Takes place after Kairi's rescue; contains spoilers for the end of Kingdom Hearts.

Written from Cloud's perspective.


Ephemeral Blossoms

Akai Kitsune

Part 1: Here Without You


It almost made me smile, watching the boy - Sora, his friends called him - defeat Hades, sending him flying into the pit of waiting Heartless. As his minions turned against him, I instead turned away, heading towards the door that would lead me away from the Coliseum. As much as I hated to admit it, I had lost the tournament; my contract with Hades was void if I was defeated before I could even face Hercules. With the tournaments coming to a close, and the Lord of the Dead occupied by the creatures who once followed him, there was no reason to remain. He couldn't help me anymore, even if he was willing. After all that time, I had begun to doubt his sincerity.

I slung my broadsword across my shoulders, passing by the other man who lost against Sora in our battle.

"Aren't you on his side?" the man spoke quietly behind me. "Shouldn't you be helping him?"

I looked sidelong at him. His blue-green eyes were sharp and alert, despite the beating he had just received from the boy's Keyblade. His strange-looking sword, adorned with the image of a flaming lion, rested tip-down in the ground at his side, balanced by his hand.

Finally I shook my head. "We're not allies. I'm just a hired mercenary. If he's not here then I have no reason to be. His well-being isn't my concern."

The man's eyes narrowed a little. I wondered what he must be thinking; was I callous? Cruel? Or simply indifferent? I can't say why the thought bothered me.

But something about him was familiar. It seemed almost as if we had met before this tournament.

His lips quirked into a tiny smile after a long moment. "I was wondering about that. You don't seem like the type to follow the Heartless."

"The type?" I repeated, frowning tightly. What did he mean by that?

"You're not evil," he elaborated with a shrug. "And your heart is still intact."

"You can tell?" I couldn't conceal my surprise.

He nodded. "It's easy, once you've dealt with as many Heartless as I have. To see which hearts are tainted, and which are pure... to understand who is likely to fall and who will survive." He looked pointedly to Sora, laughing with his friends as they defeated another round of tournament competitors.

I followed his gaze, curious at his interest in the boy. "Who is he?"

The man shrugged again, absently rubbing the hilt of his blade, where the lion-carved keychain used to be. He had awarded it to Sora after his defeat. "A boy with a destiny," he replied. "With a family to find. There's too much responsibility resting on him... he'll never allow himself to lose."

"That's why we couldn't beat him," I added. It was not a question.

He didn't answer for a long time. "Maybe," he said finally, "And maybe we just don't have the sort of skill that's needed to beat him now."

"Which is...?"

"A team," he raised his hand, pointing to the trio as they began their next battle.

It was true, and I could tell; that was what we were lacking. Watching Sora and his friends in battle - as a spectator, not a participant - I saw how effective a group the truly were. Looking out for each other, fighting together, ganging up on each opponent or spreading out to cover each enemy, depending on who they faced, they were a force to admire and be wary of. So young, I couldn't help but think, yet already the boy was so strong a leader.

Brings back memories...

But no. I didn't want to think of that now. It had been nine years - a long nine years, at that - and the more I thought of anything except getting back home, the more despairing my situation became.

If I was a different sort of person, I might have asked for help a long time ago. It could have been pride, or fear of change, or a lack of trust in all but myself. Looking back, I'm often forced to berate myself for not asking this man, specifically. My journey would have ended then.

"Your name... Leon, was it?" I looked back at him, my face partially concealed by the collar of the red cape I wore.

He nodded. "Yes."

I turned towards the door once again, adjusting the sword I carried. "If we ever have the chance, I'd like to try our hand at fighting that boy again someday."

His voice followed me, along with his agreement. "Perhaps if we find what we were lacking today."

I didn't reply, pushing open the Coliseum Gates, as Sora's battle cries echoed through the stadium. The vast world loomed before me, wild, unexplored, and I stepped forward onto the path I once walked.

The path of freedom, where I would search for my light.


To be continued


Notes: I'm sure this has been done before, but I haven't found it yet. I wanted to give it a try myself, having just finished the game.

I found it interesting that the Final Fantasy characters ended up together during the credits, even though Squall was from a different game. I can only assume that all of them come from the same world, originally. Actually, I noticed it looked an awful lot like the library in Hollow Bastion, so that may come up later, ^_^

As for Cloud's contract, it does state that he's required to kill Hercules in the tournament. He can't really do that if he's eliminated beforehand! Who knows why he stayed in the Hades Cup... but that's something that may show up in this fic as well.

Akai Kitsune