Game Restart: New Platform



This isn't how it was supposed to happen.

That's my first thought when Leon bolts from his position beside me and places himself between Ultimecia and my family.  My subsequent thought is that I made him do that.  He swore to do everything within his power to save my family and that is exactly what he is doing.  With Leon alone before her, Ultimecia's smile broadens into something toothy and vicious as the Ultima spell between her hands grows into a large mass of ugly energy.  I try to assure myself that Leon has faced this same spell before and survived to continue standing against the bitch sorceress.  He'll do it again like he did in the Great Maw... But against my expectations, he lowers Lion Heart to his side.

I don't have the chance to yell at Leon or to tell him that he shouldn't do something so stupid.  With my breath stuck in my throat, the golden-green spell bursts from Ultimecia's hands and soars unerringly at the near-defenseless man.  Time abruptly slows to a sluggish pace and gives me a clear view of the Ultima spell connecting with the shields around Leon, the resulting white flash of magic blurring my vision for a panic-filled moment.  It's impossible to know how much of the soul-searing magic leaked through Aerith's barriers, but the sheer force of the spell does its own damage to lift Leon off his feet.

Oddly enough, I don't hear anything when Leon crashes to the ground.  He even slams his head twice against the hardwood floor before sliding the rest of the way to lay unmoving at the feet of my terrified family, but I hear nothing except hallow echoes of the sharper sounds.  I turn stiffly to face Ultimecia and find the sorceress bitch laughing with true delight in her eyes.  The manic sound is distant to my ears as my eyes drift downward to her heaving chest and slight neck, so frail and so vulnerable...

I don't consider my attack before I launch forward, my vision narrowed on the sorceress and her alone.  A terrible scream reaches my ears, the first sound to break through my distorted hearing and only due to my shortened breaths do I recognize the scream as my own.  Ultimecia turns with a casual air that has no place in the middle of a battle, and golden eyes gaze at me with an expectant shine toward my attack.  Despite the apparent trap, I continue forward with Helios lifted in readiness to strike.  Once in range, I pull the heavy gunblade across my body in a hard arc, but Ultimecia dodges the attack with a gliding step backward and an amused smile.  Just as I attempt a second strike, a burst of wind hits me in the chest and drives me back such that Helios, in an unsteady swing, doesn't touch her deceivingly delicate body.

"Poor thing, still just a boy without your Lion," Ultimecia mocks as she lifts a hand, burnt from the Ultima spell, and sapphire frost glimmers over her shoulders.  "A boy without a future, at that."

Two spears of ice solidify above the slender woman, and with little more than a twitch of her fingers, the icicles launch for my body.  Thoughts fly from my mind, which makes it quite the surprise when Helios seems to move by its own power.  Following my arm's lead, my left foot slips back a pace, but not in retreat.  Instead, with the flattened blade held in front of my turned body, the deadly icicles slam against metal and I'm thrown back several feet to fall on my ass, but very much alive and only baring a few cuts from splinters of ice.

It's not until that particular danger has come and passed that I recognize the instinctual defensive stance as the same one Leon had used earlier against the frozen spears.  I choke on a laugh when I realize that Leon was still training me, even with him unconscious or potentially worse across the room.

Ultimecia's expression turns sour with clear disgust at her inability to be rid of me.  Golden eyes darken with deep shadows, and without a scornful word, the sorceress points a spell-burnt hand in my direction.  Dark energy twists and arcs along her arm before black electricity leaves her hand in an oddly beautiful display of chaotic magic.  Mesmerized by that energy, I don't think to move, not that I could scramble fast enough to escape that dark energy anyway.  So I sit and do nothing, watching helplessly when the first whiffs of ozone reach my nose.

A shadow abruptly falls over me and it's strange how that and not the killing magic makes me wince and pull back.  Bright shields compete against the darkness and apparently wins when Ultimecia yells in frustration.  My blurred vision takes a moment longer to clear and I stare up at Aerith standing in front of me.  Her hair disheveled and her right arm limp at her side, Aerith holds her staff in a surprisingly firm position.

"Never give up," Aerith declares in a stern voice that is rare from the kindhearted woman.  "If you... If you truly love him, then you never give up."

Startled by the advice, I automatically grab onto the Griever pendent at my chest and squeeze tightly until the edges dig into my flesh despite the glove barrier.  Stupid.  How could I have been so stupid to almost give the sorceress what she wanted and what Leon had been trying to prevent for the last several months?  How could I let myself fail this quickly at being Leon's Knight?

With a hard punch to the ground, I push up onto my feet and step close to Aerith, but stay behind the shorter woman.  "Are you good to protect me for a moment?"

Aerith immediately frowns, her gaze flicking between me and Ultimecia, the sorceress nursing her injured hand.  "You can't mean... Leon didn't want--"

"Leon is hurt and we can't help him until the bitch is gone."

"... He won't like this when he wakes."

I smirk at the implied acceptance to my vague plan.  After a whispered thanks to the woman, I step back a pace to give her room to do her thing, and with complete confidence in her abilities even when injured, I close my eyes to focus on the alien life within me.  Leon may have convinced Vidar to unjunction with me the other day, but the guardian spirit has been anything except 'dormant'.  Maybe it had something to do with summoning the demon, but I now recognize him as something 'not me'.  It seems so obvious compared to the first time Aerith and Leon found the spirit hiding within my body, and yet since then, I've learned that experience means a lot more than my teenage mind likes to believe.

<Summon me, barn,> Vidar abruptly speaks within my mind, his voice oddly lacking the humor I more associate to the guardian force.  Instead, he feels like a snarling dog on a short leash and I have no desire to hold him back.  <She harmed what is yours.  Her life is mine.>

'Don't kill her unless you think you can destroy her spirit, too,' I warn, my voice already lost as the demon grows stronger and more demanding.

<I cannot know until I try,> is the gruff response, and though I find the statement slightly worrisome, I begin to speak the words of summoning that were engraved into my memory by the guardian force.

Much like the single time before, Vidar's appearance steals away my strength such that I collapse to my knees, but the effect is thankfully limited to that.  Regaining my breath, I lift my gaze to stare at the spirit's broad back and the heavy sword held at his side, and all I can think is that I wish it was Leon and the blood-red wings of his jacket in front of me.  Vidar yells out in a forgotten language, his battle cry reverberating through my bones before he charges after the raven-haired sorceress.  Ultimecia doesn't back down at the sight of the intimidating spirit, but promptly adds to her defensive shields before the crude sword can shatter the barriers weakened by Leon's previous attacks.

"Are you all right?"

I glance up at Aerith's overly concerned expression and force a smile.  I can't be 'all right' without knowing Leon's condition, but that isn't the question at hand.  Though exhausted, I don't feel the same faintness as the last time.  More likely than not, touching the relic and summoning a guardian force are two things that shouldn't be done within the same hour.

"So, that's how it is," Aerith whispers as a soft warmth enters her deep green eyes.  "Sorry, I was wrong to think it was something else."

Before I can convey my confusion in some other way than speaking, the energy of the room shifts into something that makes my blood run cold.  Searching for the source of that disturbance, I first look at Ultimecia, but the dark spell she begins to summon seems the same as the energy-stealing one she had used on Strife weeks earlier.  Movement at the corner of my eye attracts my attention and I turn to immediately to stare at Leon's sprinting form and the tendrils of purple light wrapped around his slender body.

Denial clouds my mind as I think that Leon isn't stupid like me.  He'd never touch the relic that would claim his 'loose' soul and seal it away for all eternity.  But even as I think those thoughts, Leon runs headlong for the sorceress, only slightly stumbling when Ultimecia redirects her dark spell for him and reduces his health to almost nothing.  His full lips curl into a harsh smile that makes my chest burn in agony, and with the space between them covered in three quick strides, Leon grabs onto the sorceress and presses the relic against her back.

I'm on my feet before I consider that I shouldn't have the strength for it, but a large hand immediately grasps my shoulder.  I struggle against Vidar's traitorous plan to keep me in place, to keep me from Leon, but his hand is like stone and there is little chance of me going anywhere.  Even so, I yell without a voice for Leon to somehow escape and protect himself from the relic, but the brunet does nothing except to glance at me and smile in his vague fashion.

One moment to the next, both Leon and Ultimecia collapse to the ground, but the relic remains in midair with its dark energy flickering as if angered.  Vidar inches backward with a subtle shift, but he doesn't seem to be the target of the ancient magic.  It's quiet for several seconds, as if we were waiting for the relic's next trick... and it doesn't fail us.  Its dark light retreats for a brief moment, but then bursts upward into an immense pillar of energy that shakes loose some drywall from the hole previously formed by Ultimecia's failure of a robot.

Aerith gasps in awe at the excessive display, and though I agree with her sentiment, something else taunts my awareness with the relic's severe use of magic.  Maybe its rejecting Ultimecia's soul because she was too powerful, or maybe it has gained strength from her energy and is prepared to steal every soul in this unsuspecting city... But no, Leon trusts... trusted... no, damn it, trusts Merlin and the kooky old wizard said that the relic was limited in its ability and could only take souls that weren't strongly attached to a physical form.  Which leaves the question - what the fuck is the relic doing?

Before I can begin to guess the intentions of a magical rock, my attention is diverted by the flicker of pale light that contrasts strongly against the deep purple of dark magic.  I stare at the oddly soothing light within disturbing chaos and I swear that it stares back, even winks before spreading up the length of the pillar.  Its infiltration is slow at first, but with every inch gained, the white light doubles its speed until ultimately smothering the darkness in gentle light.  That state doesn't last long, however, when the pillar shatters apart like fragile glass.

I wince when the first 'shards' of magic fall, but the touch of light feels much like the caress of a cure spell, and glancing at my forearms, I watch as electric burns are gradually replaced by healed flesh.  Distracted by the sight, I almost don't notice the flutter of a white feather as it drifts close.  Without considering the potential harm it could cause, I follow baser instincts and lift a hand to snatch the beautiful feather.  Upon first touch, the feather vanishes and I find myself whispering without a voice -


Startled by that sudden knowledge and apparent memory of the ex-girlfriend Leon never really talked about, I look up into the sky with the hope of locating another feather within the shower of light.  Aerith's questioning voice barely registers beyond my desperate search, but any thought to focus on the woman vanishes when I find a drifting glimmer of magic.  With two quick paces forward, I leap into the air to grab the fluttering feather and hold on tight when vague memories flit through my mind.  There isn't anything solid, nothing like Rinoa's name and presence, but I can see me with Leon, always standing close despite the variety of scenes, from battles in deserts to quiet meals in a small cabin.

... As it was, as it should be...

I scowl at the thought that is not my own and I can't help feeling cheated by the princess who was still playing at mercenary games.  I wanted a solid memory of Leon and the past he remembers, but it seems that even ghosts don't want me sharing the pains and joys of that other life.  It's a frustrating prospect when I want to better understand the man currently known as 'Leon'... Though I suppose that isn't something I've taken the time to consider - how much does 'Leon' have in common with 'Squall'?

As the light fades from the destroyed pillar, my eyes soon settle on Leon's unmoving form.  My steps are slow as I approach, and I know that I'm waiting with each step for Leon to sit up and glare at me for underestimating him.  It doesn't happen like that, however, and I drop to my knees next to the man who seems so much smaller in this state compared to his usual guarded self.  I try to say his name, but choke on my lacking voice.

Towering behind me, Vidar places his crude sword beneath my chin and warns, <The Lion held onto hope for years; do not lose yours in seconds.>  And with those useless words, the demon returns to my body in a rush of energy that makes my head spin, but I manage to hold onto consciousness this time around.

"I thought I taught you better than this."

Before I have the chance to look up, Renaud Trepe kneels down at Leon's other side and places a hand at the pale throat.  Though I know my step-father is an experienced doctor and he's simply searching for a pulse, I have to fight against the ridiculous urge to knock away his hand from what is mine.  After the brief examination, Rey frowns with an expression I haven't seen since the first time we met, conflict clear in his dark eyes as he debates what to tell me.

"You can't help him," I whisper, wishing that it didn't have to be said.

The older man sighs and sits back on his heels before directly meeting my gaze.  "I'm sorry, but there's no pulse, and CPR at this point... But why do I have a feeling that you already knew that?  What is happening here, Seifer?"

I should answer him, especially when an army of Heartless could be waiting just outside the door to attack us all, but my thoughts have already taken a downward spiral.  Tearing my gaze from Leon's peaceful expression, I search the ground to find the only solution to bringing Leon back... or me to Leon.  It doesn't seem to matter much which way it goes.

"It won't work," Aerith scolds as she steps close and forces me to look up at the item in her hold.  Unlike its previous form, the relic has gained a shield of white stone in the shape of folded wings, and even without touching it, I know the thing has been sealed somehow.  Confirming my suspicions, Aerith says, "I know you don't want to hear it, Seifer, but these wings... Leon may have..."

I instantly shake my head, refusing to believe that the dark red wings of his jacket had anything to do with the relic's new barrier.  "That white magic wasn't Leon's; it was Rinoa's and, damn it, she's the one with the wing fetish.  Leon may have been... I don't know, remembering her or something with that jacket of his."

Aerith frowns in clear pity with my denial, but doesn't force me to accept any hard truths.  At least, not for the moment.


I turn at my step-father's voice, but his gaze isn't focused on my face.  Glancing down, I stare at my hand wrapped around Leon's, never noticing when I had done that.  Despite that incriminating sign, I squeeze the limp hand and say ambiguously, "A lot of things have happened while I've been away."

Rey hums deeply at the understatement.  "So it seems."

"He needs a kiss."

Startled by the declaration made in a child's voice, I look to the side and find Quistis standing a short distance away, the girl fidgeting against our mother's white-knuckled hold on her small shoulders.  While Mom is far too pale and looks about ready to keel over at any moment, Quistis shows the resilience and naivety of young children who don't really understand the meaning of death.

"In the stories you told me, a really good person can wake up when kissed," Quistis insists, her fine brows scrunching in the need to believe those fairy tales.  "He stopped the evil witch when she tried to hurt you.  He also called me a smart girl and let me help.  Doesn't that make him a really, really good person?"

I shake my head, uncertain how to explain to Quistis that the rules of bedtime stories don't apply in the real world... But then again, the 'real world' also shouldn't include chipmunks that talk and build spaceships, sorceresses who live only for revenge, and fucking rocks that steal the souls of dark-haired beauties.

I glance up at Aerith, and once she figures out my silent question, she frowns in brief thought before admitting, "Stranger things have happened, but they aren't common occurrences, not like the stories would like us to believe.  The chance of Leon escaping..."  Her hand grips tightly around the sealed relic, revealing her true thoughts about my sister's suggestion.

Without her support, I feel a little stupid when looking down at Leon and staring at his slightly parted lips, but it's nothing unusual to feel like an idiot around Leon.  I place my free hand at his cheek and brush aside the dust clinging to his skin, wondering that, if I do this, will it seem more like a 'goodbye' than the awakening I want it to be?

A sharp inhale sounds, recognizable as my mother before she manages to stutter out, "No... No, this... this is too much... I can't..."

Stunned, I watch my mother hurry off to the back of the house with a complaining Quistis in tow.  The sound of a bedroom door slamming shut makes me wince.

"Don't mind your mother," Rey assures softly.  "She's frightened right now, but she'll understand in time."

"Hn, maybe... but do you understand?"

My step-father smiles slightly, but doesn't answer the question.  "Do what you need to do, son.  Everything else can come later."

Though I can hear the masked skepticism in his voice, I silently thank the man who has never failed to support me, even when I've tried to drive him away time and time again.  After a breath of readiness, I return my attention to Leon and decide that I can't waste anymore time with this.  Either it'll work or it won't, and no one will know the answer until I try.

Leaning over, I first brush my lips at the scar between Leon's eyes, needing to build up my courage before moving downward to his cheek and eventually to the very corner of his lips.  When no hint of a breath comes from brunet, I feel my resolve weaken to the point that I nearly abandon the ridiculous idea, but if nothing else, I need this last taste of the man who changed my life.  My lips fit too easily with Leon's and all of my thoughts go silent as I focus on the man who was supposed to be mine.

As reason would have dictated, Leon doesn't stir for the length of the kiss.  Reluctantly, I pull back to gaze at the dark-haired beauty, but lose my breath when I notice the reddish hue to pale cheeks.  Harsh coughs follow abruptly after and I take warped delight in how Leon curls on his side until facing me and pulling my hand against his chest.  His skin still feels cold, far too cold, but his breaths eventually settle to deep pulls of air and stormy-blue eyes open partway to gaze up at me.

"...Idiot... don't think... your kiss had... anything to do... with this..."

They were hardly the words of love I would have liked, but I smile like a fool all the same.  "You came back."

Leon snorts and closes his eyes in well deserved exhaustion.  "Rinoa saved me... Griever brought me back... right when you were... doing something stupid..."  Opening one eye in an incriminating gaze, Leon asks, "Who... gave you the idea?"

"Quisty said it was the obvious solution and I couldn't argue," I reply, my voice oddly losing its strength and gaining a shaky undertone.

"Figures," Leon murmurs softly.  He then lifts an arm to my shoulder and pulls me down with unexpected strength until my forehead presses against his chest.  "Sorry... I blame you for leaving me... then I did the same to you... Inexcusable..."

I don't know why I decide then to cry, especially when Leon is alive and ridiculing me like usual, but thick tears blur my vision and quiet sobs make it hard to breathe.  Leon places his gloved hand at my head and strokes my hair with patient tenderness, and I want to yell at him that I'm not the one who nearly died, who was dead, but it seems so meaningless while I cry against his chest.  God, how many more times am I going to prove that I'm a pathetic kid in front of this man?

"Hyne," Leon breathes and presses a cheek against my hair.  "It's over... It's over and you're here..."

Startled by the declaration, I push up until sitting and stare down at Leon with every intention to question his meaning, but the master gunblader had gone limp again, this time in exhausted sleep as his chest slowly rises and falls under my hand.  I have to admit it - the man is damned good at avoiding my questions.

"I should check on the others," Aerith states in a hoarse voice, unashamed of the tears she wipes from her cheeks.

"You're hurt," my step-father comments, but distantly as he copes with witnessing a dead man come back to life.

Cradling her arm close, Aerith smiles softly.  "Thank you, but it can wait."

"I know a dislocated shoulder when I see one," Rey insists, regaining some of his wits.

When Aerith looks curiously at the older man, I explain, "He's a doctor and a good one.  He should be able to fix whatever your cure spells don't help."

"My, how fortunate.  It seems the good spirits have truly watched over our souls today," Aerith says before turning and walking toward the house entrance, her arm still braced against her body.


I stop my step-father before he can chase after her and into God knows what situation beyond these walls.  "She'll be back.  Aerith's the type to make certain everyone can be helped before she'll worry about herself.  Heck, all of them are like that, really."

"All of them..." Rey mutters in disbelief.  "What exactly have you gotten yourself into these last few months, son?"

I smirk lightly at the simple question that will take hours to properly answer, but I owe my family that small amount of decency, especially when I had left this home with little more than a note to them and my thoughts focused on the mysterious man who had saved my life.  Glancing down at Leon and my hand still trapped in his, my smile broadens and I decide to give a short version of the far longer answer that will be coming -

"I found the world I belong to."

Seated on a plastic chair, I lean forward to lay my arms and head on the narrow clinic bed occupied by Leon, the man still unconscious after a day of rest.  I think I fell asleep at some point last night, but everything since our arrival in Twilight Town has become a messy blur of memories.  While I continue to flashback to the moment when Leon collapsed after losing his soul, many other things have happened to fill my thoughts - a lengthy talk with my step-father about other worlds and other lives, a discussion my mother wasn't prepared to handle; the discovery that the others of our group were badly injured, but alive after facing Ultimecia's unwilling Knight; and the rest of the day spent helping to gather the victims of Heartless attacks and bringing them to the city's hospital.  To keep the 'aliens' separate from the rest of the injured, Rey offered his private clinic as a place for healing and undisturbed rest for our small group.  He seemed to question that decision after treating Cid and his foul mouth, but Aerith and Yuffie's honest appreciation quickly made up for the pilot's poor temper.

Lying like this, I think about the last time I spent a night mostly awake and positioned at the foot of Leon's bed.  It's strange to gaze at the same face, the same pale skin, the same dark lashes, and yet they seem so different compared to that short time ago.  Back then, I was too focused on myself and the questions I had with being... broken, in a way.  Anymore, I don't care about those minor details, and finally, I can see Leon despite his shields and despite myself.

Leon groans softly in sleep, the first sound in hours, and I notice the twitching fingers of his hand, an inviting sign for my hopeful imagination.  I reach out and place my hand around his, surprised when rough fingers immediately curl in a firm grasp.  God, I hate to admit it, but Strife may have been right about the allure of Leon's fingers.

The click of a doorknob serves as the only warning when, like a summoned demon, Strife steps inside.  His luminescent eyes scan the room in a soldier's habit to look for danger and he eventually settles on my hand braced within Leon's.  His smug smile makes me consider throwing something at him, even if it wouldn't do the enhanced fighter any harm.

"What's wrong with you people?" I demand in a near growl.  "You just open doors and walk inside like there's nothing wrong with it.  Didn't anybody teach you how to knock?"

"You're angry," Strife comments lightly.  "I take it that Leon hasn't woken up yet."

"Just like the last three times you checked in," I remind bitterly, and then I'm forced to stifle a sudden yawn.  "What are you doing here, anyway?  Don't you have your 'light' to fawn over?  Assuming he's the right guy, of course."

Strife's humor evaporates to an icy front, his gaze harsh and incriminating.

"Surprised?  Well, how's that for a change in pace," I mutter while rubbing my eyes.  "For your information, me knowing about you and that Knight is nothing special - I would pretend to sleep sometimes and listen to you and Leon talk.  It's kind of funny, actually, since Leon always wanted to toss a Sleep spell my way and you said he was just being paranoid.  It's obvious that he knows me better than you thought."

The soldier continues to glare at me, but it's nothing new after Leon's stares.

"So, why aren't you with that guy?  You're so fixated on sex that I thought you two would be doing it like rabbits by now."

Strife scoffs, his gaze abruptly looking toward the other end of the room.  "It's not like that."

"Not like that?" I repeat incredulously.  "You do realize that I got the full account from Yuffie, and according to her, you did everything in your power to keep that Knight busy without so much as scratching him.  All of his injuries were from either Cid or Yuffie; meanwhile, you took everything he threw at you."

Ignoring my argument, Strife continues to look elsewhere when he says, "You don't understand.  We never were... anything."

"It sure didn't seem that way to me."

Sapphire eyes flare with suppressed emotions, but Strife quickly covers that slip with an unimpressed frown.  "You're a kid--"

"Yeah, yeah, as if I hadn't heard that one before," I interrupt in mid-yawn.  God, I'm so fucking tired, but it's hard to think of sleep when there's the chance that I could wake and discover that Leon surviving is only a dream.  "But don't forget, I'm the one who has already gone through what that Knight is dealing with right now."

"It's not the same," Strife insists.  "You were Leon's husband."

"We aren't talking about me and Leon.  If you remember, I spent, what, ten minutes with you and that guy when my step-father kicked me out to examine Leon.  In that short time, I could tell that he looks at you, while you do everything but look at him.  He wants to figure you out, just like I needed to figure out Leon at the beginning, and by the look of him, that Knight is more than willing to accept the challenge."

Strife grinds his teeth, apparently determined to fight this matter.  "It wasn't me... Zack is with Aerith, talking and laughing like in the past... They were..."  He pressed a gloved hand to his face, effectively stopping himself from completing the thought.

Before I can respond to the idiotic argument, Leon shifts subtly such that he pulls my hand closer to his body.  Glancing down at his face, I can't stop my smile at the inconsequential movement from the resting man, and in that moment, I feel calm with the knowledge that this is why I fought so hard.  This is what my romantic dreams were all about.

"Listen, Strife, I don't give a shit what you end up doing, but consider this: Leon started off not telling me anything and I had to figure out for myself if he was trustworthy or not.  There were a couple times when I wasn't certain why I wanted to believe in him, but once I knew about that other life, things started to make sense."  Shifting my gaze back to the blond soldier, I advise him, "Tell that Knight what you remember.  If you don't and he decides that he doesn't like what he's feeling for you, I don't think you'll be able to handle the outcome."

His unnatural eyes studying me intently, Strife eventually smirks when asking, "I thought you weren't in love with him."

I snort at his change in subjects, but I'm too tired to fight it.  "Before all this, I thought I understood what love was.  Now... I'm not too certain what it'll mean to continue staying with Leon."

"You don't want it?"

Glancing at Leon and his closed eyes, I hesitate before asking, "Can you keep a secret?  Especially from Leon?"

Strife straightens at the request, and though he silently debates his other loyalties, he offers a slight nod.

"I... almost did something stupid.  When everything was over and Leon was dead on the ground, my first instinct was to find that relic and hold onto it until I could be with him again."

The soldier stares with disbelief at the information.  "You didn't..."

"Aerith stopped me.  I don't know what she thinks I was planning, but it didn't matter in the end.  You saw the relic - it's sealed up tight."

Strife watches me for a moment longer before huffing something that sounds almost like a laugh.

Not expecting that type of reaction, I scowl at the blond.  "Something funny about that?"

With a shake of his head, Strife steps to the other side of the narrow bed and reaches inside a pocket hidden behind his strange jacket.  "You've had a long night, kid, and I know that you aren't going to listen to anyone who tells you to get some sleep," he says while handing me a small red vial with maybe a few ounces of dark liquid inside.  "It's a revitalizing potion.  It'll help you to stay awake while you're waiting for Leon."

"Seriously?"  When Strife nods, I readily accept the potion.  "Shit, thanks.  Aerith and Yuffie keep nagging me to use a bed somewhere else and I just... I don't want to leave."

"I figured as much," Strife says with a slight smile, and then turns for the exit.  "Don't let it get to you, kid.  I doubt Leon will keep you waiting much longer, especially when you seem to get into trouble whenever he leaves you alone."

"Ha, ha, very funny," I mutter around the lip of the small vial, the contents of which swallowed in one gulp just as Strife slips through the door and closes it behind him.  The potion tastes like pure alcohol and it burns the back of my throat, but I manage to keep it down despite the argument from my stomach.  Unlike most potions, I don't feel any immediate difference with its consumption, but that's my own fault for not asking Strife about how this particular potion tends to work.

Yawning widely, I go back to my previous position of resting on the bed with my head braced by a bent arm.  Unlike the swirling thoughts of before, I simply watch the dark-haired beauty and think about the little things I never really noticed about the man, such as the scarred skin at the base of his neck caused by years of the silver chain moving against pale flesh.  There's also that earring of his which is usually hidden by longish hair, an odd accessory for a man who seems too uptight for something like a piercing.

But ultimately, the deep line between his eyes takes over my full attention and I think about the only explanation I've been given about the scar, that it was earned during a sparring session.  While I don't think Leon was lying to me, it's hard to believe that his scar has such a simple story when it mirrors my scar in every other way.  I have to believe that there is more to his story than he wants to tell.

As that thought crosses my mind, Leon shifts beneath the bed sheets and his eyelids crack open to reveal slivers of blue-gray.  I can't say anything for a startled moment, surprised by how simply the brunet had gone from asleep to awake after hours of nothing.

"Seifer...?" Leon says in a breath, his stormy eyes drowsily focused on me.

"Ah, yeah... Morning... or maybe that should be 'Afternoon'," I amend after a quick glance at a nearby clock.

He frowns at the difference.  "How long have I been out of it?"

"A little over a day, which is pretty damn good considering my step-father was ready to fit you with a toe-tag yesterday."

His scowl fades with the reminder of his near-death state.  "Hn, and where are we now?"

"In a clinic that Rey, uh, that is, my step-father owns.  And before you ask, everyone else is here, too.  Cid is the worst off with a busted leg, but Rey thinks everyone will be fine with some bed rest.  He's really impressed with the cure spells you taught me and he's thinking about learning them himself."

Leon exhales a long breath and his body relaxes in short-lived relief at the news that everyone is safe and being tended to.  But once that moment passes, he tilts his head and shows an expression that is openly curious.  "Do you dislike the man that much?"

"Huh...?  What man?"

"Your step-father," he clarifies.  "You keep referring to him as just that, your 'step-father'."

"Oh, that.  It's nothing..."  I stop myself, my hand already reaching for the scar between my eyes and it's impossible to hide the reaction from Leon.  I sigh in resignation and reluctantly recall that I had already promised to tell Leon about this piece of my life, so there's no reason to prolong the inevitable... but only if he wants to hear it.  "It's not what you think.  I like Rey and he's good for my mom... It's a long story."

"Is there a reason why you don't want to tell me?"

"Nah... I already said I would tell you about it.  It's kind of connected to my scar..."

Leon frowns before releasing my hand, the last thing I want as it makes my hand feel painfully empty.  After he sits up on the bed and leans against the headboard, he pats the mattress in a silent demand for me to take the spot closer to him.  Initially surprised by the offer, I move carefully onto the bed, curious if he's setting me up for something nasty, but Leon simply watches me with unguarded interest and patiently waits for the details I'd rather avoid.

When I take too long to say anything, Leon insists, "I want to know you, as much as you have wanted to know me."

I almost laugh at the brunet, wondering if such a thing could possibly be true, but that measure of doubt doesn't change the warming sensation in my chest.  After spending a few more seconds to collect my thoughts, I begin with the important details, "We didn't always live Twilight Town.  Five train stops east of here is a place called Midnight City, which is more of a gutter than a place to live.  My mom grew up there and she was my age when she fell in love with this bastard who got her pregnant... and then used her as an easy punching bag."

My voice goes quiet by that point, too many forgotten memories plaguing my thoughts.  Leon reaches out and wraps his hand around my forearm in a massaging motion, the touch igniting a harsh shiver throughout my body even though the room feels warmer than usual.  Despite the odd reaction to his touch, I appreciate the silent support and start back into the narrative.

"That was the first six years of my life and I don't think Mom realizes how much I remember.  There was hardly a day when she didn't have a bruise somewhere, and shit, there was this one time I hugged her and she cried out in pain.  To this day, I can't bring myself to touch her unless she makes the first move.  I don't know why we stayed with him and she dealt with his abuse.  I guess she had illusions of us becoming a real family some day, but that all ended when the bastard raised a hand to me.  They fought like nothing else, Mom finally telling the prick off, and it was such an amazing sight... but then he got his hands on a knife and went after her..."

Leon squeezes my arm, his eyes calm and cool when he guesses, "You stepped in the way."

I breathe a weak laugh, wondering if it's my fate to continually step into the path of sharp objects.  "I was only six, so it's not like I could think of a better way to protect my mom, but it worked out for the best.  For some reason, having a kid's blood on his hands made the bastard panic and run for the hills.  My mom, meanwhile... Heh, she was pissed at me for getting hurt and called me all sorts of names during the entire ambulance trip, but she held my hand and kissed my fingers with each name."

Leon frowns despite my attempt to lighten the situation, and with his free hand, he brushes his thumb along the scar line I had spent almost a decade trying to hide.  His cooler flesh feels incredible against my heated skin, probably flushed from old emotions.  "I never guessed that this was connected to such terrible memories..."

"It's not all bad," I quickly amend, not liking the soft regret to his voice.  "Rey was a resident or whatever at the hospital back then and he was the one to stitch me up.  His eyes met with my mom's and they haven't looked away since.  He really cares for her, and that's why I don't like calling him 'Dad,' not when I used to call that abusive bastard the same thing.  Rey understands, but he tries to prove me wrong by calling me 'son' all of the time."

"He may understand," Leon murmurs with a certain amount of familiarity, "but that doesn't mean he likes it."  Without any prompting on my part, Leon explains further, "My father... In my other life, I always called him by name, even though I saw how much hurt him.  It's one of my regrets, especially when he turned out to be the only father I've known."

Stunned by the freely given information, I gaze intently into the blue-gray eyes that don't hold the icy shields that I'm accustomed to enduring from the private man.  Openly meeting my stare, Leon moves his hand from my forehead to caress my cheek and brush his thumb against my lips, the rough skin pulling at the softer flesh and creating a variety of sensations that deserve exploration.  As if reading my thoughts, Leon slips his thumb past my lips and gently parts my teeth until stroking the tip of my tongue.

A harsh shudder racks my body and forces me to pull back from the brunet before I accidentally bite off his thumb.  My hands shaky, I cross my arms across my chest in the attempt to hold myself together.  "Shit, of all the times..."

"Is something wrong?"

"Nothing should be wrong, but... Damn it, maybe that potion of Strife's was old or something."

A glimmer of silver enters stormy eyes.  "What potion?"

"A revitalizing potion to help keep me awake.  The prick didn't warn me about possible side effects, though," I complain while reaching for the empty vial in my pocket.

Leon doesn't visibly react at the sight of the red glass, but the remoteness to his expression suggests that a flood of thoughts have taken over his mind and there's nothing for me to do except wait for that torrent to end.  Meanwhile, I fidget within my vest that suddenly feels thick and heavy against my skin, a grossly uncomfortable feeling, but I can't bring myself to remove the piece of clothing.  Something is odd about this situation and taking off my clothes doesn't seem like the answer right now.

Leon abruptly snorts, apparently done with his all-encompassing thoughts, and begins to climb out of the bed.

"Whoa, what are you doing?" I demand while stretching across the mattress to grab at the man's shirt, but Leon easily dodges my hand.  "You're supposed to be resting and all of that.  If Aerith and Yuffie see you walking around, they'll break your knees and keep you in bed."

"Then they had better not see me," Leon counters as he steps to the door and locks it with a soft click.

I blink at the act, not entirely confident that either the girls or Strife will be happy to encounter the locked door.  "How exactly is that a plan?"

"There is no such thing as a revitalizing potion, Seifer."

The statement only serves to worsen my confusion.  "What do you mean?  Strife told me..." And then a little light bulb switches on in my head.  "Strife told me what I wanted to hear, didn't he?"

"Well, I suppose 'revitalizing' isn't an incorrect term to use for what he gave you."

"And what exactly did he give me?"

"An aphrodisiac, specifically a potion from Agrabah."  Under his breath, Leon adds an irritated, "Always did hate that place."

I stare at the brunet for a long moment, my mind having a hard time wrapping around the idea that I had been given... that my body was burning because... This isn't good.  "That sort of thing actually exists?"

Leon nods as he returns to stand next to the bed, his stormy-eyed gaze locked with mine.  "You have a few options, but I have to be honest, it's easier to have someone help you."

"But... you're recovering... You just woke up."  I run a shaky hand through my hair, that simple movement causing a flood of hot blood to course throughout my body.  "Can't you just do that cleansing spell thing?  For poisons and the like?"

"Esuna won't work," Leon states bluntly.  When I groan at the fact, he leans forward across the bed and places a hand beneath my chin, forcing me to meet his eyes.  "Are you afraid to trust me?"

The question is so ridiculous that no verbal reply comes to mind; instead, I grab the hand touching my skin and jerk Leon forward enough to press my lips against his.  My entire body burns at the clumsy press, a kiss that Leon thankfully dominates and changes into something that reflects plenty of practice and perfected technique.  My mind is too fuzzy to consider the details of that experience, and even when his hand wraps behind my neck and the cold metal of his ring clinks against my necklace, I moan at the taste and feel of my living obsession.

Though I'm the one who started it, I'm forced to break the connection when my chest demands for more air than what I was getting during the kiss.  Panting from the combined effects of the kiss and potion, I feel like I may pass out at any moment, but that doesn't deter Leon in the least.  Deft hands move to my pants, and as I dumbly look on, Leon undoes the ties and slips a hand between cloth and flesh.

"This will take away the edge," is his warning before grabbing onto my dick.

A groan erupts from my throat, it sounding almost like a sob to my ears as I bend forward and rest my forehead against Leon's shoulder.  I have masturbated before, so it's technically nothing new to have a hand wrapped around my dick, but Leon's hand moves with a type of assurance that is leagues beyond my past experimentation.  With the Griever pendent hanging from my throat and a short distance above my exposed dick, I watch as the ungloved hand pumps in a steady rhythm and sword-born calluses rub in all of the right areas.  It's ultimately too much for my young body to handle, and with a deep grunt, I cum fast and hard in Leon's hand.

Cursing under my breath, I stare hazily at long fingers coated in sticky fluid and wonder what protocol applies to this situation.  An apology seems proper, but I wasn't the one to shove Leon's hand into my pants in the first place.

Not giving me time to dwell on the mater, Leon pushes me down onto the mattress and stares at me with a harsh, assessing edge to his steel-blue eyes.  I almost do apologize at that point, but become quickly tongue-tied when the brunet casually laps at his hand and cleans it much like a preening cat, all the while staring down at me with pale eyes that seem to look right through me.

"Interesting," Leon murmurs after a final, lingering lick to the side of his hand.

I swallow heavily at the sight, and when the man seems to have no intention to clarify his thoughts, I dare to ask, "What's interesting?"

Leon decides that he doesn't need to explain himself, and instead reaches forward to unzip my vest and leave my chest bare to his chilled hands.  He bends down and purposefully kisses the spot just to the left of the Griever pendent that rests above my heart.  I shiver at the stroke of a heavy tongue, and with nothing else in my control, I place a hand at Leon's head and grip at the dark chestnut strands.  When lips and teeth cover a nipple, I gasp out at the spike of pleasure that reminds me of my dosed state.

At the same time he distracts me with his mouth, rough hands slide down my torso until his fingers hook onto the waistline of my pants and briefs.  It's not until the pieces of clothing are about four inches lower than they should be that I realize we're really about to do this.

Smirking at my likely dumbfounded expression, Leon moves back to a seated position and pulls off his shirt with a simple, smooth motion that reveals his battered chest and abs.  It was a sight I hadn't seen in full since the night of Ultimecia's first visitation and it certainly wasn't something I could truly appreciate back then.  While Leon seems to have a slender figure, his clothing hides the tight lines of muscle that gives his body its lean form.  He's stronger than most people would guess at first sight, but I happened to witness him single-handedly kill a T-rex during our first meeting, so I was never under the illusion that Leon was anything except a fighter with terrifying ability.

Leon braces a hand against my chest, and with his thumb touching the chain of the Griever pendent, he announces, "I want you."

Startled by the admission, it's more of an automatic reaction than anything driven by thought when my hand reaches out and settles at the man's waist, the skin warm and pliable compared to the cool, rough flesh of his hands.  Understanding my body's desire, I reply hoarsely, "I want you, too."

Leon shakes his head, dark hair slipping over his bare shoulders.  "You don't understand.  My relationship with my husband was a certain way.  While we shared each other, I mostly gave myself to him."

I frown at the vague terms, not getting his point.  "Are you still talking about sex?"

Amused by the question, Leon smirks lightly.  "Remember our discussion about the circle peg and circle hole theory?"

Feeling my cheeks heat with embarrassment, I pray that it can't be seen given my drugged and flushed state.  "Well, it wasn't really a discussion..."

"No matter," he disregards as he bends down and kisses the side of my neck.  "The problem is this - in the past, I was the 'hole'," he reveals between presses of lips and tongue, and just when Leon carefully bites my scarred ear, he adds, "But right now, I find myself wanting you."

My heart does interesting things at the lustful inflection to his voice, but that is the limit of my reaction as I stare dumbly at the ceiling.  God, Leon's 'circle peg'... Why didn't I ever properly consider what it would mean to be with another man?  All this time, I've been wasting my imagination on Leon accepting me as his partner, but I didn't go into the technicalities of what two lovers are actually supposed to do.  What a failure on my part, especially when Leon and the previous me were lovers for years.  How in the world am I supposed to compete with that?

When my silence becomes too obvious, Leon sighs into my ear and pulls back to gaze down at me.  "Does that frighten you?"

I stare up at Leon, confused by the question until I realize that there could be another interpretation to my lacking response.  With a weak smile, I correct his misunderstanding.  "The only thing that frightens me is that I won't meet your expectations.  It's not like I know what to do and all that."

Leon blinks slowly in thought, and then moves a hand to stroke the Griever pendent resting on my chest, the touch of his fingertips drawing a quiet groan from my lips.  "Do you think that matters to me?"

"Sorry to disappoint you, Leon, but I haven't learned to read your thoughts, yet."

Blue-gray eyes gain an intense light that reveals more emotion than what is viewable on his face.  "Give yourself time."  Before I have a chance to process the statement made with certainty, Leon slides off the mattress and steps lightly to the cabinets located in the corner.

Confused and somewhat frustrated by the loss of his closeness, I glare after the brunet.  "What are you doing?"

"Looking for usable lubricant," he states plainly while searching through cabinets.  "Before I get back, you should undress or I may do something more damaging to your clothes."

Though his tone is even and controlled, I figure that it would be best to take his words at face value and slip off my already unzipped vest.  My pants and briefs take more effort as I deal with my renewed erection and the awkwardness associated to removing pants while lying on a narrow bed.  By the time I toe off my socks, my breath is ragged and sweat tickles my brow as my drugged induced arousal becomes too demanding.  My hand is on my dick before I think about it and I moan shakily with need as I stroke the heated flesh.

Lost in that sensation, I jump when far cooler flesh covers my hand.

The dark-haired beauty taunts me with a calculating smile, but says nothing of my startled reaction.  Instead he pulls aside my hand while climbing back onto the bed to straddle one of my legs.  He then places an open jar onto my bare stomach, the ceramic cold and reviving as I try to read the label, but the jar is turned such that only the word 'salve' is viewable.

"This will feel strange," Leon assures while dipping his fingers into white cream, "but the aphrodisiac should help with any pain."

Though prepared to argue that no one mentioned anything about pain, my voice is lost when Leon bends down to run his tongue along the length of my erection.  It's a secondary thought when I consider that I had never really cleaned up after the battle against Ultimecia, but that fact doesn't seem to bother Leon in the least as he continues the unexpected attention to my dick.  The press of slick fingers against my asshole is a distant feeling compared to the pleasure from my erection, a touch that seems to feed the potion in my system.  Unlike the first time, though, my climax is held out of reach as heated desire burns my blood and makes me pant in need.

As forewarned, the entrance of his finger is an odd sensation that initially prompts me to squirm in a vague attempt of escape, but Leon grabs my thigh in a hard grasp and keeps me in place.  His stormy eyes are lightly scolding as his finger goes deeper and coats my anus with cool cream.  Beyond vocal capabilities by that point, I let Leon do what he wants, but also lift my hips in a clear suggestion that I want more of his mouth.  He humors me with a slight curl to his lips.

A flood of sensations overtakes me at that point, and though there is increasing discomfort at the entry of two and then three fingers, there is something... else that teases me with the intrusive touch.  I hear myself being driven to desperate whimpers, only wanting a final break in the pressure that Leon has brought upon me.  Without warning, his mouth wraps around the head of my dick and the tip of his tongue strokes at the special spot located just below there.

My release comes impossibly harder with this second time around, causing the entire length of my body to tense in a hard arch.  For several breathless seconds, I can't relax and can't think, which is a surprisingly frightening state in the midst of overwhelming pleasure.  Leon quickly sits up and rubs a hand at my stomach to calm down my body, the hints of a cure spell slipping from his fingers.  Whichever does the trick, I manage to slump back into the mattress and take a deep breath that causes a series of harsh coughs.  By the time I recover, Leon is leaning over me with a worrisome hardness to his eyes, as if ready to cause serious harm to a body.

"I'm alright," I assure in a raspy voice, my breathing still a little off.

"You aren't," Leon states coolly.  "It shouldn't have been that intense."

I chuckle hoarsely and suggest, "Maybe that's your fault."

Leon huffs, obviously not appeased at my reaction that was intensified by Strife's potion, but I have no intention to feed his lust for revenge.  Well, at least not right now.  My bodily desires temporarily sated and my mind once again my own, I reach out and hook my fingers around the belts of Leon's pants.

"Won't these get in the way?"

An odd look crossing his face, Leon grabs my wrist in a firm hold, but doesn't pull my hand away as I would expect.

"... Leon?"

He bows his head, dark hair covering his eyes as he avoids my gaze.  "There are things I haven't told you, things I would rather never tell you.  This is one of those things."

Confused and a little frustrated, I ask him, "Do you think I can't handle it?"

Leon smirks at the question.  "No, I have no doubt of that... but I still dislike causing you pain."

While I try to sort out what Leon could be implying, he slips off the mattress and casually undoes his collection of belts before reaching the button and fly beneath.  With a grace unique to the gunblade master, Leon removes his pants to reveal the last part of the man I have yet to see, even though the brunet has witnessed my naked body on several occasions by now.  My eyes are immediately attracted to the proof of Leon's interest in our current situation, his dick hard and curved upward with a slight bend to the right that seems an anomaly for the perfectionist.  Entranced, I place my hand around his length for a better look, and with that extra weight, the top of his penis becomes viewable.

"It wasn't your fault."  Leon's controlled statement makes me wonder what expression I'm showing, but it ultimately doesn't matter.

"How is this not my fault?  Those are my fucking initials," I say while unable to look away from the jagged scars shaped into the letters 'S.A.'.

Placing his hand on top of mine, Leon says quietly, "This is a sample of what would have happen if Ultimecia was allowed to rule."

"Do you mean... the guy who became your husband--"

"No, he kept me alive.  The one who did this was another life, a life where I couldn't stop her from taking him."

Stunned by that information, I can only ask, "How many lives do you remember?"

"More than I should," is Leon's cryptic response.

While the answer isn't satisfying, I also have my first touch of understanding that Leon has gone through more than what the average person could handle and still remain strong.  My eyes focused on his penis, I thoughtlessly brush my thumb over the crooked and jagged version of an 'A'.  Leon inhales at the touch, a harsh breath that ends with a quiet groan that isn't distinct as either a sound of pain or one of pleasure.

Licking my lips in nervousness, I look up at Leon for the first time since seeing the scars and ask the inevitable question - "Does it hurt?"

Dark hair still covering his eyes, a weird chuckle leaves Leon.  "No, I hardly think about it anymore, but it seems whenever you touch it..."

When he doesn't finish his thought, it's up to me to determine his meaning.  Though I have a feeling he would've stopped me from doing something that would hurt him, I need to see the answer for myself.  I lift my other hand to brush aside dark chestnut and reveal closed eyes as Leon continues to avoid me.  I whisper his name in a soft demand, and though his eyelids initially squeeze tighter, Leon eventually reveals his eyes that hold an entrancing wild light that I've only seen from the man during battles.  It reminds me of the first spar I witnessed between him and Strife, when the blond soldier forced Leon to save me or watch me die.

"I'm strange..."

I nearly choke out a laugh at the fighter's admission.  "Then it's a good thing we're both a little touched in the head," I say while moving my hand to my right ear and think about how it feels whenever Leon places his lips to the scarred flesh.

His hand joining mine, Leon brushes a finger at the ragged edge of my ear and he slowly smiles in a manner that matches his eyes.  "Hn, some things never change."

With those words said, Leon slides his hand to my jaw and lifts my chin forward to create a better angle for his kiss.  It's a gentle press at first and somewhat clumsy as Leon moves back onto the bed and straddles over me.  I gasp at the feel of flesh upon flesh, never before imagining the rather vulnerable, but amazingly intimate sensation associated to having no physical barriers in the way.  Taking advantage of my opened mouth, Leon deepens the kiss into something more demanding and I'm promptly reminded to respect his teeth.  In the meantime, his hands massage down my chest and along my sides until grabbing at my waist.  With me pinned to the mattress, he grinds his groin against mine in an unhurried rhythm that feeds the potion in me for a third time, but with a softer burn than before.

Leon pulls away after a lingering bite to my lower lip and smirks at me before bending down to take my nipple into his mouth.  The attention of his teeth on sensitive flesh distracts me long enough for Leon to place his hands at my thighs, but the lifting of my legs is a bit too obvious to go unnoticed.  I had somewhat forgotten about the previous preparation Leon had put me through and I immediately tense up at the sign that Leon hadn't forgotten in the least.  Though hard to tell, I think Leon smirks when finishing his play with my nipple.

"Relax and breathe," is the only advice the master gunblader offers before pressing his dick to my hole, and shit, that thing feels so much bigger than it looks.

Leon slides in more easily than I could have anticipated, but the burn of stretching causes my breath to halt and I close my eyes while dealing with the invasion.  A hand cups my cheek and my eyes snap open to stare up at Leon, who frowns lightly in concern.  Seeing him and realizing that he had stopped moving forward, I dare to attempt a breath that is shallow and shaky as I cope with Leon buried within me.

Though the worry doesn't quite leave his eyes, Leon moves his hand to my mouth and his thumb pulls on my lower lip before he initiates a deep kiss that encourages me to accept everything he is giving me.  The first time he pulls back and slides forward, I end up holding my breath yet again as I try to understand the odd sensations caused by his dick.  After another few times, my world is twisted by an unexpected spike of pleasure, and judging by Leon's smirk, he knows exactly what I'm experiencing.  The second time that happens, I wrap my arms around his back and brace my hands between his shoulder blades, needing a solid anchor against the wave of pleasure that rushes forward to my head and flows back toward my groin.

While the potion continues to serve its purpose, it doesn't have the same flare as before and I have a suspicious feeling that little of this pleasure is due to the aphrodisiac.  It's both an encouraging and slightly worrisome realization, but I don't have the luxury of concentration as Leon increases his speed and strength when I prove my flexibility to handle it.  At one point, I taste blood and open my eyes to realize that I had bitten Leon's scarred shoulder and broke into his skin.  The dark-haired fighter groans at the injury, but not from pain; instead, his eyes gain more of that wild light and he smiles in deep satisfaction.

The room dissolves into little more than basic sensations of heated pleasure and unfulfilled lust.  The already familiar pull of climax taunts me as I cling onto Leon.  Soft grunts from the brunet slowly begin to gain clarity as my name being spoken in an almost pleading mantra, but it's the addition of a growled 'my Knight' that snaps the last restraint within me.  I bury my fingernails into the pale skin of his back when the final rush of release overwhelms me, my cry short with my breath already shallow and lacking.  Leon abruptly arches upward and I feel his blood pooling under my nails, but there's nothing I can do about it as I ride out the wave of electrified pleasure.

Harsh, shaky breaths fill the room as Leon and I seem to find a rhythm with each other, him inhaling as I exhale.  Leon is somewhat propped by his bent arm above my head, but he mostly lies on top of my body and rests his forehead against my shoulder.  A series of quiet curses eventually sounds from Leon and I wince at the idea that my carelessness had caused the man more harm than I thought.  I move my hand to one set of the scratches on his back and draw on the necessary energy to form a cure spell, but Leon pushes my arm aside.

"Don't heal it," he demands in a hoarse whisper.

"But... doesn't it hurt?"

Leon lifts his head and grins with a mischievous curl of lips.  "What do you think?"

I frown, realizing that it did sound a bit strange for the master gunblader to be irritated by a few scratches.  "You don't sound too happy, though."

Losing his smile, Leon huffs and places his head back at my shoulder, the angle muffling whatever answer he gives.

"What was that again?"

Leon sighs bitterly and shifts his head to repeat, "I'm getting old."

"Old?  Give me a fucking break, you're not even thirty yet.  How is that old?"

He scoffs and argues, "I used to be able to fight and fuck without problem.  Right now, I can hardly move."

My eyes blinking in disbelief, I remind him, "You were basically dead yesterday and you think that you can just bounce back as if nothing had happened?"

Stormy blues stare back at me, his gaze suggesting that he doesn't give the excuse of his death much weight in this matter.

Before I can consider a helpful way of calling Leon an idiot, a rapid series of knocks sounds from the hallway and the locked doorknob rattles.  Aerith's voice is clearly heard as she demands to know what is happening and comments on the sounds of groans, something she determines is a sign that Leon is deteriorating and requires a healer.  She doesn't get a response, however, when she abruptly snaps at another person, her complaints identifying Strife as an interfering force beyond the door.  Her voice soon fades even as she continues to criticize Strife for interfering when Leon could be in serious pain, the soldier apparently pushing her down the hallway.

Leon breathes out a curse before pushing up onto his knees and carefully pulling out from me.  The slick sounds that come from that area makes me cringe, but without allowing a word or action from me, Leon grabs a nearby sheet and covers the both of us as he squeezes next to me on the narrow bed.

Surprised and a little confused with the dark-haired beauty draped at my side, I comment dully, "Aerith will be back, you know."

"Strife will keep them away until we're ready," Leon states with certainty.  "I'm worn out and need more sleep.  The others can wait."

I bend my arm and rake my fingers into his hair.  "Sorry, I didn't--"

Leon icy glare immediately silences me.  "Don't think for a moment it's your fault.  Strife should've known better than to use something that strong."  His gaze softening just slightly, he questions, "Do you still feel it in your system?"

After a moment to get a sense of my body, I reply with some surprise, "The heat isn't there like before."

Leon nods as if knowing that would be the case.  "Magic tends to like the number three."

Too tired to be embarrassed about coming three times due to Leon's manipulations, I rest lazily as my hand drifts from dark hair, down the length of his arm, and to the hand bearing the golden ring that feels oddly cool between my fingertips.  The sheet over us keeps away the chill of drying sweat, but more importantly, it gives Leon a measure of privacy as he wraps an arm at my waist and lazily rubs his thumb along my hip.  It's a calm moment that we haven't had the luxury to experience before this and I can relate to Leon's desire to enjoy every last second.

Half asleep and thinking out loud, I inform Leon, "I still need to introduce you to my parents."

He hums in reply, and adds something under his breath that sounds suspiciously like, "Need to make an honest man of you."

Grinning at the thought, I rest my head against his and close my eyes with the relief of knowing that I can fall asleep and Leon will still be here.  He isn't a vision or a dream, but a living man at my side, and there will finally be a certain tomorrow.



With the warm smells of hot fudge and waffle bowls still in the air, chocolate-smeared plates and licked-clean spoons decorate the counter and tables of Aerith's small cafe, those being the last signs of the massive sundaes made by the joint efforts from Seifer and Aerith.  Though the desserts were long gone, an assortment of people remain in the close quarters that were used for a simple welcome home party mixed with undertones of a victory celebration, the latter applying to those of us who actually knew there was a universal threat that existed only a week ago.

The usual sort has stuck around: Cid freely abuses his knee injury to gain a few kisses from the local ladies, Yuffie recounts our fight against the monster scorpion to a younger group who wanted to hear it for the eighth time, and Aerith continues to play the perfect hostess even this late into the night.  While Zack is present and assumedly enjoying the company, Cloud managed to avoid the party in its entirety with one excuse or another.  Aerith wasn't exactly clear about it, much to Zack's unconcealed disappointment and irritation.  It has been the same story during the week-long stay in Twilight Town and I don't foresee it changing much given Cloud's apparent mental block when it comes to the former Knight.

Since the beginning of the party, Seifer has been basically out of reach, the young man constantly surrounded by several members of the construction crew he had grown attached to in the past months.  Of largest note is a gruff, wolf-like figure who was one of the two people saved by Seifer's stupid heroics during the building collapse weeks ago.  In his beefy arms, the wolf carries two small pups, a pair of twins who wouldn't have known their sire without Seifer's fast thinking.  Earlier in the night, the wolf declared that one of his sons had been named after Seifer, and when subsequently asked which one, the wolf jokingly replied that it was the one with a lopsided ear.

All in all, the get-together has been a greatly needed release after the trip to Agrabah and the final battle in Twilight Town, and I can't remember a sundae tasting sweeter than the one I had tonight.

With nothing else to offer, I begin collecting the dishes and trash that had been left behind.  Seifer notices this at one point and tries to stand up to help me, but Cid and the wolf are hardly ready to let the teen run off before he finishes his third retelling of the battle against Ultimecia.  Cid in particular gets a good laugh every time Seifer says he woke me with a kiss.  I'm allowing it for now because everyone needs this happier time, but once Cid's leg heals, we're going to have a little talk that may put him back into a cast.

It takes three trips to gather all of the dishes, and finding refuge in the backroom, I take my time washing the dishes that are all decorated with some type of flower.  With no chatter to distract me, I think about our last days in Twilight Town and the one meeting with both of Seifer's parents.  While Seifer's step-father had sat with us on many occasions, his mother kept her distance until she learned from Renaud that Seifer was planning to leave Twilight Town within the week.  It apparently astonished her that Seifer hadn't returned to Twilight Town for good.

Serena Trepe wouldn't look at me during the entire meeting, but doted upon her son without a hint of love lost for the teen.  It wasn't until after she left without a promise from Seifer to stay that we learned from Renaud that, while Twilight Town didn't seem to recognize homosexual relationships as a possibility, Midnight City considered such relationships on the same level of prostitution, that it was okay to cheat on a wife as long as the other person was a man, and vise versa.  It seemed Serena considered me little more than a paying customer who had little care for Seifer beyond a physical role and I was prepared to hand her boy off to the next interested party.  Despite Seifer's hope otherwise, I doubt she will readily change her mind about me, especially when my golden ring was in plain view during our meeting.

"How long are you going to wash that one plate?"

Breaking out of distracting thoughts, I look to the side and find Aerith watching me with an amused expression.  I then glance at my hands and realize that I been scrubbing the same plate with yellow roses for a while now.  Without answering Aerith, I rinse the suds from the dish and set it onto a drying rack before moving to the next plate.

Aerith laughs lightly and moves to my side with a towel in hand, prepared to dry the dishes I had managed to finish.  "Would you like to share those deep thoughts?"

I rinse a large mug and hand it to her.

Undaunted, she takes the item and wipes it down.  "I have to admit, I was a little surprised that Seifer came with us.  After all, with Ultimecia gone, there's no reason for him to continue living under your protection.  I thought he may want to stay with his family and friends, especially when he has a nicer life there compared to what we can offer here."

My teeth clench at the words that are clearly meant to discover my intentions when it comes to Seifer.  While the teen has no desire to hide his objectives in life, I don't have that same disregard for privacy.  Even so, I thought the matter would be closed with Seifer wearing my Griever necklace on a daily basis.

"Do you realize how much he loves you?"

I huff at the question which isn't as surprising as Aerith intended it to be.  "He's young.  Falling in love is easier than falling down a set of stairs for his sort."

"You don't believe that," Aerith scolds, but the shift of her eyes indicates a measure of uncertainty on her part.

Without replying to her one way or another, I continue on the stack of dishes that have reached the halfway point.  Aerith frowns at my silence, but isn't daunted by my tactics that would have sent most other people stalking away in irritation.  She accepts the next plate with true patience and slowly wipes away the water while considering her next move.

The silence doesn't last long, however, when Seifer appears at the doorway, his expression suggesting that he had spent more than a few minutes trying to find me.  He exhales a breath when seeing that I didn't leave him behind, a new fear of his since the battle against Ultimecia.  I can't blame him much, but when one of his eyebrows lifts into a curious arch, I'm quickly reminded that Seifer can be blamed for many other things.

"You're... doing dishes."

While I frown at his tone, Aerith laughs lightly and explains, "The two of us have a deal - I let Leon help with the dishes as long as he never again tries to help me with cooking."

"Did you say 'again'?" Seifer asks, his lips curling with interest.

"Well, let's put it this way," Aerith says as gently as she can, "that stove isn't my first one."

A burst of air escapes Seifer before he settles with his usual free laughter, including his head thrown back and strong arms wrapped around his stomach.  On some level, I know that I should be angry with the teen, maybe even embarrassed at being ridiculed for one particular failure in my life, but lately, his laughter has been a rare occurrence, particularly when I'm around to hear it.  It's nothing against me; simply, there's little to find amusing between our spars and fighting against the evils out there.  Cid and his crew, on the other hand, constantly abuse their greater luxury to enjoy the little moments in life.

"Oh man, it's hard to believe that you suck at something," Seifer comments while wiping tears from his eyes.

I shrug, unconcerned about the vast misconception that I'm perfect at everything I do.

Grinning like the fool he is, Seifer steps to my side and leans back against the wide sink.  "I guess it's a good thing that I like cooking.  You'd probably starve without Aerith around."

"I have survived just fine on my own," I reply tersely, not liking his assumption that I'm completely helpless in the kitchen.  Destructive, maybe, but not helpless.

Green eyes shine with mischievous light as Seifer leans closer.  "Have you really?"

It's a loaded question, one I'm not prepared to answer when the blond is this close and his smirk is horribly inviting.  It would be... inconvenient to kiss Seifer when watchful eyes are upon us, even if the demonstration would prove to Aerith that I have deeper feelings for Seifer than most of the group can imagine, or in a couple cases, want to imagine.  Still, the desire is there and it is simpler to relieve the need, rather than suppress it.

"I'll show you," I eventually say in response.  "Fetch our blades and I'll meet you at the entrance to the Great Maw."

Seifer's smirk broadens with anticipation.  "Another lesson?"

"Until you finally learn something."

Chuckling, Seifer turns to leave, but makes certain to brush his hand against my hip such that the move goes unnoticed by Aerith.  Cocky brat, he needs to be taught his place in this relationship before things start to slip too far out of my control.  While it can be interesting to give into Seifer's whims on occasion, it's better to not make it a habit.

"You're smiling, you know."

Startled by the statement, I look at Aerith, but the woman doesn't meet my eyes while innocently drying a large mug I had washed earlier.  I eventually huff at her observation and hand her a cleaned plate as my sign that I don't care what she thinks she knows.  She smiles in that special way which makes her aura visible for anyone to see and continues to dry dishes as I pick up the pace to finish the dwindling stack.  If Aerith notices the more rapid pace, she doesn't comment.

Once the task is done, I head back through the seating area, the cafe still packed with residents of Radiant Garden and a few bottles of beer that weren't here earlier.  Aerith is going to have her hands full trying to get rid of this lot.  Waving my goodbye and ignoring the complaints from Cid and Yuffie that it was too early for me to leave, I step out into the night air and look up at the full moon that seems larger than normal.  My eyes automatically scan the rest of the starlit sky, but there's no sign of a dark star or any other worrisome omen.  For once, it's a peaceful night.

"How long are you going to stand there?"

I glance back at the blond teen, Seifer leaning against the outer wall of the cafe with Helios strapped to his waist and Lion Heart resting against his shoulder.  "I thought I told you to meet me at the Maw."

"I know what you told me.  I decided to meet you here."

I take note of the teen's flushed cheeks, short breaths, and other signs of his rush to get our blades and return to the cafe before I left.  He's trying too hard to keep me under his watch, that's for certain, but it has only been a week.  I'll give him a few more days before reminding him that I'm over a decade older than him and perfectly able to take care of myself.

The walk to the barrier around Radiant Garden is a relatively silent one, the only exception being Seifer's apparent desire to hum a tune I haven't heard before.  I can only assume it's a song from Twilight Town and he was somehow reminded of it during our short week there.  It's yet another reminder that Seifer comes from a different place and a different time, and while I normally wouldn't place that much emphasis on it, Aerith's words have unfortunately stuck with me.  This world isn't Seifer's and he has no other reason to stay here except for me and the responsibilities that tie me to Radiant Garden, responsibilities that aren't his to share.

Similar thoughts cloud my mind for the rest of the walk, and only Seifer's hum pierces through the haze.  I hardly notice the passage of half-built structures and cliff walls until the electric smell of Merlin's barriers assaults my senses.  Squinting to adjust my vision, I gaze up at the basically invisible barrier, only the occasional flicker of white magic showing the presence of a wall that keeps most monsters out of the city.

"What's the plan?" Seifer asks, Helios pulled from its sheath and held at the teen's shoulder.

"We spar."

Seifer frowns lightly at the idea.  "We spar... in monster infested land... at night."

My lips slide into a smile at the idea, and with Lion Heart's hilt heavy in my hand, I step through the barriers that will allow passage to any person who doesn't hold darkness in their heart.  Admittedly, it was one of the first tests Zack was put through to prove that his status of Knight was nothing more than coincidence and not something he desired.  The pirate never knew of the trial, even though everyone was watching.

Seifer hurries to move by my side, his eyes wide and pale in the moonlight.  "Are you planning to get me killed with this lesson?"

"You'll be fine," I assure as I break away from the teen and turn to point Lion Heart at his chest.  "Raise your blade."

Instinctual fear eventually fades from Seifer, the base emotion quickly replaced by a deep hunger to meet any challenge I throw at him.  He fiddles with the trigger of his gunblade, but it's an idle threat - the teen's aim is worse than lousy and he tends to telegraph his shot by closing his left eye when aiming.  He has another lifetime ahead of him before his bullets can touch me.

As if reading my thoughts, Seifer smirks and opens his stance slightly before launching forward in his typical bold attack.  Our blades connect with a harsh clang, and when I shift backward with his strike, the teen quickly adjusts his footing to account for the unexpected move.  Even so, he doesn't react fast enough to avoid a punch to his side.  He grunts at the attack and bends his arm in the attempt to elbow me in the face, but by that point, I've already jumped back a pace and well out of his reach.

Our spar continues with a similar story as I force Seifer deeper into the Great Maw.  An occasional Heartless appears, most of which including the larger sorts that dislike the burn of sunlight.  I step aside at those points, forcing Seifer to handle what he can while I limit myself to a spell or two when necessary to keep the blond alive and in one piece.  When the monsters ultimately fall to Helios' edge, I allow Seifer a moment of victory before our spar begins anew.  It's a taxing request of the young gunblader, but he doesn't complain once about my unfairness or his being too tired and hurt to continue.  No, if anything, his eyes become firmer with the need to prove the worthiness of his existence to me.

Strength of will aside, Seifer gradually loses the finesse necessary to dodge attacks and properly enact weapon strategy.  Though his body is against him, the teen continues to put all of this strength into every strike and I'm reminded why I never had a chance against him: my defenses weren't built to withstand the daily assaults of Seifer's straightforward and brutal attacks.

It's on the rocky path to a safe zone that Seifer stumbles and I take immediate advantage of the situation.  Lion Heart flashes with the dark light of night when it slides perfectly between Helios' blade and barrel.  It only takes a sharp turn of my wrist to disarm Seifer, and as he wastes time cursing, I slip my leg behind his and knock out his knee to force the taller man to the ground.  He grunts at his rough landing, but is quickly silenced when Lion Heart finds its place just above his Adam's apple and presses against vulnerable flesh.

Nothing is said for a long minute and Seifer swallows carefully when the steady blade doesn't move.  "... Leon...?"

"Is this what you want?" I ask, angling Lion Heart such that blood is drawn and oozes down golden skin.  "To live a life that is constantly threatened?  To be uncertain when or how your life will end, except for the knowledge that you won't die old?"

His tenseness fades with a chuckle and Seifer smiles while looking up at me.  "Shit, do you always worry about stupid things like that?"

"This isn't a joke, Seifer."

"It never is with you," he comments, no longer concerned by the blade at his throat.  "Listen, I haven't given up anything by coming here.  Yeah, I have good friends in Twilight Town and I love my family, but...  This matters more."

I sigh at the easy reply and argue, "You don't even understand what 'this' is."

Seifer smiles secretively and shakes his head as best he can.  "But I do."

"You can't be certain about that."

Without losing that quiet smile, Seifer hesitates before saying, "Listen, I wasn't going to tell you about this, but... There was an explosion after the fight, and while most of it was basically white magic, there were these feathers that dropped from the sky.  I kind of grabbed one of them and somehow pictured me, or rather the not-me standing next to you during all sorts of scenarios.  It made sense."  He lifts a hand to the Griever pendent and fingers the rough edges of the metal.  "It makes sense."

My vision wavers briefly at the idea that Seifer had come in contact with the same type of feather I saw touch Zack and give him the memory of Cloud's name.  It had done nothing more for the confused man, but maybe... "Do you remember anything else?"

Seifer scoffs at the question.  "Just some stuff about Rinoa, but she purposefully kept the rest from me.  Apparently, she thinks it'll be more fun for us to start over with loving each other."

I struggle against the rush of lost hope, but staring into attentive green eyes, I find myself again and remember Griever's words that Seifer is my other half.  The details don't seem to matter so much with that in mind.

Lowering Lion Heart, I scold lightly, "You shouldn't live your life based on one person."

"Even if there is no life without that person?" Seifer asks while standing and facing me.

"You're too young for that kind of talk."

"And next you'll tell me that you're too old to hear it."

Impressed by his boldness, I smirk and grab his wrist to pull the teen into the safe zone that is little more than a tunnel which connects two sections of the Great Maw.  Despite the enclosure of thick stone, magically lit crystals brighten the cavern and emit a natural form of energy that wards away stray monsters.  I shove Seifer against a wall and silence his mouth with a hard kiss that drives a groan from the teen, one that holds little of the pain he must be feeling.  I slide a leg between his and press my thigh up against his groin, causing Seifer to gasp and unfortunately break the kiss.

"Fuck, I thought you were trying to chase me away."

I bend down and lap at the blood decorating his throat.  "Since when has that worked?"

Seifer laughs at my tone, but speaks seriously when saying, "This is my choice, Leon, and you can't stop me."

I straighten at the statement and direct an incredulous glare at the teen for suggesting that I have no options when it comes to this relationship.

Admirably, he doesn't wince under my gaze, but instead grabs my left hand and lifts it to his mouth for a gentleman's kiss.  "One day, you'll have a second ring on your finger, something that will complement this old, scratched up thing.  What do you think about silver?"

My mind empty of thoughts, I stare at the shameless blond and struggle with the need to offer an argument.  Unfortunately, the only information that emerges is how this Seifer has become more attentive to the simple golden band, stroking it much like my husband would after sex and when just waking in the morning.

"I'm not proposing anything right now," Seifer assures with a sharp gleam to his eyes.  "I still have a lot of things to figure out, and a lot more to prove.  But one day, when you can't refuse me, I'll make my pledge to you."

There's nothing really to say, especially when I can practically feel the strands of Fate twining between us and creating an impossible knot.  Twisting my hand still in Seifer's hold, I brush my fingers along his jaw before I lean in and lightly press my lips against the corner of his mouth.  He tries to deepen the kiss, but I pull back and pat his cheek with a condescending touch.

"Do your best, Almasy.  I've been waiting too long for you to ruin this."

Though surprise passes over his expression, Seifer smiles with confidence of old.  "You're not going to help me make this happen, are you?"

"Not one bit."

His smile broadening, Seifer wraps an arm around my waist and pulls me hard against his body.  "Good.  You make me nervous when you take it easy on me."

"Hn, is that so?" I murmur before warning him lightly, "Then, I suppose you had better be prepared for Hell."




Author's Whining -- And another fic is DONE. *joy*  It's so nice finishing these epics and being free to move onto another world and another story.  Of course, I will be revisiting GR:NP for a side fic about Cloud and Zack, but it's different than having another huge chapter to write. ;)  I hope you enjoyed the ride with this story.  It's hard to believe it started a couple years ago with a vague mission to try NanoWriMo, and ended like most of my stories do - a year too late and dripping with sap. *laugh*

BTW, Gnome, this story ending doesn't give you permission to throw another bunny at me.  I have enough, thank you. ;)