Disclaimer: Unfortunately, Leon and Cloud don't belong to us, but to SquareEnix. [But we all know that the truth is they belong to no one but each other.] The song is called Shadow, and it belongs to Britney Spears. (Let's pretend you never heard that, just saw the fitting lyrics, hmmh?)
Beta: Azrax (All of our gratitude to you. Without your betareading skills, we'd be in deep... Water. Also thankyou for still continuing with this job even after you met QttQ IRL. Anae you knew already, so there was nothing new to that. :'D)
A/N (Anae): Explanations are always nice to have. Even if they're not something you wish to hear.
Good thing both of you boys can be civil around each other. And maybe become closer?
And who're reading this, huge thank you. Remember to drop a few words to us to know that you're out there. It truly means a lot to us.
A/N (Quotiety): See, our boys can play nice when they want to. For a moment. When we're watching them.
Please, try to keep it that way for a while, both of you.
To any readers out there, a huge thanks for following us this far. I hope you'll stick with us in the future, too. C :
Chapter IX: Glimpse of your soul
How can I tell if you mean what you say?
You say it so loud, but you sound far away.
Maybe I had just a glimpse of your soul
or was that your shadow I saw on the wall?
The very first thoughts that filled Leon's head in the morning where those of satisfaction and comfort. He felt well-rested for the first time in a while. His body was relaxed, even if a bit sore as the brunette shifted, stretching his limbs. As memories of the previous night - and his unexpected guest - crept back to him, Leon realized just why his muscles reported to him with exhaustion.
He was re-living the moment when he'd found Cloud gone after their very first night together as the gunblader rolled onto his side, wondering just how he would face the blonde from now on.
Except that Cloud wasn't gone. Cloud was very much asleep next to him, the pale, scarred body partially hidden by the sheets. Dark and angry bruises decorated Cloud's neck and chest, and a very clear trail followed the curve of his pelvic bone until the marks dipped beneath the blanket and out of sight.
Leon felt ashamed.
He had refused to fight Cloud due to the blonde's bad physical condition. Twice, nevertheless. Leon had made it his point not to cause more harm onto the swordsman when he was already wounded. Now he'd gone against all of his principles. Most of the bruises on Cloud's skin were of his making.
The teeth marks on the man's shoulder definitely hadn't been there when Cloud had showed up at his door last night. There were a few, tiny droplets of blood on the pillow beneath Cloud's head, but Leon refused to search for their origin. He didn't want to know.
How would Cloud react when he woke up? Would he even remember what had happened? Would he think Leon had taken advantage of him and hurt him intentionally? More importantly, would Cloud want to discuss his earlier behavior and offer an explanation for how he'd acted?
Leon shifted into a sitting position, his body craving for a shower, but his movements caused Cloud to rouse from his sleep. The blonde's brows furrowed and his lips parted, and before Leon could do anything at all, the pair of sky-blue eyes blinked open.
Leon's reaction was immediate. He reached out and wrapped his fingers around Cloud's arm, making sure he wasn't gripping too roughly. And yet, his hold was firm, and as stern as his voice.
"Don't you dare go anywhere without explaining first."
Cloud didn't really try to pull his hand away from Leon's grip - he merely tugged, probably just to see if he could get away. But since Leon had no intention of letting go, he gave up.
"I just wanted to forget."
It bothered Leon. Cloud wasn't the type to give answers, even if it was merely a repeat of the words from last night. Cloud was much like himself; he had to be pushed into a corner with no escape routes available before sharing. And now, not even a single deny. The blonde hadn't even as much as looked away - he met somewhat confused blue-grey eyes with a blank look. It was clear to Leon that despite how open Cloud had been last night, the blond fighter tried to rebuild the walls again. That wasn't what Leon wanted.
The brunette's expression became even more confused if possible when Cloud repeated his explanation from last night. Those had been the only words the blonde had offered to him when he'd appeared by his doorstep.
He wanted to forget.
"What?" Leon's question was sharp, his eyes never once moving away from Cloud's gaze. There was something empty about the fighter, something hollow that made the gunblader shudder with an unpleasant sensation. This wasn't the Cloud he knew. Where was the determination, where were the rough edges and that unforgiving attitude? "What is it that you want to forget about?"
The knot in Leon's chest tightened as Cloud shortly answered his question. He neither missed the stiffness creeping to the fighter nor the hidden emotions crossing his eyes. But Cloud didn't cast his eyes aside like he had when pushed far enough - maybe he felt like he owed at least some kind of an explanation to the brunette.
"My nightmares. My past."
Sephiroth. It was the first thought that crossed Leon's mind, but he decided not to voice his ponderings aloud. Sephiroth's name clearly didn't have a good effect of Cloud - Leon had taken notice of it during their previous conversation regarding the man from the blonde's past. He didn't want to upset Cloud and have him storm out, not when the man seemed to be willing to share things with him, for once.
"Nightmares?" Was Cloud speaking figuratively or was he truly having real, authentic nightmares? Leon wouldn't be surprised if he did. Having someone like Sephiroth haunting your mind was a good enough reason to have a bad dream or two every now and then, as far as he'd was concerned. "About what?"
Cloud clearly pondered whether he should share more of his past or not but for once he decided in Leon's favor.
"Sephiroth. Aerith's death. Zack's death. The time in Hojo's lab." The blonde shuddered at the memory and squeezed eyes shut. He swallowed and drew an uneven breath to steady his breathing before eyeing the gunblader with pained look. "My past hasn't exactly been dancing on roses." The corner of his mouth curved upwards into a fake smile.
Now, there was something relatively disturbing about a hollow, silent Cloud who seemed to have been robbed of his usual attitude. But even more unnerving was the sight of the usually strong blonde with the weakest of smiles upon his lips. Cloud was obviously doing his best to appear collected and calm, but the self-secure shell was cracking.
These people. Aerith. Zack. Leon had heard these names before. Cloud had told him about them, about how Sephiroth's voice occasionally accused him of their deaths. Leon couldn't even begin to imagine how tormenting such an experience could be. Who wouldn't have nightmares when they weren't allowed to forget?
Leon let go of Cloud's arm, his grip loosening. It was strange, to say the least, the way Cloud was opening up about his past. No defiance, no refusing, just simple, straight answers. The brunette didn't know how to take it. As a sign of weakness? Or as progress in the odd, twisted friendship they shared?
"Did you-" Leon didn't want to pry, but his curiosity kept raising his head. His hand might've stopped gripping Cloud's arm, but his fingers rested where they were, a comforting presence on the blonde's skin. "-Have one of those nightmares last night?"
The answer was a mere nod. No further explanation about the details of the dream was given but Leon could live with that. He had gotten further than he had supposed he would.
"Last night I… I just couldn't take it anymore. And then I-" Cloud left his sentence in half way. Leon could see how blonde closed himself off, leaving Leon out just by turning his gaze away and pulling backwards, away from Leon's touch without leaving the bed.
"I'm sorry." Cloud choked out as the memories of the previous night obviously flowed into his mind. He had been far too exhausted - staying awake only to avoid dreaming for days tended to do that - and far too close to a breaking point to have been thinking clearly. "I used you." Leon clearly knew what Cloud was referring to; after all, Cloud had appeared on his doorstep in order to get an easy way out, to forget. "I'm sorry."
Leon wasn't exactly fond of the way Cloud acted, but he wasn't going to push it. If he'd learned one thing over the past few weeks, it was that there was a line that shouldn't be crossed when speaking about Cloud. Some force was always good and got you some results, but too much and you ended up with a broken nose. Or worse.
But Cloud's words he wasn't going to accept without resistance. Leon shook his head, running a hand through his messy hair, combing his fingers through the strands and solving a few knots.
"No, you didn't." A pair of blue-grey eyes fixed onto Cloud. "You asked for my help and I agreed."
Leon wouldn't go far enough to call Cloud and himself friends. But they were comrades of some sort, weren't they? Partners. And partners aided one another if need be. They were both in this together, that was Leon's opinion.
"You should let me help you." Leon added as an afterthought. His voice was quiet, but the statement in it was firm. "You don't have to endure it all by yourself."
Even though the blonde fighter wasn't looking at Leon, the brunette saw how those unnaturally blue eyes dilated. Cloud really did think that he should've taken it all in and gone through everything by himself. Not that Leon wasn't quite similar - they were both lone wolves to begin with.
Cloud shook his head slightly.
"I deserve it." Before Leon could open his mouth to protest, the other warrior continued. "I have no light."
Leon's mind couldn't completely wrap around Cloud's words. No light? What did he even mean by that? Leon could understand that Cloud found it to be his duty alone to take care of his own problems, even if he didn't agree. It seemed like a heavy baggage to carry, the past Cloud had gone through, and Leon was starting to think he wouldn't mind carrying a part of it. Or carrying Cloud, for that matter.
But this light-phrase was something Leon couldn't comprehend. Cloud was speaking in riddles and avoiding his eyes - this wasn't what Leon had started this conversation for.
"Look at me." He demanded quietly. When Cloud didn't react, the gunblader didn't hesitate to reach out and cup the blonde's jaw firmly, tilting his head towards himself. When their eyes finally met, Leon narrowed his own, trying to figure out what went on in that complex head of Cloud's.
"What do you mean, no light?"
"The only thing left inside of me is darkness", was the simple answer given to gunblader. "That's why Sephiroth keeps coming back - my darkness calls for his." Cloud slapped Leon's hand away, once again refusing to look at him - to look something so much purer. Should Leon lose his own light, it would be his fault. Wherever he went, he brought darkness to people. He didn't want to ruin yet another. If he'd walk away now, there still might be a chance to spare Leon. So he rolled off the bed, ready to leave.
Leon was quick to react. Within seconds, he was on his feet, his fingers curling around Cloud's forearm. With a sharp tug and a strong shove, Leon had the blonde back on the bed on his back. He crouched over Cloud like a predatory animal, annoyance written all over his features, a decision lurking in his gaze.
"Don't run away from me." He said, his voice low. He wasn't going to let Cloud go, not like this. Before last night, they hadn't even been on speaking terms. If Leon played his cards right, who knew how well this could end?
"Darkness. Light." Leon scoffed, his hands planting themselves on either side of Cloud's body to keep him where he was. The blonde would have to fight him if he wanted to leave now. "Why does it matter? We all have some darkness inside of us."
Leon wasn't dumb - if Cloud had wanted to, he could've easily thrown him off. But he counted on Cloud's feelings - something was there, that much he was certain of - not to launch him out of the window.
His calculations were right. Cloud didn't fight him, even if he didn't relax. Frustration was starting to build up in the younger fighter, Leon could see that. But at least he had the blonde looking him in the eye.
However, Cloud did surprise Leon. The brunette nearly jumped out of his skin as the black, leathery wing, the unwanted appendix, shot out of Cloud's left shoulder blade.
"Not everyone has a fucking wing morphed out of their darkness." Cloud spat.
It was hard to compete with such a comment. Leon was a tad shaken and couldn't resist glancing at the wing that shifted slowly across the bed, as enormous and inhuman as he'd remembered. Yet, it was a part of Cloud and nothing would change that. Moreover, Cloud was definitely a human being with human emotions and all, no matter how hard they had been to detect in the beginning.
"So, some of us contain more of it than others."
It was a weak comeback and not convincing at all, but it was the best Leon could do. His irritation only grew, but now it had to do with himself, not Cloud's behavior. Why was it so hard to discuss with the blonde fighter? Why did they always end up in a quarrel, instead?
"It doesn't change a thing." Leon said, and this time his tone was by far more confident. "Your wing or your darkness. They don't change a thing."
The younger fighter's features softened after Leon's words.
"No, maybe they don't. Not to everyone." He answered, tone back to a normal level, if not slightly under. "But they are there. It's better if I stay gone. I mar people with my darkness."
His fingers brushes across Leon's arm and he looked the brunette in the eye, knowing the gunblader was concerned.
"But it's fine. I just can't go into the sun; without a light, I don't deserve to be there."
Cloud was actually agreeing to what Leon had said, if only partially. It threw the brunette off slightly. Perhaps Cloud really was opening up to him, finally, and it wasn't just his wishful thinking. Perhaps.
And yet, the blonde's words were hard to respond to. Leon's expression became troubled as he finally let up on the pressure, climbing to his feet. As he did, Cloud took the chance and rolled out of bed, starting the search for his clothes.
"You can go into the sun." Leon insisted, watching Cloud move around and about. The discussion had calmed down enough for him to let the blonde leave if he so wished. They seemed to be on more friendly terms now, which was greatly preferred to the situation before the previous night.
"Why wouldn't you?" The brunette asked as he took a seat on the bed once more, resting his elbows on his knees. He couldn't quite understand Cloud's reasoning in this matter, but then again, there were many things about Cloud he couldn't quite understand. "Everyone deserves a little sunlight, don't be foolish."
Cloud shook his head as he fumbled with the belts.
"I don't." He simply stated, so sure of his words that it hurt Leon. The look in his eyes was equal to the tone of his voice. "I don't have a light."
Leon's didn't have any arguments left to give, as much as he wanted to. The brunette wished to ensure the younger warrior that he was as much human as everyone; that he had a light; that he deserved to be in the sun.
The gunblader's thoughts were interrupted as Cloud spoke.
Before Leon could ask what Cloud meant, the blonde placed his hand on the small table in the room. Then he pulled the black wing back into his body. The process however, wasn't pleasant even if it was fast. Cloud's nails dug into the wood as a muffled cry escaped his lips. The pain didn't stop as soon as the wing was hidden - the blonde fighter was leaning onto the table for support, his breathing ragged and his body shaking.
Cloud had told him not to interfere, but once the wing was in and the only thing audible in the room was the blonde's heavy breathing, Leon was on his feet. He didn't dare to touch the fair fighter in fear of causing him more pain, but he stood next to him, concern written all over his face.
"Are you alright?"
It was obvious that Cloud wasn't pleased with Leon having witnessed the painful moment, but the gunblader understood very well that one didn't want to go out into broad daylight with a huge, black wing on their back. He liked to think that Cloud trusted him enough to see all of this, but he doubted that was the real reason behind it all - Cloud just didn't want everyone else to know what he was.
"I'm fine." Cloud answered, not too convincingly to Leon's taste. But the brunette didn't push the matter - even he knew when to quit. After having gotten his shaking and breathing under control, the blonde turned to face Leon.
Leon blinked in surprise as Cloud reached out for him, pressing his soft lips onto Leon's. The gunblader answered to the kiss instantly. It wasn't anything like last night - last night had been fast and furious, today's kiss was slow and sensual.
When the men parted, they didn't leave each other's eyes. Understanding lingered between them; they had burned the bridges before, but somehow managed to repair some boards.
Cloud's fingers ghosted over Leon's and gripped them lightly.
"Thank you." He said. Leon knew that those were words the blonde didn't often offer and that made them all the more valuable. He didn't answer as the younger fighter left the room, he didn't need to.
In one night, Cloud and Leon had gone from enemies to something far kinder. They'd returned to their original pact of partnership, and no matter how complex or twisted it was, Leon preferred it to a war any day. The gunblader even felt like they would've managed to take a step closer to one another, even if it had taken one hell of a detour.
It was the way they worked, Cloud and Leon. They were both strong and detested showing anyone the weaker side of themselves - the side that was only revealed when they were alone. Now Cloud's shell had cracked and Leon had gotten a glimpse of what was cradled behind that thick, hard shield of his. It wasn't simple, that was for sure, and neither was it easy, but Leon had taken it for what it was - he'd taken Cloud for who he was. And Cloud, all shame and regret aside, had seemed to show him honest gratitude.
Perhaps this was a new beginning of sorts, Leon mused as he climbed back into bed, deciding that a few more hours of sleep would do him good. The blankets were still warm even if Cloud was gone and the brunette found himself hoping that their peace wouldn't be destroyed, this time. He truly wished it would last.
It lasted longer than the scent of a blonde swordsman that lingered on his sheets.