Categories > Games > Kingdom Hearts

The Lion In The Meadow

by spiderflower 6 Reviews

Yuffie, Leon, and the fine art of how to disturb the dead. One-shot.

Category: Kingdom Hearts - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Drama - Characters: Leon,Yuffie - Warnings: [!!!] - Published: 2005/05/07 - Updated: 2007/09/17 - 5766 words - Complete

A/N: Leon and Yuffie, Leon/Rinoa, a little dabbly Aerith/Cloud, and a littler dabbling of Vincent/Yuffie so if you fear those then danger, danger, Will Robinson, turn ye back.

Vaguely AU, since I could not be arsed trying to make fit together parts of Kingdom Hearts's quasi-incoherent canon backstory for Squall and his band of merrie men. I'm lazy. Sorry.



The Lion In The Meadow



I'm not gonna let you go this time,
not gonna be
Alone tonight. You can try to break me down
or start a fight,
I'm not gonna be alone tonight -

I'm more than glad to take one on the chin, baby,
As long as I've got your attention:
Save me


eve 6, "not gonna be alone tonight"



"You know," she finds herself saying, "he was a lot like /you/."

Here in the evernow, unconnected. Disconnected. Un. Dis. Hollow Bastion's gonna need a shitload of throw rugs before they can call it in any way home; maybe Aerith can knit some pink afghans and they can toss 'em over and a couple fistfuls of sparkles wouldn't go amiss. They can prop up Leon in a corner and light up some candles, get some good reflections off his thirty bajillion belts.

"I find that," he says, all flat and one-is-the-loneliest-number, "hard to believe."

They're serving out their jail term, here in the Bastion, and Yuffie Kisaragi doesn't know quite what for. It seems that all of them are paying penance for Ansem, for the loss of their sweet loved ones, for worlds exploding into veils of thin fine frangible bits and pieces of nothing and being the only ones left. She got off luckier than most. She had grouchy old Cid to be a rat-ass bastard and smoke around, she got sweet-sugar Aerith back from the cold green-frosty grip of the grave (where the dead can walk and the blind can see) and Cloud, as much as anyone could have Cloud, who was more than half-deranged and fought at the Coliseum before he would eat and drink and wore the (you took them off his /body/, Cloud? That is kind of gross, /I don't care how much red hides blood/) and and and, and now they're back Here, more Leon's home than her home and less his home than it is their prison.

We'll start taking it back, he had said, tomorrow. Then he had strode off to brood by the fountain in a swirl of chains and exquisitely conditioned hair, and that had been many yesterdays ago. There is something crumbling in him, broken and putrescent, like a bone that has been long ago pulverized; sometimes she finds him out on the balconies looking down at the lonely swirl of fog that perpetually covered all but the craggiest of the mountaintops and knew that he could never take it back if he had a mastered Knights Of The Round materia plus ten armies.

Sometimes he plays the old game, here, in the library, sitting on the edges of Ansem's exquisitely tasteful tables and looking in her for some horror greater than his own. He did it all the time back in Traverse Town, the ultimate sado-masochist, until Aerith would beat his chest with her tiny cupcake fists and beg him to stop. That usually did the trick.

Aerith isn't here now, to stop him turning the bloodied pages of her dead loved ones. Cloud's heart first broke when his flowergirl died; then it broke again when the Planet did, when everything did, when Tifa did, and there is not enough glue in anyone's fingers to bind up those broken pieces. He's shame and doubt, wrapped up in the leavings of someone who looked far better in crimson than he does. (It clashes with his eyes.) The shock of having her back is too much to bear; he spends a good deal of time with eyes dry as stones in Aerith's arms, his way of weeping, not knowing which way to look and not finding the words to say. They all spend too much time weeping with Aerith, herself soaking the Ancient's shoulder, Leon with his head buried in her lap and bawling like a baby when he thinks nobody else is there. /Leon/. Aerith has that effect on people, and he's had too much experience with angels.

He has, hasn't he? Nothing's going to drown that out, she yearns to tell him. No blood, no tears. Not even the water she stood in, that last day, Tifa gone and Barret gone and Reeve Shera Godomarleneredeveryoneeverythingeverywhere, the water where they laid the Ancient out in, running through to brightness and doing a half-twist (10.00, Yuffie Kisaragi, perfect score) just in time to see Cloud and Vincent back-to-back with Death Penalty no longer doing anything to hold back the encroaching dark. Brass claws. Mako eyes. Fluttering red bandannas; silly gold spikes and blood and howling and she still has nightmares, they all do.

"Yeah," she says again, completely unperturbed, "yeah. He was a lot like you. Not like Cloud even. I bet you two woulda been in love, in fact. You would've met and he would've been all '....' and you would've been all '....' and then the violins and you would have fallen passionately in love and I could've been main bridesmaid and you could've changed your last name to Leonhart-Valentine and it would've been /awesome/, imagine the sex."

Leon does not look the least bit titillated. "Whatever."

"'Whatever'! /Gawd/, honestly. Even the gun thing." She always feels stir-crazy in the library; hundreds and hundreds of books. (She hasn't had the patience to get through any. Lately she's been opening them up and reading the last line first.) Yuffie half-dances around the bookcase, miraculously free from what should have been choking dust, dancing back while he makes a fuss of polishing that be-damned gunblade. It's so shiny he can see his pores in it already. If she doesn't move her feet her eyes will see it all again. "The gun thing and the... I bet he would've hated gunswords."

Military pettiness. "Gunblades."

"Yeah, yeah." Like the back of her hand, but his chain is there for yanking. "He would've been all 'This is the worst thing in the world blah blah blah no precision no grace you should have been shot young man I am as old as a mountain,' he was totally anal about that sort of stuff. Then maybe you coulda had a beautiful armwrestle on the beautiful floor."

She speeds off down Sidetrack Lane. "Though you don't have Vinny's dress sense, Leon. Nobody does. Nobody could carry off big hella ugly brass shoes like he did." Nobody could carry off silences. Nobody could carry off a cape. Nobody could carry off being a big selfish death zombie who transformed into a bigger selfisher deathier zombie-king and he'd had porcelain skin like a big sissy girl's and, God, she misses him, with surprising sharpness. She wants him and Tifa and Barret and for Marlene to mix one of her martinis right now/. Tifa had smelled like cake and cuddles and nobody else will. At least Leon /had a world; for all she knew the Planet was dark and swarmy on top for ever. Hollow Bastion barely had days and seemed to be one long eternal sunset followed by longer night, but it was /there/. "Sometimes I think about you and I think about /him/. He used to clean his guns 'xactly the same. I'd yell for Spike to come tell you how but he'd probably get all crazy on me. You know, I'm sorta used to it. He was always kind of crazy. He'd grab his head and wave it side to side and we called it the Cloud Strife mambo, it was /great/, but he was getting better, and - "

They were all getting better. Another ten years and Tifa was going to graduate from miniskirts to trousers, Vincent perhaps past the point where all she could coax from him that half-shy flicker across his stony mouth. Grab a book, heft your big feet one to the other. It'll stop that ache. They never got Marlene out, and Barret would have killed her dead. " - and do I remind you of anyone, Leon? Was there anyone cute like me?"

The expression on his face always looks like he's psychically massaging his temples. "I don't know."

"Squaaaa~aaaaalll - "

"Don't call me that." Faint hint of bitterness, and then him softening, just like her cooking. "You... You remind me of Zell."

"The guy with ants in his pants?" Of course she knows who Zell is. She loves the stories. She's drunk them in over and over like soda pop, fizzing up in her blood as she watched his hands shape the words. He's familiar enough in her head that she can almost hear the But, Ma! without ever having laid eyes on Dincht himself.

"He used to..." Unable to go on. (They both know what he used to. He and Yuffie overlay each other, punch-punch-parry, both giving Squall the same maniac grin. The same bodies, pipe cleaners covered over with skin, short and bright and explosive and dense.) "Yeah."

The words always look like he's swallowing razors. Her capering stops and she feels worse than naked, both of them watching each other, daring to strip their wounds and let the other massage salt in. Leon knows her. Too well. She stopped kidding herself about that long ago. "You remind me of my... Dad."

"I remind you of your /dad?/"

"My father. He was..."

"Strong? Fierce? A ninja? Cool? Popular? Sexy?"

A vague flicker, very Vincentlike, across his mouth. Not like Cloud, she'd decided long ago. When Cloud wanted to smile his mouth just ran away with him before he could stop it. It moseyed across his mouth without true invitation and squatted there for years. "My dad was a /moron/."

"You don't do the 'filial piety' biz, do you?"

The intensely blue glare was beamed her way. Sometimes she expected her head to explode from it, in shards of Blizzaga. "You'd know about filial piety if you'd met my /dad/."

Yuffie flops down with her back on the table, head pressed up against the railing, staring up at the ornate inlaid tiles of the library ceiling. Eventually, after a whole minute, Squall puts his precious gunblade down on the chairs and lies down beside her. The Castle wheels about them. They are tiny inhabitants on a huge, empty island, and this room smells like too many books, and her hair is flopping over on the table and getting too long and their arms are brushing.

(They'd all given up on trying to be dainty way before. He'd too often slept on a bare floor in a haze of masculine stubbornness, but when they'd been stuck in a room and stuck in one bed and Aerith's last exhausted Cure couldn't quite heal the Heartless' gashes on his chest (which had also been too often) Yuffie would complain about Traverse Town's bitter cold and herded the Ancient to the bed where the patient was lying. A rug over all three of them, Aerith cosy at her back, herself snuggled up into Squall's side; her cheeky good-morning that he should be flattered about being in bed with two sexy ladies was ruined by the flowergirl's unusually sharp remark that both of them snored.)

"I want you to tell me the truth," he says suddenly, rolling to one well-defined hip, those Blizzaga blues drilling holes in her and making her wish suddenly that she looked, dressed, and had filled out, and maybe was, Aerith. Yuffie never pretends that Leon doesn't affect her. He has long locks of dark chestnut and beautiful sooty eyelashes and crisp blue eyes and a face to tempt a nun, and the scar's kind of rakish, and he has an ass that even the flowergirl had demurely agreed to be mindblowing in leather pants. This close up he smells like hot metal and gunpowder and something tantalizingly like lemonade. Hollow Bastion makes her feel like wanting to cling and swallow anything living, with a heart, grab him and absorb him into her and cup him in her hands like materia. Flesh and blood and being alone, it was starting to kill her, dancing through Ansem's castle without being able to open the door -

(He always seems to be completely unaware of his looks, which is the worst part. His calloused, capable hands gave massages after a long day which she and Aerith would clamor for; once, stretched out on the bed in the Green Room and swiftly turning to putty underneath his deft fingers, she proclaimed he could do that all over again on her front and going down. His red-faced splutting was outmatched only by Aerith's fit of giggles.)

"Sure," she says, without a pause. "If I get a truth in return, and if I get it first. I am a shrewd business woman, /mis/-tah Leonhart."

It's a pretty name, Leonhart. Leonhart. Lion'sheart. He will be the lion. "Whatever. Yes. All right."

At least he's growing up. And he says she's a brat! "Promise?"

"Promise."

"Swear on your mother's grave."

He gives her a guarded, heavy-lidded look. "I swear on the grave of Raine Leonhart."

"It's kind of cute, huh, us being similar? Our moms dying and all, when we were born. My dad was a complete doof, too. I bet he could out-doof your dad any day of the week."

"/Yuffie/."

He says 'Yuffie' the exact same way, too, and that makes her feel like she really is sixteen, and feeling sixteen is an exquisitely painful thing when you're lying next to him and your forearms are touching and you're so lonely and you can't communicate that you want to eat the world and explode with its heart deep in you. Is this what it feels like to give yourself to the Darkness? Ansem had a tougher time than she gave him freaking credit for.

And he's still looking at her. Whoops. "Say her name."

Squall's long legs swing out over the table and launch him into standing position, and he's glaring and he looks like she slapped him in the face twice and then kneed him in the groin, all wounded and angry but she wants it. "/No./"

"You promised, Squally-boy."

"/No./ That's not goddamn fair and you know it."

"It's a /word/, Squall. A name." He puts uncharacteristic store in names. It's a tap for the guilt, a shunt, a placebo. As if the love of his life would feel touched that he changed his initials in place of being able to save her soul. She's not doing this altruistically; she's a Kisaragi, and she wants to see how naked he is with the three syllables on his lips. "Say it."

Agonized. "Yuffie - "

"Say it. It's worth it. I know what you're gonna ask, Leon, and this is tit for freaknormous tat."

There is a mutter that really could have been something like 'bitch', but she lets it pass. She can always put glue in his hair gel. "Just - just the name - "

"Full name."

His face is dull. The Blizzaga blues are like the plastic pebbles you get in fish tanks; but his mouth caresses it and it feels too much for her to be lying down and hearing it, like taking off your shirt in public. Not even he can get through it being brusque. His voice is liquid velvet and she can see the wings on his back without him needing to turn around; he's not even wearing the jacket, he doesn't need to, he got them carved into his shoulderblades one day with Aerith white-facedly staying home while only Yuffie watching in fascination as blood trickled down to his ribs. "Rinoa. Rinoa Heartilly."

"Pretty kind of name. Frilly." She's always liked it. Sounds like a ribbon when he says it, sounds like the name of someone all he wants to do is hold. Leon's been her joint property with Aerith for years now, and it almost makes her have a pang of something like jealousy; maybe; not quite jealousy. There has never been any point in dick-measuring with a dead lady. "Cute."

"She didn't like her first name." Unexpected. "Apparently the kids at nursery school used to call her Rhino because she was chubby."

Yuffie finds this hilarious and laughs herself sick for several minutes. When she looks up he's staring out the daisy-yellow cathedral windows, lost, not quite seeing anything. She slips over to him and wraps her thin arms tight around his waist and buries her face in the thin white cotton between his shoulderblades. He lets her, for a few moments; then he pulls away and leans against the bookcase.

"Who was your first kiss."

Not even phrased as a question. Bzzzt. He should get thrown off the show. For all the punches she expected him to throw - and she half-expected this - it still lands. It's almost laughable, him asking a perfectly slumber-party question, but he aimed to kill.

"You bastard," she says, pacing, "and fuck you very much, it was Cloud, ha ha, joke's on /you/." Back when he was cute and appealing and actually said whole sentences, but Yuffie learnt to appreciate men who could talk in ellipses. "But I know what you were asking so, my real one, /yes - /"

"Where." Her face is small and angry and furtive and pink and her darkblue eyes are shy; and he's unyielding.

"Back of Tifa's bar, Kalm, lights-out when the Heartless had started, all cold in midwinter, so freezing I swear my tits were falling off - "

"How?"

"He was actually asleep for once and he looked so cute/. He had real black hair, you know," she says irrelevantly. "Some people just have really dark brown, like Tifa, but he had really black. Anyway, it was all spilling over the pillow and when I came near his eyes were open and he only /said he was sleeping, we were all whispery because it was like three AM, even zombies need their sleep I guess, and oh Gods he was pretty and I'd always knew he was pretty but I'd had this kind of dumbass schoolgirl crush on him for ages and he knew it and I knew it but he was all polite about it and didn't say 'Gosh, Yuffie, you sure are a robotard," and I was so grateful but I didn't even know I felt that way but he did so I guess that's why he was kind of a frigidaire around me. He really was old, his head was like sixty then, but he was a really sexy thirty, not like Cid who's kinda gross, and Omni knew why I even liked him 'cause he was a duck butt but he always listened to me blather and - god, Squall, I hate you - and so he was lying there and I suddenly knew that if I didn't do it now I'd never ever get to do it again. I just /knew/. So I leant over and kissed him and, God - "

For a death zombie he'd known how, all lips and teeth and tongue and parting slowly and he hadn't even dropped his goddamn shotgun out of his white-knuckled hands and he tasted hilariously like the furtive whiskey Cid had forced on him the night before and, he was too gentle - every time she sees Squall's collarbones she remembers the weeping frustration and the taste of Vincent Valentine's lips, all chill from the winter night, the vague sweet surprise that flashed very momentarily across his face and then afterwards when he had just Looked at her with those deep dark redvelvet eyes and she had said

"'I wanted you to be my first.'"

She hasn't even realized she'd kept talking until he butted in. Yuffie gulps a wibbly breath; I wanted you to be my first and she swore forevermore that he had smiled just a little. Embarrassment, probably, though he covered it up with an extreme moment of "...". Aww, c'mon, Vinny, don't get all old-dude on me, you know you liked it. Is that your shotgun or were you just pleased to see me? Okay, okay, stop looking at me like that, I can see it's your shotgun. And then he'd kissed her back with the spine-burn of his tongue brushing hers and he hadn't forgotten how and he'd told her dismissively to go to bed, Yuffie and the next day Barret had died and... "How did you - "

"You talk in your sleep."

"Yeah, well." She stares far off into the distance, and all she sees is him. "I said afterwards 'I wanted to see if I was lesbian, and you're really girly so I s'posed you'd do.'"

Long silence. She tries to fill it up to the brim so that it spills over. "I pretty much figured I wasn't lesbian, anyway, cuddling up next to Aerith all night and not doing anything is a pretty big litmus test, huh."

"Do you miss him?"

Stung. "Holy hell, Tall, Dark and Angsty, do you miss /her?/"

There's another long quiet, but it's filled up with the sound of him thinking, and she sits back down on the table again. Eventually, so does he, all creaking leather and soft defeat. Yuffie rests her cheek against his shoulder, and he either does not notice or does not mind.

"Sometimes," she announces, "I feel like this huge, stinkin' failure/, Leon. You and me and Aerith and Cid and what do we do? Cid starts getting pudgy and sells accessories, Aerith crochets things, and we get our asses totally /whupped by a twelve-year-old."

"Sora wasn't just any twelve-year-old, Yuffie."

"And his big girl's blouse of a friend, we coulda taken him - "

"He was possessed by Ansem, Yuffie. Y'know, he wasn't that much younger than you were when you fought Sephiroth."

It all smacks of something he's told himself over and over, and she hates that. I'd gone through puberty!"

"You didn't have any materia."

"Things are different here! I don't need it!" Wanting it was another matter entirely.

"I didn't have any GFs."

"And you still can't remember your own birthday."

"Yuffie - " And his voice is tight and she's not just rubbing salt in, she's moved on to lemon juice in their mutual wound - "He was the one chosen by the Keyblade. It wasn't our /time/."

"When is our time, Squall? Is our time over? You only get to save the world once, huh? Gawd, heroes get younger every damn year, we get pushed over for a bunch of kids in nappies. What happens now? What do we do /with the rest of our lives?/"

"I don't /know!/" he roars, enough to put Simba to shame, and he grips her shoulders and he shakes her until the teeth rattle in her head and he kisses her, mouth on mouth and lips on lips, rough and unsweet and not at all like Vincent and hurting and painful and killing her with it. He is defeated, Squall Leonhart is nameless and bleeding, Zell and Quistis and Selphie and Irvine and Matron and even Seifer will not come back. His Rinoa and her Tifa are ostensibly having a coffee break in the afterlife, and all he has is a pair of tattooed wings and she doesn't even have the bronze tips of his claws, and here they are almost at the end of the world but not quite. They're never going to take it back and so he kisses her, Yuffie Kisaragi, rips her apart and steals her mouth and places on her tongue all the failures and breakdowns and inadequacies starting from Laguna Loire down. The smooth polished surface of the library table feels like it might be coming to pieces underneath her; it should be, because both of them are heavy as hell and pressing down precariously against the rail as she takes the dizzying plunge and kisses him like she's wanted to for a good long while. He's not Vincent and she sure as hell isn't Rinoa, but if after the long years they want to make-believe, that's fine by her.

Gravity overcomes them and her scarf slips down and escapes to the ground floor like a yellow snake, her skinny practical ninja-body with tight boy's hips scurrying on top of him and the last place she wants this to be is a table unless the table maybe has a couple of convenient rugs and a bottle of chocolate sauce. He is in the process of nipping her bottom lip swollen in a rather dizzying way when his eyes open; he seems to come back into himself, with difficulty, and props himself back up against the rail.

"What am I /doing?/" he mutters. (With the greatest of restraint, Yuffie does not hopefully wave her hand.) "Shit - Yuffie, I'm sorry - "

"I'm not."

"I kissed you."

"So you did. Ten points for realizing. I'm not a kid, Leon."

"No," he says, a touch ruefully, a little panicky, because the brief wool of her top is riding up obscenely and although it would have been a close fight between she and Zell in the chest area she is not a kid. Her gloveless hands are warm on his stomach, exploring underneath his t-shirt, and the unexpected and uninvited slow ache within him makes him wince. "I can see that. Yuffie..."

Yuffie's pixyish face disappears as she struggles with the piece of fabric that pretends to cover her upper body, and it lands on the floor and announces to the world that she doesn't wear a bra. They are both in serious trouble now. Ain't no getting off this train we're on, she thinks out loud, and he looks at her like she's made of poison frogs.

"I know what you're going to say," she pipes up brightly, because it hides the almost-convulsive shiver going through her, the sheer discomfort of the belt-buckles pressing into her thighs and the chill of the library and the fear that runs through her veins instead of blood. "So shut your pie hole, Squall, /it doesn't matter./"

"..."

Maybe she should stop consorting with men desperately in love with dead chicks, she decides.

"..."

Gawd, that's his response to everything, isn't it? "Squall," she says, slowly, and she finds herself perilously near tears. That's the last thing she needs, to cry. "Leon. Listen to me and listen good for once. I'm lonely and you're lonelier and if we go on like this we're going to /die/, we're gonna /explode/, they'll find me dangling from the lift stops because I can't take this any more unless you /kiss me./"

Surprising both of them, he does. He crushes her to his chest like a rag doll and tastes her mouth, traces the thin metal of the wound at her lip, feels her slim legs halo around his waist in a ninja death grip just in case he lets go. They are dancing shy of ten years between them; he feels like a dirty old man and he can't stop now. She kisses him like she wants to devour his entrails, his being, his heart. He cups one small breast in his hand, dwarfs it, nipple sweet velvet; he's doing it with Yuffie on a table and oh, hell -

Yuffie looks at him all heavy-eyed as he pulls off his t-shirt and wads it underneath her neck (/Dear Omni; thanks for Squall's chest. Love, Yuff/) in some semblance of a pillow. She is nowhere near Rinoa and she's not even anywhere near Aerith and she has big hands and big feet but she's /beautiful/, somehow. She's tiny and wiry and fierce and fragile and she always has been.

"Say you don't want this," he mutters brokenly, ragged, "and I'll stop."

Her belt follows her scarf, sailing over the rail, and the unlit lamp once occupying a place on the table has long since harmlessly rolled to the floor. Yuffie pooches out her cheeks and does a very unfair mimic of his growly deep-bass voice; "/Whatever./"

"/Yuffie!/" - but they're bare-feet bare-chested and suddenly bare-assed and there is something to really, really be said for the nimble fingers of a thief (how the hell did she get all four belts off in ten seconds?) and this is his young baby-woman he protected and wrecking and (Aerith is going to kill him) it hurts -



It burns.

"You can..." He'd forgotten the dance of flesh against flesh, the intimacy of another person, all sweetness and sweat and a slow rhythm he found built into his bones that's old as the Centra continent and sorceresses and love. Her fingernails have dug up channels in his back, the tiny half-crescents tilling his flesh like the earth. "... say her name... if you want." And that hurts most of all.

"You can..." She doesn't know why she brought it up in the first place, barely able to speak, heels grinding into the small of his back and his own voice a hot thrum in the soft parts of her neck. She could die like this, contentedly here and now, him so deep inside her that she thinks she might be punctured, exploding like a white-hot firework with only his hands to anchor her. Still waters run deep. Still grumpy brooding waters run deeper and she was starting to gasp without any noise, even, all her muscles strung like a violin with his touch hotter than a Fire spell. Fira, even. Fuck that, Firaga. "... say his."

In the end they do neither (/I never got the chance to call out Vinny's name, Squall, you bastard; I was waiting until I was maybe old enough to buy my own alcohol or something/) and her voice is a thin, reedy wail, aware of everything, aware of the clouds streaming slowly past the cathedral windows of Hollow Bastion and the staccato plea of his hips and of Aerith peeling apples in the kitchens and the gunsmoke-sex smell of both of them, and she hadn't been shy before but she's shy now and she cries out Leon, Leon, all fluting like a little bird. She is numb after that and it feels like countless hours, ages, centuries, like Sephiroth's Supernova, like a whole turn of stars wheeling before he gives a lion's roar without language or name and she buries her face in his damp skin and /laughs/.



He gets in the big clawed bath with her after all is said and done - that's new - and they contemplate each other from opposite ends. Though she feels like a satiated, half-unreal, hollowed-out roman candle, and though the anger in his shoulders is markedly less, his guilt is obviously as big as a mountain.

(He even insists on sort of sneaking into the bath, in case Aerith or Cloud or Cid saw, which Yuffie sees as being patently silly as they could have all come into the library and read the thick entirety of Ansem's Report if they liked without Squall and she noticing - or without Cloud noticing, very possibly; and besides that, Aerith just knew things, without hint or help or guide. One day, she is going to make a truly horrifying mother.)

Her foot breaks water. He takes the soap in his hands and lathers her up carefully, ankle to big toe, and having him like this at her beck and call is very very nice. Sadly, this is his apology to her, and she knows it'll wear off.

"I shouldn't have done that," he mutters, Tomb Of The Unknown Brood King once more, though he didn't say anything when she came and snuggled up near his shoulder in the swiftly cooling bathwater a few moments earlier. "I won't ever again."

"I didn't realize you'd taken a vow of chastity, Sister Leon."

"Yuffie." Exasperated. He lathers her other foot. (Neither of them have thought about the hopscotch-sized leap of logic the others will have to take when they see both of them damp, out of the bath at the same time.)

"Is it because you make totally hilarious noises when you come? It sounded like I bit you on the butt."

"/Yuffie./"

She sloshes around in the bathwater, eyes unmistakeably dreamy. "It's kind of cute, though."

He leaves it at that, since going slowly red is dignified for nobody. Squall scrubs hard at the soles of her feet and she giggles, momentarily a cloud of bubbles as her dark head slips underneath the surface and she feigns drowning. "How do you feel?"

She blows bubbles for a while and considers this and finally spits the murky water like a little fountain, making a small o with her mouth. "Hungry. Kind of sore in places I am not usually sore. I am totally going to be walking funny tonight, you big ol' sex machine, you. Never knew you had it in you, you total stud."

Like I'm finally real again, not just a Heartless in human-skin.

"/Yuffie!/" - and he finally laughs; she glows all over like a fistful of electric lights as he laughs, helplessly, deep from his belly with his mouth split wide as he splashes back with his wet hair plastered over his cheeks and, for just one moment, she has chased all his darknesses away. Just one moment - because then it's back - but it was enough, it is enough, it will be enough.

He uses too much soap and too much shampoo, just like she suspected. They slosh out of the bath and try to use the same towel to dry their hair at the same time which involves a lot of going on tip-toe for her part, and their clothes stick to their damp bodies and very gently and very briefly he unbends enough to kiss her small and screwed-up forehead.

(She'll never tell him that he was her first time. The brooding would go on for years.)

Hollow Bastion doesn't look so bad now as she dances around him with a steady stream of chatter to go and find the others; the sunset is dimming into a sapphire-blue night with stars clustered thick and white as drifts of powder snow. She is younger than she thinks and older than she would like, and so is he, and they have come to terms.
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