A/N: WOW, finallyyyyy doooonnneee! And I'm going to be honest and say that this is a bit rushed and could be longer but I had to get this done; this story has been incomplete for too long. That being said, I got across what I wanted to get across (hopefully...) and I am proud of this. It was my first story an' all...hehe.
I can't thank all of you who reviewed enough. Seriously, you have my infinite gratitude.
So, please enjoy the finale of Always :)
Cloud studied the large apartment building as he walked from the parking lot on the side to the front door. It was relatively new, couldn't be older than two years, with clean wood paneling and brick accents. It was clear Squall had done well for himself.
He walked as slowly as possible up the concrete stairs to the glass door. The first door was unlocked, which led to a front room with a call box. Cloud paused once he was inside, taking a deep breath. He could do this…He needed to do this. He couldn't go on with the rest of his life and never speak to Squall again.
The panel had each number by floor, with a name next to each one. Just glancing quickly, Cloud noticed not all the rooms were occupied. He found number eight easily, with the name "Leon Leonhart" next to it. At first, Cloud thought he'd made a mistake, but he had never met another Leonhart before. After another deep breath, Cloud pressed the button. He was expecting to hear Squall's voice through the speaker, asking who it was at the door, but the shrill sound of the buzzer came immediately instead. A bit puzzled, Cloud opened the door anyway.
Cloud didn't exactly call Squall to tell him he was coming. Maybe it was his own insecurity, but he just took a chance coming unannounced. He expected Squall to be busy at the hospital and he would be able to come back later. No such luck apparently.
There were two sets of elevators at the front of a long hallway, the apartment doors along each side. Numbers one through ten were on the ground floor, so Cloud began walking down the corridor, slowly. The place was brightly lit, with pale yellow painted on the walls. The carpet was a deep maroon that actually complemented the walls nicely. Each door had a matted area in front and a shelf extending from the wall.
All too soon, Cloud reached door #8. After another quick deep breath, Cloud knocked on the wooden door. 'No turning back now.' He could hear the soft sound of footsteps approaching and the click of two different locks opening.
And then Squall was there in the doorway. His expression went from shock to relief almost instantly. "Cloud…" He almost whispered. "I'm so glad you came," he said, letting out a breath it seemed like he'd been holding all day. Cloud couldn't really bring himself to speak just yet; he was amazed he was actually standing in front of Squall Leonhart.
Since Cloud had been in such a hurry the last time he and Squall crossed paths, he didn't get a chance to really see him. Squall was still about an inch taller than him, about the same build. His hair was much longer, brushing over his shoulders; he couldn't believe he had barely noticed that. He was wearing a simple gray Henley t-shirt and slim black jeans, with a black belt. His scar seemed even more prominent than the last time he saw him, and Cloud immediately felt a pang of guilt.
"Please, come in," Squall suddenly said quickly, stepping aside. Cloud wasn't sure how long he had been staring and still hadn't said anything.
He swallowed before replying with a soft "thanks." He took a slow step over the threshold into Squall's apartment. Cloud had been right, the apartment was very modern and new. The kitchenette, which he noticed was substantially bigger than his own, with stainless steel appliances and a bar-style counter. A gas fireplace was the centerpiece of the living area, with a large navy blue couch next it and two matching chairs on either side. A huge flatscreen TV was mounted on the wall in front of the couch, with speakers on each side. There was an area on the side of the kitchen separated by a doorway to the dining table. The walls were off-white but most were covered by large colorful, modern paintings. The floor was hardwood with a large brown plush rug in the living area. There was a floor to ceiling bookcase on the left wall. It was almost completely full of books, a few photos and trinkets here and there. Squall had always loved to read.
"This is a really nice place," Cloud said, although he didn't intend to that outloud.
"Thank you," Squall said as he closed and locked the door. "It's a little much for my taste, but it's close to the hospital." He said smiling only slightly. "I'll take your jacket," he said holding out his hands.
"Oh, thanks," Cloud replied. But as he shrugged his jacket off, he got a strange feeling. This was bizarre. It was like he and Squall were old friends and hadn't been separated for five years by unfortunate events. This was all too casual, and it was making Cloud feel slightly sick. Yes, it happened a long time ago, and yes, both men had done some growing up…but pain from their wounds still lingered.
Squall hung up Cloud's jacket in a small closet, and walked to the kitchen. "Do you want something to drink? Water, tea, coffee?"
"Coffee would be nice, thanks," Cloud replied, taking off his shoes. "Sugar, please."
"No problem. You can sit in the living room, I'll get the coffee."
Cloud nodded and walked to the blue couch and sat down. He had a minute to think while Squall was in the kitchen. He had so much he wanted to say, but couldn't seem to remember any of it. Cloud suddenly realized how nervous he was, but Squall seemed so calm. It was warm in the room, but Cloud still shivered.
It seemed like only seconds before Squall was placing a white mug on the coffee table in front of him. He paused after placing it, and for the first time since Cloud entered he seemed unsure. He moved to the chair to Cloud's right.
Cloud muttered his thanks, and held the mug in his hands to warm up. He couldn't bring himself to look up at Squall, so he stared at his hands. Soon, though, he decided that was too awkward and reluctantly looked to the brunet, who was taking a rather long sip from his mug. When he put the cup back on the coffee table, Squall's eyes met Cloud's. It hurt Cloud to look at him, but he couldn't turn away from those beautiful steel-blue eyes he could never forget.
It seemed as though they stared at each other for hours, before Cloud broke contact and brought his own mug to his lips. There wasn't nearly enough sugar, but there was no way for Squall to know how much and Cloud wasn't about to say anything. When Cloud looked at Squall again, his expression had completely changed. He was no longer calm or unsure, just solemn, and Cloud felt his stomach tie into a knot.
Thankfully, Squall began first. "I knew this was going to be hard," he began, trying to keep his voice from shaking, "but I'm really glad you came. After I saw you at the hospital, I thought about you all night. I knew that I had to see you again—"
"Wait. Squall," Cloud couldn't help but interrupt suddenly. He noticed Squall's eyes harden ever so slightly at the sound of his name. "I should apologize…for everything. What I said when I saw you, for what happened five years ago. I was angry, but it was my own fault." He sighed. "Instead of facing my anger for myself, I took it out on others."
Squall looked down briefly and then back at Cloud. "I forgive you. Really, I do."
Cloud couldn't help but let out a small scoff. "So easily?"
"No. It wasn't easy…at all, actually." Cloud averted his gaze. "Honestly, I was so angry at you. For years. So much so that I shut out the last few years of my life. I ran into Yuffie when I moved back here a year ago, and she couldn't help but go on about memories from high school…and I remembered you. I thought about a lot of things after that. Even if I never saw you again, I had to forgive you."
Cloud was silent a moment. "The name next to your number, Leon…you changed your name? To forget, right?"
Squall ran his hand through his hair and sighed. "Yeah. Yeah, I did."
"I don't blame you. I would change it all. Everything I did. But I'll never be able to, so I'd do anything to forget…what I did to you…" As Cloud paused, he felt tears welling in his eyes and he remembered everything. "Jesus, Squall. I put you through so much shit…"
"Cloud, it wasn't your fault, you were—"
Cloud's head shot up. "How can you say it wasn't my fault?" He asked in disbelief. "I had plenty of chances to stop, you asked me to everyday and I just got deeper and deeper. How can it be anyone's fault but my own!"
"Because, Cloud. That's just what happens. After working in hospitals, I know what it's like. You couldn't have stopped by yourself," Squall said reassuringly. "Besides, I was the one who left you and gave up…"
"It's not fair that you defend me. What I did…what I put everyone through…was my choice," Cloud replied quietly, a few tears falling down his cheeks. "It's unforgivable."
"But I do forgive you, Cloud," Squall pressed, looking at the blond, seemingly unable to understand why he couldn't understand that.
"How!" Cloud almost shouted, immediately putting his head in his hands. "How can you forgive me for lying to you numerous times and…" Cloud looked up at Squall's scar. "For doing that to you?"
The look in Squall's eyes told Cloud what he was going to say before he said it. "Because I love you."
Cloud shook his head, squeezing his eyes shut, the tears still falling. "No…no…" And then he felt the cushion next to him sink in. And Squall was next to him.
"I have always loved you."
"Please don't say that," Cloud begged, looking at Leon. "Don't say that to me." It couldn't be true, Cloud thought. After everything that happened, how could he still love him?
Squall reached his hand out to Cloud's cheek, his thumb stroking softly, wiping some of the wetness from Cloud's face. Cloud closed his eyes, trying to enjoy the comforting gesture, but unable to feel anything but guilt. He didn't even feel the cushion shift slightly as Squall moved forward, and by the time Squall pressed his lips ever so softly against Cloud's, it was too late.
All the emotions from years ago flooded back to him. Lust, happiness, passion, pain, hurt…love. He knew he shouldn't do this. It wasn't fair. It wasn't fair to Squall. But Squall pressed a little harder, and moved his lips a little more, and Cloud couldn't bring himself to pull away. Completely overwhelmed by the kiss, he slid his hand around the side of Squall's neck, pulling him in. He started moving a little faster and Squall kept up, softly asking for more with his tongue. Without a second thought, Cloud obliged, his judgment almost completely gone. But when Squall brushed his hand over Cloud's stomach, it felt as though he had been stabbed.
Cloud suddenly pushed Squall away and stumbled backwards as he stood to distance himself. Squall stared up at him completely bewildered.
"I can't do this," Cloud panted. "It's not fair to you." Squall didn't move or say anything, as if he was waiting for Cloud to continue. "I…you say you love me…but I can't say the same to you."
"I know," Squall quickly replied. "I don't expect you to," he said, standing. "At least not yet."
Cloud felt a new wave of tears building behind his eyes, and closed his eyes.
Squall held Cloud's head in his hands. "Cloud, we can try...can't we? You're clean now…what's stopping us?" Cloud opened his eyes and looked at Squall. "Why can't things go back to how they were?"
Cloud was stunned. He couldn't believe Squall was saying this. It was true, Cloud was better now. Cloud's addiction was the root of all their problems, other than that, they had been happy…But…
Squall, stunned, dropped his hands from Cloud's face.
Cloud had never seen Squall cry since that night, and now tears fell from his eyes. He fell back to the couch, putting his head in his hands, and Squall slowly sat next to him. Tears fell from his own eyes as he looked at the brunet. Their relationship was unfixable. The betrayal and the years apart could never be erased. Even if Leon could still love him, he could never love again, and nothing could ever be the same.
"You were the first and only person I ever loved, and I'm glad I fell in love with you…But when you left, you took my love with you. I can't give you what you deserve."
Squall shook his head. "No…no. Cloud, I left you because I failed you. I was too afraid…It's not your fault, all you have to do is forgive yourself, Cloud," he said desperately.
"And if I do? You'll still have to watch me die," Cloud said dropping his head.
"I'm sick, Squall. I may as well still be addicted with all the pills I take. They only slow down the process..."
Squall simply stared, a heartbroken expression his face. "But…you can still…" he sobbed.
"You know as well as I do things can never be the same. It's not fair for you to give everything and get nothing in return. If you really love me, you'll …forget," he said, pleadingly. "Leon."
Squall's head shot up to look at Cloud's. They both just looked at each other, and even though there was so much hurt in Squall's…no, Leon's eyes, Cloud knew he had done the right thing. Leon understood.
"So, this is…goodbye then?" Leon asked tentatively.
Cloud looked into Leon's eyes for a few moments. "Yeah."
"Can you believe it, Squall? We're graduating tomorrow!" Cloud said excitedly as he walked into Squall's bedroom, sitting at the edge of the brunet's bed.
Squall dropped his bag onto his desk chair and flipped open his laptop as he entered. "I know. It's pretty surreal," he said smiling.
"Tifa's party is going to be insane. Hopefully, Yuffie won't break another one of her dining room chairs," Cloud added, chuckling.
Squall laughed as well and walked to the blond. "Know what I'm most excited for after graduation?" he asked, smirking.
Cloud gave him a wary look. "What?"
"We have the whole summer to ourselves," The brunet said as he moved his face closer to Cloud's.
Cloud smiled and took the liberty of closing the distance between them. He reached out and grabbed a fistful of Squall's shirt, pulling him forward as he leaned back. Squall didn't resist and let himself be pulled down on top of his boyfriend. Cloud's hands ran over the brunet's muscled back and around to his abdomen, tugging on Squall's belt.
Squall pulled away and put his hand over Cloud's to stop his movement. "Wait…"
"It's okay. I want to," Cloud said reassuringly.
Squall was thrown from what he was actually about to say by Cloud's declaration. "I…That wasn't what I was going to say…but…you're sure?"
Cloud reached up and placed his hand on the side of Squall's face, getting the brunet to look him in the eyes. "Yes," he said, placing a chaste kiss to Squall's slack lips.
The brunet smiled. "I wanted to tell you how happy I am, that you stopped…even though it was hard for you. Promise me you're done…for good…"
"I'm done. I promise," Cloud replied sternly.
Squall smiled the most genuine smile Cloud had ever seen. "I love you, and I trust you."
And Cloud couldn't help but smile back. "Always?"