+ Johnny, My Dead Hamster +

+ Chapter 2/? +

In Which Leon's get owned

Contrary to what Axel had predicted, Leon didn't think he was fucked. Not really.

The thought first occurred to on the morning that marked the 2nd day of... the Brat Boarding At His House For Free (he was going to have to come up with some initials for that, since he was already spelling it with caps in his mind. He was leaning toward BS - for Brat Surprise, though that could get a little awkward if he ever said those initials out loud. He'd also considered BPD - for Boy Pizza Delivery, but had disregarded this on account of how kinky it sounded, and no, he hadn't been watching any pizza boy porn (lately) and no -).

Anyway. He didn't really think he was that fucked anymore, in a way.

He hadn't always thought that way.

In fact, he had woken up this morning in a bad mood, and decided he was no longer going to tolerate the boy sleeping in and getting up whenever while he, Leon, went to work and subjected himself to the ridicule of Axel and company.

No, Leon had decided. Enough of that. As Leon had deducted during an exploration through the spheres of logic that winded through his brain like glass tubes through a laboratory, or some slightly less out-there simile, the boy had to at least adhere to his sleeping schedule - for Leon's sleeping schedule, as the one of the owner of this place, was the rule of the house, after all. And so, having decided right then and there to wake him up and make him be useful, no matter what, be it sun or rain or –

The door had swung open.

Leon's knuckle had, rather anti-climatically, frozen in mid-swing.

"Whashup? It's early," Sora had mumbled, blinking at Leon like a dying owl.

And Leon had just – looked at him.

A mess of brown spikes, with a few strands bobbing around his temples or the nape of his neck. Oversized pinestriped pajama sleeves pooling around sun-tanned wrists. Body slumping against the door frame, fist rubbing one eye while the another, unfocused eye drooping in a way that Leon had a hard time describing as anything other than –


"Whatever," he had said curtly. "Go back to bed." With that, he had turned around and had been gone, doing the best he could to ignore the heat of the irritation pulsing beneath his cheeks.

And that was that was what had prompted the 'epiphany', that had been the first time that he, as of yet elusive reasons, had started to think that maybe , just maybe, not telling the boy to toddle off to the next homeless shelter hadn't been the worst decision of his life, after all. Or, at least, that the one time he had decided to actually point out to Rinoa that she had bought her skirt approximately two sizes too small had perhaps been a little worse by objective evaluations.

Oh yeah, that time hadn't been a wise decision, in retrospect.


Leon squinted his eyes, stalked back into the kitchen to down his cup of black coffee in one go, made a face at the bitterness, and then sped off to work to, once again, teach a bunch of credit-starved imbeciles how to draw fruit baskets.

Until he remembered that it was, in fact, July 3rd, which meant it was –

Oh. Fuck.

Leon arrived at the teacher's meeting room slightly breathless from the jog, and flung the door open without constraint.

The other teachers inside the room jerked at the noise and shot him the evil eye before easing back into their own planetary orbits of nervous waiting. Leon let his eyes trail over the rows – wow, look at that, even Cid had shown up for the occasion – and assessed that the only chair still empty was one in the back row.

He proceeded to awkwardly edge through a picket of book bags and umbrellas to reach the last empty seat. He blinked once he was in his seat. A cored-out shaft of sunlight hammered at his head through the window to his right, and on the left of him, there was -

"Yo, Leonhart. You're late. Lucky she ain't in yet." A pause, and Leon didn't even have to look over to know he had crossed his legs, was lounging his head on his palm and giving him that grin that flooded his face with his trademark cynical canniness that made you want to get away to somewhere he wasn't. "Boy keep you up all night?"

Axel wasn't the only reason he wish he was somewhere else. "Whatever," he muttered, darting a glance over to the clock hoisted on the wall.

To his left, Axel kept on doing what he did best. "Hey," he exclaimed, dropping his hand onto the table. "I have something to give ya later. Something you'll really like, or – rather, he'll like. It's great."

"Okay," Leon said. He started to tap his foot, twirling his pen in his fingers, slicing his eyes to the clock and back, and when was she coming, and he still didn't have an idea for a painting, oh godohfuck -

"It's a Wii," Axel said, in much the same way Cid liked to proclaim, 'Boobs'.

Leon had no idea what a 'Wii' was supposed to be, but trusted Axel enough not to ambush him with the first thing that came to his mind at the mention. Besides, it's not like Axel could ever part with that. "That's nice."

"Yeah, I'll give it to you later. I tell you, Roxas was not happy when I said I'd give it to you, but consider it an act of my generosity. So, when this – what is this thing today about -"

"September's art auction." Another glance at the clock, over the bustling people gathered in the room, the steady tick tock of the clock and the tap tap tap tap of his foot and then -

When the door crashed against the wall and Ursula stalked into the room, the physical shock that made Leon sit upright and was nothing so much as being slapped all over the face.

One hand pressing books flat against her chest and the other cradling a little red chihuahua who looked about as happy to be near the crushing presence of the department head's sagging bosom as any sane male below the age of seventy would, the department head came to a halt in front of them, eyes narrowing at them in a way that spelled DOOM in capital letters.

If Leon had been a turtle, he would have drawn in his head. Since he wasn't, he only stared in barely-concealed horror.

"So," Ursula sang in a way that bared her canines and made her face look like a cauldron of tics and wrinkles, "I trust that most of you have started your preparations by now."

Next to him, Axel mouthed, 'WHAT?'

Leon wanted to groan.

Ursula tossed the books on the table and then swirled back around to face them, the chihuahua in her arm holding on for dear life. Leon remembered that the poor animal's name was Ariel. For some reason, the department head liked to carry the handbag-sized dog around with her wherever she went – Leon sent a quick prayer to whatever canine deity was in vicinity.

After a few moments of that, Leon abandoned his prayer on account of it being both useless and potentially distracting. Also, he was kind of too horrified to pay much attention.

Ursula waltzed over to the black ground – waltzing being the appropriate word here, considering the woman also walked with wide steps, as if she was the she-officer leading an imaginary military drill – then grabbed piece of chalk and began to write in big, screechy letters.


"The fuck?" That was Axel next to him, staring in awe. Or possibly like someone had amputated half his brain. Leon just hoped it was the half that had memorized the goddamn soap opera lyrics.

"Well," Ursula announced, twirling around on her feet like a retired ballerina. "You are all aware of the art exhibition, right, my lovelies?" Her voice was high and sinister, and the very sound of it had been permanently etched into everybody's DNA as an immediate trigger for alertness, head-ducking and impromptu-praying.

Or in Axel's case, impromptu-bedwetting. "The fuck, Leon? What's she talking about?"

Leon groaned, elbowing him hard into the ribs. "Shut up and listen."

Ursula sauntered over to the teacher's desk.

The entire room jerked when she slapped both of her arms onto the desk without warning, booming, "I trust you all remember we are displaying all our teacher's art on September the first, and that you are all expected to contribute." Her features fell dramatically and her tone right alone with it, giving the room a smarmy smile. "Right, my lovelies?"

Leon shuddered. So did everyone else in the room. Including Ariel.

Ursula dropped her sickly-sweet fake smile, banged her fist against the desk, and shrieked, "One painting from each of you, you hear me?"

Sometimes you could thank Axel for verbalizing everyone's thoughts. "Oh, shit," he said.

Ursula threw back her head, giving one high-pitched shriek of a laugh (that made half the population in the room back as far back as their chairs would allow), and then, a softer, "Or you're all so fucking fired like you're in the Satan's cauldron himself." A smile, and then she leaned forward, throwing her way this way and that, eyes huge and fake lashes fluttering. "Understood?"

"Yes, department head," came the uniform reply.

Ursula deflated some of her breath. "Good. Good, good." She stepped down from the podium, smoothing down her long black dress, and said, "Well, I have an appointment at the beautician today." And left.

And as soon as the door fell shut behind her, an audible sigh of relief fissured from person to person, from row to row.

Axel, for his part, looked nothing as much as flabbergasted. He turned to Leon, face scandalized. "Can she do that?"

Oh, the exuberant innocence of noobies and the joys of easing them into the art department. "She can do whatever she wants," Leon muttered, collecting his books and pens. "She married the director of the school."

"She's married?" Axel exclaimed, as if Leon had just told him he fancied getting naked and doing the Luma Luma dance in the retirement home's gardens. "Someone – okay, let me get this straight. Someone actually married her?"

Leon shrugged. "Different folks, different – you know the drill."

"Wow." Axel exhaled. "That's more fucked-up than any amnesia, incest, forbidden love and hidden child soap opera story ever invented. Put together."

Leon sighed. "You're being melodramatic." He watched the other teachers in the room get up and falling into chatter, but for some reason, Leon was still too dazed to get up himself.

"So have you decided on your painting yet?" Axel asked, making no motion to get up himself, folding his hands over the back rest of his chair.

Leon thought about this. He'd thought he had it, once – he'd had a vision, or something, or been blessed with the spring of inspiration bubbling to the surface, more likely – of a painting he'd wanted to complete.

It had just been at his fingertips, the way a word that's slipped your mind feels like it's resting on your tongue, just this reluctant of tumbling out when you're fumbling for it. It had felt like that, and he'd wanted to paint it, had been itching to do it, but –

Leon shook his head and got up, smoothing down his leather jacket and shrugging his bag over his shoulder. "No, I have absolutely no clue."

"Well." Axel shrugged, then scratched the back of his neck with one hand while cocking his face to the size, smile of feline canniness on his face. "It's only early July. September 1st's a loooong way off yet." He uncrossed his legs and leapt to his feet, stretching his arms above his head with a yawn before letting them fall back to his sides. "So, wanna grab a bite?"

Leon looked at him just the teeniest bit sourly at the suggestion. "Can't."

"Ahh yeeeeah," Axel drawled, eyes rotating in quick thought. "The kiddo. He tough on you yet?"

Tough? Leon thought.

He thought of the boy then; images of his smiling face snapping in front of his inner cornea like black-white photos in an outdated camera, with the click that changed pictures.

Then he thought of him with his cheeks stuffed full of apple, spitting it all over his table (his table! His. Table!) and he said, "Something like that." A pause. "Well, then."

He had just been about to leave when Axel called after him.

"Yo, Leon. Not gonna take the Wii?"

Coming home followed the usual routine: drive car home. Park car. Get out of car. Fish for keys. Open door. Call to Sora he was home, and – wait, what?

He shook his head to himself as he rounded his car after parking it in the sweeping driveway and approached his house, Nintando (he thought that's what Axel had said, anyway) Wii clamped under his arm, distantly wondering why in the world he was bringing the random boy from the doorstep a fucking game console.

Wasn't that sort of like – bringing the rats in your attic slabs of piquant Camembert cheese?

He actually had to stop and think about that for a second. Until a bolt of headache zigzagged through his skull, and he thought, dammit, and hadn't he had enough trouble today, seriously, first the whole art exhibition thing and now this Woo-whatever console, and – and (Cloud, shit, Cloud) and – everything.

But even while his heart rate exhilarated at the stress, his mood being dragged down as if the anxiety were a physical stone-bolstered blanket of doom, through all of this, Leon remained calm on the outside.

Arieth had once said that if one wanted to know how Leon truly felt, you didn't look for a narrowing of eyes, or a moody downturn of a lip, or even the interplay of emotion on the entirety of his face. No, she'd said, one had to watch his hands because they were the ones that twitched when he was anxious.

Leon didn't really need to look down to know his own were about as active as a field mouse running head-first into that electrical fence at Jurassic Park right now.

The door fell closed behind him (not calling out to Sora, mind), and Leon (hands still twitching, one wrapped around the... Nintanda or whatever) listened.

Only there was silence. Stranger still, the lights were all turned off already. Not a sound hushed down the corridors of Leon's house.


Where was that little space cadet now?

He checked the kitchen first; he saw nothing but swelling evening light dappling on the tiles, and the blinking light of the coffee machine he had apparently forgotten to switch off in the morning. Sora's room was next, but upon opening the door, all he was greeted with was empty, echoing, horribly twining silence. He closed the door again, pacing the hallway, coming to a halt with an old, dusty storage room to his left and the room leading to the master bedroom on the right.

And so, Leon did what Leon did best.

He brooded: arms crossed over his chest, face thrown into a scathing frown, eyelids lowered, the whole shebang.

It was possible he had left, he supposed, weighing the idea in his head. Had he left? Could he dare to hope that had the first problem on his ever-growing list of pains been removed, and were things actually looking up for once?

He allowed himself to entertain this thought for about a moment before the storage closet to his left opened and Sora walked out of it.

Yes, and that, my friends, was how Sora came out of the closet.

….Now that was one sentence Leon hadn't envisioned himself to be thinking any time soon. Or ever.

"Uh, Leon? Hi," the boy said, rubbing the back of his head, peering at him from under lidded eyes framed by puffy swellings. He yawned slightly. "Sorry – I fell asleep."

A beat.

Leon blinked. "In the closet," he said. Just to confirm.

Sora rubbed his eyes, one eyelid practically drooping. "Yeaaaah – sorta."

Leon looked the boy up and down. "It may be pointless to ask, but." Why did Leon get the feeling he was missing something here? Like, something huge? "Why are you sleeping in the closet?"

"Hm?" Sora replied, sleep drizzling his voice, blinking at Leon as if he had trouble understanding, the blue sunshine of his eyes hidden behind clouds. Then, he shook his head a little, and said, "Oh, I was – bored, so I went looking for something to do. I found some books. Just romance novels. But I read 'em and then fell asleep."

Somehow, Leon's mind skipped over everything else the boy had said to pounce on the words 'romance novel.' "They're not mine. They're Aerith's."

Sora shrugged. "Yeah?"

There might have been a wail and cry inside of him as another part of manliness withered up and died. Or, alternatively, a KABOOM as same wheeled off its course and went up in a smash of broken wheels and fireworks against the nearest wall.

Outwardly, he only raised an eyebrow at Sora.

Who just shrugged, then smiled. "Anyway. Whoever's books they are, they were a bit boring." He paused, smile broadening, turning ever more winning. "And, you're back. Hi." Then he raised his head to look at him with an expression that reminded Leon of nothing as much as squirrel angling for a dangling nut. "Dinner?"

"Take-out," Leon said. Eyed Sora a bit longer. Then, with the sigh of the utterly defeated, "I got something for you. There's a Nintando Wee on the table in the living room, and -"

Sora's cheer effectively cut off both Leon's voice and most of this thoughts; the boy clapped, gave Leon a quick hug (warm, lingering), then sped into the kitchen all in quick succession.

After a second (or two, or – okay, maybe, possibly three) seconds of having stood there dazed like a lovestruck teenage girl stumbling upon Robert Pattinson in the check-out line of the local supermarket, Leon shook his head, and decided on the priority in his life right now:

One, two, or possibly a million cans of beer.

He didn't quite make it to a million cans that night.

He did, however, decide that Leon looked a lot like Cloud some hazy and entirely undetermined time between beer cans #4 and #5. Leon got just the tiniest bit sentimental when he was a bit drunk, see.

Most of the time, with his bulging cheeks and sparkly eyes, Sora reminded Leon of a hamster.

But sometimes, well, sometimes, Leon decided while resting his eyes on the kid with that ridiculous controller in his hands and his eyes glued to the TV screen in Leon's living room – well, sometimes, Sora also looked a lot like Cloud.

Because sometimes, it was just there, in a variety of different ways: in the way Sora's lower lip quivered when anger welled up inside him (often in conjunction to that dreaded Game Over screen filling the screen); or in the way he would start blinking right along with his heart beat when he was getting nervous.

Sometimes, thought, he'd just plain look like Cloud. Sometimes, with the sunlight glimmering off long, mahogany lashes. Sometimes he'd just –

"Um. Leon...?"

The nostalgic recollections that had drifted through his mind like gauze scattered, shredded pieces speeding back into the coffins set up in the corners of his mind.

Leon blinked.

A brown flash appeared from below the edge of his vision as Sora propped himself up on his hands, controller in his lap, game paused.

Leon shook his head. "Nothing."

"I haven't thanked you properly yet. For the Wii, I mean. It's totally cool. Like, awesome." He smiled, and stuck out his tongue a little at a memory. "Ugh, and a lot more interesting than those novels with the gentlemen with the flowing hair. Seriously."

Leon shrugged. "Thank Axel."

Sora nodded his head to the side, spikes bobbing. "But I'd rather thank you." Then, he yawned. "I guess I'm taking a short gaming break."

He fell back flat on his back, oversized hoodie spread out beneath him like a dark corona. He threaded his hands behind his neck and closed his eyes.

Leon surveyed the scene for a moment. There they were, in his living room, with Leon sitting on the couch drinking beer while this kid was lounging on his carpeted floor with a game controller balancing on his belly. The electric light from the TV illuminated his skin and threw shadows where it couldn't touch.

Leon rubbed his eyes. "Sora."

The uncontainable flash of the boy's eyes leaped over the room at Leon. "Hmm?"

Leon licked his lips and cleared his throat. Then, "Why did you get kicked out of your house?"

Sora held his eyes, and everything else – the ticking of the toll tower, the tick-tack of the clock hoisted on the wall, the noises from the video game – fell away, silence stretching long and thin between them.

Sora drew his face to the side, canines digging into his lower lip. "Some stuff happened." He started to fiddle on the floor, one leg starting to trail up the other, toes scratching his ankles in a nervous habit. "My parents and I fought. They didn't understand me, or – well. Maybe the timing wasn't right or – hell, I don't know. Um, I mean – heck, I don't know. Yeah."

Leon thought that he was twisting so much that, if he had been huddled in a blanket down there, he'd probably be as entangled as a masochist in a good old bondage session right about now.

"And then," the boy continued, "I said – some pretty bad stuff I – probably shouldn't have."

Leon nodded, and then said in his best child-psychologist voice, "I understand."

"I – I just wanted some time away from them, and – yanno. Stuff." Fiddle, fiddle. "I'll go back soon."

And Leon was pretty sure that what he said next was just the beer talking.

"Yeah. That's – that's all right." A beat. "I mean, I don't mind so much. That you're here."

The beer was eloquent indeed.

Sora rewarded him with a smile that opened up his face. "Thanks. Because that totally did mean that I could stay here for a while, didn't it?"

Leon blinked. "Hey, hey? What? I did not say you could stay here for very long or anything. I expect you out by – the end of summer at the latest, you hear me?"

That smile didn't waver; bright and honest and by God, it was infectious. "Of course."

"I mean it," Leon said. "You make my house a mess. I'm only keeping you as long as keep it clean. And I mean 'clean'. Like, 'could eat off the floor' kind of clean."

Sora nodded, spikes bobbing atop his head and fluttering against his cheek bones. "Duly noted, sir."

"And you don't spit apple all over my kitchen counter. Ever. Again."

Sora's smile was so wide now it looked like he was trying to eat both of his ears at once. "Of course not. Who do you take me for?"

"Also," Leon said, "you take off your shoes before you come in, you pat off your shirt – and especially those oversized sneakers of yours, seriously kid, how do you walk in those boats –"

"Aye, aye," the boy called before slumping back, reaching for his controller.

"And when you take a shower," Leon said, mouth set on auto-pilot, "you make sure not to leave puddles behind on the tiles. Not like yesterday, when the entire floor was flooded."

Leon could hear the smile in the boy's voice, "Yessir."

Leon, finally realizing what he was doing, shut with mouth with an audible click, averted his eyes and focused them on the bars of of sun light gleaming on the tiles like a film of liquid star dust.

Silence settled over them, jostled only by the occasional sound from the TV set.

Leon, meanwhile, was locked in a heated debate with his inner self regarding the his stupid soft spot for Cloud (him arguing it was the size of a tennis court, and his inner self insisting it spanned at least an entire football field) when –

"Cloud was right," Sora said from the floor. "That you're a cool dude, I mean. He said you were. A cool dude. And you are."

Cool what? His inner self echoed, gloating as much as imaginary voices in Leon's head were capable of. There, I win. Football field, no doubt about it.

Including the goddamn stadium, Leon thought back.

And so, scarily enough, after that horrendous day filled with witnessing Ursula's very public PMS attack and failing ruefully at bargaining with a teenaged brat, something like – something almost like routine settled into the house.

He went to work in the morning, with a sour mood and even sourer expression. Only that expression filled out and cracked over the course of the work day, until, by the end of it, when he arrived home, shrugged out of his car, and leapt to the front porch, his features had loosened. Relaxed.

There was someone there waiting for him when he came home, and they'd eat dinner and talk. Well - mostly Sora would talk and Leon would make very eloquent commentaries in the form of grumbles. Sora had taken it upon himself to become an English-Leon translator and had to date identified 15 different kinds of grumbles, but – no matter. They talked, and it was (kind of sort of) more fun than watching TV and drinking beer by himself had been before the kid had waltzed into his life.

Leon didn't really know what Sora did with his time. Leon imagined that time had to stretch out before the kid like endlessly unraveling thread. Sometimes, he wondered if someone like him – someone so floating with energy he had to be on first-name basis with the goddamn Mir – wasn't bored out of his mind spending the days at Leon's house.

Sora never complained, and Leon never asked.

He considered a few times to snap at the kid if he didn't have any friends to hang out with instead of working on his apparently deep-burning desire to faciliate a deep joining of souls with his game console. He didn't in the end, considering how enormously condescending that would have been.

He was just happy he didn't find any spit-covered fruit pieces splattered over his counter anymore, really. He could deal with the rest.

So he said nothing when the boy greeted him with a grand smile and a wave, and said nothing when he sank into the couch with a sigh more befitting on a middle-aged housewife whose dream of a picket fence and 2.5 kids had amounted to a cheating husband and bratty kids, and said nothing of importance when they ate dinner (take-out, invariably; Leon was a bad cook and if Leon had to wager, Sora was probably even worse) -

Said nothing still, even while he read a book accompanied by the background noise of oh-hoo of Mario jumping and the dum-dum-duum of him growing after obtaining a mushroom and the ta-da-da of clearing a stage.

There wasn't really a need to say anything. And although the kid didn't cook or helped with the housework much (Leon had pretty much given up on that one after his failed attempt to wake up Sora at an appropriate time, and Sora's subsequent near-fatal encounter with the china tea cups set in his kitchen), it was –

Well. Domestic, almost.

It was only sometimes, just sometimes that he caught Sora looking at him as if he was going to say something, mouth already opened and eyes flexed onto Leon –

But then his mouth snapped shut, he turned his face back until the shimmer of the screen tinted his face blue, and he didn't.

And so, the days passed by; one, then two, then three, then four. Days that, in many ways, were identical to the many other summer days Leon had spent in the city before.

He also worried about the exhibition – mostly when he was at work and listened to the his co-workers talk about in hushed conversations sprinkled with creative curse words aimed at the Frau Department Head. Even felt the anxiety demons gnaw away at his intestined some days – but mostly they fled and sped into the corners or wherever they lay in wait as soon as Leon packed his belongings and wrapped up for the day.

Because back at home, even though he had just picked up a stray teenage boy a mere couple of days ago – there was peace, and there was silence.

Well. Silence, and the steady oh-hoo, dum-dum-dum, ta-da-da intercepted by the occasional heartfelt "Fuck," that Leon was pretty sure he should chide the boy for but found himself oddly amused by.

There was something wrong with that boy's smile, Leon decided after about a week of having shared his house with the boy and being subjected to this very smile upon coming from work nearly every evening.

It was too bright, for one; so bright that it made Leon lean forward unconsciously as if being pulled in by the twining rays spiraling out of the sun setting on his face.

It was wrong because it was one thing that was decidedly different from Cloud, for one thing. When he smiled, there was always something holding him back; restraint clustering in a tightness around the corners of his lips, eyes like tropical water locked down beyond a frozen veneer. Nothing like the waves that seemed to spill out of the glittering depths of Sora's eyes whenever that blinding smile peeled back his lips, certainly.

Another thing was not the smile itself, but what it made him feel, and that was one winding, creaking staircase Leon was not yet willing to shuffle down again. It was almost as bad as the way he wrinkles his nose or rubbed his eyes, or the way his cheeks bulged when he ate – it was too familiar, it was disturbingly lacking of any kind of brazenness, any nobs in the paper of his personality that would screech and scratch against his if rubbed together.

Just so disgustingly personable that Leon was pretty sure that if he ever took him out, random women would attempt to abduct him so they could keep him in a cage and feed him forever and ever.

"Can you smile a bit less – like that?" Leon asked on the one week anniversary PBP (Post Boy Package – that's the shorthand Leon had decided upon during one particularly boring class).

Then it was Sora's turn to blink. "Like, uh. What, exactly?"

And that, of course, was when Leon realized that he really, really should have kept his mouth shut, and that, "because your smile reminds me of my dead pet hamster and no, I'm really not insane" really wasn't something he could just say now, was it, and fuck -

Well, too late now. "Like - like you're trying to devour both of your ears."

Another blink. "I smile like that?" Sora asked, hands slackening around the controller for once in time with his features.

Leon felt the sudden, irrational urge to stick his fingers into the the corners of the boy's lips and pull them back up.

He sighed, feeling the familiar pressure of an approaching migraine in his temples. "You know what? Never mind." He averted his eyes and shrugged out of his leather jacket, laying it over the back of the kitchen chair where it hung like a flag of surrender. "Never mind."

That's what it came down to, really.

Nevermind. Nevermind.

"And don't come out of the closet again," he bit, almost as an afterthought.

It should be noted that, no matter what her bright and vibrant laughter, large doe-eyes and pink clothes were trying to fool you into believing, Aerith really wasn't as innocent as she looked.

In fact, as far as Leon was concerned, she was about as innocent as could be expected from a girl who had grown up in the slums. Which was to say, about as innocent as Cid in a school girl uniform: convincing from a distance, perhaps - well, okay, maybe a few miles of distance - but the closer you got, the more the truth (and in Cid-in-a-school-uniform's case, the horror) revealed itself until you stood weeping in front of the shambles of the castle of pink-colored and My Little Pony-shaped illusions you'd built around that person.

Learning the truth about Aerith was sort of like that.

In Leon's case, the revelation had unraveled itself like a gas bomb-holding parcel one day a year or so ago, when he had been on the phone with Cloud and Aerith had bounced on the spot, squinted at Leon, giggled behind one finely-manicured hand - only to then form a ring with thumb and index finger of one hand and penetrated it with the finger of her other hand in the quintessential pantomimic act of copulation that had first been observed in the human animal in a kindergarten circa fifteenhundred B.C.

It was only a minor exaggeration to say that Leon had almost dropped the phone at the sight.

It was also the reason why he been very shocked when she had exclaimed, eyes glowing, "So, to summarize: Cloud has a brother, who's cute, and a teenager, aaand - currently staying in your house."

"That's pretty much abridged version of 'Leon Leonhart and the Eloped Crush's Brat Brother,' yes." Because yes, Aerith knew about his feeling for Cloud. He'd told her once, in a scene involving her soothing voice, an old tinny vinyl player screeching along the tones of 'Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so faaar away'. And about half a bottle of absinthe. Can't forget the absinthe. It was a good scapegoat, okay?

Today, when he had run into her on the street after doing his grocery shopping (not much - beer, coffee beans, candy, toast), she had brushed a strand of wet hair out of her eyes and positively cooed, "Oh, as it so happens, nobody's buying flowers today anyway - well, shall we?" and that was how Aerith had stepped into Leon's house that Saturday evening with Leon plodding inside after her like the whipped bitch he was.

And so there they had stood: Aerith bouncing on her heels, eager to meet The Brother (as she'd been referring him to) with Leon eying the puddle she'd left on the gleaming tiles.

And then Sora, ensnared by the mellifluous sound of Aerith calling his name, no doubt, had emerged from the living room, eyes wide and curious, and Aerith, smelling the prey, had hurled a flurry of pitch-black words painted over with pink nail polish at him and caught him up into a conversation filled with 'oohs' and 'ahhs' before Leon had even had the chance to get in a word in edgewise.

Not that it had mattered, really. Leon had been quite content to just sit and listen to them talk. Aerith had poured herself onto one of the kitchen chairs like water, and, well - Sora's smile had been so bright that Leon hadn't really wanted to contribute to the conversation anyway.

And then, of course, after Sora had politely excused himself (oh yes, it was really nice to meet her, but could she understand, he had some turtle ass to kick), and Leon had been left alone with Aerith in the kitchen, there had been that glint in her eyes, the one that Leon had long since learned spelled TROUBLE in capital letters. And he had silently said his prayers.

And here goes.

"He's cute," Aerith judged, leaning forward on the table, eyes the vocal point of her face. "Very cute."

Leon gave a noncommital shrug, getting up to refill his cup of coffee. Because ugh, no more beer after last night. For at least two whole days. "I guess. Kids tend to be."

Aerith gave him that look, the 'tell me more' one that women were so damn good at when they were just about to spill over with excitement, and then something on her face changed, shifted, and she said, in that low, conspiratory tone, "Oh, don't tell me..." she trailed off, giving Leon another smile that decidedly balanced along the border to giddy-land.

Leon just gave her a look, too, though his was decidedly less 'tell me more' and rather more, "What the fuck?"

"He's Cloud's brother, isn't he?" The smile she gave him was positively terrifying.

Leon rolled his eyes. "So it appears."

"I see," Aertih said, propping her head onto her palm and grinning. "His brother, huh? I mean." She started figeting on her chair, foot bumping against his leg. "Oh, Leon. It's so cute."

Leon just looked at her.

Aerith stopped fidgeting in mid-movement, then swallowed the giggles that had been ready to spill out of her. She leaned farther across the table, corkscrew locks bobbing over the gleaming white surface. "You don't get it, do you?" She grinned. "You have no idea what I'm talking about, do you?"

Now, Aerith was, as previously established, not nearly as innocent as she looked.

But that didn't mean that Leon's EQ suddenly ceased to be hopelessly mired in single digits, and so he let the reference fall off the conversational cliff without a second thought. He stirred his coffee, looking at the black whorls, wondering for perhaps the hundredth time why exactly he had ever appointed the resident flower-girl-slash-closet-pervert as his best friend, and where he could get some more of that particular type of crack.

After a moment of holding her pose, Aerith sighed, slumping back against the back rest of her chair, giving Leon her best 'don't-worry-my-child-you-will-understand-eventually' look.

Leon took to it about as well as any other teenager had in the history of the most terrifying of all mom glares. "What?"

"Nothing," she singsonged lightly.

Leon's eyebrow twitched. "I mean, yeah. I mean - I let him stay here because he's Cloud's brother. I wouldn't let any other kid stay here. So it's relevant that he's Cloud's brother."

"Right," Aerith agreed, in the way you say that word to children or the mentally challenged.

"I'm only being a good friend hosting him."

"Certainly," she said with a tight smile.

Why did he always feel like she was mocking him?

"Anyway," Leon said, voice clipped and tight, "you met him, you made your judgment. Any other business you have here?"

Aerith considered this for a moment, then shook her head. "No. Well. Then," she leaped to her feet, smoothing down her pink summer dress, "I'll be going then. I'll come back tomorrow evening."

Yes. Yes, please go already. Go and - wait. Wait.

"Come back tomorrow?" Leon blurted.

Aerith's features narrowed in mild surprise. "You haven't been listening?"

Leon frowned.

She sighed, and the next thing he knew, she was crowding into him, hands windmilling into his face. "Oh, honestly. Can't you tell the kid is bored out of his fucking mind?"

Leon blinked. Once, twice, thrice. "He is?"

"Leon," Aerith exclaimed, dropping her hands. "You leave him all by himself in your big bland apartment all day long and you don't think that he'd maybe like to go out sometime?"

"He never said anything like that," he said in a voice that was rapidly approaching that of a petulant child. "And I did get him a Nintando Wii. Which is not the thing it awfully sounds a lot like."

"I know what a Wii is," she said, wrinkling her nose. "Also, it's Nintendo."

There was a tightness behind his forehead, tugging and pulling. "Anyway. I got him that Nintendo. I buy him dinner. Watch him play that stupid game. And he never says he wants to go places."

"Of course he wouldn't. He's too polite to want to burden you like that." She shook her head. "Honestly, sometimes..."

"If he wanted to go out, he could just go by himself."

"Well." Aerith's exasperated expression smoothed into one of worry. "Well. That's the thing, really. I - I think there may be," she threw a look toward the living room, "a reason for why he doesn't want to. Go out by himself, I mean." A beat. "And before you ask me what that reason is: I don't know. It's just - a feeling I have."

"Oh," Leon commented eloquently. "Oh. So, he'd - like to go out together with someone?"

"Yes," Aerith confirmed, "That's what I said. And which is why I said I'd show him around town tomorrow." She paused, eyes dancing over to the windows. "I should probably leave before it starts raining again."

Leon nodded, waving her away with a casual hand. Thoughts stumbled over another like a bunch of kids locked in a heated game of Twister, his mind switched over to auto-pilot, and before he knew it he'd already said, "I'll take him out tomorrow."

Aerith stopped dead in her tracks on her way to the door.

Leon blinked, realized what he'd done, and quickly raised his cup of coffee to his lips. "Don't bother, I mean. He's my responsibility after all. So - you don't need to come. Is what I mean."

He wasn't entirely sure, but he did think he had caught her snapping into a victory pose for just a second, before waving and bumbling down the hallway to the door.

When Leon, after a rigorous regime of rolling his eyes at the retreating figure of his beloved friend-slash-arch-enemy, returned back to the living room, ready to tell the boy about their 'appointment' tomorrow (in a trademark of Leonhart eloquency, he'd already mapped the proposal out in his mind – he'd mutter, "Sightseeing tomorrow" before retiring to his room immediately), when he found the boy sleeping.

Leon stopped in his tracks.

The TV and the lights both switched off, and only the bleary pumpkin light from the streetlights outside cast highlights on the boy-shaped lump huddled on the floor. It was illumination enough for Leon to see several things.

That the boy was sleeping in perhaps the most acrobatic position known to man; both legs spread apart like a Russian marionette with the string taught, one arm recklessly thrown over his eyes, spikes spread out in so many ways and directions that Leon was half-sure they were breaking at least one or two laws of physics (and looking annoyingly adorable in the process, too –)

Most of all, though, Leon just thought that the boy better not drool on his floor. Because it would take quite a while to get it out if it soaked through. And also, his floor?

Sora turned onto his back, the arm that had been strewn over his face slapping against the floor.

Leon kept looking.

The boy's profile was now a landscape of light and shadow, the streetlights glinting off the wetness on his lips that made them wink like flashes of diamonds.

And then said lips fell apart – just like that, without warning – and the boy drew in a massive gust of air, and Leon expected a snore to rattle through the boy's wind pipe any second now, until -

"Whyshyoonot," Sora mumbled, voice sleep-laden and boyish. "Yashoudnt... bad..."

Something in Leon's throat constricted at how ridiculously cute he was. Because, seriously.

He poked the boy again, finger digging into his hip.

The boy jerked, then softened back into sleep. "Yoowhoot... sl'p..."

"Yes, sleep," Leon muttered. "In your bed."

It was only then that Leon realized something. Something that, under some circumstances, could have been quite meaningful.

He was smiling as he looked at the boy. Fully, rigidly smiling in a way he hadn't in ages. Smiling so hard his face hurt a bit, pulling at the edges.

Smiling in a way he couldn't allow, and with that thought, it died. Softened, liquidized, until it dropped and fermented into his usual mask of cool apathy. Until it stayed there, firm and rigid, and he took a deep breath.

"Sora," he tried again, hand slipping up to grab him by the shoulders. Louder, "Sora."

"Nng... ung?" One eye slid open, blue even in the diffusing rays of moon light. Unfocused and searching until it fell on Leon's face, and stayed there.

For a moment, they just looked at each other.

Everything else fell away and somewhere in his chest cavity, Leon's heart picked up pace.

"Sora," he tried again. It was a pretty name, really, the stress equal on both syllables – not sore-ah, but So-ra. So. Ra. "Get to bed." A pause. "The floor is only mildly better than the closet."

The boy jostled awake, and sat up, supported by his hands.

Leon withdrew his face, wanting to get away from the warmth.

"Uh, sorry," the boy said, blinking the sleep away. "I fell asleep? Damn." Then he yawned, large and open-mouthed, subjecting Leon to an involuntary dental examination, and Leon made a face, and withdrew, and got to his feet, and the moment, for all it was worth (and whatever it had been) was broken.

He stood and watched the boy scramble to his feet. Watched Sora scratch the back of his head, then run a hand through his wild spikes. Watched his gaze linger around the room as if still trying to put together what had happened – or more likely, trying to remember the adventurous route to his bedroom.

Then Leon said, "Don't make any plans for tomorrow."

Sora looked at him then.

"I'm showing you the town tomorrow. It's Sunday."

And then he turned away, because he didn't particularly want to see the smile setting on his face, didn't want to see the wonder settling in his eyes, didn't really want to see anything but the pale white of his walls (there, better) and he grumbled, "Sight-seeing or something, okay?"

The boy cheered, and Leon was glad he was standing with his back to him. The boy sounded so excited that he might have hugged him in joyous exuberance.

And that was a line that Leon didn't want to cross again.

"Up by eight," he grumbled. "Not a second too late. You hear me?"

Author's Notes: It's been forever and two centuries since I updated, I know. At some point, even I thought I wouldn't continue it. You can thank my bff SavvyLovesYaoi for pestering me and convincing me that I should. XD

So um yeah. Here it is now. A bit longer than the first, even. I actually really love this story, and the pairing is very dear to my heart - I'm not sure why it took me this long to update, really. Performance anxiety, maybe. Maybe this couple is a bit too dear to my heart.

I'll probably continue it. Thank Savvy, again. XD

And... I'm not really the type to ask for review, because I figure if you like it well enough you'll do it anyway, and it also always feels tacky to come out and ask point-blank. But I'll break my usual rules and say that I'd really appreciate it if you did - mostly because I feel that reviews are a wonderful motivator, and I think I need it for this story.

So yeah, um. How do you like it so far? 8D

-Till next time!