Ash and Blossoms
By: Miroir du Symphonie
Fandom: Kingdom Hearts
A/N: Well, it was my expectation that I would get to do a chapter of Glasses and Braces on this my week off. Instead, I have been incessantly bothered by my parents to perform a number of ultimately meaningless tasks. (It is very, very difficult to get any writing done when you're being bugged and yelled at to juice carrots.) Most of the time I got so annoyed that I stopped writing altogether. Fortunately, the first rain we've gotten in two months down here came yesterday, and with it a flood of inspiration. I wrote most of this during the storm and finished it off today. Don't have much to say about this one - I wrote the first scene with another plot in mind months ago, and found it again on Sunday, deciding to rework the whole thing.
Some shameless self-promotion here - Of Glasses and Braces is my current multichapter LeonCloud AU project, so pop over there and review when you get a chance. I'm running a contest for that fic - the 25th reviewer will receive a oneshot with the pairing of their choice.
As always, my LJ is frequently updated with sneak peeks on upcoming chapters/projects, so give it a look when you get a chance via my Homepage link.
Enjoy, and don't forget to review, my lovelies.
Ash and Blossoms
The hottest season, one that entailed many different things, depending on who you were talking to. For some, it was an opportunity to kick back, to spend time with friends and family after months of study, and to sleep as many hours as desired without worrying about tardiness. For others, it was an inescapable furnace and a fortune to be spent on inconsequential fans. It was for love, in the Beach Boys' opinion. Or tragedy, according to Shakespeare.
For Leon, it simply meant that he was close. Impossibly, irrevocably, undeniably close.
It was late and he was alone, a dim lamp providing illumination in the otherwise darkened room. Outside the window, a virtual monsoon raged, a welcome change of pace from the perpetual heat wave that had plagued Traverse Town for weeks. The sound of the raindrops on the windowpane lent a pleasant backdrop to his studies, and his mind felt at ease as deft fingers traced lines. Admittedly, his eyes were beginning to sting, though he knew he couldn't quit.
Piles of books formed little mountains on every available surface and he had barely a month to reread them all.
His stomach growled unpleasantly and he glared at it, as if his piercing stare could penetrate skin and tissue and show the organ that he was not pleased. Unfortunately, he lacked X-ray vision, and the needy noises seemed to spite him as they unrelentingly filled the room. Resigned to his body's needs, he carefully marked his place and stood for a stretch, feeling the stiffness ease from hours in one position.
Scratching his stomach thoughtfully, he ambled out of the makeshift study, passing the left-ajar door where a shock of blonde hair peeked out from between blankets.
He took the stairs two at a time and hit the floor in a graceful landing, bare feet padding on linoleum as he cracked the fridge open. Immersed in the all-consuming choice between turkey or ham, he was more than a little startled when the phone began to ring.
Blinking, he glanced at the clock. One in the morning. He closed his eyes, counted to ten, and opened them wide. Still one in the morning. He was about to go for twenty when the phone started another round of shrieking, and he snatched it up, annoyed.
Who the hell could be calling at one in the morning?
"Moshi-moshi, Squally! This is the Great Ninja Yuffie—"
The phone hit the cradle with a loud clacking sound and he turned away with a huff, deciding on the turkey and removing a loaf of white bread. He was deciding on condiments when the noise started up again, somehow seeming louder and shriller than before.
Leon gritted his teeth.
"It's one in the morning! What the hell do you want?"
"Aww, Squal-ly!" He could practically hear her pouting. "That wasn't very nice, you know!"
"My name is Leon."
"Sure thing, Squally!"
It was too bad that murder was generally frowned upon in polite society. Really, the town would be better off without the pain in the gluteus maxiumus that was Yuffie Kisaragi. He was a lawyer, right? He could build a case for it.
Not a lawyer yet. One more month. You're wasting time. Need to study.
It was odd how even thoughts of Yuffie brought him back to the imminent exam.
"Yuffie. What. Do. You. Want?"
Having known the spunky female for years, he fully expected to be led around in circles several times before she settled enough to state her intentions. What he didn't expect, however, was for her words to turn serious and her tone to go gloomy. "I kinda needed to talk you, Leon. It's about Cloud."
Interest piqued, he leaned against the counter, bare foot tapping out a rhythm on the kitchen floor and appetite forgotten. "What is it?"
"Tifa said Cloud called her a few days ago and said he wasn't doing good."
"Doing well, Yuffie," he corrected on autopilot, thoughts gravitating to his younger lover. Cloud had seemed fine when their paths had crossed earlier. The healthy glow in his cheeks had been as rosy as ever, his eyes still blue, his hair still blonde. No sign of malady to speak of.
"He seems fine to me." The brunette frowned, recalling more than one occasion where Cloud hadn't said a word about being ill for the sake of simple pride. "He's not sick, is he?"
"No, not like that."
"Yuffie, you're not making sense."
At once, her voice gained an angry shade and he flinched at the decibel torture to his inner canal. He could just see her, bouncing around her father's dojo and shrieking her head off. "You said you'd be nice to him, Leon! You promised!"
Brow furrowing, he glanced at the clock. One ten. He'd wasted ten minutes—three paragraphs that could have been read and retained. And still they'd gotten nowhere. "Yuffie, I have—"
"Cloudy's sad! Tifa said he was crying 'cause you don't like him anymore!"
It took a moment for him to pick apart her juvenile speech, but his trained mind spewed a thousand questions when he finally got it. "Yuffie, tell me exactly what was said."
There was a moment of silence before the ninja spoke again, and she sounded notably different: there was no hint of childish whim on any weighted vowel. Instead, her voice held a level of maturity and profound sorrow that stirred a pit of dread. "He said you study so much that you won't speak to him or touch him at all."
His first reaction was a faint blush at the sexual allusion, but for once his mind re-railed on the topic at hand and he immediately grew defensive. "I haven't—"
"I know you, Leon." Her voice was solemn and held condemnation as she cut him off. "I've seen you when you get an idea in your head. Ignoring Cloud to pass the bar sounds exactly like something you'd do."
Sighing, he decided to humor her. "Fine. Let's say I've been 'ignoring Cloud'." His mind added the quotation marks and he had to keep from snorting. Cloud had probably been feeling bitchy when he made that call, a mood he slipped into disturbingly often. "What do I do?"
The sheer venom in Yuffie's voice when she replied was nothing short of shocking.
The next thing he heard was the operator telling him that the call had disconnected.
Numbly, he put the phone in its cradle, sandwich forgotten as he took in the night's events. Never once in the decade plus that he'd known the girl had she taken such a tone with him. His initial reaction at her accusation had been immediate dismissal, but now he wasn't so sure. The crying report was also something to take under consideration. Sure, the blonde teared up on occasion for dramatic effect, but he'd only seen Cloud cry once—when they'd found their aging cat Gabriel dead next to his water bowl. Something he could understand: his lover was training to be a vet, after all.
The blonde pouring out his woes to Tifa was another issue amiss. Usually, when the man was upset he ran either to Leon himself or to ZackandAerith. (In the brunette's mind, the two were one entity and so did not deserve the luxury of spaces.) Talking to Tifa about their relationship was something Cloud considered cruel, since he'd known about the woman's longsuffering crush on him for years.
Why the sudden change of heart?
As much as Leon hated himself for it (it was one-twenty and lord he'd wasted time) his curiosity was raging too strongly to ignore. It wasn't a minute later that found himself reaching for the rejected receiver and dialing the digits he knew by heart.
The phone barely had time to ring before the other line was snatched up.
"Thought I wasn't making sense?"
Leon rolled his eyes. "Yuffie, my bar exam's in a month. Cloud knows I have to prepare."
To the brunette's surprise, a new voice replied. "At the cost of his feelings?"
Scowling, he leaned against the counter, displeased that Yuffie had called Aerith. "Don't you people ever sleep?"
"When was the last time you hugged him or asked how his day was, Leon?" Ignoring his comment, Aerith went on. "We all know how important this exam is to you, and we know you have to study. But Cloud gave up a lot to be with you, as well."
A contemplative silence fell over the line, none of the parties knowing quite what else to say. He found himself biting his lip—a habit he'd been trying to stomp out—but he couldn't bring himself to stop. Guilt began to paw at him like a starving cat, lacerating his legs before knocking him over to sink sharp claws in his heart.
Aerith's voice reached him once more after a few minutes. "Leon, what we're telling you doesn't mean you're a bad boyfriend. It just means you're a little too preoccupied."
"Yeah, what she said!" Yuffie chimed in.
"Try doing something nice for Cloud. That's what Zack does whenever he screws up."
"Okay." Unsure, he acquiesced, not knowing what else to do. "Goodnight, Aerith. Yuffie."
Replacing the phone for the final time that night, he returned the food items to the fridge and trudged upstairs.
Steam curled out of the bathroom as he stepped out of it, loose pajama pants sitting on masculine hips and a muscled arm maneuvering a towel through dampened locks. The apartment smelled good, a combination of syrup and coffee and Leon smiled, hearing movement downstairs. Lazily descending to the first landing, he leaned against the doorframe and took a quiet moment to observe his lover.
Cloud was fully dressed in jeans and a dark sweater, too warm as usual for the hot summer air. For some reason, the blonde was always cold, and he'd seen Cloud suffer in the winter months with so many layers he resembled a bear. The shorter male's lengthy bangs were held away from his face with tiny shuriken clips, gifts from Yuffie for his twenty-third and a telltale sign that he was going to class.
Leon sighed at the realization, not sure whether to be thankful or not. He still had no clue of what he was going to do for Cloud and whether it would involve a few hours together, and he made a note to have a lengthy think about it—after lunch.
His morning would be devoted to those damned tortfeasors. There was no branch of law a bigger pain in the ass.
Unfortunately, his small noise had alerted the blonde, who looked over from his spot at the stove. A few pancakes were already finished, giving off an appealing aroma and the brunette felt the stirrings of a dormant appetite. His attention was diverted from breakfast, however, when Cloud smiled at him.
Walking over, he gently pried the spatula from his lover's hand. "I'll do that. You sit."
The blonde's smile grew, and Leon's heart gave a painful throb. He couldn't recall the last time he'd seen it. "Morning, Leon."
As he finished the pancakes and turned the coffee machine off, his mind drifted to last night's dilemma. He'd been incapable of concentrating on his work afterward, and had crept into their bedroom around 2AM—only, at his displeasure, to have sleep evade him. Instead, his attention had drifted to Cloud and he'd studied his lover in the pre-dawn darkness.
Yuffie and Aerith had been correct—the blonde did look somewhat morose. Awake, those blue eyes were as bright as ever, but Cloud had lost the childlike peace that made watching him sleep a favored pastime. Instead, he seemed older and drawn, a little frown curling those petal pink lips into something less lovely.
Leon didn't like the change. And he had an even harder time accepting it was his fault.
"...are you alright?"
The brunette was snapped out of his thoughts by the quiet inquiry, blonde brows furrowed at him in concern. Slightly embarrassed at his lapse in attention, he poured them coffee and distributed the pancakes before joining his lover at the table. Silence settled over them, an oddly awkward one, and he sensed a chasm between them with no means of crossing.
"I'm fine, Cloud."
Cloud nodded and did not speak, sipping his coffee with a faraway look. Leon cast about for something, anything to say. "So...how are your classes going?"
He was pleased to see the blonde brighten at the question. "They're going really well, actually. Biostatistics is my best grade, though. The professor is great."
"Really?" he murmured, sampling his pancakes and trying his best to pay attention.
"Yeah. He's really smart and doesn't mind us asking questions like some of my other professors. He says my research project idea was really original, especially since he doesn't like PAL either." Cloud was now wearing a dreamy expression that Leon hadn't seen since their first months of dating and really didn't like. "We're planning a trip to go see if the bestiality dungeon rumor is true."
"Your whole class, right?" the brunette asked warily, but before he could get an answer Cloud stood and quickly downed his coffee.
"I have to go or else I'll be late." A kiss was dropped into his hair. "Expect me around seven. Have a good day, Leon."
It wasn't until the front door shut with a quiet thud did the sudden knot in his stomach ease.
Three weeks to bar.
Once again, he was studying.
The Cloud problem was an uncomfortable niggle in the back of his mind, but one that he'd lost all opportunity to take care of during his last visit to campus. The professor had handed out a revised sheet of what was expected to be on this year's bar exam—and one new item under the heavily tested topics on the list had sent him into a panicked frenzy. Precedents.
Leon hated history. He'd been so relieved when he was told that only a light brushing of it was present on the exam. Unfortunately, that was no longer the case, and he found himself ensconced once more in the company of heavy tomes. Cloud was out, spending the night at ZackandAerith's, and the brunette had just finished a stark and somewhat lonely dinner before settling himself amidst his books.
He was so engrossed in the tedious reading that he jumped at the sound of the phone. Shooting it an evil look, he ignored it, figuring that whoever was bothering him would leave a message if it was reasonably important.
He was rather unnerved when the person did—the voice was deep, smooth, and completely unfamiliar.
"Good evening, Cloud. It was my understanding that your cellular was damaged, so I hope you will forgive me for disturbing you at home. I am calling in regards to our enjoyable excursion to PAL's headquarters, though with regret that our combined efforts did not manage to locate the fabled dungeon. However, I have been informed that the president of Platonic Animal Lovers will be giving a speech downtown. It was my hope that you would be able to attend this event in my company. Please take it under consideration, and get back to me at your earliest convenience. Have a good night."
A very unpleasant feeling welled up in Leon's stomach as the machine beeped and cut off. Before he realized it, his finger was hovering over the delete button, and it was the relapse of conscious thought that kept him from pressing it.
Because if he did, it would mean that he had something to fear from this professor person.
Which he didn't.
There was nothing strange about a professor paying special attention to a student that showed promise. Hell, several of Leon's professors had done the same to him, and none of them had been remotely interested in any sort of personal entanglement. Cloud had the right to associate with whoever he so desired, and if this man was going to help further his academic career, then more power to him.
Besides, he and Cloud had a very strongly established relationship. Cloud knew that Leon could keep him happy, as he had been doing so successfully for the past five years. What reason did the blonde have to look elsewhere?
Resolved to adapt and keep this attitude, the brunette settled his reference book more firmly on his lap, trying his best to ignore the growing apprehension in his gut.
A sigh of relief escaped him as he sat down at his desk at work a week later, looking at his full inbox with contentment for the first time. The professor's message still haunted him, that velvet voice replaying over and over every time he thought of his blue-eyed partner.
Twinges of icy guilt stung in his chest as he remembered the man's hurt expression. They'd crossed paths the morning after, Leon heading out to work and the blonde coming in from an early shift. Cloud's arms had stretched out for a hug and his lips had curved in a pretty smile, but his efforts had been met with a hollow request to check the answering machine and the back of Leon's jacket.
Trying not to think about that incident, he was grateful when he saw a shock of hedgehog hair and a beaming smile in the distance.
ZackandAerith was more Cloud's friend than It was his, the entity having wormed Its way into the brunette's life out of curiosity and concern for its blonde companion. He knew that Aerith had gone to school with Cloud, and that Zack was older than both of them and had a year on Leon himself. It was a pretty good Thing, he had to admit, though Leon couldn't hold back a slight tinge of jealousy: never once had he seen angry division between the two components of It.
Or anything but perfect bliss, for that matter.
"Morning, bubble butt," Zack crowed as he plopped into a conveniently present seat near the brunette's desk. "Brought you a bagel."
Leon scowled at the embarrassing nickname, the product of a drunken ramble on a double date to a club. His old leather pants had come out of storage and Zack had spent half an hour ranting on the perfect curvature of his posterior.
His cheeks burned a ruddy pink as he reached for the paper bag. Aerith and Cloud hadn't even helped—instead, they'd recorded the whole thing on the woman's pink phone and played it back when Zack was sober.
Poking into the bag's contents, he was pleased to find sausage and egg on his bagel, a combination he usually avoided in favor of butter to save some cash. He was even further surprised to find a large cup of coffee and a small, covered tin of hashbrowns.
Suspicion sent its first tendrils through Leon's mind. Zack hadn't bought his coworker this big a breakfast since he'd lost a bet. Six months ago.
"...thank you, Zack," he said with a measure of hesitation, unwrapping the bagel from its paper prison. The man was oddly silent as Leon began to eat, watchful violet eyes making him self-conscious and keeping him from completely enjoying the meal.
"So, Lee-on," Zack began, the painful separation of the vowels in his name coming out in a measured drawl. The brunette got the ghost sensation of being in the principal's office. "How's things with Spiky?"
He should have known. The other half the bagel suddenly looked less appetizing as the bite he was chewing turned to sawdust. "They're alright."
"Good, good." Zack nodded sagely, a calculating gleam appearing in each iris that looked out of place on the carefree man. "Saw him out yesterday."
"Did you?" Leon fought to keep his voice nonchalant, his hands busy, his eyes on Zack's. There was no reason for him to look away. Nothing to be ashamed of.
I didn't even notice that Cloud was gone...
"Yeah." The man nodded. The brunette found himself near-vibrating with apprehensive anticipation and forcefully willed himself to stop. "Out with some guy—silver hair, kind of tall. They were headed to that PAL thing."
That fucking professor...
"Didn't take you as a PAL follower," he commented, giving up on the bagel and reaching for the coffee. His throat felt uncomfortably tight.
"Me? Nah. Aerith's been obsessed with them since she heard the bestiality thing." Zack snorted, refusing to take the crappily presented bait. "So, this guy. You know him?"
"No," Leon forced himself to admit. The coffee now had the consistency of molasses and he set it down, feeling distinctly strangled. There was no way in hell he was reaching for the hashbrowns now. "I don't."
"Cloud looked kind of happy with that guy, Leon," Zack said quietly with no hint of his ever-present mirth. His voice sounded hollow without it, and the sound tore at the brunette's heart. "Haven't seen him laugh that hard in a while."
Leon didn't reply.
Zack stood with an indulgent stretch. "Well, back to my cube before the boss comes around. Enjoy your breakfast, Leon." The tone was much friendlier, but the death-like clasp on his shoulder disguised as a friendly pat was all the threat needed.
Now alone, he surveyed his half-eaten breakfast and silently packed it away. It would take a whole morning of clerical duty before the blade of Zack's words was dulled.
His gait was cautious as he entered their home, quietly toeing off each shoe and slowly opening the hall closet so that it didn't creak. Refracted light was visible in the hallway.
A small smile graced his face as he traversed upstairs, a scarlet rose tucked securely in an inside jacket pocket. The light led him to the expected sound of Cloud's breathy voice, as soft and melodious as ever. What he didn't expect, however, were the answering meows.
Brow furrowed in confusion, he entered their bedroom.
Azure eyes turned to regard him at the noise, and the happiness in them made Leon's breath catch. "Oh—hi, Leon, I didn't hear you come in." The blonde scooped up the moving ball of fluff before him and brought it for Leon's inspection. "Look at him, isn't he cute?"
Said moving ball of fluff turned out to be a kitten, pure white with large chocolate eyes that blinked sleepily up at the brunette. Yowling softly, it scratched weakly at his chest, and he felt his heart melt.
The aspiring vet hadn't been the only one with a soft spot for Gabriel.
"He is." Running a gentle finger over the creature's ears, a small smile graced his face as it purred. "You didn't say anything about wanting another cat, Cloud."
"I wanted one, but I wasn't planning on getting it," the blonde said, obviously pleased. "It was a present from Seph."
At once, his melted heart solidified to the thickness of steel and he glared at the blasted thing. The cat's tiny mews suddenly seemed mocking, cruel and shrill. This sudden change of heart had gone under Cloud's radar, however, as the blonde was still talking excitedly. "We were having coffee after we went to the speech—I swear, that Newbridge woman is pure evil—and I mentioned Gabriel, and he told me it was unfortunate to have lost a companion like that. And then I was getting ready for class and the pound people knocked on the door, and they told me someone had sent me the kitten as a gift—Leon, are you alright?"
His breakfast conversation with Zack had affected him, yes, but nothing stung more than the sight of Cloud's joy over a gift from that professor. The warning from the girls, the awed fawning, the machine message—all of the signs pointed to something that he'd been unwilling to see. And at the end of the day, his follies were thrown in stark relief.
Someone else had given Cloud what he truly wanted. And all Leon could procure was a single dying plant.
"Leon?" He was brought to the real world by the blonde's blue eyes, large and worried. "What is it?"
Unable to meet them, he turned away. "Nothing, Cloud."
It was raining again, raindrops striking the window and sliding downwards in thwarted rivulets. The study lamp was off tonight, and the room empty—for the first time in weeks, he couldn't study. Instead, he lay on his side of the bed, kept awake by his tormented thoughts.
Cloud and Cloud II were curled up together, the kitten's tiny breaths ruffling strands of bright blonde. They were a picturesque duo, but the sight did not comfort him, and he felt sadness well up inside as he mulled over the past two weeks.
He needed to study. That was a fact that would not go away until this exam business was over. But he'd been with Cloud for five years—five glorious, painfully blissful years. At twenty-six, Leon considered himself relatively young, but he was mature enough to be aware of his needs and Cloud was currently surpassing food and sleep. He wanted this man next to him for the rest of his life. He knew this.
But the bar was important, as well. A part-time desk job was not going to support him and Cloud forever, even in tandem with the blonde's moonlighting as a busboy. They'd barely been able to afford the frivolity that was Gabriel, and with Cloud II he knew that they would be soon facing the same kind of strain. If he wanted to keep Cloud in any sort of real comfort until the blonde himself finished vet school then he needed to pass this and start working as a lawyer.
Still...a sigh escaped him as he looked at his lover. The tiny sleep-frown had alleviated, but the knowledge that it wasn't his doing made him feel even worse.
To add insult to injury, there was now a new threat. Leon found it ironic that all his serious competition had died off within a year of their relationship and one had suddenly appeared during a rough patch. Some deity was pissed at him—and he would bet his special edition collector's Gunblade that it was Leviathan being summoned by Yuffie.
Cloud seemed enamored with this professor, and it scared him. Next to the man, he felt small and inadequate. He hadn't been this out of touch with his lover in years.
Well, he resolved, that was going to change. Screw the bar exam. If he failed, he could always take it again next year. They would manage until then.
There wasn't another Cloud to be had if he lost this one.
A plan began to form in his mind as he slid determinedly under the covers.
Leon did not like teenagers.
They were a loud, uncouth bunch, overly arrogant with completely intolerable attitudes. And while there was an uncomfortably large number of intolerable adults, teenagers had no sense of tact or finesse to even bother making their crudities less obvious. They were brash, overly impulsive, and the ones in his life seemed to always appear at the exactly wrong moment.
It had pained him to do so, but the brunette had forsaken his books for the week and settled down to plot. The surprised pleasure on Cloud's face when he'd brought him breakfast had warmed the brunette inside, especially when his lover fawned over the previously forsaken rose that lay proudly over the tray. The blonde had been in a happy mood since and was currently following his new exercise tape with rabid enthusiasm.
Leon had smiled and left his lover alone with his gift. Cloud was so easily distracted.
He'd been putting finishing touches on his plans when a loud knock on the front door startled him out of his work. Slight frown in place, he opened the door—to be cast into even further displeasure at the sight that greeted him.
Sora. With a suitcase.
His frown deepened.
Leon loved his little brother, make no mistake. The younger brunette had been the one who'd encouraged him to go after Cloud in college, when the blonde was a freshman and himself a senior. For a middle schooler of thirteen, Sora had been incredibly sage and Leon could credit his years of domestic bliss to the boy.
They'd been close when both were still as home as well, despite the eight-year difference. Yes, he was fond of the Sora, and though some of his choices weren't Leon's personal favorites, he respected his brother's wants.
Leon hadn't called home in weeks, however, and the realization spurred another twinge of guilt. That fact being stated, however, he didn't see any reason why the younger brunette was standing in front of his apartment with a suitcase.
"Um, hey, big brother!" Sora's smile was sheepish and his laughter nervous as he scratched the back of his head.
"Sora, what are you doing here?" His inquiry was exasperated as he opened the door wider for the boy to come in. The wheels of the suitcase left twin trails of dirt in the entryway that made the brunette flinch. That needed cleaning before Cloud saw it.
"Well...Mom sent me over to stay for some time."
"And why is that?" Leon countered, lips pursed. As angry as their mother could get with the teenager's antics, she'd never put Sora out before.
The defiant guilt in his brother's eyes told him that whatever it was, it hadn't been resolved. "Something...happened. Look," the teen's tone turned pleading. "I really can't stay there until she calms down, and I don't have anywhere else to go, so can I crash here for a bit?"
"Exactly how long is a bit, Sora?" He pinched the bridge of his nose, a growing dread forming in the pit of his stomach. Well, he reasoned weakly, you don't know what happened. Maybe Mother will calm down quickly and take him back? You have a whole week left before Cloud's surprise, after all, he shouldn't be here that long...
"Um...two, three weeks?"
And Leon's hope died out.
"Put your stuff in the study," he said wearily. "You'll be sleeping on the couch. And please, please don't disturb either of us this week."
Somehow, looking at Sora's bright smile, Leon knew it spelled doom.
Anticipation shot through him like needles as he covered the last dish and sat it on the table. He'd been working all week for this evening, and now that it had arrived he found himself more than a little nervous. In principle, he knew he shouldn't be—the kitchen looked beautiful.
A single candle was lit, casting flickering light over the tasteful ice sculpture in the opposite corner. There was a bouquet of white narcissi on the table—Cloud's favorite flowers, as he'd only remembered at the last minute with shame. The table itself looked resplendent with a purely white tablecloth and an array of his lover's favorite foods, courtesy of his lover's favorite restaurant.
Leon felt quite proud of himself.
Of course, he had nowhere near the money to pay for all of this—it was entirely his mother's doing. He'd called her in desperation to plead for Sora's return, and she'd staunchly refused after muttering something about another boy, a girl and lipstick.
Once she'd wormed out of him why he wanted Sora gone so badly, however, she'd bubbled over with suggestions ranging from the color of candles to a harpist. And at his adamant declarations of being broke, she'd cheerfully whipped out a check from her retirement fund and told him she'd take care of everything.
Which she did. The harp stood gleaming near the sculpture and he was waiting for the player to get here.
Leon's plans for the evening looked bright, he was happy to say. They would enjoy a romantic dinner together and then retire to the bedroom (kicking Sora downstairs), in which he would proceed to give his lover a sensual massage and make gentle love to him.
After which, when Cloud was sleeping—sated and secure in the knowledge that he was dearly loved—Leon would kip over to the study and get in some quick reading. Romance or no romance, his exam was still tomorrow.
The doorbell rang, and he opened it to find a pink-haired, roguish-looking male holding a music book. "Evening," he greeted shortly, opening the door for the man.
"Good evening," the male purred, sending uncomfortable shudders up Leon's spine. He felt like a piece of meat at the market with the way the harpist was eyeing him. "My name is Marluxia, and I will be...servicing you tonight."
Discreetly cringing at the obvious implications, he showed the man to his waiting instrument and a reserved plate of food. "I'm waiting for my lover, so you can eat and warm up in the meantime." Wanting to get away from the creepy musician, he went upstairs without waiting for a response, missing the leer shot at his retreating behind.
Nervous pangs threatened to resurface as he entered the bedroom and he resolutely began double-checking his supplies to keep them at bay.
Fresh sheets, check. Matches, check. Massage oil, check. Kleenex, check. Lube...
The brunette's eyes widened.
There was no lube.
How the hell could he have forgotten lube?
Without it, the entire evening would come to a screeching halt. He would be forced to use something quick and rudimentary and completely unromantic—like spit. His efforts would all be for naught, because the sex would be horrible, and Cloud would think Leon hadn't cared enough to prepare him properly. How was it possible for him to forget such an important thing?
Well, his inner voice said bitchily, it's not like you've been using it lately.
Mentally smacking it, he hastily pulled on his jacket. He had to find some and get home before Cloud arrived, or the evening would be ruined. "Sora, I'm stepping out for a second," he yelled upstairs, unsure if his sibling heard him but too rushed to care.
Apparently Sora hadn't heard. Or been aware of what was to take place. Because if he had been, the imminent disaster could have been averted.
Leon's hasty trip to the convenience store proved successful, and to his relief their tiny car was just pulling up when he got back to their building. The blonde looked somewhat tired as he got out, but smiled as the brunette wrapped him in a tight hug.
"I'm hungry," Cloud complained. "Do you have any idea how agonizing it is to serve people food and not eat any?"
"I'm glad," Leon murmured into his lover's neck.
"Come inside," he beckoned as he took the blonde's hand. Their walk up the stairs to their floor was a leisurely one, the silence between them comfortable for the first time in weeks. Despite time's passing, Cloud's palm still fit as perfectly in his own as the first time he held it, and tenderly he ran his thumb over the soft skin.
"Leon, why were you out there in the first place?"
"I was waiting for you," the brunette lied. Cloud didn't have to know that he'd been lube-shopping, and it sounded more romantic this way, anyway. He pulled out his key as they reached their floor, fitting it to the lock in one smooth move and holding the door open. "I—"
The ghastly sight that met his eyes made the words freeze on his lips.
There was half-eaten food strewn everywhere.
On the walls, on the floor—some overturned containers spilled out their content while others lay upright and empty. A thick coat of gravy was coalescing on the stained linoleum, the half-hanging tablecloth brown at the edges with the liquid and torn nearly in half. Thick drops of pudding dripped steadily from the ceiling onto the abandoned harp, its player nowhere to be found. There were clothes scattered on every available surface, messy and spotted with various foodstuff—and still the horror of the ruined dinner was not complete without its scarring centerpiece.
Sora. Naked and being steadily pounded into Leon's ruined table by another, silver-haired male.
Fury like he'd never felt towards the younger brunette welled up in him like a frothing, bloodthirsty wave. "Oh my God," Cloud said softly, eyes wide and shocked as he walked in, trying to pick a footpath between the puddles of displaced food.
Ruined. All his plans, ruined. And the rutting teenagers still hadn't noticed their horrified spectators.
That was when Leon just about lost it.
A cacophony of startled yells erupted in the room as the younger brunette noticed their audience, the mystery man letting out a yell as he was sharply pushed away. Their awkward stumble off the table revealed more of Sora than Leon ever wanted to see—and the brunette's foot completely missed a clear patch of floor and slipped instead on a pile of mashed potatoes—sending him careening into the unscathed ice sculpture, which gave a dangerous wobble before falling pray to gravity's pull.
There was the sickening crack of breaking bone, ringing high and sharp in the shocked silence.
And then there was Cloud's abrupt scream as he cradled his injured foot.
The hospital was painted a sterile white, the halls smelling like floral spray to cover the stench of death. Everywhere he looked there were grim faces, the maternity groups looking horribly out of place as they waited for the happy news of birth. Doctors and nurses flitted about, talking in quiet voices, pushing gurneys and scribbling notes.
Leon supposed he should be thankful that his lover wasn't in straits as dire as the families of these people. But the memory of Cloud's sheet-white face and that terrible snapping sound replayed endlessly in his mind's tortured eye. The blonde's room had initially been a flurry of activity, but things had settled after a while and the brunette wasn't sure if that was a good sign or not.
Next to him sat the guilty parties, wearing clean clothes. Sora's shoulders were shaking silently and he was sure the teen was crying, but he felt no desire to comfort his sibling. The silver-haired male looked impassive, arm loosely draped around the younger boy's shoulders as he took in his surroundings. Leon didn't know and didn't particularly care to get his name.
Someone tapped him on the shoulder and he looked up, finding Aerith standing there with a sad look in her green eyes. She was in uniform, as clean and crisp as the other employees, and his eyebrow rose of its own volition. He hadn't known she was a nurse.
"You brought Cloud in, right?" she asked, chocolate strands brushing her cheek as she leaned closer.
"What happened?" Her voice held nothing but concern, but anger bubbled up in him and he jabbed his thumb sharply in Sora's direction—completely ignoring the pained look on his brother's face.
He felt no sympathy. "They happened."
Keenly sensing that he wasn't going to explain, Aerith glanced down at her clipboard and changed the subject. "The doctors put him out to set the bone, so he's sleeping it off. You can wait until he wakes, or you can see him now...?"
"I'll see him now." He rose with a stretch, sending a glare over to the subdued duo. "Both of you, come. I want you to see the product of your idiocy."
Wisely withholding comment, the nurse led them a few doors down, giving Leon's shoulder a small squeeze before she slipped away.
Cautiously, he opened the door, inhaling sharply at the sight of his lover. The blonde looked small and frail amidst the white sheets, foot propped up on a mound of pillows and covered in what looked like soft cotton. His face was still that horrible pasty shade, and his sleep looked anything but peaceful.
Rage welled up in him at the upsetting sight.
"I would like to know," he began, voice low and dangerously calm. Sora let out an oddly strangled noise. "What in hell possessed you to do what you did."
"Well," the younger brunette squeaked out, wilting under Leon's glare. "We thought the food was for us, you know, like a treat...?"
"Speaking of—" he rounded furiously on the other boy. "Why the hell was this...boy in my house?"
"I let him in," Sora said quietly, voice strengthening somewhat.
"Who the fuck gave you permission to do that?" Leon hissed. "And what, having already brought a stranger into my house, possessed you to toss food everywhere and then have sex amidst the ruins?"
Now even the other boy looked suitably abashed. "I set that up for Cloud," he continued, throat clenching. There was no way the blonde was going to accept his apology now. "If anything, the fucking harp should have been a clue."
"We...we thought it was just you being weird," his brother said tearfully. "We didn't think—"
"No, you didn't, and that's your first problem. I'm beginning to see why Mother tossed you out."
Sora gave a violent flinch, but Leon couldn't bring himself to care. "Go sit in the waiting room. Both of you."
Silently, the duo trudged out, leaving him alone with Cloud. Feeling morose, he walked over to the bed, gently tucking strands of sunshine behind his lover's ears. Sobs threatened to make themselves heard and he resolutely choked them down, buying his face into the blonde's shoulder.
Unseen, his lover's eyelashes fluttered. A gentle hand came up to pet his hair. "I heard most of that," Cloud whispered, maneuvering his fingers between coffee locks.
"You would have never gotten hurt if I hadn't screwed up so badly," he choked out. "You started seeing that professor—I thought you were going to leave."
"Seph is interested, yes." The blonde kissed his temple. "But I told him he's not what I need."
"I wanted to make it up to you." Tears pooled and spilled over, wetting the fabric of Cloud's hospital gown. The blonde didn't reply for a while, simply making shushing noises and petting his hair. It was all so soothing, yet it only made him feel worse. "I shouldn't have ignored you like that, but—"
"Leon. Look at me."
Cloud's thumbs traced salty patterns on his dampened cheeks as their eyes met and held. Once more, he found himself lost in those deep blue skies. "No, you shouldn't have. And if you didn't, a lot of this could have been avoided. But..."
The blonde's face swam out of focus and then there were lips on his, gentle, pliant, searching. He hadn't tasted this heaven in weeks and he drank like a dying man, obtaining gratification and seeking more.
It seemed like forever until they broke apart.
"I'm not upset anymore. I still love you."
And he knew he was forgiven.
"You should go home, you know," Cloud said, toying with his bangs. "The doctors will be back soon to plaster my cast, and you have your bar exam tomorrow—"
"Forget the exam, Cloud," he said harshly, grabbing the blonde into a tight hug.
"You're more important."
It was summer again, encroaching on autumn, and it was the sunlight that woke twenty-seven year old Leon from a leisurely sleep. Feeling refreshed, he ambled down the steps to the welcome sight of Cloud making breakfast.
"Mail for you," the blonde murmured as he was hugged from behind. He smelled like cookies, the brunette noted. "It's from the bar exam people."
"Think this is our year? Not too sure I did well," Leon whispered back, tightening his arms around his lover.
"Well, you paced yourself better," Cloud replied, amused. "Open the damn thing and find out, Lee."
Giving the blonde a nip on the neck, he made his way over to the table and located the stamped envelope. Wrenching it open, gray eyes traces over the printed text.
Dear Mr. Leonhart,
We are pleased to announce the bestowing of your license to practice law...