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AN: Sorry for the long delay. Lack of inspiration, AnimeExpo2002, Final Fantasy X, and a lot of other things were happening. Not only that, I'm glad that school's out for the summer ^^. Anyhoo, thanks to Eria for some inspiration! ^^ Anyhoo, on with the story!

 

Chapter Three ~ Winhill Encounters

Thunk.

In a dark alleyway of Deling City was a flash of light. An instant later, piles of bodies appeared on top of another, desperate to flee from whatever fear that had possessed them.

"Kirean, where the hell is your hand at?" Lily growled.

"Uh...I didn't mean to, Lily, it's just..." he tried to plead his case.

"Whoever's ass is in front of my face, would you please move?" Sion grumbled.

"Well, I would if somebody would get off of me, first," Sakura replied.

"Oh, heh."

"Okay, that's it!" Alex shouted from the bottom of the pile. His eye shifted to a dark amber. "Everybody, OFF!!"

Suddenly, each person in his party were forced into the air and then gently flung into different directions of the alleyway. Well, it was gently according to Alex's standards.

"Ow," Sakura muttered. "Couldn't you be a bit nicer?"

"How much nicer can I get?" Alex asked as he and Yukie stood. "Would you want me to rather have Yukie call Quezacotl for you?"

Knowing how the young summoner had some trouble controlling the Guardian Forces, everybody shook their heads. Lily huffed out a sigh, flipping her braid back over her shoulder.

"Okay, so where are we?"

"We should still be in Deling," Kenji replied as he readjusted his watch. The time had stopped during the transportation.

"So, what should we do now?" Kieran asked. He shook his head, correcting himself. "I mean, where should we go first? Galbadia or Winhill?"

"The Garden's a lot closer," Sakura pointed out.

"Yeah, but the security over there is hard to get through," Lily replied, frowning. "It might take a while for me to disrupt their security system since, like Balamb, it's mobile."

"But everyone's going to be suspicious of Alex," Yukie reminded them. "Since he looks a lot like his father..."

Alex remained silent.

"Seems like everywhere we go, we're going to have a lot of trouble getting what we need accomplished," Sion murmured.

"Not to mention that both places are wary of strangers," Kirean added.

Silence fell over them as they walked out of the alley. The well-dignified neighborhood they had been in was now an area of one of the poorest in Deling. Sion figured that it was the Red Light District, or part of it anyway, just by the signs displayed and hookers roaming through the streets for their night's pay. Any boy at his age would not even roam through with others older than him, but Sion had grown immune to childhood, being brought up in the ghetto of Timber.

"Let's go to Winhill first," Alex finally spoke up. Making sure that nobody would protest he added, "I can easily buy a disguise here so that way nobody will recognize me."

"You think they would let us live there?" Kirean asked.

"Although they are a bit antisocial to outsiders, I don't think my parents nor Auntie Ellone would let them complain," he replied. "Besides, I think I know where we can stay at."

 

"Well, here are the keys," the woman replied as she handed them to the couple.

She eyed the family once again. It had been years since her father-in-law's home adjacent to the bar had been occupied, so she was a bit surprised that the family in front of her wanted to rent out the place. Everything surprised Rinoa Leonhart nowadays, though. Being a mother of three in less than five years since moving away from Balamb had made everything to her surprising. She adjusted her youngest daughter in her arms and smiled at the family. They were and odd bunch: full of adopted kids. The blond who clung onto her stoic husband were still very young, just a little bit younger than herself and Squall. The two reminded her of them, back in the days the year after Ultimecia's defeat.

Tagging along with the young couple were two sisters who looked nothing alike. The tomboy, the younger one she guessed, had her chocolate brown hair cut short just barely above her ears. She wore clothes that were two sizes too big for her petite frame, but it seemed as if she didn't care. The other sister was, physically, the exact opposite. She was tall and pale yet beautiful, her mysterious colored eyes hidden behind the soft curls of her long baby blue hair. Rinoa figured she was once an Esthari by her skin complexion but wasn't really sure.

Behind the sisters were the elder brother and the youngest of the family as well as what seemed to her an old man. The eldest of the family was a very energetic young man who had his little brother in a headlock. Both had midnight hair, but their eyes were of different colors: the eldest with dark brown and the youngest with light green. They acted like ordinary boys: always making a ruckus. Rinoa's twin daughters laughed as they watched them brawl.

What bothered Rinoa was the old man. He had kept his head low, graying hair peeking out of the cowboy hat, and wrapped his trenchcoat tightly around himself even though it was a beautiful seventy-seven degrees outside. It looked like the old man developed a hunched back, and hobbled considerably even with the help of the two girls. Her children kept on staring at the man curiously, even her little Sakura who was only but three months. Rinoa wondered to herself why did the old man cover himself so much.

"Oh, honey, we have our own home now!" the blonde chirped happily at her husband.

"Uh-huh..." he replied absentmindedly.

Rinoa smiled again. "Well, I hope you like it. Squall and I have kept it in good shape. If you need any help, just ask one of us."

"Oh, yes, thank you girls for offering your help at the bar," she added. "It takes off a lot of weight on my shoulders."

The two sisters giggled. "No problem, Mrs. Leonhart."

"So, what time do we arrive at the shop?" the eldest asked.

"Um, Squall opens around ten or so," Rinoa replied. "I guess you and your father should arrive at nine-thirty, Kirean."

"Thank you, Mrs. Leonhart, for letting us rent this place," the blonde said. "We've all been dreaming of staying at Winhill for once."

Rinoa laughed. "It's no problem, Lily. Actually, I was surprised that you called. The home hasn't been occupied for years." She felt a tug on the hem of her dress.

"Mommy, I'm hungry," one of the twins said, her violet streaks barely shining through the sun.

"Okay, Luna, Mommy's almost done," she assured her. She smiled once more. "Well, I better not leave them starving. I guess I'll see all of you sometime tomorrow."

Waving her good-byes, Rinoa slowly walked back to her home. The family quickly entered inside their new home, dragging inside their "luggage" as well. Making sure that the windows were closed, Yukie leaned down towards the hunched old man.

"Okay, Alex, you can breathe now," she whispered.

Alex straightened himself to his full height of six feet and odd inches, taking in a gulp of fresh air. The hat he had on slipped off of his head, and the seemingly long trenchcoat wrapped tightly around him wasn't so long anymore. The sleeves were halfway up his forearm and the length of the coat itself came up to mid calf. It looked as if the coat had been in the dryer too long and shrunk with Alex inside.

"Took you guys long enough," he grumbled as he struggled to take off the coat. "I thought I was about to die in there."

"I'm amazed that you can hold your breath that long," Lily commented. "We were talking for about an hour or so."

"I guess it's an advantage being a sorcerer," Kirean grinned.

"Whatever," Alex mumbled.

"Hey, look on the bright side," Sakura chirped. "At least you didn't get caught."

"Hardly," he replied. "You guys could see, but I felt it. My sisters were looking at me funny, right?"

"Yeah, so was your mother," Kenji agreed. "Though she tried not to."

"Maybe it's because you got o the wrong disguise," Sion suggested as he plopped himself on the couch. Mild dust accumulated as he did so.

He coughed a bit and got off the couch. "I mean, it wasn't cold like Trabia. You looked like one of them."

"Would you rather have me to be Darkman?" Alex suggested as he finally got out of the trenchcoat and flung it on a rack nearby.

Sion didn't reply. Instead he gazed down at the pack of "luggage" that they had brought in. The "luggage" that they dragged in were all the supplies that Allundia transported soon after they had arrived in the old Deling. The supplies would give the group an advantage in technology going against whatever or whomever was responsible for the time fluctuations. Most of them were computers that Sakura needed to hack into Galbadia Garden's system and search for the people they needed to find. Although only four people had left Balamb Garden, many of the SeeD had transferred to the other two remaining Gardens. At least, that was according to the records of the destroyed Garden in their time.

The other supplies were the groups' weapons. They hadn't been able to carry them with them due to Allundia's limited magic and her ability to sometimes become distracted in her magic. The only exception was Alex who not only had his customized Exeter, but the gunblade form the other realm. He just handed in the gun, knowing that the other weapon would just remain hidden to the eyes of mortals not linked to the other realm.

"How in the hell are we going to put all this stuff together without making a racket?" Sion asked, regarding the computers.

Yukie's magic around the supplies slowly disintegrated, revealing their true forms. Kirean went over to hoist one of the machines over his shoulders.

"You're still new, kid," he answered with a sly grin on his face.

"Yeah, so? What's that gotta do with it?"

"Just help Yukie with the other stuff, Sion," Kenji replied as he and the others began to carry the other items. "And watch."

Sion turned to the summoner for help, but she just shrugged. In less than half and hour later, the entire house was clean and ready. Even all the computer installations were complete. The boy blinked once, then twice, not believing what he saw as he helped with the weapons.

"Whoa..." he murmured with awe and then turned to Yukie who hid Sakura's Triple Triad cards in a hidden drawer of the table. "Hey, Yukie, did you know that they...?"

"Well, when I was with Alex," Yukie replied and then smiled. "You forgot, huh? Everyone's been in contact with the other realm. The contact gives them something that most people don't have."

"You mean like infinite speed and stuff?" Sion suggested.

"Something like that, although it's not infinite. You were on some of the other missions before I came here, weren't you?"

"Yeah...but I rarely got to see them in action, you know? Most of the missions I've been on were mainly just infiltration and the like."

Yukie nodded in understanding, a well of sympathy growing inside for the boy. She remembered that Sion had sometimes felt left out because of his age.

"Hey, Yukie, can you hand me my gunblade?" Kirean asked as he emerged from the basement.

She threw the hefty weapon over, and Kirean caught it with ease. Looking around the room, she realized that someone was missing.

"Kirean, where's Alex?" she asked.

"Told me that he went out to get some fresh air," he replied, but shrugged. "I think he wants to see how his family's doing."

 

Alex took in a breath of fresh, clean air as soon as he stepped outside. Although Esthar was known to be one of the cleanest cities in the entire world, it had its downsides ever since the President died. Laguna Loire was the longest President of Esthar in office, nearly forty years, before he died of natural causes. Even though he knew that his grandfather was old, Alex still missed the amiable old man.

He had never made contact with his extended family during the first twelve years of his life. It wasn't until Phoenix and Luna's "deaths" when his grandfather stepped into his life after finding out that he HAD grandkids. Part of Alex's personality came from him while the other was a mix and match between his three older sisters and their friends. Thinking about his family led Alex to Winhill's empty harbor where, with his sorcerer's ability, he could partially see his sisters and mother taking the hidden path along the ocean's cliffs. He remembered his grandfather talking about the path once; if you take it, it would lead to the other side of Winhill.

Remembering where he was, Alex stepped back in the shadows as he saw Phoenix turn her head back to the harbor. His eye glowed a dark amber as he silently watched, waiting. The young girl finally turned back to face the ocean as they turned a corner.

Alex breathed a sigh of relief, forcing his eye to shift back to its original color.

"You know, using your sorcerer abilities isn't going to help you hide," came a familiar voice from behind.

He jumped slightly, startled, and turned around. Kenji stood quietly against the side of the home with a small smile on his face. Alex breathed out a sigh of relief and released the grip on the hilt of his gunblade. The gunblade blended back into its surroundings.

"Damn, Kenji, you almost gave me a heart attack," he said.

The older man's smile widened. "Sorry...How are they? To you, I mean."

Alex glanced back at the place where his family once was. "Happy." He burst into small laughter. "Hyne, it's...WEIRD. To see them like this. I don't think I can remember a time when they were really carefree like this. Even at the orphanage, they seemed kinda..."

"Sad?" Kenji suggested.

"Something like that, I guess."

Kenji nodded in agreement as the two began walking back inside.

"Just make sure you're not seen for the time being," he said exactly reading the young Leonhart's thoughts.

Alex looked at the ground, lost in though. "I know....Geez, I gotta hide from this entire freakin' WORLD, come to think of it. Sometimes, I wish I didn't look so much like Dad."

"We all have things that we don't want," Kenji replied in understanding.

 

The next day everything went out smoothly as planned. Well, as smoothly as the gang wanted it to be. Despite a few stares and some rude remarks from the locals, Yukie and Sakura managed Raine's reopened bar with few difficulties. It was now their first break of the day and the reopening of the bar came back with much success.

Sakura slumped down in her seat, blowing back a wisp of hair. She adjusted her shirt for the millionth time, being unused to tight fitting clothing and all.

"Never expected that it would be so popular," she muttered.

Yukie wiped off the last crumb of food left on the table and threw the rag into an empty wash bin nearby. She too was exhausted from the work, but whether she liked it or not did not show on her pale face.

"Well, you gotta remember that Alex's grandmother was well liked in town," she tried to reason with the younger woman. "I don't blame the townsfolk to come in and see what it looks like ever since the previous owner died three years ago."

"Still doesn't explain why it's so damn crowded," Sakura tried to point out. "Where's Sion with the food??"

"He should be back soon...you're not comfortable in the clothes you're wearing, huh?" Yukie asked.

Sakura shifted again in her seat and tried to adjust her clothing. She frowned when the clothes remained in the position it had been before.

"I hate it when they look at me like that," she explained. "The guys, you know? The looks that they give me make me want to kick their asses to make them stop looking at me."

Yukie sighed. "I know what you mean. But hey, it could be worse if Sion wasn't here..."

 

Kirean just stood there, gawking at the fabulous display of gunblades in front of him. Squall stared uneasily at the teenager and then turned back to Kenji.

"Are you sure he's going to be okay?" he asked the younger man. "He's been standing there for three minutes now without even blinking."

Kenji chuckled. "Yeah, he'll be fine. Once he realizes that we've disappeared, he'll snap out of it. I don't think he's ever seen so many gunblades all at once."

Squall stole another look at Kirean then shrugged and continued on his work. The kid reminds of Irvine sometimes...

Damn, I never knew Alex's old man had THIS many, Kirean thought in awe. He peered in closer. The blades began to ingrain themselves into his eyes. He continued to stare until another thought came into his head that made him frown. How come Alex doesn't have these? I remember he used to use one...

A conk on the head broke him out of his reverie. He turned around to face a dead serious Kenji. The older man's eyes seemed to glow in the darkness of the room.

"Quit gawking and get to work," he said but his eyes seemed to say, "Don't blow our cover."

Kirean grinned sheepishly at the two men and immediately left the back room.

 

Above the hills, hidden away by an Invisible spell, Alex constantly watched over his sisters as they dashed along the flower fields of outer Winhill. It felt odd that he, the youngest of the family, would have to watch over his two oldest twin sisters and older sister who were just young children now.

Why don't you say 'hi' to them? said a voice in his head.

Alex frowned. Since when did I ask for your advice, Griever?

The ring on his finger glowed. Luckily, the girls were too far away to notice the light. Griever made himself present by growling softly at his current descendant.

You should respect your elders, boy. I thought Laguna taught you that, he replied a bit annoyingly.

Alex rolled his eyes. Yeah, whatever. He let his eyes shift to its catlike amber form so that he could see the old sorcerer face to face. His eye narrowed to meet his elder's gaze. Unlike YOU, I don't want to screw up time as it already is, got it? Besides, I'm content at just watching them.

They do know your are here.

And how do you know that?

Griever chuckled, his voice rumbling through Alex's mind. You are yet too young to understand, little one.

Alex frowned again. He hated being called "young" and "little", especially after all he had been through. Hearing his thoughts, Griever growled once again. However, this time, it growled in a more amusing way. I am not ten thousand years old for nothing. In time, you will learn why I call you that, little one.

Whatever, old man, Alex replied.

It was then he suddenly realized that his twin sisters were staring right at him. He held his breath, cursing at himself and at the Guardian Force that was his ancestor.

"Are yoo okay, mister?" Luna asked him, her big ice blue eyes wide with concern.

Alex blinked once, then twice. They can see me?

"Yep, we can see yoo," Phoenix replied his unvoiced question. She cocked her head to the side, her black pigtails bouncing along as she did so. "Why?"

"Uh..." He was stuck in the choice of high-tailing it out of there or staying. All the while Griever chuckled in the back of his head.

"Do yoo wanna play wit us?" Luna asked, her eyes hopeful.

"Yeah, yeah, play wit us!" Phoenix exclaimed, jumping enthusiastically.

Alex allowed himself to breath and closed his eye fro a moment, dissolving the Invisible spell he had cast on himself. He thought for a moment. Being with his sisters wouldn't hurt if nobody found out, right? He decided to take the risk.

"Sure, why not," he replied to them. "But you two promise me something, kay?"

The twins nodded, oblivious that the man talking to them was their little brother who was not yet born. Alex leaned in closely, staring at them in the eye.

"Don't tell your mom or dad about me, kay?" he asked. They nodded.

"Why mister?" Phoenix asked innocently.

"Will yoo get in twouble?" Luna added.

"Ah...." he contemplated his choices. "Sorta. You see, your mommy and daddy know that the people who just moved in your grandpa Laguna's house, but they don't know that I'm here."

They nodded again. "We pwomise!"

Alex smiled and stood, letting the twins guide him over to the flower fields where their grandmother Raine lay.

 

Lily sat on Winhill's pier, letting the sea breeze blow against her face. Her keen eyes gazed warily at the vast ocean in front of her. She wondered to herself how her own family was doing back in Esthar, at Angels Orphanage. The memories of the forgotten childhood flashed in her mind, screaming for attention, but she ignored them. Her past did not matter. She knew she would still be a three year old tagging along with her uncles Zell and Raijin. Her father would be with her, too, of course. He had always accompanied them, making sure that she was all right.

Those were happier times...she thought sadly to herself.

A car whizzed by behind her, catching her attention. Lily saw Rinoa running up to the car along with the infant Leonhart girls. She eyed the car curiously. What's an Estharian car doing in a place like this?

She heard some amiable chatter coming from Rinoa and whoever was inside, but she was too far to actually hear what was said. Out of the corner of her eyes, she spotted Alex, or rather, his gunblade on top of the item shop's roof. Her eyes narrowed as the gunblade gave out a signal which she rarely saw.

Laguna stepped out of the car, giving Rinoa a warm hug and all smiles with the girls. He picked up Phoenix and swung her around and did the same with Luna, leaving them giggling with glee.

So, it was a bit odd that the President of Esthar made a trip down to the very town that despised him. She remembered Phoenix and Luna saying to her that he rarely visited, but it was always fun. He just didn't know that Alex existed until recently. Maybe things are starting to change.

Lily began to look back at the ocean, but a familiar voice made her sharply turn around: it was her own. She held her breath.

"Hey, Auntie Rinny!"

Oh, Hyne...

"Hey, Lily! How've you been?" Rinoa asked.

A spunk little blonde hopped out of the car followed by two other adults. Lily's eyes widened. They were her own parents.