Refusal

In a moment of weakness she braids her hair and secures it with a bright pink ribbon.

"Maybe," Tifa whispers, gazing into the mirror, " If I wear it just like her…Cloud will love me too."

But then she scowls and realizes how ridiculous the entire concept is and angrily rips the fabric out of its knot.

On her way out of Hollow Bastion she runs into Leon. After a thoughtful moment of staring at him she pushes the satin strip into his hands, "Maybe it'll work if you're the one to wear it." and is gone before he can try to give back the ribbon.

He frowns at the item, letting it slip between his fingers and flutter to the ground; he doesn't know why she would give him such a thing, or why he'd even need it.

Daze

It is much too early to be awake; which is exactly why Cloud nods off at the table in Merlin's small kitchen. He is the only one out of bed at this time, as usual.

He only has a few moments of peace before someone is prodding at his hand. Opening his eyes slowly, his groggy gaze focuses slightly. A puzzled expression overtakes his face as he is greeted by the images of Zack and Sephiroth. He is understandably startled and moves to grab his buster sword, but then he realizes that they are no taller than the length of his hand and are on the table before him.

"Surprised buddy?" Zack laughs. Cloud can only nod mutedly.

"Anyways, down to business. We, Sephiroth and I, are filling in as your conscious right now; since you seem to be ignoring it as of late."

The blond looks over to the miniature version of his arch nemesis skeptically.

"Oh right, don't worry about him. The reason we're both here is because we're acting sort of like those shoulder guardians you see in cartoons. You know, the angel/devil scenario?" Cloud nods dumbly again, unable to wrap his sleep-deprived brain around the current situation.

"We're here about Leon." Sephiroth states frankly, arms crossed as if he'd rather be anywhere than here.

"What about him?" Cloud finally speaks, looking as if he has no idea what they're referring to…because in all honesty he doesn't.

"Look, we know you're shy and racked with doubt, but you should go for it!" Zack grins encouragingly, hands gesturing wildly.

"…What?"

"Stop lying to yourself, you're only wasting our time when you do," Sephiroth snaps.

"He may seem cold and unapproachable, but I'm betting that if you open up a little he'll warm up to you in no time!" cheerful as ever, Zack almost smacked the psycho general in the face with his enthusiastic flailing.

"No way, Leon is a proud bastard and a warrior. He'll only respond to force. Just jump him and get it over with." Sephiroth counters.

Slowly the pieces started falling into place and a mixed look of understanding and shock cross his face, "Wait a minute. I don't know where you guys got the idea that I…feel…that way about Leon, but I don't."

"Yeah, right, and the life stream is pink. Stop denying it and lets move onto something more productive."

"But I don't!" he tries to convince them, but for some reason they are very adamant about getting to accept an idea he'd never thought about (...that much). But Cloud ignores the part of his brain that supplied that last thought.

Suddenly there is a hand on his shoulder and Cloud whips his head around to see who it is. There is Leon, yawning and looking down at him with little interest.

"Don't fall asleep at the breakfast table," he says lazily, and moves past him to start coffee. The blond looks back to where Zack and Sephiroth had been, but they are gone.

He blushes ever so lightly and mumbles, "I don't like him…"

"Hmm?" Leon hums.

"Nothing," Cloud mutters and flees the room, going out to satisfy his urge to hurt something.

Slip

"Wow~ look at all that fog!" Yuffie points out excitedly, leaning over the back of the couch and against the window.

"Actually," Merlin starts, "fog is nothing more than thin, low hanging clouds. So in all actuality we are in a cloud."

Yuffie can't help but giggle and blurt, "I bet Leon wishes he was 'in a cloud'."

"Leon wishes what?" Cloud asks, looking mortified; Leon shouting at the same time, "I wish no such thing!"

Yuffie just rolls her eyes and turns back to watching the weather, "Geez don't get so defensive. It was supposed to be a joke, but now I don't know…." and grins at the tension rolling off the ruffled men behind her.

Resolution

They are alone in the kitchen. The girls have gone out shopping, and Cid out working on the computer in the broken down castle. Neither mind, neither care either way to be honest.

Leon shoots Cloud an inquisitive look, as if to say 'Why are you here?'

"…Aerith asked me to stay…at least until—" but the blond cuts off his own statement, lips pressed together tightly.

Leon nods, understanding without having to be told. He thought he'd saw Cloud twitch when Yuffie had carelessly elbowed his ribs. His assumptions about an injury were correct.

Leon turns back to the counter, pulling bowls out in preparation for dinner. And Cloud watches from his seat at the table, eyes following the lion's every movement for reasons he's given up trying to label.

The brunet reaches for something on the top shelf in the cupboard, but it seems that he can't quite reach. Leon rises on his tiptoes, but is still unable to retrieve what Cloud guesses to be the cornmeal. But he doesn't give up, and Cloud decided he likes the view.

His bright gaze watches the grasping fingers, then travels smoothly down the taunt arm, moving on to admire the back muscles pulled tight under the thin white shirt (he doesn't stop to wonder where Leon's ever-present jacket is, he's just glad that it's out of his way). His eyes keep roaming, down to the tight leather pants—

He stops, backtracking his gaze to something he carelessly skimmed over too quickly. There. There's a small strip of sun kissed skin, exposed by the action of stretching that bunched the shirt up. His eyes are locked on the spot, never before seeing much of Leon's skin. The sight of Leon's lower back has him captivated, has his heart pumping a little faster than normal and heat rushing to his own pale skin.

The innocent strip of skin has his mind wandering, thinking thoughts he'd never considered. He stares shamelessly.

Leon pushes himself to reach higher, causing his shirt to ride higher as well, exposing more damp skin. And the first thing that Cloud can coherently say is,

"Dear Shiva…."

He stands in a rush and wonders how Leon will feel about being bent over the table.

And then decides he doesn't give a damn about what Leon wants.