Thanks to Is-Simple for the review on the last chapter and for more ideas. :) Always appreciated.

Now onto chapter 5, I hope you enjoy!


Chapter 5: Fortitude

Irvine had made it through the Bailey, doing so by blatantly running through it, allowing the Claymores to take out what they could. Then coming up to the Restoration Site he resumed the pace of running he had before, assuming the number of heartless would be about the same.

Initially spawning was a Morning Star along with a few Surveillance Robots, no biggy, he thought, as he ran past them rather quickly. Then a bit further about three Armored Knights appeared, the auburn haired man felt a little uneasy but assumed they would, too, fall behind. Until he ran another five feet to have two more Armored Knights appear. He froze temporarily as they blocked his path, which gave the Morning Star enough time to catch up and knock Irvine off to the side causing him to hit the rock walls of the Restoration Site.

He flinched from the contact he made with the rough rock and looked up to see the diminutive mob before him, swarming, ready to attack. Irvine smirked, no more running I guess, he thought briefly before standing, readying for the attack.

Just as he gained his footing he had to duck out of the way of a Surveillance Robot that was just about ready to take out his head had he left it there a moment longer. Regaining composure, Irvine looked to his gun Valiant which he held in his hand loosely while examining it for a brief moment.

"Sorry Vally, I know you don't care for this use too much." He stated to his gun before twirling it in the air and finally gripping it securely within his hand. Darting forward he met head on with his foes and commenced in hitting his targets with an overhand strike with the side of his gun.

Though of course, with so many on him, pistol whipping wasn't enough. He began drop kicking the smaller heartless out of the way while focusing the blunt of his attacks on the Morning Stars, now two since another spawned since he moved in to attack.

Defeating both Morning Stars and a few Surveillance Bots, Irvine decided to leave the rest up to the Claymores as he turned and began making his way up to the Postern. Not that he was worried about the few heartless left would overpower him, he just knew better. No reason to waste his energy on the weak ones, especially if someone else was willing to take care of them. No, he had to conserve his energy for whatever may be next. He wasn't afraid of heartless. He knew there were stronger and much more malevolent beings out there besides the two-dimensional heartless. Those were the ones he made sure to always be prepared for.

Not that he expected to find anyone like that here in Radiant Garden. From what Squall had told him it, the town had been relatively peaceful lately, so he shouldn't be worried too much about coming out and exploring.

Though he should have known better, coming to the end of town it would be less secure, he realized as he noticed a cloaked figure in the middle of the Postern. Quickly, Irvine moved behind a nearby large metal tube and watched the figure from a distance, trying to calm himself.

There's no way it could be one of them. There's just no way it…

The cloaked figure pulled down his hood and when Irvine saw the long black hair, streaked with grey, pulled back into a low pony tail, dread began to fill in his gut.

Not him…

Irvine watched him for a long moment. The cloaked figure seemed to be nothing more than surveying the scenery but Irvine knew better. That man and his comrades were always up to something. But what, Irvine never knew…

Too many times had he crossed paths with the likes of them in Dark City, especially him. Even without him turning around, Irvine could see the grotesque scare running up the left side of his face, the eye patch covering the right eye , leaving only one yellow cat-like eye that promised almost as much pain as his smirk did. He would never tell Irvine his name, no matter how times they crossed paths and fought. Only once had he told him anything close to a name…

"Just call me a mercenary of death. Your death at it would be. Someday. You can't escape me forever, though I admire your spirit." He laughed tauntingly, wiping the blood from his dagger like weapon, Irvine's blood.

The weapon wasn't meant for hand-to-hand fighting but the man seemed to enjoy plugging his weapon into his gut when the opportunity arose. No, his weapon was something like a gun except it shot dagger-like lasers that were much more powerful than the ammunition Irvine usually came by.

How he managed to live through every encounter was a blessing in itself, or just dumb luck.

Irvine looked to the ground, trying to think of a plan. Sit and wait? Perhaps the cloaked man will simply vanish. Sneak attack? With no ammo and one potion odds aren't in his best favor, though getting the shock factor in would gain to his advantage. But then before Irvine could finish his planning a familiar voice broke through his thoughts and his cover.

"Really? You're spacing out again?"

Irvine looked up to find the blonde coming up the slight incline from the Restoration Site to the Postern, to where he was. Eyes widening he looked to find the scarred man's face turning to Cloud. He still hadn't noticed Irvine. Cloud still hadn't noticed the dagger-man.

Knowing the man was about to attack, Irvine rushed Cloud against the wall, tackling him behind a pipe.

"What are you doing?!" trying to fight Irvine off, the blonde caught the auburn haired man's right hand that was slickly-moist. Looking he noticed the blood raining down from the knuckles, "You're bleeding."

Irvine took half a second to look to his own hand and notice the knuckles bleeding, he realized it must have happened when he was pistol whipping the heartless earlier but took no more notice to it and quickly looked back to Cloud.

"Shh! Don't—" before Irvine could finished he heard a familiar zing in the air and moved quickly to block the shots with his gun.

Cloud could only blink initially, surprised by the auburn haired man's speed.

"Oh." stated the cloaked man excitedly, "Oh, oh, who do we have here? The gunman from Dark City. I am so happy to see you," he said menacingly, "I was so dreadfully sad when you vanished suddenly in our last meeting." The man's catlike eye flickered with pleasure.

Irvine could feel his stomach tighten from the others words. There was a cold sweat coming onto him as his fear rose, but he refused to show it. Instead he stood straight, lowering his gun, and glared at his enemy.

Before either could make their first move, the blonde emerged from behind Irvine, sword in hand, charging their foe. The man was quicker than Cloud though, warping out of sight and reappearing here and then there, mocking the blonde. But then the man miscalculated and the blonde got a hit in, sinking his sword deep into the cloaked man's shoulder. Shocked by the hit, the man levitated high off the ground, out of the blonde's reach.

"What is an Organization XIII member doing here?" Cloud half asked the man, half himself.

Irvine's brows furrowed at the blonde's words. Organization XIII? What was that?

"Oh, wouldn't you like to know." The man said tauntingly to the blonde.

"Enough! I don't care why you are here or what you want. Either get down here and fight me, or get lost!" the blonde demanded fiercely.

"Heh, I believe I was just given an ultimatum." the man smirked, "Well, I suppose I will have to oblige."

With that the cloaked man quickly whipped out his arrowguns and began firing at Cloud.

Cloud dived out of the way and blocked the remaining attacks with his sword.

The man only smirked and followed the blonde to the ground, constantly firing, backing up only to dodge Cloud's offensive attacks, and then moving in attempting to corner the blonde.

Cloud held his ground but once he landed a blow to the man's opposing arm the man became furious. Cloud swung again to strike the man, who in turn took the moment Cloud swung his sword back to shoot Cloud through the wrists.

Irvine winced at the blow. The man always did fight dirty.

Cloud dropped his sword and cried out in pain. The man began to move in on Cloud to take advantage of his vulnerable state-when he received a rough crack to the head with something metal.

Stumbling back, grasping at his head, he looked up to find the gunman standing before the blonde, gun drawn in an offensive manner, pistol pointed at the cloaked man's face.

"Back. Off." came the steady, venomous words from the auburn haired man's mouth.

"And why would I do that?" Asked the cloaked man.

Irvine clicked his gun in place and made as if steadying himself for a shot before quickly moving forward and again pistol whipped the man roughly over the head. Before the man could recover Irvine quickly shifted his weight and swiftly kicked the other man in the gut, taking him to the ground. Before Irvine could make his next move, the other man had vanished and appeared behind him, grasping him by his long jacket so he couldn't turnaround. Then a voice from the past began to echo through his head, apprising him.

"Don't forget what I told you, Irvine."

Quickly, Irvine, in one movement, lifted his arms and dropped out of his coat.

"Never stop to think. Just move. Don't stop moving."

Without breaking rhythm, Irvine placed his hands to the ground for support as he spun out and then kicked out the legs of the opposing man. But the other had already vanished to just a foot away from his initial position. He grasped Irvine's ankle, the foot he had made to strike with.

"And don't be afraid to fight dirty in a real life-or-death battle. Just, save it for then, and not for practice with me, ok?" the blonde added with a smile, causing the tattoo on his face to shift with the expression.

Quickly he moved his other foot to connect with the other the man's groin. The man groaned and slumped slightly. Irvine used the moment to try and get back to his feet. But just when he turned to try and locate Valiant which he had dropped when slipping out of his jacket. It turned out to be the wrong call as the cloaked man took the moment to tackle him back to the ground using one of his arrowguns to pin him down by stabbing it through his shoulder. Irvine groaned as he felt the weapon pierce through his body.

"Not a good move, pretty boy. Now you just pissed me off." the cloaked man said while glowering at him, raising his other arrowgun to his head, getting ready to shoot.

"Even when it seems hopeless. If you're stuck and don't see a way out, then stop and think. There is always a way out. Never lose hope."

Irvine realized the man had only pinned down one of his arms with his knee, and that was the one without the weapon stabbing through the connected shoulder. Bracing himself he cried out and he lifted the stabbed arm to grip the opposing weapon that was holding him down, tearing it out of his arm. The man was shocked and fired without warning. Luckily the auburn haired man moved just enough with the fire only grazed his turned forehead. The gunman turned to the cloaked man and smiled darkly. Using the shock on the cloaked man's face to push the bloodstained weapon away and punching the man in the face, forcing him off of him.

"Irvine!"

Irvine turned to see Valiant come flying through the air and he caught it with his right hand and looked to notice it was Cloud who had thrown him his gun. Currently he seemed to be trying to regain his footing though his wrists were proving to make his hands useless. Quickly, Irvine grabbed the Hi-Potion from his pocket and tossed it at Cloud, succeeding to stick him with hard enough for the potion to shatter and envelope the blonde in the blue-green light. Irvine smiled when he saw the blonde capable of lifting his sword again but then noticed the look on the blondes face go from relief to looking beyond Irvine with a look warning Irvine to turn back around. Just out of the corner of his eyes he caught too late a shot had been fired from the cloaked man. He side stepped as much a he could which allowed the shot to only graze the left side of his body, but without his coat the cuts ran deeper than Irvine would have cared for. He couldn't afford to be slowed down. Not when the other man seemed so close to back out.

Cloud looked to the auburn man shocked, wondering how he was still standing. From where he was standing he could see the blood dripping out of his right shoulder from when the other had stabbed him through with deadly looking weapon. He was shocked with the man was still able to function with the arm enough to actually catch his gun with the right hand, his shooting hand. Now with that shoulder damaged and his knuckles continuing to poor blood, and now his left side bleeding as well, but the damage he could not see with the purple vest covering them, he wondered how much longer the other would last. He couldn't believe he had lasted this long.

"Cloud! Are you ready?"

Cloud looked up, but the auburn man wasn't looking at him, "What?"

"Are you ready?" the man asked again, turning to the blonde, with a smirk lighting up even his purple eyes.

Cloud realized the man had a plan, and cloud slowly nodded at first with realization before getting into a battle stance, "Yes."

Irvine turned back to the cloaked man who was eyeing them strangely before smirking himself, "The little gunman has a plan? Let's see how well it plays out for you," he said, taking a stance with his guns, "Shall we?"

The cloaked man charged Irvine from his spot about five feet from the ground and slanting to the ground while persisting in his attack. Irvine in turn held his ground, blocking the majority of the shot with his gun, though with the strength in his arm lessening, more and more shots seeped through his defense striking his body at random intervals. He braced himself, waiting, waiting for the other man to get close enough into range. And then he yelled, "Now Cloud!"

The cloaked man glanced to the blonde who seemed about to charge him and then back to the auburn man he was currently attacking to find the man had switch hands with his gun, though the next thing he felt was the strike of metal against his head and then his collision with the ground.

Quickly he got to his feet just quick enough to block the blonde's attack. Feeling another presence close behind him, turn and found the other trying to strike him again with the gun, thus the cloaked man quickly moved and punched the auburn haired man in the gut with his weapon, then as he impacted him moved his weapon at an angle as he pulled it back, making sure to cut the other by the contact. He moved again to block the blonde's attack and then out of nowhere felt another metal weapon strike him and shoot him in the same moment. He hit the ground hard and quickly ported a good twenty feet in the air to get his bearings and found below him not only the blonde and auburn haired man but another. A brunette had joined them.

"Heh," he tried to smirk though his pain, "Three against one? That's not very fair." He winced, "I suppose it means my fun is over. For now."

And with that he vanished.

Irvine, whom had been on the ground from the last blow he received, smiled weakly at the spot the cloaked man had vanished from and closed his eyes, "Good riddance."

"Irvine, are you ok?!"

Irvine's eyebrows furrowed at the different voice and open his eyes to find Squall er Leon? Coming to his side. He smiled, "I'm fine. A little tried. You know you should check on Cloud too. Have Aerith look at his wrists, I don't believe a potion can fully fix that damage—"

"Look at you! Why are you worrying about my wrists when you bleeding everywhere!?"

Blinking his eyes open Irvine looked to find it wasn't Squall but the blonde yelling at him. He cocked his head slightly at the blonde before smiling, "Because you're my ally and you need your wrists to use your sword. Thank you for the help back there. And I'm fine. None of these wounds are life threatening. I'm just taking a little break down here 'til I feel ready to get up." With that he rested his head back and closed his eyes.

"Please don't close your eyes…can I pick you up?" the brunet asked gently.

Irvine opened his eyes, "I rather you didn't. I'm a little soar. Give me a minute. I can stand on my own."

"Don't be stupid…you shouldn't be walking around like that."

Surprised, the auburn haired man looked over to find it was indeed the blonde speaking to him again.

He smile, "Hey are you worried at me?"

The blonde rolled his eyes and blushed.

Irvine smiled, "Maybe we can work the whole becoming friends thing?"

"Don't dream on it." The blonde mumbled, refusing to look at him.

The brunette looked utterly confused, "Irvine, why are you joking around. You're seriously hurt. What happened?" He turned and looked to the blonde for an answer since it seemed all Irvine wanted to do was jest about the whole incident.

Noticing the brunette's stare the blonde sighed and proceeded to tell him of the incidents, "I ran into him when he was trying to find you. He was out of ammo and was running from heartless—"

"You went out without any ammo?!" he scolded the auburn haired man.

Irvine shrugged weakly, "I ran out. Shoot me." He smirked at his own joke, but the brunette found nothing funny about it. He looked back to the blonde.

Cloud continued, "After I got rid of the heartless he wanted to go on his own to find you. I followed him here and that guy," pointing to the sky where they had all last seen the cloaked man before he had vanished, "showed up. We fought. You showed up. He left."

"You forgot the part on how cool we looked while fighting. C'mon Cloud. Tell him about the ass we kicked." Irvine said from his position on the ground, smirking.

Despite himself, Cloud let out a small chuckle.

"We should really get you back, Irvine." The brunet insisted.

"Oh, alright." Irvine side and sat up, wincing, and allowed the brunet, and surprisingly the blonde as well, help him to his feet.

"Let me carry you." The brunet insisted.

"No. Let me walk. You can help me though." Irvine looked to the side of him Cloud was holding up, "I wouldn't mind you helping too." He wanted to joke with it and smirk but instead ended up giving the blonde a warm smile.

Cloud blushed at the warmth from the smile and the beautiful purple eyes and just turned away from him and continued to help Leon carry the auburn haired man.

"Did you bring any potions, Leon? We should probably give him one." The blonde asked.

"…"

"You didn't bring any did you?" the blonde asked again.

The brunet looked down, ashamed.

Cloud sighed, "You know, considering the fit you have on anyone else about carrying potions…never mind." Cloud smiled to himself and he look to find Irvine smiling to him as well. He must have heard about the brunette's lectures from Aerith.

"Forget it. Let's just get back." The brunet finally spoke. The blonde and the cowboy decided to let the topic drop as they walked back to Merlin's while the sky began to paint itself red…


Thanks for reading! Let me know any thoughts you have. See you soon.