Summary: Leon's monotonous, workaholic life is thrust into teenage chaos.
For Nut. This story is me having a rotten attempt at humour. Obviously I'm not one of those types who can dish out humour effortlessly. High school AU, full of sappy romance and fluff. Easily considered as pure crack. Written on a whim while I was on holiday. Contains implied Akuroku and RikuSora. Contains a lot of OOC, particularly with Marluxia.
Yuffie Kisaragi had been friends with Cloud Strife for as long as she could remember. The boy was as big a part of her as she was of him. They had been together since their days of lying in the baby cot, crawling over the seemingly illimitable expanse of parquet flooring, to the times spent in the neighbourhood playground, frolicking and bickering in the sandbox, to sitting next to each other and playing pranks on their form teacher in elementary school and up to this point in life – students of high school.
She considered herself Cloud's best friend. She knew it when Cloud was upset or frizzling inside-out with rage, when he was overflowing with joy, when he was practically floating on cloud nine (no pun intended) if his grades turned out exceedingly well. It stood to reason that she should know when her closest buddy found his first crush in seventeen long years.
Such was the aftermath of Cloud's revelation:
"Oh, Cloud," Aerith sighed, clearly in some sort of dreamy, delighted relief. She could have easily resembled a yaoi fangirl there and then, but Aerith was one of those proper, upright girls who you simply knew had an unassuming, ingenuous personality incapable of immoral activities…or thoughts, for that matter. As such, she definitely wasn't picturing Cloud and his newfound love in various…positions just yet. "I'm so happy for you!" she cooed. "I don't even remember the last time you found someone you really liked…"
"Actually," Tifa Lockheart cut in sardonically, "he has never found someone up to his standard. You know him as well as I do, Aerith – he has an angelic, baby little cherub face, but he's just an overly picky, super choosy little spoilt brat."
Now, if the term 'opposites attract' really existed, it couldn't be better expressed in any way but in the form of Aerith and Tifa's friendship. For Gaia's sake, Aerith sold flowers and Tifa beat up the guys who bought them. Naturally, her incontrovertibly first-class blackbelt moves conveyed her femininity perfectly, but also showed that she was not exactly one of those 'damsel-in-distress' types. Oh, hell no. Woe to the pathetic, starry-eyed suitor who forgot that Tifa was not a big fan of flowers and chocolates. And have pity for the poor soul who had been having lovely, sugary daydreams of Tifa falling distressed-damsel-ly into his welcoming arms on Valentine's.
Their friendship could barely be expressed verbally, or in words. But if you looked at Aerith and Tifa, you knew, without a doubt, that they were best friends.
"I still think it's so romantic," Aerith said absent-mindedly.
"Well, girls – we have our job cut out for us!" Yuffie clapped her hands with vigour. "It's time to launch Operation BABY!"
"The hell does that stand for…" Tifa muttered darkly.
"It's the code name for our first-class priority matchmaking mission," Yuffie said pointedly. "You know how important this is for Spike's future, don't you? He's seventeen already, and hasn't passed a day with a loved one before. Now, it's time to realise his dream of being with our hot new freshman, who is, luckily enough – in our class!"
"Count me in!" Aerith said, her eyes practically transformed hearts throbbing with enthusiasm.
"Oh, dear Gaia," Tifa said with resignation. "What have I done to deserve this?"
"Come on, Tifa – it'll be fun!" Aerith said optimistically. "A recent survey showed that almost all students nowadays know a homosexual friend…I don't have one yet, so Cloud can be him!"
"Pray tell why I need a homosexual on my friends' list," Tifa said, her voice oozing unsubtle sarcasm.
"Okay, the first stage!" Yuffie announced importantly, stroking an invisible beard to showcase her wisdom in making such a fine decision. "Getting to know Cloud's crush!"
So began Operation BABY, alias for utter uncontrolled chaos.
It would be a fairytale kind of dramatic for Cloud to say it had been love at first sight, but Gaia damn it, it was truly an inevitable, irreversible love that had nearly blown Cloud off his seat when the freshman first walked into the classroom, in all his immaculate, attractive glory
He hadn't been paying much attention to Mr Cid Highwind when he introduced the new student, and asked said student to give a short introduction of himself. Love at first sight had him completely entranced by the brunette freshman's every movement, the slightest curl of his lips, the movement of his eyes and the gentle, cascading fall of his chocolate-brown locks. Those metallic, grey-blue eyes that seemed to have a hard exterior just for pretence.
He barely managed to get through the lesson with an adequate amount of notes for the upcoming topical quiz. The freshman had, within seconds of his entry into the class, captured the hearts of nearly every male and female seated in that classroom.
Much to his disgruntlement, the freshman was situated to sit next to Rinoa Heartily, a long-time arch nemesis of Cloud's. They had been conniving evil, dangerous plans against each other since they were helpless puppies in the sandbox. He literally wanted to cry (or gouge her eyeballs out of their sockets) out in outrage, truly at the rumoured unfairness of life. Who knew he'd experience it at this moment so brutally? He could hardly sit in composed control of his actions when Rinoa flashed him a victorious smirk that blatantly screamed the word, 'EVIL'.
"Cool down, Spike," Yuffie said patronisingly during lunch. "Didn't you see how irritated our dear freshman was with Rinoa? She kept bothering him (probably with overly inquisitive questions and uncalled-for date invitations) and at the end of the last lesson, he gave her a really nasty look. I saw it."
"Like how you saw Mr Valentine wearing a helmet made of potatoes?" Tifa interjected mockingly.
"Yuffie was drunk that time," Aerith pointed out.
"Yes, drinking alcohol during Physics, I seem to remember," the martial artist said.
"You're drifting away from the subject!" Cloud exclaimed in exasperation. "Whether you want to deny it or not, Rinoa has an obviously larger advantage in this! I don't stand a chance," he added as a doleful afterthought.
"Aw, Spike – don't put on the puppy-faced look," Yuffie cooed pityingly.
"If what Yuffie said is right about Rinoa bothering your crush, then it won't be long before he asks for a seat change," Aerith said amusedly. "Judging from his face and the aura that exudes from him, he doesn't look like the very forgiving type who can tolerate things for long."
"I think we need to call in the cavalry," Yuffie declared. "Cloud, call Roxas now."
"What the hell do you need him for?" Cloud muttered, but flipped open his cell phone, nonetheless.
"We don't need that spiky-haired, anti-social hermit brother of yours," Yuffie retorted. "We need his connections. Or, as the French love to say – connexions."
It was the dawning of the first great moment in the grand matchmaking scheme.
"Hello, Zexion? Yes, it's me, Roxas…yeah, sorry to bother you know, but could you come over? Just some rubbish matters…sorry to trouble you…thanks…"
Roxas shut his cell phone and gave Yuffie a half-interested look. "I've done it. Can I have my earphones back, for the love of Hyne?"
"There you go, shrimp," Yuffie said smilingly, passing the blonde his earphones. Roxas gave the girl a scathing glare.
"Tell me what this is about again?" Roxas said languidly.
"About your brother, and his first crush," Aerith answered, smilingly broadly. "There's this new freshman in school..."
"What, the brown-haired, blue-eyed, stern-faced, XP-infected guy?" Roxas retorted.
"XP?" Yuffie cocked her head to the side in questioning.
Roxas gave her one of his cocky, I-knew-you-were-stupid-from-the-start looks and said, "Xeroderma pigmentosum. It's a disease that prevents the sufferer from walking in the sunlight.."
"Unfortunately, he doesn't," Tifa said, putting on one of her usual sardonic expressions. "I saw him yesterday, playing basketball and running on the field. The guy is hardly a sun recluse, I can tell you. Some girls were admiring his abs."
Cloud tensed visibly.
"Hang on a minute," Aerith said, "how do you even know how he looks like, Roxas? After all, your school is..."
"Within minutes of walking into your blessed Radiant Garden Senior High," Roxas said wryly, "an active, fully operational fanclub was set up for him. His pictures were being circulated, literally. I can tell you hundreds more fanclubs are in tow."
Zexion arrived ten minutes later (living only two streets away). He came with Demyx, an adorable boyfriend he had unsurprisingly hooked himself up with last year. Zexion was certainly a computer geek, but definitely a cool one. A common misconception of a computer geek: image of a skinny, bespectacled, severely pimpled boy with a pallid complexion. Fortunately, Zexion was quite the contrary.
"Hello, Demyx!" Yuffie said chirpily. "Welcome to our humble abode!"
"Mine, actually…" Roxas muttered.
"I haven't seen you in a long while, Zexion!" Aerith looked elated. "How's it going? I heard you won a magazine competition last week! This is the fifty-eighth time this year, isn't it?"
"Technically, it's the sixty-eighth," Tifa corrected.
"Woe to all computer geeks who have the misfortune of existing in Zexion's age," Cloud mumbled.
Zexion coughed, "Are you going to tell me the reason you made me come all the way here, Roxas? Definitely you're needing something...did your computer's hard-drive crash again? But that doesn't quite explain why your brother is here…"
"No offence, Zexion," Roxas said disinterestedly. "But I don't really need you. The computer's working fine. They need you," he jabbed a finger (centred mostly on Yuffie) at the girls and added dryly, "For illicit activities, evidently."
"How rude!" Yuffie said indignantly, using a pillow to thwack Roxas's head. Then, she smiled sweetly at Zexion, "We just need you to do a little something, Zexy! Just hacking into the school's database for student information! That's not illicit, is it? It's not like we're doing drugs or trying to get into the prostitution business…"
Zexion coughed again. "It's not a difficult task, to be sure…I've hacked into the school system countless times…it doesn't have much of a superior security system, you see…but which student is it? And why, in the name of Ifrit, do you need this fellow's information?"
"For matchmaking!" Aerith said merrily. "There's this freshman in school, you see – haven't you seen him around?"
Demyx scowled. "Oh, you mean that brown-haired, blue-eyed, stern-faced, XP-infected guy?"
There was a short silence.
"Unsurprising that you and Roxas are such close friends," Tifa muttered, breaking the silence. "You even think alike."
"Quite the contrary," Roxas cut in matter-of-factly. "We happened to be in the same class when we both saw him for the first time, that's all. We came to precisely the same deductions about him. Great minds think alike, you see."
"Undoubtedly, he will become one of the school's most beloved heartthrobs, if he refrains from being such a disagreeable society recluse," Zexion said.
"He is not a disagreeable society recluse," Cloud said huffily.
"Beloved to the defence," Roxas muttered. "I concede now that you've fallen hopelessly, irrevocably, irreversibly, shamelessly in love with this new addition to your school of delinquents."
"What a prejudiced statement!" Yuffie exclaimed. "Just bad luck that you got bullied by thugs when you came to pick up Spike (who was sick at that time, I seem to remember)! Blame it on your prissy, princess-like gestures and gait!"
"I do not have prissy, princess-like gestures or gait!" Roxas yelled.
"'He is not a disagreeable society recluse!' 'I do not have prissy, princess-like gestures or gait!'" Tifa imitated disdainfully, but with remarkable talent. "Gaia, two brothers could not be more alike."
Zexion coughed for the third time, and immediately everyone's attention was centred on him.
"While we were having this pleasant little argument, I successfully broke through the school's six walls of protection," Zexion said, turning the screen of his tablet PC(1) to face Yuffie and the others. "Here is the information you want. I don't see anything particularly extraordinary about it, honestly speaking. He's almost just like any other transfer student, except a good deal smarter."
Name: Squall Leonhart
Date of Birth: 20th July
Blood Type: B
Health Deficiencies: N/A
Status: Transfer Student
Date of Entry into Radiant Garden Senior High: 14th April
Previous School: Traverse Senior High
Previous Club: Kendo Club
Current Club: N/A
Awards: Champion of the Annual Nationwide Kendo Competition, Champion of the Annual Nationwide Junior Kendo Competition (six times)
Teacher's Comments (Wanijima Kaoru, Traverse Senior High): All-rounded, diligent, extremely intelligent and creative student with a bright future. Immensely talented in all sorts of things, particularly kendo. Scores straight-'A's for every exam.
"Ah, an excellent student," Zexion commented.
"Fine selection, brother," Roxas said, looking dispassionately at the screen. "Always the crème of the cream, I see."
Leon still did not quite know why he moved into Radiant Garden with his parents.
Their home at Traverse Town had few, near insignificant bad points, and yet they made the perilously long journey here to Radiant Garden – for what again?
"So that Sora can have a better learning environment," his mother's voice dutifully said in his head. "You know that Sora's school in Traverse Town gives so much bad influence to the poor child. You may be fine in your school, Squall dear – after all, you're our firstborn, and so responsible and hardworking – we're very proud of you, did you know? – but it won't be long before Sora succumbs to that Riku and his horde of equally felonious friends…"
The move here was to separate Sora from his wayward boyfriend.
For the love of Shiva, what would it take for his mother to realise that his younger brother was totally heads-over-heels in love with the suave, silver-haired, and – as his mother put it – felonious boy?
Leon happened to know that despite Riku's brazen criminal record, he was slightly better than the average student in terms of academics. Certainly not number one (no, that place belonged to the Leonharts), but at least tenth or ninth in class.
Needless to say, Sora had been utterly uncooperative and refused to conceal his discontent on their first day in Radiant Garden.
"Now, darling," Mrs Leonhart said carelessly, "you mustn't hold such a grudge. You know we did this for your own good. That Riku boy is hardly one to mix around with – have you seen the burly gangsters he hangs out with? That's ill influence for you, my lovely child. Now, dear – Daddy will drive you to school. Squall honey, I'm afraid you'll have to walk to yours. But no worries, my dear – yours isn't too far away. It's about three streets from here. If you can't bear the journey in future, we can arrange for a taxi to pick you up every morning…"
In the midst of his mother's rambling, Leon grabbed his bag and swiftly made his way out of the house that had begun to erupt with his brother's screams, and their mother's offended, loud responses.
"It's time for the second stage!" Yuffie proclaimed. "The ball has started rolling, but very slowly! It's time to give it a hard nudge!"
Cloud covered his face with his hands.
"And how," Tifa said acidly, "do you propose for that to happen? Nothing life-threatening, I hope?"
"No, we must save the drastic for the end," Yuffie said, a little cheerful for Cloud's liking. "Remember the saying, 'The best for last!' We must have some brainstorming about how to give the ball its nudge!"
"Confession," Demyx suggested sketchily.
Cloud paled. "Absolutely not!"
"In my opinion, open confession is the worst thing you could do," Tifa said expertly.
"Any fabulous ideas, Zexy?" Yuffie turned to the silver-haired boy.
"Ask Marluxia – he's the romance fanatic," Zexion said deprecatingly, pointing to the pink-haired teenager, currently deep in conversation with some girls about the latest flirting techniques.
"No, I believe you must bring a boy down to his place," one of the girls declared. "Just dent his pride and walk away."
"That hardly does anything!" another girl retorted.
"Girls, girls!" Marluxia said, waving his hands to get their attention. "Denting your loved one's pride does nothing but to convince him that you are a clearly mighty, imposing existence, but he won't know if you are capable of love! Dent his pride, and then make a sweet move that expresses all your exuberant youthful love!"
"Love is so boundless!" the first girl gasped. "The infinity of it makes me stagger!"
"What a striking statement!" Marluxia exclaimed. "The staggering infinity of love!"
"All right, Marly – enough with your love obsession," Yuffie said, grabbing the boy by the back of his collar, ignorant of the fact that Marluxia was a good head-and-a-half taller than she was. Then again, Yuffie had always been oblivious to such little details.
"Sit here!" Aerith said excitedly, sliding a little ways to the left to make space for Marluxia.
"The further away from me, the better," Tifa muttered.
Marluxia indifferently ignored Tifa while smiling pleasantly at Aerith.
"What do you want from me?" Marluxia turned to Yuffie.
"Ideas!" Aerith exclaimed.
"We're brainstorming, actually," Tifa said.
"Brainstorming? Whatever for?" the pink-haired teenager questioned. "Surely this is concerning the vast subject of love?"
"Obviously, or I would definitely find a way to elude conversation with you," Zexion said frankly.
"I'm injured, Zexy," Marluxia said, feigning his hurt. "We've been friends since our days in kindergarten, and you are constantly evading me!"
"Quit the melodrama," Demyx retorted.
"Ahem!" Yuffie said loudly. "Return to the important topic! Cloud has found his first crush – a handsome young man called Squall!"
"Lady Luck has shone gloriously on us!" Aerith said fondly. "Squall's in our class."
"Pooh!" Marluxia snorted with disgust. "That brown-haired fellow? With the scary eyes and arrogant strut?"
"Unfortunately, yes," Tifa said. "Seventeen years of being single, and he chooses the most unpleasant man possible."
"I've seen the fellow," Marluxia said, scrunching his nose. "Quite mediocre looks, excellent grades, quickly a teacher's favourite with his silences, but I assure you – his personality is akin to a hermit! He's one of the most taciturn fellows I've ever had the misfortune of meeting. A society recluse!"
"Well, thank you very much," Cloud said sarcastically. "But I happen to find him reasonably attractive."
"Our tastes are as different as ever!" Marluxia said dramatically. "Oh, my dearest Cloud – you must widen your perspective! There a thousand others more handsome than he is! I've always known you batted for the other team, my good friend – therefore I've compiled a list of good-looking males who can be found in this very school! Why don't you have a look through my compilation?"
"And who said this guy was helpful?" Tifa muttered.
"Marluxia, I have walked through this school more than a thousand times over, and I've never seen a person I liked more than this one," Cloud retorted. "Thanks for taking the trouble, but I don't even need to glance through that compilation thing of yours."
"With all solemnity this time," Marluxia said in a composed voice. "Do you really like him? He does resemble one of those abusive types…"
"By the Bahamut – all those evening dramas have finally gotten into you," Demyx rolled his eyes.
"Ignoring this insensible blonde," Marluxia said loudly, "we will go into deep discussion."
And the magnificent planning, headed by Marluxia, started in that half-filled classroom.
It hadn't taken a week for Leon to get to know his new school. In just one day, he was self-assured enough to proclaim himself a student of Radiant Senior High, complete with sufficient knowledge of the school to know where the many classrooms and various facilities were situated.
Still, he wasn't very confident about the names of his classmates. He knew the names of the ones sitting in front of him, behind him, beside him, two seats away – but majority remained unknown to him.
After his first day at Radiant Garden Senior High, he returned home to Sora, smiling impertinently. Well, at least the boy seemed to have gotten over his separation from Riku (either that, or something worse).
"So, Leon," Sora grinned impishly. "Find anyone you fancy?"
"Not a soul," Leon said, brushing his brother away and briskly walking to his bedroom, his Hyne-blessed sanctuary. 'Away, away from this recently churlish boy!' his mind screamed. For the love of Shiva, it was time to run. Sora couldn't have good intentions.
"But you know," Sora said with a sly smile, moving alongside Leon at a leisurely jog, "I met this new friend at my school – his name's Roxas Strife."
Strife? It sounded strangely familiar to him.
"How nice, you've made a friend already," Leon said, stopping at his door and fumbling for the keys hastily.
"I spoke to him for a bit during Chem," Sora said, leaning languidly against the wall, amusedly watching his older brother drop his keys three times in a row. "He has an older brother, too. His name's Cloud Strife. Isn't he in your class?"
Leon paused, contemplating. Cloud Strife? No wonder the name 'Strife' sounded so familiar. Obviously he remembered Cloud – the quiet blonde in the corner. He couldn't easily forget the teen. His hair was the spikiest Leon had ever seen since Sora, his skin creamy white, and his eyes an unforgettable blue. Blue like Sora's, blue like the infinite sky. Blue, with a faint, almost imperceptible glow. When Leon first met those blue eyes, he felt like he could touch the sky. The blonde was indubitably the only one in the whole school whom Leon personally considered 'attractive'. No, no, no – of course he wasn't going to flirt with the blonde…no, he came to Radiant Garden Senior High to study, not to date boys. Perhaps at the end of the year…could they go to the rumoured annual school dance together? Maybe…but even then Leon had to begin studying for his second year…
"He's in my class," Leon said, berating himself for the slight tremor in his voice.
Sora laughed. "So he really is! Did you know he likes you?"
Leon dropped his keys for the fourth time, stunned.
"L…l-likes me?" Leon gasped.
"He does!" Sora said brightly. "From what I heard, he's quite infatuated with you. Don't know what he sees in you, though. I saw a picture of him in a neoprint(2) Roxas kept in his wallet. He's pretty cute, from the looks of it. Are you sure you're going to give him up like all the others?"
Leon bent down to pick up his keys. "W-what…obviously, I'm going to do that. You know that having a relationship distracts you from schoolwork…"
"Ever the erudite, diligent scholar," Sora said, but the smile was cleanly wiped off his face. "Gaia, Leon – how long is it going to take for you to realise that you're a teenager like the rest of us? That you're allowed to have fun, for the love of Ifrit?"
"At least I know my priorities," Leon glared. The humour of the conversation had evaporated into thin air. "At least I didn't try to run off with some gangster boyfriend."
"Thank you very much for complimenting Riku," Sora said venomously. "We'll be together again. His family's moving to Radiant Garden in autumn. His dad's got a job here as a banker."
"How nice," Leon said sarcastically. "Have you told Mother?"
"There's no need, is there?" Sora said. "She'll know soon enough. I expect we'll move halfway across the globe when that happens."
Sora turned and began to walk away. Leon watched his brother's lanky figure move down the hallway, stopping at the door of his room.
"You know," he said quietly, "I seem to remember a time when you were fun, Leon. When your head wasn't filled with algebra and the scientific properties of rocks."
The sound of a slammed door reverberated through the hallway.
You probably don't know me. I don't know you all that well, either. I know it isn't Valentine's now. Maybe this is the wrong season? I liked you from the moment I saw you. Does that sound overly mushy? I've never met someone I particularly liked before, so I didn't know what to do. My friend suggested I write you a letter. Another friend of mine said that nothing can happen, until the situation is made clear. There's no need to set up a series of misleading situations to give hints, but not outright declarations of liking the other party. So this is where I'm telling you straightforwardly, Squall.
I really like you.
Because Leon never received a love letter in his life, he didn't know what to do with one once he found it in his locker. Not only that, but that sole letter confirmed what his brother had told him last night about Cloud liking him. It had been a wholly impossible situation the night before, but as he stood dumbstruck before the row of metal lockers, he realised that reality had hit him smack in the face.
It didn't help that he had smartly declined the friendship of everyone who had offered it to him. He didn't know how to react. He didn't know what to do if he met Cloud in the corridors, or if the blonde approached him in between classes.
He walked to school with a feeling of dread that just wouldn't go away.
But then again, Cloud liking him wasn't something he deplored from the bottom of his heart. He had already accepted that the blonde had enthralling looks, with a somewhat subdued, but jovial and affable personality that was to Leon's liking. Who couldn't be fond of the blonde? It seemed as though Cloud really was looked up to by his classmates, who treated him with extraordinary respect, despite his outwardly submissive, effeminate features. Had he been a more decisive person, perhaps he would chosen immediately to tell Cloud that he felt the same, and yes – they could try out for one date and see how things worked out. Would they get along together? Could they possibly be a suitable couple?
And as usual, his loyalty to his family and his schoolwork prevailed. He had heard enough stories from his parents about students whose lives had been messed up by high school relationships. His parents would view him as a failure. His life would be haphazardly upturned.
"Gaia, Leon – how long is it going to take for you to realise that you're a teenager like the rest of us? That you're allowed to have fun, for the love of Ifrit?"
Sora's voice was loud and clear in his mind. His brother was quite right – he was only seventeen and gradually throughout the years, his stringent parents had his daily life rigorously controlled. He had attended a few birthday parties here and there, visited some friend's house for a school-related project, but never had he gone out to 'party', to 'chill' or to 'hang out'. Without realising it, his parents had insidiously surrounded him with an invisible steel cage. His demanding mother had scared off any children who wished for her son's friendship, if they were merely a baker's son or a delinquent. He was only allowed to mix with the intelligent and the mannered.
Now, she was implementing this same treatment to Sora, who was rejecting it wrathfully. Separating him from Riku, sending him to an extravagant school where manners and academics were all that mattered, and making sure he didn't contact his ex-school's friends.
Why, why, why did he let himself fall so far and so hard?
What had he done in likeness to Sora to stop his parents from ruling over his life? He was the older one, for Hyne's sake.
"I seem to remember a time when you were fun, Leon. When your head wasn't filled with algebra and the scientific properties of rocks."
Inadvertently, he had let all manner of 'fun' disappear from his life.
Sora Leonhart, in all his fifteen years, had never met a boy he liked more than Roxas. Obviously not intimately – no, that part of his heart was reserved for Riku. But within days of meeting Roxas and forming an easy-going camaraderie, Sora was ready to pronounce the dreamy-eyed, blonde boy his best friend.
"And he came over to my place, with his horde of girlfriends," Roxas said in his usual, unhurried way unique to him and him only, "to make me call Zexion. He's in their school, but so happens that we're closer friends. Cloud doesn't have a phone, you see – his parents won't let him have one. Besides, Zexion lives closer to my place, so he'll definitely arrive faster. He brought Demyx with him. And everyone happily discussed if hacking was an 'illicit activity', which I vote is. Zexion hacked into the school system, naturally – to have a look at your brother's profile. I hope you don't mind."
"Not at all," Sora said, a glint in his eye.
"Honestly speaking, I don't know what he sees in your brother," Roxas said. "No offence there, Sora."
"Certainly not," the brunette said easily. "I've stood on the sidelines for years wondering what people think is so fascinating about Leon, but I'm never come to know the reason. I'm guessing it's his trendy looks."
"Leon?" Roxas furrowed his brow.
"He can't stand his given name," Sora laughed. "So he makes everyone call him Leon. "It's amusing at times."
Roxas smiled. "Did you know Cloud wrote a letter to him?"
Sora's eyes widened. "He did? And what's the response?"
The blonde stretched his arms and leaned back, his blue eyes meeting the sky. He watched the puffy clouds drift along momentarily, before answering, "I don't know yet. Yuffie was secretly text messaging me in class. She's probably have a particularly strict lesson now or something."
"Oh?" Sora chuckled. After a few seconds, he looked at Roxas soberly. "Do you mind if I ask a potentially offensive question?"
Roxas readily nods.
"If Cloud is your brother, why don't you live together?"
The silence stretches, dragging and frighteningly tense. Sora apprehensively waits, watching the expression on Roxas's face change from brief astonishment to a rather blank look.
To Sora's mild surprise, Roxas begins to chuckle.
"I knew you'd ask that soon," Roxas said, not looking at Sora. "Either you, or your brother. Why the two of us – brothers related by blood – don't live together. I'll tell you why – because our parents are dead, and the rest of our family can't be located."
The atmosphere became considerably more overwrought. Sora listened attentively, nervously, heeding the blonde's every word, and paying attention to the other's every movement.
"Initially, we lived in an orphanage together," Roxas's voice dwindled to being barely above a whisper. "We waited and waited. For news of our family...for some image of what our lives would become, where we were going to go...unfortunately, at that time, there was simply no one who could afford to look after two children. We lived in Midgar then, and it's an impoverished city. The people aren't rich. Eventually, we were separated, taken away by two very different families. It was simply pure good luck and extremely good fortune that five years later, our foster families at that time decided to move here, to Radiant Garden. We met each other at a supermarket.
"We don't ask for more," Roxas continued solemnly, "because we're content with what we have. I thought I'd never see him again, you know. Being able to stay here, being able to see him almost every day, to know he's here and safe – that alone keeps me happy. I know I'm the younger brother and all, but it always feels like I'm the one protecting him. Back in the orphanage, he was so easily taken advantage of by the other kids. If your brother is someone who makes him happy, then so be it."
Another silence followed, but this one no longer awkward and edgy. Instead, they sat in companionable silence, Sora leaning back as well to observe the endless azure sky, admiring the fluffy, pure-white clouds that moved along. He hadn't felt tranquillity like this in a while, what with his mother's constant lectures and the uproars of argument that shook their household frequently these days.
"Thanks," Sora said quietly, after some time. "For telling me."
"It was meant to happen," Roxas murmured in response.
Ten minutes later, a sixteen-year-old redhead came over to where they were sitting on the stone bench, still gazing up comfortably at the sky. He had long, spiky red hair (but nowhere near to rivalling Cloud and Roxas's) and sharp, piercing green eyes. They scrutinised Sora briefly, before concentrating on Roxas.
"Roxas," the upperclassman said, "It's time to go."
"All right," the blonde said, jumping to his feet. "Sora, this is Axel. Axel, Sora Leonhart."
"Where are you going?" Sora asked.
"Home," Roxas answered. "But before that, Axel and I have something to do. I'll see you in school tomorrow."
Sora stood up, grinning broadly at Roxas.
"Bye, see you tomorrow!"
Thus they parted. Roxas with Axel, Sora on his way to Radiant Garden Senior High.
"So that's the kid," Axel murmured, as he walked next to Roxas.
They were on their usual route home, at their normal, dawdling pace. Because Roxas liked it this way. He liked to do everything slowly. He loved it when seconds seemed like hours. It was easier to cherish things like this, to remember and imprint them into his mind, etched forever. To Roxas, it was the little things of life that mattered the most, for they were the easiest to lose, to forget.
"His brother," Axel said. "I heard from Zexion a lot of things about him."
"His family are having problems," Roxas said quietly. "They moved here for a reason, you know. Sora was hanging out with some badass kid in Traverse Town. This move was supposed to separate them. Sora says he doesn't mind much anymore, because the kid's coming over soon."
They kept quiet for a while, because neither of them knew what to say.
Then, "I think he'll kiss Cloud today," Axel declared.
Roxas snorted. "What makes you think so?"
"Frankly speaking, your brother is nearly as irresistible as you," Axel said with a teasing smirk. "We'll have a little bet, then."
"You must be anxious to lose your money," Roxas said sardonically. "Their progress has been sluggish from the start. Pathetically so, I might add. I doubt they've even spoken to each other."
"Ever so negative," Axel chortled. "Five."
"Ten," Roxas said immediately.
"Done," the redhead grinned. "Prepare yourself for the mental trauma of being ten munny poorer, Roxas baby."
"I was going to pass Cloud the textbook he left at my house the other day anyway," Roxas muttered. "Let's go."
Cloud had successfully evaded Leon for the most part of the day. Despite Yuffie's constant prodding for him to speak to the brunette, he had adamantly refused. It was humiliating to have actually delivered that letter. To face the consequences of that action that had been done on a mere whim (he believed)...the very thought of it made him want to jump off the nearest skyscraper.
Throughout the day, Leon himself had done nothing but shoot him a couple of queer, searching glances during class and when they happened to walk past each other during lunch.
The day was already drawing to a near end, and Yuffie was sighing dolefully.
"All our hard work for nothing!" she exclaimed. "Marly, we spent so long brainstorming, and that pig-brained Leon doesn't even show a reaction!"
"It pains my heart as well, dearest Yuffie," Marluxia agreed, dramatically wringing his hands. "That man is one of the most cold-hearted, unfeeling, unromantic males I have ever seen!"
"Maybe he's just shy like Cloud," Aerith giggled.
"Men," Tifa muttered, rolling her eyes. "Always the problem of expressing their feelings. Leon probably sees him himself as incredibly macho."
"He is a foul, un-macho, ungallant fellow," Marluxia said disdainfully. "He deserves to rot in hell for all eternity, if I had a say!"
"You don't – that's the point," Tifa retorted.
The door opened abruptly, and to the bewilderment of everyone present in that classroom, Leon walked in. His facial expression was rather ambiguous – he seemed to be putting on a very determined front, but the uncertainty in his eyes was all too visible. He was clutching the strap of his schoolbag somewhat desperately, and constantly averting his gaze.
"Um, Cloud...y-yeah, Cloud – can I...err, have a word with you?" his voice trembled all too audibly.
Zexion dropped his pen. Demyx blinked. Yuffie and Marluxia paused in their ranting. Tifa and Aerith looked at him blankly. Cloud's face distinctly resembled a beetroot.
Yuffie was first to lift the uneasiness. She grabbed Cloud by the hand, and shoved him to the door, all the while laughing nervously, "Here he is! Take your conversation outside...you know, for privacy and all!"
"Cloud, we'll be waiting for you here," Aerith called.
Unwilling to hurt Leon's feelings, he followed the brunette out of the classroom and to the end of the deserted corridor. There they stood for half a minute, in utter silence. The blonde's cheeks burned and he couldn't stop shuffling his feet. Why had Leon asked to speak with him privately? Why, for the love of Gaia, was the brunette not saying anything?
"I've been thinking a lot," Leon said suddenly, probably a little louder than he himself had expected. Cloud jumped in surprise, his blue eyes searching Leon's metallic ones for some sign of the brunette's emotions. What was he going to say? Politely put it across that he had no interest in Cloud? Leon ran a hand through his hair (Cloud guessed it was out of pure anxiety) and continued, "You know, I've gotten lots of letters like these before...and I've always turned them all down –"
Cloud inwardly cried out in despair.
"–but like I said, I've been thinking a lot," Leon said, his voice still shaking. "Because...you know, not like the others – I actually like you. I'm not kidding, really I'm not...but it's just that I've never done something like this before...and my parents – they're the controlling type...I don't want to even think about what will happen if they find out I'm dating...much less...dating a boy...so, you see..."
"Stop!" Cloud cried out, his hands involuntarily grabbing onto Leon's forearms. "...j-just stop...I get it..."
"No, you don't...I –"
"I know you don't like me – you don't have to say it...!"
"I never said..."
"I...I-I have lots of homework – I'm going home first! Bye, Le–"
And quicker than his brain could process, Leon had grabbed his arms and shoved his back against the nearest wall. The force of the impact knocked the breath out of his lungs temporarily. He blinked, breathed, blinked again – and Leon leant down to cover their difference in height, claiming Cloud's lips in one effortless, swift move.
Time stopped then. Cloud had watched countless sappy romance dramas and Disney fairytales, read a fair number of romance-genre novels and even flipped through some high school girl's love manga (how could he have not been spared these things with the friendship of three girls like Yuffie, Aerith and Tifa?) to know that kisses were pretty much exaggerated in most descriptions. Exaggerated to the point that Cloud wanted to hurl whatever it was he was reading or watching out of the window.
Right now, with Leon's hands holding his face firmly, that masculine body pressed so close to him – he was ready to exaggerate every aspect of his first kiss.
As a kid he had presumed kisses were slobbery and disgusting. In his later years, Marluxia and Yuffie had polluted his mind with information that those 'wetter' kisses were French kisses, which involved 'swapping spit'(3).
Kissing Leon didn't involve 'swapping spit' (at least not yet). The brunette wasn't overly demanding either. Cloud could sense the brunette's hesitance, and his warm hands tentatively moved from his face to entangling fingers in blonde hair. This was something Cloud had never experienced before – it felt surreal. Leon, like himself – had next to no experience in kissing, and he was clumsy.
Cloud raised his hands slowly, unsurely, and wound them around the taller brunette's neck. Was this what you were supposed to do in a kiss? Leon's hair was soft and silky, with a minty fragrance. Before he knew it, his hands had helped themselves to the other boy's hair, tangling themselves amongst chocolate tresses. Leon made a low noise of approval. They were now so close their foreheads were against each other. The sensation was indescribable. It was so hot, so exciting...like nothing ever before.
They pulled away gently after a while, their faces thoroughly flushed.
"I...I'm sorry," Leon murmured, but he did not let go of Cloud. "Maybe I've hurt you with my indecisiveness...but really...this is the first time...I've done anything like this."
"Me too," Cloud whispered, forehead against the crook of Leon's shoulder. "But that's okay...right? But...but what about your parents?"
"You know I have a brother," Leon said, and at first Cloud thought he was avoiding the question, "He's fifteen, and already has a boyfriend. An arrogant little bastard named Riku. He has a criminal record. My parents didn't like the sound of him - particularly my mother. Riku ran around Traverse Town rampant with his group of criminal delinquents. We moved all the way was for the trivial purpose of separating Sora and Riku. My parents, from the start did not admire such relationships very much, and Riku turned out to be what they presumed one of the kids who were 'bad influence'. Adults may call this childish, immature, even rebellious...but Sora isn't backing down. And he's younger than me. I...since the very first letter of confession I received, my mother has told me to decline them all, ignore them all. They were 'bad influences', too.
"Sora and I had an argument. I hate to say this...but that imprudent, stupid, hard-headed, impish brother of mine is right. I can recite to you the Periodic Table, I can tell you everything about the French Revolution, I can solve any problem from our math textbook, but I've forgotten that I'm just like Sora. An older kid, but still one. And I've forgotten...forgotten everything about having fun."
"At least," Cloud said quietly, cupping Leon's face and bringing the brunette down for a kiss that would indisputably be more passionate than the first, "you've remembered now."
From the start he had liked Leon honestly, truly. The very sight of the blonde made something in his chest bubble uncontrollably, almost pleasantly.
When he kissed Leon for the second time, he knew that no matter what people said, no matter how everything turned out later, he would stand by the brunette, right by his side, where he belonged.
"Sora?" Roxas blinked . Around the corner, the familiar shape of the gangly boy had appeared, also walking down the same corridor as Roxas.
"Roxas!" the brunette boy cried out happily. "Why are you here?"
"He's passing a textbook to Cloud," Axel replied.
"Hello, Axel," Sora said chirpily.
"Roxas, Axel!" Yuffie called out delightedly, jumping out of the backdoor of her classroom. "You're here! And I'm sorry to say this, but you've missed the best part of the show! Though if you hurry now, you might get to catch snips of their second kiss! It's hot and steamy, it is!"
"They kissed?" Roxas's eyes widened.
"Twice!" Yuffie said proudly.
Axel triumphantly held out a hand while Roxas choked.
"Hurray!" Sora cheered.
"Ah, you must be Leon's little brother," Aerith said, coming out of the backdoor with Tifa. "Round the corner there – you'll be able to see them."
"Nah, I wouldn't want to intrude on their privacy," Sora said.
"Baby Leon?" Tifa blinked, staring at Sora.
"The name's Sora!" the short brunette retorted indignantly.
"Hush, they'll hear!" Aerith said worriedly.
"The beautiful, splendorous exuberance of youthful love!" Marluxia exclaimed, exiting the classroom, with Zexion and Demyx in tow. "I have never seen something so exquisite. Of all the couplings I have witnessed, this is by far the best! Indeed – a shy, insecure boy and the love of his life! – a hardworking, inflexible fellow who has finally learnt that he has the wings of youth like everybody else! Able to experience..."
"Ignore him," Tifa said, savagely knocking Marluxia to the side with a well-aimed kick.
"He's the team's love expert," Demyx said, not-so-helpfully.
"Looks like Operation BABY was a great success!" Yuffie declared jubilantly.
"Actually, we didn't do much..." Zexion muttered.
"We've done a fine matchmaking job," Yuffie nodded sagely. "One of the biggest successes. I can see fifty years into the future...the two of them huddled by a dying fireplace, holding each other's shrivelled hands for their final goodbye..."
"I think we're thinking a little too far," Axel said with a nervous laugh.
"My mom's gonna kill him," Sora said, smirking haughtily. "He's her only redeeming light. After all, I'm the useless son."
"Aw, don't say that," Yuffie cooed.
"Riku'll be coming soon, won't he?" Roxas said, throwing an arm around Sora's shoulder and grinning. "You better introduce him to the rest of us."
"Looks like I'll be out of business for a while..." Marluxia said dejectedly.
"I presume no more hacking services are required?" Zexion said loudly.
"I'm going home," Demyx announced.
"Ahem," Axel coughed, "Roxas baby, you owe me ten munny, remember? As much as I love you..."
"Come on, Aerith – we've got nothing to do here anymore," Tifa said gruffly. "Let's go."
"Oh, okay – bye, everyone!" Aerith joyfully waved.
"I'm off, too!" Yuffie said. "My work here is done!"
"Riku's handsome and sweet and thoughtful and wonderful and..."
"Roxas, my ten munny..."
"Uh-huh, tell me more..."
"...and suave and macho and..."
"Sounds like a really cool guy..."
"He is, you know. Everyone loves him. Mom thinks he's a gangster, but..."
"Ten munny, Roxas!"
"...he may be a little out of control, but he does pretty well at his studies..."
"...you'll like him, too...he's very nice, you know..."
"My munny, Roxas!"
That day, as Operation BABY drew to a close, and the buzzing excitement that had rocked the lives of those teenagers' slowly disappeared, Leon and Cloud walked home together, hands entwined.
(1)Tablet PC: A modern laptop whereby the screen can be moved in various directions. You can write on it with a pen, too.
(2)Neoprint: Relatively small-sized photos from a computer-operated booth. You can decorate them with various attractive designs like stickers or words.
(3)Swapping spit: This line is taken from Eerie Queerie, Vol 2. I found it very amusing and suitable for that part of the fic.