VIII: I Won't

The streets were concentrated with people, hysterical women screaming out for help. Their voices buzzed, mingling together and drowning out anything coherent. The World Exit was packed, the gates forced open to the maximum. The entire town had turned out, pushing and shoving through the crowd to get through and escape.

"Women and children first! Women and children! You there, sir, women and children only now!"

A man dressed in a gummi ship captain's get-up was standing on a raised platform, shouting over the crowd using a microphone, his voice booming from loudspeakers attached to them. The gummi ships behind him had their custom-installed floodlights switched on, illuminating the dark town with bright, white lights. Cloud squinted, searching for a familiar face through the throng of people.

"Squall, I ca-"

A small, shaking figure, wrapped in a thick cloak pulled at the blonde's sleeve desperately, twisting the fabric in her gnarly hands. Tears were streaming down her face.

"My baby! She's not here!"

"I'm sorry, ma'am, but I-"

"My baby! She's this tall! She's-she's only 5! Please! Have you seen my baby?"

Squall gripped Cloud's wrist a little tighter, pulling him away. He stepped in front of the woman.

"I saw a young girl running towards the ships."

"Thank you! Thank you so much!"

The woman ran off towards the gate, stumbling into people before disappearing within the crowd. Cloud faced the brunette, a grave look embedded on his face.

"That's a lie. You didn't have to do that."

Squall remained silent, allowing the fierce blue eyes to bore into his own.

"Say something," he snapped impatiently, twisting his hand out of the younger man's grip.

". . . If she didn't leave immediately, she would have been left behind. She'd have died."

Cloud's eyes narrowed, glowering at Squall's insensitivity. He opened his mouth to retaliate, but the entire suddenly shook violently, causing the gummi ships to bump into each other, and statues and water and tiles from rooftops to get thrown into the air and scatter. People were flung against buildings, groans and screams becoming louder. Another quake soon followed, and then by another, and another, until Cloud was sure he'd vomit if he opened his mouth. A pair of strong arms caught him as he sailed through the air, cushioning his impact as he was thrown against a stone wall. His eyes had rolled into the back of his head, the fluids in his body thrown back and forth.

The shaking grew even more violent, everything slowly breaking up and disintegrating into the dark vortex over the city.

'This is it. . . This is the end. . .'

"How's the kid doin'? Okay?"

"Gosh, I dunno. All of us are hurt real bad. . ."

"At least he's alive. . ."

"He might die unless someone treats his wounds."

"Shit. . . don't say that kinda crap, ya idiot! Be thankful he's breathing!"

"I am."

A hoarse, strained laugh.

"Ya sure have a funny way of showin' it, ya punk."

Some small, rustling sounds. Someone shifted in their seat.

"How're you're wounds, tiny?"

There was a faint sound of movement, as though someone leaned forward. Someone's breath hitched, quickly withdrawing.

"Damn. . . I think my leg's broken. It's so darn painful. . ."

"Heh, no fuck. I dislocated a shoulder, I think. Can't really feel anything in my left leg, either. You?"

"Couple of broken ribs."

"Gosh. . . if you don't heal yourself, you might just accidentally puncture your lungs!"

"I'm still alive and breathing. I'm fine."

Cloud felt his head weigh down on him, though he was lying flat on the ground. Pain was searing through his entire body, smouldering him from the inside and threatening to burn through his skin. He tried to curl his fingers into a fist, but only managed to cause a little blood to jumpstart through his arteries. He didn't even the energy to groan in pain, only allowing himself to work his mind furiously. What had happened? Was he. . . was he alive?

"How'd the evacuation go?"

A grunt.

"S'odd. Never knew those Heartless smart enough to sniff us out. I mean, even with the fact that they followed that girl all the way out. . ."

"Where's Tifa?"

The three of them froze, eyes trained on the blond as he struggled to sit up, pain still twisting his body. Cloud only managed to roll over onto his side, a bloodied arm propping himself up. The rest of his body was too weak, too battered to follow his orders.

"Cloud! You're-you're awake! We were so worried about you!"

"Where is she? What the hell happened?" he insisted, desperation flashing in his eyes.

They paused, eyeing each other wearily.

"Tell me, goddammit. Tell me."

The silence lingered a moment longer, the others exchanging dark looks. After a moment, Cid heaved a heavy sigh, shifting in his seat on the grass and pulling out a long green stalk from the ground, allowing himself to chew on it thoughtfully, as though he was going to tell an extremely long story. The other two kept their gaze downcast.

Cloud was liking the scenario less and less.

". . . the Darkness fell on us. We were separated; had to run off and call Emergency to evacuate the citizens. Tifa came with me. Couldn't see a damn thing. People and Heartless everywhere. No casualties to report, really, but. . . lots of disappearances."

Cloud's brows knitted together.

"Where is she?"

Cid eyed him, frowning deeply.

"She's gone. We managed to run out a bunch of people in our ships. She was dragging some kids away from the Heartless into them. Lost her in the crowd. Shit, I'm sorry man."

She's gone.

By then, nothing else Cid had said registered in his mind. Tifa was gone. Tifa was gone. His vows to protect the only kin he had left; gone. Cid and Yuffie were still here, still alive. But she was the only one he knew was safe and that remembered him; remembered their oaths and promises. Memories flashed through his mind all at once. 7 years ago. He still remembered. Hollow Bastion disintegrated before them, just as this world was doing now. But that was far too long ago to have as powerful an effect as the incident that he survived two months ago did. He was only 14 back then. They had fled to a different world, trying feebly to piece their lives back together again for the next few years.

And then on one fateful day – two months ago – Cid rushed up to them, going on and on about a world with Hollow Bastion's readings appearing on the radar. Everyone – every single person who was from Hollow Bastion – boarded gummi ships and sailed together through the endless waves of Heartless to see their home; to see if any of it was for real.

It stood there, wrecked; a far cry from it's original, sophisticated manifestation, only now a mere shadow of what it once was. But it was there. It stood there, wrecked, but as mighty as ever.

But as they reminisced within the cool stone walls of the castle, the Heartless returned, ripping the world once again like a flimsy canvas. Carefully painted strokes that had coloured their lives; all of it was reduced to shreds of emptiness with a mere slash.

His eyes had already squeezed shut, blocking everything else out.

'She's gone.'

But she's safe.

Cloud opened his eyes abruptly, finding himself staring into a pair of intense, grey eyes, hooded slightly by his drooping lids and long lashes. He had heard a voice. He didn't know to whom the voice belonged, but. . . it was reassuring all the same.

"But she's safe."

Cid stopped himself in mid-tirade, blinking at the blond. Cloud had said it in such a sure, reassuring tone, Cid was certain that the young man had said it to convince himself more than anything.

Somehow, Cid knew that Cloud was right, regardless. He nodded slowly in response.

"She's safe."

Cloud gave him a hard look as, as if trying to make sure the old man was being honest. After a brief instance, he accepted it, nodding curtly in response.

"She's safe," he echoed, pausing and looking up at the others.

"Now what the hell happened here?"

The blond gestured to his surroundings, the bleak darkness of night and the open fields next to a cement-grey city littered with buildings that were squashed together tightly. Yuffie cast Squall an uneasy glance before turning to Cloud, her hand clutching a crimson-drenched rag to a bloody thigh.

"We don't exactly know, but. . . after the strange vortex appeared, half the world was sucked in and destroyed. It's like what happened with Hollow Bastion all those years ago; it was only partially obliterated. We were pretty lucky, lemme tell you that," she said, chuckling nervously. Cloud nodded slightly, meaning for the girl to continue.

"Anyways, lots of buildings and stuff were ripped from the ground along with a huge chunk of earth into the vortex – that's the reason behind the big quakes and all the crazy shaking – and a lot of people were injured, colliding with all the flying stuff. We," she paused, motioning towards the group, "slammed into walls and cars and the like, trying to keep other people from getting hit while we were thrown about like stiff piñatas."

"Explains the injuries," Cloud said quietly, nodding.

"No shit, Sherlock," Cid quipped, snorting.

Yuffie rolled her eyes and resumed her explanation.

"When something as unnatural as that. . . that thing happens, everything gets screwed up, as you should know. Messes up with the universe's balance. Lots of weird things happen. Traverse is upside down, inside out. We've been here unmoving for about two days already, as Squall here has kept count."

Two days. That long was he asleep? Cloud nodded wearily, wondering what she was getting at.

"It's night, like, all the time. No sun at all! And this world is incomplete; half of it got ripped away, after all. One minute you get nothing but a never ending expanse of grass, and the next it's all these buildings packed together. It's as if they took all the houses and shops and all and shoved them together in this one tight spot. The town's huge, mind you, and divided into about three sections."

An endless night. . . and these strange new occurrences. Cloud tightened his lips, grim thoughts passing through his mind as heat shot through his body when he attempted to sit up properly. He grunted in a little pain, but managed to prop himself up against a wall, a hand applying pressure to a large wound in his side.

"We need to leave as soon as possible," a quiet, yet clear voice said, breaking the silence.

Cloud averted his gaze to the brunette silently. The others followed suit, but not with the same degree of passivity.

"What? Are you mad? Can't you see how beaten up we are! We haven't been able to stand up for the past two days!"

"Ya great idiot, I can't bloody feel my leg! All ya got were some broken ribs! Stop bein' a cheap dick and let us at least fuckin' heal!"

Wordlessly, Squall took in all the protests and impertinence with patience. They had been through a lot, and everyone was at their limits; all of them on the verge of snapping in half. He was surprised and, to a degree, somewhat proud that a girl as young as Yuffie was able to adapt as well as she did, given the current situation. She hadn't broken down yet, and her determination seemed to strengthen with each passing moment.

He waited for them to finish their ranting. And when they did, he said his piece.

"There are Heartless here. We're lucky they haven't attacked yet. We need to go somewhere with medical supplies or our wounds will get infected while we heal on our own."

Cloud nodded absentmindedly, agreeing wholeheartedly with the brunette though a part of him was groaning in protest at having to move when he had had enough trouble sitting up straight. The other two fell silent, knowing that Squall was right, but too worn out to comply as of yet. They stayed in their positions a little while longer, gathering enough strength and preparing their minds for the pain they would endure soon.

Cloud made to get up, sending scorching daggers down his side. He gritted his teeth, trying his best to ignore the pain as he hoisted Yuffie up. She staggered a little, leaning against the blond for support. She had tied the rag tightly around her wound, to stop the bleeding. Cid had an arm around Squall, wobbling on his feet. Cloud hadn't noticed it before, but saw that the old man had a great gash in his back. Blood spread profusely from below his shoulder blades to the back of his knees.

Gravely pushing any other thoughts to the back of his mind, they stumbled towards the neon-lit city clumsily, ignoring the aches and the pain that jolted through their battered bodies to the best of their abilities.

It was surprising enough that they managed to get patched up decently enough, what with the state of utter chaos the city was in, no thanks to the otherworldly vortex. In some place that resembled the previous town square, refugees were gathered, passing around food, clothes, and heading supplies around for free. It was a temporary shelter, but the mayor was still there and still alive, currently attempting to house everyone with the strange but familiar houses that were now available.

Mutely, the four of them went about helping the other citizens as though they were completely fine. All of them. Occasionally, Cid or Yuffie would wince in pain when the strained their legs too much, not to mention the young girl walked with a perpetual limp, still unable to put any weight on her left foot. Cloud and Squall were unaffected as usual, though the thick and white bandages that were wrapped around their bodies and arms in a startlingly thick pile were still allowing blood to seep through.

Once a while, when Squall felt overwhelmed at everything, he would turn to Cloud with intentions of getting angry and sad and frustrated all together; hoping that, somehow, the mysterious blond would be able to comfort him with some form of explanation, though unreliable, or. . . or even false. Anything would do. He was tired of being strong and stoic; tired at being unable to show weakness to the others because he knew that they were depending on him. He wanted the truth. Cloud was hiding something, something important that was somehow tied in with everything; something that he was keeping hidden from him. But then, when he met Cloud's warm, comforting gaze, instantly he felt all his rage and insecurity wash away.

There was no need for words.

They were in this together, and apparently together they would stick.

"We can't all stick together anymore. We need to be scattered throughout Traverse Town, or we'll be too late to fight of any Heartless, like last time."

Cloud raised his eyebrows at Yuffie, who seemed to ignore his boorishness.

A week had passed since they had been treated, living together with the other victims in the town square. The mayor had gone around with Cid and Squall to scout the new town, noting where it was abundant in Heartless, and the what's and how's and why's of the houses. They mapped out the buildings throughout Traverse and were now ready to place the citizens into their houses. They were concentrated in the First District, where there were no Heartless whatsoever.

And apparently, it seemed that each of them would be able to get a small, yet comfortable house of their own.

"I'm a girl, and I'm tired of staying with a bunch of smelly men," she said, resting a hand on her hip with a dejected expression. Cid made a face. Squall narrowed his eyes. Cloud raised his brows, bemused. She ignored them, continuing on. "It's only right if I get a place for myself. Next time we find a girl, she stays with me. 'Sides, it's more decent."

"I don't really care if I get a house on my own or not. As long as it's someplace safe, and has running electricity and water," Squall said dryly, frowning at the young girl. She had a point, but she didn't have to be all thespian about it.

Yuffie pursed her lips in response, turning to look at Cloud. The blond merely shrugged.

"Well, I want all the extra room I can get! I'm gonna recollect all my gummi parts and turn my place into a proper garage. Them moogles want a place for their synthesis, too. We can share; saves space and the like," Cid cut in assertively, a serious look on his face.

Yuffie rolled her eyes in response, tapping her foot impatiently.

"Speakin' of saving space, maybe the two of ya should just room. I heard that there might be more people coming into Traverse. Both of ya aren't all that picky about all this shit anyway, right?" Cid asked, a brow raised.

Squall turned to face Cloud, both of them sharing a thoughtful look. Cloud shrugged yet again.

"I don't really mind. If Squall's okay with it, then it's fine," he said indifferently.

They turned to look at the brunette. He shrugged as well.

"I'm okay with it."

Yuffie brightened, clapping her hands together with cheer.

"Great! Now, exactly where will who be staying?"

Cid snorted, crossing his arms. "A skinny punk like you should stay in the First District, you being the most useless of the bunch." Yuffie scowled, glaring at the old man.

"Actually, I think you should stay in the First District, Cid."

They looked blankly at Squall.

"You have weapons and the like. You're better equipped to protect the townspeople should an attack occur, since everyone is staying there. Yuffie should go to the Second District. Lots of ledges. Better for defending, since she uses a shuriken," Cloud explained easily, earning a trite nod from the brunette.

Hesitantly, the gummi expert and the ninja girl agreed.

"I guess that leaves you guys with the Third District," Yuffie said uncertainly, leaning crossing her arms.

Squall shrugged.

"We'll stay near the entrance. Less Heartless. Easier to warn each other."

"You guys don't get into trouble with them Heartless now. Don't even get in trouble with each other," the young girl warned. Squall snorted. She turned to Cloud. "And you. You don't go all whacko and reopen all your wounds; new and old."

He shrugged easily, giving Yuffie a reassuring look.

"I won't."

A/N: Hey there, people. This chapter was meant to be posted last night, but FFnet failed on me (stpuid piece of shit). Anyways, this wasn't proofread (and my tenses are really, really bad) so I would like to apologise for any typos or grammatical errorsor anything along those lines. This chapter is slightly shorter than the two earlier ones, but I managed to squeeze in the plot. Hope it's to your liking, and less idiotic than Emulsion. The yaoi challenge of mine posted in that fic is still open, btw, and if you should pm me with your posts, I can put them in the Collection of Strife and Leonheart Yaoi community. Just to note, the S&L Yaoi Commhappens to be the largest CLC community in FFnet, and in the top 5 in the Kingdom Hearts categoryfor archive size! Woohoo! High-five everyone! Let us all add to the Cloud x Leon x Cloud lurve by raising the fic count! Post your CLC, post I tell ya!

Haha, anyways, time to shamelessly raise my word count by answering some well placed questions and reviews; which I should have done earlier.(Laughs sheepishly)

Q:Why did Tifa pop up instead of Aerith/Aeris? I was real sure that it was gonna be Aerith/Aeris in chapter 6/7!
A: Well, if it were Aerith/Aeris, it would prove to be a big plot hole in the fic. Also, I'm a Tifa fan, so, no. Sorry, folks. (Chuckles nervously) But Aerith/Aeris will get her short screen time soon enough. Okay, maybe not that soon, but. . . eventually.

Q:When the hell is Sephiroth gonna appear!
A: Hmm, you'll just have to wait and see. Technically, he already has appeared, (Cloud has those bruises on his forearms, courtesy of our resident Mister Bad Guy) so, yeah. (Ducks away from random flying objects)

Q: Will Sora and the gang appear?
A: No, and for good measure too. If you were observant enough, you would realize that this is a Pre-Kingdom Hearts fic.That means this is inserted nicely before the game. If Sora and the others were to make an appearance now. . . well, I'd be introuble then, won't I?

Q: Was there something going on between Tifa and Cloud in the past for them to be so close?
A: (Coughs nervously) There was supposed to be, ifyouconsiderthemhavingtheirfirsttimetogetherorsomethingsincetheyarechildhoodfriends, but I'll spare you and keep this to a nice yaoi. I'd hate getting back into the dumb 'Cloud and Aerith should be a couple!' 'No, Cloud and Tifa! Tifa!' argument. (I am a Tifa fan. (high-fives Claw) Go Tifa!) Besides, Cloud and Leon is so much more desirable a pairing, and easily outweighs CA or CT aaaanytime. Sorry Tifa, but I just think it's hotter is all.

Q: Were the Heartless chasing Tifa or something? Was she leading them there? Will she reappear?
A: Well, that's three questions all related to Tifa, so I just decided to dump it in one easy explanation: Yes, because they sniffed her out as she stumbled into town. No, because she didn't know any of the others were there, and she would never (not in any of my fics, anyways). Probably not, but I'll be sure to mention her. Next.

Q: You have got your chronology and facts aaaaall screwed up, dude.
A: Not really. Well, I did at first. ( Stupid Square people jumped everyone's ages and information around) (Rolls eyes) But everything happens for a reason. And in this fic, there is a reason why Cloud is 4 years older than Squall, when the official site clearly states that in the KH timeframe, Leon is 25 and Cloud is 22 (which I must deeply protest). First of all, if you have noticed, I stole their ages from the original FF games. (I think an older Cloud is so much more appealing, anyways, lol) Since I am a factual person, somehow or rather, they are going to inch into their proper age by the time we step into KH zone. How? You'll just have to wait and see. In fact, it probably won't even be in this fic. And you may take that last statement in any way you want. ..

Q: Stop going on and on about CLC fics and give them to meeee!
A: Uhh, okay. (Sweatdrops) Go to my profile page and step into my community, the Collection of Strife and Yaoi comm. We have (as of this chapter's posting) about 64 fics archived there, with more than (half of the archive)30 rated M. (Chuckles stupidly) You may not see them, so be sure to View All Ratings and to Sort By Update date in order to check them all out in order of updates.

Q: I want Leon x Cloud smut!
A: Don't we all? (Sighs forlornly) Anyways, I'd like to correct most people and reaffirm something important. This is a Cloud x Squall/Leon fic. Cloud is older than Squall/Leonheart inthis fic due to an important plot twist! Please get this fact straight, 'cause I get tired of people screaming each time I tell them that Squall/Leon is underneath. Smut will come, but not anytime too soon. And also, this ties in with the next question:

Q: I believe you mentioned something about a Sephiroth x Cloud x Squall/Leon orgy?
A: Yes, indeed I did. Thank you for noticing. There will come a time in the future where I shall change the rating to M. That's when you get your smut, you pervy horndogs. (Laughs idiotically) I'm kinda anxious. I haven't been too good at writinglemon. . . But I will. . . try? Must improve. . .

A: Waaaahh! I love your scene/plot/story! Can use it/bits of it/everything to use for myself/post somewhere?
A: Uhm, yes and no. I thank you for liking what I write, and I suppose I would permit certain scenes or twists to be used elsewhere (just tell me if you do), but when it gets to the point of copying my entire/most of mystoryline, it's a firm no. Where distribution is concerned, just let me know.

Q: Where's the graphic yaoi fic you promised!
A: (Coughs very, very nervously) I've written about. . . a quarter of it, but I'm not gonna post it, sorry. I have other things and other fics in mind, but there will come a point in time when I'll post it. That, I promise you.

Phew! That was long! Anyways, onto the reviews!

I'd like to thank:

MiruSedna, a firm Rebirth fan! She has reviewed nearly all the chapters since the beginning! Thank you so much!
Lilly, uhm, I hope you enjoyed it. (Smiles sheepishly)
Kyme, thanks for reviewing, Sam-chan! (Glomples)
Bloodyrose666, woohoo, am I glad!
soul of a fire dragon, you added Rebirth to your favourites? Awesomeness! And thanks so much!
yllom21, yeah, neither can I. (Laughs idiotically)
Jenniyah, whoa, did you know that in Malay, Jenayah means crime? Lol, thanks for your support and reviews in (gasps happily) all my KH fics!
lunabear, heehee, I'm so happy!
Manders1953, another favourite-er? Wheeeeee!
alescaA, thank you so much. I definitely will. RAISE THE CLCFIC COUNT! (Chants)
claws, oh yeah! Score! Thanks so much yo! And, GO TIFA

Anyways, I'll writepost chapter4 of Forward Motion tonight. Ah, and, this fic has 1971 hits! Hurray for hitpoints! (Blinks) Wait, what?

Ahaha, anyways, review!