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Title: Aftershocks
Fandom: Kingdom Hearts
Part: 1/??
Disclaimer: I owneth not KH nor any Square character mentioned herein. No profit is being made.
Characters/Pairings: Leon-main, Full Cast, many FF cameos.
Rating: M
Summary: Post-game Hollow Bastion. What awaits those from Traverse Town?
Notes: Rating is for language, disturbing content, gore, and sexual situations in this chapter and others.

"How am I supposed to go home?" Leon asked, leaning on the railing of one of the balconies of the Hollow Bastion castle, looking out over the stone steps that trailed downward to where a small village had reappeared from the retreating chaotic darkness.

"You'll walk," Aerith replied, reaching over to rest a hand on his shoulder. "You will, I will, we all will."

Casting a glance back over his shoulder to where the other three... four of their castaway lot stood, Leon nodded slowly.

"But... I don't know how... are we the only ones older? Can we just pick up our lives?" Leon looked down again. Smoke was starting to curl from the chimney of one of the houses, a reminder that life indeed had returned. But what sort of life was it?

"I..." Aerith seemed lost for words, instead silently moving to stand beside Leon, looking down with the same thoughtful gaze and staying there, shivering. Leon thought to give her his coat, but he really didn't think it would help at all. She wasn't shivering from the wind that snaked down from around the spires of the great monster on which they stood. She was shivering in realization that indeed it was impossible to ever truly go home.

Here they were, old before their time, forced through utter hell time and time again. And he thought of his family -- how had he ever disliked them so much, anyway? Part of him wanted to jump over the railing and freefall to the ground as a head start to racing to them. But he didn't because he was afraid. Would they remember him?

"I think we should go," a voice said behind them. "The castle won't crumble without us."

Leon turned to look into the eyes of the man who'd been his constant companion as a child, three years younger but too similar in spirit to let something so petty keep them from dueling with wooden swords and building forts in the forest past the village.

"Cloud's right," Aerith said, tearing her eyes away from the scene below. "We have to go home."

"Not all of us have homes," Leon said, looking to the back of the group lingering near the castle doorway. The army general, sent from the faraway capitol perhaps as punishment for both youth and wisdom, had been stationed in the castle with Lord Ansem...

No, that was not the way to think of him... just Ansem, just...

"I will still investigate the town with you," Sephiroth said, expression unchanging. "And I have no problem continuing to live in this castle."

"I'd ask you to live with me," Yuffie, the youngest of their group, said before frowning. "But... my father has never liked the king's army."

"True, we don't know the situation, but I really am content here," Sephiroth reiterated. "Besides, those of you who are adults now would perhaps be interested in joining me."

Leon nodded. Somehow, after nine years of not reporting to anyone for anything, the thought of sharing a roof with his father and aunt Ellone was a bit stifling.

"If we don't get off this damned balcony, we'll never know anything." The eldest of the group, the pilot and mechanic Cid, stalked through the group and planted himself in the center. "Don't make me get a piece of fucking rope and march you all along holding onto it. I have never been and will never be your babysitter."

Leon could certainly think of times when Cid had been their babysitter during the first years after Hollow Bastion fell, but now was obviously not the time to remind Cid of all the times he bandaged Yuffie's scraped knees or his hilarious attempts at comforting Aerith after her first boyfriend had dumped her.

"Let's go," Cloud said, taking the lead and not looking back as he exited the balcony.

Lingering, Leon couldn't help the fear that was gripping his heart. Once already he'd been forced to throw away everything he knew in exchange for unfamiliarity and uncertainty - now it was time to do it all again.

Forcing the beginnings of a smile, he found his place at the tail of the group and silently followed his five companions down the mountain and into the town.

The first thing that struck him was the silence. A fire crackled and animals made low noises of discontent to make up the white noise of any town, but Leon could not hear people. Something was very, very wrong.

And then he saw them - actually they all saw them. People were outside their homes, staring at one another, eyes vacant as though they were lost trying to find answers to a puzzle so complex that nothing sensical could come of it.

Yes, for in Hollow Bastion, it was nine years later. They were nine years older. And in the early morning sunshine in a place where most had simply gone to bed one night and awoken to a completely alien body with absolutely no idea what had happened, not a single person could think of words that could begin to convey just what they wanted to say.

What Leon feared for were those who had been awake, those like himself but who hadn't been so lucky as to escape the enveloping blackness as an army of shadows had devoured the hearts of innocents. Ansem had damned them all, and now... Now he had no idea how to begin to fix an entirely broken town.

"Squall! Cloud! Aerith!"

Everyone turned to where a black-haired man was running towards them.

"It is you, right? You're... okay..."

"Zack!" Cloud exclaimed, letting himself be embraced before pushing Zack away. "I'm... sorry. I'm sorry we..."

"I remember you reaching out for me," Zack said, recalling the night when everything had ended... "And that's it. The rest is gone. But what... everyone is..."

"Nine years older," Sephiroth said, offering a friendly handshake to one of his few town soldiers. "It's been nine years."

Zack was instantly rendered into the same shocked state as much of the town. "Nine years?"

"We did get away, but... if you remember nothing, perhaps you got the better deal," Yuffie said, watching as more and more of the townsfolk began to advance on them. "No nightmares, no heartaches..."

"I woke up, lying on the ground near the castle, but my body... I'm weak and hungry and most of the food is bad and I'm nine years older," Zack said, shaking his head. "What are we going to do?"

They looked at one another, reality kicking in. Nine years meant there were no crops; their animals were all close to death, and... There were no children, either.

Nothing, nothing could be the same.

"The castle stores," Aerith said suddenly. "There was a ton of canned food there. And we probably all qualify as mages now - maybe we can find some magic that'll help."

"Breed any animal that's still young enough and let's butcher any that isn't - old meat is still meat," Leon found himself saying. "We'll have to rally everyone to the town square to make plans. We have to be in this together."

"Yes..." Zack said, still looking completely overwhelmed before turning to the small group that had gathered at the sound of voices. "We must get everyone to the square."

"I'll go to the high part of town," Leon said, pointing to where more spaced houses rolled upward on a grassy hill. Fruit hung heavy on the trees there, he could see even from the distance. That was one thing worth celebrating.

"East," Sephiroth said.

"West," Cloud offered.

And Leon didn't hear the rest because he'd already turned a corner and was walking. It would have been easier if he'd just been nine years older and everything else had stayed trapped in time. But no, now there were minds vacant of nine years, babies who'd awoke in fully functional bodies but no idea how to use them, people who had probably come back only to die...

He had chosen the high part of town because it was far from where his home had been. He was not ready to see what time had done to his father, nor was he ready to face his aunt who undoubtedly would make a fuss over his scars.

The high part of town loomed before him, lacking the crackling fires of elsewhere that had likely been started as part of the morning routine before anyone had realized that suddenly they were not in their bodies, not in their time, not in their minds...

The first house belonged to a girl he had been in school with, cheerful and scheming. He raised his fist to knock but wasn't sure it was worth it. The door was unlocked and he just walked in.

Only silence greeted him, something Leon did not find comforting.

"Hello?" Leon yelled, his voice echoing through the large house. "Hello?"

There was noise then, to the back, out on a sun porch and Leon ran in that direction, not caring as his gunblade clattered against the walls. Somehow his beloved weapon was no longer as important as these voices in the void.

"Rinoa!" he exclaimed, thankful to see her and her neighbor's family sitting together, blankets around their shoulders and expressions like they were harboring the weight of the world. Never had he thought he'd be so happy to see any of his classmates. Never.

"Squall?" she whispered, voice harsh and dry. "Squall, what happened?"

"Everyone's down at the square," he replied, not wanting to bother to explain the details more times than he had to. "Just please go."

"I..." The soft murmur came from Garnet, Rinoa's neighbor. The last time Leon had seen her, she'd been skinning her knees alongside Yuffie. But now she was a beautiful young lady who'd obviously been stuffed into one of Rinoa's dresses. "I don't feel right."

"I know," Leon said, walking over to where she sat and dropping down on one knee to take her hand. "And I think you're going to have to feel that way for awhile. But maybe if you go down to the square with Rinoa, you'll get to see Yuffie."


Was she seven? Was she sixteen? After receiving thanks from two sets of bewildered parents, Leon practically ran from the house.

He couldn't do this. He would crack. He'd almost cracked. There were still seven more houses, no... six since Garnet's family had been with Rinoa's family. He didn't know all of the town adults, certainly not by name...

These days, no one knew his name, either.

Leon had changed his name, tried to purge his memories of this town. It was self-preservation - Squall dwelled on things, let them eat him alive, drowned him. He was not Squall. Squall would not have survived. Squall would have cast his heart away too and woken up in flesh completely alien, again drowning, again failing at the simplest of things...

Shaking his head, Leon walked up to the next house, one that belonged to a beautiful actor and his younger brother.

Again, he didn't bother knocking. Years of barging in on Cid any time he needed anything had taken away most of that urge, anyway. Cid hadn't always been happy about it, but since Cid was not their babysitter, he also managed to refrain from scolding him. Punched him once, yes, but that had been well-deserved.

Cid had never really talked about a family or anything, Leon thought as he roamed through another seemingly empty house. There had been vague mentions of a pair of his employees, but that was all. Either Cid was a complete loner in life or he'd been like Leon, drowning in memories until shutting them away completely.

In an upstairs bedroom, Leon found them, still asleep and curled together in a large bed, neither the sun nor their own confused bodies calling them beyond sleep.

"Zidane..." Leon said softly, reaching to touch the shoulder of the younger brother. "Jii..."

Eyes fluttered open, surprising Leon with just how beautiful the wild teenager had become Zidane was somewhat close to his age but in a completely different social circle.

How was he supposed to deal with this, anyway? How were any of them?

"Who are you?" Zidane asked, trying to sit up. "Why do I... feel so funny?"

"Get up," Leon replied, pointing at the other man in the bed. "Get him up too and come down to the town square."

Too much. It was all too much. Five more houses to go but Leon found his legs shaking as he left the house of the brothers. By the time he made it across the unruly lawn to his next destination, he couldn't stand, sitting quickly and trying to blink away tears.

Unthinkable. Survival was going to be a miracle. Even with food, with shelter, with clothing, there was still no guarantee that there would ever be understanding.

Ansem had taken everything, he surmised. Taken everything and there was no way to get it back.

Nine years were gone; nine years that he'd had but no one else had... Nine years he'd eagerly trade for just one more minute of time back then, one more minute to mend bridges, one more minute to tell people...

"Excuse me..."

Leon looked up, his watering eyes revealing a rather blurry figure he finally realized was Lady Rydia, one of the few promising mage students the village had.

If she had come into power... any power, her body had to be absolutely wracked with it, insane...


"You know me?" she asked, dropping down to sit beside him. "Who are you?"

"Squall," Leon said. "Aunt Ellone's Squall."

"Squall!" Recognition shot through Rydia's eyes and she latched unto him. "Does Auntie Ellone look funny like I do? Can you take me to her? My body aches."

"She's down at the town square," Leon explained, trying to remember he was talking to a child, not an adult. "Everyone is. So please get your Auntie Rosa and Uncles Cecil and Kain and go there. Okay?"

"Okay, Squall. You look funny too!" Rydia smiled before running back into the house.

Four houses to go. This was an absolute nightmare.

Four more houses, but he made it.

As he made his way back down to the town, following behind the last of the high town residents, Leon wondered what had already happened, what he'd missed. Had Aerith been able to raid the castle storehouses? What did people have left, anyway? How would they make plans? How would things be enforced? Ansem had been their guiding force, their benefactor in their wild outland.

Sephiroth - General Sephiroth - would surely have a role, if everyone would get past his obvious touch of darkness. Would they? Either everyone would band together or they would fall apart in pieces.

His father had been a leader of sorts, too... respected at least, though not wanting responsibility beyond publishing the town newspaper once a week. They would need a leader. The town would need someone to cling to...

Wishing he had paid more attention to Ansem's books about human psychology, Leon made his way to the town square to see what was happening.

Not surprisingly, Cloud had commandeered the space at the foot of the fountain, standing on the ledge to see over everyone. He was speaking, but Leon wasn't close enough yet to hear his words.

"... Right now we should use everything we can to help one another. Any usable food, clothing, animals, seeds... If we can take one day at a time, we should manage to survive physically."

"But what of... Time?" a man in the front row asked. Who was he? Nida? Yes, Nida.

"There is no way to reclaim time," Cloud said. "Forward is the only option. But what am I supposed to say to comfort anyone? I can't... This is where we have to be strong together."

From the back of the square, Leon found himself playing a sick game of memory, trying to pick out names and faces, but the names were a blur and the faces were so different than what he remembered. Rinoa again, yes, Garnet, Zidane, Kuja... who was that beside them? Oh, Quistis from the next grade up... Yes, and who was that by Cid? Maybe one of his employees... black hair. He hadn't known them to begin with, though. He hadn't really known Cid other than by the smallest of acquaintances.

And there was... Ellone. A man beside her. His father. Blinking away tears again, Leon decided that perhaps he'd best make his existence known. Yes, if he could have had another minute nine years ago, he would have apologized for the fights, for the unfounded hatred, for saying such horrid, terrible things. He didn't know if they could ever actually be close, but Leon was willing to try this time. With both of them. Ellone looked downright beautiful -- she'd grown into quite the woman.

Cloud was still talking, Sephiroth nearby, willing to quell any dissent. But Leon really wasn't listening. As fucked up of a second chance as this all was, suddenly it felt good to have it.

Note: Yay for speculative what-ifs. Nine years lost, nine years to make up for. Just a very random idea that took root in seconds... I've always wanted to do an alternative before-game story with a town very much like this, but I couldn't cement the details. So have the after-shocks. Enjoy.



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