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i came around

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i came around

Cloud and Rufus go to bed together the first time on the first anniversary of Advent Day.

There’s a party in the square where the meteor monument is located, hosted by Shinra Electric. No expense is spared, the food is excellent and the beverages are complimentary and, more importantly, potent.

Cloud and Company, along with the Turks, receive medals for their part in saving the city from whatever the fuck they’re calling the thing that attacked it. During the ceremony, Reno leans over and says slyly to Cloud, “Bet you never thought you’d be standing next to me when you got a medal, huh, Strife.”

“Only if it was for putting up with you,” Cloud responds, determined to ignore Reno’s delighted, somewhat manic cackle of laughter. Rufus Shinra is suddenly standing in front of him, fingers nimbly plucking at Cloud’s shirt and sliding the pin of a medal through it. It’s a bizarre, yet decidedly less painful, echo of what happened a year ago and Cloud doesn’t want to think about that, not at all.

Cloud hears the assembled crowd clapping and cheering loudly, which is yet another thing he doesn’t want to pay attention to because he hates being the center of attention. He tries to block out the words President Shinra is saying, ...by defeating a great evil...once more the champion of the human race...saving the planet…. because he still isn’t really sure what the fuck happened that day, or what it was he was really fighting up on that roof.

So he focuses on Rufus instead, on those cool blue eyes, his hair blonde like Cloud’s but without the underlying golden warmth. Rufus has long fingers, graceful, but there are callouses there that Cloud can see when he finishes with the pin. From that shotgun of his, probably. Cloud has no idea how the man keeps it out of sight under his suit, how it doesn’t break up the elegant lines of his body beneath the fabric.

Elegant lines which Cloud, as it happens, are noticing more than he should. Standing on a platform. In front of nearly everyone in Edge.

Well, why make things easy for yourself, right? Fuck, if that’s not Cloud’s mantra, what is?

Cloud thinks he sees something in Rufus’ eyes, something that warms their icy chill and might just resemble interest in the things Cloud is thinking about doing to him. Cloud is not pleased at the pleasurable rush of blood that follows in the wake of that possibility, but it doesn’t keep him from watching Rufus through the rest of the ceremony, thinking of how Rufus’ body would look divested of that crisp white suit, the starched black shirt.

Afterwards, hating the attention he’s getting and his inability to stop looking for Rufus Shinra in the crowd, Cloud does the only sensible thing and gets drunk on the complimentary beverages. Reno strolls over to him near the end of the party and says, leering with apparent glee, “President Shinra wants to know if you’d like to accompany him home for a nightcap.”

Thanks to all the liquor, Cloud doesn’t shut down and flee, like he usually does when he’s propositioned. Or at least when he thinks he’s being propositioned. He’s terrible at noticing that sort of thing.

Instead, he crosses his arms and glares hotly at the redheaded Turk. “If President Shinra wants me to come home with him and fuck, tell him to come ask me himself.” He gets mild satisfaction from the brief look of surprise on Reno’s face, before it’s masked by its usual smirk.

Two minutes later, Rufus finds Cloud nursing a drink he doesn’t need and watching the ice sculpture commissioned for the occasion start to melt. It looks like a sad, dying chocobo who mated unsuccessfully with a swan and then started crying about it. Cloud snorts and leans against the wall, and suddenly Rufus Shinra is there and saying, “So I hear you wanted a personal invitation, Strife.”

Maybe the ice sculpture could be a metaphor or a warning, but Cloud is drunk and Rufus is hot, and so he thinks fuck it and steps right into Rufus’ personal space. He doesn’t really care about accolades or medals, but if he can have one thing as a gift for saving the world, Rufus Shinra naked and moaning in his bed sounds pretty fucking good to him.

“Yeah,” he says, fingers tightening on the pristine lapels of Rufus’ jacket. Cloud has no idea how the President has stayed so neat and tidy, he probably has backup suits in his limo or something. He thinks about asking, but instead, he pulls Rufus in and kisses him.

Rufus’ mouth is hot and Cloud makes a small, hungry sound and turns to push the other man against the wall. When they finally pull away to stare at each other, Cloud thinks how Rufus’ eyes resemble the ice sculpture and wonders what it takes to make Rufus melt.

What he says is, “What the fuck is that ice sculpture supposed to be?” Because he is Cloud Strife, and if there’s anything harder for him to do than stand in front of thousands and receive a medal for something that feels like a failure, it’s asking for something he wants from someone who clearly wants to give it to him.

Rufus doesn’t seem to have a problem with either accepting accolades or asking for things, but he wouldn’t, would he? “Come home and fuck me, Cloud,” he says, and leans in to bite Cloud on the neck. Cloud lets him, tilts his head so Rufus can suck at the mark he left there and wonders if this is maybe the worst decision he’s ever made in his life.

He decides he needs more information to make that kind of declaration, and follows Rufus into his limo. Rufus is all over him before the door closes, and yeah, okay, this is probably the worst decision Cloud’s ever made in his life. Or maybe the best one, it’s hard to think with Rufus’ hand undoing his belt.

Just to be sure, he fucks Rufus twice when they get back to his penthouse, and in the early hours of the morning, before they fall asleep in an exhausted tangle of limbs in Rufus’ bed, Cloud decides it’s probably somewhere in between the two.

Predictably, Cloud is awkward when he wakes up again, trying to get out of bed without making any noise. It works until he trips over one of his boots.

“How did I know you’d try to sneak out?” Rufus says, from the warmth of the bed. He sounds like this is very funny.

“I have to go to work,” Cloud answers, lamely, sitting naked on the side of the bed with one boot in his hand, trying not to show pain from how hard he just stubbed his toe, fuck, that hurts.

“I declared today a holiday,” Rufus murmurs, pressing up behind him against Cloud’s back, all heated skin and warm breath on Cloud’s neck.

“You can’t do that,” Cloud protests, head tilting back and finding Rufus’ mouth right against his own. “Can you do that? Are you even in charge of holidays?”

Rufus smiles up against his mouth and kisses him, and Cloud decides fuck it, what’s the use of saving the world if you can’t enjoy a holiday that celebrates how you didn’t die by fucking the guy who took you home with him?

He waits for the usual onslaught of guilt, but it doesn’t come.

Cloud does, however. Twice, before kissing Rufus and saying you’re giving my thighs a workout, but it’s better than chasing monsters, in response to which Rufus laughs so hard he nearly falls off the bed.

Cloud turns his back to him with a huff and falls back to sleep with a slight smile on his face.

The next time he wakes up, it’s late afternoon and once again, he mumbles that he should get going. Rufus stretches in a way that is completely and utterly obscene, looking like sex incarnate and making Cloud’s mouth go dry as he does it.

“That’s too bad,” Rufus purrs -- purrs, honest to Gaia, in a way that would make Nanaki proud -- and Cloud climbs on top of him instead of leaving because somehow, in the moment, that makes a lot more sense.

It’s a long time before he leaves.

* * *

“Are you dating Rufus Shinra?” Tifa asks, dark eyes shrewd and lit with some kind of unholy amusement at his expense.

“Let me help you wash those glasses,” Cloud answers, avoiding her gaze. He doesn’t know what they’re doing, he and Rufus. Other than the obvious. “We go to dinner sometimes and then--” he waves a hand, vaguely embarrassed at discussing this in front of her even though they’re best friends. “You know.”

“You fuck,” Tifa says, bluntly, rolling her eyes. “For fuck’s sake, you can say it, Cloud. Also, the tips of your ears are turning red. You’re blushing. Over Rufus Shinra. Oh, my god, you really are dating, aren’t you?”

Cloud blinks at her for a few minutes, then gives up and nods. “I guess? Maybe, yeah.”

“How did that even happen?” she asks, eyebrows nearly in her hairline.

Cloud dries three glasses before he answers her. “I don’t know.”

“Oh, Cloud,” Tifa says, and sighs.

* * *
Cloud gives up and admits they’re dating when Rufus starts dragging him to parties. And introducing him to people as his boyfriend.

“Does it bother you?” Rufus asks him, all lean-limbs and clean lines, sitting across from Cloud in the limousine. “I can call you something else, if it does.”

Cloud is wearing a suit that he only owns because Rufus sucked him off in the shower one morning, and then surprised him with the tailor when he was too sex-dumb to protest. Literally surprised him, as the tailor was sitting on the couch in Rufus’ suite and looking very embarrassed when Cloud came out dressed only in a towel.

Cloud was a quiet man by nature, but Rufus was very good with his mouth and the bathroom had excellent acoustics, so the poor tailor must have been very entertained.

“I don’t know,” Cloud answers, and scowls when he notices Rufus mouthing the words along with him. “Stop that, seriously.”

“You look good in that suit,” Rufus tells him with his shark’s smile, his eyes bright. Cloud moves with his usual grace and straddles Rufus on his seat, kissing him instead of answering questions he doesn’t want to think about.

Rufus is hard beneath him, which isn’t surprising but is gratifying nonetheless. Rufus is very handsome, Cloud always notices how people stare at him when they go places. Women, men, it doesn’t matter. He’s an important and powerful man, and Cloud has no idea why he would want Cloud, of all people, to be his boyfriend.

As for Cloud, he’s not a hundred percent sure Rufus isn’t still a tiny bit evil. Cloud finds it more than a little attractive. I guess I have a type.

“I don’t mind,” Cloud says, out of the blue thirty minutes later, when they’re standing in an impressive and posh living room belonging to some important individual whose name Cloud doesn’t remember. He shoves his hands in his pockets, feeling out of place with these people and their money and their impeccable appearances, all put together and immaculate, like Rufus.

It makes him tug at his tie, fuss with the cuffs of his suit. It’s been tailored to fit him and it does, perfectly, but he still feels like it belongs to someone else. He hates these things, but Rufus likes dressing him up and taking him along, and Rufus does all of the talking and sometimes Cloud sees him manipulating people into doing what he wants and Cloud is both turned on and morally outraged.

Yeah, he has a fucking type, all right.

Rufus is nothing if not observant, and he notices Cloud fidgeting. He tugs Cloud into the bathroom and closes the door, gets in Cloud’s space and whispers in his ear, “Every single person here is jealous of me tonight, Cloud. Don’t you understand how attractive you are?” His mouth touches Cloud’s neck, just below his ear, and Cloud shivers. Rufus is observant about many things, when it comes to Cloud.

“I think my hair looks stupid,” is Cloud’s response, and he can feel Rufus’ smile.

“It is. But I named a dog Dark Nation and almost destroyed the planet. No one’s perfect, Cloud.” Rufus bites him gently on the ear before pulling away. “Come on. I want to make everyone jealous, you know how much I love it when people envy me.”

That’s the thing about Rufus Shinra, Cloud realizes, as he follows him back into the party. He doesn’t worry about the things he’s done, the mistakes he’s made, the people whose lives have been lost or ruined because of his choices.

You do enough of that for the both of us, Rufus tells him, once, when Cloud brings it up. There’s no point in regretting things we can’t change, Cloud.

Cloud wants to argue with him, he feels like he should, but either he can’t or he doesn’t want to. Of course, Rufus was giving him a handjob at the time, and his fingers are just as skillful as his mouth, so that probably didn’t help.

* * *

“Are you only with me because you think it will make people trust you and Shinra Electric, if your boyfriend is a hero or whatever?” Cloud asks him one night, standing in the darkness of Rufus’ penthouse, the lights of Edge a soft blur beyond the glass.

Rufus turns, cold and unapproachable in that way he is sometimes, which Cloud admits is attractive in its own way. He tilts his head, considering. “What do you think?”

“I think it probably doesn’t hurt,” Cloud responds, dryly.

Rufus laughs, delighted, and it makes everything warm, even Cloud.

* * *
Six months after Advent Day, Cloud leaves for the first time.

Rufus wants him to move in to the penthouse. Cloud just stares at him with wide eyes when Rufus mentions it and says, “I have to go.”

He’s gone for two weeks. When he comes back, Rufus icily informs him that needing space is one thing, leaving and letting Rufus think he’s dead is another.

“I don’t have your number in my phone,” Cloud tells him, lamely. He tries these sorts of excuses on Tifa all the time. They never work with her, either.

Rufus just stares at him, and he’s not Cloud’s okay-fine-he’s-my-boyfriend at the moment, no, he’s the man who clawed his way to the top of Shinra Electric, climbing over rubble and bodies and a bad reputation -- all that was left of his father’s empire. “I don’t really think I need you to give me excuses like that, do you? Just tell me you were freaked out and needed some space, Cloud.”

“I was freaked out and needed some space, Rufus,” Cloud says, oddly relieved. Huh. Maybe this whole asking for things you want isn’t that hard, though potentially he should do it first, next time, before disappearing.

Rufus shrugs. “Fine. Tell me, next time, would you? Leave a note with my secretary.” He’s still not pleased, Cloud can tell. He doesn’t like people not being where they’re supposed to be. Rufus is also fiercely possessive, which Cloud finds overwhelming, some days, and attractive, on others.

“He hates me, though. He really does. I don’t think you ever get my messages.”

“You can’t ever remember his name, Cloud, and since when do you call me at work and leave me messages?”

“I did. Ah. That one time,” Cloud points out, shoving his hands in his pockets. “I think it was about dinner.”

Rufus stares at him for a good three seconds, then dismisses him with a curt gesture. “I have work to do. I’ll see you later.”

Cloud doesn’t like the feeling he gets when he leaves Rufus’ office, because really, isn’t he already set for life on feeling guilty? But this time, it’s different -- and Cloud realizes with sudden clarity it’s because he deserves it. He shouldn’t have left like that, not without sending Rufus some sort of message that he wasn’t dead in a canyon somewhere, or battling Sephiroth’s remnants again.

Oh.

“Tifa never gets this mad at me when I leave,” Cloud says, exasperated, when two nights later Rufus still refuses to see him. They’re discussing this on the phone, which is already a bad idea considering how terrible Cloud is at these sorts of conversations when they happen to be in person.

“Tifa puts up with too much shit from you,” Rufus answers, curtly. “If you want to be with me, fine. If you don’t, fine. I’m asking you to let me know when you’re going to fucking take off without warning, Cloud, I didn’t realize that was too much to ask.”

Cloud takes a deep breath. “I do. Want that. To be with you, I mean.” It’s true, and saying it is one of the hardest things Cloud has ever done. “And, um. No, it’s not too much to ask.” He closes his eyes, lightly hitting his head against the wall of his bedroom. He hadn’t slept there in so long, last night it felt like he was in some stranger’s bed instead of his own.

He also really misses Rufus’ sheets. Cloud has no idea what a fifteen hundred thread count has to do with bedding, but he doesn’t care about the specifics if they feel that fucking good.

“Fine. I have an opening in my schedule next Tuesday at eight,” Rufus says, a hint of what may be amusement underlying the coolness of his voice. “We can discuss it then.”

Cloud ignores that little barb and hangs up, because he knows Rufus well enough to know an opening when he gets one. He goes over to Rufus’ apartment with a few cartons of Wutainese and a movie about a chocobo racer who robs banks for a hobby. Rufus makes Cloud wait for two minutes before he opens the door and beckons him inside.

The gesture of pique loses some of its impact since Rufus told the doorman to let Cloud in, but still.

They eat dinner and get halfway through the movie’s opening credits before they’re all over each other, hot and desperate, as Cloud tries to say with his body what he can’t ever manage to put into words.

Rufus fucks him that night, and it’s angry, almost too rough but Cloud finds he likes it, likes taking it, likes the way Rufus grabs at the back of his neck and slams into him. It feels like he’s being forgiven, and when it’s over he doesn’t feel guilty anymore for leaving.

There’s a lesson, here, Cloud thinks. In a few years, I might actually learn it.

When they’re finished they lay there in silence, catching their breath. Cloud remembers Rufus telling him, once, about how his mother would go on trips to Costa Del Sol to “rejuvenate” or something, and how she would never bring Rufus with her or even tell him that she was going. Rufus would just wake up and she wouldn’t be there, and he’d be terrified something had happened to her until one of the staff explained where she’d gone, reassuring him that she’d be back soon.

Until one day she didn’t come back, and no one bothered to tell him anything about where she went.

Cloud rolls over and kisses Rufus, slow and deep. He forgets sometimes that Rufus has a stack of issues about as thick as Cloud’s own. Remembering that loosens something tight inside of him, makes it easier to speak. “I’m sorry. I don’t know why I do things, sometimes. I just feel like I have to run. It’s not you. I’m just fucked up.” He puts his face in Rufus’ shoulder, breathing in his scent. His heart is beating unpleasantly fast. “I missed you.”

Rufus is quiet, stroking a hand down Cloud’s back. “That almost killed you to say, didn’t it.”

“Yes, goddamn it,” Cloud growls, and bites his shoulder.

“Good,” says Rufus, and that’s that.

* * *

Rufus doesn’t mention Cloud moving in again, so Cloud just decides to stop waiting and move his stuff over while Rufus is at work. He has a key, the doorman knows him, and he can’t remember the last time he spent a night in the apartment that no longer feels like a home.

He tells Rufus when he comes home from work, saying nonchalantly as possible, “I brought the rest of my stuff over.”

Rufus blinks at him, then looks around the penthouse. It’s spotless, and it looks the same as it did when Rufus left that morning. “Where is it?”

“In the bedroom,” Cloud offers. “There’s not very much stuff.”

Rufus walks silently into the master suite, and Cloud follows him. There, on the bedside table next to Cloud’s side of the bed (he has a side of the bed, for fuck’s sake, who has he been kidding?), are a few photographs; one of him and Zack, one of him with Marlene and Denzel, and one of him and Tifa when they were younger, the only photograph Cloud has of his childhood.

“Wow, you should have waited until I could send someone to help you with all the --,” Rufus’ sarcastic drawl falls silent as his eyes settle on the only other newly-appeared thing of interest in their bedroom, which is Cloud’s assortment of weaponry. “Oh.”

Cloud notices the way Rufus’ eyes go all blurry, and grins. “You’re so easy, Shinra.”

Rufus, as usual, looks unconcerned. “I know what I want,” he says, moving closer. “And unlike you, Cloud, I stopped feeling guilty about it a long time ago.”

Cloud ties him up that night and runs the tip of a dagger over his body, followed by the flat of the blade, until Rufus is nearly begging for it. It’s hot as fuck and Cloud has no idea why he thought it would be a bad thing, to have this every night, or why he wanted to run away in the first place.

* * *

Advent Day comes around again, and this time Cloud is a lot more sober and pleased he doesn’t have to get a medal. There’s no city-wide party, but it’s still a holiday, and Rufus makes some public appearances, with Cloud standing by his side at more than a few of them. The media had a field day with their relationship when it went public, but it didn’t bother Cloud nearly as much as he thought it would.

It was publicity, so it goes without saying that Rufus loved every minute of it.

Cloud tends to ignore the anniversaries of important events that relate to himself and his history; in fact, he does so so strongly that it’s impossible not to notice he’s trying his hardest to forget something. Rufus knows this by now, he’s been with Cloud for a full year; through the anniversary of Zack’s death, Aeris’, the day his hometown burned. Sephiroth’s...deaths.

Rufus does not bring any of it up, doesn’t hint that Cloud should do anything, talk about it, or tell him details when Cloud is certain Rufus knows them already. Besides, Rufus keeps a quiet vigil of his own sometimes, celebrating his own somber anniversaries, which Cloud respectfully leaves him to without comment. It doesn’t seem proper to say things like you know your father was an asshole and you're better off with him dead, right?

So Rufus doesn’t say anything when it’s Cloud's turn to brood over the past, but in bed those nights he asks Cloud for it rougher, harder, moans loudly and pushes for more until Cloud is a panting, trembling mess who can’t think about anything other than fuck, that was good.

Rufus wants Cloud’s attention, all the time. Cloud wants to give his attention to something other than guilt and regret. It works out okay.

On that night, a year since Advent Day and a year since Cloud made the fateful decision to see what Rufus Shinra looked like beneath his white suit (fucking fantastic, as it happens), they celebrate their one-year anniversary.

Cloud feels a bit strange about celebrating the unlikely accomplishment of keeping a relationship alive for an entire year -- on the same day he killed his archenemy for the second time. But his life is not normal and probably never will be, so he tries not to think about it too much. That’s always worked so well for him, in the past, hasn’t it?

He and Rufus are not, by any meaning of the word, romantic. Cloud has never called him anything but “Rufus”, “my boyfriend,” or, occasionally, “Shinra.” Rufus called Cloud Cloudy one time when he was a little too intoxicated, and Cloud made sure to bite his lip until it bled so that Rufus would remember to never call him that again.

(Reno calls him that all the time, now, though, because as a form of revenge Rufus told the Turk why his lip was all bruised and bitten up, meaning Reno takes every opportunity to call Cloud by that horrible nickname whenever he can. Every time Cloud has to resists the urge to put a sword through Reno’s neck, he remembers his boyfriend is a devious man.)

They don’t do anything special for the occasion beyond fuck, which they do a lot anyway, but then Rufus looks over at Cloud and tells him, simply and sounding a little confused and maybe even irritated, that he loves him.

Cloud is gone before the sun rises, but this time, he leaves a note. It says, simply, Me, too. Be back in two days. Promise. Cloud.

He’s back in two days, but it takes three more months before Cloud can look at Rufus and say the words back to him. Although part of that is because Rufus has started saying it like a taunt just to be a dick, and Cloud is contrary by nature.

Don’t forget we have that ribbon ceremony, make sure you have your pinstripe suit pressed, and yes, that’s the one with the stripes, the one I broke that button getting off of you because you look hot in it. And I hate ribbon cutting ceremonies, they’re stupid, so I need something to think about. Oh, and Tifa called and said she and Vincent and Yuffie had something to tell us, which sounds ominous, and oh, Cloud, by the way, I love you.

(The thing about Vincent and Yuffie and Tifa worried him at first; he knows they have a relationship, the three of them, but he has no idea how that kind of thing works. The thought of having to do all of this with two people makes Cloud want to throw himself back onto Sephiroth’s sword. It turned out they wanted to tell him and Rufus they’d decided to live together, which Cloud thought they were already doing, and Rufus already knew because he knew everything, which is why, Cloud, we don’t tell you anything, according to Tifa.)

And then one day, Cloud is thinking about getting Rufus a dog because he sort of feels bad about Dark Nation (as long as it has a better name, honestly, Rufus), and he’s distracted by thoughts of should I do that, or should I ask him first? so that when Rufus says he’s leaving for an early meeting, Cloud says without thinking, “Okay, have fun. I’m glad I don’t have to go to meetings, they must suck. Love you.”

He doesn’t realize what he just said until Rufus grabs his hair and pulls his head back, kissing him hotly. “Say that again.”

“Do you just want to hear me say the word suck? Are you that hard up, seriously? You got laid this morning, are you on some kind of drug?”

Rufus gives him that look he does sometimes, like Cloud is an alien from a land far away. “Gaia, Cloud. Sometimes I don’t even know what to say to you.”

Cloud blinks up at him, then realizes what he said and turns three shades of red. “Oh. That. But you knew that. I agree with you every time you say it.”

“If people knew what I put up with, they’d give me a medal.”

“You already gave yourself one,” Cloud points out. “It’s framed, in your office. I’ve seen it.”

“Cloud.”

Cloud sighs and says it again, and it’s hard do it while staring into Rufus’ bright, icy eyes because all he can think about is here’s one more person I could lose, one more person I could fail, one more person I might not be able to save.

“You look really pissed about it,” Rufus tells him. “Do you know that? You’re actually not very good at being a boyfriend.”

“I’m not pissed off because I love you,” Cloud says, so determined to explain himself out of trouble that he doesn’t even realize he’s just said it, again, without sounding like he’s choking to death. “It’s just because we’re talking about feelings, and you know how I am about those.”

“Cloud,” Rufus says, in a rare moment of addressing the thing Cloud’s clearly not saying, “I’m not going to die. Well, I might. Plenty of people want to kill me, probably. But I made my own choices, and that’s not your fault. I want you with me for as long as I have you. I’ve never wanted to be a hero, and definitely not now, after living with you and seeing how conflicted you have to be if you want to be one. You be the hero, I'll be the rich, morally ambiguous boyfriend who dresses you in pretty suits.”

Cloud almost says you've done heroic things, which is technically true but he doesn’t want Rufus getting any ideas, so he doesn't say anything. Also, he’s in love with him, so maybe that makes him a bit more tolerant of some of Rufus’s less…heroic qualities. Of which, Cloud knows, there are many. He’s not naive, he knows what Rufus has to do to keep the position he has. Oddly, he’s never doubted Rufus means it when he says he loves him, though his popularity ratings did increase significantly when the public found out about the two of them.

“No one is going to kill you on my watch,” Cloud tells him, chin raised in defiance. He clears his throat. “I know my track record isn’t that great when it comes to stuff like that. Saving people I love, I mean. But I’ll save you.”

Rufus reaches out and touches his fingers lightly to Cloud’s mouth, his voice low and husky. The look in his eyes is startlingly young, almost vulnerable. “You already have, Cloud,” he says, and, oh.

Cloud turns and bites at Rufus’ fingers, overwhelmed by emotion, but for once it feels good, warm, like stepping into sunshine, like stepping into light.

“Reschedule your meeting,” he says, standing up, grabbing at Rufus’ hand and dragging him to the bedroom.

They make it as far as the living room floor. Rufus doesn’t call anyone to reschedule, but as he reminds Cloud, much later, he’s the boss. If he doesn’t show up, the meeting is canceled.

“Sometimes,” Cloud offers, trying to share, to say something that means even a tenth of what Rufus said to him earlier, “Sometimes I think it’s hot when you subtly manipulate people into doing what you want.”

Rufus, messy-haired and still flushed, gives Cloud a look of near incredulity and bursts out laughing. “Sometimes, Strife? Sometimes?”

“Yeah,” Cloud answers, smiling a little. He kisses Rufus, then pulls back and grins at him, feeling lighthearted in a way he hasn’t, maybe ever. “Sometimes.”

* * *

Cloud goes to visit Aeris’ church, sets some flowers in the cool water and says a few things to Aeris.

It doesn’t matter anymore if he loved her, or if he only thought he did because of Zack, or what. She was his friend, and she is gone, but she sacrificed herself for something greater than herself. Something greater than all of them.

“I always made it about me,” Cloud tells her, watching the flowers drift in the cool water, and he should be ashamed at just now realizing that but he’s not, because he knows she wouldn’t want him to be. “Me, and my failure, instead of how goddamn --er, sorry -- instead of how brave you were. Because you were, Aeris. You were brave, and you saved us all, and I’m sorry I didn’t really understand until now that if I keep thinking I failed, it’s...in vain. Not just me, I mean, anyone who thinks...”

Cloud shakes his head, hating his inability to use words even when no one is listening and he’s talking to a dead person. “You didn’t save the planet for us to drown in our misery,” he tries, and then makes a face. Fuck, now he sounds like Sephiroth. “I want you to know that I’m going to live. Because that’s a gift you gave us. Um. Sorry? I wish you were here, Aeris. Except I’d probably be even worse at saying this stuff, but you know.”

One of the flowers separates from the others and drifts in a seemingly impossible fashion back towards him. Cloud smiles, and picks it up. “Thank you,” he says, embarrassed, and puts the flower back in the water. He feels good, at peace.

Then he sits, cross-legged in front of Zack’s sword, and says all the things he never said and probably couldn’t have, before. He tells Zack he misses him, that he loves him like a brother and always will, that Zack was the closest thing to family Cloud ever had.

“You always saw the best in everyone,” Cloud says, smiling a bit at the memory. “Even an awkward cadet with weird hair who had a thing for your boyfriend. You never gave up on me, ever. You died, but you never really left me, did you? I couldn’t save you, but you saved me. Thank you, Zack. I think I get it now.”

Cloud touches his fingers to his mouth, and then presses them gently to Zack’s sword; they’re trembling, just a little, as something broken and empty inside of him heals, fills with warmth. Zack’s legacy would not be one of recriminations and blame, guilt and sorrow. It would be celebrating life, finding the best in people, never giving up on them, finding your way inside of them so that even when you had to leave, they were never really alone.

Even if, say, this hypothetical person you weren’t giving up on might possibly have five or six plans in the works that were best classified as nefarious, and which could possibly end in a meteor, monsters, or genetically altered guard dogs with tentacles.

Cloud smiles, and then he says, “Oh, and I should probably tell both of you -- I’m in love with Rufus Shinra.”

He could swear he hears Aeris giggling, but it might just be his imagination.

~fin