Warnings and Notes: Leon is Squall from the FFVIII game. His world was consumed six months after Hollow Bastion fell. Aeris is (mostly) straight from Kingdom Hearts. This is the backstory to our Mini-RP of Doom (which is Leon/Aeris/Cloud). This scene takes place approximately six months after Leon's arrival in Traverse Town (Aeris has been here for two years already). No warnings, sorry! The poem "The Garden" (1678) is by Andrew Marvell.
It's dark out. Leon thinks it's always been dark in Traverse Town, like the whole point of the sky is to display the scattered stars of the heavens slowly winking out day after endlessly dark day. Sitting on a bench, listening to the water bubble merrily in the park fountain, he wondered what crazed architect thought you could bring hope to a place so devoid of light. Maybe the town hadn't always been like this, heartless around every corner and depression heavy in every heart, but looking to the sky you couldn't tell. *He* couldn't imagine happiness here among the shadows and bloodstains. 'But then' his mind whispered as he ran the whet stone over LionHeart's edge, 'That's not what you're for. Try imagining a *safer* place, and let those who still understand hope deal with filling it with Light.'
She felt a little silly sometimes, refreshing the flowers in the hotel rooms, but sometimes people came through briefly, even if there wasn't anyone to charge for the rooms. Fresh flowers were a touch or normalcy, a little extra effort that was more than just 'surviving'. She refreshed the last vase and put the wilting ones in her basket to be dried and used later. Stepping out of the hotel door, she did a quick scan for Shadows and relaxed when she saw Leon sitting by the fountain a level down.
"Hello," she called out, hooking her basket over her arm and making her way down towards him.
He looked over at her, Aeris. She was one of the ones still clinging to hope, still holding onto her Light tooth and nail. He liked that about her, she was one of the fighters, even if she fought with smiles and flowers. He didn't think he had to worry too much about saving her. "Hey. All's clear for the moment." The Heartless would come back, he couldn't pretend they wouldn't, but at least a portion of the town was warded strongly enough he had a place to toss the non-combatants and fall back to re-group. He couldn't ask the wizard to ward everywhere, the strain of just one District left the old coot exhausted most nights. If he could find someone else to take shifts with the geezer... but it took a lot of magical strength and Leon didn't have even a fraction of it to spare. No chance the rest of the lot had more.
"Oh, good. Then I can take a little time and enjoy a bit of air," Aeris replied as she walked up to the bench and took a seat next to him, placing her basket in front of her. "The cafe is nice and all, but staring at the same walls all the time is a bit frazzling." She tilted her head back to look upwards at the stars. No breeze, but the play of the water nearby made things cool.
"It's getting a little better in this district. Haven't seen a Shadow inside the hotel all week, they may be shut out of the buildings entirely soon."
"Hn." He didn't share her optimism. The private residences within the wards might be free but the hotel straddled the barrier line. Weakest point of entry, best chance of an attack. "We'll see. Be careful anyway." The whet stone rang against blued steel as softly as his voice, the sounds an echo of each other almost. Griever's frozen snarl etched into the blade as deeply as blood in bone. "Try painting the walls. Of the cafe."
She chuckled. "What, and hear Cid yowl about how I've meddled with his place of contemplation? 'Woman keep your decoratin' fingers away from where I drink', I can hear him now." She laced her fingers together and stretched. "Besides, I get to play around with the hotel decorations every now and again. And I have my umbrella and potions," she added, "so no worries there. It's just nice to see this place quiet."
She looked at the empty shops and the church a bit longingly, but there wasn't anyone to run the stores yet and the church, for all their work was still thick with Heartless.
He was quiet for a while, more by nature than because he was thinking on her words. He didn't know Cid too well yet, the older man was a prickly bastard and Leon knew he didn't know enough, but having the lack of knowledge shoved in his face still made his hackles itch. Sooner or later he and the older man would have to sit down and hash a few things out, probably over a dozen shots of whiskey and a glaring contest. "Ethers." He still didn't understand how a girl with an umbrella and a man with a mop had made it, but he wasn't going to argue the use of unconventional weapons if they worked.
"Only have one ether on me," she replied. "If things got so bad I'd need to use it, you'd bet I'd be running for the First District."
The magic restoring potions were nice, but expensive to manufacture. Most of the time she spent what munny she'd gathered on other things and used rest to restore herself. She tucked her feet up onto the edge of the bench so she could rest her chin on her knees and looked over at Leon. "So what brought you out here today? Just a patrol?"
"End of one." He answered, frowning at the thought of someone who used magic running around with only one ether. He'd never needed them before... before. But then, his magic had been tied to his world, and he'd never thought about how dependent he'd been on it. 'Foolish, to assume every where worked like home. Foolish to assume anything at all except constant danger.' "Don't run so fast you fail to see the shadow in front of you. Yell." he couldn't promise he'd hear, but he'd be on the look out at least, the chances were better someone would hear something.
The corner of her mouth crinkled slightly at the mild rebuke. "I will. Shriek like Yuffie just crawled out of the chimney and spread soot all over my clean floors... again." Yuffie *still* had yet to explain exactly why she'd been up in the chimney in the first place, or even *how* she'd managed it. "And then I'll Stop it and keep running."
Offensive magic tended to fail her more often than not, but she was managing to master slows and stops and other status effects under Merlin's tutoring. Something about her being a healer, Aeris would never be very strong at the elemental forms the old Wizard said.
She kept leaning back against the bench seat, staring upwards at the starry sky thoughtfully. "It's odd how much I've gotten used to the sky being dark, though I still feel like I'm breaking curfew even though it's not even dinnertime yet."
He looked at her sideways from under his ragged bangs. He used to be good at magic, real good, but he was finding that it was harder to remember and hold onto the spells now that.... now that things were different. He was still pretty good at blasting things to bits though, so as long as he didn't forget the heavy hitters. He didn't go around practicing or advertising what he retained though, the idea that the heartless might find some way to adapt around his magic sending shivers down his spine.
"How do you figure what time it is? The bells haven't rung since before the Dark."
Aeris looked over at Leon, "True, the bells don't work and the stars don't move the right way anymore, but the flowers still open. Whatever magic keeps this place running, it makes the flowers bloom at the normal intervals." She grinned at him.
"How well the skilful gardener drew
Of flow'rs and herbs this dial new;
Where from above the milder sun
Does through a fragrant zodiac run;
And, as it works, th' industrious bee
Computes its time as well as we.
How could such sweet and wholesome hours
Be reckoned but with herbs and flow'rs!"
He arched a brow at her, slowing the strokes of stone on steel as she spoke the old rhyme. He didn't recognize it, but then, poetry hadn't really been his thing. Gardening less so. "Maybe the flowers can tell you where to find a source of iron or two. The King found those Mopples, but they need something to work with and so far all we have is the heartless leftovers." Which frankly, he wasn't sure what to do with. Crystals were pretty to look at but what good were they, honestly?
She grinned at the look he gave her. It was hard to tell what he was thinking most times but he could say an awful lot with a quirked brow or head tilt. "Moogles," she corrected then sighed. "Afraid mining advice is a bit beyond your average plant. That's more Cid's thing, though these days he's all about those gummi things."
She looked down the street at the lampposts but dismissed them as a source. they needed light far more than anything else and out here in the open, those lamps were all they had.
"Hn." He looked around them and grunted, the secondary option not exactly one he'd hoped for. "Could start gutting the lower districts. Anything salvageable needs to be found and used. Start doing that during patrols." It would slow him down, and add to the overall depression among the refugees, but until they figured out how to use what was plentiful and new, he was sticking to the tried and true. Shadows were as vulnerable to cold iron and sharp steel as any other fleshly creature, they just didn't *bleed* enough for him.
"I think the Third District is as far as most everyone goes. After Merlin's place, well..." After Merlin's sanctuary there were no safe havens at all.
"How much do you think we need?" Actual combatants in Traverse Town were rather scarce, most of the inhabitants stayed put in the safer zones kept their heads down. "Or are you talking about using it to reinforce what we've already got?"
"Reinforcement, and armament." He gave her a steady look. He knew that a lot of the survivors didn't want to be fighters, they didn't want to see the monsters in the Dark. As far as he was concerned they didn't have a choice and living in fear and denial was a fast way to an early grave. "I want everyone armed and trained in at least the basics of self defense. No telling if something bigger and stronger than the shields will come along. Hiding won't always be an option. Neither will running." And he was one body between a town of refugees and the unknown. He couldn't be everywhere, he couldn't save everyone, and he was human enough to feel guilty about it. He wanted to believe the King was right about a future with a champion of Light, but he was a pragmatist. Until this 'Keyblade Master' showed up, they would have to hold onto the Light themselves.
"No, running isn't much of an option anymore," she agreed. They'd pretty much run as far as they could. "But you'll be lucky to get much more than a basic militia. Even if you get their hearts into it, we don't have much to offer."
Cid could fight and Yuffie would leap into any training Leon could give the girl, but so many of the others... too young, too old, too worn down.
"But getting them to work on defenses, that's easier." Oh yes, they'd break their backs to throw up bigger walls. She slid off the bench and stood, giving a turn around to really look at the area. "That would get them all working and maybe get them in better shape. Used to swinging shovels and maybe a mining pick or two?" Which would not so coincidentally work some of the same muscles you used to take a firm swing at a Shadow. She mimed a swing of a shovel and tilted a look at Leon.
He nodded, some of the tension in his shoulders relaxing. "I'll take who I can get and teach what I can as I can, but those who would work on the walls will be as appreciated as those willing to work a weapon." He thought about it a bit further.
"The harder people are working, the less they'll feel helpless. We're facing the Dark, not the End."
Too many faces in town were drawn and haggard, eyes dulled by the weight of guilt. He understood what they were feeling, and more then that, what they were facing. Giving up wasn't an option. It just wasn't. Anything that helped hammer his point home on that subject was welcome, be it a word from the King, advice from Merlin, or simple hard labor. He wasn't trying to build an army, he was trying to prove they didn't need one to *live*.
She nodded and walked back to him. "When you're busy, you don't have time to think of other things. Set some goals for them to reach. Finish the walls, reinforce the gates..." she hummed a bit, thinking.
"There should be a carrot too. Something to... celebrate getting goals done." Now that was something that really they hadn't done in a long time.
He looked at her blandly. "A festival?" he asked, in no way surprised, tone emotionless. Honestly the work being *done* was enough of a temptation for him, but then, he was a mercenary. You couldn't expect much from civilians if they didn't feel they would get something great out of the end results. A mercenary took his pay where he could get it and went on to the next damned bloody job.
"Get Merlin to do the fireworks."
She was a bit surprised at the ease of his agreement, she'd been spinning up a few arguments to convince Leon in her head, but she floundered a bit with his reply.
"Well, yes. Something like that. A day to be outside, some decorations and fireworks... maybe a few presents for some of the children... they really don't get birthdays anymore. At least one spiked punch bowl." That she could safely leave up to Cid.
He grunted again, turning back to his blade. "Sounds fine. See what I can dig up." Flipping LionHeart over he started stroking the stone over her opposite edge in long, loving movements.
Honestly, it sounded just like Selphie's damned parties...
"Don't waste the whiskey."
She wrinkled her nose, "Hah, wouldn't dare. That's like spilling the coffee or tea." She tapped a finger thoughtfully on her chin.
"I don't suppose you know how to play music? I know Phillip has that accordion..."
"Piano. Guitar." The look he gave her said he would much prefer to be left out of the whole process, and if he had to be dragged in it better be to kill something, without, really, changing his facial features much.
She grinned right back at him. Ooh, fierce. "Well, I think we can safely say the your piano skills will sadly remain concealed, I haven't seen anything at all like one here, but I'm *sure* we can scare up a guitar."
Though really there probably *was* a piano in Merlin's bag, she'd seen the old Wizard pull out stranger things. But she'd rather at least have Leon show up at this (so far) hypothetical shindig and at least lurk in the background.
"Though if you really don't want the whiskey wasted, I suppose we could just put you in charge of that."
"Hn." If she thought he was going to be dragged in front of a bunch of people he couldn't even call by name, and try to remember the way his fingers were supposed to curl around the damned thing, Hyne Herself had better make it a mandate.
The whiskey at least he could manage.
"Tell Yuffie about it, she'll get people working." She'd annoy them all into cooperation. He wasn't sure what to make of the child, except that she had potential, and was as much trouble in a tiny package as Selphie had been. He would keep the explosives out of her reach.
"We'll have time," Aeris said. "Not like it's for next week, after all and it'd be cruel to Yuffie to get that idea in her head without a time frame. 'Soon' is forever to children. Have to decide what the goal will be first. What is it we need most done from what you've seen?"
He set the whet stone aside and ran through a mental list of the most obvious weaknesses he'd cataloged. "First District is pretty secure, however, there's not enough room for everyone. At least two or three houses here in Second District need to be warded, shielded, and repaired enough for habitation. If Merlin can figure out a way of warding without having to constantly recast, we can move a few of the stronger, faster ones out here." He stood and pointed to one of the houses he'd already picked out. "There, by the gate," he turned and pointed to another house that sat next to Merlin's hide out. "And there would be best, if the wards fail, they're closest to the primary shields."
Aeris turned to look at the places he pointed out and nodded. "Those two young dogs, Pongo and Perdita, they're both almost old enough to handle themselves." Pongo was still a lot of over-grown pup sometimes, but it was hard to beat a dog's nose to sniff out Heartless. And once they reached adulthood, they'd be both fast and strong. With a fine set of teeth. "A place set up out here would be good for them, I think they want a family and a lot of noisy puppies might get on neighbor's nerves.
A lot of work. But it could be done.
He tilted his head, trying to match up the names. Dogs. Spotted dogs? Well, he'd spoken to a talking mouse, he supposed a pair of dogs could want a house.
He shook his head. His life had gotten so *weird*.
"It'll take a while, but with enough hands, shouldn't be more than a few months to clean up and repair both places. Don't know about the magic." Pocketing his whet stone he ran a critical eye over his blade, satisfied she was as sharp as ever, no nicks or cracks in the steel.
"A few months?" Aeris hmmmed and looked upwards to the ever present stars and then nodded. "That sounds good. Enough time to make some plans, and once the work is underway, drop a hint about having a party once it's done to make everyone eager to keep going. Maybe by then the moogles will have figured out how to use some of the things we've collected."
She looked thoughtful for a moment then nodded, "I'll invite Cid, Merlin and you over for dinner. Maybe tomorrow? You could talk construction and magic and who you think you can beat a few lessons into," she picked up her umbrella and gave it a twirl.
He nodded, slinging LionHeart over his shoulder. "It's a plan." The night was young, however you looked at it, and there were always more shadows to destroy. maybe someday he'd even manage to kill the ones in his own heart. "Be careful."
She stooped to pick up her basket and nodded. "Enjoy the rest of the day, she said merrily. "It was a lovely date."
Sitting on a bench by the fountain with a boy watching the sky... close enough for her. Maybe she should keep a sandwich or two in her basket... just in case...
He blinked. Shook his head. Blinked again. Nope, still didn't get women. Heading for the sewers he wondered if it was a universal thing.
Pink tipped braid swishing behind her, she headed back for home.