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29 July 2007 @ 01:06 am
Altered - Leon and Irvine  
Title: Altered
Authors: gardensgnome & lntora
Characters: Squall 'Leon' Leonheart & Irvine Kinneas
Fandom: Kingdom Hearts 2 & Final Fantasy 8
Theme Set: HW2
Theme(s): #11 - façade; #1 - anxiety
Warnings and Notes: no warnings for this one
Previous Parts: 1. Glitch  2. Undone

Irvine gazed at the path into town, glad to be outside. It had been a hectic day, which wasn't helped when Irvine met Squall's roommates. If it wasn't for the calming factor of Aerith, Irvine was sure he'd have gone nuts between Yuffie's hyper energy and Cid's crude, in your face behaviour. Neither one knew a thing about tact, that much was obvious.

Now Squall was taking him to the market, something about getting things for dinner. Irvine didn't really care one way or another if it kept him out of that house. One, he realised he needed some fresh air. Two, one more all-too personal question and he'd have no qualms about shooting someone, flatmate or no.

Besides, didn't they hear Aerith telling him to take it easy? Stressing him out wasn't Irvine's idea of 'easy' in any sense of the word.

Glancing over at Squall, the sniper just ran tired fingers through his hair before asking, "So where are we going? And please tell me it will take a while to get there and come back."

Leon enjoyed a deep breath of the evening air, relaxing as he tilted his face upwards to the sky and smiled. Things had been a little hectic inside but Irvine had managed to survive both Cid and Yuffie which meant he was likely to survive anything that Radiant Garden might dish out.

"Well we can't take too long," he told Irvine, taking a step away from the house. "If we don't get back in time Aerith won't be able to cook dinner. We will take as long as possible though. You're looking a little frayed around the edges. They have better manners at the dinner table, I promise. Threat of a wooden spoon across the knuckles is good incentive to play nice."

Leading the way from Merlin's house to the shops, Leon kept an eye open for heartless. Cid had said there wasn't any around but it never hurt to be on guard at all times.

"I'll introduce you to everyone," Leon said as they walked. "The nephews will likely want to ask lots of questions but I should be able to keep them quiet if I grab some of Scrooge's ice-creams."

At the mention of nephews, Irvine grew a little wistful. He quickly shook it away, knowing any mention of family or friends was going to hit a little harder until he got used to this new reality.

"S'long as they're not as bad as Yuffie or Cid, it's okay," Irvine said. Honestly, he was in no great hurry to deal with those two again. They made Selphie and Zell look sedate and well-mannered. "And the ice cream doesn't sound like a bad idea, either."

The teen grew silent as he pondered how to approach Squall. A question had been on his mind since watching Squall talk with his roommates, and it left Irvine quite curious. He decided to bite the bullet, guessing Squall would either tell him or not.

"Um, hey, Squall..." Irvine paused, again running his fingers through his hair. "Before when Aerith was checking me and the others were--um yeah. Anyway, they kept calling you 'Leon'..." He trailed off, letting the rest of the unspoken question hang between them.

Pausing on the edge of the market area, Leon turned to face Irvine, sad smile gracing his lips.

"I sometimes forget about that seeing as it's been so long," he said with a sigh. "You'll notice that Yuffie sometimes calls me Squall too." Leon ran a hand through his hair, wondering how best to explain everything to Irvine.

"Leon is the name I go by here," the gunblader explained, leaning back against the wall at the top of the stairs. "Yuffie calls me Squall to get my attention and to make sure I don't forget. Some days I really don't want to remember though," Leon growled in frustration, fist thumping against the painted bricks. "Squall failed to protect what mattered most. Leon is stronger and able to fight the nobodies and heartless. Squall...I..." Leon closed his eyes and sighed. "I'm sorry Irvine," he apologized, looking at his friend. "It's never easy to confront your own shortcomings."

A heavy silence grew for a moment; Irvine not having any words to offer the brunette comfort from what he could see was an old and badly healed wound. Instead he started towards the marketplace, steps slow and measured to stay beside Squall. When he did speak, Irvine's voice was a low whisper nearly stolen by the evening breeze.

"Squall was the one who didn't give up on seeing me again when pro'ly everyone else had, I bet."

The cowboy stopped, looking up as the first stars of the night started peeking out. "Got nothing against Leon; I wanna get to know him. But it's kinda sad is there really isn't any part of Squall left. Kinda makes me..." Irvine suddenly shook his head. Squall didn't need any more on him right now. He dragged a small smile from somewhere as he glanced at the older man. "Anyway, you'll have to teach me about Leon. And what are we supposed to get from this market anyway?"

"I'm still me, Irvine," Leon reassured the teen, resting a hand on the sniper's shoulder. "Still Squall, just I'm Leon as well. Heh, I've been Leon for so long that the others don't recognize me when I have what Yuffie calls a 'Squall moment'. You...you'd know it for what it was though."

Removing his hand as they fully entered the market place, Leon dug some change out of a pocket and tossed it to Scrooge. Smiling as he accepted the three popsicles, Leon headed for the nephews' shop.

"We've just got to pick up some extra vegetables. I think we were only going to have a light meal but with your arrival I'm guessing she's decided something more is needed. I don't think I've quite ever understood the way Aerith thinks," Leon chuckled, thinking about how he was unlikely to ever understand how the women in his life thought.

"Hello boys," Leon greeted Scrooge's nephews, handing over the popsicles that he had brought just for them. "Now you eat these and Irvine and I will help ourselves to your foodstuffs."

With the young ducks distracted by the cold treats, Leon smiled at Irvine as he grabbed a basket and handed it over.

"I never gave up, Irvine, and even if I change again, I still won't give up. We, uh, did give you a send off of sorts though. Not a burial," Leon added hastily. "More like a little something to guide you home," he finished, a little embarrassed by his admission.

Irvine was a bit dazed once they hit the marketplace. In particular, he was outright shocked at seeing Squall--'Leon, remember'--talking to a duck wearing clothes, who talked right back no less. It didn't help when they went to another shop that had three more ducks which Leon distracted with the odd popsicles before he started shopping.

'Talking ducks... wearing clothes... that's it, the explosion killed me and I'm... well if it's heaven it'd be pretty weird. Can't be hell, too laid back...'

The cowboy kept these thoughts to himself as he listened to Sq-Leon talk about never giving up, as well as the send off.

"Guide me home?" he asked. Irvine could only guess what kind of service that was. He was a spiritual person, but not necessarily a religious one. The two were separate in Irvine's mind. "Well, whatever it was guided me here. But I guess..." The teen trailed off, deciding not to finish what he was about to say as he helped Leon shop for supplies.

'...I guess home is were the heart is, after all.'

Hiding a smile, Leon watched Irvine out the corner of his eye, noting the way the gunman watched the young ducks. Wait till I take you to the coliseum, these boys aren't all that strange he thought, picking through the bins of vegetables.

"It was Selphie's idea really," said Leon, dropping a few carrots into the basket. "We all put something of ours in a box and buried it under some rocks I had transported from the orphanage. We didn't do it at G-Garden. Martine didn't take your disappearance too well," Leon admitted sadly. "It is on Galbadian soil though."

What Leon didn't mention was that Rinoa didn't put anything in the box, his sorceress more than a little peeved at what Leon had chosen to place in with the other items. Leon quickly put the image of dark eyes glaring at him aside and focused on the current shopping expedition.

"Was there anything you wanted to buy?" Leon asked, pausing near the shelves containing fruit and assorted confectionery. "I'm quite happy to lend you some munni if you need something. Oh, hand me a packet of those candied paopu. Aerith likes those."

At the comment about 'money', Irvine winced. "I have a crapload of gil in my pocket, and something tells me that means squat. Is there an exchange rate or anything or is it just completely worthless?" That was almost heartbreaking, especially as he had just made a small fortune at the chocobo races along with Matron. Of course, that had been an unscheduled stop, but Matron was just as keen as Irvine had been; they figured what the others didn't know wouldn't hurt anyone.

Hearing about Martine was a bit of a surprise for the cowboy. Sure, he respected the man well enough as G's headmaster, but he didn't think he warranted much of Martine's attention outside of being one of the Garden's top snipers.

Then again, Leon had said Martine didn't take it well, which could translate into anything.

"What do you mean Martine didn't take it well? And for that matter," Irvine continued, remembering the other part of what Leon said, "what did you guys put in the box? Nothing too important I hope. I mean, well, I'd rather if you guys kept stuff that meant a lot to you with you, if that makes any sense...

"So, yeah, about the box..."

"The box? Well..." Leon frowned for a moment, mind working to recall what everyone else had added to it. "It wasn't all that big a box, you know. Zell dropped in some bullets from the gun you couldn't help but touch at his Ma's place; Quistis added some potions and the like. Ever practical Quisty," he smiled fondly. "Selphie added a pair of chocobo feathers and Seifer dropped in parts I'm guessing were for an upgrade. All the parts bore the G-Garden created stamp. Laguna even added a flask of Galbadian whiskey from himself, Kiros and Ward. Matron and Cid didn't put in much, some flowers from the field beside the orphanage. It was quite the mixture of things."

Heading towards the chiller, Leon put the basket down and grabbed out a few bottles of juice.

"Martine had been thinking of naming you successor to the Garden. After all that had happened, I think he was having trouble keeping up. I'm guessing he never mentioned it to you?" he asked, putting the juice on the counter, off to one side as he hadn't yet finished shopping.

Reaching into a pocket, Leon pulled out a few coins and laid them on his palm to show to Irvine.

"We melted my gil down and the moogles re-minted it out as munni. Same value but the coins must be changed to be usable," Leon shrugged. "Do I want to know how come you have so much gil for what was a straight forward mission?"

After finding the candied paopu, Irvine listened as Leon went over the items everyone had left in remembrance.

'Huh, Zell knew me too well. So did Selphie for that matter. And yes, Quisty will forever be practical. I wonder how Seifer knew I was planning an upgrade. And 'guna and the others added something? Wow. Matron... hope she was okay.' However, the one item he'd been listening for he didn't hear. Irvine was about to ask but Sq--Leon had changed the topic.

"Um, no, Martine never said anything 'bout it. And don't see myself taking it. Then again, maybe I would've. Could change some of G's classes around. I can see it now, assassination 101: how to use seduction to get closer to your target."

The topic of money came up next, though hearing his gil wasn't completely worthless relaxed the cowboy a little. "Oh, good. Would hate to have it go to waste." However, he coughed and hedged at the question of where he got the money, only to shrug. 'Not like he can put me on report or anything.'

"Matron and I made a stop at the tracks before we went to Esthar," Irvine said, figuring that would be answer enough. Besides, that wasn't nearly as important as the question still lingering in the sniper's mind.

"And what did you put in the box, anyway?"

Unable to stop a chuckle from escaping, Leon shook his head at Irvine and smiled as tried not to think of what the cowboy's reaction to the item he'd put in the box might be. He stepped closer and wrapped his hand about the bag of paopu, gazing up at Irvine, eyes more resembling Squall's stormy gray than Leon's calm blue.

"When the heartless attacked and Rinoa disappeared, she wasn't wearing my ring on that chain about her neck."

Looking away, Leon stepped back, taking the bag of candied fruit with him. "It was going to be Siren seeing as she'd been your strongest synced guardian force but then it wouldn't have been from me. Siren was never junctioned to any other SeeD after you disappeared."

Placing the fruit in the basket, Leon forced a smile, trying to push down the emotions. He was supposed to be happy. He wasn't by himself anymore.

"That seduction topic was actually an extra course given at Balamb for SeeD going undercover. Not that there were many of those type of missions...Do you think I've brought enough?" he asked, holding up the rather full basket.

Saying Irvine was shocked was an extreme understatement. Completely floored might have been the better expression. He could only stare at Leon even as the brunette was holding up the basket for inspection.

"But... but why?" he asked, the words coming out before Irvine could think about it.

Why would Squall have put his ring in the box? And Rinoa--oh Hyne, Rinoa must have been beyond pissed about that.

'I don't get it,' the cowboy thought. He didn't consider himself anything special. That is, he wasn't anyone's knight or sorcerer or anything like that. He was a sniper with a penchant for flirting, nothing more, and certainly nothing that was worth Squall's ring in the face of one pissed off sorceress.

Even as Irvine was trying to wrap his brain around that, he couldn't help the small pang as he thought of Siren. He honestly didn't think he'd need her, and had left her behind so she could rest, even though Siren had protested. In retrospect Irvine wish he had brought her along, but all the wishing in the world wasn't going to change things.

If it could, he'd already be back home where things made a little more sense than what they were right now.

Irvine shook he head. Leon had asked him a question, after all. "Um, yeah, looks like enough," he said, though not really paying the basket much attention. He really wanted to ask about Leon's choice, but a part of him hesitated to question again. One, the Squall he remembered could be tight-lipped if he didn't want to answer something. Two, it might be one of those memories Leon didn't want to delve into. The teen bit his lip to keep silent. If Leon wanted to answer, he would. If not, Irvine wouldn't pry. Instead he just changed the topic.

"B Garden had a seduction class? How come I was never scheduled to take it?"

"I'm not exactly sure why, Irvine," Leon admitted, frowning thoughtfully. "Was a good idea at the time? Ask me again later, I might have a better answer."

Lifting the basket up next to the register, Leon turned his back on the young ducks ringing up his purchases, leaning against the counter to face Irvine.

"Even I didn't take that course, Irvine. Only reason I knew about it was because I was commander," Leon explained. "Headmaster Cid kept the list of who had taken the course to himself. No one knew who had participated in the lessons apart from those attending."

Nodding when asked if he wanted his purchases delivered, Leon handed over the some munni. Pocketing the change, he stayed where he was.

"Did you want to buy some stuff, check out the other shops or go see if the moogles will mint up some new coins for you?" he asked.

Nothing was making very much sense now. Irvine shook his head. Between Leon seemingly not knowing why he put his ring in the box to a class on seduction killing techniques, (which Irvine really thought he should have been enrolled for), the cowboy decided to just focus on the present and let things sort themselves out.

"Ah..." Glancing out the window, Irvine noticed it was fairly dark. 'Not the best time to go window shopping.' Besides, he could imagine Cid being one of those nasty types when dinner was late. "Maybe we can get the gil changed in the morning? Right now I think we should head back. I don't want to see that Cid guy get hungry."

"Heh, and here I thought you wanted to be gone as long as possible," Leon teased as the purchases disappeared thanks to a magic homing tag that Merlin had created.

"Cid isn't too bad when he gets hungry before dinner but that's only because he knows better than to try and raid the fridge when Aerith is in the kitchen with cooking implements in hand. Hot sauce stains aren't exactly easy to wash out."

Stepping towards the door, Leon waved to the boys, smiling at the chorus of thank you's for the ice creams. He was rather pleased that he'd managed to get through shopping without having to fend off questions about Irvine, or fending off the ducks themselves. Last thing Irvine needed was to be interrogated by three inquisitive young ducks.

"You know Cid, I don't. I'd rather play it safe until I'm a little more certain about things," Irvine said. "Same with this place. Maybe it's fine to walk around at night, but I'm still odd man out, so I have to get used to it."

Irvine somehow managed to make it out the store without staring at the three ducks. There were a lot of things he was going to have to get used to, from the looks of it.

The evening sky was filled with stars; Irvine tried looking for some constellations before remembering it wasn't the sky he was familiar with. Biting down a sigh, he turned to Leon, curiosity getting the better of him.

"So nobody junctioned with Siren? Was it out of respect to me, or was my girl just too on'ry for you?" The teen could well imagine if it was the latter. Siren might look meek and delicate, but she had a mouth on her when she wanted.

"It's only recently been safe to walk about of an evening," said Leon as he began to head towards home. "Heartless are stronger in the darkness but there's so few of them around now, the security system takes care of them before they become an issue."

Waving goodnight to Scrooge, the senior duck closing up his freezer for the night, Leon worked through his memories on what exactly happened to Siren.

"I think Quistis tried, as did Selphie, but Siren rejected them both as masters. Zell had a little better luck and Seifer refused to junction with any guardian other than Ifrit. Pair of stubborn hotheads, no pun intended," Leon half chuckled as he strolled down the stairs and out of the marketplace. "Some of the other SeeD took her for a while but she never settled. I guess she was looking for a mind similar to yours," he stated, giving the cowboy a sideways look. "I junctioned her a couple of times but she wasn't comfortable with Shiva, they kept fighting for room so Siren agreed to be bound, like Diablos was in a lamp Headmaster Cid gave me on my first SeeD mission. I wonder if she survived the Heartless attack," Leon pondered. "I don't know how bound to our world the guardian forces are. Would be something to look into should we ever make it back."

Irvine bit down a sigh at hearing Siren was likely lost as well. She'd been good both to and for him. She tried not to take up too much room in Irvine's memories, and reminded him of Matron at times with her advice. Though it was still a small surprise that nobody could junction her after he left. Irvine had figured the rest of the orphanage gang might have trouble, but surely some other SeeD...

"Wait a sec," he said, catching Leon's look. "What do you mean a mind like mine? And what's with that face? Siren tell you something when you were junctioned with her?"

Even if curiosity killed the cat, Irvine was a firm believer in Phoenix Downs anyway.

However, a strange noise in the distance caught his attention. It took him a moment before hazarding a guess. "Is that the security system you were talking about?" Because if it was, Irvine felt a need to pick up the pace. Curiosity was one thing, real monsters were another. Plus he'd only taken one down with him on the mission, which was in his duster pocket. No sense wasting it after all.

Tilting his head to the side as he listened, Leon nodded. "Yeah but it's nothing to worry about. By the time we get there the heartless should all be gone. We only get a few now and then. The numbers that were here when I brought you up from the study...we haven't seen that many in months."

Starting to walk again, Leon smiled when the noise stopped. "See, told you it wouldn't last long. However if you're alone and see a heartless, run. At least till we can see what ammo your shotgun will need to fight them."

Walking slowly, Leon enjoyed being outside, the buildings around them emitting a soft warmth that they had stored during the day. It would be cold later but right now it was a pleasant time to be out. He smiled, quite relaxed regardless of the threat of heartless attacks. A small part of him said it was because of the man at his side but he ignored that small voice. Having Irvine with him wasn't any different than having Cid or Cloud at his side, just that it was weird and comforting at the same time. He tried not to give his companion any more strange looks but it was hard. Irvine really was here. He wasn't 'alone' anymore and that was going to take some getting used to.

"Siren didn't tell me anything, Irvine, so don't fear she let on any secrets," he chuckled softly. "It might have been to do with your being Galbadian or the fact that you'd been the least exposed to guardian forces before you junctioned with her and so your mind was clearer. There's a lot we don't know about guardians," he shrugged, kicking a stone on the path. "I offered to take her to G-Garden but she rejected the idea. So I kept her. As far as I could tell she was content to sleep."

Now Irvine was truly puzzled. "I've seen other Galbies junction and the GFs had no trouble going to a new person." Irvine wasn't ready to commit to the notion that his brain just had less going on, as it were. It seemed logical in hindsight, but the theory felt too pat and dried for him to really consider it.

'Well not like it matters that much at the moment since Siren's gone,' he thought. Shaking his head, Irvine decided to let that subject lie low for now. Instead he cocked an ear, feeling a small note of relief when the noises stopped as Leon had pointed out.

"Heartless," he said slowly, the word strange. "What exactly is that, and how will I know what I can and can't use? I have some pulse ammo on me, but no point in wastin' it if it's not gonna work."

"Would you accept that maybe Siren missed you?" Leon asked, recalling his own bonds with Shiva. It was very possible that Irvine and Siren hand been that close as well. "Shiva rarely agreed to go to another and a few times resisted unjunction. I think she was getting possessive of me," he admitted with a wry smile, slightly sad in the knowledge that Shiva was lost to him.

"It shouldn't take much for you to be able to fight the heartless. Cid and the moogles synthesized up enhancements for Lionheart that enabled me to be able to fight them. For a long time I couldn't though," Leon sighed, running a gloved hand through his hair. "Then Sora came with the keyblade and I think the moogles used something similar to it in creating my new weapons. I never really asked too many questions about what the moogles do. They get grumpy if you start asking too many questions."

Stopping as a heartless suddenly ran across their path, Leon did nothing as it skittered away. Moments later it was nothing but dissolving blackness as the security system did the job it was created for.

Irvine shrugged. He really didn't want to talk about Siren any more, solely as he found himself missing the GF the more he thought about her.

'Sorry, darlin'. Maybe I should've taken you with me.'

Irvine listened as Leon talked about fixing up Exeter to fight these heartless things. Though he wasn't sure what the heck a moogle was, it couldn't be any stranger than taking ducks. Irvine was about to ask how long Leon thought the mods might take when suddenly a black--something--dashed right across their way. Irvine wasn't expecting anything like it. That would be, he'd later admit, his only excuse as he straight jumped onto Leon's back, startled near out his skin.

"What the hell was that!"

The creature was dark, darker than anything Irvine had ever seen before. It looked like oil given form, only it moved much faster than he'd give oil credit for.

Worse, and something the sniper couldn't consciously understand, was a feeling of deja vu. He'd never seen the weird moving shadow before, so he couldn't explain why he was so badly startled by it...

Absently Irvine realised he was still on Leon's back. "Is it gone?" he asked, not willing to move off said back until he got an affirmative.

Leon tensed a little when Irvine latched onto him. Sure, he was more used to physical contact these days but he usually got a warning, like Yuffie's sneakers squeaking on the floor before she jumped on him. Of course, Irvine wasn't Yuffie. Irvine was also much heavier.

"That's a Heartless, Irvine," Leon said simply as if pointing out a flower or type of bird, "and yes, it is gone. Town security system got it."

Patting the sniper's arm in what he hoped was a comforting manner, Leon stayed still so that neither of them would lose their balance and end up sprawled across the cobblestones.

"Heartless are creatures of darkness," Leon explained quietly. "They are the darkness of a destroyed heart. It's probably a little more in depth than that but they are creatures that do not distinguish between good and bad. They simply exist to create more darkness. We destroy them so they don't spread further and hurt others. Aerith likes to think we're giving them peace by destroying what is left of an already dead person," he finished with a sad smile, eyes still resting on the place where the small Heartless had met its end.

"Creature of darkness... right." Slowly Irvine climbed off Leon's back, dusting at his coat with an obvious nervous hand. "I think creature of darkness goes without saying."

Sighing, Irvine glanced up just in time to notice what seemed like a pink, heart-shaped light float up into the sky. Again it seemed somehow familiar, though he couldn't recall having ever seen such a light before.

It didn't help his nerves one bit.

"I'm all for romantic evening strolls and all, but since I don't have a weapon for dealing with those... things, I'd sooner go inside and deal with Cid and Yuffie's million and one questions."

Irvine wasn't a coward, but he wasn't an idiot, either. And he didn't trust security systems, as they always had a knack for failing at the most inopportune times. So he had no problem with a hasty exit, grabbing Leon by the wrist and hauling the brunette back to the weird house Leon was staying at.