Disclaimer: I don't own Kingdom Hearts or Final Fantasy 7.
I feared not the act of dying,
I feared who I would become
if I were to wake again
Leon finds her three days later. She is on her side, one arm reached outwards longingly—an action frozen for eternity; her eyes are closed and the dirt covers her skin. He should know this person, he thinks to himself, he knows this woman with long black hair and fists wrapped in leather gloves.
He kneels down beside her and feels her throat gingerly for a pulse. There is none. She is not breathing. He wonders at this—this solitary figure claimed by the land, left alone by Heartless and vultures alike. He means to bring her back to Merlin's house, so they can give her a proper burial, but when his hands shift to her back, he realizes with a start that the sun has not darkened the paleness of her skin. More than that, he sees a slight flush in her cheeks, rose-red set against white. How…?
He flinches when the radio transmitter attached to his belt crackles to life. "Highwind. You okay, Leon? Your patrol's been over for at least five minutes, and Yuffie told me I should probably check up on you," the familiar, gruff tones sound so foreign in this place devoid of sound.
He withdraws from her body as if burned. "Yeah, I'm fine. I found something." This is not what he wants to say. He wants to say, I have found a stranger who is not. He wants to say, this girl has no pulse and she does not breathe, but her cheeks are still flushed with the rush of blood. But Leon is a man of few words, so he keeps his bewilderment locked away. "I think she's dead. I'm bringing her back to Merlin's; I don't know what to do with her. She looks like a fighter."
There's a moment of silence on Cid's end, but he can hear the sudden, sharp exhale. More casualties. They can't all be heroes for everyone, but it never stops hurting; it never stops bringing up skeletons shoved in closets shoved in empty houses shoved underneath a world's weight in guilt. "Dammit." The sound of a lighter clicking on, the shift of fingers around a cigarette. Leon waits patiently, one hand on the transmitter, the other loosely supporting the stranger figure's back. "Yeah, we probably, no, we shouldn't leave her out there like that. Like she's meat. Just…" Leon can see Cid now, cigarette trailing smoke, eyes pinched. "Fuck it. Just bring her back here."
Leon doesn't reply. He attaches his transmitter back to his belt, sheathes his gunblade, and gently, as gently as he has ever been (except for with a girl with wings on her back) picks her up. She is limp and oddly light in his arms. He casts a glance at the darkening sky and remembers how just days before, it was lit brilliantly with a vicious burst of light. He wonders if that might have something to do with her—if that final light was the light of life leaving, the light of a thousand memories vacating the human body. He thinks it's better not to ponder that too much. The dead cannot speak, cannot give answers to unvoiced questions.
He does not stop to think why there are no heartless.
"She's pretty," Yuffie remarks when he finally makes his way into the crowded house. Her tone is slightly more subdued than normal; it's enough to remind him that even Yuffie has her share of skeletons. It's easy to forget, sometimes. It's easy to forget when they don't ask each other questions and spend their days hunting heartless. A lot of things are easy in this world, Leon thinks. But the easy things are never good.
"Wait, Leon. She's not dead," Aerith's voice is soft. "She's, I can't explain it, but she's not dead."
"Of course she's dead," Cid barks in retaliation, but the heat isn't real. "Look at her! Her chest ain't moving, and Leon's not dumb enough to miss a heartbeat! I don't know how anyone could call that alive."
Aerith frowns, her eyes seeking Merlin's for some type of confirmation. She gets a shrug of the shoulders instead, but her brow is set in determination. "I'm not lying, Cid. She's not dead. I don't know how to explain it, but I can feel that she's alive. She's not a Nobody either, she doesn't give off the same emptiness as them. I can't…." she trails off hesitantly, biting her lower lip, white teeth worrying at sensitive flesh.
"I think Aerith's right," Yuffie chimes. "She's too pretty to be dead. And I mean, you said she was a fighter, right, Leon? Well, I don't see any cuts or bruises. I see nothing. So how'd she die, then?"
"So what? We're just gonna let her decompose on Merlin's floor? She's not breathing and she's not talking, so I'm gonna go on ahead and say that even if you think she's alive, she damn well doesn't look like it." Cid crosses his arms defensively.
Leon doesn't mean to talk. He's never been one to participate in debates, much preferring the others to handle it in his stead. But there's something about Aerith's sincerity and Yuffie's surprising logic that makes it difficult to just leave her on the floor and walk away, like this doesn't concern him. "Can you heal her, Aerith? I know we can't see any visible wounds, but you would know better than any of us how she ended up like this."
Not every question has an answer, Leon knows this. He isn't surprised when Aerith just shakes her head, her eyes gaining a faraway look. He recognizes it, whatever she's doing. He has long learned to stop questioning her abilities, long learned to stop believing completely that gut instincts and the familiar feel of a weapon in hand are all that dictate this world.
From the anticipatory silence in the room, so has everyone else.
When Aerith finally emerges from wherever she is, her eyes gain clarity, though she remains troubled. "It's a…" She hesitates, uncertain of how to phrase it. "It's a spiritual wound. She gave up something very important to her. I couldn't tell what, but there's a feeling of her soul being incomplete."
"So she's not breathing, her heart's not beating, and she's missing something from her soul. I mean, not to doubt you or anything, Aerith, but you sure she's alive? Like, if there's no chance of her waking up again, we might as well as give her a proper burial." Cid shuffles uncomfortably. Leon doesn't miss the way his fingers twitch around an invisible cigarette, the smell of smoke in the house faint but acrid.
He's almost as surprised as the others when he speaks. "I think we should give her awhile. There's something about her that seems very familiar, and I don't want to bury her until I know that she's absolutely dead." Unbidden, his eyes find their way to her pale face, the unnatural stillness of her limbs. He has the sudden urge to shake her, to open her eyes for her and see if maybe there's life to be found in her irises. She has a story, he knows she does.
"Well, it's settled then!" Merlin announces suddenly, briskly waving his wand, levitating the stranger's body over to the couch before draping a conjured blanket over her. Leon does not miss the fact that her face is still uncovered. "She'll just have to make do with the couch. Who knows? Maybe the change in surroundings will wake her up."
There's a flash of something white-hot. It lasts barely a second, but it leaves them all stunned. Leon thinks he might have heard something then, a whisper of, Clou—before it disappears as if swallowed up. He sounds it out in his head, but nothing happens.
"Cloud?" Aerith tentatively asks aloud, the word suspended in mid-air. She brings her fingers to her lips, as if she spoke without meaning to. "What is Cloud?"
"Who." Cid cuts in, jamming both hands into his pockets. "It's not what. It's who. Something's tellin' me Cloud ain't those white, fluffy things in the sky. Can't explain it, so don't ask."
"Do you think that's her name?" Yuffie asks suddenly. She's bouncing on the balls of her feat, restlessness evident in her eyes. "Maybe we should call her that. I mean, we need a name for her, right? We can't just go around calling her 'the body' or anything like that."
No. Instinctively, Leon knows that's not right, knows that to give her that name would serve only to prolong her state. He needs to get out of the house. "No," he mutters, head turned to the side, pointedly avoiding the gaze of everyone. "Don't call her Cloud. It doesn't fit." He needs to leave. Too much thinking is dangerous. Standing around idly is dangerous. Already, his mind is wandering towards a place where a girl with brown hair and white wings resides, forever in his head and forever out of reach.
He moves past everyone easily. "Going out on patrol."
"Leon! But you just came back! And it's my shift, anyways!" He ignores Yuffie's plaintive wail and shuts the door behind him.
When the Heartless materialize in front of him, he doesn't even blink.
This, at the very least, is familiar. He takes comfort in the routine.
She drifts in the darkness. Her body moves effortlessly, like it doesn't weigh anything, like maybe she doesn't even have a body—just a mind, a mind caught in nothing. She feels hollow and wonders if this is what it means to be completely devoid of light.
'You would be a wonderful Nobody.' Her eyes are open, but everything is black. So black. She half wonders if she's saying this to herself, but the voice is distinctly darker, more masculine than what she remembers of her own. There is a cold sensation on her cheek, like the press of unwanted lips on skin.
'Come now, Tifa. You could come back to life, if you wanted to. Be a Nobody. You'd be so much stronger without a heart. You already don't have one. Why linger in the darkness you hate?' A chuckle. 'I would even be generous enough to remove this.'
She has a scar, she remembers suddenly. A jagged, ugly thing running from her shoulder to her waist. But why? She doesn't know. Phantom fingers trace the edges of it on her bare stomach. She wants to flinch away, but she is only a mind, a torso, and a face.
'Tifa, Tifa, Tifa. Give in or give up.'
She wants to scream that they are the same thing, but the words do not form. The hand on her stomach tightens, something sharp cutting into the soft flesh there.
'Give in.' There's a pause. 'I need someone to hunt.'
Something in her breaks. She can't stay in this place forever, awake but not. She can't die in this place, not yet. She catches a glimpse of long, silver hair and glowing green eyes before her. He smiles, but it is not comforting.
Tifa wakes up with a scream lodged in her throat.
Author's Note: Whoops! Sorry for the long delay, but college was really hectic. Thank you for all the reviews! I'm trying to make the chapters longer, but I haven't written in awhile, so I'm just getting back into the swing of things. I promise the next chapter will be a lot lengthier.