Thanks to kurla88 who did a smashing beta-job on this story as she does with all my work. Love, darling!
A Sparkling Oasis
"Is it – "
"Come on! Come on! We want to see!"
"Keep your pants on, wench," Cid growled, clamping a hand down of Yuffie's shoulder. She whined and wriggled under his hand.
"Come on Cid! It's almost ready, just think! Pools! Fountains! Sparkling oases of life!"
"Let the man do his job, I say!" Cid tightened his grip. Yuffie squirmed in his grasp but said nothing else.
Leon slid the last bolt into place and gave a firm twist with the wrench. He leaned back on his heels and flicked a switch. Far below them, in the basement of the building, a motor roared to life, pumping desperately and straining from years of disuse. All three froze, waiting for the sound that would vilify their efforts. And then, they heard it. The gurgling and whooshing of water through a pipe.
Yuffie shrieked in joy and leapt onto Cid, a writhing mass of happiness and relief. Cid smiled gently before trying to extricate himself from the young girl, and Leon just sat on his heels and closed his eyes. He had done it. Hollow Bastion was on its way to becoming the paradise it had been before Ansem had started his experiments.
"Leon, Leon, Leon, Leon! Come on! Hurry! Let's see the city!" Yuffie tugged hard at his arms, pulling him into a standing position and drawing him to the balcony of the water station. They stared down, and from the plant, brownish water issued forth, through the long-dry channels and into the city. Soon, the water wasn't brown anymore. It was gradually clearing to a bright, sparkling blue, the color it should be.
Somewhere near the center of the city, a fountain sprang to life, drawing cries of wonder from the people around it. The entire city seemed to come alive with the rush of water to its once-dead paths.
"The water will make everything green again," Yuffie said, clapping her hands together in glee. "The Restoration Committee has succeeded!"
"We're not done yet," Leon said, turning away from the glorious sight. "We still have work to do."
"Leoooooon!" Yuffie whined. "Can't you relax for just a minute? Let's go for a swim!"
"Let's not, and pretend we did." Leon gathered up the tools he had been using. "There's no time for swimming yet. We still have work to do."
"Booooooring!" Yuffie drawled, but pouted and followed him back to Merlin's house. Aerith and Merlin greeted Leon with smiles and compliments on a job well-done, but Leon could only frown and ask about the next task.
"Leon, Leon," Merlin tutted, "you do need to learn to take breaks every now and then. You know what they say, all work and no play – "
"What else needs to be done for the city?" Leon asked, his tone magnificently apathetic. Merlin sighed and looked at Aerith.
"Well, Cloud is out right now helping fix the governor's building. I suppose you could go help him." Aerith handed Leon a map. "Don't work too hard." Leon nodded and started out.
He made his way to the toppled building, and all around him he heard sounds of a city finally coming to life. Echoing laughter of children, calls of merchants in the street, wives arguing over prices, the sounds of cart wheels clacking against stone… His city was alive again, after so many years of hard work.
When he finally reached the governor's building, he saw Cloud struggling in the mud to lever a huge piece of plywood up. Leon leapt down and shoved his shoulder against it, feet slipping and sliding to get a purchase in wet ground. Cloud said nothing about his help, just grunted and shoved harder. Together, they got the shaft upright, and held it as it sank into the ground and became stable. Cloud did not acknowledge Leon's help, but Leon hadn't expected him to. Wordlessly, they set to work rebuilding the important landmark.
By the time they had gotten the frame of the building erect, night had fallen and the moon shown bright against a clear sky. In the entire time they had worked, the two had not said a word to each other, but Leon now broke the silence. "Want to wash off before heading home?"
Cloud nodded, hefting that huge sword of his onto his back and striding past Leon. Leon strode after him, soon overtaking him and leading the way to a deep pool he knew to be in a private sector of the city where few people lived now. The pool glittered black like oil in the darkness, the water moving slowly towards the edge of the city. Leon stripped his shirt off, kicked his shoes away, and placed the Gunblade beside them and in one swift motion dove into the water, breaking the surface gracefully.
When he surfaced, he noticed that Cloud remained at the edge, fully clothed and just sitting there. His black gloves were off, and he was carefully rubbing water on his face from the edge of the pool.
"Aren't you going to get in? Your face isn't the only dirty part," Leon asked, swimming closer. The pool was deep, but not so much that he couldn't stand near the edge. It went to about eight feet in the center, but near the edge it was only about five and a half feet…
"I can't swim," Cloud replied, no emotion breaking his façade.
"Afraid to?" Leon asked, not meaning to be insulting.
"No. I was never taught."
"Oh." Leon stood in the water, wondering what to do. "Do you want to learn?"
Cloud frowned, looking at the water with suspicion, as if it might attack him.
"It's good training, builds endurance," Leon offered.
"Fine." Cloud stood and pulled his shirt off, unbuckling all the armor he insisted wearing, letting it slide off, and kicked off those huge boots that made so much noise in the early mornings when he walked through the house. He sat on the edge and slowly lowered himself into the water, holding the edge for support until his feet touched solid ground at the bottom of the pool. Leon would have smiled if he hadn't been focused on how to best teach Cloud to swim.
"You're going to have to let go of the wall," Leon said. Cloud flicked his blue eyes to his hand, as if he hadn't noticed what it was doing. It took a moment, but he released the wall and let his arm sink to his body. "I'm going to teach you how to float on your back first." Leon moved next to Cloud. "Lean back onto my hands." Cloud obeyed immediately, and Leon felt the pressure of holding Cloud's life literally in his hands. Amazing. Cloud reclined in the water without fear that Leon would drop him and let him sink. Even children didn't trust that implicitly. This man…
"I'm going to lower my hands, I want you to try and stay above the water," Leon instructed. Cloud grunted in response, a slight twitch of his hand the only sign that he was nervous. Leon slowly lowered his hands, keeping them high enough to stabilize Cloud if he should sink, but letting the man feel out his own way to float. "That's it… Just like that…" Leon whispered. Cloud's eyes were closed, completely relaxed, as if the water was just an extremely comfortable bed. He stayed like that so long that Leon feared Cloud had fallen asleep, and then the blonde's eyes opened and looked at Leon, expression a bit dazed.
Leon propped Cloud into a standing position. "Good job. Almost nobody can float on their first try because they're scared the person teaching them won't save them," he said.
"I trust you," Cloud said, his voice low and serious. "With my life."
"I should hope so. We did fight together, after all." Leon swam in lazy circles around Cloud, showing an easy technique to teach and learn. "On your stomach," Leon ordered, "I'll hold you up, and you move just as I showed you." Cloud obeyed, leaning heavily against Leon's supporting hand as he executed a perfect imitation of the motions Leon had demonstrated. "Excellent." Leon guided Cloud to the wall and pushed off. He swam to the other end of the pool and held his back to the wall there. "Now come to me."
Cloud glanced at the distance between them. It wasn't more than twenty feet, but the center of the pool was over his head and he knew it. Leon saw hesitation flicker behind his eyes.
"Come to me, Cloud," he repeated. "I won't let anything happen to you."
Cloud inhaled and exhaled slowly, gathering himself. He had faced trials much harder than this. It was only twenty feet, after all. Using the wall as a brace, he pushed off with his feet, and carried himself through the water just as Leon had showed him. He started off strong, but has he neared Leon, something weird started happening. His legs seemed to be sinking, and he couldn't get them back up to where they were supposed to be. His head ducked below the water, but at the same instant Leon scooped him up. Cloud coughed on water he had swallowed accidentally, and Leon held him aloft.
The man had kept his calm. The only evidence that Cloud was frightened was his shaking in Leon's arms. He said nothing, and when his coughing had stopped he looked at Leon for instructions.
"Are you all right?" Leon asked. Cloud nodded. "Don't be scared."
"I'm not," Cloud said crossly. "I trust you."
"It's scary, isn't it?" Leon whispered. "Not being able to breathe… Your heart is pounding."
"So is yours," Cloud said back, his voice just as low and stunned.
"Cloud…" How could he describe how Cloud looked at this moment? Blonde hair made stringy by the weight of water, curling gently around his face. His eyes reflecting the light from the water as if they were water themselves… The hot feel of his skin in Leon's grasp…
He leaned forward just slightly – Cloud was so dangerously close already – closed his eyes and hesitated just a breath from Cloud's lips. He then closed the distance, touching his lips briefly to Cloud's. Cloud relaxed against him, Leon could feel the tension in his muscles give. When Leon drew back, it was Cloud who reinstated contact, drawing a hand through Leon's hair and pulling him close again. This kiss was fiercer, all lips and tongue and teeth as Cloud slid his tongue past Leon's lips to explore his mouth. Leon choked back the groan rising in his throat as he sucked gently at Cloud's tongue, pulling the other flush against him. Heart racing against heart, the feeling of Cloud's muscles and ribs pressed hard into him nearly made him mad with the need to get closer.
Leon's back grated against the side of the pool, and he cracked his head against it as he tossed it back suddenly. Cloud had left his mouth and started sucking at his neck, touching on a ridiculously sensitive part in the process. His knees went weak, but Cloud pressed him into the wall and kept him above the waterline. Leon rolled his head to nip at Cloud's ear, tasting the metal of his earring twist on his tongue. Oh gods…
"So this is what you've been doing!"
Cloud jerked away from Leon, stumbling even as Leon grasped his elbow to keep his head above the water. Yuffie stood on the other end of the pool, grinning like the Cheshire cat. "Aerith sent me to fetch you, seeing as it's past dinner time and you two hadn't shown up," she said, grin splitting wider as she spoke. "I never dreamed this is why you would miss one of Aerith's dinners!"
"Yuffie, go home," Leon snapped, a bit short on patience having been interrupted.
"You have to come home!" she whined. "Aerith will be angry at me if I don't come back with you!"
"Fine. We're coming. You go on ahead," Leon growled. Yuffie grinned merrily and sped off into the darkness. Leon, still gripping Cloud's elbow, made his way back across the pool to where their clothes lay. He guided Cloud's hands to the wall before pulling himself out of the pool, water falling off his body in smooth waves and waterfalls. He walked to his clothes and shook his hair to let it dry faster.
As he checked the Gunblade to make sure everything was sound, he felt Cloud approach him from behind. Leon turned.
"I-I couldn't breathe," Cloud whispered, staring hard at Leon.
I was scared.
"But I trust you." – love you.
Leon smiled. Even if Cloud couldn't say it, he was beginning to understand.