Title: And So it Goes
Author: Sorceress Fantasia
Warnings: AU, drama, very light angst, talks of suicide
Word count: 7868
Disclaimer: As much as I would love to lay claim to Cloud, I'm kinda scared of Leon's gunblade. So well, I don't own Kingdom Hearts, the various Final Fantasies or any of their characters.
Note: Thanks to rainbowserenity for proofreading!
Summary: They both carried wounds on their souls. Cloud thought he had seen the worst of Leon's wounds manifest, but was Leon really the only one who needed help? Maybe they both needed it.
Mood music: And So it Goes by Billy Joel. I'd suggest listening to this song as you're reading to understand what's going on in the characters' minds.
Saturday nights were always the same: a few of them would meet up at their favourite bar, have a few drinks and talk and laugh and joke, and someone would get inevitably smashed. That someone varied from week to week, but usually Riku was the one because he liked the bartender there and thought that buying more drinks from the guy would get him into his pants faster.
Cloud believed otherwise, but he was never one to rain on his best friend's parade, especially if it was entertaining to watch.
So when everything in the night went as they usually did, Cloud thought nothing of it and dumped a drunken Riku into his car before driving him home. Nothing unusual happened when Cloud hauled Riku up the stairs at his apartment block either, and Cloud grumbled to Riku how he needed to lose weight because it was getting more difficult to drag him up the stairs. But the moment he stepped into the other's apartment and turned on the lights, he knew this Saturday night was one that he would never forget.
There, standing on a chair in the living room and about to put his head through a loop of rope hanging down from the ceiling fan, was Riku's housemate – Squall "Leon" Leonhart.
Silence reigned and they stared at each other.
All the while, Riku remained happily, completely, and utterly smashed.
"Your housemate is an oddball."
That was Cloud's first words when he and Riku met up again for lunch on the Monday immediately after that night. The moment Riku ran into their new favourite lunch place where Cloud was already waiting and slid into his seat, Cloud threw down those words.
"Your housemate is an oddball."
Riku blinked. "Eh?"
"I said: your housemate is an oddball," he repeated, having no qualms about voicing his disapproval straight out. He'd been told more than once that his ability to criticize someone even before their friends was one of his strong suits and the thing that earned him his job as an editor in a local publishing house.
"And… why do you say that?" Riku asked warily, picking up his menu and holding it up like a shield. Cloud always wondered how it was possible for someone so prone to getting nervous and even freaking out like Riku to stay in the fashion industry for so long. Why hadn't all those runway shows stressed him to death yet?
"Because he is."
Riku looked like he wanted to protest, but he thought better of it and quickly ordered his food.
Squall "Leon" Leonhart had always been somewhat of a mysterious character.
After graduating from an Ivy League University, he'd moved into Radiant Garden, a mid-sized city that offered a fair amount of opportunities but could not compare with sprawling metropolises. Instead of taking up a job with a multi-national corporation, he'd chosen to occupy his time with freelance work, dabbling in just about everything his multimedia studies degree snagged him.
Somehow, the irregular work load and unstable pay got him by, though he did have to sacrifice things here and there to make ends meet sometimes. It was one of those occasions that he thought it'd be better for him to share an apartment and rent with someone else that he found Riku's online ad for a roommate. Riku's apartment was small but quaint, and it was located in a quiet and rather safe district. Better yet, rent was affordable. Not long after that, he moved into the small apartment.
Even after he'd found a job with a local company and gotten enough money to rent a larger place, Leon did not move out. In fact, he barely left the apartment unless it was for work, and even so, he worked from home at least three times a week.
And even though Leon almost always worked from home, Riku hadn't the faintest idea what Leon's job was. But the man's hobby was plain as day. He went through canvas like the wind, filling them up with his paint and then filling up the apartment's walls with them. It made him smell perpetually of paint.
Then one day, everything that proved that he painted disappeared: the paintings hanging on the apartment walls were carefully wrapped up and stowed away; his paint and brushes tossed out with garbage; the smell of paint that was once synonymous with him faded away, only to be replaced by the smell of cologne.
When Riku asked him what happened, he'd merely said, "I got tired."
The next Saturday, Riku did not arrive at their usual table in the bar alone.
"Hey guys, you may or may not know him, but this brunet is my housemate. And if you're wondering why I haven't brought him along to our usual get-togethers, it's because he's never taken up my offer but apparently he's feeling great today," Riku said in a single breath and quickly took his seat by the side. Cloud's glare might have helped speed up anything he'd wanted to say.
Leon, however, was seemingly immune to the glare.
Simple and concise. Just what Cloud had expected from someone who had carried out a rather drawn out conversation with him while standing on a chair and holding onto a loop of rope that was hanging down from the ceiling fan.
But if Cloud thought there was anything odd with Leon, the others obviously did not see it. They had always been a friendly bunch throughout their university days together, and it looked like the real world had not changed them.
Leon spent the night quietly sipping his drink and listening to the others chit chat and get drunk. Cloud fumed in his corner. Riku sneaked off to flirt with his favourite bartender again.
It was sweet mercy that Cloud didn't have to lug a drunken Riku back to his apartment because Leon was around. Good thing for Riku, because Cloud could not promise anyone that he would not dump the body in a ditch somewhere.
Cloud looked at the brunet warily, but remained calm. He'd heard that getting hysterical in front of a suicidal man might drive the man to suicide even faster. Not that it'd be on his conscious, of course. He just didn't want to explain to Riku the next morning why he didn't have a housemate anymore.
"Are… you alright?"
The other shook his head. "Not really."
Cloud's eyes peered at the other's hand, which were still firmly holding onto the loop of rope.
"I hope you left a letter of sorts to explain this. I don't think Riku would appreciate waking up tomorrow morning and getting confused on top of having a hangover," he said, before he did a little jump to adjust Riku who was still strewn over him and possibly drooling.
"…My girlfriend left me."
"Oh. Was she pretty?"
"Quite, I suppose."
"Was she a nice person?"
"Depends. She can be a real bitch sometimes."
"So she was terrible?"
"Sometimes. Depends on her mood, I suppose."
"And you like her a lot?"
"Not really, but enough, I guess."
"…So you're going to hang yourself over a girl who alternated between a bitch and just slightly nice and whom you like just enough."
"That basically sums it up."
"…I didn't know you had a girlfriend. Does Riku know?"
"But Riku doesn't know you've broken up with her? It can be quite difficult to shut him up sometimes, especially when it comes to gossip."
Leon nodded. "That's true."
"So when did this girl leave you?"
"…Two years ago."
As though getting uncomfortable with the look Cloud was directing towards him, Leon shifted a little on the chair. "What?"
Cloud met Riku for lunch again the next Monday. They usually did, though they tried to vary the place every few weeks. But Cloud had just found this cozy little coffee place that served good food two weeks ago, and he'd yet to find his favourite table, so they were not likely to visit another lunch place so soon.
This Monday, Cloud found himself a nice little table that was squirreled away in a dim little corner and separated from the rest. He liked how he could see the entire place from his vantage point and how his back was against a wall. This table was going to be his favourite, he knew.
But no matter how much he liked the coffee place, the lunch menu and the table, everything headed straight for hell the moment Leon entered the place immediately after Riku.
Conversation after that was impossible.
Whether the lunch could be considered relaxing was moot too.
At least the last few brain cells Riku retained was intelligent enough to foot the bill.
Routines drove some people insane.
Those same people couldn't stand drinking the same coffee every week, couldn't tolerate the idea of taking the same route to work or to school every other day, or god forbid, couldn't bear the thought of getting out of the same bed every morning.
Cloud wasn't one of those people.
He woke up every morning at 6.30am, washed up for fifteen minutes, drank the same instant coffee and ate two slices of toast and a half-boiled egg at 6.45am, and dressed up and drove to work at 7am. He always took a right turn at the first junction his car pulled up to, the very same one that lead to Twilight Expressway, Station Boulevard, Bastion Close, Nibelhelm Lane and then turned left into his office. Lot 77 in the building car park was always occupied by his little white car that he washed from hood to boot every Saturday morning.
Cloud liked routines.
The lack of routines would have driven him insane, because that would mean something out of the ordinary had happened, and that was never a good thing in his book.
It was the fifth time that Leon joined them at the bar that he finally broke down. Not that he started bawling in the middle of the crowded place; of course not. Cloud Strife did not do tears.
Instead, he slipped out of the bar while everyone else was occupied – Riku came here to flirt with the bartender, Tidus was too cheap to pay for cable television at home so he came here to watch soccer matches, Selphie was here to keep Tidus company, Wakka was here to pick up chicks, Kairi had blown them all off by claiming a last minute appointment – and slunk into the dimly-lighted alley beside the bar. He popped a stick into his mouth on instinct, then realized belatedly that he did not smoke.
Just as he was wondering how nice it would be to simply chew the cigarette to death, a hand swiped the cigarette out of his mouth and crushed it with a heavy boot.
Figured it would be him, because Leon had been following his movements with those stormy grey eyes all night, which was exactly the reason why Cloud had gotten antsy inside and left. A frown appeared on his face.
"Smoking's unhealthy. Don't do it."
Should have guessed that Leon was a preacher. He looked the part.
"I wasn't. I was just chewing on the cigarette. There was no fire."
And then they stood outside together for the rest of the night until Riku stumbled out in a drunken stupor and needed a ride home.
Cloud was as much of a habitual animal as he was dependent on routines. Even so, most of the habits he had he'd acquired from people he knew.
Reno smoked. Cloud remembered that Reno smoked at least ten sticks a day at his worst, and probably nine and a half sticks at his best. That was until Elena, his girlfriend, tried to get him to kick the habit and got him addicted to chewing gum instead.
But Reno still smoked occasionally, especially when Elena was out with her girlfriends and Reno was alone with Cloud. Smoking kept him sane and relaxed, he said.
Even after Reno moved across the country and subsequently lost contact with him, Cloud never quite forgot the thing about cigarettes and started keeping a pack on him – though he never quite remembered to buy a lighter to go with it.
Accidents happened, and when doing the dishes, it was always easier to break the second plate than it had been to break the first. After that, breaking the third, the fourth, and even the fifth felt like nothing compared to the trauma of breaking the very first plate.
Cloud suspected that was how Leon's mind functioned too, because after that first sane conversation they had – the one they had in Riku's apartment that day didn't count – it was as plain as day how Leon actively pounced on opportunities to talk to him.
Granted, by definition, conversations usually required two parties exchanging words. Cloud wasn't sure if one person offering words and the other offering snarky remarks constituted conversing.
But that certainly didn't stop Leon from trying.
"You don't eat much, do you?" he asked on the ninth Monday he'd followed Riku into their lunch place, nodding sharply at Cloud's still fairly full plate.
"Not when you're around," came his snappish reply.
If Riku had been around, Cloud might have considered toning down his rudeness because Riku still had to live with this guy, but Riku was out taking a leak and so Cloud felt his urge to remain civil flushing down the toilet as well.
Not that being rude actually drove Leon away. In fact, the man simply smiled resignedly and forked some of his salad over to Cloud's plate, taking up the exact space that Cloud's salad had been before.
"You need to eat more to remain snappish, you know?"
Maybe Cloud would have thrown Leon another witty comeback line, but Riku chose that moment to return. Out of pure consideration for his best friend, Cloud killed his urge instead of the brunet.
Riku remembered the time when Cloud dated his elder brother Sephiroth.
Normally, for someone who was six years older than the both of them and stayed in a student hostel with his friends, Sephiroth would not have gotten the chance to know Cloud. But the university student had to return home once to get something he'd left behind, and it so happened that Cloud had chosen that very same day to visit.
They met that day, they clicked, and then they were dating.
For the next few years, Riku couldn't remember a time when his best friend and elder brother did not date each other.
But Sephiroth graduated from the relationship as easily as he graduated from university, and then soon there was someone else Riku had to acknowledge as his future brother-in-law.
Sephiroth and Cloud parted on good terms, of that Riku was certain, and they still kept in contact every now and then. Cloud even got on splendidly with Genesis, Sephiroth's new beau.
Everything seemed fine, so why did Cloud refuse to date again?
Riku wondered if it was his fault. He'd introduced Sephiroth to Cloud. He'd seen the little touches Sephiroth shared with Genesis and his internal alarms had blared, but he neglected to alert Cloud. He'd even grown to like Genesis.
He wanted to help Cloud in whatever ways he could, just so long as he could alleviate his sense of guilt.
At their nth – Cloud had long given up counting, but he estimated it was around 30 – meeting at the bar and the nth – again, Cloud had long since given up remembering, but he estimated it was around 30 too – time they hung out together in the alley outside of the bar, Leon gave him a slip of paper with his number.
"Call me sometimes," he said.
"Why should I?" Cloud asked in return but he pocketed the slip.
Leon stuffed his hands into his jeans pockets and leaned against the wall nonchalantly. "Just because. In case you want someone to bitch to. In the event you want a smoking buddy and no one else is available. Take your pick."
"Neither of us smoke."
"Then in case you want someone to hide in the alley behind the bar with you and pretend to be taking a smoking break. It's fine with me too."
Cloud shrugged. It was simply too tiring to argue with Leon. Instead he asked, "Why do you always follow me out? If you're bored, you could simply not come. I don't think anybody would mind."
"Then why do you always come out here? If you're bored of the weekly gathering, you could simply not come. I don't think anybody would mind either."
Cloud snorted. "Riku would. He'd drag me out here if I didn't come. Then again, considering how he ignores me completely in favour of his favourite bartender once we get here, I'm not sure how much he'd mind if I don't come."
There was silence for a while.
"I lied," Leon said all of a sudden.
"I'd mind if you don't come. But I wouldn't come if you didn't, so it would be impossible to mind you not coming. If anything, I'd just mind not seeing you."
Cloud did not say anything to that.
Cloud remembered the day he'd stumbled onto an unsent letter Sephiroth had written for Genesis. He even remembered the exact words written in that elegant handwriting.
It wrote: Gen, I wish I could be with you. It is true that I still love Cloud, that I would have spent the rest of my life with him had you not appeared. But you did, and I cannot help myself. I fear I will no longer be able to hold back soon.
If there were any ink smudges and creases on the paper, it was because of Cloud.
That was the last time he would cry.
When Sephiroth found him crying after that, the man promised to never send out the letter and never leave Cloud because he did love Cloud.
If there were any shattered vases and broken chairs in Sephiroth's room two months later, it was because of Cloud.
That was the last time he would believe any honeyed words.
When Genesis finally heard about Cloud's tantrum, the redhead found him and apologized as sincerely as he could. At the same time, however, Genesis also admitted that he would not leave Sephiroth or let Sephiroth leave him.
If there were any bruises and broken noses, it was because of Cloud.
That was the last time he would forgive a friend's betrayal.
He would forgive, but he would never forget.
The number Leon slipped Cloud did eventually come in handy, because the gang called off the next Saturday gathering at the bar, and Cloud wanted a not-really-smoking buddy.
A phone call later, the two met up at another place across town, choosing to forsake their usual Saturday hangout because that was everyone's usual hangout. Once there, Cloud surprised Leon by actually staying inside the café and ordering a mug of tea latte.
"Why aren't you smoking?" the brunet asked, fingering his mug of Java Chip Frappuccino.
Cloud shrugged. "You know I don't smoke."
"That you don't," Leon agreed amiably. "Then let me rephrase: why are you drinking tea on a Saturday when you usually prefer to not-smoke and occasionally drink?"
A look. "Just because."
"You're a man of routines. Something must have happened to make you break your Saturday night routine. I'd have expected at least some alcohol from you tonight."
It irked him to be labeled a 'man of routines', but Cloud did not deny it. He was surprised that Leon had even noticed. "I have to drive later, and despite what you might think, I prefer to get home in one piece and my car whole."
"You think I wouldn't drive you home?"
Cloud snorted. "I wouldn't trust you behind the wheel."
"Why not? If I knew I was going to drive, I would abstain from alcohol," Leon replied, taking a sip of his coffee when he finished.
Cloud rolled his eyes but did not say anything otherwise.
"Because you believe I'm suicidal?" Leon said, smiling faintly. When he received no answers, he added, "Even if I had no care of my safety, I wouldn't risk your life."
More honey-laced words. Cloud bit his tongue.
"And that reminds me… Why didn't you stop me the other night? Weren't you worried that I'd really kill myself?"
There was only the sound of everything else but Cloud's voice for a while. The chitter-chatter of the other patrons, the monotonous dredging of the servers' footsteps, and the sounds of mugs being lifted off the tables and put back on their mats filled the silence.
But Cloud answered, in the end.
"I've learnt that when there are two people who are deeply in love with each other and one dies, you'd get no thanks for saving the other from suicide. You'd only get guilt-tripping and anger for the rest of the person's life, which may or may not be long after their partner's death," he said and took a sip of warm tea, eliciting a sigh from his lips. Setting down his cup, he locked eyes with Leon.
"Besides, you didn't look like you were ready to die."
1983 – 2005
R. I. P.
1983 – 2006
R. I. P.
Leon initiated their next meeting – disregarding their usual Saturday nights at the bar and Monday lunches because those were part of a routine – about two weeks later, during a particularly heavy rainstorm at night.
"I'm stuck at the bookstore near your apartment and I haven't got an umbrella. Mind coming down to get me?"
Actually, Cloud minded. It was, as mentioned, pouring outside; it was so cold Cloud was sure the raindrops would have frozen on their way down had it been just slightly colder; and he was already curled up on his favourite couch with a mug of hot tea and a manuscript in hand.
But he went downstairs anyway, if just to get the satisfaction of throwing an umbrella in Leon's face for interrupting his otherwise pleasant night to himself.
He sulked when Leon caught the umbrella, and he turned away immediately to trudge back to his apartment. He sulked even more when Leon followed him all the way, though he did not stop the other. He needed someone to throw a towel at, after all.
Ten minutes later when both of them finally got themselves toweled dry and warmed up with some hot tea, they slumped onto Cloud's couch together. It was an uncomfortable fit, since Cloud's couch was not meant for two grown men to squeeze in together. Two sharp nudges and an elbow later, Leon migrated to the floor.
Another ten minutes later, the rain still showed no signs of stopping anytime soon – in fact, the winds appeared to have picked up, if the sounds Cloud's trembling windows were making were any indication. The temperature dipped again, and Leon dragged Cloud onto the floor with him and sidled closer.
"It's warmer like this," he said, and Cloud couldn't fault that.
So they spent the night together on the floor in Cloud's living room, somewhat cuddled together and watching mindless reruns on the television.
A poet once wrote:
Meeting your eyes 500 times in our past lives gave me one brush of our shoulders this lifetime.
Brushing our shoulders 500 times in our past lives gave me one opportunity to run into you this lifetime.
Running into you 500 times in our past lives gave me one opportunity to know you this lifetime.
Knowing you 500 times in our past lives gave me one opportunity to understand you this lifetime.
Understanding you 500 times in our past lives gave me one opportunity to love you this lifetime.
Has it been 500 times yet?
"You must be the oddest person I know."
Cloud blinked as he looked up from his dinner, his fork and knife still in his hands. "Excuse me?"
"I said: you must be the oddest person I know," Leon repeated patiently. When the blond did not reply – it was rather difficult to talk when one's jaw was slack, he supposed – Leon added, "You smoke without a fire, are friends with a bunch of the most gregarious people around but sulk all the time, meet up with them every Saturday and yet never say more than five words to any of them, but the oddest thing about you is how you did not stop me from hanging myself. Most people would have freaked out or something before trying to persuade a suicidal man out of suicide."
It took a moment more, but Cloud eventually got his bearings back together and he rolled his eyes exasperatedly.
"Pot, meet kettle. If I'm odd, you're odder still. You're the one who nearly hung himself over a not-so-nice girl you didn't really like and left you over two years ago. If you're going to keep going on about how odd I am, I think you should just go hang yourself. I'll even provide the rope."
Leon shrugged. "Don't feel like it anymore. Haven't felt that way since I got to know you."
"You've known me even before your suicide attempt."
"That is correct," Leon agreed with a nod. "But also incorrect. Before this, I knew you only by your name. Now, you're a special existence to me."
Cloud narrowed his eyes. He set down his cutlery and folded his arms. "Elaborate."
"Can't do something I don't know how to explain. You just are special to me."
"I find that hard to believe."
Sephiroth. Genesis. Sephiroth. Genesis. Sephiroth. Genesis. Sephiroth. Genesis. Sephiroth. Sephiroth. Sephiroth.
"Same here, actually."
Cloud stood up and left the restaurant.
When autumn comes, the leaves fall.
When the tide comes, the lowlands disappear.
When the wind comes, the clouds move away.
Cloud woke up the next morning to a barrage of text messages on his cell phone. He'd set it to silent mode last night, but obviously the phone's vibration was even louder than its ring tone. He groaned and his eyes opened by a crack, watching his phone vibrate and inch closer and closer to the edge of his nightstand with morbid fascination.
It took fifteen text messages for the phone to tip over the nightstand.
It took sixteen text messages for Cloud to finally pick up the phone.
It took the seventeenth text message for him to throw it back onto the floor.
He didn't bother reading the other sixteen messages.
When the leaves fall, autumn takes them away.
When the lowlands disappear, the tide embraces them.
When the clouds move away, the wind chases.
Considering that Leon knew where he lived, Cloud wasn't too surprised when he came home from work one evening to find the brunet leaning against his door, armed crossed and eyes closed. The man looked as though he were merely taking a quick nap at a convenient – but odd – location, rather than actually stalking someone.
A week had already passed since their dinner together, and in that week, Cloud had turned up for neither the weekly Saturday night gathering nor the mandatory Monday lunch.
It was about time that Leon arrived in person, Cloud thought.
"Could you move? You're blocking my way," he said simply.
"That's the point," Leon replied. "I came to talk, and I have the feeling that if I let you get into your apartment, you'd disregard the fact that you could cause some grievous injury to me and slam your door in my face immediately with as much strength as you've got."
"Your instincts are spot on."
They stared at each other for a while more. Leon was the first to break their gaze, which he did with a resigned sigh.
"Promise you won't slam the door on me."
Cloud snorted. "I'll see what I can do, but no promises."
Leon got into the apartment eventually with his body intact, and no door was ruined in the attempt, though a nosy neighbor almost got done in for peeking out of her door after hearing the noises.
With his briefcase thrown haphazardly onto his couch and his tie loosened, Cloud spun around at about the same time Leon locked the door behind him. He peered at the other with raised brows, and waited. He did not have to wait long, because in a few strides, Leon was right before him and staring back at him with a steely resolve he'd never seen in those grey eyes.
"I like you, Cloud. Be with me."
Cloud had been expecting an apology for the other day, had been expecting a questioning accusation about his recent withdrawal with their weekly activities, had even been expecting Leon to ask why he hadn't replied to any of his text messages over the week. Perhaps in his vapid imagination, he'd even entertained the fleeting thought of Leon asking him out for a smoke - for real.
But not this. Never this.
Leon repeated faithfully and without an ounce of impatience.
Still, Cloud asked, "What?"
Leon repeated the line.
Cloud asked again.
After perhaps the seventh or eighth time, Leon finally sighed and, in a tone that Cloud always used when his writers gave him shoddy work, said, "I like you. I want to be your boyfriend. Did you get that, or should I repeat that again?"
That sudden change in tone woke Cloud up, and he frowned.
Leon agreed easily. "I've never been more insane in my life, but I've also never been more sure of what I want: I want you."
Honey. Honey. Honey.
"But I don't want you," Cloud replied as he shoved his briefcase aside and threw himself onto his couch. Propping his feet onto the coffee table, he shot Leon a look that asked that he continue.
He felt his ire rise when Leon replied, "You will soon. I'll make sure of that."
"Try all you want, but be prepared to fail."
In response, Leon merely smiled.
To be truthful, Kairi had never quite liked Cloud. It wasn't like the man was brutish or excessively mean, but the man wasn't gentlemanly or suave either. He was just… Cloud: blond, handsome, solemn, and always preferring to sit by himself in a corner every Saturday when the gang met up for drinks.
He wasn't the type of people she'd expected herself to be friends with, but he had been Riku's best friend since elementary school, and she was his good friend at work, so they got along. Somewhat.
No, Kairi never liked Cloud, but she didn't dislike him either. They were simply acquaintances with a mutual friend whom they both adored, so they got along if just for his sake.
She'd even attempted to get to know him better in a bid to like him: she chatted to him as much as Cloud could tolerate before backing off subtly, asked him to help plan Riku's surprise birthday party, and even asked him to accompany her to a movie screening once when her date bailed out on her last minute and Riku was too busy to attend.
Then the others started to tease her about her falling for Cloud, which was rather annoying but Cloud did not seem bothered – it was difficult to tell what he was thinking of, however – so she thought she'd be magnanimous and let the teasing slide too until Riku led her aside one day.
The thing she did not expect Riku to do was give her a variation of the speech.
Don't get involved with Cloud - not like this. Be his friend and stay his friend. Don't attempt to go any further. Hurt him and I will hate you.
She asked for a reason. Riku gave her the reason.
After that, Kairi took special care to simply be a friend. And Cloud remained as he had always been: blond, handsome, solemn, always preferring to sit by himself in a corner every Saturday the gang met up for drinks, and a wimp for swearing off love after one bad experience.
After Leon's unexpected confession, it was only right to expect that he would do something romantic and bordering on cheesy to win Cloud over.
But he didn't. In fact, it was like they had merely gone back to their pre-argument days, when Leon would follow Cloud out to the alley behind the bar on Saturday nights and not smoke, meet him and Riku for lunch on Monday, and finding all sorts of excuses – valid and invalid – to hang out in his apartment.
The only thing that was new was the way Leon's hands lingered every time they touched for a little longer than necessary. It was nothing obvious, nothing a bystander would think as strange or even notice, but Cloud noticed every one of those nuances.
He noticed that Leon's hands stayed on his shoulders for a second longer than was appropriate, lingered over his forearm when he reached across the table to get some sugar for his coffee, and even brushed his fingers together when they strolled downtown.
But apart from that, Leon did not change anything or attempt to do anything new.
Life was normal and Cloud liked it that way.
But the normalcy was disrupted soon after when Riku told him, during an impromptu lunch on Tuesday that Riku had initiated and even gone as far as going up to Cloud's office and dragging him out, that it was good that he was finally dating again. He'd been worried that Cloud had sworn off dating after his experience with Sephiroth, he said.
Cloud blinked once, twice, trice.
Riku smiled even as he was biting into his steak and replied, "Don't be shy with me, Cloud. We've been best friends for how many years now. Did you really think I wouldn't notice that you're dating Leon?"
Cloud's first instinct was to deny those words, but what came out of his mouth instead was a feeble voice laced with utter disbelief.
"Since a few months ago. I started suspecting after Leon followed you out of the bar for the umpteenth time and you just let him. After that…" Riku shrugged as though everything was just a given before he added, "it was just a lot of little things. And gut feeling, I guess."
Cloud shook his head, his eyes still wide and mouth gaping.
"And everyone else…?" he left off, gesturing for Riku to finish his sentence.
"Pretty much everyone in our gang knows. Kairi and Selphie even had an argument the other day about who noticed your new relationship first."
If it were anyone more melodramatic, he would have buried his head in his hands and bemoaned just how impossible the whole situation was. But he was Cloud: blond, handsome, solemn, and the guy who always preferred to sit by himself in a corner every Saturday when the gang met up for drinks.
So he simply mumbled a very soft, almost inaudible 'oh' and brooded on how everything he and Leon did together would seem like they were a couple to the untrained eye.
It had started out with the small things.
In fact, they had been such small things that Selphie had nearly missed them, but she was a proofreader at one of the biggest publishing companies in the country and her job consisted of picking out things that were wrong. Factual errors, missing punctuation marks, repeated words… she picked them all out. So while it took her a little effort, it was only matter of time that she would notice something was off with Cloud.
Where Cloud used to sit by his lonesome self in a corner of the bar every Saturday night they met up for drinks, he now shared that corner with Leon or abandoned that corner all together and snuck out to the back alley with Leon.
Where Cloud used to not speak a word the entire night on some occasions, he now knew how to banter with Leon, albeit their banter was always short and concise.
Where Cloud used to miss every of their after-work movie and dinner outings in favour of finishing his work, he now turned up more often than not with Leon trailing somewhere behind him.
It was… nice, seeing Cloud happier these days.
And it was just as nice knowing that Cloud was over Kairi, because she still had to play matchmaker for Kairi and Wakka.
There was only one word to describe the situation Cloud was in now, and it was 'bizarre'. Scratch that; 'bizarre' did not even begin to scrape the tip of the situation iceberg.
Here he was, stuck inside a supermarket and pushing a trolley filled with enough food and supplies to feed a small army, and Leon was over at the meat deli asking for "500 grams of bacon and 500 grams of ham – no, not the picnic ham; the honey ham over to the right and yes, 500 grams of that thank you".
Ever since the advent of the internet and the proliferation of internet shopping, Cloud had found no need to stepped into a supermarket. But Leon preferred to see whatever he was buying before he paid for them, and if they were going to live together, they would need to align their values and ways of life to make things easier on both of them.
That was how Cloud ended up at the supermarket two streets away from his apartment.
But how they started living together was something Cloud had yet to figure out. One day he'd simply been minding his own business and wandering around his apartment, and the next he was already helping to move boxes and suitcases inside.
Riku was to blame, Cloud was sure. Just three months ago, the guy had finally gotten lucky with the bartender at the bar they always frequented on Saturday nights. Since then, Riku never got drunk at the bar again; he had to drive his new boyfriend home after his shift, after all. Then a week ago, Riku moved into his new love nest with the bartender, leaving Leon alone to deal with the insane rent of their previously shared apartment.
It wasn't economical for Leon to stay alone, Riku said, and Cloud remember himself nodding along while he sipped his cappuccino. Next thing he knew, Leon was at his doorstep with his luggage.
At least it wasn't a chore living with Leon. Not only did Leon pay his half of the rent on time, he also pulled his own weight around the place. Who knew the brunet was so good in the kitchen? Riku claimed that Leon had only ever helped him pour warm milk into his cereal in the morning. And no dust colony was safe from the brunet's obsessive cleaning – Riku did remember Leon's room to be impeccably clean, but the cleanliness stopped there.
After living alone for so many years, Cloud thought it was nice to finally be able to come home to someone.
It was some time after Wakka finally got Kairi out on a date – just the two of them – that he noticed how relaxed Cloud seemed these days. Gone were the taut shoulders and tightly-pursed lips, and in their places were that slight curl at the end of his lips and bright blue eyes. Wakka could no longer convince himself that Cloud prowled around like a large predatory cat anymore either. If anything, Cloud seemed more similar to a domestic cat lately.
Tidus jibed that Leon had removed Cloud's fangs.
Wakka just thought that the cat had simply found someone willing to take care of him.
Exactly 46 days after Leon moved into his apartment, Yuffie, a regular columnist for Cloud's magazine, commented that he was looking healthier than she could remember. When she prodded, not taking heed of how the other writers were surreptitiously inching away from the office, she was rewarded with a faint, lopsided grin.
"Yeah, someone's been feeding me," he said.
Approximately another 60 days after that, Cloud's younger brother who lived in another city called to say that he was visiting for a couple of days to take care of his college applications and asked if he could crash in the spare bedroom. Roxas ended up crashing on the living room couch because Leon had already taken the spare bedroom. He hightailed out of town a week later after calling Leon his "future brother-in-law".
Cloud suppressed the urge to chuck a shoe at him. Leon just smirked.
Another 50 odd days later, when Cloud and Leon were having dinner together, Sephiroth and Genesis walked in to the fully-occupied eatery. Cloud waved them over and offered to share their table. While Sephiroth and Leon discussed weather and politics, Genesis leaned over and asked if Cloud was happy. It was a question Genesis asked him every time they met, but for the first time, Cloud found himself meaning it when he replied, "I think so."
Genesis seemed to think so too, because for the first time, he smiled and replied, "I think you are too."
If anyone was to be an idiot at his wedding reception, it would definitely have to be himself. After all, he was the groom and the groom was allowed to be silly on his wedding day, right? Or at least that was what Tidus thought. Unfortunately, as the groom, he was expected to be the perfect host and make sure that everyone was having a good time. Not that his newly-wedded wife, Selphie, would allow him to be an idiot on their big day either.
So instead, that duty fell onto his best man, Riku, and everything Riku did, Riku did it well. After getting chased off the stage for his bad singing, he'd quickly retreated to the corner to fondle his boyfriend and gotten whacked on the head for his attempt. When Tidus walked by, he heard Sora – the bartender from their favourite bar – whisper harshly that Riku was not allowed to grope him in public. It was hard to believe that those two had already been together for a whole year.
Wakka was being an idiot too, for not seeing the signs that his date – a pretty girl named Lulu – was secretly thrilled by the wedding bouquet he'd caught for her earlier. He hovered around her constantly, trying to get her to agree to another date next week.
Selphie's bridesmaid, Kairi, alternated between the two extremes, depending on whether she was trying to pick up the available guys or not. Ever since her disastrous first – and last – date with Wakka, she'd stayed single, but it seemed that the wedding had triggered something in her.
In stark contrast, Cloud and Leon kept to the walls, sipping their drinks quietly and not exchanging a word. But Tidus could tell that they didn't need to. Leon's hand was holding onto Cloud's, and everything that should be spoken was already understood by the other.
In the Leonhart-Strife household, Sunday was laundry day. And this Sunday, being the Sunday right before the new year, was mega-laundry day: they were washing everything that could be washed, including all their spare sheets, linens, curtains and table runners.
Considering how major the laundry duty was and how some of the items were much too big for their small washing machine to handle, Leon took it upon himself to transport those items to the nearby laundromat, leaving Cloud in their apartment to sort out the remaining pile. It was during this sorting duty that a tassle and its matching rope fell out of the pile, and something clicked in Cloud's mind. As if on cue, the door opened with a click and Leon stepped back inside.
As they talked, Leon removed his jacket and tossed it into the laundry basket beside Cloud.
"I just suddenly realized that I've never really asked you."
"Ask me what?" Leon replied as he tossed the contents of the basket into the washing machine in one swift, practiced move. His eyes never looked up from the machine's panel of buttons while he waited for Cloud to continue.
"What drove you to try and hang yourself that time when I was lugging Riku back to your old apartment? Your girlfriend leaving you wasn't the only reason, was it?"
The washing machine spun into action with a loud grumble.
Leon chuckled and sighed. "Would you believe if I told you I was trying to paint what someone would see before he put his head into the loop?"
"Well, occasionally. I hadn't in a while until that night, actually. Inspiration just came to me, I guess."
"Haven't painted in a while. My muse comes and goes as she likes."
"…I see," Cloud replied, though he didn't really 'see' it. "So you were trying to paint what someone would see before he put his head into the loop that night. Where does your ex-girlfriend come into this?"
"Well, I was trying to get into the right mood – to 'feel' the painting, I suppose – and I thought it'd help if I tried reliving some of the depressing things that had happened. My ex leaving me was just one of those things."
"Ahh… But why didn't you tell me back then? Why did you let me think you were really going to do it?"
"Heh, I was curious about what you'd do afterwards, since you didn't seem really interested in saving me. I asked you why you didn't help me some time after that, remember? And you said…"
"…you didn't look like you were ready to die," Cloud finished, realization lighting up in his eyes.
The brunet nodded.
There was a grunt from the washing machine, a momentary silence, and then another grunt as it moved into its next cycle.
After a long while, Cloud said, "…You're insane."
Leon nodded again. "I agree. I've probably never been more insane in my life than I have at that moment, but I've also never been more sure of what I want than I have after that: I want you."
There was another long silence.
Finally, Cloud smiled lazily. "I have an oddball for a housemate."
"And you have odd taste for a boyfriend," Leon replied, closing their distance to wrap his arms around the small of Cloud's back. As though on second thoughts, he added, "I am your boyfriend now, aren't I?"
"According to the others, we've been boyfriends for years."
"I'm inclined to agree with them, but I'm more interested in what you think."
"I guess you are, then."
For a short, quiet moment, they shared a brief, soft kiss – their first – and then life went on. The washing machine was still in one of its cycles, after all.
And so it goes.
A/N: My first CLC oneshot in 18 months! For a while there, I actually thought I'd given up on this couple, but ha ha, like Leon said, "my muses comes and goes". Hopefully I can get back to writing this delicious couple again.
But yups, definitely my weirdest fic to date. And because I wrote most of this fic out by employing the 'stream of consciousness' technique (that is I type the first thing that comes to my mind, no matter what), it also goes to show just how weird my mind can be. ^_^;;
The basic premise of this story was built on whether two people can still have some semblance of a relationship after one of them sees the other trying to commit suicide. This was partly inspired by the first chapter of Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, which pretty much is pure crack and black humour, and I wanted to put a similar scene in a non-crack situation.
This fic is the result. Of course, if I'd wanted to explore that concept a bit more, this fic would have been much longer and have a lot more angst. But you know me: fluff is my middle name. So I steered them back towards a happier ending eventually. ^_^;;