All Your Base Are Belong to Us
Leon was not a happy camper. Normally this wouldn't be anything new, but his default personality setting was usually a more general discontent with the world—not this foot-stomping must-shoot-something-now fit of pathos.
Waking up in a bedroom lit by pre-dawn to Cloud standing over him with that goddamn oversized pig-sticker, demonic wing outstretched, hadn't helped. If Dumbledore wondered why the furniture in their shared suite had to be replaced a day after their arrival, then the headmaster could deal with Cloud and the fucking psychotic voices himself.
Maybe it wasn't fair of Leon to react so strongly. After all, from the little hints dropped by Aerith, Tifa, and Yuffie, Cloud hadn't led a particularly happy life even before Sephiroth developed his creepy obsession; it was like fate had given the kid a Luck Plus materia stuck to a Doom spell with chewed gum and duct tape. Being stranded on this gods-forsaken world with people that couldn't magic-spell their heads out of their asses probably only stressed an already fractured mind. So if Cloud couldn't resist the evil temptations of the dead people whispering in his head, it wasn't really his fault.
Cloud tucked himself down and rolled behind the battered sofa, letting Shiva's shards of ice slice into the cushions and fling feathers into the air like fake snow.
"Diamonds are a girl's best friend, Leonhart!" he yelled, activating the Fire materia in his bangle. The Fire3 burst through Shiva's defenses and sent her back to wherever it was the Summons went after a battle.
"Fucking go die in a goddamned fucking corner!" Leon snarled—he had not screamed like a fucking little girl!—and raced across the living room towards Cloud's sofa. It was probably a good thing that the rooms they'd been given as professors were larger on the inside than on the outside.
They both knew that Leon didn't have much of a chance of taking down someone like Cloud, but it was the principle of the fight that mattered. Who really cared about those common sense things when mindless destruction was involved?
Cloud had tried explaining that his whole monster-in-the-dark impersonation wasn't his fault; it was Leon's fault, obviously, for being such a dick in the first place. And it could have been worse. At least he hadn't been that ancient barkeeper with the leather fetish, sneaking in for a good molesting grope. Not that Cloud had wanted to molest Leon at all, because sharing barracks with Zack for two years had made him well-acquainted with said nighttime assaults, but it was the thought that counted. There were times when the knowledge that things could always get worse that was the only thing keeping Cloud from mixing sleeping pills with liquor, but with his luck, not even that would kill a super-mako-enhanced SOLDIER.
See, Leon's problem was that he never lived in the present. Maybe that was because he could actually remember things from more than three days ago, but it also meant that he tended to brood about things like names and stupid chipmunks that couldn't build Gummi ships for shit. Or it simply meant that he overreacted.
LionHeart cleaved through the sofa and would have continued through Cloud's head if he hadn't blocked it with the clawed glove he wore. Perhaps ducking behind the couch hadn't been his best idea, because he was now stuck between a rock wall and a…well, a hard place. Zack practically had an aneurysm of glee over the potential innuendos concerning gunblades and hard places.
So. Suffice it to say, Leon was not a happy camper, and when he learned that the new school year didn't start until September first and that he and Cloud would be trapped in the school for almost three months, his fury reached whole new heights. When Cloud muttered something concerning anger and support groups, part of Hogwarts' funds had to be used for the reconstruction of the northern fifth-floor wing.
But however much Cloud pissed off Leon and Leon irritated the shit out of Cloud, it was left unsaid that they stood united before a common enemy that proved more insidious than either could have believed.
Merlin might be in the habit of absently forgetting his slippers in the microwave, but he still did things. Useful things, it must be stressed, because Dumbledore and his merry cohorts also did things—they just didn't make any fucking sense. This was never more apparent than in the meeting they had with the headmaster to discuss the year's syllabus for Defense Against the Dark Arts.
A syllabus. Leon had to write a goddamn syllabus like a kindergarten teacher. For the first time, he truly repented for all the hell he'd put Quistis through as her student, and decided that she should've been sainted for not putting her boot up Seifer's ass on the first day.
"This is…" he started faintly, looking over the list of topics covered by their predecessors in previous years.
"Well, it is hardly the fault of the children that their lessons are often disrupted," Dumbledore said. "Sometimes there are circumstances beyond one's control, and it seems that this post in particular is prone to coincidence."
"…Coincidence." Four professors in as many years being killed, memory-wiped, run out of out town, or turning traitor. Yes. Coincidence. Mere happenstance. Just like there being no conspiracy behind six or seven orphans separated in childhood and being reunited at the moment the world needed their unique skills.
"Indeed." Butter wouldn't have melted in the old man's mouth.
Cloud, meanwhile, was looking over Leon's shoulder at the syllabus and thinking about how Voldemort and his forces were so terrifying they couldn't kill off a group of students barely into their teens. This was oddly disappointing. Sephiroth himself had conquered an entire country before he hit puberty.
"What are you expecting us to teach?" Leon demanded. Neither he nor Cloud knew what a stupid 'grindylow' was, and yet Dumbledore wouldn't have dragged them into this without something planned. It would, no doubt, turn out to be quite humiliating.
"Well, what are you good at?"
"Killing people," the two mercenaries replied simultaneously.
"Ah, I believe the parents would not look upon such lessons very kindly," said the headmaster thoughtfully. "Young Mr. Potter was quite the teacher in magical Defense, but I fear that we wizards fall short in physical combat. Many are rendered helpless if they lose their wand. Perhaps you two might focus on the more mundane methods of self-defense?"
"It's Defense Against the Dark Arts, not Defense Against Human Nature." Teach a class with magic in the title and not even use magic?
"…I find that to be quite cynical, Mr. Strife."
Maybe someone who lived in a land of perpetual sunshine and puppies would think so. Personally, Cloud called it 'realistic.'
And so for the next three months, the two misplaced men waged a silent defensive war against the rest of this particular world. Leon developed the habit of harassing Dumbledore at precisely four in the morning and six in the evening every day. (Why so early in the morning? It wasn't because Leon was a morning person, and was in fact pretty much grumpy throughout the entire twenty-four-hour cycle. No, it was because he knew that when you pester people enough before the sun rises, you can usually get them to promise you their first-born child.)
"Have you found the Gummi blocks?"
"I'm sorry, Leon."
"…Have you found them now?"
"…What about now?"
"I assure you, Mr. Leonhart, that when Gummi blocks are located, you will be the first to know."
After about a month of this, Professor McGonagall commented on how Albus was looking rather peaky lately, did he need to take some time off? It was, perhaps, the first time that Leon and Cloud had ever seen the headmaster flustered. They treasured the sight, mentally filing it away to look at when murdering the man seemed like the only option.
Leon also adopted the habit of disappearing around midnight every night, until Cloud confronted him about it.
"Who're you fucking every night?" he asked, not looking up from sharpening Ultima's blade. The fact that the sword could already split the split-ends of a hair was a dead giveaway of the blond's restlessness.
"What are you fucking?"
"…Go throw yourself at a wall, schizo-boy."
It should be noted that even while cursing one another, these two could maintain the same level tone as if speaking about the weather, or politely inquiring as to one's health.
"Fuck you, Squall."
"And not wait up for Sephiroth to join us? You whore."
Thus battle was joined, and Dumbledore was forced to ask that if they couldn't keep their pointy objects to themselves then take it outside, please, they were already straining Hogwarts' renovation budget.
Of course, Leon wasn't actually fucking anyone, or anything, for that matter. Instead he was sneaking down to the Forbidden Forest to quietly watch the thestrals, finding a sort of tranquility in their burning eyes and skeletal, flesh-draped corpses. Shiva would hum in the back of his head happily, and he would ponder all the Deep Unanswerable Questions Of The Universe.
Cloud, for his own part, didn't just obsessive-compulsively clean his weapons. While Leon was off being creepy with the dead things or driving the already ancient headmaster to a sooner grave, the blond's morbid fascination drew him downwards.
To the dungeons.
Where Snape dwelled.
Come into my lair, Zack cackled as Cloud perched near the upper arches of a dungeon ceiling. He had his wing exposed and curled in front of him to conceal the red of his cloak, but he couldn't help the glow of his eyes as he watched Snape stalk around the room. The dungeons were dank and gloomy and full of rotting things in jars; seeing a piglet with only half a skull suspended in a glass of something electric green made him shudder in sickened sympathy.
"Imbeciles," the Potions Master was snarling, voice as oily as his hair echoing strangely in the stone room. "Saying they have no wolfsbane but sending me monkshood—may those moronic fools pray that I never find them or I will string them from the battlements by their viscera—"
Who lit the fuse on histampon? stage-whispered Zack. Why Zack was stage-whispering when no one but Cloud could hear him only he could possibly understand.
Now, Snape had been having a very bad day. Week, more like. (But as long as we're getting specific, it could be said that his whole life had been one fabulous fuck-up, but that's just splitting hairs.) It was more than just his potions suppliers not realizing that two of their products were the same thing and therefore making his job more complicated, but it wasn't the details that mattered at this point in time. What mattered was the eventual intersection of two futures, thereby becoming a single event and one hell of an 'oh shit' moment.
Consider the fact that Snape had reflexes sharply honed by years of Death Eaterhood, paranoia, and dodging the caustic explosions of inept human spawn. It didn't take long for the hair on the back of his neck to stand on end, and after oh-so-casually making sure there wasn't anything explosive or acidic nearby, he suddenly whirled around with a hissed, "Stupefy!"
He'd considered a Killing Curse, but dead assassins didn't tell tales. What he got, though, wasn't an assassin but a lurking Cloud, who had seen the red bolt of magic and reacted out of blind instinct. Barely a nanosecond after the Stunner went flying a Fire spell was torn out of the blond's materia-slotted bracer, and with a great WHOOSH several thousand pounds' worth of shriveled plants and dissected animal parts went up in flames.
Snape wasted several precious seconds just staring in abject disbelief. His potions, his ingredients, his journals were swiftly being consumed, adding to the growing roar of the fire—and oh shit they were in a closed room underground while noxious things went up in smoke and he was going to die, wasn't he?
"GET OUT!" he screamed, dropping as low as he could to avoid the swiftly forming ceiling of smoke while still being able to scuttle awkwardly for the door. Halfway there, it seemed the fire had reached the cabinet of bottled Dragon's Breath; the entire castle shook on its foundations with the resulting explosion, and Snape would have been reduced to flambéed cranky-bitter-man if something hadn't dropped out of the metaphorical sky and wrapped itself protectively around him.
"Shut up, Zack!" the Something yelled, as another something-black-and-scaly put itself between them and the huge Fireball of Nasty Death. When the sudden burst of unbearable heat died down a little, Snape found himself dragged towards the door with inhuman speed like a sack of potatoes and tossed unceremoniously into the hallway. His savior turned back around to the open door (it was incredibly surreal, to be sitting on one's arse in a dark corridor and see a blazing inferno in an adjoining room) and cast some kind of spell that produced a watery deluge from—absolutely nowhere.
There was a long moment of silence that made his ears ring.
"You alive?" said a voice dryly, and it took Snape a moment to realize that the Something was really Cloud Strife. Not that it really mattered who it was at this point.
"Perhaps," he began silkily, "you might begin by explaining what your puerile mind thought to do in a laboratory full of very caustic, very lethal items. After that, we will progress to the extreme likelihood of my joyfully seeing your body and soul writhe in eternal agony."
What might have followed would make virgins swoon and mothers cover their children's eyes if Dumbledore hadn't chosen to interrupt their little moment with his usual flair for timing. (The same timing that made him conveniently absent every time a young boy was pitted against the Worst Dark Lord Of Contemporary Time; the kind of timing that made the more discerning critics scream conspiracy or deus ex machina!) Leonhart trailed behind him like a sullen, homicidal shadow, a strange bladed weapon in hand,
"And here I thought separating Cloud and Leon would lessen the damage. Do I need to put you two on time-out?"
Snape quivered with fury.
"He started it," Strife said flatly, and the Potions Master whirled around with the fires of Hell in his dark eyes.
"You walking viral abnormality, I will flay you open and reduce your defective body into its most basic mitochondrial structure—at least I know you're already halfway there, the bloody missing link between humans and feces-flinging apes—"
But Snape had forgotten about the black-and-scaly Something that had protected himself and Strife from a blast of flames; now it popped out again to say hello, promptly sending him speechless.
"…Oh my," Dumbledore murmured at the black bat-wing twitching irritably at the blond's shoulder. The red cloak had slipped to one side in all the excitement. "Fascinating, really. Was your mother a succubus, perhaps?"
Leonhart made a snerk sound. The other mercenary looked at Dumbledore as though mentally willing the old man's heart to explode on the spot.
"Succubus or not," Snape purred velvet-soft, "you are now mine."
"Now really, Severus—"
Having edged around the two wizards, Leon clamped a hand onto Cloud's normal arm and forcibly pulled him towards the dimly lit stairs. "Come on," he hissed.
"A moment of humanity?" Cloud muttered acidly under his breath, tugging back his limb but still following.
"No. If anyone's going to kill you, it's going to be me."
"…It's not my fault you scream like a girl."
With the power of omniscient third-person narrative, two more months passed. By the time September first rolled around, Hogwarts was barely being held together by numerous spells and a few prayers for good luck. Snape had been trying to slip a potion into Cloud's drink that would turn his body inside out—"scientific research," the Master had explained to a disapproving headmaster. Leon had harassed Dumbledore until the man's hair and beard were a new shade of white, and nearly driven the poor thestrals into getting a restraining order against his habit of nighttime stalking. Cloud, when not hanging around the dungeons and scaring the shit out of Snape, alternately got into fights with the gargoyles or Leon himself, and the two mercenaries together had caused nearly an entire reconstruction of the western half of the castle.
Then the students came.
"Nyum-nyum," Cloud hummed aloud from his perch on the third floor windowsill, watching the hordes of robed midgets stream from the carriages. Leon ignored him, too busy staring blankly out the window and twitching at the thought of all those…children.
Rinoa had once tried to convince him they should have children. Leon told her he'd rather have a frontal lobotomy, and maybe he should get a turn on the rack while he was at it for a sort of two-in-one-torture deal.
"Abandon all hope, you who enter," the brunet muttered.
Crouched like a predator beside him, Cloud smiled darkly. "Wizards?"
"Idiots," Leon replied immediately.
"Idiots we're being held liable for."
"Got any lesson plans?"
Cloud canted him a sly look. "…Loser wears a thong for his respective arch-nemesis. And I don't care if Seifer's only fifteen."
"You're on, jailbait."