Of Diction and Love
By: Miroir du Symphonie
Fandom: Kingdom Hearts
Warnings: Fluff, people. Like, extreme WAFF. And shonen-ai/yaoi, if you didn't already know.
Formerly first in the Glasses and Braces Arc.
A/N: You have no idea how long I've been planning this stupid arc. Originally it was just this one fic, but then the nerd!Leon and nerd!Cloud grew on Oblea and I and suddenly we're spitting out ideas for multiple oneshots starring them.
EDIT: I have decided to make this into a chapter fic instead of having all of the pieces in separate parts. It feels more complete this way. It will, however, read as though each chapter is a separate fic. So I guess you could say that this is a fic collection. :3
Leon and Cloud's language is supposed to be overly formal and big-wordy. Before anyone crucifies me for saying that teens don't talk like that.
A word about Watercolor: I'm kind of iffy about continuing that fic. I just don't feel motivated for it anymore. It is my hope that this collection will get me up and running for it again. If not, I have almost completed planning for another multichapter fic. Which will of course be LeonxCloud. And I think you'll all like the setting for that one. ;D
This is for the lovely and talented Oblea, whose help was invaluable with this whole project. :3
Glasses and Braces I
Of Diction and Love
Dust motes dirtied the sunshine that filtered in through the windows, the metronome of the classroom clock perpetuating the listless hush that ensnared the room. The teacher's voice droned with a desperate edge from its place at the front desk, trying its best to penetrate the horde of pubescent zombies that occupied the creaky desks. It was mid-morning, that sleepy relapse between forced wakefulness and boredom, and all assembled pupils refused to be swayed from their daydreams of curves and joysticks. All save one.
Squall Leonhart's hands were stained, pale skin tarnished with black ink as he penned out perfect notes, diagrams and questions to be asked dotting the lined looseleaf at random intervals. Thickly rimmed glasses framed attentive eyes that darted smoothly across his page, their color a monochrome that reminded one of monsoons in progress. His regulation uniform was neatly pressed and tied in direct contrast to the rumpled ensembles of his peers.
A student who actually cared. It warmed the teacher's heart.
Her voice was fond when she called him by his nickname, a small request she was more than happy to fulfill in exchange for his lone excellence. "Leon, if a child is on a merry-go-round and the speed is doubled, what happens to the magnitude of the centripetal force acting on the child?"
"It is quadrupled, ma'am."
His answer was precise and to the point, and her voice held both hints of spite and pride in it when she addressed the rest of the class. "Well, since none of you deem it necessary to pay attention and Mr. Leonhart obviously gets it, then everyone must be ready for a quiz on centripetal force tomorrow."
The rest of the class managed to stir itself out of its stupor long enough to shoot him looks of death before the bell rang and a flurry of activity erupted.
Leon sighed as he packed his things away, swinging the bag on his shoulder. As usual, he was the last one out and the hall was already a sea of blue plaid and white. No one spared him a passing glace as he walked by groups of laughing friends, ghostlike and alone. Squall Leonhart was by no means popular.
And no, right before a test didn't count.
Suppressing the familiar pangs of loneliness that threatened to drown his heart, he kept going.
Lunch was a quiet and dull affair, taken alone and away from the masses in the sanctity of the library. He was able to get most of the morning's assigned homework done while munching on a turkey sandwich and tapping his foot impatiently. In Leon's life, there was little to be excited or impatient about, but since he'd gotten his schedule changed to all AP classes something new had presented itself. A person who sat near him in AP Biology. Which he happened to have after lunch.
The brunette had darted out of the library before the bell had finished ringing.
The students filed in slowly, cutting as possibly close to the tardy bell as they could to wrap up conversations. Only a singular figure in the crowd moved with any sort of haste, sliding the black straps of his bookbag off a small frame as he sat in the back near Leon—a single desk to the brunette's left marking the distance between them.
Covertly he watched the figure, retrieving his own materials and setting them on his workspace as the aging teacher finally swept in. Nearby, a purple notebook had found its way onto the blonde's desk, followed by a blue pen and what looked like a small lollipop. Gray eyes roved keenly, noting everything—the small panda clips nestled in the sea of spun gold that kept stubborn strands out of a porcelain face, the dreaded metal bound to white teeth that glinted in the fluorescent light.
To him, Cloud Strife was as radiant as ever. To everyone else, the blonde was every bit as an outcast as he was.
It was in the way they spoke, words found in only the dictionary's dusty corners spilling out as something so natural neither would think them strange. It was in the way they drew their pleasure from a fount of words instead of the spilling of blood on a football field. It was in the way the attention paid to them was akin to a librarian's on bookends: forgettable and dull, yet keeping the pretty text and colorful spines from collapsing at crucial moments.
They were similar, almost eerily so. To Leon, Cloud was someone who could brighten the internal void that couldn't be filled by numbers and theorems. The one that dwelled in a place the brain couldn't reach. The one that stung every time he saw two people together, sharing a feeling that couldn't be analyzed.
The only problem was how.
Leon had absolutely no romantic experience. To so many others around him, it seemed to come like clockwork, some remote instinct that he hadn't been deemed primal enough to get. Never before had he found a reason to be jealous of his shallow, childish peers until the moment he laid eyes on Cloud and was failed by logic.
A rhythmic tapping brought him out of his dour musing, and he turned his attention to the blackboard as the yardstick drummed upon it. Even as he worked, he found his eyes drifting to flyaway locks and the movement of his pen stilled.
For the first time in Leon's life, the classwork seemed unimportant.
The bedside lamp burned bright into the night as he sat before the glowing screen. It was a late hour, but he felt good, awake. Vivaldi's violins sang of springtime to his listening ears. The keys made clacking sounds beneath the pads of eager fingers.
He, Squall Leonhart, was doing something he never did. He was working completely on impulse.
If he had been in a remotely sane frame of mind, he would have done extensive research. He would have immersed himself in tabloids, taking in their cheesy dating advice with a near rabid air. He would have turned to the textbooks, read scientific journals about what colors and phrases stimulated oxytocin or some other such nonsense. Leon did not see himself as a creature of cliché emotion—and yet the feeling that reigned a tragic kingdom in his heart was one that dated to the first time an apple stained Eve's lips red.
Modern primitism, he could argue. But hadn't man surpassed that?
Sighing, he scrubbed at his face, relishing the nighttime silence and surveying what he'd written. He was certainly no Shakespeare, though the degree of sap that polluted his brain when he thought of Cloud protested otherwise.
Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate. Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May—
With a quiet groan, he did a final spellcheck before printing out the missive and turning out the lights. It was difficult to get to sleep, though tired as he was—his heart was racing and wouldn't calm down no matter how many deep breaths he made.
Cloud Strife was not happy.
For the first time in his life, he'd been late to school—his bedside alarm clock had run out of juice. Usually, this was an event he anticipated and planned for accordingly. However, he had been distracted by a complication in one of his personal projects the night previous and hadn't written a Post-It reminder.
Not that it mattered: his stash was completely empty. Either Sora or Roxas had stolen his batteries—for what, Cloud didn't think he wanted to know.
If that wasn't enough, he'd had a test first period by some twist of cosmic fate. Sure, he was able to complete it in under five minutes, but in sheer irritation he'd made a mistake.
Cloud glared at his graded test paper in disgust.
He could kiss his perfect average goodbye.
With a put-upon sigh, he extracted his identification card and warily slid it into the gap his locker door made with the partition. Nothing. For once, no one had sought to spite him by gluing it shut, and in a slightly better mood he twirled the dial in deft fingers.
The blonde was quite surprised to find a hint of white atop his green Bio book.
Curious, his slotted his bag into the lower half of the locker and removed the object from the shelf. It was an envelope, ordinary crème with his name penned in elegant script. Uncertain as to whether or not this was a joke, he brought it to his nose—and was surprised to catch a whiff of sweet-smelling cologne.
Now he was interested.
Fate, however, decided to laugh at him a little more—the bell rang and somehow sounded shriller that it ever had before. With a sigh, he grabbed his things for second and third period and slotted the envelope into a textbook. He'd open it later, he promised himself.
A quiet moment shouldn't be too hard to find, right?
Wrong, Cloud thought bitterly as he sat in his room, fingering the still unopened envelope.
Something bad must have happened in the faculty room, because all the teachers were in pissy moods and had assigned exorbitant amounts of classwork—which for Cloud, who usually sat bored in class after finishing the work in ten minutes, was saying something. The innocent piece of paper had burned a hole in his pocket all day, and he'd been scheduled to do service in the English room at lunch so he hadn't even been able to open it then. People on the bus had a creepy habit of peering over your shoulder, and with the way his luck was going today it probably would have blown off somewhere if he'd done it while walking.
But he was alone now, in the privacy of his haven.
His sanctum sanctorum.
And absolutely nothing was going to interrupt him now.
With bated breath, he carefully nudged a small pen-knife under the envelope's flap and slid it across, trying to resist the temptation to just rip the thing open. The flap came loose and then free, exposing a sheet of expensive-looking paper. It was textured to the touch and a small breath of wonder escaped Cloud as he pulled it out.
Who would use paper like this to write him anything?
He unfolded the note. And promptly lost control of his respiratory functions.
Good afternoon. I hope this finds you well. It is necessary to apologize for the abruptness of this missive, for it is not something that was planned out for a significant amount of time. However, it expresses something that I have been desirous of for several weeks and that I have found myself unable to repress. I would like to inquire if you would in fact be in agreement to venturing out with me to a nearby place of my choosing for lukewarm beverages accompanied by foods loaded with carbohydrates. You are very aesthetically pleasing to my optical nerves, and though we have never spoken prior to this I imagine I would quite enjoy conversation with your person. Please forward a response to this message as expeditiously as is possible for you.
The blonde's eyes widened.
Nimble fingers dropped the letter like it was on fire as he dove for his nightstand with a near desperate air. His throat was tightening, mucus sealing off his air, palms emitting perspiration at abnormally frequent intervals and the room seemed to have spiked a thousand degrees. His breathing increased—no matter the pace, relief wouldn't come and he knew that his lips were a sickly azure.
Of course the little drawer resisted his pulls, but a particularly violent tug yielded its twofold cache.
Cloud jammed the inhaler mouthpiece into his mouth and depressed the canister, deeply breathing the medicine in. He held it for the required ten seconds—then weakly pulled the paper bag over his mouth and breathed for dear life.
Someone must have heard the bag crinkling, because Sora stuck his head in, took one look at the pathetic sight and yelled downstairs to his fraternal twin. "Roxas!"
A muffled "what" came from the general direction of the kitchen.
"Get up here. Something's wrong with Cloud."
The sarcasm dripping from the blonde's louder reply was evident from half a house away. "Did he lose his lucky pencil again?"
"He's using the bag."
Silence. Creaking on the stairs, then Roxas' swirly head peeked over the threshold. "Dude, you broke out the bag?"
Without waiting for permission, the duo fully entered the room. To their eyes, everything was immaculate as usual: books stacked in size place order, pencils arranged by the electric sharpener from dull to pointy, picture frames and the edge of the dresser forming perfect ninety-degree angles. The only imperfection was the solitary paper on the otherwise clean carpet.
"Hey, what's that?"
Cloud lifted his head from the pillow of his arm, following Sora's pointed finger to what could be nothing else but Leon's letter, fluttered to the floor. Roxas, watching Cloud watch Sora, saw something in those normally blank blues that poured a wave of kerosene on a fizzing spark of hope.
It was truly pathetic, Cloud reflected as he beat limp-noodle limbs on his brother's back, that he couldn't throw off the skin and bone that comprised his youngest sibling. It was only the school policy that kept his perpetually low string of gym grades from downing his obscenely high average: Phys Ed wasn't counted in. Nonetheless, for the first time in his life he wished he was Sephiroth, the Adonis-bodied quarterback of the school team. He would have been able to toss Sora's dead weight like paper and stop Roxas from knowing.
A grin he didn't like was spreading over the blonde's face.
"Well, what does it say?" Sora was like jello atop him, wiggling to and fro from his stationary spot. "Dude, come on!"
"I would like to inquire," Roxas began reading in a deeply obnoxious voice, "if you would in fact be in agreement to venturing out with me to a nearby place of my choosing for lukewarm beverages accompanied by foods loaded with carbohydrates..."
Cloud closed his eyes in humiliation as the brunette's words were repeated in full, the pale blob that pinned him down seeming caught between shock and wonder. When Roxas finished, however, the uproarious amusement that he expected didn't come.
He opened one blue eye.
The letter was held tightly in the younger blonde's crème hand as he joined his brothers on the bed. Sora moved off the eldest quietly, and the two did something they hadn't done since he was seven and his pet iguana died. The curve of two small bodies fit to his back and front, self-slotting pieces to a puzzle that for once, he couldn't solve.
"Dude," Roxas said quietly behind him, "You know Leon, right?"
Of course he knew all about the love letter's author: Squall Leonhart was about the only person in their facsimile of a learning institution who possessed a hint of sense. Like the older blonde, the senior took perfect attendance as personal pride and dragged himself to school no matter how crappy he felt. In his tenacity he was a constant for Cloud. No matter what changed in life, he could always count on the stoic brunette to be there, sitting a desk's distance in seventh period AP Bio.
"Cloud..." Sora's intense blue eyes—a quarter hue from his own—bored into him. "Me and Roxas are kinda worried about you."
"Roxas and I," he corrected on quiet autopilot. Sora shook his head.
"What Sora's trying to say is that...we've been watching you and yeah, we're worried. At school, you don't do anything but schoolwork—"
"Which is wrong, by the way."
"—and the only time you're with someone is when we come find you. You don't hang out, Cloud. You don't go anywhere. All you do is lock yourself in the basement with your chemicals and do whatever the hell you do down there. This isn't healthy, dude. And it's not just us, either. You're upsetting Mom."
Cloud couldn't bring himself to look any higher than the smooth curve of Sora's nape as Roxas finished speaking, sudden unease making him queasy. Mother was upset? He wouldn't know it from the pride she took in arranging his trophies and metals, her joy every time she attended a conference at school. He was making the grades he'd need for the bright future she wanted for them all. So he was a social wallflower. He honestly didn't see the issue. But if she was upset...
"Look..." Sora began, and he felt it then: the gentle thread of careful fingers through layers of sunshine blonde. "We're all really proud of you, okay? You work really hard and you deserve every good thing you get. But...Cloud, you're a senior. A few more months and you're leaving. You were accepted everywhere you applied, you have several full scholarships to really good places, and you're probably going to get a lot of job offers for whatever you want to do after college. You don't have to work anymore."
The brunette sounded unusually sad. It twisted Cloud's heartstrings. "High school doesn't come back, you know. Don't you think you should spend some time on yourself?"
There was silence for a while, the twins letting their words digest and Cloud trying to blink back tears he couldn't explain.
"And dude, Leon's really smart too. Aren't you guys battling it out for valedictorian in June?" Roxas finally asked, his voice encouraging.
"Exactly. So you can talk about science-y stuff. You know. Maybe he could come over one day and help you in your lab. I know you've been having problems with your pet projects. And stay for dinner. It'll be fun. Besides, you're eighteen. I think it's about time you got fu—"
"—er—fermented yourself into a meaningful relationship."
"...you want me to convert sugars into cellular energy and produce carbon dioxide as metabolic waste?"
Sora snickered. "I think he meant cemented, Cloud."
"We're not asking you to jump into bed with him, or anything, but Leon likes you and he's really nice. Besides, he's only asking for one informal date," the brunette soothed. Roxas' hand moved to his shoulder and squeezed once.
"But I don't know what to do," Cloud replied, voice small.
"Just talk to him. You'll be fine."
Conversation died with a reassuring squeeze and they lay together for a while longer, twin butterflies alighting on his cheeks before the bed groaned in relief at the absence of weight. It was a while before he moved, and even then it was only far enough to pick up a pen and piece of paper.
I must admit that your missive was quite unanticipated and accepted with a healthy measure of trepidation. However, upon careful introspection, I am now overjoyed by your invitation and would thus accept it with great pleasure. Perhaps we may meet after our scheduled learning period to discuss these future plans? My respiration rate increases greatly in your presence, almost to a near dangerous level, but I am sure with inhaler in hand I can survive. My health is of equal or perhaps even lesser value to the thought of occupied time with you.
Leon reread the message that afternoon for the umpteenth time, inwardly jumping to and fro in a rather undignified expression of glee. Honestly, when he'd slipped the thing into the blonde's locker he'd been expecting a polite refusal at best and total disregard at worst. Instead he'd been blessed with a neat square of looseleaf, nowhere as fancy as the bond paper he'd used but equally precious.
He resolved to laminate and frame it at the nearest possible opportunity.
Work complete early—as usual—he pulled out a square of origami paper and began the folding that he'd practiced endlessly the night before. It was his favorite time of day: to his left sat Cloud, finishing up what Leon could glimpse as the last assigned problem. Their usual teacher was out with the flu and the substitute had promised to leave them to their own devices after completing the given worksheet.
Which was perfect for Leon.
Cloud set his pen down with a sigh, happy to be finished. AP Bio was among the few mild challenges that he underwent in school, and the sheer amount of work assigned for it had become an annoyance. Today was a welcome reprieve, though...another good thing in what was shaping up to be a streak.
His cheeks flushed cerise as he remembered the easy way his return message had fallen into the locker. He'd been hyperaware of Leon's presence since class had started, registering the smooth movements of his black ink pen, the set expression, the occasional push of thick-framed glasses up an aristocratic nose...
A sudden movement on his desk pushed him from his rather embarrassing thoughts. Cerulean eyes looked down at the foreign object and cautious hands picked it up with care. It was an origami flower, delicately made with red paper, and he could glimpse black writing within the folds of the structure.
It looked so pretty he was loath to open it, wanting to preserve its fragile beauty. There was only one person who could have sent it, as well: its positioning spoke of an origin to his right and the thought made his heart race.
If this afternoon is convenient for you, would you convene with my person near the fountain after the close of our designated learning period for a short walk and coffee at a nearby establishment?
Cloud read it and reread it again, just to be sure he was seeing right. And then a smile curled the corners of his lips—and to the covertly watchful Leon it was a beautiful smile, braces and all.
Aurulent hair moved freely about as he turned his head, the panda clips' absence letting sunshine frame sapphire. The smile was still in place as he gave a short nod, a pleasure that had never come with any award welling up in his chest.
He, Cloud Strife, had just received his first note.
At precisely three thirty, two figures ambled to the proud fountain in the middle of the spacious lawn. If not for the rather prominent coif of the shorter one they might have missed each other: the fountain was a popular spot at any time of day, but it saw the most activity at the close of daily classes. The figures exchanged timid greeting, making their way as a pair down the paved pathway that split the well-kept land. As per unfortunate but true fact, both went unnoticed to the students assembled—all save two.
Twin indigo eyes watched the retreating silhouettes with palpable satisfaction, the melding of minds that only twins could achieve uniting them in their imminent task. The second the figures were out of sight, grass blades flattened to the earth as hasty feet trampled them over.
The shop was cool and dimly lit, rows of bookshelves separating them from the rest of the world. It was one of those places whose name had been lost to time, whose only identification was in the fade of print and the taste of tartlets. It was in this bookshop-bakery that Leon had spent many contented hours, diligently reading or sampling new patisserie. And it was here that he led his companion, relishing the familiar clear-headed feeling that came with complete ease.
A weight seemed to vanish from his burdened shoulders.
Cloud seemed fascinated by the atmosphere as they sat, Leon's choice of a corner table letting them watch the room. The blonde's iced coffee—picked and paid for by Squall Leonhart, thank you very much—was cradled in small fingers, cooling them from the heat of the outside sun. As usual, business was pleasantly slow, browsers perusing the material on the front shelves in slow, lingering strides.
"I hope that this selected establishment is acceptable to your tastes, Cloud." The brunette said quietly, voice sounding with a nervous quaver. Cloud's attention became attentively fixed on him and he swallowed, feeling pinned under that cool blue stare.
"It is...quaint." The blonde smiled, flashing metal and white, and Leon's heart gave a strange palpitation. "I find it very much to my liking. Thank you."
He smiled back.
Silence reigned for long moments, a silence born of observation. The liquid level in Cloud's plastic cup diminished as they sat, cherry lips curling around the bendy straw and cerulean eyes lowered demurely. Leon felt like an idiot—he knew he was wasting Cloud's time with his hesitance and flushing his chances down the proverbial drain. Yet every time he opened his mouth the most minor action stole his breath: the threading of pinkened fingers though strands of captured sunshine, the flickering of a cornflower iris as it took in the details of the room.
Finally, Cloud's straw was sucking nothing but air. The brunette was out of time.
Blue eyes snapped up to meet his. "Yes?"
"I..." Slowly, slowly, trembling fingers moved to cover a smaller hand. Cloud's hand was chilly from cold plastic, the coolness refreshing to his sweaty digits. He took a deep breath, in and out. "I've observed you for a quite significant quantity of time, Cloud."
The surprise in each iris was evident, circling the scatter of light that evidenced the creature before him. Cloud's reply was slightly breathy, as if he'd been running mental miles and was too tired to speak with strength. "You have? I don't...I don't understand, Leon."
His breathing quickened, frantic lungs failing to wake a brain in stasis.
To others, the statement was something natural, a mere wish for clarification. But for those who were as they were...only someone like them could understand the cost of those words. To not understand was a fate worse than death, one that spelled life in neutral behind a fast-food register while an educated world passed them by.
He could barely believe that the blonde was taking him seriously. Sure, Cloud's return message made certain the fact that he felt something, but the brunette had thought...
He'd thought Cloud wouldn't want him. Just like no one else did.
"Yes. Since...since you transferred into my classroom. I wasn't aware that you existed before that." Leon cast his gaze to the table, mildly embarrassed at his next statement. "I feel as though I've wasted time. By not knowing."
The blonde smiled, a small, bittersweet smile. Even his braces appeared to have lost luster. "I'm not astonished at your lack of notice. Only my brothers seek me out during school hours. It never really troubled me until you sent your missive."
He tightened his grip on the limp fingers, digits that had yet to respond. "We are a lot alike."
Sea met darkened sky. "Leon, what do you desire from me?"
Words failed him, his mind a drenched dictionary with meticulously penned reason running in rapid rivulets. Cloud seemed closer than he had a minute ago, close enough for Leon to see emerald flecks in the other boy's iris. Then everything fazed out of focus.
A year ago—month ago, even—Leon would have described passion as the feeling one got after solving a problem, making a model, writing an essay. The feeling a runner got after a second gold medal, the reassurance that honed skill hadn't vanished between races. That wasn't it, he knew now.
It was the puzzle of Cloud's soft lips, slotting and filling an obvious void that his mind had somehow missed.
"I want to see you exclusively. For an extended period of time," he said softly against the blonde's lips, which were still with shock. "Please consent."
The sudden sight of sadness in those bright eyes was more than a little discouraging. "Leon, I have never seen anyone. I do not have any knowledge of what to do."
"I do not, either," he said gently, as if coaxing a frightened bird to take seeds from his palm. In truth, the thought of a real relationship was more than a little daunting. Leon was not used to looking out for another person. His father irritated him to the point of insanity. His mother was...well, she wasn't around. He had no siblings. Or relatives. Or friends. There was no one in his life for him to concern himself with. And suddenly he was signing himself up for a responsibility that he had no clue how to handle.
Love had no science.
"But I am willing to attempt."
Cloud hesitated for several long moments, long enough for a vat of dread to brew itself within Leon's stomach. But then the blonde leaned forward, just a little. And their lips met once more. It was clumsy and a little awkward—both pairs of eyes were open and Leon's frames pushed uncomfortably into the blonde's pale skin. But it was perfect.
Their type of perfect.
It was very cramped under that table. Very, very cramped. So much so that Sora couldn't move without his elbow or knee lodging itself into a very sensitive place on his twin's anatomy. The small dose of guilt made the position even worse—both he and Roxas knew that they shouldn't be watching this. It was a very private, very important moment for their older brother, one that deserved to be preserved in Cloud's memory and Cloud's alone.
That didn't stop the uproarious laughter the second their targets left the shop, hands shyly entwined.