Originally written for the Strifehart Kink Meme.

Prompt: Squall carries an injured/unconscious Cloud to safety. Or it could be Cloud carrying Squall, but I think Cloud looks like the lighter one when you y'know, NOT include the sword.

As usual I did both. Cheers.

It hurts to wake up – a sure sign as any that I went down fighting. That is as far as I know, as my mind slowly, slowly takes its time to regain full awareness. I notice the pain that throbs in my chest every time I attempt to draw in a deep breath, forcing me to compromise with shallower ones. I notice the thickness in my head, so much like cotton, smothering me, trying to coax me back to sleep.

I notice I'm not walking, but I am moving nonetheless. I notice, at last, that someone is carrying me, bearing me in arms – one under my knees and another around my shoulders – as though I were a little kid. I notice a chest – flat, so it had to be a guy – dark red with blood. I barely note how it smells like human blood, though I don't know for sure who it comes from.

"How are you holding up?" I hear. It takes me a long, sluggish moment before I remember and recognize the voice.

"… Leonhart-?"

"Back to last names already? I'm hurt," he mutters back, though by his tone he probably didn't mean it. Instead, he presses me closer against his chest, the blood running down it still hot against my bare arm. "Don't move. I've got you."

It is annoying. I do not need help. Never mind if I cannot feel my legs under me or if my mind is spinning or if it hurts to breathe. I had worse in the Coliseum, and Cerberus can vouch for it.

"Put me down," I manage to say, though it sounds muffled even to my own ears. I hear a huff over my head, and I feel a warm breath over my scalp.

"Not yet. Soon," he promises, then adds with a dry chuckle, "Besides, it's no trouble. For someone who carries a huge sword like that, you don't weigh much."

I want to argue further, anything to stop this demeaning activity. But then his words remind me –


My sword.


"Don't worry," he assures me this time. His steps are slow, but they never falter. "Beast has it. I asked him to meet up with us and return it later."

I don't know anyone by the name of 'Beast'. I'm not even sure if that is a person at all. I just want my sword back. I just want my dignity back. Most of all, I want my strength back.

Not my day – none of them return to me.

I stop fighting despite my own desires. It is… difficult. Too tiring. I find myself relaxing, leaning further against the chest I practically use as a pillow. There is a little bit of comfort there, soothing… relaxing… I nearly sink back into unconsciousness when his voice tugs back at me.

"Don't fall asleep yet," he instructs quietly. Under him, I feel his steps quicken. "Not until you're healed."

Healed…? So I was fighting. I was fighting, and I was injured in the process. That would explain a few things, except…

"How bad?" I ask. My voice is barely a whisper, I realize, but he hears me anyway.

"You took Masamune through the gut. Again." – Ow… – "It's still bleeding, but the wound was clean. Once we're clear, I'll get you a potion and let the professionals attend to you."

I know there is another answer I need before I can submit to any more of his whims. He knows it as well; he answers.

"You won," he declares. I sense the barest tinge of respect – of pride – in his voice. "You were magnificent."

"But I still fell for the same old trick…" I argue weakly, "I still got stabbed…"

He chuckles again, but the sound is still so dry. "You should have seen him…"

Too tired to think… I guess I'll have to take his word for it.

Suddenly, we're not moving any further forward. I feel myself drop slowly, realize he is lowering me, and then my chest and ribs complain with renewed vigor as I go from being partially curled to lying fully supine. There is so much pain that I was not ready for, and I struggle to breathe through it. No air. I try harder.

His hand grabs me again, steadies me. I hear him saying something to me, but I can't make it out right away. When I finally do…

"Hang in there…"

There is cool glass tapping against my teeth, waiting. I barely get my breathing under control, my hysteria suppressed, before I part the barrier and allow healing liquid to slide down my throat. It goes in with the refreshing chill of an iced drink, but slowly heats, rising in temperature as it makes its way downward, into a comforting warmth at the center of my being. It soothes, it works its magic.

The pain is still there, but not as bad as before. I hear a soft murmur of satisfaction, hinting that whatever I just ingested had done a satisfactory job. The next time he lowers me onto my back, I am able to lie there without any fuss from my aching body. I feel his hand in my hair, rubbing it affectionately.

"The healers have arrived," he informs. "I'll let them take it from here."

My hand moves of its own accord, grabbing his. I notice both our gloves are thoroughly soaked in blood, both a consistent shade of copper. He pauses, looking at me, waiting for me to speak. When I do, I notice my voice is at least above a whisper this time. That's an improvement.

"Don't," I tell him… beg him. "Don't go back in there…"

His hand squeezes mine. It is not in reassurance; it is in request that I let him go.

"I have to," he replies. "They need me."

I find myself unable to argue his logic. He is leader of these people. He is their source of courage and resolve. He is also one of the best warriors in the Garden – good enough to have actually taught half of our fighting force in the first place – and his very presence in the battle is what his home and people need to turn the tides in our favor.

I try to compromise, unwilling to release him just yet. "Then wait. I'll go in with you."


I want to protest. I try to. He stops me with his free hand to my shoulder.

"You're staying here."

"I can fight-"

"Sephiroth is defeated. Your fight is already over," he states solemnly. "Mine isn't."

There is more magic surrounding us, and I look up to see two magicians from the Land of Dragons that volunteered here as field medics. As they chant the same spell over again, I feel that unearthly power caressing my skin, mending breaks, fractures, grievous wounds. I am strengthening again, but it is a slow-going process. Too slow… I need to get up now, now while there is still the barest of chances.

He does not wait for it. He is already getting up, the one thing holding him down being my hand still on his.

"Don't die out there," I growl at him, though part of me is certain he will defy that order. "Don't die for your duty."

He pauses, and for a second I think he might change his mind. I should have known better – when Squall Leonhart has his mind set on something, he never changes it. Instead, he is smiling, not a small comforting smile, but a full, confident smirk.

"I'm not doing this for duty," he answers softly. "I'm doing what is right."

With only a quarter of my full strength, I still manage to push pass the healers to reach for him. I managed to pull myself back against his chest, burying myself back in that strong, heated scent of blood that covers his front. As I hang onto him, he takes me by the shoulders without pushing me off. Behind us are mutters, the pair of foreigners a little stunned by our public display of affection.

I could care less. They don't know anything.

Maybe they might understand that we could never see each other again, but they won't ever see the significance behind that thought.

"You can't stop me," I murmur against him. "I'm coming right after you."

One hand leaves my shoulder, brushing through the hair on the back of my head in an undoubtedly intimate gesture. I feel his chin against my hair, feel his hot breath as he exhales.

"Then come find me," he murmurs back, for my ears alone, "I'll be there."

We slip apart. He pushes me back against the ground, and already he is calling orders to the two stunned figures to finish their job. Healing magic swirls about me again, and this time I lie still. He straightens fully, sending me one last parting glance before he turns his back and strides into the battlefield once more. I watch him leave, feeling so helpless…

It feels like ages as they heal me, and I start to entertain thoughts that they are unnecessarily healing minor wounds as well. I don't need to be in a full state of health. I just need to be able to fight without significant trouble… and to do that, I need my sword. I don't have my sword.

When they finally stop their healing – both now showing signs of weariness for such an extensive task – I see a huge monstrous figure make his approach. Dark fur, curved horns, thick muscles that ripple with each step, knife-like fangs and claws stained with blood… and my sword, held easily between still vaguely human-shaped hands with such delicate care that one might administer to a china doll or a fresh rose.

So this is Beast.

"Are you Cloud?" he asks – his very voice is like a mixture of animalistic snarls, as gentle as he attempts to be. And when I nod, he holds up the weapon that I can see is still covered in dirt and blood. "Is this yours?"

"… It is," I answer. I reach forward to take my sword back, grateful that no one seeks to stop me. Free of its bandages, I see pass the grime all the scratches that adorn my faithful blade's surface. It is a filthy, disheartening sight, and within me is a growing desire to take it aside and give it a thorough cleaning as I should have ages ago.

That has to wait. At least, until our business here is done.

"Thank you," I remember to say, both to the ones who dedicated themselves to my healing as well as the one who guarded my weapon for me. The three return their acknowledgment – the healers with respectful bows and Beast with a more restrained nod. Any more words are unneeded as far as I am concerned, and I turn and dash back the way I came, back down toward the still furious battle.

Back into the pit of hell itself.

Despite the chaos going on about us, I manage to pick out Yuffie's small figure in a mad, deadly dance, eliminating left and right the invaders about us. Not far from her is Aerith, throwing attack spells with a cold, lethal swiftness I never thought I'd have to see in the usually sweet-tempered girl. It reminds me how we are all killers here, even if just for today.

I refrain myself from calling to them, from distracting them. Instead, I cleave my way through armored grunts, each swing sweeping them far away and clearing ground for me to advance. Soon, I am at their side, assisting them.

"You're okay!" Yuffie shouts in my ear. With all the noise, I would not have heard her at a lower volume.

"Where's Leon?" I shout back before realizing my exact choice of words. Any pretense I might have had regarding the closeness between myself and our leader is lost, but before Yuffie can comment on it, Aerith seems to sense the urgency and replies in her stead.

"We haven't seen him," she answers, her voice barely carrying over the mad shouts of forces clashing with the chimes of metal and explosions of spells. "Not since he carried you out."

I curse under my breath, then take out my frustration on the closest soldier I can find. He cries out and falls away, reminding me that he is no Heartless or Nobody. He is a living person – or was – and if his pitched voice meant anything, he was younger than even Sora had been when I first met the boy. Bringing him down and knowing all that does not help my mood. It only gets me angrier.

Then I realize, I know exactly where Leon is: if he sees what I see about the mess we're so deep in, he would go to the source of all this trouble and eliminate it with his own two hands.

"That idiot," I snap. "He is going after the Commander."

"But that guy's a demon!" Yuffie protests through another swing of her black star.

"That wouldn't stop him," I reply. "It wouldn't stop me."

I have to find him. I have to assist-

A loud roar echoes about us, stunning wave after wave of fighters into a surprised stupor. They pause long enough to look up, to see a brilliant flash of blue light – the light of Lionheart executing Blasting Zone. For Leon to go that far meant he was trying to finish this quickly.

There are only two things I knew of that would make him do that – an unusually skilled enemy he had to take by surprise, or that he, himself, was…

No… Gods, please… no…

"My liege," one of the higher officers beside me utters, his eyes holding concern of their own for his leader. The leader that fought my leader. I feel my anger rise once more.

"Get," I snarl at him. I raise my blade, "the hell," the blade swings back down in a smooth arc, cutting into an unguarded shoulder, "out of my way!"


I heard Aerith call me, but I wasn't about to listen to any request to wait. I can't afford to. Stepping over the bleeding mess I left behind, I jump. My back screams in protest as my wing tears from the cloth of my top, shatters the pauldron and breaks free, adding to the force of my leap to propel me into a soar. I barely notice that I no longer have my wolf's head, that it is lost somewhere in the crowd below.

The wing I had neglected for so long protests from the stress suddenly forced on it, compelling me to land on the edge of a cliff. It is a quivering mess behind me, significantly weaker now that I have stopped drawing from the power of the Underworld to feed it. Regardless, it did its job – it brought me where I want to be.

I am too late. The fight is already over.

A giant lies dead on the ground, thick inky blood leaking through the cracks in armor and scaly skin. A large, lupine head is thrown back, jaws agape as a thick mess of blood dribbles out its side. It takes me a moment to recognize this guardian, a moment longer to mourn that Fenrir was turned into a monster to be used like this by an enemy… and then to be slain as such.

I see no sign of the enemy Commander, but I see my leader there. The blue gunblade – yet to return to its original, less impressive form – is stabbed deep into the earth as he leans on it, kneeling on the ground before the fallen summon he had slain. Far from the chaos below, I can just hear his shallow breathing, the steady dripping that hits a growing puddle around him…


He hears my call and turns his head as far as he can manage without moving his body. I see the dark blood that streaks his head, forcing an eye to close against the stream. The other is trained on me, glowing silver.

"Hey," he greets. "Took you long enough…"

My hands barely catch him in time when he drops to his side. I try to steady him, taking in the damage that was done to him. There is just too much blood to make out where exactly his wounds are, but I know they are bad. They are probably worse than mine was, considering how much of that blood is his. At the rate this is going…

"… I'm dying, aren't I?" he whispers against me. I find his hand and grip it tightly.

"Not yet," I argue against his resignation to fate. "Your fight has not ended yet."

At first he falls silent – too silent – and then he releases a shaky breath. "… Yeah…"

His hand falls from the handle of his blade, hitting the ground in a small rise of dust. He is losing consciousness fast. I am running out of time.

"… not like this," he suddenly requests, so soft now I can barely hear him, "Don't let them… see me like this…"

"Hang in there…" I find myself whispering back, repeating the words he said to me earlier when I was the one lying in a pool of my own blood, when he was the one to look after me.

I never wanted our positions to reverse. Not so quickly. Not like this.

His blade seems to waver like a mirage, before it is replaced by the more ordinary silver Revolver that I know better. My weapon dwarfs it in stature, but not in the power it once exhibited for its master's sake. Too many things here. I can't carry all of them… only the one that matters the most to me right now.

I risk a lot leaving our weapons behind – where anyone with the right ability can reach and steal them – but it is a risk I have no choice against taking. One arm hooks under limp knees, and the other curls around Leon's back, pressing him against my chest. Just like what he did for me… except…

… he's heavier.

He's heavier than my sword, even if he is only just a little taller than me. It is not easy to move him, but I doubt the weight I feel is actually his physical one.

The life my arms bear isn't the life of a nameless stranger I am plucking out of harm's way, not like before. The burden I carry is the life that lead restoration, protection… redemption. I am carrying the man who healed a town until it could regain its name. I carry the man who has never hesitated to carry me and my own burden on his shoulders. All of that is so hard to lift up, to hold onto as I get him out of here, as I feel his blood soaking through my clothes. But I have to… I have to hold on as much as he does.

If I let him fall now, all of us who depend on his leadership will fall with him.

If he falls, I who depend on his very person will fall with him.

Shameless advertisement: If you'd like to prompt me to write something Cleon/Strifehart for you, drop by the Strifehart Kink Meme (http: //community. livejournal. com/ cleonrp/ 2723. html). The ones I like better will end up back here for your reading pleasure.