him, since Sephiroth wouldn't do so out loud. They would probably never know that the information was going to let Cloud save a human, if he succeeded.

Taking in a deep breath, Cloud put his hands to the human's stomach, almost wincing when he thought he could hear water inside. The human must have drunk a /lot/ of sea water. Now, how was he going to extract all that water? Worse, was the human even going to survive until Cloud figured out /how/ to go about doing that? At that moment, a fragment of memory, a conversation among Zack, Sephiroth and himself after the two had returned from one of their military classes, surfaced in his mind.

"Hey Cloud, guess what we learnt in class today?"

"What?"

"You know our pearl? The one that all merpeople have inside their bodies since birth? The one that's our essence made tangible?"

"So what of it?"

"The commander said that it's got healing properties!"

"Yeah I know that. Basically that's why humans hunted us in the past when they knew we existed, remember?"

"Oh yeah…"

"Face it, Zack. Cloud paid attention in school, unlike a certain blue-tailed merman whose name shall remain unspoken but starts with the letter 'Z' anyway…"

"Shut it, Seph!"

Cloud frowned, biting his lower lip. His hand settled over his belly, where he could feel the constant warmth his pearl emitted. The human needed his pearl. There was no other way he could think of to save the human, and judging by the human's face that was turning paler with every passing moment, Cloud was sure the human wasn't going to make it long enough for him to come up with another plan. Right, his pearl then.

At that realization, he blushed again. The pearls couldn't be exposed to the air for fear of contamination or the likes, so the only way to pass his pearl to the human was… mouth-to-mouth? But Cloud had never kissed anyone before! Was his first kiss going to be shared with a stranger? And a human, no less! Hesitantly, he snuck a glance at the handsome human again, and winced when he noticed the human's lips turning blue.

"I have to do this…" he muttered to himself like it was a holy mantra. "I have to save him…"

Calming himself with another deep breath, Cloud repositioned himself next to the human. Looking down at the ashen face, he muttered, "This is not a kiss."

But he found it almost impossible to convince himself that it wasn't a kiss when his gaze fell upon the human he had just rescued from a watery grave. Not when the man, lying still and unconscious on the beach, still looked so handsome and kissable despite being near death. And he was going to die if Cloud didn't do something soon.

Cloud cupped the human's cheek, gently stroking the stray strands of brown hair that had gotten into his face. He was devastatingly handsome even with the scar on his face, and Cloud could feel his heart pounding desperately as his face burned up.

It wouldn't be a kiss. No, technically it wouldn't be. He was just trying to save the other man, to breathe some fresh air into him. So it would just be a chaste touching of their lips. Nothing more than that. If only he could convince his heart to stop pounding so hard.

Hesitantly, Cloud lowered his lips, but stopped again when their lips were just breaths apart.

"This is not a kiss," he whispered to himself once more before pressing their lips together.

A warm, bubbling sensation started brewing in his belly, traveling to his throat, and then his mouth. For a moment, Cloud could feel his pearl on his tongue, warming it, caressing it. It was almost too intimate to be real. Then, it left his mouth, and Cloud had to bite back a moan when his pearl entered the human's mouth. Finally, the process was over.

The blond merboy panted a little when their lips parted, and he quickly held a hand over the human's mouth in case his pearl didn't go down. But he had to let go almost immediately when the human coughed, spitting out some water before falling back limply onto the sand. And he started to breathe again, his chest rising and falling.

Cloud's frown broke into a smile. Slowly, he reached out to cup the human's face, gently caressing his cheek. For a while, he just sat there, letting the sun beat down on them and the sea breeze whisper against their skin as he continued to gaze at the human. Behind those closed lids, Cloud wondered, what was the colour of the human's eyes? Blue? Brown?

He was rewarded with a peek when the human shivered as a particularly strong breeze blew across the beach, and he opened his eyes. Cloud gasped and nearly sprung away, but when he noticed how unfocused the human's eyes were, he gave into his inner desires and stayed where he was. Gazed deep into the human's eyes, a smile blossomed across his lips. They were grey. The human's eyes were grey. A very beautiful and rare colour for someone's eyes, but Cloud thought it suited the human perfectly.

"You're beautiful, you know that?" he couldn't help but whispered, reaching out to brush away an errant lock of brown hair.

The human seemed to have heard the whisper, and his lips trembled as though trying to speak, but all he managed was a soft groan. Then, his eyes fluttered shut again.

" Leon! Are you here! Answer us!"

" Leon!"

" Leon!"

Cloud's head snapped up at those shouts, and he panicked. Quickly, he pulled himself back into the waters and swam behind a large rock.


They had been looking for at least an hour already, and there was still no sign on Leon. Sora bit back a sniffle. Cid had led the group of teenagers to a stretch of beach where he said the waves would probably bring Leon to, but the beach was good three kilometers. How were they going to find Leon in time to save him?

Then, his eyes drifted to a silent corner and they widened.

" Leon! Look guys, he's there!" Sora yelled, quickly running over to his friend.

His yells got the attention of everyone else in a split second, and before long, they were all running towards him.

"Oh my god!"

"Finally!"

"I said the waves would bring him here, didn't I? He's lucky though… the last time my # underwear fell into the sea, I searched here for hours and never found it…"

"Uncle Cid!"

Riku was the first to get to his brother.

" Leon!" he exclaimed almost scratchily, his voice having taken a toll from shouting for his brother for the past hour. Hastily, he reached for a pulse. He thought he was going to pass out from relief when he found one, and heard Leon's harsh breathing. Still, it was safer to get his brother to a hospital.

"Where's the nearest hospital!? We need to get him there now!"

"I'll go get the car ready!" Aeris replied, running off without another word.

"Riku, you carry his arms! I'll carry his legs! And help us, Wakka!" Tidus snapped.

"Just # pass him to me, you wusses!" Cid barked, hoisting Leon onto his back. Tidus and Wakka stayed behind him, in case the older man lost his grip on their friend. But there seemed to be little to be worried about when Cid ran for the car at a speed most would not associate with someone of his age.

Yuffie 'eeped' and hollered for everyone to get into the car.

In a few minutes, they were gone.

Only when the noises subsided did Cloud dare to peek over the rock he was hiding behind. Slowly, he slid back into the water.

" Leon? Is that your name?" he murmured, testing how the word felt on his lips. He liked it.

Although he was probably going to see Leon again, he had at least saved him. With a contented shrug, Cloud dived into the sea, ready to return home. He had been out for too long already, anyway.

However, when he was about fifty meters into the water, he felt an invisible force forcing him back, and his breathing felt laboured, something that had never happened before. Anxious, Cloud broke surface again to catch his breath. Something wasn't right. He was a merboy, for god's sake! Why was it so difficult to breath in the water all of a sudden? He tried to dive again, but the results were the same: something was keeping him away from the deeper parts of the ocean.

Uneasily, he tried to remember what the lecturers in school had taught them about their pearls, but nothing came up. Instead, a stray sentence from Sephiroth, a continuation of the conversation he had remembered earlier, hit his mind.

"It is true that our pearls have healing properties, but don't ever try to use it on someone else, Cloud."

"But why, Sephiroth? Why can't we use it on someone else?"

"Because to use it on someone else, you'd have to pass your pearl to him. And when you lose your pearl…"

"…You can't dive back into the ocean or return to Atlantica because our pearl is what gives us the ability to breathe smoothly in the water and also what controls our weight to help us sink! Otherwise, the water pressure would crush us at this depth. Heh heh, betcha didn't think I'd know that, eh?"

"I must say I'm impressed, Zack. You did pay some attention in class after all."

"Of course! What can I say? I only fall asleep in school because what the teachers were teaching was too easy."

"Zack, just because I praised you for once, don't inflate your ego too much or you'd displace the ocean."

"Seph!"

As the memory of the conversation ended with laughs in Cloud's head, Cloud was going to do anything but laugh. In fact, he thought he was going to scream. Or faint. Or drown himself. Not particularly in that order.

His pearl was with Leon! The only thing that let him get home to Atlantica was with a human! A human who was currently miles away from the ocean!

"Great… now what am I going to do?"

-tbc-