A/N: So...yeah. I finally updated! Who else is as excited as I am?! :D
(Oh god don't kill me please, I know it's been like two years, but it's not dead. D: )
Unbeta'd. Forgive my mistakes.
"Hey, chicken wuss."
Leon ignored Seifer, his eyes firmly shut as he calmly rested in the shade of a large elm tree. The blond was an annoyance at best; a petty little boy who fancied himself a rival for Rinoa's attentions against the stoic younger boy. It wasn't Leon's fault that the girl was utterly fascinated with the quiet Squall Leonhart, but Seifer had taken it as a personal offense that the girl of his dreams wasn't interested in him because of Leon's very existence.
"I'm talking to you wussy," came the expected response to the silent treatment Leon was famous for. The strained tone in Seifer's voice was evident, and all the warning he needed. Leon opened his eyes to little half-slits of frosty blue and glared at the advancing teen, even as he tensed in anticipation of the brawl to come.
"Seifer, aren't you supposed to be sick today," came a sharp, blatantly unfriendly voice from somewhere behind them. Leon didn't bother looking; he knew that voice as well as his own after so long, and although it was rare for such serious hostility to be injected into it, he knew that it was just as sincere as always.
The blond paused in wary guilt. He'd been skipping out on football practice and hadn't expected to be called out on it. He sneered at Squall. "Figures when I get you alone your boy toy Fair comes in to rescue the little damsel-"
"Tch! You think I need to save him? You're more likely to get your ass kicked," one of his best friends said in amusement as he finally made his way behind Leon. "But seriously, keep that shit to yourself. No one gives a fuck about your petty little grudges, Almasy."
Leon let a small, sharp smile cross his face as his rival's eyes met his own with cold fury. He knew the blond wanted to start something-he usually did whenever he approached the dark haired boy-but he wouldn't dare when Zack, the captain of the football team, could make or break him by ratting him out to the coach. Hell if he wanted to, Zack himself could kick Seifer's ass or send him on a million laps as punishment, but the boy was rather fond of giving people a second chance to redeem themselves.
"Whatever," the blond muttered before violently shoving his hands into his trench coat and stalking off in the opposite direction.
They both watched him go in silence for a moment before dancing bright blue eyes met stormy grey; Zack gave a decidedly feral grin as he asked, "So just how close was he to losing some teeth?"
Wordlessly, Leon revealed the clenched fists he'd had concealed in his own jacket pocket; the instant the other boy had moved towards him, he'd been prepared to defend himself, after all.
Zack grinned. "Shoulda known you'd be ready to smack him good. Hey, think you can stop over by my place tonight? I'm askin' Cloud to come over too. Got somethin' important to tell ya."
Leon nodded and sighed before casually rising to his knees. They'd grown up practically living in each others' houses, so he knew where to go; just as Cloud and Zack knew their way to his.
"Yeah, sure," he agreed, silently wondering why Zack didn't just get it over with now.
Catching the look, Zack tsked and grinned at him. "Nuh-uh, I need both you and Cloud there, this is huge news, man!"
"Alright," the sable haired boy grunted and shooed the older boy away.
"What's this about Zack?" Cloud asked curiously once the three of them had met at said boy's house. The ebony haired boy had been tortuously quiet and secretive with them all day-a rare and suspicious action given his usual boisterous, in-your-face nature.
The older boy grinned, his eyes twinkling with mirth as he reached under his bed to pull out a large brown bag. The subtle clinking of glass gave Cloud his suspicions, but the shit eating grin on Zack's face prompted their youngest friend to ask incredulously, "Is that alcohol?
"What are you, my mother?" Zack asked derisively. The narrow eyed looks of displeasure on his two best friends' faces made him snort. The reproving tone in Leon's voice hadn't been unexpected, so he merely ignored the brown haired teen in favor of pulling out various bottles of alcoholic substances.
"Your mom and dad are gonna freak," Cloud proclaimed nervously, staring with wide eyes as his best friend pulled out what seemed like the equivalent of a gallon of liquor from his bag.
"They wont freak since they won't be here," Zack denied cheekily. "And you guys won't tell, right?
Cloud scowled. "You honestly expect me to lie to your parents about drinking in their house? My mom would kill me, you moron! Besides, where'd you even get this stuff? Do you have a fake ID somewhere!?"
The oldest boy gave a world weary sigh and carefully sat down three shot glasses. Leon was giving him a disbelieving look and that was all he needed to know to realize that he agreed with the blond boy's nagging.
"Look," Zack said, his face serious as he uncapped a coke bottle and then another bottle that had some noxious smelling fumes coming from it. "Reno can get anything since he has some older buddies that don't mind ferrying him a few things. Is that cool with you mom and dad?" he mocked, casually beginning to mix the drinks together.
Leon shrugged. He didn't really care either way. Zack was a big boy now, he got himself into and out of his own messes either way.
"You look like you've done this before," Cloud said suspiciously as he curiously eyed the dexterous manner that Zack shook and tossed the alcoholic beverages.
"Maybe," the ebony haired boy said with a smirk.
Carefully, he set three shot glasses on the bed table and poured some dark, caustic looking liquid into one shot glass, something reddish and orangeish in another, and something pale blue in the last.
"Now,' he said, taking the blue liquid and handing it to Leon, who stared down at it and gave it a slow blink. The pink-orange one that he gave to Cloud was treated with a disdainful glance and a wary sniff. Surprisingly enough, it smelled rather fruity, and sweet, something Cloud was always appreciative of. The dark liquid was kept by Zack's side, thankfully.
"I've got big news boys, so drink up," Zack said cheerfully, in lieu of a toast. He tossed back the entire contents of his shot glass in one swallow before smacking his lips and sighing loudly in obvious enjoyment.
"What news?" Cloud asked, giving his drink a dainty sip. He blinked at the burst of flavor and took another, much more exploratory gulp of the drink and was pleased enough to ignore exactly what that warm feeling in his chest might be.
"You keep beating around the bush," Leon said quietly. "Just tell us already."
Zack scowled at his best friends. "Jeez, you guys have no sense of anticipation, what kill joys!" He muttered something under his breath that sounded like, "How did I ever get to be friends with these guys?" but both boys decided to ignore it.
The baleful stare Cloud continued to give him made him throw his hands up in exasperation. "Ok, ok! So you guys know how my uncle Angeal is in the military right?"
Both boys nodded.
"Well, get this. He told me that there's a training camp this fall that i can do and once I'm done, I can go straight into the corps and he'll get me sent to Agrabah with him! Isn't that awesome!?" he beamed at them, eagerly awaiting a reaction.
The stunned looks on both his friends' faces made his own forehead crease in concern. Cloud was staring at him in wide-eyed horror and Leon was watching him with narrowed eyes.
"So after the summer is over..." the Leonhart boy began.
The black haired boy grinned and scratched the back of his head sheepishly. "Well, I wont be able to stay here, I gotta go to training camp."
"What about school!" Cloud's voice came, unnaturally sharp and high. "What about prom? What are you going to tell those girls? What about us doing stuff and finding summer jobs or hanging out together?"
Zack started at his blond friend's angry tone. He had expected a bit of disappointment from his little buddy but not this...panicky resentment. "Whoa, don't worry, Cloudy! I'll still get credit for being in school and graduate and stuff! No harm done, right?" he said warily, offering his smaller friend an apologetic smile.
The blond sixteen year old pinched his lips together before his hard blue eyes began to glisten with unshed tears.
Leon looked on in concern while Zack flailed in dismay; the sight of Cloud in tears had always thrown him.
"Don't be sad, Cloudy! This is a good thing! I'll still write you guys and come down to visit every now and then and...just stop crying for pete's sake!" the ebony haired boy groaned in frustration. He made a movement to hug his little blond buddy when a small hand was shoved into his chest. Surprised he looked down at his friend's blond locks, wondering just what was going through his mind right now.
"Promise?" Cloud whispered, head bowed so that his face was hidden, but Zack could see the faintest glimmer of wetness staining the blond's shirt.
"Promise," he echoed, lightly reaching out with his thumb and index finger to raise Cloud's head from his chest.
Cloud always had been a pretty crier, he thought fondly. The guy was more girl than boy in most cases of the heart, so it was no surprise that he was so shaken with Zack's news. Had he really expected them to be completely thrilled about this? Abruptly, Zack felt like a heel for throwing this on his two friends without warning.
"Hey, I'm sorry, but I just feel like I gotta do this," he said, absently brushing tears off the sixteen year old's face. The tenderness in the gesture did not go unnoticed by Leon, who raised his eyebrows but said nothing about it. They both treated Cloud rather delicately since he was raised with his mother and was such a reasonable quiet figure in their lives. For some reason though, he felt an odd pang of jealousy as he watched Zack hug the other boy. He hadn't offered Leon any sort of comfort about his impending departure. Did he think he didn't care?
Or did only Cloud really matter to Zack?
"Squa-Leon," Zack said, looking up from his impromptu hug. Cloud leaned away and frowned at the youngest boy, and the brunette boy knew something must have been showing on his face for him to tilt his head at him so questioningly.
The lump that had been sitting in his chest since Zack's announcement thickened. "I'm happy for you," he forced out, knowing that some sort of response was expected from him.
For a moment, he thought that the oldest boy would see through him and say something to him, but the electric blue eyes merely stared at him searchingly for a few seconds before an ear to ear grin split his face in his trademark Zack-grin.
"C'mon guys, let's celebrate! I'm gonna get to travel and all that good shit! Stuff I've always wanted to do!" having said his piece, Zack refilled his glass before mockingly raising it to the air.
It was sometime in the morning, beyond midnight, yet a few hours before dawn that Cloud found himself hazily coming into consciousness with the faint impression of wrongness. He sat for a moment, bleary, alcohol blurred vision struggling to adjust as he stared at the pale face of Squall sprawled out on his favorite beanbag.
For a moment, both boys stared at each other, one in silent contemplation, and the other in sleepy curiosity.
Finally, Cloud had had enough of the impromptu staring contest.
"Squall, what are you doing up?" he murmured, uncaring that he was using the no-no name. He lazily leaned up and the covers he'd somehow managed to toss over himself slid down his bare chest with the faintest whisper.
Pale blue-gray eyes stared at him from the darkness, the loud sounds of Zack's uninhibited snoring covering their own silent breaths. For a moment, the older boy thought Squall was going to ignore his question, then the dark haired boy slowly shook his head.
"Are you...really okay with him doing this?"
Oh. So that was what was bothering him. Cloud felt a pang in his chest at the reminder of Zack's news earlier that night.
"No...but I wont' try to stop him," he admitted softly, his hands tangling in the warm covers.
"Why?" Leon demanded, his eyes burning with angry disbelief. "You know that if you really wanted him to stay he'd listen to you! Do you want him to go away?"
"No!" Cloud whispered vehemently. "That's...that's not it at all!"
"If you try to hinder people's dreams, they'll begin to resent you in the end. I don't want him to go away and I know we'll both miss him, but...I don't...I don't want Zack to hate me," Cloud admitted, nervously wringing his hands together.
"I see," Leon conceded, his anger deflating in the face of his understanding.
"Besides, we still have each other and we can see him whenever he visits," the older boy said softly and hopefully.
"And when he's ready to come home...we'll be here waiting to kick his ass for leaving us behind," he said firmly, a hint of mischief glinting in his sky blue eyes.
Leon smiled, silently agreeing with his friend.