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Title: Aftershocks
Fandom: Kingdom Hearts
Part: 8/??
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: Selflessness vs. selfishness. Zack.
Notes: Rating is for language, disturbing content, gore, and sexual situations in this chapter and others.

By evening, Nusakan had run off the group waiting outside the clinic, leaving Leon restless and likely more awake than he should have been.

Nusakan hadn't offered any information beyond a generic 'he's resting' - a statement that left the lot of them frustrated. Even Kain frowned before leaving, heading off with his housemates, Cecil and Rosa, on either side of him.

"Don't suppose you have any sense of humor left..." Zack slid up beside Leon, draping an arm over Leon's shoulder to steer him off towards the edge of town.

"Why?" Leon asked. The sun had set and the air was getting brisk, yet Zack was warm against him.

"When you were talking to Ms. Celes, Doc N tried to shoo a few off us off towards the cemetery," Zack explained, wincing. "Apparently he's ready for a few fresh graves."

Leon rolled his eyes - it figured. His closest friend had nearly been fatally injured and the task at hand involved gravedigging.

"Wasn't Sephiroth doing that?" Leon asked as they walked.

"Yeah, he was," Zack replied. "But only at the rate Doc N had bodies for them. You want a bunch of open graves out there?"

"No," Leon said softly. The logic did make sense. And certainly, Doc N had plenty of other things to take care of before the tedious writing of death certificates and whatnot. Like patching up those who had fought dragons...

"Think we can do three tonight, then?" Zack questioned as they neared the barely lit cemetery.

"Only if we have shovels," Leon shot back. He wasn't sure how Sephiroth had been digging, but Sephiroth was their great General, after all. Leon wouldn't have been surprised if Sephiroth could just command the dirt to move.

"Caretaker's shed," Zack said quickly. "We have our own permission to break in, since the caretaker is on the to-do list."

"Now you're pushing it." Leon shrugged Zack off of him before heading off towards the shed.

"If you're worried about Cloud..." Zack ran a couple of steps to catch up.

"How couldn't I be?" Leon asked, his voice raised ever so slightly. He didn't even pause to consider that Zack didn't know the level of his camaraderie with Cloud - how things had changed over the years yet stayed the same. And certainly, Zack didn't know about the kiss that never should have been.

"Don't underestimate Doc N. Or Sephiroth," Zack said harshly as he grabbed Leon's jacket and pulled him to a dead stop. "Cloud will be fine."

There was a pause. Leon wanted to make a fist and just punch Zack, but he knew his proficiency wasn't in hand-to-hand combat. Never had been. And Zack was a trained soldier, after all, who seemed to be in perfect shape despite the passage of time.

"Besides," Zack said, "if he dies, I'll kill him."

Leon didn't laugh.

"Besides," Zack tried again, "if he dies, I'll never speak to him again..."

"I don't know," Leon said, pulling free of Zack's grip and trying not to comment on Zack's attempt at humor. "I mean, I just don't get it. Cloud didn't explain all of it, but they aren't human any more. So why did he get hurt so badly?"

"Cloud and Sephiroth?"

"Right... you weren't there - you haven't seen..."

Leon found himself staring at the rows of gravestones dotted with white marble angels.

"Zack, they have wings."

Over the years, Leon had grown somewhat accustomed to waking up in strange places. Normally, he was able to piece together his whereabouts in a matter of seconds.

However, before he opened his eyes, he knew that the body beside his wasn't Yuffie's and the bed wasn't his. He wasn't supposed to wake up with anyone other than Yuffie. For a split-second, he thought about reaching out for her or calling her name - but she was safe.

Hollow Bastion.


Which didn't answer the main question, at all.

He had to think back - quickly, before... The weight next to him moved.

The dragon. Cloud. Fish. Gravedigging at midnight with Zack... They had sat on an ancient slab that said only 'Garland' to watch the sun rise as if the changing colors of the sky could not be more amazing.

However, Leon decided, as beautiful as the sunrise had been, he still didn't quite remember settling into bed with Zack.

And Yuffie he could deal with, no matter what strange thing had happened for them to end up sharing quarters at the end of the day. Same with Aerith, or Cid, or Cloud...

But Zack was another matter. Maybe - maybe he never needed to mention it again. As he rolled over, Leon was happy to at least still be dressed, save for his jacket. He hadn't done anything too stupid, at least.

"Hey-" Zack's voice stopped him dead. "Sorry. You basically passed out on the sofa and dang, I've slept on that sofa..."

Leon blinked twice before being able to focus on the rumpled, half-awake and slightly past half-naked Zack. Who was smiling.

"I don't remember," Leon admitted. "I barely remember leaving the cemetery."

"We added to the holes," Zack mumbled. "And your back wouldn't have forgiven me if I'd let you sleep on that sofa. Though I can't see your back having noticed a little more awful pain, if you feel anything like I do."

"Yeah," Leon slid out of the bed. At least it was only a dull ache. He was in the best shape of his life, thankfully, and a little menial labor hadn't been so bad. "I should go... Home."

"Moving to the castle?"

"I didn't get a chance to ask Sephiroth," Leon replied. Between the entire dragon incident, the strangeness after, and Cloud... "Cloud..."

"Probably can't have visitors yet," Zack interrupted. "Though we could try."

"Yeah." Leon glanced around for his jacket. He had to have left it in the other room. Dirt was smeared on his shirt - Zack apparently hadn't minded a little grime in his bed. And he knew he should probably be thankful, in the end.

There was an awkward pause.

"Y'know, there is another apartment," Zack said. "Where the shopkeeper lived. He didn't - er, there isn't much to clean up."

Leon nodded. It seemed like a good idea. Somehow Zack knew that the castle just wasn't a good idea. Knew that Leon wouldn't be safe from the past and his lingering memories. From himself.

And besides, in town he'd be so much closer to Cloud.

Letting out a sigh of relief, Leon realized that Cloud had to be just fine - Sephiroth would have come unexpectedly visiting, otherwise. Or Aerith. Or Yuffie. Or even Aya.

"We can split his swords," Zack commented, still smiling. Leon tried to smile. He'd been so caught up in his revelation that he'd almost forgot that Zack was still talking about possible living arrangements.

But the thought was amusing - Leon did want to try his hand with a broadsword or two, instead of his well-worn gunblade.

Before he'd thought of anything to say, Leon noticed that even though his mind had wandered, his gaze was still locked on Zack and the scars on Zack's right shoulder that broke a near-impossible tan.

"Get dressed," Leon said. "We should go see about breakfast."

"It seems to be afternoon," Zack noted as they walked towards the café. "And we should raid the cash drawer when we get back - now that there's some food to buy, it might be better. Do you cook?"

"I cook," Leon said. "Had to. Between Cid and Aerith, we wouldn't have survived otherwise."

Zack laughed before stretching his arms over his head and knitting his fingers, letting his hands rest on the back of his head as he looked upward.

"So you're serious about selling weapons?" Leon asked after another minute passed. The sky was an overcast grey - apparently the sun wouldn't shine on them for more than a day at a time. Fitting.

"Why not?" Zack questioned in response. "We're a town of warriors. Everyone needs weapons."


"And the old man didn't have any family. I helped him out on weekends, so I know a few things," Zack continued. "It'll be a good living."

"And work is work."


Leon couldn't help the uneasy feeling in the pit of his stomach. Even if Zack hadn't suggested anything more than a shared building and a working relationship, Leon well remembered that even in the worst of times, everyone had a hidden agenda.

"Squall!" His mind went blank for a few seconds until Leon figured out who was calling to him. Still looking much too young to have two children in their teens let along their twenties, Cloud's mother had stepped into their path.

"Ms. Strife." Zack bowed before offering her his hand. Leon just stared - at one time, she'd looked young enough to be Aya's twin sister. Now she looked no older than Cloud. He swallowed hard - certainly she couldn't be getting younger.

Cloud's mother giggled as she let Zack kiss her hand.

"You should marry my daughter," she said with a wink. "Would be good for her. She wants to be a sheriff, of all things."

"Ms. Strife..." Leon began, onto to receive a firm knock on the shoulder.

"You call me 'Mama'," Cloud's mother said sharply, her tone completely different in a second. "All those years of trying to get me to marry your father..."

Leon had completely forgotten until the words were out of her mouth. He laughed. Hard. Poor Laguna had bungled every situation that had painstakingly been set up to get the two single parents together.

"So how is the patient?" Zack asked, interrupting them both.

"Resting at home," Cloud's mother replied. "General Sephiroth brought him home a few hours ago and is sitting with him. He has to be so happy to have the General's attention, you know. Cloud always did look up to the man."

Leon swallowed hard. Obviously, Cloud's mother did not know quite everything about her son. That or she thought the subject improper for passing conversation.

"They seem to be quite friendly," Zack added in quickly, obviously on the same wavelength as Leon. After the discussion in the cemetery about just what Sephiroth and Cloud had become, Zack had at least adopted the notion that the two couldn't easily be parted entirely.

"And you two, Squall and Sergeant Zack..."

"Just call me 'Zack', ma'am," Zack interjected.

"Squall, Zack... Thank you both for helping Cloud yesterday," Cloud's mother managed to pull them both into the same hug, which she held for much longer than necessary.

"He would have done the same for either of us," Zack managed as he slipped from her grasp. Leon nodded. Cloud would have willing given up his life to protect either one of them - in a way, he'd already nearly done just that.

"So you two come visit Cloud this evening, okay?" Cloud's mother continued. She still was grasping onto Leon's sleeve, but he didn't mind. He'd grown up around her, and in a way he did consider her a sort of surrogate mother. Certainly no replacement for his own, but when he had needed the sort of emotional support that Laguna just couldn't give, she'd always been there for him.

"We will, Ms. Strife," Zack replied. "We'll bring him a gift. What do you think he'd like?"

"Stuffed chocobo," Leon said before anyone could say another word. "From the toy store. Cloud always wanted to go to the main kingdom and ride a chocobo."

Cloud's mother laughed and clapped her hands together. "Well, he's a little old, but it's perfect, isn't it? You know him so well. But... even though he's younger, you were always together."

Zack frowned. "Were you on your way somewhere, Ms. Strife?"

"Oh! Yes, I was..." Brushing the hug-induced wrinkles from her dress, Cloud's mother glanced down the road. "I'll see you boys later!"

Leon watched her as she left, not entirely sure he liked Zack's way of getting rid of her. But his place to comment was elsewhere - Cloud's mother had been on her way somewhere and likely would have talked all day otherwise. And he was far too fond of her to shoo her off.

"Sorry," Zack mumbled once she was a few blocks away. "Nothing against her - just her idea of me marrying Aya."

Leon smirked. That made enough sense.

"So, to breakfast?"

"If no one else interrupts us," Leon answered. "Except... It's lunch time."

Buying a stuffed chocobo from a robotic cat shouldn't have been overly disturbing, compared to other things he'd been through, yet somehow, Leon couldn't help but feel even more uneasy than before.

Zack had insisted on carrying the toy beast, tucked under one arm until they got back to the weapons shop.

"It's not bad," Zack said as he opened the door to the other apartment - directly across the small hallway from his own. "Just pack everything up that you can't use and the rest... Like I said, the old man had no family."

"I don't know," Leon admitted once he stepped into the apartment and glanced around. Everything seemed well-kept, and certainly moving into a place with furnishings and such would be sensible. More than once in the past, he and Aerith had needed to go scrounging for things as simple as dishes.

"Why not?"

"This is all so fast." There. Leon had said it. But he didn't feel any better. And then he did the safest thing he could think of - he diverted everything. "Maybe we should worry about everyone else for a while. Fix things. I mean..."

"As if a few tons of slightly-tough dragon meat are nothing?" Zack interrupted. "You're doing your share. But you need to think of yourself for once."


Zack was close to him now - close enough that Leon took a step back and hit the wall. Again. It was happening again.

"You can't single-handedly help everyone," Zack said softly before turning and walking across the room. "We're all having the same thoughts... Those of us who are... were... - I don't know - in the army..."

Flopping down on the sofa as if he belonged, Zack let out a noise that was a cross between a sigh and a moan. "Some of us knew that Ansem was doing something in there. But we looked the other way because we weren't ordered to question him."

That... was it?

Leon felt exceptionally stupid. He'd taken everything the wrong way. Zack couldn't handle his guilt or regrets either - not yet. They all had something...

"Zack?" Leon asked as he walked over to look around the kitchen.


"I think I could live here," he said firmly. "At least for awhile."

"Thought so," Zack replied. "And if you look, there's a spare bedroom - plenty of room for Cloud once his guts decide to stay in his body."

Considering chuckling, Leon glanced over to the display of swords on the wall. Not only had the owner been a merchant, but an avid collector. The more Leon looked, the more he realized that weapons were everywhere in the apartment. There was even an ancient, marred broadsword shoved up on a kitchen shelf that any woman would have put her painted plates upon.

"Hmm..." Leon started opening cabinets, almost disappointed to find dishes in most of them.

"Spare room," Zack said. He'd sat up at some point and was peering over the back of the sofa. "Why do you think I suggested splitting this stuff with you?"

"Everyone..." Leon murmured before solidifying his thoughts. It wasn't fair in the least to keep such a stash even amongst two people - especially when Leon wasn't sure why Zack was being so friendly to him anyway. He knew and understood that circumstances made people latch on to unlikely allies, but... "We should share these with the town. Celes... Sephiroth..."

"And Cloud," Zack finished. "Kain and Cecil. Okay, you have a point."

Leon leaned back against the kitchen counter and tried to remember back to sunlit days in the library, when Cloud would sneak a pair of rapiers from Lord Ansem's collection and they'd attempt to battle up and down the stairs until firm hands would steal those rapiers back before sending them off to sweep stone floor as punishment.

And yet they kept doing it, every weekend. In a way, Leon knew he'd enjoyed the punishment just as much, getting to see normally off-limits sections of the castle as he swept or polished or dusted or... He wondered if Cloud remembered the first time they were sent to different sections of the castle to work.

Why he'd ever thought that Cloud hadn't noticed - noticed everything - that he could only blame on youth.

He had latched onto Ansem. Cloud had chased after Sephiroth.

"Radio transmissions to Leon..." Zack leaped over the back of the sofa and landed squarely in front of Leon, abusing the open-space of the apartment to its fullest potential.

"Sorry," Leon said quickly. "I was just remembering when Cloud and I would swordfight in the castle."

"You and that castle..." Zack quickly cut himself off. "Nevermind. But how about we take Cloud a sword, too? In case he doesn't like the stuffed chocobo."

Finally, Leon managed to laugh. He could just picture Cloud laying in bed, weakly jabbing at the toy bird with a miniature buster sword.

"Short sword?" he suggested after a moment. "Nothing too heavy for him yet."

"Perfect!" Zack exclaimed as he turned towards the door. "Pick one out. I'll be right back."

Somehow, Zack had yet again ended up carrying the stuffed toy while Leon ended up toting an ornate gift-sword with a bell tied on one end - the thing Zack had gone off to find.

Leon chuckled as the breeze made it ring. Despite being small, it had a sharp, clear sound. It fit Cloud. And certainly, neither Aya nor Cloud's mother would be able to ignore the noise.

In a way, he couldn't help fear that they were creating a monster. Well... more of one.

The precise magic by which both Cloud and Sephiroth could keep their wings hidden was an utter mystery to Leon. He assumed that Nusakan knew about their abnormalities, but he didn't know if Cloud had told his mother or sister.

The sun was setting in the distance when they finally made their way to Cloud's house, twisting from the more business-filled part of town to where the residential area was.

Zack knocked at the door - three quick raps that echoed in the cool evening air.

Sephiroth was the one who opened the door, his hair pulled back into a loose ponytail that hung sloppily over the casual clothing that looked forced and awkward on his frame.

"Who is it?" Cloud's mother appeared in the doorway a moment later. "Oh! Come in you two!"

"We brought..." Leon held up the sword, the bell lashed to the tip jingling before he could finish speaking.

Sephiroth chuckled. Cloud's mother giggled and snatched it away.

"I was just commenting that he needs a bell to ring when he needs something and..." She turned and yelled into the depths of the house. "Aya! Forget the bell!"

"Do come in," Sephiroth said as he stepped aside. "Cloud's awake and already stir crazy. With four of us, we could at least play cards."

Zack nodded and held out the toy chocobo in front of him. "Lead the way!"


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