I do not own Final Fantasy 7, Final Fantasy 8, or Kingdom Hearts or any of their characters.

Sorry this update is so belated.

Autumn

Chapter 9: Curiosities

"So ramen didn't work out. Come drinking with us tonight, Cloudster!" Yuffie insisted, cornering him.

"Yuffie, I told you I already have plans with Tifa," he retorted, firmly standing his ground.

"Why can't you just bring her with us?"

"Because then the entire point of a date would be null." This was really starting to irk Cloud. He knew that Yuffie was attempting to force Cloud to talk to Squall about whatever happened by the lake. It wasn't going to work.

"Oh, so it's a date now?" Yuffie grumbled, putting her hands on her hips.

"Yeah. People who are dating typically go on them." The sarcasm all but dripped from his words.

"Come on, Cloud. Tifa has to share you. I won't take no for an answer!"

Damn this girl was persistent. "Fine! Fine. If I say yes, will you just go away already?"

"Awesome!" Yuffie cheered, giving cloud a flying hug before promptly hopping to the doorway. "I will see you at eight sharp, Cloudster!"

The door closed loudly and the following silence could have burst an eardrum. Cloud's heart was thundering against his chest not from his almost-argument with Yuffie, but... no. No, that wasn't an option. It wasn't because of having to talk to Squall about the... kiss. Cloud sighed, raking a hand through his hair. It didn't matter why he was nervous. And it didn't matter that Squall kissed him. It wouldn't change anything.

Talking to Squall was no big deal because there wasn't anything to talk about.

VvVvVvVvVvVvVvVvV

That night, his hands buried deep in the recesses of his pockets, Cloud walked along the lamp-lit street towards the bar they regulared. It had taken him three different jackets, five pairs of jeans, and a heaping mound of shirts to find just what he wanted to wear that night, and he still felt he could have chosen something better.

As he reached the window of the bar, he used the slightly reflective surface to fuss with his messy blonde spikes and the hem of his two-breasted black jacket. Smoothing out his dark blue jeans, he entered the bar and joined his group of friends at the table they occupied. Squall had yet to arrive, which allowed for Cloud to release his held breath.

"Cloudster!" Yuffie squealed, giving him a short, tight hug.

"Cloud," Tifa uttered with a secretive smile across her lips. She leaned in and pecked Cloud on the lips.

Cloud examined the kiss. Where was the knee wobble? The tingle? The urge to just hold on and not stop? Woah, where did that come from?

Cloud shook those thoughts from his mind and took a seat next to Tifa.

The conversation and drinks ebbed and flowed freely, the atmosphere free of pressure for all but the blonde. Tifa held his hand under the table, their fingers loosely intertwined. His mind scrambled for a reason to get up. Get away from the heat of the bar and the girl next to him.

"I'll be right back. Bathroom," he said, getting up and entering the bathroom.

Looking in the mirror, he fluffed his hair a little and then stopped when a few other men began to stare. Washing his hands, Cloud doused his face with cold water and leaned on the sink, staring at his damp face in the mirror.

What was Cloud doing? Avoiding the girl he was supposed to be dating? That wasn't like him. Then again, dating had never really been his thing in the first place. So why was he dating Tifa? Because she liked him? Sure. But... maybe he was avoiding something else.

Cloud groaned, drying off his hands and face and exiting the bathroom. A few feet out the door, he caught sight of his table, a certain brunet occupying the seat to the left of his own. Mentally sighing, the Cloud returned to his seat with a small nod of hello to the man to his left.

"So anyway, I hear that Sephiroth has been hooking up with some mystery man according to Xemnas," Yuffie gushed, cheeks tinted pink from alcohol.

Cloud went blissfully unaware of the discussed scandal, all he could feel was the heat and flaring emotions of the two next to him. Squall's clenched fists and rigid stature and Tifa's relaxed shoulders and soft hands.

"You know that Xemnas loves feeding you false gossip in the hopes that you will embarrass yourself, right, Yuffie?" Vincent suggested.

"Naw! Xemnas would never do such a thing to me!" Yuffie exclaimed, her words beginning to blur together.

Cloud shifted in his seat, placing his elbows on the table and resting his head on his hands. He couldn't take more of that goddamn hand-holding.

In his shift, his leg brushed Leon's, and when Squall didn't move away, Cloud had to fidget to again be free of human contact. Shooting a glance at the man, Cloud found stone-gray eyes looking back at him. The look shocked Cloud's heart into thundering motion against his ribs. He averted his eyes.

What the hell was that?

"The speech is last to go," Aeris giggled. "Maybe you wanna get her going home, Vincent."

"Hell no, I love it when she gets like this!" Roxas laughed, his own words on the edge of coherency.

"I think that's actually a very good idea," Vincent agreed, taking a last sip of his martini and shoving on his coat.

As the others wished Vincent and Yuffie good night, Cloud felt Tifa's hand on his thigh with a comforting squeeze just as Leon's hand brushed his other side. Cloud turned to Squall first. Those gray eyes, again, looked back into his own.

"We need to talk," Leon whispered for Cloud's ears alone.

Cloud, his heart drumming faster than ever before, turned to Tifa whose eyes contained nothing but love and concern. To him, Tifa was comfort and Tifa was safety.

It was hard to breathe, the air palpable with tension.

As Vincent ushered a complaining Yuffie out of the bar with a practiced precision, Cloud choked on his own breath, earning looks from his friends. "I need some air," he stated, shoving back his chair and, in moments, emerging into the shadowed chill outside the bar. The moon shown as a mere sliver in the star-sprinkled sky. Cloud struggled to catch his breath.

"You can't run from me." The voice was smooth like the surface of a frozen lake.

Cloud tensed at the words, swallowing back the hacking coughs. Don't turn around, he told himself. Whatever you do, don't look at him...

His eyes are like heavens, Leon thought as Cloud turned around and looked straight into his own. Why did he never see that all these years?

"I'm not running," Cloud stated noncommittally, shoving his hands deep into his pockets and averting his eyes. "And we don't have anything to talk about any how."

"I like you," Leon stated, taking a step forward. "That's why I kissed you and that's why we need to talk."

Cloud suddenly became aware of how close the two were. Close. He was so close. When did he get that close?

Leon's gray eyes were as undecipherable as Latin manuscripts to Cloud as the two held their breath. What was this urge rising in Cloud's stomach? It wasn't anything, he told himself. Squall was trying to brainwash him- to ruin his life all over again. And he wasn't about to let that happen.

"You don't like me," Cloud returned with equal frankness. "You've hated me as long as I've hated you: sixteen years."

"God damn it, Cloud. Now who's being the ice prince?" Leon all but growled.

"I'm not the one lying to try and ruin my life again." Cloud's anger was boiling up beside Leon's.

"That is not nor was ever my intent," Leon snarled. "But I'm reminded every day of your maliciousness towards me. This scar will always remind me how much you hated me." Leon pointed to his face and the ugly scar there.

Cloud was taken aback by the emotion radiating from Squall. He never acted brashly, he never got this angry. Not since elementary school.

"I've forgiven you for all the things you've done to try and ruin my life and for all the times you succeeded at that," Leon snapped. "We're too old to blame those kids we used to be for our actions now. We aren't them and I have no reason to hate the person you've become."

Cloud opened his mouth to speak, but no words came.

"Funny how when you're bombarded by logic, you just shut down. Maybe you aren't the person I thought you were." Leon backed up a few steps and left Cloud out in the cold with his words ringing inside his mind.

Suddenly short on breath, Cloud slumped to the ground, the world spinning around him. Maybe it was the alcohol, maybe it was the stress. Whatever the reason, Cloud only knew he couldn't stand being here anymore.

His feet wouldn't carry him fast enough away from Squall.

VvVvVvVvVvVvVvVvV

Tues 11:12am Cloud, just how drunk was I las' night? I don't remember much. -Yuffie

Tues 12:56pm Where did you go last night, Cloud? I missed you and you didn't text or call. Get back to me soon. -T

Tues 2:31pm Cloud, did you talk with Leon last night and that's why you left without a word? Tell me what's up. -Rox

Tues 6:01pm Cloud. Seriously. How bad did I embarrass myself? -Yuffster

Tues 6:22pm If you don't talk to me by tomorrow I'm stalking you at home. P.S. Tell Larx that I want my shirt back. -Rox

Tues 6:40pm Squally, Cloudster won't tell me how drunk I was last night and I can't find Vinnie. Please tell me I wasn't THAT bad. -Yuffie

Tues 10:21pm Squall? I want to talk about last night. -Cloud

Wed 7:20am Seriously, Cloud. I'm dropping by if you don't text me back. -Rox

Wed 11:54am I'm worried about you, Cloud. Call me. -T

Wed 4:07pm Cloud- When and where? I'll be there. -Leon

Wed 4:09pm I'll come to you. -Cloud

Wed 8:10pm CLOUD! Text me back. And please tell me I wasn't dancing on tables... -Yuffie

VvVvVvVvVvVvVvVvV

The rapping knock came promptly at 4:30pm on Leon's apartment door. In moments, despite the hurt smoldering about his fight with Cloud, Leon had opened the door to find that same man standing, hands again shoved in his jacket pockets.

Leon gestured for Cloud to come in mutely. The blonde accepted the offer, walking into the cramped apartment, stripping his coat off and draping it over the arm of the couch before sitting there.

Leon watched Cloud's shaky movements with a sharp eye. Why had he come here? They could have just as easily met in a neutral location. The man never ceased to pique Leon's interest.

"Tea?" Leon offered, getting himself a glass of hot water and mixing in a teabag.

Cloud didn't respond until Leon had sat down on a counter stool across from him.

"Do you really like me?" he asked, fussing with the hem of his shirt. What had he been thinking coming to Squall's apartment? This was all a big mistake, but it had already been made. His curiosity was killing him.

"Yes," Leon answered bluntly, lightly blowing on his tea and taking a tentative sip.

An awkward silence ensued.

Alright, so Squall likes him. What did that mean? It shouldn't mean anything. It didn't mean anything. It. Didn't. Mean. A. Single. Thing.

Curiosity satiated, Cloud rose, grabbing his coat and announcing, "Thanks, I'll be going now."

Resting his tea on the counter, Leon asked, "Why did you really come here, Cloud?"

The words rung inside the blonde's mind as he paused in his tracks, the doorknob in hand. He had asked himself the same thing not minutes before. And he didn't really know. Maybe asking him in person there would be less room for lies and deception? True, but that wasn't the reason. It was curiosity. Curiosity about the kiss and why it felt so much better than when he kissed Tifa. Why it made his knees sway and why it had happened in the first place. Why he had let it happen. Curious as to why Squall's answers to all of those mattered to him.

"I was curious why your answer mattered to me," Cloud admitted, not turning to face his companion.

Leon smirked inwardly, rising from his seat too. He walked slowly and silently towards his rival and waited for him to turn around. He had to peek of his own free will into the Pandora's Box.

"Maybe my answer matters because you return my feelings," Leon suggested behind a grin.

Tensing as he heard Squall move, Cloud worked his hardest not to look, but he was willing to give up one of his nine lives for a look back at Squall. For some glimpse into the man's reaction besides those echoing words. Turning his Mako blue eyes back on his companion, the look in Leon's was stunning to the blonde. Playfulness churned together with lust stared back at him from not a foot away. Cloud swallowed hard, not moving an inch.

The air was tactile around the two as Leon slipped a hand up to Cloud's face, fingering the soft skin there. The taller man leaned in close, his other arm bracing itself on the door beside his rival's spiky blonde hair. He could feel Cloud's hot breath on his face and his blue eyes wide with shock.

Move, Cloud! Move Goddamn it! was all the blonde could think, but his body had other plans. His body leaned into the touch and Squall's hot breath tickled his skin, sending shivers down his spine. You don't like him. You don't like him.

After a few tense moments, Leon sealed the deal, kissing the shorter man. It was warm and kind of sloppy, but perfect. Cloud didn't move away, either. He grabbed onto Leon's arms for support as he leaned back against the door, his coat dropping to the floor with a wordless thump. Leon pushed closer, flushing his and Cloud's bodies together as the kiss deepened.

Why was kissing Tifa not like this? Better question: Why was kissing Squall like this? Cloud was bewildered by the heat of the kiss, not wanting to let go. It felt so good, how could he? That's when logic kicked in. He was kissing the man who had nearly succeeded in ruining his life. Kissing. And not just a peck, full on lip-locking. This was not okay. But... how could something this good not be...

Cloud dared not finish that sentence before pulling out of the tango of lips. Breathing hard, he pushed Leon away and scrambled out the door. When Cloud emerged into the late October chill, he noticed he'd left his coat. God damn it. Oh well. The walk home would be a refreshingly cold one.

Back in his apartment, Leon knew he had Cloud. Maybe not one hundred percent yet, but he would. Hook, line, and sinker.