“Do you think it’s going to work?”
Squall eyed you from his position at the town’s mainframe computer, fingertips pausing in their rapid movement as his face contorted in exasperation.
“If I did I wouldn’t be telling you to leave.”
He watched as you crossed your arms in front of your chest, followed by your lips falling into a deep frown, and he found that he was suddenly struck with a small pang of guilt. But he had been insistent on his stance since this morning, trying to convince you to stay behind with the others, and he had refused to budge out of concern for your well-being.
“...It’s an embodiment of light, Squall, I’ll be fine.”
The brunette let out a deep breath, his attention returning to the keyboard and screen before him. The machinery within the space buzzed with life, its bright glow nearly overwhelming, reaching beyond the room and into the Heartless Manufactory.
ENCOM was being responsive enough, allowing him to access the town restoration controls with ease. It was providing the energy to have it done that had become the problem-
But another Holy Stone had been found, and testing its capabilities was the next logical step.
It was the fact that it was a test that had his heart rate rising, had him pause for a moment before jumping to the next screen. Because he didn’t quite care if he got hurt, never really did, but you-
He remained silent, knowing that starting an argument with you wasn’t something he wanted to do, because the last time he did…
“You’re reckless, and one day it’s going to kill you.”
Squall didn’t even know if you remembered it, didn’t even know if you’d care, but he did .
That day, he had failed you in more ways than one- he could still taste the sour words in his mouth, a deep insecurity that lashed out in the form of cruelty.
Squall felt like the scar across his face wasn’t enough of a punishment for that, it wasn’t enough for leaving a burning land behind, it wasn’t enough for being cowardice enough to let the darkness take you away-
He jolted slightly when your hand came up to rest on his upper arm, knew that he had stopped moving, and without looking your way proceeded to continue his work, a mumbled apology falling from his lips.
“And you say I apologize too much…”
He cracked a small smile at that, and proceeded to enter the code to zone in on the castle entrance area of town. On his right, the two stones rested on a small, round platform that had protruded from the side of the mainframe, a discovery that was made quite late the other night.
Taking a deep breath, Squall straightened his spine, and took notice of you readying your wand.
“Are you sure you want to stay?”
His words were soft, gentle, an automatic tone when it came to you, and you could only smile, your eyebrows raised.
“Did you suddenly learn defense magic, Squall?”
He scoffed in amusement, almost choosing to lie to you as a last ditch effort to get you out of there, but he knew you would pick up on it in an instant. Over time, you had regained a large part of your memories, and a sharpened ability to perceive him with it.
Not that he minded, of course.
Taking his silence as an answer you stepped into the center of the room, and nodded in his direction.
“...I’m not leaving you, so whenever you’re ready."
Checking once more to make sure the correct area had been selected, he proceeded to finish the code, hand hovering over the ‘enter’ key before he caved in and slammed it down.
He took a few steps back to stand by your side, blue eyes narrowing in trepidation as green code flashed across the screen at an unreadable rate. The platform carrying the stones lowered, spinning as it did so before snapping into place, a metal slide coming out to secure the top.
‘Come on, come on…’
As sparks began to fly out from the system, Squall felt your free hand move to entangle with his, and his instincts had his grip on you tightening.
Followed by a loud mechanical shriek, the screen blacked out, and you instantly raised your wand.
For a moment, nothing happened, but you held the shield steady, eyes narrowed as the barrier shimmered around the both of you. His heart pounded in his chest as seconds ticked by in silence, but he felt the shift in the air, knew that something was coming.
Leon pulled you to his chest just as a blinding light overtook the room, his body shifting so that his back faced the computer. It was a split second of warmth, nothing seemingly volatile, but he found that even as the light dissipated and his eyes flickered open, he hesitated to let you go. You had your face buried into the fur lining of his jacket, your wand still pointed upwards even as your spell faded.
“...Are you alright?”
You blinked up at him, wand lowering as he finally dropped his hold on you. “Yeah, yeah… are you?”
Even as he nodded to reassure you, your eyes continued to rove over him in concern, before they shifted over to the computer that had revved back to life. A bold text flashed onto the screen, a simple enough thing that had a rare sense of hope rush through his veins.
Castle Entrance Restoration - Complete
His lips titled up into a smile, one mainly built upon disbelief, and in an instant the two of you were out of the lab and on your way to assess the results. If it weren’t for the intricate hallway that stood out from its dilapidated brethren, you would’ve found yourselves lost.
Leon watched as you stared at the space that was woven in cedar and gold, eyes shining as they landed upon the large blue doors that lay ahead. He brushed past you to push one open, allowing sunlight to stream in and a glimpse of what lay ahead to appear.
You turned to look at him, your lips still upturned into a smile, and nodded before stepping outside. He followed suit, eyes widening as he tried to process what laid before them.
Gray stone stairs descended downwards to an awaiting white metal gate, and beyond it lay the courtyard that retained too many memories to count. The great maw, in all its mangled glory, no longer separated the town from the castle, and residents had slowly trickled out of their homes to take in the transformation with awe. He looked back to see that the front half of the castle had been repaired, though most of it still remained in a dilapidated state.
It could wait.
And then he looked at you, saw your shoulders trembling and that one of your hands had come up to cover your mouth to suppress a sob, and his expression fell.
His hand moved to hover in the air, his instincts turning to comfort, but he found that he didn’t know what to do. He was, uncomfortably, speechless. You sniffled, your hand dropping to cling onto your necklace, and turned to face him.
“...I-I’m sorry, it’s just-”
Leon could see it in your expression, could see how overwhelmed you had suddenly become, and felt his heart drop.
“I didn’t think I’d ever get to see it like this again.”
Without a care for the prying eyes of all who stood below, he quickly pulled you to him, and let you cry. It wasn’t until the sound of a wolf whistle from none other than Cid and Yuffie, who were awaiting at the gate with Aerith, did he finally turn his attention away from you. Even then, he only scoffed, arms still wrapped around your waist.
You laughed, the feeling of your breath running along his neck having, what he hoped, was an imperceptible shiver run up his spine. Slowly you let go of him, and looked down at the three with an undeniable fondness.
Your voice was raspy when you finally spoke.
“Families usually are.”
Leon watched as you talked with Yuffie and Cid, eyes alight with excitement and hands waving about wildly. You were unabashedly happy, your tears long gone, and he found that he craved seeing that expression on you more than anything. He wanted you to look at him like that, wanted you to feel comfortable enough to ramble on about your favorite topics while he listened on in amusement.
Like you used to.
Aerith’s voice was gentle, as it often was, but it was just enough to snap him out of his reverie. She had appeared next to his side, done examining the lilies that had appeared around the area.
“You need to tell her.”
Leon looked down at her from the corner of his eye, taking note of how she was watching you as well.
“You’ll have to be more specific.”
He heard her sigh, a sound that was a mix of sadness and frustration. “...The heart is an intricate thing, Leon. But there are parts of it that are more visible than most, more...well, obvious.”
Aerith smiled when you reached out to pinch Yuffie’s cheek, the ninja’s face flushing in response.
“It will give us hints when things are meant to be, this feeling of warmth that can’t quite be placed… You feel it when you’re around her, don’t you? The same feeling you had when you first met?"
Leon found himself unable to respond, his head turning to look at a patch of flowers that swayed in the breeze. He knew that Aerith’s abilities extended far past the healing of physical wounds, knew that she could understand matters of the heart far beyond the researchers who once resided in the castle-
And knew that he wasn’t the only one who lost the other half of himself that day.
She, too, had felt that pull to another heart once, that connection.
Aerith began to step ahead of him, heading towards the group that awaited them across the courtyard. But she came to a sudden halt, her green eyes connecting with his as she regarded him over her shoulder.
“Tell me, Leon, what makes you think that you two are exempt from finding the happiness that everyone deserves?”
As he watched her move away and his eyes turned to you, who shifted to regard him with a soft smile, he found...that he didn’t really know.
Night had fallen, and with it came libations aplenty, the courtyard buzzing with life as all those around came out to celebrate the first step of the world’s reconstruction.
You mingled from one group to the next, introducing, or in some cases re-introducing , yourself to citizens who you had yet to stumble into during your time here. There was a bumble of those who were around Yuffie’s age, and as Aerith walked you over, you realized that some of them had been your students.
And you couldn’t help yourself when you reached out to fret over them like a mother would- teasing them over how much they had grown and how you were so undeniably proud of them. They smiled and blushed, and you felt both old and born anew. It was an indescribable thing, seeing the outcome of your sacrifice, all while standing on the very land in which it had happened.
A moment later and you were whisked away by a group of older women, and suddenly you were in the same position you had put your students in.
“Oh, aren’t you beautiful , dear.”
“One of the greatest young sorceresses this world has ever seen…”
“You should let us treat you and the committee to dinner tomorrow night, for all you’ve done for us.”
Your free hand waved in front of your face as you shrunk back in embarrassment, heat rising to your cheeks. “That’s...that’s so kind of you but I, I’ll be leaving tomorrow.”
Their eyes widened, their lips falling into a frown at your words. In an attempt to reassure them you smiled, though a bit sheepishly.
“Oh, no, no...I’ll be back. It’s just a vacation, of sorts.”
“You’re going to travel all by yourself? I’m not sure if that’s so wise, dear. You should really-”
You felt a familiar hand fall to your shoulder, the leather glove that adorned it and the tall presence suddenly at your side having the women fall to silence. Their expressions immediately shifted, all of them now adorned with mischievous glances or knowing looks.
Squall’s voice, homely and comforting, served as a balm to your overworked nerves.
“Sorry to interrupt...I think it’s time we get going. Cid asked us to check on the claymore system, remember?”
It took you a second longer than you liked to process his words, because no , you don’t remember him asking that- but any excuse to take a breather was welcomed. You glanced up at him, his blue eyes looking at you with something akin to tenderness, and could only manage a slow nod in agreement.
Because, for an undeniable second, you were awestruck.
You were close enough to admire the sharpness of his jaw, the way his hair fell into the front of his face, and the scar that ran from his forehead to his cheek. You wanted to run your fingers along each feature, to take them all in, but instead you looked away, and relied upon what you remembered to push down your wants.
You bid the women goodbye and instead followed Squall to the quiet area near Merlin’s house, unaware of the multiple sets of eyes that had turned to watch the two of you disappear.
The breath you were holding finally slid past your lips as you leaned against a nearby brick wall, eyes closing momentarily before they fell upon your company.
“We don’t...actually have work to do, do we?”
Squall’s expression shifted into one of amusement, his arms coming up to cross in front of his chest.
Your voice was soft when you said it, but you meant those words more than he might ever know.
He shifted to stand next to you, head tilted to upwards to take in the stars as he relaxed just enough to let the wall support him. For the briefest of moments, you watched him instead of the sky, still enamored.
Still feeling that pull.
“...Are you sure you’re ready to have your ear talked off tomorrow?”
The brunette’s lips titled up just the slightest, eyes roving over you before returning upwards. You had given him a brief rundown of your found family a few days prior, noting that being interrogated by Gran and Cato, perhaps even a couple of the town residents, was simply an inevitable thing. He, thankfully, seemed unbothered by the prospect.
“I’m sure they’re nothing compared to Yuffie.”
You laughed, shaking your head a bit in amusement.
“I might do a few shifts at the shop, so just be prepared to fend for yourself. Think you can handle it, Leonhart ?”
You bumped your shoulder into his arm playfully, and looked up at him with a teasing smile.
And you aren’t quite sure what had shifted in that moment, but as he let out a sound of fond exasperation, he turned to face you, and you instinctively did the same. He raised his hand, slowly and gently, to untwist the slightly tangled chain on your necklace, the feeling of his fingers ghosting over your neck having a shiver run up your spine.
“I handled you for twelve years...I think I’ll be fine.”
His voice was tinged with a gentle tease, a rare thing that you loved so much, a tone that you heard behind closed doors or in deserted flower fields all those years ago. It was a break in his serious visage that had you wanting to grab his hand and put it back when he had finished his task.
The sound of giggling teenagers had the two of you snapping out of your reverie, your eyes widening a bit as a pair ran past you and further into the neighborhood, their hands clasped tightly. Suddenly buried in a shyness that was evident by the heat that had raised to your cheeks, you found that you couldn’t look up at him.
“...We should probably get back.”
He was voicing the obvious, because the longer you stayed there the more questions and raised brows by the others awaited you both. You nodded in agreement, albeit a bit reluctantly, and began to make your way back. Before you turned the corner you stopped, and Squall did the same, looking back at you curiously.
When you voiced your request, it was a contrary mix of confidence and implorement.
“You’ll stay with me this time, right?”
Squall didn’t even mull over his answer.