Distant Thunder

by Tenshi

Out my window
The rain starts to fall
And the wind blows
Through an empty hall
In the mirror
Reflections of you

-"Be With You," The Bangles

The city was in shambles. No matter how many times Leon had watched it appear beyond the warp-light of the latest party he and Cid ferried from Traverse Town, it always felt like a good square punch to the diaphragm, forcing the air out of his lungs in more insult than injury.

It would have been better, Leon thought, if under the grime and ruin and broken walls, he couldn't still recognize the place.

Even now, with repairs underway, he tended to focus on his work with his head down, and not look too long or hard at the shattered towers or fountains overflowing their cracked basins.

"You know," Cloud said, interrupting Leon's rooftop reverie. "I guess it's too bad the realtor didn't tell us it was a fixer-upper."

Shame for the state of their home world didn't keep Leon from turning with curt defense on his lips. It died unspoken; it was not often that Cloud smiled, or held familiarity in his eyes. Leon looked down at the stack of shingles under his hands, and nails that were more forceful than skilled in their placement. None of them had been trained for rebuilding, only for combat. The carpentry of the town, therefore, was somewhat lacking in every way except sincerity. "Yeah," he said, mouth twisting wryly. "You'd think, for what we paid, it'd be in better shape."

"Call it a day," Cloud said, scaling the ladder one-handed, and leaning his elbows on the gutter near Leon's boots. "It's getting late. Everyone else has gone in."

Leon listened, and realized that for some while the only echoes of hammer blows had been his own. "They've got better sense." He looked up at the darkening sky, clouds rolling in off the horizon. The gritty surface of the roof bit into his knees, and his neck felt sunburnt. "I don't think we're cut out for this kind of work."

"I know we aren't. We're trained to take things apart, not put them back together." Cloud tilted his head, looking past the comfortably slumped-together rooftops to the long purple edge of the city walls. "Why? You feeling rusty, Leonheart?"

It was an invitation, plain and simple, the likes of which Leon hadn't heard in a long time. "Yeah," he said, his eyes narrowing in a smile, roof crunching under his weight as he slid past Cloud and the ladder and landed with a thump on the cobblestones below. "You?"

Cloud watched the horizon a little bit longer as Squall shook the wood chips out of his discarded jacket and put it back on, holding his gloves in his teeth. "It's coming a storm, you know."

"Hmph." Leon fastened the wrist strap on his glove, and ran the edge of his thumb over the scar between his eyes. "That never stopped me before."

Shored up to defend against the Heartless that still pulsed like a black tide against the town, the walls of Hollow Bastion were unbowed by years of neglect and conflict, each block alone as large as the house Leon had been roofing earlier. Cemented together with ancient white magic that had been beyond even Ansem's ken, they were the least damaged segment of the whole city. Rubble still covered the broad steps and chunks of stone littered the ground around the walls' shadow, making deep shadows for concealing enemies, and uncertain footing.

It was, in Leon's opinion, a supremely fine area for a sparring match.

Or an ambush.

Cloud exploded up out of the shadow of a crumpled parapet, distant lightning setting the edge of his sword ablaze with white fire. Leon, who had lost the toss to be the one in the ruins first, barely brought up his gunblade to his face in time to parry the blow. Metal shrieked and grated on metal, sending sparks on Leon's gloves, Cloud's hot blue eyes a handful of inches from Leon's frigid grey ones.

"You gotta pay more attention, Leon," Cloud said, rocketing backwards over the rocks to dodge Leon's counter blow. The tip of the gunblade came down on air and stone as Leon flew forward, oncoming thunder obscuring the sound of gravel under his boots, his quickened breathing.

"Don't underestimate me," Leon warned, and the clash of steel and the ricochet of gunblade shells echoed in the impassively watching walls of Hollow Bastion.

Cloud was laughing, they both were, dancing against the oncoming storm, alive in ways that only came with the weight of a weapon in their hands. It had been too long since either one of them had had an equal opponent, not a mindless legion of shadows, to cross blades with.

Leon's arms ached with a pleasant sort of burn, and the rush of air past him was not just oncoming thunderstorm but a dodged blow from the bound edge of Cloud's weapon. That they were well-matched was not even a question; they were two of a kind, sunlight and shadow and their feet never seemed to linger on the ground.

"You'll never catch me like that," Leon said as they passed, two deadly strikes just short of their marks. Cloud's answer was an unexpected midair reversal that Leon tumbled ungracefully to miss, and a few strands of dark hair fluttered to the ground.

"Oh?" Cloud said, smiling through the materia slots in his bustersword. "I guess I'll just have to settle for giving you a haircut."

"That's great, I need one." Leon caught himself on the nearly-vertical surface of an old stairwell to nowhere, walking up and flipping over to launch himself back at Cloud. "You do manicures, too?"

Cloud spun his blade and caught the curved belly of Leon's Revolver against his handguard. "Yeah," he said, not quite winded, "but first you owe me for the trim."

"Then let me give you a tip!" Leon whirled to the side, snaring the bustersword on his own weapon and ripping it out of Cloud's grip. Not to be caught off-guard, Cloud used his suddenly free hand to land a solid sucker punch to Leon's jaw, making him stagger backwards, both gunblade and bustersword flying uselessly out of reach. The last shell in the Revolver's chamber discharged as the weapons landed among the rocks, echoed by thunder that was no longer distant.

By the time the noise faded, the fight was over.


Leon had Cloud pinned to the ground, both of them struggling for air, but little else. The loss of weapons was a loss of civilized combat. Leon's mouth was bloody where Cloud's fist had landed; Cloud had the first hints of a delicate purple bruise flowering on one cheekbone.

"Give," Leon said. "I win this round."

Cloud brought up one hand as though to wipe the sweat from his eyes. "Let me," he said, and there was a furtive movement of his fingers between them, and Leon suddenly couldn't breathe, the chain of his necklace twisted hard around his throat. Cloud's knee took out what little air there was left in Leon's lungs, and the world spun dizzily around Leon until he was the one pinned. "...show you how it's done!"

Leon gasped as Cloud loosened his grip on Griever's thick chain, massaging air back into his chest. "That was a dirty trick," he said, when he could, grudging admiration in his tone.

"Sometimes that's what it takes to win," Cloud answered, the ends of his hair clinging to his face.

"You're as bad as a Heartless." Leon said, and regretted it almost instantly.

Cloud's smile froze on his face, all the light and laughter draining out of him like blood from a mortal wound. The sky above him was swollen with rain, but the first drop that landed on Leon's lips was bitter with salt, and it was not Cloud's sweat.

"You take that back," Cloud said, quietly, somehow more dangerous now than he had been during the entire fight. Something terrible ate away at the blue of his eyes, eclipsing them like premature darkness on a summer day. "Now."

Leon reached up one gloved hand to the bruise on Cloud's face, but the gesture was rebuffed, Cloud knocking his hand away, ungently.

"Take it back," he repeated. Rain began to fall, striking up tiny clouds of dust near Leon's head, dulling the taste of the teardrop in his mouth. "Or learn what it's really like to face me."

"I'm sorry," Leon said, to the unforgiving line of Cloud's lips, the bleak flat blue of his eyes. "It's not true." The hardest blow in the struggle had been accidental, and Leon wished it had never found its mark. "Cloud--"

"Don't," Cloud said. "That's enough." He lowered his head, and looked so defeated at that moment that Leon tasted a bitterness in the back of his throat that not all the water of Hollow Bastion could wash away.

Leon wanted to say something more, to bring back the Cloud that had been there a moment ago. This Cloud was the shadow Leon had found washed ashore in Traverse Town's alleys, the one who had been searching for something he could not name, blinking in unfamiliar confusion at the faces of friends, at Leon.

But words had never come easy to Leon, sharp and unwieldy weapons in his hands. So instead he reached up, tangling his fingers in the short, damp hair at the base of Cloud's neck, and pulled him down until their mouths met. Leon felt the tremor of surprise that went through Cloud's body a split second before the jaw against his relaxed, and Leon's mouth was full of the taste of faint blood and peppermint.

It was something Leon had never asked, not directly, and not something he would presume to. But there was no hesitation now in Cloud's hot mouth dragging on his own, greedy and hungry as though all the worlds of darkness were about to separate them.

Cloud's weight shifted obliquely and Leon found himself pinned in a way that was far more appealing, sparring instead with lips and tongue and teeth and the hard curve of Cloud's hipbone pressed just so right into the sudden burn under his crossed belts. Leon growled impatience into the kiss and Cloud's hands stroked over his ribcage, his hips, gloved fingers sliding under his shirt and working at Leon's belt buckles until they clattered free.

Thunder cracked down close enough for the smell of ozone to cut through the air, and the trickle of rain became a downpour, thudding down like bullets on Cloud's shoulders and Leon's exposed belly. Leon kissed the line of Cloud's jaw, the vulnerable tendon of his throat, tasting salt sweat and rain and need, and the sound of the storm drowned the noise he made as his burning cock slid into Cloud's hands.

There were no words now, not for this kind of duel, no banter to break the tension. Victory and surrender had already been decided, and wet leather slipped off Leon's legs and tangled on his boots as Cloud folded Leon's body underneath his own. A thousand tiny observations burned into Leon's mind: The rain clinging to Cloud's blond eyelashes, the large bit of gravel digging uncomfortably in his back, the cold wet weight of his own necklace lying across his bruised throat. None of it was more potent than one word from Cloud's lips, as his hips moved up and his eyes fluttered closed, and he buried his need in Leon's heat.

Cloud's presence was like the slow roll of thunder in Leon's body as they ground together, muscles straining. The fingertips of Leon's gloves split as he grasped at cobblestones for purchase, his whole body arching up to meet Cloud's attack, and counter it.

It was not a battle that would last long.

Cloud's motion was not that of cool combat training but of blind instinct, driving through opposition in a desperate bid for survival. There was no reason here, no negotiation, only Cloud and the rain and the motion inside of him. Anything else fell away. Leon wrapped torn gloves around his cock and moved in time with Cloud's storm.

Cloud kissed him again, and the rain had washed the taste of battle off of him. Every breath Leon drew was full of the smells of water and ancient stone, of Cloud, of Home. Leon was a lost man fighting a war he could not, and did not even want to win.

It was the first and only noise that Cloud made, broken and surprisingly helpless, his head snapping back, eyes open to the sky as he came, and the sound was Leon's name. No alias, no mask, clean and honest as Cloud's profile against the sky.


Leon closed his eyes, and conceded defeat all over his rain-slick gloves and shivering belly.

"You're not staying?" Leon asked, by the door of the tipsy brownstone he and his followers had claimed for living quarters. "It's late."

"I can't," Cloud said, into the high collar of his shirt. It was black with rain, his arms shining with moisture. The whole of Hollow Bastion ran with water, and the struggling light of streetlamps. "I'm-- I can't."

Leon stood in the doorway, running his ruined gloves through his fingers, watching the now-gentle rain fountaining from newly-repaired gutters and turning the shabby courtyard of the borough into a place of wonder. "Where will you go?"

Cloud shrugged. "I have places."

"No one will bother you, you know. They'll give you space."

"I know," Cloud said, to a stray roof single that spun and bobbed in the gutter like a ship in a storm. "But--"

"I have dry clothes you can borrow, at least, and a hot shower." Leon kept his tone as bored as possible, as though no one in his right mind could possibly want such things when soaked to the bone on a dark night. "Bed's kind of small, but we'd fit."

"I can't just--"

"Cloud," Leon said, flaking away old paint from the weathered doorpost, "Come inside." He turned to face him, and Cloud for a long moment looked away, over the rooftops, beyond Hollow Bastion, before his eyes found Leon's again.

"All right," Cloud said, more quietly than the rain, and Leon held the door open for him.



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