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Title: Aftershocks
Fandom: Kingdom Hearts
Part: 2/??
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.

As Leon took a step towards his family, a hand caught his shoulder.


The apprehension in Yuffie's voice startled him. Something was most definitely wrong. More wrong. More wrong than all of this because so far she'd been unwavering. Of course, the string of realizations they were all being forced to comprehend was enough to unhinge anyone.


"There's... there's a body count."

Nodding, Leon looked downward, examining the ground. That was to be expected. And there would be more, too. The prospect was not a happy thought, of course, but beyond those who had been revived only to die, there would be others. Not every mind could handle losing nine years; not everyone could wake up nine years older and expect to instantly adapt.

He'd thought about that - while walking back into town he had thought about that. He would implode with worry if he let it build though, and Leon did not want to do that. One day at a time... they'd just take one day at a time.

"With life, there is death," Leon said finally, gazing back at Cloud, wondering instead when his younger blond friend had become such a leader. But even in Cloud's posture, there was fear. He couldn't hide it, not from Leon.

There was fear in all of them. But as Cloud spoke, there was something else too - hope.

Leon stood in the back with Yuffie at his side, waiting, listening, watching. When Cloud finished and no objections were spoken, there was a silence more painful than any of the questions that had been lobbed at Cloud. So despite not wanting to draw attention to himself, Leon brought his hands together, gloves making a distinctive thump as he led what turned into cheers and applause.

He thought he saw Ellone turn to look back, but by then the crowd had shifted and she wouldn't have been able to see, not clearly. But she would know - she was like that. She would know.

A woman raced through the crowd and flung herself at Cloud, making Leon raise an eyebrow before he realized it certainly must be Cloud's elder sister, Aya. She still looked young, despite waking up at close to thirty. More like twins, he thought as she crushed herself against him, not bothering with worrying about public appearance. Yet strangely he couldn't remember Cloud and Aya ever getting along particularly well. She had certainly never been a large fan of Cloud going off adventuring both into the forest and to Ansem's castle.

"Squall..." Leon had been so caught up in watching Aya that he'd missed Ellone quietly tracking him down. The crowd was dispersing now, likely to round up supplies before retreating to their minds to search for quiet acceptance.

"Are you okay?" Leon asked, smiling at her smile.

"I feel strange, but it's to be expected," Ellone replied, reaching out to take Leon's hands in hers. "You look so different - so strong. I probably look strange too, though, to you."

"You look beautiful." It was no lie, after all. "Have you talked to Rydia or any of the young mages yet? I'm sure they'll need your help..."

"Cloudy asked us all to bring food to the cafe so we can see what we have to work with," Ellone said. "After that's all taken care of, I'll round up the mage students... Oh! I can't call him Cloudy anymore, can I? He's all grown up."

Their eyes met and Leon could only wonder what she saw in his icy blue. But she didn't let go of his hands.

"You too... all grown up. And..." Finally she let go, reaching up to brush away Leon's bangs. "What did you do to yourself, young man?! I could have fixed that right up for you..."

Unable to handle the sudden mirth that washed over him, Leon started to chuckle. In all his fears, all his uncertainty that went with the entire day so far, one thing had in fact stayed exactly the same.

But where was...

That's right - the fight. The reason he'd been out so late at night, right in the path of destruction, saved only because the universe thought his suffering was the stuff of comedy.

His stomach lurched as his mind padded that bare bit of information with details, the hows, they whys, what could have happened, what did happen...

Likely the last thing his father remembered was that fight. Nine years had erased most of it from Leon's mind, especially once nine years of knowledge was taken into account.

"Where's Laguna?" Ellone's words echoed his thoughts exactly. "You two really need to talk... last night he had just gotten me to go look for you when... no, not last night. Nine years ago. Squall, you have to realize that he was just worried..."

"Rightfully so," Leon said, silencing her. "I was sixteen. What did I know?"

And then he brushed by her, leaving her standing in the middle of the square. His father was lingering over near the street that meandered off to their house, and even if his father only had one night to repent for, Leon didn't really want to add another second to what he'd been holding for nine years.

But instead they just walked, in silence, towards their house.

Leon kept looking for words, kept waiting for his father to just up and say something, no matter how stupid, no matter how completely unrelated it was to anything that was going on...

"You grew your hair out."

Yes, that was enough. Perfect, really. A jumping off point. Something to open lines of communication marred by years of fighting, strife, unending fits of misunderstanding. Now Leon just recognized it all as the work any parent would have rightfully performed, but at the time it was just insult after injury.

"Yeah," Leon said. "Kinda forgot to cut it and decided I liked the look."

"You look like your mother."

"I know. Cid told me -- he and mother were neighbors growing up."

"I only objected because I didn't want you to get hurt."

"I think I'm over it, Laguna," Leon said, wishing the word 'Dad' was part of his vocabulary. But growing up with Ellone as surrogate mother and sister, he never learned that Laguna was anything but 'Laguna' until it was too late. "If you can be."

"But you're still... I mean... Are you seeing anyone?"

Yeah, Leon knew that question would come up soon enough too.

"No," he said, trying not to smile when he realized they were in front of their house, exactly as it had been. "Haven't really had... time."

"Do we have anything canned?" Ellone popped through the door and between the men on her way to rummage through the cabinets. "We certainly have the dried remains of all sorts of things, sadly..."

"Right," Laguna said, nodding. "Survival. I am a bit hungry."

"Aerith went to the castle, I believe," Leon said, resisting the urge to go check out his bedroom. There was a book he did rather want to finish, one he'd borrowed from the castle library. "She would know the kitchens and stores as well as anyone... she was always leading the children around on adventures through the castle."

"Neglecting her studies with Ellone, at that," Laguna added as he followed Ellone into the kitchen. "I don't suppose she ever..."

Now was the time to show off a little, Leon thought as he stepped into the kitchen behind Laguna. Not exactly normal behavior for him, but he wasn't feeling particularly normal, either. Too much... not being able to just sit down and cling to his family or to run and check on Aerith and Yuffie... his gut level suddenly and completely askew.

Yes, now was the time to make a point that while they were still rather unaware of just what sort of time-warp had taken place, he had grown, matured, become something beyond the brooding teenager that he had been.

A quick cast, without effort, with little will... Leon held balled lightning tight, illuminating the room as it crackled in his hands. Both Laguna and Ellone turned, eyes wide as they watched him.

"Beautiful control," Ellone said after a couple of seconds. "But put it away before you hurt yourself again."

The sharpness in her voice was enough to convince Leon that his aunt was still very much his aunt and that if he ever did intend to stay in the house and not in the backyard, he would listen to her. He released the energy back into the air and his body, careful to keep it controlled.

"It looks as though you found a good instructor," Laguna said after another few seconds of silence. "Ellone never thought you'd..."

"I was wrong," Ellone said quickly. "You grew into it. You'll have to show me..."

"I will," Leon said, turning to open one of the cabinets where he thought some sugar might be locked away safely. "But I'll have enough time to tell you everything, show you... what I've learned."

"I wish I had things to show you, too," Ellone said. "But I'm looking forward to you... and Aerith must be astounding by now! Oh... I don't suppose you two managed to get together, did you?"

Leon winced, mirroring Laguna's wince. Obviously a little bit of that fight the night before-nine years ago hadn't quite reached her ears.

"No, Ellone, I'm not seeing anyone," Leon said, somewhat amused again that so much had escaped such a usually intuitive woman.

Still, this was almost too much, too fast. He did want to get out, did want to get back to the cool air of the morning and wherever Cloud and Sephiroth and Zack and Cid were... Where he could do more than move a bag of sugar to the table and wonder what else didn't go bad after years in the black void.

Yes, he wanted to be back outside, back before... Finally he had everything back and in the back of his mind he was coming to realize that he had moved on, gotten past all of this... He wasn't supposed to go home, after all.

Another pair of bags sat on the table by the time he'd snapped back to attention and he scooped them into his arms.

"Ellone, Laguna, I'm going to take these to the Cafe," he said quickly before turning and walking out of the kitchen. They'd understand. They'd have to... even if it hadn't been nine years for them, it had for him and that was currently what he was trying to deal with.

The outside air did feel good, and he could hear voices as he walked the short distance back to the square. There was more life, more energy in the air than even a few minutes before and it felt really good. Even if he couldn't reconnect with his family as easily as he'd hoped, certainly life would go on.

The walk to the square was much shorter than he'd remembered it being, and after dropping his bounty into the arms of a black-haired woman who looked suspiciously like one of Zack's relatives, he kept walking, not entirely sure just where he was going.

This was not the feeling he'd been expecting at all... He felt as though he was seeing the dead, those he'd written off as dead, those he had already mourned for and mentally dealt with. He felt cold and distant, so far from those relationships he was expected to fall back into. His brain told him to jump as Ellone was saying the words, but... More than his veiled instinct to obey her he just wanted her to recognize him as being both the Squall she knew and someone else... Leon.

That was going to be interesting, too. He rather liked his assumed name and didn't want to go back to being the person known as 'Squall'. 'Squall' was too soft, too brooding, would never have made it this far.

Leon kept walking, falling deeper into thought until he found himself standing at the entranceway to the castle, a path he'd walked a thousand times before and not even thought about as he was doing it again.

Reaching out to touch the cool marble that he couldn't feel anyway through his gloves, Leon cursed himself. This wasn't what he intended -- so far all he had done is prove that as much as he was Leon, he was in fact still Squall, still very much tied to this place.

At a loss for what to do, Leon stood a moment, taking in the sun sparkling on the nearby river that would feed the basin around the castle before moving on, south, to where a great ocean would take that water and claim it.

Then he remembered Aerith having come to seek food within the bowels of this beast. The shadows were already lifting within the castle, the last of the darkness fading to leave the place dusty but overall fairly bright and airy. Throwing open each balcony door and window would do some good, too...

Instead of heading to the lift stop that would take him down to the kitchens, Leon crossed to a lift stop that would take him upwards, to a place he remembered quite well. His stomach twisted at his actions, but that was no deterrent. He had ghosts to face, things he could not just get over while honing his skill in the back alley of Traverse Town.

The room was little different than any other of the guest rooms of the castle - four-poster bed draped in raw silk, carved armoire, understuffed yet comfortable sitting chairs, balcony with a view that lasted for miles... But this room was the one that Squall had wanted, had always taken when twilight lapsed into night and the path was too dark to risk descent.

This was the room where...

A knock at the doorframe startled him from his reverie - he'd always done so well at not getting lost in thought, not falling so far downward as to make him a target for the heartless. But now, now he was falling so far backward into his old self...


Leon turned, relaxing a bit when he realized his visitor was just Cloud.

"It's too weird," Leon said, walking over to the balcony doors. He let his hand rest on the lock as he looked out to where mountains pierced the clouds, away from the town, away from it all.

"That's why I'm not surprised to find you here," Cloud said, following across the room to look out across the landscape. "We're alike like that. Always have been... unstable, not quite willing to accept..."

"Leave me out of you mind trips," Leon hissed, unlocking the double doors and pushing them open. "I don't want to hear it right now."

"Leon, we've been friends since Ellone and Aya dumped us off to play in the same mud puddle," Cloud began, reaching out to lay a gloved hand on Leon's shoulder. "And don't think I don't know about this room. Don't think that I don't know you have all sorts of issues with this place but came straight here anyway..."

Leon's eyes grew wide as he listened to Cloud, anger boiling. This was his problem, his memories, everything inside of him. What was Cloud going to say next? That he understood - that he... Leon just wanted Cloud to shut up. Shut up - shut up - shut up! Before he even knew what he was doing, he moved, grabbing Cloud and pinning him against the outside wall of the balcony. Wind whipped down from the towers, not as chilly as it had been earlier, but just as strong. He held Cloud's hands, had his body holding Cloud's.

Their first fight had been in that mud puddle twenty years before, ended without a winner and their fights had been punctuated by that recurring result for years after. But this demanded a winner, demanded that Cloud just shut up and go away and not invite any more anger or pain or anything onto himself.

Leon hadn't realized he was breathing so heavily and was almost surprised to find himself staring into the blue of Cloud's eyes, trying not to be angry, trying to figure out why Cloud had just never mentioned this little tiny great big huge fact before.

"Shut up," Leon said harshly, letting Cloud's arms go but moving to hold one hand against Cloud's chest in warning. "You may think you know, but... No... whatever you think..."

"Then tell me," Cloud said, voice low. "Just tell me, Leon. Let it out. Obviously you need to."

"Quit trying to tell me what I need to do - quit trying to think you know how I feel..."

"Let me off this wall then," Cloud replied, reaching to gently push Leon away. "And either you talk about it or we drop it forever, you follow me out of this room, and we leave this castle, together."

"What if I choose neither?" No, this hurt too deep. But Cloud had always been there, despite being a couple of years younger they'd been so close, so friendly. Somehow denying Cloud the true story went completely against everything they wanted to work for in the town - understanding, truth...

"You won't," Cloud answered.

Yes, Cloud did know him - knew his answers, knew just what he'd do next.

"Fine." Leon stalked over to lean against the balcony rail. "I'll just admit it then... I found myself..."

No, this was too much, too... He squeezed his eyes tightly, thinking it all through, each glance and touch and comment... And his fight with Laguna, the reason he'd... All of it was so stupid now, so...

"Just him?" Cloud asked. "Or, you know, men in general?"

Yes, the perfect way to lose a perfectly good friend and reasonable confidant, even if said friend was currently seconds from meeting the business end of a gunblade he stupidly didn't even have on him.

Leon did know he'd have to tell Cloud eventually, but this was not how he'd planned it - not at all... He knew his friend would never look at him the same way again, no matter how things were brought to light... Yet...

Really... Cloud did know - had known. And Cloud had not acted at all different.

"Men... in general," Leon admitted. "Didn't know how to tell you though, how you'd handle it at fourteen."

"Probably the same way I'll handle it now that I'm sure," Cloud replied, a slight smirk forming on his lips. Leon hadn't noticed the blond getting quite so close to him.

And while he was still trying to process just when that had happened, he left himself quite vulnerable for attack. But instead of payback for earlier, there was no menace in Cloud's touch, no force in his fingers, just something Leon could only think of as a physical sigh of relief.

Cloud's lips met his softly, not asking for a single thing but that moment. So for that moment he gave himself, not at all thinking of what would have to be discussed afterward.


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