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Title: Aftershocks
Fandom: Kingdom Hearts
Part: 10/??
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: Things attempt to return to normal. Zidane. Edward.
Notes: Rating is for language, disturbing content, gore, and sexual situations in this chapter and others.

"I think we can open tomorrow," Zack said as he pulled up the hem of his shirt to wipe off his forehead. "Everything is organized and clean and good..."

Leon nodded as he looked around. They'd spent the past few nights organizing and re-organizing everything in the weapons shop until they'd both been too exhausted to continue.

"We'll need more practice swords," Zack continued, almost as much to himself as to Leon. "I heard about Ellone's mage-gathering and how they're going to be more open with mage training."

"You think we'll have a lot of prospective fighters, too?" Leon asked before realizing that he really hadn't had to ask. Of course all of the children who'd been thrust into adulthood would want to emulate the town's protectors even if it wasn't through traditional means like joining the army or becoming a deputy sheriff.

"I think we'll have some of everything," Zack replied as he glanced around again. "We need some flags or balloons, maybe."

"Maybe I can borrow the ones that the clothing swap are using," Leon suggested as he walked over to lean on one of the beams that supported the floor above. "Or at least find out where theirs came from. Do we have an 'Open' sign?"

Zack chuckled. "I have not overlooked the little details..." he announced. "But, um, we don't. There should be one, but I couldn't find it."

"Just write on a piece of cardboard for now," Leon said as he slid down to sit on the floor. "I can't remember if there ever was one to begin with."

"Pretty true," Zack noted as he sat down near Leon and promptly flopped back on the floor. "I'm wiped out. I think we've touched every single thing in this place at least twice."

"Without doing a proper inventory," Leon added.

"We'll have time," Zack replied as he folded his arms behind his head. "Just have to write down every item we sell until we can do a full inventory. Besides, we don't even know if we can re-order from the main kingdom."

Leon froze - he hadn't even thought about that. Hollow Bastion was something of an outpost turned into a town, situated at least a week's journey from the main kingdom. Supplies generally took a month to arrive and that was when there was near-daily riders and wagons traversing the rough terrain between. Aside from free-roaming dragons, a plethora of other dangers assaulted anyone unprepared for the trip. Leon himself had only been to the main kingdom once and that had been as part of a sizable group. And still, they'd had problems with their wagon and the trip had taken three extra days and a good part of that had been helping push.

If the main kingdom was in the same shape Hollow Bastion was in, or worse, they probably hadn't even stopped to think about the outposts, outlying towns or forts. Leon didn't think he'd want them to, unless they were exceptionally well-organized. Still, no one had arrived in town, from anywhere, since the world rebuilt itself.

There wasn't even any evidence that there was still a main kingdom, Leon thought bleakly. He closed his eyes. Technically, the castle was the epicenter of everything, yet it had survived everything perfectly. If the effects of everything were somehow worst farther outward...

"Hey, Leon..."

"Sorry," Leon replied, snapping his eyes open and looking over at Zack who had propped himself up inches away. "Was thinking..."

"Figured," Zack replied. "I kinda was too. Maybe once everything is settled in town, we can get some horses or chocobos or something and go see. I mean, as an official army thing, if the general will allow it. I wonder if he's even thought about it."

Leon nodded before the almost-obvious hit him. "He might be able to scout ahead," Leon pondered aloud. "I don't know."

"Right!" Zack agreed with a smile. "He can just teleport there!"

"Depends," Leon commented. "There might be limits on that. It's not a common mage skill, but it can be learned. I know I read about some forms of the power in Ellone's books. Mostly it's limited to familiar areas..."

"General Sephiroth has definitely been to the main kingdom," Zack said. He brushed his hair back and crossed his legs, settling in without much regard for Leon's personal space, if he even had any left after working closely beside Zack for the last few days and nights.

"Doesn't mean the main kingdom is... well, there," Leon stated before realizing that might have been a little too blunt and otherwise pessimistic. "Or that Sephiroth can go that far without exhausting himself."

"That man doesn't get exhausted," Zack said with a smile that any other time, Leon would have taken as a bit too knowing. But at the moment he was exhausted and they both really needed to change the subject and get back to the bad jokes and strange stories they'd been coloring the evenings with.

They sat there in silence for a few minutes, each silently contemplating a little bit of everything.

"If we're opening tomorrow, we should probably get some sleep," Leon finally said as he wearily got to his feet.

"Or we could see if the pub is open," Zack suggested as he sprawled back out on the floor. "Maybe not. I think you'd have to carry me there and someone would have to carry us both back here."

"I'm not carrying you," Leon started as he glanced through the front window almost incidentally until he noticed shadows outside. "Oh no..."

"What?" Zack asked, his eyes wide as he jumped to his feet. "What's out there?"

"Utter horror and likely my doom," Leon deadpanned. "It's Laguna."

Zack sighed and headed towards the back of the store. "You deal with him. I'm going to bed. Turn the lights off when you're done."

Frowning, Leon walked over and unlocked the front door.

"We're not open," he said as he looked at his father and the two young men following him with wagons. It took a second to process in his tired mind, but once Leon realized that this wasn't a casual visit, he knew he'd have to help.

"I'll try to sell you advertising space tomorrow," Laguna replied as he handed Leon a thin, doubled-over newspaper. "It's not much, but it's a start. I'd like to get these delivered tonight."

Leon nodded as he started looking the paper over.

"I don't think there's anything you don't know in there," Laguna said almost flatly. "Actually, I'd like you to help deliver these."

"Laguna, I..." Leon paused, making sure he said the right thing. "I have to turn the lights off and lock up first."

"Thanks, Squall," Laguna replied, smiling as Leon ducked back into the shop. The lights and the keys weren't a bit deal and though he couldn't imagine why he was doing it, he grabbed his gunblade from behind the counter and holstered it as if he was heading out to battle. He had the door locked and the keys clipped onto one of his belts before anyone spoke to him again.

"Hello again," one of the shadows behind Laguna said. The voice sounded familiar and once Leon navigated out from beneath the shop's awning, he could see that it was Zidane from up on the hill. Beside him, the other boy was tight-lipped and unfamiliar. He had to be in his late teens, but instead of his longish blond hair ringing bells, it merely tapped at them with toothpicks. Both the original age gap and the nine year hole proved too much for Leon's memory.

"Hello, Zidane," Leon said. "How are you doing?"

"Okay, I guess," Zidane admitted. "Are you going to be selling weapons soon?"

"Tomorrow, if Zack wakes up before mid-evening," Leon replied before turning his attention to the quiet young man. "And you are?"

"This is Edward," Laguna replied, attempting to step back behind the young man and push him forward. "He recently came from the main kingdom to study with the minstrel that took up residence near Doctor Nusakan's place."

"Oh, okay," Leon offered as he held out a hand in Edward's direction. "It's nice to meet you."

"Yeah," Edward said quickly before quickly letting his hand flop about within Leon's grasp and then retracting it. "Hi."

"He's not going to bite," Zidane chided before winking at Leon.

"You boys have fun," Laguna said with a wave as he headed off in the direction of the small newspaper office. "I need to clean up."

Leon felt a bit deflated, but now that both Edward and Zidane were looking at him, he couldn't exactly say no.

"Okay," Leon said as he glanced at the wagons. "We'll do this together. Every house in town should take us about about four hours - a little less if we split up on the hill and... No, we'll stay together for the perimeter."

"Right!" Zidane agreed. "So which way first?"

"Somewhere that makes sense," Edward suggested, peeking from beneath his bangs.

"Hollow Bastion is divided into four paper routes," Leon said as he tried to remember each of them. He'd certainly carried each enough times, but trying to do all of them in the dark with two followers after nine years wasn't quite the same. But he had general ideas of everything and could improvise as need-be. Certainly, he remembered the short cuts and had been using them during the last couple days when running small errands. "We can start at the beginning of the first route."

Both young men nodded and silently followed as Leon began to walk towards the hulking castle to start in what was, of course, the beginning of all things, paper routes included.

"Does someone live in there?" Edward asked softly as they approached the path leading upwards to the main entry. Everything, including the path and the stagnant pools were shrouded in shadow and as much as he hated to admit it even to himself, the place looked scary.

"Of course someone lives there," Zidane replied, pointing upwards to a where windows were lit in the uppermost sections. "See the lights on?"

"There's been talk of turning it into apartments of some sort," Leon said. A few of his own fears shook away and he mentally chided himself for letting the castle get to him yet again. "More of a dormitory, really, for some of the displaced young people in town."

"Oh," Edward said. "So we have to go up there."

"Yes," Zidane said with a smile. "Or I can go. I just put the paper at the door, right?"

"If the front door is unlocked, put it just inside the door," Leon instructed, amazed at how little details came rushing back to him as though he had lost the same nine years as the rest of the town. "If not, there's a niche with a clip beside the door so it doesn't blow away. Most of the houses in town have slots in their doors for letters or papers or sale fliers, so it'll be easier."

"Okay!" Zidane announced, grabbing a paper from the top of his wagon and scrambling upwards towards the path, bounding with the sort of energy that Leon hoped they'd all be able to maintain for the next few hours. Already it was late and few lights were on in the town aside from the handfulls of clustered streetlights that dotted only the major corners of town.

Laguna was always so impulsive. The paper could have waited until morning, easily, but Laguna had managed to round up a team to take care of it right away. As Zidane disappeared from sight, Leon picked up a paper again and began to actually take in the words on the printed page. Not surprisingly, almost every byline bore Laguna's name. But it didn't matter - Laguna had found his niche and he was a fairly good writer.

The front page was mostly the clearest explanation possible of what had happened, along with some reactions from various important residents. Assuming he knew more than what he could glean from the article, he turned the page to stare down an entire page of obituaries for all of the townsfolk who hadn't survived the void. At the bottom was a list of missing persons, something Leon hadn't even speculated upon. It seemed he'd have something to talk to Laguna about after this chore was completed. And after he'd slept.

The third page was a list of open businesses and services, along with what they'd accept in leiu of payment. Leon skimmed over that before closing the paper and quickly noticing the back page was a summary of the mages meeting, another meeting about education and some other smaller, trivial things.

By the time he'd returned it to the pile, Zidane was visible coming down the path. Edward hadn't said a word, but he looked at least twice as nervous as he had been before. Leon wanted to sigh. He could only assume, without asking, that Edward had come from a fairly wealthy or even royal family to learn more of the world and had instead arrived in time for disaster.

"Door was open!" Zidane called as he jumped the last few steps and then ran to his wagon. "No problem! One down, um..."

"A few hundred to go," Leon supplied with a nod and pointed towards the closest section of town. "From here, we'll just work towards the square. It's easy to miss the one or two houses on side streets, so pay attention. And apartments will have some variety of different numbers stuck on them, especially above shops."

"There's an easier way to do that," Edward said. "Numbering, I mean."

"Sure," Zidane countered. "But I always kinda liked that about this place - even though I live in a house with my brother and sister, if I wanted to, I could live at Seventeen and Five-Eigths Market Street."

Leon couldn't help smiling. Zidane had rather nicely opened up the conversation for questions. "Zidane, you haven't always lived here, right? And I didn't even know you had a younger sister."

"Mikoto?" Zidane questioned and Leon finally had to shake his head. Zidane was a few years younger than he was - closer to Cloud's age. "She's a couple years younger than I am," he reasoned. "Maybe too young for you to know."

"How old are you both?" Edward asked. They reached the first house and Zidane took a paper, folded it once more and shoved it through the slot in the door.

"Twenty-five," Leon said firmly. Edward took a paper and did the same thing with the house across the narrow street.

Picking up a paper of his own to deliver to the next house, Leon waited for both boys to calculate their ages.

"Twenty-three?" Zidane said almost horrified. "I can't be twenty-three. Maybe I'll be nineteen instead. I don't think it matters too much if I just pick an age. I always wanted to be nineteen."

"Why?" Edward questioned. They moved along, passing out another set of papers.

Zidane shrugged. "I dunno. I just did. I guess it sounds silly now..."

"I wanted to fight a dragon," Leon admitted. "It wasn't as fun as I'd decided it should be."

Both boys nodded. Leon had to remind himself that they weren't boys, no matter how inexperienced they were.

"I think I'm close to twenty," Edward said. "I was supposed to go home when I was seventeen... Leon, did everything go away? Like, did the whole world go away, or just part of it?"

"All of it," Leon replied before tucking a newspaper in a slot. They'd nearly made their way to the end of the block. Talking helped.

"Well, it all came back, right?" Zidane quipped with a toothy smile. He paused, frowned and looked at Leon. "Right?"

"I don't know," Leon admitted. Maybe talking wasn't helping. "Maybe we should find another subject."

"What other subjects are there?" Edward asked. "What else is there right now? We all woke up and everything was different."

Sighing, Leon had to admit a bit of a point, though he wasn't going to say so out loud.

"Hey, you're training to be a bard, right?" Zidane asked, bouncing over in front of Edward. "You could tell us a story or sing or something..."

"But I just started learning," Edward admitted. "I don't know anything yet."

"Try," Zidane demanded. "Just tell a story about anything. Make it up as you go."

They finished another block as Edward finally opened his mouth.

"Once upon a time, there was a princess named Anna..."

"Don't you live next to a girl named Anna?" Zidane asked with a leer.

"Let him tell the story," Leon warned as he folded another paper and delivered it. "And keep walking. Fast. I want to go to bed before sunrise for once.

"Tell me again," Zack said as he placed the hand-lettered 'Open' sign in the window and unlocked the door, opening it to bright sunshine and a gust of warm wind. "Why are you awake?"

"Because the sunrise was really pretty and I just had to tell you about it," Leon grumbled from his stool behind the sales counter. He leaned back against the wall and had his eyes half-closed, but it was just like hours before, sleep just wasn't presenting itself.

"You're grumpy when you're tired," Zack noted before stepping out into the street and looking both ways. "Hey, where's the rush of customers?"

"Zack, you opened the door fifteen seconds ago."

"Seventeen," Zack corrected. "Why don't you try to sleep?"

"Yes, because I've not tried that yet," Leon deadpanned in response. "Maybe I can go find Ellone and she can throw a sleep spell at me."

"And leave me alone with the rush of customers that'll appear at absolutely any moment?" Zack mock-questioned as he wandered the length of the store and then crossed behind the counter to sit next to Leon. "Good to see the paper, though."

"Laguna says he'll sell us some advertising space."

"Great!" Zack exclaimed. "Hmm. We'll have to sell something first, though, to pay for it."

They both sighed.

A couple of hours later, while Zack had stepped out to get lunch and Leon had actually managed to nod off, the first two customers stepped into the shop.


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