"What are talking about?"

Cloud looks at him as if he was dumber than Seifer himself. "You really don't know about the story of Boko the Chocobo?"

An irritated blink, a grunt, he turns to look at him with slumber hazing his features. "Yeah, 'cause I traverse children's libraries while taking down the heartless."

" …. " Eight shifts, lean, hover over warm lips. "Want me to tell it to you?"

Curiously, sleepily, amusedly so—with a diminutive glimmer of teeth hidden by a soft pillow. "Does big, bad Leon get a bedtime story?"

He descends, looking at the lazy sea itself, tired, questioning, all too young with age that prevented such a tale—but he gives the sun under the moonlight, bright, dark, equally lax. "If you want."

So he tells a story.

With three kisses.

Three minutes.

Three smiles.

Three ways the favor was returned.


They trudge back together without a word.

Leon gets to the bedroom first, a little too cut-up, a little too tired, a little too prone to crashing to the floor with exhaustion and blood trailing behind him—terse, blank, unrelenting; Cloud follows in second, more than exhausted, more than quiet, more than looking at the void in belied brevity.

They say nothing together without anything.

Cloud gets to the bathroom first, a little too hesitant, a little too resistant, a little too close to crashing to the floor with two holes in his wing and false security trialing behind him—acute, damaged, wary. Leon follows in second, more than silent, more than null, more than dropping Lionhart that shone with pitch-black ugliness.

They look together without looking.

But no one knows who gets to the bandages first, a little too rebellious, a little too angry, a little too vulnerable with gaining something that betrayed sudden fear of loss—staring, apprehensive, weary, fighting back battle-worn hands that held two bandages and incomprehensible tremors; no one knows who follows in second, more than harsh, more than shaking, more than yelling at the other if he knew what the hell self-preservation was.

They fall together without falling at all.

But they knew 'first' to be as last as 'second'.


"Your gunblade needs some oiling."

"Hn: Your sword needs some, too."


Ten blinks before words.

And Leon's brow arches.

"Your favorite animal is a pelican."

Awfully, it comes out as a fact, not a question.

Cloud turns his head—maybe a grunt here, a bit of agitation there, defensiveness all over. "So? At least I have a favorite animal."

Perhaps it was the hint of challenge, deep pools of lightning blue, a sense of childish pride rising at the thought of thin breaks between the lines, so he speaks—boldly. "What makes you think that I don't have one?"

Ten more blinks on Cloud's behalf. "Oh? Then indulge me."

And Leon's lips quirk.

"It's standing right in front of me."

Ten blinks.

And no comment.