Cloud sat in shadows, a talent that he’d had since he was a child. He couldn’t help a stupid soft smile or the pride that swelled in his chest.
Out of sight, both visually and magically he watched Riku crouch in the sand in front of a brunette teen holding an orb of light. It was a training game, passing the energy back and forth until it could be done effortlessly.
Cloud could do something similar with darkness, but light magic was beyond him. He was the dark half of his whole.
The last time Riku had called he’d mentioned making a friend. He’d tried to be nonchalant but they could hear the absolute joy in his voice. Making friends had been hard for him, but despite that he was tight lipped about the boy. He deflected questions and had abruptly end conversations since then. To say that Cloud had been worried had been an understatement. Riku didn’t hide things from them. That wasn’t their relationship.
While Squall branched out to a check in point with one of the others masters, Cloud sought out Riku. It had been days since the nest had been taken care of, but he’d found Riku still on Destiny Island. At first Cloud had wondered if Riku had really found it hard to leave his new friend behind but that had changed after a little observation.
Riku’s friend had magic and was maybe something of a late bloomer if he hadn’t been snagged before now for training. Suddenly it all made sense. Riku’s odd behavior had been a mixture of embarrassment and anxiety as he hid his new friend and trained him himself. The poor kid was probably trying to avoid a lecture and lose his new friend in the process.
Riku wasn’t one of the trainers, but every case was different as far as Cloud was concerned. The way they practiced every day had shown Cloud all he needed to know. It was comfortable and fluid. Even while the new teen was still learning he was completely relaxed. Most of all, that boy looked at Riku like he’d hung all the stars in the sky. They were partners, no doubt about it.
Cloud would be the first to aggressively support their arrangement if necessary. It wouldn’t be the first time he’d thrown tradition to the winds. For Riku, Cloud was willing to bend the rules a little.
Cloud had always related to Riku, he didn’t connect to other people easily either and had never really found that a problem. As a child he liked having the choice to play with other kids or be alone. He could pick whatever he wanted and even his antisocial attitude hadn’t ever hindered him.
Riku hadn’t been given that luxury. He remembered watching the other kids bully Riku. The other masters said it was merely children being children but Cloud didn’t remember being an asshole at that age. It went way beyond teasing and had been just plain cruel.
Riku being Twilight Torn had been the source of all his grief, and instead of embracing his unique magic, the other mages in training had been jealous. Left without a partner he had made himself a target instead.
The day he’d come across Riku crying had been the last straw. Cloud had snarled, the beast inside him scaring the other children away while he soothed Riku and had decided to look after him. The dark half of Riku’s magic hid under his seeking protection and Cloud shielded him like the perfect shadow.
Riku had only been six years old, and Cloud only sixteen but they’d come to a quick understanding.
Cloud had lifted him up onto his hip, deciding easily he would need to share his very own bond. He’d sought out Squall, his own partner who had been attending some kind of lesson for the light magic users. Squall had looked up, smelling his partner long before spotting him and upon seeing Cloud’s rage, left the class without a word.
No one dared say anything given how volatile the pair had grown to be. They’d become masters unprecedentedly young at the age of thirteen and had been called the Wilds ever since.
Squall had taken one look at Riku and clicked. He’d wrapped his light magic around Riku’s light half and the three had been together ever since.
When Squall learned of the bullying Riku had dealt with he’d been furious. Not with the other children the way Cloud had childishly been, but with the teachers that had done nothing. He’d roared loudly, shaming them with their harsh methods and had declared that he and Cloud would be Riku’s teachers from that point forward.
They weren’t disenchanted or put off but the Twilight Torn boy. Cloud was darkness. Squall was light. They had everything they needed to train Riku properly.
It had been a scandal, much more so than they allowed Riku to realize when he was small. It wasn’t until master Eraqus happily endorsed the idea that others backed down. Cloud and Squall may not have been teachers, but they were the best thing for Riku.
Now Cloud sat, hidden on some teeny little beach on Destiny Island watching Riku take hold of his own fate the same way. Partners always worked best together. Others might have been able to teach the brunette teen the basics but nothing would propel his successes like being close to Riku would.
“Here you are.”
Cloud chuckled, his own darkness reflexively curling around Squall to keep him hidden from Riku’s senses. Only Squall ever would have been able to find him so easily.
“Hello my lion. I was missing you.” Cloud glanced up at him. “Did you soothe all of the ruffled feathers?”
“Might have made things worse.” Squall mused, collapsing next to Cloud and curling up at his side. “What have you learned here?”
Cloud gestured to the scene below them. Riku calmly explaining to Sora how to form the orb of light on his own. “He’s found his other half, all by himself.”
“Finally.” Squall sighed, ridiculously relieved. “Have you met him yet?”
“No. I’d thought i’d wait for you. It would kill Riku to have to do introductions twice.” Cloud said.
Squall snorted, not surprised to find Cloud procrastinating. “Riku doesn’t even know you’re here, does he? You’ve been sitting here watching them for three days?”
Squall chuckled, hearing everything Cloud wasn’t saying. He no doubt felt the same pride. “What are your impressions of him?”
“He’s loud and talks too much, but i’ve never seen Riku smile so much. Riku is charmed and squirming under the weight of his own shifting feelings.” Cloud mused, easily offering his partner the information he'd gathered. “Probably worried he’s overthinking things.”
“I see,” Squall muttered, falling silent afterwards. They both observed the pair for a while, wondering what the boys initial sign of magic had been. It was hard to tell what his progress was in these magic lessons were without that knowledge.
Still, he hung on Riku’s every quiet word, having evidently already learned that Riku didn’t use many words when only a few would do. He paid attention and at one point reached to tuck a stray strand of hair behind Riku’s ear.
Riku’s face had turned bright red and the other teen just smiled bashfully. He seemed to eat up the knowledge that all of Riku’s attention was on him. It was just one more sign. Partners could be greedy with each other.
“He seems all right.” Squall commented, his head resting against Cloud’s shoulder. “A touch excitable.”
“I think it’s a good balance for Riku.” Cloud agreed. “Someone to talk so he doesn’t always have too.”
Squall hummed, “Things will get harder for them before easier. Eventually this boy has to know Riku will need to leave this island. I hear leaving your home at an older age is harder than at a younger.”
“I’ve heard that too.” Cloud muttered. Neither one of them would know. They’d never really had homes and certainly didn’t consider the Land of Departure anything special. “The bond will win out in the end. He’ll want to stay with Riku.”
“Riku’s already proven he’d stay in one place longer than necessary.” Squall added. “Should that worry us?”
Cloud shrugged. “I assumed this was just a convenient place to train for a while, but i don’t think it would hurt to do a little poking and prodding.”
Squall sat up straight and pecked his lips against Cloud’s jaw. “Shall we go say hello, my wolf?”
There was a rumble in Cloud’s chest like a purr. He nodded and dispersed the spell of darkness that hid them from view. Barely a moment had past before Riku’s head shot up, looking at the pair sitting on the bridge looking down at them. He’d gone red all over again, this time gaining the other boys attention until he looked up too.
“Well?” Cloud muttered.
“Lets.” Squall agreed. They moved gracefully, hopping down off the bridge and onto the sand below. They moved in unison, approaching the teens and while the boy they hadn’t met yet looked mildly concerned, Riku paled.
It was easy to tell his thoughts when his anxiety got the better of him. He was silently worrying they were unhappy with him. He’d always been afraid of disappointing them. He never had.
“Squall. Cloud.” Riku muttered. “What are you doing here?”
“Oh good, you know them.” His friend sighed, but he seemed suddenly in tuned to Riku’s nerves. His shoulders reflexively squared defensively and it was down right adorable. “Riku?”
Squall scowled, choosing the one topic Riku wasn’t expecting. “You hung up on me.”
Riku’s eyes went wide. “What?”
“You hung up on me.” Squall repeated and nearly pouted. He ignored Cloud’s snickering. “How dare you hang up on me. I fucking raised you better.”
“I’m…” Riku fidgeted, trying to figure out what conversation they were having. “Sorry.”
“Good. You should be.” Squall said, waltzing forward and pulling Riku into a hug. “Tell your mind to shut up. We’re not mad at you.”
Riku sagged, leaning into the hug.
“You are however going to tell me what the fuck you thought you were thinking.” Squall said.
“Honestly, Riku. How are we supposed to biasedly take your side when you don’t share rule bending with us.” Cloud mused. “Fuck, we invented the rule bending.”
“Don’t you two think i drag you down enough?” Riku asked, voice barely loud enough to be heard
Cloud scoffed. “Squall, hit him. I can’t believe he just said that.”
Squall obliged by shoving Riku to the sand where he landed with a thud. “That’s not how this works, Riku.” Squall said, looking at Cloud and rolling his eyes. “He got that martyr bullshit from you.”
“Um…” The other teen commented, looking between them and Riku.
“Right, you.” Squall commented, getting a closer look at him now.
“Squall.” Riku said, a hint of warning in his tone.
“What? I don’t get to meet your friends now?”
Cloud chuckled. “He’s gets the possessive bullshit from you.”
Squall paused, turning to pin Cloud with a look. “You say something?”
“Nothing, my lion.” Cloud smirked.
The teen laughed, the sound filled with real joy. “Um, i’m Sora. Nice to meet you? I mean if you’re Riku’s friends, then yeah, nice to meet you. If you’re not i’m gonna have to ask what the hell are you doing on my island.”
Cloud and Squall both laughed, the kid had guts.
“Spying.” Riku pouted, cheeks still pink as he picked himself up off the sand and dusted himself off. “They’re fucking spying on me.”
“Guilty.” Cloud nodded. “We were worried.”
Riku twitched. “I’m fine. Just trying to figure things out.”
“Is our advice not good enough anymore?” Squall asked.
“It’s not that,” Riku said, getting dragged closer to Cloud in the next second for his own hug. “Sorry.”
“I know, but you don’t have to be.” Cloud said. “You know we’re on your side, don’t you?”
Riku nodded, wearing that same bashful look he’d had ever since he was a child. “Just… Cloud this is different.” He whispered.
Cloud squeezed him closer. “I know.”
“So…” Sora cut in again, watching them closely. “You said you’re on Riku’s side, right? That means you won’t be shipping me off right? I want to stay with Riku.”
“What if we were?” Squall asked, watching Sora. “What if we told you that rules are rules and you needed to conform to mage training.”
Sora watched him, shifting from foot to foot. “I’d tell you i am learning. Riku’s a great teacher. I don’t need to conform to what everyone else does.” he paused. “And if that’s not good enough i’m going to put up one hell of a struggle with the little magic i do know.” Light surrounding his hand before a keyblade appeared, advanced magic for sure.
“Sora, wait!” Riku said just before finding himself pinned in place, Cloud’s hand clamped over his mouth.
“You’re going to fight me?” Squall said, letting go of the reigns on his magic and letting his own light magic drift off him in waves. Feeling so much would usually have the noobies shaking. He held out his own hand, a large sword appearing of his own making. A gunblade. “You’re gonna fight me just to stay with Riku?”
Sora’s eyes narrowed, attention on the new blade for a split second before staring down Squall again. He was nervous, they could smell it. There were some doubts, they could smell that too, but beyond all that was fierce determination. He was aware he’d probably lose but he was going to go down kicking and screaming.
Squall waited a beat before smiling, weapon disappearing and magic once again wrapped up tight. “Cool. I like you. You’ll do.”
“I’ll…” Sora stared, “Huh?”
“They’re just assholes, Sora!” Riku said, finally shoving Cloud off of him. “He never would have fought you.”
“You think that.” Squall snorted.
“So this was like… a test?” Sora asked, looking confused but his own keyblade disappeared again.
“And you passed.” Cloud offered a smile. “Sorry about that. We’re a tad possessive over Riku. His happiness means a lot to us.”
“Oh,” Sora’s smile returned. “Okay cool, because that was really fucking scary. To be totally clear, you’re not gonna separate us?”
Squall growled, the idea distasteful. “You do not separate partners. It does far more harm than good.”
“Could you not.” Riku groaned. “It’s far too early for that.”
“Oh, my dear stupid child.” Cloud sighed. “A bond is a bond. If i can see it, then you should damn well be able to feel it.”
“I knew it!” Sora cheered, bouncing on the balls of his feet. “I told you, i told you! I’ll master the whole magic thing and be the best partner ever!”
Cloud hummed, the sound rumbling in his chest. “I do like you. That should only further prove your bond is real. Squall and i hardly like anyone.”
“Wait.” Sora’s bouncing stopped but his smile somehow brightened tenfold. “Are you the Wilds!? Riku was telling me while he was explaining how magic can be different. This is so cool!”
Riku huffed, “I’d ask you to not heighten their egos, Sora but it’s impossible.”
“You mentioned us?” Squall looked amused. “Good. Saves time. My name is Squall, Cloud here is my other half.”
Sora cocked his head to the side, all energy. “Is that just another way to say partner?”
“Sometimes.” he nodded.
“Some mages…” Riku muttered, sounding flustered. “Take to their bonds differently. I told you. Family, friends, lovers. They’re always linked but the bond is different for everyone. Some are afraid to let it grow, some let it go haywire. Cloud and Squall are so bonded that i wouldn’t be surprised if they could read the others mind or something. They’re completely synced.
“Oh…” Sora said, voice uncharacteristically soft. “Cool.”
“Squall is my light. I am his darkness.” Cloud continued. “We aren’t just partners, but two halves of a whole. It is different for every mage pair.”
Squall nodded his agreement. “You’re bond is new. It has all the time in the world to grow any way you want it.”
Sora smiled. “How long have you been together? Is that rude to ask?”
“Not rude, though i usually wouldn’t answer.” Squall said. “We found each other and bonded almost instantly at nine. Makes it eighteen years now i guess.”
A bond so strong seemed to only excite Sora. “That’s freaking amazing! Um, can i ask more questions. I swear i think of something new every five minutes.”
“I don’t mind. We have some questions of our own.” Cloud said, not missing Riku’s groan. “Why don’t we eat? You haven’t.”
“How long have you been watching me?” Riku scowled.
Cloud looked him dead in the eyes and shrugged. A dark backpack appeared in his hand and inside where containers of food magicked to keep things fresh while they were traveling.
Squall took the containers offered and sat in the sand. “What sort of questions do you have?”
“I don’t even know where to start.” Sora said, plopping down in the sand. “Riku said you summon beasts. Is that right?”
“Yes.” Cloud said, sitting beside Squall and pressing up against his side out of habit.
“They do, but it would also be right to say that they are the beasts themselves.” Riku said, taking a second container Cloud handed him filled with sandwiches. “Everyone’s magic varies a little. I can’t do things like that.”
“And they can’t summon your dream eaters?” Sora asked, snagging a sandwich.
“Huh,” Sora said thoughtfully. “I wonder what i’ll end up with.”
Riku shrugged. “Strong. You only presented a week ago.”
Squall nearly choked on his first bite. “You only just presented a week ago and you summoned a weapon!?”
Sora blinked. “Well, yes? Riku said that was amazing but i don’t get it. I can summon the keyblade but i can’t hold a ball of light.”
“How did you find out you could summon it at all?” Cloud asked and it prompted the teens in retelling the story of destroying the Heartless nest.
It was adorable, and all too telling that from the start, Sora wouldn’t let Riku go into danger alone. It was the spark of their bond already trying to run their lives.
“Fight or flight.” Squall commented. “You have nerve.Tossing magic about before you’ve learned to use it. That says a lot about you.”
“That i act before i think? I get that a lot.” Sora smiled, the look not quite reaching his eyes.
Cloud waved the comment off. “Riku was risking his life, Sora. Then fact that you stood your ground says good things about you. Those who abandon their partners are worthless. Even without magic you proved yourself. It will help you out in the long run.”
Sora’s face went hot but he still grinned, not letting the embarrassment hinder him. “No way was i running.”
“At our cores we are based in either light or dark magic. Riku notwithstanding.” Squall said, offering Riku an amused smile. “But they branch off into dozens of different directions. There are mages that scoff at Riku, who think he couldn’t decide between one magic or the other. It’s bullshit. First off, it’s not something we choose.”
“And second,” Cloud continued. “It’s a lot more muddled than what people assume. Squall for example, may have light magic but he certainly isn’t all sunshine.”
“I love you too.” Squall said dryly, making Riku laugh.
“It’s a matter of perspective.” Riku offered. “Or so these two have been telling me practically my whole life.”
Sora hummed, scarfing down half of his sandwich. “Makes sense. Are you two like, teachers?”
When both of the older mages scoffed, Riku was left to laugh again. “They aren’t teachers. Most wouldn’t even say they’re qualified to teach, but they were my teachers however.”
“So there’s a story there?” Sora asked.
“I mean not really.” Squall shrugged. “Cloud said we were going to teach Riku so we did.”
“He decided for you?” Sora asked.
“That time, yes.”
Cloud shrugged, not looking the least bit apologetic. “Riku’s original teachers were incompetent and were no more qualified to teach then i was, but at least i wasn’t a dick to him so as far as i’m concerned, i was more capable.”
“It was the best thing that could have happened to me.” Riku agreed. “I never would have mastered anything without the two of you.”
“Lies.” Squall said.
“Slander.” Cloud agreed. “You just needed someone to be patient with you.”
Riku smiled faintly and leaned a little closer to Sora. “The irony is they aren’t patient with anyone else.”
Cloud nodded, “True.”
“It’s a low threshold for stupidity.” Squall mused, wiping his hands on his pants.
Sora laughed, still enchanted with the information he was getting. “Is bonding really different for everyone? How did you two know you fit?”
Squall smiled faintly, his gaze shifting to Cloud. It was obvious they were both sharing the memory with a single look. “Cloud bit me.”
Sora sputtered, “What?”
Cloud smirked. “Yeah. I don’t know why. I was nine and we’d never met before. I was mostly with the kids who had dark magic and he was with the lights. We had little reason to mingle. At the time they didn’t try to pair us off so young. When i saw him, things just made sense.”
“You smelled good.” Squall commented.
“I growled at you, you hissed back.” Cloud smiled slowly, stuck in the memory.
“Our respective teachers thought we were going to fight but we just wanted to get closer to the other. Like a single touch would change everything.” Squall said, leaning a little closer to his partner.
“I bit him. He bit me back. There we were, bleeding and clinging to each other. It was the first time either of us had ever felt whole.” Cloud reached out almost without thinking, his hand on Squall’s knee.
“They couldn’t get us apart. It went all the way up to Master Yen Cid to try and pry us apart. He ended up telling everyone it was useless and to leave us be.” Squall said, tilting his head to catch Cloud in a soft kiss.
“They’ve been starting scandals since the very beginning.” Riku comment. “Apparently it was a full week before they’d let the other out of their sight. They also became masters startlingly young. What was it again? Thirteen?”
They pulled away from their kiss, Cloud nipping at Squall’s bottom lip. “Yes, and that was after months of begging for them to test us. We finally went to Squall’s father and let him watch what we could do. He was satisfied and went ahead and put in the masters application for us.”
“It’s different for everyone but our magic is instinctual. Primal. That helped.” Squall said.
Sora just grinned at them. “You guys are like, relationship goals.”
Both of the Wilds looked surprised but it was Riku’s soft agreement that got them to them.
“I’ve always thought so too. For all so many used to scoff, they were great teachers. Maybe Squall has some tips for you. Being all light he can relate to you better than i can.”
“Yeah?” Sora smiled. “Right now i’m just trying to hold a glowy ball.”
“You’re doing better than you think you are.” Riku muttered, doing his best to sound encouraging. To Cloud and Squall it seemed more like he was desperately trying to keep Sora from feeling bad. “You just started. You’ve been spoiled by being able to summon a weapon. You need to back track some.”
Squall grunted. “Let me see it up close.”
“Okay.” Sora said, turning back to Riku who was finishing the last bite of his sandwich while almost effortlessly creating the light energy in his hand. He held it out and Sora reached for it with both hands the way he’d been shown. Ever so gently he tried to raise it out of Riku’s hand.
It got a few inches before it slid through his fingers and disappeared. They tried two or three more times, Cloud and Squall watching intently.
“Might be…” Cloud started quietly, tapping his chin. “That Riku’s magic is a touch too advanced for you.”
“Oh…” Sora looked crestfallen.
Riku nearly winced at his tone. “But it’s just energy. I’m not trying to make it powerful or anything.”
“It’s not a criticism, Riku.” Cloud said.
“Think of it this way, you need to learn to control your light, before you can handle your darkness.” Squall said.
Sora shifted, eyes scrunched up in confusion. “Isn’t that what i’m trying to do?”
“It’s what i’m trying to teach.” Riku grumbled, looking fairly disheartened himself.
“You’re a fine teacher.” Squall said. “I’ve no doubt you’ll be able to teach him but he needs the basics first.”
Cloud reached out to ruffle Riku’s hair and just be all around annoying. “Your magic is so closely intertwined that even your light magic has traces of your dark magic in it. I’m sure it’s the same the other way around too.”
“Sora might not be able to fully touch dark base magic just yet. We all know that’s fairly common.” Squall said, making a light orb of his own. “Try and pick up mine.”
“Okay.” Sora said, looking less sure of himself. He reached out the same way, cupping the energy with both hands. He moved slowly like before but in no time had raised the ball all the way to his chest. “Oh.” Sora blinked. “It’s almost like it’s solid.”
“Right.” Squall said, plucking it out of his fingers. “When you are first learning, it’s hard to come in contact with out opposite element. It’s something we learn to overcome.” He tossed the light orb to Cloud who caught it easily.
“See, no trouble.” Cloud said, making a similar dark shadow ball of energy and passing it over to Squall. “Try touching that one, Sora.”
Sora reached out and hesitated. Twice he tried to make himself touch it but he shied away. “I really don’t want to…”
“Right.” Squall said, not unkindly. “For two reasons. One, you aren’t ready to come into full contact with darkness based magic.”
“And two, i’m not your partner.” Cloud continued.
“Okay.” Riku said thoughtfully. He picked up both the light and dark orbs and mauled over what they’d been told. “So my light has a little darkness to it, and Sora can touch it because it’s mine.”
“And only hold onto it for a second because i’m a noob?” Sora asked.
“Right.” Cloud smiled.
Squall nodded. “It’s like the lowest level Riku can teach you is a level five and i started you at a level one. If you like, you and i can practice the very basics of light magic for a few days and then Riku can take over. Once you build up your understanding of light magic it’ll get easier.”
Sora shifted his gaze to Riku, not exactly asking for permission but still seeking approval. “That’s okay?”
“Of course it is.” Riku’s smile was almost sheepish. “Squall’s the one that taught me light magic too. It’s perfect.” He held out a dark orb like the one Cloud had made. “Eventually you’ll be able to hold this one.”
“Neat.” Sora said, grinning again. He reached out to let his hand hover over it and made a sound of confusion as he went to touch it. “It’s not as scary as Cloud’s was. I’m not afraid to touch it.”
“Because Riku is your partner. You have no reason to be wary of him.” Squall mused. “As it should be.”
Cloud watched as Riku tried to stifle his own pride. He’d waited such a long time for a partner and had had his lone status thrown in his face for years. He’d tread lightly, cautiously, always afraid something good would be taken from him.
“C’mon.” Cloud said, nudging Riku. “Let Squall and Sora play with their light magic. You and i can have some fun of a darker nature.” He stood, a dark aura appearing around him. “You game?”
“Oh i’m game.” Riku grinned, getting to his feet.
“Yes, yes.” Squall rolled his eyes. “The lights will work while the darkness plays. Get used to it Sora, it’s a running theme.” His tone was dull but his eyes sparkled with mirth.
Sora laughed, “I’m ready to learn whatever you can teach me.”