"Leon!" Aerith called. Said brunette didn't answer. "LEON!" Again, no answer. Yuffie giggled.

"I don't think he's coming, Aerith." Another call followed by silence. Aerith sighed.

"Do you know where he is?" The ninja tapped her chin and tried to remember when she had seen the leather clad man.

"…He was in his room, last time I checked."

"Can you go get him for me?" Yufie giggled again, followed by a mischievous grin. A grin that Aerith picked up on right away. "Okay, let me rephrase that. Can you go tell him to come down here without finding a way to scar him for life in the process?" The black haired girl sighed.

"You take the fun out of everything."

"Not everything, just everything sinister that comes out of your brain." Yuffie pouted and walked upstairs to Leon's room. She didn't bother knocking, seeing as she didn't expect him to still be there. But to her amazement, the man was there, lying on his bed, reading. He hadn't noticed the ninja come in. Yuffie smiled. This could bode well.

"HEY LEON!" Leon jolted back into awareness and made a very girly, shock induced noise, before regaining his stoic composure. Yuffie was on the floor in hysterics until she was clenching at her aching sides. The laughs died down and eventually Yuffie stood and took a deep breath, but the look on Leon's face made her break down once more, before even having a chance to release the breath she'd taken. Leon glared.

"What do you want, Yuffie?" Yuffie stood again, panting slightly from the fits of laughter.

"I don't want anything, but Aerith does. So get down there now, or she might just make dinner out of you." The brunette sniffed the air and caught a whiff of Aerith's cooking. He grunted.

"Fine, what does she need?"

"I dunno. She was calling you but by the looks of it you were so engrossed in your book porn you didn't notice. So she sent me up to come and get you." The leather-clad man rolled his grayish eyes at her. A slight blush tinged his cheeks. Yuffie noticed it and smiled.

"Fine, I'll be down later. And it's not book porn, it's a book on weapon maintenance." Yuffie smiled wider.

"For you, they're the same thing."

"Shut up, Yuffie. Go tell Aerith to give me a minute." Yuffie left without another word, mumbling to herself that one day she'd pay someone to teach him why it's good to do regular maintenance on his cock. Leon sighed angrily and pinched the bridge of his nose, right where the scar crossed it. He shoved a bookmark in the book and set it on his pillow, silently contemplating whether or not Yuffie would come and replace it with actual porn if he left it in plain sight. Deciding that she could, and probably would if the chance arose, he put the book in his dresser before walking off to the kitchen.

Aerith was chopping peppers when Leon came down.

"You need me?" Aerith stopped cutting and looked at Leon, eyes a mixture of anger, concern and confusion. She pointed the knife at him accusingly.

"Why didn't you come when I called you?" Her voice remained calm and sweet as usual, with a bit of anger prodding through it. Leon rubbed the back his neck, a bit guilty that he'd upset the other brunette.

"Didn't hear you, sorry. Oh, and never send Yuffie to get me ever again." Aerith raised an eyebrow, eyes now filled with nothing but pure concern. She knew the things Yuffie was capable of when upset or just bored. She suppressed a shudder at a memory of the ninja setting traps around the castle and gummiship to "liven things up", as she called it.

"What'd she do?" Leon shook his head.

"Porn. Enough said." Aerith looked away, slight blush creeping onto her delicate features. She looked down at the cutting board and continued to chop the half mutilated green pepper on it.

"Well, who would you prefer I send, if you won't answer me?" The older brunette thought for a minute.

"Go yourself." Aerith laughed.

"And leave the food? It'll get scarfed down before I'm even done with it!" Leon nodded in agreement. The residents of this castle could be quite…unreasonable when they were hungry. Especially Cid and Vincent.

"At the risk of sounding rude and being denied dinner, why exactly did you need me?" Aerith looked up at the gunblader again.

"Oh, right. Can you go get Cloud for me?" Leon was filled with a desire to glare at the girl, but like he said before, he liked her cooking, and therefore wanted dinner. He kept his voice calm.

"Why didn't you just get the little ninja demon to get him?"

"Well, he's in the VRC and he'll ignore it if any of us interrupt him."

"What makes you think he won't ignore me and stay there until he gets hungry?" Aerith smiled cheerfully.

"Because he'll see you as a training target!" Leon tried and failed to hold back a glare.

"So you're telling me you want to put my ass on the line so he'll come eat with the rest of us?" Aerith shrugged.

"Yeah, that's right. Now go." She gestured in the direction of the Gummiship hanger with the knife. "Or else no dinner for you either." Leon glared again and much to the man's amusement, Aerith attempted to glare back. It wasn't scary at all, it was actually rather cute. The way her face scrunched as she tried to mimic the taller's expression. Leon looked away and mumbled "whatever" as he walked towards the Gummiship.

Damned Aerith…Why must she always use food against me? He walked through the Gummiship, slowly looking from door to door until he found the one marked with small letters reading VRC. That stands for virtual reality chamber. Cloud went there several times when he wanted to train, but wasn't feeling up to the task of going anywhere. Leon opened the door and walked inside. The room was dark, except for overhead lights that made the room take on a crimson-ish glow. The glow turned the man red as well as he shut the door behind him. On the wall of the small room there was a door, next to which there was a long observation window, below which there was a control panel. The brunette looked out the window and saw Cloud fighting a rather large pureblood heartless. By the looks of it, a Dark Follower. And also by the looks of it, he was not only fighting a Dark Follower, but beating it. Leon mentally noted that Cloud was an amazing fighter, but couldn't help but wonder how much of that was from the mako dwelling inside of him. Cloud swung his huge sword and split the beast clean in half. The heartless automatically disappeared into a thick fog of purple and black smoke. When the smoke dispersed, Leon took a closer look at Cloud. He was leaning heavily against his sword to stay upright.

And then he fell to the floor in a crumpled heap.

"Cloud!" Leon turned off the simulation, making the virtual environment fade. This was a virtual reality chamber. Anyone training in it could still get hurt. He ran inside the chamber, which was now illuminated by lines of light, making a grid on the walls and ceiling, and kneeled beside Cloud's body. He was beaten up pretty bad. There was blood sinking through his tattered clothes, deep cuts and large bruises lining his partially exposed skin. Cloud turned his head to look up at the leather clad man.

"…Le…on…?"

"Yeah, are you okay? Can you walk?" Cloud tried to stand and succeeded, but a jolt of intense, throbbing pain made him fall back again. Leon reached out and caught the blonde before he hit the floor. Cloud was panting heavily. "You look terrible. How long were you in here fighting?" Cloud pondered the question without movement, eyes still clenched from the pain.

"…D-don't…Remem…ber…lost…t-track…"

"You lost track? Idiot, you're friggin' exhausted. I'm bringing you back." At this, Cloud's eyes shot open again. He struggled futilely in Leon's grip, ending with a throaty fit of coughing. The man had to give him props for putting up a fight when he was injured.

"…N-no…Le…on…Let me…go…just…training…"

"Just training? Just training? This isn't training, this is running yourself into the damn ground. Do you want to die?" Leon glared at the younger man, who shrugged a bit, despite the pain making him suck air through his teeth.

"…M-maybe…but…just…training…n-need…practice…" If he wasn't already so injured, Leon would've punched him for saying "maybe" when being asked if he wanted to die. Leon furrowed his brow in annoyance and reached a hand into Cloud's bag, pulling out two potions. He uncapped one and poured it over the blonde's body. It glowed green and evaporated, taking with it some of the blood and milder cuts. The older uncapped the second and put it down before adjusting Cloud so he was sitting in a semi-upright position. He picked up the vial and put it to the blonde's lips.

"Drink it." Cloud tried to struggle again. Leon held the shorter boy's head in place and poured the green liquid into his mouth. The blonde didn't have a choice at that point. He either swallowed the potion or choked on it. He chose the latter and gulped it down, not very pleased with the fact that it'd been forced on him. He was finding it easier to breathe now, though. No more heavy panting or gut wrenching coughs. His body was feeling a bit better, too, but it still ached everywhere regardless. Cloud glared silently at Leon, who simply laid Cloud back down and stood. "Whether you want to die or not is no business of mine. But don't kill yourself through pushing your body farther than it can go." Cloud internally questioned why the brunette cared what became of him. Leon walked away wondering the exact same thing. He stopped in the doorway. "And if you want something to eat, hurry up and get inside. Or Aerith will scold you." Leon walked away again, turning around on his heel after hearing the thump of flesh on floor. Cloud had passed out. I guess I can't leave him here…If Aerith finds out, she won't let me eat again… Leon ran through his options, deciding that only one made sense. He positioned Cloud's arms around his neck and hoisted him onto his back, being careful not to move the blonde too much, lest the slowly healing cuts rip open again. Cloud's head fell lazily onto Leon's shoulder as Leon grasped at the blonde's legs, attempting to get the best grip he could. After feeling fairly confident that the younger man wouldn't fall, he walked out of the ship and towards his room. He took the longer way there and, gladly, didn't see anyone. If someone saw him with a beaten up, unconscious Cloud on his back…let's just say that thanks to Yuffie, it would effect his reputation.

"Leon…" The brunette turned his head towards the other man's, assuming he'd woken up and said his name in a shortened plea to be put down. But to Leon's amazement, the blonde still had his eyes closed, and was now snoring softly. The gunblader sighed, half in relief that he hadn't woken the now sleeping man, half in annoyance because that would mean he'd have to continue to carry him. The leather-clad man sighed once more, realizing that he had contradicted himself. It was annoying, really. Cloud was a big bowl of contradictions and complications, everyone who knew him knew that. But the annoying thing was how much the blonde seemed to leave a mark on the older man. Leon had always, always been aware of his personal beliefs and preferences. He hadn't given any of them a second thought until he'd met Cloud. The fact that there was someone in the world who could make him think twice about the things he'd known all his life truly ticked him off.

By the time Leon's internal rant had ended, he was standing outside of his own door. He pushed it open, bending over slightly so Cloud wouldn't slide off his back the moment his leg was released. The door swung open silently and Leon returned his grip to Cloud's leg. He walked into the room, kicking the door shut behind him. The gunblader sat on the bed and released his grip on the injured man's thighs in place for one on his head as he eased the blonde back into the bed. After a bit of careful adjusting, Cloud was lying normally in the sheets, head resting on the pillow. Leon silently thanked his own forgetfulness towards not putting white sheets on his bed as planned as he saw that the man was still bleeding. Leon went to the bathroom, returning with bandages, gauze, alcohol, cotton balls, and another potion. The brunette sat beside the man and began removing clothes gently until Cloud was naked from the waist up. He stifled a gasp of shock.

The blonde's usual pale skin was coated in reddish-brown blood that was starting to dry. There were numerous gashes along his chest and stomach, and most likely more cuts hidden beneath the clotting blood. His arms, although in slightly better condition then his torso, was also riddled with bloody cuts. Leon's eyes widened a bit. He had mako in his system. These injuries shouldn't be this bad. Unless…unless Cloud never gave them a chance to heal. Leon pondered how often he'd seen the blonde that day. He came up with once besides right now, when he'd seen the man… Leon smacked his own forehead V8 style. Cloud had headed to the gummiship after breakfast and hadn't been seen since. He mentally counted. They had breakfast…about twelve hours ago. It took a minute for that to sink in. Twelve hours. He was in there for twelve hours. He was in there fighting for twelve hours. He was in there fighting alone for twelve straight hours. Leon sighed and looked at Cloud's face. His eyes were closed and lips slightly parted. A cut, although not nearly as big as the others, resided on his forehead and cheek. But through all the pain his body was without a doubt experiencing, the blonde looked strangely peaceful. The gunblader sighed again and placed a hand on Cloud's uninjured cheek.

"You did this on purpose. You were trying to hurt yourself. Question is, why?" Leon wasn't expecting an answer, and didn't get one. He grabbed the alcohol and cotton balls and began to clean Cloud's body and disinfect the cuts, all the while feeling slightly guilty for not noticing Cloud's absence and going to find him sooner. Cloud's disappearances had come to be expected by now. He usually returned after a few days in basically the same condition he'd left in. Aerith, Tifa, Yuffie, and Sora when he was there usually started worrying about him as soon as they realized he'd left. Cid, and maybe even Vincent, started to get concerned after he was gone for about three days. Of course they're too proud to show it, though. Leon on the other hand never worried. Or at least, never consciously worried, about the blonde. He knew Cloud could take care of himself. He knew Cloud could fight. He knew Cloud was good with a sword. He knew Cloud was enhanced with mako. He knew Cloud could handle if things ever got out of hand without them there to help.

But this, this was different. Seeing the young man lying on the bed looking lifeless, seeing the deep gashes lining his toned chest, seeing the cuts marring his handsome face, it was totally different. Leon mentally scolded himself, realizing he'd just called another man toned and handsome. But the scolding was short-lived as a greater truth came into focus. Leon was truly, honest to Shiva, worried about Cloud's well being. As to why, he had no idea, but the tightening in his chest as he looked down at the injured man was undeniable. He moved Cloud upright, also mentally noticing that he was being much gentler than he usually was when bandaging wounds, and wrapped the gauze tightly around his chest and shoulders. Once it was secured, he laid Cloud back down and worked on wrapping the gauze around his biceps. Leon couldn't help but notice the training had done its job as he wrapped the firm muscle. He put the gauze away. The rest of the cuts were small. He disinfected them and covered them with a bandage. The gunblader gathered the supplies and looked back at his work. He sighed, knowing full well that these injuries could've been avoided, and put the supplies back into the bathroom.

.o.O.o.

Cloud's eyes slowly fluttered open, mako enhanced vision quickly adjusting to the light pouring into the room. He rubbed them with the palms of his hands, trying to resist the urge to roll away from the window and go back to bed. And that's when it hit him. His room didn't have a window by the bed. He sat up in the bed and was quickly greeted by a sharp twinge of pain in his chest. He winced and grabbed his body where it was hurt in an attempt to soothe the pain. His fingers brushed over not skin or fabric, but gauze. He raised an eyebrow and sat up again, this time going slower. The blonde looked around, a tiny bit surprised. This really wasn't his room. Cloud's eyes came to rest on a sofa in the room. From where he was, he only saw the back of it, but he could see legs hanging over the side. He stood up, being careful not to irritate his injuries. The swordsman peered over the top of the sofa.

Leon was there, sleeping.

Cloud raised his eyebrow again, before yesterday's events flooded his mind. He internally sighed. Guess I passed out… He looked down at the snoring gunblader again, shocked to see blood on his hands and clothes. Cloud sighed again. He was pretty sure that was his blood. A tiny bit embarrassed that Leon had taken care of him, and more than a little bit shocked, he limped towards the door in an attempt to silently take his leave.

"And just where do you think you're going?" A voice called.

"Um…" Cloud froze. He hadn't expected Leon to be awake. On the other hand, a lot of things he hadn't expected to happen had already happened, so he shouldn't be surprised. The blonde remained silent, so Leon sat up to look at him.

"You're still hurt. Lie down." Cloud glared at the brunette.

"I'm fine."

"No you aren't." The volume of Leon's voice went up a few notches to the point where he was nearly yelling, although he knew no one else could hear. "I saw your wounds. Now lie down." Cloud opened his mouth to mention that he healed fast, but Leon, practically reading his mind, beat him to it. "Yeah, I know you heal faster than most people because you have mako in your system, but I don't give a damn. Now lie back down. I have some questions for you." Cloud, obviously displeased, laid back in the bed with a grunt. Leon stood and walked to the end of the bed, arms crossed. Their eyes locked, annoyed blue meeting with slightly amused but mostly concerned gray. Cloud only saw the amusement and scoffed.

"What questions are you talking about?"

"Why were you in the VRC?"

"Training."

"For?"

"A lot of things."

"How long were you in there?"

"Dunno."

"Why didn't you give your wounds a chance to heal?"

"Didn't think I had to."

"Were you trying to hurt yourself intentionally?"

"Not your business."

"Why won't you give me direct answers?" Cloud glared again.

"Why do you care?" Leon glared back, eyes burning holes into Cloud's own as they had a staredown. The brunette clenched his fists.

"Maybe because I was worried about you, dumbass!" Cloud just blinked.

"You have no reason to be worried." Leon took a deep breath in an attempt to regain his composure and dilute the embarrassed blush that had crept onto his face after saying that statement.

"It's only natural to worry about the people you care about. Especially with you acting weirder than usual, now tell me what's up." Cloud looked down, eyes filled with what seemed to be sadness.

"Nothing happened. I was training and lost track of time."

"Don't lie to me." Another staredown ended in Cloud looking away.

"Fine, fine, I lied. You wouldn't understand the truth though."

"And how do you know that?"

"You've lived a good life." Leon had the urge to punch the man in the gut but didn't after seeing the serious look on Cloud's face.

"You'd be surprised. I may just understand a thing or two more than you'd think." Cloud just nodded. He took a deep breath.

"…I'm a soldier. Soldiers are hard to kill because of the mako in our bodies. But before I had the mako, back when I was a cadet, I had a mentor. He meant the world to me. But…he died. And everything went down from there. I was pushing myself in the VRC for over ten hours. It was the only way I could think of. Continuous stress on my body until eventually I died of exhaustion." Cloud now had tears pooling in his eyes. He blinked and one rolled down his cheek. Leon could only stare in shock. He didn't think the blonde would open up to him. And he definitely didn't think the blonde would cry in front of him. He pulled Cloud into his chest. The man looked up at the gunblader with a look of confusion, shock, and maybe even a bit of happiness.

"It's okay, you're okay." Leon whispered, pulling the blonde in closer. "But you're an idiot. If you had gone and killed yourself, how do you think that would effect us? Effect me?"

"I…guess I didn't think I'd be missed."

"Wouldn't be missed? The girls would grieve over you for the rest of their lives. Sora too, probably. Hell, even the hardasses would miss you."

"Highwind?"

"I was leaning more towards Valentine, but yeah, Cid too." Cloud laughed a little.

"And you?"

"How could I not miss you and your gravity defying hair?" He ran a finger through the spikes. "Chocobo head." Cloud laughed again, memories of a certain redhead who used to call him that flooded his mind. He sighed contently and shifted closer to Leon.

"…I'm sorry."

"For?"

"Making you worry about me."

"It's okay. Just never, ever do that again. And I'm sorry, too."

"Why?"

"Not noticing that something was up and interrogating you about it sooner." Cloud raised an amused eyebrow.

"Interrogating?" Leon nodded, pleased with himself.

"Yes, interrogating." Cloud's look went from amused to sad again.

"So you said you were worried, that you cared, just so I'd talk?" Leon was silent for a few moments, honestly thinking about the question. He found the answer easily.

"I can show you what you mean to me better than I can tell you." A mischievous smirk graced Leon's features. Cloud furrowed his brow, confused. It didn't take long for him to understand, though. The brunette leaned in and gave the swordsman a soft kiss on the lips. It was small and simple, but somehow loving and warm at the same time. Cloud made a small sound of annoyance when he pulled away. Leon laughed at the shocked yet content look on Cloud's face.

"Does that explain everything?" It was Cloud's turn to smirk.

"I can show you better than I can tell you." Cloud gave the gunblader another kiss, this time deeper and more heated. He wrapped his arms around Leon's waist and he wrapped his arms around Cloud's neck. It lasted a full two minutes. They were both panting when they pulled away. Their eyes met, communicating to each other that they were thinking the exact same thing. No words had to be spoken. The message got across in total silence as their gaze at each other never faltered.

I love you.