Trading Blows

by Tenshi

Coupling, Light and the others called it, in their archaic accents. Firion always phrased it delicately, as though it was some kind of dance; for Cecil it was the warm camaraderie after battle, something done in the midst of shedding armor and rinsing monster ichor off his skin. Squall always expected them to launch into some sort of heroic twenty-verse ballad in mid-fuck. Bartz and Zidane were a little more crude about it, their old-world version of slang closer to Squall's, but even that had its odd turns.

Squall supposed he had a few oddities of euphemism himself. After all, in Balamb Garden, it had been training. Something you did in the Training Center after hours, something that could excuse ripped jackets and grass stains on the school uniform, something reasonable to put forth to the faculty when they inquired just what, exactly, had been the cause of that godawful racket back in the patch of sylkis giant ferns.

"Leonheart, #41269. Again. I trust you have a good explanation for this?"

A bland expression, a deadpan tone leavened just so with boredom. "Training, instructor."

It worked every time.

After so long, of course, the code degenerated even further, invitation conveyed entirely by a lift of the eyebrow, a slight shift of the hips. At that point, the language employed became irrelevant. He could have asked any of his comrades for the same thing the same way, and it would have been clear enough what he was offering. All the same though, Squall stuck to the familiar. You never knew when one of the armor-boys would turn around and vow everlasting brotherhood to you on his sword or some kind of bullshit. There was no chance of that, not with the sullen figure sitting in the ruined doorway, his gaze a thousand miles away and his massive sword resting lightly against his thigh.

"...You wanna go a round?"

Cloud glanced up from the blank, shattered screen of his cell phone. One day, Squall supposed, he would ask him why he still kept the thing. It would never work again, and even if it did, the person he wanted to answer would never pick up the line. Cloud raked Squall over with his eyes: too-bright, too-pale, with pupils that never seemed to dilate. They made something inside of Squall shudder with an unspoken fear, somewhere where he would never admit it.

"...Yeah, all right," Cloud said, flipping the broken PHS closed.

They had not quite made it out of the circle of firelight when they were noticed. A burst of white chocobo plumes appeared around Squalls' belt buckle, bouncing with the impatient curiosity of their owner. "Hey," Onion said, peering up from under his helmet. "Where are you two going? Are you going to practice? Can I watch?"

"It's not practice," Squall grumbled, turning away. "And no, you can't."

The tiny knight's eyebrows drew together in annoyed hurt. "What? Why not? That's not fair!"

Squall snorted. "Never said it was."

Cloud broke in before Onion could put forth another objection, and ruffled the fountain of plumes on top of the boy's helmet. "I'll go one with you later, okay? You can show me that new finisher you were talking about."

"All right," Onion said, mollified but not quite vindicated. Nevertheless, he stopped walking after them, hanging back as they descended the floating steps to the ruined valley floor. Squall suppressed a mild burst of surprise. He never knew Strife was good with kids.

It took him a minute to remind himself that he didn't care.

Neither one of them wasted any time with conversation. It was a ritual they had gone through scores of times, when the day's work against Chaos was not enough to give them dreamless sleep. They were matched almost perfectly, which made them ideal to exhaust themselves against one another. Steel grated on steel, and the retort of Squall's gunblade bounced of the stone ruin of that vast, empty place.

Squall won against Cloud as often as he lost. In truth, the fight was a mere formality, a question of odds that could be settled just a simply with the flip of a coin. The only thing it decided was who would kneel first.

Cloud was unfocused, a slight distraction that would have made no difference against a weaker enemy. Squall was not surprised to see the tiny gap in his defenses; he let his guard down more often on nights when he lingered in the past. Gunblade scraped past Bustersword with a squeal of sparks, Cloud doubled over in the middle of his dodge, a half-second too slow, and it was over. They fell to earth like a pair of clashing meteors, but Squall was the one who landed on his feet.

"All right," Cloud said, rising up to his knees and spitting into the dust. The tiny fleck of his blood was vivid against the colorless ruin of the place. "It's yours this time. Let's get this over with."

Squall offered him a hand up, but Cloud shrugged it away. He picked himself up off the ground and shouldered his weapon, following Squall down into a cluster of broken columns, jutting up from the ground like broken teeth. Squall put his back to one of them, and Cloud moved against him, pressing him between his heartbeat and the cold pillar of stone.

"You should have just said something, Leonheart," Cloud muttered, his hands creeping under the hem of Squall's jacket. "We could have skipped the prelude."

"Thought I'd give you a fighting chance." Squall's breath hit hard against the back of his teeth, nothing to do with the fight and everything to do with the motion of Cloud's fingertips over his spine. Squall had learned a long time ago that Cloud didn't kiss, but his mouth moved quick and fast along the fur of Squall's collar, tracing out the line of visible skin. His fingers hooked into Squall's belts and brought their hips together, grinding together in a manner not unlike straining swords, and producing an entirely different kind of sparks.

Squall was past pretending he didn't want it, but he held on a little bit longer, just enough for Cloud to make that faint noise of exasperation.

"Always so goddamned proud," Cloud muttered, and went to his knees for a wholly different reason than surrender. Squall's belts clattered open and Cloud nudged the hard line of his cock under the leather, mouthing the shape of it until Squall swore under his breath, his hips bucking forward against his will. Only then did Cloud pull down the hot metal tab of his zipper, releasing Squall's aching cock into the cage of his gloved hands. He kissed it, cradling it against the hard leather palms of his gloves, but Squall knew he would do no more than that until he was ordered to.

It was why Squall sought him out, above any of the other reasons. Soldiers understood one another. Squall fisted his hands in the soft spikes of blond hair, trying not to remember other times, before he the end of everything. The hair had been a different shade of blond, the spike a careful crest, and the heady smell of the training center plants had not been enough to obliterate the scent of Quezecotl's ozone and oranges. No matter what else Squall forgot, he could not manage to forget the things that hurt the most.

"Do it, Soldier."

Cloud took him in one easy motion, and for a moment every other fucked-up, broken thing in the world no longer mattered. Nothing but need and release and a split-second of absolute trust, nothing but the ache in Squall's belly as it resolved into a problem easily solved. Cloud Strife was exceptional at doing what he was ordered to do. His mouth was hot, and hungry, and it dragged on Squall's cock in a relentless rhythm. Squall shuddered, arching into the inevitable, and while Cloud swallowed, Squall swallowed all the names he no longer said.

"You good?" Cloud asked, sitting back on his heels and scrubbing the back of his glove over his mouth. He needn't have asked, really. Squall had clawed the column behind him hard enough for the stone to shred the fingertips of his gloves.

"Yeah," Squall said, his hair a ragged screen over his eyes. "Now get up here."

Cloud arched an eyebrow. This was a new development. "...Why?"

"Just do it," Squall said, pushing away from the pillar. He wrapped his hand around one of Cloud's suspenders and pulled, strength enough in him to haul the other man to his feet. "It's your turn."

Cloud thought about arguing; usually the loser settled for a furtive hand-job in the dark. But Squall was suddenly the one on his knees, his tongue making a hot trail down from Cloud's navel, his thumb flicking the top button of Cloud's pants open.

"You don't have to do this," Cloud said, but as Squall went on, it became more and more obvious that he did.

"Just what kind of guy do you think I am?" Squall said, and it was as though he was speaking to himself, reciting a line long since said. "That I wouldn't return the favor?"

"Yes, actually," Cloud said, but got no further as Squall buried his face between Cloud's legs. Whoever taught Leonheart to suck cock, he had been someone who liked it fast, precise, and brutally efficient. If Squall fought in battle the same way, Cloud knew he would be on his knees a whole hell of a lot more often. He clenched his fists in the soft tufts of white fur, and rode out the storm into the only calm either one of them ever knew.

When it was over, they paused for a moment before going back to the others, looking up at the empty sky and both trying to remember different sets of stars.

"Here." Squall produced a vial from his jacket pocket, and rattled a white tablet into his hand. "Want one?"

Cloud eyed it, uneasy. Squall's pockets were stocked with a whole apothecary's worth of pills: summon-balance drugs and tiny capsules of para-magic that would be hardly street-legal in Midgar. "What is that?"

Squall blinked at him. "...breath mint." He flicked the lid of the vial and tilted it back into his mouth, crunching the mints in his teeth.

Cloud felt something stir underneath his breastbone, he thought at first it was some kind of bizarre itch until the laugh trickled out of him. It could hardly be called such, really, little more than a chuckle, but it warmed some of the cold Shiva-frost behind Squall's eyes.

"We should get back," Squall said, rising.

"Before Light comes out here looking for us." Cloud let Squall drag him to his feet this time, locking forearms to pull him up. "He's all right, you know, but I don't think I could stand another lecture about how we don't have time for coupling now. 'What with the lateness of the hour and the dire quest we find ourselves upon' or something. It's like being chewed out by your dad."

It startled a smile out of Squall, or at least a rapid blink and a quickly-stifled twitch of his lips. "Well, not my dad," he said, with a shrug. "But yeah."

"I never heard you talk about your family before."

"I've never heard you talk about yours."

They paused, staring at each other as the otherworldly wind rushed between them, carrying with it the memories of too many destroyed worlds.

"Maybe later, sometime," Cloud said, and for a moment he believed it was true, that he could find the words.

"Yeah, whatever," Squall said, but not as indifferently as he could have. It sounded as though he meant it, that sometime they would sit down and talk about such things, that sometime there would be a time to do it, at all. They made their way back to the distant light of the fire, their strides even, shoulders not quite as far apart as they had been on the way down.


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