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Uneasy spirit, let go of me

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Leon has been watching him for about twenty minutes before Cloud notices he is there, sitting quietly just inside the tent's porch. It is early still, the pale light only just beginning to lift the heavy darkness with its weak fingers; dawn still just a grey promise hovering above the horizon. Below them, Radiant Garden glows against the night, red and orange and white, scintillant, a net of light spattered across the emptiness like the embers of a fire kicked apart. Somewhere down there, out on the edge where the lights fade out into the surrounding dark, is the little house on Twilight, empty now and waiting, and one of those lights, Leon knows, is their porch. Cloud never remembers to turn the porch light off, no matter how often Leon reminds him.

Behind him, in the tent, one of the twins stirs in his sleep, and Cloud - turning at the sound - sees Leon in the moonlight, watching him. Leon sees the moon shining in Cloud's eyes, sees him blink once, twice, and pulls himself up onto his feet.

"Hey," he says. The bench creaks under him as he sits, and Cloud's hand is cold when he picks it up off the table. "Can't sleep?"

Cloud smiles, and inches along the bench towards him; snakes an arm across his shoulders; a hand into his hair. Leon shivers.

"Aren't you cold?"

"I like it," Cloud says. "I get fuzzy. The cold helps."

Leon frowns. "You'll catch a chill."

"Worry wart."

"Here." Leon pulls his jacket off; hands it to Cloud. "Put this on." Shivers again as the night air bites him.

Behind them, in the tent, one of the twins stirs again. "You should go back in. If they wake up and we're not there…"

"You coming?"

"No." Cloud shakes his head and wraps Leon's jacket around his shoulders, sleeves hanging. "I'm awake now. It'll be light soon. You go back to sleep."

"Okay." Leon clambers to his feet, plants a little kiss on the end of Cloud's nose, hopes he can't read his expression through the gloom. "Come back in if you want."

Inside the tent, Roxas whimpers in his sleep as Leon climbs back into the bedding, wriggles in against him as soon as he is down, takes hold of Leon's big hand with his little fingers. "Hey, buddy," Leon says quietly into his hair. On the other side of him, Sora sits up from a tangle of his own arms and legs. "Where's Cloud?" he mumbles, not really awake.

"He's just outside," Leon whispers. "Looking out for us."

"For the boogyman?" Sora says, falling back to sleep.

"Yeah," Leon nods. "Keeping us safe from the boogeyman."

x

It had been Cloud's idea, to take the twins camping. Leon had been dubious, worrying about snake bites and spiders and Cloud's geostigma, but Cloud had decided, and everyone knew that Leon never stood a chance when Cloud had made up his mind about something. And anyway, he'd already booked the camping spot out by Fort Baker. Forts were the twins' new thing.

"It's only one night," Cloud had said, winding an arm around Leon's waist; kissing the back of his neck. "It'll be fun."

"What if there's…"

Cloud slipped his free hand over Leon's mouth. "Shush. It'll be fun."

x

Leon wakes in the darkness with no idea of where he is. He can hear the soft sounds of other peoples' slow sleeping breath, the billow and slap of fabric as the night breeze fills it, the creak of whatever it is that he is lying on as it moves beneath him, and for a moment - still only half-awake - remembers they're on the ship. "Cloud?" he says, and his groping hand finds the tousled head tucked under his armpit, feels the familiar shapes of the cheek and soft lips, not Cloud's but Roxas', snuggled up in sleep against him.

Properly awake now, Leon lies still for a moment, listening to the flap of the tent's walls in the wind and the air mattress creaking beneath him as he shifts. The twins are pressed in against him, Sora curled against the small of his back, Roxas in the crook of his arm.

"Cloud?" Leon says again, and sits up, gently disentangling himself from the boys' arms and fingers, careful not to wake them. Cloud isn't there.

Leon edges his way into the porch, willing the zip to be quiet as he pulls it back up, shutting the twins in behind him as he shrugs into his clothes.

He's about to call Cloud's name again when he sees him. Just a dark shape against the darkness, but Leon knows Cloud's every contour, even in the star-spattered blackness of whatever time this is. Motionless in the silent night, and Leon thinks that maybe he's fallen asleep where he's sitting, chin propped on one hand, but then the clouds move away from the moon and Cloud turns his head.

It's cold, but that's not why Leon is shivering. Silvered in the moonlight, Cloud looks almost inhuman, pale and fragile, etched with exhaustion, impossibly young, and there's something caught in Leon's throat and he can't quite seem to breathe.

Once, he had thought that he would get used to it, seeing Cloud like this. But as the years passed and they had gone from being friends to being lovers to being a family, it is the single thing that has never changed. Leon still feels like he had always felt, protective and bewildered and scared and helpless. Leon fixes things. It is the rock beneath the foundations of who he is. Fixes things, builds things, rebuilds things, helps things mend. And here is the one thing he wants to fix more than anything. The one thing he can do nothing about.

Leon loves Cloud with a fierce piercing love, so sharp that sometimes it hurts him. He sits in the porch, watching the eggshell boy with moonbeams in his hair sitting in the darkness beneath the wheeling stars, and feels what he never ever allows himself to feel. Small, vulnerable, afraid.

Behind him, in the tent, one of the twins stirs in his sleep, and Cloud - turning at the sound - sees Leon in the moonlight, watching him. Leon sees the moon shining in Cloud's eyes, sees him blink once, twice, and pulls himself up onto his feet.

x

Cloud had driven them there, taking the turns on Shoreline Highway just fast enough for the twins to cling on to each other, their grins spreading wider with each bend. Leon had kept them occupied with stories of the Gold Rush, tales of covered waggon times, frontier days. By the time they'd got to the camp ground at Kirby Cove everything was a sidewindin', bushwackin', hornswagglin' cracker-croaker.

"Just remember, when the school call, this is your fault," Cloud had laughed, and Leon could only shrug helplessly.

x

Leon had driven them home. Sora and Roxas had fallen asleep almost as soon as they were in the car.

"You were right."

"I usually am," Cloud smiled. "What about?"

"It was fun."

"Told you." He leaned across and kissed Leon under the ear, resting his head on his shoulder for a moment. "I love you, you know."

"I know. You doing okay?"

Cloud nodded. "Just a bit tired."

"Try and get some sleep?"

Cloud nodded again, sitting back in his seat. "If I sleep, don't drive the whole way back in one go. Take a break at Timber Cove or something?"

"I will."

"Promise?"

"Promise."

Cloud slept, and Leon kept his word, but no-one woke up to see it.

x

Cloud was still asleep when Leon pulled up in the pool of porchlight outside their little house on Twilight, and didn't wake up until Leon had both of the twins out of the car, one sleepy head on each shoulder, a six-year-old in each arm and juggling his keys to get the front door open.

"Here, let me take one." He climbed out of the car into the yellow glow of the light, stumbling sleepily, one hand out against the door to hold himself up.

"Or maybe I need to get these two to bed and then come back for you." Leon looked at the figure slumped against the car, Cloud's eyes heavy-lidded with sleep, all his angles softened under the warm light, smiling.

"Are you going to carry me as well?"

"I might." Leon smiled, hefting Roxas back up onto his shoulder. "Just let me see to these."

"I'll be on the sofa," Cloud smiled again, pushing his hair out of his face. "Keep looking at me like that and we might not make it to the bed."