It took a bit to figure out just how I wanted to start this chapter. At first I was going to actually type out all of Tifa's curses, but in all honesty I don't curse much so I didn't think I could write it very well. All-in-all, I think it turned out pretty nice.

Chapter length: 3116 words.

I do not own Kingdom Hearts :'(

Chapter 16: Mates

Tifa was yelling at him again. Her indecent slurs and profanity could be heard as far away as the kitchen, where Axel was currently huddled in a corner with Roxas trying to calm the redhead down. You wouldn't know by looking at him now, but he and his partner have stood up to some of the scariest monsters in the world. A movie was paused on the TV downstairs, the two who had been watching it abandoning their positions on the couch to retreat to the quieter upstairs bedroom. Even then they could still hear the hunter's screeching about slacking off and duty. It was obvious that her patience was running thin with the two hunters staying with the twins, and Leon and Axel were running out of options.

"I am running out of foul things to call you!" the woman yelled, clearly irate. "If you are going to make something up then at least make it believable! Your report has fucking first grade errors littering it! It makes you look incompetent and makes me look bad! Say something back, damnit! It's like I'm talking to a fucking wall!"

Sighing because he knew just where this was going to lead, the brunette resisted the urge to rest his head in his hand in frustration. "Look—" he started before he was cut off, knowing fully well that while she would cut him off the instant he tried to reply, but the punishment for disobeying his pissed off superior would be much worse.

"Just keep your goddamn mouth shut for a minute and let me think!" she snapped.

She must be under a lot of stress right now, he thought, taking note of the worry creasing her forehead and knitting her brows together. I know she has expectations to meet, but she looks a little more worn down than normal. Something else must be on her mind.

"You've been with us for five years now," she started, voice surprisingly soft. It was a bit startling, to say the least, and Leon had this bad feeling that it was a calm before the storm. "The circumstances that lead to you joining us were not the greatest, and you were still quite young. I may have only been a year older than you at that time, but I had been trained to be a hunter all my life. You… You were forced to wake up to the horrors of our world because of that monster. And you have never once stopped in your search for him. Not once since you started… It's only right that you would be tired, that exhaustion would be catching up to you." Her features were surprisingly gentle, as she spoke, easing the last of Leon's worries that there was some kind of explosion just beyond the horizon. "Take two weeks vacation. Let yourself relax so that when you get back on duty you can make up for the time you missed."

Such understanding (although it was incorrect understanding) was one of the last things Leon expected from the hunter. Over the last five years he had become so accustomed to her domineering personality and strict nature that seeing some kind of emotion was quite shocking. "And who will be watching this area while I'm off duty?" he asked, worried more so that they would assign someone else than that the people in the area would be attacked. Still, there was no way for Tifa to know this so his worry seemed to be for the latter reason.

"I'm afraid we don't have anyone close by that we can spare," she stated, Leon doing his best to mask his relief. She didn't seem to catch on to it, though, for she simply continued on speaking. "You haven't been noticing much activity there for the last several weeks anyway, so hopefully it will be a nice reprieve. We will keep our ears open for vampire activity, but I will only contact you if something major comes up."

Shaking his head slightly, the brunette asked, "And what about the minor cases?"

"Take the vacation," she stated firmly, although her tone did not contain that commanding tenor. "If it makes you feel better then continue doing your rounds. Just don't worry about reports for the next two weeks and try to relax as much as possible. I'll contact you again then to see how you are doing."

Silence clung to their lungs for a moment as Leon drug the scene along. He may have been making simple mistakes in his written reports but he had not forgotten how to convincingly act, so he let her words hang in the air for a minute before replying. "Alright," he said slowly, softly, biting his lower lip as if he wasn't entirely comfortable with the situation.

"Get some well-deserved R and R," was the last thing Tifa said before cutting off the connection.

Letting the pad slip down to its smaller size, he carefully replaced it in his pack and locked it away in the closet before daring to let out his held breath. Even the slightest misstep and she might have realized that he wasn't all that disappointed to be removed of duty for half a month. And since Tifa had a habit of listening in even after hanging up a call he was sure to not reveal that fact until the device was safely tucked away.

"That sounds like it went a lot better than normal," the other brunette said from the door, a large grin on his face. He must have cautiously approached the door when he realized the female hunter had ceased her shouting.

Leon gave him a swift nod, standing from the bed and driving his knuckles into the base of his spine in an attempt to crack the crick out of it. The smaller boy was gone by the time he made his way over to the door, his hurried footsteps audible as he took the stairs three at a time. No doubt he was going to relay the news to his boyfriend upstairs. The younger twin was exiting the kitchen as he entered the living room, jabbing a thumb over his shoulder to indicate the other hunter was still inside. Giving a small nod in thanks, Leon casually strolled inside.

For a short moment he was confused because he didn't see his redheaded apprentice, and then he heard a small voice from down and to his left, "Is it over yet?"

"We've been given two weeks vacation," Leon stated, chuckling as Axel reflexively covered his head with both arms. Then his words made it through the flamboyant male's thick skull and he looked up with the most confused expression on his face.

"Wait, what?" he asked, slowly uncurling from the tight ball he had wound himself up into over the last half hour.

"We have been given two weeks vacation time," the older hunter reiterated. "Tifa thinks that our recent errors are from overworking, so she has given us some time to unwind so we can get back in the game." Neither missed the heavier tone in Leon's voice at his statement. It wasn't difficult to determine just what it was for, but Leon said it anyway. "I don't think our lies are going to work much longer," he said, leaning against the counter and folding his arms across his chest. "We have this two weeks vacation, and I'd say maybe two or three weeks before Tifa finally has enough. At that point… we won't have much choice but to explain to them what is going on here."

Curling his knees up so he could hug them, Axel closed his eyes against the information and rocked back and forth slowly. "We're lucky she's had patience with us for this long," he said after a minute had passed. "I think we'll be lucky if she lasts another month."

He could feel his lover's fangs against his lips as they kissed, and had the vampire not had his tongue in his mouth he would have worriedly checked his own canines for what would have been the around the twentieth time. Cloud had assured him he wasn't going to become a vampire even though he had mixed aura in his body, but that wasn't enough to fully alleviate the hunter's fears. The blonde breaking away from the kiss, he didn't miss the slight injection of sadness into those crystalline blue eyes as he did check for fangs. Although it could have also been because this made five days since he had the company of his mate with him at night.

Mate. That was the problem. Leon wasn't sure just how to deal with a title of that magnitude. "I guess this is goodnight?" Cloud said, distracting his lover from his musings.

"I'd say goodnight, but you'll probably be up until three or four in the morning," Leon replied, walking the few steps away from the older man and towards the door. "What with vampires being nocturnal and all."

"I go to bed earlier when you're not with me," Cloud replied as the brunette slowly opened the door. "I don't have a reason to stay up so late when you're not there."

He couldn't help but chuckle at how cheesy that line sounded. "Then goodnight, Cloud," he stated, retreating inside before the blonde could find something else that would make his heart beat faster and want to spend the night in the vampire's arms. Leaning against the thin barrier separating them, he let out a long sigh and closed his eyes.

"Mind telling me what's wrong?" Sora asked, startling him to the point where his feet slipped and he slid down the door to land hard on his ass. Staring up a little dumbfounded, Leon couldn't figure out just how the kid always seemed able to sneak up on him. Thinking the confusion was for why he wanted to know, the teen continued, "People tell me that the simple way I look at things often helps them solves their problems."

"That's not what I was thinking," Leon told him, rubbing the tired out of his eyes. "I was just trying to figure out how you keep sneaking up on me."

Smiling, Sora replied, "It's not too hard when you aren't paying attention. Now, do you want to talk to me about it? You're only two days into your vacation, but you look a lot more tense than you did before it started."

Sighing at how observant his host could sometimes be, Leon picked himself up off of the floor and removed his shoes. Walking passed the younger brunette, the only indication that he wanted the boy to follow him was the hand on his shoulder that turned Sora to face the same direction he was going. The two bypassed the living room, which was currently unoccupied, and continued on down the hall until they entered the guest room Leon and Axel were supposed to be using. Supposed to meaning that more often than not one or both spent the night elsewhere, Leon with Cloud and Axel with Roxas. Taking a seat on the redhead's bed, Sora patiently waited for his friend to start.

Leon paced between leaning against the wall and sitting on his bed for a few minutes while he tried to figure where to start. He didn't know just how much the teenager knew about vampiric relationships, nor just how much of what happened five nights ago he wanted to reveal. Finally deciding on sitting on his bed, he turned to the young man and asked, "Has Riku explained to you what a mate is?"

Sora gave him a single nod. "Cloud told us about it just over a week ago," he explained, then went silent again.

Inhaling deeply, he held the breath for a moment to clear his mind before exhaling the stale air and starting. "I just learned about it five days ago. I was… attacked… by Cloud's brother. He said something about Cloud having a fiancée, and if he didn't go back quietly then he would kill me. Then Cloud told him that I was his mate, and Sephiroth, Cloud's brother—" he added as Sora tilted his head in confusion "—suddenly backed off as if he'd been bitten. He told me how his family is not allowed to touch me because I am his mate, but…"

He had trailed off, and after several seconds in which he didn't start back up Sora finished for him, "You don't know how to handle it, being his mate, that is." Leon nodded simply and looked away. "Is there really a problem with it?" Sora asked, making Leon's head snap back around. "Riku had been worried about it, too, thinking that it would change me in some way, but all it basically is is a bond between us. All I have to do to feel him is close my eyes. I haven't physically changed at all. If anything, I'd be worried for Riku and Cloud."

"What do you mean?" he asked, sitting up a little straighter and resting his arms on his legs.

"I mean, vampires are driven by instinct to remain loyal to only one person, the one they choose as their mate," Sora started, a soft smile touching his features as he gazed up slightly. "Humans, on the other hand, are much more fickle. I have seen classmates with a different partner every week, and families with multiple divorces; Mom dated no less than four people before she met Dad, and those are just the ones I know. My point is, I love him and have no plans of ever stopping loving him, but I can't help but fear that one day, far in the future, if I stay human that that darker side of human nature might catch up to me as well, and I will leave Riku behind. I know the chance of it is really small, but I use that to reinforce my feelings now so that they won't die out. Besides, think about it, he may have only told you about it five days ago but the link was established weeks ago, right? Don't you think that if your body was going to change that it would have by now?"

With the grin on his face it seemed impossible that the seventeen-year-old had just brought up an even darker thought just a second ago. "Yeah, you're probably right," Leon replied, almost hating the fact that this kid could see the obvious so much easier than he could.

"You love him, right?" the boy asked, receiving a nod as answer. "Then instead of worrying about the problems that won't come because of the connection you have with Cloud, make sure that your love for him never fades away. Because having the one you love not love you back has to be the worst torture this world could ever provide."

"And Cloud has been through enough of that," he responded quietly, although he doubted that the brunette hadn't heard it. He didn't ask questions, though, and instead stood up and asked if that was all that was on his mind. "All that you can help with," Leon said, a disappointed frown touching Sora's lips until they both heard a knock at the slightly ajar door. A pale hand swung the portal open, revealing a slightly agitated Riku.

Suddenly getting nervous, Sora stuttered, "J-just how much of that did you hear…?"

"Enough," the fledgling replied, snapping his fingers and pointing towards the ground in front of him. "I believe we have something to talk about now," he added as the brunette cowardly walked over to his boyfriend. Closing the door as he left, Leon couldn't help but chuckle at the trouble the boy was in. No doubt Riku was going to scold him for thinking of something so dark and depressing.

He couldn't deny how accurate Sora's straightforward thinking was, though. If he was going to change it would have happened by then. Still, that was only one worry off of his mind. In just over a month he would no doubt have to either cut off all communication with Tifa or tell her that he was sleeping with a master vampire. And he couldn't get the itching feeling out of the back of his mind that things with Sephiroth had not been solved. Something told him that Jenova—that devil of a woman who would kill a human as if she was swatting a fly—would not take him being Cloud's mate lying down. Law or no law, something bad was going to happen.

Fly was a pretty good analogy between humans and vampires in Jenova's eyes. Her race had the advantage in physical abilities as well as mental ones. They could crush or repair things simply with the power of their mind, or set someone on fire or encase them in ice, depending on what powers they had. Humans also greatly outnumbered vampires, but just like flies were easy to squash. They seemed to do nothing but buzz around and announce their presence loudly, only to flee at the first sign of trouble. And comparatively, their lifespan was the same. Humans lived at most one hundred years, and vampires could live into the thousands. So telling his mother that a fly had managed to captivate his brother was not something that Sephiroth had wanted to do. He had spent the last five days combing over that law extensively, but he could find no gaps in the conjunctures that would allow him to squeeze passed it. So he sat in the apartment he had made his base, the blood of the family that had once lived there long since dried as the new wallpaper, and held up a swirling of blue fire in his palms.

"Is the deed done?" a voice asked from the center, the face of a beautiful woman in what appeared to be her mid to late twenties appearing in the flickers of the flame.

"I'm afraid we have hit a snag," Sephiroth started, flinching as the face in the fire hissed and bared its fangs. "It's the human," he continued, voice steady despite the sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach as his mother kept growling quietly. "I'm afraid we are too late. They have already mated." Her face disappeared instantly, no doubt because in her rage she had moved too far from her own fire and thus just couldn't be seen. "What is our next move?" he asked, and waited for her to calm down enough to come up with a reply.

Based on the timeline I have written there will only be six more chapters to this story (although the last chapter might be broken up into two). I just hope it doesn't seem a bit too rushed when we finally get to there.

As always, reviews are luffed and appreciated.