Slaba

What you see depends on what you're looking for.

Why won't you come and take a peak?

Without shadow, nothing : Chapter XVII
Cleon II
quotiety

Disclaimer: We own nothing. The song is from Disturbed and is called "This moment".
Beta: Azrax (Thank you, once again.)
A/N (Anae): Okay, first of all, WE'RE SORRY. REALLY SORRY. Real life has kept us busy, at the moment I'm literally countries away from Quotiety. But better late than never, right? We have some chapters written already, and now we're kicking ourselves back to writing this again. We've come this far, we ain't giving up now! Dear reader, I hope you didn't give up on us and our story despite the long silence. Hope you enjoy, we promise to publish next chapter soon!
A/N (Quotiety): It's been a while! Okay, who am I kidding, it's nearly been a year! I'm so sorry, I can't believe time went by this fast. ;A; A word of consolation, however - we haven't abandoned the story! We do, in fact, have some chapters written and ready to be shared with you, and we're currently working our way back into the storyline and producing even more chapters that will (probably) lead to an ending of some sort.
Anyway, this chapter is short and sweet, so it's very unlike us in all ways! I have no idea which one of us wrote it, because it's approximately one year old, but that doesn't matter! Enjoy it anyway!

Chapter XVII: Savor this moment

I hope you savor this moment
as you're still on your feet.
So keep it quiet now,
I think you're gonna like it.

The weapon was deceivingly light in his hands. One swing, one perfect aim, one pull of the trigger, and he could do great damage to whoever he wanted. Many men had fallen prey to the dangerous fascination such a lethal object carried. To watch someone die, to see the light fade in their eyes before it disappeared fully, to witness their last breath while knowing it was you who had taken it away - it could become an obsession.

But this battle wasn't for killing and these moves weren't meant to destroy life. No, this wasn't a game of survival, not when both participants knew where to draw the line of humanity. The men who circled each other on the sandy ground, eyes locked in gazes of determination, were fully aware of the power they wielded and the time to use it. Now wasn't the time. They weren't battling, they were playing.

For Leon and Cloud, their daily moments of sparring were just a big game. For these men, it was fun.

Cloud rushed towards him with great speed, swinging his sword in a low arch. It was one of his standard moves and something Leon had expected, but that didn't mean the move was easy to dodge. The Buster Sword had a huge range when compared to Leon's gunblade, which also meant Leon had to do most of the moving. Fighting with Cloud was a whole lot like dancing; dancing with a very powerful, dangerous metal partner.

With a quick leap back and a block that made his shoulders complain, Leon managed to counter the blonde's strike. The sound of two blades meeting in mid-air was their music, the quiet sound of their well-planned steps their rhythm. One-two-three-slash, one-two-three-dodge, one-two-three-slide. They'd both danced enough to know that this was a familiar jive, not a new beat.

Maybe that's why they turned careless. They were both taking it too easy, letting their minds rest while their bodies did the work. When you trust yourself too much and act without thinking, you tend to forget some important details. And that is when accidents happen.

It was an accident - it had to be - when Cloud miscalculated his steps and lost his balance. The Buster Sword was a difficult weapon to master because of its weight. One step taken wrong, one move that put you out of sync and the blade could drag you down. That was exactly what happened.

Leon had just managed to put Cloud on the defensive, having gotten far too close to him to allow any room for the Buster Sword to move. The gunblader was offering quick, threatening slashes that made Cloud take one step back at a time, unable to block and having no other choice but to evade. When he suddenly stepped a tad too far and - with the help of the Buster Sword's heavy shaft - fell backwards roughly, Leon had no time to react. In the blink of an eye, he was upon Cloud and in the next, he'd tripped over the fallen soldier and was going down, blade and all.

The first thing Leon registered was his gunblade, several inches deep in the ground, only a breath away from Cloud's head. A few golden strands of hair had been cut off by the incredibly sharp edge, but that was the only damage that had been done, apart from scratched knees and two bruised egos.

The second thing Leon realised was the position the were in; the very same situation he'd found himself in only a few days ago.

And just like those days ago, his body sang, betraying him.

In his mind, Leon cursed. The things between them - their relationship, whatever it was - were still unsettled. Neither man was into deep conversations, they preferred no words at all; everyone knew that.

Yet, every now and then, Leon longed for a personality that was able to talk it all through. He didn't have it, Cloud didn't have it, end of story.

So, just like last time, Leon pushed himself up, determined to leave, maybe once and for all this time. Since he couldn't keep himself in check, it seemed.

His plans, however, were ruined as a strong hand pulled him back by his arm. A truly surprised look was to be read in his usually stoic face as soft lips touched his, pleading for entrance.

Really, who was Leon to disagree? Without thinking, he opened his mouth, kissing back slowly, memorizing how it felt again.

When their lips parted, Leon found himself staring at two blue orbs. He could read emotions in them - wonder, curiosity, passion bubbling somewhere beneath - but there was no hesitance.

None at all.

And he noticed how those lips curved upwards just a bit before he was pulled into another kiss.

Sometimes Leon wondered how and when he had let the control slip to Cloud - not that Cloud hadn't always had part of it - but at which point the man beneath him had come to hold all the keys?

But that, Leon decided as his hand came to reset on top of that strong heart, was okay.

Yes, it was very much alright.


Without shadow, nothing : Chapter XVI
Slaba
quotiety

WE'RE BACK!
After an unintended hiatus, caused by one of us becoming an exchange student in another country and a whole lot of other things, we've finally returned to our story! Currently we have several chapters pre-written and waiting to be beta-read, and the plans have been secured for the continuation of this fic. As the situation stands now, we'll return to regular updates as soon as we can and try to post a new chapter once, if not twice a month!

As a gift to anyone who has the energy to continue to read this little thing, we're posting two chapters at the same time. Enjoy!


* * * * *



Disclaimer: Absolutely nothing belongs to us. The song is: Eli Young Band - Uncertain
Beta: Azrax (Thank you, once again.)
A/N (Anae): Finally, a chapter that's about boys and how they act around each other. They take their time, but you can't blame them, after all that's happened, it's not that easy to form a relationship of some sort.
(And Tifa. The more I write her, the more I'm starting to like her. Scary.)
And huge thankyous for anyone reading this! And thank you for your patience, since boys have to take it slow, and hope to see you in next chapter! :
A/N (Quotiety): A chapter that takes Leon and Cloud back to the basics. You can laugh at me all you want, but I find the boys so very adorable like this. They can be excellent fighters and self-secure on the battle field all they want, but when it comes to understanding relationships, they're as clueless as ever.
So, we bring you the boys, back in square one. Enjoy!

Chapter XVI: One way ticket

He was so uncertain if he was making the right choice,
he bought a one way ticket to a place he'd never been.
He was so uncertain.

It was like starting from the beginning all over again. They were treading on thin ice and had to watch their every step, but as days went by, they grew more confident. To meet up on the battle ground again after so many conflicts was relaxing and familiar. It took both Cloud and Leon back to the first time they'd battled against one another, to the time when no bonds had been either built or broken, to the time when they'd been nothing but strangers. And yet, even if they were back in square one now, there was something already brewing beneath the surface.

It didn't bother Leon as much as it made him ponder. The situation was complicated and that was the understatement of the century. He didn't know what the relationship between Cloud and himself was at this point, or if there even was a relationship to begin with. Aeris' presence was enough to keep Leon from bringing up the subject, and even if the serene woman hadn't been around, Tifa's watchful eye seemed to be following him everywhere. It just didn't seem appropriate to do anything that might shatter the balance that had slowly settled into the household, especially when even Cloud seemed to be calming down, as well.

The moments of heated battle were the things Leon escaped to. No one ever followed the fighters when they headed out for a good sparring, and both men seemed to need it as much. The weight of a weapon and the surge of adrenaline was what took their thoughts away from the rest of the world, and to Leon, that was the best part of the day.

It was no wonder that the gunblader felt so satisfied, panting roughly in the evening sun. He had just blocked a harsh blow of the Buster Sword and was staring into Cloud's eyes, his lips twisted into a determined little curve. Even if they had done this daily throughout the week, he never got tired of it.

"Is that all you've got? " Leon switched the gunblade into his left hand, wiping the sweat off his brow before he regained his stance. "I hope not." He aimed, fired and immediately leapt forward, knowing that Cloud would be there to counter the swing of his blade.

When a heavier blade and lighter blade met in the air, swallowing the space between the two fighters, the sound - a clash to normal person's ears, but a melody to a warrior - made Leon feel alive. Seeing the vivid burn in those sky blue eyes, he could tell Cloud felt like that, too.

In the first second, their blades were entwined, and in the next, Cloud pulled backwards, putting space between them, only to swing his sword again, making Leon drop on one knee to avoid the powerful attack. When another swing came, he dodged it, and wasted no time attacking again.

That's how it went on. Attack, parry, dodge, retreat, attack again. The goal was simple: Form a pattern that the other couldn't keep up with.

They were both formidable, experienced warriors. But the uneven ground gave its tricks and treats - usually to the other's favour. And this time, after Cloud's slippery dodge, it decided on Leon's favour, he wasted no time using this gift that had been given.

With a powerful shove and a well-placed slide, Leon gained the upper hand. Cloud's dodge turned into stumbling and when the gunblade forced the blonde further backwards, the man ended up on the ground. Victory belonged to Leon.

What he hadn't counted on was the lack of footwork the thrill could cause. The brunette had the time to feel like an utter fool until he lost his balance, the weight of his gunblade pulling him down. He managed to keep the weapon from clattering down too violently, ending up on all fours in the sand. And yet, even if such a situation usually would've made Leon stamp himself as a failure, the joy of his victory was far too strong right now. He'd brought Cloud down.

That joy didn't last for long. It was wiped away by the realization of just where he'd ended up. His concentration had been on the gunblade, which he'd managed to save from a rough meeting with the ground, but the process had gotten him a petite ten inches from Cloud. Leon could've counted his fair eyelashes.

The men stared each other for a good while. Without asking his opinion, Leon's mind wandered to those times they had ended up in this same position.

You couldn't count those times with just your fingers.

Before Leon's body betrayed him completely, he pushed himself up from the ground, collecting the gunblade as he rose up. His back was presented to Cloud and he was mentally cursing himself.

There was no way Cloud couldn't have noticed the all-too-familiar burn that had started to spread across his body.

It had been a passing moment, but it had been enough to throw Leon into a mindset that wasn't proper for this situation. Not here, not now. Not when things were still uncertain. Not when Cloud was only beginning to settle down. Leon owed him some peace.

He hoisted his gunblade onto his shoulder; a clear signal of that this battle was over. Leon needed to get away from Cloud. The moment of closeness was too fresh in his memory, the look of surprise in Cloud's eyes too strongly painted into his mind.

"I have something to do." It was the worst excuse and Leon congratulated himself for the worst choice of words. Why couldn't he have come up with something actually believable? "I'll see you later."

Not even a look back. He couldn't afford a single glance, because he feared he wouldn't be able to walk away. With every step, Leon's regret grew, but his determination was strong enough to keep him going.

Leon had no clear destination when he walked away from Cloud. His legs took him where ever they wanted to go and Leon's mind allowed them to do the work. He was too busy organizing his scrambled thoughts to care where he ended up.

Fear had lifted its head now that Leon was alone. What if he had done a grand mistake? It was awkward enough to share a room – and a bed – with Cloud when intimacy was but a huge, silent question mark between the two of them. If this made everything that much more complicated, if that one moment of accidental closeness forced the men to take yet another step away from one another, then things could turn tough. It wasn't that Leon wouldn't be able to do such a thing; he simply didn't know whether he wanted to.

Cloud was a mystery, even after all the answers Leon had gotten after their arrival. Cloud's intentions were unclear. He didn't seem to be in a hurry to leave now that Tifa and the rest had welcomed him back, but Leon had learned that restlessness was always present within Cloud. Not only did this make a knot hard enough to open, but Leon also had to find his own place in the picture. And that, especially after what had just happened, was the tricky part.

Leon couldn't deny his attraction to Cloud. Now, however, he was beginning to understand that physical interest was only one side of the coin he and Cloud were tossing back and forth. No matter how hard it was to admit, Leon had become attached to Cloud. All in all, he cared.

None of it mattered, however. Cloud had the right to personal space, especially now that Aerith had appeared out of nowhere. Leon still didn't know what the relationship between her and Cloud had once been, but her existence alone was enough to give Cloud a lot to think about. And then there was Zack – a name Leon kept hearing, yet a man he'd never get to know fully.

A frustrated sigh escaped the gunblader and he halted in his steps. He was in the middle of town, having aimlessly paced the streets back and forth. This was ridiculous. Cloud was driving him up the walls by just being there. Leon couldn't avoid the blonde for all eternity, no matter how awkward it might've been. He had to return.

The sun was long gone, evening having turned into night. Leon didn't bother to check their battle ground, knowing that Cloud would already be back at the house. Tifa was very precise with him, after all, watching over him like a protective mother. And that, no matter how amusing, Leon was grateful for.

What he didn't expect was Tifa standing at the front door when he finally approached the house, still carrying his weapon on his shoulder. Never having been a man of many words, Leon merely nodded as he closed in, pausing at the door step, waiting to be allowed in.

Tifa, leaning on the door frame, eyed Leon from head to toe and back - making the gunblader feel rather uncomfortable. Then she let out a deep sigh.
"I know Cloud needs a curfew, but do you need one too?"

Tifa's question came out of nowhere, catching Leon totally off guard. As he tried to think of an answer, the dark-haired woman only shook her head somewhat amusedly, pushing the door open.

Leon followed her to the quiet house, and was surprised when she disappeared into the kitchen, only to come back with a plate.
"We thought you might want to eat something." She merely offered.

Tifa managed to surprise him with her hospitality every single time. She had never been rude, but Leon wasn't sure what she thought of him. He was someone who'd spent time with Cloud when none of his friends had been there. That alone could've been a reason to make her dislike him at least a little.

And yet, here she was, offering him a full meal and clearly having waited for him to show up. Everyone else seemed to be in bed, already, judging by the silence that ruled in the calm house. She had stayed up to make sure Leon would return.

"I appreciate this." Leon stated quietly, accepting the plate. He gave the woman a long look – a look that didn't need any words to accompany it. Tifa had a good head on her shoulders; she seemed to understand Leon almost as well as Cloud did.

Tifa shook her head again, probably noting once again how much Leon reminded her of Cloud - and still how different the two were.
"You're welcome." She answered to an unspoken thank you.

She waited for a while before speaking again.
"Cloud's already upstairs." She told him, giving Leon a long look. "My guess is that he's standing by the window." Then she gave him a small, somewhat sorrowful smile and turned her back on Leon, heading towards the stairs. "Put the dishes in the sink when you're finished. I'll see to it in the morning." Giving him a final look over her shoulder, she wished him goodnight and headed upstairs.

It left Leon staring at his half-finished meal for a while. Clearly, Tifa was aware of that something had happened between the two warriors - how much she could count, Leon didn't know.

Deciding not to dwell on it any further, Leon simply finished his meal and did as Tifa had told him to do – left the dishes in the sink. Once he was done, he felt at least a little more certain about facing Cloud. If Tifa was right, the blonde would still be awake. Of course, one could never be certain that she was correct, but Leon had a feeling her suspicions matched the truth. It would be impossible to just sneak in without Cloud noticing.

The stairs seemed to be louder beneath Leon's steps than usual. He was sure that Cloud heard him long before he even reached the second floor. He halted for a moment when he reached the door, but – knowing that he would soon lose the courage he had gathered – pushed it open without a second thought.

The blonde was - as Tifa had correctly guessed - standing by the window, staring into to the dead of night. Leon pushed the door behind him closed as silently as possible. A moment passed as Leon gathered his courage again, but still he wasn't sure what to say. That he was sorry? Because that he was, but in the end, he had never been good at apologising.

Leon managed to take a couple of steps closer before Cloud turned to face him, his expression as unreadable as ever, if not the slight glint of his eyes, reflected by light of the rising moon.

"I can sleep on the floor."

So the moment hadn't gone unnoticed by Cloud, either. The blonde's reaction wasn't positive at all, in Leon's opinion. Perhaps Cloud had found the few seconds of closeness uncomfortable? Disgusting, even?

No. Leon knew Cloud better than that.

"You won't." It wasn't a suggestion, but neither was it an order. It was just a way of signaling that this matter didn't need to be discussed. Leon's eyes flashed with the smallest hint of something that might've been called affection. "There's no need."

There were no words offered as an answer, but the slight relaxation on the tense shoulders didn't go unnoticed by Leon. So, as Cloud moved to sit on the bed, clear blue eyes asking the gunblader to follow, he did.

Leon had feared that sharing a bed would become an uncomfortable thing since the earlier incident. However, as the men settled down and prepared for sleep, Leon felt no discomfort whatsoever. He might've been a tad more aware of Cloud's wrist brushing against his back, a bit more alert about the familiar scent he caught a whiff of every time Cloud moved, but that was all. Judging by the way Cloud fell asleep in record time, his breathing growing slow and heavy next to Leon, the blonde wasn't finding the situation unpleasant, either.

They both slept better than they had in a long time.


Without shadow, nothing : Chapter XV
Cleon
quotiety

Disclaimer: We think Square Enix should share the boys. With us. We wouldn't mind. But they don't. And the song is Depeche Mode – A pain that I'm used to.
Beta: Azrax (Thank you, once again.)
A/N (Anae): Hello, Tifa. Nice meeting you again, and nice for you not to ask any opinions of how to act from your writer.
Thanks for sticking us this far, and hope you enjoy some Tifa and Leon interaction, because Leon has questions only Tifa might have the answers to!
A/N (Quotiety): This time, we bring in Tifa - and a great one, at that! This chapter is Anae's writing, so kudos to her!
Leon still has some burning questions he needs to ask, and Tifa is the lucky girl who gets to answer. But, then again, not all questions should be asked.
We're actually going somewhere with all of this, trust me! A lot is going on and there are still many things that need to be clarified, but I hope you have the patience to stick with us and follow the story. Again, there will be more to come! C :

Chapter XV: Note full of hope

No mistaking the faking, I care.
With a prayer in the air I will leave it there,
on a note full of hope, not despair
.

It took a couple of days for Leon to gather the courage to approach the dark haired melee fighter. After having a talk with Cid, the gunblader had weighed his options more than once.

Aerith was a calming presence with the kindest heart and Leon, like everyone, valued her. But the brunette didn't spend his time around the woman, because it felt like she could see right through him. It was something Leon wasn't used to - in fact, he'd rather never get used to it - and, because of a ton of things, he preferred to be around someone else.

Tifa, on the other hand, was nothing like Aerith. Whereas Leon couldn't help but see Aerith as a flower that needed protection, he saw Tifa as a strong independent woman who knew how to take care of her home, friends and herself. Should there be a fight, Leon would count on Tifa to have his back - if it'd be necessary.

The reason to choose to question Tifa instead of Aerith wasn't only because Leon felt unease around the flower girl - he had come to notice that Tifa probably knew Cloud the best. According to Leon's understanding, she had been around him for a long time, ever since childhood.

Besides, it was Tifa who made the rules of the household. Not Aerith, nor someone else.

Still, when Leon made his way to the back of the house where Tifa made her daily exercises - according to Yuffie at least - his movements slowed little by little. Maybe he shouldn't interrupt her practice?
But even if his mind wondered and his legs slowed down, he didn't stop - not before he reached the area surrounded by different kind of buildings and variable surroundings, he stopped.

Tifa had probably heard the gunblader coming closer, but she kept on moving - doing different kicks on the air, using buildings as springboards - practically hitting, kicking, using whatever was on the area.

And she was skilled.

Leon had heard from others that she was a fighter to heart, but had never witnessed it. The warrior couldn't but admire the way and speed she moved, improvising every attack - let alone how she was aware of her surrounding all the time, using them as her targets.
Then, after jumping off the wall, doing a somersault backwards in the air, landing in a kneeled position, stopping there, slightly panting, Leon knew that he had wasted his time to run away.

She stood up, her black hair floating in the wind and turned around. She eyed Leon, but before he could say a word, she spoke.

"It is too crumby?"
Her tone was by no means hostile, she simply asked a question in a friendly manner. Leon, however, was caught by surprise, trying to figure what she meant. As Tifa noticed this, she rolled her eyes. "The room."

"We'll manage." Leon answered, mentally slapping himself. Of course Tifa had meant the room, what else? The bed? Yes, both were quite crumby, but they managed. The situation wasn't what it had been before that one faithful argument and everything that had followed, but slowly and surely they had started to get an idea how to be around each other.

Even if they weren't sure what they were to each other yet, they were at least walking towards something.

"Good." Tifa answered with a nod. She started to take off the leather gloves she wore - only when fighting. Despite the movement of her hands, the woman's eyes were focused on the gunblader. "What is it?" She asked, somewhat concerned.

Leon shook his head a bit. Tifa was one of those women that cut straight to business - not that you needed much sense to figure he had something on his mind: coming to see Tifa outside the house - home, Leon reminded himself, home - even to go as far as interrupt her practice. The acts spoke louder than words - Leon had something private to ask Tifa.

"I have a couple of questions, if you don't mind."

Tifa's only answer was a look. Leon inhaled deeply, still unsure if this was something he should put his nose in. But then again, he wanted to know Cloud. The bad and the good sides - even though there seemed to be a lot more bad than good in his past. So Leon collected himself, meeting Tifa's questioning eyes.

"Who was Zack?"

Tifa was about take off another glove, but as the question was spoken, she turned her gaze aside and then her movements stopped. A moment of silence passed, only wind blowing around them, taking Tifa's long black hair as it's playmate. However, she didn't pay attention to it as her dark eyes focused to brunette gunblader.
"Why? Why do you want to know?" She asked, eyes reflecting sorrow. "What difference does it make? He's dead."

Leon was a little taken aback by Tifa's attitude. If he had expected something, this wasn't it. But at least Tifa appeared to know Zack and what had happened.
"Because I want to know Cloud." Leon simply answered, meeting the brown eyes with powerful gaze.

She sighed, resting her head in her hand, the one still holding the black leather glove.
"Zack was Cloud's best friend." She started, apparently deciding that Leon's reasoning was good enough. "Hojo, the mad scientist, ran tests on them. I don't really know what, but that was when Cloud got mako poisoning."

The gunblader watched as Tifa paused, pulling other glove off. Even if he wasn't good at reading people, he found it fascinating to watch Tifa's reactions as she spoke. All that anger and hate bubbling beneath the concern and care.
"Mako poisoning?" He questioned, urging Tifa to continue.

"Yeah." She shortly answered, eyes moving from hands to horizon, looking how sunset marked the world as it own, covering it with dark yellow and orange rays. "When you're suffering from mako poisoning, you're practically comatose and at the same time, you're not. From what I've understood, Cloud remembers something about that time, but not a lot. And that little is mainly foggy. Anyway, it's the reason his memory isn't all that clear."

Tifa didn't as much as glance Leon. Her beautiful dark eyes were on the horizon, not really seeing it. She was watching back in time - to what, Leon didn't know.
"And Zack… Zack managed to escape, taking Cloud with him. He ended up dragging Cloud around half of the world." She paused. "Until the soldiers found them. Should've Zack left Cloud behind, he'd still be alive. But he didn't." Those dark brown eyes met blue-grey. "Zack died for Cloud."

She paused again.
"You know the sword Cloud carries around?" Leon nodded, but he wasn't sure if Tifa even noted it. "It used to belong to Zack."

That Buster sword? It had belonged to this Zack, who had died for Cloud? It couldn't be easy, to live with such a reminder in your hands every day. But then again, knowing Cloud, he probably didn't think he deserved anything else. And maybe it was a way to honor Zack's memory, too.

"Is there something else you wanted to ask?" Tifa questioned, waking Leon up.

Leon pondered a while whether he should ask the question that had lingered in his mind ever since Cloud had thrown him on the wall. Maybe he shouldn't, but his curiosity got the better of him. Who knew, this was probably his one and only chance to ask these things from someone who knew. So, as Tifa turned, tucking her gloves to her pant pockets, Leon asked.

"Who is Sephiroth?"

The brunette could see how Tifa tensed.
"Sephiroth was a nightmare." Then, to Leon's surprise, she whirled around. "Some things are better off as mere memories." She took a few steps closer, invading the older warrior's personal space with such ease, her blazing gaze making Leon stay put there and prepare himself. "And Sephiroth is one thing that should stay as one." She paused, mixture of grief, sorrow and hate flaring in those dark eyes. "So don't ever ask about him again. Not from us, but especially not from Cloud. Do you understand?"

"…Alright."

One second, she was there, on his personal space, claiming the part as her own, and on the next, she took two steps backwards, leaving Leon by himself. She brushed by the man, not saying a word, making her way towards their house - home.

"Leon."

He turned around, to see what she had to say.

A small, somewhat apologising smile.
"Don't be late from the dinner. I'm sure Aerith and Yuffie have given their all."

Leon only nodded in return, and then he was left alone. His stormy gaze wandered to see the last rays of sun before the darkness of the night would once again take over. He stayed in place, but his mind - it wandered. It was not only in the answers he'd been given but also in the question Tifa had told him to back off.

Sephiroth.

That name alone was enough to make Leon shiver in the chilling evening. From what he had heard and found out, he was certain that he never wanted to meet this Sephiroth. And he never wanted Cloud to battle him again.

With these thoughts - more hopes than anything - he turned his back on the dying sun and walked away, his footsteps heavy.
And heavy those footsteps remained as Leon walked towards his new home, mind wandering from thing to another. Cloud, Zack, Sephiroth - he had gotten most of the missing pieces, even if there were still holes in the puzzle.
But Leon knew better than to dig more. He had learned that nothing good would come with too much prying - especially with Cloud.

So, as the brunette merely took one step after another, not really paying attention to his surroundings, he all but ran into Cloud.

Leon took a few steps backwards, sure not to invade Cloud's personal space - not that he wasn't touchy of his own space after the episode with Tifa - and faced the blonde, silently asking if everything was okay.
They stayed silent for a while, neither really upset about other's presence but not letting their guards totally down either.

In the end, it was Cloud who chose to speak first.
"I've been looking for you."

That caught Leon by surprise. Cloud had been looking for him?
"Why?"

"I was going to practice." Was the simple answer he got. Before Leon got to ask what he had to do with it, the warrior continued. "Thought you might want to join."

With that, Cloud brushed by the older man, walking past him. Leon's lips curved upwards. Sparring. It was an offering to make things the way they had been - or something close to that, at least - to try to correct the wrongs they had done in the past. Maybe this time they could find a better, less rocky path.

Cloud didn't need to turn to see Leon follow him. He knew better than that.

And that kept the smile on Leon's face as he followed the blonde. But he spared a glance to home - the others were more or less waiting them.

But then again, Tifa wouldn't kick their asses for being late for the meal.

…Or maybe she would.


Without shadow, nothing : Chapter XIV
Cleon
quotiety

Disclaimer: The songs belong to Breaking Benjamin and it's called "Into the Nothing". And still, the boys belong to Square Enix.
Beta: Azrax (Thank you. <3)
A/N (Anae): It's been far too long time since we've posted anything, so, we're sorry! And short chapter is short, but it's necessary! So, I guess sorry about that too.
We, err… post next chapter faster?
Anyways, hope you enjoy!
A/N [Quotiety]: Alright, so we've brought you quite an amount of drama lately. We introduced you to Aerith and to some of the many questions that trouble Leon. Now it's time to return to our boys and what's going on between them, what their situation is. It's time to take you back to the very core of this fanfic; to the shadows and their importance.
Enjoy this chapter, guys! And thanks for reading this far!

Chapter XIV: You cannot follow

Where I lead, you cannot follow;
Straight into the light
.

For a good few days, Leon merely kept on eye on both Tifa and Aerith, trying to figure their trail of thinking. The gunblader had no desire to pry anything from the two women, least of all Cloud's past. So, he told himself, somewhat disappointed, that what Cid told him was good enough. That he didn't need to know more.

That decision lasted until one day he found Cloud looking outside from the window. Leon hadn't expected to find anyone inside - he had only come to return his gunblade to their room, the day's practice already done.

It was one of those rare moments when the men had nothing to do in particular; it was one of the too rare breaks. More than that, it was one of the rarest days when no heartless were seen near the town. For once, you could go outside without the fear of being attacked. Leon glanced outside, as well - it truly was a beautiful day; warm streaks of sun were cast onto the hollow town, painting it golden, and the darkness of the night wasn't yet to take away the light.

"You should go outside." He offered, placing his gunblade next to the wall. He didn't step any nearer to the blonde warrior - instead he stayed near the door.

Cloud didn't even turn to answer him. He only kept looking at the golden rays that painted the horizon. They didn't reach into the house, though - the sun was shining from the opposite direction, leaving this side of the house untouched.

"You know I can't."

Leon didn't answer. He recognized a futile argument when he saw one - the issue of light was one.

So, without saying a word, Leon left the room and the house. As he closed the door, his fist hit the stone wall next to it.

The frustration Leon felt was overwhelming. He had dragged Cloud from the Colisseum, promising not to be his light, but his shadow. The shadow that could shelter him from the light. He couldn't be Cloud's light, so he had thought he could be his shadow.

Thought. That was the co-operative word.

The idea had sounded good at the time, but now… It sounded ridiculous, even to Leon. It wasn't even possible to become someone's shadow, was it? Besides, despite his promise and vow to himself, what had he managed to do this far?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

And, besides dragging Cloud away from the dark, cold Colisseum, what good had he done?

Again, nothing.

Leon breathed out deeply, dark bangs hiding his face. The temptation to hit the wall again was great, but he resisted. Facts were facts. He still cared about Cloud, that was for sure. And he still wanted to help.

He wanted to pull Cloud out of the darkness that was wrapped around him. He wanted Cloud to understand that there was light within him.

More than anything, he wanted to see Cloud standing in the sun.

But in order to pull Cloud out of that darkness, he had to understand. He had to know the man's past. Aerith, Zack, Sephiroth.

And for that, he needed to ask either Aerith of Tifa.

Before the gunblader pondered the question for another moment, he glanced at the window on the second door. Leon couldn't see Cloud from this angle, but he knew the blonde was there. Because he thought that he didn't deserve to be touched by the light.

It ached, more than he was willing to admit.

Leon tore his gaze away, decision made.


Without shadow, nothing : Chapter XIII
Cleon II
quotiety

Disclaimer: Even after all this time, we own nothing. The lyrics: Blaque – Questions.
Beta: Azrax (Thank you, once again.)
A/N (Anae): It's been quite a time since the last update. Sorry, next post will be within two weeks, I promise! Hope to see you still with us, though.
…Tifa, again. Seems we never get rid of her. *sigh* But we got some Cid as well! He's QttQ's, and gotta say, I love how she plays him.
Anyway, hope you enjoy this chapter!
A/N (Quotiety): Sorry for taking so long with posting this chapter! We'll be posting more frequently from now on, we promise!
This chapter is one of ponderings and explanations rather than actions, but I hope you don't find it too boring. Also, I apologise if my Cid isn't IC, but do try to manage with him. : > Thankyou for sticking with us this far! The show still goes on!

Chapter XIII: These questions

I never longed for no one,
yes it's true.
Seems like these questions keep me here with you.

Silence was a natural state for both Leon and Cloud. That was the reason for their smooth co-operation - because they really could work together when they weren't on the opposite sides of the field - and the flow of understanding that always seemed to be present between the two of them. Even now, as they returned to the house after a long while of merely sitting on the roof, they did so in silence.

There were questions that needed to be asked, for sure, but this wasn't the time for inquiries. If anything, this was the only moment when the men could find rest. The presence of someone who asked nothing, demanded nothing and even did nothing was more comforting than anything else. Leon was aware of the delicacy of the situation, of the fragile surface they now were treading on. Cloud's past had returned to haunt him in more ways than one, and the blonde fighter had to face it; Now or never.

Leon had no idea what part he would end up playing in this little act. They were surrounded by Cloud's friends now, and along had come Aerith, who had - according to Leon's understanding - once meant the world to Cloud. The deck had been carefully shuffled, however, and the cards that had been dealt out were completely foreign. And even if Leon knew that every other person in the house probably felt just as confused, it didn't aid his personal agony one bit.

There were so many things that needed to be explained. Leon had slowly been digging his way into Cloud's past during these past weeks, and at one point, he'd actually believed to have reached the very core of the secrets the blonde was hiding. Now, however, he had lost all confidence in the matter. These people knew Cloud much better than he did and Aerith's appearance proved that there were still many things Leon didn't understand.

Yet, Leon didn't become desperate. Even if he felt like an outsider in the crowd that consisted of Cloud and his long-time companions, he didn't allow himself to dwell in self-pity. If anything, the situation had boosted Leon's determination in finding out what it really was that had molded Cloud into the man he was today. Instead of feeling left out, Leon took the moment as an opportunity to learn more. No one else knew as much about Cloud than these people Now was the time to complete the puzzle, to solve the mystery that Cloud was.

It was with these thoughts that Leon returned to the house. Tifa was there to greet them when they stepped in and Leon could've bet all of his money on the feelingthat the woman had been waiting for their return with anxiousness. Cloud said nothing when Tifa told him that Yuffie had moved her things from her room and that Cloud could now move into her quarters. Tifa seemed to understand, however, because she merely directed Cloud to the second floor and watched the blonde climb the stairs and disappear. Briefly, Leon wondered whether Tifa and Cloud shared the same silent understanding he had become so familiar with.

When a door closed on the second floor, Tifa's eyes slid over to Leon. Immediately, the brunette felt less at ease. Tifa seemed to be the one who made the rules in this household. Not only that, she seemed to feel very protective about Cloud. It was something Tifa and Leon shared, but it also made Leon feel the tiniest bit of discomfort. For some reason, Cloud was in bad condition more often than not when he and Leon were together. This, he imagined, didn't sit well with Tifa.

"You're staying too, I guess?"

It took a while for Leon to determine whether the tone was rude or not. When he found no hostility in Tifa's gaze, however, Leon decided that it was just a question among all others. He nodded briefly, shifting slightly to ease his own restlessness.

"I'm sure you've noticed that the house isn't huge." Tifa crossed her arms and examined Leon, her expression unreadable. "Yuffie's room isn't big, but it shouldn't get too crowded with two people. If you and Cloud don't mind, you should share."

The way Tifa spoke left no room for refusal. It made Leon wonder just how much Tifa saw of what went on between Cloud and himself. Their situation was hard enough to understand from his point of view and it must've been extremely confusing for someone else, but for some reason, Tifa seemed to have formed her own opinion rather quickly. Deciding not to fill his head with more thoughts than he already had in stock, Leon simply repeated his nod.

Anxious to get away from the dark eyes that seemed to be able to drill through his skull and enter his thoughts, Leon moved towards the stairs. He halted at the foot of them, however, glancing over his shoulder, suddenly remembering his manners.

"Thank you for letting me stay."

This time it was Tifa's turn to reply with a short nod. Apparently they had reached an understanding of their own.

Tifa hadn't lied when she'd described Yuffie's room as small. Even if the girl had moved her things somewhere else, there wasn't much space to work with. When Leon entered, Cloud was sitting on the rather small bed, his Buster Sword resting against the wall in the corner. He looked up when Leon stepped in, but he said nothing, and Leon merely eyed the room before speaking, himself.

"We have to share a room."

Not that he minded. Cloud showed no signs of dismay, either. It offered Leon some relief, because he was utterly lost when it came to the complicated situation between Cloud and himself. If Cloud was prepared to share a room with him, however, it had to mean that everything wasn't completely lost.

The bed, Leon quickly noticed, was an issue. There was only one, and even if there had been another bed to use, there wouldn't have been any room for it. Even if Cloud was comfortable with the idea of sharing a room with Leon, he might not have been at ease with the thought of sharing a bed with him. The last time they had done so, it had resulted in multiple cuts and bruises wounds Leon hadn't knowingly wanted to inflict. The events of that night were still raw in his mind, and he suspected that they hadn't faded away from Cloud's memory, either. It would be better to put some distance between the two of them, if not for anything else, then to prevent that moment from
repeating itself.

"I can sleep on the floor."

It was a quick offer from Leon and when Cloud's eyes focused on him, they held no understanding. It took a moment for the blonde to trace the gunblader's thoughts, but when understanding finally lit up in Cloud's gaze, he softly shook his head.

"There is no need."

It was the most simple of gestures, but when Cloud rested his hand on the bed, next to himself, and invited Leon to sit, the brunette knew that the foundation for something new had been laid out. Nothing had been said, not really, but the look in Cloud's clear blue eyes was enough to comfort Leon.

The situation might've been very unstable all over at the moment, but they seemed to have something to hang onto. At times like this, that was what counted.



In order to not destroy the fragile balance everyone seemed to find during the next day, Leon kept to himself for a while. He was full of questions, but he realised that some of them were too bold to be asked. A few, however, were of the kind that constantly bothered Leon. As days passed, he finally decided to speak his mind instead of asking himself the same questions over and over again - questions he didn't have any answers to.

Of Cloud's friends, only Yuffie and Tifa were familiar to Leon. Cid, on the other hand, he had never seen until they'd left the Colisseum and come here. Of all the people that lived in the rather small house, however, Cid was the one Leon felt most comfortable approaching. The man was a tad older than the rest, gruff and rough around the edges, but he seemed to have a good head on his shoulders. That, and he had enormous amounts of knowledge stored up between his ears, collected from various places during the years. That was the reason Leon finally decided to talk to the blonde mechanic.

According to Yuffie, Cid knew a bit about everything, but most about machines of all kinds. He was the one who fixed things when they broke down, even if he did so while smoking an entire packet of cigarettes. Cid was kind, even if that wasn't the first impression a stranger got. So, comforted by this information, Leon approached the older blonde when he found him in the back yard, doing his best to put together a mountain of metal pieces.

"Cid?" A grunt was Leon's only answer, but he took it as an encouraging sound. Stepping closer, he crouched down next to the mechanic, examining the heap of machine parts in all different shapes and sizes. "What are you making?"

Cid tightened a bolt and tugged at it, making sure it held before leaning back slightly to admire his handiwork.

"A bike." He replied, his voice filled with determination. "An' what a beauty she'll be. 'M telling you, Leonheart. When she's done, ya won't believe she ever looked like this."

Leon eyed the pile of rusty parts that had probably belonged into machines of all kinds. He had no reason to doubt Cid's skills, but he was having a hard time imagining the parts in one, functioning object.

The way Cid cleared his throat and lit up a cigarette brought Leon's eyes back to the mechanic. Inhaling deeply, the blonde blew out a puff of smoke before speaking again, this time meeting Leon's gaze.

"But that's not what ya wanted to talk about, was it?"

Leon was surprised. He was aware of Tifa's accurate senses and Yuffie's way of prying into things that didn't belong to her in the first place, but this was something he hadn't expected. Cid had guessed that there was something he wanted to ask?

"Yer not the kind of a man who chats when it ain't necessary." Cid seemed to be reading his thoughts, but he was doing so in a friendly manner. He wasn't telling Leon to turn around and leave, even if his intentions had been so obvious. "So spill it. What's bothering ya?"

Leon wanted to say that it wasn't exactly a matter that bothered him, but he decided against explaining too much. And, to be honest, it had bothered him for a while now, the matter he wanted to discuss with Cid. Ever since he and Cloud had ended up in a vicious quarrel, to be precise.

"There are things I don't know." Leon said, choosing his words carefully. He didn't want to seem too curious. "Things I think you might know."

Cid turned his eyes back to the metal constellation, picking up a piece and turning it in his hands. He nodded quietly, moving his cigarette to the other corner of his mouth, signaling for Leon to continue. Clearly, neither one of them were of the talkative kind, but Cid seemed to be ready to help him. That was enough for the gunblader.

"Mako." Straight to the point, like always. "What is it?"

Cid's brows knitted together, but he didn't stop his examination of the plate of steel.

"Mako." The word rolled off his tongue like poison. "It used to be a good thing, back in the days. Comes from the Lifestream, that stuff does." Cid dug forth a pen from his pocket, drawing lines onto the piece of metal, creating markings only he could understand. Even if the lines were neat, his hand was shaking with badly controlled anger. "But when ShinRa started using it, they made it into somethin' else. Fuckin' bastards."

ShinRa. That was a name Leon recognized. It was hard not to; the name was everywhere, because the company was quickly taking over the markets in just about everything. Listening carefully, his curiosity steadily growing, Leon chose to keep quiet, not wanting to interrupt Cid in any way.

"ShinRa used mako to create energy. Still do." Cid made a sound of dismay in the back of his throat, his expression darkening. "But then someone came up with the sick idea of putting it into people. Whoever thought of that is a goddamn idiot." Cid shook his head, clearly a tad agitated. Leon, knowing only what Cloud had told him, was slowly starting to put the pieces of information together.

"Mako might be good for yar machines, but it ain't good for yer body." Cid's tone was almost disgusted. "It changes a man. Yer not a human being if ya have too much of that stuff in yer system." Cid's eyes flashed into Leon's direction, his final words somewhat hushed. "It'll make ya a monster."

A monster. Not a human being, but something less. Someone who didn't deserve to walk in the light like other humans did. Leon had heard these words before, and slowly, he was starting to realise just what had molded Cloud into the man he was today. But there were still things he didn't know and information he lacked.

"Cloud has been exposed to mako, hasn't he?" The fighter had spoken of mako poisoning - a term Leon hadn't understood. Now he had a vague picture of just what had been injected into Cloud's body, and - even if he didn't want to admit it - the thought terrified him.

Cid put down the metal piece he was holding and turned towards Leon with a sigh.

"Yeah. Poor kid." The blonde man shook his head, suddenly looking much more tired. "I dunno the details, but I do know that Cloud's been through whole lot. He's a tough one."

Leon hid his disappointment. He'd thought that Cid would know more about
Cloud's past regarding the mako. He couldn't exactly complain, however, so
the brunette simply pushed the matter aside to bring up another thing that
had been on his mind.

"If you don't mind me asking about something else." Again, Cid merely grunted in return, but Leon had learned that it wasn't a negative thing. "Aerith mentioned someone. Someone named Zack." Leon paused, not really knowing how to continue. He knew that Zack had been Cloud's friend, and that Cloud blamed himself for his death, but that was all he knew. Clearly, Aerith had known Zack, as well, so perhaps Cid had, too.

The mechanic's response didn't require any further questions from Leon.

"Never met the kid." Cid sighed, his posture sagging slightly. "A shame, really. I dunno much 'bout him. If you wanna know more, ya'll have to ask Tifa or Aerith. Just know that we have Zack to thank for havin' Cloud with us."

No luck there. Leon would have to go to someone else for information. His options weren't very pleasant, however. For some reason, Leon didn't feel comfortable around Tifa, who seemed to see right through his shell and straight into his soul. Aerith was a whole different story, but Leon didn't feel at ease around her, either. Out of the two women, he would definitely choose Tifa once he gathered the courage to approach her with his questions.

"Thank you for telling me all this." Leon rose from his crouching position, hoping that he hadn't raised any suspicions with his thirst for information. He just wanted to know what Cloud's past withheld, and now he had the chance to find out. He was surrounded with people who were very close to Cloud, people who had been there for years. If they didn't know something, then no one did. "You've been a great help."

Cid just nodded, going back to his work.

"Anytime." As Leon headed back into the house, Cid's words followed him. "It's good to have ya around, Leonheart. An extra pair of hands is never a bad thing."


Without shadow, nothing : Chapter XII
Cleon
quotiety
Disclaimer: If it were for the time we spend in the heads of these boys, they would be ours already. But nu-uh, it's still Square Enix calling the shots. The song is Breaking Benjamin's Hopeless. (Yes, Breaking Benjamin, again. Blame Anae.)
Beta: Azrax (We're still trying to find new ways to express our gratitude. And we fail.)
A/N (Anae): "Welcome to the game." Indeed. Leon, you should little by little start to understand where you're sticking your nose in... Btw, I hope our Aerith is alright for you. I played with her on this chapter, and she started to live her own life.
Hope you don't mind that little thing though, since this is still continuing. Hope to see you again, and don't forget to tell us you're there!
A/N (QttQ): Okay, time for some explanations - or at least an attempt at explaining. We actually thought this through, you guys, honest! It just isn't very easy bringing people back from the Great Beyond.
Also, have some Tifa! Anae plays the best one I've encountered so far, so this is a real treat if you ask me!
Again, thankyou to everyone for following us this far on this road. I hope you'll be there in the future, too. C:



Chapter XII: Welcome to the game


Here I lie forever,
sorrow still remains.
Will the water pull me down and wash it all away?
Welcome to the game.



Leon stared at the beautiful woman in front of him. As soon as she had spoken her name, he could understand the way Cloud had acted. Tifa's and Yuffie's words made sense as well. He could strongly recall Cloud's words from their previous quarrels. That Aerith was dead, that her death was somehow his fault.

But now this woman told him that she was Aerith.

The gunblader eyed her warily, thoughts racing. She seemed far too alive for a lifeless corpse.

Maybe because nothing seemed real anymore - and Leon's mind was occupied with processing how this all was supposed to be possible, trying to find any hints of how it would make sense - he didn't think of what he was about to say.

Leon had never been the most eloquent person. He preferred to speak his mind, to tell the truth of his thoughts, so he had a bad tendency to be too blunt sometimes. This, this was one of those times.

"I thought you were dead."

If every single pair of eyes in the room hadn't been on him before, they sure were now. He could almost hear the unspoken question on their lips, and somehow it interested him what looks they were giving. He hadn't meant to be that blunt, to tell them that he knew things about Cloud. Things that the silent fighter preferred to keep to himself.

However, what was done, was done. So he met the surprised green eyes of the woman.

She did not speak for a while. Leon could feel himself growing agitated. Sure, he could feel the aura of kindness and pureness Aerith spread around, but something in the way she looked at him made Leon feel uneasy. It felt like Aerith could see right through him, could see the truth of his relationship with Cloud, could see right into his soul.

It truly distressed him.

The kind woman might've noticed it, since the smile returned to her face before she stepped back, shrugging.
"I used to be, yes." She eyed Leon, green eyes looking straight through him. "But as you see, I'm alive. Like I told Cloud, none of us knows the reason."

Her gaze wandered to her lifted palm.
"And we all want to know why." The hand was squeezed into a fist as she lifted her head, eyes filled with determination and belief. "And we will find the answer."

Leon had no answer to that. He was taken aback by the strength Aerith had. It wasn't same strength Tifa had; Tifa seemed perfectly capable of taking care of herself, whereas Aerith seemed far more fragile. Yet, this strength of hers was no less than Tifa's. It was coming from somewhere inside her. She believed in her words, and she'd make them come true - no matter what.

The moment, like every other, passed. Soon she was back to her smiling, kind self. That was when Cid decided it was time to take his leave.
"'lright, time t' get back to work. Gotta build more than a few houses." Without any further explanations, he walked out of the door, leaving Leon alone with the girls.

"Yuffie." Aerith spoke softly, getting the unusually quiet ninja's attention. "Could you help Cid a bit? I'm sure he'd appreciate a helping hand."

"Sure!" Yuffie happily answered. Leon could tell that even if Aerith's request had brought her cheerfulness back, it was still far from usual. Everyone had a lot on their mind - both memories and worries - and Yuffie was no exception. "Call me if you need me!" She chirped before exiting. "Cid, wait!" She shrieked, and Leon found himself with two women he barely knew.

Without a word, the women started doing their tasks. Aerith left the room and moved to a smaller one in order to change some sheets, and Tifa went to wash the dishes.

Before Leon had the time to feel very out of the place, Tifa started to talk.
"Leon Leonhart, right?"

"Yeah." He confirmed, stepping closer to the sink, feeling awkward standing alone in the middle of the room.

A short silence expanded between the two of them before Tifa spoke. They were barely acquaintances, neither really comfortable with the other's presence. It wasn't that they didn't have respect towards each other; they were both aware of each other's fighting skills, but the truth was, when it came to Cloud, neither of them knew where they were standing.

"So." Tifa started, putting some dishes aside as she glanced at Leon over her shoulder. "You're staying here with us?"

Leon was taken aback by Tifa's straightness. Then again, Yuffie had once said that she would never cross with Tifa, especially if she was angry, so maybe he should've expected this.
The brunette pondered the question for a while. He didn't really have any place to stay, the town was still under construction and there weren't many rebuilt houses available. And he didn't mind the idea of staying close to Cloud.
"I guess." He answered. "If you'll let me."

She snorted, giving the gunblader a small smile.
"We don't have much space, but I'm sure we'll manage somehow."

Tifa put the washed dishes away and turned to fully face Leon. She eyed her thoroughly, a lot like Aerith had before. Under her gaze, Leon didn't feel comfortable, but wary instead of distressed, like he had felt with Aerith. He could feel Tifa trying to see through him, but not managing. At least not yet.

Tifa, however, caught him off guard easily. Far easier than Leon had expected, but then again, he had never expected a woman to be so serious and straight forward about a thing like this.
"How did you get Cloud out of the Colisseum?"

Leon stared at Tifa for a good while, his mind racing once again, wondering how he was supposed to answer. Telling about his relationship with Cloud wasn't an option. And he truly didn't want to explain his promise to be Cloud's shadow to anyone.

Looking at Tifa's deep brown eyes, the gunblader came to understand that not answering wasn't an option either. Same came to lying - he bet that she could see through his lies easily. After all, Leon wasn't much of a liar and she had spent years with Cloud, practicing that certain skill.

"I vowed that I would help him." Leon answered. He could say she hadn't given up because of the way Tifa acted, Leon could tell that she deeply cared of Cloud. That she hadn't given up, that she wanted to shelter and protect him.

That wish wasn't very far from Leon's own.

Before Tifa could ask anything else, Leon excused himself and left the building. As the gunblader eyed the sunless sky, noticing how the dark clouds were gathering, he drew a deep breath. Then he set on to his task of finding Cloud.

It took him quite a while to accomplish that. He strolled around the streets and dark alleys, but the blonde was nowhere to be found. In the end, he decided to climb onto a roof to try and see if it'd be easier to spot the fighter from above. It wasn't hard to climb to a rooftop, but it was harder to find a roof safe enough to stand on without having to fear it crashing down.

He was surprised to find the blonde. Not from the narrow alleys, but from the rooftop.

As Leon worked his way towards the right spot, he had to wonder why. High places seemed to attract Cloud. Usually there was a reason behind such an act, but Leon had no idea what it could be. He made a note to ask the blonde about it someday.

When he reached the roof, he stopped in his tracks just to look at the blonde. Cloud was sitting on the rooftop - one of his legs
was hoisted to his chest, the other was resting on the tiles. He was certain that Cloud was aware of his presence, but the blonde did not show it in any way.

At first, Leon had to ponder whether to go to the man or not - he wasn't sure if his presence would be welcome since Cloud obviously had a lot on his mind. Leon personally didn't know if he'd been able to hold it together as well as Cloud did. It wasn't every day that you found out that the one whose death you blamed on yourself was alive again, for a reason unknown. And the little he knew about the blonde warrior's past combined to that . . .

Leon had seen men breaking down from less.

So when Cloud rested his temple on his knee, sighing, Leon did what felt natural to him. Without a word, he closed the distance between them and sat down next to the blonde. He didn't sit too close - he didn't want to smother Cloud - he simply wanted the blonde to know that he was there.

Quietly, only the wind and the darkening sky as their witnesses, Leon reached out and gently rubbed Cloud's back. He was mindful to avoid the wing - he didn't want to remind the brooding blonde of its existence.

Neither man said a word, neither even glanced at each other. But they were both still there. And that was what mattered.

The dark clouds in the sky, however, told them that a storm was coming.
 

Without shadow, nothing : Chapter XI
Cleon II
quotiety
Disclaimer: None of these characters belong to us. Some of them we wouldn't want, either way, but we wouldn't mind owning a pair of sparring boys. Alas, they're not ours to have. And the song belongs to Kamelot - it's called Sailorman's Hymn.
Beta: Azrax (Thanks. Again.)
A/N (Anae): Wow, chapter eleven already. Who would've guessed.
In this chapter, we bring you one more character. Neither QttQ or me is fond of her, but she's still important piece when it comes to our boys.
Hope you enjoy!
A/N (QttQ): And so we turn the world upside down.
Really, this was planned for a long time, but it took us eleven chapters to get here. And this chapter was a pain in the ass to write; it's nothing but confusion. Leon is confused, Cloud is confused - hell, even I'm confused! I hope you guys aren't, because there's more to come. C ;
Anyway, thankyou for sticking with us this far. I hope you'll keep
checking back for as long as we have something to offer. <3



Chapter XI: Guide his way home


She stands by the window alone
staring into the rain.
She is trying to guide his way home
from the waters that keep them apart.



Leon had suspected that Cloud might get nervous once they neared the area where the blonde's friends lived. Leon didn't really know the exact location, so he had to rely on Cloud to actually take them there, but he wasn't going to let the swordsman turn back and surrender. It had been a long time since Cloud had properly visited his friends and it was about time he left the Colisseum and enjoyed the scent of fresh air. The departure had been abrupt - they'd packed almost nothing, only the bare necessities - and Phil hadn't been overjoyed about their decision to go, but even the old goat had seen how important this was. It would do Cloud some good to spend time with those who loved him and escape the world of blood and battle, even if just for a moment.

As they drew nearer to their goal, Leon found that he felt more nervous than what Cloud seemed to be. He'd met some of Cloud's friends before - Yuffie and Tifa, for instance - but there were others to be introduced to, as well. It wasn't a very important moment, because Leon was nothing but a friend, if even that much, but for some reason he felt restless as Cloud lead them to a street with neat, roomy houses lined up like in a postcard. Radiant Garden had always been a beautiful town, and even if it was currently being partially re-built and had an unfinished feeling to its exterior, it still emitted the sensations of warmth and hospitality.

Cloud only hesitated once, and that was when they stood at the door. Leon gave him the time he needed while carefully examining the handsome, tense face as Cloud stood quietly, not as much as raising his hand to knock. Eventually, Leon rested a supporting palm on Cloud's shoulder and they shared a short look. Nothing was said and Cloud reacted in no visible way, but it seemed to give him the courage he lacked. In a sharp, shift movement, Cloud knocked on the door and stepped back.

Leon would've bet money on the fact that they both counted the seconds until the door opened. Cloud tensed visibly and Leon allowed his hand to remain on the blonde's shoulder. He wasn't sure if it was helping, but it wasn't being pushed away, which Leon took as a good sign.

The door opened to reveal a smiling Tifa. Perhaps she was expecting a salesman, maybe some friend of her's, but she definitely wasn't expecting Cloud Strife. As soon as her eyes landed upon the fighter, her smile faded away and was replaced with a completely surprised look with a hint of disbelief. She remained in the doorway, staring at Cloud, not paying any attention to Leon, whatsoever. It felt like an eternity, but finally, she spoke.

"Cloud?"

Her voice was sharp and strict, like an accusation. It was as if she would've been blaming the man on her threshold of pretending to be her friend.

Cloud nodded. It was all he had to do, because the reaction was immediate.

"Hey, guys!" Suddenly Tifa was all smiles, shifting in the doorway, calling into the rooms out of their sight. "Come here, you've got to see this! Guess who's here!"

Leon felt more than saw Cloud tense up even further as she invited the rest of the house's residents to gather by the door. Yuffie was the first one to arrive and she let out a shrill howl of joy when she spotted Cloud. Immediately, she was clinging to the swordsman, hugging him for dear life.

"Chocoboy, it's you!" The ninja was as hyperactive as always, but there was something honest about the way she smiled at Cloud. She really did care about him, Leon noted as Yuffie finally let go. Cloud truly had friends who cared for him.

The slightly older man who appeared behind Tifa was unfamiliar to Leon. The man was balancing a cigarette in his mouth while he grunted a greeting, arms folded across his chest.

"'S about time we see ya here, Strife." Even if the man looked grim and even a bit annoyed, his tone was kind. "Tifa's been a pain in the arse 'cause she's been so worried."

"Shut up, Cid." The dark female snapped, turning to Cloud. The smile that appeared on her face told, however, that Cid had been right. It was filled with a longing that conveyed her feelings better than anything. As she pulled Cloud into a long embrace, Leon's hand finally slipped from the fighter's shoulder. Cloud was with his friends now. He had all the support he needed.

"There's someone else for you to meet, too." Tifa finally said as she pulled back and welcomed Cloud and Leon into the house. Her smile was sad in a way that made Leon frown in confusion, but he didn't dare interrupt. "We didn't know how to contact you and it hasn't been that long since- Oh, just follow me."

Cid shook Leon's hand with a firm grip and Yuffie gave him one of her famous grins as a greeting while Tifa led Cloud into what seemed to be the living room. When Leon attempted to follow, Yuffie took his hand and stopped him.

"He can be upset." The ninja said, and Leon had never seen Yuffie as serious as she was now. "Don't blame him if he gets upset, okay? If you do, I won't forgive you."

Leon had no idea what was going on. His confusion only grew, but he managed a nod for Yuffie. Cloud might get upset? Why? Because of this mystery guest? But Tifa had seemed rather happy to introduce Cloud to whoever it was, so the meeting couldn't be that bad, could it? And still, as he finally entered the living room, doubt was pooling in his stomach.

Leon tried to make himself believe that he didn't feel an outsider. He knew Yuffie and he'd spoken to Tifa before. So far, Cid was the only one of Cloud's friends he hadn't seen before. He had been welcomed into the house, even if none of these people knew that much about him. They probably didn't even know what his relationship to Cloud was, because the fighter wasn't the most talkative person beneath the sun. Leon had a hard time imagining Cloud telling his friends what it was that went on between Leon and himself.

Then again, was there anything to tell? They'd been through quite a few quarrels now, mostly because Leon had gone and probed at things that weren't exactly his business. He couldn't really explain why he did these things, why he bothered Cloud over and over again even if it often led to a battle of either words or swords. There was something about the blonde man that intrigued him. He was strong and proud, and definitely someone Leon respected, both as a fighter and a man. Yet, at the same time, he had seen Cloud in the most fragile state, he'd somehow managed to crawl beneath Cloud's skin and settle down into the corner of his soul.

There was nothing to tell when the cards were laid out. Leon and Cloud were fighters of the highest rank, of the roughest kind. They had a manner of relieving stress that involved a moment in the dark, a round between the sheets, a stolen hour in the bathing chamber. Apart from that, there was nothing to present to an outsider. They weren't friends, not really, not even if Leon felt like he'd managed to get beneath that thick shell of Cloud's. They were acquaintances at best, comrades in battle, opponents and sparring partners. For the moment, it was enough. In the end, it had to be enough, because Leon had no way of demanding more.

So perhaps he envied these people a tad, he mused as he entered the nicely furnished living room and let his eyes pass from Yuffie to Cid and finally to Tifa. These people had been Cloud's friends long before he'd even met the fair fighter. They had a place in Cloud's life, because they were a part of his past. There was no room for Leon in the days that had already passed, but for some reason, the brunette had decided to be a part of the times that were still ahead. That was why he'd followed Cloud here in the first place.

Managing to make his mind settle down slightly, Leon finally concentrated on the matter at hand. The rather small living room felt a bit packed now that they were all spread around it. Both Yuffie and Cid had decided to stay back, and Leon joined them, feeling at ease in the background. Even Tifa remained a few steps behind Cloud, her hands twisted together in an act of obvious nervousness. Cloud himself seemed to have frozen, standing in the middle of the room, hands knotted into fists on either side of his body. Leon couldn't see his face, but he could guess that it was a mask of controlled emotions, as tense as always.

Seeking the source of Cloud's attitude, Leon's eyes glided over to the last person in the room. On the couch, sitting with her hands neatly in her lap, was a young woman. She was rather beautiful, Leon noted, in a way neither Tifa nor Yuffie could pull off. Tifa had an edge to her that conveyed her strength and ability to survive on her own, while Yuffie had an air of eternal cheerfulness around her.

This woman, however, carried none of those qualities. Leon could only describe her as calm and harmonic. With her small, gentle smile, fair skin and pale pink dress, she seemed to ooze gentleness like no one Leon had ever met before. She did nothing but sat there, her eyes fixed on Cloud in the most loving manner, as if his presence alone would've been the greatest gift she could ever be presented with.

Cloud was the one to speak first. Leon had never heard his voice as low and controlled as it was now. Cloud was holding himself back like never before, and Leon could only wonder why that was. What was it that Cloud was trying to hide, and what did it have to do with this strange woman?

"Who are you?"

Leon's confusion grew even further. Cloud didn't even know this person? Then why was he reacting so strongly to her presence? A glance at Cid and Yuffie gave Leon no clues - they both looked tense, but they clearly had a grasp of what was going on. Neither one looked as confused as Leon felt. There was something Leon didn't know - something that bound all of this puzzle's pieces together.

"Have you forgotten me?"

Her voice was just as calm as Leon had expected, if not calmer. It was like the song of the gentlest bird, and Leon found himself thinking that this woman would make a very fine mother some day. She seemed to be honestly curious for the answer, because the way she spoke wasn't accusing in any way. She merely wanted Cloud to remember her, nothing else.

"How could I?"

Leon gave up. He wasn't going to understand this before someone explained it to him. So, instead of trying to figure everything out, he concentrated on the discussion everyone else seemed to be so interested in.

"Then you do remember me."

"I'm not a fool. You don't exist. She doesn't exist."

"I can assure you of that I very much exist, right here and now."

"How?"

Cloud was talking a lot for his usual, quiet self. This had to be a very important meeting, Leon figured. Or a reunion, if their words were anything to rely on.

The woman sighed softly, smoothing out her dress as she stood from her seat. A few steps were enough to take her to where Cloud was standing, as cold as the sword strapped to his back. He didn't react in any way, didn't greet her with an embrace, not even a nod. He merely stood and faced her as she watched him, that smile ever present on her beautiful face.

"I don't know ." She said quietly, resting one of her hands on Cloud's chest. "None of us do. But there has to be a reason for why it's possible."

Cloud was as swift as he was on the battle field. He turned around and left, his steps quick and light. He didn't spare anyone a glance, he didn't say anything, he didn't as much as give a warning. In one moment he was there, and in the second, the front door had opened and closed, and Cloud was gone.

Leon was dumbfounded. Tifa looked utterly defeated and disappointed, and Yuffie looked like she was about to cry. Cid looked even more grim than usual and lit up a new cigarette to replace the former one. The unfamiliar woman was the only one who kept smiling, merely sighing softly and lowering her hand with a soft shake of her head.

"He's the same as always. Just like I remembered him."

Before Leon had time to open his mouth, her eyes had fallen on him. She approached the brunette with kind curiosity and extended her hand in a greeting. Leon accepted and shook it softly, as if afraid of breaking her with his battle-roughened hands.

"And who might you be?"

"Leonheart." Leon nodded. "Just call me Leon."

"Very nice to meet you, Leon. You're a friend of Cloud's, I presume?"

"A battle comrade, more or less." Leon wasn't going to specify, not unless she asked. And she didn't; Instead, she said something that made Leon's stomach turn.

"I should've guessed." Her smile didn't falter, but her eyes seemed to sink right into Leon's soul. "You immediately reminded me of Zack. A bit."

The words made Leon suspect something his entire mind went against. And still, as he gathered his courage and asked the one question he could ask, he still expected the answer on some level.

"And who are you?"

"Me?" And she smiled, like she would've been smiling for years and never stopped. "I'm Aerith."

Without shadow, nothing : Chapter X
Cleon II
quotiety

Disclaimer: No matter what we do, still we don't own the boys. Neither do we own the song. It's one you probably recognise upon hearing - Pippin's song, featured in the Steward of Gondor, from the movie Lord of the Rings - Return of the King. (Anae: I saw the first movie recently, and I was shocked how awesome it was. Love 'em all. <3)

Beta: Azrax (We simply love you. Thank you, once again.)

A/N (Anae): It's been a while since the last update, but please understand, our beta had a little hard time and was busy.
Anyway. This chapter is the most important this far, revealing where the name of our fic really comes from. It's a little hard to understand though, but you will get it when reading through. Remind you though - this is not the last chapter there is. There will be more.
Again, sorry for the long wait and hope to see you still with us!

A/N (QttQ): I never thought it would come to this. Ten chapters; boy, oh boy! This little project got out of hand somewhere along the way, but it did so in a good manner. I hope.
This could be the end, you know. "And they lived happily ever after." But no, we're not stopping here, as cruel as that is. So keep reading, because there's more. : >



Extra note: We thank all of our favers and readers, but we want to dedicate this chapter to Raistlynn (on LJ). She has been with us from the get go and shared her thoughts on every single chapter.


Dear readers, you have no idea how much it means to us to have one word or two from you. You guys are all so great! C : Thank you all so much, especially you, Raistlynn.


Enjoy.



Chapter X: Through shadow



The world ahead
and there are many paths to tread.
Through shadow,
to the edge of night.
Until the stars are all aligth.



Leon's thoughts wandered. His relationship with Cloud was somewhat normal now, but the blonde's words from some days prior still bothered him. In Leon's opinion, everyone had some light in them. And, after being alone with his own traitorous thoughts for a few days, Leon realised it wasn't doing too good to his psyche. He just had to wonder how Cloud's own was still as whole as it was - he was getting a headache, already.


The gunblader made a mental note to talk to the blonde about this light issue, as well as some other priorities in life after giving a little more thought to what he actually wanted to say. But this plan of his - just like every other before - decided not to work like he would've liked.


Leon was on his way to check out the schedule for the next day's ring fights, just to make sure who he was up against, but as he passed the ring he didn't realise to check out the current fighters.


The other warrior in the ring did notice him, though.


As Leon was heading back to his room, the fight came to an end. The smaller fighter came out of the ring and as he bypassed Leon, their shoulders brushed. Leon noticed the younger, spiky-haired man who acknowledged him by nodding.



Shit was the only word echoing in Leon's head. Now that he saw Cloud like this, it was just too good of a chance to throw away.


That didn't make it any easier to reach out and rest a heavy hand on Cloud's shoulder. He felt the blond tense up beneath his touch, as if expecting a lecture of some sort. When Leon merely nodded back in a small greeting, Cloud relaxed somewhat, but still remained as alert as a fighter of his rank should.


"Did you have something to say?”


Leon cursed mentally. He was out of words, already. Cloud's question hadn't been hostile - their relationship had remained friendly after their previous discussion - but it still required an answer. Moreover, Leon couldn't leave his thoughts unvoiced, not at this point.


"When was the last time you went somewhere?" Leon slapped himself for the clumsiness of his words, inhaled and tried again. "I mean out of here. Away. How long has it been since you spent time away?"


That was a question Cloud hadn't expected; the younger fighter's silence and somewhat surprised stare told Leon that much.
"Long." He answered, apparently not wanting the gunblader to know the real length of time. As the older fighter pulled his hand away, it was Cloud's turn to ask a question. "Why?"


Leon's expression was unreadable. He didn't want to be too blunt about this - about the fact that Cloud's sanity couldn't be doing very well after such a long time of seeing nothing but the Coliseum walls and the areas close to the building - but he had to make his point clear enough. The Coliseum was a dark place and living as a prisoner within its stone chambers was probably feeding Cloud's beliefs of darkness lurking inside of him. Leon wanted to get the blonde out and about, and make him realise the truth about himself.


"It might-" Improve your sanity. "-Do you some good.”


In order not to insult Cloud, Leon hurried to continue. He had heard of Cloud's friends multiple times, and even caught a glimpse of them when they had been having a conversation with Yuffie. Leon wasn't too familiar with the lot, but he did know one thing; they wouldn't have minded a visit from Cloud.


"When have you last seen Tifa?" Leon folded his arms over his chest as he gave the fighter a long look. "It wouldn't hurt, you know. Seeing someone outside of these walls and greeting the sun every once in a while."


The mention of Tifa pulled forth some feelings, as Leon had expected. He didn't personally know Tifa that well, but from what he had heard, Tifa was probably closest to Cloud, being his childhood-friend and all. Leon caught a glimpse of guilt on the younger warrior's face. So he had been right - it had been a very, very long time since he'd last seen Tifa.


"I already told you." The blonde answered, dodging the first question. "I don't have a light."


Leon found himself face to face with a brick wall. This was the exact claim Cloud had made when they'd last discussed the subject. The brunette couldn't see the logic in Cloud's reasoning, not in this matter. One couldn't survive without an inner light in this world, especially after the torment Cloud had experienced. He couldn't be a creature of complete darkness; it was simply impossible.


"Come on." Leon grunted out, shifting to lean against the wall while he eyed the blonde with a rather grim expression. "How can you still think like that? Why wouldn't you have a light of your own, just like everyone else?"


The gunblader was a stubborn individual, but so was the swordsman. But this time, unlike some days before, Cloud wasn't going to explain it. Both men knew that he had already told Leon what there was to tell, and this was a discussion the blonde would rather skip.
"Not everyone has a light, Leonhart." Cloud simply answered, and there was a finality in those words as the younger warrior turned to leave.


The comment made Leon groan out loud. He'd pushed it too far; now Cloud was running away from the confrontation. It was easy to step in front of him, however, and block the blonde's way out. Cloud halted as Leon refused to move, arms still resting on his chest, his eyes fixed on the slightly shorter fighter.


It took a moment for Leon to form the right words. Even then, the tidea felt utterly stupid when he finally vocalized his thoughts, but it was better than standing quietly, after all.


"I still can't agree with you on that." Leon murmured, earning himself a frown from his partner. "But if you really feel like you can't go into the light, then at least let me give you a hand." The brunette showed his palms to Cloud in order to stop him from talking, already knowing what the man was going to say - that Leon couldn't become his light just like that. Leon doubted he could've pulled it off even if it would've been possible; that had never been his plan.


"I could always stand between you and the sun, you know." Leon wasn't sure if this was working, He glanced at Cloud, insecure but determined. Dropping his hands, Leon gave a small shrug, but his eyes gave away how much he really cared.


"I could be your shadow, instead."


Cloud's jaw nearly hit the floor as those words left Leon's mouth. All he could do was stare at the older man in shock. It took more than a moment for Cloud to mouth the only phrase echoing in his head.
"What?"


Leon didn't exactly know whether the reaction was good or bad. Perhaps Cloud was surprised simply because his suggestion had been utterly ridiculous? Leon combed his fingers through his hair and sighed, giving the blonde a pondering look. He'd already begun - the damage had already been done.


"I'm not so good at these things." The fighter admitted. "But a shadow does give you shelter from the light, doesn't it? If you feel like you can't face the light, then maybe I could-" Leon cleared his throat, quieting down for a moment. He wasn't even sure what he was suggesting. He just wanted to get Cloud out of the dark, cold building that couldn't be doing the man much good.


"I could be your shadow." Leon simply repeated, not knowing how to explain himself further. "If I can't be your light, I can be your shadow."


Leon shifted from one leg to another as he anxiously waited for Cloud's answer. He felt so utterly stupid, thanks to his stammering explanation. He had to wonder if Cloud even got his point - the point that even he himself wasn't completely aware of. To be a shadow, to hide someone from the sun like a tree shelters the flowers beneath it.


Those moments were probably the longest ones in Leon's life so far. Cloud was simply looking at him and when the brunette seemed to be about to say something, the warrior just turned away. Cloud inhaled deeply, resting his head in his palm, desperately trying to reorganise his thoughts. Leon gave him the time he needed, no matter how long it took. When Cloud turned back to face Leon, he only had one question.


"Why?" It wasn't often that Leon had seen Cloud like this - the blonde's entire being was unguarded. Cloud was moved by his kind offer, but insecurity still lingered in the warrior, now that the shock had lowered its head. "Why would you go that far?"


Why, indeed? The question should've been simple, but Leon found himself at a loss of words. He'd come to care about Cloud's well-being during the past weeks. Had Cloud been of no importance to him, he wouldn't have tried to mend their friendship in the first place. And neither would he have stood here, offering to shelter Cloud from the thing no man should've feared.


So, lacking the perfect answer, Leon did the only thing he was comfortable with; he answered with a question of his own.


"Why not?" Leon tilted his head and shot Cloud a look that told him not to argue - he'd already made up his mind. "It's not going to cost me anything and it'll help you. So why wouldn't I give you a hand?"


If Leon didn't have the perfect answer, then neither did Cloud. The blond was still trying to understand Leon's reasoning, which made no sense to him.
"I…" That was all Cloud could manage. He had no objections Leon would approve of - his darkness was the main reason, but Leon wouldn't take it and he certainly wouldn't back down. "It will." He almost whispered. "In time, it will cost you a lot." Without really realising it, Cloud wrapped one hand around his body protectively. It had cost so much to everyone who had ever helped him; his home town had been burnt to ashes, Sephiroth had killed Aeris and Zack had been shot.


These fates, the fates of Cloud's friends - they were something Leon still didn't fully understand, but didn't dare to ask about, either. What he did know, however, was the hunch of how Cloud preferred to keep everyone away from himself to avoid having to face another loss. Now, Leon didn't know how tough Cloud's friends had been, but he did know that it would take a lot more than one try to wipe him out.


"It'll cost me nothing." Leon repeated, reaching out slowly. His fingers ended up resting on Cloud's arm in a soothing, warm manner. He wanted to embrace the fighter in front of him, who seemed to be crawling into his shell once more, but he lacked the confidence to do so. Cloud was hard to read and Leon didn't want to end up getting too physical when the blonde wasn't up to it. The last thing he needed was an upset Cloud.


"And if it does, then I'll worry about it when the time comes." It was all Leon had to offer. His thumb brushed softly over the dirt-covered skin of Cloud's arm in a short caress, as if ending his statement. This was what he was offering, now Cloud had to either take it or leave it.


Cloud didn't have a single argument left. He had done nearly everything to push Leon away to safety - with no success. Of course he could walk away, like he tended to, but-


Seeing Cloud's internal struggle and his decision, a tiny smile rose to Leon's lips. Step by step, he was beginning to understand the younger fighter. This time he had gotten what he wanted without an argument. And if it didn't feel good, then nothing would.


Taking the silence as positive sign, Leon slowly wrapped his fingers around Cloud's. Calm, blue-grey eyes met the still slightly unsure mako blue. Without words, Leon began to walk, not letting go of the blonde's hand, just to ensure he wasn't left behind. Cloud didn't struggle, not even once, as he let himself be guided out of the gate and into the outside world.


He might've not had a light, but now he had a shadow to shelter him from the sun.

Without shadow, nothing : Chapter IX
Cleon
quotiety

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.

"Don't interfere."

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.


Without shadow, nothing : Chapter VIII
insanity
quotiety

Disclaimer:If we were to own Cloud and Leon, they would've had a lot more screen time in Kingdom Hearts. Alas, we don't.
The song isn't ours either, even if the lyrics fit. It's belongs to Sevendust and it's called Feed.
Beta: Azrax (Thank you, dear. We were quite worried about this chapter, but you read it anyway (and lived to tell the tale). Thankies.)
A/N (Anae): ...Okay, I'm repeating myself, but Cloud, I truly am sorry.
*glares Leon* See now why you should play nice? So how about starting to pick the pieces you shattered?
Thanks for comments and see you in next chapter!
A/N (Quotiety): What should I say. We all need comfort from time to time. Cloud just seems to crave comfort of a different kind. I'm just not sure whether I should be glad about Leon offering it to him or not.
Leon, you better start mending what you've torn apart.
In the mean time, please keep reading! C :



 

Chapter VIII: Four letter word

Pity is a four letter word
and so is quit.
And so is left,
but I'm right where you wanted me.
 

The sun was long gone, having disappeared into the horizon as Leon returned to his room. He'd made it a habit to train as much as possible during the past few days, from the earliest minutes of morning into the dead of night. He had nothing else to do, after all, so why not put the time to good use? It wasn't like someone would've been waiting for him or wanted his company, so he had all the time he needed.

Leon had refused to think about what had taken place just a few days ago. The discussion with Cloud was like a bad dream, haunting him, constantly present in the back of his mind, but Leon refused to let it take over. He trained constantly, kept himself focused and alert, and when he didn't train, he slept, giving his body the rest it desperately needed.

Leon was aware of how pathetic his behavior was, but he had no choice if he wanted to avoid the regret and hurt that were cradled somewhere within him. He hadn't seen Cloud during the past few days, which he was grateful for. He wasn't sure he'd manage such a confrontation.

Returning to his quarters, Leon did what he always did. He stretched his sore muscles, but the act didn't ease his ache. He showered and cleansed himself, but the warm water didn't make him relax. It wasn't until he sat down and pulled forth his gunblade that he got his daily salvation. Cleaning and maintaining his weapon was the only thing that allowed Leon to forget about everything else and reach a place where nothing disturbed him. As he polished the blade, erasing every smudge the daily battles had caused, Leon acquired peace of mind.

His peace was broken, however, when there was a knock on the door. A frown crossed Leon's features as he glanced towards the sound, quickly deciding to ignore it. But when the knock echoed through the room again, Leon sighed and put his gunblade aside, abandoning his enjoyable routine.

"What?" Leon barked as he opened the door, not even bothering to check who it was before he spoke. "I'm busy."

Leon was utterly shocked to see the man as he opened the door. His first feeling seeing the blonde swordsman in front of him was a rush of panic through his veins. He didn't know what to say, what to do - hell, he didn't even know why Cloud was here, after all he had said. A memory of those angry words he had spat out, meaning nothing but harm, made him feel bad.

The brunette didn't have the time to dwell in regret for long. Cloud's hand reached for his neck and pulled him into kiss. Leon was too surprised to do anything - his mind refused to co-operate.

In one moment, they were half-way outside and in the next, they were inside the room, the door kicked shut behind them. Leon's neighbors would probably kill him for that, but now he had something else to think of; Cloud's lips on his and a warm body pressed against him.

Cloud ended the kiss as quickly as it had started, but neither his hands nor his body left Leon's. Instead, he just spoke to his ear, voice leaking emotions.
"Fuck me."

Leon was dumbfounded. Cloud had appeared on his doorstep voluntarily and - without even explaining anything - offered himself to the older fighter. What was going on? Leon managed to lean away from Cloud's demanding embrace, getting a look at the blond's face. His eyes were tinted red, dark shadows cast onto his usually handsome features. He looked tired and worn out, and in his look, fear danced around the edges of lust and passion.

"Cloud." Leon's voice came out breathless and longing, and the brunette cursed himself for that. He didn't pull away from the other man, his hands securely resting on Cloud's back, but he didn't delve in for a second kiss. His brow was furrowed in deep thought, his mind scrambled, his feelings battling between pleasure and regret. "What is this?"

Cloud shook his head, blond locks dancing around.
"Don't." He quietly pleaded, hand sneaking down, touching hardened flesh through the leather.

Leon wanted to give in. It was a terrible temptation and so hard to resist, because Cloud was right there, clearly wanton and willing, and somehow past their previous fight. Had Leon been any less bothered by it all, he would've just allowed himself to forget everything else and given the blond fighter what he so seemed to need.

But it nagged at Leon, the sudden change in Cloud's behaviour, and the man's looks. As he leaned in for another kiss, this time actually responding to the lips that so hungrily met his, he gave Cloud a small push, leading the blond backwards. With simple guidance, it was easy to pin Cloud to the wall and pull back from their kiss.

"I asked you a question." Leon's voice was something akin to a growl, low and demanding as he eyed Cloud with a troubled, dark expression. Something wasn't right. He'd hurt Cloud enormously a few days ago, but now the fighter was crawling back to him. That didn't fit into the picture. "Now give me an answer."

Leon didn't expect Cloud to give in - he did remember how much he had had to push the blonde before getting the answers he wanted. This time, however, was different, he realized as Cloud turned his head to the side, looking at the floor with pained a expression.

"I…" Cloud stumbled. "I want to forget. Even- Even if it's just for a short moment, I don't want to think." Those blue eyes, reflecting the memories of something truly horrible, met the grey ones with great uncertainty. "Please."

Leon felt like he would've been holding the most fragile being on earth. The strong warrior, the man he'd occasionally even feared on the battle field, was breaking in his hands. Cloud was clinging to him for dear life, like a drowning man does to a helping hand. For the first time, Leon actually saw Cloud as the younger one out of the two of them - for a moment, he was supporting a youngster, who didn't quite know how to stand on his own.

The image disappeared quickly when Leon faced the pleads Cloud offered him. The blonde was running from something, something that lived in his panicked look, in his fearful behaviour. The man in his arms had survived more than many experienced men could endure. He was Leon's equal in all ways.

And that was how he ought to be treated. Leon's expression softened as he looked at Cloud, his hand coming up to push a stray strand of fair hair to the side. Their eyes met as the brunette's battle-roughened fingers brushed over the smooth skin of Cloud's cheek and once again, they shared a silent understanding they both had longed for, but not dared to vocalize.

"Alright." Leon murmured as he pulled Cloud away from the cold, unforgiving wall and against his own, welcoming body. "Alright."

Leon felt Cloud melting into his embrace, the stiffened muscles relaxing just a little. His fingers played with blonde hair, his lips finding the other fighter's. Leon's plan was to make the younger warrior feel comfortable and most of all, safe, thus treating him with tenderness. Because, really, no matter how equal the two of them were, right now Cloud needed support.

That was why he was surprised when Cloud ended the kiss to speak.
"Don't be gentle with me." It wasn't an order, but it wasn't a plea either. "I… Want it to hurt."

It took a moment for Leon to comprehend what Cloud was saying. He wanted pain? Why? Was Cloud punishing himself for something? Leon wanted to give the blonde pleasure, not pain. Was that how Cloud saw him - as someone who only had pain to offer? Leon didn't want to leave such an impression.

Cloud's expression, however, made Leon stop his questioning. He had never seen Cloud this open, this unguarded. The blonde was asking him for something he couldn't ask of anyone else - it might not have been something he wanted to ask for, but he seemed to need it. Who was Leon to deny such a request in this situation?

He didn't speak. He wasn't capable of cruel words anymore, not when he'd already given all of them to Cloud earlier. Instead, he forced the fighter down onto the bed with a rough push and followed suit. The kiss Leon offered to the blonde was definitely not gentle - it was full of pulling teeth and aggressive nips, and when his hands found Cloud's body, his caresses were harsh and demanding.

Still, a small patch of insecurity fluttered in Leon's chest and he pulled back for a moment to catch his breath. Beneath him, Cloud looked so vulnerable that it almost pained Leon to see him in such a state.

"Is this what you want?" He asked, his voice hoarse. He needed reassurance of some kind - he didn't want to hurt Cloud for no reason. Again.

The answer he got was a smile. An actual smile. It was pained and brittle, but it was there.
"You can't do anything to me I don't want to." Cloud answered, reminding Leon of the time Phil locked them up to make sure the two fighters would make a deal. A deal that had led to this.

It went without saying that Leon didn't feel right. He didn't want to hurt Cloud - the man had gone through enough pain without him adding any more to it - and the blonde's answer didn't give him much reassurance. Then Cloud's lips were on his, hips bucking against him, demanding more. Leon had to make his decision.

It felt inhuman. As he dug his nails into Cloud's flesh and bit down onto the blonde's shoulder, Leon felt a rush of guilt. He soothed the bite mark with soft kisses, but he quickly came to notice what Cloud wanted. Every scratch got him a quiet groan, every bite a strong shudder. The gentle kisses, however, and the soothing strokes gave him nothing but a silent, still body beneath his.

From there on, it was easier. Cloud encouraged him every time he treated the man roughly. Leon had never seen the fighter as open as he was right there and then. It felt wrong to cause pain, but when Cloud clearly enjoyed every ounce, Leon could live with it. Could live with himself, even if it meant hurting Cloud with every single one of his touches.

They lost the track of time. Leon lost count on how many bite marks he left onto the pale skin. He didn't know how many times he made Cloud cry out with a demand of more as he roughly stroked him, all of his touches almost cruelly harsh. And Cloud drank it all up, needily, greedily, clawing at Leon's back, leaving angry, red welts behind. It was a passion Leon had never faced before, strong, dark and dangerous, and once he managed to push aside his constant guilt of hurting the blonde, he hungered for it more and more.

The image had probably been burned into his mind and would stay there for as long as he lived. Cloud, on all fours, Leon's hand deep in those blonde spikes, holding his head down. The fighter was crying out constantly, not at all his quiet, usual self. Tears were running down his cheeks - tears that would make Leon feel terrible in the morning - but he was achingly hard and pushing back against each and every one of Leon's thrusts. Cloud's fingers were knotted into the sheets, his back blooming with red marks of Leon's doing. There was something about the curve of Cloud's spine, the angle of his neck and the quivering of his thighs that made Leon want to keep that moment to himself for all eternity.

Like every moment, however, it passed. The gunblader found his release to be equally rough as their coupling, his fingers leaving bruises onto Cloud's hips - unintentionally, this time. The raw scream that echoed in the small room at Cloud's own climax rang in Leon's ears for minutes, and he tucked it away into his memory, not quite believing that the sound had actually come out of the blonde's mouth. The silent soldier had lost his facade and now Cloud was but a panting mess on his bed, broken, open and bleeding.


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