Tseng lifted his hand, extending the single fresh rose to touch Elena's high cheekbones. "Happy anniversary."
Even in the dim lighting he could see Elena's blush, a rare sight despite her lily-white complexion. "You remembered," she said, taking the rose and breathing in the scent. "I thought you had forgotten."
"I? Never," Tseng replied. "What do you think I threw this soirÃ©e for?"
"Work?" Elena shrugged. "Like you told me? Looks like I'm too gullible for my own good."
"Gullibility is a virtue, I hear."
Elena shot him a look. "Don't. Not in the mood for more wordplay."
Smiling softly, he wrapped his arm around Elena's small shoulders. "Then we can stop talking..."
Leaning forward, he kissed Elena's cheek, and she turned her face, capturing his mouth in a full French kiss. Tseng tightened his embrace, and was returning it when a too-familiar whistle began, followed by loud clapping.
He suppressed a groan of annoyance, reluctantly releasing Elena and turning to the expected shock of dark hair to find a doppelganger next to his co-worker. Zack grinned, clearly proud of his interjecting antics but Tseng was, sadly, too used to it to become fully irritated or embarrassed.
"Impeccable timing your friends have," Elena mumbled in his ear. Tseng smiled briefly, winding his arm around her waist in assurance.
"Good to see you," he said to Zack, who was still grinning like the Cheshire Cat. "And this is..."
"Ah, my brother, Cloud," Zack pushed the blonder, younger version of himself forward. "This is Tseng, and this lovely lady here is Elena. She works with Lanning & Lanning. Quite an accomplished lawyer."
"Hi," Cloud said, waving nervously. "Nice to meet you."
Tseng merely nodded in reply, but Elena walked forward, offering her hand for a handshake. "Are you a student here, Cloud?"
"Yeah," Cloud answered.
"Oh, what do you study?"
"Really?" Tseng spoke, shooting a meaningful look toward Zack. "There's a potential for us to work together in the future, then."
Cloud shrugged. "I guess."
There was a moment of silence. /Looks like a good kid/, Tseng decided after he gave the boy another once-over. /Perhaps we could really use him/. The half-offer he had thrown out was not entirely courtesy talk. Smiling tightly, he turned to Elena,
"Isn't your college friend supposed to come, also?"
"Yes, he should be here any minute - Oh, I see him." Elena waved toward the front door of the club. "Pardon me, that's my colleague and an old friend. He came here recently for an internship at the firm."
The brothers turned to see a young man dressed in a suit similar to Elena's walking toward them. He stopped in front of her, and they exchanged greetings before Elena touched his arm, gesturing to the rest of the men.
"Vincent," she began, "this is Tseng, my boyfriend. Zack here works with him, and this is his brother, Cloud. I believe -"
She stopped talking when she saw a strange look cross Vincent's face. "Something the matter?" Elena asked, looking back and forth between Vincent and the person in front of him, who was none other than the young blonde boy.
"It's nothing," Vincent said evenly, his stare not lessening one bit. "It's just that we've met."
The sleek black suit had replaced the shirt and slacks from before: the shoes were shiny and fairly new; all of the belts and rings that once decorated his attire and skin were completely absent; that shock of tousled, long hair was now trimmed into a short crop with bangs on the front.
But despite all that, there was no doubt in Cloud's mind that this was the young man he had bummed a light off of a few weeks ago at the subway station: the hazel eyes carried the same intense look. Cloud had been in their company for the past half hour, and he still hadn't decided whether to look into them for eternity or avoid them at all costs. It made carrying on a normal conversation surprisingly difficult.
He didn't remember being this flustered back at the station. Then again, at that time he was too busy worrying about traffic to pay much attention. Now, with two flutes of champagne acting as the only barrier between him and the other man, Cloud felt like he was sitting in a net of pine needles.
"Huh? Oh, no, I, uh..." he trailed off, lifting the glass in his hand. "Promised my brother that I wouldn't drink tonight."
Vincent smiled lightly. "Why did you take it, then?"
"I'm... not quite sure myself," Cloud chuckled, staring at the pearl-colored liquid. "Sorry if I seem a bit off. It's been a hell of a day."
Vincent nodded, turning slightly. "How was your nephew's birthday? Did you make it on time?"
"Yes," Cloud brightened at the change of topic. "Barely, but still. We went to eat Korean barbeque."
There was a stretch of silence afterwards, causing Cloud to focus on the brunette sitting beside him. The overhead club lights shimmered down in slices of pale rose, framing Vincent's sharp profile. /Tseng sure spent some time cleaning up this gaudy haze/, Cloud thought. This private room in the Mansion resembled a high-class bar, as opposed the rest of the club. Cloud had come to The Mansion a few times before, and he wouldn't exactly call the experiences clean in spirit.
He was so absorbed in his own thoughts that he almost missed Vincent's quiet musing of "Your brother looked... about my age."
Cloud knew what would come next. Everyone who had met his family had asked the question in some form. "Yeah. He's 24." He quirked an eyebrow, the motion somewhat challenging. "A bit young to have an eight-year-old son, huh?"
Vincent picked up the signal. "I'm sorry; I don't mean any offense."
Sighing, Cloud shook his head. "It's okay. He fell in love with a college girl while he was in high school. She got pregnant and decided to keep the baby, so he was gonna marry her as soon as it was legal. Well, I mean, it wasn't really legal for them to be together anyway, but they really loved each other, you know?"
"Where's the mother now?'
"She died." Cloud stared at his hands. "A few years ago-car accident."
He felt Vincent's hand on his shoulder. "I'm sorry."
The hand was warm, Cloud thought. He felt himself being wrapped in Vincent's arm, the fabric of the suit scratching his exposed skin just below his short sleeves. He wanted to lean into the embrace, but instead he pulled away and sat up straighter.
"So what brings you here?" Cloud asked. "How did you know Elena?"
Vincent started at the abrupt question but quickly regained his calm. "We were college friends-majored in the same field and had the same career advisor, except she was two years ahead of me."
Cloud frowned slightly. "Aren't the two of you the same age?"
"Yes," Vincent replied. "She attended college when she was sixteen and finished law school by the time she was twenty-three." He smiled wryly. "Several positions above me in the firm right now."
"Do I sense a touch of resentment?" Cloud smirked.
Vincent smirked back but said nothing. Instead, he raised the glass of champagne and downed it in one swallow, before setting the flute down on a table nearby, then clasped his hands together and gave Cloud a long intense stare.
"What?" Cloud shifted, nervous.
"We have talked about pretty much everyone else except ourselves. Shouldn't we begin on that subject," he suggested, checking his wristwatch, "considering it's been an hour and ten minutes since we sat down?"
"What time is it now?"
Cloud relaxed and leaned back in the couch, putting his hands behind his head. "Aww, it's early yet. Plus, there's not that much to know about me. I'm a student."
"I'm sure there's a lot more to you than just a generic word."
"Sure, but who's interested?"
The blonde stretched, eyes glittering in mischief. "Exactly which part of me are you interested in?"
He meant it as a joke, something smart-aleck in nature just because he could swing it with a poker face. It worked best either as a conversation opener or a save from any dulling exchange, since most laughed it off and the mood would lighten to something less tedious. So, he certainly did not expect Vincent to suddenly lean forward, deftly cupping his jaw as warm lips completely encircled his mouth.
It was too quick for Cloud to react. Both of their eyes were wide open and they could feel each other's breaths - one was shallower than the other. Cloud's arms remained on the back of the couch, his fingers twitching lightly but not moving to push Vincent off. A rogue tongue swept behind Cloud's teeth, touching a sensitive part, and Cloud almost closed his eyes in pleasure. Almost.
Vincent released him a few seconds later, pulling away just far enough to breathe onto his lips, "This part."
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