((This story contains YAOI- thatís M/M pairings.† Donít read if you donít like.))
Things Arenít What They Appear to Be- Part Two
"And then he *kissed* me!"
"He kissed you? And you came back here? I feel special suddenly!" Zack laughed and Cloud socked him lightly in the arm.
"Oh come on!"
Zack leapt at him, tickling him in the ribs. Cloud laughed and fell backwards on the bed, trying to get away halfheartedly.
"Come on!" Zack laughed, "You aren't even trying!"
Cloud flipped over, throwing Zack unceremoniously to the floor, but Zack caught one of Cloud's ankles on the way down, dragging him off of the bed on top of him. They landed in a tangled heap on the floor, laughing loudly.
"Is that trying enough for you?"
Zack scowled good-naturedly at Cloud, then darted in to steal a kiss.
Sephiroth opened his eyes, letting them adjust to the nighttime gloom of the room. In a dramatically inclined moonbeam he could see his lover's face, eyes peacefully closed in sleep, even more gorgeous asleep than awake. His angel. His gorgeous angel. He ran a finger down a perfectly complexioned cheek, his lips melting against his love's. Green eyes drifted lazily open.
"Go back to sleep, my love."
"Mmmm... Do you?"
"Do I what?"
"Yes. You know I do. Nobody else means anything to me but you. You're my heart and my spirit. I couldn't live without you."
"You've certainly tried."
"I know. And it didn't work. And it's all in the past now. I promise." He pulled the youth close, "There's no one else. You know that."
"What about Cloud? What about Zack? I see the way you look at them... especially Zack."
"It's apples and oranges, you know that. Nothing compares to this. To you... to your touch..." Sephiroth trailed off as a delicate caress made him gasp.
"That touch?" Sephiroth could hear the feline grin.
"Yes, that touch. Say... you complained about Zack and Cloud to me, but what about *you* and Cloud. Seems you two had a fun evening."
"I don't know. I can't honestly say that if you weren't around I wouldn't get into bed with him. And I certainly can't lie and say I don't find him attractive. But somehow... I don't think I would take my news as well as you did."
"I doubt it as well. But as I said before, he *is* trustworthy. After all, he knows about Tia, and he's never told you. If you ever *were* to tell him... he'd never betray a friend."
"Friend... I've never really had a friend. Other than you of course."
"...I love you..." They shared a tender kiss,
"I love you too."
And they drifted off to sleep, arms around each other, both at peace with the world.
Cloud's eyes opened slowly, consciousness trying to avoid his grasp. When Zack finally decided to collect his debts, he did so with vigor. Cloud rolled over in bed, listening to the running water from the shower. It shut off a moment later, and then Zack appeared in the doorway,
"Are you still asleep? Get up sleepyhead!"
Cloud rolled over grumbling,
"Where'd you get so much energy?" he scowled. Zack leaned over and kissed him on the nose, saying nothing. Then he turned away, shoving on his pants with his usual lack of grace. Cloud mumbled, struggling to sit up through bone weariness. Suddenly a pair of pants smacked him in the nose!
"Mmmmmph!!" he exclaimed, struggling.
"Hurry up! It's not every day you get to party at the Gold Saucer and have ShinRa picked up the tab! Come on!"
"No, it isn't. I know that Zack but- mmmmmph!" his shirt hit him in the face.
"You talk too much. Shut up and get dressed!"
Cloud complied, grumbling to himself. Zack snuck up behind him, and thwaped him on the back of the head with a feather pillow. Cloud just pulled his boots on, scowling through a grin at Zack, who grabbed him and pulled him out the door.
The group met back up in Zack and Cloud's room after a day of gambling.
"I lost more money since lunch," Sephiroth said, scowling.
"You mean..." Luc gasped melodramatically, lowering his voice to a whisper,"There's actually something you aren't good at?". Sephiroth laughed and Luc grinned at him,
"Well... Seph, *I* won almost 3,000 GP."
Sephiroth laughed again and ruffled Luc's hair,
"You always did have a good poker face, Luc," He pulled him in for a kiss, not minding that Cloud and Zack were both watching. Zack growled,
"I lost money too. Too impulsive."
"Oh... Imagine that." Cloud intoned gravely. Sephiroth, Luc and Cloud all laughed as Zack blew Cloud a raspberry.
"I don't see *you* gloating, Cloud," Zack growled, "What did you make?"
"Then how much did you lose?"
"I didn't. I broke exactly even. To the penny."
"You're kidding? That's impossible!!"
"No, just improbable."
Zack scowled and turned to count what was left of his money. Cloud quietly picked up a pillow, and slammed him with it.
Within minutes, the room had erupted into a noisy pillow fight, feathers flying everywhere. Everyone was slamming the hell out of everyone else as hard as they could. Zack shoved Cloud forward face-first onto Sephiroth, who dodged at the last moment, kicking out at Zack's legs. Zack toppled over as well. Cloud glanced up to see a huge pillow barreling downwards at him, and he barely got his hands up in front of his face in time. When Luc struck again, Cloud rolled out of the way, and the blow hit Zack, who was trying to get Sephiroth to hold still long enough to hit him with a pillow. Cloud, momentarily forgotten, reached under the bed and found another pillow. He came up swinging. The blow connected to the back of Luc's knees, and caught him off balance. He fell forward onto Cloud- an unforeseen, but extremely nice consequence. Luc laughed richly, and squirmed off of Cloud, "accidentally" kneeing him in the chest. Then, Luc made a noise that was very close to a squeal as Sephiroth grabbed him from behind and flung him onto the bed, ticking him mercilessly. Cloud, meanwhile, had grabbed up his pillow again, and was stalking towards the bathroom, where Zack appeared to be hiding out. Cloud flung open the door... and was immediately soaked by a bucket of water that Zack had carefully placed on the doorjamb. Cloud glared at a grinning Zack who merely leaned over and kissed him on the nose,
"You look like a drowned rat," he said, on the verge of laughter. Cloud held completely still and glared at Zack. Zack advanced on him, "Maybe... you should get out of those wet things before you catch a cold." Cloud said nothing, "Maybe I should help you," Zack placed his hands on Cloud's shoulders, "Maybe?". Cloud just stood there. Zack grinned impishly and started to unbutton Cloud's shirt, pushing it off his shoulders and stealing a kiss, Cloud still as stern and impassive as a statue. The next kiss that met his mouth, however, was unexpectedly met with great enthusiasm. Cloud pushed Zack up against the wall and wouldn't let him go, despite his struggles. Finally, Cloud backed up, and flicked a soaking wet feather at Zack. Zack stared at Cloud, still in partial shock from the kiss.
"Ai yi yi! I should dump water on you more often!"
Cloud woke up slowly, shivering. The water was cold and he was freezing. Zack was gone, and Cloud instinctively looked around for him. Just as he did, Zack came padding in wearing only a pair of pants,
"Are you *still* in here?" Zack put his hands on his hips, "You'll catch cold."
"I think vacations are bad for my health," Cloud mumbled, climbing out of the bath and drying off.
"I can't remember the last time I was this sore and tired... even during training," Cloud pulled on his clothes, but Zack caught his hand when he reached for his shirt, running splayed fingers up his chest,
"Why bother? We're eating in this morning," he moved his hand behind Cloud's head, pulling him forward into a deep kiss and backing him rather awkwardly into the other room, where they fell onto the bed, still locked in the kiss.
"Awwww... no Zack. Have a heart, I'm already sore and tired. Do you want me to just stay in bed all day today? Nevermind... don't answer that," Cloud looked over at the other empty bed, "Hey, where did the god of sex and his disciple Sex on Legs get to?"
"Their own room, I'd assume," Zack said distractedly as he ran a tongue up Cloud's neck, pulling him closer.
"Zaaaaack!" Cloud pushed at him.
"Awww... Can't we just cuddle?"
"Well, yes, but-" Cloud firmly grabbed Zack's wrists, pulling them away from his body before they could wander any further, "-that was not cuddling."
Zack kissed him on the nose again, wrapping his arms around him.
"All right... All right..."
They just laid there in the afternoon light, contentedly sleepy in each other's arms. There was a sudden knock on the door.
"Come on in!" Zack called, recklessly.
"Zack!" Cloud cried, struggling to look like they were doing anything but what they actually were. But Zack held on to him tightly,
"I'm sure they've seen worse. Stay right there." The room service people set the food on an end table and left, without once looking at Zack and Cloud. "See?" Zack whispered, lips brushing Cloud's ear like butterfly wings, "That wasn't so bad, now was it?"
"No. Not bad at all."
Green eyes stared into identical ones. Both pairs blinked. Thin fingers brushed long black bangs out of those eyes. Luc allowed a smile to cross his features as he stared in the mirror. His hair was the only think he had gotten from his father, really, other than perhaps his delicate features. His hair. Immense melancholy filled him as he gazed into his own eyes. He wasn't used to being loved, wasn't used to being beautiful. Would he ever be? How could they possibly think the things they did about him? How could they find him attractive? He knew Sephiroth could, but Sephiroth knew the truth, which actually made his opinion count less. Then again... Sephiroth hadn't always known.
Luc picked up a brush and ran it through his hair, lost in thought. If only he had someone else to talk to. Someone who knew his secret, and didn't care. Someone other than Sephiroth. But even his own father had been shocked, what made him think anyone else wouldn't be. Sephiroth was an anomaly, a freak, and no one else would never accept him once they found out the truth. A best friend. Didn't everyone have a best friend growing up? He hadn't. Just once, he'd like to experience that. He was still young... Luc wondered absently what would have happened when he was in the Turks if he had ever returned Reno's affections. The young man had been all over Luc, and Luc had always pushed him away. He wondered what Reno would have done if Luc hadn't been so strong. He could almost see the look on Reno's face when he found out who... or perhaps what had been sleeping in his bed. That was worth a snicker at least, even on a morning like this. But then, his face went back to it's usual calmness. He had to look perfect today. He didn't know why... it was just this feeling.
Luc was so lost in his thoughts that he didn't see Sephiroth enter,
"You look fine Luc. You've been in here almost an hour!"
"I know Sephiroth, but I want to make sure I look perfect."
Sephiroth wrapped his arms around Luc's waist, pulling him against him,
"You always look perfect. Always."
Luc gazed at their reflections in the mirror. They looked very much the same. Both had long, dramatically flowing hair, bright green eyes, and sculptured, almost feminine faces. Both had delicate hands with long, tapering fingers, and both had this odd way of looking out of their Mako eyes that made people want to run towards them and away from them at the same time. And yet, they were so different. Sephiroth was taller, with broader shoulders and more visible muscles. Luc's hair was the color of midnight, so black it was almost purple, and Sephiroth's was so white it was almost silver. Night and day, Luc thought, Yin and Yang. Angels, he finally settled on. We look quite a bit like angels. Noticing the pensive look on Luc's face still hadn't moved, Sephiroth began planting kisses down his neck,
"You're perfect... perfect..."
Luc let his eyes drift shut. He wished he could just fall asleep right here and not have to worry about facing the day ahead. But they were on the move, and they'd be back in Midgar before nightfall.
"Seph... I have a bad feeling about today. I feel like something momentous is going to happen. Something life changing," Luc shivered, "I feel cold..."
"Anything I can do, love?"
"Just hold me awhile before we go. Please?"
"You really *are* worried, aren't you," he tightened his arms around him,"Believe me, I'll do anything in my power to protect you from whatever this is that is haunting you. You're all I have..."
"Seph... I love you."
"I know. I love you too."
They reentered Midgar later that day. They checked in and each headed their separate ways. But Luc tailed Sephiroth to his room.
"Why are you following me, Luc?"
"Damn! I thought I hadn't been seen. I live in Junon now, remember? I don't have quarters here."
Sephiroth grabbed the front of Luc's shirt and pulled him into the room,
"I guess you'll have to stay here then..."
Cloud sighed and rolled out of bed. He'd made Zack sleep in his own room tonight so that he could get some well deserved sleep, so of course, he was stricken with insomnia. He grabbed some clothes and headed for the showers. Cloud hated the public showers, but no one besides the president himself had their own- it would be inefficient. He hated being on display for others to see, but he hoped that there wouldn't be anyone in there at two in the morning.
He was in luck. The showers were totally empty. He left his clothes in a pile on the floor and stood under the water, turning it up so hot it made him wince. He let the water stream over him, entering an almost Zen-like state.
Suddenly, the door to the showers slammed open. Cloud's head snapped up, his ears straining to hear who this could be. He turned around to turn the water off, miffed that his meditation had been disturbed.
"Oh! Don't leave because of me!"
Cloud froze, then slowly turned around to face a tousle-headed, sleepy-eyed Luc. He was wearing a bathrobe, a small catlike grin, and apparently nothing else, though Cloud couldn't tell. Cloud had a pretty good idea from whom Luc had acquired the small, lazy grin, and presumably the bathrobe... but that didn't change the fact that the two of them were alone in the showers together. Cloud began to wish he'd opted for a cold shower.
"I didn't really expect to find anyone down here at this time of night," Luc said, "You're okay though, I guess. I need to talk to you about something anyway."
Cloud swallowed hard, painfully aware that he was naked and that Luc might soon be,
Luc smiled slyly. Cloud suddenly felt the hairs on the back of his neck raise and he got an odd feeling in the pit of his stomach, like he was falling. In a moment of perfect mental clarity he came to a sudden realization.
I'm going to die.
In the next moment, his rational brain refuted this statement. What the hell? He wasn't going to die! This was Luc for christsakes! Luc wasn't going to kill him! But despite all of his conscious's efforts to glaze over it, his subconscious still whispered foreboding into his mind.
"How good are you at keeping secrets?"
"Pretty good, I guess..."
Cloud sputtered. He sensed a test, but of what kind, he couldn't imagine,
"I don't know," he finally said, "Zack said he knew her, not me."
"You're a terrible liar Cloud," Luc grinned, "But what matters is, you lied." Luc sighed, and let the subject drop, "I need a shower." was all he said. Luc turned his back towards Cloud and let the robe slip from his shoulders. Cloud had been right, there *was* nothing under the robe. Luc padded over to a shower stream directly across from Cloud and Cloud found that his eyes were glued to Luc's back the whole way. He was so beautiful...
Going to die, going to die, going to die, going to die....
Luc stretched his arms up above his head as if worshiping the water. There was something ancient in the way he moved, something ingrained through centuries.
Going to die going to die going to...
Cloud made an odd noise in the back of his throat and Luc turned his head around to look at him. His eyes raked up and down Cloud's body.
Die, going to die...
Luc's perfect mouth broke into a grin and he turned back to the wall,
"I don't think so Cloud. I'm a bit too tired for that."
Cloud arched his brow in puzzlement. Then, he glanced down and saw what Luc had been referring to. He simultaneously blushed and turned to the wall.
"Sorry Luc", he muttered.
"No problem Cloud. It's nice to know you're appreciated," Cloud could hear the grin in his voice.
"I still don't understand why I'm any different from Sephiroth."
"There's only one difference between you and Sephiroth. Only one."
"Sephiroth likes women."
Going to die die die die die...
"Soooo... three's company?"
"Oh no! I don't like women!"
"Then what? I don't understand?"
Luc laughed again, the sound of a cat playing with a mouse.
Die die die die die die die die die die...
"Oh Cloud... Cloud, Cloud, Cloud! For someone who does what you do with Zack, you remain awfully naive," and very slowly, Luc turned around to face him. Cloud's mind went blank. All he could do was blink. And then, he started to shake.
Cloud had never had chills before. He'd shivered from cold, from disgust, for fear and from pleasure, but he'd never had these body jerking shakes so powerful he could barely stand. What he was looking at was impossible, but it had to be true. Just before his world went black, he had one, final thought.
He came to on a pile of cushions in what appeared to be Sephiroth's room. There was no one else in the room at the moment, but voices floated in to Cloud from the kitchen.
"It's a good thing you caught him. If he'd hit his head on the tiles..."
"I know, I know."
"Did you have to tell him like that?"
"Yes." Came a slightly belligerent reply. There was a long pause.
"Okay. Fine. But I have to put my foot down on this one. He can't see you dressed like that!"
"Come on! It's not that bad!"
"Luc, it's a dress."
"Well, women wear dresses."
"Yes, but *men* don't."
Cloud felt the world spin around him. So it was true.
"Stay in here. Or go get changed. You don't want to kill him, do you?"
And then, Sephiroth's feet padded in. Cloud kept his eyes closed. Maybe if he did, he wouldn't have to face Sephiroth. Wouldn't have to make this real. He heard Sephiroth sit down beside him.
"I know you're awake Cloud. Are you all right?"
Cloud nodded weakly, his eyes still closed.
"It *is* a bit of a shock, isn't it. I'm sure you've guessed who he is by now."
"Tia." Cloud croaked out, "She's Tia."
"Yes. You've got to keep her secret, you know. If ShinRa found out... She'd most likely be killed."
"I know... But who would have ever thought that..."
Cloud felt Sephiroth shift slightly,
"Oh, hello Luc. I'm pleased to see that you took my advice."
"A bit shocked, obviously, but other than that, I think he's fine."
Cloud opened his eyes slowly, sitting up even more slowly, and looked at Luc. Luc looked the same as he always had. Cloud had thought that maybe knowing the secret, he might have been able to look at Luc, and tell. But Luc still looked like a man. And he was still damnably attractive. After sitting there, staring for a moment, letting the new world view settle in around him, he extended a hand,
"Nice to meet you... ma'am." he smiled lightly.
Luc/Tia blinked in surprise and socked him on the arm,
"Oh come on! Don't you even start!"
Sephiroth looked quite astonished. Cloud grinned wider at him, than looked at Luc,
"Oh come on Sephiroth, you didn't really think a "little" thing like that would come between friends, now did you?". Luc blinked at him,
"Friends?" he said softly, "Are we really... friends?". Cloud's brow furrowed,
"Well, of course! Why wouldn't we be?"
Cloud was amazed a moment later when Luc flung himself into Cloud's arms, almost choking him in a hug.
Since that night, Cloud and Luc were almost inseparable. Much to Sephiroth's amazement, the pair became almost overnight friends, almost as if the knowledge that "he" was actually a "she" had broken some unseen wall between the two. Sephiroth always smiled when he saw the two together, he no longer had to bear the weight of her secret all alone.
But with all things too good to be true, this one had to come to an end.
"So..." Luc said, crossing his ankles on the desk, "Where do you think we're heading this time, Cloud?"
"I don't know. Sephiroth said it was highly classified."
"Zack, what about you?"
"Anywhere but the Gold Saucer is fine with me. I didn't know one human being could lose so much money in just a week's time."
They laughed, but the mood abruptly sobered as Sephiroth walked in.
"Where are we going?"
Flashes of memories... brief remembrances of a nightmarish time...
"I know it sounds cruel, but we don't have time to look for him. Besides, I know Luc, if anyone can take care of himself, it's him.
"I'm going to see Mother."
"You... promised you'd come for me..."
"Take my sword Cloud. You can catch him by surprise. Please, he'll kill us all.... he'll kill us all..."
Blood. Fire. Night. Blackness. Rage. Then.... Silence.
She stumbled into the village as the flames were dying down. Bodies lay everywhere, the telltale marks of Sephiroth's sword on many of them. Tia fell to her knees beside the well, the strength sapped out of her.
"Ma'am? Are you all right?"
She looked up at the man above her,
"I doubt I'll ever be all right," a blaze lit behind her eyes,"I'll find him again someday. This destruction *must* be stopped."
And then she lost consciousness.
Send all questions and comments to Lucretia@jenvovaproject.com .† See first part for disclaimers.