((This story contains YAOI- thatís M/M sexual pairings.† If this isnít your cup of tea, please do not read story.† Disclaimers at bottom))
Things Aren't What They Appear to Be
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† By Deathswings
"Things aren't what they appear to be,
or seem to be, when you first see them,
Things aren't what they appear to be,
There might be something hiding."
-Velveteen Rabbit, Dee Dee Clark Productions
(Silly little quote, but perfect for this story.)
"I'm afraid it's not to be
You're a sweet guy, but you're ain't for me.
I live my life in a different way.
You know those things you're thinking,
Are a big mistake."
Cloud tapped his foot impatiently. Where the hell were they? Zack and he had come down here for a briefing on their next mission, only to discover that there was no one here to brief them. Beside him, Zack shifted in his chair. More so than Cloud, Zack had not gotten where he was by being patient. Not at all. After fidgeting for several minutes, Zack propelled himself out of his chair,
"What's taking them so long? It's not like Sephiroth to be late for anything, much less the briefing of a mission which *he's* going to lead!"
Cloud nodded, antsy himself. To pass the time, he read the bio on their new team member for this assignment.
The man was a SOLDIER-First Class with a shining trail of commendations. He was formerly a Turk, but when he proved himself to be an excellent sniper and more trustworthy than most of the Turks, they recruited him into SOLDIER, where he advanced rapidly. Too rapidly, some people said. They said he was kissing ShinRa rear, or that he had had "help" from above. A halfhearted investigation was made, but nothing was ever found, and the youth continued to rise. He became the youngest person to ever make SOLDIER- First Class. He was 18 years old when the highest rank was bestowed upon him. That was two years ago, and the only thing keeping him from rising to an even higher position was his own insistence that he stay out in the field. According to the report, he had suffered from several anxiety attacks whenever he was in Midgar for too long. In response, they had never given him a desk job, and they gave him quarters in Junon. Cloud read the name again. Valentine. Luc Valentine. Cloud had known Vincent briefly before he had disappeared. The infamous Turk had been almost godlike to Cloud, who was far younger then. He supposed that if he had been any older he would have been in love with the man, but seeing as how Vincent didn't look at guys like that, it was probably a good thing that Cloud *had* known him when he was younger, instead of later on. But this young man, only slightly older than Cloud himself, was a different story. He was Vincent's son. Would he have the same good looks and brooding charm that Vincent had had? Or would he be someone completely different? And what would he think of Cloud? Zack? Sephiroth? Sephiroth said that he thought he had known Luc when he was a Turk, but he wasn't sure. At any rate, Cloud would possibly be able to make a new friend and his friends were few and far between. Though when two of them were Zack and Sephiroth, and one of them was the drop dead gorgeous Tifa, who needed any more?
Cloud checked his watch again. It was almost 3:00, and Sephiroth had said to be there at 2:30. Where on Earth *was* he? Just as Cloud thought that, Sephiroth walked through the door,
"I apologize for my lateness. I hope you weren't waiting long."
"Only about 30 minutes!" Zack shot back, "This isn't like you at all, Sephiroth."
Sephiroth laughed lightly, and leaned over to place a quick kiss on Zack's cheek. Zack blinked, caught off guard,
"Sephiroth? What's going on? What's gotten into you?"
"Nothing," he laughed at some unknown, private joke, "Absolutely nothing has 'gotten into me'. I though you might want to meet your new partner though. But since you don't seem interested..."
Both Zack and Cloud protested loudly, and Sephiroth grinned,
"I thought so. Luc! You can come in now?"
And Luc Valentine came through the door.
Cloud's eyes almost fell out of his sockets and he heard Zack's intake of breath beside him. Luc was ... beyond describing. The words supernaturally beautiful came to mind, but they somehow fell short of the youth that stood before them. Luc had Vincent's long black hair, glowing green eyes, and the same brooding darkness that followed him around like a blanket. However, Luc's face was smaller, more feminine, with a delicate nose, and perfectly sculpted lips. He had a lazy, cool, almost heavy-lidded expression, and he moved with more grace than even Sephiroth. Like a panther, Cloud thought, exactly like a panther: sleek, lithe and lazy, until he found something that he wanted to kill ... and then you would never stand a chance of escaping, if it was you that he chose. He extended a hand to Zack like a serpent uncoiling, sinuous and slow,
"Hello," he drawled out, "I'm Luc Valentine," his voice matched the rest of him, a throaty, rich, low whisper that made the hair on the back of Cloud's neck stand up. He was completely enthralled with this man.
"My name is Zack. Pleased to meet you."
Luc smiled slowly, like a flytrap uncurling,
"The pleasure is all mine," he turned to Cloud, "And you are?"
"Cloud. Cloud Strife," he managed to choke out through racing thoughts and blood. Luc's smile now showed perfect teeth, and was even more predatory than before. Cloud resisted the urge to lean over and lock lips with him. Why on Earth did he have this reaction to this young man? Luc was beautiful, but Cloud had seen beautiful people before and had not had a reaction this strong. Perhaps it was because Luc had the same predatory "cat with a mouse" air about him that Sephiroth did, but was closer to Cloud's age. Luc stared into his eyes for a moment, then his wide grin turned into a small smirk. He KNEW! Cloud wasn't sure how he knew that he knew, but he did. Luc winked lazily for only Cloud to see, then walked over, insinuating himself into a chair.
"Good. I hate introductions. Where are we going?"
"Always in a hurry, Luc," Sephiroth said lightly, "We're going to Wutai. A survey team found massive amounts of Mako energy in the area. We've been assigned to see if it will be feasible to build a plant there, and aquire the land from the locals in any way necessary if it is."
Nobody looked thrilled.
"Wutai's out in the middle of nowhere!" Zack moaned.
"Look, it's a very important job. They aren't sending just anybody..."
Silence. Sephiroth sighed,
"And we're booked for a week at the Gold Saucer afterwards."
A trio of cheers came up from those assembled and Sephiroth sighed once more,
"Sometimes ... you are worse than children!"
But he didn't seem angry at all. ______________________________________________________________________
Later that evening, Cloud and Zack sat on Zack's sofa, hot chocolate in hand, curled in each other's arms. They'd been talking for some time about the world in general, and trying very hard not to mention Luc, or the journey they were about to embark on. But finally, Cloud could stand it no longer,
"So what do you think of Luc, anyway?"
"You mean 'Sex on Legs'? He's the most gorgeous man on the face of the planet. He's the only man I think I've ever met who has sexuality coming out of his pores." Zack laughed at Cloud's expression, "Hey, I never claimed to be a poet. And you *did* ask..."
"Yeah... I did."
Zack understood the tone in Cloud's voice, it was one he had heard often in his own. Jealousy. Zack laughed lightly,
"Hey, don't worry Cloud," he bent close to Cloud's ear, letting his lips brush the hairs on the side of his neck, "He's too predatory for me."
Cloud was fighting to keep breathing, but he managed to choke out,
"So's Sephiroth, and you used to sleep with him."
"Yeah, " Zack continued in that same melting tone, "But I don't anymore..." Zack kissed a path down Cloud's neck, "Come on... let's go to bed."
"Zack! We've got a long day tomorrow, we need our rest..."
"Awwww... Come on Cloud... have a heart."
"Sorry, but you know it's true."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah." Zack grinned fiendishly, "But this means you owe me one!"
"Is that a promise?"
"Sure is. And I'll hold you to it too!"
Cloud yawned and rolled over, wrapping his arm back around the still sleeping Zack. Cloud had been skeptical that Zack would actually let him sleep... and sleep himself, but he had done just that. He brushed a lock of unruly black hair out of Zack's eyes, which fluttered open,
"Mmmmm... Morning Cloud."
"Morning Zack," Cloud grabbed a quick kiss, and then laid back down beside Zack, staring at the ceiling.
"Penny for your thoughts?" Zack inquired. Cloud blushed,
"Umm... you don't want to know."
"Yes, I do."
"Well, this sounds all wrong, but I was wondering if you thought Luc and Sephiroth were... um... er..."
"A couple? Yes, the thought had crossed my mind. They *do* know each other from before, right?"
"Yes... I'm glad to know my suspicions weren't totally unfounded."
Zack grinned and ruffled Cloud's hair,
"You're being too serious! Lighten up!" Zack grinned," Have I ever told you how cute you are in the morning?"
They both laughed.
They boarded the boat from Junon to Costa Del Sol. Though they had technically been a team for three days now, Cloud still knew very little about Luc,
"So... where are you from Luc?"
"From?" Luc raised one thin eyebrow.
"Yeah, like your hometown."
"Oh, that. Well... I don't know. I don't remember where I was born, and I traveled around so much when I was little. Midgar, I suppose. Or here in Junon. I've spent most of my life in one or the other. What about you?"
"I'm from Nibelhelm."
Luc's eyes widened slightly.
"What?" Cloud asked.
"Nothing... I just... I get this weird feeling about Nibelhelm. Don't take this the wrong way or anything, but I think something really awful is going to happen there."
Cloud looked at Luc, puzzled. Usually Luc was rather impersonal to everyone. Not cold, or emotionless, just more concerned with other matters than the lives of those around him. To hear such a statement from him was a bit jarring. Cloud opened his mouth to say something, but before he could, Sephiroth and Zack returned from their inspection of the ship.
"Luc... Can I speak with you a moment?"
Luc walked over to Sephiroth, and Zack came to stand behind Cloud. Zack and Cloud watched as Sephiroth held a whispered conversation, Sephiroth's arm around Luc's shoulder. It *looked* friendly, but Cloud could see something in Luc's eyes. Zack leaned over and whispered,
"Definitely sleeping together."
Cloud bit his lip to stifle a giggle, and Luc and Sephiroth wandered off together.
"Maybe they're off to find a nice quiet spot... Maybe we should do the same?"
"Zaaaack! We're on duty!"
"Yeah, I know... I know." He looked sullen for a moment, until a thought came upon him, "Hey.... "he said slyly, "Now you owe me two!"
Cloud laughed, and managed to forget about his motion sickness for the rest of the voyage.
All had been peaceful. They were in Costa del Sol after a week on the ocean, and all was finally better. Cloud hated boats more than anything, but at least he had Zack to comfort him through it all. Now he was lying on his back in a nice fluffy bed, on dry, unmoving land. Life didn't get any better than this. Nothing could disturb such a peaceful day.
Zack stormed into the room, eyes blazing. He flung a piece of paper at Cloud's head.
"Look at this! Just look at this!!!"
"Zack? Zack are you all right?"
"No, goddammit, I'm not "all right"! Sephiroth's a rat bastard!"
"Just read it, Cloud!"
Cloud looked down at the sheet of paper in his hands. It was light pink, so light it was almost white and of excellent quality. The script of the writing was beautiful, and the whole thing had the faint odor of a woman's perfume. Cloud began to read:
My Darling Sephiroth,
It has been five lonely years since we last saw each other. I know you have been busy, and I have been too, but there has been no reason for us not to see each other. And there is certainly no reason for you to not write me back. I miss you so much, more every day. I've heard of some of your "adventures" through conversations at bars, but you know I don't mind what else you do, as long as you come home to me. Our relationship demands it. I haven't seen anyone else... but you can understand why, can't you? Maybe I'm a fool, maybe I'm scared, but I'm not ready to stick my neck out for anyone but you. Never again.
I feel foolish when I write letters like this, but I love you and I miss you, and these letters give me something to do while I wait for you to return. I dream of the day when we can finally be together.
Seph, I love you, and I'll wait for you forever. But I need to hear from you. Please. I can't wear your ring forever, though I *will* wait that long, if I have to. Please come back for me soon.
With all my heart,
Cloud's brow furrowed,
"So he has a lady friend. So what? So do you, right?"
"Read the last bit again, Cloud."
Cloud did so, and the color drained from his face,
"You mean you think he's..."
"Engaged. Yes. To this woman. And he's sleeping with Luc. Now this girl might be okay with this, she says so in her letter, and I'm fine with it for my own sake, but I'll bet you that Luc wouldn't be if he were to find out. And this letter is dated not long ago, about 4 days before our mission. Sephiroth got this letter, read it, and *then* started the thing up with Luc, or returned to it. That's... terrible!"
"I agree. But what do we do?"
"We charge in and make him confess!!"
"Whoa!! Whoa whoa whoa! Slow down there Zack. Think about what you're saying! You're going to go challenge Sephiroth? This is the kind of secret men kill to keep quiet. Do you really think that he's going to just let you blindly accuse him and then go tell the world? No. No way. Now maybe you're friends with him, and maybe he wouldn't hurt you, but he could ruin your career, your reputation in SOLDIER, anything. Not to mention what this might do to the innocents: Luc and Tia. We should stay out of this. You should go put that back from wherever you got it, and we'll forget all about it."
"And we just let him screw both Luc and Tia?"
"Do we have any other choice... really?"
"Cloud..." Zack sighed, "This seriously sucks."
"I know, but getting ourselves killed or demoted doesn't help anyone."
They were almost to Wutai before Zack let the name slip. The four of them were sitting around talking about their previous girlfriends.
"Yeah," Zack said, "I knew this one girl. She was a real looker. Brown hair, big aqua eyes. She wrote real good love letters too. But she was no Tia."
Cloud struggled not to slap himself on the forehead, though he did kick Zack under the table. Much to Cloud and Zack's surprise, it was not Sephiroth who reacted to the name, but Luc! Luc's eyes widened slightly, and in a subtly shaky voice, he said,
"Where do you know a girl named Tia? It's an unusual name..."
Zack was his usual quick-minded self,
"At the Honeybee Inn. She was a damn good dancer... and that wasn't all she was good at," he nudged Luc knowingly. Luc laughed lightly,
"Must not be the same girl. The broad I knew couldn't dance to save her life."
All of them laughed. But Cloud caught a sudden gleam in Luc's eyes, and he knew that Luc hadn't believed Zack's lie... they weren't out of hot water yet.
Zack and Cloud returned that evening from a long walk on the beach. They quietly let themselves back into the suite they shared with Luc and Sephiroth, and found the pair curled up on the sofa bed, asleep in each other's arms. Though they were trying to be as quiet as possible, Cloud couldn't help but whisper,
"Awwwww... Look at them. They're so cute!"
Zack laughed softly, and came up behind Cloud, wrapping his arms around Cloud's waist,
"Remind you of anyone you know?"
"I don't know... you never look quite that peaceful."
"I don't think I've ever been quite that satisfied!" Zack's voice was gentle, teasing, but he still got an elbow in the ribs. Then, Cloud turned around in his arms, looking up at the slightly taller man,
"Hmmm... seems to me that I owe you a few. Want to see if I can get that look on your face this time?"
Zack blinked, obviously caught off-guard. Cloud was not known for suggestive comments. And Zack was not known for wasting opportunities. He leaned down and kissed Cloud,
"Already looking forward to it!"
They'd barely made it into bed when they heard sudden talking from behind the wall. The walls were thin, but they could still only catch snippets of the conversation.
"Whew! That was---"
"Almost didn't get the covers---"
Muffled laughter floated out.
"----think we were asleep?"
Cloud blushed. They'd heard Zack and him! And then, he heard something that made his blood turn to ice,
"----Tia------- I mean, -------"
"You don't think they-----"
They heard Sephiroth laugh quite clearly,
"Well, if you decide---------- in the future maybe we'll-----"
"-------------------- Goodnight Sephiroth."
And then there was silence. Cloud was puzzled. They'd been talking about him? Why? He frowned slightly, his playful mood broken. Zack didn't say anything, or try to convince him otherwise. He merely wrapped his arms around Cloud, and whispered,
"Okay, no problem. But now you owe me three."
"Thanks Zack." Cloud smiled and began to fall asleep, "and one day... I promise I'll let you collect.
Wutai was a great disappointment. There *was* an overabundance of Mako there, but it was volcanic in nature and highly volitile- impossible to use or to control. Dispirited, they headed back to Midgar... But they had a half a week of vacation at the Gold Saucer first!
They checked in and headed to the amusement park first. After just standing there and staring at the attractions for a while- no one but Sephiroth had ever been before for more than just a passing glance, Luc and Cloud decided that they wanted to ride the roller coaster and some of the other rides, and the older two didn't. So they agreed to split up and meet back in the middle to go to dinner.
Cloud and Luc had been sitting in the middle for more than an hour now, and there was not sign of the other two. Finally, Cloud stood up,
"Screw them. We've been waiting far too long."
Luc grinned like a cat with a mouse,
"I bet I know why."
Cloud grinned back. In a lot of ways, Luc was older than his 18 years, but it still unsettled Cloud when Luc made a crude remark or joke, he was usually very soft-spoken. Strangely, the thought of Zack and Sephiroth off somewhere together didn't bother Cloud. Maybe it was because he believed Zack when he said that anything physical between him and Sephiroth was over. Or, more likely, it was because Cloud was alone for the second time ever with "Sex on Legs"
"Sooooo.... Since they've obviously forgotten us, you wanna get a bite to eat?"
"Sure. Why not."
Cloud pushed open the door for Luc. Every head in the room suddenly turned and landed on Luc. Cloud almost laughed. It was rather nice to be with someone who commanded such attention. Cloud selected a table in the back, mostly hidden by large ferns. They both slid into the booth, looking across the table at each other for a moment, enveloped in uncomfortable silence. Finally Cloud cleared his throat and spoke,
"Odd thing about the Mako being like that..."
"Yes. Most volcanoes don't spurt Mako. Most odd. Makes me wonder what's going on. Something weird has been happening to the planet for several years now. You can see it on the charts. The world's getting ready for something. The Mako veins are shifting dramatically. It's... well this is going to sound crazy, but it seems like the planet's up to something. I wonder what it is."
Cloud had been paying attention, but he was also extremely aware of how close Luc was and how intimate the whole setting was. His eyes were drawn down Luc's thinly muscled arms to his hands which were even more delicate than Sephiroth's.
"Do you play the piano?" Cloud didn't realize how much of a non- sequituer his comment was until it left his mouth. He blushed. How much like a star-struck schoolboy he must seem! But Luc only laughed.
"Why do you ask, Cloud?"
"Well... because you have such beautiful hands." he managed. Oh Lord... he was only making this worse. Luc laughed again,
"Why Cloud, if I didn't know better, I'd say you were hitting on me!"
Cloud gaped like a codfish, unable to speak. Luc grinned predatorily, then looked at his hands, holding them up a bit,
"But to answer your question, yes, I play the piano. Or rather, I used to. Before I became a Turk. I haven't touched one since then, " Luc's voice had gone pensive, soft. Cloud was beginning to see a new side to this young man, a less predatory, more childlike side. But then, the window into that side slammed shut,
"But just because I play the piano does not mean I will sleep with you!" The predator was back and he had brought his small feline grin with him. Cloud blushed furiously, and the table lapsed into silence. Luc caught Cloud's eyes, and held them. Cloud felt like a bug under a microscope. Finally, Luc looked away, staring at his beautiful hands on the table,
"You know Cloud..." Luc said, with that more gentle tone Cloud had just heard, "I wish things could be different between us."
"What? What do you mean?" Cloud was confused, in more ways than one.
"I mean... you're a very handsome man. I... I wish that... But there'd only be problems later. There's things about me..."
Clouds heart soared into the sky. Luc thought *he* was handsome? Luc, who was the most beautiful man on the face of the planet, Luc who was Sephiroth's lover, Luc thought *he* was handsome? Cloud, the plain, small town boy, was handsome? He couldn't believe it. And then, the rest of the sentence registered,
"Things about you? What things?"
"You don't want to know. Not now. Not like this. Someday maybe, I'll tell you, but not tonight. I have secrets Cloud. Big secrets. I should go," He stood to go, "I seriously wish things could be different... Awww... what the hell!"
Before Cloud could even react to him, Luc had sat back down... but on the same side as Cloud! So quickly that Cloud couldn't have moved, even if he'd wanted to, Luc grabbed him by the shirt collar and pulled him against his lips in a long, slow, deep kiss. Luc pulled back ever so slightly, his lips only a few inches from Cloud's,
"Zack's a lucky man. Even surprised you're a good kisser," Luc's lips broke into his usual grin, and he ran his tongue across them slowly, "Mmmmmm... *definetly* going to be problems later."
And then he rose gracefully out of the seat and was gone, leaving Cloud in a small puddle.
"Ai yi yi!" He muttered to no one in particular. Luc had just kissed him! KISSED him. And said he would regret it later? How could there be problems with him getting that one kiss from Luc? What could Luc have done, what could he do, that could possibly make Cloud regret that one moment of contact? Slightly troubled, and waaaaay in outer space, Cloud rose a few minutes later without ordering, and headed to his hotel room.
Send all questions, comments, flames and praises to Lucretia@jenovaproject.com. ††All characters except for Luc Valentine owned by Squaresoft.† Story belongs to me.† Please contact me before archiving it anywhere so I can link to your site.
Go on to Chapter Two