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Ephemeral and Fleeting

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He can't get the memory of glowing violet eyes out of his head. The others left him alone long ago; Cid and Vincent disappeared together, back to the airship, and Tifa with one long backwards glance.

He takes another drink, barely tasting it as it burns all the way down. It hurts less than his memories. Cloud was sure the guy behind the bar was concerned for his liver, but Cloud was steady on his stool, perhaps leaning on the wooden top a little more than when he had first sat down. The pressure against his forearms starts to ache, and he sits up a little, shocked to find that he wasn't entirely steady. It took a lot to get someone with so much Mako drunk, but he was working on it.

Cloud jolts upright when someone in the back laughs loudly, convinced for that brief second he would turn around and see a familiar face. The wild carelessness of that laugh pains him, too familiar even when the voice is not.

He thinks of Zack, and downs another shot, holding back his wince.

By the time he gets up, he's staggering. He's had more than enough, enough that in the morning his head will feel it, and he doesn't care. He sways to his room, locks the door behind him and leans against it. He rolls his head back, hair flattening against the wood, and tries not to think.

All his efforts are in vain; even the alcohol coursing its way through him doesn't shutter out the echo of that laugh. For a moment, he'd been convinced... but Zack was long gone, fallen in a field. He hadn't even buried him.

Zack had never seemed to care that Cloud had only ever weighed him down.

His head rolls back against the wood and he stares up at the ceiling, feeling his eyes begin to burn along with his throat. Hel, he's a maudlin drunk.

He should just go to bed and have done with it, but even the bed holds memories of Zack, of mako-sharp skin and clever hands and a grin so bright it eclipsed everything else.

He slumps down, sliding down the door until he's a heap underneath it, his legs up against his chest, his arms around his knees.

He tries to think of anything else, anything besides Zack's phantom touches, but his traitorous mind settles on brown hair and a pink bow. Her hands had been soft, not calloused like Zack's had been after years of handling a sword, and if her nails had had chipped polish and dirt beneath them, he'd never mentioned it.

He carefully doesn't think about the last pair of hands, about the fall of silver hair. That was still too close, painful like the scars that ache when it rains. At least, they used to, until they'd been wiped away by Aerith's rainfall, like she'd smoothed her hand over him again and wiped it all away.

He lets out a frustrated noise, banging his head against the door once more before pulling himself up and plodding towards his bed.

He strips quickly, doesn't think about the brush of air over bare skin like the touch of hands, and climbs under the blankets. In the desert, it's hot enough that he kicks most of them off almost immediately, though he needs the comfort of something over his skin, especially now.

Burying his face in the pillow, he holds his breath so that he doesn't smell the scent of soap instead of familiar hair and skin.

Though the bed is small, it still feels too large, empty and cold. He supposes that when you'd used to sharing with three people, that's only to be expected. And he doesn't want to be thinking about that, but the memories flood over him in a rush. He rolls to his back, his eyes firmly closed, and doesn't think about what he's doing. He's drunk enough that he can imagine that the sword-calloused hand trailing down his stomach is not his own. He squeezes his eyes shut until there are patterns in the darkness behind the lids and his lips part on a gasp at the first touch.

He imagines he can feel the bed dip with extra weight, that he can feel the brush of silken hair across his thighs, that it's not just his hand on his hardening cock.

He swallows a moan. The room is silent but for the harsh whisper of his own breathing, but he can imagine quiet giggles and moans, the bedsheets rustling as bodies shifted around him.

All of a sudden he can't continue, rolling onto his stomach again and smothering his sob against the suffocating pillow. It's not the sex he misses; he can do without that. But what comes after, the warmth of their bodies, Zack's hand ruffling his hair and Aerith's head on his shoulder, another, bigger hand on his stomach... he can never have that again and even the little family he's built up in the years following can't protect him from the agony of it.


The next morning, he's wan and pale, and his head aches with withheld tears. He knows he can lurk on the airship, blame it on the airsickness, and no-one will bother him. He feels crimson eyes on him, and his back stiffens with it, but after all Vincent knows better than to stir up another man's demons.