Warnings: Angst. Boy x Boy Love. Nudity. Adult Situations(Implied).
A/N: Happy Birthday Fey! I hope you like it!
Inspiration drawn, however loosely, from Stolen Roses by Karen Elson.
I am very much aware that this fic is very open-ended, and leaves lots of room for more story to be told. It's not impossible that I'll come back to this and write more, but while it's not impossible, I also wouldn't call it likely. I just don't have the time required to really turn this into something, so while it sort of ends at the beginning, I think it tells enough of the story to let your imagination fill in the blanks. :)
The Remnants of Teenage Angst
There was a garden. Squall – no, Leon – was sure no one else had found it yet. It was deep in the mountains outside the city, trapped between two cliffs where a river used to run. It appeared that the runoff from the snowy caps of those mountains left the soil fertile and the flowers perpetually in bloom. Moss clung to outcroppings of rock, tall grasses grew wild, and the landscape was riddled with a mad speckling of colors the likes of which only the imagination of a small child could contrive. It was his sanctuary; the last haven left to him in this world, and he would sneak away like this often, in the middle of the night, and watch the moonlight cascade over the damp earth. It was the only place he could find any peace and pretend, if only for a while, that he was a child – a normal, happy child, not at all like the boy he'd once been. He could almost imagine it, except that he couldn't, not really. He hadn't been a happy child. The happiest years of his life had been with SeeD, and that was all gone now. He hated to be so gloomy, really. He tried to be more pleasant and agreeable; he hated to worry his friends, but it wasn't an easy task to fight one's own nature. Angst was embedded so deep into his soul, he didn't know how he would ever be rid of it, especially when his life kept going so horribly wrong.
He'd tried so hard. He'd fought so hard. He'd given it his all. There was nothing more he could have done. He knew that. He'd given it everything he had, and he'd failed. He couldn't save anyone. All of his friends, Laguna, all of Laguna's friends. They were gone now. He'd failed them completely. So he trained; he trained and he fought and he trained some more. He swore to himself he would never let anyone suffer like his loved ones had suffered again. And, when that endless cycle of fighting became too much, he would sneak away in the middle of the night, take out his rage on however many unfortunate heartless he could find, and end up here, a miraculously heartless-free zone, where he could just have some time to breathe, to reflect, to cry – if he needed to – and to gather his composure before another day when he had to be a leader again, and not show such signs of weakness, another day when he had to be stronger than anyone. If he could achieve that, he wouldn't ever have to live through another massacre. He couldn't even find any bodies to bury. It had been such an abysmal failure, that last mission. He had made several grave errors in his life, but he could think of none that scarred him so deeply as opening himself to others, only to have them stolen away from him. He didn't want to grow attached to people anymore. He didn't want friends. He called himself 'Leon' because whenever he heard the name 'Squall' in that friendly tone of voice, it made him sick to his stomach, remembering the things he couldn't hold on to, and he couldn't bear to show that weakness to anyone. But, it was too late. Once those doors had been opened, he couldn't close them again. In spite of himself, and in spite of how much it hurt to lose a loved one like that, he still hated to be alone. He'd still formed attachments. He'd still gotten hopelessly inebriated and kissed Cloud.
His cheeks flushed against the darkness and he buried his head in his hands, digging his fingers into his hair and groaning. "What the hell was I thinking?! How could I be so stupid?"
Even now, his heartbeat thundered in his ears at the memory. Cloud's lips were so soft, and his slender body felt so right in his arms. Cloud had also been pretty drunk, which Squall was certain was the only reason he'd kissed back. Neither of them had said anything about it the next day, as if it had never happened, and by that afternoon Cloud had disappeared, chasing after the demon of a man who he just couldn't ignore, and Squall reminded himself that as far as Cloud was concerned, his heart was already consumed by another, and that other was Sephiroth. There was no room for Squall; there never would be, and he felt like an idiot all over again for feeling bitter about things he'd known from the start. 'And that's probably exactly why my idiot heart decided to fall for him, precisely because I can't have him.' Knowing that the person you were falling in love with was out of your reach was one sure fire way to avoid unnecessary pain, really, presuming you could keep yourself away from alcoholic beverages around that person. 'I've seriously got to quit drinking. It never ends well for me.'
He hadn't wanted to fall in love again at all, but his heart was disobedient. He was sure he subconsciously picked someone he could worship from afar, but who could never be his, just so he could have an excuse not to pursue a normal, healthy relationship. That's what he'd psycho-babbled himself into believing. He'd been okay with that. Actually, it couldn't be more perfect. He and Cloud were friends, and Cloud was strong, and they sparred often, and talked often, and just as often sat together quietly without talking – which they both favored. And, right when it was getting comfortable, right when it was becoming a habit to cook dinner enough for two, Cloud would just up and disappear. He would return months after the fact, battered and bloody, collapse on Squall's couch, and not speak for days. Squall didn't need him to – he knew what that battered look in his blue eyes meant; it meant Sephiroth had escaped from Cloud's grasp once again. It meant that he would stay for a while, help around town a bit, spar more than a bit, and train to become stronger until the day he would suddenly disappear without a word again.
Squall hated to admit it, but he lived in a constant sense of apprehension that one day, Cloud wouldn't come back. Even so, he'd accepted their friendship for what it was, and worried about Cloud, and loved him without expecting anything, and his feelings remained his best kept secret until he ruined it by kissing the blond and telling him, "if you're going to run off, you could at least leave a note."
He remembered, drunk as they were, that Cloud had chuckled at him and said, "I didn't think you had enough time in your busy schedule to worry about me."
That moment, right when their eyes met, Squall's stomach had decided to riot and he'd puked on Cloud's boots. Months had passed since then, and Squall was still too humiliated to look Cloud in the eye. While he'd been away, that had been fine, but what about when he returned? The last time, he'd faked being busy so much he'd barely laid eyes on the blond, but he couldn't pretend to be too busy forever. Cloud wasn't stupid. He would notice.
What was he supposed to do when Cloud returned from his latest adventure? It was true that Squall was always overloaded with work, but he could only spend so many late nights out at the construction sites, or patrolling for heartless and claiming he didn't need help, before Cloud noticed he was sneaking in at the middle of the night and praying he was asleep, only to sneak out again before dawn to come here.
Squall sighed and rested his head back against the cliff side. He tried to imagine what Laguna would say about all of this. It wasn't hard; the man had a catch phrase for just this sort of thing, "Follow your heart," he'd say, "that's what matters most." He also imagined trying to explain the Heartless to Laguna, and the vacant expression he'd get for his efforts. "Heh. He wouldn't understand at all, that there are things in this world that don't have a heart to follow. That much be such an easy life," he mused, but with no particular interest in the matter save that it was s a momentary distraction from the turmoil coiling in his chest. He didn't feel like he was at any particular risk of falling to darkness, but he had to admit, when feeling so heart-sore as he did, it was an idle fancy to imagine cutting away the source of that pain. He didn't really want to do it; it was just the meaningless fantasy of a man at his wits end on a matter for which there appears to be no obvious solution. The part of him that was Laguna Loire's son (a point he'd only become comfortable with admitting after the loss of the man in question) wanted to go straight to Cloud, boldly confess that he was crazy about him, and then accept the consequences of that and be done with it, heartbreak and all. The part of him that was a sensible, reasonable adult, reminded him that he had far more important things to worry about right now than his love life. He suspected the 'sensible, reasonable adult' side of him might just be a coward, and resolved to not spend too much time thinking about that, either, as it would only prove counterproductive to repairing his annoyingly fragile emotional stability.
He took a deep breath, as if he could let all the angst out with the oxygen in his lungs, and breathe in all the optimism and strength he needed from the moonlit garden and the silence of the night. It was only as he meditated on all the ways his life had gone wrong that he realized the night wasn't as silent as he'd at first thought. Nearby, he heard something terribly familiar. Too familiar. He stood abruptly, listened carefully.
"Haaahhh!" The light of the moon cast a reflection off the trickling stream – the last remnants of the deep river that once ran through the cavernous landscape – a glint of blue steel broken into bands. He'd know that reflection anywhere.
'He's back?' In spite of himself, Squall's heart pounded as he scrambled over the slippery moss, chasing the sound of Cloud's voice in hopes of finding the man attached to it to be real, and not just a phantom of wishful thinking.
"Haaaah!" Cloud slashed through the heartless that edged towards Squall's 'secret garden', as the girls jokingly called it. It wasn't such a secret as Squall liked to think, and only Heartless-free by the efforts of those who cared enough about him to keep it that way for him. Nights like this were the hardest, when the sorrow and pain were etched so deep into the brunette the heartless could sense it for miles around.
They all had sorrow, but there was some part of Squall Leonheart that was drowning in his. Cloud had always known it. It was there, in those beautiful steely eyes that had such an effect on Cloud stomach, that he always felt as if he was on the verge of humiliating himself when with the brunette. Because of that, he'd been surprised, so many months ago now, when Squall had lost the contents of his before Cloud had. He'd thought he might at any moment, under the weight of that gaze, which left his own tangled in knots that had nothing to do with liquor, and the intensity of that kiss. Memories of it still drove him to distraction – how Squall had pulled him in close, devoured his lips and tongue like a starving man who needed a taste of something only Cloud could give him. Cloud had wanted to give it. He could still remember how soft that long brown hair was under his fingertips, how those muscular arms felt wrapped around him. There wasn't a day he didn't think about it.
He'd known, the next day, that he should have said something. He'd wanted to. Squall was the first good thing he could remember slipping into his life in a long time. They met, barely said ten words to one another, and Cloud knew he'd found a kindred spirit. He knew he wanted to be near this person. He wanted to make him smile, though he had no idea how a person like himself could possibly achieve that. Somehow, that led to him showing up on Squall's doorstep in the middle of the night, often with his fair share of bruises, not because he expected Squall to do anything about them, or because he wanted to make Squall worry, but because he just couldn't resist the desire to see him for a moment longer.
In the middle of the night, when Cloud often arrived in town, Squall was usually topless, in a pair of pajama pants that Cloud had never imagined the man would be caught dead in – yellow, with all these little furry looking red animals that vaguely reminded him of Red XIII all over them.
Cloud smirked as he remembered the first time Squall answered the door like that. He'd said, 'Don't give me that look. They were a gift, and they're comfortable.'
'What sort of animal is that?' Cloud had asked in spite of himself.
'They're moombas,' Squall had answered frankly as he reached up for coffee in the overhead cupboard. Cloud could remember trying not to blush as he watched the brunette's muscles ripple under the battle scars that speckled his torso. 'I haven't seen one in a long time. I guess they're probably extinct now. They were really smart animals. My father was obsessed with them.'
It was one of those conversations that can only happen in the middle of the night. Cloud wished he'd been paying more attention to what Squall had been saying, and less attention to his bare chest, but it was a very distracting view.
Speaking of paying attention, he had been so distracted by his memories that one of the heartless actually managed to give him a good gash on the arm. He swiped his sword forcefully and took out four of them at once in a powerful arc.
He hoped Squall got tired of the solitude soon. It's not that he minded killing the heartless. Really, it had to be done, and it was good training, but right now, he'd much rather be waiting in an alley near Squall's house until the kitchen light went out – a sure sign that Squall was settling down for the night, and then show up unexpectedly just before the man and his moomba pants and his bare chest crawled into bed. He hated to think of himself as a pervert. He should just knock when he arrived, and have his conversations with Squall when the man was still fully dressed, but he just looked so damn sexy without a shirt on that Cloud's under-appreciated libido rooted him in place long enough to increase the probability of seeing the gorgeous brunette topless. He was sure if he ever saw the man any more scantily clad than that, he might lose consciousness from all the blood rushing to his head at once. 'So, really, it's like training. If I can desensitize myself to the sight of his bare chest, then it won't be so overwhelming when...'
He just barely avoided another near miss that wouldn't have happened if his mind hadn't been wandering. Still, the heartless seemed to be thinning out now. Maybe Squall was starting to cheer up a bit, as much as he ever did, at least. He hoped so. His hormonal response to the other man's presence aside, he had some really good news that he was eager to share. Something that might actually make Squall smile. He hoped it would. He'd really gone out of his way this time, so it would be disappointing if Squall didn't at least look surprised...
Squall reached the rise in time to see several heartless dissipating into curls of black smoke, and spiky blond hair silhouetted by the moon.
'Cloud!' His heart pounded in his ears, but there was no time as he saw one last sneaking up on his...well, whatever the hell word you put to a man who was your best friend but who you also happened to be madly in love with. Friend wasn't strong enough. Beloved was too mushy and sentimental for him to ever seriously consider using. He rushed forward and sliced through that last heartless just as Cloud spun about. Their swords clashed with a resounding CLANG in the empty air. They made eye contact which neither of them seemed willing or able to break.
"Long time, no see," Cloud said at last, praying he sounded cooler than he felt with his heart pounding like this at just laying eyes on Squall again. And those eyes! Those hypnotic, smoky eyes. He'd forgotten how indescribably beautiful they were.
"Welcome back," Squall said, entranced by the ocean-like shade of mako blue that had locked him temporarily into place. He sheathed his gunblade casually, though he didn't feel casual at all. Cloud. He was so damn cute. He forgot how cute he was. It was all he could do to repress the urge to hug him, as he was pretty sure Cloud would protest being used as a teddy bear. 'I missed you,' he thought, his embarrassment over prior events forgotten for the moment. "What are you doing up here?"
"Training," Cloud blurted out the easy excuse that they both knew was a lie. The way Squall's head tilted, brow quirked, and hip shot to the side told Cloud exactly what Squall thought of the lie, too.
"Whatever," the brunette said with a soft chuckle. "It's good to see you again. And, mostly in one piece for a change."
"I brought you back a souvenir," Cloud said.
"Thinking of me, were you?" Squall joked dryly as he fell into step beside the blond to head back down the mountain trail towards down.
Cloud's pulse raced. Squall had just handed him the perfect opportunity to bring up the thing he'd let drop so many months ago. Should he take it? He'd told himself then that it would be better to finish off Sephiroth first, and then worry about his feelings for Squall. If Sephiroth knew how he felt, he could only use it against him, but the more he thought about it, the more ridiculous it seemed. Sephiroth knew how he felt anyway, whether Cloud told Squall or not. Recent events were proof enough of that. "...usually," he admitted, not making eye contact and trying not to blush.
The words stopped Squall in his tracks. He couldn't mean that the way it sounded. "Cloud?"
Cloud frowned at him. "Don't make me say it again. It's embarrassing," he complained, unable to keep the pink stain entirely from his cheeks.
Squall couldn't believe his ears. His own face flushed in response. "Why didn't you say it in the first place?" he complained. "I've been kicking myself for months."
"You didn't really seem to want to talk about it," Cloud muttered, turning away again. He couldn't do this and look Squall in the eye. It was too much. His heart was pounding so hard he could barely breathe. And there was also the other thing, the really important thing he had to give to Squall.
"Of course I didn't want to talk about it," Squall said, throwing his arm out to the side in frustration. "I puked all over your shoes. It was humiliating." He raked his fingers through his hair. "But, all this time I..." Damn it. His voice cracked with emotion. Talk about embarrassing.
Shit. He was horrible at this. Squall was getting all frustrated and emotional, and Cloud didn't know what to say or do to fix it, or to apologize or... 'Well, maybe if I do that...' But that was also embarrassing. Nevertheless, it seemed his only recourse in the current situation. It was the only way he wouldn't be misunderstood, right? So he took a deep breath, turned to face Squall again, and grabbed him a bit too roughly as he pulled him down and planted the tiniest, shyest little kiss on the other man's mouth. The surprised look on Squall's face made his embarrassment quite worth it. "I'm not good at this," he muttered.
Squall's heart burst. Cloud had just... He'd just!
Squall's face turned a violent shade of red, and he couldn't resist the urge any longer; he pulled Cloud into a tight embrace. He felt like he was melting when the blond carefully wrapped his arms around Squall's shoulders, like he really wasn't sure what to do.
"I'm not either," Squall replied, and returned Cloud's confession much less timidly.
Cloud moaned into the kiss as Squall's tongue slipped past his teeth. 'Not good my ass,' he thought. His body burning from the passionate kiss, Squall's 'souvenir' momentarily forgotten as the man's lips wandered from his mouth, down along his jaw to his ear, and back again. He knew he should feel ashamed at how easily Squall turned him on, but he didn't. He was too content with how good it felt to be touched by the man he loved when there was no risk of the alcohol killing the mood this time. When things got out of hand on that mountain pass with only the moon to keep them company, Cloud found himself not at all willing to protest.
It was the chilly dew of dawn that woke him – damp and dirty and naked and pressed against Squall's side. Cloud blushed as that sank in. When he sat up, Squall released him with a sleepy groan, and the sore muscles in his back and thighs reminded Cloud it was definitely not a dream. He and Squall had...! And...! Out in the open...! His mind traced over the events of the late night, or perhaps it would be more accurate to call it very early morning. "You seem good enough to me," he said sarcastically, picking up their conversation where it left off before kissing had turned off his brain. He pulled on his shirt and leaned forward, wincing, to dust off his thighs.
Squall rolled over and stretched, and Cloud tried very hard not to stare – an effort that was doomed to failure.
"Nnnghh..." Squall groaned, sitting up and shaking some dirt out of his hair. "Sex is easy. Relationships are hard," he answered frankly, grabbing his pants and getting up to pull them on.
Cloud had to look away as his...as Squall got dressed, so he didn't get overly excited again. He didn't think his inexperienced body could take another round like that again so soon without leaving him bed-ridden for it. Was it really alright to jump right to this level with someone he'd only just confessed to? But as he looked at Squall, holding his pants out to him, all sexy and disheveled, he didn't think it mattered.
"We need a shower," Squall said.
Cloud's stomach rumbled before he could answer, standing up to take his pants from the man offering them to him.
Squall actually laughed. It was a small thing, but it was an actual laugh. He laughed, and then he gave Cloud a chaste kiss. "A quick shower, and then I'll cook you some breakfast," he corrected. He couldn't remember feeling this happy in a long time. Cloud had been so cute, and so sexy, and had moaned his name so...okay, better quash that train of thought or they were never going to get down the mountain to bathe or eat.
As Cloud took the pants, something jangled out of the pocket and tumbled to the ground. It was all too familiar.
"Ah! Your souvenir. I'm sorry! You...and I...and we..." Cloud cleared his throat. "It completely slipped my mind."
Squall leaned down and picked up the familiar silver chain. Hanging from it ,was a set of dog tags that it was impossible to forget. These were...! They couldn't be! But, they were. They were Laguna's. How? And what did this mean? He looked at Cloud for an explanation.
"He's still alive, Squall," Cloud said.
The strength of Squall's legs failed him. He didn't know how to process this.
"I haven't found him yet, but I know I'm getting close. I didn't want to say anything to you until I was sure, but he's definitely still alive."
"I thought you were chasing Sephiroth," Squall said, because he honestly didn't know how to process this information beyond that. Laguna was alive somewhere? His father was actually alive? His fist clenched around the tags. And if he was, what about the others? He hadn't found any of their bodies. What if they were all alive? Had he given up hope of finding them too soon? But, there were also so many people here who depended on him! He wanted to run off with Cloud and begin the search right away, but he couldn't abandon his new friends, either.
"I was, I mean, am, more or less," Cloud answered. "But, the closer I get to Sephiroth, it seems the closer I also get to Laguna. When I found the first hints of it, I wanted to tell you right away, but it was right after...well, you were avoiding me at the time, so I decided it would be better to get something solid before bringing it up." He finally remembered to pull his pants on.
Squall couldn't speak. It was so much to process. He was finally with Cloud, and then at almost the same exact moment, he found out his father was alive somewhere? He wanted to say something, but he couldn't, he just sank down the the ground again and tried to let the information sink in. "Cloud, I..." but in spite of the valiant effort at speech, words failed him.
"I know," Cloud smiled. "You're welcome." His stomach rumbled again. "We'll talk about it more over breakfast?"
Squall smiled. "Yeah. Sure," he answered, hanging the tags around his own neck and tucking them under the collar of his shirt for safe-keeping. They jangled a bit, and made a soft clunking sound as his own necklace shifted against them through his t-shirt.
Squall laced his fingers with Cloud's, feeling more optimistic about the future than he could remember feeling in years. The man he loved, at the very least, seemed to be pretty fond of him, too, and Laguna was alive somewhere, so it was only a matter of time before they found him, and that meant there was still a chance the others were out there somewhere, on one of the many worlds that had yet to be explored. He didn't like to rely on other people too much, but maybe next time Sora popped in he could ask if he'd seen any of them. There were still photos, somewhere in the back of his closet. He could dig them out. And, it would be okay to leave someone else in charge once in a while, so he could follow up on leads, right? He'd done it plenty of times when he was in SeeD. He had to learn to rely on people again. It was hard to do, while still being too afraid of losing them, but his friends were strong, both past and present; he had to remember that, and trust in it.
"What are you thinking about so hard?" Cloud asked as they reached the bottom of the mountain pass.
Squall didn't remember starting to walk, let alone getting so far as his mind wandered over the details. He still had Cloud's hand laced with his own, though, and he was more than happy with that feeling.
"Those dog tags, you didn't find them near a cliff by any chance?" he asked.
"Actually, I did. Why do you ask?"
Squall ran his hand over his scar. Laguna was still such an idiot! "Most likely, Laguna isn't that far from the bottom of it."
Cloud gave Squall an inquisitive look.
"Long story," Squall answered. "I'll tell you all about it sometime."
Cloud reached up and pulled Squall down into another kiss – one last, before they arrived in town and had to deal with all of the craziness that entailed. "I'm looking forward to it," he said.
They walked in silence a while longer before Cloud said, "Hey, Squall, what does your father look like? In case I've already stumbled across him, and didn't realize."
"Oh. More or less like me, I guess, but really stupid," Squall answered.
Cloud laughed. "What does stupid look like?"
Squall smiled, "Trust me. Once you meet him, you'll never ask that question again."
"You think so?" Cloud mostly egged him on on the subject because it was wonderful to see Squall looking so optimistic for a change. He seemed so happy.
"I'm positive, because even if you wanted to, he talks so much you'll never get the chance. Really, once we find him, I should give him my job and retire. It would serve him right for putting me through the ringer like this, and then I could keep a better eye on you."
"Stalker," Cloud chided, but smiled.
"I don't really think you're in any position to talk. You must have followed me to that garden. If you were really training, there are stronger heartless on the Eastern Pass, and we both know it."
Cloud blushed. "If you think your father's stupid, you must have inherited some of his traits," he quipped. "Do you honestly think that garden of yours stays heartless free by some fluke chance?"
"Cloud..." Squall flushed anew.
"You need to realize that everyone wants to help you, not just me. If stalking you is the only way to do it, then we all decided a long time ago that's just how it's going to have to be, you stubborn idiot."
Squall didn't like to admit to having anything in common with his father, but just this once, he was going to have to admit that, to some extent, Laguna's stupidity really must have rubbed off on him, to not realize sooner that his friends had been protecting that garden for him. What was even more stupid, was that he hadn't known that loving Cloud would be so much better at such a close proximity as this.
At the doorstep, he pulled the blond close for another greedy kiss.
"Mmmn... trying to silence me?" Cloud asked.
"Maybe," Squall replied.
"Try harder," Cloud teased, arms draped around Squall's shoulders again.
Just as Squall was leaning in to do so, they heard footsteps running toward the house. "SQUALLLLL!"
Yuffie peeled around the corner, breathlessly, and her eyes widened comically at the sight of the two men embracing on the doorstep.
"What did you break this time?" he complained.
Yuffie stopped to catch her breath. "No, I mean..." she panted for breath. "Hey Cloud," she grinned, wanting to tease him so bad, if only there were time. "There's a... GIANT RED DRAGON hurtling towards the construction zone!"
'Giant red dragon?'
"Cid says it's a spaceship!"
Squall's eyes widened. It couldn't be. But it had to be. "That's the Ragnarok." He grabbed Cloud's hand, and they were hurtling off towards the crash site.
Well, life was certainly never boring, Squall thought. And, putting the remnants of teenage angst aside, he sort of liked it that way.